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Graphic video of suicide spreads from Facebook to TikTok to YouTube as platforms fail moderation test


A graphic video of a man committing suicide on Facebook Live has spread from there to TikTok, Twitter, Instagram and now YouTube, where it ran alongside ads and attracted thousands more views. Do what they will, these platforms can’t seem to stop the spread, echoing past failures to block violent acts and disinformation.

The original video was posted to Facebook two weeks ago and has made its way onto all the major video platforms, often beginning with innocuous footage then cutting to the man’s death. These techniques go back many years in the practice of evading automatic moderation; By the time people have flagged the video manually, the original goal of exposing unwitting viewers to it will have been accomplished.

It’s similar in many ways to the way in which COVID-19 disinformation motherlode Plandemic spread and wreaked havoc despite these platforms deploying their ostensibly significant moderating resources towards preventing that.

For all the platforms’ talk of advanced algorithms and instant removal of rule-violating content, these events seem to show them failing when they count the most: In extremity.

The video of Ronnie McNutt’s suicide originated on August 31, and took nearly three hours to take down in the first place, by which time it had been seen and downloaded by innumerable people. How could something so graphic and plainly violating the platform’s standards, being actively flagged by users, be allowed to stay up for so long?

In a “community standards enforcement report” issued Friday, Facebook admitted that its army of (contractor) human reviewers, whose thankless job it is to review violent and sexual content all day, had been partly disabled due to the pandemic.

With fewer content reviewers, we took action on fewer pieces of content on both Facebook and Instagram for suicide and self-injury, and child nudity and sexual exploitation on Instagram.

The number of appeals is also much lower in this report because we couldn’t always offer them. We let people know about this and if they felt we made a mistake, we still gave people the option to tell us they disagreed with our decision.

McNutt’s friend and podcast co-host Josh Steen told TechCrunch that the stream had been flagged long before he killed himself. “I firmly believe, because I knew him and how these interactions worked, had the stream ended it would’ve diverted his attention enough for SOME kind of intervention,” Steen wrote in an email. “It’s pure speculation, but I think if they’d have cut his stream off he wouldn’t have ended his life.”

When I asked Facebook about this, I received the same statement others have: “We are reviewing how we could have taken down the livestream faster.” One certainly hopes so.

But Facebook cannot contain the spread of videos like this — and the various shootings and suicides that have occurred on its Live platform in the past — once they’re out there. At the same time, it’s difficult to imagine how other platforms are caught flat-footed: TikTok had the video queued up in users’ “For You” page, exposing countless people by an act of algorithmic irresponsibility. Surely even if it’s not possible to keep the content off the service entirely, there ought to be something preventing it from being actively recommended to people.

YouTube is another, later offender: Steen and others have captured many cases of the video being run by monetized accounts. He sent screenshots and video showing ads from Squarespace and the Motley Fool running ahead of the video of McNutt.

It’s disappointing that the largest video platforms on the planet, which seem to never cease crowing about their prowess in shutting down this kind of content, don’t seem to have any serious response. TikTok, for instance, bans any account that makes multiple attempts to upload the clip. What’s the point of giving people a second or third chance here?

Facebook couldn’t seem to decide whether the content is in violation or not, as evidenced by several re-uploads of the content in various forms that were not taken down when flagged. Perhaps these are just the ones slipping through the cracks, while thousands more are nipped in the bud, but why should we give a company like Facebook, which commands billions of dollars and tens of thousands of employees, the benefit of the doubt when they fail for the nth time on something so important?

“Facebook went on record in early August saying they were returning back to normal moderation rates, but that their AI tech actually had been improved during the COVID slow downs,” Steen said. “So why’d they totally blow their response to the livestream and the response time after?”

“We know from the Christchurch Live incident that they have the ability to tell us a couple of things that really need to be divulged at this point because of the viral spread: how many people in total viewed the livestream and how many times was it shared, and how many people viewed the video and how many times was it shared? To me these stats are important because it shows the impact that the video had in real time. That data will also confirm, I think, where the viewships spiked in the livestream,” he continued.

On Twitter and Instagram, entire accounts have popped up just to upload the video, or impersonate McNutt using various transformations of his username. Some even add “suicide” or “dead” or the like to the name. These are accounts created with the singular intent of violating the rules. Where are the fake and bot activity precautions?

Videos of the suicide have appeared on YouTube and are indifferently taken down. Others simply use McNutt’s image or the earlier parts of his stream to attract viewers. Steen and others who knew McNutt have been reporting these regularly, with mixed success.

One channel I saw had pulled in more than half a million views by leveraging McNutt’s suicide, originally posting the live video (with preroll ad) and then using his face to perhaps attract morbid users. When I pointed these out to YouTube, they demonetized them and removed the one shown above — though Steen and his friends had reported it days ago. I can’t help but feel that the next time this happens — or more likely, elsewhere on the platform where it is happening right now — there will be less or no accountability because there are no press outlets making a fuss.

The focus from these platforms is on invisible suppression of the content and retention of users and activity; if stringent measures reduce those all-important metrics, they won’t be taken, as we’ve seen on other social media platforms.

But as this situation and others before it demonstrate, there seems to be something fundamentally lacking from the way this service is provided and monitored. Obviously it can be of enormous benefit, as a tool to report current events and so on, but it can be and has been used to stream horrific acts and for other forms of abuse.

“These companies still aren’t fully cooperating and still aren’t really being honest,” said Steen. “This is exactly why I created #ReformForRonnie because we kept seeing over and over and over again that their reporting systems did nothing. Unless something changes it is just going to keep happening.”

Steen is feeling the loss of his friend, of course, but also disappointment and anger at the platforms that allow his image to be abused and mocked with only a perfunctory response. He’s been rallying people around the hashtag to put pressure on the major social platforms to say something, anything substantial about this situation. How could they have prevented this? How can they better handle it when it is already out there? How can they respect the wishes of loved ones? Perhaps none of these things are possible — but if that’s the case, don’t expect them to admit it.

If you or someone you know needs help, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (8255) or text the Crisis Text Line at 741-741. International resources are available here.


