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March 25, 2019
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Daily Crunch: Social media struggles with shooting tragedy

in Daily Crunch/Delhi/Facebook/India/Politics/TC/Twitter/YouTube by

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.

1. Videos of shooting tragedy in New Zealand continue resurfacing on social media

Earlier today there was a horrendous mass mosque shooting in New Zealand that killed 49 people — and because this is 2019, social media was used by the apparent murderers to plan, announce, broadcast and virally resonate what they did.

Some of that — such as the Facebook and Twitter accounts of the perpetrator — have been deleted. Yet nearly 12 hours later, you can still find multiple copies of the shooting videos on YouTube and Twitter, with some being used to promote other things.

2. Facebook loses CPO Chris Cox and WhatsApp VP Chris Daniels

Chief Product Officer Chris Cox is departing the company after two years of supposedly seeking to do something new. More surprising is today’s departure of Chris Daniels, an eight-year employee who was moved from being head of Internet.org to VP of WhatsApp just last May.

3. Apple addresses Spotify’s claims, but not its demands

In a lengthy statement on its site called “Addressing Spotify’s Claims,” Apple walks through and dismantles some of the key parts of Spotify’s accusations about how the App Store works — covering app store approval times, Spotify’s actual cut on subscription revenues and Spotify’s rise as a result of its presence on iOS.

Tesla CEO Elon Musk views the new Tesla Model Y at its unveiling in Hawthorne, California on March 14, 2019.

4. The Tesla Model Y is a 300-mile-range Model 3 doppelgänger coming in fall 2020

After years of teasers and hints, Tesla CEO Elon Musk finally unveiled the Model Y, a mid-sized all-electric vehicle that is slated to hit the marketplace in fall 2020.

5. Bird lays off up to 5 percent of workforce

“As we establish local service centers and deeper roots in cities where we provide service, we have shifting geographic workforce needs,” a Bird spokesperson told us.

6. Slack removes 28 accounts linked to hate groups

To date, Slack has managed to stay out of the conversation around what happens when sometimes violent politically extreme organizations use popular social platforms to organize.

7. Apple’s iCloud recovers after a four-hour outage

Facebook has only just recovered from one of its worst outages to date, and Gmail and Google Drive also experienced a worldwide outage this week. Now, apparently, it was Apple’s turn.

News Source = techcrunch.com

Twitter wants workforce to be at least 5% black, 5% Latinx by the end of this year

in Delhi/Diversity/Include/India/Politics/Twitter by

Twitter unveiled its latest diversity report and announced a new vice president of people experience and head of diversity and inclusion. In order to “unify I&D with critical People functions under one leader who owns the decisions for both,” Twitter CMO Leslie Brand tweeted today, the company promoted Dalana Brand to VP of People Experience and Head of Diversity and Inclusion.

According to its report, Twitter is now 40.2 percent female, 4.5 percent black and 3.9 percent Latinx. These figures are better than last year.

At the leadership level, Twitter’s representation of women, black and Latinx people also improved.

Meanwhile, of all the attrition Twitter experienced in 2018, women made up 39.6 percent of it, while black employees accounted for 3.9 percent and Latinx employees made up 4.2 percent.

Twitter has also implemented new targets for each member of the leadership team. Those targets are to attract, retain and include.

Here’s the full breakdown of Twitter’s demographics.

“Missing from this chart is sexual orientation and gender identity because we had lower participation in our self-ID survey for this category,” Twitter wrote in its blog post. “We believe a refresh of our self-identification efforts and a new anonymous survey will allow us to better understand and share a more accurate representation of our company moving forward. This will also put us in a position to report on representation for employees with disabilities and with military status.”

Moving forward, Twitter plans to release its report quarterly instead of annually and share data around pay equity and promotions. In a tweet today, Berland said the company is currently conducting the analyses and will share the results once they’re ready.

