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There’s a way to pick the absolute best images for your content: Apply AI

1 October, by Walter Thompson[ —]

Most marketers believe there’s a lot of value in having relevant, engaging images featured in content.

But selecting the “right” images for blog posts, social media posts or video thumbnails has historically been a subjective process. Social media and SEO gurus have a slew of advice on picking the right images, but this advice typically lacks real empirical data.

This got me thinking: Is there a data-driven — or even better, an AI-driven — process for gaining deeper insight into which images are more likely to perform well (aka more likely to garner human attention and sharing behavior)?

The technique for finding optimal photos

In July of 2019, a fascinating new machine learning paper called “Intrinsic Image Popularity Assessment” was published. This new model has found a reliable way to predict an image’s likely “popularity” (estimation of likelihood the image will get a like on Instagram).

It also showed an ability to outperform humans, with a 76.65% accuracy on predicting how many likes an Instagram photo would garner versus a human accuracy of 72.40%.

I used the model and source code from this paper to come up with how marketers can improve their chances of selecting images that will have the best impact on their content.

Finding the best screen caps to use for a video

One of the most important aspects of video optimization is the choice of the video’s thumbnail.

According to Google, 90% of the top performing videos on the platform use a custom selected image. Click-through rates, and ultimately view counts, can be greatly influenced by how eye-catching a video title and thumbnail are to a searcher,

In recent years, Google has applied AI to automate video thumbnail extraction, attempting to help users find thumbnails from their videos that are more likely to attract attention and click-throughs.

Unfortunately, with only three provided options to choose from, it’s unlikely the thumbnails Google currently recommends are the best thumbnails for any given video.

That’s where AI comes in.

With some simple code, it’s possible to run the “intrinsic popularity score” (as derived by a model similar to the one discussed in this article) against all of the individual frames of a video, providing a much wider range of options.

The code to do this is available here. This script downloads a YouTube video, splits it into frames as .jpg images, and runs the model on each image, providing a predicted popularity score for each frame image.
Caveat: It is important to remember that this model was trained and tested on Instagram images. Given the similarity in behavior for clicking on an Instagram photo or a YouTube thumbnail, we feel it’s likely (though never tested) that if a thumbnail is predicted to do well as an Instagram photo, it will similarly do well as a YouTube video thumbnail.

Let’s look at an example of how this works.


thumbnail from youtube video with housebuilding couple

Current thumbnail. Image Credits: YouTube (opens in a new window)


We had the intrinsic popularity model look at three frames per second of this 23-minute video. It took about 20 minutes. The following were my favorites from the 20 images that had the highest overall scores.

Facebook sues two companies engaged in data scraping operations

1 October, by Sarah Perez[ —]

Facebook today says it has filed a lawsuit in the U.S. against two companies that had engaged in an international “data scraping” operation. The operation extended across Facebook properties, including both Facebook and Instagram, as well as other large websites and services, including Twitter, Amazon, LinkedIn and YouTube. The companies, who gathered the data of Facebook users for “marketing intelligence” purposes, did so in violation of Facebook’s Terms of Service, says Facebook.

The businesses named in the lawsuits are Israeli-based BrandTotal Ltd. and Unimania Inc., a business incorporated in Delaware.

According to BrandTotal’s website, its company offers a real-time competitive intelligence platform that’s designed to give media, insights and analytics teams visibility into their competition’s social media strategy and paid campaigns. These insights would allow its customers to analyze and shift their budget allocation to target new opportunities, monitor trends and threats from emerging brands, optimize their ads and messaging, and more.

Meanwhile, Unimania operated apps claimed to offer users the ability to access social networks in different ways. For example, Unimania offered apps that let you view Facebook via a mobile-web interface or alongside other social networks like Twitter. Another app let you view Instagram Stories anonymously, it claimed.

However, Facebook’s lawsuit is largely focused on two browser extensions offered by the companies: Unimania’s “Ads Feed” and BrandTotal’s “UpVoice.”

The former allowed users to save the ads they saw on Facebook for later reference. But as the extension’s page discloses, doing so would opt users into a panel that informed the advertising decisions of Unimania’s corporate customers. UpVote, on the other hand, rewarded users with gift cards for using top social networking and shopping sites and sharing their opinions about the online campaigns run by big brands.