Atoms Lanka Solutions

Tech

Disrupt 2020 starts tomorrow… join us for the LIVE pre-show right now!


We simply can’t wait. Disrupt 2020 officially kicks off tomorrow morning at 9am PT, but there are so many exciting features in this show — from the speaker lineup to the Startup Battlefield competition to the wide variety of features included in this new virtual format — that we simply can’t wait to go live.

If you’re so excited about Disrupt that you’re gonna pee yourself (completely understandable, btw) then hang out with us today at 12pm PT to check out everything you can expect from the 10th ever Disrupt conference. And hey! There may even be a few surprises.

You can also check out the full agenda for the show right here. And if you still haven’t gotten a ticket, get yours asap because prices increase tonight at 11:50pm PDT.


Atoms Lanka Solutions

Tech

Check out these Breakout Sessions at Disrupt 2020


We’re on the brink of the biggest Disrupt in TechCrunch history. It’s five days of education, exhibition, competition and connection that spans the globe. As you plan your schedule, keep this in mind: You’ll find some of the most insightful and downright interesting programming at Disrupt 2020 in our Breakout Sessions. And that, given our powerhouse agenda, is saying something.

Every Disrupt attendee can take part in the breakout sessions — they’re open to every pass level. Breakouts cover a range of topics and formats. You might watch startups pitch, attend a workshop or take in a panel discussion. No matter what, you’re bound to receive valuable insight that can inspire you and help your business.

Take advantage of our partners’ expertise and check out any (or all) of these breakout sessions. You’ll be glad you did.

 

Monday, September 14

11:00 am – 11:50 am

Sponsored by Adobe

How to Invest in Infrastructure to Deliver Experience 

Gabie Boko, Global VP Digital, Hewlett Packard Enterprise & Adobe VP of Platform Engineering, Anjul Bhambhri discuss digital transformation and experience delivery. 

 

12:00 pm – 12:30 pm

Sponsored by 

Taiwan Pavilion Pitch-off session 1

Featuring twenty startups in healthcare, IoT, blockchain, AR-VR, cyber security, E-learning, and green technology

 

Tuesday, September 15

9:00 am – 9:50 am

Sponsored by 

Diversity as Disruption: Take action now to create a more diverse ecosystem

Recent events continue to demonstrate that change is not happening fast enough. How can we ensure the current social justice momentum is more than just talk? Guided by SVB’s recent research into the “4th wave of venture capital,” learn how three industry leaders are tackling the problem with real actions. By the close of the session, leave with tangible steps you can take today – whether as an individual or as a firm — to make a meaningful, move-the-needle impact in your organization.

 

9:00 am – 10:30 am

Sponsored by 

Taiwan Reception: Innovations and investment opportunities amid COVID19 Pandemics with Christine Tsai (500 Startups), Allan May (Life Science Angels)

Join Christine, Allan, Tico Blumenthal (Life Sciences Angels), and Laura Dietch (BioTrace Medical) to explore the investment and innovation framework in post-COVID19, and to discuss the driver of innovation healthcare amid the pandemic and economic collapse. TTA will also present the key anti-COVID19 innovative measurements in Taiwan to achieve the lowest infection rate around the world.

 

10:00 am – 10:30am

Sponsored by 

Belgian Startup Pitch Competition

Hub.brussels invites you to join us for the 6th edition of our Belgian startup pitch competition.

 

12:00 pm – 12:30 pm

Taiwan Pavilion Pitch-off Session 2

Sponsored by 

Featuring twenty startups in AI solutions, softwares, big data, edge computing, and space technology

 

2:30 pm – 4:00 pm 

TC Include Reception sponsored by Sootchy

Sponsored by 

INVITE ONLY – TC Include kicks off this year’s founder cohort with organizational partners Black Female Founders, Female Founders Alliance, Latinx Startup Alliance and StartOut with remarks by Sootchy.

 

Wednesday, September 16

9:00 am – 9:50 am

Sponsored by Consulate General of Canada in San Francisco

“Grow North”: How Canada Empowers Investors and Founders

Come listen to a group of Canadian founders who will talk about their start-ups and how Canada has helped them grow and succeed globally.

 

10:00 am – 11:00 am

Sponsored by StartUp Bahrain

Bahrain: Your gateway to the Middle East and beyond

INVITE ONLY – With its supportive ecosystem, advanced digital infrastructure, flexible and pioneering regulations; rapid growth in funding opportunities and a liberal market, Bahrain is the ideal testbed for startups and scaleups to test their products and solutions before growing and expanding across the Middle East

 

10:00 am – 10:30 am 

Sponsored by JETRO

Japanese Startup Pitches

Come see the latest exciting technology and services coming from Japan.

 

11:00 am – 11:30 am 

Sponsored by KOCCA

Join Us to Watch Seven Amazing Startups from Korea

K-pop? K-Drama? K-Games? K-Entertainment? All startups with K-contents will show off during this Pitch Off

 

12:00 pm – 12:50 pm 

Sponsored by Envestnet | Yodlee

Making Data Meaningful for the FinTech Ecosystem

Open finance/banking represents a new era of financial data transparency. It brings an unprecedented opportunity for FinTechs to provide personalized guidance consumers need to improve financial wellness. Envestnet | Yodlee experts will discuss empowering the entire FinTech ecosystem with enriched financial data and insights, plus the future of open banking in the U.S.

 

Thursday, September 17

10:00 am – 11:30 am

Sponsored by Dassault Systèmes

Dassault Systemes’s 3DEXPERIENCE Lab Global Accelerator Program

INVITE ONLY – 3DEXPERIENCE Lab is Dassault Systèmes’s global innovation program that offers innovative startups free access to Dassault Systèmes collaborative Design, Engineering, Simulation & Data Intelligence solutions, along with mentoring, and marketing support for two years. Come; learn how the Lab selects, mentors and supports its startups!

