How Artificial Intelligence Can Improve the Hiring Process

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How Artificial Intelligence Can Improve the Hiring Process

Recruiting software and AI have become increasingly popular, especially right now with remote work becoming the norm. However, this has not been without problems. To solve the problems with recruiting AI people must program their AI with unbiased data. With unbiased data, recruiting AI makes the hiring process a snap. It makes selecting the top applicants quick and easy and even increases the talent pool’s diversity. Learn more by reading the rest of this article and visual deep dive. 

The past problems with recruiting AI are easily solvable, but do pose a threat. Recruiting AIs have been found to learn similar biases to human recruiters, intensifying the lack of diversity within the workforce. In 2018, Amazon scrapped its recruiting AI because the program developed a preference for male candidates, penalizing resumes that included the word “woman” or mentioned an all female college. This is of course in conflict with the effort to improve the hiring process. Excluding part of the talent pool based on factors that have no correlation to a candidate’s qualifications is detrimental to hiring successfully. 

Having the AI pick up on certain keywords creates a large potential for bias to sneak into the system. It also shifts the value from an applicant’s qualifications to their resume building abilities. The ability to jam as many keywords into a resume or cover letter is not the most important skill for a person to have once they get hired for a job. With 90% of enterprises and 68% of small businesses using applicant tracking systems, this has to be tackled under control. And, it can be by using a recruiting AI programmed with unbiased data. 

The biases that affect fair hiring exist in humans and are transferred to the AI through the use of flawed data when it is being programmed. Luckily, the software is able to completely avoid these biases, unlike humans. The AI just needs to be programmed with varied, unbiased data. It needs to be taught to value factors like a person’s interests and skills while disregarding their age, gender, or race. 

An unbiased recruiting AI is easier and allows for more diversity in the talent pool, which leads to more success. In the S&P 500, the 20 most diverse companies achieve a greater long-term profitability than their less-diverse counterparts. Diversity fuels new ideas and innovation, allowing a company to take on problems to find better solutions. Creating a more diverse workforce begins with improving the recruiting process, which can easily be done with unbiased recruiting AI.

Artificial intelligence in recruiting software is a great way to speed up the hiring process while also making it more effective. Recruiting AI can also be integrated into a company’s current applicant tracking system or other software. When unbiased data is used, recruiting AI is able to find the best applicants to any job regardless of a person’s socioeconomic background. It has the potential to improve hiring and improve the workforce overall. It can make companies more diverse and therefore more successful.

Embracing Diversity: The How & The Why With Help From AI

How Artificial Intelligence Can Improve the Hiring Process
Brian Wallace

January 31st 2021 Technology

Answering your top questions about the News Media Bargaining Code

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We know many of you still have questions about the News Media Bargaining Code and its impact on the Google services you use after Mel Silva, Managing Director for Google Australia, appeared at a public hearing of the Senate Economics Legislation Committee last week. We want to address some key questions to help clarify our position. 

Question 1: What is Google’s position on this new law?

We are not against being regulated by a Code and we are willing to pay to support journalism—we are doing that around the world through News Showcase. But several aspects of the current version of this law are just unworkable for the services you use and our business in Australia. The Code, as it’s written, would break the way Google Search works and the fundamental principle of the internet, by forcing us to pay to provide links to news businesses’ sites. 

There aretwo other serious problemsremaining with the law, but at the heart of it, it comes down to this: the Code’s rules would undermine a free and open service that’s been built to serve everyone, and replace it with one where a law would give a handful of news businesses an advantage over everybody else.

Question 2: What have others said about this new law? 

It’s not just Google that is concerned about key aspects of this Code. Twice since the first draft was released in July 2020, regulators and the Government asked the public to make submissions to provide feedback. Here’s an overview of these submissions:

  • On 23 December 2020, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission released the submissions people made to the first draft of the News Media Bargaining Code. We found that more than 80% of these submissions flagged significant concerns––and they have come from various groups including businesses of all sizes, industry groups, small news publishers, YouTube creators, and hundreds of individual Australians.  More information in this blog. 

  • The Senate Committee that is currently reviewing the law also asked for feedback. Our analysis shows that 34 of the 55 submissions they received voiced concerns about the law––including about the provision that makes digital platforms pay just to link (see question 4). This includes Google’s own submission. The remaining 21 submissions were either supportive or neutral towards most aspects of the Code. You can read through all submissions here.  

Question 3: What’s so bad about paying for links?  

The ability to link freely between sites is a fundamental part of the internet. Just like you don’t pay to include a hyperlink in an email, websites and search engines do not pay to provide links to third party websites. It creates a damaging precedent and privileges one group of content, that of news publishers, over everyone else, which breaks Google search. Read more about why linking freely is important for the open webhere.

Question 4: What have others said about paying for links?

  •  “[The law] risks breaching a fundamental principle of the web by requiring payment for linking between certain content online.” – Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the world wide web.

  • ”…the requirement for digital platforms to pay for providing a link to another website runs counter to one of the fundamental tenets of the internet: the ability to link freely between content. The ability to freely make these connections has underpinned the creativity and sharing of knowledge enabled by the internet. This legislation undercuts this fundamental principle that has, for decades, enabled the internet to deliver real benefits to all Australians.” – The Business Council of Australia

  • “The precedent of charging for links and snippets is a fundamental threat to the open internet, not just Google.” – Scott Farquhar, co-founder of Australian tech company Atlassian, as told to The Australian on January 15.

  • “In its current state [the bill] represents a fundamental challenge to the free and open Internet, to the functioning of the country’s digital economy, and to Australia’s economic future…” – Vint Cerf, chief internet evangelist at Google, also regarded as one of the ‘fathers of the internet’. 

Question 5: You say you’re not against paying to support journalism, but the Code isn’t workable. So what do you propose?

We are willing to pay to support journalism, but how we do that matters. Instead of requiring payment for linking to websites, we have proposed a model where Google could pay Australian news businesses under this new Code through Google News Showcase: our AU$1.38 billion (US$1 billion) commitment over three years to support the news industry worldwide. There are nearly 450 publications signed up already, including seven publishers with 25 titles here in Australia, and publications like Reuters, Germany’s Der Spiegel, France’s Le Monde, or piauí, in Brazil. 

