Apple secures first states to support digital driver’s licenses, but privacy questions linger

Apple’s plan to digitize your wallet is slowly taking shape. What started with boarding passes and venue tickets later became credit cards, subway tickets, and student IDs. Next on Apple’s list to digitize are driver’s licenses and state IDs, which it plans to support in its iOS 15 update expected out later this year.

But to get there it needs help from state governments, since it’s the states that issue driver’s licenses and other forms of state identification, and every state issues IDs differently. Apple said today it has so far secured two states, Arizona and Georgia, to bring digital driver’s license and state IDs.

Connecticut, Iowa, Kentucky, Maryland, Oklahoma, and Utah are expected to follow, but a timeline for rolling out wasn’t given.

Apple said in June that it would begin supporting digital licenses and IDs, and that the TSA would be the first agency to begin accepting a digital license from an iPhone at several airports, since only a state ID is required for traveling by air domestically within the United States. The TSA will allow you to present your digital wallet by tapping it on an identity reader. Apple says the feature is secure and doesn’t require handing over or unlocking your phone.

The digital license and ID data is stored on your iPhone but a driver’s license must be verified by the participating state. That has to happen at scale and speed to support millions of drivers and travelers while preventing fake IDs from making it through.

The goal of digitizing licenses and IDs is convenience, rather than fixing a problem. But the move hasn’t exactly drawn confidence from privacy experts, who bemoan Apple’s lack of transparency about how it built this technology and what it ultimately gets out of it.

Apple still has not said much about how the digital ID technology works, or what data the state obtains as part of the process to enroll a digital license. Apple is working on a new security verification feature that takes selfies to validate the user. It’s not to say these systems aren’t inherently problematic, but there are privacy questions that Apple will have to address down the line.

But the fragmented picture of digital licenses and IDs across the U.S. isn’t likely to get less murky overnight, even after Apple enters the picture. A recent public records request by MuckRock showed Apple was in contact with some states as early as 2019 about bringing digital licenses and IDs to iPhones, including California and Illinois, yet neither state has been announced by Apple today.

Wisconsin, South Carolina, and Rhode Island are likely further behind, after finding out about Apple’s digital license plan the very day it was announced at WWDC.

#apple-wallet, #california, #digital-wallet, #driver, #iphone, #mobile-phones, #privacy, #security, #wisconsin

T-Mobile says at least 47M current and former customers affected by data breach

T-Mobile has confirmed that millions of current and former customers had their information stolen in a data breach, following reports of a hack over the weekend.

In a statement, T-Mobile, which has more than 100 million customers, said its preliminary analysis shows 7.8 million current postpaid T-Mobile customers had information taken in the data breach. The carrier said that some personal data on current and former postpaid was also taken, including customer names, dates of birth, Social Security numbers, and driver’s license information for a “subset” of current and former postpay customers and prospective T-Mobile customers.

The company also said that 40 million records of former and prospective customers was taken, but that “no phone numbers, account numbers, PINs, passwords, or financial information were compromised.”

But the company warned that approximately 850,000 active T-Mobile customer names, phone numbers, and account PINs were in fact compromised, and that customer names, phone numbers and account PINs were exposed. T-Mobile said it’s reset those customer PINs. T-Mobile said it was “recommending all postpaid customers” to proactively change their account PIN, which protects their accounts from SIM-swapping attacks.

Vice reported this weekend that T-Mobile was investigating a possible hack after a seller on a known criminal forum claimed to be in possession of millions of records. The seller told Vice that they had 100 million records on T-Mobile customers, which included customer account names, phone numbers, and the IMEI numbers of phones on the account.

T-Mobile warned that there could be more fallout to come, noting that it confirmed there was “some additional information from inactive prepaid accounts accessed through prepaid billing files,” but did not say what, only that it was not financial information.

This is the fifth time that T-Mobile was hacked in recent years, following incidents as recently as January and other incidents dating back to 2018.

#data-breach, #deutsche-telekom, #driver, #security, #sim-card, #t-mobile, #t-mobile-uk, #telecommunications, #virgin-mobile

T-Mobile confirms it was hacked after customer data posted online

T-Mobile has confirmed “unauthorized access” to its systems, days after a portion of customer data was listed for sale on a known cybercriminal forum.

The U.S. cell giant, which last year completed a $26 billion merger with Sprint, confirmed an intrusion but that it has “not yet determined that there is any personal customer data involved.” The company said that its investigation will “take some time,” and no timeline was given.

“We are confident that the entry point used to gain access has been closed, and we are continuing our deep technical review of the situation across our systems to identify the nature of any data that was illegally accessed,” the company said.

Vice reported this weekend that T-Mobile was investigating a possible intrusion after a seller was claiming to be in possession of millions of records. The seller told Vice that they had 100 million records on T-Mobile customers, which included customer account names, phone numbers, the IMEI numbers of phones on the account, and Social Security number and driver’s license information — details that the company often collects to verify the identities of its customers.

Vice verified a sample of the records from the seller, suggesting the data is in at least partially valid.

The forum post, which TechCrunch has seen, asks for 6 bitcoin, or about $275,000, for data on a 30 million subset of customer data. The data was allegedly obtained from a T-Mobile-run database server that was connected to the internet, according to a screenshot posted by Bleeping Computer, which also reported that the seller has the IMEI database “going back to 2004.” IMEI and ISMI numbers can be used to uniquely identify and locate a cellphone user.

An earlier post seen by TechCrunch from the same seller and using the same sample of data claimed to have 124 million records, but still did not name T-Mobile as the source of the data. The post was deleted in the past few days.

This is by our count the fifth time that T-Mobile was hacked in recent years.

In January, T-Mobile said it had a data breach that saw cybercriminals steal about 200,000 call records and other subscriber data. Last year, T-Mobile had two incidents — it admitted a breach on its email systems that saw hackers access some T-Mobile employee email accounts and access customer data; and a breach of a million prepaid customers’ personal and billing information months later. In 2018, T-Mobile said as many as two million customers may have had their personal information scraped.


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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

Calgary’s parking authority exposed driver’s personal data and tickets

If you parked your car in one of the thousands of parking spots across Calgary, there’s a good chance you paid the Calgary Parking Authority for the privilege. But soon you might be hearing from the authority after a recent security lapse exposed the personal information of vehicle owners.

The parking authority oversees about 14% of the paid parking spots in the Calgary region, and lets drivers pay to park their cars by a parking kiosk, online, or through the phone app by entering their vehicle’s license plate and their payment details.

But a logging server used to monitor the authority’s parking system for bugs and errors was left on the internet without a password. The server contained computer-readable technical logs, but also real-world events like payments and parking tickets that contained a driver’s personal information.

A review of the logs by TechCrunch found contact information, like driver’s full names, dates of birth, phone numbers, email addresses and postal addresses, as well as details of parking tickets and parking offenses — which included license plates and vehicle descriptions — and in some cases the location data of where the alleged parking offense took place. The logs also contained some partial card payment numbers and expiry dates.

None of the data was encrypted.

Because the server’s data was entangled with logs and other computer-readable data, it’s not known exactly how many people had their information exposed by the security lapse. (In 2019, the Calgary Parking Authority issued more than 450,000 parking tickets, up by 69% in five years.)

Security researcher Anurag Sen found the exposed server and asked TechCrunch for help in reporting it to its owner. The server was secured on Tuesday, a day after TechCrunch contacted the authority.

A spokesperson for the authority confirmed that the server was exposed since May 13, though data seen by TechCrunch shows records dating back to at least the start of the year. The authority also told TechCrunch that the exposure was due to human error and that it was investigating its logs to determine if anyone else had access to the server.

“We at the CPA take this very seriously,” said Moe Houssaini, the acting general manager for the Calgary Parking Authority, told TechCrunch in a statement. “Any public access has been disabled and we are actively investigating to determine what exact data was impacted and what unauthorized access may have occurred. We apologize to our customers and will be reaching out to all individuals who may have been impacted. Protecting the security of our systems and privacy of our customers is a top priority of the CPA. It was an isolated error, and the database has now been secured. We are reviewing our procedures to ensure that this does not happen again,” said Houssaini.

The Calgary Parking Authority recently made headlines after it canceled more than a thousand parking tickets for drivers who were attending a COVID-19 vaccination center in the city.

Earlier this year, New York-based cashless parking startup ParkMobile reported a data breach that saw personal account information and license plates on some 21 million customers taken by hackers. The company blamed the breach on a vulnerability in an unspecified piece of third-party software.

Read more:


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After selling Bread last year for over $500M, this founder just raised millions for his new fintech startup

When Daniel Simon sold Bread, a consumer purchase finance and payments startup he’d co-founded, to Alliance Data Systems for over $500 million late last year, he quickly set his sights on building another startup.

During the pandemic, Simon says he observed how much strain was placed on what he described as ‘real-world’ businesses and their employees — such as truck drivers, plumbers, HVAC installers and last-mile delivery people — “and how little the last decade of innovation in fintech has done to meet the needs of the vast and vital fleets segment.”

So he teamed up with former Bread COO (and former Lyft exec) Andrew Woolf to found Coast, a company that is aiming to meet those needs with the mission of becoming “the financial platform for the future of transportation.”

And today, the New York-based company is announcing it has raised $6 million in an “oversubscribed” seed round of funding led by Better Tomorrow Ventures. Avid Ventures, Bessemer Venture Partners, BoxGroup, Colle, Foundation Capital, Greycroft, and Max Levchin’s SciFi VC — as well as more than a dozen angels including founders of Plaid, Flexport, Marqeta, Bread, Albert, Addi, Lithic, and other fintech and logistics startups — also put money in the round.

Coast co-founders Daniel Simon and Andrew Woolf

Businesses that operate fleets need to enable their drivers to pay for vehicle-related expenses when they’re on the road, such as maintenance, roadside assistance and gas.

But once a fleet reaches a size of more than just a few vehicles, traditional small business credit cards are no longer sufficient because they lack the line-item level security, visibility, and controls necessary with a mobile workforce, according to Simon. 

“Fleet owners need transactions to be authorized, for instance, for buying gas for the company van, not the personal car, and for filling up at the pump, not making other purchases in the gas station convenience store,” he said.

Historically, fleets have turned to specialized fleet and fuel credit cards which provide controls like restricting purchases to only fuel products of a particular grade or tracking expenses on a per-vehicle basis. But Simon argues that the companies that sell such cards were founded decades ago with very little innovation since.

Coast’s goal is to use technology to provide fleet business owners and their employees payments products that are intuitive and easy to use.

“They need their employee and vehicle payments integrated into the rest of their operations, and they need fair and transparent financial products that are simple to understand,” Simon said. Bottom line, he wants to bring the “same sort of ease of use and transparency that Bread brought to e-commerce consumers and retailers to a category of business and employee that is often overlooked in tech.”

Coast’s first product, which is set to launch later this year, is a commercial fuel charge card. Drivers will be able use a physical Coast card they keep in their wallet or a shared Coast card in the vehicle, and when they swipe it at a pump at any merchant that takes Visa, Simon says Coast will conduct a “rapid review of a complex set of rules to enforce the fleet business’s policies and flag potentially fraudulent transactions.”

“No need for entering data prompted by the pump – the driver fills up and is on their way,” he said.

Fleet owners and managers can use Coast’s web portal to assign drivers and vehicles, set policies and rules about who can purchase what, how much, how often, and when. They can also get reporting and alerts on their expense policies and potential abuse. At the end of the month, they will be able pay their Coast balance in full.

Down the line, the company plans to add integrations into major accounting platforms as well as into telematics platforms that provide real-time data on vehicle status and location “so it can provide actionable spending insights back to fleet managers.” Over time, Coast also plans to expand into more categories of fleet businesses’ spending as it seeks to become more of a holistic platform for the industry.

Sheel Mohnot of Better Tomorrow Ventures, who took a seat on Coast’s board as part of the financing, says his firm was impressed by both the size of the opportunity and the team at Coast that’s tackling it. 

“The space is one of those massive unsexy categories with huge incumbents that most people have never heard of but customers — who are forced to use them — universally despise. It’s the perfect recipe for a startup to come in and disrupt it with a much better experience,” Mohnot told TechCrunch via e-mail. “Similar to what Ramp or Brex do for startups, Coast does for fleet operators – it helps them control their spending so they can focus on growing their business.”

#articles, #avid-ventures, #bessemer-venture-partners, #better-tomorrow-ventures, #boxgroup, #bread, #coast, #credit-card, #daniel-simon, #driver, #finance, #financial-technology, #fintech, #foundation-capital, #funding, #fundings-exits, #lithic, #lyft, #marqeta, #money, #new-york, #payments, #plaid, #recent-funding, #startup, #startup-company, #startups, #web-portal

Following lawsuits, Snapchat pulls its controversial speed filter

Lately, Snapchat’s 3D Cartoon lens has been all the buzz, making all of our friends look like Pixar characters. But since 2013, a staple filter on the ephemeral photo sharing app has been the speed filter, which shows how fast a phone is moving when it takes a photo or video. Today, Snapchat confirmed that it will pull the filter from the app.

NPR first reported this today, calling it a “dramatic reversal” of Snap’s earlier defense of the feature. Over the years, there have been multiple car accidents, injuries, and deaths that were related to the use of the filter. In 2016, for instance, an eighteen-year-old took a Snapchat selfie while driving, then struck another driver’s car at 107 miles per hour. The other driver, Maynard Wentworth, suffered traumatic brain injuries and sued Snap. His lawyer said that the eighteen-year-old “was just trying to get the car to 100 miles per hour to post it on Snapchat.”

Snapchat’s filter-related offenses don’t begin and end here. Last year on Juneteenth, a day that commemorates the end of slavery, Snapchat released a filter that prompted users to “smile to break the chains.” On 4/20 in 2016, Snapchat partnered with Bob Marley’s estate to release a feature that gave users dreadlocks and darker skin, committing blackface. And even after Snapchat’s speed filter was linked to fatal car accidents, it remained available in the app with a simple “don’t snap and drive” warning.

“Today the sticker is barely used by Snapchatters, and in light of that, we are removing it altogether,” a spokesperson from Snap said, adding that the feature had previously been disabled at driving speeds. The company has begun removing the filter, but it might take several weeks to take full effect.

This new stance from Snap comes after the Ninth Circuit Appeals Court found in May that the company can be sued for its role in a fatal car accident.

Generally, Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act protects websites, or “interactive computer services,” from lawsuits like this, providing immunity for these platforms from third-party content posted on them. But in 2019, the parents of two children killed in crashes – Landen Brown and Hunter Morby – filed another lawsuit. They argued that the app’s “negligent design” (including a speed filter to begin with) contributed to the crash. A California judge dismissed the case, citing Section 230, but in May of this year, three judges on the federal Ninth Circuit Appeals Court ruled that Section 230 actually doesn’t apply here. The conflict isn’t with Snapchat’s role as a social media platform, but rather, the app’s design, which includes a demonstrably dangerous speed filter.

So, the sudden removal of the speed filter isn’t as random as it may seem. Now that their Section 230 defense is no longer, it makes sense that keeping the filter isn’t worth the legal risk. You’d think that the filter-related accidents would have been enough for Snapchat to take down the filter years ago, but better late than never.

