Mystery rocket makes moonfall

Hello and welcome back to Week in Review, where we recap the biggest stories from the week. If you want this in your inbox every Saturday, sign up here.

Greg Kumparak is still on vacation, but not to worry! He’ll be back at the helm next week to bring you our biggest stories. Until then, I’ve got you covered.

First for some quick business. TechCrunch+ is having an Independence Day sale, which gets you 50% off on an annual subscription. Need more? TC+ Editor-in-Chief Alex Wilhelm gives you all the reasons to take the plunge here.

Okay let’s go to the moon! Yes, the moon. Some space junk crashed to the lunar surface this week, causing some enthusiastic observers to scratch their heads. Was it from SpaceX? Was it from a rocket launched in 2014 by the China National Space Administration? We still don’t know, but Devin Coldewey had a chat with Darren McKnight from LeoLabs, which has built a network of debris-tracking radar, to get some more insight.

Image of the moon's surface and new crater

Image Credits: NASA/Goddard/Arizona State University

other stuff

Speaking of space: Ever want to stare longingly into the depths of the universe and actually have something stare back? This is supposed to happen in two weeks when the James Webb Space Telescope will release its first images. “This is farther than humanity has ever looked before,” NASA administrator Bill Nelson said during a media briefing this week. Maybe the truth is out there.

Tesla Autopilot layoffs: The automaker this week laid off 195 employees across two offices in its Autopilot division. Those who were laid off filled supervisor, labeler and data analyst roles. Questions persist about what impact the layoffs will have on Tesla’s wider advanced driver assistance system. The remaining 81 staffers on the Autopilot team will be relocated to another office, as the San Mateo office will be shuttered.

SPAC subpoenas: A New York-based federal grand jury sent subpoenas to the board of Digital World, which is preparing to acquire Trump Media & Technology Group, Donald Trump’s media group responsible for Truth Social. According to an SEC filing, the subpoenas are an effort to gather more information about “Digital World’s S-1 filings, communications with or about multiple individuals, and information regarding Rocket One Capital.”

Deepfake job apps: The FBI this week issued a warning that deepfakes are being used along with stolen information to apply for jobs. A part of this even involves video interviews. “In these interviews, the actions and lip movement of the person seen interviewed on-camera do not completely coordinate with the audio of the person speaking. At times, actions such as coughing, sneezing, or other auditory actions are not aligned with what is presented visually,” the FBI said in a statement announcing the disturbing news.

Party pooper: Welp, that 2020-era indefinite ban on unauthorized parties at Airbnbs is now permanent. This means no open-invitation parties and no parties whose attendance exceeds 16. The company said in a blog post that since they instituted the ban 2 years ago, there was a 44% year-over-year decrease in the rate of party reports. There will be no partying on, Garth.

Human And Artificial Intelligence Cooperating Concept

Image Credits: DrAfter123 / Getty Images

audio stuff

Over on the TechCrunch Podcast Network, Christine Tao, founder of Sounding Board, joined Darrell and Jordan on Found to talk about difficulties she and her co-founder faced while fundraising and how they established the customer type that made scaling possible.

And on the Wednesday episode of Equity, Natasha Mascarenhas asked a question inspired by a recent post penned by TC’s own Rebecca Szkutak: What’s in the fine print for term sheets these days, and what does that tell us about who is going to be in control during the downturn?

Check out our full roundup.

added stuff

Want even more TechCrunch? Head on over to the aptly named TechCrunch+, where we get to go a bit deeper on the topics our subscribers tell us they care about. Some of the good stuff from this week includes:

The SEC rejected bitcoin spot ETFs again. Now what?
The SEC’s decisions aren’t a first for the industry; the government agency has denied over a dozen bitcoin spot ETFs in the past year alone while approving several bitcoin future-based ETFs, Jacquelyn Melinek reports.

Disclose your Scope 3 emissions, you cowards
Tim De Chant takes on the companies that claim they’re serious about carbon emissions. In short, if they’re serious, then they’ll estimate their Scope 3 emissions and not undermine attempts to make Scope 3 disclosures standard.

Pitch Deck Teardown: Wilco’s $7 million seed deck
Haje’s back with another pitch deck teardown, this week from Wilco, a company whose funding he covered last week. He is pretty excited about Wilco’s deck, as, he says, it’s 19 slides that tick all of the boxes.

This Week in Apps: Period tracking app privacy, Snapchat’s paid subscription, calls for TikTok ban

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 continues to grow, with a record number of downloads and consumer spending across both the iOS and Google Play stores combined in 2021, according to the latest year-end reports. Global spending across iOS, Google Play and third-party Android app stores in China grew 19% in 2021 to reach $170 billion. Downloads of apps also grew by 5%, reaching 230 billion in 2021, and mobile ad spend grew 23% year over year to reach $295 billion.

Today’s consumers now spend more time in apps than ever before — even topping the time they spend watching TV, in some cases. The average American watches 3.1 hours of TV per day, for example, but in 2021, they spent 4.1 hours on their mobile device. And they’re not even the world’s heaviest mobile users. In markets like Brazil, Indonesia and South Korea, users surpassed five hours per day in mobile apps in 2021.

Apps aren’t just a way to pass idle hours, either. They can grow to become huge businesses. In 2021, 233 apps and games generated over $100 million in consumer spend, and 13 topped $1 billion in revenue. This was up 20% from 2020, when 193 apps and games topped $100 million in annual consumer spend, and just eight apps topped $1 billion.