Google News Showcase is a new product that will benefit both publishers and readers: Readers get more insight on the stories that matter to them with curated story panels across several Google services, and news publishers will increase their revenue through monthly licensing payment from Google as well as payment for paywalled content to provide users free access to select stories. In addition, news publishers have the opportunity to further grow their business through high-value traffic to their sites and deeper relationships with their audience.

Google News Showcase

News Showcase shows up as panels on Google News and Google Discover. In Germany and Brazil millions of users have already seen the panels publishers created there.

Google News Showcase would be subject to this new law. That means if a publisher is discussing a News Showcase deal with Google, and they’re not happy with the negotiation, they could go to an arbitrator to resolve any disagreements. 

Question 6: How does Google propose to change the law? 

We’re proposing reasonable amendments in three areas: 

  1. Instead of paying for links, we’re proposing to pay publishers through Google News Showcase, our AU$1.3 billion global investment in news partnerships over the next three years. We know that News Showcase works, because we’ve already signed News Showcase agreements with 450 publications, large and small, across a dozen countries, and they’re now getting paid. News Showcase would operate under this Code, with the option to go to an arbitrator if there are any disagreements. 

  2. To ensure that both publishers and platforms can negotiate fairly, we’ve proposed a standard commercial arbitration model for deals on News Showcase, one that would let arbitrators look at the comparable value of similar transactions, rather than an unpredictable process which  looks at only one side’s costs and discounts the value Google provides publishers. 

  3. Giving notice to certain news businesses about changes to our algorithm should be limited to significant actionable changes only, noting we make thousands of updates to Google Search every year.

Question 7: If this law passes as it stands, will Google Search still be available in Australia?

The ability to link freely between websites is fundamental to Search. This Code creates an unreasonable and unmanageable financial and operational risk to our business. As Mel Silva said during the Senate hearing last week, if the Code were to become law in its current form, we would have no real choice but to stop making Google Search available in Australia. 

After Mel said that, many media outlets reported that we have ‘threatened’ to leave Australia. Stopping to make Search available is the last thing we want to have happen, and it’s a worst case scenario if the Code remains unworkable. As we told Senators, we’re willing to pay publishers for value. We don’t object to a mandatory News Media Bargaining Code, and we believe there’s a clear path to make this Code work for everyone—publishers, digital platforms and Australian businesses and consumers. 

Question 8: Why is making Search unavailable in Australia the worst case scenario, why can’t you just remove news from Search results?

This is not possible due to the extremely broad and vague definition of “news” in the Code—which includes any “content that reports, investigates or explains current issues or events of interest to Australians.” This goes far beyond what most of us would consider “news.” And the content we’d need to remove could be on any website at any time, not just the websites of the news businesses registered under the Code.  

News Media Bargaining Code

Question 9: What’s happening in France? I read that you’re paying publishers there…

We have offered (and signed ) deals for News Showcase in France and a dozen other countries, the same as what we’re proposing in Australia. We believe that these new agreements demonstrate that News Showcase can work as a solution to pay publishers within a framework set by regulators, without breaking Google Search or the open web. 

Question 10: How does news content show up in Google?

Google does not show full news articles, we link you to news content, just like we link you to every other page on the web such as Wikipedia entries, personal blogs or business websites. You can read more about how news shows up in Google Search, and how we’re supporting the news industry in this blog

Question 11: What does Google contribute to the Australian economy?

Each year, Google provides $53 billion in benefits to businesses and consumers. In 2002, Google Australia started with just one person in a lounge room, today, our team has grown to be 1,800 strong. Today, we support an additional 116,000 jobs across the country, and provide $39 billion in benefits to Australian businesses and $14 billion in benefits to consumers. In the 2019 calendar year, Google Australia paid AU$59 million of corporate income taxes, and Google’s presence in Australia contributed over AU$700 million in taxes to the Australian Government’s revenue base. 

Question 12: What’s the impact of the revised law on YouTube?

On 8 December 2020, the Government confirmed that YouTube will not be included as a designated service in the Code at this time, and we agree that this is the right approach. However, the way that the Code is written leaves the door open for additional digital platforms to be added at any time, and several businesses have advocated for YouTube’s inclusion in their Senate submissions. We will continue to make our case to the Australian Government on why YouTube should remain excluded from the Code.

You can read more about our proposal for a workable News Media Bargaining Code at g.co/afaircode and in these blog posts. You can hear Mel Silva’s full testimony at the Senate hearing on 22 January on this site.  

January 31st 2021 Uncategorized

The stuff in the margins

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Do you have to use all the time in the brainstorming session? Fill in the entire page of your creativity notebook?

It turns out that many of the best ideas we have start out as filler. Stuff in the margins. Last-minute extras simply to fill space.

Because the stakes are low and our defenses are down.

January 31st 2021 Uncategorized

Comic for January 30, 2021

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Dilbert readers – Please visit Dilbert.com to read this feature. Due to changes with our feeds, we are now making this RSS feed a link to Dilbert.com.

January 31st 2021 Uncategorized

iOS 14 iMessage Has a Major Security Upgrade

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WebProNews
iOS 14 iMessage Has a Major Security Upgrade

iMessage in iOS 14 has a major upgrade over previous versions, taking security to an all-new level.

With more than 1 billion iPhones, Apple’s iMessage is one of the most popular messaging platforms on the market. As a result, it’s a popular target for hackers and bad actors looking for an attack vector.

It appears Apple has taken a significant step toward protecting iMessage users in iOS 14, adding a behind-the-scenes feature called BlastDoor, first noticed by Samuel Groß, a security researcher with Google’s Project Zero, and reported on by ZDNet.

BlastDoor unpacks a received message and all its contents in a safe, secure silo. This allows the the message to be opened and viewed without it being able to access the underlying system, user data or anything that could allow it to post a threat.

Groß seems confident the changes will be a net positive for iMessage security and should help reduce iMessage exploits.

