Match Group and Google reach an interim compromise over app payments

Match Group, the parent company of dating apps Tinder, Hinge and OkCupid, is getting along better with Google, just by a little bit.

On Friday, Match withdrew its request for a temporary restraining order against the company, which it accuses of wielding unfair monopoly power in its mobile app marketplace. Match filed an antitrust lawsuit against the search giant earlier this month over the company’s restrictions on Android in-app payments, which drive app users toward remaining in its mobile ecosystem. The company filed the temporary restraining order request a day after suing Google.

Match cited a handful of “concessions” from Google in its decision to withdraw the restraining order request, including assurances that its apps would not be rejected or deleted from the Google Play Store for providing alternative payment options. The company will also place up to $40 million aside in an escrow account in lieu of paying fees to Google directly for Android app payments that happen outside of Google Play’s payment system, arguing that those fees are “illegal under federal and state law.” The escrow account will remain in place while the case awaits its day in court.

Match’s lawsuit is the most recent example of app makers objecting to Google and Apple’s practice of extracting steep fees for in-app payments. Developer frustration around the issue boiled over two years ago when Epic Games sued Apple for antitrust violations, a case that didn’t result in a straightforward victory for either side but did force Apple to allow developers to offer their users alternative payment options.

Snapchat’s parental control features spotted in development

Snapchat is preparing to introduce a new parental control feature dubbed “Family Center,” which will allow parents to see who their teen is friends with on the app as well as who they’ve been messaging with over the past seven days, and more.

Snap’s CEO Evan Spiegel first teased the planned offering during an interview in October, where he explained the feature would give parents better visibility into how teens use its service and, hopefully, make them feel more comfortable with the app.

Snap is one of the last Big Tech social platforms to address the need for parental monitoring tools, though its app sees heavy use among younger users. At Snap’s NewFronts presentation to advertisers earlier this month, the company noted the Snapchat app now reaches more than 75% of 13-34-year-olds in over 20 countries, and 80% of the U.S. Gen Z population had watched at least one of its Snap Original shows.

According to new screenshots of Snapchat’s forthcoming Family Center shared with TechCrunch by the product intelligence firm Watchful, the new Family Center feature allows parents to see who their teen is friends with on the app. This is useful for parents because, unlike many social networks, Snapchat’s friend lists aren’t public. Parents will also have visibility into who their teen has chatted with over the past seven days — but not the contents of those conversations. The screenshots additionally explain that parents will be able to assist their teen in reporting abuse and harassment, if needed.

Image Credits: Snapchat screenshot via Watchful

The parental control feature works by allowing parents to invite their teen (or teens) to the new in-app Family Center in order to begin the monitoring. The recipient of that invitation has the option of either accepting or declining the invitation.

This is, arguably, an appropriate approach to parental controls involving teens, as it respects their privacy. Instead of allowing parents to surreptitiously spy on their teens, it ensures the parent and child will instead have a conversation about parental monitoring, where they agree to a set of rules appropriate for their own household.

The images provided by Watchful represent early designs of Snapchat’s feature, which is still in development and not yet live or being tested. We should note that products at this stage often change before their launch to the general public. That means the final product could look quite different. (The U.K. spelling of the word “Center,” too, suggests that we’re not seeing a global version of the Family Center product here.)

Image Credits: Snapchat screenshot via Watchful

Other large social platforms have already launched their parental control features and other age-appropriate experiences for their younger users. Snap is running a little behind.

TikTok, for example, has continued to develop its parental controls offerings following the debut of its in-app Family Pairing tool back in 2020. The tool allows parents to pair their TikTok account with a child’s in order to control the account’s privacy, whether it’s suggested to other TikTok users, whether the child can use search, and who, if anyone, can view, comment or interact with the child’s content, among other things. There’s also a toggle to put the account into an even safer mode for under-13 users.

YouTube also launched parental control features into testing last year that allow parents to select between different levels of YouTube access for teen or tween users. And Instagram arrived even later with its new safety tools for parents, also called Family Center, which didn’t roll out until March 2022. Its tools let parents monitor time spent on the app, who has followed the child’s account and more.

