Ash from a volcanic eruption in the South Pacific nation presents risks to drinking water and air quality, experts say. Quantifying them in real time is a challenge.
As it struggles to clean up and reconnect with the world, Tonga confronts the risk that international aid workers could bring in a virus it has so far kept out.
So far, the only deaths reported occurred 6,000 miles away, in Peru. But outside emergency workers have yet to make their way to the Pacific island nation.
The waters prompted warnings and advisories on nearby islands and in parts of New Zealand and the United States.
The Moriori, whose history of peaceful isolation was shattered by violent subjugation, are fighting to establish themselves as a thriving people alongside the Maori.
The power Ms. Hulme drew from her Maori heritage shone through in her work, especially in “The Bone People,” which won the literary prize in 1985.
The proposal, expected to become law next year, would raise the smoking age year by year until it covers the entire population.
Warming oceans are sending the monogamous sea birds farther afield to find food, putting stress on their breeding and prompting some to ditch their partners.
In “The Power of the Dog,” her first movie in 12 years, the filmmaker ventures into the American West — and the inner worlds of cruel, complicated men.
After their populations were decimated by hunters, New Zealand’s sea lions are returning to the coasts — sometimes surprising locals by turning up in unexpected places.
The long-tailed bat, one of the country’s only two native land mammals, flew away with the top prize.
The country’s leaders have set aside some misgivings and cooperated with gang leaders to reach their communities.
The city of Christchurch has paid Ian Brackenbury Channell, 88, about $10,000 per year since 1998 for “acts of wizardry and other wizard-like services.” But he has been condemned recently for his jokes about women.
“Waiata/Anthems,” Lorde’s “Te Ao Marama” EP and a host of other projects are aimed at revitalizing the Indigenous language of New Zealand via music.
The country took a different approach to encouraging vaccinations on Saturday, with barbecues, a telethon and the chance to get jabbed in the business-class seat of a Boeing 787.
Ice cores drilled from the southern continent preserved a signal of the peopling of islands thousands of miles away.
The country is changing course seven weeks into a lockdown that has failed to end the outbreak and tested the patience of many residents.
APIs are the grease turning the gears and wheels for many organizations’ IT systems today, but as APIs grow in number and use, tracking how they work (or don’t work) together can become complex and potentially critical if something goes awry. Now, a startup that has built an innovative way to help with this is announcing some funding after getting traction with big enterprises adopting its approach.
Tyk, which has built a way for users to access and manage multiple internal enterprise APIs through a universal interface by way of GraphQL, has picked up $35 million, an investment that it will be using both for hiring and to continue enhancing and expanding the tools that it provides to users. Tyk has coined a term describing its approach to managing APIs and the data they produce — “universal data graph” — and today its tools are being used to manage APIs by some 10,000 businesses, including large enterprises like Starbucks, Societe Generale, and Domino’s.
Scottish Equity Partners led the round, with participation also from MMC Ventures — its sole previous investor from a round in 2019 after boostrapping for its first five years. The startup is based out of London but works in a very distributed way — one of the co-founders is living in New Zealand currently — and it will be hiring and growing based on that principle, too. It has raised just over $40 million to date.
Tyk (pronounced like “tyke”, meaning small/lively child) got its start as an open source side project first for co-founder Martin Buhr, who is now the company’s CEO, while he was working elsewhere, as a “load testing thing,” in his words.
The shifts in IT towards service-oriented architectures, and building and using APIs to connect internal apps, led him to rethink the code and consider how it could be used to control APIs. Added to that was the fact that as far as Buhr could see, the API management platforms that were in the market at the time — some of the big names today include Kong, Apigee (now a part of Google), 3scale (now a part of RedHat and thus IBM), MuleSoft (now a part of Salesforce) — were not as flexible as his needs were. “So I built my own,” he said.
It was built as an open source tool, and some engineers at other companies started to use it. As it got more attention, some of the bigger companies interested in using it started to ask why he wasn’t charging for anything — a sure sign as any that there was probably a business to be built here, and more credibility to come if he charged for the it.
“So we made the gateway open source, and the management part went into a licensing model,” he said. And Tyk was born as a startup co-founded with James Hirst, who is now the COO, who worked with Buhr at a digital agency some years before.
The key motivation behind building Tyk has stayed as its unique selling point for customers working in increasingly complex environments.
“What sparked interest in Tyk was that companies were unhappy with API management as it exists today,” Buhr noted, citing architectures using multiple clouds and multiple containers, creating more complexity that needed better management. “It was just the right time when containerization, Kubernetes and microservices were on the rise… The way we approach the multi-data and multi-vendor cloud model is super flexible and resilient to partitions, in a way that others have not been able to do.”
“You engage developers and deliver real value and it’s up to them to make the choice,” added Hirst. “We are responding to a clear shift in the market.”
One of the next frontiers that Tyk will tackle will be what happens within the management layer, specifically when there are potential conflicts with APIs.
“When a team using a microservice makes a breaking change, we want to bring that up and report that to the system,” Buhr said. “The plan is to flag the issue and test against it, and be able to say that a schema won’t work, and to identify why.”
Even before that is rolled out, though, Tyk’s customer list and its grow speak to a business on the cusp of a lot more.
“Martin and James have built a world-class team and the addition of this new capital will enable Tyk to accelerate the growth of its API management platform, particularly around the GraphQL focused Universal Data Graph product that launched earlier this year,” said Martin Brennan, a director at SEP, in a statement. “We are pleased to be supporting the team to achieve their global ambitions.”
Keith Davidson, a partner at SEP, is joining the Tyk board as a non-executive director with this round.
The bird is a kea from New Zealand, and his fabrication of an instrument to help him preen his feathers appears to be unique, researchers say.
The benefits of the zero-infections policy have dropped in relation to the costs of implementation, and there are signs it is becoming counterproductive.
Hello friends, and welcome back to Week in Review.
Last week, we dove into the truly bizarre machinations of the NFT market. This week, we’re talking about something that’s a little bit more impactful on the current state of the web — Apple’s NeuralHash kerfuffle.
the big thing
In the past month, Apple did something it generally has done an exceptional job avoiding — the company made what seemed to be an entirely unforced error.
In early August — seemingly out of nowhere** — the company announced that by the end of the year they would be rolling out a technology called NeuralHash that actively scanned the libraries of all iCloud Photos users, seeking out image hashes that matched known images of child sexual abuse material (CSAM). For obvious reasons, the on-device scanning could not be opted out of.
This announcement was not coordinated with other major consumer tech giants, Apple pushed forward on the announcement alone.
Researchers and advocacy groups had almost unilaterally negative feedback for the effort, raising concerns that this could create new abuse channels for actors like governments to detect on-device information that they regarded as objectionable. As my colleague Zach noted in a recent story, “The Electronic Frontier Foundation said this week it had amassed more than 25,000 signatures from consumers. On top of that, close to 100 policy and rights groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union, also called on Apple to abandon plans to roll out the technology.”
(The announcement also reportedly generated some controversy inside of Apple.)
The issue — of course — wasn’t that Apple was looking at find ways that prevented the proliferation of CSAM while making as few device security concessions as possible. The issue was that Apple was unilaterally making a massive choice that would affect billions of customers (while likely pushing competitors towards similar solutions), and was doing so without external public input about possible ramifications or necessary safeguards.
A long story short, over the past month researchers discovered Apple’s NeuralHash wasn’t as air tight as hoped and the company announced Friday that it was delaying the rollout “to take additional time over the coming months to collect input and make improvements before releasing these critically important child safety features.”
Having spent several years in the tech media, I will say that the only reason to release news on a Friday morning ahead of a long weekend is to ensure that the announcement is read and seen by as few people as possible, and it’s clear why they’d want that. It’s a major embarrassment for Apple, and as with any delayed rollout like this, it’s a sign that their internal teams weren’t adequately prepared and lacked the ideological diversity to gauge the scope of the issue that they were tackling. This isn’t really a dig at Apple’s team building this so much as it’s a dig on Apple trying to solve a problem like this inside the Apple Park vacuum while adhering to its annual iOS release schedule.
Apple is increasingly looking to make privacy a key selling point for the iOS ecosystem, and as a result of this productization, has pushed development of privacy-centric features towards the same secrecy its surface-level design changes command. In June, Apple announced iCloud+ and raised some eyebrows when they shared that certain new privacy-centric features would only be available to iPhone users who paid for additional subscription services.