Overall, these changes are probably very close to the best that could’ve been done given the need for backwards compatibility, and they should have a significant impact on the security of iMessage and the platform as a whole. It’s great to see Apple putting aside the resources for these kinds of large refactorings to improve end users’ security. Furthermore, these changes also highlight the value of offensive security work: not just single bugs were fixed, but instead structural improvements were made based on insights gained from exploit development work.

iOS 14 iMessage Has a Major Security Upgrade
Matt Milano

January 31st 2021 apple, Google, iphone, security

Stonks, flying burritos and my boss’s boss’s boss’s boss

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Welcome back to The TechCrunch Exchange, a weekly startups-and-markets newsletter. It’s broadly based on the daily column that appears on Extra Crunch, but free, and made for your weekend reading. Want it in your inbox every Saturday morning? Sign up here.

What a week. What a month. Are you doing all right? It’s okay if you are tired. We all are. That’s why we have weekends.

Let’s reflect on what happened this week: Individual traders outraged more professional investors by doing something hilarious, namely taking a trade that made some sense — betting that an atrophying physical retailer was going to continue obsolesce — and inverting it.

By going long on GameStop, investors flipped the script on the smart money. Then all heck snapped free, some stocks got blocked on trading services, Congress got mad, billionaires started to front on Twitter like they were the Common Man, some cryptos surged, including Dogecoin of all things, and as we headed into the weekend nothing was truly resolved. It was weird.

Let’s talk over the lessons we’ve learned. First, don’t short a stock so heavily that you are at risk of having the trade exposed and inverted to your detriment. Second, the fintech startups that TechCrunch has covered for years were more brittle than anticipated, either thanks to reserve requirements or simple platform risk. And third, things can always get dumber.

Evidence of that final lesson came during the week’s news cycle in which it became known that WeWork might pursue a public listing via a SPAC. So much for this year being more serious and normal than 2020.

But let’s stop recapping and get into our main topic today, namely a chat that I had with the person I actually work for, Guru Gowrappan, the CEO of Verizon Media Group (VMG). For those who don’t know, Verizon owns VMG, which in turn owns TechCrunch. VMG is a collection of assets, ranging from Yahoo to media brands to technology products. It does billions in yearly revenue, which should help frame how far above my seat — an excellent perch inside of TechCrunch, but not one that comes with org-chart stature — Guru sits.

Very far away.

But we follow each other on Twitter and after Verizon reported earnings this week, inclusive of some honestly pretty good numbers from VMG that I tweeted about, I got about half an hour of Guru’s time. This meant that I had my boss’s boss’s [etc] boss on the record with zero agenda. How could I say no?

For context, VMG generated $2.3 billion in Q4 revenue, up 11% from the year-ago quarter. Verizon described that as “the first quarter of year-over-year growth since the Yahoo! acquisition.” What drove the result? Per the Verizon earnings call, “strong advertising trends with demand-side platform revenue growing 41% compared to the prior year.”

If you are Guru or, frankly, your humble servant, the growth was welcome after VMG’s revenue had dipped to $1.4 billion in Q2 2020, off 24.5% from its year-ago result.

I had a few questions: Would the recent advertising momentum persist in 2021, something that could impact a host of businesses far beyond the VMG org; how important was it to Verizon that VMG had managed to post year-over-year growth; how he expects to balance commerce revenue and journalism; and what Guru thinks about new media products like the recent rebirth of newsletter tech, something that Substack and Twitter and even Facebook are tinkering with.

Here’s what I learned:

  • Regarding strong advertising performance in the final months of the year during COVID, Guru said that “the core fundamentals [of] the market dynamics have changed so that they’re more permanent,” adding that consumer behavior is now “more digital, more online” than before.
  • The VMG CEO declined to share Q1 2021 expectations in detail, but did note that VMG is aiming to “continue [its] momentum.”
  • Part of that momentum comes from subscription products, which Guru cited as a win: “If you look at one of the trends that happened due to COVID, consumers [are] moving to more trusted content and want to spend more time and money on consuming subscription-based products […] TechCrunch/Extra Crunch grew almost 196% year-on-year.”
  • My read of his answer to where we are today is that it’s not a bad time to be in the online media game, which isn’t something that has been true much in the past few years, looking around the remains of the journalism industry.
  • Regarding VMG’s home inside of Verizon — something that I’ve thought about after the Buzzfeed-HuffPost deal — I asked Guru if VMG’s recent financial performance made our company more attractive to Verizon, and if we have proven the bet that we were trying to make. This, by the way, is the sort of question that is pretty easy to write down, but slightly harder to ask when you are talking to someone who could terminate you at will. Anyway, Guru said “completely” in response. The VMG CEO summarized the Verizon CEO as saying that the media business is “core” to Verizon, and that our parent company “will continue to invest in the media business while we continue to deliver on our promise.” So sign up for Extra Crunch.
  • Guru said VMG won’t exchange revenue for credibility when it comes to promoting e-commerce across its platform: “At no point will we trade dollar value in a transaction for trust; there’s no way. […] The editorial team keeps me honest,” he said, adding that he stays out of changes that might upset journalistic balance. That was good to hear.
  • And finally, are there new media products that VMG may want to emulate, or buy? Guru was generally bullish on personalization, but declined to dish that VMG is about to buy Substack or anything like that.

Oh and I asked if VMG is going to sell, or otherwise divest, any other media properties in the wake of the HuffPost-BuzzFeed decision. Guru said that the Verizon CEO said that the broader company is “fully committed” to the media business, and that that won’t be “built upon divestment.” Instead, he said, it will be built “upon investing and growing,” adding that there are “no plans to sell any additional properties.” As I like my health insurance, that was nice to hear.

I understand that the above is not a standard sort of Exchange entry, but one thing that I will always try to do is take the conversations that come my way thanks to my job, and bring them to you.

Now, back to venture capital.

Market Notes

GameStop was your entire Twitter feed this week but there is other stuff you need to know. Alfred, a US-based fintech raised $100 million on Tuesday, to pick an example. The company fuses digital intelligence and humans to help users manage their financial lives. Neat.