News Source = techcrunch.com

Meet the 19 startups in AngelPad’s 12th batch

in Accelerator/Adidas/Amazon/angelpad/Apple/Carine Magescas/caterpillar/citi/Cvent/Delhi/DroneDeploy/India/law firms/mopub/new york city/Oscar/periscope data/Pipedrive/Politics/Postmates/Real estate/sephora/Stanford University/Startups/Tesla/thomas korte/Twitch/Twitter/Venture Capital/Zum by

AngelPad just wrapped the 12th run of its months-long New York City startup accelerator. For the second time, the program didn’t culminate in a demo day; rather, the 19 participating startups were given pre-arranged one-on-one meetings with venture capital investors late last week.

AngelPad co-founders Thomas Korte and Carine Magescas did away with the demo day tradition last year after nearly a decade operating AngelPad, which is responsible for mentoring startups including Postmates, Twitter-acquired Mopub, Pipedrive, Periscope Data, Zum and DroneDeploy.

“Demo days are great ways for accelerators to expose a large number of companies to a lot of investors, but we don’t think it is the most productive way,” Korte told TechCrunch last year. Competing accelerator Y Combinator has purportedly considered their eliminating demo day as well, though sources close to YC deny this. The firm cut its investor day, a similar opportunity for investors to schedule meetings with individual startups, “after analyzing its effectiveness” last year.

Feedback to AngelPad’s choice to forego demo day has been positive, Korte tells TechCrunch, with startup CEOs breathing a sigh of relief they aren’t forced to pitch to a large crowd with no promise of investment.

AngelPad invests $120,000 in each of its companies. Here’s a closer look at its latest batch:

LotSpot is a parking management tool for universities, parks and malls. The company installs cameras at the entrances and exits of customer parking lots and autonomously tracks lot occupancy as cars enter and exit. The LotSpot founders are Stanford University Innovation Fellows with backgrounds in engineering and sales.

Twic is a discretionary benefits management platform that helps businesses offer wellness benefits at a lower cost. The tool assists human resources professionals in selecting vendors, monitoring benefits usage and managing reimbursements with a digital wallet. Twic customers include Twitch and Oscar. The company’s current ARR is $265,000.

Zeal is an enterprise contract automation platform that helps sales teams manage custom routine agreements, like NDAs, independently and efficiently. The startup is currently working on test implementations with Amazon, Citi and Cvent. The founders are attorneys and management consultants who previously led sales and legal strategy at AXIOM.

ChargingLedger works with energy grid operators to optimize electric grid usage with smart charging technology for electric vehicles. The company’s paid pilot program is launching this month.

Piio, focused on SEO, helps companies boost their web presence with technology that optimizes website speed and performance based on user behavior, location, device, platform and connection speed. Currently, Piio is working with JomaShop and e-commerce retailers. Its ARR is $90,000.

Duality.ai is a QA platform for autonomous vehicles. It leverages human testers and simulation environments to accelerate time-to-market for AV sidewalk, cars and trucks. Its founders include engineers and designers from Caterpillar, Pixar and Apple. Its two first beta customers generated an ARR of $100,000.

COMUNITYmade partners with local manufacturers to sell their own brand of premium sneakers made in Los Angeles. The company has attracted brands, including Adidas, for collaborations. The founders are alums of Asics and Toms.

Spacey is a millennial-focused art-buying platform. The company sells limited-edition collections of fine-art prints at affordable prices and offers offline membership experiences, as well as a program for brand ambassadors with large social followings.

LegalPassage saves lawyers time with business process automation software for law firms. The company focuses on litigation, specifically class action and personal injury. The founder is a litigation attorney, former adjunct professor of law at UC Hastings and a past chair of the Family Law Section of the Bar Association of San Francisco.

Revetize helps local businesses boost revenue by managing reputation, encouraging referrals and increasing repeat business. The startup, headquartered in Utah, has an ARR of $220,000.

House of gigs helps people find short-term work near them, offering “employee-like” services and benefits to those freelancers and gig workers. The startup has 90,000 members. The San Francisco and Berlin-based founders previously worked together at a VC-backed HR startup.

MetaRouter provides fast, flexible and secure data routing. The cloud-based on-prem platform has reached an ARR of $250,000, with customers like HomeDepot and Sephora already signed on.