#apps, #california, #car-accidents, #computing, #driver, #filter, #instant-messaging, #lawsuit, #lawyer, #mobile-applications, #selfie, #snap-inc, #snapchat, #software, #technology, #vertical-video

Volkswagen says a vendor’s security lapse exposed 3.3 million drivers’ details

Volkswagen says more than 3.3 million customers had their information exposed after one of its vendors left a cache of customer data unsecured on the internet.

The car maker said in a letter that the vendor, used by Volkswagen, its subsidiary Audi, and authorized dealers in the U.S. and Canada, left the customer data spanning 2014 to 2019 unprotected over a two-year window between August 2019 and May 2021.

The data, which Volkswagen said was gathered for sales and marketing, contained personal information about customers and prospective buyers, including their name, postal and email addresses, and phone number.

But more than 90,000 customers across the U.S. and Canada also had more sensitive data exposed, including information relating to loan eligibility. The letter said most of the sensitive data was driver’s license numbers, but that a “small” number of records also included a customer’s date of birth and Social Security numbers.

Volkswagen did not name the vendor, and a company spokesperson did not immediately comment.

It’s the latest security incident involving driver’s license numbers in recent months. Insurance giants Metromile and Geico admitted earlier this year that their quote forms had been abused by scammers trying to obtain driver’s license numbers. Several other car insurance companies have also reported similar incidents involving the theft of driver’s license numbers. Geico said it was likely an effort by scammers to file and cash fraudulent unemployment benefits in another person’s name.

Volkswagen’s letter, however, did not say if the company had evidence that the data exposed by the vendor was misused.

 

#articles, #audi, #automotive, #berkshire-hathaway, #canada, #car-insurance, #driver, #geico, #metromile, #security, #united-states, #volkswagen

99 minutos, Mexico’s last mile delivery startup, raises a $40M Series B

In 2014 Alexis Patjane was at a local hookah bar in Mexico City with some friends and the bar ran out of tobacco. They thought maybe they could buy some online and have it delivered to the bar in real-time, but it turns out that service didn’t exist.

At the time, Patjane was running a food truck-making business, which was responsible for about 80% of all the food trucks in Mexico, so he had experience doing business in the region.

A couple of weeks later, to solve the instant delivery problem he had faced at the hookah bar, Patjane launched 99 minutos, a website that sold products and delivered them within 99 minutes, hence the name.

Today, 99 minutos announced a $40 million Series B from Prosus and Kaszek Ventures which it plans to use to grow its business in Latin America. 

The company currently operates within 40 major markets across Mexico, Chile, Colombia, and Peru and offers four services: less than 99 minutes delivery, same-day delivery, next-day delivery, and CO2-free delivery. 

What started as an e-commerce company with fast delivery quickly became a last-mile delivery service for other e-commerce companies.

“We started to build the API connections and plug-ins, and any e-commerce could add our delivery service to their business,” Patjane told TechCrunch.

99 minutos makes money by charging the customer a flat fee for delivery and then offering the driver a flat rate as well, but today, the volume is so large on each route, that it’s become very lucrative.

“We ship about 60-80 packages per route,” Patjane said, and from the consumer’s perspective, the delivery app works similarly to Waze. “You can pause the delivery, you can change the address. You can say, “Oh, I’m not at home, I’m at the Starbucks on the corner, can you drop it off there?”’ he added.

Patjane said that initially, the company offered delivery only within Mexico City, but it quickly grew to offer its services between cities and now operates between 21 cities in Mexico.

“E-commerce is growing quickly in Latin America, but it is still [the] early days. E-commerce penetration in Latin America is at 6%, while China is reaching 30% and the U.S. is at 20%,” the company said in a statement.

“When we hear big e-commerce players saying that 99 minutos is ‘their most reliable partner’ and that they are ‘the provider with the most potential,’ it tells us that the team is executing extremely well and is on a path to disrupt e-commerce delivery in Latin America,” said Banafsheh Fathieh, Head of Americas Investments at Prosus Ventures.

Part of the funds will also be to speed up their city-to-city deliveries. “We’ll be doing same day [delivery] from city to city and will be using small aircraft to connect the cities,” Patjane said.

#api, #business, #chile, #colombia, #delivery, #distribution, #driver, #e-commerce, #ecommerce, #economy, #food-trucks, #funding, #kaszek-ventures, #latin-america, #logistics, #mexico, #mexico-city, #prosus-ventures, #tc, #united-states

United Airlines agrees to purchase 15 Boom supersonic airliners

United Airlines is the first official U.S. customer for Boom Supersonic, a company focused on making supersonic commercial flight a reality once again. Boom unveiled its supersonic sub-scale testing aircraft last year, and intends to start producing its Overture full-scale commercial supersonic passenger jet beginning in 2025, with a planned 2029 date for the beginning of commercial service after a few years of flight testing, design refinement and qualification.

United agreed to purchase 15 of the Overture aircraft, provided they meet United’s “safety, operating and sustainability requirements,” and the agreement also includes an option for the airline to purchase an additional 35 after that. United is obviously interested in the benefits of supersonic flight, which aims to reduce travel times by half, but it’s also looking to boost its sustainability profile with this deal with Boom.

Boom’s goal is to be the first commercial aircraft that runs on net-zero carbon footprint fuel right from day one. The company is focused on sourcing and using 100% sustainable aviation fuel, and part of the arrangement between the two companies includes United working in collaboration with the startup to develop and improve production sources for that sustainable fuel.

U.S. airlines committed jointly to a goal of achieving net zero carbon emissions by 2050, and as part of that they agreed to partner with government and other stakeholders to accelerate the development and commercialization of sustainable aviation fuel, so this team-up with Boom could be a key driver of those aims for United long-term.

#aerospace, #aircraft, #airline, #aviation, #boom-supersonic, #boom-technology, #concorde, #driver, #sound, #tc, #transport, #united-airlines, #united-states

Belvo, LatAm’s answer to Plaid, raises $43M to scale its API for financial services

Belvo, a Latin American startup which has built an open finance API platform, announced today it has raised $43 million in a Series A round of funding.

A mix of Silicon Valley and Latin American-based VC firms and angels participated in the financing including Future Positive, Kibo Ventures, FJ Labs, Kaszek, MAYA Capital, Venture Friends, Rappi co-founder and president Sebastián Mejía (Rappi), Harsh Sinha, CTO of Wise (formerly Transferwise) and Nubank CEO and founder David Vélez.

Citing Crunchbase data, Belvo believes the round represents the largest series A ever raised by a Latin American fintech. In May 2020, Belvo raised a $10 million seed round co-led by Silicon Valley’s Founders Fund and Argentina’s Kaszek.

Belvo aims to work with leading fintechs in Latin America, spanning across verticals like the neobanks, credit providers and personal finance products Latin Americans use every day.

The startup’s goal with its developer-first API platform that can be used to access and interpret end-user financial data is to build better, more efficient and more inclusive financial products in Latin America. Developers of popular neobank apps, credit providers and personal finance tools use Belvo’s API to connect bank accounts to their apps to unlock the power of open banking.

As TechCrunch Senior Editor Alex Wilhelm explained in this piece last year, Belvo might be considered similar to U.S.-based Plaid, but more attuned to the Latin American market so it can take in a more diverse set of data to better meet the needs of the various markets it serves. 

So while Belvo’s goals are “similar to the overarching goal[s] of Plaid,” co-founder and co-CEO Pablo Viguera told TechCrunch that Belvo is not merely building a banking API business hoping to connect apps to financial accounts. Instead, Belvo wants to build a finance API, which takes in more information than is normally collected by such systems. Latin America is massively underbanked and unbanked so the more data from more sources, the better.

“In essence, we’re pushing for similar outcomes [as Plaid] in terms of when you think about open banking or open finance,” Viguera said. “We’re working to democratize access to financial data and empower end users to port that data, and share that data with whoever they want.”

