This Week in Apps: Snapchat clones TikTok, India bans 43 Chinese apps, more data on App Store commission changes

Welcome back to This Week in Apps, the TechCrunch series that recaps the latest in mobile OS news, mobile applications, and the overall app economy.

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

This week, we’re digging into more data about how the App Store commission changes will impact developers, as well as other top stories, like Snapchat’s new Spotlight feed and India’s move to ban more Chinese apps from the country, among other things.

We also have our weekly round-up of news about platforms, services, privacy, trends, and other headlines.

Top Stories

More on App Store Commissions

Last week, App Annie confirmed to TechCrunch around 98% of all iOS developers in 2019 (meaning, unique publisher accounts) fell under the $1 million annual consumer spend threshold that will now move App Store commissions from a reduced 15% to the standard 30%. The firm also found that only 0.5% of developers were making between $800K and $1M; only 1% were in $500K-$800K range; and 87.7% made less than $100K.

This week, Appfigures has compiled its own data on how Apple’s changes to App Store commissions will impact the app developer community.

According to its findings, of the 2M published apps on the App Store, 376K apps are a paid download, have in-app purchases, or monetize with subscriptions. Those 376K apps are operated by a smaller group of 124.5K developers. Of those developers, only a little under 2% earned more than $1M in 2019. This confirms App Annie’s estimate that 98% of all developers earned under the $1M threshold.

Image Credits: Appfigures

The firm also took a look at companies above the $1M mark, and found that around 53% were games, led by King (of the Candy Crush titles). After a large gap, the next largest categories in 2019 were Health & Fitness, Social Networking, Entertainment, then Photo & Video.

 

Of the developers making over $1M, the largest percentage — 39% — made between $1M and $2.5M in 2019.

Image Credits: Appfigures

The smallest group (1.5%) of developers making more than $1M is the group making more than $150M. These accounted for 29% of the “over $1M” crowd’s total revenue. And those making between $50M and $150M accounted for 24% of the revenue.

Image Credits: Appfigures

AppFigures also found that of those making less than $1M, most (>97%) fell into the sub $250K category. Some developes were worried about the way Apple’s commission change system was implemented — that is, it immediately upon hitting $1M and only annual reassessments. But there are so few developers operating in the “danger zone” (being near the threshold), this doesn’t seem like a significant problem. Read More.

Snapchat takes on TikTok

After taking on TikTok  with music-powered features last month, Snapchat this week launched a dedicated place within its app where users can watch short, entertaining videos in a vertically scrollable, TikTok-like feed. This new feature, called Spotlight, will showcase the community’s creative efforts, including the videos now backed by music, as well as other Snaps users may find interesting. Snapchat says its algorithms will work to surface the most engaging Snaps to display to each user on a personalized basis. Read More

India bans more Chinese apps

India, which has already banned at least 220 apps with links to China in recent months, said on Tuesday it was banning an additional 43 Chinese apps, again citing cybersecurity concerns. Newly banned apps include short video service Snack Video, e-commerce app AliExpress, delivery app Lalamove, shopping app Taobao Live, business card reader CamCard, and others. There are now no Chinese apps in the top 500 most-used apps in India, as a result. Read More.

Weekly News

Platforms

  • Apple’s App Store Connect will now require an Apple ID with 2-step verification enabled.
  • Apple announces holiday schedule for App Store Connect. New apps and app updates won’t be accepted Dec. 23-27 (Pacific Time).
  • SKAdNetwork 2.0 adds Source App ID and Conversion Value. The former lets networks identify which app initiated a download from the App Store and the latter lets them know whether users who installed an app through a campaign performed an action in the app, like signing up for a trial or completing a purchase.
  • Apple rounded up developer praise for its App Store commission change. Lending their names to Apple’s list: Little 10 Robot (Tots Letters and Numbers), Broadstreet (Brief), Foundermark (Friended), Shine, Lifesum, Med ART Studios (Sprout Fertility Tracker), RevenueCat, OK Play, SignEasy, Jump Rope, Wine Spectator, Apollo for Reddit, SwingVision Tennis, Cinémoi.

Services

  • Fortnite adds a $12/mo subscription offering a full season battle pass, 1,000 monthly bucks and a Crew Pack featuring an exclusive outfit bundle. More money for Apple to miss out on, I guess.
  • 14 U.S. states plus Washington D.C. have now adopted COVID-19 contact tracing apps. CA and other states may release apps soon. Few in the U.S. have downloaded the apps, however, which limits their usefulness. 
  • Samsung’s TV Plus streaming TV service comes to more Galaxy phones

Security & Privacy

  • Apple’s senior director of global privacy, Jane Horvath, in a letter to the Ranking Digital Rights organization, confirms App Tracking Transparency feature will arrive in 2021. The feature will allow users to disable tracking between apps. The letter also slams Facebook for collecting “as much data as possible” on users.
  • Baidu’s apps banned from Google Play, Baidu Maps and the Baidu App, were leaking sensitive user data, researchers said. The apps had 6M U.S. users and millions more worldwide.

Apps in the News

Trends

Image Credits: Sensor Tower

  • U.S. Brick-and-mortar retail apps saw 27% growth in first three quarters of 2020, or nearly double the growth of online retailer apps (14%), as measured by new installs. Top apps included Walmart, Target, Sam’s Club, Nike, Walgreens, and The Home Depot.
  • App Annie forecast estimates shoppers will spend over 110M hours in (Android) mobile shopping apps this holiday season.
  • PayPal and Square’s Cash app have scored 100% of the newly-issued supply of bitcoins, report says.
  • All social media companies now look alike, Axois argues, citing Twitter’s Fleets and Snap’s TikTok-like feature as recent examples.

Funding and M&A

  • CoStar Group, a provider of commercial real estate info and analytics, acquires Homesnap’s platform and app for $250M to move into the residential real estate market.
  • Remote work app Friday raises $2.1M seed led by Bessemer Venture Partners
  • Stories-style Q&A app F3 raises $3.9M. The team previously founded Ask.fm.
  • Edtech company Kahoot acquires Drops, a startup whose apps help people learn languages using games, for $50M.
  • Mobile banking app Current raises $131M Series C, led by Tiger Global Management.
  • Square buys Credit Karma’s tax unit, Credit Karma Tax, for $50M in cash.

#app-store, #apple, #apps, #developers, #google, #mobile, #this-week-in-apps

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The Supreme Court will hear its first big CFAA case

The Supreme Court will hear arguments on Monday in a case that could lead to sweeping changes to America’s controversial computer hacking laws — and affecting how millions use their computers and access online services.

The Computer Fraud and Abuse Act was signed into federal law in 1986 and predates the modern internet as we know it, but governs to this day what constitutes hacking — or “unauthorized” access to a computer or network. The controversial law was designed to prosecute hackers, but has been dubbed as the “worst law” in the technology law books by critics who say it’s outdated and vague language fails to protect good-faith hackers from finding and disclosing security vulnerabilities.

At the center of the case is Nathan Van Buren, a former police sergeant in Georgia. Van Buren used his access to a police license plate database to search for an acquaintance in exchange for cash. Van Buren was caught, and prosecuted on two counts: accepting a kickback for accessing the police database, and violating the CFAA. The first conviction was overturned, but the CFAA conviction was upheld.

Van Buren may have been allowed to access the database by way of his police work, but whether he exceeded his access remains the key legal question.

Orin Kerr, a law professor at the University of California, Berkeley, said Van Buren vs. United States was an “ideal case” for the Supreme Court to take up. “The question couldn’t be presented more cleanly,” he argued in a blog post in April.

The Supreme Court will try to clarify the decades-old law by deciding what the law means by “unauthorized” access. But that’s not a simple answer in itself.

“The Supreme Court’s opinion in this case could decide whether millions of ordinary Americans are committing a federal crime whenever they engage in computer activities that, while common, don’t comport with an online service or employer’s terms of use,” said Riana Pfefferkorn, associate director of surveillance and cybersecurity at Stanford University’s law school. (Pfefferkorn’s colleague Jeff Fisher is representing Van Buren at the Supreme Court.)

How the Supreme Court will determine what “unauthorized” means is anybody’s guess. The court could define unauthorized access anywhere from violating a site’s terms of service to logging into a system that a person has no user account for.

Pfefferkorn said a broad reading of the CFAA could criminalize anything from lying on a dating profile, sharing the password to a streaming service, or using a work computer for personal use in violation of an employer’s policies.

But the Supreme Court’s eventual ruling could also have broad ramifications on good-faith hackers and security researchers, who purposefully break systems in order to make them more secure. Hackers and security researchers have for decades operated in a legal grey area because the law as written exposes their work to prosecution, even if the goal is to improve cybersecurity.

Tech companies have for years encouraged hackers to privately reach out with security bugs. In return, the companies fix their systems and pay the hackers for their work. Mozilla, Dropbox, and Tesla are among the few companies that have gone a step further by promising not to sue good-faith hackers under the CFAA. Not all companies welcome the scrutiny and bucked the trend by threatening to sue researchers over their findings, and in some cases actively launching legal action to prevent unflattering headlines.

Security researchers are no stranger to legal threats, but a decision by the Supreme Court that rules against Van Buren could have a chilling effect on their work, and drive vulnerability disclosure underground.

“If there are potential criminal (and civil) consequences for violating a computerized system’s usage policy, that would empower the owners of such systems to prohibit bona fide security research and to silence researchers from disclosing any vulnerabilities they find in those systems,” said Pfefferkorn. “Even inadvertently coloring outside the lines of a set of bug bounty rules could expose a researcher to liability.”

“The Court now has the chance to resolve the ambiguity over the law’s scope and make it safer for security researchers to do their badly-needed work by narrowly construing the CFAA,” said Pfefferkorn. “We can ill afford to scare off people who want to improve cybersecurity.”

The Supreme Court will likely rule on the case later this year, or early next.

Read more:

#america, #articles, #california, #computer-fraud-and-abuse-act, #computer-security, #computing, #georgia, #government, #hacker, #hacking, #information-technology, #internet-security, #lawsuit, #security, #supreme-court, #united-states, #university-of-california, #university-of-california-berkeley

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What to make of Stripe’s possible $100B valuation

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

Welcome to a special Thanksgiving edition of The Exchange. Today we will be brief. But not silent, as there is much to talk about.

Up top, The Exchange noodled on the Slack-Salesforce deal here, so please catch up if you missed that while eating pie for breakfast yesterday. And, sadly, I have no idea why Palantir is seeing its value skyrocket. Normally we’d discuss it, asking ourselves what its gains could mean for the lower tiers of private SaaS companies. But as its public market movement appears to be an artificial bump in value, we’ll just wait.

Here’s what I want to talk about this fine Saturday: Bloomberg reporting that Stripe is in the market for more money, at a price that could value the company at “more than $70 billion or significantly higher, at as much as $100 billion.”

Hot damn. Stripe would become the first or second most valuable startup in the world at those prices, depending on how you count. Startup is a weird word to use for a company worth that much, but as Stripe is still clinging to the private markets like some sort of liferaft, keeps raising external funds, and is presumably more focused on growth than profitability, it retains the hallmark qualities of a tech startup, so, sure, we can call it one.

Which is odd, because Stripe is a huge concern that could be worth twelve-figures, provided that gets that $100 billion price tag. It’s hard to come up with a good reason for why it’s still private, other than the fact that it can get away with it.

Anyhoo, are those reported, possible prices bonkers? Maybe. But there is some logic to them. Recall that Square and PayPal earnings pointed to strong payments volume in recent quarters, which bodes well for Stripe’s own recent growth. Also note that 14 months ago or so, Stripe was already processing “hundreds of billions of dollars of transactions a year.”

You can do fun math at this juncture. Let’s say Stripe’s processing volume was $200 billion last September, and $400 billion today, thinking of the number as an annualized metric. Stripe charges 2.9% plus $0.30 for a transaction, so let’s call it 3% for the sake of simplicity and being conservative. That math shakes out to a run rate of $12 billion.

Now, the company’s actual numbers could be closer to $100 billion, $150 billion and $4.5 billion, right? And Stripe won’t have the same gross margins as Slack .

But you can start to see why Stripe’s new rumored prices aren’t 100% wild. You can make the multiples work if you are a believer in the company’s growth story. And helping the argument are its public comps. Square’s stock has more than tripled this year. PayPal’s value has more than doubled. Adyen’s shares have almost doubled. That’s the sort of public market pull that can really help a super-late-stage startup looking to raise new capital and secure an aggressive price.

