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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

FitXR wants to turn the VR headset into the next Peloton

Funding for virtual reality startups has grown more sparse over the past couple years, as investors have grappled with extended timelines for mainstream adoption. Meanwhile, connected fitness has exploded, gaining attention amid shelter-in-place as companies like Peloton have seen huge user gains with Mirror recently selling to Lululemon for $500 million.

FitXR wants the virtual reality headset to become the next hot-seller in the connected fitness space.

The startup, which develops the popular VR exercise app BoxVR, tells TechCrunch it has just closed $7.5 million in Series A funding led by Hiro Capital. The funding was structured with $6.3 million in equity investment alongside a $1.2 million loan from Innovate UK, a UK government org. Other investors include Adam Draper’s BoostVC, Maveron and TenOneTen Ventures.

FitXR’s game BoxVR, has become one of the better-known purpose-built exercise apps available for VR devices. The boxing title adopts a Guitar Hero-esque interface influenced by Beat Saber but focuses on more physically-demanding movements like quick uppercuts and jabs. The startup sells the app, which is available in the Oculus Store, PlayStation Store and Steam, for $29.99, with additional content packs going for $9.99.

screenshot of BoxVR, via FitXR

Working out in VR has slowly grown into a common use case for headsets thanks to the physical movement required for some of the more frantic titles. Beat Saber, which Facebook acquired last year for an undisclosed amount, was one of the first titles to fully realize the opportunity. Earlier this year, a16z-backed VR studio Within launched a subscription exercise app called Supernatural. Late last year, SF-based YUR raised $1.1M in pre-seed funding for their VR exercise software.

The virtual reality market has had a lot to gain from shelter-in-place, but supply chain problems with the industry’s top backer, Oculus, left VR studios with plenty of missed opportunities. All of Oculus’s headsets, including their $399 standalone Quest headset, have been sold out or in low-supply since the beginning of the year, a development that has negatively impacted the growth of an industry that is increasingly reliant on Facebook.

VR headset don’t have heart rate monitors or other fitness tracking capabilities, but VR developers do have access to plenty of motion data from how much and how quickly a user’s headset and controllers are moving. FitXR uses this data to calculate calories burned and lets users set personal goals for how many calories they’d like to burn in-app on a daily basis.

For now, FitXR’s products sits solely inside the VR headset, but as the company looks to scale its team of 20 further with this funding, the company’s leadership is teasing an interest in having its world grow beyond the headset.

“We look at our own usage of the product and we don’t think it should be constrained to virtual reality,” FitXR CEO Sam Cole told TechCrunch in an interview. “But I think the sticking point for us is that we believe the most fun way to work out is in a VR headset. And therefore the strong focus from us as a company is to continue to to build and innovate in that space.”

K Fund’s Jaime Novoa discusses early-stage firm’s focus on Spanish startups

Earlier this month, Spanish early-stage venture capital firm K Fund officially launched its second fund, which sits at €70 million, up from €50 million the first time around.

Targeting Spanish startups with an international outlook, the seed-stage firm plans to invest from €200,000 to €2 million, writing first checks in 25-30 companies. Meanwhile, a portion of the fund will also be set aside for follow-on funding for the most promising of its portfolio.

Described as business model- and sector-agnostic, K Fund currently has a mix of B2B and B2C companies in its portfolio across a wide variety of sectors, such as travel, fintech, insurtech and others. They include online travel agency Exoticca, HR software Factorial, insurtech startup Bdeo and Hubtype, a conversational messaging tech provider.

I caught up with K Fund’s Jaime Novoa to delve deeper into the firm’s investment remit, how the Spanish startup and tech ecosystem has developed over the last few years and to learn more about “K Founders,” the VC’s new pre-seed funding program.

TechCrunch: K Fund’s first fund was announced in late 2016 to back startups in Spain with an international outlook at seed and Series A. At €70 million, this second fund is €20 million larger but I gather the remit remains broadly the same. Can you be more specific with regards to cheque size, geography, sector and the types of startups you look for?

Jaime Novoa: We’re both agnostic in terms of business models and industries. Since our focus is, for the most part, Spain, we do not believe that the Spanish market is big enough to build a vertically focused fund, either in terms of business model or sector.

With our first fund we invested in 28 companies, with a slightly larger number of B2B SaaS companies than B2C ones, and across a wide variety of sectors. We do have a bit of exposure to travel and fintech/insurtech, but that’s because we’ve found several interesting companies in those spaces, not because we proactively said, “let’s invest in fintech/travel.”

In terms of check sizes, the core of the fund will be to make the same type of investments as in our first fund: first cheques from €200k to €2m and then sufficient capital for follow-on rounds. We’ll probably do a similar number of deals compared to the previous fund, but we want to have additional capital for follow-on purposes.

