Biden’s new FTC nominee is a digital privacy advocate critical of Big Tech

President Biden made his latest nomination to the Federal Trade Commission this week, tapping digital privacy expert Alvaro Bedoya to join the agency as it takes a hard look at the tech industry.

Bedoya is the founding director of the Center on Privacy & Technology at Georgetown’s law school and previously served as chief counsel for former Senator Al Franken and the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Privacy, Technology, and the Law. Bedoya has worked on legislation addressing some of the most pressing privacy issues in tech, including stalkerware and facial recognition systems.

In 2016, Bedoya co-authored a report titled “The Perpetual Line-Up: Unregulated Police Face Recognition in America,” a year-long investigation that dove deeply into the police use of facial recognition systems in the U.S. The 2016 report examined law enforcement’s reliance on facial recognition systems and biometric databases on a state level. It argued that regulations are desperately needed to curtail potential abuses and algorithmic failures before the technology inevitably becomes even more commonplace.

Bedoya also isn’t shy about calling out Big Tech. In a New York Times op-ed a few years ago, he took aim at Silicon Valley companies giving user privacy lip service in public while quietly funneling millions toward lobbyists to undermine consumer privacy. The new FTC nominee singled out Facebook specifically, pointing to the company’s efforts to undermine the Illinois Biometric Information Privacy Act, a state law that serves as one of the only meaningful checks on invasive privacy practices in the U.S.

Bedoya argued that the tech industry would have an easier time shaping a single, sweeping piece of privacy regulations with its lobbying efforts rather than a flurry of targeted, smaller bills. Antitrust advocates in Congress taking aim at tech today seem to have learned that same lesson as well.

“We cannot underestimate the tech sector’s power in Congress and in state legislatures,” Bedoya wrote. “If the United States tries to pass broad rules for personal data, that effort may well be co-opted by Silicon Valley, and we’ll miss our best shot at meaningful privacy protections.”

If confirmed, Bedoya would join big tech critic Lina Khan, a recent Biden FTC nominee who now chairs the agency. Khan’s focus on antitrust and Amazon in particular would dovetail with Bedoya’s focus on adjacent privacy concerns, making the pair a formidable regulatory presence as the Biden administration seeks to rein in some of the tech industry’s most damaging excesses.

#biden, #biden-administration, #big-tech, #biometrics, #congress, #consumer-privacy, #facial-recognition, #federal-trade-commission, #government, #lina-khan, #privacy, #surveillance, #tc, #united-states

Microsoft acquires video creation and editing software maker Clipchamp

Video editing software may become the next big addition to Microsoft’s suite of productivity tools. On Tuesday, Microsoft announced it’s acquiring Clipchamp, a company offering web-based video creation and editing software that allows anyone to put together video presentations, promos or videos meant for social media destinations like Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube. According to Microsoft, Clipchamp is a “natural fit” to extend its exiting productivity experiences in Microsoft 365 for families, schools, and businesses.

The acquisition appealed to Microsoft for a few reasons. Today, more people are creating and using video, thanks to a growing set of new tools that allow anyone — even non-professionals — to quickly and easily perform advanced edits and produce quality video content. This, explains Microsoft, has allowed video to establish itself as a new type of “document” for businesses to do things like pitch an idea, explain a process, or communicate with team members.

The company also saw Clipchamp as an interesting acquisition target due to how it combined “the simplicity of a web app with the full computing power of a PC with graphics processing unit (GPU) acceleration,” it said. That makes the software a good fit for the Microsoft Windows customer base, as well.

Clipchamp itself had built a number of online tools in the video creation and editing space, including its video maker Clipchamp Create, which offers features for trimming, cutting, cropping, rotating, speed control, and adding text, audio, images, colors, and filters. It also provides other tools that make video creation easier, like templates, free stock video and audio libraries, screen recorders, text-to-speech tools, and others for simplifying a brand’s fonts, colors and logos for use in video. A discontinued set of utilities called Clipchamp Utilities had once included a video compressor and converters, as well as an in-browser webcam recorder. Some of this functionality was migrated over to the new Clipchamp app, however.

After producing the videos with Clipchamp, creators can choose between different output styles and aspect ratios for popular social media networks, making it a popular tool for online marketers.

Image Credits: Clipchamp

Since its founding in 2013, Clipchamp grew to attract over 17 million registered users and has served over 390,000 companies, growing at a rate of 54% year-over-year. As the pandemic forced more organizations towards remote work, the use of video has grown as companies adopted the medium for training, communication, reports, and more. During the first half of 2021, Clipchamp saw a 186% increase in video exports. Videos using the 16:9 aspect ratio grew by 189% while the 9:16 aspect ratio for sharing to places like Instagram Stories and TikTok grew by 140% and the 1:1 aspect ratio for Instagram grew 72%. Screen recording also grew 57% and webcam recording grew 65%.

In July, Clipchamp CEO Alexander Dreiling commented on this growth, noting the company had nearly tripled its team over the past year.

“We are acquiring two times more users on average than we did at the same time a year ago while also doubling the usage rate, meaning more users are creating video content than ever before. While social media videos have always been at the forefront of business needs, during the past year we’ve also witnessed the rapid adoption of internal communication use cases where there is a lot of screen and webcam recording taking place in our platform,” he said.

Microsoft didn’t disclose the acquisition price, but Clipchamp had raised over $15 million in funding according to Crunchbase.

This is not Microsoft’s first attempt at entering the video market.

The company was recently one of the suitors pursuing TikTok when the Trump administration was working to force a sale of the China-owned video social network which Trump had dubbed a national security threat. (In order to keep TikTok running in the U.S., ByteDance would have needed to have divested TikTok’s U.S. operations. But that sale never came to be as the Biden administration paused the effort.) Several years ago, Microsoft also launched a business video service called Stream, that aimed to allow enterprises to use video as easily as consumers use YouTube. In 2018, it acquired social learning platform Flipgrid, which used short video clips for collaboration. And as remote work became the norm, Microsoft has been adding more video capabilities to its team collaboration software, Microsoft Teams, too.

Microsoft’s deal follows Adobe’s recent $1.28 acquisition of the video review and collaboration platform Frame.io, which has been used by over a million people since its founding in 2014. However, unlike Clipchamp, whose tools are meant for anyone to use at work, school, or home, Frame.io is aimed more directly at creative professionals.

Dreiling said Clipchamp will continue to grow at Microsoft, with a focus on making video editing accessible to more people.

“Few companies in tech have the legacy and reach that Microsoft has. We all grew up with iconic Microsoft products and have been using them ever since,” he explained. “Becoming part of Microsoft allows us to become part of a future legacy. Under no other scenario could our future look more exciting than what’s ahead of us now. At Clipchamp we have always said that we’re not suffering from a lack of opportunity, there absolutely is an abundance of opportunity in video. We just need to figure out how to seize it. Inside Microsoft we can approach seizing our opportunity in entirely new ways,” Dreiling added.

Microsoft did not say when it expected to integrate Clipchamp into its existing software suite, saying it would share more at a later date.

 

#biden-administration, #bytedance, #ceo, #collaboration-software, #computing, #exit, #facebook, #instagram, #ma, #microsoft, #microsoft-teams, #microsoft-windows, #mobile-software, #online-tools, #productivity-tools, #software, #technology, #tiktok, #trump, #trump-administration, #united-states, #video, #web-app, #webcam

President Biden to host infosec roundtable with tech giant CEOs

If there's any single photo that better encapsulates the state of enterprise information security in 2021, we weren't able to find it.

Enlarge / If there’s any single photo that better encapsulates the state of enterprise information security in 2021, we weren’t able to find it. (credit: Ian Dennis via Getty Images)

Unnamed sources told Bloomberg that the White House will host a meeting between President Joe Biden and some of the country’s largest tech firms on Wednesday afternoon. According to those sources, the CEOs of Microsoft, Amazon, and Apple have confirmed their attendance. Other large companies, including Google, IBM, Southern Company, and JP Morgan, have been invited.

The meeting is intended to address the severe increase in ransomware, online attacks, and data leaks seen this year. Although we don’t know the exact agenda, one senior official familiar with the event said discussions of better supply chain security are likely, and there will probably be a focus on software-driven solutions.

High-profile security breaches Biden and the tech CEOs might discuss include, but are not limited to:

Read 2 remaining paragraphs | Comments

#biden-administration, #biz-it, #infosec, #policy, #tech, #white-house

A California judge just struck down Prop 22: Now what?

Every time you turn around, someone new is winning the war in California around organizing workers in the sharing economy.

Labor struck first when California legislators passed Assembly Bill 5, requiring all independent contractors working for gig economy companies to be reclassified as employees. That was expected to set off a chain reaction in state legislatures nationwide, until two things happened.

First, COVID-19 hit and quickly became all-encompassing, making it virtually impossible for lawmakers and regulators to focus on anything but surviving the pandemic. Second, Uber, Lyft, Instacart and others funded and voters approved Prop 22 in California, striking down AB-5 and returning sharing economy workers to independent contractor status.

On the same day that Prop 22 passed, Democrats captured both chambers of Congress in Washington, but their margins were so slim (50-50 in the Senate and a nine-vote majority in the House), that federal legislative action on the issue was near impossible. Across the country, politicians read the tea leaves of Prop 22 and decided to mainly stay away. That kept the issue at bay during the 2021 state legislative sessions.

But the tide started to turn again this summer. First, U.S. Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Virginia) introduced the PRO Act in February 2021, stating that workers would be reclassified using an ABC test, in addition to rolling back right-to-work laws in states and establishing monetary penalties for companies and executives who violate workers’ rights.

The bill handily passed the House in March, but has since stalled in the Senate, despite receiving a hearing and energetic support by high-profile senators including Bernie Sanders and Majority Leader Chuck Schumer.

The Biden administration’s appointees to the Department of Labor and the National Labor Relations Board are decidedly in favor of full-time-worker status. And now, a California Superior Court judge has ruled Prop 22 unconstitutional, saying it violates the right of the state legislature to pass future laws around worker safety and status.

The sharing economy companies are expected to appeal, and the case could ultimately wind up before the California Supreme Court.

So now what? The courts will ultimately determine the status of sharing economy workers in California, but since the decision will be about the specific legal parameters of California’s referendum process, it won’t determine the issue elsewhere. And despite noise from Washington, Congress isn’t passing the PRO Act any time soon (Democrats may try to include it in the reconciliation for the $3.5 trillion American Families Plan, but the odds of its survival are low). That means the action returns to the states.

New York is the biggest battleground outside of California. Democrats have amassed a supermajority in both chambers of the legislature, and New York lacks a referendum vehicle to overturn state law.