You obviously can’t tap public opinion for every product update, but perhaps wide-ranging and trail-blazing security and privacy features should be treated a bit differently than the average product update. Apple’s lack of engagement with research and advocacy groups on NeuralHash was pretty egregious and certainly raises some questions about whether the company fully respects how the choices they make for iOS affect the broader internet.
Delaying the feature’s rollout is a good thing, but let’s all hope they take that time to reflect more broadly as well.
** Though the announcement was a surprise to many, Apple’s development of this feature wasn’t coming completely out of nowhere. Those at the top of Apple likely felt that the winds of global tech regulation might be shifting towards outright bans of some methods of encryption in some of its biggest markets.
Back in October of 2020, then United States AG Bill Barr joined representatives from the UK, New Zealand, Australia, Canada, India and Japan in signing a letter raising major concerns about how implementations of encryption tech posed “significant challenges to public safety, including to highly vulnerable members of our societies like sexually exploited children.” The letter effectively called on tech industry companies to get creative in how they tackled this problem.
Here are the TechCrunch news stories that especially caught my eye this week:
LinkedIn kills Stories
You may be shocked to hear that LinkedIn even had a Stories-like product on their platform, but if you did already know that they were testing Stories, you likely won’t be so surprised to hear that the test didn’t pan out too well. The company announced this week that they’ll be suspending the feature at the end of the month. RIP.
FAA grounds Virgin Galactic over questions about Branson flight
While all appeared to go swimmingly for Richard Branson’s trip to space last month, the FAA has some questions regarding why the flight seemed to unexpectedly veer so far off the cleared route. The FAA is preventing the company from further launches until they find out what the deal is.
Apple buys a classical music streaming service
While Spotify makes news every month or two for spending a massive amount acquiring a popular podcast, Apple seems to have eyes on a different market for Apple Music, announcing this week that they’re bringing the classical music streaming service Primephonic onto the Apple Music team.
TikTok parent company buys a VR startup
It isn’t a huge secret that ByteDance and Facebook have been trying to copy each other’s success at times, but many probably weren’t expecting TikTok’s parent company to wander into the virtual reality game. The Chinese company bought the startup Pico which makes consumer VR headsets for China and enterprise VR products for North American customers.
Twitter tests an anti-abuse ‘Safety Mode’
The same features that make Twitter an incredibly cool product for some users can also make the experience awful for others, a realization that Twitter has seemingly been very slow to make. Their latest solution is more individual user controls, which Twitter is testing out with a new “safety mode” which pairs algorithmic intelligence with new user inputs.
Some of my favorite reads from our Extra Crunch subscription service this week:
Our favorite startups from YC’s Demo Day, Part 1
“Y Combinator kicked off its fourth-ever virtual Demo Day today, revealing the first half of its nearly 400-company batch. The presentation, YC’s biggest yet, offers a snapshot into where innovation is heading, from not-so-simple seaweed to a Clearco for creators….”
“…Yesterday, the TechCrunch team covered the first half of this batch, as well as the startups with one-minute pitches that stood out to us. We even podcasted about it! Today, we’re doing it all over again. Here’s our full list of all startups that presented on the record today, and below, you’ll find our votes for the best Y Combinator pitches of Day Two. The ones that, as people who sift through a few hundred pitches a day, made us go ‘oh wait, what’s this?’
All the reasons why you should launch a credit card
“… if your company somehow hasn’t yet found its way to launch a debit or credit card, we have good news: It’s easier than ever to do so and there’s actual money to be made. Just know that if you do, you’ve got plenty of competition and that actual customer usage will probably depend on how sticky your service is and how valuable the rewards are that you offer to your most active users….”
A man who wounded seven people in a supermarket had been under surveillance for months. Officials say a loophole in the country’s laws needs to be closed.
The man was under surveillance when he injured six people at a West Auckland supermarket on Friday, officials said. The prime minister called it a “terrorist attack.”
A recent move to Auckland, New Zealand — a city with lackluster public transit and hills that can turn a quick bike ride to the store into a sweaty workout — piqued my interest in e-bikes.
Strong demand and skyrocketing prices, however, made it difficult to access these coveted e-bikes here in the Land of the Long White Cloud. That changed after learning about Ubco, the New Zealand-based electric utility bike startup that recently raised $10 million from investors.
The company provided me with the Ubco 2X2 Adventure Bike for nearly a month, which gave me plenty of time to put it to the test.
I may not be Ubco’s target audience, although I did my best to use the bike as its design suggests, and packed it up with bags of books and other heavy things that might simulate the weight of delivered garlic bread, mail and other packages. The Ubco 2X2 Adventure Bike is made for city utility riding, with the option of going off-road, which I would later try with gusto.
The company’s flagship is the Ubco 2X2 Work Bike, an electric dirt bike that was originally designed to help farmers. The fresh capital the company raised in June will be used to expand into existing verticals like food delivery, postal service and last-mile logistics, scale a commercial subscription business and target sales growth in the United States.
Domino’s drivers in Auckland, and I hear in the U.K., can be seen delivering hot pizzas on Ubco bikes, and the company has a range of other national clients, like the New Zealand Post, the Defense Force, the Department of Conservation, and Pāmu, or Landcorp Farming Limited, as well as other local restaurants and stores.
CEO and co-founder Timothy Allan drove out from the company headquarters in Tauranga to hand off the bike personally. It was a sunny day in my neighborhood, and I listened impatiently as he described the various bits and bobs, how to work the machine and how to charge it.
Allan helped me download the Ubco app to pair my phone with the bike, which, among other functionalities, allowed me to select beginner mode, which would cap the vehicle speed at around 20 miles per hour. I made a mental note so that I could write about it here, but was determined to reach the top speed of 30 miles per hour right away.
I did, and it was … pretty sick. I’m not supposed to gush, but man! It’s a sweet ride. Here’s why:
The Adventure Bike comes standard in white and sits on 17X2.75-inch multi-use tires with aluminum rims, both of which are DOT compliant. My version also had Maori decals on the frame, in a nod to the indigenous people of New Zealand.
The bike’s height is about 41 inches and the seat comes to 32 inches. From wheel to wheel, it’s about 72 inches. The payload, including the rider, is about 330 pounds, so both my partner (6’2” man) and I (5’7” female) rode this bike with ease, needing only to adjust the wide rearview mirrors sticking out of the handlebars. And no, we didn’t ride it together. This bike is designed as a one-seater.
That said, there’s a little cargo rack above the back wheel, which holds the license plate (apparently these are classified as mopeds, which require registration in many places) and any other cargo one might carry. I didn’t try, but I reckon it could hold at least five pizza boxes tied down with a bungee cord. The bike rack also allows for saddlebags to be strapped on. Ubco sells what it calls the Pannier Back Pack, a weather-resistant roll-top cargo bag, for $189 that slots in very nicely and is actually a quality bag with 5.28-gallon capacity.
Accessories aside, the alloy frame is lightweight and step-through, which I love in a bike — it lets me start to shift myself off before I fully park and I feel super agile and swift. Speaking of parking, the rules are different everywhere, I assume, but here, you park it on the street or in parking spaces, not on the sidewalk. It’s got a kickstand to hold it in place, and you can lock the front wheel so no one can just wheel it away. They could, however, probably chuck it into the back of their pickup truck if they so chose, since it’s only 145 pounds.
The appearance of the bike stood out, and not just to me. During my multi-week test drive, numerous tradesmen and bike folks went out of their way to compliment its design, the exact demographic that Ubco is aiming for.
The lightness of the bike means that it’s easy to take off and find your balance. The battery is also in the middle of the frame, just near where your feet sit, which anchors the bike and gives you a stable center of gravity.
The lightweight nature of the bike is a blessing and a curse. Cutting a turn is easy, but on a windy day and an open road, there were moments I worried that I’d be knocked off it — but maybe that had more to do with riding next to a 10-wheeler on the street. Because it’s so light, it did feel a bit strange to me to be in the street lane with the other bigger, meaner cars rather than in the bike lanes.
The bike accelerates quickly via the fully electronic throttle control, even up steep hills, due to the high torque geared drivetrain. The drivetrain has two 1kw Flux2 motors with sealed bearings, active heat management and active venting for residual moisture — a necessity in this moistest of cities.
The acceleration sound, which mimics those of a gas-powered dirt bike but with a softer electronic tone, was a surprising plus. I didn’t realize how much I relied on my sense of sound to tell how fast I was going until I rode the Ubco.
