WhatsApp Business, now with 50m MAUs, adds QR codes and catalog sharing

The global COVID-19 health pandemic has raised the stakes for businesses when it comes to using digital channels to connect with customers, and today WhatsApp unveiled its latest tools to help businesses use its platform to do just that.

The Facebook-owned messaging behemoth is expanding the reach and use of QR codes to let customers easily connect with businesses on the platform, providing them also with a series of stickers to kick off “we’re open for business” campaigns; and it’s made it possible for businesses to start sharing WhatsApp-based catalogs — dynamic lists of items that can in turn be ordered by users — as links outside of the WhatsApp platform itself.

The moves come at WhatsApp’s business efforts pass some significant milestones.

WhatsApps’ profile as a formal platform for doing business is growing, albeit slowly. The WhatsApp Business app — used by merchants to interface with customers over WhatsApp and use the platform to market themselves — now has 50 million monthly active users, with its two biggest markets for the service India at over 15 million MAUs and Brazil at over 5 million MAUs. Catalogs specifically has 40 million users.

On the other hand, WhatsApp has hit some stumbling blocks with features it’s tried to put into place to grow those numbers faster and boost usage among businesses.

Specifically, last month WhatsApp launched payments in Brazil, its first market, aimed not just at users sending each other money but merchants selling goods and services over the platform. But just nine days later, Brazilian regulators blocked the service over competition concerns, and it has yet to be restored pending further review. (India, which many had thought would be the first market for payments, is now part of a bigger global roadmap for rolling out payments.)

To put WhatsApp Business app’s usage numbers into some context, WhatsApp itself passed 2 billion users in February of this year. In that regard, hitting 50 million MAUs of the WhatsApp business app in the two years since it’s launched doesn’t sound like a whole lot (and in particular considering that it has competitors like Google offering payment services to merchants). Still, there has always been a lot of informal usage of the app, especially by smaller merchants, and that speaks to monetising potential if they can be lured into more of WhatsApps’ — and Facebook’s — products.

All the more reason that Facebook is expanding other features to make WhatsApp more useful for businesses, and especially smaller businesses — capitalising on a moment when many of them are turning to numerous digital channels (some for the first time ever) like social media, messaging services, websites and third-party delivery platforms to get their products and services out to the masses, in a period when visiting physical storefronts has been severely curtailed because of the health pandemic.

QR codes got a little boost last week from WhatsApp on the consumer side, with the company introducing a way for contacts to swap details for the first time by sharing codes rather than manually entering phone numbers — not unlike Snap Codes and shortcuts for adding contacts created on other social apps. That is now getting the business treatment.

Now, if you need to reach a business for customer support, to ask a question or order something, instead of manually entering a business phone number, you can scan a QR code from a receipt, a business display at the storefront, a product, or even posted on the web, in order to connect with the company. Businesses that are using these can also set up welcome messages to start conversations once they’ve been added by a user. (They will have to use the WhatsApp Business app or the WhatsApp Business API to do this, of course.)

The catalog sharing feature, meanwhile, is an expansion on a feature that the company first launched in November 2019, which will now allow businesses to create and share links to their catalogs to post elsewhere. To be frank, the lack of ability to share catalogs at launch felt like a feature omission, considering that businesses often use multiple channels to market themselves, although it might have been an intentional move: there has long been questions about how tight links are between Facebook and WhatsApp, so slowly introducing features that share and cross-market from the start might be the preferred route for the company.

The idea now will be the those links can now be shared on Facebook, Instagram and other places.

Although all of these services, and WhatsApp Business remain free to use, they continue to lay the groundwork for how Facebook might monetise the features in the future, not least through payments but also through stronger pushes to advertise on Facebook, now with more ways of linking a company’s WhatsApp profile to those ads.

Daily Crunch: Facebook faces blistering civil rights audit

Auditors were not impressed by Facebook’s civil rights work, Tinder tests video chat and a new nasal spray could reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission. Here’s your Daily Crunch for July 8, 2020.

The big story: Facebook faces blistering civil rights audit

The results are out in a multi-year audit of Facebook’s approach to civil rights issues. In recent weeks, as the company has faced an advertiser boycott over some of these same issues, executives have pointed to the audit as a sign that it’s taking civil rights concerns seriously. But the findings aren’t exactly positive.

“While the audit process has been meaningful and has led to some significant improvements in the platform, we have also watched the company make painful decisions over the last nine months with real world consequences that are serious setbacks for civil rights,” wrote former ACLU director Laura W. Murphy and attorneys from law firm Relman Colfax.

Meanwhile, Facebook executives met with the leaders of the boycott yesterday, but it sounds like little progress was made, with Color of Change President Rashad Robinson criticizing the company for “expecting an A for attendance.”