RamenHero offers a meal kit service for authentic gourmet ramen

RamenHero offers a meal kit for authentic gourmet ramen. The startup launched in 2018 and has roughly 1,700 customers and $125,000 in revenue. The startup’s founder, a serial entrepreneur, graduated from a culinary ramen school in Japan.

ByteRyde is insurance for autonomous vehicles, specifically Tesla Model 3s, taking into account the safety feature of self-driving cars.

Foresite.ai provides commercial real estate investors a real-time platform for data analysis and visualization of location-based trends.

PieSlice is a blockchain-based equity issuance and management platform that helps create fully compliant digital tokens that represent equity in a company. The founder is a former trader and stockbroker turned professional poker player.

Aitivity is a security hardware company that is developing a scalable blockchain algorithm for enterprises, specifically for IoT usage.

SmartAlto, a SaaS platform with $190,000 ARR, nurtures real estate leads. The company pairs agents with digital assistants to help the agents show more homes.

FunnelFox works with sales teams to help them spend less time on customer research, pipeline management and reporting. The AI-enabled platform has reached an ARR of $75,000 with customers including Botify and Paddle.

News Source = techcrunch.com

The adversarial persuasion machine: a conversation with James Williams

in Advertising Tech/Artificial Intelligence/Delhi/Democracy/Facebook/Government/India/Media/Oxford/Politics/Social/TC/Twitter by

James Williams may not be a household name yet in most tech circles, but he will be.

For this second in what will be a regular series of conversations exploring the ethics of the technology industry, I was delighted to be able to turn to one of our current generation’s most important young philosophers of tech.

Around a decade ago, Williams won the Founder’s Award, Google’s highest honor for its employees. Then in 2017, he won an even rarer award, this time for his scorching criticism of the entire digital technology industry in which he had worked so successfully. The inaugural winner of Cambridge University’s $100,000 “Nine Dots Prize” for original thinking, Williams was recognized for the fruits of his doctoral research at Oxford University, on how “digital technologies are making all forms of politics worth having impossible, as they privilege our impulses over our intentions and are designed to exploit our psychological vulnerabilities in order to direct us toward goals that may or may not align with our own.” In 2018, he published his brilliantly written book Stand Out of Our Light, an instant classic in the field of tech ethics.

In an in-depth conversation by phone and email, edited below for length and clarity, Williams told me about how and why our attention is under profound assault. At one point, he points out that the artificial intelligence which beat the world champion at the game Go is now aimed squarely — and rather successfully — at beating us, or at least convincing us to watch more YouTube videos and stay on our phones a lot longer than we otherwise would. And while most of us have sort of observed and lamented this phenomenon, Williams believes the consequences of things like smartphone compulsion could be much more dire and widespread than we realize, ultimately putting billions of people in profound danger while testing our ability to even have a human will.

It’s a chilling prospect, and yet somehow, if you read to the end of the interview, you’ll see Williams manages to end on an inspiring and hopeful note. Enjoy!

Editor’s note: this interview is approximately 5,500 words / 25 minutes read time. The first third has been ungated given the importance of this subject. To read the whole interview, be sure to join the Extra Crunch membership. ~ Danny Crichton

Introduction and background

Greg Epstein: I want to know more about your personal story. You grew up in West Texas. Then you found yourself at Google, where you won the Founder’s Award, Google’s highest honor. Then at some point you realized, “I’ve got to get out of here.” What was that journey like?

James Williams: This is going to sound neater and more intentional than it actually was, as is the case with most stories. In a lot of ways my life has been a ping-ponging back and forth between tech and the humanities, trying to bring them into some kind of conversation.

It’s the feeling that, you know, the car’s already been built, the dashboard’s been calibrated, and now to move humanity forward you just kind of have to hold the wheel straight

I spent my formative years in a town called Abilene, Texas, where my father was a university professor. It’s the kind of place where you get the day off school when the rodeo comes to town. Lots of good people there. But it’s not exactly a tech hub. Most of my tech education consisted of spending late nights, and full days in the summer, up in the university computer lab with my younger brother just messing around on the fast connection there. Later when I went to college, I started studying computer engineering, but I found that I had this itch about the broader “why” questions that on some deeper level I needed to scratch. So I changed my focus to literature.