The braking system was a bit touchy. It felt very sensitive to me, probably because hydraulic and regenerative brakes are operating together on the vehicle. There’s also a passive regenerative braking system, which I gather is what put the brakes on for me when I was just trying to coast down one of those mammoth hills.
Both the front suspension, 130 mm, and rear suspension, 120 mm, have a coil spring with a hydraulic dampener and have preload and rebound adjustment. In other words, the shocks are awesome. Even when I actively drove myself off sidewalks and over speed bumps, I could barely feel a thing.
To test its off-road capabilities, I took the bike to Cornwall Park, where I ran it at full speed on the grass, swerving between trees, flying over roots and rocks, doing doughnuts in the field. It was good fun and I felt completely in control of the vehicle. I can imagine why farmers have turned to the Work Bike.
When it was time to test out its use as a delivery bike, I packed the two saddlebags with books and groceries and took it for a spin. Still a great ride, although I was a little wobbly turning corners until I got the hang of it.
Since the Ubco Adventure Bike doesn’t neatly fit into a specific bike category, it’s not a simple price comparison. An electric moped, like a Lexmoto Yadea or a Vespa Elettrica, could set you back anywhere from $2,400 or $7,000, respectively. Electric dirt bikes could cost anywhere from $6,000 to $11,000 for something like a KTM or Alta Motors.
With that in mind, the Ubco Adventure Bike costs $6,999 with a 2.1 kW power supply and $7,499 for a 3.1 kW power supply. Depending on what you want it for, I’d say it’s somewhere around mid-range for a bike like this. Since you’d probably use it for work-related activities, it could get a tax write-off. Plus, you want quality in a bike that’s down to do some heavy lifting, and Ubco has plenty of that. It’s not only a handy utility bike, but it’s also got some excellent tech under the proverbial hood, which we’ll get to later.
Ubco estimates a 10- to 15-year life expectancy, depending on use. Over-the-air software updates, replacing parts and full refurbishments can help keep the bike going for longer. The company encourages riders to send back the dead bikes because it’s committed to full product stewardship.
That said, if you wanted to buy a bike now, it’d be a preorder (unless your local Ubco dealer had some in stock). Ordering now could get you an Ubco by September if you live in the States. The company says it’s still feeling the effects of COVID, with high demand and a stretched supply chain causing delays. The preorder requires a $1,000 deposit.
Ubco also has a subscription model, which is mainly available for enterprise customers at the moment and priced on a case-by-case basis. However, it’s piloting subscriptions for individuals in Auckland and Tauranga before rolling the program out globally. Subscriptions will start at around NZD $300 per month for a 36-month term.
The Adventure Bike comes with either the 2.1 kWh battery pack, which has around 40 to 54 miles of range, or the 3.1 kWh, with 60 to 80 miles.
The battery is run off a management system, called “Scotty,” to monitor real-time performance and safety. The battery, which is sealed with alloy and vented during use, is made with 18650 lithium-ion cells, which means it’s a powerful battery that can handle up to 500 charging cycles. Ubco says its batteries are designed to be disassembled at the end of life.
The 10amp alloy fast charger can fuel the battery fully within four to six hours. You can charge it while it’s still in the vehicle by just connecting it to a power outlet, or you can unlock the battery and yank it out (it’s a little heavy) and charge it inside. Note: Charging is loud. Not sure if this is standard, but probably is.
I charged it every two to three days, but that will depend on use and where you are. It’s winter in Auckland, so a bit cold, which affects battery life, and the hills are brutal, which also use up a lot of battery life.
I’d ride it downtown and around my neighborhood every day, but I’d wager a delivery driver would need to charge it nightly. As I mentioned earlier, the battery can be removed for charging, so if you take it to work, you can always take it up to the office or wherever to charge while you’re doing other things.
Vehicle management system
The vehicle runs off what Ubco calls its Cerebro vehicle management system, which integrates all electronic and electrical functions of the vehicles and provides control and updates via Bluetooth. Ubco builds with end of life in mind, so the CAN bus is isolated so future CAN devices can be easily integrated.
Now, one of my first questions, given the heftiness of this bike and the likelihood of gig economy workers who would ride it for work living in urban dwellings, was this: How can I ensure no one will steal this thing when it’s on the street, because there’s no way I’m lugging it up to my fifth-floor walkup?
Like I said, you can lock the wheel in place, which would make it far more difficult for someone to wheel it off. If someone did decide to capture the whole cumbersome vehicle, Ubco would be able to track it for you. Each Ubco bike has telemetry, aka a SIM card, hardwired inside, and that can help provide data that can be used for location, servicing, theft, safety, route planning, etc.
This VMS architecture is made for handling fleets via Ubco’s enterprise subscription vehicles, but it obviously has other uses, like providing peace of mind (personally, I’d still lock it up with chains, but I’m a New Yorker and trust no one). Obviously, if you think this telemetry is creepy, you can opt out, but it does come standard with subscriptions, allowing subscribers to track their bike’s location on the app.
Mounted on the handlebar is an LCD display that shows speed, power levels and more. Also on the handlebars are switch controls for high or low beams, indicators and a horn. I found the indicators to be a bit sticky and sometimes I would slip and hit the horn. What I wish the handlebars also had was a mount for your phone so you could follow directions. I had my headphones in and was listening to Google Maps tell me how to get around, but that felt less safe and efficient.
Turning it on
You can turn the power on with a keyless fob by either clicking the button on the fob or the button on the handlebars. I will note that the keyless fob button is weirdly sensitive. At multiple points, I had it in my pocket with my phone or other pocket inhabitants and it must have knocked into the button, turning the vehicle off while I was riding it. Thankfully, that never happened anywhere busy, but that’s something to be wary about.
As I mentioned earlier, you could pair your phone, as well as other users’ phones, to the bike using the app. The app allows you to choose learner mode or restricted mode, which controls ride settings; turn the bike and lights on and off; change the metrics; and check the status of things like battery life, speed and motor temperature. It’s basically all the info on the dash, but on an app. I didn’t really feel the need to use it.
The LED headlights are on at all times when the vehicle is turned on, but there’s also a high and low beam, as well as peripheral parking lights, all of which are designed for disassembly at the end of life. There are also LED rear, brake and number plate lights, as well as DOT-approved indicator lights.
Among the features that don’t fit neatly into the other categories, there’s the field kit, which is fastened to the lift-up seat and contains a user manual and tools to set up and maintain the 2X2, which is really handy. Usually, when people buy an Ubco bike, it comes in a box and there are “a few simple steps to follow to get it ready to ride.” There’s also an UBCO University course that shows how to set it up. If you buy from one of Ubco’s dealers, they’ll unpack it and set it up when you come to collect it.
Maintenance comes with the cost of a monthly subscription. Ubco has a network of technicians placed wherever the company sells its bikes if they’re in need of fixing. If there’s no authorized mechanic nearby, Ubco’s head office will work with customers to help them fix the bike. Ubco did not respond to information about how many authorized mechanics are in its network.
Again, being from New York, I’ve seen probably thousands of delivery riders on bikes and mopeds, oven mitts covered in a plastic bag taped onto the handlebars so drivers can keep their hands warm during the colder months. This bike can handle a hefty load for delivering goods, it’s quick and agile for weaving in and out of traffic, and it’s easy to ride and use.
The subscription offering, especially for enterprise, makes this a great city utility bike that can probably handle a range of weather conditions. I already know it can handle rain and mud, so all signs point to success in the sloshy, icy hell of a Northern city winter. And for the adventurer — the person who just wants to ride something sweet on- and off-road, out of the city and into the wilderness — this is also a great consumer ride that will last you quite a while.
The country is holding fast to a lockdown to contain an outbreak that began in mid-August. But it’s also acknowledging that lockdowns can’t go on forever.
Adolescence is a turbulent period and its challenges are being exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Even in the best of times, teens dealing with personal and school problems might have trouble talking about them. New Zealand-based startup Komodo is a student wellbeing platform that wants to give students a place to communicate with staff, while providing schools with data to help them spot and address issues like depression or bullying.
Founded in 2018 by Chris Bacon, Matt Goodson and Jack Wood, the startup announced today it has raised $1.8 million NZD (about $1.26 million) in seed funding led by Folklore Ventures, with participation from Icehouse Ventures and Flying Fox Ventures. Individual investors included employee engagement platform Culture Amp co-founder Rod Hamilton; Chloe Hamman, Culture Amp’s director of people science; leaders from learning platform Education Perfect; and Kristi Grant, the director of people experience at Auror.