Facebook says these extensions operated in violation of its protections against scraping and its terms of service. When users installed the extensions and visited Facebook websites, the extensions installed automated programs to scrape their name, user ID, gender, date of birth, relationship status, location information, and other information related to their accounts. The data was then sent to a server shared by BrandTotal and Unimania.

Facebook lawsuit vs BrandTotal Ltd. and Unimania Inc. by TechCrunch on Scribd

Data scrapers exist in part to collect as much information as they can through any means possible using automated tools, like bots and scripts. Cambridge Analytica infamously scraped millions of Facebook profiles in the run-up to the 2016 presidential election in order to target undecided voters. Other data scraping operations use bots to monitor concert or event ticket prices in order to undercut competitors. Scraped data can also be used for marketing and advertising, or simply sold on to others.

In the wake of the Cambridge Analytica scandal, Facebook has begun to pursue legal action against various developers that break its terms of service.

Most cases involving data scraping are litigated under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, written in the 1980s to prosecute computer hacking cases. Anyone who accesses a computer “without authorization” can face hefty fines or even prison time.

But because the law doesn’t specifically define what “authorized” access is and what isn’t, tech giants have seen mixed results in their efforts to shut down data scrapers.

LinkedIn lost its high-profile case against HiQ Labs in 2019 after an appeals court ruled that the scraper was only collecting data that was publicly available from the internet. Internet rights groups like the Electronic Frontier Foundation lauded the decision, arguing that internet users should not face legal threats “simply for accessing publicly available information in a way that publishers object to.”

Facebook’s latest legal case is slightly different because the company is accusing BrandTotal of scraping Facebook profile data that wasn’t inherently public. Facebook says the accused data scraper used a browser extension installed on users’ computers to gain access to their Facebook profile data.

In March 2019, it took action against two Ukrainian developers who were harvesting data using quiz apps and browser extensions to scrape profile information and people’s friends lists, Facebook says. A court in California recently recommended a judgement in Facebook’s favor in the case. A separate case around scraping filed last year against a marketing partner Stackla  also came back in Facebook’s favor.

This year, Facebook filed lawsuits against companies and individuals engaged in both scraping and fake engagement services.

Facebook isn’t just cracking down on data scraping businesses to protect user privacy, however. It’s because failing to do so can lead to large fines. Facebook at the beginning of this year was ordered to pay out over half a billion dollars to settle a class action lawsuit that alleged systemic violation of an Illinois privacy law. Last year, it settled with the FTC over privacy lapses and had to pay a $5 billion penalty. As governments work to further regulation online privacy and data violations, fines like this could add up.

The company says legal action isn’t the only way it’s working to stop data scraping. It has also invested in technical teams and tools to monitor and detect suspicious activity and the use of of unauthorized automation for scraping, it says.

Section 230 will be on the chopping block at the next big tech hearing

1 October, by Taylor Hatmaker[ —]

It looks like we’re in for another big tech CEO hearing.

The Senate Commerce Committee voted Thursday to move forward with subpoenas for Twitter’s Jack Dorsey, Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and Sundar Pichai, the CEO of Alphabet. The unusual decision to subpoena the social media chief executives adds yet another politically volatile event to the schedule in the run-up to the most contentious election in modern U.S. history.

The hearing will focus on Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, the key law that shields online platforms from legal liability for the content their users create.

While the topic might sound dry for the unacquainted, the law is an explosive topic, both politically and in the eyes of the tech industry, which could be left reeling from even what might seem like minor changes to the legal shield.

Committee Chairman Roger Wicker called the decision to hold the hearing “imperative” in order for Americans to “receive a full accounting from the heads of these companies about their content moderation practices.”

Remarkably, the decision to subpoena the CEOs was unanimous, with ranking Democrat Maria Cantwell joining the vote to subpoena the companies after initially opposing the decision.

Cantwell previously called the idea of issuing subpoenas an “extraordinary” step intended to “chill the efforts” of companies to remove misinformation and harassment from their platforms.

