Apple invests $50M into music distributor UnitedMasters alongside A16z and Alphabet

Independent music distribution platform and tool factory UnitedMasters has raised a $50M series B round led by Apple. A16z and Alphabet are participating again in this raise. United Masters is also entering a strategic partnership with Apple alongside this investment. 

If you’re unfamiliar with UnitedMasters, it’s a distribution company launched in 2017 by Steve Stoute, a former Interscope and Sony Music executive. The focus of UnitedMasters is to provide artists with a direct pipeline to data around the way that fans are interacting with their content and community, allowing them to connect more directly to offer tickets, merchandise and other commercial efforts. UnitedMasters also generally allows artists to retain control of their own masters.

Neither of these conditions are at all typical in the music industry. In a typical artist deal, recording companies retain all audience and targeting data as well as masters. This limits an artist’s ability to be agile, taking advantage of new technologies to foster a community. 

While Apple does invest in various companies, it typically does so out of its Advanced Manufacturing Fund to promote US manufacturing or strategically in partners that make critical components of its hardware like silicon foundries or glass manufacturing. Apple does a lot more purchasing than investing, typically, buying a company every few weeks or so to supplement one product effort or another. UnitedMasters, then, would be a relatively unique partnership, especially in the music space. 

I spoke to UnitedMasters CEO Steve Stoute about the deal and what it means for the businesses 1M current artists and new ones. Stoute credits Apple executive Eddy Cue having a philosophy aligned with the UnitedMasters vision with getting this deal done. 

“We want all artists to have the same opportunity,” says Stoute. “Currently, independent artists have less opportunity for success and we’re trying to remove that stigma.”

This infusion, Stoute says, will be used to hire talent that are mission oriented to take UnitedMasters global. They’re seeking local technical talent and artists talent to build out the platform worldwide. 

“Every artist needs access to a CTO,” Stoute says. “Some of the value of what a manager is today for an artist needs to be transferred to that role.”

UnitedMasters wants to provide that technical edge at scale, allowing artists to build out their fanbase at a community level.

Currently, UnitedMasters has deals with the NBA, ESPN, TikTok, Twitch and others that allow artists to tap big brand deals that would normally be brokered by a label and manager. It also has a direct distribution app that allows publishing to all of the major streaming services. Most importantly, they can check stream, fan and earnings data at a glance. 

“Steve Stoute and UnitedMasters provide creators with more opportunities to advance their careers and bring their music to the world,” said Apple’s Eddy Cue in a release statement. “The contributions of independent artists play a significant role in driving the continued growth and success of the music industry, and UnitedMasters, like Apple, is committed to empowering creators.”

“UnitedMasters has completely transformed the way artists create, retain ownership in their work, and connect with their fans,” said Ben Horowitz, Co-Founder and General Partner of Andreessen Horowitz in a release. “We are excited to work with Steve and team to build a better, bigger, and far more profitable world for musical artists.” 

We are currently at an inflection point in the way that artists and fans connect with one another. Though there have been seemingly endless ways for artists to get their messages out or speak to fans using social media and other platforms, the actual business of distributing work to a community and making money from that work has been out of their hands completely since the beginning of the recording industry. Recent developments like NFTs, DAOs and social tokens, as well as an explosion of DTC frameworks have begun to re-write that deal. But the major players have yet to make the truly aggressive strides they need to in order to embrace this ‘artist centric’ new world. 

The mechanics of distribution have been based on a framework defined by DRM and the DMCA for decades. This framework was always marketed as a way to protect value for the artist but was in fact architected to protect value for the distributor. We need a rethinking of the entire distribution layer.

As I mentioned when reporting the UnitedMasters + TikTok deal, it’s going to be instrumental in a more equitable future for artists:

It’s beyond time for the creators of The Culture to benefit from that culture. That’s why I find this UnitedMasters deal so interesting. Offering a direct pipeline to audiences without the attendant vulture-ism of the recording industry apparatus is really well-aligned with a platform like TikTok, which encourages and enables “viral sounds” with collaborative performances. Traditional deal structures are not well-suited to capturing viral hype, which can rise and fall within weeks without additional fuel.

In music, Apple is at the center of this maelstrom along with a few other major players like Spotify. One of the big misses in recent years for Apple Music, in my opinion, was Apple’s failure to turn Apple Music Connect into an industry-standard portal that allowed artists to connect broadly with fans, distribute directly, sell tickets and merchandise but — most importantly — to foster and own their community. 

A UnitedMasters tie up isn’t a straight line to that goal, but it’s definitely got the ingredients. I’m looking forward to seeing what this produces. 

Image Credits: Steve Stoute

#advanced-manufacturing-fund, #alphabet, #andreessen-horowitz, #apple, #apple-inc, #apple-music, #apple-store, #artist, #ben-horowitz, #ceo, #co-founder, #companies, #cto, #eddy-cue, #espn, #executive, #general-partner, #manufacturing, #music-industry, #national-basketball-association, #nba, #operating-systems, #social-media, #software, #sony-music, #spotify, #steve-stoute, #streaming-services, #tc, #twitch, #united-states, #unitedmasters

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Bias, subtweets, and kids: Key takeaways from Big Tech’s latest outing on the Hill

There was no fancy Hill hearing room for this all-virtual event, so Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey dialed in from... a kitchen.

Enlarge / There was no fancy Hill hearing room for this all-virtual event, so Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey dialed in from… a kitchen. (credit: Daniel Acker | Bloomberg | Getty Images)

A trio of major tech CEOs—Alphabet’s Sundar Pichai, Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, and Twitter’s Jack Dorsey—once again went before Congress this week to explain their roles in the social media ecosystem. The hearing nominally focused on disinformation and extremism, particularly in the wake of the January 6 events at the US Capitol. But as always, the members asking the questions frequently ventured far afield.

The hearing focused less on specific posts than previous Congressional grillings, but it was mainly an exercise in people talking to plant their stakes. Considered in totality, fairly little of substance was accomplished during the hearing’s lengthy six-hour runtime.

Nonetheless, a few important policy nuggets did manage to come up.

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#alphabet, #congress, #facebook, #google, #hearings, #jack-dorsey, #mark-zuckerberg, #policy, #sundar-pichai, #twitter, #youtube

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Orca Security raises $210M Series C at a unicorn valuation

Orca Security, an Israeli cybersecurity startup that offers an agent-less security platform for protecting cloud-based assets, today announced that it has raised a $210 million Series C round at a $1.2 billion valuation. The round was led by Alphabet’s independent growth fund CapitalG and Redpoint Ventures. Existing investors GGV Capital, ICONIQ Growth and angel syndicate Silicon Valley CISO Investment also participated. YL Ventures, which led Orca’s seed round and participated in previous rounds, is not participating in this round — and it’s worth noting that the firm recently sold its stake in Axonius after that company reached unicorn status.

If all of this sounds familiar, that may be because Orca only raised its $55 million Series B round in December, after it announced its $20.5 million Series A round in May. That’s a lot of funding rounds in a short amount of time, but something we’ve been seeing more often in the last year or so.

Orca Security co-founders Gil Geron (left) and Avi Shua (right). Image Credits: Orca Security

As Orca co-founder and CEO Avi Shua told me, the company is seeing impressive growth and it — and its investors — want to capitalize on this. The company ended last year beating its own forecast from a few months before, which he noted was already aggressive, by more than 50%. Its current slate of customers includes Robinhood, Databricks, Unity, Live Oak Bank, Lemonade and BeyondTrust.

“We are growing at an unprecedented speed,” Shua said. “We were 20-something people last year. We are now closer to a hundred and we are going to double that by the end of the year. And yes, we’re using this funding to accelerate on every front, from dramatically increasing the product organization to add more capabilities to our platform, for post-breach capabilities, for identity access management and many other areas. And, of course, to increase our go-to-market activities.”

Shua argues that most current cloud security tools don’t really work in this new environment. Many, because they are driven by metadata, can only detect a small fraction of the risks, and agent-based solutions may take months to deploy and still not cover a business’ entire cloud estate. The promise of Orca Security is that it can not only cover a company’s entire range of cloud assets but that it is also able to help security teams prioritize the risks they need to focus on. It does so by using what the company calls its “SideScanning” technology, which allows it to map out a company’s entire cloud environment and file systems.

“Almost all tools are essentially just looking at discrete risk trees and not the forest. The risk is not just about how pickable the lock is, it’s also where the lock resides and what’s inside the box. But most tools just look at the issues themselves and prioritize the most pickable lock, ignoring the business impact and exposure — and we change that.”

It’s no secret that there isn’t a lot of love lost between Orca and some of its competitors. Last year, Palo Alto Networks sent Orca Security a sternly worded letter (PDF) to stop it from comparing the two services. Shua was not amused at the time and decided to fight it. “I completely believe there is space in the markets for many vendors, and they’ve created a lot of great products. But I think the thing that simply cannot be overlooked, is a large company that simply tries to silence competition. This is something that I believe is counterproductive to the industry. It tries to harm competition, it’s illegal, it’s unconstitutional. You can’t use lawyers to take your competitors out of the media.”