Some of Komodo’s clients and partners in New Zealand and Australia include Marist College Ashgrove in Queensland; St. Andrew’s College in Christchurch; the Australian Boarding Schools Association (ABSA); Independent Schools of New Zealand; and the Council of British International Schools.
Komodo was originally created to monitor the wellbeing of youth athletes, based on research Bacon performed while earning a PhD at the University of Canterbury. A lot of its clients were schools, and that’s when the team began to expand Komodo’s scope.
“The draw for us was witnessing specific examples,” Wood told TechCrunch. “We had schools coming back to us saying ‘we’ve got a kid that’s been bullied for the past three months who hasn’t even remotely felt confident to approach a staff member and start talking about it. We’ve finally seen that come up in Komodo and they feel happy they have a confidential channel to voice that concern.’”
Komodo has a web application and a mobile app, which is what most students use. The platform can be customized by schools and includes psychologist-designed surveys and questions about topics like how students feel about going to school, socialization and relationships or major transitions like starting high school or preparing for university. The amount of time students check into Komodo depends on their school. At some it’s once a week, others once every two weeks or month. Schools use the platform differently based on their environment—for example, if they’re learning remotely, they may do more frequent check-ins.
For schools, data collected from surveys can help them see trends emerge and catch potential problems earlier, like cyberbullying. Before implementing Komodo, its founders say some schools did wellbeing surveys a few times per year, but many of them relied on staff and teachers’ intuition—for example, if a student who is typically outgoing suddenly becomes withdrawn. Komodo gives them a more efficient way to identify and address issues, though Wood and Bacon emphasize that it’s not meant to replace person-to-person interactions.
“Ultimately our bigger vision is facilitating and getting wellbeing support to students as early as possible,” said Bacon. The founders have spent a lot of time talking with Culture Amp’s Hamilton “about how it’s really important that the individuals you’re providing data to can actually understand and use it on a regular basis,” he added. “The key part for us to provide visibility and psychologists who can come in and support [school staff] even more.”
Komodo’s seed funding will be used to add more psychologists to its in-house team, develop the platform and expand into more schools in Australia and New Zealand before other markets, including the United States.
Global investment firm KKR has plans to acquire a New Zealand bus and coach company with an 86-year heritage, Ritchies Transport. The terms of the deal were not disclosed, but sources familiar with the circumstances say the deal values Ritchies at over $347 million ($500 million NZD).
On Thursday, the two companies signed the definitive agreements under which KKR will acquire Ritchies, marking KKR’s first infrastructure investment in New Zealand. KKR said acquiring the bus company, which currently has a fleet of more than 1,600 vehicles and 42 depots that operate across the country, will help it advance its mission “to better connect local communities, support the country’s expanding public transport network and promote greener transportation solutions.”
New Zealand is still largely an ICE-fueled nation, but the country has plans to electrify. The government now requires all of its agencies and ministries to electrify fleets within the next five years, and aims to decarbonize public transport, which mainly relies on buses, entirely by 2035. Kiwi Bus Builders, a New Zealand manufacturer, recently assembled a range of ADL electric buses which have made it to Auckland’s city streets.
Director on KKR’s infrastructure team Andrew Jennings said in a statement that Ritchies buses will represent “a highly visible opportunity to encourage the adoption of zero-emissions technology” as New Zealand continues to see “demand for high quality, greener public transport solutions.”
KKR told TechCrunch that it does have a plan to help Ritchies electrify its fleet, and that the firm has made advancements globally across areas related to sustainable transportation, and it will be leveraging those experiences to advance the country as it moves towards zero emissions.
The investment comes from KKR’s Asia Pacific Infrastructure Fund. The transaction is still conditional on OIO approval, which KKR says is expected within four to five months. Once the deal is completed, the Ritchie family will continue to hold a stake in the company, and Andrew Ritchie, current director of operations, will be appointed as CEO of the company as Glenn Ritchie, the current CEO, retires.
The UK government has named the person it wants to take over as its chief data protection watchdog, with sitting commissioner Elizabeth Denham overdue to vacate the post: The Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) today said its preferred replacement is New Zealand’s privacy commissioner, John Edwards.
Edwards, who has a legal background, has spent more than seven years heading up the Office of the Privacy Commissioner In New Zealand — in addition to other roles with public bodies in his home country.
He is perhaps best known to the wider world for his verbose Twitter presence and for taking a public dislike to Facebook: In the wake of the 2018 Cambridge Analytica data misuse scandal Edwards publicly announced that he was deleting his account with the social media — accusing Facebook of not complying with the country’s privacy laws.
An anti-‘Big Tech’ stance aligns with the UK government’s agenda to tame the tech giants as it works to bring in safety-focused legislation for digital platforms and reforms of competition rules that take account of platform power.
If confirmed in the role — the DCMS committee has to approve Edwards’ appointment; plus there’s a ceremonial nod needed from the Queen — he will be joining the regulatory body at a crucial moment as digital minister Oliver Dowden has signalled the beginnings of a planned divergence from the European Union’s data protection regime, post-Brexit, by Boris Johnson’s government.
Dial back the clock five years and prior digital minister, Matt Hancock, was defending the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) as a “decent piece of legislation” — and suggesting to parliament that there would be little room for the UK to diverge in data protection post-Brexit.
But Hancock is now out of government (aptly enough after a data leak showed him breaching social distancing rules by kissing his aide inside a government building), and the government mood music around data has changed key to something far more brash — with sitting digital minister Dowden framing unfettered (i.e. deregulated) data-mining as “a great opportunity” for the post-Brexit UK.
For months, now, ministers have been eyeing how to rework the UK’s current (legascy) EU-based data protection framework — to, essentially, reduce user rights in favor of soundbites heavy on claims of slashing ‘red tape’ and turbocharging data-driven ‘innovation’. Of course the government isn’t saying the quiet part out loud; its press releases talk about using “the power of data to drive growth and create jobs while keeping high data protection standards”. But those standards are being reframed as a fig leaf to enable a new era of data capture and sharing by default.
Dowden has said that the emergency data-sharing which was waived through during the pandemic — when the government used the pressing public health emergency to justify handing NHS data to a raft of tech giants — should be the ‘new normal’ for a post-Brexit UK. So, tl;dr, get used to living in a regulatory crisis.
A special taskforce, which was commissioned by the prime minister to investigate how the UK could reshape its data policies outside the EU, also issued a report this summer — in which it recommended scrapping some elements of the UK’s GDPR altogether — branding the regime “prescriptive and inflexible”; and advocating for changes to “free up data for innovation and in the public interest”, as it put it, including pushing for revisions related to AI and “growth sectors”.
The government is now preparing to reveal how it intends to act on its appetite to ‘reform’ (read: reduce) domestic privacy standards — with proposals for overhauling the data protection regime incoming next month.
Speaking to the Telegraph for a paywalled article published yesterday, Dowden trailed one change that he said he wants to make which appears to target consent requirements — with the minister suggesting the government will remove the legal requirement to gain consent to, for example, track and profile website visitors — all the while framing it as a pro-consumer move; a way to do away with “endless” cookie banners.
Only cookies that pose a ‘high risk’ to privacy would still require consent notices, per the report — whatever that means.
“There’s an awful lot of needless bureaucracy and box ticking and actually we should be looking at how we can focus on protecting people’s privacy but in as light a touch way as possible,” the digital minister also told the Telegraph.
The draft of this Great British ‘light touch’ data protection framework will emerge next month, so all the detail is still to be set out. But the overarching point is that the government intends to redefine UK citizens’ privacy rights, using meaningless soundbites — with Dowden touting a plan for “common sense” privacy rules — to cover up the fact that it intends to reduce the UK’s currently world class privacy standards and replace them with worse protections for data.
If you live in the UK, how much privacy and data protection you get will depend upon how much ‘innovation’ ministers want to ‘turbocharge’ today — so, yes, be afraid.
It will then fall to Edwards — once/if approved in post as head of the ICO — to nod any deregulation through in his capacity as the post-Brexit information commissioner.
We can speculate that the government hopes to slip through the devilish detail of how it will torch citizens’ privacy rights behind flashy, distraction rhetoric about ‘taking action against Big Tech’. But time will tell.
Data protection experts are already warning of a regulatory stooge.
While the Telegraph suggests Edwards is seen by government as an ideal candidate to ensure the ICO takes a “more open and transparent and collaborative approach” in its future dealings with business.
In a particularly eyebrow raising detail, the newspaper goes on to report that government is exploring the idea of requiring the ICO to carry out “economic impact assessments” — to, in the words of Dowden, ensure that “it understands what the cost is on business” before introducing new guidance or codes of practice.