To wrap, Stripe’s possible new valuation could make some sense. The fact that it is still a private company does not.

Market Notes

Various and Sundry

And speaking of edtech, Equity’s Natasha Mascarenhas and our intrepid producer Chris Gates put together a special ep on the education technology market. You can listen to it here. It’s good.

Hugs and let’s both go do some cardio,

Alex

#fundings-exits, #palantir, #paypal, #slack, #square, #startups, #stripe, #the-exchange, #the-techcrunch-exchange

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How Ryan Reynolds and Mint Mobile worked without becoming the joke

In the past decade, celebrity interest and investment in tech companies has significantly increased. But not all celebrity investments are created equally. Some investors, like Ashton Kutcher, have prioritized the VC pursuits. Some have invested casually without getting overly involved. Others have used their considerable platforms to market their portfolio to varying degrees of success.

It’s been a little over a year since Ryan Reynolds bought a majority stake in Mint Mobile, a deal that has already had a dramatic impact on the the MVNO (mobile virtual network operator).

The four-year-old company has seen a tremendous amount of growth, boosting revenue nearly 50,000% in the past three years. However, the D2C wireless carrier has seen its highest traffic days on the backs of Reynolds’ marketing initiatives and announcements.

There is a long history of celebrities getting involved with brands, either as brand ambassadors or ‘Creative Directors’ without much value other than the initial press wave.

Lenovo famously hired Ashton Kutcher as a product engineer to help develop the Yoga 2 tablet, on which I assume you are all reading this post. Alicia Keys was brought on as BlackBerry’s Global Creative Director, which felt even more convoluted a partnership than Lady Gaga’s stint as Polaroid’s Creative Director. That’s not to say that these publicity stunts necessarily hurt the brands or the products (most of the time), but they probably didn’t help much, and likely cost a fortune.

And then there are the actual financial investments, in areas where celebrities fundamentally understand the industry, that still didn’t get to ‘alpha.’

Even Jay-Z has struggled to make a music streaming service successful. Justin Bieber never really got a selfie app off the ground. Heck, not even Justin Timberlake could breathe life back into MySpace. Reynolds seemingly has an even heavier lift here. It’s hard to imagine a string of words in the English language less sexy than, “mobile virtual network operator.”

Reynolds tells TechCrunch that he viewed celebrity investments as a kind of “handicapping,” prior to the Mint acquisition.

“I’ve just sort of seen how most celebrities are doing very, very well,” he explains. “We’re generally hocking or getting behind or investing in luxury and aspirational items and projects. Then George and I had a conversation about a year-and-a-half ago, maybe longer, about what if we swerved the other way? What if he kind of got into something that was hyper practical and just forget about the sexy aspirational stuff.”

Mint isn’t Reynolds’ first entrepreneurial venture. He bought a majority stake in Portland-based Aviation Gin in 2018, which recently sold for $610 million. He also cofounded marketing agency Maximum Effort alongside George Dewey, which has made its own impact over the past several years.

Maximum Effort was founded to help promote the actor’s first Deadpool film. Reynolds and Dewey had come up with several low-budget spots to get people excited about an R-rated comic book movie. The bid appears to have worked. The film raked in $783.1 million at the box office — a record for an R-rated film that held until the 2019 release of Joker.

Maximum Effort (and Reynolds) was also behind the viral Aviation Gin spot, which poked fun at the manipulative Peloton ad that aired last year around the holidays. The same actress who portrayed a woman seemingly tortured by her holiday gift of a Peloton sits at a bar with her friends, shell-shocked, sipping a Martini.

The original ad on YouTube, not counting recirculation by the media, has more than 7 million hits. Reynolds calls it ‘fast-vertising’.

“We get to react,” he told TechCrunch. “We get to acknowledge and play with the cultural landscape in real time and react to it in real time. There isn’t any red tape to come through, because it’s just a matter of signing off on the approval. So in a way, it’s unfair, in that sense, because most big corporations, they take weeks and weeks or months to get something approved. Our budgets are down and dirty, fast and cheap.”

He explained that this type of real-time marketing is only possible because he’s the owner of Maximum Effort (and in some cases of the client businesses, as well), but because there is no red tape to cut through when a great idea presents itself.

Reynolds has brought this marketing acumen to Mint Mobile in a big way. Last year during the Super Bowl, Reynolds took out a full page ad in The New York Times, explaining that the decision to spend $125,000 on a print ad instead of $5 million+ on a Super Bowl commercial would enable the prepaid carrier to pass the savings on to consumers.

In October, Reynolds spun Mint’s 5G launch into another light-hearted spot. He brought on the head of mobile technology to explain what 5G actually is, and after hearing the technical explanation, happily said “We may never know, so we’ll just give it away for free.”

Mint also released a holiday ad just a couple of weeks ago warning of wireless promo season, wherein large wireless carriers may try to lure customers into expensive contracts using new devices. Standing over a bear trap, Reynolds dryly states: “At Mint Mobile, we don’t hate you.”

Reynolds enjoys nearly 17 million Twitter followers and more than 36 million Instagram followers. He uses both platforms to promote his various brands without alienating his followers. Moreover, he doesn’t exclusively promote his brands on social media, but weaves in his own funny personal commentary or gives followers a peek into his marriage with Blake Lively, which we can all agree is #relationshipgoals.

Mint Mobile partners exclusively with T-Mobile to provide service, and unlike some other MVNOs, it uses a direct-to-consumer model, foregoing any physical footprint. Plans start at $15/month and top out at $30/month. CMO Aron North says that Reynolds’ ownership and involvement with Mint Mobile is “absolutely critical.”

“Ryan is an A plus plus celebrity, and he’s very funny and entertaining and engaging,” said North. “His reach has given us a much bigger platform to speak on. I would say he is absolutely critical in our success and our growth.”

We asked Reynolds if he has any specific plans for further tech investment, or if there are any trends he’s keeping an eye on. He explained that his motivations are not purely capitalistic.

“I’m really focused on community and bringing people together,” said Reynolds. “We think it’s super cool to bring people together, particularly in a world that is very divisive. Even in our marketing, we try to find ways to have huge cultural moments without polarizing people without dividing people without saying one thing is wrong.”

In one of the company’s more notable recent spots, Reynolds enlisted the help of iconic comedian, Rick Moranis. It was an impressive coup, given the actor’s seeming retreat from the public eye, turning down two separate Ghostbusters film reboots.

“It’s funny what happens when you just ask,” says Reynolds. “I explained that people genuinely miss him and his performances and his energy. And he, for whatever reason, said yes, and the next thing I know, six days later, we were out of there in 15, 20 minutes and we shot our spot.”

Of course, it didn’t escape the internet’s notice that two well-known Canadian actors were standing in a field, selling a U.S.-only wireless service.

“I would love to see [Mint] in Canada,” Reynolds says. “There’s a Big Three here that’s challenging to crack. I don’t pretend to know the telecom business well enough to say why, how or what the path forward would be there. I see basically a tsunami of feedback from Canada, asking ‘why can’t we have this here?’ I think it’s sexy. It’s pragmatic and sexy. That’s why I got involved with it.”

#mint-mobile, #mobile, #ryan-reynolds, #startups, #tc, #venture-capital

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Original Content podcast: Just don’t watch Netflix’s ‘Holidate’ with your parents

You might think that a new Netflix film called “Holidate” offers holiday-themed romance that’s perfect for a family watch party. You’d be wrong.

The film stars Emma Roberts and Luke Bracey as a pair of strangers who agree (in classic romantic comedy style) to keep each other company on holidays.

And while the movie can’t be completely pigeonholed as a raunchy comedy — it also includes a dash of metatextual commentary, with a healthy dose of undiluted romantic schmaltz — “Holidate” is certainly filled with sexually frank dialogue, and a couple of its biggest set pieces go all-in on gross-out humor. So, and as one of the hosts of the Original Content podcast discovered, watching it with your family can be extremely uncomfortable.

But, assuming you avoid that awkwardness, is it actually funny? Sometimes! A word that comes up repeatedly in our review is “adequate” — Darrell embraced the film’s surprisingly dirty humor, while Anthony and Jordan were at least mildly entertained.

In addition to reviewing “Holidate,” we also discussed the implications of Netflix’s decision to remove “Chappelle’s Show” at Dave Chappelle’s request.

You can listen to our review in the player below, subscribe using Apple Podcasts or find us in your podcast player of choice. If you like the show, please let us know by leaving a review on Apple. You can also follow us on Twitter or send us feedback directly. (Or suggest shows and movies for us to review!)

If you’d like to skip ahead, here’s how the episode breaks down:
0:00 Intro
1:11 Dave Chappelle discussion
13:50 “Holidate” review
37:39 “Holidate” spoiler discussion

#entertainment, #holidate, #media, #netflix, #original-content-podcast, #podcasts

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Black Friday on track for $8.9B+ in online sales as shoppers stay away from brick-and-mortar stores

Black Friday — the day that launched 1,000 other shopping holidays — may have lost its place as the “start” of the Christmas shopping season by now (it gets bigger and earlier with each passing year). But the day after Thanksgiving still pulls in a crowd of buyers looking for a bargain and remains a major bellwether for tracking how sales will progress in what is the most important period for the retail and commerce sector.

Because of the Covid-19 pandemic, this year was definitely slimmer when it came to actual, in-person crowds — kind of a refreshing break from those times when you feel like it’s the worst of humanity when people are breaking out into fights over TVs at a local Walmart — but online it seems that sales did not disappoint.

Figures from Adobe, which is following online sales in real-time at 80 of the top 100 retailers in the U.S., covering some 100 million SKUs, said that we are “on track” for a new sales record for the day, with between $8.9 billion and $9.6 billion expected in sales online for Black Friday, a jump of 20%-29% on last year.

For some context, in 2019, Adobe tracked $7.4 billion in online sales, and yesterday it said that shoppers spent $5.1 billion on Thanksgiving, with more than $3 billion spent online each day in the week leading up to Thursday.

Adobe was still tallying the final numbers for the day as of this morning European time, so we’ll update this post with the final numbers as and when we get them.

Its analysts say that the evening tends to be big for online shopping — which makes sense since people might have been either going out in person during the day, or just doing something else on a day off.

Not all are in agreement that night time is the right time, however. Figures from Shopify — which analyses activity from the 1 million-plus merchants that use its e-commerce platform — said that the peak shopping hour on its platform was actually 9am Eastern, when there were as many as $3 million in sales per minute. The average cart size for US shoppers was $95.60, it added.

Interestingly, Shopify’s per-minute sales number underscores how the long tail of merchants are still quite a ways behind the very biggest: Adobe noted that its figures, across the sites that it tracks (which have at least $1 billion in annual sales) tally to $6.2 million spent per minute on Black Friday.

In either case, smartphones continue to be a major driver of how sales get made. Adobe said that as of 4pm Eastern some 41.5% of all sales were on handsets, a bit lower than the day before but 7% higher than in 2019. And just as was the case yesterday, it seems that smaller retailers are attracting more shoppers on mobile: Shopify said that some 70% of its sales are being made via smartphones.

We’ll see how all of that plays out later today also with the initial figures from “Small Business Saturday”, which is the latest of the shopping designations added to the holiday weekend, this one trying to hone focus more squarely away from major chains and big box merchants.

One big takeaway from the bigger weekend figures will be that offering items — electronics, tech, toys and sports goods being the most popular categories — at the right price will help retailers continue to bring in sales, in what has proven to be an especially strong year for online shopping after many have opted to stay away from crowded places due to the pandemic, but also a critical year for retailers because of the drag that the pandemic has had on the wider economy.

Cyber Monday is likely to continue to be the biggest of them all, expected to bring in between $11.2 billion and $13 billion in e-commerce transactions, up 19%-38% year-on-year.

Perhaps because of the shift to more online shopping, and the concern over flagging sales, it’s interesting that “holiday season” has also been extended and now comes earlier. Adobe said a survey of consumers found that 41% said they would start shopping earlier this year than previous years due to much earlier discounts. Recall too that Amazon’s Prime Day was delayed to start in October this year, an ‘event’ that many treated as a moment to get a jump start on holiday shopping.