And adding to our recent data-focused coverage of 2020 venture data — including a dive into the African VC market — investing group Work-Bench put together a look at how NYC’s enterprise tech scene performed in the second half of last year. This is the exact sort of data I would parse for you during a more regular week. But since we had this week, you have to do it yourself.

Sticking to data, Hallo, a startup that helps companies recruit more diverse candidates, dropped a sheaf of data in its “Black Founder Funding Q4 2020” report. Read it. If you don’t have time, I’ll give you the headline stat that both caught my eye and depressed my heart: “Hallo’s research found that out of the 1,537 companies analyzed [in Q4 2020], 40 were led by Black founders.” 

And this week I got to yammer with Microsoft after it reported earnings. Saving most of that for a later date, two things were clear: The cloud world still has oodles of growth ahead of it, which is good news for a large chunk of the startup software market. And if you wanted more data on Teams’ growth to better understand why Salesforce bought Slack, wait another quarter.

Various and Sundry

Closing out, in August of 2014 I came up with the idea for a burrito cannon food delivery service. You would push a button in an app, and it would deliver a burrito to your office sans the need for you to make choices. Then Postmates actually built a burrito cannon into its app, which was both hilarious and fun.

Fast forward to 2021, and Postmates is now part of Uber. And it is back with the return of the burrito cannon:

I did not anticipate that my lazy, stupid idea would help get an NFL star, over a half decade later, to sprint down a field as an industrial-scale potato cannon shot a Mexican delight in his direction. But it’s 2021 and this is where we are.

Evidence, I think, that all my startup ideas are brilliant,

Alex

January 31st 2021 Uncategorized

Gillmor Gang: Back Then Now

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Still figuring out what this newsletter is, I’m torn between aggregation and writing. The inputs vary from blog posts, Twitter threads, and the occasional video. Podcasting seems oddly muzzled by the acceleration of streaming. Blog posts are a misnomer; professional blogs represent the bulk of news and media citations, not usually the single voices of RSS yore.

Linear media is bifurcated between quick takes like The Recount and user tweets of streaming cable news. Podcasting meets longer form streaming with live casting on Facebook Live, Twitter (formerly Periscope), YouTube, and nascent LinkedIn live. As I discovered during a Restreamed recording session of the Gang, the Facebook Live version includes realtime captioning.

On this version of the show, recorded four days before the Inauguration of the Biden presidency, a familiar mood radiates from the Zoomcast. Anxiety, tinged with doubt that we will escape the grip of the pandemic any time soon, or the blight of Trump-o-nomics at all. Now, as I post this, there’s a reasonable chance of a renewal of rationality and respect. Then, it was a jump ball at best.

When we record the show, I leave either CNN or MSNBC on the monitor behind me. Given that we configure Zoom in Gallery Mode for the most part, that ups the chance that one of us will notice if some breaking news (haha) appears. It’s mostly for the sense of being plugged in without being overwhelmed by the repetitive analysis that oh, yes we are in deep trouble. Controlled anxiety beats plain old anxiety most of the time. Nonetheless, I still get complaints from viewers to turn it off.

I like the delay of the realtime version to accommodate post production sweetening with music and lower third titles. The interval gives me a chance to come up with a theme for this post to accompany the mixed show, and it allows for some of the buzzy issues to recede in favor of more sticky foreshadowing of the next show. Around this time, we usually come up with a title for the show. You may not find this all that interesting, but it helps me endure my pathetic contributions to the show.

On this session, Frank Radice is heard quoting lines from Firesign Theatre records. In the early days, we used to sit around college dorms and what we thought passed for hippie crash pads, reciting these Firesign catch phrases. In slightly earlier times, we did this with Bill Cosby records, in later years Monty Python routines. Michael Markman had posted to the Gang Telegram feed a Wisconsin Public Radio conversation with the two surviving TFTers Phil Proctor and David Ossman.

Back then, the comedy group had released I Think We’re All Bozos on This Bus, featuring a futuristic ride on a Firesign update of the Disneyland animatronic Presidents attraction. Now, Michael wondered whether Disney would add Trump to the ride when it reopens. It’s a good question. What, whether Disneyland will reopen?

So, newsletters. It seems possible the form is subsuming many of the pieces of blogging, podcasting, streaming, and social networking into a new construct. Where blogs once represented a ticket to parity with the mainstream of journalism, now journalists are acquiring parity with individual voices. Cable news not only feels like podcasting with its oversupply of talking head roundtables, but each anchor has a separate podcast to boot. Just as the record business ate the movies business with Saturday Night Fever, so too are the cable networks eating the broadcast networks as they are in turn eaten by the streamers.

And just as the former president was deplatformed by the social networks, live streamers are replatformed in this newslettered channel-in-your-pocket. Commentary, notification-based two-way feedback, realtime analytics, first party data relationships with creators and subscribers. More creation, less curation.

from the Gillmor Gang Newsletter

__________________

The Gillmor Gang — Frank Radice, Michael Markman, Keith Teare, Denis Pombriant, Brent Leary and Steve Gillmor. Recorded live Friday, January 16, 2021.

Produced and directed by Tina Chase Gillmor @tinagillmor

@fradice, @mickeleh, @denispombriant, @kteare, @brentleary, @stevegillmor, @gillmorgang

Subscribe to the Gillmor Gang Newsletter and join the backchannel here on Telegram.

The Gillmor Gang on Facebook … and here’s our sister show G3 on Facebook.

January 31st 2021 video

Reddit co-founder on GameStop: ‘The collective public cannot unsee this’

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When Robinhood, a startup that promises to make finance accessible for all, temporarily limited trading on GameStop, AMC, and other memestocks, many retail investors were pissed that the fintech darling suddenly didn’t live up to its name. The specific reasons may have been short-term and technical, but the choice looked corrupt to the average person.

Here’s why: The presence of a massive hedge fund as a main Robinhood partner and supporter of the short-sellers is exactly what Robinhood users are rallying against. The obvious conflict shows that “democratizing finance” was always somewhat of an ironic tagline. Retail investors are already pouring into competitor apps like Public and Webull, and looking for more shorts to take on.

