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CBP says it’s ‘unrealistic’ for Americans to avoid its license plate surveillance

11 July, by Zack Whittaker[ —]

U.S. Customs and Border Protection has admitted that there is no practical way for Americans to avoid having their movements tracked by its license plate readers, according to its latest privacy assessment.

CBP published its new assessment — three years after its first — to notify the public that it plans to tap into a commercial database, which aggregates license plate data from both private and public sources, as part of its border enforcement efforts.

The U.S. has a massive network of license plate readers, typically found on the roadside, to collect and record the license plates of vehicles passing by. License plate readers can capture thousands of license plates each minute. License plates are recorded and stored in massive databases, giving police and law enforcement agencies the ability to track millions of vehicles across the country.

The agency updated its privacy assessment in part because Americans “may not be aware” that the agency can collect their license plate data.

“CBP cannot provide timely notice of license plate reads obtained from various sources outside of its control,” the privacy assessment said. “Many areas of both public and private property have signage that alerts individuals that the area is under surveillance; however, this signage does not consistently include a description of how and with whom such data may be shared.”

But buried in the document, the agency admitted: “The only way to opt out of such surveillance is to avoid the impacted area, which may pose significant hardships and be generally unrealistic.”

CBP struck a similar tone in 2017 during a trial that scanned the faces of American travelers as they departed the U.S., a move that drew ire from civil liberties advocates at the time. CBP told Americans that travelers who wanted to opt-out of the face scanning had to “refrain from traveling.”

The document added that the privacy risk to Americans is “enhanced” because the agency “may access [license plate data] captured anywhere in the United States,” including outside of the 100-mile border zone within which the CBP typically operates.

CBP said that it will reduce the risk by only accessing license plate data when there is “circumstantial or supporting evidence” to further an investigation, and will only let CBP agents access data within a five-year period from the date of the search.

A spokesperson for CBP did not respond to a request for comment on the latest assessment.

CBP doesn’t have the best track record with license plate data. Last year, CBP confirmed that a subcontractor, Perceptics, improperly copied license plate data on “fewer than 100,000” people over a period of a month-and-a-half at a U.S. port of entry on the southern border. The agency later suspended its contract with Perceptics.


Daily Crunch: Rackspace is going public again

11 July, by Anthony Ha[ —]

We look at Rackspace’s finances, a Facebook code change causes numerous app issues and electric vehicle company Rivian raises $2.5 billion. Here’s your Daily Crunch for July 10, 2020.

The big story: Rackspace is going public again

The cloud computing company first went public in 2008, before accepting a $4.3 billion offer to go private from Apollo Global Management. Rackspace says it will use the proceeds from the IPO to lower its debt load.

Alex Wilhelm took a deep dive into Rackspace’s finances, concluding that the proper valuation is a “puzzle”:

The company is tech-ish, which means it will find some interest. But its slow growth rate, heavy debts and lackluster margins make it hard to pin a fair multiple onto.

The tech giants

New report outlines potential roadmap for Apple’s ARM-based MacBooks — Analyst Ming-Chi Kuo said that a 13.3-inch MacBook powered by Apple’s new processors will arrive in the fourth quarter of this year.

Facebook code change caused outage for Spotify, Pinterest and Waze apps — Looks like Facebook was responsible for some crashing apps this morning.

California reportedly launches antitrust investigation into Google — This makes California the 49th state to launch an antitrust investigation into the search giant, according to Politico.

Startups, funding and venture capital

Rivian raises $2.5 billion as it pushes to bring its electric RT1 pickup, R1S SUV to market — The company plans to bring its electric pickup truck and SUV, as well as delivery vans for Amazon, to market in 2021.

A glint of hope for India’s food delivery market as Zomato projects monthly cash burn of less than $1 million — “We’ll only lose $1 million this month” doesn’t feel like a huge accomplishment, but at least things seem to be headed in the right direction.

Advice and analysis from Extra Crunch

How Thor Fridriksson’s ‘Trivia Royale’ earned 2.5 million downloads in 3 weeks — The latest game from the QuizUp founder was (briefly) the top app in the App Store. We talk to Fridriksson about how he did it.

COVID-19 pivot: Travel unicorn Klook sees jump in staycations — With bookings for overseas experiences plummeting, Klook began offering do-it-yourself kits for stay-at-home projects and partnered with landmark sites to offer virtual tours.