“Black Friday is headed for record-breaking levels as consumers flock online to shop for both holiday gifts and necessities,” said Taylor Schreiner, director, Adobe Digital Insights. “Concurrently, it’s also worth noting that this year, we’re seeing strong online sales momentum across not only the major shopping days like Thanksgiving weekend, but throughout the holiday season as consumers spread out their shopping across several weeks in reaction to continued, heavy discounting from retailers.”

#black-friday, #e-commerce, #ecommerce, #online-shopping

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Tony Hsieh, iconic Las Vegas tech entrepreneur, dies aged 46

Tony Hsieh, the former head of Zappos who catapulted the shoe company into the big leagues with a sale to Amazon and then used the proceeds of his success in a huge project kickstarting regeneration of a run-down part of Las Vegas, Nevada, with tech and wider business investments, has died aged 46.

The cause was injuries he sustained from a house fire, a spokesperson for Hsieh confirmed to TechCrunch. He was with his brother Connecticut at the time of the fire. It’s not clear if anyone else was injured.

The ultimate cause of Hsieh’s death is still under investigation. We will update this as and if we learn more. The full statement from DTP Companies, which ran the Downtown Project (Hsieh’s mammoth initiative to regenerate the very run-down, older part of Las Vegas) is below.

The news has sent shock waves in the midst of the Thanksgiving holiday weekend, and through a community in a city — heavily dependent on tourism — that has been hit extraordinarily hard by the Covid-19 global health pandemic.

Hsieh was a brilliant, offbeat, and — to many people, often very directly — a kind-hearted person who was regularly described as a visionary.

That was not an overstatement. Growing up in the Bay Area, he sold his first company — a marketing tech firm called LinkExchange — to Microsoft when he was just 24, in 1998.

Using some of the proceeds from that, he formed a venture capital firm called Venture Frog. One of his early investments there was ShoeSite.com, founded in 1999 by Nick Swinmurn at a time when the latter could see a shift happening in how people were shopping for footwear, doing a lot more of it online.

Hsieh was entrepreneurial in his investing instincts and subsequently took a more hands-on role in the startup, which eventually rebranded to Zappos. As Zappos’ CEO, Hsieh moved the company from the Bay Area to the outskirts of Vegas in 2004 to build out a bigger customer service operation, run under a particularly strong ethos of flat management aimed at empowering and inspiring employees. His leadership helped catapult it to huge growth: by 2009 he had sold Zappos to Amazon for around $1.2 billion (a truly giant sum for an e-commerce startup at the time).

He then continued to run the company, and used the proceeds of that work to focus on his next big project: urban regeneration.

Las Vegas is a city that leaves little to sentimentality. Situated in the middle of the desert, the city’s relentless focus has long been on growth, breaking new, seemingly limitless, ground to do so. For years, that meant huge swathes of “older” Vegas enterprises, in the Downtown region, simply sat empty, leading to the larger area eventually becoming a hotbed of crime and poverty. As with many other urban centers, it has been a vicious cycle: people focus on building newer homes and businesses elsewhere, and that makes the older areas even more neglected and vulnerable.

Hsieh saw the charm of Downtown, full of 20th-century modernist flourishes underneath its more obvious signs of decline, and proceeded to buy up huge chunks of the area: apartment buildings, houses, small business structures, old casinos and hotels, and empty lots.

His vision was not just to be a real estate magnate — although that is clearly something that interested him, too — but to regenerate Vegas in the mold of what he knew best: tech.

He proceeded to invest in a huge run of startups, provided they move to Vegas to build their businesses Downtown, to bring entrepreneurs and jobs to the area.

There were lots of quirky elements to the effort: it was not all about hard-nosed business, and some of it was just about trying to have fun on a grand scale. Inspired by Burning Man, for example, Hsieh paid to have several of the structures built for the festival in the desert to be transported and installed permanently in the Downtown area.

A couple of memorable evenings I spent with him in Vegas really underscored to me his profile in the city.

Hopping from casino to bar to restaurant, one night we ended up in an excellent piano karaoke dive where his best friend from childhood and I sang Duran Duran duets and he knocked back Frenet Brancas. People flocked around him wherever he went (so many breathless “Hi, Tony”‘s from many women we walked past). I remember wondering if this was what being a mafia boss (with friend playing the role of a consigliere, or me a guest for the night) was like back in the day.

Of course, the Downtown Project, as it came to be called, was a grand vision, and like many grand visions, it has had its ups and downs.

Some of that is unsurprising: Simply willing something to exist isn’t always enough, and the strike rate for success in tech is, in reality, very low. And the offbeat approach didn’t always play in the best way, and sometimes obscured what might actually be going on. Case in point: Hsieh abruptly stepped down as CEO of Zappos earlier this year, with no explanation provided for the move, after being in the role for 21 years.

Still, between Zappos and what Hsieh built in the city, his work and bigger ideas were and are an important testament to the impact that the tech industry can have with a little imagination and a lot of hard work and persistence.

Our condolences go out to his family and his many friends, and also those in the slice of the tech and business world he helped to create.

Statement from DTP below:

Good Afternoon, my name is Megan Fazio and I handle public relations for DTP Companies, formerly known as Downtown Project, which Tony Hsieh serves as the visionary of. With a heavy and devastated heart, we regret to inform you that Tony Hsieh passed away peacefully on November 27, 2020 surrounded by his beloved family.

Tony’s kindness and generosity touched the lives of everyone around him, and forever brightened the world. Delivering happiness was always his mantra, so instead of mourning his transition, we ask you to join us in celebrating his life.

On behalf of all DTP Companies employees and staff, we would like to express our deepest condolences to Tony’s family and friends who have all lost Tony as a cherished loved one, visionary and friend. Tony was highly regarded by all of his fellow friends and colleagues in the tight-knit family at DTP Companies, so this heartbreaking tragedy is one that affects many involved.

We ask that you continue to respect the family’s privacy during this most difficult and challenging time.

#tc

0

Facebook’s Libra could launch in January

According to a report from the Financial Times, Facebook-backed cryptocurrency Libra could launch in January. More interestingly, the Libra Association, the consortium created by Facebook, could scale back its ambitions once again.

When it was first unveiled, the Libra cryptocurrency was supposed to be a brand new currency tied to a basket of fiat currencies and securities. Originally, it wouldn’t be based on a single real world currency, but on a mix of multiple currencies.

Many central banks and regulators have been concerned about this vision. That’s why the Libra Association changed course and started working on several single-currency stablecoins.

Stablecoins are cryptocurrencies that don’t fluctuate in value against a specific fiat currency. For instance, one unit of a USD-backed stablecoin is always worth one dollar. Libra mentioned USD, EUR, GBP or SGD as base currencies for its various stablecoins.

According to the Financial Times, the Libra Association now plans to launch a single dollar-backed coin. It’ll compete directly with other stablecoins, such as USDC, PAX and Tether (USDT). The Libra Association still plans to roll out other currencies, but it’ll happen at a later time.

Facebook will most likely launch its own Libra wallet at the same time. Originally called Calibra, the Facebook subsidiary has been rebranded to Novi back in May.

In addition to a standalone app that will let you send and receive Libra tokens, you’ll be able to manage your Novi account from Messenger and WhatsApp. Facebook expects people to start using Novi for remittance purposes and peer-to-peer payments.

It’s unclear whether other members of the Libra Association also plan to launch their own Libra-based service at the same time. Members include Farfetch, Lyft, Shopify, Spotify and Uber.

#blockchain, #calibra, #cryptocurrency, #distributed-ledger, #libra, #libra-association, #novi

0

India sets rules for commissions, surge pricing for Uber and Ola

Ride-hailing firms such as Ola and Uber can only draw a fee of up to 20% on ride fares in India, New Delhi said in guidelines on Friday, a new setback for the SoftBank-backed firms already struggling to improve their finances in the key overseas market.

The guidelines, which for the first time bring modern-age app-based ride-hailing firms under a regulatory framework in the country, also put a cap on the so-called surge pricing, the fare Uber and Ola charge during hours when their services see peak demands.

According to the guidelines, Ola and Uber — and any other app-operated, ride-hailing firm — can charge a maximum of 1.5 times of the base fare. They can, however, choose to offer their services at 50% of the base fare as well. The rules also state that drivers will not be permitted to work for more than 12 hours in a day, and that the companies need to provide them insurance cover.

Uber and Ola have not previously publicly shared precisely how much they charge their drivers for each ride, but industry estimates show that a driver partner with either of these firms makes up to 74% of the ride fare, after paying taxes. The new guidelines say drivers should get to keep at least 80% of fares.

The cap on the ride fare and implied insurance costs will raise operating costs in India for Uber and Ola, both of which have eliminated jobs in recent months amid the pandemic to trim costs. The South Asian nation, which has attracted many giant international firms in recent years as they look for their next growth market, in the meantime has entered an unprecedented recession.

But not everything about the guidelines will hurt Uber and Ola, both of which had no comment to share on Friday. The rules will enable the companies to offer pooling (shared car) services on private cars, though there is a daily limit of four intra-city rides on such cars, and two weekly inter-city rides.

Ujjwal Chaudhry, an associate partner at Bangalore-based marketing research consulting firm Redseer, said the guidelines by the government will have a mixed impact.

“While it is positive in terms of formalizing the sector as well as increasing the consumer trust on aggregators through improved safety regulations. But, overall the impact of these guidelines on the ecosystem growth are negative as capping surge and platform fee will ultimately lead to reduced earnings for 5 Lac (500,000) drivers (currently on these platforms) and will also lead to increased prices and higher wait times for the 6-8 crore (60 to 80 million) consumers who use it for their mobility and commute needs,” he said in a statement.

The rules also address a range of other factors surrounding a ride. For instance, under no circumstance can the cancellation fee imposed on a rider or driver be more than 10% of the total fare, and the fee cannot exceed 100 Indian rupees, or $1.35. Also, female passengers looking for a pooled service will have the option to share the cab with only female passengers, the rules say. Cab aggregators are also required to establish a control room with round-the-clock operations.

Ola and Uber dominate the app-based ride-hailing market in India. Both the companies claim to lead the market, though SoftBank, a common investor, said recently that Ola had a slight lead over Uber in India.

#apps, #asia, #government, #india, #ola, #softbank, #uber

0

There’s no ‘hacker house’ geared toward undergraduate women, so they created one of their own

Hacker houses are making a comeback for entrepreneurs as remote work drags on. While founders are adapting to quarantine in style, a group of college women in their 20s aren’t waiting until they are done with undergraduate to plunge into the lifestyle themselves.

Started by college juniors Coco Sack and Kendall Titus, Womxn Ignite is a house for female and non-binary college undergraduates studying computer science. The idea was born out of Sack and Titus’s exhaustion with remote school at Yale and Stanford respectively. After too many boring Zoom lectures, they took gap semesters and searched for a productive way to spend their time off.

“There are a lot of [programs] that target younger women to get them into coding in high school, and there’s a lot of syndicates and founder groups for women late into their careers,” Titus said. “But there was nothing for anyone in the age range of 20 to 25 where you’re trying to find your way, raise your voice, and hold your ground.”

So, they started their own program. The duo rented out a wedding resort space in California and searched for other women who would experiment the lifestyle and take a gap year. As over 40% of students consider a gap year, the demand became apparent very fast: over 500 people applied for a spot in the house, and just 20 were chosen.

Womxn Ignite is organized as a live-in incubator. Participants are sorted into teams based on their interest areas, and are then pushed to solve a certain problem.

To do so, teams go through a variety of mentor sessions. On Mondays, Tuesdays, and Thursdays, Womxn Ignite sets up mentorship sessions from a revolving-base of female entrepreneurs. There are also guest speaker talks sprinkled throughout the week for high-profile entrepreneurs, including Melinda Gates and bumble’s Whitney Wolfe Herde.

At the end of each week, a team gives a presentation on their progress around problem statements, solution, customer validation, and product development.

Titus says that the goal is not for everyone to come out with a company, but instead to leave with more people in your network and ideas on how to approach starting your business. One participant is writing a TV show about being a Black woman in tech; another is creating a company meant to make programs like Womxn Ignite easier to launch at scale.

In between those sessions is largely spent on team-based collaboration and networking. There are themed-dinners and “platonic date nights” where participants are paired up and encouraged to explore the area or do an activity together to get to know one another. On weekends, women are invited to talk about their niche obsessions, whether it’s the ethical concerns of facial recognition or materials at the nanoscale.

