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How US national security agencies hold the internet hostage

How US national security agencies hold the internet hostage

July 18, 2019

Team Telecom, a shadowy US national security unit tasked with protecting America’s telecommunications systems, is delaying plans by Google, Facebook and other tech companies for the next generation of international fiber optic cables.

Team Telecom comprises representatives from the departments of Defense, Homeland Security, and Justice (including the FBI), who assess foreign investments in American telecom infrastructure, with a focus on cybersecurity and surveillance vulnerabilities.

Team Telecom works at a notoriously sluggish pace, taking over seven years to decide that letting China Mobile operate in the US would “raise substantial and serious national security and law enforcement risks,” for instance. And while Team Telecom is working, applications are stalled at the FCC.

The on-going delays to submarine cable projects, which can cost nearly half a billion dollars each, come with significant financial impacts. They also cede advantage to connectivity projects that have not attracted Team Telecom’s attention – such as the nascent internet satellite mega-constellations from SpaceX, OneWeb and Amazon .

Team Telecom’s investigations have long been a source of tension within Silicon Valley. Google’s subsidiary GU Holdings Inc has been building a network of international submarine fiber-optic cables for over a decade. Every cable that lands on US soil is subject to Team Telecom review, and each one has faced delays and restrictions.

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Daily Crunch: Netflix has a rough quarter

Daily Crunch: Netflix has a rough quarter

July 18, 2019

The Daily Crunch is TechCrunch’s roundup of our biggest and most important stories. If you’d like to get this delivered to your inbox every day at around 9am Pacific, you can subscribe here.

1. Netflix reports net subscriber loss in the US, misses global subscriber growth predictions

Netflix’s price hikes might finally be convincing some consumers to unsubscribe. The company reported net growth of 2.7 million subscribers worldwide, but it actually added 2.83 million new subscribers internationally while losing around 130,000 in the United States.

Growth was lower than expected across the board, but it underperformed more noticeably in regions where it introduced a price hike.

2. FaceApp gets federal attention as Sen. Schumer raises alarm on data use

In a letter to the heads of the FBI and FTC, the senator wrote, “FaceApp’s location in Russia raises questions regarding how and when the company provides access to the data of U.S. citizens to third parties, including potentially foreign governments.”

3. Facebook’s regulation dodge: Let us, or China will

The company’s top executives have each claimed that if the U.S. limits Facebook’s size, blocks its acquisitions or bans its cryptocurrency, Chinese companies without these restrictions will win abroad.

4. On a growth tear, work trip SaaS TravelPerk adds $60M to its Series C

TravelPerk now has more than 2,000 customers for its business travel booking platform.

5. Slack resets user passwords after 2015 data breach

Slack will reset the passwords of users it believes are affected by the historical data breach. The company says this does not apply to “the approximately 99% who joined Slack after March 2015” or those who changed their password since.

6. Google teams up with Apollo 11 astronaut to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Moon landing

To mark the event, Google teamed up …

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The climate is our biggest threat. Carl Pope is fighting to change our fate

The climate is our biggest threat. Carl Pope is fighting to change our fate

July 18, 2019

Michael Bloomberg is an unrepentant capitalist who, as he says in his 2017 book A Climate of Hope, is “not exactly your stereotypical environmentalist.” Yet over the past decade, Bloomberg has become arguably the biggest environmental philanthropist in the world — especially given the $500 million investment Bloomberg announced last month that he would soon make in rapidly moving the U.S. “Beyond Carbon,” off both coal and natural gas and to a “100% clean energy economy.” How did this happen?

It turns out one of the biggest factors in Bloomberg’s green transformation has been his friendship with Carl Pope, the longtime former head of the Sierra Club, whom Bloomberg first met about a decade ago, as Mayor of New York.

Pope is not exactly a household name, but nonetheless at this point can probably be called one of the most influential environmental activists in history. He wears a leather jacket and a weathered-looking sweater on the cover of Climate of Hope alongside Bloomberg’s suit, tie, and flag pin.