What can other startups learn? Here are some lessons:

First, the push for decentralized systems will become more aggressive, positioning startups in the cryptocurrency and overall DeFi space well. On Thursday, Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian spoke to Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez on a Twitch stream about the GameStop saga.

“No one’s gonna wake up in a week and be like let’s all go back to how it was. The collective public cannot unsee this, and so I think that there’s going to be more and more energy to find decentralized solutions. There is so much energy to rally behind something that isn’t capable of having the game rigged,” Ohanian said. As Bitcoin reaches record highs, the Robinhood meltdown only further adds momentum to the asset.

My second takeaway is that fintech startups in the retail trading space have never been more aware of the iron fist of regulatory pressure. While one company may have fallen on the sword this time, it doesn’t mean that other startups are safe and/or able to promise open doors and a free market forever. The big question for early-stage fintech startups is how to innovate amid a revolution.

That’s all I can make sense out of for now, and there’s more on the pod if you’re interested. What do you think the long-term ramifications of this wild Wall Street week are on startups? E-mail me at natasha.m@techcrunch.com or DM me on Twitter @nmasc_.

Climate tech sprouts

Early-stage financing for climate tech is lackluster, but category startups need aggressive capital in order to grow to the correct scale (and, you know, save the world from eternal doom). Our reporter Jonathan Shieber covered a number of stories this week that shed light on how many investors in the ecosystem are waking up to the importance of climate tech.

Here’s what to know: Robert Downey Jr., launched a new rolling venture fund, powered by AngelList, to back sustainability startups.

Etc: Why one venture capitalist thinks SPACs are the way to go for cleantech startups. Also, an early-stage accelerator launched its latest cohort of sustainable startups.

Photo: James A. Guilliam/Taxi/Getty Images

Long live anything other than ‘Zoom School’

It has been remarkable to witness the boom, and ensuing consolidation, of edtech in less than a year. In yet another busy week for the sector, uplifted by the pandemic’s blunt force of remote learning, we have financings, public market debuts and what more than a dozen of investors are looking for next.

Here’s what to know: 13 investors say that lifelong learning is taking edtech mainstream. Consumer edtech has always had an easier time selling, since parents spend more than a stodgy institution ever will. What’s new, though, is that there’s an opportunity to serve with learners beyond the school day. There’s much more in our investor survey, along with details on what opportunities are fading in the sector, and what is the biggest hurdle for an early-stage edtech startup.

Etc: A company aiming to be the Minecraft of science class just launched with seed financing from a flurry of investors. A company founded in 2011 spent eight years without monetizing, and now is profitable with hundreds of thousands of paid subscribers. Oh, and an unprofitable but growing edtech company is going public via SPAC.

SPAC it up

SPACs are like weeds: If you pull one out, another one pops right up! 300 of ‘em, to be exact.

Here’s what to know: This week, Chamath Palihapitiya announced two SPAC deals for Latch and Sunlight Financial. My colleague and podcast co-host Alex Wilhelm unpacked the numbers behind these decisions in an Extra Crunch post.

Etc: Coinbase is going public via direct listing. Squarespace filed privately to go public. WeWork might be going public through a reverse merger. And the Qualtrics CEO and founder sat down with TechCrunch to reflect on its debut: Qualtrics…had been told that it couldn’t bootstrap, that it couldn’t build in Utah, that SAP had overpaid, that SAP had messed up and so forth, Wilhelm writes.

Chamath Palihapitiya, founder and managing partner for Social+Capital Partnership, listens during a Bloomberg West Television interview in San Francisco, California, U.S., on Thursday, Oct. 8, 2015. Palihapitiya discussed how to improve diversity in the venture capital industry. Photographer: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg via Getty Images

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Across the week

Seen on TechCrunch

How Atlanta’s Calendly turned a scheduling nightmare into a $3B startup

SoftBank earmarks $100 million for Miami-based startups

Internet of Cars: A driver-side primer on IoT implementation

Okta SaaS report finds Office 365 wins the cloud — sort of

Three dimensional search engine Physna wants to be the Google of the physical world

Seen on Extra Crunch

Does a $27 or $29 billion valuation make sense for Databricks?

How 2 startups scaled to $50 million ARR and beyond

Talent and capital are shifting cybersecurity investors’ focus away from Silicon Valley

The 5 biggest mistakes I made as a first-time startup founder

@EquityPod

The news cycle might have been dominated by GameStop, but a lot happened this week in the world of startups and venture. So, your favorite trio put together an episode to go over what you likely missed.

In this week’s show, we got into the fantastic founding story of Calendly, which just scored a $3 billion valuation, as well as a rush of food-centric startups raising seed rounds. There’s also an edtech section, and notes on two new funds that you should probably be paying attention to.

Okay, exhale. Take care of yourselves this weekend, you deserve it always, but especially after a week like this.

Talk soon,

Natasha

January 31st 2021 Uncategorized

This Week in Apps: GameStop madness hits trading apps, Apple privacy changes, Clubhouse becomes a unicorn

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

The app industry continues to grow, with a record 218 billion downloads and $143 billion in global consumer spend in 2020. Consumers last year also spent 3.5 trillion minutes using apps on Android devices alone.

And in the U.S., app usage surged ahead of the time spent watching live TV. Currently, the average American watches 3.7 hours of live TV per day, but now spends four hours per day on their mobile devices.

Apps aren’t just a way to pass idle hours — they’re also a big business. In 2019, mobile-first companies had a combined $544 billion valuation, 6.5x higher than those without a mobile focus. In 2020, investors poured $73 billion in capital into mobile companies — a figure that’s up 27% year-over-year.

This week, we’re taking a look at the biggest news in the world of apps, including how the GameStop frenzy impacted trading apps, as well as how Apple’s privacy changes are taking shape in 2021, and more.