Currently, though, it doesn’t look like Orca needs to worry too much about the competition. As GGV Capital managing partner Glenn Solomon told me, as the company continues to grow and bring in new customers — and learn from the data it pulls in from them — it is also able to improve its technology.

“Because of the novel technology that Avi and [Orca Security co-founder and CPO] Gil [Geron] have developed — and that Orca is now based on — they see so much. They’re just discovering more and more ways and have more and more plans to continue to expand the value that Orca is going to provide to customers. They sit in a very good spot to be able to continue to leverage information that they have and help DevOps teams and security teams really execute on good hygiene in every imaginable way going forward. I’m super excited about that future.”

As for this funding round, Shua noted that he found CapitalG to be a “huge believer” in this space and an investor that is looking to invest into the company for the long run (and not just trying to make a quick buck). The fact that CapitalG is associated with Alphabet was obviously also a draw.

“Being associated with Alphabet, which is one of the three major cloud providers, allowed us to strengthen the relationship, which is definitely a benefit for Orca,” he said. “During the evaluation, they essentially put Orca in front of the security leadership at Google. Definitely, they’ve done their own very deep due diligence as part of that.”

#alphabet, #analytics, #axonius, #capitalg, #cloud, #cybersecurity-startup, #enterprise, #ggv-capital, #identity-access-management, #orca-security, #recent-funding, #redpoint-ventures, #security, #startups, #tc, #yl-ventures

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Google tells harassment victims to take “medical leave,” report finds

Sunset, over the Google empire.

Enlarge / Sunset, over the Google empire. (credit: 400tmax | Getty Images)

A new report alleges that Google employees who report experiencing gender or racial harassment or discrimination routinely get told to take “medical leave” and seek mental health treatment—only to be shoved aside when they try to come back.

Nearly a dozen current and former Google employees told NBC News that company HR told instructed to seek mental health treatment or take medical leave “after colleagues made comments about their skin color or Black hairstyles, or asked if they were sexually interested in their teammates.” Another dozen current and former Google employees told NBC the practice is common within the company.

“I can think of 10 people that I know of in the last year that have gone on mental health leave because of the way they were treated,” one former Google employee told NBC News. He himself had taken medical leave “after he said he had numerous unproductive conversations with human resources about how his colleagues discussed race.”

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#alphabet, #biz-it, #discrimination, #gaslighting, #gender-discrimination, #google, #policy, #race-discrimination, #racism, #sex-discrimination, #sexism

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The rise of the tech workers union and what comes next

While not entirely non-existent, the union has been an elusive phenomenon in Silicon Valley. More recently, however, big names like Google and Kickstarter have taken key steps toward forming unions, as have smaller startups like Glitch, which made history this week by signing a collective bargaining agreement – the first team of software engineers to do so. Amazon warehouse workers in Alabama, meanwhile, are currently on the cusp of forming their own historic union. In this panel from TC Sessions: Justice, we discuss how we got here, what comes next and steps tech employees can take.


On Why Now?

As has been the case with management throughout history, tech companies have long fought tooth and nail against labor organizing. Over the course of the last couple of years, however, we may have seen something of a critical mass that could represent the beginnings of a sea change for the industry.

Redwine: It seems like tech workers are reacting to some of the maturity of tech and the expansion of the platforms that we all work on, and also more worker instability in general in the US, especially. I think it’s sort of a response that workers are becoming more formal in their organizing efforts. (Timestamp: 1:08)

Parul Koul (Google):

Koul: A variety of tactics and strategies have been tried, and we’ve been able to analyze the successes and failures of past movements and arrive at a point where we’ve developed enough institutional and organizational knowledge to try something new and – in some ways – more complex. (Timestamp: 3:25)


On Whether The Pandemic Will Spur More Organizing

Covid-19 has radically transformed where – and how – we work. It’s upended many industries and cause millions to lose jobs. Could the pandemic prove to be yet another inflection point for a growing movement.

Koul: In our case, what we saw was companies moving to work from home and then, in certain categories of employees, not really receiving the same benefits […] whether it’s a stipend to buy equipment or even having the benefit from working from home […] We also saw a mass movement and social and political protests against police brutality erupt right in the middle of the pandemic. For me, and many other organizers at Google, it really galvanized us to do something and respond to that in the streets and in our own way. (Timestamp: 6:56)


On How – or if – Unions Can Protect Against Layoffs

For many industries, layoffs have become all but an inevitability during the pandemic. In a number of the aforementioned cases, they’ve continued even in the wake of employee unionizing. Ultimately, how much protection does a union give workers against layoffs?

Reckers: Kickstarter won its union on February 18, 2020. The pandemic hit in mid-March. The company announced that they were going to have pretty massive layoffs in early-April. That was a very difficult time. We looked at the numbers and did see that a number of the people they were proposing to layoff were advocates for the union or union members. That was very hard to stomach. What happens, though – and where the union comes into play – is that the company was not able to just lay people off like that. Especially under the terms that they wanted to impose unilaterally, without any consultation with staff. The difference was that when the company proposed these layoffs, because there was already a union in place, Kickstarter had to negotiate with the group of employees about the terms of that layoff. (Timestamp: 9:10)


On How to Get Started

First steps toward unionization are often difficult in an environment where organizing is frowned upon management. Many early conversations happen after hours and off-the-clock for fear of repercussion. This can be doubly difficult in an environments like white collar workers tech company, where some employees don’t tacitly understand the benefits of organizing.

Reckers: You can best support each other by getting into conversations with your coworkers and understanding what’s been going on with them. The first question I often get from people is how to first start having conversations. I think that’s a challenge, especially since we’re not taught how to do that. But starting a conversation about what their experiences have been like at the organization or company, how long they’ve been there, how has there changed? What did they want to see when they were hired? What sort of workplace were they looking for? And how can we make sure that we have some way of achieving that? (Timestamp: 24:04)


On Whether Expressions of Support From Management Are Always Positive

Management often adopts the narrative that they support unions following hard fought battles. In the wake of support from certain tech executives and political leaders like Joe Biden, the question arises about whether such sentiments can ultimately have negative repercussions for organizing.

Redwine: First and foremost, it’s really important to remember that the things that people in power say do not matter. All of the power that you have doesn’t come from people at the top giving it to you. It comes from linking arms with the people next to you and taking that power and influence for yourself. (Timestamp: 28:27)

You can read the entire transcript here.

#alphabet, #amazon, #event-recap, #glitch, #google, #kickstarter, #labor, #tc, #tcjustice, #union

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Google says it won’t adopt new tracking tech after phasing out cookies

While we’ve written about attempts to build alternatives to cookies that track users across websites, Google says it won’t be going down that route.

The search giant had already announced that it will be phasing out support for third-party cookies in its Chrome browser, but today it went further, with David Temkin (Google’s director of product management for ads privacy and trust) writing in a blog post that “once third-party cookies are phased out, we will not build alternate identifiers to track individuals as they browse across the web, nor will we use them in our products.”

“We realize this means other providers may offer a level of user identity for ad tracking across the web that we will not — like [personally identifiable information] graphs based on people’s email addresses,” Temkin continued. “We don’t believe these solutions will meet rising consumer expectations for privacy, nor will they stand up to rapidly evolving regulatory restrictions, and therefore aren’t a sustainable long term investment.”

This doesn’t mean ads won’t be targeted at all. Instead, he argued that thanks to “advances in aggregation, anonymization, on-device processing and other privacy-preserving technologies,” it’s no longer necessary to “track individual consumers across the web to get the performance benefits of digital advertising.”

As an example, Temkin pointed to a new approach being tested by Google called Federated Learning of Cohorts (FLoC), which allows ads to be targeted at large groups of users based on common interests. He said Google will begin testing FLoCs with advertisers in the second quarter of this year.

Temkin pointed out that these changes are focused on third-party data and don’t affect the ability of publishers to track and target their own visitors: “We will continue to support first-party relationships on our ad platforms for partners, in which they have direct connections with their own customers.”

It’s worth noting, however, that the Electronic Frontier Foundation has described FLoCs as “the opposite of privacy-preserving technology” and compared them to a “behavioral credit score.”

And while cookies seem to be on the way out across the industry, the U.K.’s Competition and Markets Authority is currently investigating Google’s cookie plan over antitrust concerns, with critics suggesting that Google is using privacy as an excuse to increase its market power. (A similar criticism has been leveled against Apple over upcoming privacy changes in iOS.)

#advertising-tech, #alphabet, #cookies, #google, #policy

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Foresite Capital raises $969 million fund to invest in healthcare startups across all stages of growth

Health and life science specialist investment firm Foresite Capital has raised a new fund, its fifth to date, totally $969 million in commitments from LPs. This is the firm’s largest fund to date, and was oversubscribed relative to its original target according to fund CEO and founder Dr. Jim Tananbaum, who told me that while the fundraising process started out slow in the early months of the pandemic, it gained steam quickly starting around last fall and ultimately exceeded expectations.

This latest fund actually makes up two separate investment vehicles, Foresite Capital Fund V, and Foresite Capital Opportunity Fund V, but Tananbaum says that the money will be used to fuel investments in line with its existing approach, which includes companies ranging from early- to late-stage, and everything in between. Foresite’s approach is designed to help it be uniquely positioned to shepherd companies from founding (they also have a company-building incubator) all the way to public market exit – and even beyond. Tananbaum said that they’re also very interested in coming in later to startups they have have missed out on at earlier stages of their growth, however.

Image Credits: Foresite Capital

“We can also come into a later situation that’s competitive with a number of hedge funds, and bring something unique to the table, because we have all these value added resources that we used to start companies,” Tananbaum said. “So we have a competitive advantage for later stage deals, and we have a competitive advantage for early stage deals, by virtue of being able to function at a high level in the capital markets.”

Foresite’s other advantage, according to Tananbaum, is that it has long focused on the intersection of traditional tech business mechanics and biotech. That approach has especially paid off in recent years, he says, since the gap between the two continues to narrow.

“We’ve just had this enormous believe that technology, and tools and data science, machine learning, biotechnology, biology, and genetics – they are going to come together,” he told me. “There hasn’t been an organization out there that really speaks both languages well for entrepreneurs, and knows how to bring that diverse set of people together. So that’s what we specialized i,n and we have a lot of resources and a lot of cross-lingual resources, so that techies that can talk to biotechies, and biotechies can talk to techies.”

Foresite extended this approach to company formation with the creation of Foresite Labs, an incubation platform that it spun up in October 2019 to leverage this experience at the earliest possible stage of startup founding. It’s run by Dr. Vik Bajaj, who was previously co-founder and Chief Science Officer of Alphabet’s Verily health sciences enterprise.

“What’s going on, or last couple decades, is that the innovation cycles are getting faster and faster,” Tananbaum said. “So and then at some point, the people that are having the really big wins on the public side are saying, ‘Well, these really big wins are being driven by innovation, and by quality science, so let’s go a little bit more upstream on the quality science.’”

That has combined with shorter and shorter healthcare product development cycles, he added, aided by general improvements in technology. Tananbaum pointed out that when he began Foresite in 2011, even, the time horizons for returns on healthcare investments were significantly longer, and at the outside edge of the tolerances of venture economics. Now, however, they’re much closer to those found in the general tech startup ecosystem, even in the case of fundamental scientific breakthroughs.

CAMBRIDGE – DECEMBER 1: Stephanie Chandler, Relay Therapeutics Office Manager, demonstrates how she and her fellow co-workers at the company administer their own COVID tests inside the COVID testing room at Relay Therapeutics in Cambridge, MA on Dec. 1, 2021. The cancer treatment development company converted its coat room into a room where employees get tested once a week. All 100+employees have been back in the office as a result of regular testing. Relay is a Foresite portfolio company. (Photo by Jessica Rinaldi/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)

“Basically, you’re seeing people now really look at biotech in general, in the same kind of way that you would look at a tech company,” he said. “There are these tech metrics that now also apply in biotech, about adoption velocity, other other things that may not exactly equate to immediate revenue, but give you all the core material that usually works over time.”

Overall, Foresite’s investment thesis focuses on funding companies in three areas – therapeutics at the clinical stage, infrastructure focused on automation and data generation, and what Tananbaum calls “individualized care.” All three are part of a continuum in the tech-enabled healthcare end state that he envisions, ultimately resulting “a world where we’re able to, at the individual level, help someone understand what their predispositions are to disease development.” That, Tananbaum suggests, will result in a transformation of this kind of targeted care into an everyday consumer experience – in the same way tech in general has taken previously specialist functions and abilities, and made them generally available to the public at large.

#alphabet, #articles, #biotech, #biotechnology, #ceo, #corporate-finance, #economy, #entrepreneurship, #finance, #foresite-capital, #fund, #fundings-exits, #health, #innovation, #investment, #jim-tananbaum, #machine-learning, #private-equity, #startup-company, #tc, #venture-capital, #vik-bajaj

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LA-based Metropolis raises $41 million to upgrade parking infrastructure

Metropolis is a new Los Angeles-based startup that’s looking to compete with BMW-owned ParkMobile for a slice of the automated parking lot management market.

Upgrading ParkMobile’s license plate-based service with a computer vision based system that recognizes cars as they enter and leave garages has been Metropolis’ mission since founder and chief executive Alex Israel first formed the business back in 2017.

Israel, a serial entrepreneur, has spent decades thinking about parking. His last company, ParkMe, was sold to Inrix back in 2015. And it was with those earnings and experience that Israel went back to the drawing board to develop a new kind of parking payment and management service.

Now, the company is ready for its closeup, announcing not only its launch, but $41 million in financing the company raised from investors including the real estate managers Starwood and RXR Realty; Dick Costolo’s 01 Advisors; Dragoneer; former Facebook employees Sam Lessin and Kevin Colleran’s Slow Ventures; Dan Doctoroff, the head of Alphabet’s Sidewalk Labs initiative; and NBA All star and early stage investor, Baron Davis. 

According to Alex Israel, the parking payment application is the foundation for a bigger business empire that hopes to reimagine parking spaces as hubs for a broad array of urban mobility services.

In this, the company’s goals aren’t dissimilar from the Florida-based startup, REEF, which has its own spin on what to do with the existing infrastructure and footprint created by urban parking spaces. And REEF’s $700 million round of funding from last year shows there’s a lot of money to be made — or at least spent — in a parking lot.

Unlike REEF, Metropolis will remain focused on mobility, according to Israel. “How does parking change over the next 20 years as mobility shifts?” he asked. And he’s hoping that Metropolis will provide an answer. 

The company is hoping to use its latest funding to expand its footprint to over 600 locations over the course of the next year. In all, Metropolis has raised $60 million since it was formed back in 2017.

While the computer vision and machine learning technology will serve as the company’s beachhead into parking lots, services like cleaning, charging, storage and logistics could all be part and parcel of the Metropolis offering going forward, Israel said. “We become the integrator [and] we also in some cases become the direct service provider,” Israel said.

The company already has 10,000 parking spots that it’s managing for big real estate owners, and Israel expects more property managers to flood to its service.

“[Big property owners] are not thinking about the infrastructure requirements that allow for the seamless access to these facilities,” Israel said. His technology can allow buildings to capture more value through other services like dynamic pricing and yield optimization as well.

“Metropolis is finding the highest and best use whether that be scooter charging, scooter storage, fleet storage, fleet logistics, or sorting,” Israel said.  

 

#advisors, #alphabet, #bmw, #charging, #cleaning, #dan-doctoroff, #dick-costolo, #dynamic-pricing, #facebook, #florida, #head, #inrix, #israel, #logistics, #los-angeles, #machine-learning-technology, #national-basketball-association, #nba, #parking, #parkme, #reef, #sam-lessin, #serial-entrepreneur, #storage, #tc, #transport

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Google, Facebook tell SCOTUS it should be harder for you to sue them

Google, Facebook tell SCOTUS it should be harder for you to sue them

Enlarge (credit: Getty Images / Aurich Lawson)

Suing technology firms when they mess up is already hard, especially over privacy violations. Now, Facebook, Google, and the trade groups representing all the big tech firms are asking the Supreme Court to make it even harder for class actions to pursue cases against them.

Facebook, Google, and all the others submitted a filing (PDF) to the Supreme Court this week basically arguing that if you cannot prove the specific extent to which their screwup injured you, you should not have any grounds to be part of a lawsuit against them.

Class-action suits start with a lead plaintiff—basically a representative of the group who stands in for hundreds or thousands of other individuals in a similar or theoretically similar, but not necessarily identical, situation. This is particularly key in cases relating to privacy and data, where a small handful of plaintiffs for whom something goes badly wrong may be the reason that hundreds, thousands, or even millions of users then discover that their data is being similarly mishandled.

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#alphabet, #amicus-curiae, #facebook, #google, #lawsuits, #policy, #scotus, #supreme-court, #transunion

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Google Cloud lost $5.6B in 2020

Google continues to bet heavily on Google Cloud and while it is seeing accelerated revenue growth, its losses are also increasing. For the first time today, Google disclosed operating income/loss for its Google Cloud business unit in its quarterly earnings today. Google Cloud lost $5.6 billion in Google’s fiscal year 2020, which ended December 31. That’s on $13 billion of revenue.

While this may look a bit dire at first glance (cloud computing should be pretty profitable, after all), there’s different ways of looking at this. On the one hand, losses are mounting, up from $4.3 billion in 2018 and $4.6 billion in 2019, but revenue is also seeing strong growth, up from $5.8 billion in 2018 and $8.9 billion in 2019. What we’re seeing here, more than anything else, is Google investing heavily in its cloud business.

Google’s Cloud unit, led by its CEO Thomas Kurian, includes all of its cloud infrastructure and platform services, as well as Google Workspace (which you probably still refer to as G Suite). And that’s exactly where Google is making a lot of investments right now. Data centers, after all, don’t come cheap and Google Cloud launched four new regions in 2020 and started work on others. That’s on top of its investment in its core services and a number of acquisitions.

Image Credits: Google

“Our strong fourth quarter performance, with revenues of $56.9 billion, was driven by Search and YouTube, as consumer and business activity recovered from earlier in the year,” Ruth Porat, CFO of Google and Alphabet, said. “Google Cloud revenues were $13.1 billion for 2020, with significant ongoing momentum, and we remain focused on delivering value across the growth opportunities we see.”