The company operates under the premise that just because a significant number of the region’s population is underbanked doesn’t mean that they aren’t still financially active. Belvo’s goal is to link all sorts of accounts together. For example, Viguera told TechCrunch that some gig-economy companies in Latin America are issuing their own cards that allow workers to cash out at small local shops. In time, all those transactions are data that could be linked up using Belvo, casting a far wider net than what we’re used to domestically.

The company’s work to connect banks and non-banks together is key to the company’s goal of allowing “any fintech or any developer to access and interpret user financial data,” according to Viguera.

Viguera and co-CEO Oriol Tintoré founded in May of 2019, and was part of Y Combinator’s Winter 2020 batch. Since launching its platform last year, the company says it has built a customer base of over 60 companies across Mexico, Brazil and Colombia, handling millions of monthly API calls. 

This is important because as Alex noted last year, similar to other players in the API-space, Belvo charges for each API call that its customers use (in this sense, it has a model similar to Twilio’s). 

Image Credits: Co-founders and co-CEOs Oriol Tintore and Pablo Viguera / Belvo

Also, over the past year, Belvo says it expanded its API coverage to over 40 financial institutions, which gives companies the ability to connect to over 90% of personal and business bank accounts in LatAm, as well as to tax authorities (such as the SAT in Mexico) and gig economy platforms.

“Essentially we take unstructured financial data , which an individual might have outside of a bank such as integrations we have with gig economy platforms such as Uber and Rappi. We can take a driver’s information from their Uber app, which is kind of built like a bank app and turn it into meaningful bank-like info which third parties can leverage to make assessments as if it’s data coming from a bank,” Viguera explained.

The startup plans to use its new capital to scale its product offering, continue expanding its geographic footprint and double its current headcount of 70. Specifically, Belvo plans to hire more than 50 engineers in Mexico and Brazil by year’s end. It currently has offices in Mexico City, São Paulo, and Barcelona. The company also aims to  launch its bank-to-bank payment initiation offering in Mexico and Brazil.

Belvo currently operates in Mexico, Colombia and Brazil. 

But it’s seeing “a lot of opportunity” in other markets in Latin America, especially in Chile, Peru and Argentina, Viguera told TechCrunch. “In due course, we will look to pursue expansion there.” 

Fred Blackford, founding partner of Future Positive, believes Belvo represents a “truly transformational opportunity for the region’s financial sector.”

Nicolás Szekasy, co-founder and managing partner of Kaszek, noted that demand for financial services in Latin America is growing at an exponential rate .

“Belvo is developing the infrastructure that will enable both the larger institutions and the emerging generation of younger players to successfully deploy their solutions,” he said. “ Oriol, Pablo, and the Belvo team have been leading the development of a sophisticated platform that resolves very complex technical challenges, and the company’s exponential growth reflects how it is delivering a product that fits perfectly with the requirements of the market.” 

#alex-wilhelm, #api, #argentina, #bank, #banking, #barcelona, #belvo, #brazil, #ceo, #chile, #co-ceo, #colombia, #cto, #david-velez, #driver, #editor, #finance, #financial-services, #fj-labs, #founders-fund, #funding, #fundings-exits, #kaszek, #kibo-ventures, #latin-america, #mexico, #mexico-city, #nubank, #online-food-ordering, #open-banking, #open-finance, #peru, #rappi, #recent-funding, #sao-paulo, #startup, #startups, #tc, #technology, #twilio, #uber, #vc, #venture-capital, #wise, #y-combinator

Meet Justos, the new Brazilian insurtech that just got backing from the CEOs of 7 unicorns

Here in the U.S. the concept of using driver’s data to decide the cost of auto insurance premiums is not a new one.

But in markets like Brazil, the idea is still considered relatively novel. A new startup called Justos claims it will be the first Brazilian insurer to use drivers’ data to reward those who drive safely by offering “fairer” prices.

And now Justos has raised about $2.8 million in a seed round led by Kaszek, one of the largest and most active VC firms in Latin America. Big Bets also participated in the round along with the CEOs of seven unicorns including Assaf Wand, CEO and co-founder of Hippo Insurance; David Velez, founder and CEO of Nubank; Carlos Garcia, founder and CEO Kavak; Sergio Furio, founder and CEO of Creditas; Patrick Sigris, founder of iFood and Fritz Lanman, CEO of ClassPass. Senior executives from Robinhood, Stripe, Wise, Carta and Capital One also put money in the round.

Serial entrepreneurs Dhaval Chadha, Jorge Soto Moreno and Antonio Molins co-founded Justos, having most recently worked at various Silicon Valley-based companies including ClassPass, Netflix and Airbnb.

“While we have been friends for a while, it was a coincidence that all three of us were thinking about building something new in Latin America,” Chadha said. “We spent two months studying possible paths, talking to people and investors in the United States, Brazil and Mexico, until we came up with the idea of creating an insurance company that can modernize the sector, starting with auto insurance.”

Ultimately, the trio decided that the auto insurance market would be an ideal sector considering that in Brazil, an estimated more than 70% of cars are not insured. 

The process to get insurance in the country, by any accounts, is a slow one. It takes up to 72 hours to receive initial coverage and two weeks to receive the final insurance policy. Insurers also take their time in resolving claims related to car damages and loss due to accidents, the entrepreneurs say. They also charge that pricing is often not fair or transparent.

Justos aims to improve the whole auto insurance process in Brazil by measuring the way people drive to help price their insurance policies. Similar to Root here in the U.S., Justos intends to collect users’ data through their mobile phones so that it can “more accurately and assertively price different types of risk.” This way, the startup claims it can offer plans  that are up to 30% cheaper than traditional plans, and grant discounts each month, according to the driving patterns of the previous month of each customer. 

“We measure how safely people drive using the sensors on their cell phones,” Chadha said. “This allows us to offer cheaper insurance to users who drive well, thereby reducing biases that are inherent in the pricing models used by traditional insurance companies.”

Justos also plans to use artificial intelligence and computerized vision to analyze and process claims more quickly and machine learning for image analysis and to create bots that help accelerate claims processing. 

“We are building a design driven, mobile first and customer experience that aims to revolutionize insurance in Brazil, similar to what Nubank did with banking,” Chadha told TechCrunch. “We will be eliminating any hidden fees, a lot of the small text and insurance specific jargon that is very confusing for customers.”

Justos will offer its product directly to its customers as well as through distribution channels like banks and brokers.

“By going direct to consumer, we are able to acquire users cheaper than our competitors and give back the savings to our users in the form of cheaper prices,” Chadha said.

Customers will be able to buy insurance through Justos’ app, website, or even WhatsApp. For now, the company is only adding potential customers to a waitlist but plans to begin selling policies later this year..

During the pandemic, the auto insurance sector in Brazil declined by 1%, according to Chadha, who believes that indicates “there is latent demand rearing to go once things open up again.”

Justos has a social good component as well. Justos intends to cap its profits and give any leftover revenue back to nonprofit organizations.

The company also has an ambitious goal: to help make insurance become universally accessible around the world and the roads safer in general.

“People will face everyday risks with a greater sense of safety and adventure. Road accidents will reduce drastically as a result of incentives for safer driving, and the streets will be safer,” Chadha said. “People, rather than profits, will become the focus of the insurance industry.”

Justos plans to use its new capital to set up operations, such as forming partnerships with reinsurers and an insurance company for fronting, since it is starting as an MGA (managing general agent).

It’s also working on building out its products such as apps, its back end and internal operations tools as well as designing all its processes for underwriting, claims and finance. Justos’ data science team is also building out its own pricing model. 

The startup will be focused on Brazil, with plans to eventually expand within Latin America, then Iberia and Asia.

Kaszek’s Andy Young said his firm was impressed by the team’s previous experience and passion for what they’re building.

“It’s a huge space, ripe for innovation and this is the type of team that can take it to the next level,” Young told TechCrunch. “The team has taken an approach to building an insurance platform that blends being consumer centric and data driven to produce something that is not only cheaper and rewards safety but as the brand implies in Portuguese, is fairer.”

#airbnb, #apps, #artificial-intelligence, #asia, #assaf-wand, #auto-insurance, #banking, #brazil, #cell-phones, #ceo, #classpass, #creditas, #david-velez, #driver, #finance, #founder, #fritz-lanman, #funding, #fundings-exits, #hippo-insurance, #ifood, #insurance, #insurance-policies, #insurtech, #kaszek, #latin-america, #machine-learning, #mexico, #mobile-phones, #netflix, #nubank, #recent-funding, #silicon-valley, #startup, #startups, #united-states, #venture-capital

See what’s new from Wejo, CMC, iMerit, Plus, oVice, & Michigan at TechCrunch’s mobility event

We’re in the final run-up to TC Sessions: Mobility 2021 on October 9, and the great stuff just keeps on coming. We’ve stacked the one-day agenda with plenty of programming to keep you engaged, informed and on track to build a stronger business. You’ll always find amazing speakers — some of the most innovative minds out there — on the main stage and in breakout sessions.

Dramatic pause for a pro tip: Don’t have a pass yet? Buy one here now for $125, before prices go up at the door.

“I enjoyed the big marquee speakers from companies like Uber, but it was the individual presentations where you really started to get into the meat of the conversation and see how these mobile partnerships come to life.” — Karin Maake, senior director of communications at FlashParking.

We have another exciting bit of news. We’re hosting pitch session for early-stage startup founders who exhibit in the expo at TC Sessions: Mobility. Each startup gets five minutes to pitch to attendees in a breakout session. Remember, this conference has a global reach — talk about visibility! Want to pitch? Buy an Early Stage Startup Exhibitor Package as we only have 2 packages left.

Alrighty then…let’s look at some of the breakout & main stage sessions waiting for you at TC Sessions: Mobility 20201.

Innovating Future Mobility for Global Scale

Wednesday, October 9, 10:00 am -10:50 am PDT

Learn how the CMC’s model of bringing their Clients’ new technologies to market is new and innovative, going beyond a typical demonstration or pilot program, to the point of product launch and sustaining market viability. Hear from an expert panel about how the CMC’s programming is unique, innovative, and game-changing.

  • Neal Best, Director of Client Services, California Mobility Center (CMC)
  • Bill Brandt, Business Development Advisor, Zeus Electric Chassis
  • Mark Rawson, Chief Operating Officer, California Mobility Center (CMC)
  • Scott Ungerer, Founder and Managing Director, EnerTech Capital

Public-Private Partnerships: Advancing the Future of Mobility and Electrification

Wednesday, October 9, 10:45 am -11:05 am PDT

The future of mobility starts with the next generation of transportation solutions. Attendees will hear from some of the most innovative names on opportunities that await when public and private entities team up to revolutionize the way we think about technology. Trevor Pawl, Michigan’s Chief Mobility Officer, will be joined by Nina Grooms Lee, Chief Product Officer of May Mobility.

  • Nina Grooms Lee, Chief Product Officer, May Mobility
  • Trevor Pawl, Chief Mobility Officer, State of Michigan

How Edge Cases and Data Will Enable Autonomous Transportation in Cities Across the U.S.

Delivering Supervised Autonomous Trucks Globally

Wednesday, October 9, 12:40pm – 1:00pm PDT

Plus is applying autonomous driving technology to launch supervised autonomous trucks today in order to dramatically improve safety, efficiency and driver comfort, while addressing critical challenges in long-haul trucking — driver shortage and high turnover, rising fuel costs, and reaching sustainability goals. Mass production of our supervised autonomous driving solution, PlusDrive, starts this summer. In the next few years, tens of thousands of heavy trucks powered by PlusDrive will be on the road. Plus’s COO and Co-Founder Shawn Kerrigan will introduce PlusDrive and our progress of deploying this driver-in solution globally. He will also share our learnings from working together with world-leading OEMs and fleet partners to develop and deploy autonomous trucks at scale.

  • Shawn Kerrigan, COO and Co-Founder, Plus

How Edge Cases and Data Will Enable Autonomous Transportation in Cities Across the U.S.

Wednesday, October 9, 11:00 am – 11:50am

Data will play a vital role in solving the critical edge cases required to gain city approval and deploy autonomous transportation at scale. Pilot projects are underway across the U.S. and cities such as Las Vegas are leading the way for progressive policies, testing and adoption. But, how do these projects involving a limited number of vehicles gain city approval, expand to larger geographic areas, include more use cases and service more people? Join our expert panel discussion as we examine the progress, challenges and road ahead in harnessing data to enable multiple modes of autonomous transportation in major cities across the U.S.

  • Chris Barker, Founder & CEO, CBC
  • Radha Basu, Founder & CEO, iMerit
  • Michael Sherwood, CIO, City of Las Vegas

Making Mobility Data Accessible to Governmental Agencies to Meet New Transportation Demands

Wednesday, October 9, 1:45pm – 2:05pm

Wejo provides accurate and unbiased unique journey data, curated from millions of connected cars, to help local, state, province and federal government agencies visualize traffic and congestion conditions. Unlock a deeper understanding of mobility trends, to make better decisions, support policy development and solve problems more effectively for your towns and cities.

  • Brett Scott, VP of Partnerships

Will Remote Work Push Japan’s Rural Mobility Forward?

Wednesday, October 9, 1:45pm – 2:05pm

With remote work becoming the new normal and the mass movement from the city to the Japanese countryside, the trend of private car ownership is growing day by day. During this session, we’ll be hearing from Sae Hyung Jung, serial entrepreneur, founder and CEO of oVice. oVice is an agile communication tool that facilitates hybrid remote and virtual meetups. Most notably, a hope that can trigger a sudden expansion in the Japanese mobility and vehicle infrastructure.

  • Sae Hyung Jung, Founder & CEO, oVice

#automation, #california, #car-ownership, #ceo, #chief, #chief-operating-officer, #driver, #flashparking, #may-mobility, #michigan, #mobility, #nina-grooms-lee, #officer, #plus, #robotics, #science-and-technology, #self-driving-cars, #self-driving-truck, #tc, #technology, #transport, #uber, #vp

Persona lands $50M for identity verification after seeing 10x YoY revenue growth

The identity verification space has been heating up for a while and the COVID-19 pandemic has only accelerated demand with more people transacting online.

Persona, a startup focused on creating a personalized identity verification experience “for any use case,” aims to differentiate itself in an increasingly crowded space. And investors are banking on the San Francisco-based company’s ability to help businesses customize the identity verification process — and beyond — via its no-code platform in the form of a $50 million Series B funding round. 

Index Ventures led the financing, which also included participation from existing backer Coatue Management. In late January 2020, Persona raised $17.5 million in a Series A round. The company declined to reveal at which valuation this latest round was raised.

Businesses and organizations can access Persona’s platform by way of an API, which lets them use a variety of documents, from government-issued IDs through to biometrics, to verify that customers are who they say they are. The company wants to make it easier for organizations to implement more watertight methods based on third-party documentation, real-time evaluation such as live selfie checks and AI to verify users.

Persona’s platform also collects passive signals such as a user’s device, location, and behavioral signals to provide a more holistic view of a user’s risk profile. It offers a low code and no code option depending on the needs of the customer.

The company’s momentum is reflected in its growth numbers. The startup’s revenue has surged by “more than 10 times” while its customer base has climbed by five times over the past year, according to co-founder and CEO Rick Song. Meanwhile, its headcount has more than tripled to just over 50 people.