The tech giants

Tinder now testing video chat in select markets, including US — The feature will allow Tinder users to go on virtual dates when both of them opt-in (something that’s probably a lot more appealing during the current pandemic).

Slack snags corporate directory startup Rimeto to up its people search game — With this acquisition, Slack could potentially improve the experience of searching for employees across a company.

Microsoft makes Teams video meetings less tiring with its new Together mode — Instead of presenting all the attendees as little squares, Together mode shows them sitting together in an auditorium. Although it sounds silly, Microsoft says this is actually easier for the brain to process.

Startups, funding and venture capital

Permutive raises $18.5 million to help publishers target ads in a new privacy landscape — Rather than relying on third-party cookies, Permutive uses a publisher’s first-party data to deliver more targeted ads.

Swiftmile raises $5 million round led by Thayer Ventures for micromobility charging stations — Swiftmile makes charging stations for electric bikes and scooters, with 150 stations deployed throughout the United States to date.

Harvard biomedical engineering professor to launch nasal spray that could reduce COVID-19 transmission risk — The product is called FEND, and the startup Sensory Cloud plans to release it in September.

Advice and analysis from Extra Crunch

What India’s TikTok ban means for China — Manish Singh discusses how a recent order from the Indian government is shifting the market in favor of local companies.

As media revenue struggles, subscription startups see growth — It’s not exactly a rosy picture for media startups, but there have been some promising subscription success stories.

Ford’s Bronco relaunch demonstrates the power of nostalgia — Even if you don’t care about the Bronco, this week’s rollout has been a master class in how companies can use nostalgia for marketing.

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

Everything else

Trump’s sudden reversal on student visas will be felt in Silicon Valley — With international students no longer allowed to stay in the U.S. if their universities move their courses entirely online, there could be a big impact on technical talent and innovation.

The tech industry comes to grips with Hong Kong’s national security law — We interviewed a range of players to get a sense of what the new law will mean for internet freedom and entrepreneurship.

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

Tinder now testing video chat in select markets, including U.S.

Tinder announced this morning it will begin to test video chat in its mobile dating app with some members in select worldwide markets, including in the U.S. The feature, which allows Tinder matches to go on “virtual” dates when both opt in, will first be available to users in Virginia, Illinois, Georgia and Colorado in the U.S., as well as in Brazil, Australia, Spain, Italy, France, Vietnam, Indonesia, Korea, Taiwan, Thailand, Peru and Chile, also with some members.

Parent company Match had first promised it would introduce video chat in Tinder as part of its Q1 2020 earnings report and touted the feature as a way Tinder was evolving its business in the face of the coronavirus pandemic. The company had also then detailed the pandemic’s impact on its app, which had slowed Tinder user growth in the quarter as social distancing requirements and government lockdowns went into effect.

Tinder ended Q1 with 6 million subscribers, up from 5.9 million in December 2019 — meaning it only added 100,000 paid subscribers during the quarter. For comparison, in the year-ago quarter it added 384,000 paid users. Tinder’s average revenue per user (ARPU) also grew just 2%, mainly due to purchases of à la carte features, not subscriptions.

Tinder says it had tested video at various times before the COVID-19 outbreak, but said it never saw significant adoption. The pandemic has changed things, however. Today, Tinder allows users to search for matches worldwide through its Passport feature, making its dating app more of a social network. Meanwhile, Tinder users who do want to date now feel almost forced to use video for their early interactions instead of going on briefer “getting to know you” coffee or drink dates, as before.

Without a video option in the app, these users often turned to third-party apps like Snapchat or other video chat apps for these early connections. Meanwhile, daters who prioritized a video option may have even made the switch to rival Bumble, which has offered video for a year. Facebook also recently said it would add video for its Facebook Dating users, as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, forcing Tinder’s hand.

Image Credits: Tinder

The new feature itself is simple to use. Once two people have matched and are chatting in the app, they can indicate they’re ready to move to a video session by tapping the new video icon. The clever part is that the feature itself isn’t enabled until both matches opt in. The company notes that Tinder users won’t be informed if a match toggles on the video chat feature. The idea is to wait until the discussion comes up naturally, as it often does in a text-based chat.

When both users have toggled on video chat, they have to agree to ground rules before the chat begins. Tinder says calls should remain “PG,” with no nudity or sexual content. The chats are also supposed to stay “clean,” meaning no harassment, hate speech, violence or other illegal activities. Users also agree calls will need to be age-appropriate, meaning without minors involved.

The feature, which Tinder calls “Face to Face,” is enabled on a match-by-match basis, not universally for all matches.