Sharing economy workers are the biggest organizing opportunity for private sector unions in decades, and labor will use all of its influence to pass worker classification reform in 2022.

However, Kathy Hochul, New York’s new governor, is a moderate, and state legislators recently abandoned a half-baked plan brokered by gig companies to safeguard independent contractor status, indicating a resolution on the issue will likely take time.

Illinois is fertile ground for worker reclassification, too, but the state remains a question mark.

There’s also a chance of movement in Massachusetts, where gig companies are making a play to establish a ballot initiative very similar to Prop 22. Legislators in Seattle and Pennsylvania have also signaled an interest in exploring the issue.

And just a few months after most state legislative sessions conclude next summer, we’ll hit the midterm elections, which could produce a Republican wave (especially in the House) that would yet again quash the chances of worker classification legislation passing anywhere.

In other words, this is going to ping back and forth for at least the next few years in the courts, in state legislatures, and in the halls of Congress and federal agencies. If you’re a sharing economy investor and you want this issue resolved once and for all, that peace of mind isn’t coming. And the market, rather than accepting that this will be an unresolved issue for the next few years, will probably overreact to each individual action, whether it’s a lower court ruling or a piece of legislation making its way through a state.

In reality, the answer is the same as it’s always been: trying to shoehorn sharing economy workers into one of two existing categories — 1099 or W-2 — doesn’t work. We still need to recognize that the inherent nature of work has changed over the last decade, and we need to recognize that both parties — the sharing economy companies and the unions — are only looking out for their own interests and coffers at the expense of what’s best for actual workers.

California is not going to resolve this issue. It’s just swung back and forth from one extreme to another. Congress is not going to resolve this issue because it almost never resolves anything.

So the game comes down to states like Illinois, New York and Massachusetts. It comes down to legislators and leaders trying to craft good public policy at the expense of their donors and supporters and Twitter followers — and then it comes down to their colleagues doing the same.

It means sacrificing politics for policy. That almost never happens. And it probably won’t happen here, either. So if you’re trying to game out where this issue is going, accept the uncertainty and expect that a thoughtful, smart resolution — locally or nationally — is unlikely. It’s a dissatisfying conclusion but, sadly, it epitomizes exactly where our politics stand today.

#bernie-sanders, #biden-administration, #california, #column, #congress, #government, #illinois, #labor, #lyft, #national-labor-relations-board, #new-york, #opinion, #policy, #sharing-economy, #tc, #uber, #washington

This Week in Apps: In-app events hit the App Store, TikTok tries Stories, Apple reveals new child safety plan

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

The app industry continues to grow, with a record 218 billion downloads and $143 billion in global consumer spend in 2020. Consumers last year also spent 3.5 trillion minutes using apps on Android devices alone. And in the U.S., app usage surged ahead of the time spent watching live TV. Currently, the average American watches 3.7 hours of live TV per day, but now spends four hours per day on their mobile devices.

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. In 2020, investors poured $73 billion in capital into mobile companies — a figure that’s up 27% year-over-year.

This Week in Apps offers a way to keep up with this fast-moving industry in one place, with the latest from the world of apps, including news, updates, startup fundings, mergers and acquisitions, and suggestions about new apps and games to try, too.

Do you want This Week in Apps in your inbox every Saturday? Sign up here: techcrunch.com/newsletters

Top Stories

Apple to scan for CSAM imagery

Apple announced a major initiative to scan devices for CSAM imagery. The company on Thursday announced a new set of features, arriving later this year, that will detect child sexual abuse material (CSAM) in its cloud and report it to law enforcement. Companies like Dropbox, Google and Microsoft already scan for CSAM in their cloud services, but Apple had allowed users to encrypt their data before it reached iCloud. Now, Apple’s new technology, NeuralHash, will run on users’ devices, tatformso detect when a users upload known CSAM imagery — without having to first decrypt the images. It even can detect the imagery if it’s been cropped or edited in an attempt to avoid detection.

Meanwhile, on iPhone and iPad, the company will roll out protections to Messages app users that will filter images and alert children and parents if sexually explicit photos are sent to or from a child’s account. Children will not be shown the images but will instead see a grayed-out image instead. If they try to view the image anyway through the link, they’ll be shown interruptive screens that explain why the material may be harmful and are warned that their parents will be notified.

Some privacy advocates pushed back at the idea of such a system, believing it could expand to end-to-end encrypted photos, lead to false positives, or set the stage for more on-device government surveillance in the future. But many cryptology experts believe the system Apple developed provides a good balance between privacy and utility, and have offered their endorsement of the technology. In addition, Apple said reports are manually reviewed before being sent to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC).

The changes may also benefit iOS developers who deal in user photos and uploads, as predators will no longer store CSAM imagery on iOS devices in the first place, given the new risk of detection.

In-App Events appear on the App Store

Image Credits: Apple

Though not yet publicly available to all users, those testing the new iOS 15 mobile operating system got their first glimpse of a new App Store discovery feature this week: “in-app events.” First announced at this year’s WWDC, the feature will allow developers and Apple editors alike to showcase directly on the App Store upcoming events taking place inside apps.

The events can appear on the App Store homepage, on the app’s product pages or can be discovered through personalized recommendations and search. In some cases, editors will curate events to feature on the App Store. But developers will also be provided tools to submit their own in-app events. TikTok’s “Summer Camp” for creators was one of the first in-app events to be featured, where it received a top spot on the iPadOS 15 App Store.

Weekly News

Platforms: Apple

Apple expands support for student IDs on iPhone and Apple Watch ahead of the fall semester. Tens of thousands more U.S. and Canadian colleges will now support mobile student IDs in the Apple Wallet app, including Auburn University, Northern Arizona University, University of Maine, New Mexico State University and others.

Apple was accused of promoting scam apps in the App Store’s featured section. The company’s failure to properly police its store is one thing, but to curate an editorial list that actually includes the scams is quite another. One of the games rounded up under “Slime Relaxations,” an already iffy category to say the least, was a subscription-based slime simulator that locked users into a $13 AUD per week subscription for its slime simulator. One of the apps on the curated list didn’t even function, implying that Apple’s editors hadn’t even tested the apps they recommend.

Tax changes hit the App Store. Apple announced tax and price changes for apps and IAPs in South Africa, the U.K. and all territories using the Euro currency, all of which will see decreases. Increases will occur in Georgia and Tajikistan, due to new tax changes. Proceeds on the App Store in Italy will be increased to reflect a change to the Digital Services Tax effective rate.

Game Center changes, too. Apple said that on August 4, a new certificate for server-based Game Center verification will be available via the publicKeyUrl.

Fintech

Robinhood stock jumped more than 24% to $46.80 on Tuesday after initially falling 8% on its first day of trading last week, after which it had continued to trade below its opening price of $38.

Square’s Cash app nearly doubled its gross profit to $546 million in Q2, but also reported a $45 million impairment loss on its bitcoin holdings.

Coinbase’s app now lets you buy your cryptocurrency using Apple Pay. The company previously made its Coinbase Card compatible with Apple Pay in June.

Social

An anonymous app called Sendit, which relies on Snap Kit to function, is climbing the charts of the U.S. App Store after Snap suspended similar apps, YOLO and LMK. Snap was sued by the parent of child who was bullied through those apps, which led to his suicide. Sendit also allows for anonymity, and reviews compare it to YOLO. But some reviews also complained about bullying. This isn’t the first time Snap has been involved in a lawsuit related to a young person’s death related to its app. The company was also sued for its irresponsible “speed filter” that critics said encouraged unsafe driving. Three young men died using the filter, which captured them doing 123 mph.

TikTok is testing Stories. As Twitter’s own Stories integrations, Fleets, shuts down, TikTok confirmed it’s testing its own Stories product. The TikTok Stories appear in a left-hand sidebar and allow users to post ephemeral images or video that disappear in 24 hours. Users can also comment on Stories, which are public to their mutual friends and the creator. Stories on TikTok may make more sense than they did on Twitter, as TikTok is already known as a creative platform and it gives the app a more familiar place to integrate its effects toolset and, eventually, advertisements.

Facebook has again re-arranged its privacy settings. The company continually moves around where its privacy features are located, ostensibly to make them easier to find. But users then have to re-learn where to go to find the tools they need, after they had finally memorized the location. This time, the settings have been grouped into six top-level categories, but “privacy” settings have been unbundled from one location to be scattered among the other categories.

A VICE report details ban-as-a-service operations that allow anyone to harass or censor online creators on Instagram. Assuming you can find it, one operation charged $60 per ban, the listing says.

TikTok merged personal accounts with creator accounts. The change means now all non-business accounts on TikTok will have access to the creator tools under Settings, including Analytics, Creator Portal, Promote and Q&A. TikTok shared the news directly with subscribers of its TikTok Creators newsletter in August, and all users will get a push notification alerting them to the change, the company told us.

Discord now lets users customize their profile on its apps. The company added new features to its iOS and Android apps that let you add a description, links and emojis and select a profile color. Paid subscribers can also choose an image or GIF as their banner.

Twitter Spaces added a co-hosting option that allows up to two co-hosts to be added to the live audio chat rooms. Now Spaces can have one main host, two co-hosts and up to 10 speakers. Co-hosts have all the moderation abilities as hosts, but can’t add or remove others as co-hosts.

Messaging

Tencent reopened new user sign-ups for its WeChat messaging app, after having suspended registrations last week for unspecified “technical upgrades.” The company, like many other Chinese tech giants, had to address new regulations from Beijing impacting the tech industry. New rules address how companies handle user data collection and storage, antitrust behavior and other checks on capitalist “excess.” The gaming industry is now worried it’s next to be impacted, with regulations that would restrict gaming for minors to fight addiction.

WhatsApp is adding a new feature that will allow users to send photos and videos that disappear after a single viewing. The Snapchat-inspired feature, however, doesn’t alert you if the other person takes a screenshot — as Snap’s app does. So it may not be ideal for sharing your most sensitive content.

Telegram’s update expands group video calls to support up to 1,000 viewers. It also announced video messages can be recorded in higher quality and can be expanded, regular videos can be watched at 0.5 or 2x speed, screen sharing with sound is available for all video calls, including 1-on-1 calls, and more.

Streaming & Entertainment

American Airlines added free access to TikTok aboard its Viasat-equipped aircraft. Passengers will be able to watch the app’s videos for up to 30 minutes for free and can even download the app if it’s not already installed. After the free time, they can opt to pay for Wi-Fi to keep watching. Considering how easy it is to fall into multi-hour TikTok viewing sessions without knowing it, the addition of the addictive app could make long plane rides feel shorter. Or at least less painful.