Titus and Sack say that they charge no more than $5,000 for entrance into the program, but over half of participants are on scholarships given by unnamed investors.

Diversity of a cohort matters when trying to create a community that will systemically empower women of all backgrounds. Racial diversity of Womxn Ignite ranges from majority white, but is closely met by Black and LatinX, followed by Middle Easter and Asian Indian. The participants came from all top-tier schools, including Stanford, Yale, Georgetown, Columbia, Harvard, Dartmouth and MIT.

A team photo

The community of women, many of whom plan to return to school, aren’t focused on classic accelerator tropes like Demo Days or first checks simply because of the stage of life they are in. Instead, the program ends with an optional-ask: will each participant dedicate 1% of their annual income for the next 5 years into a syndicate fund? So far, most have signed yes, the co-founders said, even though the majority will return to school in some capacity.

The fund will be used to invest in other female founders, and grow as Womxn Ignite members grow in their careers, too.

“That number will hopefully grow,” Titus said. “We’ll have pooled what we can collectively think about how we want to spend and invest to help elevate other female founders like ourselves.”

Clara Schwab, a participant in Womxn Ignite, said that the contract will help women get more involved in venture capital, a male-dominated field, earlier in their careers.

“And I don’t know any other environment or situation in which myself and 19 other really talented and smart and ambitious women who are all interested in tech, we come together and like, discuss such a thing,” she said.

The co-founders plan to host another cohort in February, and then focus on building out a digital community for the participants.

 

 

#startups, #tc, #techcrunch-include, #womxn-ignite

0

No Google-Fitbit merger without human rights remedies, says Amnesty to EU

Human rights NGO, Amnesty International, has written to the EU’s competition regulator calling for Google’s acquisition of wearable maker Fitbit to be blocked — unless meaningful safeguards can be baked in.

The tech giant announced its intent to splash $2.1BN to acquire Fitbit a year ago but has yet to gain regulatory approval for the deal in the European Union.

In a letter addressed to the blocs competition chief, Margrethe Vestager, Amnesty writes: “The Commission must ensure that the merger does not proceed unless the two business enterprises can demonstrate that they have taken adequate account of the human rights risks and implemented strong and meaningful safeguards that prevent and mitigate these risks in the future.”

In a report last year the NGO attacked the business model of Google and Facebook — saying the “surveillance giants” enable human rights harm “at a population scale”.

In its letter to Vestager Amnesty warns that Google is “incentivized to merge and aggregate data across its different platforms”.

“Google’s business model incentivizes the company to continuously seek more data on more people across the online world and into the physical world. The merger with Fitbit is a clear example of this expansionist approach to data extraction, enabling the company to extend its data collection into the health and wearables sector,” it writes. “The sheer scale of the intrusion of Google’s business model into our private lives is an unprecedented interference with our privacy, and in fact has undermined the very essence of privacy.”

Amnesty is urging the Commission to take heed of an earlier call by a coalition of civil society groups also raising concerns about the merger for “minimum remedies” which regulators must guarantee before any approval.

We’ve reached out to the Commission and Google for a response to Amnesty’s letter.

Google’s plan to gobble Fitbit and its health tracking data has been stalled as EU regulators dig into competition concerns. Vestager elected to open an in-depth probe in August, saying she wanted to make sure the deal wouldn’t distort competition by further entrenching Google’s dominance of the online ad market.

The Commission has also voiced concerns about the risk of Google locking other wearable device makers out of its Android mobile ecosystem.

However concerns over Google’s plan to gobble up Fitbit range wider than the risk of it getting more market muscle if the deal gets waved through.

Put simply, letting sensitive health data fall into the hands of an advertising giant is a privacy trashfire.

Amnesty International is just the latest rights watcher to call for the merger to be blocked. Privacy campaign groups and the EU’s own data protection advisor have been warning for months against letting the tech giant gobble up sensitive health data.

The Commission’s decision to scrutinize the acquisition rather than waiving it through with a cursory look has led Google to make a number of concessions in an attempt to get it cleared — including a pledge not to use Fitbit data for ad targeting and to guarantee support for other wearables makers to operate on Android.

In its letter, Amnesty argues that the ‘safeguards’ Google has offered are not enough.

“The company’s past practice around privacy further heighten the need for strict safeguards,” it warns, pointing to examples such as Google combining data from advertising network DoubleClick after it had acquired that business with personal data collected from its other platforms.

“The European Data Protection Board has recognized the risks of the merger, stating that the “combination and accumulation of sensitive personal data” by Google could entail a “high level of risk” to the rights to privacy and data protection,” it adds.

As well as undermining people’s privacy, Google’s use of algorithms fed with personal data to generate profiles of Internet users in order to predict their behavior erodes what Amnesty describes as “the critical principle that all people should enjoy equal access to their human rights”.

“This risk is heightened when profiling is deployed in contexts that touch directly on people’s economic, social and cultural rights, such as the right to health where people may suffer unequal treatment based on predictions about their health, and as such must be taken into account in the context of health and fitness data,” it warns.

“This power of the platforms has not only exacerbated and magnified their rights impacts but has also created a situation in which it is very difficult to hold the companies to account, or for those affected to access an effective remedy,” Amnesty adds, noting that while big tech companies have faced a number of regulatory actions around the world none has so far been able to derail what it calls “the fundamental drivers of the surveillance-based business model”.

So far the Commission has stood firm in taking its time to consider the issue in detail.

A series of extensions mean a decision on whether to allow the Google-Fitbit merger may not come until early 2021. Though we understand the bloc’s national competition authorities are meeting to discuss the merger at the start of December so it’s possible a decision could be issued before the end of the year.

Per EU merger law, the Commission college takes the final decision — with a requirement to take “utmost account” of the opinion of the Member States’ advisory committee (though it’s not legally binding).

So it’s ultimately up to Brussels to determine whether Google-Fitbit gets green lit.

In recent years, competition chief Vestager, who is also EVP for the Commission’s digital strategy, has said she favors tighter regulation as a tool for ensuring businesses comply with the EU’s rules, rather than blocking market access or outright bans on certain practices.

She has also voiced opposition to breaking up tech giants, again preferring to advocate for imposing controls on how they can use data as a way to rebalance digital markets.

To date, the Commission has never blocked a tech merger. Though it has had its fingers burnt by big tech’s misleading filings — so has its own reputation to consider above reaching for the usual rubberstamp.

Simultaneously, EU lawmakers are working on a proposal for an ex ante regulation to address competition concerns in digital markets that would put specific rules and obligations on dominant players like Google — again in areas such as data use and data access.

That plan is due to be presented early next month — so it’s another factor which may be adding to the delay to the Commission’s Google-Fitbit decision.

#amnesty-international, #competition-law, #europe, #fitbit, #google, #health-data, #margrethe-vestager, #privacy, #wearables

0

Is Slack overpriced now that the market knows Salesforce might buy it?

The Exchange is technically off today, but we’re here anyway because there’s neat stuff in the world of startups and money to talk about. So, let’s yammer this morning about Slack’s new valuation and what the market is telling us about what the venerable SaaS company is really worth.


The Exchange explores startups, markets and money. Read it every morning on Extra Crunch, or get The Exchange newsletter every Saturday.


Recall that on Wednesday, news broke that Salesforce is considering buying Slack, a move that has potential merit and some question marks.

The merits could include bringing Slack’s startup mindshare to Salesforce, and bringing Salesforce’s enterprise reach to Slack. In terms of questions, precisely how Slack fits into Salesforce’s CRM-and-platform play isn’t clear; Salesforce’s own Slack-ish competitor, Chatter, hasn’t taken control of its market in the more than decade since its release (here’s TechCrunch covering its launch back in 2009), making the possible home of Slack inside Salesforce slightly suspect.

Still, Slack investors cheered the concept of Salesforce paying up for their company, while investors in the latter company knocked nearly $20 off its share price, perhaps worried about the very thing that Slack’s owners were stoked to consider.

So, price. What’s Slack worth? This is a question that’s fun in both academic terms, and also for understanding the current dynamics in the software M&A market — what do you have to pay to take a large chess piece off the software market’s board?

Let’s take a look at what we can learn from Slack’s pre-news price, and its current, changed valuation.

What’s it worth?

Here’s a chart of Slack’s value before, and after the Salesforce news, just to give you a taste of how big an impact the reporting had:

#microsoft, #salesforce, #slack, #tc, #the-exchange

0

Wall Street needs to relax, as startups show remote work is here to stay

We are hearing that a COVID-19 vaccine could be on the way sooner than later, and that means we could be returning to normal life some time in 2021. That’s the good news. The perplexing news, however, is that each time some positive news emerges about a vaccine — and believe me I’m not complaining — Wall Street punishes stocks it thinks benefits from us being stuck at home. That would be companies like Zoom and Peloton.

While I’m not here to give investment advice, I’m confident that these companies are going to be fine even after we return to the office. While we surely pine for human contact, office brainstorming, going out to lunch with colleagues and just meeting and collaborating in the same space, it doesn’t mean we will simply return to life as it was before the pandemic and spend five days a week in the office.

One thing is clear in my discussions with startups born or growing up during the pandemic: They have learned to operate, hire and sell remotely, and many say they will continue to be remote-first when the pandemic is over. Established larger public companies like Dropbox, Facebook, Twitter, Shopify and others have announced they will continue to offer a remote-work option going forward. There are many other such examples.

It’s fair to say that we learned many lessons about working from home over this year, and we will carry them with us whenever we return to school and the office — and some percentage of us will continue to work from home at least some of the time, while a fair number of businesses could become remote-first.

Wall Street reactions

On November 9, news that the Pfizer vaccine was at least 90% effective threw the markets for a loop. The summer trade, in which investors moved capital from traditional, non-tech industries and pushed it into software shares, flipped; suddenly the stocks that had been riding a pandemic wave were losing ground while old-fashioned, even stodgy, companies shot higher.

#aaron-levie, #cloud, #covid-19, #dion-hinchcliffe, #enterprise, #karen-mangia, #remote-work, #tc, #work-from-home

0

UK to set up ‘pro-competition’ regulator to put limits on big tech

The UK is moving ahead with a plan to regulate big tech, responding to competition concerns over a ‘winner takes all’ dynamic in digital markets.

It will set up a new Digital Market Unit (DMU) to oversee a “pro-competition” regime for Internet platforms — including those funded by online advertising, such as Facebook and Google — the Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) announced today.

It’s moving at a clip — with the new Unit slated to begin work in April. Although the necessary law to empower the new regulator to make interventions will take longer. The government said it will consult on the Unit’s form and function in early 2021 — and legislate “as soon as parliamentary time allows”.

A core part of the plan is a new statutory Code of Conduct aimed at giving platform users more choice and third party businesses more power over the intermediaries that host and monetize them.

The government suggests the code could require tech giants to allow users to opt out of behavioral advertising entirely — something Facebook’s platform, for example, does not currently allow.

It also wants the code to support the sustainability of the news industry by “rebalancing” the relationship between publishers and platform giants, as it puts it.

Concern over how to support quality public interest journalism in an era of ad-funded user-generated-content giants has been stepping up in recent years as online disinformation has been actively weaponized to attack democracies and try to influence votes.

“The new code will set clear expectations for platforms that have considerable market power — known as strategic market status — over what represents acceptable behaviour when interacting with competitors and users,” DCMS writes in a press release.

It suggests the DMU will have powers to “suspend, block and reverse decisions of tech giants, order them to take certain actions to achieve compliance with the code, and impose financial penalties for non-compliance”. Although full details are set to be worked out next year.

Digital Markets Taskforce, which the government set up earlier this year to advise on the design of the competition measures, will inform the Unit’s work, including how the regime will work in practice, per DCMS.

The taskforce will also come up with the methodology that’s used to determine which platforms/companies should be designated as having strategic market status.

On that front it’s all but certain Facebook and Google will gain the designation, and be subject to the code and oversight by the DMU, although confirmation can only come from the Unit itself once it’s up and running. But UK policymakers don’t appear to have been fooled by bogus big tech talking points of competition being ‘only a click away’.

The move to set up a UK regulator for big tech’s market power follows a competition market review chaired by former U.S. president Barack Obama’s chief economic advisor, professor Jason Furman, which reported last year. The expert panel recommended existing competition policy was fit for purpose but that new tools were needed for it to tackle market challenges flowing from platform power and online network effects.