The two co-authored the book — and not just in the sense that Pope ghost-wrote Bloomberg’s opinions, as happens regularly when busy political and cultural celebrities take on a lesser-known co-author for some glamour project they may barely even read. A Climate of Hope is an extended dialogue between Bloomberg and Pope, with the two alternating chapters throughout and at times even disagreeing on potentially important issues.

What there’s no disagreement on, however, is that Pope “convinced” his co-author to dive into massive environmental spending (a feat accomplished in part by showing the health-conscious Bloomberg the numbers on how lethal coal can be).

Pope is no stranger to controversy — perhaps unsurprising for a nonprofit leader who has raised money well into the nine figures. He’s a “pragmatist,” as he says many …

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Blue Origin CEO Bob Smith joins Disrupt SF to talk about bringing the Moon within reach

Blue Origin CEO Bob Smith joins Disrupt SF to talk about bringing the Moon within reach

July 18, 2019

Private spaceflight company Blue Origin has its sights set on the Moon, and in May unveiled a new lander to help it get there. This October, Blue Origin CEO Bob Smith will join us onstage at Disrupt SF 2019 to talk about how the company plans to get to the Moon, and beyond — and what the opportunities are for private space companies once it does.

Smith and the Jeff Bezos -backed Blue Origin have been busy with more than just building lunar landers: It has been testing the company’s New Shepard spacecraft since 2015 and through this year, when it plans to perform its first crewed mission. To date, its tests have largely been successful and are a strong indicator that it’s well-positioned among the various companies hoping to return the U.S. to crewed launches.

That’s a key milestone in Blue Origin’s goal of getting to the Moon by 2024, which is the timeline the company declared in May. But their plan isn’t strictly about human achievement or scientific discovery — it’s about business, and establishing a permanent presence in space to provide access to resources and help humanity expand beyond its finite, Earth-bound constraints.

We’ll talk to Smith about what it means to go from today’s launches to low Earth orbit to making the trip to the Moon in just five short years, and what Blue Origin believes the commercial spaceflight industry will look like once we’ve gotten there and established a permanent commercial presence.

Blue sky opportunity is old news — Smith will help us suss out what the blue space opportunity is for the next generation of entrepreneurs.

Disrupt SF runs October 2 to October 4 at the Moscone Center in San Francisco. Tickets are available at an early-bird rate here.

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Investor Jocelyn Goldfein to join us on AI panel at TechCrunch Sessions: Enterprise

Investor Jocelyn Goldfein to join us on AI panel at TechCrunch Sessions: Enterprise

July 18, 2019

Artificial intelligence is quickly becoming a foundational technology for enterprise software development and startups have begun addressing a variety of issues around using AI to make software and processes much more efficient.

To that end, we are delighted to announce that Jocelyn Goldfein, a Managing Director at Zetta Venture Partners will be joining on us a panel to discuss AI in the enterprise. It will take place at the TechCrunch Sessions: Enterprise show on September 5 at the Yerba Buena Center in San Francisco.

It’s not just startups that are involved in AI in the enterprise. Some of the biggest names in enterprise software including Salesforce Einstein, Adobe Sensei and IBM Watson have been addressing the need for AI to help solve the enterprise data glut.

Computers can process large amounts of information much more quickly than humans, and as enterprise companies generate increasing amounts of data, they need help understanding it all as the volume of information exceeds human capacity to sort through it.

Goldfein brings a deep engineering background to her investment work. She served as a VP of engineering at VMware and as an engineering director at Facebook, where she led the project that adopted machine learning for the News Feed ranker, launched major updates in photos and search, and helped spearhead Facebook’s pivot to mobile. Goldfein drove significant reforms in Facebook hiring practices and is a prominent evangelist for women in computer science. As an investor, she primarily is focused on startups using AI to take more efficient approaches to infrastructure, security, supply chains and worker productivity.