All too soon, UK citizens may find that — in the ‘sunny post-Brexit uplands’ — they are afforded exactly as much privacy as the market deems acceptable to give them. And that Brexit actually means watching your fundamental rights being traded away.
In a statement responding to Edwards’ nomination, Denham, the outgoing information commissioner, appeared to offer some lightly coded words of warning for government, writing [emphasis ours]: “Data driven innovation stands to bring enormous benefits to the UK economy and to our society, but the digital opportunity before us today will only be realised where people continue to trust their data will be used fairly and transparently, both here in the UK and when shared overseas.”
The lurking iceberg for government is of course that if wades in and rips up a carefully balanced, gold standard privacy regime on a soundbite-centric whim — replacing a pan-European standard with ‘anything goes’ rules of its/the market’s choosing — it’s setting the UK up for a post-Brexit future of domestic data misuse scandals.
You only have to look at the dire parade of data breaches over in the US to glimpse what’s coming down the pipe if data protection standards are allowed to slip. The government publicly bashing the private sector for adhering to lax standards it deregulated could soon be the new ‘get popcorn’ moment for UK policy watchers…
UK citizens will surely soon learn of unfair and unethical uses of their data under the ‘light touch’ data protection regime — i.e. when they read about it in the newspaper.
Such an approach will indeed be setting the country on a path where mistrust of digital services becomes the new normal. And that of course will be horrible for digital business over the longer run. But Dowden appears to lack even a surface understanding of Internet basics.
The UK is also of course setting itself on a direct collision course with the EU if it goes ahead and lowers data protection standards.
This is because its current data adequacy deal with the bloc — which allows for EU citizens’ data to continue flowing freely to the UK — was granted only on the basis that the UK was, at the time it was inked, still aligned with the GDPR. So Dowden’s rush to rip up protections for people’s data presents a clear risk to the “significant safeguards” needed to maintain EU adequacy. Meaning the deal could topple.
Back in June, when the Commission signed off on the UK’s adequacy deal, it clearly warned that “if anything changes on the UK side, we will intervene”.
Add to that, the adequacy deal is also the first with a baked in sunset clause — meaning it will automatically expire in four years. So even if the Commission avoids taking proactive action over slipping privacy standards in the UK there is a hard deadline — in 2025 — when the EU’s executive will be bound to look again in detail at exactly what Dowden & Co. have wrought. And it probably won’t be pretty.
The longer term UK ‘plan’ (if we can put it that way) appears to be to replace domestic economic reliance on EU data flows — by seeking out other jurisdictions that may be friendly to a privacy-light regime governing what can be done with people’s information.
Hence — also today — DCMS trumpeted an intention to secure what it billed as “new multi-billion pound global data partnerships” — saying it will prioritize striking ‘data adequacy’ “partnerships” with the US, Australia, the Republic of Korea, Singapore, and the Dubai International Finance Centre and Colombia.
Future partnerships with India, Brazil, Kenya and Indonesia will also be prioritized, it added — with the government department cheerfully glossing over the fact it’s UK citizens’ own privacy that is being deprioritized here.
“Estimates suggest there is as much as £11 billion worth of trade that goes unrealised around the world due to barriers associated with data transfers,” DCMS writes in an ebullient press release.
As it stands, the EU is of course the UK’s largest trading partner. And statistics from the House of Commons library on the UK’s trade with the EU — which you won’t find cited in the DCMS release — underline quite how tiny this potential Brexit ‘data bonanza’ is, given that UK exports to the EU stood at £294 billion in 2019 (43% of all UK exports).
So even the government’s ‘economic’ case to water down citizens’ privacy rights looks to be puffed up with the same kind of misleadingly vacuous nonsense as ministers’ reframing of a post-Brexit UK as ‘Global Britain’.
Everyone hates cookies banners, sure, but that’s a case for strengthening not weakening people’s privacy — for making non-tracking the default setting online and outlawing manipulative dark patterns so that Internet users don’t constantly have to affirm they want their information protected. Instead the UK may be poised to get rid of annoying cookie consent ‘friction’ by allowing a free for all on citizens’ data.
While the rocket launch sector is quickly becoming crowded, the same can’t be said for companies developing suborbital spaceplanes. This means there’s plenty of room to grow for startups like Dawn Aerospace, which has now completed five test flights of its Mk-II Aurora spaceplane that is designed to fly up to 60 miles above the Earth’s surface.
The flights, which took place at the Glentanner Aerodrome in New Zealand’s South Island in July, were to assess the vehicle’s airframe and avionics. While the vehicle only reached altitudes of 3,400 feet, the flights allowed Dawn’s team to capture “extensive data enabling further R&D on the capability of Mk-II,” CEO Stefan Powell said in a statement.
Dawn’s approach is to build a vehicle that can take off and land from conventional airports and potentially perform multiple flights to and from space per day. The obvious benefit of this approach is that it’s significantly less capital-intensive than vertical launches. Mk-II is also barely the size of a compact car, less than 16 feet long and weighing only 165 pounds empty, which further lowers costs.
As the name suggests, the Mk-II is the second iteration of the vehicle, but Dawn doesn’t plan on stopping there. The company has plans to build a two-stage-to-orbit Mk-III spaceplane that can also be used to conduct scientific research, or even capture atmospheric data for weather observations and climate modeling. While Mk-II has a payload of 3U, or less than 8.8 pounds, Mk-III will be capable of carrying up to 551 pounds to orbit.
The Mk-II will ultimately be fitted with a rocket engine to enable supersonic performance and high-altitude testing.
The company hit a major milestone last December when it received an Unmanned Aircraft Operator Certificate from the New Zealand Civil Aviation Authority to fly Mk-II from airports. It also received a grant from by the province of Zuid-Holland in the Netherlands, along with Radar Based Avionics and MetaSensing, to test a low-power sense and detect radar system. That demonstration, which is scheduled to take place next year, will happen once Mk-II undergoes some minor modifications, Powell told TechCrunch.
Peter Beck’s earliest memory is standing outside with his father in his hometown of Invercargill, New Zealand, looking up at the stars, and being told that there could very well be people on planets orbiting those stars looking right back at him.
“For a three or four year old, that was a mind-blowing thing that got etched into my memory and from that point onwards, that was me destined to work in the space industry,” he said at the Space Generation Fusion Forum (SGFF).
Of course, hindsight is 20/20. But it’s true that Beck’s career has been characterized by an unusually single-minded focus on rocketry. Instead of going to university, Beck got a trade job, working as a tool-making apprentice by day and a dilettante rocket engine maker by night. “I was very, very fortunate through my career that the companies I worked with and worked for, and the government organizations that I’ve worked for, always encouraged – or tolerated, maybe is a better word – me using their facilities and doing things in their facilities at night,” he said.
His tinkering matured with experience, and working double-time paid off: in 2006, he founded his space launch company Rocket Lab. Now, fifteen years and 21 launches later, the company has gone public through a merger with a blank-check firm that’s added $777 million to its war chest.
$RKLB has launched! Today’s exciting next step in Rocket Lab’s story was made possible by the incredible people behind us – our team, our families, our customers, and our investors. Thank you, thank you, thank you. #SpaceIsOpenForBusiness #NasdaqListed pic.twitter.com/DLmVsmtqOj
— Rocket Lab (@RocketLab) August 25, 2021
The space SPAC craze
The merger with Vector Acquisition catapulted Rocket Lab’s valuation to $4.8 billion, putting it second (by value) amongst space launch companies only to Elon Musk’s SpaceX. SPACs have become a popular route to going public amongst space industry companies looking to secure large amounts of capital; rival satellite launch startups Virgin Orbit and Astra have each started trading via a SPAC merger, in addition to other companies in the sector, like Redwire, Planet and Satellogic (to name just a few).
Beck told TechCrunch that going public has been part of Rocket Lab’s plans for years; the original plan was to use a traditional initial public offering, but the SPAC route in particular enabled certainty around capital and valuation. According to an March investor presentation in advance of the SPAC merger – documents that should always be taken with a large grain of salt – the future is bright: Rocket Lab anticipates revenues of $749 million in 2025 and surpassing $1 billion the following year. The company reported revenues of $48 million in 2019 and $33 million in 2020, and anticipates hitting around $69 million this year.