Chinese TikTok rival Kuaishou saw stocks fall by more than 15% in Hong Kong, the most since its February IPO. The company is another victim of an ongoing market selloff triggered by increasing investor uncertainty related to China’s recent crackdown on tech companies. Beijing’s campaign to rein in tech has also impacted Tencent, Alibaba, Jack Ma’s Ant Group, food delivery company Meituan and ride-hailing company Didi. Also related, Kuaishou shut down its controversial app Zynn, which had been paying users to watch its short-form videos, including those stolen from other apps.

Twitch overtook YouTube in consumer spending per user in April 2021, and now sees $6.20 per download as of June compared with YouTube’s $5.60, Sensor Tower found.

Image Credits: Sensor Tower

Spotify confirmed tests of a new ad-supported tier called Spotify Plus, which is only $0.99 per month and offers unlimited skips (like free users get on the desktop) and the ability to play the songs you want, instead of only being forced to use shuffle mode.

The company also noted in a forum posting that it’s no longer working on AirPlay2 support, due to “audio driver compatibility” issues.

Mark Cuban-backed audio app Fireside asked its users to invest in the company via an email sent to creators which didn’t share deal terms. The app has yet to launch.

YouTube kicks off its $100 million Shorts Fund aimed at taking on TikTok by providing creators with cash incentives for top videos. Creators will get bonuses of $100 to $10,000 based on their videos’ performance.

Dating

Match Group announced during its Q2 earnings it plans to add to several of the company’s brands over the next 12 to 24 months audio and video chat, including group live video, and other livestreaming technologies. The developments will be powered by innovations from Hyperconnect, the social networking company that this year became Match’s biggest acquisition to date when it bought the Korean app maker for a sizable $1.73 billion. Since then, Match was spotted testing group live video on Tinder, but says that particular product is not launching in the near-term. At least two brands will see Hyperconnect-powered integrations in 2021.

Photos

The Photo & Video category on U.S. app stores saw strong growth in the first half of the year, a Sensor Tower report found. Consumer spend among the top 100 apps grew 34% YoY to $457 million in Q2 2021, with the majority of the revenue (83%) taking place on iOS.

Image Credits: Sensor Tower

Gaming

Epic Games revealed the host of its in-app Rift Tour event is Ariana Grande, in the event that runs August 6-8.

Pokémon GO influencers threatened to boycott the game after Niantic removed the COVID safety measures that had allowed people to more easily play while social distancing. Niantic’s move seemed ill-timed, given the Delta variant is causing a new wave of COVID cases globally.

Health & Fitness

Apple kicked out an app called Unjected from the App Store. The new social app billed itself as a community for the unvaccinated, allowing like-minded users to connect for dating and friendships. Apple said the app violated its policies for COVID-19 content.

Google Pay expanded support for vaccine cards. In Australia, Google’s payments app now allows users to add their COVID-19 digital certification to their device for easy access. The option is available through Google’s newly updated Passes API which lets government agencies distribute digital versions of vaccine cards.

COVID Tech Connect, a U.S. nonprofit initially dedicated to collecting devices like phones and tablets for COVID ICU patients, has now launched its own app. The app, TeleHome, is a device-agnostic, HIPAA-compliant way for patients to place a video call for free at a time when the Delta variant is again filling ICU wards, this time with the unvaccinated — a condition that sometimes overlaps with being low-income. Some among the working poor have been hesitant to get the shot because they can’t miss a day of work, and are worried about side effects. Which is why the Biden administration offered a tax credit to SMBs who offered paid time off to staff to get vaccinated and recover.

Popular journaling app Day One, which was recently acquired by WordPress.com owner Automattic, rolled out a new “Concealed Journals” feature that lets users hide content from others’ viewing. By tapping the eye icon, the content can be easily concealed on a journal by journal basis, which can be useful for those who write to their journal in public, like coffee shops or public transportation.

Edtech

Recently IPO’d language learning app Duolingo is developing a math app for kids. The company says it’s still “very early” in the development process, but will announce more details at its annual conference, Duocon, later this month.

Educational publisher Pearson launched an app that offers U.S. students access to its 1,500 titles for a monthly subscription of $14.99. the Pearson+ mobile app (ack, another +), also offers the option of paying $9.99 per month for access to a single textbook for a minimum of four months.

News & Reading

Quora jumps into the subscription economy. Still not profitable from ads alone, Quora announced two new products that allow its expert creators to monetize their content on its service. With Quora+ ($5/mo or $50/yr), subscribers can pay for any content that a creator paywalls. Creators can choose to enable a adaptive paywall that will use an algorithm to determine when to show the paywall. Another product, Spaces, lets creators write paywalled publications on Quora, similar to Substack. But only a 5% cut goes to Quora, instead of 10% on Substack.

Utilities

Google Maps on iOS added a new live location-sharing feature for iMessage users, allowing them to more easily show your ETA with friends and even how much battery life you have left. The feature competes with iMessage’s built-in location-sharing feature, and offers location sharing of 1 hour up to 3 days. The app also gained a dark mode.

Security & Privacy

Controversial crime app Citizen launched a $20 per month “Protect” service that includes live agent support (who can refer calls to 911 if need be). The agents can gather your precise location, alert your designated emergency contacts, help you navigate to a safe location and monitor the situation until you feel safe. The system of live agent support is similar to in-car or in-home security and safety systems, like those from ADT or OnStar, but works with users out in the real world. The controversial part, however, is the company behind the product: Citizen has been making headlines for launching private security fleets outside law enforcement, and recently offered a reward in a manhunt for an innocent person based on unsubstantiated tips.

Funding and M&A

🤝 Square announced its acquisition of the “buy now, pay later” giant AfterPay in a $29 billion deal that values the Australian firm at more than 30% higher than the stock’s last closing price of AUS$96.66. AfterPay has served over 16 million customers and nearly 100,000 merchants globally, to date, and comes at a time when the BNPL space is heating up. Apple has also gotten into the market recently with an Affirm partnership in Canada.

🤝 Gaming giant Zynga acquired Chinese game developer StarLark, the team behind the mobile golf game Golf Rival, from Betta Games for $525 million in both cash and stock. Golf Rival is the second-largest mobile golf game behind Playdemic’s Golf Clash, and EA is in the process of buying that studio for $1.4 billion.

💰  U.K.-based Humanity raised an additional $2.5 million for its app that claims to help slow down aging, bringing the total raise to date to $5 million. Backers include Calm’s co-founders, MyFitness Pal’s co-founder and others in the health space. The app works by benchmarking health advice against real-world data, to help users put better health practices into action.

💰 YELA, a Cameo-like app for the Middle East and South Asia, raised $2 million led by U.S. investors that include Tinder co-founder Justin Mateen and Sean Rad, general partner of RAD Fund. The app is focusing on signing celebrities in the regions it serves, where smartphone penetration is high and over 6% of the population is under 35.

💰 London-based health and wellness app maker Palta raised a $100 million Series B led by VNV Global. The company’s products include Flo.Health, Simple Fasting, Zing Fitness Coach and others, which reach a combined 2.4 million active, paid subscribers. The funds will be used to create more mobile subscription products.

🤝 Emoji database and Wikipedia-like site Emojipedia was acquired by Zedge, the makers of a phone personalization app offering wallpapers, ringtones and more to 35 million MAUs. Deal terms weren’t disclosed. Emojipedia says the deal provides it with more stability and the opportunity for future growth. For Zedge, the deal provides🤨….um, a popular web resource it thinks it can better monetize, we suspect.

💰 Mental health app Revery raised $2 million led by Sequoia Capital India’s Surge program for its app that combines cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia with mobile gaming concepts. The company will focus on other mental health issues in the future.

💰 London-based Nigerian-operating fintech startup Kuda raised a $55 million Series B, valuing its mobile-first challenger bank at $500 million. The inside round was co-led by Valar Ventures and Target Global.

💰 Vietnamese payments provider VNLife raised $250 million in a round led by U.S.-based General Atlantic and Dragoneer Investment Group. PayPal Ventures and others also participated. The round values the business at over $1 billion.

Downloads

Mastodon for iPhone

Fans of decentralized social media efforts now have a new app. The nonprofit behind the open source decentralized social network Mastodon released an official iPhone app, aimed at making the network more accessible to newcomers. The app allows you to find and follow people and topics; post text, images, GIFs, polls, and videos; and get notified of new replies and reblogs, much like Twitter.

Xingtu

@_666eveITS SO COOL FRFR do u guys want a tutorial? #fypシ #醒图 #醒图app♬ original sound – Ian Asher

TikTok users are teaching each other how to switch over to the Chinese App Store in order to get ahold of the Xingtu app for iOS. (An Android version is also available.) The app offers advanced editing tools that let users edit their face and body, like FaceTune, apply makeup, add filters and more. While image-editing apps can be controversial for how they can impact body acceptance, Xingtu offers a variety of artistic filters which is what’s primarily driving the demand. It’s interesting to see the lengths people will go to just to get a few new filters for their photos — perhaps making a case for Instagram to finally update its Post filters instead of pretending no one cares about their static photos anymore.

Tweets

Facebook still dominating top charts, but not the No. 1 spot:  

Not cool, Apple: 

This user acquisition strategy: 

Maybe Stories don’t work everywhere: 

#adt, #afterpay, #alibaba, #android, #ant-group, #api, #app-maker, #app-store, #apple, #apps, #australia, #automattic, #beijing, #biden-administration, #canada, #china, #cloud-services, #coinbase, #coinbase-card, #computing, #day-one, #dragoneer-investment-group, #driver, #dropbox, #duolingo, #emojipedia, #eta, #facebook, #fintech-startup, #food-delivery, #game-center, #game-developer, #general-atlantic, #general-partner, #georgia, #gif, #google, #hyperconnect, #instagram, #ios, #ios-devices, #ipad, #iphone, #italy, #itunes, #jam-fund, #justin-mateen, #kuaishou, #kuda, #law-enforcement, #london, #ma, #maine, #meituan, #microsoft, #middle-east, #mobile, #mobile-app, #mobile-applications, #mobile-devices, #online-creators, #onstar, #operating-system, #palta, #playdemic, #quora, #sean-rad, #sensor-tower, #sequoia-capital, #smartphone, #snap, #snapchat, #social-network, #social-networking, #software, #south-africa, #south-asia, #spotify, #stories, #target-global, #tc, #this-week-in-apps, #tiktok, #twitch, #united-kingdom, #united-states, #valar-ventures, #viasat, #vnv-global, #wi-fi, #wordpress-com, #zedge, #zynga

Biden reveals lackluster new EV policy, no plans to phase out gasoline

Electric vehicle charging only spaces in a car park

Enlarge / The Biden plan does not include a requirement that all new vehicles be zero-emissions at any point in the future. (credit: Richard Newstead/Getty Images)

On Thursday, President Joe Biden announced that by 2030, half of all new cars and light trucks should be zero-emissions vehicles—a mix of battery electric vehicles, plug-in hybrid EVs, and hydrogen fuel cell EVs. But the White House still sees a future for burning hydrocarbons, as the executive order will also develop new long-term fuel-efficiency standards, and there is no mention of phasing out internal combustion engines for new vehicles at any point in the future.

