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News: Facebook and Twitter CEOs to testify before Congress in November on how they handled the election

Shortly after voting to move forward with a pair of subpoenas, the Senate Judiciary Committee has reached an agreement that will see the CEOs of two major social platforms testify voluntarily in November. The hearing will be the second major congressional appearance by tech CEOs arranged this month. Twitter’s Jack Dorsey and Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg

Shortly after voting to move forward with a pair of subpoenas, the Senate Judiciary Committee has reached an agreement that will see the CEOs of two major social platforms testify voluntarily in November. The hearing will be the second major congressional appearance by tech CEOs arranged this month.

Twitter’s Jack Dorsey and Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg will answer questions at the hearing, set for November 17 — two weeks after election day. The Republican-led committee is chaired by South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham, who set the agenda to include the “platforms’ censorship and suppression of New York Post articles.”

According to a new press release from the committee, lawmakers also plan to use the proceedings as a high-profile port-mortem on how Twitter and Facebook fared on and after election day — an issue that lawmakers on both sides will undoubtedly be happy to dig into.

Republicans are eager to press the tech CEOs on how their respective platforms handled a dubious story from the New York Post purporting to report on hacked materials from presidential candidate Joe Biden’s son, Hunter Biden. They view the incident as evidence of their ongoing claims of anti-conservative political bias in platform policy decisions.

While Republicans on the Senate committee led the decision to pressure Zuckerberg and Dorsey into testifying, the committee’s Democrats, who sat out the vote on the subpoenas, will likely bring to the table their own questions about content moderation, as well.

 

News: The RIAA is coming for the YouTube downloaders

In ye olden days of piracy, RIAA takedown notices were a common thing — I received a few myself. But that’s mostly fallen off as tracking pirates has gotten more difficult. But the RIAA can still issue nastygrams — to the creators of software that could potentially be used to violate copyright, like YouTube downloaders.

In ye olden days of piracy, RIAA takedown notices were a common thing — I received a few myself. But that’s mostly fallen off as tracking pirates has gotten more difficult. But the RIAA can still issue nastygrams — to the creators of software that could potentially be used to violate copyright, like YouTube downloaders.

One such popular tool used by many developers, YouTube-DL, has been removed from GitHub for the present after an RIAA threat, as noted by Freedom of the Press Foundation’s Parker Higgins earlier today.

This is a different kind of takedown notice than the ones we all remember from the early 2000s, though. Those were the innumerable DMCA notices that said “your website is hosting such-and-such protected content, please take it down.” And they still exist, of course, but lots of that has become automated, with sites like YouTube removing infringing videos before they even go public.

What the RIAA has done here is demand that YouTube -DL be taken down because it violates Section 1201 of U.S. copyright law, which basically bans stuff that gets around DRM. “No person shall circumvent a technological measure that effectively controls access to a work protected under this title.”

That’s so it’s illegal not just to distribute, say, a bootleg Blu-ray disc, but also to break its protections and duplicate it in the first place.

If you stretch that logic a bit, you end up including things like YouTube-DL, which is a command-line tool that takes in a YouTube URL and points the user to the raw video and audio, which of course have to be stored on a server somewhere. With the location of the file that would normally be streamed in the YouTube web player, the user can download a video for offline use or backup.

But what if someone were to use that tool to download the official music video for Taylor Swift’s “Shake it off”? Shock! Horror! Piracy! YouTube-DL enables this, so it must be taken down, they write.

As usual, it only takes a moment to arrive at analogous (or analog) situations that the RIAA has long given up on. For instance, wouldn’t using a screen and audio capture utility accomplish the same thing? What about a camcorder? Or for that matter, a cassette recorder? They’re all used to “circumvent” the DRM placed on Tay’s video by creating an offline copy without the rights-holder’s permission.

Naturally this takedown will do almost nothing to prevent the software, which was probably downloaded and forked thousands of times already, from being used or updated. There are also dozens of sites and apps that do this — and the RIAA by the logic in this letter may very well take action against them as well.

Of course, the RIAA is bound by duty to protect against infringement, and one can’t expect it to stand by idly as people scrape official YouTube accounts to get high-quality bootlegs of artists’ entire discographies. But going after the basic tools is like the old, ineffective “Home taping is killing the music industry” line. No one’s buying it. And if we’re going to talk about wholesale theft of artists, perhaps the RIAA should get its own house in order first — streaming services are paying out pennies with the Association’s blessing. (Go buy stuff on Bandcamp instead.)