Although all platforms compete broadly in the social media space, they all operate a bit differently, which informs what type of parental control features are actually needed. In Snapchat’s case, minors on the app have to mutually accept each other as friends before they can begin messaging. Minors’ accounts also aren’t shown in search results or as friend suggestions to another user — unless they have friends in common. And minors are not able to have public profiles. That means Snap wouldn’t need to roll out parental control features to control these types of experiences.

Snap declined to comment on the Family Center screenshots, but the company had previously said the offering would arrive in the coming months.

Pokémon Go trainers who use Amazon Prime can snag some bonus items

Let’s say we have a venn diagram with two circles: Pokémon Go players and Amazon Prime members. If you fall in the middle, congrats! Here’s 30 pokéballs.

Niantic’s flagship Pokémon Go app has partnered with Prime Gaming and Prime Student to release bonus item bundles every two weeks. Starting today, Amazon Prime subscribers can visit Prime Gaming’s Pokémon Go page to claim this fortnight’s bonus. Once you log in to Prime, you’ll get a code, which you can redeem on Niantic’s rewards page. Soon, your items should appear in the game.

This is far from the first time that Pokémon Go has partnered with large businesses — they’ve run promotions with brands like Starbucks, T-Mobile, Sprint and more in the past.

If we make the middle of our venn diagram even smaller by adding a circle of “people who attend Seattle University or a few of the UCs,” then cool, you can also grab some swag on Saturday during the global, in-game May Community Day event, which features Alolan Geodude. If not, happy pokéballs!

P.S.: Speaking of things that you get for free via Prime Gaming, did you know that you get a free Twitch subscription once per month? So, if you want to rebel against the tyranny of ubiquitous, union-busting e-commerce by giving your favorite streamer a few bucks, jump on that.

Twitter will hide false tweets from high-profile accounts during times of crisis

In its ongoing effort to combat misinformation about breaking news, Twitter is rolling out a crisis misinformation policy to ensure that it doesn’t amplify falsehoods during times of widespread strife.

To determine whether a tweet is misleading, Twitter will require verification from credible, public sources, including conflict monitoring groups, humanitarian organizations, open source investigators, journalists and more. If the platform finds that the tweet is misleading, it’ll slap a warning notice on the tweet, turn off likes, retweets and shares, and link to more details about the policy. These tweets will also stop surfacing on the home page, search or explore.

Notably, Twitter will “preserve this content for accountability purposes,” so it will remain online. Users will just have to click through the warning to view the tweet. In the past, some warnings about election or COVID-19 misinformation have simply been notices that appear in line beneath the tweet, rather than covering it up entirely.

Twitter crisis misinfo policy notice

Image Credits: Twitter

Twitter says it will prioritize adding warning notices to viral tweets or posts from high-profile accounts, which may include verified users, state-affiliated media and government accounts. This strategy makes a lot of sense, since a tweet from a prominent figure is more likely to go viral than a tweet from an ordinary person with 50 followers — but it’s a wonder that more platforms haven’t taken this approach already.

Some examples of tweets that might be flagged under this policy include false on-the-ground event reporting, misleading allegations of war crimes, atrocities, or use of weapons and misinformation about international community response, sanctions, defensive operations and more. Personal anecdotes don’t fall under the policy, nor do people’s strong opinions, commentary or satire. Tweets that call attention to a false claim in order to refute it are allowed, too.

Twitter began working on a crisis misinformation framework last year alongside human rights organizations, it says. This policy may come into effect under circumstances like public health emergencies or natural disasters, but to start, the platform will use these tactics to mitigate misinformation about international armed conflict — particularly, the ongoing Russian attack on Ukraine.

Most social networks have struggled with content moderation amid the war in Ukraine, and Twitter is no exception. In one circumstance, Twitter made the decision to remove the Russian Embassy’s false claim that a pregnant bombing victim in Ukraine was a crisis actor. Twitter also suspended an account that spread a false conspiracy theory that the U.S. holds biological weapons in Ukraine.

It seems like there’s a fine line between what kind of content would be taken down entirely or what posts would result in a deletion or ban. This policy might have applied to the Russian Embassy’s misleading tweet, for example, but at what point is an account so violative that it earns a ban?