Republican members of the Senate Commerce Committee include its Wicker, Ted Cruz, John Thune and Rick Scott. Democrats on the committee include Cantwell, Amy Klobuchar, Brian Schatz, and Kyrsten Sinema.

What’s going on with Section 230?

Section 230 is generally regarded as the legal infrastructure that made the social internet possible, from Facebook accounts and comments sections to Yelp and Amazon reviews. It’s a short law but in 2020 an increasingly controversial one as lawmakers scramble for levers to limit — or at least threaten to limit — the power of big tech companies.

Republicans see dismantling Section 230’s legal protections as a way to punish social media companies for perceived anti-conservative bias — a common refrain on the right that is regularly undermined by the ubiquity of right-leaning content on platforms like Facebook.

Importantly, President Trump and Attorney General William Barr have taken particular interest in attacking Section 230. Earlier this year, Trump lashed out at Twitter for moderating his false claims with an executive order threatening the law. While the order was largely toothless, Trump’s focus on Section 230 set the agenda for the Barr’s Department of Justice and for Republicans in Congress eager to follow his lead. The order also roped the FCC into getting involved.

In June, the Justice Department laid out a groundwork for “a set of concrete reform proposals” that would undermine the law, couching the proposal as an effort to rid platforms of “illicit content” like child abuse. Last month, Barr sent draft legislation to Congress incorporating those proposals.

Democrats have more recently warmed up to the idea of going after Section 230, but for different reasons. While the right mostly complains about political censorship, Democratic lawmakers see changing Section 230 as a way to hold platforms accountable for rampant misinformation and other forms of toxic content that continue to thrive on social platforms.

Legislation taking aim at Section 230

Lindsey Graham’s bill, the EARN IT Act, is probably the best known legislation targeting Section 230 so far. A toned-down version of that bill advanced out of its committee but hasn’t yet faced the full Senate.

In June, Senators John Thune and Brian Schatz, both members of the committee issuing subpoenas, introduced a bipartisan Section 230 bill known as the PACT Act that focused mostly on moderation transparency.

To make matters even more confusing, another Graham-sponsored bill focused on Section 230 emerged earlier this month hours after Trump called on his party to “repeal Section 230 immediately.” That proposal did not have bipartisan sponsorship.

Whatever happens with the next big tech hearing and with all of these Section 230 bills, it’s clear that there’s a bipartisan appetite for doing something to change tech’s critical legal shield, even if the what isn’t yet clear.

What is clear: Tinkering with such a foundational law could have a huge cascade of effects for the internet as we know it and isn’t something to be undertaken lightly — if at all.

What if the kernel is corrupt?

1 October, by Natasha Mascarenhas[ —]

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

This week, Alex is on a much-deserved vacation (but not from Twitter, it seems) so Danny Crichton and I chatted through the news and happenings of the week. Somehow we winded our way through the latest tech controversies, gave Chris Wallace a shout out and ended with some funding rounds. I’ll be out next week so don’t miss me too much, but expect the entire Equity team to be back full-speed in mid-October. Thanks, as always, to our producer Chris Gates for his patience and diligence.

Now, onto a sneak peek of what we got into:

  • Moderation continues to be the root of all problems. We got into the anti-semitic comments that were spewed on Clubhouse, and what that means for the future of the audio-only platform. As Danny so eloquently put it: if Clubhouse is having moderation problems even with an exclusive invite-only user base, the problem will grow.
  • We also talked about Coinbase CEO Brian Armstrong’s blog post, which triggered a debate between us on whether tech companies can even choose to not be political. For the record, Black Lives Matter is not a political statement. It’s a human statement. Read this op-ed for more.
  • I wrote a piece about how a new program wants to be the Y Combinator for emerging fund managers. The whole “YC for X” model usually makes me roll my eyes, but listen to hear why I’m actually optimistic and bullish on programs like these taking off within tech.
  • Silver Lake added a $2 billion “long-term” hedge fund backed by Abu Dhabi to its tech finance toolkit. The strategy is a signal to privately backed startups, and potentially a slap in the face to SoftBank.
  • For a quick edtech note, I caught up with Duolingo’s CEO this week in one of his rare press interviews. Luis von Ahn explained the app’s surge in bookings, and there’s one key metric we pull out to noodle over.
  • Danny explained Gusto’s latest product launch with, wait for it, Gusto. In all seriousness, he brings up interesting points about the future of fintech feeling more full-suite, and free.
  • Funding round chatter continued when we unpacked Lee Fixel’s latest investment in India’s Inshorts.
  • Finally, we ended with LiquidDeath, which is not the name of a drinking game, but instead the name of a startup that has successfully attracted millions in venture capital for mountain water.