Tools like YouTube-DL, like cassette tapes, cameras and hammers, are tech that can be used legally or illegally. Fair use doctrines allow tools like these for good-faith efforts like archiving content that might be lost because Google stops caring, or for people who for one reason or another want to have a local copy of some widely available, free piece of media for personal use.

YouTube and other platforms, likewise in good faith, do what they can to make obvious and large-scale infringement difficult. There’s no “download” button next to the latest Top 40 hit, but there are links to buy it, and if I used a copy — even one I’d bought — as background for my own video, I wouldn’t even be able to put it on YouTube in the first place.

Temporarily removing YouTube-DL’s code from GitHub is a short-sighted reaction to a problem that can’t possibly amount to more than a rounding error in the scheme of things. They probably lose more money to people sharing logins. It or something very much like it will be back soon, a little smarter and a little better, making the RIAA’s job that much harder, and the cycle will repeat.

Maybe the creators of Whack-a-Mole will sue the RIAA for infringement on their unique IP.

News: Daily Crunch: Uber and Lyft defeated again in court

A California court weighs in as Prop. 22 looms, Google removes popular apps over data collection practices and the Senate subpoenas Jack Dorsey and Mark Zuckerberg. This is your Daily Crunch for October 23, 2020. The big story: Uber and Lyft defeated again in court A California appeals court ruled that yes, a new state

A California court weighs in as Prop. 22 looms, Google removes popular apps over data collection practices and the Senate subpoenas Jack Dorsey and Mark Zuckerberg. This is your Daily Crunch for October 23, 2020.

The big story: Uber and Lyft defeated again in court

A California appeals court ruled that yes, a new state law applies to Uber and Lyft drivers, meaning that they must be classified as employees, rather than independent contractors. The judge ruled that contrary to the rideshare companies’ arguments, any financial harm does not “rise to the level of irreparable harm.”

However, the decision will not take effect for 30 days — suggesting that the real determining factor will be Proposition 22, a statewide ballot measure backed by Uber and Lyft that would keep drivers as contractors while guaranteeing things like minimum compensation and healthcare subsidies.

“This ruling makes it more urgent than ever for voters to stand with drivers and vote yes on Prop. 22,” a Lyft spokesperson told TechCrunch.

The tech giants

Google removes 3 Android apps for children, with 20M+ downloads between them, over data collection violations — Researchers at the International Digital Accountability Council found that a trio of popular and seemingly innocent-looking apps aimed at younger users were violating Google’s data collection policies.

Huawei reports slowing growth as its operations ‘face significant challenges’ — The full impact of U.S. trade restrictions hasn’t been realized yet, because the government has granted Huawei several waivers.

Senate subpoenas could force Zuckerberg and Dorsey to testify on New York Post controversy — The Senate Judiciary Committee voted in favor of issuing subpoenas for Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and Twitter’s Jack Dorsey.

Startups, funding and venture capital

Quibi says it will shut down in early December — A newly published support page on the Quibi site says streaming will end “on or about December 1, 2020.”

mmhmm, Phil Libin’s new startup, acquires Memix to add enhanced filters to its video presentation toolkit — Memix has built a series of filters you can apply to videos to change the lighting, the details in the background or across the whole screen.

Nordic challenger bank Lunar raises €40M Series C, plans to enter the ‘buy now, pay later’ space — Lunar started out as a personal finance manager app but acquired a full banking license in 2019.

Advice and analysis from Extra Crunch

Here’s how fast a few dozen startups grew in Q3 2020 — This is as close to private company earnings reports as we can manage.

The short, strange life of Quibi — Everything you need to know about the Quibi story, all in one place.

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

Everything else

France rebrands contact-tracing app in an effort to boost downloads — France’s contact-tracing app has been updated and is now called TousAntiCovid, which means “everyone against Covid.”

Representatives propose bill limiting presidential internet ‘kill switch’ — The bill would limit the president’s ability to shut down the internet at will.

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

News: Deep Science: Alzheimer’s screening, forest-mapping drones, machine learning in space, more

Research papers come out far too rapidly for anyone to read them all, especially in the field of machine learning, which now affects (and produces papers in) practically every industry and company. This column aims to collect the most relevant recent discoveries and papers — particularly in but not limited to artificial intelligence — and

Research papers come out far too rapidly for anyone to read them all, especially in the field of machine learning, which now affects (and produces papers in) practically every industry and company. This column aims to collect the most relevant recent discoveries and papers — particularly in but not limited to artificial intelligence — and explain why they matter.

This week, a startup that’s using UAV drones for mapping forests, a look at how machine learning can map social media networks and predict Alzheimer’s, improving computer vision for space-based sensors and other news regarding recent technological advances.