Additionally, the Environmental Protection Agency and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration are expected to announce new fuel-efficiency rules through model year 2026. The US had a relatively ambitious target of reaching a corporate average fuel economy target of 54 mpg (4.3 l/100 km) in 2025 under President Obama, but President Trump took a wrecking ball to that plan in 2020.

The EPA and NHTSA will likely adopt the framework recently put together by California’s Air Resources Board and BMW, Ford, Honda, Volkswagen Group, and Volvo. The plan would reduce emissions from new vehicles by 17 percent by MY2026.

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#biden-administration, #california-air-resources-board, #cars, #climate-change, #electric-cars, #environmental-protection-agency, #epa, #fuel-efficiency, #national-highway-traffic-safety-administration, #nhtsa, #president-joseph-biden, #zero-emissions-vehicle

Biden nominates another Big Tech enemy, this time to lead the DOJ’s antitrust division

The Biden administration tripled down on its commitment to reining in powerful tech companies Tuesday, proposing committed Big Tech critic Jonathan Kanter to lead the Justice Department’s antitrust division.

Kanter is a lawyer with a long track record of representing smaller companies like Yelp in antitrust cases against Google. He currently practices law at his own firm, which specializes in advocacy for state and federal antitrust enforcement.

“Throughout his career, Kanter has also been a leading advocate and expert in the effort to promote strong and meaningful antitrust enforcement and competition policy,” the White House press release stated. Progressives celebrated the nomination as a win, though some of Biden’s new antitrust hawks have enjoyed support from both political parties.

The Justice Department already has a major antitrust suit against Google in the works. The lawsuit, filed by Trump’s own Justice Department, accuses the company of “unlawfully maintaining monopolies” through anti-competitive practices in its search and search advertising businesses. If successfully confirmed, Kanter would be positioned to steer the DOJ’s big case against Google.

In a 2016 NYT op-ed, Kanter argued that Google is notorious for relying on an anti-competitive “playbook” to maintain its market dominance. Kanter pointed to Google’s long history of releasing free ad-supported products and eventually restricting competition through “discriminatory and exclusionary practices” in a given corner of the market.

Kanter is just the latest high profile Big Tech critic that’s been elevated to a major regulatory role under Biden. Last month, Biden named fierce Amazon critic Lina Khan as FTC chair upon her confirmation to the agency. In March, Biden named another noted Big Tech critic, Columbia law professor Tim Wu, to the National Economic Council as a special assistant for tech and competition policy.

All signs point to the Biden White House gearing up for a major federal fight with Big Tech. Congress is working on a set of Big Tech bills, but in lieu of — or in tandem with — legislative reform, the White House can flex its own regulatory muscle through the FTC and DOJ.

In new comments to MSNBC, the White House confirmed that it is also “reviewing” Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, a potent snippet of law that protects platforms from liability for user-generated content.

#amazon, #biden, #biden-administration, #big-tech, #chair, #columbia, #competition-law, #congress, #department-of-justice, #doj, #federal-trade-commission, #google, #government, #joe-biden, #lawyer, #lina-khan, #msnbc, #section-230, #tc, #tim-wu, #white-house, #yelp

US blames China for Exchange server hacks and ransomware attacks

The Biden administration has formally accused China of the mass-hacking of Microsoft Exchange servers earlier this year, which prompted the FBI to intervene as concerns rose that the hacks could lead to widespread destruction.

The mass-hacking campaign targeted Microsoft Exchange email servers with four previously undiscovered vulnerabilities that allowed the hackers — which Microsoft already attributed to a China-backed group of hackers called Hafnium — to steal email mailboxes and address books from tens of thousands of organizations around the United States.

Microsoft released patches to fix the vulnerabilities, but the patches did not remove any backdoor code left behind by the hackers that might be used again for easy access to a hacked server. That prompted the FBI to secure a first-of-its-kind court order to effectively hack into the remaining hundreds of U.S.-based Exchange servers to remove the backdoor code. Computer incident response teams in countries around the world responded similarly by trying to notify organizations in their countries that were also affected by the attack.

In a statement out Monday, the Biden administration said the attack, launched by hackers backed by China’s Ministry of State Security, resulted in “significant remediation costs for its mostly private sector victims.”

“We have raised our concerns about both this incident and the [People’s Republic of China’s] broader malicious cyber activity with senior PRC Government officials, making clear that the PRC’s actions threaten security, confidence, and stability in cyberspace,” the statement read.

The National Security Agency also released details of the attacks to help network defenders identify potential routes of compromise. The Chinese government has repeatedly denied claims of state-backed or sponsored hacking.

The Biden administration also blamed China’s Ministry of State Security for contracting with criminal hackers to conduct unsanctioned operations, like ransomware attacks, “for their own personal profit.” The government said it was aware that China-backed hackers have demanded millions of dollars in ransom demands against hacked companies. Last year, the Justice Department charged two Chinese spies for their role in a global hacking campaign that saw prosecutors accuse the hackers of operating for personal gain.

Although the U.S. has publicly engaged the Kremlin to try to stop giving ransomware gangs safe harbor from operating from within Russia’s borders, the U.S. has not previously accused Beijing of launching or being involved with ransomware attacks.

“The PRC’s unwillingness to address criminal activity by contract hackers harms governments, businesses, and critical infrastructure operators through billions of dollars in lost intellectual property, proprietary information, ransom payments, and mitigation efforts,” said Monday’s statement.

The statement also said that the China-backed hackers engaged in extortion and cryptojacking, a way of forcing a computer to run code that uses its computing resources to mine cryptocurrency, for financial gain.

The Justice Department also announced fresh charges against four China-backed hackers working for the Ministry of State Security, which U.S. prosecutors said were engaged in efforts to steal intellectual property and infectious disease research into Ebola, HIV and AIDS, and MERS against victims based in the U.S., Norway, Switzerland and the United Kingdom by using a front company to hide their operations.

“The breadth and duration of China’s hacking campaigns, including these efforts targeting a dozen countries across sectors ranging from healthcare and biomedical research to aviation and defense, remind us that no country or industry is safe. Today’s international condemnation shows that the world wants fair rules, where countries invest in innovation, not theft,” said deputy attorney general Lisa Monaco.

#attorney-general, #biden, #biden-administration, #china, #computer-security, #computing, #cyberattacks, #cybercrime, #cyberwarfare, #department-of-justice, #doj, #federal-bureau-of-investigation, #government, #hacker, #hacking, #healthcare, #internet-security, #microsoft, #national-security-agency, #norway, #russia, #security, #switzerland, #technology, #united-kingdom, #united-states

GSA blocks senator from reviewing documents used to approve Zoom for government use

The General Services Administration has denied a senator’s request to review documents Zoom submitted to have its software approved for use in the federal government.

The denial was in response to a letter sent by Democratic senator Ron Wyden to the GSA in May, expressing concern that the agency cleared Zoom for use by federal agencies just weeks before a major security vulnerability was discovered in the app.

Wyden said the discovery of the bug raises “serious questions about the quality of FedRAMP’s audits.”

Zoom was approved to operate in government in April 2019 after receiving its FedRAMP authorization, a program operated by the GSA that ensures cloud services comply with a standardized set of security requirements designed to toughen the service from some of the most common threats. Without this authorization, federal agencies cannot use cloud products or technologies that are not cleared.

Months later, Zoom was forced to patch its Mac app after a security researcher found a flaw that could be abused to remotely switch on a user’s webcam without their permission. Apple was forced to intervene since users were still affected by the vulnerabilities even after uninstalling Zoom. As the pandemic spread and lockdowns were enforced, Zoom’s popularity skyrocketed — as did the scrutiny — including a technical analysis by reporters that found Zoom was not truly end-to-end encrypted as the company long claimed.

Wyden wrote to the GSA to say he found it “extremely concerning” that the security bugs were discovered after Zoom’s clearance. In the letter, the senator requested the documents known as the “security package,” which Zoom submitted as part of the FedRAMP authorization process, to understand how and why the app was cleared by GSA.

The GSA declined Wyden’s first request in July 2020 on the grounds that he was not a committee chair. In the new Biden administration, Wyden was named chair of the Senate Finance Committee and requested Zoom’s security package again.

But in a new letter sent to Wyden’s office late last month, GSA declined the request for the second time, citing security concerns.

“GSA’s refusal to share the Zoom audit with Congress calls into question the security of the other software products that GSA has approved for federal use.” Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR)

“The security package you have requested contains highly sensitive proprietary and other confidential information relating to the security associated with the Zoom for Government product. Safeguarding this information is critical to maintaining the integrity of the offering and any government data it hosts,” said the GSA letter. “Based on our review, GSA believes that disclosure of the Zoom security package would create significant security risks.”

In response to the GSA’s letter, Wyden told TechCrunch that he was concerned that other flawed software may have been approved for use across the government.

“The intent of GSA’s FedRAMP program is good — to eliminate red tape so that multiple federal agencies don’t have to review the security of the same software. But it’s vitally important that whichever agency conducts the review do so thoroughly,” said Wyden. “I’m concerned that the government’s audit of Zoom missed serious cybersecurity flaws that were subsequently uncovered and exposed by security researchers. GSA’s refusal to share the Zoom audit with Congress calls into question the security of the other software products that GSA has approved for federal use.”

Of the people we spoke with who have first-hand knowledge of the FedRAMP process, either as a government employee or as a company going through the certification, FedRAMP was described as a comprehensive but by no means an exhaustive list of checks that companies have to meet in order to meet the security requirements of the federal government.

Others said that the process had its limits and would benefit from reform. One person with knowledge of how FedRAMP works said the process was not a complete audit of a product’s source code but akin to a checklist of best practices and meeting compliance requirements. Much of it relies on trusting the vendor, said the person, describing it like ” an honor system.” Another person said the FedRAMP process cannot catch every bug, as evidenced by executive action taken by President Biden this week aimed at modernizing and improving the FedRAMP process.

Most of the people we spoke to weren’t surprised that Wyden’s office was denied the request, citing the sensitivity of a company’s FedRAMP security package.