When we look back at the space five to 10 years ago, AI was the next differentiation and every identity verification company is doing AI and machine learning,” Song told TechCrunch. “We believe the next big differentiator is more about tailoring and personalizing the experience for individuals.”

As such, Song believes that growth can be directly tied to Persona’s ability to help companies with “unique” use cases with a SaaS platform that requires little to no code and not as much heavy lifting from their engineering teams. Its end goal, ultimately, is to help businesses deter fraud, stay compliant and build trust and safety while making it easier for them to customize the verification process to their needs. Customers span a variety of industries, and include Square, Robinhood, Sonder, Brex, Udemy, Gusto, BlockFi and AngelList, among others.

“The strategy your business needs for identity verification and management is going to be completely different if you’re a travel company verifying guests versus a delivery service onboarding new couriers versus a crypto company granting access to user funds,” Song added. “Even businesses within the same industry should tailor the identity verification experience to each customer if they want to stand out.”

Image Credits: Persona

For Song, another thing that helps Persona stand out is its ability to help customers beyond the sign-on and verification process. 

“We’ve built an identity infrastructure because we don’t just help businesses at a single point in time, but rather throughout the entire lifecycle of a relationship,” he told TechCrunch.

In fact, much of the company’s growth last year came in the form of existing customers finding new use cases within the platform in addition to new customers signing on, Song said.

“We’ve been watching existing customers discover more ways to use Persona. For example, we were working with some of our customer base on a single use case and now we might be working with them on 10 different problems — anywhere from account opening to a bad actor investigation to account recovery and anything in between,” he added. “So that has probably been the biggest driver of our growth.”

Index Ventures Partner Mark Goldberg, who is taking a seat on Persona’s board as part of the financing, said he was impressed by the number of companies in Index’s own portfolio that raved about Persona.

“We’ve had our antennas up for a long time in this space,” he told TechCrunch. “We started to see really rapid adoption of Persona within the Index portfolio and there was the sense of a very powerful and very user friendly tool, which hadn’t really existed in the category before.”

Its personalization capabilities and building block-based approach too, Goldberg said, makes it appealing to a broader pool of users.

“The reality is there’s so many ways to verify a user is who they say they are or not on the internet, and if you give people the flexibility to design the right path to get to a yes or no, you can just get to a much better outcome,” he said. “That was one of the things we heard — that the use cases were not like off the rack, and I think that has really resonated in a time where people want and expect the ability to customize.”

Persona plans to use its new capital to grow its team another twofold by year’s end to support its growth and continue scaling the business.

In recent months, other companies in the space that have raised big rounds include Socure and Sift.

#angellist, #artificial-intelligence, #coatue, #driver, #funding, #fundings-exits, #identity-verification, #index-ventures, #machine-learning, #mark-goldberg, #persona, #recent-funding, #saas, #san-francisco, #startup, #startups, #tc, #travel, #venture-capital, #verification

Alchemy raises $80M at a $505M valuation to be the ‘AWS for blockchain’

Blockchain developer platform Alchemy announced today it has raised $80 million in a Series B round of funding led by Coatue and Addition, Lee Fixel’s new fund. The company previously raised a total of $15.5 million, so the latest financing brings its total raised to $95.5 million since it launched in 2017.

The latest round caught our attention for a few reasons.

First, the company, which describes itself as the backend technology behind the blockchain industry, went from public launch to a $505 million valuation in a matter of just eight months. During that time, Alchemy says it powered over $30 billion in transactions for tens of millions of users all over the world. Second, the startup says it also already powering the majority of the NFT industry.

And finally, its investors in the round include a high-profile mix of institutions and individuals such as DFJ Growth, K5 Global, the Chainsmokers, actor Jared Leto and the Glazer family (owners of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Manchester United). They joined existing backers including Yahoo co-founder and former CEO Jerry Yang, Pantera Capital, Coinbase, SignalFire, Samsung, Stanford University, Google chairman and Stanford University President John L. Hennessy, Charles Schwab, LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman and others.

Sources with inside knowledge of Alchemy’s operations tell TechCrunch that the company has already grown its business more than eightfold since it signed the Series B term sheet. They also said Alchemy had over $300 million of investor demand wanting to enter the round and is being inbounded to do another financing at “many times” the current valuation.

TechCrunch talked with Alchemy co-founders Nikil Viswanathan (CEO) and Joe Lau (CTO) about the raise and their passion for the startup’s mission was clear. As is its explosive growth.

“We realized that in order for space to thrive and build to its full potential, we needed to build a developer platform layer for blockchain,” Viswanathan told TechCrunch.

Alchemy’s goal is to be the starting place for developers considering to build a product on top of a blockchain or mainstream blockchain applications. Its developer platform aims to remove the complexity and costs of building infrastructure while improving applications through “necessary” developer tools.

The startup powers a range of transactions across nearly every blockchain vertical, including financial institutions, exchanges, billion-dollar decentralized finance projects and multinational organizations such as UNICEF. It has also quickly become the technology behind every major NFT platform, including Makersplace, OpenSea, Nifty Gateway, SuperRare and CryptoPunks.  

“Every time you open DoorDash, you’re using Amazon’s infrastructure,” Lau said. “Every time you interact with an NFT, you’re using Alchemy. It’s being powered by Alchemy underneath the hood.”

While the pair would not provide hard revenue figures, the company – which operates as a SaaS business – says it increased its revenue by 600% in 2020.

For inside players, Alchemy’s efforts are paving the way for the whole industry. 

“The cryptoeconomy is innovating faster than any technological movement that came before it, and Alchemy has been a key driver of that,” said Coinbase President and COO Emilie Choi. “Alchemy enables developers to build the rich ecosystem of applications necessary for mainstream blockchain adoption.”

Pantera Capital’s Paul Veradittakit describes Alchemy as “the Amazon Web Services (AWS) of the blockchain industry” that is “enabling the vision of a decentralized web.”

“While in Web 2.0, Microsoft, Apple and AWS are three of the most valuable companies in the world because they are the developer platform powering the computer and internet industries, Alchemy is primed to do the same for the blockchain,” he said.

The company believes the comparison to AWS is fair, noting that: “Just as AWS provides the platform that powers Uber, Netflix and much of the technology industry, Alchemy powers infrastructure for many large players in the blockchain industry.”

Alchemy plans to use its new capital to expand its developer platform to new blockchains, fuel global expansion and to open new offices in the U.S. and globally. The startup is based in San Francisco and is planning to open an office in New York.  

“We are going to use the funds to support new chains with our developer platform,” Viswanathan said. “We also expect to 5x the team this year.”

But to be clear, Alchemy prides itself on being lean and mean.

“We just went from 14 to 22 employees,” Lau said. “We have intentionally wanted to keep the team as small as possible.”

The blockchain space has been the subject of increased investor interest as of late.

In March, BlockFi, which describes itself a financial services company for crypto market investors, announced it had closed on a massive $350 million Series D funding that valued it at $3 billion. Also last month, Chainalysis, a blockchain analysis company, revealed the close of $100 million in Series D financing, which doubled its valuation to over $2 billion.

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Announcing the Agenda for TC Sessions: Mobility 2021

TC Sessions: Mobility is back and we’re excited to give you the first look at who is coming to the main stage and what we plan to talk about. The event will be virtual, but never fear, we will bring you the same informative panels and provocative one-on-one interviews and networking you’re used to.

The new format has provided one massive benefit: democratizing access. If you’re a startup or investor, you can listen in, network and connect with other participants here in Silicon Valley. Plus, you’ll be able to meet all of the attendees through our matchmaking platform, CrunchMatch.

You’ll need to make sure you have your ticket to join us at the event online. Our Early Bird savings end in just a couple of days, so make sure to book your $95 pass now, and save $100 before prices go up.