And with that, we will be back next week. Vote like your life depends on it, because it does.

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

Oracle’s TikTok and Zoom deals won’t move cloud market share needle significantly

1 October, by Ron Miller[ —]

While the overall cloud infrastructure market is booming having reached $30 billion last quarter worldwide, Oracle is struggling with market share in the low single digits. It is hoping that the Zoom and TikTok deals can jump start those numbers, but trying to catch the market leaders Amazon, Microsoft and Google, never mind several other companies ahead of it, is going to take a lot more than a couple of brand name customers.

By now, you know Oracle and TikTok were joined together in unholy acquisition matrimony last month in the acquisition equivalent of a shotgun wedding. In spite of that, Oracle founder and chief technology officer Larry Ellison gushed in a September 19 press release about how TikTok had “chosen” his company’s cloud infrastructure service. The statement also indicated that this “choice” was influenced by Zoom’s decision to move some percentage of its workloads to Oracle’s infrastructure cloud earlier this year.

The mechanics of the TikTok deal aside, the question is how big an effect will these two customers have on the company’s overall cloud infrastructure market share. We asked a couple of firms who closely watch all things cloud.

John Dinsdale, chief analyst at Synergy Research Group, wasn’t terribly optimistic that they would have much material impact on moving the market share needle for the database giant. “Oracle’s cloud infrastructure services growth has been consistently below overall IaaS and PaaS market growth rates so its market share has [actually] been nudging downward. Zoom may be a good win but it is unlikely to move the needle too much — and remember Zoom also buys cloud services from AWS,” Dinsdale told TechCrunch.

As for TikTok, Dinsdale, like the rest of us, wasn’t clear how that deal would ultimately play out, but he says even with both companies in the fold, it wasn’t going to shift market share as much as Oracle might hope. “Hypothetically, even if Zoom/TikTok helped Oracle increase its cloud infrastructure service revenues 50% over 12 months, which would be a real stretch, its market share would still be nearer to 2% than 3%. This compares with Google at 9%, Microsoft 18% and AWS 33%,” Dinsdale said.

He did point out that the company’s SaaS business is much stronger. “Broadening the scope a little to other cloud services, Oracle’s SaaS growth is running roughly in line with overall market SaaS market growth so market share is steady. Oracle’s share of the total enterprise SaaS market is running at around 6%, though if you drill down to the ERP segment it is obviously doing much better than that,” he said.

Canalys, another firm that follows the cloud infrastructure market says their numbers tell a similar story for Oracle. While it’s doing well in Saas with 7.8% market share, it’s struggling in IaaS/PaaS.

“For IaaS/PaaS, Oracle Cloud is at 1.9% for Q2 2020 and that isn’t moving much. The top three providers are AWS, Azure and Google Cloud, who have 30.8%, 20.2% and 6.2% respectively,” Blake Murray from Canalys told TechCrunch.

It’s worth keeping in mind that Google hired Diane Greene five years ago with the hope of accelerating its cloud infrastructure business. Former Oracle exec Thomas Kurian replaced her two years ago and the company’s market share still hasn’t reached double digits in spite of a period of big overall market growth, showing how much of a challenge it is to move the needle in a significant way.

Another big company, IBM bought Red Hat two years ago for $34 billion with an eye toward improving its cloud business, and while Red Hat has continued to do well, it does not seem to have much impact on the company’s overall cloud infrastructure market share, which has been superseded by Alibaba in fourth place, according to Synergy’s numbers. Both companies are in the single digits.