This Week in Apps offers a way to keep up with this fast-moving industry in one place, with the latest from the world of apps, including news, updates, startup fundings, mergers and acquisitions, and suggestions about new apps to try, too.

Top Stories

Consumers react to Roe v Wade by deleting period tracking apps

In the week after the controversial Supreme Court ruling on Roe v Wade, consumers began to lock down access to their non-protected health data in period tracking apps. There was enough app switching taking place to influence the App Store charts, in fact, as users moved both to and from leading app Flo, benefitting rivals like Clue and Eve, which saw installs increase by 2,200% and 83%, respectively.

There are differing opinions on how much concern there needs to be over this period tracking data. Some argue that period tracking app data would not be the primary evidence used if there were to be prosecutions over now criminalized abortions — an argument, however valid, essentially serves to chastise consumers for reacting in fear by switching to more private apps or deleting them altogether. The bigger picture here is that this data was never HIPPA protected in the first place. And if consumers are reacting with seemingly outsized concern, maybe it’s because the government’s ruling terrifies them about what the future for this country holds. Maybe it not so crazy to switch back to pen and paper at a time when a rogue court is throwing out half a century of established legal precedent in order to control bodies and invade citizens’ privacy.

In any event, many period tracking app providers have been making promises to secure data or introduce new anonymity features. But in an unfortunate twist, it was a newcomer to the market that became the No. 1 app after the ruling — largely based on promises of end-to-end encryption and not its existing protections. As it turned out, the app — Stardust, as it was known — was sharing users phone numbers with a third-party. And after it rolled out its expected encryption later in the week, Stardust was found to be sending the local encryption key back to its servers. In layman’s terms, that means whatever was encrypted could now be decrypted. Not a good look.

Now the House Democrats are considering legislation that could protect abortion rights and secure data in reproductive apps.

Snapchat thinks its users will pay for perks with Snapchat+

Snapchat+

Image Credits: Snapchat

Like many tech companies, Snapchat has been struggling amid the tougher economic conditions and inflation. The company reported a challenging first quarter where it had additionally cited supply chain disruptions, the war in Ukraine, labor shortages and rising interest rates as contributing factors to its miss on both revenue and earnings in the quarter, and only a small uptick in daily active users. The company is also still dealing with the fallout from Apple’s 2021 privacy changes, or ATT (App Tracking Transparency), that impacted its advertising business and revenue.

In the midst of these macroeconomic factors, Snap is trying to navigate new regulations around minor safety, lock down its developer platform, roll out parental controls and remain competitive in a market where much of young people’s time spent in apps is now shifting to TikTok and other lightweight networking apps — or what TechCrunch recently dubbed “homescreen social” apps — like LiveIn, BeReal and others.

This has resulted in a search for alternative business models beyond advertising, it seems. This week, Snap introduced Snapchat+ — a $3.99/month subscription that provides access to premium features like being able to pin a friend as a “BFF,” see who rewatched a Story and the ability to change the app icon. The move, which was leaked in advance, follows the launches of similar subscription options aimed at power users, like Telegram Premium’s recent launch and Twitter Blue. It’s hard to say if these investments will pay off in the long run. For now, Twitter continues to make the majority of its revenue from ads and a small bit from data licensing. Telegram’s offering is too new to analyze at this time.

Snapchat+, meanwhile, is targeting an audience with perhaps even less to spend on subscription services. Will Snap’s high-schooler customers want to use their babysitting money, allowance or income from another minimum wage job or side hustle to gain a few extra features? Were these features actually in high demand, the way Twitter’s Edit button was? What’s the strategy for enhancing the offering over time? How will Snap evaluate which features to add — is it analyzing user data or behavior? Will it launch a feedback forum? Or will it just come up with ideas on its own? What percentage of revenue will Snapchat+ need to target to be considered a success? What are the ramifications to Snap if the product fails? Would Snap consider a bundle that combines hardware (like its new drone camera) and software?

For what it’s worth, Snap clearly didn’t want to invite much scrutiny of this major change to its business model. The company only offered one outlet, The Verge, an interview and said very little in it — beyond conveying to investors that this won’t be a “material new source of revenue.” Snap also tried to suggest to the outlet that it had been thinking about subscriptions for over five years, as if the new product was not reactive to the state of its business today.

Of course, tech companies weigh a variety of ideas all the time! But the timing of when they allocate real-world resources to build them is what actually matters. And Snap built a new way to make money at a time when the old way is suffering.

Oh, we’re thinking about banning TikTok again?

tiktok glitch

Image Credits: TechCrunch

The GOP wants to force you to use Reels. OK, that’s not quite the story — but that could be the result.

In actuality, Brendan Carr, the senior Republican on the Federal Communications Commission, wrote to Apple and Google to insist they pull TikTok from their app stores, calling it “a sophisticated surveillance tool” that’s harvesting “extensive amounts of personal and private data.”

Carr’s letter was prompted by the new report from BuzzFeed News which found that ByteDance staff in China had access to U.S. users’ TikTok data as recently as January 2022. (Beijing-based ByteDance owns TikTok and its Chinese sister app, Douyin).

Carr demanded the companies respond by July 8 if they didn’t comply and why. Specifically, he asked the app stores to explain why they would not penalize an app engaged in “the surreptitious access of private and sensitive U.S. user data by persons located in Beijing” coupled with “TikTok’s pattern of misleading representations and conduct.”