After college, I started working at Google in their Seattle office, helping to grow their search ads business. I never, ever imagined I’d work in advertising, and there was some serious whiplash from going straight into that world after spending several hours a day reading James Joyce. Though I guess Leopold Bloom in Ulysses also works in advertising, so there’s at least some thread of a connection there. But I think what I found most compelling about the work at the time, and I guess this would have been in 2005, was the idea that we were fundamentally changing what advertising could be. If historically advertising had to be an annoying, distracting barrage on people’s attention, it didn’t have to anymore because we finally had the means to orient it around people’s actual intentions. And search, that “database of intentions,” was right at the vanguard of that change.

The adversarial persuasion machine

Photo by joe daniel price via Getty Images

Greg: So how did you end up at Oxford, studying tech ethics? What did you go there to learn about?

James: What led me to go to Oxford to study the ethics of persuasion and attention was that I didn’t see this reorientation of advertising around people’s true goals and intentions ultimately winning out across the industry. In fact, I saw something really concerning happening in the opposite direction. The old attention-grabby forms of advertising were being uncritically reimposed in the new digital environment, only now in a much more sophisticated and unrestrained manner. These attention-grabby goals, which are goals that no user anywhere has ever had for themselves, seemed to be cannibalizing the design goals of the medium itself.

In the past advertising had been described as a kind of “underwriting” of the medium, but now it seemed to be “overwriting” it. Everything was becoming an ad. My whole digital environment seemed to be transmogrifying into some weird new kind of adversarial persuasion machine. But persuasion isn’t even the right word for it. It’s something stronger than that, something more in the direction of coercion or manipulation that I still don’t think we have a good word for. When I looked around and didn’t see anybody talking about the ethics of that stuff, in particular the implications it has for human freedom, I decided to go study it myself.

Greg: How stressful of a time was that for you when you were realizing that you needed to make such a big change or that you might be making such a big change?

James: The big change being shifting to do doctoral work?

Greg: Well that, but really I’m trying to understand what it was like to go from a very high place in the tech world to becoming essentially a philosopher critic of your former work.

James: A lot of people I talked to didn’t understand why I was doing it. Friends, coworkers, I think they didn’t quite understand why it was worthy of such a big step, such a big change in my personal life to try to interrogate this question. There was a bit of, not loneliness, but a certain kind of motivational isolation, I guess. But since then, it’s certainly been heartening to see many of them come to realize why I felt it was so important. Part of that is because these questions are so much more in the foreground of societal awareness now than they were then.

Liberation in the age of attention

Greg: You write about how when you were younger you thought “there were no great political struggles left.” Now you’ve said, “The liberation of human attention may be the defining moral and political struggle of our time.” Tell me about that transition intellectually or emotionally or both. How good did you think it was back then, the world was back then, and how concerned are you now?

What you see a lot in tech design is essentially the equivalent of a circular argument about this, where someone clicks on something and then the designer will say, “Well, see, they must’ve wanted that because they clicked on it.”

James: I think a lot of people in my generation grew up with this feeling that there weren’t really any more existential threats to the liberal project left for us to fight against. It’s the feeling that, you know, the car’s already been built, the dashboard’s been calibrated, and now to move humanity forward you just kind of have to hold the wheel straight and get a good job and keep recycling and try not to crash the car as we cruise off into this ultra-stable sunset at the end of history.

What I’ve realized, though, is that this crisis of attention brought upon by adversarial persuasive design is like a bucket of mud that’s been thrown across the windshield of the car. It’s a first-order problem. Yes, we still have big problems to solve like climate change and extremism and so on. But we can’t solve them unless we can give the right kind of attention to them. In the same way that, if you have a muddy windshield, yeah, you risk veering off the road and hitting a tree or flying into a ravine. But the first thing is that you really need to clean your windshield. We can’t really do anything that matters unless we can pay attention to the stuff that matters. And our media is our windshield, and right now there’s mud all over it.

Greg: One of the terms that you either coin or use for the situation that we find ourselves in now is the age of attention.