Synergy Research Q2 2020 cloud infrastructure market share graphs

Image Credits: Synergy Research

All that means, even with these two clients, the company still has a long way to go to be relevant in the cloud infrastructure arena in the near term. What’s unknown is if this new business will help act as lures for other new business over time, but for now it’s going to take a lot more than a couple of good deals to be relevant — and as Google and IBM have demonstrated, it’s extremely challenging to gain chunks of market share.

Latin America’s digital transformation is making up for lost time

https://www.atlantico.vc/latin-america-digital-transformation-reportplay episode download
1 October, by Walter Thompson[ —]

“Gradually, then suddenly.” Hemingway’s words succinctly capture the recent history of tech in Latin America. After more than a decade of gradual progress made through fits and starts, tech in Latin America finally hit its stride and has been growing at an accelerating pace in recent years.

The region now boasts 17 unicorns up from zero just three years ago. For the first time, the most valuable company in the region isn’t a state-controlled oil or mining behemoth, but rather e-commerce platform MercadoLibre.

We are only in the first chapter of this long story, however. When we compare the penetration of tech companies in Latin America to both developed and developing markets, we estimate that the market could grow nearly tenfold over the next decade. The value to be unlocked will be measured in trillions of dollars and the lives improved in the hundreds of millions.

Our venture capital fund, Atlantico, conducts a thorough annual analysis of market data from Latin America in what we call the Latin America Digital Transformation Report. The report consists of hundreds of data-rich slides based off of original studies, surveys and models constructed from a combination of public and proprietary data shared by many of the region’s leading tech companies. This year, for the first time, we have decided to make the report public and here we highlight some of the findings from this year.

Global venture capitalists, the likes of Sequoia, Benchmark and a16z have planted their flags through key investments in companies like Nubank, Wildlife and Loft. Those are not isolated incidents – venture capital investments in the region have nearly doubled annually for the last three years according to the Latin American Venture Capital Association (LAVCA). In order to understand what investors are seeing in the region, we analyzed the market through a simple framework we apply throughout our report.

The starting point for this framework is the socioeconomic foundation in place. The context in which transformation occurs is important in shaping its possible outcome. The same ingredients applied in different contexts and time periods will produce very different results. Thus, we believe that Latin America is unique globally, and the types of companies that will flourish (and to what extent) will be different than in other parts of the world. Trying to shoehorn foreign business models and products is unlikely to yield good results.

In the case of Latin America, it’s key to remember the region boasts a population twice that of the United States and a GDP half that of China’s (but similar on a per capita basis). In short: Latin America is big, a central factor that has the power to attract capital and talent. However, also critical to note is that economic inequality is severe. While a quarter of the region’s population lives in poverty, the wealthy in Mexico City and São Paulo enjoy living standards in line with their peers in New York and London.

This unique mix of large opportunity and critical problems waiting to be solved has provided fertile ground for the gig economy to flourish. Case-in-point: Brazil is Uber’s largest market globally in volume of rides, with São Paulo its largest city. Rappi, a major food delivery player in the region, valued at over $3 billion, grew its sales by 113% over the first five months of the pandemic. When taken together, the largest ride-hailing and food-delivery services in Brazil are already the largest private employer in Brazil, a formidable contribution to reducing high unemployment.

When we track technology company value as a percent of the economy (tech company market cap as a % of GDP) we clearly see that Latin America, at 2.2% penetration, has a ways to go. Our estimate is that it is 10 years behind China (at 27% penetration), which itself is five years behind current U.S. levels (39% penetration).

Image Credits: Atlantico

However, it is important to note that Latin America is making up for lost time. This metric for tech company penetration or share has been growing on average at 65% per year since 2003. In comparison, the growth in U.S. tech company penetration has grown at 11% annually in the same period, while China’s has expanded at 40%.


Image Credits: Atlantico

Drivers of digital transformation

Within the socioeconomic context of the region, we advance to looking at the three drivers of change in our framework: people, capital and regulation.

On the people front, the greater visibility of successful role models has catalyzed a desire to follow entrepreneurial footsteps. People like Mike Krieger (co-founder of Instagram), Marcos Galperin (founder/CEO of Mercado Libre) and Henrique Dubugras (founder/co-CEO of Brex) have shown that local talent can go on to build global companies.