Crucially, the Furman report advocated for a ‘broad church’ interpretation of consumer welfare as the driver of competition interventions — encompassing factors such as choice, quality and innovation, not just price.

That’s key given big tech’s strategic application of free-at-the-point-of-use services as a tool for dominating markets by gaining massive marketshare which in turn gives it the power to set self-serving usage conditions for consumers and anti-competitive rules for third party businesses — enabling it to entrench its hold on the digital attention sphere.

The UK’s Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) also undertook a market study of the digital advertising sector — going on to report substantial concerns over the power of the adtech duopoly. Although in its final report it deferred competitive intervention in favor of waiting for the government to legislate.

Commenting on the announcement of the DMU in a statement, digital secretary Oliver Dowden said: “I’m unashamedly pro-tech and the services of digital platforms are positively transforming the economy – bringing huge benefits to businesses, consumers and society. But there is growing consensus in the UK and abroad that the concentration of power among a small number of tech companies is curtailing growth of the sector, reducing innovation and having negative impacts on the people and businesses that rely on them. It’s time to address that and unleash a new age of tech growth.”

Business secretary Alok Sharma added: “The dominance of just a few big tech companies is leading to less innovation, higher advertising prices and less choice and control for consumers. Our new, pro-competition regime for digital markets will ensure consumers have choice, and mean smaller firms aren’t pushed out.”

The UK’s move to regulate big tech means there’s now broad consensus among European lawmakers that platform power must be curtailed — and that competition rules need properly resourcing to get the job done.

A similar digital market regime is due to be presented by EU lawmakers next month.

The European Commission has said the forthcoming ex ante pan-EU regulation — which it’s calling the Digital Markets Act — will identify platforms which hold significant market power, so-called Internet gatekeepers, and apply a specific set of fairness and transparency rules and obligations on them with the aim of rebalancing competition. Plans to open algorithmic blackboxes to regulatory oversight is also on the cards at the EU level.

A second piece of proposed EU legislation, the Digital Services Act, is set to update rules for online businesses by setting clear rules and responsibilities on all players in specific areas such as hate speech and illegal content.

The UK is also working on a similar online safety-focused regime — proposing to regulate a range of harms in its Online Harms white paper last year. Though it has yet to come forward with draft legislation.

This summer the BBC reported that the government has not committed to introduce a draft bill next year either — suggesting its planned wider Internet regulation regime may not be in place until 2023 or 2024.

It looks savvy for UK lawmakers to prioritize going after platform power since many of the problems that flow from harmful Internet content are attached to the reach and amplification of a handful of tech giants.

A more competitive landscape for social media could encourage competition around the quality of the community experienced for users — meaning that, for example, smaller platforms which properly enforce hate speech rules and don’t torch user privacy could gain an edge.

Although rules to enable data portability and/or interoperability are likely to be crucial to kindling truly vibrant and innovative competition in markets that have already been captured by a handful of data-mining adtech giants.

Given the UK’s rush to address the market power of big tech, it’s interesting to recall how many times the Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg snubbed the DCMS committee’s calls for him to give evidence over online disinformation and digital campaigning (including related to the Cambridge Analytica data misuse scandal) — not once but so many times we lost count.

It seems UK lawmakers kept a careful note of that.

 

#digital-markets-unit, #digital-regulation, #europe, #facebook, #google, #platform-power, #policy, #uk

0

Alibaba vies for a piece of China’s booming EV market

There’s no lack of news these days on China’s tech giants teaming up with traditional carmakers. Companies from Alibaba to Huawei are striving to become relevant in the trillion-dollar auto industry, which itself is seeking an electric transition and intelligent upgrade as 5G comes of age.

State-owned automaker SAIC Motor, a major player in China, unveiled this week a new electric vehicle arm called Zhiji, in which Alibaba and a Shanghai government-backed entity are minority shareholders. The tie-up comes as Chinese EV startups like Xpeng and Nio and their predecessor Tesla see their stocks soaring in recent months.

Alibaba’s ties with SAIC can be traced back to 2015 when they jointly announced a $160 million investment in internet-connected cars. The partners moved on to form a joint venture called Banma (or ‘Zebra’) and Alibaba has since developed a slew of auto solutions for the Banma platform to enable everything from voice-activated navigation to voice ordering coffee, which is, of course, linked to the Alipay e-wallet.

Alibaba is certainly not SAIC’s exclusive supplier, as it’s also worked closely with the likes of BMW and Audi as well over the years.

For SAIC’s new EV brand, Alibaba will continue to be its “technology solution provider,” an Alibaba spokesperson told TechCrunch.

The other tech giant making big moves in auto is Huawei. Just this week, the telecoms equipment and smartphone maker announced it would fold its smart car unit into its consumer business group, which previously focused on handsets. The expanded group will continue to be steered by Richard Yu, regarded as the man who helped grow Huawei from an underdog in the mobile industry to a leading global player.

Huawei’s ambition in auto is “not to manufacture cars but to focus on developing ICT [information and communications technology] to assist automakers in producing cars,” the firm asserts in the statement, addressing rumors that it wants to encroach on traditional carmakers’ turf.

Huawei’s phone business has taken a hit since U.S. sanctions hobbled its supply chain. It sold its budget phone brand Honor recently in the hope that the spinoff, independent from Huawei, will be free from trade curbs.

#alibaba, #asia, #electric-vehicle, #ev, #smart-cars, #tc, #transportation

0

Gift Guide: Black Friday tech deals that are actually worth checking out

Black Friday approaches! In a year where asking Alexa what day today is feels totally normal, this Black Friday seems like it came out of nowhere.

As we say pretty much every year, a lot of Black Friday deals are… not that good. While there are certainly deals to be found, there’s also a lot of hand-waving going on to help retailers and manufacturers clear out the old models and get that Q4 numbers boost.

It can also be a day where it’s way too easy to buy junk just because it’s got a 40% off tag on it. With that in mind, we’ve tried to limit this list to the stuff we’d recommend even when it’s not on sale. If we see anything else worthwhile over the next day or two, we’ll add it — so feel free to check back in.

This article contains links to affiliate partners where available. When you buy through these links, TechCrunch may earn an affiliate commission.

A few tips to keep in mind today:

  • If you see something is on sale and want to check if the “sale” price is really any better than normal, pop it into a price tracker like camelcamelcamel. If the price suddenly increased last week only to be “reduced” by whatever percent this week, you know somethings up.
  • Be at least a little wary of TV deals. There are TV deals to be had, for sure — but the most eye-popping deals tend to be surplus panels with a new model number slapped on them. Google the model number; if that specific TV seems to only exist for the sake of Black Friday, think twice.

 

Apple

Airpods Pro

Image Credits: Brian Heater

Once unheard of, Apple deals on Black Friday are now a little easier to find. They tend to go fast though!

  • Both Amazon and Walmart are selling AirPods Pro for $170 — a super steep discount from the usual $250. The stock seems to be coming and going fast, so this one might be tough to get.
  • The 40mm, GPS version of the latest Apple Watch (Series 6) is down to $379 from $399 on Amazon right now. While that’s only a drop of $20, these things only just hit the shelves back in September.
  • Best Buy has some pretty solid deals on the latest (8th gen) iPads, like a 10.2″ 32GB model for $280 (usually $330), or the 128GB model for $360 (usually $430.)

Amazon

Image Credits: Amazon

With people already flocking to Amazon on Black Friday, the company usually offers some pretty massive discounts on its Amazon-branded devices as a means of seizing the moment and getting more people into their ecosystem. Sure enough:

Google

google nest hub

Image Credits: Brian Heater

Google tends to go pretty big with the Black Friday discounts, and this year is no exception. Some examples:

  • The Nest Hello doorbell is down to $179, normally $229.
  • Nest Hub is down to $50 (normally $90), and its bigger brother the Nest Hub Max (pictured above) is down to $179 (normally $229.)
  • The latest generation of the Nest Mini smart speaker is $19, down from $50. The beefier Nest Audio speaker, meanwhile, is down to $85 each (usually $99) with the catch that you’ve got to buy two.
  • Stadia Premiere Edition — effectively a starter kit for Google’s gaming-in-the-cloud service Stadia, including both a Stadia controller and a Chromecast Ultra — is down to $70 from $100. The controller alone would normally cost you $70, so if you were already considering giving Stadia a spin it’s sort of like getting a free Chromecast Ultra?

Roku

Image Credits: Roku

Roku’s new Streambar — basically a Roku box and a soundbar crammed into one package — is going for $100 today, down from its normal price of $130.

Sonos

Sonos Move 11

If you’re going to expand your Sonos system (which, hey, is sort of the point of having a Sonos system), Black Friday is usually a good day to do it. Alas, this years Sonos sales are a bit limited, but there are still savings to be found. Amazon has the portable Sonos Move down to $299 (normally $399) and the Sonos SUB down to $599 (usually $699), while Sonos itself is also selling its Beam Playbar for $299 (usually $399.)

Hulu

Image Credits: Hulu

If you don’t mind ads, Hulu is slashing the price of its ad-supported plan from $6 a month to $2 a month for 1 year. Sadly, no deal for the ad-free plan, which is still at its normal $12 a month — but if you were planning on checking out the ad-supported plan anyway, you might as well save a couple bucks.

Calm

Image Credits: Calm

Calm, the popular subscription-based meditation/sleep sounds service, is offering up a pair of promos: they’ll cut the price on a one year membership down by 50% (from $70 to $35), or a lifetime membership by 60% ($399 to $159.)

Video Games

You probably won’t be finding any deals on this year’s new Xboxes or Playstations because… well, they already couldn’t keep up with demand. This year’s best deals are going to be on games, services, and in a few cases, accessories.

Hell, the same goes for the Nintendo Switch. Even without a new hardware release this season, Nintendo’s console is flying off the shelves. If you’re looking for big savings on a Switch itself this year, know that the inventory is incredibly low — any retailer offering a Switch deal is really just doing it to get your hopes up and get you on the site. We’re having a hard time finding any in stock even at full price.

Xbox Deals:

  • Microsoft is selling Xbox controllers (which will work with the next-gen Xbox Series consoles!) for $40, down from the usual $60.
  • Best Buy is selling 3 months of Xbox Game Pass (Microsoft’s Netflix-style game subscription service) for $23, down from the usual $45.
  • Gears 5 is $5 (usually $40) at Best Buy, Doom Eternal is $20 (usually $60) at GameStop, and Microsoft is taking $10 off the newly remastered Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1 + 2.

Playstation Deals

  • Sony is selling 12 months of Playstation Plus (its service that lets you play multiplayer games online) for $45, down from $60.
  • Amazon is selling Last of Us Part II for $30 (normally $60), and GameStop and a number of other retailers have Ghost of Tsushima going for $40 (normally $60). Sony has the oh-so-hard-but-oh-so-addicting Cuphead for $15, down from $20. Most retailers will also have sales on Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order, Watch Dogs Legion, and Star Wars Squadrons.

Switch Deals:

  • Nintendo is selling Luigi’s Mansion, Super Mario Maker 2, Yoshi’s Crafted World, Mario Tennis Aces, and Zelda Link’s Awakening for $40 (normally $60) through Amazon and most other retailers. All of these are fantastic!

#gift-guide-2020, #tc

0

Facebook’s latest ad tool fail puts another dent in its reputation

Reset yer counters: Facebook has had to ‘fess up to yet another major ad reporting fail.

This one looks like it could be costly for the tech giant to put right — not least because it’s another dent in its reputation for self reporting. (For past Facebook ad metric errors check out our reports from 2016 here, here, here and here.)

AdExchanger reported on the code error last week with Facebook’s free ‘conversion lift’ tool which it said affected several thousand advertisers.

The discovery of the flaw has since led the tech giant to offer some advertisers millions of dollars in credits, per reports this week, to compensate for miscalculating the number of sales derived from ad impressions (which is, in turn, likely to have influenced how much advertisers spent on its digital snake oil).

According to an AdAge report yesterday, which quotes industry sources, the level of compensation Facebook is offering varies depending on the advertiser’s spend — but in some instances the mistake means advertisers are being given coupons worth tens of millions of dollars.

The issue with the tool went unfixed for as long as 12 months, with the problem persisting between August 2019 and August 2020, according to reports.

The Wall Street Journal says Facebook quietly told advertisers this month about the technical problem with its calculation of the efficacy of their ad campaigns, skewing data advertisers use to determine how much to spend on its platform.