Predicting Alzheimer’s through speech patterns

Machine learning tools are being used to aid diagnosis in many ways, since they’re sensitive to patterns that humans find difficult to detect. IBM researchers have potentially found such patterns in speech that are predictive of the speaker developing Alzheimer’s disease.

The system only needs a couple minutes of ordinary speech in a clinical setting. The team used a large set of data (the Framingham Heart Study) going back to 1948, allowing patterns of speech to be identified in people who would later develop Alzheimer’s. The accuracy rate is about 71% or 0.74 area under the curve for those of you more statistically informed. That’s far from a sure thing, but current basic tests are barely better than a coin flip in predicting the disease this far ahead of time.

This is very important because the earlier Alzheimer’s can be detected, the better it can be managed. There’s no cure, but there are promising treatments and practices that can delay or mitigate the worst symptoms. A non-invasive, quick test of well people like this one could be a powerful new screening tool and is also, of course, an excellent demonstration of the usefulness of this field of tech.

(Don’t read the paper expecting to find exact symptoms or anything like that — the array of speech features aren’t really the kind of thing you can look out for in everyday life.)

So-cell networks

Making sure your deep learning network generalizes to data outside its training environment is a key part of any serious ML research. But few attempt to set a model loose on data that’s completely foreign to it. Perhaps they should!

Researchers from Uppsala University in Sweden took a model used to identify groups and connections in social media, and applied it (not unmodified, of course) to tissue scans. The tissue had been treated so that the resultant images produced thousands of tiny dots representing mRNA.

Normally the different groups of cells, representing types and areas of tissue, would need to be manually identified and labeled. But the graph neural network, created to identify social groups based on similarities like common interests in a virtual space, proved it could perform a similar task on cells. (See the image at top.)

“We’re using the latest AI methods — specifically, graph neural networks, developed to analyze social networks — and adapting them to understand biological patterns and successive variation in tissue samples. The cells are comparable to social groupings that can be defined according to the activities they share in their social networks,” said Uppsala’s Carolina Wählby.

It’s an interesting illustration not just of the flexibility of neural networks, but of how structures and architectures repeat at all scales and in all contexts. As without, so within, if you will.

Drones in nature

The vast forests of our national parks and timber farms have countless trees, but you can’t put “countless” on the paperwork. Someone has to make an actual estimate of how well various regions are growing, the density and types of trees, the range of disease or wildfire, and so on. This process is only partly automated, as aerial photography and scans only reveal so much, while on-the-ground observation is detailed but extremely slow and limited.

Treeswift aims to take a middle path by equipping drones with the sensors they need to both navigate and accurately measure the forest. By flying through much faster than a walking person, they can count trees, watch for problems and generally collect a ton of useful data. The company is still very early-stage, having spun out of the University of Pennsylvania and acquired an SBIR grant from the NSF.

“Companies are looking more and more to forest resources to combat climate change but you don’t have a supply of people who are growing to meet that need,” Steven Chen, co-founder and CEO of Treeswift and a doctoral student in Computer and Information Science (CIS) at Penn Engineering said in a Penn news story. “I want to help make each forester do what they do with greater efficiency. These robots will not replace human jobs. Instead, they’re providing new tools to the people who have the insight and the passion to manage our forests.”

Another area where drones are making lots of interesting moves is underwater. Oceangoing autonomous submersibles are helping map the sea floor, track ice shelves and follow whales. But they all have a bit of an Achilles’ heel in that they need to periodically be picked up, charged and their data retrieved.

Purdue engineering professor Nina Mahmoudian has created a docking system by which submersibles can easily and automatically connect for power and data exchange.

A yellow marine robot (left, underwater) finds its way to a mobile docking station to recharge and upload data before continuing a task. (Purdue University photo/Jared Pike)

The craft needs a special nosecone, which can find and plug into a station that establishes a safe connection. The station can be an autonomous watercraft itself, or a permanent feature somewhere — what matters is that the smaller craft can make a pit stop to recharge and debrief before moving on. If it’s lost (a real danger at sea), its data won’t be lost with it.

You can see the setup in action below:

https://youtu.be/kS0-qc_r0

Sound in theory

Drones may soon become fixtures of city life as well, though we’re probably some ways from the automated private helicopters some seem to think are just around the corner. But living under a drone highway means constant noise — so people are always looking for ways to reduce turbulence and resultant sound from wings and propellers.

Computer model of a plane with simulated turbulence around it.

It looks like it’s on fire, but that’s turbulence.