In a survey we conducted with nearly 1,700 college students from the top universities in Brazil, 26% of students voiced a desire to work at startups or big tech companies. A whopping 39% expressed plans to start a company in the future, that number rising to 60% when we consider only computer science students. As more and more of the region’s top graduates flock to tech, it gives us confidence in the accelerating growth of the sector over many years to come.

On the capital front, the growth of venture funding in the region has been frequently written about. Last year, it hit a peak of $4.6 billion after doubling from the year before. However, what perhaps is more surprising is that despite this rapid growth, we are still far from the ceiling. When we view venture capital investments as a proportion of GDP, we see Latin America as only one-seventh of the U.S. level and a quarter of the level in India.

Facebook won’t accept ads that ‘delegitimize’ US election results

1 October, by Taylor Hatmaker[ —]

Following a particularly dark and vivid display of the threats to the 2020 U.S. election during Tuesday’s first presidential debate, Facebook has further clarified its new rules around election-related ads.

Facebook is now expanding its political advertising rules to disallow any ads that “[seek] to delegitimize the outcome of an election” including “calling a method of voting inherently fraudulent or corrupt, or using isolated incidents of voter fraud to delegitimize the result of an election.”

Facebook Director of Product Management Rob Leathern, who leads the company’s business integrity team, announced the changes on Twitter.

Facebook says it will also not allow ads that discourage users from voting, undermine vote-by-mail or other lawful voting methods, suggest voter fraud is widespread, threaten safe voting through false health claims and ads that suggest the vote is invalid because results might not be immediately known on election night.

Both Twitter and Facebook recently issued new guidelines on how they will handle claims of election victory prior to official results, though Facebook’s rules appear to only apply to those claims if they’re made in advertising. We’ve asked Facebook for clarification about how those claims will be handled outside of ads, on a candidate’s normal account.

While Twitter opted to no longer accept political advertising across the board, Facebook is instead tweaking its rules about what kinds of political ads it will allow and when. Facebook previously announced that it would no longer accept ads about elections, social issues or politics in the U.S. after October 27, though political ads that ran before that date will be allowed to continue.

Facebook is already grappling with a deluge of attacks on the integrity of November’s U.S. election originating with President Trump and his supporters. During Tuesday night’s debate, Trump again cast doubt about voting by mail (a system already trusted and in use nationwide in the form of absentee ballots) and declined to commit to accepting election results in the event that he loses.

While the unique circumstances of the pandemic are leading to logistical challenges, voting through the mail is not new. A handful of states including Colorado and Oregon already conducted elections through the mail and vote-by-mail is just a scaled-up version of the absentee voting systems already in place nationwide.

On Wednesday, President Trump sowed conspiratorial ideas about defective ballots that were sent out in New York state as a result of vendor error. The state will reissue the ballots, but Trump seized on the incident as evidence that vote-by-mail is a “scam” — a claim that evidence does not bear out.

Trump’s attacks on the U.S. election are an unprecedented challenge for social platforms but also one for the nation as a whole, which has never in modern times seen the peaceful transfer of executive power threatened by a sitting president.

Last chance to demo at TC Sessions: Mobility 2020 — package sales end tomorrow

1 October, by Alexandra Ames[ —]

Opportunity alert! We’re just five short days away from TC Sessions: Mobility 2020, a two-day event focused on building the future of transportation. Thousands of attendees from around the world will be looking for the latest technologies and up-and-coming startups. Will they find your up-and-coming startup?

The answer is a resounding yes — if you buy an Early-Stage Startup Exhibitor Package. Join more than 40 other early-stage startups exhibiting in our expo area and plant your company in the path of the influencers who can help drive your business forward. Expand your network and build sustainable relationships that can provide long-lasting benefits.

Deadline alert! Act now because exhibitor package sales end tomorrow, October 2, at 11:59 p.m. (PDT).

Let’s look at just some of the benefits that come from exhibiting at TC Sessions: Mobility. It’s a “Field of Dreams” moment — if you exhibit, they will come. We’re talking media hunting for their next great story, investors who want to pack their portfolio pipeline, founders looking for partnerships, brilliant engineers eager for employment and, of course, potential customers.