One digital agency source told the WSJ the issue particularly affects certain categories such as retail where marketers have this year increased spending on Facebook and similar channels by up to 5% or 10% to try to recover business lost during the early stages of the pandemic.

Another of its industry sources pointed out the issue affects not just media advertisers but the tech giant’s competitors — since the tool could influence where marketers chose to spend budget, so whether they spend on Facebook’s platform or elsewhere.

Last week the tech giant told AdExchanger that the bug was fixed on September 1, saying then that it was “working with impacted advertisers”.

In a subsequent statement a company spokesperson told us: “While making improvements to our measurement products, we found a technical issue that impacted some conversion lift tests. We’ve fixed this and are working with advertisers that have impacted studies.”

Facebook did not respond to a request to confirm whether some impacted advertisers are being offered millions of dollars worth of ad vouchers to rectify its code error.

It did confirm it’s offering one-time credits to advertisers who have been ‘meaningfully’ impacted by the issue with the (non-billable) metric, adding that the impact is on a case by case basis, depending on how the tool was used.

Nor did it confirm how many advertisers had impacted studies as a result of the year long technical glitch — claiming it’s a small number.

While the tech giant can continue to run its own reporting systems for b2b customers free from external oversight for now, regulating the fairness and transparency of powerful Internet platforms which other businesses depend upon for market access and reach is a key aim of a major forthcoming digital services legislative overhaul in the European Union.

Under the Digital Services Act and Digital Markets Act plan, the European Commission has said tech giants will be required to open up their algorithms to public oversight bodies — and will also be subject to binding transparency rules. So the clock may be ticking for Facebook’s self-serving self-reporting.

#ad-metrics, #advertising-tech, #digital-regulation, #facebook

0

Thanksgiving on track for a record $6B in US online sales, says Adobe

As people prepare and eat their Thanksgiving meals, or just “work” on relaxing for the day, some consumers are going online to get a jump on holiday shopping deals. Adobe, which is following online sales in real time at 80 of the top 100 retailers in the US, covering some 100 million SKUs, says that initial figures indicate that we are on track to break $6 billion in e-commerce sales for Thanksgiving Day. Overall, it believes consumers will spend $189.1 billion shopping online this year.

To put that figure into some context, the overall holiday sales season represents a 33.1% jump on 2019. And last year Adobe said shoppers spent $4.2 billion online on Thanksgiving: this years’s numbers represent a jump of 42.3%. And leading up to today, each day this week had sales of more than $3 billion.

What’s going on? The figures are a hopefully encouraging sign that despite some of the economic declines of 2020 caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, retailers will at least be able to make up for some of their losses in the next couple of months, traditionally the most important period for sales.

As we have been reporting over the last several months, overall, 2020 has been a high watermark year for e-commerce, with the bigger trend of more browsing and shopping online — which has been growing for years — getting a notable boost from the Covid-19 pandemic.

The push for more social distancing to slow the spread of the coronavirus has driven many to stay away from crowded places like stores, and it has forced us to stay at home, where we have turned to the internet to get things done.

These trends are not only seeing those already familiar with online shopping spending more. It’s also introducing a new category of shoppers to that platform. Adobe said that so far this week, 9% of all sales have been “generated by net new customers as traditional brick-and-mortar shoppers turn online to complete transactions in light of shop closures and efforts to avoid virus transmission through in-person contact.”

Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, has traditionally been marked as the start of holiday shopping, but the growth of e-commerce has given more prominence to Thanksgiving Day, when physical stores are closed and many of us are milling about the house possibly with not much to do. This year seems to be following through on that trend.

“Families have many traditions during the holidays. Travel restrictions, stay-at-home orders and fear of spreading the virus are, however, preventing Americans from enjoying so many of them. Shopping online is one festive habit that can be maintained online and sales figures are showcasing that gifting remains a much beloved tradition this year,” said Taylor Schreiner, Director, Adobe Digital Insights, in a statement.

(That’s not to say that Black Friday won’t be big: Adobe predicts that it will break $10.3 billion in sales online this year.)

Some drilling down into what is selling:

Adobe said that board games and other categories that “bring the focus on family” are seeing a strong surge, with sales up five times over last year.

Similarly — in keeping with how much we are all shopping for groceries online now — grocery sales in the last week were up a whopping 596% compared to October, as people stocked up for the long weekend (whether or not, it seems, it was being spent with family).

Other top items include Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity, Just Dance 2021, as well as vTech toys and Rainbow High Dolls.

Amazon’s announcement this week that it would be offering more options for delivery this season speaks to how e-commerce is growing beyond simple home delivery, and how this has become a key part of how retailers are differentiating their businesses from each other. Curbside pickup has grown by 116% over last year this week, and expedited shipping is up 49%. 

Smartphones are going to figure strong once more too. Adobe said $25.5 billion has been spent via smartphones in November to date (up 48% over 2019), accounting for 38.6% of all e-commerce sales.

In the US big retailers continue to dominate how people shop, with the likes of Walmart, Target Amazon and others pulling in more than $1 billion in revenue annually collectively seeing their sales go up 147% since October. Part of the reason: more sophisticated websites, with conversion rates 100% higher than those of smaller businesses. (That leaves a big opening for companies that can build tools to help smaller businesses compete better on this front.)

#tc

0

AstraZeneca says it will likely do another study of COVID-19 vaccine after accidental lower dose shows higher efficacy

AstraZeneca’s CEO told Bloomberg that the pharmaceutical company will likely conduct another global trial of the effectiveness of its COVID-19 vaccine trial, following the disclosure that the more effective dosage in the existing Phase 3 clinical trial was actually administered by accident. AstraZeneca and its partner the University of Oxford reported interim results that showed 62% efficacy for a full two-dose regimen, and a 90% efficacy rate for a half-dose followed by a full dose – which the scientists developing the drug later acknowledged was actually just an accidental administration of what was supposed to be two full doses.

To be clear, this shouldn’t dampen anyone’s optimism about the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine. The results are still very promising, and an additional trial is being done only to ensure that what was seen as a result of the accidental half-dosage is actually borne out when the vaccine is administered that way intentionally. That said, this could extend the amount of time that it takes for the Oxford vaccine to be approved in the U.S., since this will proceed ahead of a planned U.S. trial that would be required for the FDA to approve it for use domestically.

The Oxford vaccine’s rollout to the rest of the world likely won’t be affected, according to AstraZeneca’s CEO, since the studies that have been conducted, including safety data, are already in place from participants around the world outside of the U.S.

While vaccine candidates from Moderna and Pfizer have also shown very strong efficacy in early Phase 3 data, hopes are riding high on the AstraZeneca version because it relies on a different technology, can be stored and transported at standard refrigerator temperatures rather than frozen, and costs just a fraction per dose compared to the other two leading vaccines in development.

That makes it an incredibly valuable resource for global inoculation programs, including distribution where cost and transportation infrastructures are major concerns.

#astrazeneca, #biotech, #ceo, #coronavirus, #covid-19, #fda, #health, #medical-research, #moderna, #oxford, #pfizer, #pharmaceutical, #tc, #united-states, #vaccine, #vaccines

0

Bigblue wants to automate e-commerce fulfillment in Europe

Meet Bigblue, a French startup that just raised a $3.6 million seed round (€3 million) to build an end-to-end fulfillment solution in Europe. If you sell products on your own website and across multiple marketplaces, you can use Bigblue to handle everything that happens after a transaction.

Bigblue doesn’t try to reinvent the wheel. Instead, it partners with existing logistics companies so that you only have to manage one relationship with Bigblue. It means that Bigblue works with several fulfillment centers to store your products as well as multiple shipping carriers.

Essentially, Bigblue lets you improve the experience for your customers. When you start using Bigblue, you send your products to a fulfillment center and you integrate Bigblue with your online stores. The startup has integrations with Shopify, WooCommerce, Magento, Wix Store, Prestashop, Fastmag and Amazon’s marketplace.

When a client orders a product from you, it is packed and shipped directly from the fulfillment center to your customers. Bigblue customers pay a flat fee per order and don’t have to deal with anything. Some packages might be delivered through DHL, others might be sent out using Chronopost, etc. It is completely transparent as Bigblue chooses the right carrier for you.

The startup also gives you more visibility into your shipping process. Retailers get an overview of their operations and can see the inventory from Bigblue’s interface. Clients receive branded delivery emails.

While it’s hard to build a good logistics network if you’re a small e-commerce company, Bigblue lets you compete more directly with Amazon big e-commerce websites. You can level up the customer experience without putting together an in-house logistics team.

Samaipata is leading today’s funding round. Bpifrance is contributing to the round. Plug and Play, Clément Benoit, Thibaud Elziere and Olivier Bonnet are also investing.

With the new influx of funding, the startup plans to hire 50 people and improve its product. You can expect more integrations with e-commerce platforms, ERPs and marketplaces. Bigblue is also going to build out its own shipment tracking pages and email personalization toolkit. The company will also improve product returns and delivery ETAs.

#bigblue, #ecommerce, #europe, #fulfillment, #fundings-exits, #samaipata, #startups

0

Foxconn could move some iPad and MacBook production to Vietnam

Following a request from Apple, Foxconn could be shifting production out of China for some iPad and MacBook models according to a report from Reuters. The new assembly lines would be based in Vietnam.

As a recent investigation from The Information highlighted, both companies are intrinsically connected. The Taiwanese manufacturer is Apple’s main production partner. Apple is also Foxconn’s main client. When it comes to raw numbers, Foxconn is making 60% to 70% of iPhones, Apple’s main product.

Over the past few years, Apple has tried to diversify its supply chain in two major ways. First, Apple is trying to work with other manufacturing companies, such as Luxshare Precision Industry and Wistron.

Second, Apple is trying to manufacture its products in different countries. New tariffs and import restrictions have made that issue more pressing.

According to Reuters, Apple asked Foxconn to move some iPad and MacBook assembly to Vietnam. The assembly line should be operating at some point during the first half of 2021.

In addition to Vietnam, Foxconn also produces iPhone 11 devices in a plant near Chennai, India. Wistron also assembles iPhone models in India. Foxconn has also manufactured some iPhone models in Brazil.

#apple, #foxconn, #gadgets, #tc

0

US Fertility says patient data was stolen in a ransomware attack

U.S. Fertility, one of the largest networks of fertility clinics in the United States, has confirmed it was hit by a ransomware attack and that data was taken.

The company was formed in May as a partnership between Shady Grove Fertility, a fertility clinic with dozens of locations across the U.S. east coast, and Amulet Capital Partners, a private equity firm that invests largely in the healthcare space. As a joint venture, U.S. Fertility now claims 55 locations across the U.S., including California.

In a statement, U.S. Fertility said that the hackers “acquired a limited number of files” during the month that they were in its systems, until the ransomware was triggered on September 14. That’s a common technique of data-stealing ransomware, which steals data before encrypting the victim’s network for ransom. Some ransomware groups publish the stolen files on their websites if their ransom demand isn’t paid.

U.S. Fertility said some personal information, like names and addresses, were taken in the attack. Some patients also had their Social Security numbers taken. But the company warned that the attack may have involved protected health information. Under U.S. law, that can include information about a person’s health or medical conditions, like test results and medical records.

A spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment about the incident. (Thursday is a national holiday in the U.S..)

U.S. Fertility didn’t say why it took more than two month to publicly disclose the attack, but said in the notice that its disclosure was not delayed at the request of law enforcement.

This is the latest attack targeting the healthcare sector. In September, one of the largest hospital systems in the U.S., Universal Health Services, was hit by the Ryuk ransomware, forcing some affected emergency rooms to close and to turn patients away. Several other fertility clinics have been attacked by ransomware in recent months.

Read more:

#california, #crimes, #cybercrime, #health, #ransomware, #security, #spokesperson, #united-states

0

GDPR enforcement must level up to catch big tech, report warns

A new report by European consumer protection umbrella group Beuc, reflecting on the barriers to effective cross-border enforcement of the EU’s flagship data protection framework, makes awkward reading for the regional lawmakers and regulators as they seek to shape the next decades of digital oversight across the bloc.

Beuc’s members filed a series of complaints against Google’s use of location data in November 2018 — but some two years on from raising privacy concerns there’s been no resolution of the complaints.