TikTok has long insisted it stores U.S. users’ data in the U.S. itself, with backups in Singapore, and said the data was outside the jurisdiction of China’s national security law which requires companies to turn over data to the Communist party if requested. But if TikTok data was being accessed in China, these prior statements seem to be misleading, at best.

The Trump administration had previously tried to ban TikTok by way of an executive order, but was held up in the courts. The Biden administration didn’t pursue the matter. But this latest incident now has the GOP interested in a ban once again. Fourteen GOP senators have also issued letters calling for answers from the video app, arguing it’s a national security threat.

Of course, it’s not that easy to ban TikTok. Last time around, TikTok creators successfully sued to stop the ban, which they said would prevent them from being able to earn a living. Another judge had also blocked Trump’s ban, saying the former president had overstepped his authority.

TikTok, meanwhile, has responded to BuzzFeed’s reporting by announcing it’s moving all U.S. user data to Oracle servers in the U.S., after which it will then delete U.S. users’ data from its own data centers, it says. Sure, Jan.

Weekly News

Platforms: Apple

  • Apple announced on Thursday developers in South Korea can now use third-party payments in their apps published to the South Korea App Store but will still pay a 26% commission. Plus, just as it tried before with Dutch dating apps, which had also won the right to use third-party payments, Apple said developers will need to submit their revised apps in a separate binary. Dutch regulators had pushed back against that provision, calling it an undue burden on developers, and Apple eventually dropped the requirement to come into compliance. It’s unclear how the Korea Communication Commission (KCC) will choose to respond, however.
  • Apple CarPlay in iOS 16 will support a new feature that allows drivers to pay for gas through a screen in their car using the fuel company’s app, instead of having to pay at the pump itself. BP, Shell and Chevron have expressed interest.
  • Apple clarified the iPad home hub support in iOS 16, after testers noted the iPad could no longer serve as a home hub — while Apple TV and HomePod devices could. The company explained that the Home app will introduce a new architecture in iPadOS 16 and iPad won’t be supported as a home hub with that upgrade. Impacted users can opt to not update their Home app to continue to use their iPad as a home hub.
  • Apple released the fourth public beta of iOS 15.6 and iPadOS 15.6.

Platforms: Google

  • Google’s Switch to Android app for iOS users is now compatible with all Android 12 phones, instead of just Pixel phones as before. The feature allows users to more easily make the move from iOS to Android by copying over contacts, calendars, photos and videos, and instructing on how to deregister iMessage.
  • Google settled a lawsuit with Android app developers over fees. The company settled a lawsuit with U.S. app developers who made less than $2 million in Play Store revenue from 2016-2021 by setting aside $90 million in a fund to pay back money to developers. The suit had argued Google gained a monopoly in the Android app distribution space through anti-competitive practices. The law firm said 48,000 U.S. developers are eligible to receive payments from Google.

E-commerce & Food Delivery

  • Food delivery biz Deliveroo will expand advertising on its app in July, including by adding ads to its order-tracking page as it chases profitability.
  • Fast food and membership club apps are seeing increased demand amid inflation, Apptopia reports.
  • TikTok is testing a dedicated “Shop” feed in Indonesia that lets users browse and purchase products from different categories, such as clothing and electronics. Of note, the feed sits on the app’s main page alongside its For You and Following feeds, which would be a major change to the product. The TikTok Shop service itself is currently available in select markets, including Indonesia, Vietnam, Singapore and the U.K.

Augmented Reality

  • Pokémon GO developer Niantic laid off 8% of its workforce, or around 85-90 people, amid the economic downturn. The company also canceled four upcoming projects, including Heavy Metal, a Transformers game that had already entered beta testing; Hamlet, a collaboration with the theater company behind “Sleep No More;” and two other projects known as Blue Sky and Snowball. Niantic has not been able to reproduce the success of its flagship game, having shut down a Harry Potter AR title and so far seen little adoption for its new AR game, Pikmin Bloom. The company is now working on a new AR game, NBA All-World.
  • Niantic’s Lightship is also powering a new “Game of Thrones” app designed to promote HBO’s upcoming prequel series “House of the Dragon.” The AR app will allow users to hatch a personalized dragon egg and raise their dragon at home. The app, produced by The Mill, will arrive on July 20.
  • Niantic launched Campfire, a new social app for its community that shows a map of your area with game experiences and activities from friends and other nearby players. The app helps users find local communities, add and manage friends, chat in one-on-one and group messages, join events and more.

Social

Facebook Groups new navigation and menu

Image Credits: Facebook

  • Facebook takes on Discord. The company this week rolled out new features for Facebook Groups including “Channels,” that allow users to connect with one another in smaller groups via chat or audio, similar to Discord, or in interest-based communities. The app will also test a new sidebar that will make it easier for users to find their groups more quickly, with the option to pin favorites to the top.
  • Facebook also rolled out NFTs. U.S. NFT creators will now be able to display NFTs under a new tab on their profiles. Meta recently launched NFTs on Instagram in May 2022.
  • Pinterest has a new CEO. The image pinboard and link-saving site’s co-founder and CEO Ben Silbermann stepped down after a 12-year run, turning over the reins to Google commerce boss Bill Ready. Previously, Ready ran Google’s shopping and payments arm after joining Google from PayPal, which acquired its startup Braintree for $800 million in 2013. Last fall, PayPal had been reported to be considering a Pinterst acquisition.
  • Instagram rolled out Reels APIs for developers. The new endpoints added to Instagram’s developer platform will allow developers to schedule Reels, publish to Instagram Business accounts, access social interaction metrics, reply to or delete comments, hide or unhide comments, disable or enable comments, find public Reels tagged with specific hashtags and identify Reels where an Instagram Business or Creator’s alias has been tagged or @mentioned.
  • Instagram users can now delete their accounts from within the iOS app. The app has complied with Apple’s new policy that states any app offering account creation must also now offer deletion. Instagram, however, puts accounts on hold for a month instead of immediately deleting them. If you log back in at any time, the deletion process is canceled.
  • Instagram is testing a change that turns all videos into Reels. The company said it’s trying to “simplify and improve” the video experience in the app. In reality, the move is yet another effort aimed at helping Instagram catch up with TikTok.
  • Short-form video app Triller filed for an IPO. The company confidentially filed for a U.S. IPO after ending its $5 billion merger with video ad software provider SeaChange International on June 14.

Messaging

  • WhatsApp is developing avatars. The Meta-owned company is working on an avatars feature similar to Apple’s Memoji or Snap’s Bitmoji, that could stand in for the user during video calls.

Streaming & Entertainment

  • Spotify launched a new personalized playlist option called “Supergrouper” that lets you create your own supergroup consisting of up to five artists. After you create and name your group, Spotify will curate a playlist of songs from the artists you selected, which you can also share on social media.
  • U.S. artists on Spotify can now use the app’s Marquee self-serve ad-buying option to promote releases across 14 markets via the Spotify for Artists dashboard. Marquee first launched in October 2019 but wasn’t able to target users outside the U.S. initially.
  • Twitch added a new Guest Star feature that lets streaming hosts bring up to five guests into a stream and swap them in and out.

Gaming

  • Meta VR developers call out the company for hypocrisy given its complaints over Apple’s App Store fees. The developers are frustrated with Meta’s 30% cut of their purchases and 15-30% cut of subscriptions, similar to Apple’s. They said Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg had called Apple’s fees “monopoly rents,” but his company is doing the same thing.
  • The WSJ examined the growing complexity of hypercasual games which have begun adding leaderboards, multiplayer formats and in-app purchases to these previously simple games as they look to retain player retention amid market saturation. The games often also use rewarded ads or those that showcase someone playing poorly to encourage users’ sense of competition. Other ads will feature gameplay that doesn’t exist at all.

Travel & Transportation

  • Car rental apps in the U.S. hit all-time highs for new installs and MAUs in May, Apptopia found, indicating pent-up travel demand and possibly a desire to avoid the chaotic airline issues. New installs are projected to increase 27% YoY in Q2 2022, and MAUs are expected to increase 19.4%. Enterprise (39.6%), Hertz (36.8%) and Turo (34.3%) are growing MAUs the fastest, the firm said.

Reading & News

  • Storytelling community Wattpad launched a creator program that offers writers up to $25,000 in compensation. There’s also a new metric called “Engaged Readers” that helps track readers’ interest in stories and a creator portal where writers can get other tips about improving their content.
  • Substack has begun to convert some writers’ text into audio automatically using text-to-speech technology. Readers using the Substack iOS app will have the ability to hear posts read aloud as a result.

Image Credits: Substack

Government & Policy

  • Russia is issuing fines to companies that aren’t storing Russian citizens’ personal data in the country. Google, Twitch, Pinterest, Airbnb and UPS have already been fined, and the government has opened cases against LikeMe and Apple as well.

Security & Privacy

  • Google notified Android users who were compromised by Hermit government-grade spyware which targeted victims in Kazakhstan and Italy. Google also examined the Hermit iOS app which is sideloaded onto devices and included six exploits, including two zero-days. Apple said it revoked all known accounts and certificates associated with the spyware campaign.
  • T-Mobile launched a service called App Insights that allows marketers to target wireless customers based on the apps they have installed. Customer data is anonymized and pooled together with others with similar interests and behaviors. And users are opted in by default.
  • Instagram is accused of continuing to allow a man accused of selling photos of children to pedophiles to maintain his account and share images for two months following his arrest, Forbes reports.
  • Google updated its password manager for Chrome and Android, offering a way for users to manually enter new passwords across platforms, as well as a new unified user experience that automatically groups multiple passwords for the same sites or apps together, and a new shortcut on the Android home screen to get access to these passwords. The iOS Chrome app will also be able to generate strong passwords for you.

Funding and M&A

💰 Data analysis startup Zing Data raised $2.4 million in seed funding led by Kindred Ventures for a mobile app that lets business users work with data wherever they are in an accessible way. The product can connect with a variety of popular data sources, including Snowflake, Trino, Google BigQuery and Google Sheets, as well as databases like Postgres and MySQL. Users then choose a dataset and some fields to display, then can manipulate the data to see different views and can share charts with others.

💰 London-based Birdie, a provider of digital tools for in-home care, raised $30 million in Series B funding led by Sofina, which will be used to scale the business in Europe. The SaaS company works with 700 care businesses that deliver millions of visits per month to around 35,000 recipients and 8,000 family members. Its services are available through both an iOS and Android app.

💰 London-based fintech Cleo, an AI-powered app for financial assistance, raised $80 million in Series C funding led by Sofina. The app targets the U.S. market’s Gen Z users with budgets and savings guidance and education.