At TC Sessions: Enterprise, she’ll be joining Bindu Reddy from Reality Engines along with other panelists to discuss the growing role of AI in enterprise software with TechCrunch editors. You’ll learn why AI startups are attracting investor attention and …

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YouTube Music now lets you seamlessly switch between songs and music videos

YouTube Music now lets you seamlessly switch between songs and music videos

July 18, 2019

Google today announced an update to YouTube Music on iOS and Android that will make it easier to seamlessly switch between merely listening to the audio and watching a song’s music video. To do so, you only have to tap a button at the top of the screen. This should work for almost every song that has a video because Google has time-matched more than 5 million official music videos to their audio tracks.

You have to be a paying YouTube Premium or YouTube Music Premium subscriber to get access to this new feature, though. If you’re using a free account, you’re out of luck.

While this is not exactly a fancy new feature, it definitely improves the user experience in YouTube Music. Google also argues that this move will make music videos more discoverable in the app.

Don’t care about music videos? Don’t worry. YouTube Music also features a “Don’t play music videos” setting.

Google’s music strategy is about as confusing as its messaging strategy, but as things stand right now, YouTube Music will replace the older Google Play Music experience at some point later this year. Or not. It’s always hard to tell with Google, given that Hangouts is still hanging in there, too. Clearly, though, the company’s music investments are now going into YouTube Music.

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The FTC looks to change children’s privacy law following complaints about YouTube

The FTC looks to change children’s privacy law following complaints about YouTube

July 18, 2019

The U.S. Federal Trade Commission is considering an update to the laws governing children’s privacy online, known as the COPPA Rule (or, the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act). The rule first went into effect in 2000 and was amended in 2013 to address changes in how children use mobile devices and social networking sites. Now the FTC believes it may be due for more revisions. The organization is seeking input and comments on possible updates, some of which are specifically focused on how to address sites that aren’t necessarily aimed at children, but have large numbers of child users.

In other words, sites like YouTube .

The FTC’s announcement comes only weeks after U.S. consumer advocacy groups and Senator Ed Markey (D-Mass.) sent complaint letters to the FTC, urging the regulators to investigate YouTube for potential COPPA violations.

The advocacy groups allege that YouTube is hiding behind its terms of service, which claim YouTube is “not intended for children under 13” — a statement that’s clearly no longer true. Today, the platform is filled with videos designed for viewing by kids. Google even offers a YouTube Kids app aimed at preschooler to tween-aged children, but it’s optional. Kids can freely browse YouTube’s website and often interact with the service via the YouTube TV app — a platform where YouTube Kids has a limited presence.

According to the letter written by the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood (CCFC) and the Center for Digital Democracy (CDD), Google has now collected personal information from nearly 25 million children in the U.S., and it used this data to engage in “very sophisticated digital marketing techniques.”

The groups want YouTube to delete the children’s data, set up an age-gate on the site, and separate out any kids content into its own app …

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Google will now pay bigger rewards for discovering Chrome security bugs

Google will now pay bigger rewards for discovering Chrome security bugs

July 18, 2019

Bug hunting can be a lucrative gig. Depending on the company, a serious bug reported through the proper channels can earn whoever found it first tens of thousands of dollars.

Google launched a bug bounty program for Chrome in 2010. Today, they’re increasing the maximum rewards for that program by 2-3x.

Rewards in Chrome’s bug bounty program vary considerably based on how severe a bug is and how detailed your report is — a “baseline” report with fewer details will generally earn less than a “high-quality” report that does things like explain how a bug might be exploited, why it’s happening and how it might be fixed. You can read about how Google rates reports right here.

But in both cases, the potential reward size is being increased. The maximum payout for a baseline report is increasing from $5,000 to $15,000, while the maximum payout for a high-quality report is being bumped from $15,000 to $30,000.

There’s one type of exploit that Google is particularly interested in: those that compromise a Chromebook or Chromebox device running in guest mode, and that aren’t fixed with a quick reboot. Google first offered a $50,000 reward for this type of bug, increasing it to $100,000 in 2016 after no one had managed to claim it. Today they’re bumping it to $150,000.

They’ve also introduced a new exploit category for Chrome OS rewards: lockscreen bypasses. If you can get around the lockscreen (by pulling information out of a locked user session, for example,) Google will pay out up to $15,000.

Google pays additional rewards for any bugs found using its “Chrome Fuzzer Program” — a program that lets researchers write automated tests and run them on lots and lots of machines in the hopes of finding a bug that only shows up at much …

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Haus, the real estate startup founded by Garrett Camp, raises $7.1M

Haus, the real estate startup founded by Garrett Camp, raises $7.1M

July 18, 2019

Haus, a startup aiming to make home ownership more affordable and flexible, is announcing that it has raised $7.1 million in new funding.

This amount combines a $4.1 million seed equity investment led by Montage Ventures and $3 million in debt, which will help finance Haus’ new co-investment model.

Haus was created by Uber co-founder Garrett Camp as part of his startup studio Expa . When it launched in 2016, it was focused on digitizing and bringing more transparency to the home-buying process. Since then, former Trulia executive Jonathan McNulty joined as CEO, and he’s introduced that co-investment model, where Haus helps to finance a purchase by buying equity in the home.

The idea is that instead of taking on debt, the homeowner is sharing with Haus both the risks and the rewards of changing home values. And instead of paying off a mortgage, the homeowner makes monthly payments to Haus that both purchases more equity and pays the startup and its investors.

The company estimates that these payments are, on average, 30% lower than a traditional mortgage payment. In an email, McNulty said that Haus caps the “option” portion of the payment so that homeowners are always purchasing as much equity as they did with their first payment, even if the home’s value increases.

“From a consumer perspective, there have historically only been two ownership options, pay cash for your home, or borrow money from a bank or lender with a mortgage,” he said. “With Haus, we replace that mortgage relationship and create a direct partnership with the consumer to create an entirely new way of financing a home.”

Haus can also work with existing homeowners to replace part or all of their mortgage — McNulty noted that in some cases, it may make sense “to …

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Inside Harley-Davidson’s EV shift with a ride on its LiveWire

Inside Harley-Davidson’s EV shift with a ride on its LiveWire

July 18, 2019

Harley-Davidson will release its first production electric motorcycle, the LiveWire, in September.

Yes, the American symbol for internal combustion, chrome and steel is going all-in on two-wheeled EVs.

Founded in Milwaukee in 1903, Harley-Davidson opened a Silicon Valley office in 2018 with plans to add a future line-up of electric vehicles — from motorcycles to bicycles to scooters.

With these moves, HD joins a list of established transportation companies that are redefining themselves in the transformation of global mobility.

TechCrunch talked to the company’s senior management on the EV pivot and got a chance to test the  LiveWire on New York’s Formula E race track. 

The battery-powered Harley will do 0-60 mph in 3 seconds, go 110 mph and charge to 100% in 60 minutes. It goes for $29,799, MSRP.

The motorcycle’s 15.5 kWh battery and magnet motor produce 105 horsepower and 86 ft-lbs of torque for a city range of 146 miles (and 95 for combined city/highway riding).

In contrast to some of Harley’s minimalist gas motorcycles, the company teched out the LiveWire. The e-moto has five processors to manage performance and app-based connectivity, according to HD’s chief engineer for EV Technology, Sean Stanley.

The LiveWire’s tablet-type dash synchronizes with smartphones and allows for preset and customized digital riding modes. From the dash or a smartphone one can calibrate and monitor the LiveWire’s power output, charge status, traction-control settings and ABS braking characteristics. The EV has navigation capabilities and a Bluetooth system for music, helmet comms and to accept incoming phone calls.

Harley-Davidson is famous for its internal combustion rumble — which warranted a new signature electric sound generated from the LiveWire’s mechanical movements. “We spent a lot of time optimizing it…The sound comes from a combination of the electric motor, the transmission and the drive line,” …

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