Top Stories

The internet comes for the stock market, via trading apps

illustration of robinhood feather logo spraypainted on a brick wall

Image Credits: TechCrunch

Was there really any other app news story this week, beside the GameStop short squeeze? That a group of Reddit users took on the hedge funds was the stuff of legends, even if the reality was that Wall Street likely got in on both sides of the trade. Whether you found yourself in the camp of admiring the spectacle or watching the train wreck in horror (or both), what we witnessed — at long last, I suppose — was the internet coming for the stock market. The GameStop frenzy upended the status quo; it rattled the traditional ways of doing things — much like what the internet has done to almost everything else it touches — whether that’s publishing, media, creation, politics, and more.

“This is community,” explained Reddit founder Alexis Ohanian, in an interview on AOC’s Twitch channel on Thursday.

“This is something that spans platforms and the internet, especially in the last 10 years — in particular social media and smartphone ubiquity. All these things have connected us in real-time ways to organize around ideas, around concepts,” he continued. “We seek out those communities. We seek out that sense of identity. We seek out that sense of connection. And the internet supercharges it because of scale,” he said. “I think one of the byproducts of where I think it continues to go is more of a push towards decentralization and more of a push toward individuals being able to take ownership — even individuals being able to get access — to do the same things that institutions, historically, had a monopoly on,” Ohanian noted.

Trading app Robinhood and social app Reddit, home to the WallStreetBets forum driving the GameStop push, immediately benefitted from the community-driven effort to squeeze the hedge funds — and jumped to the top of the App Store.

But Robinhood’s subsequent failure to be transparent as to why it was forced to stop customers from buying the “meme” stocks, like GameStop and others (it needed more cash), quickly damaged its reputation. Some investors have now sued for their losses. Others started petitions. And even more began downranking the app with one-star reviews, which Google then removed.

Other trading apps have gained not only during the frenzy itself, but also after, as Robinhood users looked for alternative platforms after being burned by the free trading app.

As of Friday, Robinhood remained at No. 1 on the App Store, but is now being closely trailed on the Top Free iPhone apps chart by No. 2 Webull, No. 6 Fidelity, No. 7 Cash App, No. 12 TD Ameritrade and No. 15 E*TRADE, among others.

Crypto apps are also topping the charts, as users realize the potential of collective action in markets not yet dominated by the billionaires. Coinbase popped to No. 4, while Binance-run apps were at No. 9 and No. 19, Voyager was No. 23 and Kraken No. 24.

In addition, forums where traders can join communities are also continuing to do well, with Reddit at No. 3, Discord at No. 14 and Telegram at No. 28, as of the time of writing.

Google says it will add those Apple privacy labels…sometime!

Image Credits: Jaap Arriens/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Google failed to meet its earlier promised deadline of rolling out privacy labels to its nearly 100-some iOS apps. Its initial estimate followed suggestions (aided by Apple’s typical quiet confirmations to press), that Google had been struggling over how to handle the privacy issues the updates would reveal. This week, Google again said its labels were on the way. But now, it’s not making any specific promises about when those labels would arrive. Instead, the company just said the labels would roll out as Google updated its iOS apps with new features and bug fixes, rather than rolling out the labels to all its apps at once.

However, some Google apps have been updated, including Play Movies & TV, Google Translate, Fiber TV, Fiber, Google Stadia, Google Authenticator, Google Classroom, Smart Lock, Motion Stills, Onduo for Diabetes, Wear OS by Google and Project Baseline — but not Google’s main apps like Search, YouTube, Maps, Gmail or its other productivity apps.

Apple’s IDFA changes to begin this spring

Image Credits: Apple (livestream)

Apple announced this week its tracking restrictions for iOS apps are nearing arrival. The changes had initially been pushed back to give developers more time to make updates, but will now arrive in “early spring.”

Once live, the previous opt-out model for sharing your Identifier for Advertisers (IDFA) will change to an opt-in model, meaning developers will have to ask users’ permission to track them. Most users will likely say “no,” and be annoyed by the request. Users will also be able to adjust IDFA sharing in Settings on a per-app basis, or on all apps at once.

Facebook has already been warning investors of the ad revenue hit that will result from these changes, which it expects to see in the first quarter earnings. It may also be preparing a lawsuit. Google, meanwhile, said it would be adopting Apple’s SKAdNetwork framework and providing feedback to Apple about its potential improvements.

For years, Apple has been laying the groundwork to establish itself as the company that cares about consumer privacy. And it’s certainly true that no other large tech company has yet to give users this much power to fight back against being tracked around the web and inside apps.

But this is not a case of Apple being the “good guy” while everyone else is “bad” —  because the multi-billion-dollar ad industry is not that simple. With a change to its software, Apple has effectively carved out a seat at the table for its own benefit.

What many don’t realize is that Apple watches what its users do across its own platform, inside a number of its first-party apps — including in Apple Music, Apple TV, Apple Books, Apple News and the App Store. It then uses that first-party data to personalize the ads it displays in Apple News, Stocks and the App Store.

So while other businesses are tracking users around the web and apps to gain data that lets them better personalize ads at scale, Apple only tracks users inside its own apps and services. (But there sure are a lot of them! And Apple keeps launching new ones, too.)

With the new limits that impact the effectiveness of ads outside of Apple’s ecosystem, advertisers who need to reach a potential customer — say, with an app recommendation — will need to throw more money into Apple-delivered advertising instead. This is because Apple’s ads will be capable of making those more targeted, personalized and, therefore, more effective recommendations.

Apple says it will play by the same rules that it’s asking other developers to abide by. Meaning, if its apps want to track you, they’ll ask. But most of its apps do not “track” using IDFA. Meanwhile, if users want to turn off personalized ads using Apple’s first-party data, that’s a different setting. (Settings –> Privacy –> scroll to bottom –> Apple Advertising –> toggle off Personalized Ads). And no, you won’t be shown a pop-up asking you if that’s a setting you want on or off.

Apple, having masterfully made its case as the privacy-focused company — because wow, isn’t adtech gross? —  is now just laying it on. Apple CEO Tim Cook this week blamed the adtech industry for the growth in online extremism, violent incitement (e.g. at the U.S. Capitol) and growing belief in conspiracies, saying companies (cough, Facebook) optimized for engagement and data collection, no matter the damage to society.

