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Veteran Googler heads to Lyft to lead 1,000-plus person engineering team

Eisar Lipkovitz, a veteran Google executive who most recently led the video and display advertising team there, is leaving the company to head up engineering efforts at Lyft .
As executive vice president of engineering, Lipkovitz will be leading Lyft’s engineering team, which now eclipses 1,000 people.
Eisar’s hiring comes on the heels of massive growth at Lyft, specifically its engineering team. The ride-hailing company’s engineering team, doubled in size in the last year. It also follows the hiring of another Google engineering veteran Manish Gupta, who joined Lyft in August as vice president of engineering to build out the ride-hailing company’s business platforms, including enterprise, partnerships and healthcare.
Gupta will report to Eisar.

“It’s clear that Lyft is tackling one of the most interesting and world-changing engineering challenges of our lifetime, and the team has done an exceptional job innovating through dispatch, matching, pricing, and mapping to create the overall experience.” Eisar said. “The work Lyft is doing intersects with my passion of operating extremely complex systems efficiently while developing strong leaders in tech, and I couldn’t be more excited to join the team.”
Eisar will report directly to Logan Green, Lyft’s co-founder and CEO. Luc Vincent, who is vice president of Lyft’s autonomous vehicle technology program, operates separately.
During Eisar’s 15 years at Google, he led the team that built Google display, video and apps advertising products. He previously worked on the infrastructure behind Google Search. He also worked at Akamai.

Lyft has aggressively ramped up its staff and coverage in the U.S. over the past two years. And it’s paid off. The company’s ride-hailing app has more than 96 percent coverage in the U.S. and 35 percent market share.
It has also expanded Lyft Business, the company’s enterprise unit, through partnerships with organizations and companies like Starbucks, LAX, Allstate, Hewlett Packard Enterprise, JetBlue, Delta and Blue Cross Blue Shield, as well as rolled out various other products such as a monthly subscription plan called Lyft’s All-Access.

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Veteran Googler heads to Lyft to lead team of 1,000-plus engineers

Eisar Lipkovitz, a veteran Google executive who most recently led the video and display advertising team there, is leaving the company to head up engineering efforts at Lyft .
As executive vice president of engineering, Lipkovitz will be leading Lyft’s engineering team, which now eclipses 1,000 people.
Lipkovitz’s hiring comes on the heels of massive growth at Lyft, specifically its engineering team. The ride-hailing company’s engineering team doubled in size in the last year. It also follows the hiring of another Google engineering veteran Manish Gupta, who joined Lyft in August as vice president of engineering to build out the ride-hailing company’s business platforms, including enterprise, partnerships and healthcare.
Gupta will report to Lipkovitz.

“It’s clear that Lyft is tackling one of the most interesting and world-changing engineering challenges of our lifetime, and the team has done an exceptional job innovating through dispatch, matching, pricing and mapping to create the overall experience,” Lipkovitz said. “The work Lyft is doing intersects with my passion of operating extremely complex systems efficiently while developing strong leaders in tech, and I couldn’t be more excited to join the team.”
Lipkovitz will report directly to Logan Green, Lyft’s co-founder and CEO. Luc Vincent, who is vice president of Lyft’s autonomous vehicle technology program, operates separately.
During Lipkovitz’s 15 years at Google, he led the team that built Google display, video and apps advertising products. He previously worked on the infrastructure behind Google Search. He also worked at Akamai.

Lyft has aggressively ramped up its staff and coverage in the U.S. over the past two years. And it’s paid off. The company’s ride-hailing app has more than 96 percent coverage in the U.S. and 35 percent market share.
It has also expanded Lyft Business, the company’s enterprise unit, through partnerships with organizations and companies like Starbucks, LAX, Allstate, Hewlett Packard Enterprise, JetBlue, Delta and Blue Cross Blue Shield, as well as rolled out various other products such as a monthly subscription plan called Lyft’s All-Access.