TechCrunch reporters and editors will interview some of the top leaders in transportation to tackle topics such as scaling up an electric vehicle company, the future of automated vehicle technology, building an AV startup and investing in the industry. Our guests include Scale AI founder Alexandr Wang, Zoox co-founder and CTO Jesse Levinson, Amy Jones Satrom of Nuro, famed investor Reid Hoffman, Joby Aviation founder JoeBen Bevirt, GM’s vice president of innovation Pamela Fletcher, Karl Iagnemma of Motional and Aurora co-founder and CEO Chris Urmson, to name a few.

Don’t forget, Early Bird Passes (including $100 savings) are currently available for a limited time; grab your tickets here before prices increase.

AGENDA

Self-Driving Deliveries with Ahti Heinla (Starship), Amy Jones Satrom (Nuro) and Apeksha Kumavat (Gatik)

Autonomous vehicles and robotics were well on their way transforming deliveries before the pandemic struck. In the past year, these technologies have moved from novel applications to essential innovations. We’re joined by a trio of companies — each with individual approaches that span the critical middle and last mile of delivery.

Supercharging Self-Driving Super Vision with Alexandr Wang (Scale AI)

Few startups were as prescient as Scale AI when it came to anticipating the need for massive sets of tagged data for use in AI. Co-founder and CEO Alex Wang also made a great bet on addressing the needs of lidar sensing companies early on, which has made the company instrumental in deploying AV networks. We’ll hear about what it takes to make sense of sensor data in driverless cars and look at where the industry is headed.

Will Venture Capital Drive the Future of Mobility? with Clara Brenner (Urban Innovation Fund), Quin Garcia (Autotech Ventures) and Rachel Holt (Construct Capital)

Clara Brenner, Quin Garcia and Rachel Holt will discuss how the pandemic changed their investment strategies, the hottest sectors within the mobility industry, the rise of SPACs as a financial instrument and where they plan to put their capital in 2021 and beyond.

From Concept to Commuter Car — and Beyond with Jesse Levinson (Zoox)

Zoox unveiled the design of its fit-for-purpose autonomous vehicle for the first time, after years of development and much anticipation. Meanwhile, the company was also acquired by Amazon in a high-profile deal that looks to give the company ample runway, while keeping its operations independent. We’ll hear from co-founder and CTO Jesse Levinson about what it’s like building an autonomous car company in the shadows of a commerce giant.

EV Founders in Focus with Ben Schippers (TezLab)

We sit down with the founders poised to take advantage of the rise in electric vehicle sales. We’ll chat with Ben Schippers, co-founder and CEO of TezLab, an app that operates like a Fitbit for Tesla vehicles (and soon other EVs) and allows drivers to go deep into their driving data. The app also breaks down the exact types and percentages of fossil fuels and renewable energy coming from charging locations.

The Future of Flight with JoeBen Bevirt (Joby Aviation) and Reid Hoffman (Reinvent Technology Partners)

Joby Aviation founder JoeBen Bevirt spent more than a decade quietly developing an all-electric, vertical take-off and landing passenger aircraft. Now he is preparing for a new phase of growth as Joby Aviation merges with the special purpose acquisition company formed by famed investor and Linked co-founder Reid Hoffman. Bevirt and Hoffman will come to our virtual stage to talk about the how build a startup (and keep it secret while raising funds), the future of flight and, of course, SPACs.

Equity, Accessibility and Cities with Tamika L. Butler (Tamika L. Butler Consulting), Tiffany Chu (Remix) and Frank Reig (Revel)

Can mobility be accessible, equitable and remain profitable? We have brought together community organizer, transportation consultant and lawyer Tamika L. Butler; Remix co-founder and CEO Tiffany Chu and Revel co-founder and CEO Frank Reig to discuss how (and if) shared mobility can provide equity in cities, while still remaining a viable and even profitable business. The trio will also dig into the challenges facing cities and how policy may affect startups.

The Rise of Robotaxis in China with Tony Han (WeRide), Jewel Li (AutoX) and Huan Sun (Momenta Europe)

Silicon Valley has long been viewed as a hub for autonomous vehicle development. But another country is also leading the charge. Executives from three leading Chinese robotaxi companies (that also have operations in Europe or the U.S.) will join us to provide insight into the unique challenges of developing and deploying the technology in China and how it compares to other countries.

Sponsored by Plus: Delivering Supervised Autonomous Trucks Globally with Shawn Kerrigan (Plus)

Plus is applying autonomous driving technology to launch supervised autonomous trucks today in order to dramatically improve safety, efficiency and driver comfort, while addressing critical challenges in long-haul trucking — driver shortage and high turnover, rising fuel costs, and reaching sustainability goals. Mass production of our supervised autonomous driving solution, PlusDrive, starts this summer. In the next few years, tens of thousands of heavy trucks powered by PlusDrive will be on the road. Plus’s COO and Co-Founder Shawn Kerrigan will introduce PlusDrive and our progress of deploying this driver-in solution globally. He will also share our learnings from working together with world-leading OEMs and fleet partners to develop and deploy autonomous trucks at scale.

Driving Innovation at General Motors with Pam Fletcher (GM)

GM is in the midst of sweeping changes that will eventually turn it into an EV-only producer of cars, trucks and SUVs. But the auto giant’s push to electrify passenger vehicles is just one of many efforts to be a leader in innovation and the future of transportation. We’ll talk with Pam Fletcher, vice president of innovation at GM, one of the key people behind the 113-year-old automaker’s push to become a nimble, tech-centric company.

AVs: Past, Present and Future with Karl Iagnemma (Motional) and Chris Urmson (Aurora)

TechCrunch Mobility will talk to two pioneers, and competitors, who are leading the charge to commercialize autonomous vehicles. Karl Iagnemma, president of the $4 billion Hyundai-Aptiv joint venture known as Motional, and Chris Urmson, the co-founder and CEO of Aurora, will discuss — and maybe even debate — the best approach to AV development and deployment, swap stories of the earliest days of the industry and provide a few forecasts of what’s to come.

EV Founders in Focus

We sit down with the founders poised to take advantage of the rise in electric vehicle sales. This time, we will chat with Kameale Terry, co-founder and CEO of ChargerHelp! a startup that enables on-demand repair of electric vehicle charging stations.

Sponsored by: Wejo: Making Mobility Data Accessible to Governmental Agencies to Meet New Transportation Demands with Bret Scott (Wejo)

Wejo provides accurate and unbiased unique journey data, curated from millions of connected cars, to help local, state, province and federal government agencies visualize traffic and congestion conditions. Unlock a deeper understanding of mobility trends, to make better decisions, support policy development and solve problems more effectively for your towns and cities.

Mobility’s Robotic Future with James Kuffner (Toyota Research Institute)

More than ever, automotive manufacturers are looking to robotics as the future of mobility, from manufacturing to autonomy and beyond. We’ll be speaking to the head of robotics initiatives at one of the world’s largest automakers  to find out how the technology is set to transform the industry.

TICKETS

As a special “Easter egg” thank you for making it to the end of the article, you can save an additional 15% on tickets with promo code “agenda2021“. Put it in the ticket widget below, and save! Early Bird pricing ends in a couple of days so be sure to book your passes today for maximum savings.

 

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Geico admits fraudsters stole customer driver’s license numbers for months

Geico, the second-largest auto insurer in the U.S., has fixed a security bug that let fraudsters steal customer driver’s license numbers from its website.

In a data breach notice filed with the California attorney general’s office, Geico said information gathered from other sources was used to “obtain unauthorized access to your driver’s license number through the online sales system on our website.”

The insurance giant did not say how many customers were affected by the breach but said the fraudsters accessed customer driver’s license numbers between January 21 and March 1. Companies are required to alert the state’s attorney general’s office when more than 500 state residents are affected by a security incident.