But he remains skeptical of pre-revenue space startups, or those that failed to raise capital, using SPACs as a financial instrument. “There has been a lot of space SPACs go out, and I think that there is a spectrum of quality there for sure – some that have failed to raise money in the private markets, and [a SPAC merger] is the last-ditch attempt. That is no way to become a public company.”
While the space industry is relatively crowded now, with companies like Rocket Lab and SpaceX sending payloads to orbit and myriad newer entrants looking to join them (or, more optimistically, take their leading place), Beck said he anticipates the crowd thinning out.
“It’s going to become blatantly obvious to investors really quickly, who’s executing, and who’s aspiring to execute,” he said. “We’re in a time where there’s lots of excitement, but at the end of the day, this industry and the public markets is all about execution. The wheat from the chaff will get separated very, very quickly here.”
From Electron to Neutron
Rocket Lab’s revenues have largely come from the small payload launch market, in which it’s managed to take a leading position with its Electron rocket. Electron is only 59 feet tall and scarcely four feet in diameter, significantly smaller than other rockets going to space today. The company conducts launches from two sites: its privately-owned launch range on Mahia Peninsula, New Zealand, and a launch pad out of NASA’s Wallops Island facility in Virginia (which has yet to play host to an actual Rocket Lab mission).
Rocket Lab is in the process of transitioning Electron’s first-stage booster to be reusable. The company has been implementing a new atmospheric reentry and ocean splashdown process that uses a parachute to slow the booster’s descent, but the ultimate goal is to catch it in the air using a helicopter.
Thus far, Rocket Lab and SpaceX have dominated the market, but that could change soon. Both Astra and Relativity are developing small launch vehicles – the latest iteration of Astra’s rocket is around 40 feet tall, while Relativity’s Terran 1 is in-between Electron and Falcon 9 at 115 feet.
For that reason, it makes sense that Rocket Lab is planning on expanding its operations to include medium-lift rocketry, with its much-anticipated (and very mysterious) Neutron launch vehicle. The company has been keeping the details about Neutron close to its chest so far – Beck told SGFF attendees that even publicly-released renderings of the rocket have been “a bit of a ruse” (meaning the image below bears little to no resemblance to what the Neutron actually looks like) – but it’s expected to be more than double the height of Electron and be capable of sending around 8,000 kilograms to low Earth orbit.
“We do see a lot of people in the industry copying us in many ways,” he explained to TechCrunch. “So, we’d rather get a little bit further down the path and then reveal the work that we’ve done.”
Rocket Lab estimates that Electron and Neutron will be capable of lifting 98% of all satellites forecasted to launch through 2029, making the need for an additional heavy-lift rocket unnecessary.
In addition to Neutron, the company has also started developing spacecraft. It’s called Photon, and Rocket Lab imagines it as a “satellite platform” that can easily be integrated with the Electron rocket. The company’s already lined up Photon missions to the moon and beyond: first to lunar orbit for NASA, as part of its Cislunar Autonomous Positioning System Technology Operations and Navigation Experiment (CAPSTONE) program.
Two Photons were selected earlier this month for an 11-month mission to Mars, and Beck has publicly discussed long-term plans to send a probe into Venus’ atmosphere via a Photon satellite.
Beyond Photon, Rocket Lab has also locked in a deal with space manufacturing startup Varda Space Industries to build it a spacecraft, to launch in 2023 and 2024.
Neutron has been designed to be human-rateable right from the start, meaning that it will meet certain safety specifications for carrying astronauts. Beck said he’s certain that “we are going to see the democratization of spaceflight” and he wants Rocket Lab to be well-poised to deliver that service in the future. In terms of whether Rocket Lab would eventually expand into building other spacecraft, like landers or human-rated capsules, Beck demurred.
“Never, ever say never,” he said. “That’s the one takeaway I’ve learned in my career as a space CEO.”
Apple recently began a research study designed to collect speech data from study participants. Earlier this month, the company launched a new iOS app called “Siri Speech Study” on the App Store, which allows participants who have opted in to share their voice requests and other feedback with Apple. The app is available in a number of worldwide markets but does not register on the App Store’s charts, including under the “Utilities” category where it’s published.
According to data from Sensor Tower, the iOS app first launched on August 9 and was updated to a new version on August 18. It’s currently available in the U.S., Canada, Germany, France, Hong Kong, India, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Mexico, New Zealand, and Taiwan — an indication of the study’s global reach. However, the app will not appear when searching the App Store by keyword or when browsing through the list of Apple’s published apps.
The Siri Speech Study app itself offers little information about the study’s specific goals, nor does it explain how someone could become a participant. Instead, it only provides a link to a fairly standard license agreement and a screen where a participant would enter their ID number to get started.
Reached for comment, Apple told TechCrunch the app is only being used for Siri product improvements, by offering a way for participants to share feedback directly with Apple. The company also explained people have to be invited to the study — there’s not a way for consumers to sign up to join.
The app is only one of many ways Apple is working to improve Siri.
In the past, Apple had tried to learn more about Siri’s mistakes by sending some small portion of consumers’ voice recordings to contractors for manual grading and review. But a whistleblower alerted media outlet The Guardian that the process had allowed them to listen in on confidential details at times. Apple shortly thereafter made manual review an opt-in process and brought audio grading in-house. This type of consumer data collection continues, but has a different aim that what a research study would involve.
Unlike this broader, more generalized data collection, a focus group-like study allows Apple to better understand Siri’s mistakes because it combines the collected data with human feedback. With the Siri Speech Study app, participants provide explicit feedback on per request basis, Apple said. For instance, if Siri misheard a question, users could explain what they were trying to ask. If Siri was triggered when the user hadn’t said “Hey Siri,” that could be noted. Or if Siri on HomePod misidentified the speaker in a multi-person household, the participant could note that, too.
Another differentiator is that none of the participants’ data is being automatically shared with Apple. Rather, users can see a list of the Siri requests they’ve made and then select which to send to Apple with their feedback. Apple also noted no user information is collected or used in the app, except the data directly provided by participants.
Apple understands that an intelligent virtual assistant that understands you is a competitive advantage.
This year, the company scooped up ex-Google A.I. scientist Samy Bengio to help make Siri a stronger rival to Google Assistant, whose advanced capabilities are often a key selling point for Android devices. In the home, meanwhile, Alexa-powered smart speakers are dominating the U.S. market and compete with Google in the global landscape, outside China. Apple’s HomePod has a long way to go to catch up.
But despite the rapid progress in voice-based computing in recent years, virtual assistants can still have a hard time understanding certain types of speech. Earlier this year, for example, Apple said it would use a bank of audio clips from podcasts where users had stuttered to help it improve its understanding of this kind of speech pattern. Assistants can also stumble when there are multiple devices in a home that are listening for voice commands from across several rooms. And assistants can mess up when trying to differentiate between different family members’ voices or when trying to understand a child’s voice.
In other words, there are still many avenues a speech study could pursue over time, even if these aren’t its current focus.
That Apple is running a Siri speech study isn’t necessarily new. The company has historically run evaluations and studies like this in some form. But it’s less common to find Apple’s studies published directly on the App Store.
Though Apple could have published the app through the enterprise distribution process to keep it more under wraps, it chose to use its public marketplace. This more closely follows the App Store’s rules, as the research study is not an internally-facing app meant only for Apple employees.
Still, it’s not likely consumers will stumble across the app and be confused — the Siri Speech Study app is hidden from discovery. You have to have the app’s direct link to find it. (Good thing we’re nosy!)
Last fall, Spotify introduced a new format that combined spoken word commentary with music, allowing creators to reproduce the radio-like experience of listening to a DJ or music journalist who shared their perspective on the tracks they would then play. Today, the company is making the format, which it calls “Music + Talk,” available to global creators through its podcasting software Anchor.
Creators who want to offer this sort of blended audio experience can now do so by using the new “Music” tool in Anchor, which provides access to Spotify’s full catalog of 70 million tracks that they can insert into their spoken-word audio programs. Spotify has said this new type of show will continue to compensate the artist when the track is streamed, the same as it would elsewhere on Spotify’s platform. In addition, users can also interact with the music content within the shows as they would otherwise — by liking the song, viewing more information about the track, saving the song, or sharing it, for example.
The shows themselves, meanwhile, will be available to both free and Premium Spotify listeners. Paying subscribers will hear the full tracks when listening to these shows, but free users will only hear a 30-second preview of the songs, due to licensing rights.
The format is somewhat reminiscent of Pandora’s Stories, which was also a combination of music and podcasting, introduced in 2019. However, in Pandora’s case, the focus had been on allowing artists to add their own commentary to music — like talking about the inspiration for a song — while Spotify is making it possible for anyone to annotate their favorite playlists with audio commentary.