How exactly Tinder plans to properly moderate what appears to be a fantastic new solicitation platform remains less clear. In addition, Tinder’s move to embrace video means it could be putting sex offenders in front of the camera. As an investigative report last year from ProPublica found, most of the Match-owned dating apps, including Tinder, were not screening for sexual predators.

For now, Tinder says users are asked to review the call when it wraps.

In a pop-up, users who finish a video call will be asked whether they would go Face to Face again. Here, they’ll also have the option to report the user, if needed. These sorts of retroactive rating systems don’t do much for anyone who feels unsafe in the moment, of course, and it’s not clear to what extent Tinder will step in to police calls in progress.

Asked for specifics, Tinder declined to share. (In an earlier report, Tinder CEO Elie Seidman suggested Tinder would use machine learning models to monitor chats.)

Also unclear is to what extent Tinder would step into to stop what may otherwise be consensual sexual activity, including of the paid variety.

Tinder doesn’t seem worried about these off-brand use cases for video chat, however. It says it recently surveyed around 5,000 members in the U.S. and around half of them have already had video dates with a match off its platform over the past month, indicating a willingness to try video for online dating. In addition, 40% of Gen Z members said they wanted to keep using video as an initial step before agreeing to meet in real life, even when places like restaurants and bars were re-opened.

“Connecting face-to-face is more important than ever, and our video chat feature represents a new way for people to get to know one another in-app no matter their physical distance,” said Rory Kozoll, head of Trust and Safety Products at Tinder, in a statement about the launch. “Face to Face prioritizes control to help our members feel more comfortable taking this next step in chats if and when it feels right for them. We’ve built a solid foundation, and look forward to learning from this test over the coming weeks,” Kozoll added.

The feature is launching in testing only starting today, in select markets.

Facebook expands Instagram Reels to India

As scores of startups look to cash in on the content void that ban on TikTok and other Chinese apps has created in India, a big challenger is ready to try its own hand.

Instagram said on Wednesday it is rolling out Reels — a feature that allows users to create short-form videos set to music or other audio — to a “broad” user base in India.

Video is already a popular way how many Indians engage on Instagram. “Videos make up over a third of all posts in India,” said Ajit Mohan, the head of Facebook India, in a call with reporters Wednesday.

So a broad test of Reels, which is also currently being tested in Brazil, France, and Germany, in India was only natural, he said, dismissing the characterization that the new feature’s ability had anything to do with a recent New Delhi order.

India banned 59 apps and services developed by Chinese firms citing privacy and security concerns last week. Among the apps that have been blocked in the country includes TikTok, ByteDance’s app that has offered a similar functionality as Reels for years.

TikTok identified India as its biggest market outside of China. Late last year, TikTok said it had amassed over 200 million users in the country, and the firm was looking to expand that figure to at least 300 million this year.

In the event of TikTok’s absence, a number of startups including Twitter-backed Sharechat, Chingari, and Mitro have ramped up their efforts and have claimed to court tens of millions of users. Sharechat said it had doubled its daily active users in a matter of days to more than 25 million.

Gaana, a music streaming service owned by Indian conglomerate Times Internet, rolled out HotShots to showcase user generated videos. Gaana had more than 150 million monthly active users as of earlier this year.

But Instagram, which has already attracted tens of thousands of influencers in India, is perhaps best positioned to take on TikTok in the world’s second largest internet market. Instagram had about 165 million monthly active users last month, up from 110 million in June last year, according to mobile insights firm App Annie, data of which an industry executive shared with TechCrunch. Mohan declined to comment on Instagram’s user base in India.

Mohan said he is hopeful that Instagram Reels would enable several content creators in India to gain followers globally.

In the run up to the launch of Reels, Facebook has secured deals with several Indian music labels including Saregama in India.

More to follow…

Blavity has a big opportunity with Black millennials, despite struggling to fit the VC formula

Black Lives Matter may be the largest movement in U.S. history, according to four different polls cited recently by the New York Times that suggest anywhere from 15 million to 26 million people in the U.S. have participated in demonstrations over the death of George Floyd and others since Floyd’s death in late May.

Blavity, a six-year-old, L.A.-based media company that’s focused on Black culture, could hardly be better positioned to help outraged Americans better understand what’s really been going on. Blavity founder Morgan DeBaun says the outfit receives at least a handful of videos each week that feature egregious acts against Black Americans, and the same has been true since DeBaun, working at the time at Intuit, founded the company in 2014 after unarmed, 18-year-old Michael Brown was gunned down by a police office in her native Missouri.

Blavity tells the stories that the mainstream media has largely been missing, but that’s only part of the story. The company has also become a go-to destination for a growing number of Black millennials interested in fresh takes on culture and politics; in Black Hollywood and travel (via two other properties it runs); and in its sizable networking events, one of which attracted 10,000 people last year.

Last week, we talked with DeBaun about Blavity — which has raised a comparatively conservative $11 million to date, including from GV, Comcast Ventures, and Plexo Capital — to learn more about how the company seizes this moment, and whether investors see the opportunity. Our chat has been edited for length and clarity (you can hear the full discussion here).

TC: You started Blavity in part to address a need you were feeling to connect with others after Michael Brown’s death. What were you reading at the time?

MD: The unfortunate answer is I wasn’t reading anything. I hadn’t really felt the need to stay connected to local or regional or Black issues until I moved out of my community and found myself wondering [from California], what is going on.

Historically in the Black community, we’ve had our own networks and platforms and brands: the African American newspapers in various cities, Essence, Jet, Ebony, and more recently, The Root. [But] a significant amount of media publications are still focused on entertainment and Hollywood and not necessarily on news. And so there was a huge gap of information that I felt wanting to understand.

This was before Twitter really became a source of information and truth for so many people, so there was a gap of information from what I saw happening on the ground in St. Louis and in text messages and as part of an email list with friends who were on the ground, and what I saw in the mainstream media. And to me, that was a huge miss, because we needed to be connected at that point more than ever so we could help impact change.

TC: There’s a lot of social injustice covered by Blavity. Two of the most popular stories on the site as we speak are about Sacramento police officer who placed a plastic bag on a 12-year-old’s head, and a cop who was arrested and charged after tasing a pregnant woman on her stomach. Are these stories central to making Blavity a resource to its readers?

MD: We tend to be a reflection of the pulse of the reality and the Black experience, and we do share stories and news that people might not find other places. I get the question more recently about: Does this time feel different? Are we covering different things? And unfortunately, the answer is that we’ve been covering these stories weekly since Michael Brown happened. It’s been a critical part of our publication and ethos to ensure that we’re sharing the stories of our community and bringing light to the injustices that are happening.

We also share joy and happiness and celebrations and moments of great accomplishments and local stories of heroes. But certainly right now, we’re making sure that we’re doing our diligence and covering the stories that are very important for this moment in time.

TC: You recently told Forbes that advertisers and marketers do not want to spend money next to Black death and violence. You have to cover these stories because it’s core to what you do, but it’s a double-edged sword for you, it sounds like.

MD: Blavity as an organization has five different brands. So we have a diversified revenue stream where we don’t just rely on display advertising against our news business, because if we did, we would wind up very much similar to what we’ve seen happen [to other struggling media companies]. There was a time when our Facebook page was even blocked because [stories] have gotten flagged as being too violent. And it’s like, well yeah, violence against Black bodies is real. It’s the truth; it’s real news.

So we do have this weird kind of balance that we strike in terms of really making sure that we’re telling the truth and that we are pushing back against our clients, our advertisers, and even Facebook to ensure that Blavity can continue to distribute content. But overall, the news business isn’t our highest revenue-generating business. It’s our conference business and our display ads business across all of our brands, some of which are lifestyle brands.

We also have an ad network that we don’t advertise publicly much, but essentially, we run ads and sales operations for other publishers of color who maybe don’t have the scale to necessarily have their own sales team and ad tech and engineers and things of that nature. We’re fighting for deals against a Vice or a Refinery 29 that also have ad networks, so we wanted to make sure that we could also win those deals and we needed that huge inventory and [that business has] allowed us the flexibility to reinvest [in the rest of the business].

TC: I understand that you’re also starting a paid-for membership-only professional network.

MD: We have an exciting announcement that’ll come out in a few weeks about a new platform that will specifically be a place for young Black professionals to come together to have discussions to learn; to get jobs, because that’s one of our core competencies through [our conference business]; but most importantly, to have discussions around the issues and topics that are trending and that matter. We already do daily conversations through Facebook Live and YouTube and Instagram Live. So we’re trying to build a place where we can have a more private space for those conversations that feels safe and also is a place where people can connect on a deeper level.

TC: Have you noticed a real change in Silicon Valley in the last month or so among investors? Are you seeing interest from firms that previously hadn’t reached out to you?

MD: There are a lot of VCs that perhaps are paying attention, but the bias is so deep that I don’t even think they know how to get out. It.

Have I seen more requests for conversations? Yes. Do I think that that’s going to result in more investments and wires and checks? No. I’m very skeptical of this kind of like performative ‘we care’ flag. The most important metric of success for VCs are returns on their investments. [Venture money] is not a donation; it’s not charity. [VCs look for companies that] meet the metrics of success. And my metrics may be different because I’ve been chronically underfunded despite how much we’ve done.

TC: Can you elaborate?

I think the argument that [later-stage] investors make is, ‘Well, there are just not that many Series A Series B companies to invest in. [But] there are enough companies to invest in, that have your revenue criteria and your goal criteria in terms of a potential exit, but that may not call themselves startups. They may look different. And so you need to do more work to go get them.

There are certainly a lot more people raising funds and having really success in terms of raising their first fund, or that are now on their second fund as a result of this [focus on diversity] and that’s very encouraging and that’s really going to help the seed- and early-stage founders.

I wish I was a founder right now who was raising a seed [round], because I could raise $10 million, there’s so much money going around.

TC: It’s incredible that you could be at a disadvantage because you’re now running a real business with multiple properties, particularly given the opportunity ahead. As you’ve mentioned in the past, there will be a majority minority population in this country in 10 years or so. Are you developing products for other communities, including the Afro-Latino community?

MD: We’ve thought a lot about the sub communities that have huge audiences, are growing quickly, but perhaps don’t have a space or a place to connect. And originally, one of our ideas was to build out our tech platform, then change the UI to accommodate all these [ideas] and become a true house with brands that serve people and communities on a niche level — so Gen Z, Black, LGBT,  Afro Latina, for the many Caribbean folks who are in the U.S. and Nigerian Americans; there are so many sub communities within the diaspora.

What we realized is that the overhead and operations of doing that over and over would not be a good idea and that we should figure out how to a build the operations side instead. That’s why we invested in our own ad network, because we can say, ‘Hey, creator in Brooklyn who’s amazing, you have a million monthly unique visitors, which is better than half the publications out there. You don’t have ad sales team. Let’s partner with each other.’ That was the first solution.

The second is this social networking platform that we’ve built. Part of the frustration and tension I felt when I started the company was feeling like there was no one like me. I couldn’t find other Black women who wanted to build a huge company and change the world and do it through tech. There was no one walking around Mountain View who looked like that, and I didn’t know where to go. We want to solve that through technology and through a platform that makes it easy for people to find each other. Hopefully then, once people are more connected, they can build their own companies and come up with their own organizations.

Blavity has a big opportunity with Black millennials, despite struggling to fit the VC formula

Black Lives Matter may be the largest movement in U.S. history, according to four different polls cited recently by the New York Times that suggest anywhere from 15 million to 26 million people in the U.S. have participated in demonstrations over the death of George Floyd and others since Floyd’s death in late May.

Blavity, a six-year-old, L.A.-based media company that’s focused on Black culture, could hardly be better positioned to help outraged Americans better understand what’s really been going on. Blavity founder Morgan DeBaun says the outfit receives at least a handful of videos each week that feature egregious acts against Black Americans, and the same has been true since DeBaun, working at the time at Intuit, founded the company in 2014 after unarmed, 18-year-old Michael Brown was gunned down by a police office in her native Missouri.

Blavity tells the stories that the mainstream media has largely been missing, but that’s only part of the story. The company has also become a go-to destination for a growing number of Black millennials interested in fresh takes on culture and politics; in Black Hollywood and travel (via two other properties it runs); and in its sizable networking events, one of which attracted 10,000 people last year.

Last week, we talked with DeBaun about Blavity — which has raised a comparatively conservative $11 million to date, including from GV, Comcast Ventures, and Plexo Capital — to learn more about how the company seizes this moment, and whether investors see the opportunity. Our chat has been edited for length and clarity (you can hear the full discussion here).

TC: You started Blavity in part to address a need you were feeling to connect with others after Michael Brown’s death. What were you reading at the time?

MD: The unfortunate answer is I wasn’t reading anything. I hadn’t really felt the need to stay connected to local or regional or Black issues until I moved out of my community and found myself wondering [from California], what is going on.

Historically in the Black community, we’ve had our own networks and platforms and brands: the African American newspapers in various cities, Essence, Jet, Ebony, and more recently, The Root. [But] a significant amount of media publications are still focused on entertainment and Hollywood and not necessarily on news. And so there was a huge gap of information that I felt wanting to understand.

This was before Twitter really became a source of information and truth for so many people, so there was a gap of information from what I saw happening on the ground in St. Louis and in text messages and as part of an email list with friends who were on the ground, and what I saw in the mainstream media. And to me, that was a huge miss, because we needed to be connected at that point more than ever so we could help impact change.

TC: There’s a lot of social injustice covered by Blavity. Two of the most popular stories on the site as we speak are about Sacramento police officer who placed a plastic bag on a 12-year-old’s head, and a cop who was arrested and charged after tasing a pregnant woman on her stomach. Are these stories central to making Blavity a resource to its readers?