The people said that companies going through the certification process have to provide highly technical details about the security of their product, which if exposed would almost certainly be damaging to the company. Knowing where security weaknesses might be could tip off cyber-criminals, one of the people said. Companies often spend millions on improving their security ahead of a FedRAMP audit but companies wouldn’t risk going through the certification if they thought their trade secrets would get leaked, they added.

When asked by GSA why it objected to Wyden’s request, Zoom’s head of U.S. government relations Lauren Belive argued that handing over the security package “would set a dangerous precedent that would undermine the special trust and confidence” that companies place in the FedRAMP process.

GSA puts strict controls on who can access a FedRAMP security package. You need a federal government or military email address, which the senator’s office has. But the reason for GSA denying Wyden’s request still isn’t clear, and when reached a GSA spokesperson would not explain how a member of Congress would obtain a company’s FedRAMP security package

“GSA values its relationship with Congress and will continue to work with Senator Wyden and our committees of jurisdiction to provide appropriate information regarding our programs and operations,” said GSA spokesperson Christina Wilkes, adding:

“GSA works closely with private sector partners to provide a standardized approach to security authorizations for cloud services through the [FedRAMP]. Zoom’s FedRAMP security package and related documents provide detailed information regarding the security measures associated with the Zoom for Government product. GSA’s consistent practice with regard to sensitive security and trade secret information is to withhold the material absent an official written request of a congressional committee with jurisdiction, and pursuant to controls on further dissemination or publication of the information.”

GSA wouldn’t say which congressional committee had jurisdiction or whether Wyden’s role as chair of the Senate Finance Committee suffices, nor would the agency answer questions about the efficacy of the FedRAMP process raised by Wyden.

Zoom spokesperson Kelsey Knight said that cloud companies like Zoom “provide proprietary and confidential information to GSA as part of the FedRAMP authorization process with the understanding that it will be used only for their use in making authorization decisions. While we do not believe Zoom’s FedRAMP security package should be disclosed outside of this narrow purpose, we welcome conversations with lawmakers and other stakeholders about the security of Zoom for Government.”

Zoom said it has “engaged in security enhancements to continually improve its products,” and received FedRAMP reauthorization in 2020 and 2021 as part of its annual renewal. The company declined to say to what extent the Zoom app was audited as part of the FedRAMP process.

Over two dozen federal agencies use Zoom, including the Defense Department, Homeland Security, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, and the Executive Office of the President.

#apps, #biden, #biden-administration, #chair, #cloud-computing, #cloud-services, #computing, #congress, #department-of-defense, #executive, #federal-government, #fedramp, #government, #head, #internet, #internet-security, #official, #president, #ron-wyden, #security, #senator, #software, #spokesperson, #technology, #u-s-government, #united-states, #web-conferencing, #zoom

Semiconductor wafer producer SK Siltron to invest $300M in US to boost EV supply chain

The United States has fallen behind China and Europe in the production and adoption of electric vehicles, especially from 2017 to 2020, according to a study by the International Council on Clean Transportation. One important piece of the puzzle that the U.S. does have supremacy in, however, is the production of semiconductors, which are used in everything from smartphones to computers to electric vehicles. Now, it might be strengthening that hold.

SK Siltron CSS, a unit of South Korean semiconductor wafer manufacturer, SK Siltron, announced Wednesday plans to invest $300 million and create up to 150 high-paying, skilled jobs in Bay County, Michigan, which is about a couple hours north of Detroit, the country’s first automaking haven. The wafer manufacturer already has a presence in nearby Auburn, so the new factory will more than double its employee base. Over the next three years, SK Siltron says its investment will provide manufacturing and R&D capabilities of advanced materials for electric vehicles.

SK Siltron CSS Chief Executive Jianwei Dong told Reuters, which first reported the news, the $300 million investment would “help develop a domestic EV supply chain based in Michigan because we have our end customers in nearby communities.”

This new investment comes amid an ever-increasing lineup of new electric vehicles and investments in electrification from American automakers, including legacy companies General Motors and Ford as well as Tesla and upstarts such as Rivian.

It’s also joining the sticky pot of trade wars between China and the U.S.

China has owned EV production globally, producing 44% of all vehicles made from 2010 to 2020, but the U.S. has put a strangle hold on semiconductors, consistently blocking China from acquiring other chipmakers. Strong policies that both invest in EV production and spur demand have proven successful in both China and Europe, according to the ICCT report. The Biden administration’s call for $174 billion in funding to expand EV subsidies and charging networks could help the country catch up.

“As we build toward a more sustainable future, it is important that we create new, robust supply chains in the U.S. to support our corporations and the end consumer,” said U.S. Secretary of Commerce Gina M. Raimondo in a statement. “The automotive industry has a tremendous opportunity with the rise of the electric vehicle, and we’re excited to see companies like SK Siltron CSS expanding to help support the transition to a green future.”

The SK Siltron CSS expansion still needs approval from state and local authorities, the company said, although it’s unlikely it will meet much resistance. The Michigan Economic Development Corporation said the state has been trying to attract EV-related jobs, spending nearly $9 billion in investments over the last two years and adding more than 10,000 jobs for the EV transition. SK Siltron said as it works with the state and local agencies to find employees, 70% will be skilled workers and the rest will be professional engineers.

Wafers 101

A wafer is a thin slice of semiconductor that’s used to make integrated circuits, which essentially help make semiconductor chips smaller and faster. The wafer serves as the base upon which the rest of the semiconductor is built, making it crucial ingredient to the whole process. EVs need semiconductors because they allow batteries to operate at higher voltages, drive the powertrain and support modern car features like touchscreen interactivity.

SK Siltron’s wafer is made of silicon carbide, which can handle higher powers and conduct heat better than normal silicon, the company says.

“When used in EV system components, this characteristic can allow a more efficient transfer of electricity from the battery to the motor, increasing the driving range of an EV by 5% to 10%,” the company said in a statement.

The wafers can also be used in 5G communications equipment, and Dong told Reuters that the company is also considering additional investments.

#automotive, #biden-administration, #chips, #electric-vehicles, #semiconductor, #semiconductor-wafers, #semiconductors, #sk-siltron-css, #south-korea, #tc, #transportation

Cybereason raises $275M at Series F, adds Steven Mnuchin to board

Cybereason, a US-Israeli late-stage cybersecurity startup that provides extended detection and response (XDR) services, has secured $275 million in Series F funding. 

The investment was led by Liberty Strategic Capital, a venture capital fund recently founded by Steven Mnuchin, who served as U.S. Treasury Secretary under the Trump administration. As part of the deal, Mnuchin will join Cybereason’s board of directors, along with Liberty advisor Gen. Joseph Dunford, who was chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff under Trump until his retirement in 2019.

Lior Div, CEO and co-founder of Cybereason, tells TechCrunch that the startup’s decision to work with Liberty Strategy Capital came down to the firm’s “massive network” and the “understanding of the financial and government markets that Mnuchin and Gen. Joseph Dunford bring to our team.”

“For example, the executive order on cybersecurity put out by the Biden Administration recommends that endpoint detection and response solutions be deployed on all endpoints,” Dior added. “This accelerates the importance of solutions like ours in the public market, and Liberty Strategic Capital has the relationships to help accelerate our go-to-market strategy in the federal sector.”

This round, which will be used to fuel “hypergrowth driven by strong market demand,” follows $389 million in prior funding from SoftBank, CRV, Spark Capital, and Lockheed Martin. The company didn’t state at what valuation it raised the funds, but it is estimated to be in the region of $3 billion.

Cybereason’s recent growth, which saw it end 2020 at over $120 million in annual recurring revenue, has been largely driven by its AI-powered platform. Unlike traditional alert-centric models, Cybereason’s Defense Platform is operation-centric, which means it exposes and remediates entire malicious operations. The service details the full attack story from root cause to impacted users and devices, which the company claims significantly reduces the time taken to investigate and recover from an enterprise-wide cyber attack. 

The company, whose competitors include the likes of BlackBerry-owned Cylance and CrowdStrike, also this week expanded its channel presence with the launch of its so-called Defenders League, a global program that enables channel partners to use its technology and services to help their customers prevent and recover from cyberattacks. Cybereason claims its technology has helped protect customers from the likes of the recent SolarWinds supply-chain attack and other high-profile ransomware attacks launched by DarkSide, REvil, and Conti groups. 

Today’s $275 million funding round is likely to be Cybereason’s last before it goes public. Div previously said in August 2019 the company planned to IPO within two years, though he wouldn’t be pressed on whether the company is gearing up to go public when asked by TechCrunch. However, the company did compare its latest investment to SentinelOne‘s November 2020 Series F round, which was secured just months before it filed for a $100 million IPO.

#artificial-intelligence, #biden-administration, #companies, #computing, #crowdstrike, #crv, #cybereason, #cylance, #donald-trump, #executive, #funding, #lockheed-martin, #neuberger-berman, #president, #security, #softbank, #softbank-group, #solarwinds, #spark-capital, #steve-mnuchin, #techcrunch, #united-states

Biden’s sweeping executive order takes on big tech’s ‘bad mergers,’ ISPs and more

The Biden administration just introduced a sweeping, ambitious plan to forcibly inject competition into some consolidated sectors of the American economy — the tech sector prominent among them — through executive action.

“Today President Biden is taking decisive action to reduce the trend of corporate consolidation, increase competition, and deliver concrete benefits to America’s consumers, workers, farmers, and small businesses,” a new White House fact sheet on the forthcoming order states.

The order, which Biden will sign Friday, initiates a comprehensive “whole-of-government” approach that loops in more then twelve different agencies at the federal level to regulate monopolies, protect consumers and curtail bad behavior from some of the world’s biggest corporations.

In the fact sheet, the White House lays out its plans to take matters to regulate big business into its own hands at the federal level. As far as tech is concerned, that comes largely through emboldening the FTC and the Justice Department — two federal agencies with antitrust enforcement powers.

Most notably for big tech, which is already bracing for regulatory existential threats, the White House explicitly asserts here that those agencies have legal cover to “challenge prior bad mergers that past Administrations did not previously challenge” — i.e. unwinding acquisitions that built a handful of tech companies into the behemoths they are today. The order calls on antitrust agencies to enforce antitrust laws “vigorously.”

Federal scrutiny will prioritize “dominant internet platforms, with particular attention to the acquisition of nascent competitors, serial mergers, the accumulation of data, competition by ‘free’ products, and the effect on user privacy.” Facebook, Google and Amazon are particularly on notice here, though Apple isn’t likely to escape federal attention either.

“Over the past ten years, the largest tech platforms have acquired hundreds of companies—including alleged ‘killer acquisitions’ meant to shut down a potential competitive threat,” the White House wrote in the fact sheet. “Too often, federal agencies have not blocked, conditioned, or, in some cases, meaningfully examined these acquisitions.”