💰 New Delhi-based digital bank Progcap raised $40 million in a Series C extension, valuing the business at $600 million, up 3x since September 2021. Creation Investments and Tiger Global led the round. The app serves 700,000 small retailers across hundreds of Indian cities and towns.

 

Tesla EV deliveries fall nearly 18% in second quarter following China factory shutdown

Tesla delivered 254,695 electric vehicles globally in the second quarter, a nearly 18% drop from the previous period as supply chain constraints, China’s extended COVID-19 lockdown and challenges around opening factories in Berlin and Austin took their toll on the company.

This is the first time in two years that Tesla deliveries, which were 310,048 in the first period this year, have fallen quarter over quarter. Tesla deliveries were up 26.5% from the second quarter last year.

The quarter-over-quarter reduction is in line with a broader supply chain problem in the industry. It also illustrates the importance of Tesla’s Shanghai factory to its business. Tesla shuttered its Shanghai factory multiple times in March due to rising COVID-19 cases that prompted a government shutdown.

tesla delivery q2 2022

Image Credits: Tesla/screenshot

The company said Saturday it produced 258,580 EVs, a 15% reduction from the previous quarter when it made 305,407 vehicles.

Like in other quarters over the past two years, most of the produced and delivered vehicles were Model 3 and Model Ys. Only 16,411 of the produced vehicles were the older Model S and Model X vehicles.

Tesla said in its released that June 2022 was the highest vehicle production month in Tesla’s history. Despite that milestone, the EV maker as well as other companies in the industry, have struggled to keep apace with demand as supply chain problems persist.

A USB standard for satellites? Slingshot 1 takes to orbit to test one

Testing new satellites and space-based technologies has never been easy exactly, but it definitely could be easier. Slingshot 1, a 12U Cubesat mission just launched via Virgin Orbit, is an attempt to make building and testing a new satellite as easy as plugging a new keyboard into your computer.

To say it’s “USB for space” is reductive… but not wrong. The team at the Aerospace Corporation that designed the new system makes the comparison itself, noting that the military has made several attempts to create just this with the Space Plug-and-Play Architecture (SPA), which became the Modular Open Network ARCHitecture (MONARCH), and the Common Payload Interface Standard (CoPaIS). But the approaches haven’t taken off the way, say, the Cubesat standard has — which, by the way, Aerospace also pioneered.

The goal of Slingshot 1 is to create a standard satellite bus that’s as adaptable and easy to use as USB or ATX, using open standards but also meeting all the necessary requirements for security, power, and so on:

[Slingshot] offers more agility and flexibility in satellite development through the use of modular, plug-and-play interfaces. These interfaces leverage open-sourced systems to avoid proprietary lock-ins that may stall development, as well as standardized interfaces for payloads that would not require a customized satellite bus. These interfaces set the power, command, control, telemetry, and mission data that may be required for payloads. Without a set of common standards, these payload-to-satellite bus requirements are driven by varying satellite bus manufacturers. Slingshot eliminates this uncertainty by reducing the number of requirements and complexity in the interface and creating an open payload interface standard called Handle.

How will it avoid the common trap encountered by would-be standard-standardizers, immortalized by XKCD: now there are N+1 standards?

Well, leaving aside the pretty deplorable state of standards in the satellite world, if there can be said to be any, the team decided to base the whole thing on Ethernet, which underpins a huge amount of networking in the world already.

“Basing the Handle standard on Ethernet builds on the vast ecosystem of hardware and software tools developed for that very common interface, essentially taking the most common terrestrial system standard and migrating it for satellite use,” said Dan Mabry, senior engineer specialist at Aerospace. “We’ve tailored the network for low power, but still support gigabit per second communications between devices with no custom software development required to tailor the network for each new application.”

And as he put it when Aerospace wrote up Slingshot for its own purposes last year: “When a payload plugs in it’ll instantly be recognized and work, and any broadcast data will get to the spacecraft downlink without any tuning or tweaking of the software onboard. Furthermore, because it’s an onboard network, that payload’s data is seen by all the other payloads as well. Payloads can easily collaborate in real-time, and distributed smart sensors and processors are coupled by the basic architecture.”

Combine this with a power hub that can intelligently supply a variety of needs, and a modular enclosure that makes the whole thing look like the back of a well-organized gaming PC, and you’ve got a recipe for plug and play that really makes things easy on the prospective designer.

The assembled Slingshot 1 setup without its outer enclosure.

As Slingshot’s program manager, Hannah Weiher put it: “It’s working to reduce interface complexity and support different satellite buses and payloads with minimal to zero adaptation needed to the interface. Handle was key to a streamlined payload integration process on Slingshot 1 where we had a wide range of payloads with different requirements and it enabled us to be able to integrate the volume of payloads we did in a satellite about the size of a shoe box.”

Of course it’s not enough to simply send up a barebones interface — imagine sending up a PC case with nothing in it. To see if it works, you need stuff attached, and fortunately there are a ton of experiments and capabilities Aerospace has been saving up since Slingshot’s genesis in 2019.