Researchers at the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology found a new, more efficient way to simulate the airflow in these situations; fluid dynamics is essentially as complex as you make it, so the trick is to apply your computing power to the right parts of the problem. They were able to render only flow near the surface of the theoretical aircraft in high resolution, finding past a certain distance there was little point knowing exactly what was happening. Improvements to models of reality don’t always need to be better in every way — after all, the results are what matter.

Machine learning in space

Computer vision algorithms have come a long way, and as their efficiency improves they are beginning to be deployed at the edge rather than at data centers. In fact it’s become fairly common for camera-bearing objects like phones and IoT devices to do some local ML work on the image. But in space it’s another story.

Image Credits: Cosine

Performing ML work in space was until fairly recently simply too expensive power-wise to even consider. That’s power that could be used to capture another image, transmit the data to the surface, etc. HyperScout 2 is exploring the possibility of ML work in space, and its satellite has begun applying computer vision techniques immediately to the images it collects before sending them down. (“Here’s a cloud — here’s Portugal — here’s a volcano…”)

For now there’s little practical benefit, but object detection can be combined with other functions easily to create new use cases, from saving power when no objects of interest are present, to passing metadata to other tools that may work better if informed.

In with the old, out with the new

Machine learning models are great at making educated guesses, and in disciplines where there’s a large backlog of unsorted or poorly documented data, it can be very useful to let an AI make a first pass so that graduate students can use their time more productively. The Library of Congress is doing it with old newspapers, and now Carnegie Mellon University’s libraries are getting into the spirit.

CMU’s million-item photo archive is in the process of being digitized, but to make it useful to historians and curious browsers it needs to be organized and tagged — so computer vision algorithms are being put to work grouping similar images, identifying objects and locations, and doing other valuable basic cataloguing tasks.

“Even a partly successful project would greatly improve the collection metadata, and could provide a possible solution for metadata generation if the archives were ever funded to digitize the entire collection,” said CMU’s Matt Lincoln.

A very different project, yet one that seems somehow connected, is this work by a student at the Escola Politécnica da Universidade de Pernambuco in Brazil, who had the bright idea to try sprucing up some old maps with machine learning.

The tool they used takes old line-drawing maps and attempts to create a sort of satellite image based on them using a Generative Adversarial Network; GANs essentially attempt to trick themselves into creating content they can’t tell apart from the real thing.

Image Credits: Escola Politécnica da Universidade de Pernambuco

Well, the results aren’t what you might call completely convincing, but it’s still promising. Such maps are rarely accurate but that doesn’t mean they’re completely abstract — recreating them in the context of modern mapping techniques is a fun idea that might help these locations seem less distant.

News: Boston startups expand region’s venture capital footprint

This year has shaken up venture capital, turning a hot early start to 2020 into a glacial period permeated with fear during the early days of COVID-19. That ice quickly melted as venture capitalists discovered that demand for software and other services that startups provide was accelerating, pushing many young tech companies back into growth

This year has shaken up venture capital, turning a hot early start to 2020 into a glacial period permeated with fear during the early days of COVID-19. That ice quickly melted as venture capitalists discovered that demand for software and other services that startups provide was accelerating, pushing many young tech companies back into growth mode, and investors back into the check-writing arena.

Boston has been an exemplar of the trend, with early pandemic caution dissolving into rapid-fire dealmaking as summer rolled into fall.

We collated new data that underscores the trend, showing that Boston’s third quarter looks very solid compared to its peer groups, and leads greater New England’s share of American venture capital higher during the three-month period.

For our October look at Boston and its startup scene, let’s get into the data and then understand how a new cohort of founders is cropping up among the city’s educational network.

A strong Q3, a strong 2020

Boston’s third quarter was strong, effectively matching the capital raised in New York City during the three-month period. As we head into the fourth quarter, it appears that the silver medal in American startup ecosystems is up for grabs based on what happens in Q4.

Boston could start 2021 as the number-two place to raise venture capital in the country. Or New York City could pip it at the finish line. Let’s check the numbers.

According to PitchBook data shared with TechCrunch, the metro Boston area raised $4.34 billion in venture capital during the third quarter. New York City and its metro area managed $4.45 billion during the same time period, an effective tie. Los Angeles and its own metro area managed just $3.90 billion.

In 2020 the numbers tilt in Boston’s favor, with the city and surrounding area collecting $12.83 billion in venture capital. New York City came in second through Q3, with $12.30 billion in venture capital. Los Angeles was a distant third at $8.66 billion for the year through Q3.