Since launching last year, the product has been tweaked somewhat in response to user feedback, Spotify says. The shows now offer clearer visual distinction between the music and talk segments during an episode, and they include music previews on episode pages.
The ability to create Music + Talk shows was previously available in select markets ahead of this global rollout, including in the U.S., Canada, the U.K., Ireland, Australia, and New Zealand.
With the expansion, creators in a number of other major markets are now gaining access, including Japan, India, the Philippines, Indonesia, France, Germany, Spain, Italy, the Netherlands, Sweden, Mexico, Brazil, Chile, Argentina, and Colombia. Alongside the expansion, Spotify’s catalog of Music + Talk original programs will also grow today, as new shows from Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Chile, India, Japan, and the Philippines will be added.
Spotify will also begin to more heavily market the feature with the launch of its own Spotify Original called “Music + Talk: Unlocked,” which will offer tips and ideas for creators interested in trying out the format.
In-house legal teams play a critical role in companies, but a lot of them don’t have the same kind of technology as their counterparts in sales or finance. Instead, they often rely on email, shared inboxes and spreadsheets. LawVu gives them a cloud-based platform to share legal advice, documents, communicate with each other or external counsel and create reports for the rest of the company, including the C-suite. “LawVu is to legal what Salesforce is to sales teams,” co-founder and chief strategy officer Tim Boyne told TechCrunch in an email.
The Tauranga, New Zealand-based company announced today that it has raised $17 million NZD (about $11.9 million USD) in Series A funding led by Insight Partners, the venture firm known for its ScaleUp program for growth-stage startups, with participation from returning investor AirTree Ventures. Its previous funding was a seed round of about $1.8 million USD led by Shasta Ventures and AirTree, announced in May.
LawVu was founded in 2015 by Boyne, who spent over a decade working in IT and operations at law firms, and Sam Kidd, a SaaS project management expert. Since LawVu was designed for distributed teams and remote workers, adoption increased dramatically in 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic. LawVu’s annual recurring revenue tripled in 2020 and is continuing to grow. While it has users in 30 countries, about two-thirds of its recurring revenue now comes from the United States and Australia, with clients like Telstra, AMP, Linktree, Expedia, PwC and Instacart.
The company plans to hire key leadership roles in the U.S. for its global go-to-market strategy and open U.S. offices as it continues developing LawVu’s technology.
LawVu is used by in-house legal teams ranging from one person to more than 300. Its fastest adoption is coming from teams of five to 500 legal professionals.
The startup serves in-house legal teams, instead of law firms, because “in-house lawyers have very different incentives and objectives to their private practice peers. This creates a vastly different set of needs for in-house lawyers to be effective at their jobs, particularly on the technology front,” Boyne said.
For example, private practice lawyers focus on specific projects, charging clients on time spent. In contrast, in-house lawyers have to balance “reactive work,” or what their company asks for, and “proactive work,” or anticipating the business’ needs and reducing risks.
LawVu’s cloud platform serves as a “legal workspace” that combines all the tech tools in-house legal teams need. For example, it lets them manage matter (or legal issues that can include advice requests, contract executions, M&A transactions or litigation), contracts, documents, e-billing and outsourced work.
For in-house legal teams, LawVu’s analytics helps the rest of their company understand exactly what they do by providing metrics using data that is usually tucked away in email inboxes or a salesperson’s files, Boyne said.
“Legal work is largely invisible. Unlike other industries, legal is at the very beginning of its data journey,” Boyne said. He added, “as lawyers migrate their work into our workspace, everything is able to be captured as data. For the first time, the legal function now has the ability to see demand, types of work, team capacity, future hiring needs, what law firms are performing well, even process areas to automate with other tools.”
In addition to helping in-house legal teams become more productive, LawVu also helps them prove their value to decision makers. Boyne explained that legal teams are often overlooked because they are viewed as cost centers which do not directly add to a company’s profit, and who come in at the end of a project or decision.
“Typically as a business scales really fast, the legal team can be left behind with the capacity to only fight fires and no time to engage and add much needed strategic value. If you don’t have the data to back up the value and work you are doing, it becomes very hard to get more resources when needed, be this tech or people,” Boyne said.
“LawVu workspace allows them to streamline their service, have information at their fingertips, deliver outcomes quickly, measure and demonstrate value, all freeing them up to truly become a valued member of the business leadership team.”
Insight Partners managing director Rachel Geller will join LawVu’s board. In a statement, she said, “LawVu’s global growth speaks volumes to its future as a business and ability to provide high-value outcomes to legal teams. Its combination of intuitive user experience and excellent customer feedback make LawVu stand out in the legal tech industry.”
The creators of Pokémon GO, Niantic developed one of the first mainstream augmented reality games, boasting 166 million users and over a billion dollars in revenue last year. Taking inspiration from the main series Pokémon games, Pokémon GO uses in-game incentives to encourage users to explore their surroundings, team up with other users to fight legendary beasts, and travel to places they’ve never been before.
Before the pandemic, this posed an accessibility issue — when certain tasks could only be completed by walking a certain distance, for example, it alienated users with physical conditions and disabilities that prevent them from easily taking a walk around the neighborhood. Plus, for players in wheelchairs, it might be impossible to access certain PokéStops and Gyms. It’s necessary to interact with these real-world landmarks to play the game to its fullest.
When much of the world entered lockdown March 2020, Pokémon Go doubled the size of the radius that players can be within to interact with a PokéStop or Gym, widening the radius from 40 meters to 80 meters. So, you could now be further away from a landmark but still reap its rewards. This made it easier for users to play from home, or play outside while social distancing — but it also made the game much more accessible. Plus, for a game that still gets a bad rep for causing traffic accidents, the increased radius helped pedestrian players access landmarks without brazenly jay-walking across the street (to be fair, it’s on users to make smart decisions while gaming in augmented reality — but, Niantic has responsibility here too). And for businesses that happened to be located in a prime location for raid battles, which require players to gather in-person within a Gym’s radius to defeat rare monsters, this meant that Pokémon players could maintain a respectful distance from store fronts while playing the game (later in the pandemic, it became possible to join raid battles remotely — this feature will remain in the game, probably because it proved profitable).
These pandemic incentives were always framed as temporary bonuses, but players embraced the changes — in 2020, Pokémon GO had its highest-earning year yet. Now, the increased landmark radius has been removed “as a test” in the U.S. and New Zealand.
“As we return to the outside world again, these changes are aimed at restoring the focus of Pokémon GO on movement and exploration in the real world,” the company wrote in a blog post. “These changes will be introduced slowly and carefully to make it more exciting to explore the world around you.”
One new incentive gives users 10x XP for visiting a new PokéStop for the first time (or, in real-world terms, visiting a new place). But as the Delta variant spreads in the U.S., players find these changes to be frustrating and misguided. Why roll back features that made the game more accessible while also netting the company more money?
The Pokémon Go YouTuber, Reversal, who has created sponsored content for Niantic, wrote that he will quit the game if changes aren’t being made ASAP. Other players launched a petition with over 130,000 signatures to keep increased PokéStop and Gym interaction distance. Prominent Pokémon Go content creators like ZoëTwoDots and The Trainer Club have referenced a potential boycott of the game in videos they uploaded today, citing Niantic’s refusal to listen to community concerns after they announced the impending end of pandemic bonuses in June.
“I’m more than down to boycott the game with everyone if we’re vibing that,” ZoëTwoDots, who has also partnered with Niantic, told her 212,000 subscribers. “I know for myself personally, I’m just straight up not spending money in the game going forward until they address it publicly.”
As the game celebrates its five year anniversary, the conflict it now faces isn’t about players wishing for the game to be easier. Rather, this represents a failure by Niantic to listen to its user base, prioritize accessibility, and incentivize users to stay home as COVID-19 cases rise again in the U.S.
Based in Sydney and Auckland, Dovetail is a full-service venture studio that works closely with founders who have a great idea, but may lack technical backgrounds. Dovetail helps them build companies from the ground up, preparing them for growth and more funding. Founded in 2014, Dovetail’s success stories include Afterpay, the Melbourne-headquartered unicorn that is one of the highest-profile players in the buy now, play later space, along with Klarna and Affirm.
“People can think of us as the technical co-founder, responsible for driving and executing product strategy, design and the development of scalable products,” Dovetail co-founder Nick Frandsen told TechCrunch.