Exhibiting lets you present your pitch decks, schedule demos, start conversations and see where they lead. Add it all together and you get invaluable exposure, increased brand recognition and infinite opportunity.

TC Sessions Mobility offers several big benefits. First, networking opportunities that result in concrete partnerships. Second, the chance to learn the latest trends and how mobility will evolve. Third, the opportunity for unknown startups to connect with other mobility companies and build brand awareness. — Karin Maake, senior director of communications at FlashParking.

Want even more exposure? We’ve got you covered. Every exhibiting startup will get five minutes to pitch live in a pitch session. Think of it: You — strutting your stuff in front of influential mobility movers, shakers and startup dream makers from around the world. Warm up your pitching arm, folks. It’s gonna be a wild ride.

TC Sessions: Mobility 2020 takes place October 6-7, but your opportunity to exhibit in the expo comes to a screeching halt tomorrow, October 2 at 11:59 p.m. (PDT). Don’t waste another minute. Secure your Early-Stage Startup Exhibitor Package now and get ready to fast-track opportunity.

Working for social justice isn’t a ‘distraction’ for mission-focused companies

1 October, by Mike Butcher[ —]

In case you missed it: On Monday, Coinbase CEO Brian Armstrong wrote a company blog post titled “Coinbase is a mission focused company” which drew both praise and critique that has continued throughout the week. Personally, I wasn’t terribly impressed.

I limited my reaction on Twitter to one retweet, a couple of replies and some likes. But on Tuesday, a journalist asked if I had any comment to contribute to a piece she’s writing on the matter, so I tried to articulate a comment in one or two lines. The next thousand-ish words is what I ended up with.

This is such a sensitive, nuanced and personal topic, and I wouldn’t want to be irresponsible by making a quick off-handed remark or not taking enough into consideration.

However, I think it’s so important, it’d be irresponsible not to say something when asked.

I’d like to think I understood the intent — that Brian wants to ensure that Coinbase is inclusive of people who hold different views than what’s assumed to be progressive in the tech sector (or elsewhere) and avoid creating a workplace that is divided and too “distracted” (his word) by political causes or social activism.

However, what he’s really only done is highlight his tremendous position of privilege. Privilege doesn’t mean that he hasn’t struggled or hasn’t worked hard at being CEO of his company or in life. It simply means he thinks social activism can be a “distraction.” It means he thinks it’s a distraction to think about human rights and whether what’s happening around us is just or not.

It means he doesn’t wake up worrying about how institutional racism or systemic oppression might affect him. It means he doesn’t relate to the feeling that he could be the next driver to be unjustifiably stopped and searched, asked to get out of his car (or worse) for a broken taillight or verbally ridiculed or assaulted for someone else’s assumptions about his sexual orientation. It means he doesn’t think the rise of white supremacy in America is going to affect or diminish his ability to “stay focused” on his company’s mission. It means he doesn’t have to go to work wondering if he’ll be pushed aside, undermined or spoken over by a male colleague.

Brian’s statement made me think back to conversations I had with some friends over the summer who said they weren’t going to watch “every single video” of police brutality in the U.S. relating to the Black Lives Matter protests. It’s possible that I was watching too much because it was only increasing my frustration and feelings of powerlessness to help or change things, but I also realized that my friends admitting that they’d stopped watching each new video was a luxury and a privilege for them.

They didn’t have to watch them — no one is required to — but they were able to switch off because the injustice and inequity of it all doesn’t burn in their minds. It doesn’t affect them personally. It doesn’t impact how they walk down the street or conduct themselves around law enforcement. They have the privilege of not ever imagining or worrying if the victims of police brutality happened to be their family or close friends or even people they might know.

Brian Armstrong’s call to not engage in political discourse via his platform and his position as a leader is a privilege whilst others are compelled out of concern and fear to speak up for themselves, others, and those who have softer or even no voices.