 

10:00 am – 10:50 am

Sponsored by AppsFlyer

Advertising Disrupted: What User Privacy Means For Marketers

This session offers the unique opportunity to join a live recording of AppsFlyer’s industry podcast, Next in Marketing. Mike Shields, podcast host and former Wall Street Journal, Business Insider, AdWeek and Digiday editor along with guests (Brian Quinn, US President & GM, AppsFlyer and Ana Milicevic, Co-founder and Principal, Sparrow Advisers) will delve into the ecosystem’s pivotal privacy updates, including Apple’s IDFA opt-out and the impact of iOS 14 to measurement and attribution, as well as targeting in a cookieless world. You’ll also hear about the future of personalization post-regulations in this session that is sure to address the most pressing issues and headlines on the mind of marketers globally.

 

12:00 pm – 12:50 pm

Sponsored by KITE

It Takes An Ecosystem To Innovate: Startups, Corporations and the Connectors that Bring Them Together

Startups plus large enterprises can fuel each other’s growth and bottom line, whether it’s a partnership, investment or acquisition. But bringing the right ones together needs more than serendipity: it requires a dynamic ecosystem that includes consultants, accelerators and VCs (aka the connectors). We sit down with top leaders from around the ecosystem to learn how they discover innovative solutions — and get to outcomes — faster.

 

And for those who want to upgrade to a Disrupt Digital PRO Pass you can get access to these sessions:

Tuesday, September 15

10:30 am – 10:50 am

Showing Your Work: VCs Investing in Diversity Share Their Secrets

More than 80% of venture capital firms don’t have a single Black investor and 68% of firms don’t have any female partners. As VCs across the country urgently seek to diversify both their investing teams and their portfolios, they could learn a lot from these amazing investors, who have made diversity a central part of their investing thesis from the start. Join us for a candid conversation about the power of investing in underrepresented founders and tapping into over $4.4 trillion in value. This panel will be moderated by Pam Kostka, CEO of All Raise featuring Sarah Kunst, Founder & Managing Director at Cleo Capital and Christie Pitts, General Partner at Backstage Capital who are both leading VCs who focus their investments on founders from underrepresented backgrounds.

 

11:30 am – 11:50 am

Innovating with Fuel Cells

James Kast demonstrates how Toyota continues to navigate the innovation of fuel cells and the implementation across numerous industries.

 

That’s a mighty fine breakout lineup if we do say so ourselves. Yep, we’re tooting our own horn. Don’t let all that valuable expertise go to waste. Make sure you carve out time in your Disrupt schedule for insight and inspiration!


Atoms Lanka Solutions

Tech

SoftBank could make, gasp, a profit on its expected sale of Arm for $40B


While the big deal we have been tracking the past few weeks has been TikTok, there was another massive deal under negotiation that mirrors some of the international tech dynamics that have plagued the consumer social app’s sale.

Arm Holdings, which is the most important designer of processor chips in smartphones and increasingly other areas, has been quietly shopped around as SoftBank works to shed its investments and raise additional capital to placate activist investors like Elliott Management. The Japanese telco conglomerate bought Arm outright back in 2016 for $32 billion.

Now, those talks look like they are coming toward a conclusion. The Wall Street Journal first reported that SoftBank is close to locking in a sale to Nvidia for cash and stock that would value Arm at $40 billion. The Financial Times this afternoon further confirmed the outlines of the deal, which could be announced as early as Monday.

A couple of thoughts while we wait for official confirmation from Nvidia, Arm, and SoftBank.

First, Arm has struggled to turn its wildly successful chip designs — which today power billions of new chips a year — into a fast-growth company. As we discussed back in May, the company has ploddingly entered new growth markets, and while it has had some notable brand successes including Apple announcing that Arm-powered processor designs would be coming to the company’s iconic Macintosh lineup, those wins haven’t translated into significant profits.

SoftBank took a wild swing back in 2016 buying the company. If $40 billion is indeed the price, it’s a 25% gain in roughly four years. Given SoftBank’s recent notorious investing track record, that actually looks stellar, but of course, there was a huge opportunity cost for the company to buy such a pricy asset. Nvidia, which SoftBank’s Vision Fund bought a public stake in, has seen its stock price zoom more than 16x in that time frame, driven by AI and blockchain applications.

Second, assuming a deal is consummated, it’s a somewhat quiet denouement for one of the truly category-defining companies that has emanated out of the United Kingdom. The chip designer, which is based in Cambridge and has deep ties to the leading British university, has been seen as a symbol of Britain’s long legacy at the frontiers of computer science, in which Alan Turing played a key role in the development of computability.

Arm’s sale comes just as the UK government gears up for a fight with the European Union over its industrial policy, and specifically deeper funding for precisely the kinds of technologies that Arm was developing. Arm of course isn’t likely to migrate its workforce, but its ownership by an American semiconductor giant versus a Japanese holding company will likely end its relatively independent operations.

Third and finally, the deal would give Nvidia a dominant position in the semiconductor market, bringing together the company’s strength in graphics and AI processing workflows along with Arm’s underlying chip designs. While the company would not be fully vertically integrated, the combination would intensify Nvidia’s place as one of the major centers of gravity in chips.

It’s also a symbol of how far Intel has fallen behind its once diminutive peer. Intel’s market cap is about $210 billion, compared to Nvidia’s $300 billion. Intel’s stock is practically a straight line compared to Nvidia’s rapid growth the past few years, and this news isn’t likely to be well-received in Intel HQ.

Given the international politics involved and the sensitivity about the company, any deal would have to go through customary antitrust reviews in multiple countries, as well as potential national security reviews in the UK.

For SoftBank, it’s another sign of the company’s retrenchment in the face of extreme losses. But at least for now, it has a likely win on its hands.


Atoms Lanka Solutions

Tech

Elon Musk says Starship SN8 prototype will have a nosecone and attempt a 60,000-foot return flight


Elon Musk has shared some details about future testing of Starship, the SpaceX launch vehicle currently being developed by the company at its Boca Chica, Texas facility. Recently, SpaceX has completed short, 150 meter (just under 500 feet) test flights of two earlier Starship prototypes, SN5 and SN6 – and SN8, which is currently set to be done construction “in about a week” according to Musk will have “flaps & nosecone” and ultimately is intended for a much higher altitude test launch.

The prototypes that SpaceX has flown and landed for its so-called ‘short-hop’ tests over the past few weeks have been full-sized, but with a simulated weight installed on the top in place of the actual domed nosecone that will perch atop the final production Starship and protect any cargo on board. SN5 and SN6, which are often compared to grain silos, are also lacking the large control flaps on either side of the nosecone that will help control its flight. SN8 will have both, according to Musk.

This version of the prototype will also undergo the same early testing and its precursors, including a static fire and other ground checkouts, followed by another static fire before ultimately attempting to fly to an altitude of 60,000 feet – and then returning back to the ground for a controlled landing.

SpaceX is off pace when it comes to Starship development relative to Musk’s earliest, rosiest projections – but the CEO is known for overly optimistic estimates when it comes to timeframes, something he’s repeatedly copped to himself.

Rocket development is also notoriously difficult, so this first high-altitude flight attempt could just as easily go very poorly. SpaceX in particular has a development program that focuses on rapid iteration, and learning from earlier mistakes while building simultaneous development prototypes incorporating different lessons gleaned from various generations. And while it may not have made Musk’s crazy timelines, it is moving very quickly, especially now that the most recent prototypes have survived pressure testing and made it up into the air.


Atoms Lanka Solutions

Tech

Is the vaunted cloud acceleration falling flat?


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. 

Ready? Let’s talk money, startups and spicy IPO rumors.

Is the vaunted cloud acceleration falling flat?

This week we’re taking a look at the bad side of the cloud software market. In case you were avoiding the news over the last week, tech and software stocks are struggling. Not much compared to their 2020 gains, mind, but after months of only going up their recent declines have been notable. (As I write to you, the tech-heavy Nasdaq is headed for its worst week since March.)

The pullback makes some sense. Having watched SaaS and cloud valuations get stretched to historical highs, Slack’s earnings were an endcap on a good, but not-quite-as-good-as-expected set of results from public cloud and SaaS companies. 

As we’ve noted, most public software companies are not seeing their revenue growth accelerate. Some public software companies may be seeing their growth deceleration slow, but the number of public software companies actually accelerating in 2020 is tiny. The actually-accelerating group is Zoom, and maybe one or two other companies. 

Why is that, given all that we’ve heard about the presumably accelerating digital transformation? Slack earnings are a good explainer. The enterprise communications company’s recent filings explain that its COVID-bump has somewhat dissipated, while a number of COVID-related problems are persisting. 

Seeing recently risen valuations slip in the face of a lack of materially accelerated growth and some churn issues is reasonable. 

Does this matter for startups? Some. Public software valuations are still elevated compared to historical norms, which helps software startups defend their valuations and raise well. And there are plenty of startup hotspots as we’ve noted, including API-delivered startups enjoying time in the sun, as well as edtech startups that caught a COVID-related tailwind.

I am chatting with investors from a16z, Bessemer, and Canaan next week at Disrupt about the future of SaaS, collecting notes on the private-market side of this particular issue. So, more to come. But for now, I think we’ve seen the top of the peak and are now dealing more with reality than hype. Or, as public investors might say, the COVID trade has run its course and earnings will set the tone moving forward.

Market Notes

Moving on to market notes, a fintech stat, and some other bits of data for your consumption and edification:

  • Fintech is staying hot, with M1 Finance doubling its AUM from $1 billion to $2 billion in about half a year. TechCrunch covered M1 reaching the $1 billion AUM threshold because it’s a Chicago company and I could not resist the fintech data point. Then M1 raised $33 million at $1.45 billion AUM in June. Now it’s at $2 billion. 
  • Our read? The savings and investing boom that helped power Robinhood to new revenue records, along with other players, is continuing.
  • More evidence of that? Alpaca, a startup that delivers equity-trading capabilities via an API, is seeing insane growth. (That piece has more notes on API-led startups in case that is your jam.)
  • Quickly turning to the public markets, JFrog is about to show the power of profits in today’s markets, and next week should see a number of debuts of JFrog, Sumo Logic and Snowflake. Palantir is the week after. (More notes here if you need them.)
  • Oh, and folks are pricing Palantir at a fraction of its final private valuation. Whoops. Maybe that’s why so many insiders are selling now? Big ups to Danny for that story. (Also, yowza this is not at all good.)

A brief interlude: Disrupt is next week, you should come. You can enjoy it from the comfort of your couch. 

Various and Sundry

SaaS and cloud earnings continue to trickle in, which means I spent a good portion of my week talking to more execs at public companies. Short notes from Smartsheet, nCino and BigCommerce to follow, along with some final thoughts for your weekend.

  • On the valuations front, Smartsheet CEO Mark Mader told TechCrunch that “investors are thinking about how to balance historically high multiples with historically high potential returns in the space that’s still very young.” 
  • He added that no one doubts that cloud “is going to be the answer” to a lot of stuff, or that “people are [going to] change how they work,” but did note that cloud companies are not impervious to macro headwinds, because “cloud companies serve non-cloud companies,” and not merely companies in sectors that are excelling.
  • This fits neatly into our notes on Slack above. More on Smartsheet’s earnings here.
  • nCino had a good quarter, beating expectations and guiding well during its first public earnings report. However, like many other SaaS and cloud companies, it has lost some valuation altitude in recent weeks. It’s still miles above its IPO price, however.
  • I was curious about how the post-IPO period has been for the company’s CEO, Pierre Naudé, and his response was fun. Like all new public company CEOs, he made sure to note how quickly his team got back to work after the debut, but he also told The Exchange that he does now spend time that he used to invest in customers and “innovation” talking to analysts and investors. 
  • Being a public company, therefore, has time and focus costs that are worth considering, as we see so many tech shops approach the public markets.
  • And then there was BigCommerce, which went public quite recently. I got back on the horn with CEO Brent Bellm, wanting to learn a bit more about the current state of the e-commerce market. 
  • Here’s what the CEO had to say, lightly edited and condensed for clarity:

“I think it’s staying pretty hot. The surprising thing in the post-pandemic weeks was just how rapidly growth accelerated, and consumer and business adoption grew. We all kept saying ‘well at some point stores will reopen, and the growth rates will come back down.’ But the growth rates for actual sales running through stores continued to be very strong. You know, whether you look at our customer set, or [at] credit card data from Bank of America or others […] you can see quite clearly that e-commerce remains very, very hot. It’s a permanent change in behavior. Consumers have found a lot more places where they now like to buy online and reasons to like to buy online, and companies have found new and more effective ways to sell.”

  • This is probably a good reminder to turn our attention back to e-commerce when we get a chance post-Disrupt. 
  • And, finally, read Natasha on why rolling funds are blowing up, something that we talked about on the podcast this week.

That’s all the room we have. Hugs, fist bumps, and good luck.

Alex




Atoms Lanka Solutions

Tech

Snowflake, Unity, JFrog move towards IPOs despite public market turmoil


Editor’s note: Get this free weekly recap of TechCrunch news that any startup can use by email every Saturday morning (7 a.m. PT). Subscribe here.

Warren Buffet is eager to invest in a money-burning SaaS unicorn that is about to IPO. Despite recent tech stock declines and growing fears of US election turbulence, this is one reason that Snowflake is on track to be one of the biggest offerings of the year. And it is not the only company defying the pandemic and newer problems in order to get out of the gate soon.

First, here’s Alex Wilhelm with more Snowflake filing details:

The $75 to $85 per-share IPO price target values the firm at between $20.9 billion and $23.7 billion, huge sums for the private company. Its IPO could raise more than $2.7 billion for the startup. Snowflake  was last valued at around $12.5 billion when it raised a Series G worth $479 million earlier this year.

Built into those valuation projections are two private placements of stock in Snowflake, $250 million apiece from both Salesforce,  the well-known CRM player, and Berkshire Hathaway, better known for its investment returns in the 80s and 90s, Cherry Coke and Charlie Munger’s humor. Jokes aside, the inclusion of Salesforce in the IPO is notable, but not a shock, but Berkshire taking part in the public market debut of Snowflake, a company with historic losses that are nigh-tyrannical, is.

Today, “epic growth, improving gross margins and dramatically curtailed losses” are factors that lure investors like Buffett, Alex concludes.

In other pre-IPO analysis this week, Eric Peckham takes a deeper look at Unity this week, updating a massive analysis he had done last year. Basically, the game engine creator could be more central to our online future than many seem to realize today:

Much of the press about Unity’s S-1 filing mischaracterizes the business. Unity is easily misunderstood because most people who aren’t (game) developers don’t know what a game engine actually does, because Unity has numerous revenue streams, and because Unity and the competitor it is most compared to — Epic Games — only partially overlap in their businesses….

For those in the gaming industry who are familiar with Unity, the S-1 might surprise you in a few regards. The Asset Store is a much smaller business that you might think, Unity is more of an enterprise software company than a self-service platform for indie devs and advertising solutions appear to make up the largest segment of Unity’s revenue.

In an accompanying analysis for Extra Crunch, he digs into the filing and maps out the bear and bull cases for the company. Some of the biggest issues he notes are that it is still fairly reliant on advertising (even though it wants a SaaS multiple) and it is continuing to lose lots of money on ambitious expansions. So this is probably not Warren Buffett’s type of frozen dessert, if you will. Risk-seekers and futurists, however, will want to try this free sample of the bull case:

Game engines are eating the world… A vast swath of entertainment and work activities already center on interactive content. Unity has demonstrated value and early adoption across numerous industries for a long list of use cases; it is on the precipice of entering the daily workload of millions of professionals, from engineers to industrial designers to film producers to marketers. Its Create Solutions division is on a path to becoming something of a next generation Adobe ($11 billion in 2019 revenue): A creative suite used by design, engineering, marketing and sales teams across industries.

As AR and VR technology expands into mainstream use over the decade ahead, Unity’s adoption will only expand further. The majority of AR and VR content is already made with Unity’s engine and Unity’s R&D is improving the ease of creating such content by less technical professionals (and students). This positions Unity to expand into key functions higher up in the tech/content stack of mixed reality by providing identity, app distribution, payment and other solutions across content experiences.

Elsewhere in our IPO coverage, Danny Crichton got the details about Palantir insiders accelerating their stock sales for Extra Crunch, and Alex dug into the fresh Sumo Logic and JFrog filings S-1 filings.

blank check SPAC

Image Credits: Lawrence Anareta / Getty Images

Two considerations of SPACs

Special purpose acquisition companies are a thing now for tech startups that want to go public, but are they the best thing? Here’s top seed-VC investor Josh Kopelman’s take, via an interview from this week with Connie Loizos.

On the one hand, just for fun, I made sure that we owned Lastround.com in case we ever wanted to launch our SPAC. [Laughs.] But it’s hard to know the true benefit of a SPAC. And I think that now that we’ve begun to see a market shift toward allowing direct listings with a fundraising component, you might see that as a far more viable and frequent fundraising or a liquidity device.

A fresh startup trend he’s more positive about is rolling funds (short-window raises for small very early investments, like the new offering from AngelList).

But back to SPACs. George Arison, cofounder and co-CEO of car-buying unicorn Shift, wrote a guest post for Extra Crunch this week about how he has approached taking his own company through a SPAC. Among other things, he says, private investments in public equity are not only good but essential:

There are some in Silicon Valley who think that raising a PIPE is a bad idea — quite frankly, this is patently false. A core reason why SPACs work today, and why they differ from the first generation of SPACs that often did not work, is because of the PIPE process. The PIPE period allows companies to raise more capital, to validate valuations, and it also creates a pathway to transition “special situations” investors to fundamental investors that you want as long-term shareholders.

