Daily Crunch: Snapchat says it won’t promote Trump

Snapchat is the latest social media company to take on the president, Fitbit gets approval for its emergency ventilator and we review the new Sonos soundbar.

Here’s your Daily Crunch for June 4, 2020.

1. Snapchat is no longer promoting Trump’s posts

Snap announced that it will not be promoting content from President Donald Trump’s Snapchat account in its Discover tab, following statements from Trump last week on Twitter threatening that protestors could be met with “vicious dogs” and “ominous weapons.”

The move is particularly interesting because social media platforms tend to only discipline popular accounts when they’ve violated the rules on their own platform. In a statement, a Snapchat spokesperson said, “We will not amplify voices who incite racial violence and injustice by giving them free promotion on Discover.”

2. Fitbit gains FDA authorization for its low-cost emergency ventilator

Ventilators like Fitbit’s Flow aren’t designed to replace existing, traditional medical ventilators. Instead, they’re intended as stopgaps, to be used only when that hardware isn’t available in quantities needed to treat patients.

3. The Sonos Arc is an outstanding soundbar, on its own or with friends

Darrell Etherington says the Arc is the company’s best-ever home theater sound device. It’s designed to integrate wirelessly with your Sonos home audio system, as well as accepting audio from your TV or A/V receiver via HDMI Audio Return Channel.

4. Top cybersecurity VCs share how COVID-19 has changed investing

The cybersecurity industry remains largely unscathed. In fact, some cybersecurity businesses are doing better than ever because the industry has emerged as one of the few constants we all need — even during a pandemic. (Extra Crunch membership required.)

5. Amazon reportedly considering $2 billion stake in Indian telecom operator Bharti Airtel

Amazon may follow Facebook’s footsteps in securing a slice of India’s booming telecom market. The e-commerce giant is in early-stage talks to buy a 5% stake worth at least $2 billion in Bharti Airtel, the third-largest telecom operator in India, according to Reuters.

6. Unpacking ZoomInfo’s IPO as the firm starts to trade

What makes ZoomInfo worth $8 billion? Alex Wilhelm looks at the company’s IPO document and tries to make sense of what he calls “a goat rodeo of differing relationships and voting rights and debts.” (Extra Crunch membership required.)

7. Andreessen Horowitz launches $2.2M fund to invest in underserved founders

The Talent x Opportunity fund, which a16z says was in the works for six months, starts with $2.2 million in donations from the firm’s partners. TxO will be invested in a small group of seed-stage startups the first year and expand in size going forward.

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

All Facebook users can now access a tool to port data to Google Photos

Facebook’s photo transfer tool is now available globally half a year on from an initial rollout in Europe, the company said today.

The data portability feature enables users of the social network to directly port a copy of their photos to Google’s eponymous photo storage service via encrypted transfer, rather than needing to download and manually upload photos themselves — thereby reducing the hassle involved with switching to a rival service.

Facebook users can find the option to “Transfer a copy of your photos and videos” under the Your Facebook Information settings menu.

This is the same menu where the company has long enabled users to download a copy of a range of information related to their use of its service (including photos). However there’s little that can be done with that data dump. Whereas the direct photo transfer mechanism shrinks the friction involved in account switching.

Facebook debuted the feature in Ireland at the back end of last year, going on to open it up to more international markets earlier this year and grant access to users in the US and Canada come April.

Now all Facebook users can tap in — though the choice of where you can port your photos remains limited to Google Photos. So it’s not the kind of data portability that’s of any help to startup services (yet).

Facebook has said support for other services is being built out. However this requires collaborating developers to build the necessary adapters for photos APIs. Which in turn depends on wider participation in an underpinning open source effort, called the Data Transfer Project (DTP).

The wider context around the DTP — which kicked off in 2018, backed by a number of tech giants all keen to hitch their wagon to the notion of greasing platform-to-platform data portability — is the fact regulators in the US and Europe are paying closer attention to the deleterious impact of platform power on competition and markets.

Putting some resource into data portability looks like a collective strategy by powerful players to try to manage and fend off antitrust action that might otherwise see dominant empires broken up in the interests of rebalancing digital markets.

If platforms can make a plausible case that their users aren’t locked into their walled gardens because network effects force them to stay but can simply push a button to move their stuff and waltz elsewhere, they will hope to shrink their antitrust risk and water down the case for sweeping reforms of digital regulations.

Europe is certainly looking closely at updating its rulebook to tackle platform power — with legislative proposals wrapping digital services slated before the end of the year.

EU lawmakers are also specifically consulting on whether the bloc needs a new tool in its antitrust arsenal to tackle the problem of tipping markets in the digital sphere — where a dominant player consolidates a market position to such an extent that it becomes difficult to reverse. The proposed new power would enable European antitrust regulators to speed up interventions by letting them impose behavioural and structural remedies without needing to make a finding of infringement first.

Given all that, it would be interesting to know how many Facebook users have actually made use of the photo porting tool in the half-year since it launched to a sub-set of users.

A Facebook spokesman told us he did not have “specific numbers to share at this time” — but claimed it’s seen “many” users making photo transfers via the tool.

“We’ve received some positive feedback from stakeholders who have been giving feedback on the product throughout the rollout,” the spokesman added. “We hope that will continue to increase as more people are aware of the tool and new destinations and data types are added.”

Cowboy releases updated e-bike with new carbon belt

Electric-bike maker Cowboy has released a new iteration of its bike, the Cowboy 3. It’s a relatively small update that should make the experience better for newcomers. The first orders will be delivered at the end of July and the Cowboy 3 is now slightly more expensive at €2,290 or £1,990 ($2,500).

The bike still looks a lot like the Cowboy 2 that I reviewed last year. It has a triangle-shaped aluminum frame with integrated pill-shaped lights. The handlebar is still perfectly straight like on a mountain bike.

Compared to the previous generation, the company has replaced the rubber and fiberglass belt with a carbon belt. It should be good to go for 30,000km.

Like on the previous bike, there are no gears or buttons to control motor assistance. As soon as you start pedaling, motor assistance kicks in automatically.

But the gear ratio has been tweaked on this version. It’s now a bit lower, which means it’ll be easier to start pedaling at a traffic light. It’s going to have an impact on your top speed though as electric-bikes assist you up to a certain speed and you have to rely on your good old feet above that legal limit.

The wheels and tires have been slightly tweaked as well. Instead of off-the-shelf Panaracer tires, Cowboy is now using custom-made tires with a puncture protection layer. Rims are larger as well.

The saddle, hydraulic brakes and brake pads remain unchanged. The Cowboy 3 still features a detachable battery, something that is still missing from VanMoof’s e-bikes and the newly announced Gogoro Eeyo e-bikes.

Overall, the bike weighs 16.9kg. It now comes in three colors — black and two shades of grey.

New and existing Cowboy customers will be able to download a new version of the app with a handful of new features. You’ll be able to turn on auto-unlock to… automatically unlock your bike when you approach without having to open the app on your phone.

With theft detection, users will receive a notification as soon as your bike is moving. There will be a new crash detection feature that notifies an emergency contact and an air quality indicator in the app.

Cowboy releases updated e-bike with new carbon belt

Electric-bike maker Cowboy has released a new iteration of its bike, the Cowboy 3. It’s a relatively small update that should make the experience better for newcomers. The first orders will be delivered at the end of July and the Cowboy 3 is now slightly more expensive at €2,290 or £1,990 ($2,500).

The bike still looks a lot like the Cowboy 2 that I reviewed last year. It has a triangle-shaped aluminum frame with integrated pill-shaped lights. The handlebar is still perfectly straight like on a mountain bike.

Compared to the previous generation, the company has replaced the rubber and fiberglass belt with a carbon belt. It should be good to go for 30,000km.

Like on the previous bike, there are no gears or buttons to control motor assistance. As soon as you start pedaling, motor assistance kicks in automatically.

But the gear ratio has been tweaked on this version. It’s now a bit lower, which means it’ll be easier to start pedaling at a traffic light. It’s going to have an impact on your top speed though as electric-bikes assist you up to a certain speed and you have to rely on your good old feet above that legal limit.

The wheels and tires have been slightly tweaked as well. Instead of off-the-shelf Panaracer tires, Cowboy is now using custom-made tires with a puncture protection layer. Rims are larger as well.

The saddle, hydraulic brakes and brake pads remain unchanged. The Cowboy 3 still features a detachable battery, something that is still missing from VanMoof’s e-bikes and the newly announced Gogoro Eeyo e-bikes.

Overall, the bike weighs 16.9kg. It now comes in three colors — black and two shades of grey.

New and existing Cowboy customers will be able to download a new version of the app with a handful of new features. You’ll be able to turn on auto-unlock to… automatically unlock your bike when you approach without having to open the app on your phone.

With theft detection, users will receive a notification as soon as your bike is moving. There will be a new crash detection feature that notifies an emergency contact and an air quality indicator in the app.

Nielsen finds connected TV viewing remains higher than pre-COVID-19 levels, despite lockdowns lifting

The significant increases in TV watching and streaming services that were seen during the COVID-19 lockdowns in the U.S. may represent the new normal, new data from Nielsen suggests. During the height of the lockdowns, the weekly time spent watching connected TVs grew alongside overall media use, rising by over a billion hours in the passing weeks. But now that government restrictions and shelter-in-place orders are lifting, connected TV usage continues to remain well above pre-COVID-19 normals, the firm has found.

Connected TVs, which include things like smart TVs, internet-connected devices, and even game consoles, allow users to access a variety of entertainment beyond traditional broadcast or cable channels. They also offer access to sources of over-the-top content, streaming apps, games, and other subscription video services. Because of this wealth of content, connected TV usage grew during the pandemic while traditional TV usage in early May still hadn’t grown much over 2019 levels.

As of March 2020, 76% of U.S. homes had at least one connected TV, Nielsen data found. But that doesn’t necessarily correlate to usage. In January 2020, those homes with connected devices streamed a collective 12.5 billion of hours per month.

Shortly after COVID-19 spread in the U.S., that usage grew. The total number of hours spent with the devices was up 81% year-over-year, equating to an increase of nearly 4 billion hours of connected TV use per week.

Specifically, usage of the devices grew in the living room as families spent more time watching together, with “co-viewing,” as it’s called, growing to account for 62.5% of the share of minutes watched in early March to 64.1% by the end of the month.

Outside of the connected TV space, co-viewing across broadcast, cable and syndicated TV also grew by 2 percentage points (from 34% to 36%) from early March to early May.

What’s most notable about the data, however, is that the trend towards increased connected TV viewing isn’t being significantly impacted by the lifting of government lockdowns. Although people have the option to leave their homes and go to more places, they’re still choosing to spend time indoors watching TV.

In the first week of March, connected TV households spent a combined 2.7 billion watching TV. That continued to grow as restrictions went into place, peaking at nearly 4 billion hours during the week of April 6-12, 2020, in the U.S. By early May, however, when stay-at-home orders lifted across numerous states, connected TV usage had only dropped to 3.5 billion hours per week — higher than before the lockdowns began.

It may seem obvious that consumers would be more cautious about venturing out in the world when there’s no vaccine for COVID-19 and reported cases to continue to climb. But this is hard data that points to the potential longer-term impacts the pandemic will have on the way U.S. consumers behave.

“With 49 of the U.S. states now re-open at least partially, the continued high CTV usage is a testament to consumers’ attraction to the variety of options available and the connectivity they have to it,” said Nielsen. “So in this new normal, we see that connected TV and co-viewing are a big part of the new media consumption equation,” the firm said.

 

A new Java-based ransomware targets Windows and Linux

Security researchers have discovered a new kind of ransomware that uses a little-known Java file format to make it more difficult to detect before it detonates its file-encrypting payload.

Consulting giant KPMG’s incident response unit was called in to run the recovery effort at an unnamed European educational institute hit by a ransomware attack. BlackBerry’s security research unit, which partners with KPMG, analyzed the malware and published its findings Thursday.

BlackBerry’s researchers said that a hacker broke into the institute’s network using a remote desktop server connected to the internet, and deployed a persistent backdoor in order to gain easy access to the network after they leave. After a few days of inactivity to prevent detection, the hacker re-enters the network again through the backdoor, disables any running anti-malware service, spreads the ransomware module across the network, and detonates the payload, encrypting each computer’s files and holding them hostage for a ransom.

The researchers said it was the first time they’ve seen a ransomware module compiled into a Java image file format, or JIMAGE. These files contain all the components needed for the code to run — a bit like a Java application — but are rarely scanned by anti-malware engines and can go largely undetected.

BlackBerry named the ransomware ‘Tycoon,” referencing a folder name found in the decompiled code. The researchers said the module had code that allows the ransomware to run on both Windows and Linux computers.

Ransomware operators typically use strong, off-the-shelf encryption algorithms to scramble victims’ files in exchange for a ransom, often demanded in cryptocurrency. For most victims, their only options are to hope they have a backup or pay the ransom. (The FBI has long discouraged victims from paying the ransom.)