Dovetail is currently raising a $10 million AUD (about $7.5 million USD) fund that will be used for seed, Series A and Series B rounds in 15 of the most promising companies that have gone through its venture studio program. As an investor, Dovetail has written check sizes ranging from $150,000 to $1 million AUD.
One of Dovetail’s goals is prepare startups to seek funding from other VCs; firms that have invested in Dovetail’s portfolio companies include Blackbird, Qantas and Wavemaker.
“By the time we need to make an investment decision, we would have worked collaboratively on a day-to-day basis with them for at least three months prior to a seed round and 12 months for a Series A. This means we’re essentially investing with the informational edge of a co-founder,” said Frandsen. “Another trait that makes Dovetail unique is that we share our ownership in our portfolio companies with the entire team. This further drives unity, dedication and a desire to succeed from our team.”
Dovetail began working with Afterpay in 2017, when the company had less than 40 employees. Frandsen said Afterpay’s founders, Nick Molnar and Anthony Eisen, were looking for a digital product development partner to build and scale their mobile and web apps. While both had deep experience in financial services, they came from non-technical backgrounds. That’s where Dovetail came into play, building out Afterpay’s tech platforms and helping launch its consumer-facing products.
Some other notable startups that have gone through its venture studio program are resource planning SaaS platform Runn; one-click invoicing tool Marmalade; Provider Choice, a management platform for providers in Australia’s National Disability Insurance Scheme; Landmarks ID, a privacy-compliant mobile location intelligence platform for marketers; and Fluenccy, a service that helps importers and exporters save money on foreign exchange.
Before they started Dovetail, Frandsen and co-founder Ash Fogelberg’s startup, ticketing and payments platform 1-Night, was acquired by TicketDirect in 2013.
Dovetail’s venture studio is sector-agnostic (though it has strong experience in fintech, SaaS and marketplaces), and works with startups that may not have a product yet, but have founders who “are ambitious, commercially-savvy and bring industry expertise from the field in which they are trying to solve a problem,” said Frandsen.
When deciding what founders to work with, Dovetail considers at the viability and growth potential of their idea.This includes looking at how well-suited founders are to the issue, if there is enough market potential for the startup to grow into a large company and how much competition there is.
Dovetail has a product agency that serves mostly U.S. companies, but its venture studio is currently focused on Australasian startups, with plans to expand into North America in the future.
“We are actively seeking industries that are large yet underappreciated by the startup community,” Frandsen said. “We’re looking for ideas. that require hard-earned industry experience and can’t easily be replicated by teams of young aspiring entrepreneurs.”
On Friday, a flood of ransomware hit hundreds of companies around the world. A grocery store chain, a public broadcaster, schools, and a national railway system were all hit by the file-encrypting malware, causing disruption and forcing hundreds of businesses to close.
The victims had something in common: a key piece of network management and remote control software developed by U.S. technology firm Kaseya. The Miami-headquartered company makes software used to remotely manage a company’s IT networks and devices. That software is sold to managed service providers — effectively outsourced IT departments — which they then use to manage the networks of their customers, often smaller companies.
But hackers associated with the Russia-linked REvil ransomware-as-a-service group are believed to have used a never-before-seen security vulnerability in the software’s update mechanism to push ransomware to Kaseya’s customers, which in turn spread downstream to their customers. Many of the companies who were ultimately victims of the attack may not have known that their networks were monitored by Kaseya’s software.
Kaseya warned customers on Friday to “IMMEDIATELY” shut down their on-premise servers, and its cloud service — though not believed to be affected — was pulled offline as a precaution.
“[Kaseya] showed a genuine commitment to do the right thing. Unfortunately, we were beaten by REvil in the final sprint.” Security researcher Victor Gevers
John Hammond, senior security researcher at Huntress Labs, a threat detection firm that was one of the first to reveal the attack, said about 30 managed service providers were hit allowing the ransomware to spread to “well over” 1,000 businesses.” Security firm ESET said it knows of victims in 17 countries, including the U.K., South Africa, Canada, New Zealand, Kenya, and Indonesia.
Now it’s becoming clearer just how the hackers pulled off one of the biggest ransomware attacks in recent history.
Dutch researchers said they found several zero-day vulnerabilities Kaseya’s software as part of an investigation into the security of web-based administrator tools. (Zero-days are named as such since it gives companies zero days to fix the problem.) The bugs were reported to Kaseya and were in the process of being fixed when the hackers struck, said Victor Gevers, who heads the group of researchers, in a blog post.
Kaseya’s chief executive Fred Voccola told The Wall Street Journal that its corporate systems were not compromised, lending greater credence to the working theory by security researchers that servers run by Kaseya’s customers were compromised individually using a common vulnerability.
The company said that all servers running the affected software should stay offline until the patch is ready. Voccola told the paper that it expects patches to be released by late Monday.
The attack began late Friday afternoon, just as millions of Americans were logging off into the long July 4 weekend. Adam Meyers, CrowdStrike’s senior vice president of intelligence, said the attack was carefully timed.
“Make no mistake, the timing and target of this attack are no coincidence. It illustrates what we define as a Big Game Hunting attack, launched against a target to maximize impact and profit through a supply chain during a holiday weekend when business defenses are down,” said Meyers.
A notice posted over the weekend on a dark web site known to be run by REvil claimed responsibility for the attack, and that the ransomware group publicly release a decryption tool if it is paid $70 million in bitcoin.
“More than a million systems were infected,” the group claims in the post.
The country’s current outbreak bears a warning: Without much more widespread vaccinations, the usual tactics of lockdowns and blanket testing may no longer be enough.
Collectibles boomed during the pandemic and while NFT outfits like NBA Top Shot exploded as consumers flirted with newer efforts, the sneaker world grew even more mature with enthusiasts digging deeper into communities dedicated to the hobby/passion/obsession/alternative asset class.
Vancouver’s SoleSavy, a sneaker community dedicated to giving fans a curated place to navigate the world of shoes, with all of its drops, news and rumors, has raised a $12.5 million Series A just months after wrapping a $2 million seed round, showcasing investor enthusiasm behind vertical-specific premium social experiences. The round was led by Bedrock Capital with participation from Dapper Labs’ CEO Roham Gharegozlou, Diplo, Bessemer Ventures and Turner Novak’s Banana Capital, among others.
CEO Dejan Pralica says the company has tripled its user base since its seed raise late last year, while growing its team from 10 to 37 employees in the same period.
Today, SoleSavy’s community is based largely around a network of Slack groups where users can discuss just about everything. Though the platform’s chat communities are organized in Slack now, Pralica sees a future where the company could build its own chat hub for members, something to further tie-in the startup’s app, website and online conversations. The more near-term goal is to grow this community into a hub of trusted buyers and sellers where a peer-to-peer member marketplace can thrive. SoleSavy is at the forefront of a new generation of more social internet marketplaces where vertical-specific communities can gather and grow inside an all-encompassing platform.
“I do envision on end-to-end platform that’s very integrated,” Pralica tells TechCrunch.”I want to make sneakers fun again and enjoyable for the people that are passionate about them.”
Part of that fun has been diminished by free-for-all chat groups that can quickly grow toxic or grow exploitative as moderators look to cash in on their networks, something SoleSavy hopes a more curated approach can bring back.
As my boss (and TC’s resident sneaker head) Matthew said in his write-up of SoleSavy’s seed raise earlier this year:
That positive community vibe is what Pralica says is SoleSavy’s long-term focus and differentiating factor that keeps the 4,000 members across the U.S. and Canada interacting with the group on a nearly daily basis… I’ve been in a dozen or so different groups focused on buying large quantities of each release to re-sell over the years and many of them are, at best, rowdy and at worst toxic. That’s an environment that SoleSavy wanted to stay away from, says Pralica. Instead, SoleSavy tries to court those who want to buy and wear the shoes, trade them and yes, maybe even resell personal pairs eventually to obtain and wear another grail.
The company’s sizable Series A raise just months after a seed showcases that plenty of investors are intrigued by the idea of verticalized marketplaces built up around social communities, Pralica sees the funding as a chance to ignore fundraising for a while and focus on “building for the future” while identifying new opportunities in the sneakersphere.
SoleSavy has been pretty focused on North American sneaker heads so far, but Pralica see that hefty Series A check taking the platform into new markets, including Australia and New Zealand, United Kingdom, Singapore, Japan and broader Europe. The company also plans to use the new funding to build out its editorial network with podcasts, editorial features, original video and member events.