  • Handle – Plug-and-play payload electrical interface module
  • Bender – Onboard ethernet and network routing
  • t.Spoon – Modular mechanical interface
  • t.Spoon Camera – Plug-and-play camera module
  • t.Spoon Processor – Zynq Ultrascale+ onboard processing
  • Starshield – Onboard malware detection
  • CoralReef – Coral Tensor Processing Unit
  • STarfish – Secure ARM Cortex-M33 onboard processing
  • SDR – S-band Software-Defined Radio (SDR) downlink
  • Keyspace – Cryptographic services for SmallSats
  • Lasercom – Next-gen space/ground lasercom downlink
  • ROESA – Using Internet of Things protocols to connect payloads
  • Vertigo – Reconfigurable attitude control system
  • Blinker – GPS transponder for space traffic management
  • Hyper – SmallSat hydrogen peroxide thruster
  • ExoRomper – Artificial intelligence and machine learning testbed

Some of these are more or less self-explanatory, like t.Spoon’s various components, making up the core mechanical elements tying the whole thing together. And of course you need a nice software-defined radio downlink. But a tensor processing unit and machine learning testbed on a satellite? Internet of Things protocols? Cryptographic services?

CG view of Slingshot expanding to show its components.

When I talked with the team during a visit to Aerospace’s labs a while back, they talked about how a lot of what’s on Slingshot is unprecedented in some ways, but is more about adapting common terrestrial tasks to the extremely formalized and limited context of a satellite’s hardware and software.

Say you have three or four payloads sharing a processor and storage. How do you make sure their communications remain secure? The same way you would on the ground, but adapted to the lightweight processing, limited-power, unusual interface of a spacegoing craft. Sure, secure processing and communications in space have been done before — but it’s not like there’s a plug and play version where you can just click a check box and suddenly your payload is fully encrypted.

Similar is ExoRomper, which has an externally mounted camera hooked into the TPU. There’s been a bit of AI in space already, but never a setup where you can say: oh sure you can add on cloud recognition to your satellite, it’ll take up 2 watts, 20 cubic centimeters and 275 grams. This one in particular is set up to watch the satellite itself, looking at lighting conditions — something that seriously affect thermal loads and power handling. Why shouldn’t your satellite have its own satellite, watching to make sure there’s no hot spots on the solar cells?

Data will be coming in from Slingshot as it tests out its many components and experiments over the coming months. It could be the start of a new modular era for small satellites.

Ring ring ring ring Solanaphone

Welcome back to Chain Reaction.

Last week, we talked about the NFT community being down bad but still down to party. This week, we’re looking at the desperation of web3 startups for a post-Apple tech industry.

If you want to get this in your inbox every Thursday, you can subscribe on TechCrunch’s newsletter page.


crypto wants its own iPhone

There are few consumer companies with a better reputation among users than Apple, there are also few “web2” companies that are more despised by crypto startups than Apple.

We’ve talked a bit about Apple’s reputation in the crypto space over time. The App Store’s rules are pretty hostile to crypto and NFT startups, but it’s not the least understandable move for Apple which banks money on taking cuts of in-app transactions and justifies its monopoly by saying that they’re protecting users from scams and malware. Well, no one can argue that it’s simple to avoid scams in the crypto space these days, but life under Apple’s mobile empire is still frustrating for legit crypto apps that have to be content with being desktop-first in an overwhelmingly mobile world.

As a result, it’s not so shocking that the crypto world is showing interest in building a world without Apple. A task that doesn’t sound all that straightforward…

This week, Solana Labs, creators of the Solana blockchain which has had a dazzling rise and pretty dramatic fall in token price in recent months, has announced their own blockchain smartphone. If you’ve read TechCrunch over the years, this should be a bit eyebrow-raising. It’s nearly impossible to build a smartphone business as a startup, many have tried and few have achieved anything even closely resembling success.

The Solana phone, called Saga, runs on Android and rocks its own blockchain-centric features including a baked-in hardware wallet which basically gives users a more secure path towards holding and trading crypto or NFTs on their smartphone. There is an audience for this phone in crypto world I’m sure, but this is far from ideal launch timing for a niche device that will likely have an even tighter niche of an audience next year when the phone actually launches.

Web3 has gotten a surprising amount of buy-in from web2 giants, but there has been notably less of a warm reception from the companies that own mobile hardware. Apple’s users are hardly likely to rise up and demand more access to mobile app NFT purchases, so for now the company’s mobile stranglehold will be a frustration that web3 developers are tasked with almost hopelessly building their way out of.


the latest pod

This week, my co-host Anita was off on vacation so our colleague Jacquie joined us to dive into the week’s web3 happenings. We dove deeper onto the topic of the Solana Saga phone, we discussed FTX’s alleged interest in buying up Robinhood, we also chatted about some of the crypto financial firms that are currently in deep… trouble.

For our guest this week, I chatted with Julian Holguin, the CEO of Doodles. Doodles is a very popular NFT project that has done just over $500 million in total sales volume. Holguin was previously a big exec at Billboard and has taken on the task of scaling the Doodles brand into an intellectual property powerhouse. The firm just banked its first round of venture funding from Alexis Ohanian and is gearing up for some big new NFT launches as it looks to keep the party going even amid a crypto downturn.

Subscribe to Chain Reaction on Apple, Spotify or your alternative podcast platform of choice to keep up with us every week.


follow the money

Where startup money is moving in the crypto world:

  1. Entrepreneur First raises $158 million from Collison brothers to build a startup school with web3 programming
  2. No-code crypto games platform Soba raises $13.5 million led by Lightspeed
  3. Move-to-earn fitness startup Fitmint nabs $1.6 million from General Catalyst
  4. Web3 game Stella Fantasy gets $5 million from Animoca Brands
  5. NFTs for kids platform Cryptoys scores $23 million from a16z
  6. NFT curation app EyesFi raises $2 million from Multicoin Capital
  7. Blockchain startup Linera gets $6 million from a16z
  8. Financial security startup PolySign scores $53 million from Cowen Digital, others
  9. Wallet login startup Dynamic nabs $7.5 million from a16z
  10. NFTs for good startup R Labs gets $5 million from Softbank

TC+ analysis

Here’s some of this week’s crypto analysis you can read on our subscription service TC+ (written by TC’s Jacquelyn Melinek): 

This crypto winter may be long, but builders remain bullish
Even though the top digital assets in the crypto market are still down significantly year to date, some market participants are shrugging it off and focusing on the long game. The crypto world is working on building human experiences beyond throwing money at each other, Evin McMullen, CEO of metaverse-focused Disco.xyz, said. “Now that we are no longer looking at green candles to keep us occupied, we have an opportunity to explore what other kinds of fun we can have,” McMullen said. “What other kinds of coordination games can we solve together that are not just based on token prices but are based on our activities as human beings?”

Blockchain gaming unfazed by crypto volatility as gamers ‘seek out entertainment’
The web3 gaming industry is one of the few sectors seemingly unaffected by current crypto market conditions, with capital continuing to pool into the space — and some industry players say it’s for good reason. The number of active web3 game users “has nothing to do with the market,” because even when the economy is down, people will still seek out entertainment, Robby Yung, CEO of Animoca Brands, said. 


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Notch will sell you insurance in case your Instagram gets hacked

Getting hacked sucks. It’s even worse if you’re a digital creator whose social media accounts literally pay your bills. When creators get hacked, it can mean that they aren’t able to post sponsored content, earn payments from badges or operate their Instagram shops — it’s debilitating, like if a chef broke their arm and had to cook with one hand.

The Israel-based startup Notch is trying to see if insuring creators against Instagram hacks could offer a solution. Starting at $8 a month, creators can sign up for Notch’s Instagram account insurance, which means that if they get hacked and lose access to their account, the startup will pay them a stipend and help them regain control of their page.

TechCrunch reviewed a sample insurance policy, which quoted a $459 annual fee (or about $38 a month) for insurance that pays out $244 for each day that a creator can’t get into their account after a hack. These daily reimbursements kick in after a 48 hour waiting period and max out at $22,000 (or 90 days) of payments per year.

Notch uses a number of metrics to determine the nature of a creator’s policy.

“We look at the follower count, engagement, where the audience is from, the vertical where the influencer works, how many posts per month that person usually uploads, how many of them are sponsored posts…” CEO Rafael Broshi explains. With that information, Notch can estimate how much sponsored content a creator posts a month, and how much money someone of their caliber would make off of each post. Then, the company can calculate a monthly fee for coverage.

This isn’t an exact science, though — not all influencers are created equal, and the same level of followers or engagement may translate differently across various audiences. Plus, there’s no standardized base pay for a brand deal so it’s possible Notch might over- or underestimate a creator’s income.

A key feature of the policy is that it only covers hacks. Some creators, especially those from marginalized communities, face targeted harassment on Instagram, which sometimes means that bad actors will mass-report their account for no reason, causing them to get banned or suspended. In these cases, whether a ban is deserved or not, Notch will not cover a creator’s loss of income. 

“We’ll probably issue an add-on to the policy in the near future, which covers suspensions as well,” Broshi said. “We don’t currently cover those things, mainly because it’s very, very difficult to really build a product that provides value […] That’s why we went towards the hacking part, where we believe we will be able to help.”

Notch is not affiliated with Instagram, but Broshi says that this is normal for insurance companies.

“Car insurance companies don’t usually have any connection to the car manufacturer,” he told TechCrunch. Currently, the product is available in Arizona, Florida, Illinois, Tennessee and Texas — each state has different regulations regarding insurance products, so approval in any individual state will be a different process.

To be eligible for these payouts, creators need to turn on mutli-factor authentication (MFA). But many types of MFA exist, and the policy doesn’t offer more specifics. Some cybersecurity experts advise against using SMS texts as a second layer of security, since a SIM swapping hack (someone impersonating you to your phone carrier to take over your SIM card) could render you powerless against fraudulent log-in attempts.

Insurance policies aside, it’s always a good time to take extra steps to protect your online security and digital privacy, especially if you’re someone whose income is directly tied to your internet presence. Notch doesn’t want you to get hacked because then they’d have to pay you, but you also don’t want to get hacked because… it would suck. Speaking of which, don’t even try to engineer a fake hack to get your daily payout — Notch’s contract prohibits it.

So far, Notch has raised $7 million in an extended seed round led by Lightspeed Ventures. Longtime creators like Nas Daily and Casey Neistat are investors as well, which is an important vote of confidence for the company, since none of its founders have experience working in the creator economy. Of the three founders, Broshi is a former investor, CPO Elool Jacoby was a senior product manager at SimilarWeb and CTO Yuval Peled was a software engineer.

Notch only just launched this month, so we haven’t yet witnessed how they may be able to help a creator through a hack. But before launch, Notch helped some creators with account retrieval, which is why there are testimonials on the company’s website.

As with any startup, you don’t want to be the guinea pig — but, for big enough creators, a monthly payment could be worth the peace of mind it brings.

4 climate tech investors sound off on Supreme Court’s EPA ruling

This week’s Supreme Court decision to curtail the Environmental Protection Agency’s ability to regulate greenhouse gas emissions may not have been unexpected, but it was still a bombshell. Not only did it kill the prospect of quick executive action on the matter, it potentially cut off a number of regulatory solutions.

The EPA had sought to rein in carbon emissions first through the Obama-era Clean Power Plan, which had been shelved after court losses, and then through Biden administration regulations. The two Democratic administrations relied on part of the Clean Air Act that authorized the EPA administrator to use their judgment to produce a list of stationary pollution sources “which may reasonably be anticipated to endanger public health or welfare.”

Carbon emissions certainly deserve to be on the list, with climate change expected to cause nearly 5 million excess deaths annually by 2100.


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Now, if anything is to be done on the matter, the court said that Congress must explicitly authorize it. Given the current state of Congress, climate legislation isn’t impossible, but it’s also not very probable.

Until that happens, the U.S. is going to become increasingly reliant on the private sector to provide climate-oriented solutions that not only limit carbon pollution but also give the country a chance at remaining competitive in a world that’s quickly moving away from fossil fuels.

“This is a race we cannot afford to lose, yet the Supreme Court has just tied weights to our feet.” Peter Davidson, CEO, Aligned Climate Capital

The good news is that the climate tech sector has become a hotbed of activity in the past few years, drawing tens of billions in investment. Despite a dearth of government action in the U.S., investors have remained bullish, in part because of the sector’s enormous potential. By 2025, climate tech could draw up to $2 trillion in investments annually by 2025, according to McKinsey.

The Supreme Court’s decision threatens to pour cold water on that, of course. While it may have tempered some enthusiasm in the short term, three climate tech investors remain optimistic that opportunity still exists and that the private sector can deliver results.

Retail investors or guinea pigs?

Welcome to The TechCrunch Exchange, a weekly startups-and-markets newsletter. It’s inspired by the daily TechCrunch+ column where it gets its name. Want it in your inbox every Saturday? Sign up here.

There is a paradox when it comes to retail investors: Many startup-related deals are out of their reach (in part for their own sake). Yet, laypeople have also become the target of novel schemes hoping to attract their bets and savings. Are nonprofessional investors assuming more risk than they should? Let’s explore. — Anna

Opium for the masses

I am by no means a stock exchange expert. But while writing on cannabis and psychedelics startups for TechCrunch lately, I discovered that some young companies in these verticals are listing on trading markets that I had never heard of. I mean, I had heard of “pink sheets” — in “The Wolf of Wall Street.” I just didn’t think that over-the-counter securities were something startups would ever use. It looks like needing money for drugs makes you creative!


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I have nothing against innovation, even when it comes to fundraising. But the fact that listed cannabis companies — many of which went public with nascent revenues more reminiscent of startup metrics than mature-company results — have seen their market caps crash is likely no coincidence. And when we consider the period of hype surrounding their public debuts, it’s difficult to not wonder how many retail traders got burned.

We’re not merely discussing the most obscure exchanges, either. Cannabis companies listed on the Nasdaq, such as Akanda and Tilray, have also seen their value plummet.

My perception that we’re seeing a new crop of companies, those focused on psychedelics, follow in the footsteps of cannabis companies is not mere speculation. “There is an unwarranted rush from founders to list their cannabis and psychedelics companies on stock exchanges,” VC Bek Muslimov told me.

Muslimov is a co-founding partner at specialized investment firm Leafy Tunnel, and he sees a danger in rushed listings. “In this pursuit, founders and management teams bypass private financing markets which consist of professional and diligent investors such as VCs or growth capital funds,” he told me in an email.

The problem here isn’t that private investors lose out on juicy opportunities. The problem is that they would have declined to invest in the first place. Not because they don’t invest in cannabis — few do. But Leafy Tunnel is one of them, meaning that its viewpoint here matters.

What Muslimov objects to is seeing cannabis and psychedelics companies going public when they would not have passed venture capitalists’ criteria to get funded. “Unfortunately, this can lead to a situation where companies with poor business fundamentals and insufficient level of maturity are listed, allowing them to tap into funds of retail investors.”

YC makes a Product Hunt, Product Hunt makes an a16z, a16z makes a YC

Tech innovation is a cycle, especially in the main character-driven world of early-stage venture capital and copycat nature of startups.

The latest proof? Y Combinator this week announced Launch YC, a platform where people can sort accelerator startups by industry, batch and launch date to discover new products. The famed accelerator, which has seeded the likes of Instacart, Coinbase, OpenSea and Dropbox, invites users to vote for newly launched startups “to help them climb up the leaderboard, try out product demos and learn about the founding team,” it said in a blog post.

If it sounds familiar, it’s because — in my perspective — Y Combinator is taking a not-so-subtle swipe at Product Hunt, a nearly decade-old platform that is synonymous with new startup launches and feature announcements.


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Y Combinator doesn’t necessarily agree with this characterization: The accelerator’s head of communications, Lindsay Amos, told me over email that “we encourage YC founders to launch on many platforms — from the YC Directory to Product Hunt to Hacker News to Launch YC — in order to reach customers, investors and candidates.”

The overlap isn’t isolated. As Y Combinator makes a Product Hunt, Product Hunt is making an Andreessen Horowitz. Meanwhile, a16z is making its own Y Combinator. Not to mention Product Hunt has investment capital from a16z and formerly went through the Y Combinator accelerator.