The biggest tech companies have regularly defended their longstanding strategy of buying up the competition by arguing that because those acquisitions went through without friction at the time, they shouldn’t be viewed as illegal in hindsight. In no uncertain terms, the new executive order makes it clear that the Biden administration isn’t having any of it.

The White House also specifically singles out internet service providers for scrutiny, ordering the FCC to prioritize consumer choice and institute broadband “nutrition labels” that clearly state speed caps and hidden feeds. The FCC began working on the labels in the Obama administration but the work was scrapped after Trump took office.

The order also directly calls on the FCC to restore net neutrality rules, which were stripped in 2017 to the widespread horror of open internet advocates and most of the tech industry outside of the service providers that stood to benefit.

The White House will also tell the FTC to create new privacy rules meant to guard consumers against surveillance and the “accumulation of extraordinarily amounts of sensitive personal information,” which free services like Facebook, YouTube and others have leveraged to build their vast empires. The White House also taps the FTC to create rules that protect smaller businesses from being pre-empted by large platforms, which in many cases abuse their market dominance with a different sort of data-based surveillance to out-compete up-and-coming competitors.

Finally, the executive order encourages the FTC to put right to repair rules in place that would free consumers from constraints that discourage DIY and third-party repairs. A new White House Competition Council under the Director of the National Economic Council will coordinate the federal execution of the proposals laid out in the new order.

The antitrust effort from the executive branch mirrors parallel actions in the FTC and Congress. In the FTC, Biden has installed a fearsome antitrust crusader in Lina Khan, a young legal scholar and fierce Amazon critic who proposes a philosophical overhaul to the way the federal government defines monopolies. Khan now leads the FTC as its chair.

In Congress, a bipartisan flurry of bills intended to rein in the tech industry are slowly wending their way toward becoming law, though plenty of hurdles remain. Last month, the House Judiciary Committee debated the six bills, which were crafted separately to help them survive opposing lobbying pushes from the tech industry. These legislative efforts could modernize antitrust laws, which have failed to keep pace with the modern realities of giant, internet-based businesses.

“Competition policy needs new energy and approaches so that we can address America’s monopoly problem,” Sen. Amy Klobuchar, a prominent tech antitrust hawk in Congress, said of the executive order. “That means legislation to update our antitrust laws, but it also means reimagining what the federal government can do to promote competition under our current laws.”

Citing the acceleration of corporate consolidation in recent decades, the White House argues that a handful of large corporations dominates across industries, including healthcare, agriculture and tech and consumers, workers and smaller competitors pay the price for their outsized success. The administration will focus antitrust enforcement on those corners of the market as well as evaluating the labor market and worker protections on the whole.

“Inadequate competition holds back economic growth and innovation… Economists find that as competition declines, productivity growth slows, business investment and innovation decline, and income, wealth, and racial inequality widen,” the White House wrote.

 

#amazon, #america, #biden, #biden-administration, #big-tech, #broadband, #competition-law, #congress, #department-of-justice, #executive, #facebook, #federal-communications-commission, #federal-government, #federal-trade-commission, #google, #government, #healthcare, #internet-service-providers, #lina-khan, #president, #tc, #white-house, #youtube

Biden’s right-to-repair order could stop companies from blocking DIY fixes

Michael Ghadieh, owner of FixMyPhoneSF, fixes an Apple Inc. iPhone in his shop in San Francisco, California, U.S., on Friday, Aug. 23, 2013. Photographer: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg *** Local Caption *** Michael Ghadieh

Enlarge (credit: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg/Getty Images)

After years of petitions and proposals, momentum is building in government to give consumers broader rights to repair products they own ranging from farm tractors to mobile phones.

In a press briefing yesterday, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said Biden will issue an executive order directing the US Department of Agriculture to issue rules that, among other things, “give farmers the right to repair their own equipment how they like.”

The order will reportedly cover more than tractors. According to a Bloomberg report, Biden will urge the Federal Trade Commission to press computer and electronics manufacturers and defense contractors to offer additional leeway in how their devices are repaired.

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#biden-administration, #ftc, #john-deere, #policy, #right-to-repair, #tech, #usda

5 policies Washington should enact to end the climate crisis and joblessness

The importance of the U.S. startup ecosystem was made crystal clear during the pandemic: Many of us came to rely on new technologies that had been developed over the past decade, including revolutionary vaccines and testing devices, cutting-edge video-conferencing software that kept workers productive and kids learning online, and financial technology that allowed restaurants and other small businesses to move their operations online to survive.

As we move into this period of national recovery, high-tech startup companies — and the venture-capital investors who back them — are poised to play a critical role in creating higher-paying jobs across the country. These jobs can be created in both the traditional U.S. technology centers and regions hit hard by the decline in manufacturing. Venture investors also help create and deploy technology (think advanced computer chips and electric-car batteries) that increase America’s economic competitiveness vis-à-vis China and help address the climate crisis. All of these are key goals of the Biden administration’s ambitious new jobs plan.

But these worthy goals could be hamstrung by policies that fail to account for the unique business model of high-tech startups. We must realize that we are in an increasingly fierce global competition for innovation. The share of global venture-capital dollars going to U.S. companies has dropped precipitously over the last two decades, from 84% in 2004 to 51% last year. Given that venture capital plays an enormous role in creating economic value, including new jobs, innovation, economic growth and tax revenues, we must refocus our efforts to keep the U.S. positioned as a global innovation and research and development leader.

Here are five policy recommendations we encourage Washington to consider:

Make it easier for brilliant entrepreneurs from other countries to start companies in the U.S. There is a guaranteed way to create new American companies: Pass a startup visa that recruits the world’s most talented entrepreneurs to our shores. Immigrant entrepreneurs have created thousands of U.S. companies, including Zoom, Intel and Moderna. But our immigration policy pushes away foreign-born founders because the U.S. does not have a dedicated visa category for job creators, while more than 20 other countries now have a startup visa category.

There is a guaranteed way to create new American companies: Pass a startup visa that recruits the world’s most talented entrepreneurs to our shores.

Enact policies like the Endless Frontier Act to grow economies in all regions and communities. The United States is the global leader in science and technological ingenuity and innovation. To maintain this leadership at a time when new technological capabilities are being adopted across all elements of our society, we must prioritize technology-focused economic development and create the jobs of the future here.

The key legislative proposal that the president’s plan relies on to achieve this is the Endless Frontier Act. This bipartisan bill, which is now moving through Congress, proposes a generational investment in federal basic research and technology commercialization activities that would lead to new high-tech companies being formed across the country, more technologies designed to address critical societal challenges, increased domestic manufacturing capacity, and greater economic opportunities for workers and communities. The Endless Frontier Act rightfully prioritizes new company formation and growth to encourage the participation of venture capital investors and entrepreneurs who will ultimately create and scale new American companies.

Utilize the innovative power of startups to address the climate crisis. Global carbon emissions are driving a rapidly increasing environmental crisis that will be one of the greatest challenges for our generation to solve. Fortunately, there are thousands of American entrepreneurs at work today building technologies to address the crisis, including new energy sources and storage, clean transportation technologies, carbon capture and utilization, and new, environmentally focused agricultural technologies. The president’s bold plan must take advantage of this generation of innovative startups because their success will be a major factor in the rate of our progress, and we know this is a race we can’t afford to lose.

Coordinate workforce development programs with new job creation opportunities at emerging companies. The jobs of the future are being created every day at VC-backed startups and emerging companies. As Congress considers how to craft workforce development programs, they should consider those that provide on-ramps to workers for jobs in the next generation of American companies, such as offering a refundable tax credit for emerging companies that create training programs for prospective employees. This could prove particularly effective at training non-college-educated workers for positions at high-growth companies.

Coordinate tax policy with the administration’s jobs strategies. We want to be constructive partners in these worthy efforts to expand economic opportunity and address societal challenges. But we caution that the administration’s proposals to increase taxes on capital gains, including carried interest, by more than 80% undercut our goals by specifically targeting the very entrepreneurs and long-term investment funds whose participation will ultimately determine whether the Build Back Better agenda is successful. We urge the administration to give the jobs plan every chance to succeed and avoid creating unintentional bottlenecks in the technology commercialization process with unprecedented tax increases.

As our economy continues to recover from the pandemic and we address the societal challenges of access to economic opportunity, climate and U.S. global competitiveness, we must remember that our country boasts the most vibrant startup ecosystem in the world. This ecosystem has provided technology to help us weather the pandemic and hopefully bring it to a close; launched the internet, biotechnology and climate technology industries; and led to the creation of millions of high-paying jobs.

The problems we seek to address may be unique to our time, but the source of our solutions remains the same. Expanding entrepreneurial activity will identify and scale the technologies needed to move our country forward and provide for a more secure and prosperous future for all. Let’s focus on working together to leverage this strength to solve our long-term challenges.

#biden-administration, #climate-change, #column, #congress, #diversity, #immigration-law, #opinion, #private-equity, #startup-company, #startups, #united-states, #venture-capital

To end cyberterrorism, the government should extend a hand to the private sector

It is said that the best way to lose the next war is to keep fighting the last one. The citadels of the medieval ages were an effective defense until gunpowder and cannons changed siege warfare forever. Battlefield superiority based on raw troop numbers ceded to the power of artillery and the machine gun.

During World War I, tanks were the innovation that literally rolled over fortifications built using 19th-century technology. Throughout military history, innovators enjoyed the spoils of war while those who took too long to adapt were left crushed and defeated.

Cyberwarfare is no different, with conventional weapons yielding to technologies that are just as deadly to our economic and national security. Despite our military superiority and advances on the cyber front, America is still fighting a digital enemy using analog ways of thinking.

Despite our military superiority and advances on the cyber front, America is still fighting a digital enemy using analog ways of thinking.

This must change, and it begins with the government making some difficult choices about how to wield its offensive powers against an enemy hidden in the shadows, how to partner with the private sector and what it will take to protect the nation against hostile actors that threaten our very way of life.

Colonial Pipeline was one step forward, two steps back

In the aftermath of the ransomware attack against Colonial Pipeline, the Russia-linked hacking group known as DarkSide reportedly shuttered and the Federal Bureau of Investigation recovered part of the $4.4 million ransom that was paid. These are positive developments and an indicator that our government is taking these types of attacks seriously. But it does not change the fact that cyberterrorists, acting with impunity in a hostile foreign country using a technique that has been known for years, managed to shut down the country’s largest oil pipeline and walk away with millions of dollars in ransom payments. They will likely never face justice, Russia will not face any real consequences and these attacks will no doubt continue.