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Reserve your demo table today for the TechCrunch Winter Party at Galvanize

There are just three short weeks until Silicon Valley’s startup community takes a night off to relax, connect and get down at the 2nd Annual TechCrunch Winter Party at Galvanize. It’s not just an opportunity to have a great time — although you will. It’s also the chance for promising early-stage startups to strut their stuff. We have a handful of demo tables available, but they won’t last long. Why not book a demo table today? You never know who might attend the party and facilitate your big break.
Here’s one legendary example. TechCrunch founder Michael Arrington used to hold these parties in his back yard. And that’s where Box founders Aaron Levie and Dylan Smith met one of their first investors, DFJ. Demo your early-stage startup at our Winter Party, and you just might start your own legend.
What can you expect at our Winter fete? Great food, delicious libations and outstanding company for starters. Last year, nearly 1,000 of the early-stage startup community — movers, shakers and star-makers — attended. Join us for a great night of community, networking and fun.
Here’s the lowdown on the particulars:

When: Friday, February 8, 6:00 p.m. – 9:00 p.m.
Where: Galvanize, 44 Tehama St., San Francisco, CA 94105
Tickets: $85
Demo table: $1,500 (includes three attendee tickets)

Demo tables are open to early-stage startups with $3 million or less in funding.
Along with conversation and networking, every TechCrunch bash includes plenty of games, activities, photo ops, swag and giveaways. Who wants free tickets to Disrupt 2019? You do! So, book your demo table now, before they’re gone. Come party with your people on February 8 and show us your stuff!

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Facebook is secretly building LOL, a cringey teen meme hub

How do you do, fellow kids? After Facebook Watch, Lasso and IGTV failed to become hits with teens, the company has been quietly developing another youthful video product. Multiple sources confirm that Facebook has spent months building LOL, a special feed of funny videos and GIF-like clips. It’s divided into categories like “For You,” “Animals,” “Fails,” “Pranks” and more with content pulled from News Feed posts by top meme Pages on Facebook. LOL is currently in private beta with around 100 high school students who signed non-disclosure agreements with parental consent to do focus groups and one-on-one testing with Facebook staff.

In response to TechCrunch’s questioning, Facebook confirmed it is privately testing LOL as a home for funny meme content with a very small number of U.S. users. While those testers experience LOL as a replacement for their Watch tab, Facebook says there’s no plans to roll out LOL in Watch and the team is still finalizing whether it will become a separate feature in one of Facebook’s main app or a standalone app. Facebook initially declined to give a formal statement but told us the details we had were accurate. [Update: A Facebook spokesperson has now provided an official statement: “We are running a small scale test and the concept is in the early stages right now.”]
With teens increasingly turning to ephemeral Stories for sharing and content consumption, Facebook is desperate to lure them back to its easily-monetizable feeds. Collecting the funniest News Feed posts and concentrating them in a dedicated place could appeal to kids seeking rapid-fire lightweight entertainment. LOL could also soak up some of the “low-quality” videos Facebook scrubbed out of the News Feed a year ago in hopes of decreasing zombie-like passive viewing that can hurt people’s well-being.
But our sources familiar with LOL’s design said it still feels “cringey”, like Facebook is futilely pretending to be young and hip. The content found in LOL is sometimes weeks old, so meme-obsessed teens may have seen it before. After years of parents overrunning Facebook, teens have grown skeptical of the app and many have fled for Instagram, Snapchat, and YouTube. Parachuting into the memespehere may come off as inauthentic posing and Facebook could find it difficult to build a young fanbase for LOL.
In one of the recent designs for LOL, screenshots attained by TechCrunch show users are greeted with a carousel of themed collections called “Dailies” like “Look Mom No Hands” in a design reminiscent of Snapchat’s Discover section. Below that there’s a feed of algorithmically curated “For You” clips. Users can filter the LOL feed to show categories like “Wait For It”, “Savage”, “Classics”, “Gaming”, “Celebs”, “School”, and “Stand-Up”, or tap buttons atop the screen to see dedicated sub-feeds for these topics.
Once users open a Dailies collection or start scrolling the feed, it turns into a black-bordered theater mode that auto-advances after you finish a video clip for lean-back consumption. Facebook cuts each video clip up into sections several seconds long that users can fast-forward through with a tap like they’re watching a long Instagram Story. Below each piece of content is a set of special LOL reaction buttons for “Funny”, “Alright”, and “Not Funny”. There’s also a share button on each piece of content, plus users can upload videos or paste in a URL to submit videos to LOL.
Facebook has repeatedly failed to capture the hearts of teens with Snapchat clones like Poke and Slingshot, standalone apps like Lifestage, and acquisitions like TBH. Fears that it’s losing the demographic or that the shift driven by the youth from feeds to Stories that Facebook has less experience monetizing have caused massive drops in the company’s share price over the years. If Facebook can’t fill in this age gap, the next generation of younger users might sidestep the social network too, which could lead to huge downstream problems for growth and revenue.