James: I use this phrase “Age of Attention” not so much to advance it as a serious candidate for what we should call our time, but more as a rhetorical counterpoint to the phrase “Information Age.” It’s a reference to the famous observation of Herbert Simon, which I discuss in the book, that when information becomes abundant it makes attention the scarce resource.

Much of the ethical work on digital technology so far has addressed questions of information management, but far less has addressed questions of attention management. If attention is now the scarce resource so many technologies are competing for, we need to give more ethical attention to attention.

Greg: Right. I just want to make sure people understand how severe this may be, how severe you think it is. I went into your book already feeling totally distracted and surrounded by totally distracted people. But when I finished the book, and it’s one of the most marked-up books I’ve ever owned by the way, I came away with the sense of acute crisis. What is being done to our attention is affecting us profoundly as human beings. How would you characterize it?

James: Thanks for giving so much attention to the book. Yeah, these ideas have very deep roots. In the Dhammapada the Buddha says, “All that we are is a result of what we have thought.” The book of Proverbs says, “As a man thinketh in his heart, so is he.” Simone Weil wrote that “It is not we who move, but images pass before our eyes and we live them.” It seems to me that attention should really be seen as one of our most precious and fundamental capacities, cultivating it in the right way should be seen as one of the greatest goods, and injuring it should be seen as of the greatest harms.

In the book, I was interested to explore whether the language of attention can be used to talk usefully about the human will. At the end of the day I think that’s a major part of what’s at stake in the design of these persuasive systems, the success of the human will.

“Want what we want?”

Photo by Buena Vista Images via Getty Images

Greg: To translate those concerns about “the success of the human will” into simpler terms, I think the big concern here is, what happens to us as human beings if we find ourselves waking up in the morning and going to bed at night wanting things that we really only want because AI and algorithms have helped convince us we want them? For example, we want to be on our phone chiefly because it serves Samsung or Google or Facebook or whomever. Do we lose something of our humanity when we lose the ability to “want what we want?”

James: Absolutely. I mean, philosophers call these second order volitions as opposed to just first order volitions. A first order volition is, “I want to eat the piece of chocolate that’s in front of me.” But the second order volition is, “I don’t want to want to eat that piece of chocolate that’s in front of me.” Creating those second order volitions, being able to define what we want to want, requires that we have a certain capacity for reflection.

What you see a lot in tech design is essentially the equivalent of a circular argument about this, where someone clicks on something and then the designer will say, “Well, see, they must’ve wanted that because they clicked on it.” But that’s basically taking evidence of effective persuasion as evidence of intention, which is very convenient for serving design metrics and business models, but not necessarily a user’s interests.

AI and attention

STR/AFP/Getty Images

Greg: Let’s talk about AI and its role in the persuasion that you’ve been describing. You talk about, a number of times, about the AI behind the system that beat the world champion at the board game Go. I think that’s a great example and that that AI has been deployed to keep us watching YouTube longer, and that billions of dollars are literally being spent to figure out how to get us to look at one thing over another.

News Source = techcrunch.com

A first look at Twitter’s new prototype app, twttr

in Apps/conversations/Delhi/India/iOS apps/Politics/replies/Social/social media/Twitter/twttr by

Yesterday, Twitter rolled out its much-anticipated prototype application to the first group of testers. We’ve now gotten our hands on the app and can see how the current version differs from the build Twitter introduced to the world back in January. While the original version and today’s prototype share many of the same features, there have been some small tweaks to as to how conversation threads are displayed, and the color-coded reply labeling system is now much more subtle.

“Twttr,” as the prototype build is called, was created to give Twitter a separate space outside its public network to experiment with new ideas about how Twitter should look, feel, and operate. Initially, the prototype focuses on changes to Replies with the goal of making longer conversations easier to read.

However, the company said it will likely continue to test new ideas within the app in the future. And even the features seen today will continue to change as the company responds to user feedback.

In the early build of the twttr prototype, the color coded reply system was intentionally designed to be overly saturated for visibility’s sake, but Twitter never intended to launch a garish color scheme like this to its testers.