K Fund’s Jaime Novoa discusses early-stage firm’s focus on Spanish startups

Earlier this month, Spanish early-stage venture capital firm K Fund officially launched its second fund, which sits at €70 million, up from €50 million the first time around.

Targeting Spanish startups with an international outlook, the seed-stage firm plans to invest from €200,000 to €2 million, writing first checks in 25-30 companies. Meanwhile, a portion of the fund will also be set aside for follow-on funding for the most promising of its portfolio.

Described as business model- and sector-agnostic, K Fund currently has a mix of B2B and B2C companies in its portfolio across a wide variety of sectors, such as travel, fintech, insurtech and others. They include online travel agency Exoticca, HR software Factorial, insurtech startup Bdeo and Hubtype, a conversational messaging tech provider.

I caught up with K Fund’s Jaime Novoa to delve deeper into the firm’s investment remit, how the Spanish startup and tech ecosystem has developed over the last few years and to learn more about “K Founders,” the VC’s new pre-seed funding program.

TechCrunch: K Fund’s first fund was announced in late 2016 to back startups in Spain with an international outlook at seed and Series A. At €70 million, this second fund is €20 million larger but I gather the remit remains broadly the same. Can you be more specific with regards to cheque size, geography, sector and the types of startups you look for?

Jaime Novoa: We’re both agnostic in terms of business models and industries. Since our focus is, for the most part, Spain, we do not believe that the Spanish market is big enough to build a vertically focused fund, either in terms of business model or sector.

With our first fund we invested in 28 companies, with a slightly larger number of B2B SaaS companies than B2C ones, and across a wide variety of sectors. We do have a bit of exposure to travel and fintech/insurtech, but that’s because we’ve found several interesting companies in those spaces, not because we proactively said, “let’s invest in fintech/travel.”

In terms of check sizes, the core of the fund will be to make the same type of investments as in our first fund: first cheques from €200k to €2m and then sufficient capital for follow-on rounds. We’ll probably do a similar number of deals compared to the previous fund, but we want to have additional capital for follow-on purposes.

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.

AR 1.0 is dead: Here’s what it got wrong

The first wave of AR startups offering smart glasses is now over, with a few exceptions.

Google acquired North this week for an undisclosed sum. The Canadian company had raised nearly $200 million, but the release of its Focals 2.0 smart glasses has been cancelled, a bittersweet end for its soft landing.

Many AR startups before North made huge promises and raised huge amounts of capital before flaring out in a similarly dramatic fashion.

The technology was almost there in a lot of cases, but the real issue was that the stakes to beat the major players to market were so high that many entrants pushed out boring, general consumer products. In a race to be everything for everybody, the industry relied on nascent developer platforms to do the dirty work of building their early use cases, which contributed heavily to nonexistent user adoption.

A key error of this batch was thinking that an AR glasses company was hardware-first, when the reality is that the missing value is almost entirely centered on missing first-party software experiences. To succeed, the next generation of consumer AR glasses will have to nail this.

Image Credits: ODG

App ecosystems alone don’t create product-market fit

AR 1.0 is dead: Here’s what it got wrong

The first wave of AR startups offering smart glasses is now over, with a few exceptions.

Google acquired North this week for an undisclosed sum. The Canadian company had raised nearly $200 million, but the release of its Focals 2.0 smart glasses has been cancelled, a bittersweet end for its soft landing.

Many AR startups before North made huge promises and raised huge amounts of capital before flaring out in a similarly dramatic fashion.

The technology was almost there in a lot of cases, but the real issue was that the stakes to beat the major players to market were so high that many entrants pushed out boring, general consumer products. In a race to be everything for everybody, the industry relied on nascent developer platforms to do the dirty work of building their early use cases, which contributed heavily to nonexistent user adoption.

A key error of this batch was thinking that an AR glasses company was hardware-first, when the reality is that the missing value is almost entirely centered on missing first-party software experiences. To succeed, the next generation of consumer AR glasses will have to nail this.

Image Credits: ODG

App ecosystems alone don’t create product-market fit

Daily Crunch: Facebook drops the Oculus Go

Facebook shifts its VR strategy, WhatsApp’s payment service hits a snag in Brazil and we look at how Trump’s visa ban will affect Silicon Valley.

Here’s your Daily Crunch for June 24, 2020.

1. Facebook kills off its cheapest VR headset

Just two years after launching the Oculus Go, Facebook announced that it’s discontinuing the headset — the least powerful and least expensive VR hardware the company sold.

The entry-level product was meant to hook consumers on the idea of VR and convince them to upgrade. Last year, however, Facebook released the $399 Oculus Quest, and it quickly became clear that the Quest was likely the best path forward for Oculus’ consumer ambitions.