MD: We tend to be a reflection of the pulse of the reality and the Black experience, and we do share stories and news that people might not find other places. I get the question more recently about: Does this time feel different? Are we covering different things? And unfortunately, the answer is that we’ve been covering these stories weekly since Michael Brown happened. It’s been a critical part of our publication and ethos to ensure that we’re sharing the stories of our community and bringing light to the injustices that are happening.

We also share joy and happiness and celebrations and moments of great accomplishments and local stories of heroes. But certainly right now, we’re making sure that we’re doing our diligence and covering the stories that are very important for this moment in time.

TC: You recently told Forbes that advertisers and marketers do not want to spend money next to Black death and violence. You have to cover these stories because it’s core to what you do, but it’s a double-edged sword for you, it sounds like.

MD: Blavity as an organization has five different brands. So we have a diversified revenue stream where we don’t just rely on display advertising against our news business, because if we did, we would wind up very much similar to what we’ve seen happen [to other struggling media companies]. There was a time when our Facebook page was even blocked because [stories] have gotten flagged as being too violent. And it’s like, well yeah, violence against Black bodies is real. It’s the truth; it’s real news.

So we do have this weird kind of balance that we strike in terms of really making sure that we’re telling the truth and that we are pushing back against our clients, our advertisers, and even Facebook to ensure that Blavity can continue to distribute content. But overall, the news business isn’t our highest revenue-generating business. It’s our conference business and our display ads business across all of our brands, some of which are lifestyle brands.

We also have an ad network that we don’t advertise publicly much, but essentially, we run ads and sales operations for other publishers of color who maybe don’t have the scale to necessarily have their own sales team and ad tech and engineers and things of that nature. We’re fighting for deals against a Vice or a Refinery 29 that also have ad networks, so we wanted to make sure that we could also win those deals and we needed that huge inventory and [that business has] allowed us the flexibility to reinvest [in the rest of the business].

TC: I understand that you’re also starting a paid-for membership-only professional network.

MD: We have an exciting announcement that’ll come out in a few weeks about a new platform that will specifically be a place for young Black professionals to come together to have discussions to learn; to get jobs, because that’s one of our core competencies through [our conference business]; but most importantly, to have discussions around the issues and topics that are trending and that matter. We already do daily conversations through Facebook Live and YouTube and Instagram Live. So we’re trying to build a place where we can have a more private space for those conversations that feels safe and also is a place where people can connect on a deeper level.

TC: Have you noticed a real change in Silicon Valley in the last month or so among investors? Are you seeing interest from firms that previously hadn’t reached out to you?

MD: There are a lot of VCs that perhaps are paying attention, but the bias is so deep that I don’t even think they know how to get out. It.

Have I seen more requests for conversations? Yes. Do I think that that’s going to result in more investments and wires and checks? No. I’m very skeptical of this kind of like performative ‘we care’ flag. The most important metric of success for VCs are returns on their investments. [Venture money] is not a donation; it’s not charity. [VCs look for companies that] meet the metrics of success. And my metrics may be different because I’ve been chronically underfunded despite how much we’ve done.

TC: Can you elaborate?

I think the argument that [later-stage] investors make is, ‘Well, there are just not that many Series A Series B companies to invest in. [But] there are enough companies to invest in, that have your revenue criteria and your goal criteria in terms of a potential exit, but that may not call themselves startups. They may look different. And so you need to do more work to go get them.

There are certainly a lot more people raising funds and having really success in terms of raising their first fund, or that are now on their second fund as a result of this [focus on diversity] and that’s very encouraging and that’s really going to help the seed- and early-stage founders.

I wish I was a founder right now who was raising a seed [round], because I could raise $10 million, there’s so much money going around.

TC: It’s incredible that you could be at a disadvantage because you’re now running a real business with multiple properties, particularly given the opportunity ahead. As you’ve mentioned in the past, there will be a majority minority population in this country in 10 years or so. Are you developing products for other communities, including the Afro-Latino community?

MD: We’ve thought a lot about the sub communities that have huge audiences, are growing quickly, but perhaps don’t have a space or a place to connect. And originally, one of our ideas was to build out our tech platform, then change the UI to accommodate all these [ideas] and become a true house with brands that serve people and communities on a niche level — so Gen Z, Black, LGBT,  Afro Latina, for the many Caribbean folks who are in the U.S. and Nigerian Americans; there are so many sub communities within the diaspora.

What we realized is that the overhead and operations of doing that over and over would not be a good idea and that we should figure out how to a build the operations side instead. That’s why we invested in our own ad network, because we can say, ‘Hey, creator in Brooklyn who’s amazing, you have a million monthly unique visitors, which is better than half the publications out there. You don’t have ad sales team. Let’s partner with each other.’ That was the first solution.

The second is this social networking platform that we’ve built. Part of the frustration and tension I felt when I started the company was feeling like there was no one like me. I couldn’t find other Black women who wanted to build a huge company and change the world and do it through tech. There was no one walking around Mountain View who looked like that, and I didn’t know where to go. We want to solve that through technology and through a platform that makes it easy for people to find each other. Hopefully then, once people are more connected, they can build their own companies and come up with their own organizations.

Facebook boycott leaders say meeting with Zuckerberg, Sandberg was a ‘disappointment’

What began as a relatively small effort by activist organizations to hold Facebook accountable for perceived policy failings has snowballed into a mass corporate backlash—and a rare moment of discomfort for a company that enjoys its status as one of tech’s untouchable giants.

As the #StopHateforProfit campaign continues to attract surprisingly mainstream corporations to its boycott of Facebook advertising, Mark Zuckerberg, Sheryl Sandberg and the newly back-at-Facebook Chief Product Officer Chris Cox sat down with the group on Tuesday. Other members of the policy team and and one more member of Facebook’s product team were also present for the meeting, which lasted a little over an hour.

Following the conversation with Facebook’s uppermost leadership echelon, leaders from four of the organizations spearheading the boycott called the chat an unequivocal disappointment. “Today we saw little and heard just about nothing,” Anti-Defamation League CEO Jonathan Greenblatt said.

Color of Change President Rashad Robinson criticized Facebook for “expecting an A for attendance” for participating in the meeting. Free Press co-CEO Jessica J. González also expressed that she was “deeply disappointed” in the company. NAACP President and CEO Derrick Johnson dismissed the company’s efforts as well, accusing Facebook of being “more interested in dialogue than action.”

The #StopHateforProfit campaign calls for companies to suspend their advertising on Facebook and Instagram for the month of July, citing recent policy choices by the company, including the decision not to touch a post by President Trump threatening racial justice protesters with violence.

The initiative is led by a handful of civil rights groups and other organizations, including the ADL, Color of Change, Sleeping Giants, the NAACP and the tech company Mozilla. The effort attracted surprisingly widespread support, with companies from Coca-Cola and Starbucks to Ford and Verizon agreeing to temporarily suspend their Facebook and Instagram ad budgets, joining a handful of outdoor brands that signed onto the campaign in late June.

The campaign’s goals include a demand that Facebook hire a “C-suite level executive” with civil rights expertise, an audit and refunds for advertisers who unknowingly had their ads run on content later removed for violating the platform’s terms of service and a call for Facebook to identify and shut down both private and public groups centered around “white supremacy, militia, antisemitism, violent conspiracies, Holocaust denialism, vaccine misinformation, and climate denialism.”

The group also critiques Facebook’s incentive structure for content on its platform and how the company’s political relationships, like that with the Trump administration. “Facebook is a company of incredible resources,” the boycott’s organizers wrote. “We hope that they finally understand that society wants them to put more of those resources into doing the hard work of transforming the potential of the largest communication platform in human history into a force for good.”

While the group doesn’t believe that other tech platforms are blameless, it focused efforts on Facebook due to the company’s sheer scale and outsized impact on discourse both on and off the platform. “The size and the scope of it simply has no point of comparison,” Greenblatt said, citing the social network’s 2.6 billion users.

“We’re tired of the dialogue, because the stakes are so incredibly high for our communities,” González said, referring to the pandemic’s disproportionate negative health outcomes for people and color and the ongoing civil rights uprising following the killing of George Floyd. González also mentioned that Facebook profits from political ads “dehumanizing” brown and Black people in the U.S.

In the midst of renewed public scrutiny, Facebook announced last week that it would crack down on so-called “boogaloo” groups inciting anti-government violence, though boogaloo content not linked to violent threats may remain up on the platform. The announcement came the same day that a group of Democratic senators pressed the company on those groups—which it suggests to users via algorithms.

“We come together in the backdrop of George Floyd” Johnson said of the group’s campaign against Facebook, noting that communities are rightfully moving to hold companies to higher standards on issues of race and race-based hate.

“We are simply saying, keep society safe. Keep your employees safe. And help us protect this democracy,” Johnson said.

Decrypted: Police hack criminal phone network; Randori raises $20M Series A

Last week was, for most Americans, a four-day work week. But a lot still happened in the security world.

The U.S. government’s cybersecurity agencies warned of two critical vulnerabilities — one in Palo Alto’s networking tech and the other in F5’s gear — that foreign, nation state-backed hackers will “likely” exploit these flaws to get access to networks, steal data or spread malware. Plus, the FCC formally declared Chinese tech giants Huawei and ZTE as threats to national security.