Operator Collective brings diversity and inclusion to enterprise investing — The firm, founded last year, said it currently has 130 operator LPs, 90% of them women and 40% of them people of color.

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

Everything else

NASA signs agreement with Japan to cooperate across Space Station, Artemis and Lunar Gateway projects — Japan first expressed its intent to participate in the Lunar Gateway program in October 2019, making it one of the first countries to do so.

Equity: Silicon Valley is built on immigrant innovation — The latest episode of Equity discusses how recent visa changes will affect Silicon Valley.

Five reasons to attend TC Early Stage online — July 21 and 22! I will be there!

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


Google’s Fitbit deal could avoid EU antitrust probe by agreeing not to use health data for ads

10 July, by Brian Heater[ —]

Google announced its plans to acquire Fitbit for $2.1 billion back in November. As of this writing, the deal has yet to go through, courtesy of all the usual regulatory scrutiny that occurs any time one large company buys another. EU regulators are often a key hurdle for these sorts of deals, and this time it may be no different.

Citing “people familiar with the matter,” Reuters notes that Google may be facing down some scrutiny in the form of an EU antitrust investigation if it doesn’t make some concessions. The heart of the concern here is a matter of health privacy. Fitbit — like many other wearable companies — collects a tremendous amount of health information from wearers.

Google, of course, is a company tremendously invested in data and advertising. Critics of the deal have suggested that purchasing Fitbit would provide yet another rich vein of data for Google to mine. As such, the deal could hinge on the promise that Google will never use health data to sell ads.

The stipulation is in keeping with a promise the company made when the acquisition was first announced, with the company’s head of hardware Rick Osterloh promising, “[P]rivacy and security are paramount. When you use our products, you’re trusting Google with your information. We understand this is a big responsibility and we work hard to protect your information, put you in control and give you transparency about your data.”

In a follow-up to this week’s reporting, the company noted that it believes the acquisition would increase competition. While Fitbit has a sizable footprint, Apple, Xiaomi and Huawei currently dominate the category, due in part to Fitbit’s late start in the smartwatch category. Google’s efforts to make inroads through Wear OS have largely come up short, though the company did also purchase a chunk of smartwatch tech from Fossil last January.

A spokesperson also attempted to put to rest potential regulatory fears, stating, “Throughout this process we have been clear about our commitment not to use Fitbit health and wellness data for Google ads and our responsibility to provide people with choice and control with their data.”

Regulators are set to decide on the deal by July 20. Google reportedly has until July 13 to present its concessions.


How Thor Fridriksson’s ‘Trivia Royale’ earned 2.5M downloads in 3 weeks

10 July, by Jordan Crook[ —]

In its first few weeks of release, the latest game from QuizUp founder Thor Fridriksson took the top spot in the Games Section of Apple’s App Store and was the top app (for a brief time) in the App Store at large.

Since its launch on June 17, Trivia Royale has been downloaded more than 2.5 million times, with day-one retention of 45% and week-one retention of 45% on iOS, according to the company. Average daily usage per user is around 30 minutes. It currently sits in the number six spot in the Free Games category on the App Store.

There is no shortage of mobile games, but in such a cluttered space, it’s difficult to break through the noise. So how did Trivia Royale do it?

The game, which lets users compete in a 1,000-person, single-elimination trivia tournament, is built on the Teatime Games platform. Teatime emphasizes the fun of playing against other humans in the mobile gaming landscape, giving users the ability to communicate via video chat while they play in a game on their smartphone.

The platform allows game developers to use this video chat functionality, which comes with Snapchat-like face filters or Apple Memoji-style avatars, on their own games. But for Teatime to truly succeed as a gaming platform, the company needed a hit game, Fridriksson said.

The serial entrepreneur told TechCrunch that he decided to take off his CEO hat and return to his product roots by focusing on a category that few people know as well as he does: trivia.

The Trivia Royale tournament combines the scale of Battle Royale with the durability of trivia — whether it’s Jeopardy, HQ Trivia, bar trivia or this, we can’t get enough of it — or lets users match against one other player in a single category of trivia.

I’ve played around on the game for a while now and can say that it’s very well done, from the design to the production value. But more important than the mechanics of the tournament or the typeface or even the content of the questions are the avatars, which let users express themselves through customization and their real-life facial expressions.

But none of that means anything if players don’t join the game. So how did Trivia Royale earn more than 2.5 million downloads (and climbing) in a matter of days?

A big bet on TikTok

Fridriksson told TechCrunch that he has to give a ton of credit to his kids (who are 15 and 11). His daughter told him about TikTok and gave him a list of her favorite stars, including Addison Rae and Dixie D’Amelio.


LA-based Replicated adds former GitLab head of product as its chief product officer

10 July, by Jonathan Shieber[ —]

Replicated, the Los Angeles-based company pitching monitoring and management services for Kubernetes-based applications, has managed to bring on the former head of product of the $2.75 billion-valued programming giant GitLab as its new chief product officer. 

Mark Pundsack is joining the company as it moves to scale its business. At GitLab, Pundsack saw the company grow from 70 employees to 1,300 as it scaled its business through its on-premise offerings.

Replicated is hoping to bring the same kind of on-premise services to a broad array of enterprise clients, according to company chief executive Grant Miller.

First introduced to Replicated while working with CircleCI, it was the company’s newfound traction since the launch of its Kubernetes deployment management toolkit that caused him to take a second look.

“The momentum that Replicated has created with their latest offering is tremendous; really changing the trajectory of the company,” said Pundsack in a statement. “When I was able to get close to the product, team, and customers, I knew this was something that I wanted to be a part of. This company is in such a unique position to create value throughout the entire enterprise software ecosystem; this sort of reach is incredibly rare. The potential reminds me a lot of the early days of GitLab.”

It’s a huge coup for Replicated, according to Miller.

“Mark created the core product strategy at GitLab; transforming GitLab from a source control company to a complete DevOps platform, with incredible support for Kubernetes,” said Miller. “There really isn’t a better background for a product leader at Replicated; Mark has witnessed GitLab’s evolution from a traditional on-prem installation towards a Kubernetes-based installation and management experience. This is the same transition that many of our customers are going through and Mark has already done it with one of the best. I have so much confidence that his involvement with our product will lead to more success for our customers.”

Pundsack is the second new executive hire from Replicated in six months, as the company looks to bring more muscle to its C-suite and expand its operations.


HBO Max is making a Gotham City police series with the director of ‘The Batman’

10 July, by Anthony Ha[ —]

HBO Max, the WarnerMedia-owned streaming service that launched in May, announced today that it has made a series commitment to an untitled TV show tied to the movie “The Batman” (currently scheduled for release in 2021).

The show will be set in the Gotham City police department, with a creative team that includes Matt Reeves, the movie’s co-writer and director, along with “Boardwalk Empire” creator Terence Winter.

This sounds like familiar territory — the police department of a city overrun by colorful criminals was probably perhaps best explored in the “Gotham Central” comics series (written by Ed Brubaker and Greg Rucka and drawn by Michael Lark), but it was also the focus of the recent (bad) Fox TV show “Gotham.”

However, the announcement from HBO Max emphasized that this will be an extension of the feature film, “ultimately launching a new Batman universe across multiple platforms.” It’s an approach that the streamer is also taking with “Dune: The Sisterhood,” a series that ties into the upcoming “Dune” movie.

“This is an amazing opportunity, not only to expand the vision of the world I am creating in the film, but to explore it in the kind of depth and detail that only a longform format can afford — and getting to work with the incredibly talented Terence Winter, who has written so insightfully and powerfully about worlds of crime and corruption, is an absolute dream,” Reeves said in a statement.

It also remains to be seen whether the show is influenced in any way by the ongoing protests for racial justice. It might seem absurd to connect real-world political issues with a comic book TV show, but the protests have led to a Hollywood reckoning with how movies and television have glorified the police — for example, Andy Samberg recently said the writers and cast of “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” are trying to rethink the show to make something “that we all feel morally okay about.”


Tech at Work: DE&I at Facebook, Prop 22 and gig worker earnings

10 July, by Megan Rose Dickey[ —]

Hey, ya’ll. I’m experimenting with a bi-weekly roundup that looks at the state of labor in tech.

We’ll use this space to explore topics related to diversity, equity and inclusion, the future of work, issues relating to pay equality, notable personnel changes and much more.

This week, we’re looking at Facebook’s civil rights audit, a new gig worker earnings study, the latest on California ballot measure Proposition 22 and layoffs amid COVID-19. 

Stay woke

The artist Celos paints a mural in downtown Los Angeles on May 30, 2020 in protest against the death of George Floyd, an unarmed black man who died while being arrested and pinned to the ground by the knee of a Minneapolis police officer. (Photo by APU GOMES/AFP via Getty Images)

It’s been less than two months since the police killing of George Floyd. While the tech industry has continued on with its funding rounds, mergers and acquisitions, there is still work to be done on the racial justice front. Here’s a look at some developments over the last couple of weeks. 

Facebook’s civil rights audit highlights gaps in DE&I work

As seen in Facebook’s final civil rights audit report conducted by former ACLU attorney Laura Murphy, the social networking giant still must do more to increase diversity in its senior leadership roles and C-suite. These roles for Black, indigenous and people of color must also not be “limited to diversity officer positions as is often the case in corporate America,” the report states. 

According to the audit, there must also be company-wide recognition that diversity, equity and inclusion efforts are not to fall solely on those in underrepresented groups, but rather on all members of the senior leadership team and managers. The audit also highlighted employee concerns around “a lack of recognition for the time URM employees spend mentoring and recruiting other minorities to work at Facebook.”


A recapitalization reckoning

10 July, by Natasha Mascarenhas[ —]

If you’re an angel who invested in a startup that was meant to go public in 2014, you might be getting a little bit impatient. High-risk, high-reward investing has lost its shine in this environment: the stock market is a mess these days, and you want your cash back.

Enter recapitalization events, where startups restructure their entire cap table to squeeze out old investors, bring on new ones and shift the way equity and debt is managed. For investors, it’s a killer way to enter a company on friendlier terms than normal (read: desperation), and a nice way to get liquidity on a startup you’re betting on.

For founders, it’s rarely good news, as departing investors is not a metric they’re going to add to the pitch deck. As one investor said on background, the spur of coronavirus-related recapitalization events shows “hella dilution for desperate times.”

That’s what makes Workhuman’s transparency with its recent recapitalization event all the more enticing.

Last year, the human-resources platform brought in $580 million in revenue from customers like LinkedIn, Cisco, J&J and other clients. In April, business grew 40%. Co-founder and CEO Eric Mosley says business has grown five times in size since the company pulled back from its 2014 plans to IPO. Workhuman hasn’t raised a single venture round since 2004 (and doesn’t plan to any time soon).

Being conservative has paid off; although Workhuman has operated for nearly two decades, Mosley says he thinks the company is still at the “tip of the iceberg.” The company recently had a recapitalization event to sell the stakes of its earliest investors, who cut a $200,000 check more than 20 years ago.


Rackspace preps IPO after going private in 2016 for $4.3B

10 July, by Alex Wilhelm[ —]

After going private in 2016 after accepting a $32 per share, or $4.3 billion, price from Apollo Global Management, Rackspace is looking once again to the public markets. First going public in 2008, Rackspace is taking second aim at a public offering around 12 years after its initial debut.

The company describes its business as a “multicloud technology services” vendor, helping its customers “design, build and operate” cloud environments. That Rackspace is highlighting a services focus is useful context to understand its financial profile, as we’ll see in a moment.

But first, some basics. The company’s S-1 filing denotes a $100 million placeholder figure for how much the company may raise in its public offering. That figure will change, but does tell us that firm is likely to target a share sale that will net it closer to $100 million than $500 million, another popular placeholder figure.

Rackspace will list on the Nasdaq with the ticker symbol “RXT.” Goldman, Citi, J.P. Morgan, RBC Capital Markets and other banks are helping underwrite its (second) debut.

Financial performance

Similar to other companies that went private, only later to debut once again as a public company, Rackspace has oceans of debt.

The company’s balance sheet reported cash and equivalents of $125.2 million as of March 31, 2020. On the other side of the ledger, Rackspace has debts of $3.99 billion, made up of a $2.82 billion term loan facility, and $1.12 billion in senior notes that cost the firm an 8.625% coupon, among other debts. The term loan costs a lower 4% rate, and stems from the initial transaction to take Rackspace private ($2 billion), and another $800 million that was later taken on “in connection with the Datapipe Acquisition.”

The senior notes, originally worth a total of $1,200 million or $1.20 billion, also came from the acquisition of the company during its 2016 transaction; private equity’s ability to buy companies with borrowed money, later taking them public again and using those proceeds to limit the resulting debt profile while maintaining financial control is lucrative, if a bit cheeky.

Rackspace intends to use IPO proceeds to lower its debt-load, including both its term loan and senior notes. Precisely how much Rackspace can put against its debts will depend on its IPO pricing.

Those debts take a company that is comfortably profitable on an operating basis and make it deeply unprofitable on a net basis. Observe:

Image Credits: SEC

Looking at the far-right column, we can see a company with material revenues, though slim gross margins for a putatively tech company. It generated $21.5 million in Q1 2020 operating profit from its $652.7 million in revenue from the quarter. However, interest expenses of $72 million in the quarter helped lead Rackspace to a deep $48.2 million net loss.

Not all is lost, however, as Rackspace does have positive operating cash flow in the same three-month period. Still, the company’s multi-billion-dollar debt load is still steep, and burdensome.

Returning to our discussion of Rackspace’s business, recall that it said that it sells “multicloud technology services,” which tells us that its gross margins will be service-focused, which is to say that they won’t be software-level. And they are not. In Q1 2020 Rackspace had gross margins of 38.2%, down from 41.3% in the year-ago Q1. That trend is worrisome.

The company’s growth profile is also slightly uneven. From 2017 to 2018, Rackspace saw its revenue expand from $2.14 billion to $2.45 billion, growth of 14.4%. The company shrank slightly in 2019, falling from $2.45 billion in revenue in 2018 to $2.44 billion the next year. Given the economy that year, and the importance of cloud in 2019, the results are a little surprising.

Rackspace did grow in Q1 2020, however. The firm’s $652.7 million in first-quarter top-line easily bested in its Q1 2019 result of $606.9 million. The company grew 7.6% in Q1 2020. That’s not much, especially during a period in which its gross margins eroded, but the return-to-growth is likely welcome all the same.

TechCrunch did not see Q2 2020 results in its S-1 today while reading the document, so we presume that the firm will re-file shortly to include more recent financial results; it would be hard for the company to debut at an attractive price in the COVID-19 era without sharing Q2 figures, we reckon.

How to value Rackspace is a puzzle. The company is tech-ish, which means it will find some interest. But its slow growth rate, heavy debts and lackluster margins make it hard to pin a fair multiple onto. More when we have it.


Operator Collective brings diversity and inclusion to enterprise investing

10 July, by Ron Miller[ —]

When Mallun Yen started Operator Collective last year, she wanted to build an investment firm for people who didn’t have a voice in Silicon Valley. That meant connecting women and people of color with operators who have been intimately involved in building companies from the ground up, then providing early-stage investment.

She then brought in Leyla Seka as a partner. Seka helped build the AppExchange at Salesforce into a powerful marketplace for companies built on top of the Salesforce platform, or that plugged into the platform in some meaningful way to sell their offerings directly to Salesforce customers. Through that role, she met a lot of people in the startup world, and she saw a lot of inequities.

Yen, whose background includes eight years as a VP at Cisco, and co-founder of Saastr with Jason Lemkin, wanted to build a different kind of firm, one that connected these operators — women like herself and Seka, who had walked the walk of running substantial businesses — with people who didn’t typically get heard in the corridors of VC firms.

Those operators themselves tend to be underrepresented at investment shops. The firm today consists of 130 operator LPs, 90% of whom are women and 40% people of color (which includes Asians). One way that the company can do this is by removing rigid buy-in requirements. LPs can contribute as little as $10,000, all the way up to millions of dollars, depending on their means, and that makes for a much more diverse pool of LPs.

While Seka admits they are far from perfect, she says they are fighting the good fight. So far, the company has invested in 18 startups with a more diverse set of founders and executives than you find at most firms that invest in enterprise startups. That means that 67% of their investments include people of color (which breaks down to 44% Asian, 17% Latinx and 6% Black), 56% include a female founder, 56% have an immigrant founder and 33% have a female CEO.

I sat down with Yen and Seka to discuss their thinking about enterprise investing. While they have a far more inclusive philosophy than most, their general approach to enterprise investing isn’t all that different than what we’ve seen in previous surveys with enterprise investors.

Which trends are you most excited about in the enterprise from an investing perspective?


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