The reality is that while companies can get smarter about cyber defenses and users can get more vigilant in their cyber hygiene practices, only the government has the power to bring this behavior to a halt.

Countries that permit cybercriminals to operate within their borders should be made to hand them over or be subject to crippling economic sanctions. Those found providing sanctuary or other assistance to such individuals or groups should face material support charges like anyone who assists a designated terrorist organization.

Regulators should insist that cryptocurrency exchanges and wallets help track down illicit transactions and parties or be cut off from the U.S. financial system. Law enforcement, the military and the intelligence community should be aggressively working to make it so difficult, so unsafe and so unprofitable for cyberterrorists to operate that they would not dare attempt another attack against American industry or critical infrastructure.

Government must facilitate cooperation with private actors

Our biggest vulnerability and missed opportunity is the inability of public and private entities to form a unified front against cyberwar. It is essential from both a defensive and offensive perspective that the government and private sectors share cyber risk and incident information in real time. This is not currently happening.

Companies are too scared that in revealing vulnerabilities they will be sued, investigated and further victimized by the very government that is supposed to help them defend against attack. The federal government still has no answer for the problems of overclassification of information, overlapping bureaucracies and cultural barriers that provide no incentive to proactively engage with private industry to share information and technologies.

The answer is not to strong-arm companies into coming to the table and expect one-way information flow. Private actors should be able to come forward voluntarily and share information without having to fear plaintiff litigation and regulatory action. Self-disclosed cyber data made in real time should be kept confidential and used to defend and fight back, not to further punish the victim. That is no basis for a mutual partnership.

And if federal agencies, the military or the intelligence community have intelligence about future attacks and how to prevent them, they should not sit on it until long after it will do any good. There are ways to share information with private industry that are safe, timely and mutually beneficial.

Cooperation should also go beyond the exchange of cyber event information. The private sector and academia account for a massive amount of advancement in the cyber space, with total research and development spending split roughly 90%-10% between the private and public sector over the past two decades.

Our private sector — with technology companies employing the best and brightest spanning from Silicon Valley to Austin, Texas, to the technology corridor of Northern Virginia — has a tremendous amount to offer to the government yet remains a largely untapped resource. The same innovations driving private-sector profit should be used to strengthen national security.

China has already figured this out, and if we cannot find a way to leverage private-sector innovation and young talent in the United States, we will fall behind. If there has ever been a call to action where the Biden administration, Democrats and Republicans in Congress can set politics aside and embrace bipartisan solutions, this is it.

Look to the military-defense industry model

Thankfully, there is a model public-private dynamic that in many ways is working. Weapons systems today are almost exclusively manufactured by the Defense Industrial Base, and when deployed to the battlefield there is constant two-way communication with warfighters about vulnerabilities, threats and opportunities to improve effectiveness. This relationship was not forged overnight and is far from perfect. But after decades of efforts, secure collaboration platforms were developed, security clearance standards were established and trust was formed.

We must do the same between cyber authorities in the federal government and actors throughout the private sector. Financial institutions, energy companies, retailers, manufacturers and pharmaceuticals must be able to engage the government to share real-time cyber data in both directions. If the federal government learns of a threat group or technique, it should not only take the offensive to shut it down but also push that information securely and quickly to the private sector.

It is not practical for the FBI, the Department of Homeland Security or the military to assume the burden of defending private networks against cyberattacks, but the government can and should be a shoulder-to-shoulder partner in the effort. We must adopt a relationship that recognizes this is both a joint battle and burden, and we do not have years to get it right.

Call to action

When you look at the history of war, the advantage has always gone to those who innovate first. With respect to cyberwarfare, the solution does not lie solely in advanced technologies like artificial intelligence, quantum computing or blockchain. The most powerful development in today’s war against cyberterrorism might be as simple as what we all learned in preschool: the value of sharing and cooperation.

The government, the technology industry and the broader private sector must come together not only to maintain our competitive edge and embrace advances like cloud computing, autonomous vehicles and 5G, but to ensure that we defend and preserve our way of life. We have been successful in building public and private partnerships in the past and can evolve from an analog relationship to a digital one. But the government must take the reins and lead the way.

#biden-administration, #colonial-pipeline, #column, #cyberattack, #cyberterrorism, #cyberwarfare, #department-of-homeland-security, #federal-bureau-of-investigation, #national-security, #opinion, #russia, #security, #tc

Biden admin will share more info with online platforms on ‘front lines’ of domestic terror fight

The Biden administration is outlining new plans to combat domestic terrorism in light of the January 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol and social media companies have their own part to play.

The White House released a new national strategy on countering domestic terrorism Tuesday. The plan acknowledges the key role that online platforms play in bringing violent ideas into the mainstream, going as far as calling social media sites the “front lines” of the war on domestic terrorism.

“The widespread availability of domestic terrorist recruitment material online is a national security threat whose front lines are overwhelmingly private–sector online platforms, and we are committed to informing more effectively the escalating efforts by those platforms to secure those front lines,” the White House plan states.

The Biden administration committed to more information sharing with the tech sector to fight the tide of online extremism, part of a push to intervene well before extremists can organize violence. According to a fact sheet on the new domestic terror plan, the U.S. government will prioritize “increased information sharing with the technology sector,” specifically online platforms where extremism is incubated and organized.

“Continuing to enhance the domestic terrorism–related information offered to the private sector, especially the technology sector, will facilitate more robust efforts outside the government to counter terrorists’ abuse of Internet–based communications platforms to recruit others to engage in violence,” the White House plan states.

In remarks timed with the release of the domestic terror strategy, Attorney General Merrick Garland asserted that coordinating with the tech sector is “particularly important” for interrupting extremists who organize and recruit on online platforms and emphasized plans to share enhanced information on potential domestic terror threats.

In spite of the new initiatives, the Biden administration admits that that domestic terrorism recruitment material will inevitably remain available online, particularly on platforms that don’t prioritize its removal — like most social media platforms, prior to January 2021 — and on end-to-end encrypted apps, many of which saw an influx of users when social media companies cracked down on extremism in the U.S. earlier this year.

“Dealing with the supply is therefore necessary but not sufficient: we must address the demand too,” the White House plan states. “Today’s digital age requires an American population that can utilize essential aspects of Internet–based communications platforms while avoiding vulnerability to domestic terrorist recruitment and other harmful content.”

The Biden administration will also address vulnerability to online extremism through digital literacy programs, including “educational materials” and “skills–enhancing online games” designed to inoculate Americans against domestic extremism recruitment efforts, and presumably disinformation and misinformation more broadly.

The plan stops short of naming domestic terror elements like QAnon and the “Stop the Steal” movement specifically, though it acknowledges the range of ways domestic terror can manifest, from small informal groups to organized militias.

A report from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence in March observed the elevated threat to the U.S. that domestic terrorism poses in 2021, noting that domestic extremists leverage mainstream social media sites to recruit new members, organize in-person events and share materials that can lead to violence.

#attorney-general, #biden-administration, #counter-terrorism, #online-extremism, #online-platforms, #policy, #politics, #qanon, #social, #social-media, #social-media-platforms, #tc, #terrorism, #u-s-government, #united-states, #white-house

Widespread electrification requires us to rethink battery technology

The global economy’s transition to widespread electrification has increased the demand for longer-lasting and faster-charging batteries across industries including transportation, consumer electronics, medical devices and residential energy storage. While the benefits of this transition are well understood, the reality is that battery innovation hasn’t kept pace with society’s ambitions.

With reports forecasting a 40% chance that the world’s temperature will rise over the next five years beyond the limit of 1.5 degrees Celsius laid out in the Paris climate agreement, it is clear that there’s little time to waste when it comes to creating next-generation batteries, which can easily take another 10 years to fully commercialize.

To meet the increasing pressures to electrify, a completely novel approach to building batteries is the only way to scale rechargeable batteries quickly enough to curb greenhouse-gas emissions globally and avoid the worst-case scenario for the climate crisis.

The challenges to battery innovation

Over the last few decades, battery experts, automakers, Tier 1 suppliers, investors and others looking to electrify have spent billions of dollars globally on creating next-generation batteries by focusing predominantly on battery chemistry. Yet the industry is still grappling with two major fundamental technical challenges that are stunting the proliferation of batteries:

  1. Energy/power tradeoff: All batteries manufactured today face an energy-to-power tradeoff. Batteries can store more energy or they can charge/discharge more quickly. In terms of electric vehicles, this means no single battery can provide both long range and fast charging.
  2. Anode-cathode mismatch: Today’s most promising battery technologies maximize the energy density of anodes, the negative electrode of the pair of electrodes that make up every lithium-ion battery cell. However, anodes already have greater energy density than their positive counterpart, the cathode. Cathode energy density needs to eventually match that of the anode in order to get the most energy storage capacity out of a certain battery size. Without breakthroughs in increasing cathode energy density, many of today’s most exciting battery technologies will not be able to deliver on their full potential. As it currently stands, the most commonly used lithium-ion battery cannot meet the needs of the wide-ranging applications of an all-electric future. Many companies have tried to address these demands through new battery chemistries to optimize the high-power-to-energy-density ratio to varying degrees of success, but very few are close to achieving the performance metrics required for mass scale and commercialization.

Ultimately, the winning technologies in the race toward total electrification will be the ones that have the most significant impact on performance, lowered costs and compatibility with existing manufacturing infrastructure.

Are solid-state batteries the holy grail?

Battery researchers have championed the solid-state battery as the holy grail of battery technology due to its ability to achieve high energy density and increased safety. However, until recently, the technology has fallen short in practice.

Solid-state batteries have significantly higher energy density and are potentially safer because they do not use flammable liquid electrolytes. However, the technology is still nascent and has a long way to go to achieve commercialization. The manufacturing process for solid-state batteries has to be improved to lower costs, especially for an automotive industry that aims to achieve aggressive cost reductions as low as $50/kWh in the coming years.

The other substantial challenge to implementing solid-state technology is the limitation of total energy density that can be stored in the cathodes per unit of volume. The obvious solution to this dilemma would be to have batteries with thicker cathodes. However, a thicker cathode would reduce the mechanical and thermal stability of the battery. That instability leads to delamination (a mode of failure where a material fractures into layers), cracks and separation — all of which cause premature battery failure. In addition, thicker cathodes limit diffusion and decrease power. The result is that there is a practical limit to the thickness of cathodes, which restricts the power of anodes.

New takes on materials with silicon

In most cases, companies that are developing silicon-based batteries are mixing up to 30% silicon with graphite to boost energy density. The batteries made by Sila Nanotechnologies are an illustrative example of using a silicon mix to increase energy density. Another approach is to use 100% pure silicon anodes, which are limited by very thin electrodes and high production costs, to generate even higher energy density, like Amprius’ approach.