A pause for Belarus, and PandaDoc employees

After Belarus-born PandaDoc CEO Mikita Mikado publicly supported opposition to his country’s dictatorship, state police raided the company’s large operation in the country and imprisoned four of its employees on spurious charges. As they fight for justice for their colleagues, and for the country’s political process, they’re planning to close operations in the country, and are joining with other startups to highlight the damage to the local tech scene. More about the movement in the subtitled video below:

Investor surveys: proptech’s future, Warsaw and more

We’ve been trying to understand what is really going on with real estate and proptech, given the various impacts the traditionally glacial sector has experienced lately (pandemic, remote work, retail issues etc.). On Tuesday we ran the second part of our most recent survey, focused on present and future opportunities. Here’s Clelia Warburg Peters, venture partner at Bain Capital Ventures, about making peace with real estate agents and focusing on financial and processing aspect that have not been disrupted in a very long time

Up until recently, the innovation in the residential space was all focused on disintermediating the real estate broker, and I think the most sophisticated entrepreneurs are increasingly understanding that service is a core component of a home sale… [T]he bigger opportunity is finding a way to leverage the position of the real estate agent (in whatever form) to sell affiliated products, including title, mortgage and home insurance or to innovate in those products themselves.

Elsewhere in survey work this past week, Mike Butcher checked in with investors focused on Warsaw and Poland, and is also looking for folks to talk to about the Vienna tech scene.

Around TechCrunch

Announcing the Startup Battlefield companies at TechCrunch Disrupt 2020

Meet the final round judges who will decide the winner of this year’s Disrupt Battlefield Competition

FaZe Clan’s Lee Trink, Troy Carter and Nick ‘Nickmercs’ Kolcheff are coming to Disrupt 2020

Drew Houston will talk about building a startup and digital transformation during COVID at TechCrunch Disrupt

Women exhibitors in Digital Startup Alley: Meet female-focused accelerators

Meet the TC Top Picks for Disrupt 2020

All the ways to meet someone and make connections at Disrupt 2020

Across the week

TechCrunch

How one VC firm wound up with no-code startups as part of its investing thesis

It’s time to better identify the cost of cybersecurity risks in M&A deals

Why established venture firms should court emerging managers

Apple lays out its messy vision for how xCloud and Stadia will work with its App Store rules

Viral article puts the brakes on China’s food delivery frenzy

Extra Crunch

How to respond to a data breach

Use ‘productive paranoia’ to build cybersecurity culture at your startup

What’s driving API-powered startups forward in 2020?

Slack’s earnings detail how COVID-19 is both a help and a hindrance to cloud growth

VCs pour funding into edtech startups as COVID-19 shakes up the market

#EquityPod

From Alex:

Hello and welcome back to Equity, TechCrunch’s venture capital-focused podcast (now on Twitter!), where we unpack the numbers behind the headlines.

The whole crew was back, with Natasha Mascarenhas and Danny Crichton and myself chattering, and Chris Gates behind the scenes tweaking the dials as always. This week was a real team effort as we are heading into the maw of Disrupt — more here, see you there — but there was a lot of news all the same.

So, here’s what we got to:

  • AngelList is doubling down on rolling funds, driving that SaaS revenue into the firm that is also investing in the rolling funds. So that’s neat. (Really!)
  • Edtech stayed hot this week with Byju’s raising $500 million from Silver Lake. Founded back in 2011, Byju’s is the highest-valued edtech company that we can think of, now worth $10.8 billion.
  • And speaking of Silver Lake, the group just poured $1 billion into a part of the Reliance empire, this time Reliance Retail. And we talked about JioMart, which is taking on both Flipkart and Amazon in the country.
  • Next there were two companies with names that start with “S” that raised $100 million in the last week, namely Snyk — more here — and Sprinklr — more here.
  • Sticking to our “S” theme, Slack’s earnings were incredibly interesting. The company’s quarter didn’t get plaudits from investors, and it did note some negative COVID impacts that could impact startups as well.
  • And, one more S-company to get through: Snowflake. We were all a-twitter about the company’s new valuation range and the fact that fucking Berkshire Hathaway is going to invest in it. That’s wild! What a thing!
  • Finally on the IPO front, we did a quick Palantir update. Danny has all the latest here.

We wrapped with whatever this is, which was at least good for a laugh. We are back next week at Disrupt, so see you all there!

Equity drops every Monday at 7:00 a.m. PT and Thursday afternoon as fast as we can get it out, so subscribe to us on Apple Podcasts, Overcast, Spotify and all the casts.




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Tech

Disrupt 2020 kicks off tomorrow — are you ready?


Happy Disrupt 2020 Eve, startup fans! It’s been a crazy mad dash to transform our annual flagship San Francisco event at Moscone Center into the first all-virtual Disrupt (thanks, COVID-19). Then again, going global seems an appropriate way to celebrate 10 years of Disruption. It all starts tomorrow with a pre-show session to explain how to access the different platforms we’ll use during the event — are you ready?

Wait, what? Did you just say you don’t have your Disrupt 2020 pass yet? Talk about a vinyl record scratch moment. Okay, don’t panic. You can still join your early-stage startup community and discover untold opportunities to build your business. Let’s break down the different pass options, access levels and current pricing.

Important note: Pricing for all passes increase tomorrow, September 13 at 11:59 p.m. (PT), so don’t drag your feet a moment longer. Choose and buy your pass right now.

 

Disrupt Digital Pro Pass ($345): You receive online access to all the programming on the Disrupt stage and the Extra Crunch stage. We’re talking live stream and replays on demand. Interactive sessions let you ask questions, participate in polling and engage with speakers. Your pass includes CrunchMatch to make virtual networking easy, organized, efficient and effective. It will come in handy as you find and meet attendees from around the world — and explore and connect with hundreds of early-stage startups in Digital Startup Alley — the show’s expo area. Meet the Startup Battlefield competitors and the TC Top Picks!

Disrupt Digital Pro Pass — Investor ($345): You receive all the features listed above and special opportunities to connect and network with the investor community. Plus, you receive a guide to the exhibitors in Startup Alley to simplify connecting with early-stage startups both during and after the event.

Digital Pro Pass — Students ($125), military personnel, active government employees and non-profit agency employees ($145): If you belong to any of the aforementioned groups, congrats, you qualify for a discount for full access to Disrupt 2020. Your pass provides the same level of access as the standard Digital Pro Pass but your status must be verifiable.

Disrupt Digital Pass ($45): You receive live access only to the Disrupt Stage, Breakout Sessions (workshops, product demonstrations, startup pitches, networking receptions) and access to the Digital Startup Alley expo area.

A multitude of ways and price points to make Disrupt 2020 accessible and to help you discover opportunities that can take your business forward to the next level and beyond. Get on board, buy your pass before 11:59 p.m. (PT) tomorrow night and save. We can’t wait to see where Disrupt takes you!


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Tech

This Week in Apps: The App Store’s new rules, Epic’s battle continues, TikTok’s time is up


Welcome back to This Week in Apps, the TechCrunch series that recaps the latest OS news, the applications they support and the money that flows through it all.

The app industry is as hot as ever, with a record 204 billion downloads and $120 billion in consumer spending in 2019. People are now spending three hours and 40 minutes per day using apps, rivaling TV. Apps aren’t just a way to pass idle hours — they’re a big business. In 2019, mobile-first companies had a combined $544 billion valuation, 6.5x higher than those without a mobile focus.

In this series, we help you keep up with the latest news from the world of apps, delivered on a weekly basis.

App Store get new rules

app store icon 2

Image Credits: screenshot via TechCrunch

Apple on Friday released updated App Store Guidelines with the goal of clarifying how it will approach new technologies, like game streaming services, App Clips and widgets, in addition to better detailing its stance over how and when it will collect in-app purchases from certain categories of apps. The changes arrive at a time when Apple is battling in court with Epic over its requirements regarding the use of in-app purchases. The company is also seeing its App Store business scrutinized by regulators over monopolistic practices in the  U.S., E.U. and Australia, and elsewhere.

Among the most critical changes is the new rule that effectively permits game streaming services like Microsoft’s xCloud and Google Stadia. These services will now be allowed so long as each individual app that can be streamed has its own App Store listing offering a playable (even if a demo), experience. A separate “catalog” app can also be offered where users sign up and subscribe. Who wants to bet Facebook will soon use this new permission to its advantage with Facebook Gaming?

Other notable changes involve clarifications around in-app purchases, including exceptions for enterprise apps, app companions for some web apps and a rule that says one-to-one experiences (think: telehealth) aren’t required to use only IAP. Another rule says personal loan apps must spell out their terms more clearly and puts restrictions on the max APR.

Apple and Epic continue fight

The Apple vs. Epic battle continued to heat up this week. Epic tweeted on Wednesday that Apple will no longer allow Fortnite users to sign in using “Sign In with Apple” starting on September 11, 2020. That meant Apple was using its power to make sure that even those iOS users who already had Fortnite installed before the game’s ban from the App Store could no longer log in.

Less than a day later, Epic announced that Apple decided to provide an indefinite extension on blocking players from logging in. However, the company warned that players should prepare their accounts for the eventual removal of “Sign In with Apple” support.

The move, if true, is another example of how Apple can use its ecosystem power to harm businesses, and ultimately its own customers — in this case, Fortnite players — in the process. As a result, iOS developers are beginning to realize that all the technologies Apple pushes them to use could become ways to control them, as Apple can easily yank them away the minute they cross the line. This move on Apple’s part (if true and not an exaggeration by Epic), could impact developers’ desire to adopt future Apple technologies.

Apple has the legal right to enforce the App Store terms that Epic agreed to, but doing so in the middle of multiple antitrust investigations around the world is surprisingly bold.

Plus, the approach Apple has been taking also comes across as incredibly petty — to the point that it’s burning through its own developer community’s goodwill in the process.

Developers are tuning into this courtroom drama, which this week includes Apple also suing for damages on breach of contract, and noticing the callous language Apple is using in its legal documents. As former Tumblr CTO and developer Marco Arment pointed (see above), people buy iPhone for its ability to run apps.

Ultimately, Apple needs a thriving developer community to succeed, so it’s not clear why Apple — which already offered a discounted commission to Amazon — won’t negotiate with other large players of significance, like Epic.

That said, Epic doesn’t come off too great in this fight, either. It has leveraged its own user base as a weapon, for starters, knowing that Apple would likely act aggressively and ban its app and maybe even worse. Meanwhile, Epic acts as if it’s on some great crusade against developer abuse, when really this battle is about Epic’s desire to keep more money. If Apple cut it Epic deal, it’s not like Epic would hold out until all other developers were treated fairly, too.

Still, Epic’s response to Apple’s claims that it wants a “free ride” makes a good point.

Epic has paid out $257 million in commission fees in two years’ time over in-app purchases that Apple doesn’t help to generate, beyond being the platform where they occur and the way they’re processed. Epic could have generated that money itself, via alternative payment mechanisms, if allowed. Apple gets its cut because it ties IAP to the App Store. And you can’t distribute to iPhone without the App Store.

Even Mark Zuckerberg this week suggested the App Store is a monopoly (isn’t that rich?), because of its control over the App Store.

“Well I certainly think that they have the unilateral control of what gets on the phones in terms of apps,” Zuckerberg said. “So, I do think that there are questions that people should be looking into about that control of the App Store and whether that is enabling as robust of a competitive dynamic,” he said.

TikTok’s time is up

Trump says TikTok won’t get an extension. The Beijing-based social video app still has only until September 20 to sell off TikTok’s U.S. operations in order for its app to remain in the country. The app will be banned if TikTok isn’t able to reach an agreement with a potential buyer before the deadline passes. And from the latest reports, it seems China doesn’t even want that to happen.

TikTok had run into new complications in recent days that would make a sale to Microsoft, Oracle or any other buyer more challenging. China introduced restrictions on the export of AI technology, which forced TikTok owner ByteDance to re-evaluate how it could even proceed with a sale. In light of the news, ByteDance began discussing possible agreements with the U.S. government that would allow TikTok to avoid a full sale of its U.S. operations. It’s not clear those have had any success, as Trump has said the deadline stands.

As it stands now, ByteDance will likely miss the September 20th deadline. And according to Reuters, Beijing would rather see the app shut down in the U.S. than a forced sale.

Despite TikTok’s troubles, which also include a ban in India, demand for the app remains strong. The app was the most downloaded non-gaming app in August 2020, according to Sensor Tower data. The company also this week revealed more about how its algorithm works, claiming it wanted to be transparent about its use of machine learning techniques and other technologies.

Image Credits: Apple

  • Apple to host an event on September 15, where it’s expected to focus on iPad and Apple Watch.
  • Android 11 makes its debut. The new OS was in public preview and will now roll out to select devices, including Pixel phones, to start. The updated OS is not a major overhaul, but offers several new consumer-facing features around messaging, privacy and smart devices. Built-in screen recording and revamped media controls are also included. (Frederic Lardinois/TechCrunch)
  • Android Go 11, meanwhile, now works better on budget devices, up to 2GB of RAM, up from 1.5GB in Android Go 10. (Steve Dent/Engadget)
  • Apple confirms the “Apple One” subscription bundle in its own Apple Music app’s code. The subscription will bundle Apple Music and Apple TV+. In higher tiers, consumers can bundle in other Apple services like Apple News+, Apple Arcade and iCloud. (Kyle Bradshaw/9to5Google)
  • Apple releases iOS 14 and iPadOS 14 beta 8 to developers, followed by a release to public testers. We’re getting closer! (Apple)
  • U.S. homebuying app installs grew 21% year-over-year in August, setting 2020 record. (Stephanie Chan/Sensor Tower)
  • Google and Apple’s app stores are being investigated by Australia’s competition watchdog. (Josh Taylor/The Guardian)
  • Apple agrees to meet with advertising coalition over iOS 14 concerns. The news follows last week’s announcement that the changes to IDFA were to be delayed. (Stephen Warwick/iMore)
  • Apple announces enhancements to sandbox testing. Developers can now test upgrades, downgrades and cancellations for subscriptions, as well as reset the introductory offer eligibility for a test account from Settings on devices running iOS 14 or later, and more. (Apple)
  • U.S. holiday shopping season on mobile expected to be largest to date, topping 1B hours on Android. (Sarah Perez/TechCrunch)
  • AppsFlyer launches an ad spend tool designed to help app marketers better budget. (AppsFlyer)
  • Ahead of Apple’s expected launch of AirTags, Tiles launches a subscription that reimburses for lost items. (Nicole Lee/Engadget)
  • PUBG Mobile Generates $500 million in just over 2 months, passes $3.5 billion in lifetime revenue. (Craig Chapple/Sensor Tower)
  • Smart banners in iOS 14 beta now point users to open stories in the Apple News app, at least for Apple News+ partners, not third-party publisher apps. (Mike Peterson/AppleInsider)
  • Developers behind popular mobile game Alto’s Adventure have started a new studio, Land & Sea. The team describes the first, yet to be announced, game as “an accessible, coming-of-age folktale set against an ancient pastoral landscape.” (Andrew Webster/Verge)
  • Groww, an investment app for millennials in India, raises $30 million led by YC Continuity
  • Lokalise raises $6 million to make it easier to localize your product
  • Curio, a curated audio platform for journalism, raises $9 million Series A led by Earlybird

Poolside.fm

Image Credits: Poolside.fm

If you mashup feel-good summer music, ridiculous 80s-inspired imagery and retro tech, you’ll get the lighthearted and fun web radio service Poolside.fm. The service was already available on the web and, recently, as a Mac app. With the iOS launch, the team created a new design that references old mobile devices, like the Nokia 3310, and doused it in pink. It’s the most fun you’ll have with an app all week. Check it out via cellular.poolside.fm.

Google Maps returns to Apple Watch

Image Credits: 9to5Google (photo of Google Maps app)

But why? Google Maps first launched on Apple Watch in 2015 but was pulled two years later without explanation. Now it’s back, 9to5Google spotted this week. The new version doesn’t let you search for new locations from the Watch — you still have to use your phone. The app can then provide navigation instructions by car, bike, public transport or walking.

NewNew

Image Credit: NewNew

Former Drake personal assistant Courtne Smith launches NewNew, a social network based on the video its users like and share. The app, a combination of TikTok and Facebook, allows users to create networks based on the videos, memes and images they’re sharing.




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Tech

Original Content podcast: Disney’s ‘Mulan’ remake is fun, if you can forget the controversy


Disney’s live-action remake of “Mulan” comes with some serious baggage.

First, the film has drawn political controversy for its star’s statements in support of the action Hong Kong police against protestors, as well as the fact that “Mulan” was partly filmed in the Xinjiang region, where the Chinese government has held Muslim ethnic minorities in detention camps.

And although it’s less weighty, it’s also hard to escape the business context: “Mulan” is one of the first big Hollywood blockbusters (along with “Tenet”) to be released after the pandemic shuttered movie theaters around the world. Warner Bros. opted to release “Tenet” in theaters, while Disney is bringing “Mulan” to Disney+ with a hefty price tag of $29.99. (There’s still a theatrical release in some markets, including China.)

On the latest episode of the Original Content podcast, we acknowledge all of that context while also doing our best to discuss the merits of the film itself. It’s arguably the best of Disney’s live-action remakes, and it’s certainly gorgeous to watch, with some thrilling action scenes and beautiful landscape shots.

At the same time, Jordan argued that it doesn’t live up to the animated original, and we both agreed that the script can feel sleight and forgettable — particularly in the shadow of those real-world controversies. Plus, it’s hard to justify the current price, unless you’ve got kids who are eager to see it. Otherwise, you can probably wait until December 4, when “Mulan” becomes available to regular Disney+ subscribers.

Before we jump into our review, we also talk about this coming week’s virtual Disrupt conference.

You can listen to our review in the player below, subscribe using Apple Podcasts or find us in your podcast player of choice. If you like the show, please let us know by leaving a review on Apple. You can also follow us on Twitter or send us feedback directly. (Or suggest shows and movies for us to review!)

If you’d like to skip ahead, here’s how the episode breaks down:
0:00 Intro
0:31 Disrupt preview
6:33 “Mulan” review
35:10 “Mulan” spoiler discussion




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