Here’s more from the week.


THE BIG PICTURE

How police hacked a massive criminal phone network

Last week’s takedown of EncroChat was, according to police, the “biggest and most significant” law enforcement operation against organized criminals in the history of the U.K. EncroChat sold encrypted phones with custom software akin to how BlackBerry phones used to work; you needed one to talk to other device owners.

But the phone network was used almost exclusively by criminals, allowing their illicit activities to be kept secret and go unimpeded: drug deals, violent attacks, corruption — even murders.

That is, until French police hacked into the network, broke the encryption and uncovered millions of messages, according to Vice, which covered the takedown of the network. The circumstances of the case are unique; police have not taken down a network like this before.

But technical details of the case remain under wraps, likely until criminal trials begin, at which point attorneys for the alleged criminals are likely to rest much of their defense on the means — and legality — in which the hack was carried out.

Decrypted: Police hack criminal phone network; Randori raises $20M Series A

Last week was, for most Americans, a four-day work week. But a lot still happened in the security world.

The U.S. government’s cybersecurity agencies warned of two critical vulnerabilities — one in Palo Alto’s networking tech and the other in F5’s gear — that foreign, nation state-backed hackers will “likely” exploit these flaws to get access to networks, steal data or spread malware. Plus, the FCC formally declared Chinese tech giants Huawei and ZTE as threats to national security.

Here’s more from the week.


THE BIG PICTURE

How police hacked a massive criminal phone network

Last week’s takedown of EncroChat was, according to police, the “biggest and most significant” law enforcement operation against organized criminals in the history of the U.K. EncroChat sold encrypted phones with custom software akin to how BlackBerry phones used to work; you needed one to talk to other device owners.

But the phone network was used almost exclusively by criminals, allowing their illicit activities to be kept secret and go unimpeded: drug deals, violent attacks, corruption — even murders.

That is, until French police hacked into the network, broke the encryption and uncovered millions of messages, according to Vice, which covered the takedown of the network. The circumstances of the case are unique; police have not taken down a network like this before.

But technical details of the case remain under wraps, likely until criminal trials begin, at which point attorneys for the alleged criminals are likely to rest much of their defense on the means — and legality — in which the hack was carried out.

Facebook makes education push in India

Facebook, which reaches more users than any other international firm in India, has identified a new area of opportunity to further spread its tentacles in the world’s second largest internet market.

On Sunday, the social juggernaut announced it had partnered with the Central Board of Secondary Education, a government body that oversees education in private and public schools in India, to launch a certified curriculum on digital safety and online well-being, and augmented reality for students and educators.

Through these subjects, Facebook and CBSE aim to prepare secondary school students for current and emerging jobs, and help them develop skills to safely browse the internet, make “well informed choices,” and think about their mental health, they said.

Facebook said that it will provide these training in various phases. In the first phase, more than 10,000 teachers will be trained; in the second, they will coach 30,000 students. The three-week training on AR will cover fundamentals of the nascent technology, and ways to make use of Facebook’s Spark AR Studio to create augmented reality experiences.

“I encourage the teachers and students to apply for the programs commencing on July 6, 2020,” said Ramesh Pokhriyal, Union Minister of Human Resources Development, in a statement.

Instagram’s Guide for Building Healthy Digital Habits, which has been developed in collaboration with the Jed Foundation (JED) and YLAC (Young Leaders for Active Citizenship), aims to help youngsters better understand the “socio-emotional space” they operate in and engage in health conversations.

“I am proud to share that CBSE is the only Board that has introduced the modules of Digital Safety and Online Well-being, Instagram Toolkit for Teens and Augmented Reality. Incorporating technology and digital safety into school curriculum will ensure students are not only gaining knowledge to succeed in the digital economy but also learning and collaborating in a safe online environment,” said Manoj Ahuja, Chairperson of CBSE, in a statement.

The announcement today caps a remarkable week in India that started with New Delhi blocking nearly 60 services developed by Chinese firms over cybersecurity concerns. TikTok, one of the services that has been hit by India’s order, identified Asia’s third-largest economy as its biggest market outside of China.

The service, run by Chinese giant ByteDance, reaches more than 200 million users in India, most of whom live in small towns and cities. TikTok began working with scores of content creators and firms in India last year to populate its short-form video service with educational videos.

Facebook last year partnered with telecom giant Reliance Jio Platforms — in which it would eventually invest $5.7 billion — to launch “Digital Udaan,” the “largest ever digital literacy program” for first-time internet users in the country. The social juggernaut has in recent years ramped up its efforts to create awareness about the ill side of technology as its platform confronted misuse of its own services in the country. India is the biggest market for Facebook by users count.