2. Brazil suspends WhatsApp’s payments service

Speaking of Facebook, the new payment feature in its popular messaging app has been blocked in its second largest market. Brazil’s central bank said it was making the decision to “preserve an adequate competitive environment” in the mobile payments space and to ensure “functioning of a payment system that’s interchangeable, fast, secure, transparent, open and cheap.”

3. Trump’s worker visa ban will hit Silicon Valley hard

We’ve been regularly featuring immigration lawyer Sophie Alcorn’s column. But for this piece, editor Walter Thompson interviews Alcorn about President Trump’s executive order extending an existing ban on immigrant work visas. (Extra Crunch membership required.)

4. Stacy Brown-Philpot is stepping down as CEO of TaskRabbit

Brown-Philpot joined TaskRabbit seven years ago as the company’s chief operating officer and was promoted to CEO in the spring of 2016. In the fall of 2017, the company was acquired by Ikea for undisclosed terms in a stock deal and has continued to operate independently as a subsidiary of the company.

5. Olympus plans to sell its struggling camera division

After three straight years of operating losses, one of the world’s foremost camera makers is giving up the ghost. Olympus announced its intentions to sell off its imaging unit by the end of September 2020.

6. 11 top VCs discuss the future of New York startups

New York City was an initial U.S. hotspot for the COVID-19 pandemic, and it’s also one of the most expensive cities in the world — so you might think startups would be anxious to leave. However, when we surveyed a number of New York-based venture capitalists, they seemed bullish about the city’s future as a startup and technology hub. (Extra Crunch membership required.)

7. Google updates its analytics tools for newsrooms

Google is introducing version 2.0 of both News Consumer Insights and Realtime Content Insights, while also adding a new feature called the News Tagging Guide. These efforts fall under the umbrella of the broader Google News Initiative, introduced in 2018 as a way for the search giant to fund quality journalism and find other ways to support the industry.

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.

TechCrunch’s top 10 picks from Techstars’ May virtual demo days

A month after TechCrunch watched, discussed and parsed the startups from Techstars’ April batch of virtual demo days, we’re back with the handy May edition.

Over the past few days, TechCrunch has been catching up by watching the shared video pitches from the five presenting demo classes, including the Lisbon demo day, its Seattle batch, the Los Angeles-based music-focused group, the Air Force-sponsored accelerator and the Cox Enterprises Social Impact Accelerator Powered by Techstars .

We’ve also included links to the pitch pages themselves, so you can take a peek and vet the new companies for yourself. The categories are:

  • Social impact
  • Lisbon
  • Seattle
  • Music
  • Air Force

As before, we’re narrowing from a half dozen to around 10 companies in each group; what follows is our completely unscientific opinion.

Social impact

“If you’re going to make a diverse world a better place, it starts with diverse innovators,” said Barry Givens, the managing director of the Cox Enterprises Social Impact Accelerator powered by Techstars, as he kicked off the new accelerator’s first demo day.

Launched in January 2020, the three-month-long program included a company creating supply chain management and distribution services for biomass-to-energy and waste-to-energy businesses; a company trying to create a better process for hiring diverse employees; and a virtual reality company giving kids access to exclusive content and tools to develop their own VR experiences. All of the companies had built interesting, early businesses, but our favorites were those providing college students with access and listings of available resources and a company that’s created an app for teaching math through music:

TechCrunch’s top 10 picks from Techstars’ May virtual demo days

A month after TechCrunch watched, discussed and parsed the startups from Techstars’ April batch of virtual demo days, we’re back with the handy May edition.

Over the past few days, TechCrunch has been catching up by watching the shared video pitches from the five presenting demo classes, including the Lisbon demo day, its Seattle batch, the Los Angeles-based music-focused group, the Air Force-sponsored accelerator and the Cox Enterprises Social Impact Accelerator Powered by Techstars .

We’ve also included links to the pitch pages themselves, so you can take a peek and vet the new companies for yourself. The categories are:

  • Social impact
  • Lisbon
  • Seattle
  • Music
  • Air Force

As before, we’re narrowing from a half dozen to around 10 companies in each group; what follows is our completely unscientific opinion.

Social impact

“If you’re going to make a diverse world a better place, it starts with diverse innovators,” said Barry Givens, the managing director of the Cox Enterprises Social Impact Accelerator powered by Techstars, as he kicked off the new accelerator’s first demo day.

Launched in January 2020, the three-month-long program included a company creating supply chain management and distribution services for biomass-to-energy and waste-to-energy businesses; a company trying to create a better process for hiring diverse employees; and a virtual reality company giving kids access to exclusive content and tools to develop their own VR experiences. All of the companies had built interesting, early businesses, but our favorites were those providing college students with access and listings of available resources and a company that’s created an app for teaching math through music: