Consumer agency warns against Peloton Tread+ use, as company pushes back

Almost exactly a month ago, Peloton CEO John Foley wrote an open letter about the the company’s treadmill. “I’m reaching out to you today because I recently learned about a tragic accident involving a child and the Tread+, resulting in, unthinkably, a death,” it begins. “While we are aware of only a small handful of incidents involving the Tread+ where children have been hurt, each one is devastating to all of us at Peloton, and our hearts go out to the families involved.”

Today, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission issued a warning, telling users to stop using the Tread+. Citing 39 incidents, included the aforementioned death, the CPSC writes, “The Commission has found that the public health and safety requires this notice to warn the public quickly of the hazard.”

Peloton followed up with its own strongly worded statement writing, “The company is troubled by the Consumer Product Safety Commission’s (CPSC) unilateral press release about the Peloton Tread+ because it is inaccurate and misleading. There is no reason to stop using the Tread+, as long as all warnings and safety instructions are followed.”

The commission’s warning includes multiple injuries involving small children and a pet. Specifically, the note calls for users with children at how to cease using the product, a more stern warning than the initial suggestions outlined by Foley back in in March, who at the time told users to keep children and pets away from the system and store the device out of reach after using. Peloton has since added that there have been 23 incidents involving children, 15 with objects and, as the CPSC noted, one with a pet. The company added that it had not revealed the specifics previously out of privacy concern.

“If consumers must continue to use the product, CPSC urges consumers to use the product only in a locked room, to prevent access to children and pets while the treadmill is in use,” the organization notes. “Keep all objects, including exercise balls and other equipment, away from the treadmill.”

For its part, the connected fitness maker adds,

Peloton invited CPSC to make a joint announcement about the danger of not following the warnings and safety instructions provided with the Tread+, and Foley asked to meet directly with CPSC. CPSC has unfairly characterized Peloton’s efforts to collaborate and to correct inaccuracies in CPSC’s press release as an attempt to delay. This could not be farther from the truth. The company already urged Members to follow all warnings and safety instructions. Peloton is disappointed that, despite its offers of collaboration, and despite the fact that the Tread+ complies with all applicable safety standards, CPSC was unwilling to engage in any meaningful discussions with Peloton before issuing its inaccurate and misleading press release.

Why it’s not surprising to see nine-figure AI rounds 

Welcome back to The TechCrunch Exchange, a weekly startups-and-markets newsletter. It’s broadly based on the daily column that appears on Extra Crunch, but free, and made for your weekend reading. If you want it in your inbox every Saturday morning, sign up here

Ready? Let’s talk money, startups and spicy IPO rumors.

This week, Scale AI raised a $325 million Series E. The company, as TechCrunch has written, works in the data labeling space. And it has been on a fundraising tear over the last few years. In 2019 TechCrunch wrote about how the company’s then-22-year-old CEO had put together a $100 million round. Then in December of 2020, it raised $155 million at a roughly $3.5 billion valuation. Now it’s worth more than $7 billion.

Impressive, yeah? Well, as I learned earlier this week, AI startups in general are having one hell of a year. From the start of 2021 to April 12th, there were 442 AI-startup deals in the U.S. worth $11.65 billion, according to PitchBook data. And the recent Microsoft-Nuance AI deal may accelerate things even more.

Sapphire Ventures’ Jai Das weighed in on the AI venture market for The Exchange. He answered our question regarding how competitive the space was in the first quarter by saying that “investment activity in AI/ML startups has been absolutely insane” during the first quarter.

Per Das: “AI/ML startups are routinely getting 5-6 term sheets from top-tier VC firms and they are able to raise their financings at 150-250X of current ARR.”

Chew on that for a moment. We’ve seen public software multiples reach new heights in the last year, but even for aggressive startup rounds, those are some bonkers numbers. Imagine an AI-focused startup with $1 million in recurring revenue being valued at a quarter of a billion dollars. Damn.

But what about pace among AI investing? We’ve heard that the time from a round opening to its closing among many startups has been compressed and compressed again. Das helped explain the situation, saying in an email that “most firms are completing their due diligence way before the financing actually happens,” which means that there is “no need to do any due diligence during the financing.”

That actually makes some sense? If rounds are largely preemptive — something that Das underscored later on in his comments — you have to do pre-diligence. Otherwise you’ll always be investing blind or missing out on deals due to other firms moving more quickly.

This week The Exchange also dug into the broader domestic venture capital market, with a special focus on seed deals, and the super late-stage investments that dominate headlines. A comment on the earlier-stages of venture investing that just missed our piece on the matter came from Jeff Grabow, EY’s U.S. Venture Capital lead.

In his comments on pre-seed, seed and post-seed deals, something stood out to us — a prediction of sorts. Here’s Grabow:

[Q1 2021] was a strong quarter for pre-seed funding when you compare it to prior years, and we expect the overall environment to remain strong given the abundance of capital available and plethora of investable themes that tap into new markets via technological solutions. It paints a rosy picture for the post-COVID environment.

That tracks with our internal estimates. Q1 2021 was so hot for at least American venture capital activity (expect more international coverage soon) that it seems likely that the year itself will be a record in many respects. Provided that things don’t slow too much, records will be broken. And here Grabow flat-out anticipates a pretty attractive climate for venture after COVID-19 is behind us.

So, records will be broken. The question is by how much.

More notes on Coinbase’s direct listing

Not to whomp the equestrian deceased too much, but I have a few more notes for you on the Coinbase direct listing.

Public.com, the Robinhood consumer trading rival, helped The Exchange better understand just how much retail interest there was in the stock. Per its ever-present spokesperson Mo, on April 14th, Coinbase “was the most popular stock on public,” measured by number of transactions. And perhaps more notably, on the same day “social activity (measured by the number of posts) increased by 70% compared to the day prior.”

I do not know how long the consumer trading boom can last, but that’s a pretty impressive set of metrics.

Similarweb also had a few data points to share, including that visits to coinbase.com reached 86.4 million in January. Hot damn. And during that month new visitors bested returning visitors. That data helps explain how Coinbase wound up with the epic first quarter that it did. Now the question is if it can keep up its bull run or, frankly, if consumer interest in trading in crypto specifically will outlast the equities trading boom or not.

Coinbase Series D lead investor Tom Loverro, who we’ve mentioned a few times this week, including on the podcast, said that we’re still merely in the second inning of crypto. So expect these topics to keep coming up again and again. And again.

Various and sundry

Trying to actually stick to our word count target for once, here are some final notes on the IPO market from the week.

First, the AppLovin IPO did not go according to plan. After modestly pricing at $80 per share, the middle of its range, the mobile-app focused tech company saw its value fall during its first two days’ trading. It’s now worth $61 per share as of the end of Friday.

The Exchange spoke with AppLovin CFO Herald Chen on its IPO day. Chatting with the finance executive, our read from the conversation is that the company could accelerate its acquisition game more now that it is public. Having a liquid stock means that it can be even more acquisitive than before. And AppLovin claims that it can buy companies, run them through its business process, and juice their revenues per its S-1 filing.

If that bears out, the public markets may be giving the company a bit too hard of a time. It was a bit odd to see a software company struggle post-IPO in today’s climate.

Chen also told The Exchange that his firm didn’t see any pushback regarding its multi-class share structure during its roadshow. The multi-class share miasm is something I’ve written about with our own Ron Miller. The CFO did note that no single person has complete control of the company, even with several different classes of equity with disparate voting rights. That matters, frankly.

We’ll keep tabs on AppLovin as it trades. (Our earlier coverage of its numbers is here.)

Finally, autonomous trucking company TuSimple went public this week, and Similarweb filed to go public. We’re also watching the broader IPO market as UiPath either raises its price range or note. We have a guess on that score.

And just as the week was closing, Squarespace dropped its S-1. Notes here with more to come.

Good vibes and nothing other than the best from here,

Alex

What does it take to create a startup ecosystem?

Say it louder for the people in the back: As tech grows bigger by the minute and venture capital adds dollar signs by the day, a startup hub’s success is not an either/or situation. The next Silicon Valley is a tired narrative, when in reality startups look, innovate and create differently all over the world.

On that note, my colleagues spent the past few months digging into the market in Detroit, Michigan:

While StockX is the startup darling that may have put the region in the generalist spotlight, I soon learned that the sneaker marketplace company wasn’t at all where the city’s story started and ended. Instead, it started a little more at ground level.

Detroit techies consistently point to billionaire Dan Gilbert, the co-founder of Quicken Loans and the owner of the Cleveland Cavaliers, as the reason behind the region’s startup growth. It made me immediately wonder if all it takes to create a startup ecosystem is deep pockets.

Turns out it’s a little more complicated than that.

Gilbert has poured at least $2.5 billion into rehabilitating buildings in the core of Detroit. Then he invested in the companies that took office space in those buildings, the restaurants that would feed those new families in the area and the retailers that would fill up the side blocks. It wasn’t one check by one billionaire, but instead a measured and consistent approach to try to reestablish Detroit as a city of innovation within the United States.

I think one founder put it best: “there are a lot of people who hate him, but the reality is that, while he wasn’t the only billionaire in town, he’s the only one who heavily invested in Detroit.”

Beyond Gilbert, the vitalization is spread throughout different sectors. There’s a 12-year-old early-stage venture firm that was one of the first to ever bet on mobility as an investment thesis; there’s a thriving garden startup; and there’s a hardware company that, despite remote work, is finding space to scale:

We’ll continue exploring emerging tech hubs, so throw us suggestions as we virtually (and one day physically) road trip across the country.

 

In the rest of this newsletter, we’ll talk about Tiger Global, IPOs and a few exciting upcoming events. Make sure to follow me on Twitter @nmasc_ to hang during the week.

Tiger Global has a spending problem

This week on Equity, we talked about Tiger Global’s aggressive investment approach and what it could mean for early-stage firms and founders.

Here’s what to know: One of the reasons Tiger Global is feeling spendy is that it just closed one of the biggest venture funds ever. In 2020, the firm closed $3.75 billion in capital commitments. In 2021, it nearly doubled its own record, with $6.7 billion raised for its latest fund.

And if you don’t believe me, below is a list of just some of the New York-based firms’ recent activity:

Crypto’s Coinbase moment

Cryptocurrency trading giant Coinbase went public this week. The company opened at $381 per share, valuing the exchange at nearly $100 billion. It was a massive exit for the company, which underwent scrutiny last year when it banned politics at work.

Here’s what to know: It’s fairly obvious that Coinbase’s successful IPO was a big moment for fintech and crypto startups, as well as the decentralized finance movement. My colleagues Alex Wilhelm and Anna Heim dug into how the crypto ripple effect could look from the perspective of a few venture capitalists. There are too many good bits for me to choose an excerpt, so read it for yourself here, and a take sneak peek below:

So while there is an ocean of bullish sentiment that the Coinbase listing will lead to rising venture capital investment into crypto startups, there’s also some caution to be had; how much of the growing market that Coinbase can capture and control is not yet clear, though IVP’s Loverro was very bullish during our interview about the company’s expanding feature set — things like staking Tezos, or buying Uniswap. Its backers think that Coinbase is well-positioned to absorb future market upside in its niche.

Around TechCrunch

As always, we have a ton of exciting events coming up. Here’s just a taste:

Across the week

Seen on TechCrunch

Pakistan temporarily blocks social media

Republican antitrust bill would block all Big Tech acquisitions

Can the tech trade show return in 2021?

Garry Kasparov launches a community-first chess platform

Seen on Extra Crunch

What’s fueling hydrogen tech?

Billion-dollar B2B: cloud-first enterprise tech behemoths have massive potential

For startups choosing a platform, a decision looms: build or buy?

Building customer-first relationships in a privacy-first world is critical

The IPO market is sending us mixed messages

Best,

N

How one founder build a startup around compassion and care facilitated by AI

In the second episode of our new podcast Found, our guest is Brie Code. Code is the founder and CEO of TRU LUV, a startup based out of Toronto that has its roots in the game industry, but that is taking a radically different approach to designing interactive experiences based on a historically-overlooked motivating paradigm called ‘tend-and-befriend,’ an alternative to the ‘fight-or-flight’ response aimed at by most AAA game studios.

Code’s startup developed #SelfCare, a mobile app that encourages users to explore a variety of interactive experiences that are meant to do more than simply encourage them to engage in competitive behavior either with other players, or with computer-controlled antagonists. The motivation for creating this kind of thing for Code came from recognizing its absence in the existing market, and identifying a huge demand gap that just wasn’t being addressed. Building on her expertise in the game industry engineering interactions for non-player characters (NPCs) and her exploration of academic research on the subject of ‘tend-and-befriend,’ Code set up to build a venture-scalable business to define a new category of entertainment.

TRU LUV’s first touchpoint with users may be its app, but the startup has big ambitions that extend all the way to a larger mission of “healing our relationship with technology.” Chatting with the founder behind that pursuit reveals how deeply that mission runs both with her, and her startup.

We hope you get as much out of this deep and engrossing discussion as we did, and don’t forget to subscribe in Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or your podcast app of choice. We always love to get your feedback, too so please reach out via Twitter or email, and check back next week for our next episode.

Hear how StockX brought the sneaker scene to Detroit

At TechCrunch’s Detroit City Spotlight this week, I sat down with Rae Witte, the journalist behind the StockX EC-1.

TechCrunch’s EC-1 push allows individual authors to go deep on a particular company. And as StockX has been headquartered in Detroit since its inception, we took the chance to dig into our reporting in front of our friends from Motor City.

All about StockX

Witte has been covering the now-unicorn, and the larger sneaker beat, for a half decade. That experience helped enrich her reporting arc, giving her more insight into the company’s business model, founding story and recent growth.

StockX is a behemoth today, having recently been valued at $3.8 billion in a round that was announced this month.

But even before the company added another billion dollars to its valuation, TechCrunch was impressed at its business progress.

Back when the company was worth a mere $2.8 billion, we called its then-current round of capital “pre-IPO money.”

And, of course, we asked Witte at the end of the conversation when we should expect to see not just an EC-1 from StockX, but an S-1 as well. Soon, we reckon.

Hit play above to enjoy a behind-the-scenes chat about the company. For more, here’s the EC-1 itself, which Witte absolutely crushed.

 

Outdoor startups see supercharged growth during COVID-19 era

After years of sustained growth, the pandemic supercharged the outdoor recreation industry. Startups that provide services like camper vans, private campsites and trail-finding apps became relevant to millions of new users when COVID-19 shut down indoor recreation, building on an existing boom in outdoor recreation.

Startups like Outdoorsy, AllTrails, Cabana, Hipcamp, Kibbo and Lowergear Outdoors have seen significant growth, but to keep it going, consumers who discovered a fondness for the great outdoors during the pandemic must turn it into a lifelong interest.

Outdoorsy, AllTrails, Cabana, Hipcamp, Kibbo and Lowergear Outdoors have seen significant growth, but to keep it going, consumers who discovered a fondness for the great outdoors during the pandemic must turn it into a lifelong interest.

Social media, increased environmentalism and high urbanization were already fueling a boom in popularity. There was a 72% increase in people who camp more than three times a year between 2014 and 2019, mostly spurred by young millennials, young families with kids and nonwhite participants.

But 2020 was a different animal: After months of shelter-in-place orders, widespread shutdowns and physical distancing, outdoors became the only location for safe socializing. In South Dakota, the Lewis and Clark Recreation Area saw a 59% increase in visitors from 2019 to 2020. In the pandemic year, consumers spent $887 billion on outdoor recreation according to the Outdoor Industry Association, more than pharmaceuticals and fuel combined.

And it’s going to continue to grow. Hiking equipment alone is supposed to reach a $7.4 billion market size by 2027, a 6.3% compound annual growth rate. Camping and caravanning is having an even more drastic moment. Without international travel, vacations shifted from flights to exotic resorts to domestic road trips, self-contained rentals and camping. In 2020, the market for camping and caravanning was almost $40 billion and is predicted to rise 13% to just over $45 billion this year.

After the initial and extreme drop-off in engagement early as national parks closed, private camping sites shut down and domestic travel ceased, many outdoor startups have had a breakout year. Outdoorsy, the peer-to-peer camper van rental marketplace, said it saw 44% of all bookings in the company’s history in 2020.

Campsite booking platform Hipcamp said it sent three times as much money to landowners in 2020 as compared to 2019. And it’s not just experienced outdoor veterans taking advantage of the work-from-home lifestyle: in 2020, Cabana, a camper van rental startup, said 70% of its customers had never rented a camper van or an RV before and another 26% had only done it once.

But a report commissioned by the Outdoor Industry Association showed that the most popular outdoor activities were ones that people could do close to home, not the traveling kind Hipcamp, Cabana and Outdoorsy traffic in. The three most popular outdoor activities for newbies: walking, running and bicycling.

But the pandemic did create a small boost for camping, climbing, backpacking and kayaking; fueled by an increase in women, younger, more ethnically diverse, urban and slightly less wealthy people pushing into the outdoors. This class of outdoor startups will need to engage the new demographic shift to capitalize on the pandemic’s outdoor boom because, according to the report, a quarter of those who started new outdoor activities during the pandemic don’t plan on continuing once it’s over.

Startups are increasing accessibility to the outdoors

But getting into the outdoors can be overwhelming: there’s gear to buy, skills to learn, exploring unfamiliar areas and the added stressor of safety. Outdoor startups are working to lower the barrier to entry to help grow their businesses.

“I think anytime you have like 2,000 articles with two dozen tips on how to use a product, that tells me that it is really, really too hard to use,” said Cabana founder Scott Kubly. “To me, that says there’s nothing but friction in this process. If you want to build something that’s mainstream, you need to make it super consistent and really easy to use.”

Kubly said only half a percent of the U.S. population takes a rental van or RV trip each year. Planning an outdoor adventure can be time-consuming — choosing a location, finding an open campsite, planning meals and water, and figuring out dump stations for trash or septic. That planning is multiplied tenfold if you are going for a road trip or backpacking and need to find new places every other night.

This Week in Apps: A surprising report on App Tracking, Apple event predictions, Instagram for kids

Welcome back to This Week in Apps, the weekly TechCrunch series that recaps the latest in mobile OS news, mobile applications and the overall app economy.

The app industry is as hot as ever, with a record 218 billion downloads and $143 billion in global consumer spend in 2020.

Consumers last year also spent 3.5 trillion minutes using apps on Android devices alone. And in the U.S., app usage surged ahead of the time spent watching live TV. Currently, the average American watches 3.7 hours of live TV per day, but now spends four hours per day on their mobile devices.

Apps aren’t just a way to pass idle hours — they’re also a big business. In 2019, mobile-first companies had a combined  $544 billion valuation, 6.5x higher than those without a mobile focus. In 2020, investors poured $73 billion in capital into mobile companies — a figure that’s up 27% year-over-year.

This week, the news is heavily Apple-centric. The company is hosting an event next week, where we may get some new devices and form factors, as well as AirTags (maybe!). Plus, Apple’s App Tracking Transparency is still top of mind for many developers. So this week, we’re looking at some initial ATT data that has some surprises, among other things.

This Week in Apps will soon be a newsletter! Sign up here: techcrunch.com/newsletters

Top Stories

Apple’s Spring Loaded event arrives next week

Image Credits: Apple

Apple this week announced its plans to host a “Spring Loaded” event on April 20th, where it’s expected to make a handful of updates. While nothing is for certain — this is Apple, after all — rumors are pointing toward an updated iPad Pro lineup, perhaps with Apple’s Mini LED displays. A new iPad Mini could also be on the way, as it’s not been refreshed for two years.

Bloomberg had earlier reported new iPads were coming this spring, with a refreshed iPad Pro line sporting a faster processor and better cameras, in 11 and 12.9-inch sizes, as well as an iPad mini will a larger screen size.

But there are also hints that we might finally see Apple’s AirTags’ unveiling at long last. This not-so-secretive initiative was already found referenced in iOS code and in one of Apple’s own YouTube videos. And it’s been the subject of congressional hearings, as competitor Tile argued that Apple was leveraging the power of its ecosystem to give its own products an advantage. As a concession, Apple opened up access to the “Find My” app, which AirTags will also use, to third-party manufacturers. But Tile was not among the partners Apple introduced as the program and updated Find My app officially rolled out. We understand that’s because Tile wants to continue to own the relationship between its customers via its own iOS app, not have a third-party in between — and especially not Apple. There’s still a lot that’s not confirmed about Apple’s AirTags — like price point, or even what final design Apple may have settled on, so this could be a fun unveiling.

Apple may use the time to add on more surprises, too, like a third-generation version of AirPods or refreshed Apple TV. We expect Apple will also officially launch iOS 14.5, the big update with App Tracking Transparency, which has been a longer beta cycle.

A surprising report on ATT consent rates

Image Credits: AppsFlyer

A new report on App Tracking Transparency (ATT) has yielded some interesting results. The new iOS 14 privacy feature will pop up a permissions request on users’ devices, asking them if they’d allow the app to track their activity. Most expected that users would almost universally say “No” to this request, which is why the mobile adtech industry is in chaos, with some companies even trying to figure out if they could work around the change that makes the existing ad identifier, the IDFA, obsolete.

But an AppsFlyer study found that opt-in rates for being tracked were much higher than anyone would have expected. The industry was forecasting opt-in rates anywhere from 2% to 20%, but were figuring things would more likely be in the single digits. So imagine everyone’s surprise when AppsFlyer found that opt-in rates were at a 28% average per app and a median of 32% (meaning about half the apps were exceeding 32%!).

The study was not a small sampling, either. The company counted 13,260,824 times when a prompt was shown to the end-user and found that 5,495,084 times (or 41%) the user tapped the “Allow” button. This took place in March 2021 across over 300 apps in multiple categories, including both apps and games.

Image Credits: AppsFlyer

Of the 7,765,740 cases when tracking was denied, AppsFlyer said it was actually counting implicit “No’s” from users who previously enabled Limit Ad Tracking (LAT) on their devices in previous iOS versions. Since they had already said they wanted to limit ads, they don’t see the ATT prompt and are classified as denied.

The report found the opt-in rates were very different between apps and games, at 42% and 30%, respectively. This is due to lower brand affinity in gaming, it said. Larger apps also had higher opt-in rates. The top 10% (by device count) had a 50% higher rate than the bottom 10%.

Of course, we should caution that this initial data is preliminary and based off data collected from early adopters. This may not represent the industry at large. In other words, opt-in rates could certainly still change when Apple begins to officially enforce ATT with the release of iOS 14.5.

However, what could be working here is the use of something known as the pre-ATT prompt, which basically means gating Apple’s dialogue between the developer’s own prompt, that they can show at an appropriate time with their own messaging. By explaining to users that by opting in they may see more relevant content or help to keep the app free, users may be more likely to opt in, AppsFlyer suggested.

Image Credits: AppsFlyer

Weekly News

Apple

Apple device rumors! Analyst Ming-Chi Kuo says 2022 iPhones will feature a 48-megapixel camera, 8K video and come in only 6.1″ and 6.7″ sizes (no more 5.4″ Mini). Also predicted is an AR headset with 15 cameras.

Apple’s legal battle with Epic Games in Australian courts was temporarily put on pause while the U.S. case proceeds. Apple argued that the matter should be settled in the original jurisdiction in the U.S., while Epic says Apple’s anti-competitive behavior should be tried under Australian law as well. A judge ordered the case to be temporarily suspended for three months while the U.S. suit is underway.

Senate Judiciary Committee leaders Senators Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and Mike Lee (R-UT) put pressure on Apple to provide a witness for an upcoming hearing on app store competition after it looked like Apple might bow out. But this week, the company committed to sending a representative to the Senate antitrust hearing, which Google will also attend. The hearing will focus on the tech giants’ control over “the cost, distribution, and availability of mobile applications on consumers, app developers, and competition.”

Apple filed an expert witness report for its U.S. legal battle with Epic Games where the witness stated that Apple would have to redesign its hardware and software in order to make the iPhone interoperable with alternative app stores outside of its own. Epic Games founder Tim Sweeney tweeted the statement was “baloney” and noted that Apple already has a program that allows users to install apps from the web, the Apple Enterprise Program. Only contractual obligations prevent such a mechanism from being used for consumer apps.

Google

Due to U.S. trade restrictions, China manufacturer Huawei isn’t able to use Google Mobile Services (GMS) on their smartphone, so the company came up with an alternative, Huawei Mobile Services (HMS). Now it’s launched an open-source Choice SDK that will allow app developers to turn their GMS apps into HMS apps more easily. The SDK currently supports features like location, sign-in, analytics, maps and messaging.

Google Assistant, which is integrated with Android devices and available as a standalone app, this week rolled out new features. The AI voice assistant is now able to locate and ring misplaced and silenced iPhones instead of just Android devices. To do so, the device places a regular call to your mobile numbers. It can also complete restaurant takeout orders and design Routines.

Android leaks! Reportedly, Android 12 may bring enhanced privacy controls, according to XDA Developers and a set of leaked Android 12 screenshots they published. Specifically, Google is copying the iOS feature that alerts you when an app you’re using is accessing the clipboard. It’s also working on enhanced notification permissions that let you choose what type of alerts you want to receive, like “real-time” or “conversations.”

E-commerce

TikTok plans to launch a range of new e-commerce-focused ad products, including Collection Ads, which will enable brands to combine their product catalog listings and branded videos; and Dynamic Product Ads, which will automatically retarget users with relevant products according to their actions on publishers’ apps and websites.

Amazon-owned Zappos teamed up with streaming startup BuyWith to add livestream shopping, led by influencers.

Google’s Shopping app for Android and iOS is shutting down, as Google has expanded shopping features in Search and on YouTube in the two years since the Express app was rebranded as Shopping.

Augmented Reality

Gucci Beauty launched a new Snapchat lens that lets users virtually try-on its Rouge De Beauté Brilliant hybrid lipstick and other makeup, including foundation and eyeshadows.

Snap also launched an interactive Lens in the main Snapchat Lens Carousel for all Snapchatters in the U.S. that highlights five AR monuments from the Monumental Perspectives project. The company had brought artists and Snap Lens Creators together to create the five AR monuments to celebrate diverse histories across Los Angeles, in an effort to offer more inclusive perspectives from communities across the region.

Fintech

Image Credits: App Annie/Liftoff

A joint report by App Annie and marketing firm Liftoff found that downloads of finance apps grew 15% year-over-year in 2020 to 4.6 billion, and time spent in apps rose to 16.3 billion during the year, up 45% from 2019. In the popular category of investing apps, U.S. users spent 135% more time in the top five apps in this space, year-over-year.

A separate report by Sensor Tower found that finance app installs jumped 34% year-over-year in Q1 in the U.S. and Europe.

Social

Image Credits: TechCrunch

Instagram is launching a new test that will allow you to choose if you want to hide “Likes,” and a Facebook test will follow. In the test, users will get to decide what works best for them — either choosing to see the Like counts on others’ posts, or not. Users will also be able to turn off Like counts on their own posts, if they choose. Facebook additionally confirmed it will begin to test a similar experience on its own social network. The test aims to balance the feedback from those who rely on Likes as a metric that enables them to prove their value to advertisers, and those who are impacted by the anxiety of chasing Likes.

Discord announced a policy change that says all adult content should be kept behind an NSFW warning and that all NSFW communities and channels will be blocked on iOS devices.

Reddit is said to be exploring a Clubhouse-like voice chat feature, Mashable reported. The development is said to be in the early stages. Reddit didn’t reply to requests for comments, the report said.

Facebook says it will test new business discovery features in the U.S. News Feed. When live, users tap on topics they’re interested in underneath posts and ads in their News Feed in order to explore related content from businesses.

instagram app

Image credit: Jaap Arriens/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Thirty-five consumer advocacy groups and 64 child development experts co-signed a letter to Facebook asking the company to reconsider its plans to launch an Instagram version for children under the age of 13, arguing that social media has several risk factors for children and adolescents, related to both physical health and overall well-being.

They also launched a petition anyone can sign. Despite the concerns being raised, Instagram’s plans to compete for younger users will not likely be impacted by the outcry. Already, Instagram’s top competitor in social media today — TikTok — has developed an experience for kids under 13. In fact, it was forced to age-gate its app as a result of its settlement with the U.S. Federal Trade Commission, which had investigated Musical.ly (the app that became TikTok) for violations of the U.S. children’s privacy law COPPA.

Facebook, too, could be in a similar situation where it has to age-gate Instagram in order to properly direct its existing underage users to a COPPA-compliant experience. At the very least, Facebook has grounds to argue that it shouldn’t have to boot the under-13 crowd off its app, since TikTok did not. And the FTC’s fines, even when historic, barely make a dent in tech giants’ revenues.

Streaming & Entertainment

Clubhouse rolls out payments to over 60K creators following its initial test launched earlier this month. To send a payment, users can visit a creator’s profile, then tap on the button at the bottom that says “Send Money.” Clubhouse says 100% of the payments go directly to creators.

The TV version of the Google Play Movies & TV app will shut down on Roku, LG, Samsung and Vizio TVs in June, while users’ purchases will be migrated to YouTube.

Health & Fitness

Apple filed for dismissal of an $800 million lawsuit brought on by a developer who claimed the App Store rejected a coronavirus app for “no good reason.” The App Store policy says it’s only accepting coronavirus apps from “recognized institutions such as government, hospital, insurance company, NGO, or a university.” The developer argues they had a medical doctor (a former NASA cardiologist) on their team.

TikTok funded its first episodic public health series, “VIRAL,” from NowThis. The series will feature interviews with public health experts and a live Q&A session focused on answering questions about the pandemic. The partnership represents TikTok’s first-ever funding of an episodic series from a publisher, though TikTok has previously funded creator content.

Google’s Digital Wellbeing app added a new feature called “Heads Up” in its Settings which will remind Pixel device owners to look up when they’re using their phone while out walking. The app requires permission to users’ physical activity and location.

Facebook began sharing state vaccine info in the News Feed to let people know when they’re eligible to get a COVID-19 vaccine in their state, when the general public is eligible in their state and links to their state health department and Facebook’s Vaccine Finder.

Dating apps

Match-owned dating app Hinge launched “video prompts” in its virtual dating feature. The prompts help daters gauge compatibility with debate topics, which can help break the ice and make the virtual dating experience feel less awkward.

Leading dating app Tinder hires former Yum Brands (Pizza Hut and KFC) CMO George Felix as its new chief marketing officer. Tinder CEO Jim Lanzone says Felix “delivers iconic brand positioning and outstanding results” but does so “in new ways with very different brands.”

Security

Gay dating site and app Manhunt, which has 6 million members, confirmed a data breach in February where a hacker gained access to the company’s accounts database. The hacker was able to acquire usernames, emails and passwords for a subset (11%) of its users.

Researchers discovered a WhatsApp security risk that allows a remote hacker to deactivate WhatsApp on your phone and stop you from getting back in, even if you had two-factor enabled.

Clubhouse CEO Paul Davison said the recent report of a data breach was false and that user data was not leaked, calling the article that reported it “clickbait.”

Security researchers found that the popular APKPure app, which helps users install older or discontinued Android apps from outside the Play Store, contained malicious adware. The most recent app version was siphoning data from users’ devices and pushed ads to the lockscreen and in the background to generate fraudulent revenue for adware operators.

Joker malware impacted over 500,000 Huawei users’ devices after they downloaded infected apps from the company’s official Android app store. Researchers found 10 seemingly harmless apps in AppGallery — like virtual keyboards, a camera, a launcher, a messenger, a sticker collection and more — that were infected with the malicious code.

Customer data from the ParkMobile mobile parking app was discovered being sold online. The data included customer email addresses, dates of birth, phone numbers, license plate numbers, hashed passwords and mailing addresses for 21 million customers. ParkMobile attributed the breach to “a cybersecurity incident linked to a vulnerability in a third-party software that we use.”

Privacy

In legal settlements, Disney, Viacom and 10 adtech firms, including Twitter’s MoPub, agreed to remove certain advertising software from children’s apps due to privacy violations. The companies had placed tracking software in kids’ apps without parents’ knowledge or consent, the class-action cases had stated. SDK defendants also include AdColony, Chartboost, Flurry, InMob, ironSource, Tapjoy, Vungle, Unity Technologies, Comscore (Full Circle Studies), and Upsight.

Funding and M&A

💰 Messaging app Wire raised $21 million Series B led by UVC Partners for its end-to-end encrypted messaging app and service. The company redirected its focus from consumers to the enterprise market a couple of years ago and now has 1,800 customers, up 50% year-over-year.

💰 Ordering app and website Slice raised a $40 million Series D to power the marketing and ordering for independent pizzerias. The round, partially aimed at getting Twitter’s former CEO Dick Costolo and former COO Adam Bain on board, was led by Cross Creek and follows last year’s $43 million Series C.

🤝 Triller acquired AI-based customer engagement platform, Amplify.AI, whose co-founder Mahi de Silva will now become TrillerNet’s CEO. Existing CEO Mike Lu will transition to president of TrillerNet and will focus on investor relations. The company separately announced the acquisition of FITE TV, a live event and pay-per-view combat sports streaming platform which will now become home to Triller Fight Club.

💰 Streaming media company Plex, which has apps for web, TV and mobile, raised a $50 million growth round to fuel its ad-supported streaming business and launch new services, including a TV and movie rentals (and maybe purchases) marketplace, and a subscription channels store.

💰 Epic Games, the company behind Fortnite, Houseparty and Unreal Engine, raised a massive $1 billion round, valuing the business at $28.7 billion. The round included a $200 million Sony Group Corporation investment. Other investors included Appaloosa, Baillie Gifford, Fidelity Management & Research Company LLC, GIC, T. Rowe Price Associates-managed accounts, Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan Board, BlackRock managed accounts, Park West, KKR, AllianceBernstein, Altimeter, Franklin Templeton and Luxor Capital.

💰 French on-demand pediatrics app Biloba added support for prescriptions and raised a $1.7 million seed round for its app that lets parents reach a general practitioner and a nurse when they have medical questions about their child.

💰 U.K. climate-focused investing app Clim8 raised $8 million from 7pc Ventures. The app allows consumers to invest in companies and supply chains that focus on tackling climate change, and competes with startups including Tickr, Helios and Yova.

Downloads

Avatarify

Avatarify

Avatarify

Avatarify, reviewed here by TechCrunch, is a new startup for making deepfake videos on your phone. The app processes user’s photos, then turns them into short videos by animating faces, using machine learning algorithms and adding sounds. The user can also select the effects and music they want to use, then tap to animate the photo. This resulting short video can then be shared to Instagram, Facebook or TikTok. The app has a freemium subscription model that costs $34.99/year or $2.49/week.

Feels

A screenshot of the app Feels

Image Credits: Feels

French startup Feels has launched a new dating app that wants to rethink the typical dating app profile, which today is more like browsing a catalog of people. In Feels, users can record videos, add text and stickers, answer questions, share photos and more. It also changes how users interact with profiles, ditching the binary thumbs up/down or swipe left/right for a feed of videos where you can react to users’ content or just swipe up to move on. There’s also no “Like” button here.

FCC Speed Test App

Image Credits: FCC

The U.S. Federal Communications Commission launched its own speed test app for both iOS and Android that aims to measure internet speeds across the country in order to better determine what areas need better access to broadband. The FCC’s current data on broadband speeds come from ISPs like Verizon and AT&T who will exaggerate their coverage, drawing criticism.

Daily Crunch: Squarespace files to go public

Squarespace is going public, Apple shares some music payment details and Twitter bans the founder of the right-wing media organization Project Veritas. This is your Daily Crunch for April 16, 2021.

The big story: Squarespace files to go public

Squarespace has filed to go public via direct listing on the New York Stock Exchange, under the ticker symbol SQSP. The company behind the popular website builder has seen its revenue grow 28% year-over-year, from $484.8 million in 2019 to $621.1 in 2020. And it reported net income of $30.6 million last year.

Also worth noting: The majority of voting power still rests with founder and CEO Anthony Casalena.

The tech giants

Apple Music streaming revenue detailed in letter to artists — Things start at around a penny-per-stream, which is about double what Spotify pays out.

Google misled consumers over location data settings, Australia court finds — The case relates to personal location data collected by Google through Android mobile devices between January 2017 and December 2018.

Twitter bans James O’Keefe of Project Veritas over fake account policy — O’Keefe has already said that he will sue the company for defamation.

Startups, funding and venture capital

Level raises $27M from Khosla, Lightspeed ‘to rebuild insurance from the ground up’ — Level aims to give companies a more flexible way to offer benefits to employees.

Oxbotica raises $13.8M from Ocado to build autonomous vehicle tech for the online grocer’s logistics network — Ocado is treating this as a strategic investment to develop AI-powered, self-driving systems that will work across its operations.

Soona raises $10.2M to make remote photo and video shoots easy — Customers ship their products to Soona, then watch the shoot remotely and offer immediate feedback.

Advice and analysis from Extra Crunch

The IPO market is sending us mixed messages — Summing up the IPO news from UiPath, Coinbase, Grab, AppLovin and Zenvia.

Data scientists: Bring the narrative to the forefront — In our collective infatuation with data, what’s often overlooked is the role that storytelling plays in extracting real value from it.

Enterprise security attackers are one password away from your worst day — Exabeam’s Ralph Pisani argues that the world has changed, but cybersecurity hasn’t kept pace.

(Extra Crunch is our membership program, which helps founders and startup teams get ahead. You can sign up here.)

Everything else

Reform the US low-income broadband program by rebuilding Lifeline — America’s Lifeline program is a monthly subsidy designed to help low-income families afford critical communications services.

GM’s second $2.3B battery plant with LG Chem to open in late 2023 — The plant will supply the automaker with the cells needed for the 30 electric vehicle models it plans to launch by mid decade.

Pakistan temporarily blocks social media — The Pakistani government ordered the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority to block social media platforms including Twitter, Facebook, WhatsApp, YouTube and Telegram for several hours today.

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.

Peloton responds to concerns over Apple GymKit integration

Third-party hardware integration can be a tricky thing. Peloton this week raised some eyebrows by dropping Apple GymKit compatibility for its Bike Bootcamp program. Users were, naturally, quick to react. The situation left some wondering whether the move was a direct response to Apple’s recent entry into the home exercise market with Fitness+.

A Peloton spokesperson offered the following statement to TechCrunch, “Apple GymKit is designed to work with equipment-based cardio workouts. However, Peloton recently implemented GymKit with Bike Bootcamp, a multi-disciplinary class type that combines strength and cardio, which the feature does not support. Members can still use GymKit to sync their cycling-only workouts to their Apple Watch from the Bike+.”

The comment appears to reflect one of the bigger issues with its initial GymKit implementation. Designed with the gym in mind, Apple’s program engages with specific exercise equipment. In other words, use the integration on the treadmill and the Watch specifically goes to work tracking run metrics. Use it with a bike and it tracks cycling.

A program like Bike Bootcamp complicates things, adding to the mix things like weightlifting. Likely that didn’t quite mesh with the third-party guidelines around GymKit implementation. The bigger issue for Peloton owners is that GymKit was a primary distinguisher between the standard Peloton bike and the Bike+ — two products with a $500 gulf between them.

Truth is, for now at least, working together is still a net positive for both parties. Apple may have its own fitness platform, but Peloton has a huge footprint — one that likely has significant overlap with Apple Watch users. GymKit may have been developed with gyms in mind, but people haven’t visited the gym much in the past year, and there’s a reasonable expectation that the industry might never entirely bounce back.

For Peloton’s part, it’s probably good to play nice with the company that utterly dominates the smartwatch category.

 

Business continuity planning is a necessity for your fund and portfolio

Just shy of a year ago, I sent an email to our global fund manager partners and to our direct portfolio CEOs titled “Only the decisive survive.” At that time, not many outside of China were concerned about COVID-19. However, I was obsessed.

Hearing stories from fund manager friends with operations in China, I knew things were worse than what the Chinese press were telling the world. And I live only five miles south of the location of the first COVID death in the U.S. The pandemic was accelerating exponentially, and I wanted to get all of our partners to open their eyes to the risks and prepare as well as they could.

I’m not writing with that level of intensity or urgency this time, but I am concerned. We all need to be taking precautionary measures, not just in light of COVID, but to ensure our firms can continue to thrive when faced with unexpected tragedy.

We all need to be taking precautionary measures, not just in light of COVID, but to ensure our firms can continue to thrive when faced with unexpected tragedy.

My partner Susana invested in 90 funds over 20 years — she’s seen everything from motorcycle accidents to depression take out fund managers and CEOs. Life works that way sometimes, and it’s not always someone else. It’s the “What happens if I get hit by a bus scenario?” In this case, the bus happens to be a global pandemic.

One of our funds in Asia recently reported COVID cases in three CEOs among their 23 companies. While developed market infections and deaths are trending down, many countries are seeing serious new outbreaks, and some, like Brazil, are doing badly.

Pandemic forecasting site IHME predicts a growing caseload across sub-Saharan Africa and East Asia and Pacific regions. The LAC region is trending down overall, but some countries, including Colombia, are expected to experience a second (or third) wave of infections.

As the Economist said in mid-February, “Coronavirus is not done with humanity yet.”

Planning for your fund

A month or so ago, we were trying to move forward with an investment in a fund in Africa with whom we had been speaking and doing due diligence for a few months. They went radio silent for over two weeks. We didn’t know whether to be miffed, concerned for their health, or what.