Weekly News

Platforms: Apple

  • Apple releases iOS 14.4 to iPhone and iPad users. The update patches three critical security vulnerabilities, adds Bluetooth audio monitoring to protect users from levels that could damage hearing, improves the ability for the camera to recognize smaller QR codes, adds a warning if the iPhone 12 has been repaired with non-Apple parts and fixes other bugs.
  • Apple reports record-breaking Q1 2021 with $111.4 billion in revenue. The company beat investor expectations on both earnings per share and revenues, with more than the expected $103.3 billion in revenues and $1.68 EPS versus the $1.41 EPS expected. Earnings were driven by new 5G iPhones and a 57% rise in China sales.
  • Apple dominates tablet market with 19.2 million iPads shipped in Q4 2020.
  • Separately, from the IDFA news, Apple announced this week that Private Click Measurement (PCM) will roll out at the same time as the IDFA changes. PCM measures app-to-web conversions, while SKAdNetwork focuses only on app-to-app conversions. This gives advertisers a way to track the performance of apps that run inside ads that send users to websites.
  • A researcher discovered a new iOS security system in iOS 14, BlastDoor, which offers a new sandbox system for processing iMessages data.
  • The Washington Post checks in on Apple’s App Store privacy labels and finds many of them were wrong.

Platforms: Google

  • Google Play Store updates its policies on gamified loyalty programs following confusion in India. Real gambling apps are still not permitted in India, but developers now will have better clarity on rules.
  • Google Play Store opened to Android Auto apps in December, but only for closed testing. This week, it expanded to open testing, meaning there’s no limit to the number of users who can download the app — the next step toward launching to all users in production.

Gaming

Image Credits: Sensor Tower

  • U.S. consumer spend in mobile simulation games up 61.8% in 2020, reports Sensor Tower. Top titles included Roblox and Township by Playrix.

Entertainment & Streaming

  • Netflix can now stream studio-quality audio on Android 9 and newer devices, specifically Extended HE-AAC with MPEG-D DRC (xHE-AAC). This codec improves sound in noisy conditions and adapts to variable cellular connections.
  • Spotify tests audiobooks. The company released a small selection of nine exclusive audiobook recordings from books in the public domain. The narrators included big names like David Dobrik, Forest Whitaker, Hilary Swank and Cynthia Erivo, to determine if there’s consumer demand for this sort of content.
  • Spotify also tests a feature that inserts “slow down” songs in playlists when users approach school zones. The feature was being tried in Australia.
  • YouTube said its TikTok rival, YouTube Shorts, was seeing 3.5 billion views per day during tests in India.

Security & Privacy

  • Apple says iOS 14.4 fixes three security bugs that may have been exploited by hackers. Details were scarce but two of the bugs were found in WebKit. Apple wouldn’t say how many users may have been impacted.
  • TikTok fixed a vulnerability that would have allowed for the theft of private user information.
  • WhatsApp added a biometric authentication to its web and desktop apps to make authentication more secure for its over 2 billion users.
  • A location broker called X-Mode was discovered to still be tracking users via Apple and Android apps, despite app store bans. The broker sold data collected in apps — like unofficial transportation app New York Subway, Video MP3 Converter and Moco — to U.S. military contractors.

Communication

Image Credits: Telegram

  • Telegram adds a new feature that would allow users to import their WhatsApp chats and others, making a switch easier. The feature appears in version 7.4, and supports WhatsApp, Line and KakaoTalk import on iOS and Android.

Social & Photos

Image Credits: Instagram

  • Instagram launches a professional dashboard for creators and small business. The new in-app destination offers centralized access to tools for tracking performance, discovering insights and trends, growing your business and staying informed through access to educational resources.
  • Facebook expands its Facebook News portal to the U.K., its first international market.
  • TikTok owner ByteDance’s revenue more than doubled in 2020, according to The Information, to about $37 billion.
  • Snapchat launched a digital literacy program aimed at educating users about data privacy and security. The program teaches users how to turn on two-factor and introduced a new filter that connects users to privacy resources.
  • Twitter launches Birdwatch, a community-based approach to handling misinformation on its platform. The system allows users to identify misleading info in tweets and write notes that provide information and context, in a sort of Wikipedia-like model. Eventually, these notes will be made visible directly on tweets for all to read, after consensus from a broad and diverse group of editors is achieved.
  • QAnon moves to a free-speech focused TikTok clone called Clapper, which is a new home to some of the Parler crowd. ToS violations coming in 3, 2, 1…
  • TikTok was found to be hosting a number of vape sellers who were clearly marketing toward minors, promising no ID checks and discreet packaging to hide vape purchases from parents.

Health & Fitness

  • Apple expands its new Apple Fitness+ service with “Time to Walk,” a feature that offers inspiring audio stories from guests like country music icon Dolly Parton, NBA player Draymond Green, musician Shawn Mendes, Emmy Award winner Uzo Aduba and others. The launch indicates Apple understands how to make the service more broadly appealing to reach beyond those who are already deeply committed to their regular exercise routines.
  • Health and Fitness app downloads grew 30% in 2020, reports App Annie, from $1.5 billion in consumer spend in 2019 to $2 billion in 2020, and from 2 billion downloads to 2.6 billion. On Android phones, time spent was up 25%.

Government & Policy

  • Italy’s data protection agency gave TikTok a deadline to respond its order to block all users whose age it can’t verify following the death of a 10-year-old girl who repeated a dangerous “challenge” on the social app.
  • Iran blocked the Signal messaging app after the WhatsApp exodus sent a flood of users to the open-source, encrypted communication service.
  • India said it will continue its ban on TikTok, UC Browser and 57 other Chinese apps that the country first banned last June, saying the responses the companies provided didn’t adequately address the cybersecurity concerns. TikTok owner ByteDance said it’s closing its India operations and laying off 1,800 employees.
  • Norway’s data protection agency notified U.S.-based dating app Grindr for violation of GDPR consent violations, which carry a fine of around $12.1 million USD.