The tech giant continues to make billions in ad revenue, including by processing and monetize Internet users’ location data. Its lead data protection supervisor, under GDPR’s one-stop-shop mechanism for dealing with cross-border complaints, Ireland’s Data Protection Commission (DPC), did finally open an investigation in February this year.

But it could still be years before Google faces any regulatory action in Europe related to its location tracking.

This is because Ireland’s DPC has yet to issue any cross-border GDPR decisions, some 2.5 years after the regulation started being applied. (Although, as we reported recently, a case related to a Twitter data breach is inching towards a result in the coming days.)

By contrast, France’s data watchdog, the CNIL, was able to complete a GDPR investigation into the transparency of Google’s data processing in much quicker order last year.

This summer French courts also confirmed the $57M fine it issued, slapping down Google’s appeal.

But the case predated Google coming under the jurisdiction of the DPC. And Ireland’s data regulator has to deal with a disproportionate number of multinational tech companies, given how many have established their EU base in the country.

The DPC has a major backlog of cross-border cases, with more than 20 GDPR probes involving a number of tech companies including Apple, Facebook/WhatsApp and LinkedIn. (Google has also been under investigation in Ireland over its adtech since 2019.)

This week the EU’s internet market commissioner, Thierry Breton, said regional lawmakers are well aware of enforcement “bottlenecks” in the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).

He suggested the Commission has learned lessons from this friction — claiming it will ensure similar concerns don’t affect the future working of a regulatory proposal related to data reuse that he was out speaking in public to introduce.

The Commission wants to create standard conditions for rights-respecting reuse of industrial data across the EU, via a new Data Governance Act (DGA), which proposes similar oversight mechanisms as are involved in the EU’s oversight of personal data — including national agencies monitoring compliance and a centralized EU steering body (which they’re planning to call the European Data Innovation Board as a mirror entity to the European Data Protection Board).

The Commission’s ambitious agenda for updating and expanding the EU’s digital rules framework, means criticism of GDPR risks taking the shine off the DGA before the ink has dried on the proposal document — putting pressure on lawmakers to find creative ways to unblock GDPR’s enforcement “bottleneck”. (Creative because national agencies are responsibility for day to day oversight, and Member States are responsible for resourcing DPAs.) 

In an initial GDPR review this summer, the Commission praised the regulation as a “modern and horizontal piece of legislation” and a “global reference point” — claiming it’s served as a point of inspiration for California’s CCPA and other emerging digital privacy frameworks around the world.

But they also conceded GDPR enforcement is lacking.

The best answer to this concern “will be a decision from the Irish data protection authority about important cases”, the EU’s justice commissioner, Didier Reynders, said in June.

Five months later European citizens are still waiting.

Beuc’s report — which it’s called The long and winding road: Two years of the GDPR: A cross-border data protection case from a consumer perspective — details the procedural obstacles its member organizations have faced in seeking to obtain a decision related to the original complaints, which were filed with a variety of DPAs around the EU.

This includes concerns of the Irish DPC making unnecessary “information and admissibility checks”; as well as rejecting complaints brought by an interested organization on the grounds they lack a mandate under Irish law, because it does not allow for third party redress (yet the Dutch consumer organization had filed the complaint under Dutch law which does…).

The report also queries why the DPC chose to open an own volition enquiry into Google’s location data activities (rather than a complaint-led enquiry) — which Beuc says risks a further delay to reaching a decision on the complaints themselves.

It further points out that the DPC’s probe of Google only looks at activity since February 2020 not November 2018 when the complaints were made — meaning there’s a missing chunk of Google’s location data processing that’s not even being investigated yet.

It notes that three of its member organizations involved in the Google complaints had considered applying for a judicial review of the DPC’s decision (NB: others have resorted to that route) — but they decided not to proceed in part because of the significant legal costs it would have entailed.

The report also points out the inherent imbalance of GDPR’s one-stop-shop mechanism shifting the administration of complaints to the location of companies under investigation — arguing they therefore benefit from “easier access to justice” (vs the ordinary consumer faced with undertaking legal proceedings in a different country and (likely) language).

“If the lead authority is in a country with tradition in ‘common law’, like Ireland, things can become even more complex and costly,” Beuc’s report further notes.

Another issue it raises is the overarching one of rights complaints having to fight what it dubs ‘a moving target’ — given well-resourced tech companies can leverage regulatory delays to (superficially) tweak practices, greasing continued abuse with misleading PR campaigns. (Something Beuc accuses Google of doing.)

DPAs must “adapt their enforcement approach to intervene more rapidly and directly”, it concludes.

“Over two years have passed since the GDPR became applicable, we have now reached a turning point. The GDPR must finally show its strength and become a catalyst for urgently needed changes in business practices,” Beuc goes on in a summary of its recommendations. “Our members experience and that of other civil society organisations, reveals a series of obstacles that significantly hamper the effective application of the GDPR and the correct functioning of its enforcement system.

BEUC recommends to the relevant EU and national authorities to make a comprehensive and joint effort to ensure the swift enforcement of the rules and improve the position of data subjects and their representing organisations, particularly in the framework of cross-border enforcement cases.”

We reached out to the Commission and the Irish DPC with questions about the report. But at the time of writing neither had responded. We’ve also asked Google for comment.

Beuc earlier sent a list of eight recommendations for “efficient” GDPR enforcement to the Commission in May.

#beuc, #data-protection, #digital-regulation, #dpc, #eu, #europe, #gdpr, #privacy, #tc

0

Equity Dive: Edtech’s 2020 wakeup call

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

This week, we’re doing a first-ever for the show and taking a deep dive into one specific sector: Edtech.

Natasha Mascarenhas has covered education technology since Stanford first closed down classes in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. In the wake of the historic shuttering of much of the United States’ traditional institutions of education, the sector has formed new unicorns, attracted record-breaking venture capital totals, and most of all, enjoyed time in a long-overdue spotlight.

For this Equity Dive, we zero into one part of that conversation: Edtech’s impact on higher education. We brought together Udacity co-founder and Kitty Hawk CEO Sebastian Thrun, Eschaton founder and college drop-out Ian Dilick, and Cowboy Ventures investor Jomayra Herrera to answer our biggest questions.

Here’s what we got into:

  • How the state of remote school is leading to gap years among students
  • A framework for how to think of higher education’s main three products (including which is most defensible over time)
  • What learnings we can take from this COVID-19 experiment on remote schooling to apply to the future
  • Why ed-tech is flocking to the notion of life-long learning
  • And the reality of who self-paced learning serves — and who it leaves out

And much, much more. If you celebrate, thank you for spending part of your Thanksgiving with the Equity crew. We’re so thankful to have this platform and audience, and it means a ton that y’all tune in each week.

Finally, if you liked this format and want to see more, feel free to tweet us your thoughts or leave us a review on Apple Podcasts. Talk soon!

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

#edtech, #equity, #equity-podcast, #fundings-exits, #startups, #tc

0

TikTok’s epic rise and stumble

TikTok’s rise in the West is unprecedented for any Chinese tech company, and so is the amount of attention it has attracted from politicians worldwide. Below is a timeline of how TikTok grew from what some considered another “copycat” short video app to global dominance and eventually became a target of the U.S. government.

2012-2017: The emergence of TikTok

These years were a period of fast growth for ByteDance, the Beijing-based parent company behind TikTok. Originally launched in China as Douyin, the video-sharing app quickly was wildly successful in its domestic market before setting its sights on the rest of the world. 

2012 

Zhang Yiming, a 29-year-old serial engineer, establishes ByteDance in Beijing.

2014

Chinese product designer Alex Zhu launches Musical.ly.

2016

ByteDance launches Douyin, which is regarded by many as a Musical.ly clone. It launches Douyin’s overseas version TikTok later that year.

2017-2019: TikTok takes off in the United States

TikTok merges with Musical.ly and and launches in the U.S., where it quickly becomes popular, the first social media app from a Chinese tech company to achieve that level of success there. But at the same time, its ownership leads to questions about national security and censorship, against the backdrop of the U.S.-China tariff wars and increased scrutiny of Chinese tech companies (including Huawei and ZTE) under the Trump administration.

2017

November

ByteDance buys Musical.ly for $800 million to $1 billion. (link)

2018

August

TikTok merges with Musical.ly and becomes available in the U.S. (link)

October

TikTok surpassed Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and YouTube in downloads. (link)

November

Facebook launches TikTok rival Lasso. (link)

2019

February

TikTok reaches one billion installs on the App Store and Google Play. (link)

The U.S. Federal Trade Commission fines TikTok $5.7 million over violation of children privacy law. (link)

May

TikTok tops the App Store for the fifth quarter in a row. (link)

September

TikTok is found censoring topics considered sensitive by the Beijing government. (link)

October

TikTok bans political ads (link) but does not appear to take action on hashtags related to American politics. (link)

TikTok taps corporate law firm K&L Gates for advice on content moderation in the U.S. (link)

U.S. lawmakers ask intelligence chief Joseph Maguire to investigate if TikTok poses a threat to national security. (link)

TikTok says it has never been asked by the Chinese government to remove any content and would not do so if asked. (link)

November

The Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States reportedly opens a national security probe into TikTok. (link)

Instagram launches TikTok rival Reels. (link)

TikTok apologizes for removing a viral video about abuses against Uighurs. (link)

December

The U.S. Navy reportedly bans TikTok. (link)

The first half of 2020: Growth amid government scrutiny

The app is now a mainstay of online culture in America, especially among Generation Z, and its user base has grown even wider as people seek diversions during the COVID-19 pandemic. But TikTok faces an escalating series of government actions, creating confusion about its future in America. 

A man wearing a shirt promoting TikTok is seen at an Apple store in Beijing

A man wearing a shirt promoting TikTok is seen at an Apple store in Beijing on Friday, July 17, 2020. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)

2020

January

Revived Dubsmash grows into TikTok’s imminent rival. (link)

March

TikTok lets outside experts examine its moderation practices at its “transparency center.” (link)

Senators introduce a bill to restrict the use of TikTok on government devices. (link)

TikTok brings in outside experts to craft content policies. (link)

April

TikTok introduces parental controls. (link)

TikTok tops two billion downloads. (link)

June

TikTok discloses how its content recommendation system works. (link)

YouTube launches TikTok rival. (link)

July

Facebook shuts down TikTok rival Lasso. (link)

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo says the U.S. is looking to ban TikTok. (link)

TikTok announced a $200 million fund for U.S. creators. (link)

Trump told reporters he will use executive power to ban TikTok. (link)

The second half of 2020: TikTok versus the U.S. government

After weeks of speculation, Trump signs an executive order in August against ByteDance. ByteDance begins seeking American buyers for TikTok, but the company also fights the executive order in court. A group of TikTok creators also file a lawsuit challenging the order. The last few months of 2020 become a relentless, and often confusing, flurry of events and new developments for TikTok observers, with no end in sight. 

August

Reports say ByteDance agrees to divest TikTok’s U.S. operations and Microsoft will take over. (link)

Trump signals opposition to the ByteDance-Microsoft deal. (link)

Microsoft announces discussions about the TikTok purchase will complete no later than September 15. (link)

Trump shifts tone and says he expects a cut from the TikTok sale. (link)

TikTok broadens fact-checking partnerships ahead of the U.S. election. (link)

August 7: In the most significant escalation of tensions between the U.S. government and TikTok, Trump signs an executive order banning “transactions” with ByteDance in 45 days, or on September 20. (link). TikTok says the order was “issued without any due process” and would risk “undermining global businesses’ trust in the United States’ commitment to the rule of law.” (link)

August 9: TikTok reportedly plans to challenge the Trump administration ban. (link)

Oracle is also reportedly bidding for the TikTok sale. (link)

August 24: TikTok and ByteDance file their first lawsuit in federal court against the executive order, naming President Trump, Secretary of State Wilbur Ross and the U.S. Department of Commerce as defendants. The suit seeks to prevent the government from banning TikTok. Filed in U.S. District Court Central District of California (case number 2:20-cv-7672), it claims Trump’s executive order is unconstitutional.  (link)

TikTok reaches 100 million users in the U.S. (link)

August 27: TikTok CEO Kevin Mayer resigns after 100 days. (link)

Kevin Mayer (Photo by Jesse Grant/Getty Images for Disney)

Walmart says it has expressed interest in teaming up with Microsoft to bid for TikTok. (link)

August 28: China’s revised export laws could block TikTok’s divestment. (link)

September

China says it would rather see TikTok shuttered than sold to an American firm. (link)

September 13: Oracle confirms it is part of a proposal submitted by ByteDance to the Treasury Department in which Oracle will serve as the “trusted technology provider.” (link)

September 18: The Commerce Department publishes regulations against TikTok that will take effect in two phases. The app will no longer be distributed in U.S. app stores as of September 20, but it gets an extension on how it operates until November 12. After that, however, it will no longer be able to use internet hosting services in the U.S., rendering it inaccessible.  (link)

On the same day as the Commerce Department’s announcement, two separate lawsuits are filed against Trump’s executive order against TikTok. One is filed by ByteDance, while the other is by three TikTok creators.