While silicon provides considerably greater energy density, there is a significant drawback that has limited its adoption until now: The material undergoes volume expansion and shrinkage while charging and discharging, limiting battery life and performance. This leads to degradation issues that manufacturers need to solve before commercial adoption. Despite those challenges, some silicon-based batteries are already being deployed commercially, including in the automotive sector, where Tesla leads in silicon adoption for EVs.

The imperative for electrification requires a new focus on battery design

Advances to battery architecture and cell design show significant promise for unlocking improvements with existing and emerging battery chemistries.

Probably the most notable from a mainstream perspective is Tesla’s “biscuit tin” battery cell that the company unveiled at its 2020 Battery Day. It’s still using lithium-ion chemistry, but the company removed the tabs in the cell that act as the positive and negative connection points between the anode and cathode and the battery casing, and instead use a shingled design within the cell. This change in design helps reduce manufacturing costs while boosting driving range and removes many of the thermal barriers that a cell can encounter when fast-charging with DC electricity.

Transitioning away from a traditional 2D electrode structure to a 3D structure is another approach that is gaining traction in the industry. The 3D structure yields high energy and high power performance in both the anode and cathode for every battery chemistry.

Although still in the R&D and testing phases, 3D electrodes have achieved two times higher accessible capacity, 50% less charging time and 150% longer lifetime for high-performance products at market-competitive prices. Therefore, in order to advance battery capabilities to unlock the full potential of energy storage for a range of applications, it is critical to develop solutions that emphasize altering the physical structure of batteries.

Winning the battery race

It’s not just performance improvements that will win the battery race, but perfecting production and cost reduction as well. To capture a considerable share of the ballooning battery market that is projected to reach $279.7 billion by 2027, countries around the world must find ways to achieve low-cost battery manufacturing at scale. Prioritizing “drop-in” solutions and innovative production methods that can be incorporated with existing assembly lines and materials will be key.

The Biden administration’s American Jobs Plan highlights the importance of domestic battery production to the country’s goal of being a leader in electrification while meeting ambitious carbon reduction targets. Commitments like these will play a key role in establishing who can maintain a critical competitive edge in the battery space and take the largest share of the $162 billion global EV market.

Ultimately, the winning technologies in the race toward total electrification will be the ones that have the most significant impact on performance, lowered costs and compatibility with existing manufacturing infrastructure. By taking a holistic approach and focusing more on innovating cell design while also fine-tuning leading chemistries, we can achieve the next steps in battery performance and rapid commercialization that the world desperately needs.

#biden-administration, #column, #electric-vehicles, #electricity, #energy-storage, #evs, #greenhouse-gas-emissions, #lithium-ion-batteries, #opinion, #rechargeable-batteries, #tc, #transportation

White House teams up with dating apps to give vaccinated users free perks

With vaccination rates slowing in the U.S., the White House is getting creative about getting shots in arms. Beyond protecting yourself and others from from a deadly disease, the latest incentive to get vaccinated could help you find love (or get laid).

The White House COVID-19 response team announced Friday that a number of popular dating apps would offer new perks for users who get vaccinated, with Tinder, Bumble, Hinge, Match, OkCupid, BLK, Chispa, Plenty of Fish and Badoo all participating in the promotional push. The White House hopes to make inroads with the 50 million users across those dating apps where they’re already spending time.

On Tinder, anyone who adds a sticker to their profile promoting their vaccination status between June 2 and July 4 will be gifted a free Super Like. (Proof of vaccination isn’t necessary, but really, you should get vaccinated if it’s available where you live.) Tinder and other apps will also add vaccination site resources from Vaccine.gov to help people figure out where they can get the shot nearby.

“Nothing like fireworks to signal a new spark and a new start for those looking to meet new people IRL this summer,” Tinder CEO Jim Lanzone said.

According to OkCupid, getting vaccinated might help with that. The company found that people who displayed their vaccination status were 14 percent more likely to find a match. On OkCupid, vaccinated users will get a free boost, a perk that promotes their profile to potential matches. The other apps participating in the White House initiative are handing out their own premium perks to give users a competitive edge.

The effort is part of a push by the White House to get 70 percent of adults vaccinated by the Fourth of July. To reach more Americans, the Biden administration has also coordinated with popular entertainment companies like NASCAR and country music channel CMT to promote vaccination.

“Social distancing and dating were always a bit of a challenging combination,” White House Senior COVID Advisor Andy Slavitt said during a press event Friday. He characterized the vaccine push through dating apps as those companies “responding to the president’s call to action” rather than calling it an official partnership.

“We have finally found the one thing that makes use all more attractive,” Slavitt said. “A vaccination.”

#4th-of-july, #biden-administration, #ceo, #disease, #iac, #jim-lanzone, #okcupid, #president, #social, #social-software, #software, #tc, #tinder, #united-states, #vaccination, #vaccine, #white-house

Construction tech upstart Assignar adds a Fifth Wall with $20M Series B

Construction technology may not be the sexiest of industries, but it is one where tremendous opportunity lies — considering it has historically lagged in productivity. And, lags in productivity means project delays, which typically costs everyone involved more time and more money.

There are a number of larger players in the space (think Procore, PlanGrid and Autodesk) that are tackling the problems from the perspective of the general contractor. But when it comes to the subcontractors that are hired by the general contractor to do 95% of the work, the pickings are few and far between.

Enter Assignar, a cloud-based construction tech startup that was originally born in Australia and is now based in Denver, Colorado. Co-founder and CEO Sean McCreanor was a contractor himself for many years, and grew frustrated with the lack of offerings available to him. So, as in the case of many founders, he set out to create the technology he wished existed.

And today, Assignar has raised $20 million in a Series B funding round led by real estate tech-focused venture firm Fifth Wall. 

Existing backer Tola Capital and new investor Ironspring Ventures also put money in the round, which brings Assignar’s total raised since its 2014 inception to $31 million.

“I had 100 crews and workers out in the field, lots of heavy equipment and project work, and was running the entire business on spreadsheets and whiteboards,” McCreanor recalls. “With Assignar, we essentially help the office connect to the field and vice versa.”

In a nutshell, Assignar’s operations platform is designed for use by “self-perform general and subcontractors” on public and private infrastructure projects. The company’s goal is to make the whole process smoother for large general contractors, developers and real estate owner-operators by providing a “real-time snapshot of granular field activity.”

Specifically, Assignar aims to streamline operations and schedules, track crews and equipment, and improve quality and safety, as well as measure and monitor productivity and progress with data on all projects. For example, it claims to be able to help match up the best crews and equipment for a specific job “more efficiently.”

The startup says it has hundreds of international customers working on multibillion-dollar projects in infrastructure, road, rail, heavy civil, utilities and other construction disciplines. Those customers range from specialist contractors with as few as five crews to multi-national, multibillion-dollar companies. Projects include things such as bridges and roads, for example.

Image Credits: Assignar

Assignar historically has “more than doubled” its revenue every year since inception and in 2020, saw revenue increase by 75%.

“We could have grown faster but wanted to manage cash flow,” McCreanor told TechCrunch.

Assignar’s focus is particularly significant these days considering that the Biden administration’s Infrastructure Bill is nearing agreement, likely signaling an investment in infrastructure for communities across the U.S. 

The heavy civil and horizontal construction industry has long lacked a well-designed and ubiquitous operations platform, according to Fifth Wall Partner Vik Chawla.

“Assignar’s cloud-based software offers a detailed view on when and where different types of field activities are being performed,” he said. “It streamlines communications between headquarters and the field, allows for a reduction in paperwork, and brings time and cost savings to an industry where much of the planning, tracking and reporting are still done by hand, in Excel or on white boards.”

Assignar plans to use its new capital to grow its business in North America (which currently makes up about 25% of its revenue) and double its 65-person team by hiring for roles across all departments. The company also plans to invest in R&D and product development to further build out its core platform. Among the features it’s planning to develop is a contractor hub and a schedule recommendation engine that McCreanor says will leverage data, AI and machine learning “to support planning and execution processes.”

#architecture, #artificial-intelligence, #assignar, #australia, #autodesk, #biden-administration, #cloud, #cloud-based-software, #cloud-computing, #colorado, #construction, #construction-software, #construction-tech, #contractor, #denver, #fifth-wall, #funding, #fundings-exits, #heavy-equipment, #ironspring-ventures, #machine-learning, #north-america, #plangrid, #procore, #recent-funding, #startup, #startups, #tc, #tola-capital, #united-states, #venture-capital, #vik-chawla

Biden signs executive order to strengthen US cybersecurity

Biden signs executive order to strengthen US cybersecurity

Enlarge (credit: Getty Images | Photographer is my life)

Joe Biden signed an executive order on Wednesday in an attempt to bolster US cybersecurity defenses, after a number of devastating hacks including the Colonial pipeline attack revealed vulnerabilities across business and government.

“Recent cybersecurity incidents… are a sobering reminder that US public and private sector entities increasingly face sophisticated malicious cyber activity from both nation-state actors and cyber criminals,” the White House said.

Under the order, federal agencies will be required to introduce multi-factor authentication to their systems and encrypt all data within six months in a bid to make it harder for hackers to penetrate their IT infrastructure.

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#2fa, #biden-administration, #biz-it, #cybersecurity, #policy, #us

Startup employees should pay attention to Biden’s capital gains tax plans

The Biden Administration has reportedly proposed significant changes to the capital gains tax, aiming to target the wealthiest Americans to help fund his historic aid programs.

If the current proposal goes into effect, it will have an impact on startup employees who aren’t (yet) wealthy. And it’s unlikely the Biden Administration has considered the consequences, because many of these employees aren’t yet in the highest tax bracket. But startup employees need to pay close attention to these changes when planning what to do with their stock options.

We don’t yet know what will end up in a passed bill, which may look very different from the originally proposed plan. This shouldn’t cause alarm for employees or cause them to avoid exercising options, but it is something they should be thinking about when planning their equity strategy.

When it comes to employee equity, the worst decision is always not having a plan of action.

As always, employees should work with their advisers to plan accordingly and get ahead of any changes.

How changes in capital gains tax impact startup stock options

Historically, long-term capital gains, or gains on assets held for over a year, have enjoyed preferential tax rates in comparison to short-term capital gains, which are assets held for less than a year. In Biden’s original proposal, he suggests raising the long-term capital gains rate to the highest ordinary income tax rate on income over $1 million.

If Biden’s changes are enacted, it means that there would no longer be preferential tax rates for those that make over $1 million on the sale of their shares post-IPO or as