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Jack Dorsey creates $1B COVID-19 relief fund using Square equity

7 avril, par Jake Bright[ —]

Jack Dorsey announced in a series of tweets today that he is shifting $1 billion in his Square equity to create a fund dedicated to COVID-19 relief. The Twitter and Square CEO is calling the fund Start Small and posting a tally of disbursements and recipients in a public spreadsheet.

Dorsey said in his announcement that the new initiative will shift the focus to other causes at some point.

The first Start Small contribution listed is $100,000 to America’s Food Fund — an effort led by Leonardo DiCaprio and Laurene Powell Jobs dedicated to providing meals to vulnerable populations disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Other top backers of America’s Food Fund include Oprah Winfrey ($1 million) and Apple ($5 million), according to the organization’s GoFundMe page.

That’s what we know so far from a tweet posted Tuesday afternoon by the American tech entrepreneur who co-founded and leads not one, but two publicly listed companies.

There’s still a lot to learn about Dorsey’s new initiative, including how it will be managed, whether it will make investments (along with donations) and how to apply for funding. TechCrunch has asked Square for additional details and will update this post when we hear back.


Tech shares close down on the day despite roaring start

7 avril, par Alex Wilhelm[ —]

American equities closed down today, with the major domestic indices all losing ground after a wild trading cycle. After starting the day up sharply higher after strong Monday gains, those gains were erased as the day closed. It was a day of confusing movement; the tech-heavy Nasdaq Composite, to pick an example, had a range on the day of more than 3%, despite closing off just a tenth of that figure.

Divining the correct reason for movement in the stock market is a fool’s errand most days. Today, however, it isn’t hard to point to at least part of the reason for the reversed gains: a possibly record-setting one-day domestic death toll from COVID-19. Per collected data, deaths for the day as of the time of writing came to 1,690, with several high-infection states yet to report.

Here are the day’s results:

  • Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJIA): -26.13, -0.12%
  • S&P 500: -4.27, -0.116%
  • Nasdaq Composite: -25.98, -0.33%

Shares of SaaS and cloud companies dropped more sharply, with the Bessemer cloud index falling 1.88% on the day. Oil also fell, with WTI crude dropping more than 7% as of the time of writing.

Are you a bit sandblasted by all the volatility? Let’s update you on how the major indices have performed since their recent highs:

  • DJIA change from 52 week highs: -23.4%
  • S&P 500 change from 52 week highs: -21.63%
  • Nasdaq Composite change from 52 week highs: -19.83%

And for good measure, the Bessemer cloud index is off 24.09% from recent highs. So everything is in bear market territory at the moment — even after Monday’s huge gains — except for the Nasdaq Composite, which remains merely in deep correction. Not great news for anyone with a 401k balance, but the numbers were worse on Friday.

Today the market tried to go up again and failed. Let’s see what tomorrow’s COVID-19 data shows us. It just may drive the markets yet again.


New email service, OnMail, will let recipients control who can send them mail

7 avril, par Sarah Perez[ —]

A number of startups over the years have promised to re-invent email only to have fallen short. Even Google’s radical re-imagining, the Inbox app, finally closed up shop last year. Today, another company is announcing its plans to build a better inbox. Edison Software is preparing to launch OnMail, a new email service that lets you control who enters your inbox. This is handled through a new blocking feature called Permission Control. The service is also introducing a number of other enhancements, like automatic read receipt and tracker blocking, large attachment support, fast delivery, and more.

Edison is already home to the popular third-party email app, Edison Mail.

Edison Mail is designed to work with your existing email, like your Gmail, Yahoo, Microsoft, or iCloud email, for example, among others. OnMail, however, is a new email service where users will be assigned their own email account at @onmail.com when the product debuts later this summer.

At launch, the web version of OnMail will work in a number of browsers. It will also work in the existing Edison Mail apps for Mac, iOS, and Android.

 

The biggest idea behind OnMail is to create a better spam and blocking system.

Though Gmail, Outlook.com, and others today do a fairly decent job at automatically filtering out obvious spam and phishing attempts, our inboxes still remain clogged with invasive messages — newsletters, promotions, shopping catalogs, and so on. We may have even signed up for these at some point. We may have even tried to unsubscribe, but can’t get the messages to stop.

In other cases, there are people with our email address who we’d rather cut off.

The last time Gmail took on this “clogged inbox” problem was in 2013 when it unveiled a redesigned inbox that separated promotions, updates, and emails from your social media sites into separate tabs. OnMail’s premise is that we should be able to just ban these emails entirely from our inbox, not just relocate them.