The new system is more readable and no longer color codes the entire tweet.

Below are a few screenshots of what the public Twitter app looks like when compared with the new prototype, plus other features found in twttr alone.

Feedback

Above: regular Twitter on the left; twttr on the right

Before digging into twttr’s key features, it’s worth noting there’s an easy way for testers to submit feedback: a menu item in the left-side navigation.

Here, you can tap on a link labeled “twttr feedback” that takes you directly to a survey form where you can share your thoughts. The form asks for your handle, what you liked, disliked and offers a space for other comments.

Reply Threads

Left: Original Twitter; Right: twttr prototype

This is the big change Twitter is testing in the prototype.

In the photo on the left, you can see how Replies are handled today – a thin, gray line connects a person replying to another user within the larger conversation taking place beneath the original tweet. In the photo, TechCrunch editor Jonathan Shieber is replying both to the TechCrunch tweet and the person who tagged him in a question in their own reply to the TC tweet.

In twttr, Shieber’s reply is nested beneath that question in a different way. It’s indented to offer a better visual cue that he’s answering Steven. And instead of a straight line, it’s curved. (It’s also blue because I follow him on Twitter.)

You’ll notice that everyone’s individual responses are more rounded – similar to chat bubbles. This allows them to pop out on the contrasting background, and gives an appearance of an online discussion board.

Left: Original Twitter; Right: twttr prototype

This is even more apparent when the background is set to the white day theme instead of the darker night theme.

Color coded Replies

Here’s a closer look at nested replies.

People you follow will be prominently highlighted at the top of longer threads with a bright blue line next to their name, on the left side of their chat bubble-shaped reply. Twitter says the way people are ranked is personalized to you, and something it’s continuing to iterate on.

Left: Original Twitter; Right: twttr prototype

In the public version of the Twitter app, the original poster is also highlighted in the Reply thread with a prominent “Original Tweeter” label. In the prototype, however, they’re designated only by a colored line next to their name, on the left side of the chat bubble. (See Jordan’s tweet above.)

This is definitely a more subtle way to highlight the tweet’s importance to the conversation. It’s also one that could be overlooked – especially in the darker themed Night Mode where the gray line doesn’t offer as much contrast with the dark background.

In the day theme, it’s much easier to see the difference. (See below).

Engagements are hidden

Another thing you’ll notice when scrolling through conversations on twttr is that engagements are hidden on people’s individual tweets. That is, there’s no heart (favorite) icon, no retweet icon, no reply bubble icon, and no sharing icon, like you’re used to seeing on tweets today.

Instead, if you want to interact with any tweet using one of those options, you have to tap on the tweet itself.

The tweet will then pop up and become the focus, and all the interaction buttons – including the option to start typing your reply – will then become available.

“Show More”

Another change to conversations is that some Replies are hidden by default when you’re reading through a series of Replies on Twitter.

Often, in long conversation threads, people will respond to someone else in a thread besides the Original Tweeter. Both are tagged in the response when that occurs, but the reply may not be about the original tweet at all. This can make it difficult to follow conversations.

Above: “Show more,” before being expanded

In twttr, these sorts of “side conversations” are hidden.

In their place, a “Show More” button appears. When tapped, those hidden replies come into view again. They’re also indented to show they are a part of a different thread.

This change highlights only those Replies that are in response to the original tweet. That means people trolling other individuals in the thread could see their Replies hidden. But it also means that those responding to a troll comment to the original poster  – like one offering a fact check, for example – will also be hidden.

There are other reasons to hide some replies, notes Twitter – like if the original response was too large or the thread has too many replies. It’s not always about the quality of the responses.

Above: after being expanded

The icon!

Twttr is very much a prototype. That means everything seen here now could dramatically change at any point in the future. Even the twttr icon itself has gone through different iterations.

The first version of the ico was a very lovely bird logo that looked notably different from original Twitter. The new version (which we’ll dub twttr’s Yo icon), is a plain blue box.

Twitter has its reasons for that one….and clearly, it didn’t ask for feedback on this particular change.

Where’s that feedback form again?

News Source = techcrunch.com

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