For now, though, Google’s core business, which saw a strong rebound in its advertising business in the last quarter, is subsidizing its cloud expansion.

Meanwhile, over in Seattle, AWS today reported revenue of $12.74 billion in the last quarter alone and operating income of $3.56 billion. For 2020, AWS’s operating income was $13.5 billion.

#alphabet, #amazon-web-services, #artificial-intelligence, #aws, #ceo, #cfo, #cloud-computing, #cloud-infrastructure, #companies, #computing, #diane-greene, #earnings, #google, #google-cloud, #google-cloud-platform, #ruth-porat, #seattle, #thomas-kurian, #world-wide-web

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Google settles federal gender and race discrimination charges for $3.8M

A large Google logo is displayed amidst foliage.

Enlarge (credit: Sean Gallup | Getty Images)

Google has agreed to a $3.8 million settlement with federal regulators to settle allegations that it both underpaid women software engineers and unfairly passed over women and Asian candidates for software engineering roles.

The settlement breaks down into three pools, the US Department of Labor announced Monday. As part of the agreement, about 2,500 women who currently work in engineering positions for Google will receive a total of $1.35 million, or about $527 per employee.

An additional $1.23 million in back pay, about $414 per person, will go to a pool of just under 3,000 applicants for “software engineering positions not hired.” The remaining $1.25 million is reserved for salary adjustments for employees currently working as software engineers based out of Google’s offices in California, New York, and Washington state.

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#alphabet, #bias, #discrimination, #disparities, #gender-bias, #google, #policy, #race-bias, #racism, #sexism

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Daily Crunch: Alphabet shuts down Loon

Alphabet pulls the plug on its internet balloon company, Apple is reportedly developing a new MacBook Air and Google threatens to pull out of Australia. This is your Daily Crunch for January 22, 2021.

The big story: Alphabet shuts down Loon

Alphabet announced that it’s shutting down Loon, the project that used balloons to bring high-speed internet to more remote parts of the world.

Loon started out under Alphabet’s experimental projects group X, before spinning out as a separate company in 2018. Despite some successful deployments, it seems that Loon was never able to find a sustainable business model.

“While we’ve found a number of willing partners along the way, we haven’t found a way to get the costs low enough to build a long-term, sustainable business,” Loon CEO Alastair Westgarth wrote in a blog post. “Developing radical new technology is inherently risky, but that doesn’t make breaking this news any easier.”

The tech giants

Apple reportedly planning thinner and lighter MacBook Air with MagSafe charging — The plan is reportedly to release the new MacBook Air as early as late 2021 or 2022.

Google threatens to close its search engine in Australia as it lobbies against digital news code — Google is dialing up its lobbying against draft legislation intended to force it to pay news publishers.

Cloudflare introduces free digital waiting rooms for any organizations distributing COVID-19 vaccines — The goal is to help health agencies and organizations tasked with rolling out COVID-19 vaccines to maintain a fair, equitable and transparent digital queue.

Startups, funding and venture capital

‘Slow dating’ app Once is acquired by Dating Group for $18M as it seeks to expand its portfolio — Once has 9 million users on its platform, with an additional 1 million users from a spin-out app called Pickable.

MotoRefi raises $10M to keep pedal on auto refinancing growth — CEO Kevin Bennett sees the opportunity to service Americans who collectively hold $1.2 trillion in auto loans.

Backed by Vint Cerf, Emortal wants to protect your digital legacy from ‘bit-rot’ —  Emortal is a startup that wants to help you organize, protect, preserve and pass on your “digital legacy” and protect it from becoming unreadable.

Advice and analysis from Extra Crunch

How VCs invested in Asia and Europe in 2020 — The unicorns are feasting.

End-to-end operators are the next generation of consumer business — VC firm Battery has tracked seismic shifts in how consumer purchasing behavior has changed over the years.

Drupal’s journey from dorm-room project to billion-dollar exit — Twenty years ago, Drupal and Acquia founder Dries Buytaert was a college student at the University of Antwerp.

(Extra Crunch is our membership program, which helps founders and startup teams get ahead. You can sign up here.)

Everything else

UK resumes privacy oversight of adtech, warns platform audits are coming — The U.K.’s data watchdog has restarted an investigation of adtech practices that, since 2018, have been subject to scores of complaints under GDPR.

Boston Globe will consider people’s requests to have articles about them anonymized — It’s reminiscent of the EU’s “right to be forgotten,” though potentially less controversial.

The Daily Crunch is TechCrunch’s roundup of our biggest and most important stories. If you’d like to get this delivered to your inbox every day at around 3pm Pacific, you can subscribe here.

#alphabet, #daily-crunch, #loon, #tc

0

YouTube suspends Trump’s account, disables comments “indefinitely”

An illustration of YouTube's logo behind barbed wire.

Enlarge (credit: YouTube / Getty / Aurich Lawson)

YouTube, following in the path of very nearly every other social media platform, is suspending President Donald Trump’s channel due to concerns that he will use it to foment additional violence in the coming days.

“After review, and in light of concerns about the ongoing potential for violence, we removed new content uploaded to Donald J. Trump’s channel for violating our policies,” the company said late Tuesday. “It now has its first strike and is temporarily prevented from uploading new content for a *minimum* of 7 days.”

While it is possible Trump may have his account reinstated after that period, comments to his videos are shut down “indefinitely,” due to “safety concerns found in the comments section,” YouTube added.

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#alphabet, #donald-trump, #google, #insurrection, #policy, #sedition, #trump, #youtube

0

Daily Crunch: Hundreds of Google and Alphabet employees unionize

Google employees take another step in their activism, Venmo adds a check-cashing feature and Slack has some issues. This is your Daily Crunch for January 4, 2021.

The big story: Hundreds of Google and Alphabet employees unionize

More than 200 employees at Google and its parent company Alphabet have announced that they have formed the Alphabet Workers Union.

Obviously, that’s only a tiny fraction of Alphabet’s workforce of more than 130,000 employees. But according to The New York Times, the group is a “minority union” designed to give more structure to employee activism, rather than one that negotiates for a contract. And it will also be open to contractors.

“This is historic—the first union at a major tech company by and for all tech workers,” said Google software engineer Dylan Baker in a statement. “We will elect representatives, we will make decisions democratically, we will pay dues, and we will hire skilled organizers to ensure all workers at Google know they can work with us if they actually want to see their company reflect their values.”

The tech giants

It’s not just you, Slack is struggling this morning — Precisely when the downtime began is not clear, though problems amongst the TechCrunch staff began a little after 10 a.m. Eastern time.

Venmo adds a check-cashing feature, waives fees for stimulus checks — The feature can be used to cash printed, payroll and U.S. government checks, including the new stimulus checks.

Samsung’s next Unpacked event is January 14 — This one’s called “Welcome to the Everyday Epic.”

Startups, funding and venture capital

Color raises $167M funding at $1.5B valuation to expand ‘last mile’ of US health infrastructure — Color’s 2020 was a record year for the company.

Lidar startup Aeva raises another $200M ahead of its debut as a public company — Aeva is one of a handful of lidar companies to eschew the traditional IPO path and go public via a SPAC merger.

India’s CRED raises $81M, buys back shares worth $1.2M from employees — CRED has nearly doubled its customer base to about 5.9 million in the past year, or about 20% of the credit card holder base in India.

Advice and analysis from Extra Crunch

How artificial intelligence will be used in 2021 — Scale AI CEO Alexandr Wang forecasts the biggest emerging use cases.

2020 was a record year for Israel’s security startup ecosystem — A look back at notable funding trends, rounds and exits.

Five questions about 2021’s startup market — Each question relates to a 2020 change that is expected to persist.

(Extra Crunch is our membership program, which aims to democratize information about startups. You can sign up here.)

Everything else

Astronaut Anne McClain on designing and piloting the next generation of spacecraft — McClain is one of the astronauts who will be taking part in the Artemis missions.

Mixtape podcast: Behind the curtain of diversity theater — Most TechCrunch readers have probably heard of diversity reports, but you may not know what’s going on behind the scenes.

Original Content podcast: ‘Wonder Woman 1984’ might be a beautiful mess, or maybe just a mess — And yet one of my co-hosts actually preferred the sequel to the original.

The Daily Crunch is TechCrunch’s roundup of our biggest and most important stories. If you’d like to get this delivered to your inbox every day at around 3pm Pacific, you can subscribe here.

#alphabet, #daily-crunch, #google, #policy

0

Google employees kick off union membership drive for 120,000 workers

A large Google sign seen on a window of Google's headquarters.

Enlarge / Exterior view of a Googleplex building, the corporate headquarters of Google and parent company Alphabet, May 2018. (credit: Getty Images | zphotos)

More than 225 workers at Google have formally launched a company-wide union membership drive, following an increasing drive toward organization inside the company over the past several years.

All 120,000 people who work for Google parent company Alphabet, including temporary, contract, and part-time workers, will be eligible for membership in the Alphabet Workers Union, according to a joint statement from the union and the Communications Workers of America, of which it is a part.

“Our company’s motto used to be, ‘don’t be evil,'” the chair and vice chair of the new union wrote in a New York Times op-ed. “An organized workforce will help us live up to it.”

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#alphabet, #alphabet-workers-union, #biz-it, #communications-workers-of-america, #google, #labor, #labor-rights, #organization, #policy, #unionization, #unions, #workers-rights

0

The built environment will be one of tech’s next big platforms

From the beginning, the plan for Sidewalk Labs (a subsidiary of Alphabet and — by extension — a relative of Google) to develop a $1.3 billion tech-enabled real estate project on the Toronto waterfront was controversial.

Privacy advocates had justified concerns about the Google-adjacent company’s ability to capture a near-total amount of data from the residents of the development or any city-dweller that wandered into its high-tech panopticon.

But Alphabet, Sidewalk Labs’ leadership and even Canada’s popular prime minister, Justin Trudeau, had high hopes for the project.

Startups working in real estate technology managed to nab a record $3.7 billion from investors in the first quarter of the year.

“Successful cities around the world are wrestling with the same challenges of growth, from rising costs of living that price out the middle class, to congestion and ever-longer commutes, to the challenges of climate change. Sidewalk Labs scoured the globe for the perfect place to create a district focused on solutions to these pressing challenges, and we found it on Toronto’s Eastern Waterfront — along with the perfect public-sector partner, Waterfront Toronto,” said Sidewalk Labs chief executive Dan Doctoroff, the former deputy mayor of New York, in a statement announcing the launch in 2017. “This will not be a place where we deploy technology for its own sake, but rather one where we use emerging digital tools and the latest in urban design to solve big urban challenges in ways that we hope will inspire cities around the world.”

From Sidewalk Labs’ perspective, the Toronto project would be an ideal laboratory that the company and the city of Toronto could use to explore the utility and efficacy of the latest and greatest new technologies meant to enhance city living and make it more environmentally sustainable.

The company’s stated goal, back in 2017 was “to create a place that encourages innovation around energy, waste and other environmental challenges to protect the planet; a place that provides a range of transportation options that are more affordable, safe and convenient than the private car; a place that embraces adaptable buildings and new construction methods to reduce the cost of housing and retail space; a place where public spaces welcome families to enjoy the outdoors day and night, and in all seasons; a place that is enhanced by digital technology and data without giving up the privacy and security that everyone deserves.”

From a purely engineering perspective, integrating these new technologies into a single site to be a test case made some sense. From a community development perspective, it was a nightmare. Toronto residents began to see the development as little more than a showroom for a slew of privacy-invading innovations that Sidewalk could then spin up into companies — or a space where startup companies could test their tech on a potentially unwitting population.

So when the economic implications of the global COVID-19 pandemic started to become clear back in March of this year, it seemed as good a time as any for Sidewalk Labs to shutter the project.

“[As] unprecedented economic uncertainty has set in around the world and in the Toronto real estate market, it has become too difficult to make the 12-acre project financially viable without sacrificing core parts of the plan we had developed together with Waterfront Toronto to build a truly inclusive, sustainable community,” Doctoroff said in a statement. “And so, after a great deal of deliberation, we concluded that it no longer made sense to proceed with the Quayside project.”

#alphabet, #real-estate, #reef-technology, #sidewalk-infrastructure-partners, #sidewalk-labs, #smart-cities, #tc

0

Google, Facebook reportedly agreed to work together to fight antitrust probes

A traffic signal in front of Google HQ indicates that pedestrians should not walk.

Enlarge / Signage in front of a building on the Google campus in Mountain View, California, on Wednesday, Dec. 16, 2020. (credit: David Paul Morris | Bloomberg | Getty Images)

More than three dozen state attorneys general last week filed an antitrust suit against Google, accusing the tech behemoth of a slew of anticompetitive behaviors. Among those behaviors, a new report finds, is an explicit agreement from Google to work with Facebook not only to divide the online advertising marketplace, but also to fend off antitrust investigations.

Facebook and Google agreed in a contract to “cooperate and assist each other in responding to any Antitrust Action” and “promptly and fully inform the Other Party of any Governmental Communication Related to the Agreement,” according to an unredacted draft copy of the lawsuit obtained by The Wall Street Journal.

The final version of the suit made public last week (PDF) alleged that Google and Facebook signed a secret agreement in 2018 that “fixes prices and allocates markets between Google and Facebook as competing bidders in the auctions for publishers’ Web display and in-app advertising inventory.”

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#alphabet, #antitrust, #collusion, #conspiracy, #facebook, #google, #lawsuits, #policy

0

Google committed “antitrust evils,” colluded with Facebook, new lawsuit says

A large Google logo is displayed amidst foliage.

Enlarge (credit: Sean Gallup | Getty Images)

Two separate coalitions of states have filed massive antitrust lawsuits against Google in the past 24 hours, alleging the company abuses its extensive power to force would-be competitors out of the marketplace and harms consumers in the process.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton spearheaded the first suit, which nine other states also signed onto. The second suit is led by Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser and Nebraska Attorney General Doug Peterson, and an additional 36 states and territories signed on.

Antitrust law isn’t just about being an illegal monopoly or even about being the dominant firm in your market sector. Although being a literal monopoly, with no available competition of any kind, can put you on the fast track to investigation, the law has broader concerns. Primarily, antitrust investigations are about anticompetitive behavior—in short, how a company uses its power. If you’re a big company because everyone likes your stuff best, well, you’re a big company, congratulations. But if you got to be the dominant company by cheating somehow—strong-arming other firms in the supply chain; targeted anticompetitive acquisitions; colluding with other firms to manipulate market conditions, and so on—that’s a problem.

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#alphabet, #antitrust, #google, #lawsuits, #policy, #texas

0

FTC kicks off sweeping privacy probe of nine major social media firms

A scalpel labeled FTC is surrounded by the logos of social media giants.

Enlarge (credit: Aurich Lawson / Ars Technica)

The Federal Trade Commission is stepping up its digital privacy work and has asked just about every major social media platform you can think of to explain what personal data it collects from users and why.

The requests for information went out today to nine platforms (or their parent companies, where applicable), including Discord, Facebook, Reddit, Snapchat, TikTok, Twitch, Twitter, WhatsApp, and YouTube, according to the press release. The companies that receive the orders have 45 days to explain to the FTC:

  • How social media and video streaming services collect, use, track, estimate, or derive personal and demographic information
  • How they determine which ads and other content are shown to consumers
  • Whether they apply algorithms or data analytics to personal information
  • How they measure, promote, and research user engagement
  • How their practices affect children and teens

A sample order (PDF) shows the depth and specificity of the information the FTC is requesting from each firm, including extremely granular data about monthly and daily active users, business and advertising strategies, and potential plans for acquisitions or divestments. Interestingly, each firm is also required to say how many users it has inaccurate demographic information for and how it accounts for targeted advertising, including inaccurately targeted advertising. In other words, among other things the FTC wants to know: do you give advertisers their money back if you don’t actually target the groups they’re trying to reach?

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#alphabet, #amazon, #consumer-privacy, #data-privacy, #discord, #facebook, #federal-trade-commission, #ftc, #policy, #privacy, #reddit, #snapchat, #tiktok, #twitch, #twitter, #whatsapp, #youtube

0

Google parts with top AI researcher after blocking paper, faces blowback

Former Google AI Research Scientist Timnit Gebru speaks onstage during Day 3 of TechCrunch Disrupt SF 2018 at Moscone Center on September 7, 2018 in San Francisco, California.

Enlarge / Former Google AI Research Scientist Timnit Gebru speaks onstage during Day 3 of TechCrunch Disrupt SF 2018 at Moscone Center on September 7, 2018 in San Francisco, California. (credit: Kimberly White | Getty Images)

Google struggled on Thursday to limit the fallout from the departure of a top artificial intelligence researcher after the Internet group blocked the publication of a paper on an important AI ethics issue.

Timnit Gebru, who had been co-head of AI ethics at Google, said on Twitter that she had been fired after the paper was rejected.

Jeff Dean, Google’s head of AI, defended the decision in an internal email to staff on Thursday, saying the paper “didn’t meet our bar for publication.” He also described Dr. Gebru’s departure as a resignation in response to Google’s refusal to concede to unspecified conditions she had set to stay at the company.

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#ai, #alphabet, #biz-it, #ethics, #google, #policy, #science

0

Google illegally spied on and retaliated against workers, feds say

Sunset, by the Google empire.

Enlarge / Sunset, by the Google empire. (credit: 400tmax | Getty Images)

Google’s actions amid workplace organizing efforts, including the high-profile firings of several employees, were illegal violations of the National Labor Relations Act, federal regulators said this week.

The National Labor Relations Board filed a formal complaint (PDF) against Google Wednesday, alleging that the company has been “interfering with, restraining, and coercing employees” to interfere with their protected concerted activity—workplace organization rights that are protected by law.

Google fired several different workers late last year amid apparent efforts to organize company employees. Four former employees who were let go last November—Laurence Berland, Paul Duke, Rebecca Rivers, and Sophie Waldman—filed complaints with the NLRB almost exactly a year ago alleging that Google’s “draconian, pernicious, and unlawful conduct” was an unlawful attempt to prevent workplace organizing.

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#alphabet, #google, #labor, #labor-law, #labor-rights, #national-labor-relations-board, #nlrb, #policy, #unions

0

Loon’s stratospheric balloons are now teaching themselves to fly better thanks to Google AI

Alphabet’s Loon has been using algorithmic processes to optimize the flight of its stratospheric balloons for years now – and setting records for time spent aloft as a result. But the company is now deploying a new navigation system that has the potential to be much better, and it’s using true reinforcement learning AI to teach itself to optimize navigation better than humans ever could.

Loon developed the new reinforcement learning system, which it says is the first to be used in an actual product aerospace context, with its Alphabet colleagues at Google AI in Montreal over the past couple of years. Unlike its past algorithmic navigation software, this one is devised entirely by machine – a machine that’s able to calculate the optimal navigation path for the balloons much more quickly than the human-made system could, and with much more efficiency, meaning the balloons use much less power to travel the same or greater distances than before.

How does Loon know it’s better? They actually pitted the new AI navigation against their human algorithm-based prior system directly, with a 39 day test that flew over the Pacific Ocean. The reinforcement learning model kept the Loon balloon aloft over target areas for longer continuous periods, using less energy than the older system, and it even came up with some new navigational moves that the team has never seen or conceived of before.

After this and other tests proved such dramatic successes, Loon actually then went ahead and deployed across its entire production fleet, which is currently deployed across parts of Africa to serve commercial customers in Kenya.

This is one of few real-world examples of an AI system that employs reinforcement learning to actively teach itself to perform better being used in a real-life setting, to control the performance of real hardware operating in a production capacity and serving paying customers. It’s a remarkable achievement, and definitely one that will be watched closely by others in aerospace and beyond.

#aerospace, #africa, #alphabet, #articles, #artificial-intelligence, #balloon, #cybernetics, #google, #kenya, #montreal, #robotics, #science-and-technology, #tc, #x

0

Google says its News Showcase will add free access to paywalled stories

Google News Showcase visitors will soon be able to read select paywalled articles at no extra charge.

That’s one of several announcements that the search giant made today about News Showcase, the program where it pays publishers (with $1 billion committed initially) to license their content for a new format in Google News. So far, Google News Showcase has launched in countries including Germany, Brazil, Argentina, Canada, France, U.K. and Australia — in several cases, those are markets where it’s previously faced legal challenges and antitrust scrutiny.

Google says it will be paying participating publishers to provide “limited access to paywalled content for News Showcase users.” Those users will, however, still need to register directly with the publishers, which Google says will give them a way to build a relationship. (Facebook has also been experimenting with ways to present paywalled content, in its case by linking Facebook accounts to news subscriptions.)

The main News Showcase format is essentially story panel, and Google says it’s introducing a new panel allowing publishers to curate a daily selection of their most important stories. Those panels will be shown to users who follow those publishers.

Google News Showcase

Image Credits: Google

Google is also bringing the News Showcase to new devices and channels. It started out on Google News on Android and is now available on iOS as well, with plans to expand to the news.google.com website and Discover soon. And it says it has doubled the number of partners since the launch in October — the list of nearly 400 publishers participating in the program includes new names like Le Monde, Courrier International, L’Obs, Le Figaro, Libération and L’Express in France, plus Página12, La Gaceta and El Día in Argentina.

“As 2020 comes to a close, it is heartening to witness the progress of News Showcase and the enthusiasm from both publishers and readers around the world,” the company writes. “We will continue to engage and incorporate feedback as we build out features and grow the product to add to the future sustainability of our news partners.”

#alphabet, #google, #media, #policy

0

YouTube targets music fans with new audio ad format

YouTube is announcing new ad products today, designed to help marketers reach YouTube visitors who are doing more listening than watching.

The big addition is audio advertising. As the Google -owned video site puts it in a blog post, these are ads designed for viewers who “squeeze in a living room workout before dinner, catch up on a podcast or listen to a virtual concert on a Friday night.”

In other words, audio ads are designed for videos where audience members may only be glancing at the screen occasionally, or might ignoring the visuals altogether. To be clear, these ads won’t be audio-only, but YouTube says the audio should be doing most of the communication, while the visual side is limited to “a still image or simple animation.”

The company says that in early testing, more than 75% of audio ad campaigns on YouTube resulted in a significant lift in brand awareness. For example, this Shutterfly ad resulted in a 14% lift in ad recall and a 2% increase in favorability in its target audience.

The key, YouTube says, is that the audio has to carry the message: “Think: If I close my eyes, I can still clearly understand what this ad is about.”

In addition to launching audio ads in beta, YouTube is also announcing dynamic music lineups, allowing marketers to target their campaigns at collections of music channels on YouTube. These lineups can be focused on a genre, such as Latin music or K-pop, or on an interest like fitness.

In a separate blog post, YouTube’s Head of Music Lyor Cohen made a broader case to advertisers about why they should see YouTube as an essential music streaming platform.

After all, according to Cohen, more than 2 billion logged-in viewers are watching at least one music video each month. And, he wrote, “music is more front and center than you might think” — 60% of YouTube’s music viewing happens on mobile, where background viewing/listening is disabled.

That might seem like an odd thing to emphasize while launching an ad format better suited to background listening, but Cohen continued, “Regardless of when and how people are tuning in, we have ways to help advertisers connect, even when they’re consuming music in the background. Now you can complement the moments your consumers are watching, by engaging them in moments when they’re listening, with newly announced audio ads.”

#advertising-tech, #alphabet, #google, #youtube

0

Sequoia-backed recycling robot maker AMP Robotics gets its largest purchase order

AMP Robotics, the manufacturer of robotic recycling systems, has received its largest purchase order from the publicly traded North American waste handling company, Waste Connections.

The order, for 24 machine learning enabled robotic recycling systems, will be used on container, fiber and residue lines across numerous materials recovery facilities, the company said.

The AMP technology can be used to recover plastics, cardboard, paper, cans, cartons and many other containers and packaging types reclaimed for raw material processing.

The tech can tell the difference between high-density polyethylene and polyethylene terephthalate, low-density polyethylene, polypropylene, and polystyrene. The robots can also sort for color, clarity, opacity and shapes like lids, tubs, clamshells, and cups — the robots can even identify the brands on packaging.

So far, AMP’s robots have been deployed in North America, Asia, and Europe with recent installations in Spain, and across the US in California, Colorado, Florida, Minnesota, Michigan, New York, Texas, Virginia and Wisconsin.

In January, before the pandemic began, AMP Robotics worked with its investor, Sidewalk Labs on a pilot program that would provide residents of a single apartment building representing 250 units in Toronto with detailed information about their recycling habits.

Working with the building and a waste hauler, Sidewalk Labs  would transport the waste to a Canada Fibers material recovery facility where trash will be sorted by both Canada Fibers employees and AMP Robotics. Once the waste is categorized, sorted, and recorded Sidewalk will communicate with residents of the building about how they’re doing in their recycling efforts.

Sidewalk says that the tips will be communicated through email, an online portal, and signage throughout the building every two weeks over a three-month period.

For residents, it was an opportunity to have a better handle on what they can and can’t recycle and Sidewalk Labs is betting that the information will help residents improve their habits. And for folks who don’t want their trash to be monitored and sorted, they could opt out of the program.

Recyclers like Waste Connections should welcome the commercialization of robots tackling industry problems. Their once-stable business has been turned on its head by trade wars and low unemployment. About two years ago, China decided it would no longer serve as the world’s garbage dump and put strict standards in place for the kinds of raw materials it would be willing to receive from other countries. The result has been higher costs at recycling facilities, which actually are now required to sort their garbage more effectively.

At the same time, low unemployment rates are putting the squeeze on labor availability at facilities where humans are basically required to hand-sort garbage into recyclable materials and trash.

AMP Robotics is backed by Sequoia Capital,  BV, Closed Loop Partners, Congruent Ventures  and Sidewalk Infrastructure Partners, a spin-out from Alphabet that invests in technologies and new infrastructure projects.

#alphabet, #amp-robotics, #amps, #articles, #asia, #california, #china, #colorado, #congruent-ventures, #energy-conservation, #europe, #florida, #machine-learning, #materials, #matter, #michigan, #minnesota, #new-york, #north-america, #plastics, #recycling, #robot, #robotics, #sequoia-capital, #sidewalk-infrastructure-partners, #spain, #tc, #texas, #toronto, #united-states, #virginia, #water-conservation, #wisconsin

0

Google apologizes to Thierry Breton over plan to target EU commissioner

EU Commissioner for Internal Market Thierry Breton talks to media during a press conference in June.

Enlarge / EU Commissioner for Internal Market Thierry Breton talks to media during a press conference in June. (credit: Thierry Monasse | Getty Images)

The chief executive of Google’s parent company Alphabet has apologized to Thierry Breton after an internal document laid out a plan to attack the EU commissioner, and promised that such tactics were “not the way we operate.”

In a virtual meeting on Thursday, Sundar Pichai told Mr. Breton, the internal market commissioner, that Google was a very large company and that the document “was never shown to me.” He added that he had not “sanctioned” the plan, according to two people familiar with the conversation.

The document set out Google’s response to landmark new legislation from the EU as the bloc reshapes how it regulates internet companies.

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#alphabet, #antitrust, #ec, #eu, #google, #policy, #theirry-breton

0

Alphabet delivers wireless Internet over light beams from 20km away

A wireless communication terminal on the rooftop of a large building in Kenya.

Enlarge / Piloting Taara’s wireless optical communication links in Kenya. (credit: Allphabet)

Alphabet will soon deliver wireless Internet over light beams in Kenya using a technology that can cover distances of up to 20km. Alphabet’s Project Taara, unveiled under a different name in 2017, conducted a series of pilots in Kenya last year and is now partnering with a telecom company to deliver Internet access in remote parts of Africa.

Kenya will get the technology first, with other countries in sub-Saharan Africa to follow. Project Taara General Manager Mahesh Krishnaswamy described the project in an announcement from Alphabet today:

Project Taara is now working with Econet and its subsidiaries, Liquid Telecom and Econet Group, to expand and enhance affordable, high-speed Internet to communities across their networks in Sub-Saharan Africa. Taara’s links will begin rolling out across Liquid Telecom’s networks in Kenya first, and will help provide high-speed connectivity in places where it’s challenging to lay fiber cables, or where deploying fiber might be too costly or dangerous—for example over rivers, across national parks, or in post-conflict zones.

Like fiber, without cables

Illustration of a Project Taara terminal delivering Internet access from a tall building to a remote area.

Illustration of a Project Taara terminal delivering Internet access from a tall building to a remote area. (credit: Alphabet)

Similar to fiber-optic cables, Taara’s technology uses light to transmit data, but without the cables. Krishnaswamy continued:

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#africa, #alphabet, #biz-it, #kenya, #project-loon, #project-taara, #wireless-internet

0

Alphabet’s X partners with Econet Group to roll out Project Taara wireless light-beam broadband in Africa

Alphabet’s X ‘Moonshot Factory’ subsidiary has a lot of cutting edge projects in development, so it’s always exciting when one of them gets ready for real-world deployment. On Tuesday, X announced that its ‘Project Taara’ high-speed optical wireless broadband endeavor is working with internet provider Econet and its subsidiaries to begin rolling out its tech across Sub-Saharan Africa.

This deployment follows a series of small pilots in Kenya specifically, but now Taara and Econet are ready to start adding high-speed wireless optical links to supplement and enhance Econet service reach more broadly, starting with Liquid Telecom customers in Kenya. Taara is yet another approach to extending the reach of broadband networks to parts of the Earth that have typically not had access or high-speed connections, due primarily to infrastructure challenges.

X’s Taara is essentially a fiber optic network cable without the cable – it uses a narrow, invisible beam of light to transmit data between two terminals that can span up to nearly 12.5 miles, while providing transfer speeds up to 20 Gbps, which means they can be used to connect thousands of customers or households while providing speeds high enough for streaming high quality video.

Image Credits: X, the moonshot factory

Taara’s technology can essentially be used to patch gaps in traditional fiber optic networks, spanning rivers or crossing terrain that would be hard or impossible to span using either under or aboveground cable. They do require unbroken line of sight, so X sets them atop tall structures to help ensure that’s achieved, and it also means they’re best suited to plugging holes in traditional networks, not necessarily building out entirely new ones. But contrasted to efforts like Alphabet’s Loon stratospheric balloons or SpaceX’s Starlink satellite-based network, it’s relatively easy and cheap to get this up and running and working with existing network infrastructure.

X has been piloting Taara in a number of deployments around the world, but this is a sign that it’s maturing towards a commercialization stage that could see it in service as a supplement to existing networks in a lot more places relatively soon.

#alphabet, #broadband, #fiber-optic, #internet, #kenya, #liquid-telecom, #science, #spacex, #starlink, #tc, #telecommunications, #wireless-broadband

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Q3 earnings find Apple and Google looking to the future for hardware rebounds

“5G is a once-in-a-decade kind of opportunity,” Tim Cook told the media during the Q&A portion of Apple’s Q3 earnings call. “And we could not be more excited to hit the market exactly when we did.”

The truth of the matter is its timing was a mixed bag. Apple was, by some accounts, late to 5G. By the time the company finally announced that it was adding the technology across its lineup of iPhone 12 variants, much of its competition had already beat the company to the punch. Of course, that’s not a huge surprise. Apple’s strategy is rarely a rush to be first.

5G networks are only really starting to come into their own now. Even today, there are still wide swaths of users who will have to default to an LTE connection the majority of the time they use their handsets. The arrival of 5G on the iPhone was really as much about future-proofing this year’s models as anything. Consumers are holding onto phones longer, and in the three or four years before it’s time for another upgrade, the 5G maps will look very different.

Clearly, the new iPhone didn’t hit the market exactly when Apple had hoped; the pandemic saw to that. Manufacturing bottlenecks in Asia delayed the iPhone 12’s launch by a month. That’s going to have an impact on the bottom line of your quarterly earnings. The company saw a 20% drop for the quarter, year-over-year. That’s hugely significant, causing the company’s stock to drop more than 4% in extended trading.

Apple’s diverse portfolio helped curb some of those revenue slides. While the pandemic has generally had a profound impact on consumer spending on “non-essentials,” changing where and how we work has helped bolster Mac and iPad sales, which were up 28 and 46% respectively, year-over-year. It wasn’t enough to completely stop the iPhone stumble, but it certainly brings the importance of a diverse hardware portfolio into sharp relief.

China was a big issue for the company this time around — and the lack of a new, 5G-enabled iPhone was a big contributor. In greater China (including Taiwan and Hong Kong), the company saw a 28% drop in sales. There are a number of reasons to be hopeful about iPhone sales in Q4, however.

As I noted this morning, smartphone shipments were down almost across the board in China for Q3, per new figures from Canalys. Much of that can be chalked up to Huawei’s ongoing issues with the U.S. government. Long the dominant manufacturer in mainland China, the company has been hamstrung by, among other things, a ban on access to Android and other U.S.-made technologies. Apple’s numbers remained relatively steady compared to the competition and Huawei’s issues could present a big hole in the market. With 5G on its side, this next quarter could prove a banner year for the company.

#5g, #alphabet, #amazon, #apple, #earnings, #google, #hardware, #iphone, #mobile, #pixel

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Daily Crunch: Google had a good quarter

Google releases its latest earnings report, Spotify is getting ready to raise prices and Excel gets friendlier to custom data types. This is your Daily Crunch for October 29, 2020.

The big story: Google had a good quarter

Google’s parent company Alphabet released its third-quarter earnings report this afternoon, coming in well ahead of Wall Street expectations thanks in large part to YouTube, which saw revenue rise to $5.0 billion (compared to $3.8 billion during Q3 2019).

Google Cloud also grew revenue from $2.4 billion last year to $3.44 billion in the most recent quarter. Overall, Alphabet reported revenue of $46.2 billion and earnings per share of $16.40, compared to analyst predictions of $42.88 billion in revenue and EPS of $11.21.

The company’s shares quickly rose 8.5% in after-hours trading.

The tech giants

Spotify CEO says company will ‘further expand price increases’ — Although the company didn’t detail its plans, CEO Daniel Ek said the hikes will take place in markets that are more mature for Spotify.

Microsoft now lets you bring your own data types to Excel — That means you can have a “customer” data type, for example, bringing in rich customer data from a third-party service into Excel.

Why Apple’s Q4 earnings look different this year — With Apple’s latest iPhone launch running a few weeks behind this year, it missed the window to be included on Q4.

Startups, funding and venture capital

Donut launches Watercooler, an easy way to socialize online with co-workers — The startup also announced that it has raised $12 million in total funding, led by Accel.

One-click housing startup Atmos raises another $4M from Khosla, real estate strategics and TikTok star Josh Richards — According to CEO Nick Donahue, users have started designing the “first dozen homes” on the platform.

Commissary Club wants to help formerly incarcerated people find community —  While 70 Million Jobs focuses on helping people with criminal records find jobs, its new network Commissary Club is designed to be a place for folks to find community.

Advice and analysis from Extra Crunch

VCs poured capital into European startups in Q3, but early-stage dealmaking appeared to suffer — The VC trends of later and larger continue to change the landscape of private capital.

In the ‘buy now, pay later’ wars, PayPal is primed for dominance — Button’s Stephen Milbank writes that the greatest limitation to buy-now-pay-later adoption is its availability.

Twitter’s API access changes are chasing away third-party developers — On August 12, Twitter launched a complete rebuild of its 2012 API.

(Reminder: Extra Crunch is our membership program, which aims to democratize information about startups. You can sign up here.)

Everything else

Europe to limit how big tech can push its own services and use third-party data — Commission EVP Margrethe Vestager confirmed that a legislative proposal due in a few weeks will aim to ban what she called “unfair self-preferencing.”

Comcast says Peacock has nearly 22M sign-ups — But it’s not clear how many of them are paid versus free.

Tech optimism…in this economy? — The latest episode of Equity looks at big startup opportunities for the coming decade.

The Daily Crunch is TechCrunch’s roundup of our biggest and most important stories. If you’d like to get this delivered to your inbox every day at around 3pm Pacific, you can subscribe here.