News: The short, strange life of Quibi

“All that is left now is to offer a profound apology for disappointing you and, ultimately, for letting you down,” Jeffrey Katzenberg and Meg Whitman wrote, closing out an open letter posted to Medium. “We cannot thank you enough for being there with us, and for us, every step of the way.” With that, the

“All that is left now is to offer a profound apology for disappointing you and, ultimately, for letting you down,” Jeffrey Katzenberg and Meg Whitman wrote, closing out an open letter posted to Medium. “We cannot thank you enough for being there with us, and for us, every step of the way.”

With that, the founding executives confirmed the rumors and put Quibi to bed, a little more than six months after launching the service.

Starting a business is an impossibly difficult task under nearly any conditions, but even in a world that’s littered with high-profile failures, the streaming service’s swan song was remarkable for both its dramatically brief lifespan and the amount of money the company managed to raise (and spend) during that time.

A month ahead of its commercial launch, Quibi announced that it had raised another $750 million. That second round of funding brought the yet-to-launch streaming service’s funding up to $1.75 billion — roughly the same as the gross domestic product of Belize, give or take $100 million.

“We concluded a very successful second raise which will provide Quibi with a strong cash runway,” CFO Ambereen Toubassy told the press at the time. “This round of $750 million gives us tremendous flexibility and the financial wherewithal to build content and technology that consumers embrace.”

Quibi’s second funding round brought the yet-to-launch streaming service’s funding up to $1.75 billion — roughly the same as the gross domestic product of Belize, give or take $100 million.

From a financial perspective, Quibi had reason to be hopeful. Its fundraising ambitions were matched only by the aggressiveness with which it planned to spend that money. At the beginning of the year, Whitman touted the company’s plans to spend up to $100,000 per minute of programming — $6 million per hour. The executive proudly contrasted the jaw-dropping sum to the estimated $500 to $5,000 an hour spent by YouTube creators.

For Whitman and Katzenberg — best known for their respective reigns at HP and Disney — money was key to success in an already crowded marketplace. Indeed, $1 billion was a drop in the bucket compared to the $17.3 billion Netflix was expected to spend on original content in 2020, but it was a start.

Following in the footsteps of Apple, who had also recently announced plans to spend $1 billion to launch its own fledgling streaming service, the company was enlisting A-List talent, from Steven Spielberg, Guillermo del Toro and Ridley Scott to Reese Witherspoon, Jennifer Lopez and LeBron James. If your name carried any sort of clout in Hollywood boardrooms, Quibi would happily cut you a check, seemingly regardless of content specifics.

Quibi’s strategy primarily defined itself by its constraints. In hopes of attracting younger millennial and Gen Z viewers, the company’s content would be not just mobile-first, but mobile-only. There would be no smart TV app, no Chromecast or AirPlay compatibility. Pricing, while low compared to the competition, was similarly off-putting. After a 90-day free trial, $4.99 got you an ad-supported subscription. And boy howdy, were there ads. Ads upon ads. Ads all the way down. Paying another $3 a month would make them go away.

Technological constraints and Terms of Service fine print forbade screen shots — a fundamental understanding of how content goes viral in 2020 (though, to be fair, one shared with other competing streaming services). Amusingly, the inability to share content led to videos like this one of director Sam Raimi’s perplexingly earnest “The Golden Arm.”

It features a built-on laugh track from viewers as Emmy winner Rachel Brosnahan lies in a hospital bed after refusing to remove a golden prosthetic. It’s an allegory, surely, but not one intentionally played for laughs. Many of the videos that did ultimately make the rounds on social media were regarded as a curiosity — strange artifacts from a nascent streaming service that made little sense on paper.

Most notable of all, however, were the “quick bites” that gave the service its confusingly pronounced name. Each program would be served in 5-10 minute chunks. The list included films acquired by the service, sliced up into “chapters.” Notably, the service didn’t actually purchase the content outright; instead, rights were set to revert to their creators after seven years. Meanwhile, after two years, content partners were able to “reassemble” the chunks back into a movie for distribution.

News: OnePlus’s 8T handset brings faster charging and a 120Hz display for $749 

OnePlus continues its twice-yearly smartphone cycle with today’s arrival of the 8T. The latest device isn’t a huge upgrade over April’s OnePlus 8, but continues the company’s longstanding tradition of offering some of the most solid Android handsets at a reasonable price point. The cost has edged up a bit in recent years, but $749

OnePlus continues its twice-yearly smartphone cycle with today’s arrival of the 8T. The latest device isn’t a huge upgrade over April’s OnePlus 8, but continues the company’s longstanding tradition of offering some of the most solid Android handsets at a reasonable price point. The cost has edged up a bit in recent years, but $749 is still pretty good for what the 8T offers.

The big updates this time out are the 120Hz refresh rate for its 6.55-inch display and super-fast charging via the Warp Charge 65. That should get the 4,450 mAh of battery capacity up to a full day’s charge in 15 minutes, with a full charge taking a little less than 40 minutes.

There are an abundance of cameras here — four in total. That includes a 48-megapixel main (with built in optical image stabilization), 16-megapixel ultra-wide angle and, more surprisingly, a macro and monochrome lens. The handset joins the even more affordable Nord, which is set to arrive in the U.S. in the near future at a sub-$500 price point.

OnePlus has been undergoing some corporate changes in recent weeks, as well. Co-founder Carl Pei recently announced he will be leaving the company. “These past years, OnePlus has been my singular focus, and everything else has had to take a backseat,” he told TechCrunch. “I’m looking forward to taking some time off to decompress and catch up with my family and friends,” he wrote. “And then follow my heart on to what’s next.”

News: CA appeals court upholds ruling that Uber and Lyft must classify drivers as employees

Uber and Lyft must classify their drivers as employees, an appellate court ruled yesterday evening. However, the decision will be stayed for 30 days after the court issues the remittitur, which has not happened yet. That means depending on how ballot measure Proposition 22 goes, this case may not end up being the deciding factor

Uber and Lyft must classify their drivers as employees, an appellate court ruled yesterday evening. However, the decision will be stayed for 30 days after the court issues the remittitur, which has not happened yet. That means depending on how ballot measure Proposition 22 goes, this case may not end up being the deciding factor in how Lyft and Uber classify their drivers in California.

Throughout the case, Uber and Lyft have argued that reclassifying their drivers as employees would cause irreparable harm to the companies. In the ruling today, the judge said neither company would suffer any “grave or irreparable harm by being prohibited from violating the law” and that their respective financial burdens “do not rise to the level of irreparable harm.”

Additionally, there is nothing in the preliminary injunction, according to the judge, that would prevent Uber and Lyft from offering flexibility and independence to their drivers. Lastly, the judge said Uber and Lyft have had plenty of time to transition their drivers from independent contractors to employees, given that the key case in passing AB 5, the gig worker bill that spurred this lawsuit, was decided in 2018.

“This ruling makes it more urgent than ever for voters to stand with drivers and vote yes on Prop. 22,” Lyft spokesperson Julie Wood said in a statement to TechCrunch.

Prop 22 is a ballot measure in California that seeks to keep rideshare drivers and delivery workers classified as independent contractors. The measure, if passed, would make drivers and delivery workers for said companies exempt from a new state law that classifies them as W-2 employees. If passed, app-based transportation and delivery workers would be entitled to things like minimum compensation and healthcare subsidies based on engaged driving time.

Meanwhile, Lyft says it’s exploring all of its legal options, which may include appealing to the California Supreme Court. Uber, similarly, is considering its appeal options.

“Today’s ruling means that if the voters don’t say Yes on Proposition 22, rideshare drivers will be prevented from continuing to work as independent contractors, putting hundreds of thousands of Californians out of work and likely shutting down ridesharing throughout much of the state,” an Uber spokesperson told TechCrunch. “We’re considering our appeal options, but the stakes couldn’t be higher for drivers—72% of whom support Prop 22—and for the California economy, where millions of people are jobless and another 158,000 just sought unemployment support this week.”

The judge’s decision comes after California Superior Court Judge Ethan Schulman granted a preliminary injunction in August to force Uber and Lyft to reclassify its drivers as employees. Uber and Lyft appealed the decision, but the appeals court has now affirmed the decision from the lower court.

The lawsuit was brought forth by California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, along with city attorneys from Los Angeles, San Diego and San Francisco in May. They argued Uber and Lyft gain an unfair and unlawful competitive advantage by misclassifying workers as independent contractors. Then, in June, the plaintiffs filed a preliminary injunction seeking the court to force Uber and Lyft to reclassify their drivers. In August, Judge Schulman granted it.

“While this legal victory today is directed at two companies, this fight is far broader,” Gig Workers Rising said in a statement. “This is about the future of work in this country. This is about securing good jobs with real benefits for generations to come. If Uber and Lyft are successful in passing Prop. 22 and undo the will of the people, they will inspire countless other corporations to adapt their business models and misclassify workers in order to further enrich the wealthy few at the expense of their workforce.”

News: Financial institutions can support COVID-19 crowdfunding campaigns

Financial institutions must lend their vast expertise, knowledge, and resources to these worthy causes; after all, we are all in this together.

Scott Purcell
Contributor

Scott Purcell is the CEO and Chief Trust Officer of Prime Trust, an innovative API-enabled B2B open-banking financial solutions provider.

The economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic adversely affected the financial outlook for millions of people, and continues to cause significant fiscal distress to millions more, but such challenging times have also wrought a more resilient and resourceful financial system.

With the ingenuity of crowdfunding, considered to be one of the last decade’s greatest “success stories,” and such desperate times calling for bold new ways to finance a wide variety of COVID-19 relief efforts, we are now seeing an excellent opportunity for banks and other financial institutions to partner with crowdfunding platforms and campaigns, bolstering their efforts and impact.

COVID-19 crowdfunding: A world of possibilities to help others

Before considering how financial institutions can assist with crowdfunding campaigns, we must first look at the diverse array of impressive results from this financing option during the pandemic. As people choose between paying the rent or buying groceries, and countless other despairing circumstances, we must look to some of the more inventive ways businesses, entrepreneurs and people in general are using crowdfunding to provide the COVID-19 relief that cash-strapped consumers with maxed-out or poor credit do not have access to or the government has not provided.

Some great examples of COVID-19 crowdfunding at its best include the following:

The possibilities presented by crowdfunding in this age of the coronavirus are endless, and financial institutions can certainly lend their assistance. Here is how.

1. Acknowledge that crowdfunding is not a trend

Crowdfunding is a substantial and ever-so relevant means of financing all sorts of businesses, people and products. Denying its substantive contribution to the economy, especially in digital finance during this pandemic, is akin to wearing a monocle when you actually need glasses for both of your eyes. Do not be shortsighted on this. Crowdfunding is here to stay. In fact, countless crowdfunding businesses and platforms continue to make major moves within the markets globally. For example, Parpera from Australia, in coordination with the equity-crowdfunding platforms, hopes to rival the likes of GoFundMe, Kickstarter and Indiegogo.

2. Be willing to invest in crowdfunded campaigns

This might seem contrary to the original purpose of these campaigns, but the right amount of seed-cash infusions to campaigns that are aligned with your goals as a company is a win-win for both you and the entrepreneurs or causes, especially now in such desperate times of need.

3. Get involved in the community and its crowdfunding efforts

This means that small businesses and medium-sized businesses within your institution’s community could use your help. Consider investing in crowdfunding campaigns similar to the ones mentioned earlier. Better yet, bridge the gaps between financial institutions and crowdfunding platforms and campaigns so that smaller businesses get the opportunities they need to survive through these difficult times.

4. Enable sustainable development goals (SDG)

Last month, the United Nations Development Program released a report proclaiming that digital finance is now allowing people from all over the world to customize and personalize their money-management experiences such that their financial needs have the potential to be more readily and sufficiently met. Financial institutions willing to work as a partner with crowdfunding platforms and campaigns will further these goals and set society up for a more robust rebound from any possible detrimental effects of the COVID-19 recession.

5. Lend your regulatory expertise to this relatively new industry

Other countries are already beginning to figure out better ways to regulate the crowdfunding financing industry, such as the recent updates to the European Union’s handling of crowdfunding regulations, set to take effect this fall. Well-established financial institutions can lend their support in defining the policies and standard operating procedures for crowdfunding even during such a chaotic time as the COVID-19 pandemic. Doing so will ensure fair and equitable financing for all, at least, in theory.

While originally born out of either philanthropy or early-adopting innovation, depending on the situation, person or product, crowdfunding has become an increasingly reliable means of providing COVID-19 economic relief when other organizations, including the government and some banks, cannot provide sufficient assistance. Financial institutions must lend their vast expertise, knowledge and resources to these worthy causes; after all, we are all in this together.

News: mmhmm, Phil Libin’s new startup, acquires Memix to add enhanced filters to its video presentation toolkit

Virtual meetings are a fundamental part of how we interact with each other these days, but even when (if!?) we find better ways to mitigate the effects of Covid-19, many think that they will be here to stay. That means there is an opportunity out there to improve how they work — because let’s face

Virtual meetings are a fundamental part of how we interact with each other these days, but even when (if!?) we find better ways to mitigate the effects of Covid-19, many think that they will be here to stay. That means there is an opportunity out there to improve how they work — because let’s face it, Zoom Fatigue is real and I for one am not super excited anymore to be a part of your Team.

mmhmm, the video presentation startup from former Evernote CEO Phil Libin with ambitions to change the conversation (literally and figuratively) about what we can do with the medium — its first efforts have included things like the ability to manipulate presentation material around your video in real time to mimic newscasts — is today announcing an acquisition as it continues to hone in on a wider launch of its product, currently in a closed beta.

It has acquired Memix, an outfit out of San Francisco that has built a series of filters you can apply to videos — either pre-recorded or streaming — to change the lighting, details in the background, or across the whole of the screen, and an app that works across various video platforms to apply those filters.

Like mmhmm, Memix is today focused on building tools that you use on existing video platforms — not building a video player itself. Memix today comes in the form of a virtual camera, accessible via Windows apps for Zoom, WebEx and Microsoft Teams; or web apps like Facebook Messenger, Houseparty and others that run on Chrome, Edge and Firefox.

Libin said in an interview that the plan will be to keep that virtual camera operating as is while it works on integrating the filters and Memix’s technology into mmhmm, while also laying the groundwork for building more on top of the platform.

Libin’s view is that while there are already a lot of video products and users in the market today, we are just at the start of it all, with technology and our expectations changing rapidly. We are shifting, he said, from wanting to reproduce existing experiences (like meetings) to creating completely new ones that might actually be better.

“There is a profound change in the world that we are just at the beginning of,” he said in an interview. “The main thing is that everything is hybrid. If you imagine all the experiences we can have, from in person to online, or recorded to live, up to now almost everything in life fit neatly into one of those quadrants. The boundaries were fixed. Now all these boundaries have melted away we can rebuild every experience to be natively hybrid. This is a monumental change.”

That is a concept that the Memix founders have not just been thinking about, but also building the software to make it a reality.

“There is a lot to do,” said Pol Jeremias-Vila, one of the co-founders. “One of our ideas was to try to provide people who do streaming professionally an alternative to the really complicated set-ups you currently use,” which can involve expensive cameras, lights, microphones, stands and more. “Can we bring that to a user just with a couple of clicks? What can be done to put the same kind of tech you get with all that hardware into the hands of a massive audience?”

Memix’s team of two — co-founders Inigo Quilez and Jeremias-Vila, Spaniards who met not in Spain but the Bay Area — are not coming on board full-time, but they will be helping with the transition and integration of the tech.

Libin said that he first became aware of Quilez from a YouTube video he’d posted on “The principles of painting with maths”, but that doesn’t give a lot away about the two co-founders. They are in reality graphic engineering whizzes, with Jeremias-Vila currently the lead graphics software engineer at Pixar, and Quilez until last year a product manager and lead engineer at Facebook, where he created, among other things, the Quill VR animation and production tool for Oculus.

Because working the kind of hours that people put in at tech companies wasn’t quite enough time to work on graphics applications, the pair started another effort called Beauty Pi (not to be confused with Beauty Pie), which has become a home for various collaborations between the two that had nothing to do with their day jobs. Memix had been bootstrapped by the pair as a project built out of that. And other efforts have included Shadertoy, a community and platform for creating Shaders (a computer program created to shade in 3D scenes).

That background of Memix points to an interesting opportunity in the world of video right now. In part because of all the focus (sorry not sorry!) on video right now as a medium because of our current pandemic circumstances, but also because of the advances in broadband, devices, apps and video technology, we’re seeing a huge proliferation of startups building interesting variations and improvements on the basic concept of video streaming.

Just in the area of videoconferencing alone, some of the hopefuls have included Headroom, which launched the other week with a really interesting AI-based approach to helping its users get more meaningful notes from meetings, and using computer vision to help presenters “read the room” better by detecting if people are getting bored, annoyed and more.

Vowel is also bringing a new set of tools not just to annotate meetings and their corresponding transcriptions in a better way, but to then be able to search across all your sessions to follow up items and dig into what people said over multiple events.

And Descript, which originally built a tool to edit audio tracks, earlier this week launched a video component, letting users edit visuals and what you say in those moving pictures, by cutting, pasting and rewriting a word-based document transcribing the sound from that video. All of these have obvious B2B angles, like mmhmm, and they are just the tip of the iceberg.

Indeed, the huge amount of IP out there is interesting in itself. Yet the jury is still out on where all of it would best live and thrive as the space continues to evolve, with more defined business models (and leading companies) only now emerging.

That presents an interesting opportunity not just for the biggies like Zoom, Google and Microsoft, but also players who are building entirely new platfroms from the ground up.

mmhmm is a notable company in that context. Not only does it have the reputation and inspiration of Libin behind it — a force powerful enough that even his foray into the ill-fated world of chatbots got headlines — but it’s also backed by the likes of Sequoia, which led a $21 million round earlier this month.

Libin said he doesn’t like to think of his startup as a consolidator, or the industry in a consolidation play, as that implies a degree of maturity in an area that he still feels is just getting started.

“We’re looking at this not so much consolidation, which to me means marketshare,” he said. “Our main criteria is that we wanted to work with teams that we are in love with.”

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