Funding and M&A

  • Buzzy voice chat app Clubhouse raises $100 million, valuing the business at $1 billion. Despite being launched under a year ago and remaining an invite-only experience for the time being, the app has been carving out a new form of audio-based social networking. With now over 180 investors and a pandemic coming to an end — perhaps — with the vaccine rollout, Clubhouse will soon have to prove it has value in a reopened world where there’s more to do, including, once again, networking events and conferences. It will also eventually have to contend with what sort of app it becomes when it finally opens up to the public. So far, its private, insiders-only atmosphere has given it something of a protected status. Though conversations have turned toxic at times, only a few users ever heard them — and there’s no transcript. When the world piles in, however, Clubhouse could not only lose its exclusive appeal but also become host to conversations that do real harm.

  • Twitter acquires newsletter platform Revue, a Substack rival, to get its users a way to monetize their Twitter fan base. Despite only announcing this week, the company is already integrating Newsletters on its web app.
  • Edtech app ClassDojo raises $30 million led by Product Hunt CEO Josh Buckley. The app has boomed during the pandemic as schools and teachers needed a new way to communicate with families at home.
  • Scheduling startup Calendly raises $350 million for its cloud-based service that helps people set up and confirm meeting times with one another. The round values the business at $3 billion.
  • Virtual social network IMVU raises $35 million from China’s NetEase and others. The app lets users create virtual rooms and chat with strangers using custom avatars.
  • Short-form video app Clash acquires would-be TikTok rival Byte, created by a former Vine founder.
  • IAC’s Teltech, home to Robokiller, acquires encrypted messaging app Confide, in an unannounced deal. Terms were not revealed but included the app and IP, not the team.

Confide app

Image Credits: Confide

  • Opal raises $4.3 million for its digital well-being assistant for iPhone that blocks you from distracting apps and websites.
  • Finance tracking and budgeting app Brigit raises $35 million Series A led by Lightspeed Venture Partners, with participation from DCM, Nyca, Canaan, DN Capital, CRV, Core, Shasta, Hummingbird, Abstract, Brooklyn Bridge Ventures, Secocha, NBA star Kevin Durant, Ashton Kutcher’s Sound Ventures and Flourish Ventures.
  • SoftBank-backed Travel platform Klook raises $200 million in a round led by Aspex Management. The startup, which helps users book activities in overseas destinations, had been impacted by the pandemic, so pivoted to “staycation” activities and service for local merchants.
  • Video software company Vimeo raises $300 million in equity from funds and accounts advised by T. Rowe Price Associates, Inc. and Oberndorf Enterprises, LLC at a valuation in excess of $5 billion.
  • RuneScape publisher Jagex has been acquired by investment firm The Carlyle Group for at least $530 million. The British video game publisher creates both PC and mobile games, including a mobile version of RuneScape with 8 million installs in 2019.
  • Appointment booking app Booksy raises $70 million to acquire other salon appointment apps and expand internationally. The round was led by Cat Rock Capital with participation from Sprints Capital.
  • Fintech startup Albert raises $100 million in Series C funding led by General Atlantic. The funds will be used to expand its financial wellness service now used by over 5 million people to help save, budget and more.
  • Dating app S’More raises $2.1 million for its concept where users photos’ are initially blurred.
  • Stacker raises $1.7 million seed round for its platform that lets non-developers build apps using spreadsheets from Google Sheets or Airtable.
  • Kuaishou, ByteDance’s main rival in China, raises $5.4B in Hong Kong IPO, valuing the business at $61B

Downloads

Opal

Image Credits: Opal

Opal offers a digital well-being assistant for iPhone that allows you to block distracting websites and apps, set schedules around app usage, lock down apps for stricter and more focused quiet periods and more. The service works by way of a VPN system that limits your access to apps and sites. But unlike some VPNs on the market, Opal is committed to not collecting any personal data on its users or their private browsing data. Instead, its business model is based on paid subscriptions, not selling user data, it says. The freemium service lets you upgrade to its full feature set for $59.99/year.

Charlie

Image Credits: Charlie

Founded by a former mobile game industry vet, Charliegamifies” getting out of debt using techniques that worked in gaming, like progress bars, fun auto-save rules that can be triggered by almost any activity, celebrations with confetti and more. The app plans to expand into a fuller fintech product in time to help users refinance debt at a lower rate and bill pay directly from the app.

 

January 31st 2021 Android, apple, Facebook, Google, Mobile

India plans to introduce law to ban Bitcoin, other private cryptocurrencies

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India plans to introduce a law to ban private cryptocurrencies such as bitcoin in the country and provide a framework for the creation of an official digital currency during the current budget session of parliament.

In the agenda (PDF) published on the lower house website, the legislation seeks to “prohibit all private cryptocurrencies in India,” but allow “for certain exceptions to promote the underlying technology [blockchain] of cryptocurrency and its uses.”

The law also seeks to “create a facilitative framework for creation of the official digital currency” that will be issued by the nation’s central bank, Reserve Bank of India, the agenda said.

In 2018, an Indian government panel recommended banning all private cryptocurrencies and proposed up to 10 years of jail time for offenders. The panel also suggested the government to explore a digital version of the fiat currency and ways to implement it.

At the time, RBI said the move was necessary to curb “ring-fencing” of the country’s financial system. It had also argued that Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies cannot be treated as currencies as they are not made of metal or exist in physical form, nor were they stamped by the government. The 2018 notice from the central bank sent a panic to several local startups and companies offering services to trade in cryptocurrency. Nearly all of them have either since closed shop, or pivoted to serve other markets.

This proposal was challenged by several exchanges and traders, who filed a lawsuit in the Supreme Court. The nation’s apex court ruled in their favor last year.

“Since the government is considering introducing the bill during this session of Parliament, we are sure the government will definitely listen to all the stakeholders before taking any decision,” said Sumit Gupta, co-founder and chief executive of CoinDCX,a cryptocurrency exchange in India.

“We are talking to other stakeholders and will definitely initiate deeper dialogue with the government and showcase how we can actually create a healthy ecosystem in unison,” he said.

January 30th 2021 Uncategorized