That’s why Facebook won’t give up on teens, even despite embarrassing stumbles. Its new Tik Tok clone Lasso saw only 10,000 downloads in the first 12 days. Despite seeming like a ghost town, Facebook still updated it with a retweet-like Relasso and camera uploads today. Unlike the Tik Tok-dominated musical video space, though, the meme sharing universe is much more fragmented and there’s a better chance for Facebook to barge in.
Teens discover memes on Reddit, Twitter, Instagram, and exchange them in DMs. Beyond Imgur that encompasses lots of visual storytelling styles, there’s no super-popular dedicated meme discovery app. Instagram is probably already the leader, with tons of users following meme accounts to get fresh daily dumps of jokes. Facebook might have more luck if it built meme creation tools and a dedicated viewing hub in Explore or a second Stories tray within Instagram. As is, it mostly ignores meme culture while occasionally shutting down curators’ accounts.
Facebook might seem out of touch, but the fact that it’s even trying to build a meme browser shows it recognizes the opportunity here. Sometimes our brains need a break and we want quick hits of entertainment that don’t require too much thought, commitment, or attention span. As Facebook tries to become more meaningful, LOL could save room for meaningless fun.

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Backing Culture Genesis, T.I. launches Tech Cypha, an investment syndicate for tech deals

With an inaugural investment into the Los Angeles-based entertainment startup Culture Genesis, Clifford Harris Jr., who’s better known as “T.I.”, has launched a new syndicated investment vehicle called Tech Cypha.
Launched by the music and cultural impresario with more hustle than hustle and his business partner Jason Geter, the new collaborative investment strategy focused on tech startups will allow high-net-worth individuals to participate in deals.

Live streaming studio, Culture Genesis, launches its first show, the quiz-based Trivia Mob

The strategy has evolved since Geter and Harris made their first investment 12 years ago into a company called Streetcred.com, a site that allowed fans to go online and share opinions about street culture. While that first deal didn’t work out, Geter and Harris both remained interested in the technology and startup scene and saw a new opportunity to leverage their networks and promote new businesses.
“We learned a lot,” says Harris. “Now we know where our demographic is.”
For Geter, that demographic is taking advantage of Atlanta’s surging position as a cultural and technological mecca in the United States. Indeed, Atlanta-area startups raised roughly $1.15 billion in 2018, a record for the region, according to data from PitchBook and the National Venture Capital Association.
“Being in the city of Atlanta and with Georgia Tech producing so much talent, and coming from us being within the hip-hop culture, which is always influencing and promoting things, we saw an opportunity,” says Geter. “In the past, we were always looking through the glass window and looking at ways we can participate earlier. And that’s by coming together to pool our resources so we can invest more.”
Harris and Geter aren’t the first hip-hop entrepreneurs to branch out into tech investment.
Calvin Broadus Jr. (better known as Snoop Dogg) closed a $45 million investment fund last year; Sean Carter, or “Jay-Z” launched Marcy Venture Partners; the Chamillionaire, Hakeem Seriki, is an entrepreneur in residence at the LA-based firm Upfront Ventures and has his own app; and Nas, who founded Queensbridge Venture Partners, recently saw an exit when one of his companies, PillPack, was sold to Amazon for around $750 million.

Jay-Z has a new venture fund and a Silicon Valley partner

“We are a group of guys and girls who’ve been doing business together over time. While we’ve been doing just fine on our own we thought that if we surround ourselves with like-minded individuals and pool our resources together we could do much more together than on our own,” says Harris.
Investors and entrepreneurs should think of Tech Cypha as an open-ended investment syndicate — like a rap version of SV Angels out of Silicon Valley.
“It’s people around our constituency who wake up knowing that there is dealing to be done,” says Geter.
While the Culture Genesis crew out of Los Angeles may seem slightly out of the Atlanta-based wheelhouse for Tech Cypha, the company’s co-founder Cedric Rogers spent a lot of time in Atlanta.
“I lived in Atlanta for many years and [Geter] and I have grown a relationship over seven years,” says Rogers. “I’m excited to work with these guys.”
For Harris, the opposite of moderate, immaculately polished with the spirit of a hustler and the swagger of a college kid, the investment into Culture Genesis is indicative of the type of deal that the syndicate will make. It’s got a media component, it’s leveraging new technology and it taps into the incredibly tech-forward community that comprises the rising middle class audience of urban (for lack of a better word) consumers.
Now the only question is whether Harris and Geter can find out what’s up and what’s happening next.

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Backing Culture Genesis, T.I. launches Tech Cypha, an investment syndicate for tech deals

With an inaugural investment into the Los Angeles-based entertainment startup Culture Genesis, Clifford Harris Jr., who’s better known as “T.I.”, has launched a new syndicated investment vehicle called Tech Cypha.
Launched by the music and cultural impresario with more hustle than hustle and his business partner Jason Geter, the new collaborative investment strategy focused on tech startups will allow high net worth individuals to participate in deals.

Live streaming studio, Culture Genesis, launches its first show, the quiz-based Trivia Mob

The strategy has evolved since Geter and Harris made their first investment twelve years ago into a company called Streetcred.com, a site that allowed fans to go online and share opinions about street culture. While that first deal didn’t work out, Geter and Harris both remained interested in the technology and startup scene and saw a new opportunity to leverage their networks and promote new businesses.
“We learned a lot,” says Harris. “Now we know where our demographic is.”
For Geter, that demographic is taking advantage of Atlanta’s surging position as a cultural and tecnological mecca in the United States. Indeed, Atlanta-area startups raised roughly $1.15 billion in 2018, a record for the region, according to data from Pitchbook and the National Venture Capital Association.
“Being in the city of Atlanta and with Georgia Tech producing so much talent, and coming from us being within the hip-hop culture which is always influencing and promoting things, we saw an opportunity,” says Geter. “In the past, we were always looking through the glass window and looking at ways we can participate earlier. And that’s by coming together to pool our resources so we can invest more.”
Harris and Geter aren’t the first hip-hop entrepreneurs to branch out into tech investment.
Calvin Broadus Jr. (better known as Snoop Dogg) closed a $45 million investment fund last year; Sean Carter, or “Jay Z” launched Marcy Venture Partners; the Chamillionaire, Hakeem Seriki, is an entrepreneur in residence at the LA-based firm Upfront Ventures and has his own app; and Nas, who founded Queensbridge Venture Partners, recently saw an exit when one of his companies, PillPack, was sold to Amazon for around $750 million.

Jay-Z has a new venture fund and a Silicon Valley partner

“We are a group of guys and girls who’ve been doing business together over time. While we’ve been doing just fine on our own we thought that if we surround ourselves with like-minded individuals and pool our resources together we could do much more together than on our own,” says Harris.
Investors and entrepreneurs should think of Tech Cypha as an open-ended investment syndicate — like a rap version of SV Angels out of Silicon Valley.
“It’s people around our constituency who wake up knowing that there is dealing to be done,” says Geter.
While the Culture Genesis crew out of Los Angeles may seem slightly out of the Atlanta-based wheelhouse for Tech Cypha, the company’s co-founder Cedric Rogers spent a lot of time in Atlanta.
“I lived in Atlanta for many years and [Geter] and I have grown a relationship over seven years,” says Rogers. “I’m excited to work with these guys.”
For Harris, the opposite of moderate, immaculately polished with the spirit of a hustler and the swagger of a college kid, the investment into Culture Genesis is indicative of the type of deal that the syndicate will make. It’s got a media component, it’s leveraging new technology and it taps into the incredibly tech-forward community that comprises the rising middle class audience of urban (for lack of a better word) consumers.
Now the only question is whether Harris and Geder can find out what’s up and what’s happening next.

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Google starts pulling unvetted Android apps that access call logs and SMS messages

Google is removing apps from Google Play that request permission to access call logs and SMS text message data but haven’t been manually vetted by Google staff.
The search and mobile giant said it is part of a move to cut down on apps that have access to sensitive calling and texting data.
Google said in October that Android apps will no longer be allowed to use the legacy permissions as part of a wider push for developers to use newer, more secure and privacy minded APIs. Many apps request access to call logs and texting data to verify two-factor authentication codes, for social sharing, or to replace the phone dialer. But Google acknowledged that this level of access can and has been abused by developers who misuse the permissions to gather sensitive data — or mishandle it altogether.
“Our new policy is designed to ensure that apps asking for these permissions need full and ongoing access to the sensitive data in order to accomplish the app’s primary use case, and that users will understand why this data would be required for the app to function,” wrote Paul Bankhead, Google’s director of product management for Google Play.
Any developer wanting to retain the ability to ask a user’s permission for calling and texting data has to fill out a permissions declaration.
Google will review the app and why it needs to retain access, and will weigh in several considerations, including why the developer is requesting access, the user benefit of the feature that’s requesting access and the risks associated with having access to call and texting data.
Bankhead conceded that under the new policy, some use cases will “no longer be allowed,” rendering some apps obsolete.
So far, tens of thousands of developers have already submitted new versions of their apps either removing the need to access call and texting permissions, Google said, or have submitted a permissions declaration.
Developers with a submitted declaration have until March 9 to receive approval or remove the permissions. In the meantime, Google has a full list of permitted use cases for the call log and text message permissions, as well as alternatives.
The last two years alone has seen several high-profile cases of Android apps or other services leaking or exposing call and text data. In late 2017, popular Android keyboard ai.type exposed a massive database of 31 million users, including 374 million phone numbers.

Another huge database exposed millions of call logs and SMS text messages

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Daily Crunch: Tesla cuts its workforce

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. Tesla to cut workforce by 7 percent and focus on Model 3 production
In an email to employees, CEO Elon Musk says the focus must be on delivering “at least the mid-range Model 3 variant in all markets.” He also warns the employees who are not set to be axed that there are “many companies that can offer a better work-life balance, because they are larger and more mature or in industries that are not so voraciously competitive.”
“We unfortunately have no choice but to reduce full-time employee headcount by approximately 7% (we grew by 30% last year, which is more than we can support) and retain only the most critical temps and contractors,” he writes.
2. Nike’s auto-laced future
Matthew Panzarino makes the case for the new Adapt BB, a Nike shoe with powered laces that tighten to a wearer’s foot automatically.
3. Microsoft is calling an audible on smart speakers
Microsoft’s smart assistant has its strong suits, but thus far statement of purpose hasn’t been among them. CEO Satya Nadella appears to acknowledge as much this week during a media event at the company’s Redmond campus.
LAS VEGAS, NV – JANUARY 06: Netflix CEO Reed Hastings delivers a keynote address at CES 2016 at The Venetian Las Vegas on January 6, 2016 in Las Vegas, Nevada. CES, the world’s largest annual consumer technology trade show, runs through January 9 and is expected to feature 3,600 exhibitors showing off their latest products and services to more than 150,000 attendees. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
4. Netflix adds 8.8M paid subscribers globally, says it now accounts for 10 percent of US TV screen time
In its most recent quarter, the company added 8.8 million subscribers, well above the 7.6 million that it had predicted at the beginning of the quarter. However, revenue was a bit lower than expected — $4.19 billion, compared to predictions of $4.21 billion.
5. These are all the federal HTTPS websites that’ll expire soon because of the US government shutdown
We looked at domains of federal agencies and the executive branch, then poked every certificate to see if it had expired — and, if not, when it would stop working.
6. Twitter bug revealed some Android users’ private tweets
Twitter accidentally revealed some users’ “protected” (aka, private) tweets, the company disclosed yesterday. For some Android users over a period of several years, tweets were actually made public as a result of this bug.
7. Facebook says it will ask employees to take down glowing Portal reviews on Amazon
New York Times columnist Kevin Roose noticed something fishy in the Amazon reviews for Facebook’s new device, noting on Twitter that many of the verified reviewers bore the same names as Facebook employees.

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Sling TV adds personalized recommendations, launching first on Apple TV

Sling TV, Dish’s live TV streaming service, will now make personalized suggestions of what to watch. The company this week introduced a new recommendations feature that will highlight the shows, movies, sports and news content it believes you’ll like, based on your viewing history.
The feature is initially available on Apple TV, but will roll out to other platforms in the future, the company says.
To access recommendations, Apple TV users can visit a new “Recommended for You” ribbon in the “My TV” section, which will feature its suggestions of both live and on-demand content. The recommendations will also respect any parental control settings you’ve set up, so younger users won’t be able to watch the adult-themed content you’ve restricted.
Unfortunately, Sling TV doesn’t support user profiles, which means recommendations may be hit or miss.
It’s a little surprising that Sling TV hasn’t included recommended content like this, until now. Recommendations, and more broadly, personalization technology, have become table stakes in the streaming business — and beyond. Music services, podcast apps, news aggregators and even our voice assistants are becoming services we customize to our own liking. Or they leverage AI to put together unique suggestions for their individual users. Or both.
Sling TV, launched four years ago, was one of the first services to offer live TV over the internet. That means it’s had more time than newer rivals — like DirecTV Now, Hulu with Live TV or YouTube TV, for example — to develop its own recommendation system.
The company says that recommendations are the first of more personalization updates still to come.
In the months ahead, it also notes it will improve the content recommendations and will make the browsing experience easier.
That’s much needed because the way Sling TV has implemented recommendations — a ribbon of content — is fairly basic in comparison with others. Netflix, for instance, finds numerous ways to suggest content — “top picks” based on viewing history along with other suggestions based on specific shows you’ve been watching, for starters. And this is mixed in with editorial and categorized suggestions (e.g. “binge-worthy shows), new releases and popular and trending content, among other things.
Meanwhile, Hulu recently rolled out features that let users explicitly inform the service’s recommendation engine — like a “stop suggesting” button that tells Hulu you dislike a show. YouTube TV is capitalizing on its larger video network’s recommendation technology to make its own “top picks” suggestions, and it points users to suggested content on YouTube for whatever show or movie they’re viewing.
Sling TV will need to ramp up in terms of personalization quickly to better compete as these others become more advanced.
“The ‘Recommended for You’ ribbon is just the beginning of more personalization updates to come,” wrote Sling TV’s vice president of product management, Jimshade Chaudhari, in the announcement. “We’re working to improve personalization in the app and create a more engaging and interesting viewing experience, so you can expect Sling to debut more helpful features,” he said.

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SaaS stocks are coming back to life

Nasdaq’s BVP Emerging Cloud Index measures the performance of a portfolio of 45 SaaS stocks. Like much of the tech world, and the stock market in general, the final quarter of 2018 was not terribly kind. The good news is that there are signs of life.
On November 19th, SaaS stocks had a noteworthy bad day. Everything was down, way down. As we reported, some examples included:

Salesforce was down 8.7 percent to $121.01.
Box was down 6.93 percent to $16.66
Workday was down 7.57 percent to $124.07
Twilio was down 13.76 percent to $76.90

All of these stocks are part of that Emerging Cloud Index. That day, the index hit $792.95. It would not be the lowest point of 2018. That came about a month later, on December 21st, when it plunged to $778.39.

Jason Lemkin, managing director at SaaStr Fund, a firm that works with SaaS founders, says in spite of the last quarter, it wasn’t a terrible year for SaaS stocks. “Cloud stocks still way outperformed the broad market in 2018 — way outperformed. But they are not immune to the broader economy. It just has some insulation to it, due to recurring revenue and also the mission criticality on many B2B apps,” he told TechCrunch.
The day after I wrote the story on this cloud stock debacle, my colleague Jon Shieber looked at the overall tech stock losses, which totaled a staggering $1 trillion in the year-end slide. That’s a ton of lost value, but cloud stocks were taking a hit right along with the rest of tech, even when the future appeared very bright indeed.
Today, the Emerging Cloud Index is showing signs of recovering nicely, and all of that gloom and doom seems to be yesterday’s news. The index has been climbing steadily since that pre-Christmas low (to $956.46 as we went to press). There is no guarantee that will continue, but it certainly makes more sense given that earnings reports have been mostly positive and the market potential is still growing.
As Synergy Research’s John Dinsdale told me in November, “In terms of ongoing market growth and future prospects, absolutely nothing has changed. The market forecasts remain extremely healthy. Indeed, if anything our next forecast update will likely result in us nudging up our forecast growth rates a little.”
Perhaps, the SaaS market did not deserve to be Wall Street’s whipping boy in December, and the recovering index shows that investors have come to their senses where SaaS stocks are concerned.

The highest-flying consumer tech stocks have lost $1 trillion

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Microsoft is calling an audible on smart speakers

The Harman Kardon Invoke was fine. But let’s be real — the first Cortana smart speaker was dead on arrival. Microsoft’s smart assistant has its strong suits, but thus far statement of purpose hasn’t been among them. CEO Satya Nadella appears to have acknowledged as much this week during a media event at the company’s Redmond campus.
“Defeat” might be a strong word at this stage, but the executive is publicly acknowledging that the company needs to go back to the drawing board. In its current configuration, the best Microsoft can seemingly hope for with Cortana is a slow ramp up after a greatly delayed start. For all of the company’s recent successes, the gulf between its offering and Alexa, Assistant and (to a lesser degree) Siri must seem utterly insurmountable.
The new vision for Cortana is an AI offering that works in tandem with products that have previously been considered its chief competitors. That’s in line with recent moves. Over the summer, Microsoft and Amazon unveiled integration between the two assistants. Nadella used this week’s event to both reaffirm plans to work with Alexa and Google Assistant and note that past categories probably don’t make sense, going forward.
“We are very mindful of the categories we enter where we can do something unique,” he told the crowd. “A good one is speakers. To me the challenge is, exactly what would we be able to do in that category that is going to be unique?”
It’s a fair question. And the answer, thus far, is nothing. Like Samsung’s Bixby offerings, the primary distinguisher has been the devices on which it has chosen to roll out — appliances for Bixby and PCs for Microsoft. And while moves by Apple, Amazon and Google have all been acknowledgements that desktops and laptops may play an important role in the growth of smart assistants moving forward, they were hardly a major driver early on.
I suspect this will also mean the company will invest less in pushing Cortana as a consumer-facing product for the time being, instead focusing on the ways it can help other more popular assistants play nicely with the Microsoft ecosystem.

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Privacy campaigner Schrems slaps Amazon, Apple, Netflix, others with GDPR data access complaints

European privacy campaigner Max Schrems has filed a fresh batch of strategic complaints at tech giants, including Amazon, Apple, Netflix, Spotify and YouTube.
The complaints, filed via his nonprofit privacy and digital rights organization, noyb, relate to how the services respond to data access requests, per regional data protection rules.
Article 15 of Europe’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) provides for a right of access by the data subject to information held on them.
The complaints contend tech firms are structurally violating this right — having built automated systems to respond to data access requests which, after being tested by noyb, failed to provide the user with all the relevant information to which they are legally entitled.
Indeed, noyb tested eight companies in all, in eight different countries in Europe, and says it found none of the services provided a satisfactory response. It’s filed formal complaints with the Austrian Data Protection Authority against the eight, which also include music and podcast platform SoundCloud; sports streaming service DAZN; and video on-demand platform Flimmit .
The complaints have been filed on behalf of 10 users, per Article 80 of the GDPR, which enables data subjects to be represented by a nonprofit association such as noyb.
Here’s its breakdown of the responses its tests received — including the maximum potential penalty each could be on the hook for if the complaints stand up:

Two of the companies, DAZN and SoundCloud, failed to respond at all, according to noyb, while the rest responded with only partial data.
Also, noyb points out that in addition to getting raw data, users have the right to know the sources, recipients and purposes for which their information is being processed. But only Flimmit and Netflix provided any background information (though again, still not full data) in response to the test requests.
“Many services set up automated systems to respond to access requests, but they often don’t even remotely provide the data that every user has a right to,” said Schrems in a statement. “In most cases, users only got the raw data, but, for example, no information about who this data was shared with. This leads to structural violations of users’ rights, as these systems are built to withhold the relevant information.”
We’ve reached out to the companies for comment on the complaints. Update: Spotify told us: “Spotify takes data privacy and our obligations to users extremely seriously. We are committed to complying with all relevant national and international laws and regulations, including GDPR, with which we believe we are fully compliant.”
Last May, immediately after Europe’s new privacy regulation came into force, noyb lodged its first series of strategic complaints — targeted at what it dubbed “forced consent,” arguing that Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp and Google’s Android OS do not give users a free choice to consent to processing their data for ad targeting, as consenting is required to use the service.
Investigations by a number of data protection authorities into those complaints remain ongoing.

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