In the memo, he takes time to reiterate the fact that the company will “focus on the things that help us achieve our mission,” including sourcing job candidates from underrepresented backgrounds, reducing unconscious bias and fostering an environment where everyone is welcome regardless of background, sexual orientation, race, gender, age, etc. While I‘m glad to see him recognize these areas of focus, immediately after that section he goes on to say that Coinbase won’t engage on “broader societal issues” or advocacy for political causes. From where does he think the first set of principles emerged?!?

It seems outlandish to have to establish this, but it wasn’t always the case that sexual orientation, race, gender or age were awarded equal treatment in employment law. It was in my lifetime that women could be fired from work for being pregnant. It is precisely engaging in “broader societal issues” that brought about those points of legal fairness and equality — and those are incredibly vulnerable right now. How dare he say he’s willing to embrace and stand for what’s been established so far, but that there’s no reason to engage any further? What that tells me is that as far as he’s concerned, the debates and activism to date have achieved enough and the rest, now, is distraction.

That. Is. Privilege.

Obviously, I know Coinbase is Brian’s company, and therefore it’s fully his prerogative to lay out the “mission” and rules as he sees fit. But what bothers me is that he and others who are feeling emboldened to say they agree or even commend him for “being brave” enough for saying so won’t realize the extent of their privilege and may inadvertently walk back so much recent progress and positive dialogue in the tech sector and business more broadly. We’ve seen so much evidence in recent years that consumers and purchasing power gravitate toward brands and companies that articulate what they stand for.

No longer is it enough for brands to be likable or just upbeat. Their silence on social injustices is deafening. Their association with individuals who either contribute to or enable racism or oppression of people and groups is enough for customers to think twice about using them. Their public support of activism and human rights either in merchandise or TV advertisements drives up their stock price. As more and more products and services are increasingly commoditized, consumers have sought to align themselves with brands and products that reflect their ethos.

It was a free pass for too long for businesses and their leaders to say that they didn’t wade into politics. In recent years, for example, because of the U.K.-EU Brexit referendum, the 2016 U.S. presidential election, or other occasions, companies and brand values have been drawn out and exposed for good or bad. It would be a shame for consumers and all stakeholders to lose that trend.

I hope that investor shareholders and employees of companies where leaders might be asserting similar views of not wanting to get “distracted” by social action will help to demonstrate just how much impact can be achieved by dialogue and action.

People do their best work and form championship teams when they feel good about supporting their teammates and colleagues, not when they remain silent.

Google Maps gets improved Live View AR directions

1 October, by Frederic Lardinois[ —]

Google today announced a few updates to Live View, the augmented reality walking directions in its Google Maps app that officially launched last year. Live View uses your phone’s camera and GPS to tell you exactly where to go, making it a nice addition to the standard map-centric directions in similar applications.

The new features Google is introducing today include the ability to invoke Live View from the transit tab in Google Maps when you’re on a journey that includes multiple modes of transportation. Until now, the only way to see Live View was when you were asking for pure walking directions.


Image Credits: Google



If you’re like me and perpetually disoriented after you exit a subway station in a new city (remember 2019, when we could still travel?), this is a godsend. And I admit that I often forget Live View exists. Adding it to multimodel directions may just get me to try it out more often since it is now more clearly highlighted in the app.

Google Maps can now also identify landmarks around you to give you better guidance and a clearer idea of where you are in a city. Think the Empire State Building in New York, for example.

Image Credits: Google

These new landmarks will be coming to Amsterdam, Bangkok, Barcelona, Berlin, Budapest, Dubai, Florence, Istanbul, Kuala Lumpur, Kyoto, London, Los Angeles, Madrid, Milan, Munich, New York, Osaka, Paris, Prague, Rome, San Francisco, Sydney, Tokyo and Vienna, with more to follow.

If you’re a regular Live View user, you’ll know that the actual pin locations in this mode can sometimes be off. In hilly areas, the pin can often be hovering high above your destination, for example. Now, Google promises to fix this by using a combination of machine learning and better topographical maps to place the pin exactly where it’s supposed to be.

Also new is the ability to use Live View in combination with Google Maps’ location sharing feature. So when a friend shares their location with you, you can now see exactly where they are in Live View, too, and get directions to meet them.

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