Geico said it had “reason to believe that this information could be used to fraudulently apply for unemployment benefits in your name.”

Many financially-driven criminals target government agencies using stolen identities or data. But many U.S. states require a government ID — like a driver’s license — to file for unemployment benefits. To get a driver’s license number, fraudsters take public or previously breached data and exploit weaknesses in auto insurance websites to obtain a customer’s driver’s license number. That allows the fraudsters to obtain unemployment benefits in another person’s name.

Earlier this year, San Francisco-based insurance startup Metromile admitted a bug on its website was used to obtain driver’s license numbers for six months before the bug was fixed in January.

If you’ve received correspondence from your state government and haven’t filed for unemployment benefits, there’s a good chance your personal data may have been used fraudulently.

Geico spokesperson Christine Tasher did not return multiple requests for comment.

#apps, #articles, #attorney-general, #automotive, #california, #crime, #crimes, #deception, #driver, #fraud, #geico, #metromile, #san-francisco, #security, #spokesperson, #united-states

China’s Xpeng in the race to automate EVs with lidar

Elon Musk famously said any company relying on lidar is “doomed.” Tesla instead believes automated driving functions are built on visual recognition and is even working to remove the radar. China’s Xpeng begs to differ.

Founded in 2014, Xpeng is one of China’s most celebrated electric vehicle startups and went public when it was just six years old. Like Tesla, Xpeng sees automation as an integral part of its strategy; unlike the American giant, Xpeng uses a combination of radar, cameras, high-precision maps powered by Alibaba, localization systems developed in-house, and most recently, lidar to detect and predict road conditions.

“Lidar will provide the 3D drivable space and precise depth estimation to small moving obstacles even like kids and pets, and obviously, other pedestrians and the motorbikes which are a nightmare for anybody who’s working on driving,” Xinzhou Wu, who oversees Xpeng’s autonomous driving R&D center, said in an interview with TechCrunch.

“On top of that, we have the usual radar which gives you location and speed. Then you have the camera which has very rich, basic semantic information.”

Xpeng is adding lidar to its mass-produced EV model P5, which will begin delivering in the second half of this year. The car, a family sedan, will later be able to drive from point A to B based on a navigation route set by the driver on highways and certain urban roads in China that are covered by Alibaba’s maps. An older model without lidar already enables assisted driving on highways.

The system, called Navigation Guided Pilot, is benchmarked against Tesla’s Navigate On Autopilot, said Wu. It can, for example, automatically change lanes, enter or exit ramps, overtake other vehicles, and maneuver another car’s sudden cut-in, a common sight in China’s complex road conditions.

“The city is super hard compared to the highway but with lidar and precise perception capability, we will have essentially three layers of redundancy for sensing,” said Wu.

By definition, NGP is an advanced driver-assistance system (ADAS) as drivers still need to keep their hands on the wheel and take control at any time (Chinese laws don’t allow drivers to be hands-off on the road). The carmaker’s ambition is to remove the driver, that is, reach Level 4 autonomy two to four years from now, but real-life implementation will hinge on regulations, said Wu.

“But I’m not worried about that too much. I understand the Chinese government is actually the most flexible in terms of technology regulation.”

The lidar camp

Musk’s disdain for lidar stems from the high costs of the remote sensing method that uses lasers. In the early days, a lidar unit spinning on top of a robotaxi could cost as much as $100,000, said Wu.

“Right now, [the cost] is at least two orders low,” said Wu. After 13 years with Qualcomm in the U.S., Wu joined Xpeng in late 2018 to work on automating the company’s electric cars. He currently leads a core autonomous driving R&D team of 500 staff and said the force will double in headcount by the end of this year.

“Our next vehicle is targeting the economy class. I would say it’s mid-range in terms of price,” he said, referring to the firm’s new lidar-powered sedan.

The lidar sensors powering Xpeng come from Livox, a firm touting more affordable lidar and an affiliate of DJI, the Shenzhen-based drone giant. Xpeng’s headquarters is in the adjacent city of Guangzhou about 1.5 hours’ drive away.

Xpeng isn’t the only one embracing lidar. Nio, a Chinese rival to Xpeng targeting a more premium market, unveiled a lidar-powered car in January but the model won’t start production until 2022. Arcfox, a new EV brand of Chinese state-owned carmaker BAIC, recently said it would be launching an electric car equipped with Huawei’s lidar.

Musk recently hinted that Tesla may remove radar from production outright as it inches closer to pure vision based on camera and machine learning. The billionaire founder isn’t particularly a fan of Xpeng, which he alleged owned a copy of Tesla’s old source code.

In 2019, Tesla filed a lawsuit against Cao Guangzhi alleging that the former Tesla engineer stole trade secrets and brought them to Xpeng. XPeng has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing. Cao no longer works at Xpeng.

Supply challenges

While Livox claims to be an independent entity “incubated” by DJI, a source told TechCrunch previously that it is just a “team within DJI” positioned as a separate company. The intention to distance from DJI comes as no one’s surprise as the drone maker is on the U.S. government’s Entity List, which has cut key suppliers off from a multitude of Chinese tech firms including Huawei.

Other critical parts that Xpeng uses include NVIDIA’s Xavier system-on-the-chip computing platform and Bosch’s iBooster brake system. Globally, the ongoing semiconductor shortage is pushing auto executives to ponder over future scenarios where self-driving cars become even more dependent on chips.

Xpeng is well aware of supply chain risks. “Basically, safety is very important,” said Wu. “It’s more than the tension between countries around the world right now. Covid-19 is also creating a lot of issues for some of the suppliers, so having redundancy in the suppliers is some strategy we are looking very closely at.”

Taking on robotaxis

Xpeng could have easily tapped the flurry of autonomous driving solution providers in China, including Pony.ai and WeRide in its backyard Guangzhou. Instead, Xpeng becomes their competitor, working on automation in-house and pledges to outrival the artificial intelligence startups.

“The availability of massive computing for cars at affordable costs and the fast dropping price of lidar is making the two camps really the same,” Wu said of the dynamics between EV makers and robotaxi startups.

“[The robotaxi companies] have to work very hard to find a path to a mass-production vehicle. If they don’t do that, two years from now, they will find the technology is already available in mass production and their value become will become much less than today’s,” he added.

“We know how to mass-produce a technology up to the safety requirement and the quarantine required of the auto industry. This is a super high bar for anybody wanting to survive.”

Xpeng has no plans of going visual-only. Options of automotive technologies like lidar are becoming cheaper and more abundant, so “why do we have to bind our hands right now and say camera only?” Wu asked.

“We have a lot of respect for Elon and his company. We wish them all the best. But we will, as Xiaopeng [founder of Xpeng] said in one of his famous speeches, compete in China and hopefully in the rest of the world as well with different technologies.”

5G, coupled with cloud computing and cabin intelligence, will accelerate Xpeng’s path to achieve full automation, though Wu couldn’t share much detail on how 5G is used. When unmanned driving is viable, Xpeng will explore “a lot of exciting features” that go into a car when the driver’s hands are freed. Xpeng’s electric SUV is already available in Norway, and the company is looking to further expand globally.

#alibaba, #artificial-intelligence, #asia, #automation, #automotive, #baic, #bosch, #cars, #china, #cloud-computing, #driver, #electric-car, #elon-musk, #emerging-technologies, #engineer, #founder, #huawei, #lasers, #li-auto, #lidar, #livox, #machine-learning, #nio, #norway, #nvidia, #qualcomm, #robotaxi, #robotics, #self-driving-cars, #semiconductor, #shenzhen, #tc, #tesla, #transport, #transportation, #u-s-government, #united-states, #wu, #xavier, #xiaopeng, #xpeng