But the researchers said there was hope that some victims could recover their encrypted files without paying the ransom. Early versions of the Tycoon ransomware used the same encryption keys to scramble their victims’ files. That means one decryption tool could be used to recover files for multiple victims, the researchers said. But newer versions of Tycoon seem to have fixed this weakness.

BlackBerry’s Eric Milam and Claudiu Teodorescu told TechCrunch that they have observed about a dozen “highly targeted” Tycoon infections in the past six months, suggesting the hackers carefully select their victims, including educational institutions and software houses.

But, as is often the case, the researchers said that the actual number of infections is likely far higher.

Global smartphone shipments set to drop 12% in 2020

Another troubling report for the smartphone industry this week. This time the numbers come from IDC, which puts shipments at an 11.9% year-over-year decline for 2020. The number reflects a steep drop off in Q1, followed by what what will likely be continued struggles for companies to regain footing.

In fact, the report goes on to note that the first quarter’s figures represent the sharpest y-o-y drop in the history of its reporting. That’s bad enough news, right? Well, things aren’t getting too much better for smartphone makers any time soon. The whole of H1 is on track for an 18.2% decline.

The slowed recovered comes courtesy of all of the factors we’ve come to expect at this point in the global pandemic. Supply chain issues have given away to demand problems, as recession has gripped the global economy. Here in the States, some 40 million people have applied for unemployment since the beginning of the crisis. It’s an understatement to say people simply don’t have the expendable income to spend $500-$1,000+ plus on an unnecessary upgrade.

The widespread 5G adoption analysts were expecting would pull the industry out of the doldrums has likely been delayed until 2021. Likely the pandemic will also result in the lowering of 5G handset prices occurring much earlier than they would have otherwise. Meantime, a surprisingly robust market for remote working products like PCs will also continue to have an impact on consumer spending with regards to smartphones.

“There’s no question that challenges lie ahead for the smartphone industry and we believe the economic downturn is going to cause some fluctuation in the vendor and price-tier landscape,” IDC’s Ryan Reith says in a statement. “The surge in consumer spending around devices that are less mobile than smartphones (PCs, monitors, video game consoles, etc.) will undoubtedly take a share of the consumer wallet that would have been put towards smartphone upgrades and 5G.”

Sourcing software provider Keelvar raises $18M from Elephant and Mosaic

It was perhaps not until the COVID-19 pandemic hit the planet that most of us had ever heard or uttered the phrase “supply chain”. But in a global economy that had become drunk and lazy on ‘just in time ordering’ and similar, the threat to supply chains of things like, oh, food, from that pesky virus has become real and visceral. That why automation of ‘the supply chain’ has become such a huge issue. So it’s not a huge surprise that startups aimed at tackling this are suddenly thrust into the limelight.

Step forward, Cork, Ireland-based Keelvar, strategic sourcing software company, which today announces that it has raised $18 million in Series A funding led by Elephant and Mosaic Ventures with participation from Paua Ventures, enabling the company to further expand into enterprise markets.

The investment will support Keelvar’s expansion plans for Europe and the US, amid the rapidly-growing need for supply chain automation solutions, which has been further accelerated by the recent COVID-19 pandemic.

Keelvar provides large enterprises with ‘Advanced Sourcing Optimization’ software and ‘Intelligent Sourcing Automation’ that uses AI to fully automate tactical buying processes.

It competes with Coupa and Jaggaer in terms of all three offering sophisticated eSourcing software. Keelvar says its key competitive advantage is that it provide intelligent bots to autopilot the sourcing projects, thus making the whole process easier, faster and cheaper.

It also currently manages over $90bn in spend annually for enterprises in all major industries. Customers include Siemens, Coca-Cola, Novartis, BMW, and Samsung.

With COVID-19 disrupting supply chains globally, Keelvar expects the demand for automation to further increase.

In a statement Alan Holland, CEO of Keelvar said:”The Future of Work in procurement is changing quickly, with COVID19 acting as a catalyst. We have witnessed an escalation in demand from enterprises seeking intelligent systems to automate complex processes as teams became overburdened with disrupted supply chains. Keelvar has proven that Sourcing Bots can relieve that burden enormously. Now it’s time to hit the accelerator and scale-up.”

Speaking about the investment, Peter Fallon, partner at Elephant noted: “Keelvar’s sourcing optimization and automation software delivers meaningful ROI to enterprise sourcing and procurement organizations globally. We are excited to partner with Alan Holland and the team at Keelvar as the company continues to emerge as a leader in this market.”

Private sector companies alone spend trillions annually buying from third-party suppliers. External sourcing is usually the largest expense category and on average it is 43% of total costs (Bain & Company). The global procurement software market is currently growing at a CAGR of 9.1%, and expected to reach $7.3 billion by 2022 (IDC).

Speaking about the funding, Toby Coppel, co-founder, and partner at Mosaic Ventures said: “Keelvar is a brilliant example of machine learning in action, giving superpower to procurement teams in every large enterprise. With COVID-19 pushing businesses to embrace these new technologies, we’re excited to partner with Keelvar on the next phase of growth.”

Top cybersecurity VCs share how COVID-19 has changed investing

The coronavirus pandemic is, without doubt, the greatest challenge the world has faced in a generation. But the wheels of the world keep turning, albeit slower than during normal times.

But where the world has faced challenges, the cybersecurity industry remains largely unscathed. In fact, some cybersecurity businesses are doing better than ever because cybersecurity has emerged as one of the few constants we all need — even during a pandemic.

The vast majority of the global workforce is (or has been) working from home since the start of the lockdown, and the world had to quickly adjust. Tech companies pushed their technology and services to the cloud. Businesses had to shift from not just securing their office network but also preventing threats against their highly distributed employees working from their own homes. And, hackers are retooling their attacks to be coronavirus themed, making them far more likely to succeed.

All of these things — and more — need security. Or, as one investor told us: “Many of these trends were already underway, but COVID-19 is an accelerant.” That’s helped cybersecurity firms weather the storm of this pandemic.

We spoke to a dozen cybersecurity VCs to hear their thoughts on how COVID-19 has changed the investment landscape:

Here’s what they told us. (Answers have been edited for clarity.)

Ariel Tseitlin, Scale Venture Partners

Security budgets haven’t been affected nearly as much as broader IT spend. We continue to see existing portfolio companies raise follow-on financings, and we continue to meet with companies for new potential investments. The big change in my criteria for new investments is that a company must be able to continue growing in the current environment. We don’t know how long this downturn will last, so I don’t buy into the promise of “as soon as the economy recovers, growth will resume.”

Shardul Shah, Index Ventures

On Microsoft’s last earnings call, chief executive Satya Nadella said: “As COVID-19 impacts every aspect of our work and life, we have seen two years worth of digital transformation in two months.” This acceleration has actually created momentum for a number of cybersecurity businesses, which is why the best companies continue to draw significant interest from investors. I serve on the board of security firm Expel, which raised $50 million in the middle of this crisis.

Top cybersecurity VCs share how COVID-19 has changed investing

The coronavirus pandemic is, without doubt, the greatest challenge the world has faced in a generation. But the wheels of the world keep turning, albeit slower than during normal times.

But where the world has faced challenges, the cybersecurity industry remains largely unscathed. In fact, some cybersecurity businesses are doing better than ever because cybersecurity has emerged as one of the few constants we all need — even during a pandemic.

The vast majority of the global workforce is (or has been) working from home since the start of the lockdown, and the world had to quickly adjust. Tech companies pushed their technology and services to the cloud. Businesses had to shift from not just securing their office network but also preventing threats against their highly distributed employees working from their own homes. And, hackers are retooling their attacks to be coronavirus themed, making them far more likely to succeed.

All of these things — and more — need security. Or, as one investor told us: “Many of these trends were already underway, but COVID-19 is an accelerant.” That’s helped cybersecurity firms weather the storm of this pandemic.

We spoke to a dozen cybersecurity VCs to hear their thoughts on how COVID-19 has changed the investment landscape:

Here’s what they told us. (Answers have been edited for clarity.)

Ariel Tseitlin, Scale Venture Partners

Security budgets haven’t been affected nearly as much as broader IT spend. We continue to see existing portfolio companies raise follow-on financings, and we continue to meet with companies for new potential investments. The big change in my criteria for new investments is that a company must be able to continue growing in the current environment. We don’t know how long this downturn will last, so I don’t buy into the promise of “as soon as the economy recovers, growth will resume.”

Shardul Shah, Index Ventures

On Microsoft’s last earnings call, chief executive Satya Nadella said: “As COVID-19 impacts every aspect of our work and life, we have seen two years worth of digital transformation in two months.” This acceleration has actually created momentum for a number of cybersecurity businesses, which is why the best companies continue to draw significant interest from investors. I serve on the board of security firm Expel, which raised $50 million in the middle of this crisis.