#advertising-tech, #alphabet, #daily-crunch, #earnings, #google, #media

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Strong YouTube ad growth powers Alphabet to better-than-expected Q3

Today after the bell, Alphabet announced its Q3 performance. The Google parent company generated revenues of $46.2 billion and per-share profit of $16.40 off the back of net income of $11.2 billion.

Analysts had expected Alphabet to earn $11.21 per share, from revenues of $42.88 billion according to Yahoo Finance; other estimates were larger, targeting $11.37 in per-share income off revenue of $42.84 billion.

The company’s shares instantly rose around 8.5% after its earnings beat.

Digging into the company’s numbers, YouTube revenue rose to $5.0 billion, from $3.8 billion in Q3 2019. Analysts had expected YouTube to generate $4.52 billion in total revenue during the most recent quarter.

Google Cloud managed to generate $3.44 billion from $2.4 billion in Q3 2019. The Google Cloud collection of cloud computing, productivity software, and other enterprise services generated $3.0 billion in the second quarter of this year. Analysts had expected Google Cloud to generate $3.31 billion in total revenue during the most recent quarter.

And Alphabet’s skunkworks division, Other Bets managed to generate $178 million in revenue, another quarter in which the set of companies was an excellent source of negative operating income. The collection of efforts lost $1.1 billion in the quarter.

#alphabet, #earnings, #google, #other-bets, #tc

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Investors appear to shrug at antitrust lawsuit aimed at Google

Investors do not seem concerned that the Department of Justice filed an antitrust suit against Google earlier today.

The suit, seen by some as a stunt near the election, is one of a multi-part push to change the face of the technology industry, which has seen its wealth and power expand in recent years. For example, technology companies now constitute nearly 40% of the value of the S&P 500, ahead of a 1999-era 37% share, according to The Wall Street Journal.

At the same time, the rising tide lifting many tech boats has provided huge gains to its largest players as well. Alphabet, Microsoft, Amazon and Apple are each worth north of $1 trillion apiece, making them historically valuable companies even amidst an economic downturn.

Those market caps do not appear to be in danger.

Today after lunch during regular trading hours the tech-heavy Nasdaq Composite index is up 0.86%, while Alphabet is up 0.91%, directly in line with broader trading. Shares of Alphabet initially rose this morning before giving back their gains. However, since those morning lows, shares of the tech giant have recovered to edge ahead of the market.

Investor reaction could shift regarding Google’s antitrust liabilities in time. The Department of Justice suit is hardly the only legal issue that the search giant is currently grappling with. But not today.

#alphabet, #antitrust, #department-of-justice, #google, #government, #tc

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Justice Dept. files long-awaited antitrust suit against Google

Will the sun ever set on the Google empire?

Enlarge / Will the sun ever set on the Google empire? (credit: 400tmax | Getty Images)

The Department of Justice today filed a landmark antitrust suit against Google, alleging that the company behaved anticompetitively and unfairly pushed out rivals in its search businesses.

A company does not have to be a literal monopoly, with no available competition of any kind, to be in violation of antitrust law. The law is instead primarily concerned with what a company does to attain dominance and what it does with that dominant position once it’s at the top. And according to the DOJ’s complaint (PDF), Google did indeed abuse its outsized market power to tilt the playing field in its favor and keep potential rivals out.

“Google is the gateway to the Internet,” Deputy Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen said in a call with reporters. “It has maintained its power through exclusionary practices that are harmful to competition.”

Read 6 remaining paragraphs | Comments

#alphabet, #antitrust, #competition, #department-of-justice, #doj, #google, #justice-department, #lawsuits, #policy

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The Justice Department has filed its antitrust lawsuit against Google

The Justice Department said it has filed its long-awaited antitrust lawsuit against Google, confirming an earlier report from The Wall Street Journal.

In the suit, the Justice Department is expected to argue that Google used anticompetitive practices to safeguard its monopoly position as the dominant force in search and search-advertising, which sit at the foundation of the company’s extensive advertising, data mining, video distribution, and information services conglomerate.

It would be the first significant legal challenge that Google has faced from U.S. regulators despite years of investigations into the company’s practices.

A 2012 attempt to bring the company to the courts to answer for anti-competitive practices was ultimately scuttled because regulators at the time weren’t sure they could make the case stick. Since that time Alphabet’s value has skyrocketed to reach over $1 trillion (as of today’s share price).

Alphabet, Google’s parent company, holds a commanding lead in both search and video. The company dominates the search market — with roughly 90% of the world’s internet searches conducted on its platform — and roughly three quarters of American adults turn to YouTube for video, as the Journal reported.

In the lawsuit, the Department of Justice will say that Alphabet’s Google subsidiary uses a web of exclusionary business agreements to shut out competitors. The billions of dollars that the search giant collects wind up paying mobile phone companies, carriers and browsers to make the Google search engine a preset default. That blocks competitors from being able to access the kinds of queries and traffic they’d need to refine their own search engine.

It will be those relationships — alongside Google’s insistence that its search engine come pre-loaded (and un-deletable) on phones using the Android operating system and that other search engines specifically not be pre-loaded — that form part of the government’s case, according to Justice Department officials cited by the Journal.

The antitrust suit comes on the heels of a number of other regulatory actions involving Google, which is not only the dominant online search provider, but also a leader in online advertising and in mobile technology by way of Android, as well as a strong player in a web of other interconnected services like mapping, online productivity software, cloud computing and more.

MOUNTAIN VIEW, UNITED STATES – 2020/02/23: American multinational technology company Google logo seen at Google campus. (Photo by Alex Tai/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

A report last Friday in Politico noted that Democrat Attorneys General would not be signing the suit. That report said those AGs have instead been working on a bipartisan, state-led approach covering a wider number of issues beyond search — the idea being also that more suits gives government potentially a stronger bargaining position against the tech giant.

A third suit is being put together by the state of Texas, although that has faced its own issues.

While a number of tech leviathans are facing increasing scrutiny from Washington, with the US now just two weeks from Election Day, it’s unlikely that we are going to see many developments around this and other cases before then. And in the case of this specific Google suit, in the event that Trump doesn’t get re-elected, there will also be a larger personnel shift at the DoJ that could also change the profile and timescale of the case.

In any event, fighting these regulatory cases is always a long, drawn-out process. In Europe, Google has faced a series of fines over antitrust violations stretching back several years, including a $2.7 billion fine over Google shopping; a $5 billion fine over Android dominance; and a $1.7 billion fine over search ad brokering. While Goolge slowly works through appeals, there are also more cases ongoing against the company in Europe and elsewhere.

Google is not the only one catching the attention of Washington. Earlier in October, the House Judiciary Committee released a report of more than 400 pages in which it outlined how tech giants Apple, Amazon, Alphabet (Google’s parent company) and Facebook were abusing their power, covering everything from the areas in which they dominate, through to suggestions for how to fix the situation (including curtailing their acquisitions strategy).

That seemed mainly to be an exercise in laying out the state of things, which could in turn be used to inform further actions, although in itself, unlike the DoJ suit, the House report lacks teeth in terms of enforcement or remedies.

#alphabet, #amazon, #android, #apple, #big-tech, #europe, #facebook, #google, #google-campus, #leader, #mobile-technology, #online-advertising, #online-search, #operating-system, #operating-systems, #search-advertising, #search-engine, #tc, #texas, #trump, #united-states

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Alphabet’s latest moonshot is a field-roving, plant-inspecting robo-buggy

Alphabet (you know… Google) has taken the wraps off the latest “moonshot” from its X labs: A robotic buggy that cruises over crops, inspecting each plant individually and, perhaps, generating the kind of “big data” that agriculture needs to keep up with the demands of a hungry world.

Mineral is the name of the project, and there’s no hidden meaning there. The team just thinks minerals are really important to agriculture.

Announced with little fanfare in a blog post and site, Mineral is still very much in the experimental phase. It was born when the team saw that efforts to digitize agriculture had not found as much success as expected at a time when sustainable food production is growing in importance every year.

“These new streams of data are either overwhelming or don’t measure up to the complexity of agriculture, so they defer back to things like tradition, instinct or habit,” writes Mineral head Elliott Grant. What’s needed is something both more comprehensive and more accessible.

Much as Google originally began with the idea of indexing the entire web and organizing that information, Grant and the team imagined what might be possible if every plant in a field were to be measured and adjusted for individually.

A robotic plant inspector from Mineral.

Image Credits: Mineral

The way to do this, they decided, was the “Plant buggy,” a machine that can intelligently and indefatigably navigate fields and do those tedious and repetitive inspections without pause. With reliable data at a plant-to-plant scale, growers can initiate solutions at that scale as well — a dollop of fertilizer here, a spritz of a very specific insecticide there.

They’re not the first to think so. FarmWise raised quite a bit of money last year to expand from autonomous weed-pulling to a full-featured plant intelligence platform.

As with previous X projects at the outset, there’s a lot of talk about what could happen in the future, and how they got where they are, but rather little when it comes to “our robo-buggy lowered waste on a hundred acres of soy by 10 percent” and such like concrete information. No doubt we’ll hear more as the project digs in.

#agriculture, #alphabet, #artificial-intelligence, #farming, #farmwise, #google, #google-x, #greentech, #hardware, #robotics

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