The one filed by TikTok and ByteDance is in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia (case number 20-cv-02658), naming President Trump, Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross and the Commerce Department as defendants. It is very similar to the suit ByteDance previously filed in California. TikTok and ByteDance’s lawyers argue that Trump’s executive order violates the Administrative Procedure Act, the right to free speech, and due process and takings clauses.

The other lawsuit, filed by TikTok creators Douglas Marland, Cosette Rinab and Alec Chambers, also names the president, Ross and the Department of Commerce as defendants. The suit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania (case number 2:20-cv-04597), argues that Trump’s executive order “violates the first and fifth amendments of the U.S. Constitution and exceeds the President’s statutory authority.”

September 19: One day before the September 20 deadline that would have forced Google and Apple to remove TikTok from their app stores, the Commerce Department extends it by a week to September 27. This is reportedly to give ByteDance, Oracle and Walmart time to finalize their deal.

On the same day, Marland, Rinab and Chambers, the three TikTok creators, file their first motion for a preliminary injunction against Trump’s executive order. They argue that the executive order violates freedom of speech and deprives them of “protected liberty and property interests without due process,” because if a ban goes into effect, it would prevent them from making income from TikTok-related activities, like promotional and branding work.

September 20: After filing the D.C. District Court lawsuit against Trump’s executive order, TikTok and ByteDance formally withdraw their similar pending suit in the U.S. District Court of Central District of California.

September 21: ByteDance and Oracle confirm the deal but send conflicting statements over TikTok’s new ownership. TikTok is valued at an estimated $60 billion. (link)

September 22: China’s state newspaper says China won’t approve the TikTok sale, labeling it “extortion.” (link)

September 23: TikTok and ByteDance ask the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia to grant a preliminary injunction against the executive order, arguing that the September 27 ban removing TikTok from app stores will “inflict direct, immediate, and irreparable harm on Plaintiffs during the pendency of this case.” (link)

September 26: U.S. District Court Judge Wendy Beetlestone denies Marland, Rinab and Chambers’ motion for a preliminary injunction against the executive order, writing that the three did not demonstrate “they will suffer immediate, irreparable harm if users and prospective users cannot download or update” TikTok after September 27, since they will still be able to use the app.

September 27: Just hours before the TikTok ban was set to go into effect, U.S. District Court Judge Carl J. Nichols grants ByteDance’s request for a preliminary injunction while the court considers whether the app poses a risk to national security. (link)

September 29: TikTok launches a U.S. election guide in the app. (link)

October

comedian Sarah Cooper's page is displayed on the TikTok app

WASHINGTON, DC – AUGUST 07: In this photo illustration, comedian Sarah Cooper’s page is displayed on the TikTok app. (Photo Illustration by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

Snapchat launches a TikTok rival. (link)

TikTok says it’s enforcing actions against hate speech. (link)

TikTok partners with Shopify on social commerce (link)

October 13: After failing to win their first request for a preliminary injunction, TikTok creators Marland, Rinab and Chambers file a second one. This time, their request focuses on the Commerce Department’s November 12 deadline, which they say will make it impossible for users to access or post content on TikTok if it goes into effect.

October 30: U.S. District Judge Wendy Beetlestone grants TikTok creators Marland, Chambers and Rinab’s second request for a preliminary injunction against the TikTok ban. (link)

November

November 7: After five days of waiting for vote counts, Joe Biden is declared the president-elect by CNN, followed by the AP, NBC, CBS, ABC and Fox News. With Biden set to be sworn in as president on January 20, the future of Trump’s executive order against TikTok becomes even more uncertain.

November 10: ByteDance asks the federal appeal court to vacate the U.S. government’s divestiture order that would force it to sell the app’s American operations by November 12. Filed as part of the lawsuit in D.C. District Court, ByteDance said it asked the Committee on Foreign Investments in the United States for an extension, but hadn’t been granted one yet. (link)

November 12: This is the day that the Commerce Department’s ban on transactions with ByteDance, including providing internet hosting services to TikTok (which would stop the app from being able to operate in the U.S.), was set to go into effect. But instead the case becomes more convoluted as the U.S. government sends mixed messages about TikTok’s future.

The Commerce Department says it will abide by the preliminary injunction granted on October 30 by Judge Beetlestone, pending further legal developments. But, around the same time, the Justice Department files an appeal against Beetlestone’s ruling. Then Judge Nichols sets new deadlines (December 14 and 28) in the D.C. District Court lawsuit (the one filed by ByteDance against the Trump administration) for both sides to file motions and other new documents in the case. (link)

November 25: The Trump administration grants ByteDance a seven-day extension of the divestiture order. The deadline for ByteDance to finalize a sale of TikTok is now December 4.

This timeline will be updated as developments occur.

#asia, #bytedance, #china, #entertainment, #government, #tc, #tiktok

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Rock-star programmer: Rivers Cuomo finds meaning in coding

“Hi, I’m Rivers from the band, Weezer,” Rivers Cuomo says with a slight smile and a wave. He turns away from the camera for a bit, before launching into his best infomercial pitch. “Imagine you’re on tour, and you’re sitting in your dressing room or your tour bus. You’re backstage. You have stage fright, you’re stressing out. You’re pacing back and forth. And then on top of that, your tour manager is constantly calling you, asking you logistical questions.”

As far as internet pitch videos go, it’s not the most universal. If anything, the three-minute clip loses any hope of populist appeal by the end. In a final shot, the singer in a maroon SpaceX hoodie is the last up the ramp onto a private jet. The plane door closes revealing a Weezer flying “W” logo.

“Download Drivetimes now, on GitHub,” Cuomo adds in voice-over. “This is CS50X.”

It’s not the most polished app pitch video, and Cuomo’s elevator pitch could probably do with a bit of refining before approaching venture capitalists about a seed round. As far as final projects for online programming courses go, however, it’s something to behold. The images alternate between pages of code, Google spreadsheets and POV shots as he takes the stage for a co-headlining tour with the Pixies.

It helped earn Cuomo a 95 in the class.

But while, in its current configuration, the Drivetime tour scheduling tool might have limited appeal, the musician’s final project from Harvard’s follow-up course, CS50W, is immediately apparent for an army of fans who have followed his quarter-century-plus career. This week Cuomo dropped more than 2,400 demos totaling more than 86 hours. Spanning 1976 to 2015, the songs range in quality from tape-recorded sketches to more polished fare. Some would eventually find their way onto Weezer’s 13 albums, or assorted side projects. Others wouldn’t be so lucky.

Available through Cuomo’s “Mr. Rivers’ Neighborhood” site, the tracks are gathered into nine bundles, each available for $9 a piece. “By the way,” Cuomo writers at the bottom of a disclaimer, “this market is my final project for a course I’m taking in web programming.”

For half-a-decade, the platinum-selling rock star has been moonlighting as a computer programming student.

“I was always a spreadsheet guy,” Cuomo tells TechCrunch. “Around 2000, I think I started in Microsoft Access and then Excel. Just keeping track of all my songs and demos and ideas. Spreadsheets got more and more complicated to the point where it was like, ‘Well, I’m kind of almost writing code here in these formulas, except it’s super hard to use. So maybe I should actually do programming instead.’ ”

It would be an odd side hustle for practically any other successful musician. For Cuomo, however, it’s the next logical step. In the wake of the massive success of Weezer’s self-titled debut, he enrolled as a sophomore at Harvard, spending a year living in a dorm. He would ultimately leave school to record the band’s much-loved follow-up, Pinkerton, but two more more enrollments in 1997 and 2004 found the musician ultimately graduating with an English BA in 2006.

CS50 found Cuomo returning to Harvard — at least in spirit. The course is hosted online by the university, a free introduction to computer science.

“I went through some online courses and was looking for something that looked appealing and so I saw the Harvard CS50 was very popular,” Cuomo says. “So I was like, ‘Well, I’ll give this a shot.’ It didn’t take immediately. The first week course was using Scratch. I don’t know if you know that, but it’s like kind of click and drag type of programming, and you’re making a little video game.”

A six-week course stretched out for six months for the musician. That same year, the musician — now a father of two — played dozens of shows and recorded Weezer’s 10th album, the Grammy-nominated White Album.

“When we hit Python halfway through the course,” Cuomo says, “I was just amazed at how powerful it was and intuitive it was for me, and I could just get so much done. Then by the end of the course, I was writing programs that were really helping me manage my day-to-day life as a traveling musician and then also managing my spreadsheets and managing my work as a creative artist.”

For Cuomo, productivity has never been much of an issue. The band has two albums completed beyond this year’s Black Album, and he’s already begun work on two more follow-ups. What has seemingly been a bigger issue, however, is organizing those thoughts. That’s where the spreadsheets and database come in.

The “thousands” of spreadsheets became a database, cataloging Cuomo’s own demos and work he was studying from other artists.

“For years it seemed like kind of a waste of time or an indulgence,” he says. “I should be writing a new song or, or recording a song rather than just cataloging these old ideas, but I’ve found that, years later, I’m able to very efficiently make use of these ancient ideas because I can just tell my Python program, ‘Hey, show me all the ideas I have at 126 BPM in the key of A flat that start with a third degree of the scale and the melody and are in Dorian mode and that my manager has given three stars or more to.’ ”

He admits that the process may be lacking in some of the rock and roll romanticism for which fans of the bands might hope. But in spite of drawing on pages of analytics, Cuomo insists there’s still magic present.

For Cuomo, productivity has never been much of an issue. Given his level of productivity, however, organizing all of those thoughts can get tricky. That’s where the spreadsheets and database come in.

“There’s still plenty of room for spontaneity and inspiration in what we traditionally think of as human creativity,” Cuomo explains. “One of my heroes in this realm is Igor Stravinsky. There’s a collection of his lectures called “The Poetics of Music.” And he had a note in that collection. He said he has no interest in a composer that’s only using one of his faculties, like a composer that says, ‘I am only going to write what pops into my head spontaneously when I’m in some kind of a creative zone. I won’t use any of my other tools.’

“He says, ‘No, I prefer to listen to the music of a composer who’s using every faculty at his disposal, his intuition, but also his intellect and his ability to analyze and categorize and make use of everything he has.’ I find that those ended up being the most wild and unpredictable and creative compositions.”

And there’s been no shortage of compositions. Cuomo says the band has two albums completed beyond this year’s Black Album, and he’s already begun work on two more follow-ups. After decades of feeling beholden to the 18-month major label album release cycle, the singer says that after the Demos project, he has a newfound interest in finding more ways to release music directly to fans.

“I don’t feel like I’m really good at understanding the big-picture marketplace and how to make the biggest impact in the world,” he says. “My manager is so good at that, but I just told them like, ‘Hey, this feels like something here. First of all, it’s really fun. The fans are really happy. It’s super easy for everyone involved.’ The coding part wasn’t easy, but for everyone else, it’s a couple of clicks and you’ve got all this music, and it’s a cheap price, and there’s no middleman. PayPal takes a little bit, but it’s nothing like a major label. So, this could be something. And there’s just something, it feels so good when it’s directly from me to the audience.”

For now, computer science continues to take up a major chunk of his time. Cuomo estimates that he’s been spending around 70% of his work hours on programming projects. On Wednesday nights, he helps out with programming for a meditation site (another decades-long passion), and he plans to take Harvard’s follow-up CS50M course, which centers around developing for mobile apps.

There are, however, no immediate plans to quit his day job.

“I can’t see me getting a job at a startup or something or maintaining somebody’s website,” he says. “But maybe the line between rock star and web developer is getting blurred so that musicians will be making more and more use of technological tools. Besides just the music software, we’ll be making more and more use of means of distribution and organization and creativity that’s coming out in the way we code our connection to the audience.”

#apps, #demos, #entertainment, #python, #rivers-cuomo, #weezer

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