OnMail’s “Permission Control” feature allows users to accept or decline a specific email address from being able to place mail in your inbox. This is a stronger feature than Edison Mail’s “Block Sender” or “Unsubscribe” as a declined sender’s future emails will never hit your inbox — well, at least not in a way that’s visible to you.

In technical terms, declined senders are being routed to a folder called “Blocked.” But this folder isn’t displayed anywhere in the user interface. The blocked emails won’t get pulled up in Search, either. It really feels like the unwanted mail is gone. This is all done without any notification to the sender — whether that’s a human or an automated mailing list.

If you ever want to receive emails from the blocked senders again, the only way to do so will be by reviewing a list of those senders you’ve banned from within your Contacts section and make the change. You can’t just dig into a spam folder to resurface them.

In another update that puts the needs of the receiver above those of the sender, OnMail will remove all information sent from any invisible tracking pixels.

Today, most savvy email users know to disable images in their Gmail or other mail apps that allow it, so their email opens are not tracked. But OnMail promises to remove this tracking without the need to disable the images.

“We view pixel tracking as this horrific invasion of privacy and this is why we block all read receipts,” noted Edison Co-Founder and CEO, Mikael Berner. “The sender will never know that you opened their email,” he says.

Other promised features include an improved Search experience with easy filtering tools, support for large attachments, enhanced speed of delivery, and more.

Edison says it’s been working to develop OnMail for over two years, after realizing how broken email remains.

Today, U.S. adults still spend over 5 hours per day in our inboxes and feel like they’ve lost control. Tracking pixels and targeted ads are now common to the email experience. And searching for anything specific requires complicated syntax. (Google only recently addressed this too, by adding filters to Gmail search — but just for G Suite users for now.)

It may be hard for people who have set up shop for 10 or 20 years in the same inbox to make a switch. But there’s always a new generation of email users to target — just like Gmail once did.

And now that Gmail has won the market with over 1.5 billion active users, its innovations have slowed. Every now and then Gmail throws a bone — as with 2018’s debut of Smart Compose, for example — but it largely considered the email problem solved. A little fresh competition is just the thing it needs.

“We’ve invested years as a company working to bring back happiness to the inbox,” said Berner, in a statement. “OnMail is built from the ground up to change mail. Nobody should fear giving out their address or have to create multiple accounts to escape an overcrowded mailbox,” he said.

OnMail’s premise sounds interesting. However, its software is not yet live so none of its claims can be tested at this time. But based on Edison’s history with its Edison Mail app, it has a good handle on design and understanding what features email users need.

Currently, OnMail is open only to sign-ups for those who want to claim their spot on its platform first. Like Gmail once did, OnMail will send out invites when the service becomes available.

 


PlayStation 5’s new DualSense controller is a sleek and futuristic gaming accessory

7 avril, par Darrell Etherington[ —]

Sony has revealed the design of the PlayStation 5‘s controller — a follow-on to its popular DualShock line that takes on a new name for a new generation: DualSense.

The DualSense controller is kitted out in black and white, and in some ways looks like a futuristic, plastic armor-plated robot companion more than a gamepad. It’s still recognizably a product of the DualShock legacy, however, and has the same familiar button layout as previous PlayStation controllers. The DualSense incorporates haptic feedback, however, for what Sony says will be a heightened sense of immersion in gaming.

Haptic feedback should be an improvement over the relatively general and non-specific rumble vibration of current generation controllers, and Sony has also added more tactile response thanks to new L2 and R2 “adaptive triggers” that provide different kinds of tension response when performing in-game actions, like “drawing a bow to shoot an arrow,” the company says.

The resulting physical design is a bit chunkier than the DualShock 4, with more room needed inside the case for that adaptive trigger tech. Still, Sony said that it has redesigned the component angles to produce a controller that feels a lot lighter in the hand than it looks.

This controller also does away with the dedicated “Share” button, but replaces it with a “Create” button that sounds like it should offer similar features and much more, though Sony isn’t yet ready to tip its hand as to exactly what that entails, and promises more details to follow.

[gallery ids="1971611,1971613,1971609"]

Meanwhile, there’s a new built-in mic array for voice chat without any headset required — though it sounds like this is intended primarily as a “you have it in case you need it” feature than a dedicated input, since Sony is still advocating use of a headset for longer play sessions.

From a pure looks perspective, Sony clearly decided it wanted to go a bit more bold than its standard all-black look for the first version of a new controller it ships with a console. The two-tone, Stormtrooper palette is complemented by a new light bar that lines both sides of the central touchpad.

Personally, I love this look — and the USB-C port that you can spy at the top of the controller for charging. I don’t even know if I’m all that interested in a new generation of console, but the controller alone might convince me to upgrade.


Away, the high-flying travel brand, just furloughed half its employees and laid off 10%

7 avril, par Connie Loizos[ —]

Pretty much everyone is getting socked by the Covid-19 shutdown. Among the latest to say so in a public way is Away, the trendy, five-year-old, New York-based travel brand that has raised roughly $180 million from investors over the years, including a $100 million round last year that pegged the company’s valuation at $1.4 billion — nearly three times where it was valued a year earlier.

With travel down nearly 100 percent as the coronavirus makes its way across the U.S. and world, the company has seen sales of its product fall off a cliff, say company founders Steph Korey and Jen Rubio in a new Medium post. Specifically, they disclosed today, sales of their luggage, bags, and interior organizers have fallen by more than 90 percent over the past few weeks.

The company, which began as a direct-to-consumer brand, first took steps to reduce its burn rate by shuttering its now ten retail stores, while paying its retail teams “during what we hoped would be short-term closures.”

Unsurprisingly, given that human capital is typically a company’s biggest cost center, that strategy didn’t go far enough, so the company is having to furlough “about half” of its team and it’s laying off another 10%, it says.

“This was a devastating decision and one we considered only as a last resort,” say Korey and Rubio in their post. “The pride we once had in the creation of so many opportunities for people is now fear, frustration, and concern for a large number of people who didn’t deserve this outcome. Many of these are people we personally hired, and many more are friends.”

The founders are also suspending their own salaries, they add, and they say senior leadership at the company has agreed to reduced salaries.

Away is doing this exactly the right way, by the way. Rubio and Korey say those laid off will receive a minimum of eight weeks of severance and will see their healthcare coverage through the end of June.

The company says it has also waived the vesting cliff on equity and extended the exercise period of stock options so affected employees don’t have to make decisions surrounding their equity while they’re frantically figuring out next steps for themselves.

They also note that owing to government assistance, its furloughed employees — many of whom work in customer support — should continue to receive 100% of their wages and benefits until they can resume work full time.

Away was described by some former employees as having a toxic culture in The Verge late last year, owing in part to CEO Korey’s management style. Soon after, Korey apologized and stepped aside, but weeks later she announced through the New York Times that, on second thought, she wasn’t going to give up her role at the company, a position she currently shares with Stuart Haselden, who agreed to join the company from Lululemon Athletica when Korey first stepped away.

Whether the two continue to share this role is another question and one that presumably depends on how long the current downturn lasts.

In the meantime, Away is smart to do everything in its power for employees whom it can no longer pay — and to get ahead of employee leaks about the layoffs by posting the news itself to Medium.

It’s not the first company to do so, of course. Last week, as one example, the CEO of the personalized stationery startup Minted, Mariam Naficy, also posted on Medium her letter to employees about layoffs at the company and precisely what former staffers could expect in the way of severance. You can see many others adopting the same playbook as the situation wears on.

They should. In both cases, the founders came across as savvy and compassionate on the whole. Their handling of a bad situation also stands in stark contrast to how some other startups have handled layoffs — and how they will be remembered for it when all is said and done.


Netflix now lets you lock your personal profile with a PIN to keep kids (and roommates) out

7 avril, par Greg Kumparak[ —]

Want to let your kids poke around Netflix without them wandering their way beyond the kids section? Got a roommate who keeps inexplicably forgetting to use their profile and is totally screwing up your “Continue Watching” list?

Good news! Netflix is now letting users set a PIN to keep individual profiles locked down.

The new feature comes as part of a wider update this morning focusing on improved parental controls.

Other new features include:

  • Filtering titles based on their maturity rating in your country. Useful if you want someone to have access to more than just the kids section while still blocking off anything beyond, say, PG-13.
  • Disabling auto-play on a kid profile to make Octonaut marathons a bit more… intentional.
  • Blocking specific titles by name. Need a break from Boss Baby? Maybe add it to the list for a while.

It’s all pretty basic stuff… but with more people working from home with kids in tow right now, it’s a good time for all of it to land.

Looking for the new controls? Visit Netflix.com in a browser, make sure you’re toggled into a non-kid profile, tap the dropdown arrow in the upper right, hit “Account”, then look for the “Profile & Parental Controls” section — everything should be nested in there, with individual settings for each profile on your account.


Nuro gets OK to test its driverless delivery vehicles on California public roads

7 avril, par Kirsten Korosec[ —]

Autonomous delivery startup Nuro has been granted a permit to begin driverless testing on California’s public roads, paving the way for the company to roll out commercial operations throughout the state.

Nuro, which raised $940 million from SoftBank Vision Fund last year, is allowed to put two of its low-speed electric R2 delivery vehicles on public roads in parts of Santa Clara and San Mateo counties, according to the California Department of Motor Vehicles, the agency that regulates autonomous vehicle testing in the state.

The driverless permit allows the vehicles to operate at a maximum speed of 25 mph and only in fair weather conditions on streets with a speed limit of no more than 35 mph, the DMV said Tuesday. The permit covers nine cities, including Atherton, East Palo Alto, Los Altos Hills, Los Altos, Menlo Park, Mountain View, Palo Alto, Sunnyvale and Woodside.

“The safety of the motoring public is the DMV’s top priority, and we do not give out these permits lightly,” DMV Director Steve Gordon said in statement. “Nuro has met the DMV’s requirements to receive this permit to test their driverless delivery vehicles on California’s public roads.”

Nuro won’t start its driverless testing right away due to stay-at-home orders issued by Gov. Gavin Newsom because of the spreading COVID-19 pandemic. The company will be actively engaging in logistical planning for the day public roads testing can begin, Nuro’s chief legal and policy officer David Estrada said in a blog post Tuesday. “Our hope is that residents of neighboring cities and counties will see R2 on the road soon,” he said.

A path to commercialization

While 65 companies have an active permit to test autonomous vehicles with a human safety driver, Waymo, and now Nuro, are the only companies allowed to operate driverless vehicles on California’s public roads.

Nuro might end up being the first company to actually use it. Waymo, the former Google self-driving project that spun out to become a business under Alphabet, received the first permit in October 2018. However, the company has never conducted driverless testing on public roads there. Instead, Waymo has focused its efforts on Arizona, where it already operates a robotaxi service called Waymo One and it has a clearer commercial path.

In California, the commercial path is muddled for most AV developers. Under state law, the DMV regulates autonomous vehicle testing. If a company wants to transport passengers — essentially operating a ride-hailing service — it must get an Autonomous Vehicle Passenger Service pilot permit from the California Public Utilities Commission.

The CPUC lets companies use their self-driving vehicles to transport people. However, they can’t charge for rides and the vehicles must have safety drivers behind the wheel.

Nuro’s R2 vehicle isn’t designed for people, only packages. While the company can’t charge a delivery fee, it can generate revenue by working with local retailers to launch a commercial delivery business using the autonomous vehicles.

Nuro will start with free deliveries to select customers in Mountain View and the surrounding area, Estrada said, adding that this will allow a formal delivery service in partnership with local brands and retailers.

The company already has its eyes on a statewide delivery service. Estrada said Nuro will apply for a full commercial deployment permit to bring its services to California residents throughout the state.

“Putting our driverless R2 delivery vehicles on the road will be an important first for our company and the self-driving industry. But it is just a glimmer of what is to come,” Estrada said. “We have always believed in the transformative power of autonomous vehicles, and in the climate of COVID-19 we understand their potential even more deeply.”

Nuro’s R2 unit

Image Credits:

Nuro was founded in June 2016 by Google alums Dave Ferguson and Jiajun Zhu. The company was issued an AV testing permit — with a human safety operator — in 2017. Initially, the company used modified Toyota Prius sedans for testing as well as for pilot grocery deliveries in Arizona and Texas.

The company transitioned in December 2018 to the R1, the first step towards a vehicle designed exclusively for packages.

It’s second-generation vehicle called the R2 was introduced in February 2020. The R2, which was designed and assembled in the U.S. in partnership with Michigan-based Roush Enterprises, is equipped with lidar, radar and cameras to give the “driver” a 360-degree view of its surroundings. However, it is missing a few features typically required by the U.S. Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

After three years of working with regulators, Nuro received a driverless exemption from NHTSA for its R2 vehicle. The exemption allows the vehicle to operate even though it doesn’t have side-view mirrors, a windshield and a rear-view camera that shuts off when driving forward.

This exemption is different from the one that GM is currently pursuing for its self-driving unit Cruise. That vehicle, which is not considered a low-speed vehicle, has a much longer list of exemptions.


SpaceX and NASA test the system Crew Dragon staff would use to exit the launch area in an emergency

7 avril, par Darrell Etherington[ —]

On Friday, April 3, 2020, NASA and SpaceX completed an end-to-end demonstration of the teams’ ability to safely evacuate crew members from the Fixed Service Structure during an emergency situation at Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

SpaceX and NASA are in the process of final preparations prior to launching their first crewed spaceflight mission — Demo-2, which is technically still a demonstration mission needed to validate SpaceX’s Crew Dragon for transporting humans during regular flight. Astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley will be on board the historic flight, which will see SpaceX’s vehicle fly them to the International Space Station for the very first time.

One preparatory step for that launch happened on April 3, with a full run-through of the emergency egress system that will be in place during Demo-2 launch day to ensure that astronauts and ground crew can all quickly and safely get clear of the launchpad in case anything goes wrong. It’s highly unlikely that the system will actually be used, but safety is the name of the game in human spaceflight, and so NASA and SpaceX conducted a full demonstration with crew and support staff at Kennedy Space Center in Florida to prove that everything works as intended.

As you can see in the video above, the system includes essentially loading crew from the launch tower into what amounts to a biplane system, with baskets they ride in to reach armored vehicles at ground level. They’re loaded into those, which are technically called Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles (explosion-resistant, naturally), and then those take them to a safe distance.

Part of the demonstration exercise included simulating crew injuries among the support staff, with other team members having to locate them and carry them to the baskets for evacuation. Everything seems to have gone to plan, and this means that May window for this groundbreaking SpaceX mission is looking more solid than ever.


Dear Sophie: Is unemployment considered a public benefit?

7 avril, par Walter Thompson[ —]

Here’s another edition of “Dear Sophie,” the advice column that answers immigration-related questions about working at technology companies.

“Your questions are vital to the spread of knowledge that allows people all over the world to rise above borders and pursue their dreams,” says Sophie Alcorn, a Silicon Valley immigration attorney. “Whether you’re in people ops, a founder or seeking a job in Silicon Valley, I would love to answer your questions in my next column.”

“Dear Sophie” columns are accessible for Extra Crunch subscribers; use promo code ALCORN to purchase a one or two-year subscription for 50% off.


Dear Sophie: I have an H-4 visa and work authorization. I currently have a job that’s considered nonessential during the coronavirus emergency. If I get laid off, I would need unemployment assistance while I look for another job.

Would getting unemployment benefits hurt my or my spouse’s green card petition under the new public charge rule?

— Nonessential in NorCal

Dear Nonessential:

Thanks for your timely question. The short answer is no, getting unemployment benefits alone right now won’t jeopardize your or your spouse’s green card. This is because receiving unemployment benefits, getting tested for coronavirus and seeking emergency medical treatment (even if it’s covered by Medicaid) are all exempt from consideration as government benefits under the new public charge rule.

Immigration officials have long had the authority to deny individuals a visa or green card if they are likely to be dependent on public benefits. The new public charge rule, which went into effect on February 24, expands the factors immigration officials will consider. An additional form seeking health and financial information must now be submitted with most visa and green card applications. Immigration officials will use that information to determine whether applicants are or are likely to become dependent on government benefits.

If you have received a public benefit in the past, your application won’t necessarily be denied, but given what’s at stake, it’s important to consult an experienced immigration attorney.

Individuals who will be subjected to the increased scrutiny of the expanded public charge rule are:


Facebook ships an experimental app for couples

7 avril, par Lucas Matney[ —]

Today, Facebook quietly released a new app for couples. Called Tuned, the new release is a multimedia messaging app designed to help significant others communicate.

The app is available for download in the U.S. and Canada, app analytics firm Sensor Tower tells us. Tuned was developed and released by Facebook’s New Product Experimentation (NPE) team. The division is — as the name suggests — very experimental and thus a bit quicker to pull the plug on projects if they don’t show traction.

The Tuned app arrives during a very interesting time for couples. Couples that live together are spending every waking moment in each other’s presence in the midst of quarantine and could probably never have less of a need for an app like this. For couples that don’t live together, there’s more of an appeal, as people are emboldened to build out digital toolsets to stay close with their partners during an unprecedented time.

The app is by all means just a messaging app that’s more focused on pushing updates and stickers to a singular person. Users can also integrate the app with Spotify to share songs, or use dedicated widgets to share how they’re feeling or what they’re up to. The company refers to the app’s feed as “scrapbook-style.”

It’s not integrated with the company’s dating platform, Facebook Dating; in fact, the most interesting quality of the app is the sheer lack of Facebook tie-ins.

For years, Messenger was the testing bed for Facebook’s social curiosities, but Messenger became too important and users weren’t responding positively to constantly seeing nominal changes in an app they frequently used. The issue is Facebook doesn’t have a default experimentation app anymore, and so these NPE team releases kind of force Facebook to get by with less user data and make judgment calls on how fast functionality can develop when starting from a standstill. It’s unclear how successfully this strategy is progressing. NPE Team’s only other release that’s still available, a Pinterest competitor named Hobbi, was released two months ago and has only received one review on the App Store — a one-star review.


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