“Content moderation is more than just leaving up or taking down content,” Twitter’s head of safety and integrity Yoel Roth wrote in a blog post. “We’ve found that not amplifying or recommending certain content, adding context through labels, and in severe cases, disabling engagement with the Tweets, are effective ways to mitigate harm, while still preserving speech and records of critical global events.”

Roth added in a thread that Twitter found that not amplifying this content can reduce its spread by 30% to 50%.

But depending on whether Elon Musk’s $44 billion bid to buy Twitter actually goes through, these policies may not be around for long. Musk believes that content moderation should mirror the rules of the state, AKA, Twitter’s community guidelines basically just become the First Amendment with no added nuance. While that may be appealing to the kinds of people who are never on the receiving end of hateful messages, that approach could undo loads of progress on Twitter, including efforts like this that halt the spread of harmful misinformation.

Even so, these policies are never 100% effective, and much content that violates guidelines escapes detection anyway. This week, we encountered multiple banned videos of the Buffalo shooter’s terrorist attack on platforms like Twitter and Facebook, which were left online for days without removal. One video of the gruesome shooting, which we sent to Twitter directly, still remains online.

So while these policies might be well intentioned, they can only function as effectively as they’re enforced.

TikTok is gearing up for games, including interactive minigames for TikTok LIVE

TikTok is already one of the world’s fastest-growing social media platforms, where it’s even overtaken YouTube on watch time in select markets and sports over 1 billion monthly active users. Now, the company is looking to expand the range of activities its users can do when they tire of flipping through short videos. A report from Reuters today indicates the company is further investing in HTML5 games, and has already begun tests. But we understand there may be more to TikTok’s gaming strategy than web-based gaming. It appears TikTok is also working on a LIVE mobile gaming feature that would allow creators to better engage fans while live streaming.

Reuters said TikTok planned to draw on parent company ByteDance’s suite of games, beginning with minigames that have simple mechanisms and a shorter playing time. It claimed tests had begun in Vietnam. But TikTok told TechCrunch that was inaccurate, saying that Vietnam gaming testing is not something it’s currently doing.

The social video app’s move into HTML5 gaming was already known, as TikTok had previously announced its plans alongside its Zynga partnership last year. The two companies had teamed up to launch the HTML5 game “Disco Loco 3D” exclusively on TikTok. And at the time, TikTok confirmed it was already in discussions with other game makers for similar deals, telegraphing a larger gaming expansion was still to come. TikTok says it doesn’t have any new partners to name on this front as of now.

Image Credits: Zynga

Ahead of the Zynga deal, TikTok had also already launched its own game, “Garden of Good,” built in partnership with nonprofit Feeding America and focused on charitable fundraising. This one felt more like an experiment to see if TikTok users would play an in-app game.

While still a smaller effort today, gaming could grow to become a significant monetization tool for TikTok, if the games end up being ad-supported or later add paid components, like in-app purchases.

In addition to its previously announced efforts to delve into HTML5 games, TechCrunch has also learned TikTok is looking to explore LIVE games in a separate effort.

According to an investigation by mobile product intelligence firm Watchful, based in Tel Aviv, TikTok is working to add minigames to LIVE videos in its app to enhance the live-streaming experience between creators and their fans.

One LIVE game Watchful uncovered is called “Draw & Guess,” which is designed specifically to encourage interaction between creators and viewers. In this Pictionary-like game, players are given words that they then draw on the screen, and viewers try to guess what they’re drawing. The correct guesses are shown on the screen.

Watchful also noted the mobile gaming feature may allow screen-sharing, so creators could share their screen with viewers in real-time, including their camera, audio, notifications, and other alerts. Their games could be shown in either landscape mode or portrait mode, the firm said.

While today, a handful of reverse engineers publicly share details of unannounced, still-in-development features they find in popular consumer apps, Watchful has productized this type of investigation and enhanced it with technology. The company uses a combination of computer vision and flow analysis to identify and emulate app changes. Its differential analysis engine compares application versions using real user data and proprietary computer vision algorithms, it says. The studies are also backed by the firm’s mobile device labs deployed around the world.

Reached for comment, TikTok did not have anything more to share about the LIVE gaming efforts, but told us it was a totally unrelated development from the HTML5 games Reuters had described.

Games aren’t the only way TikTok is looking to enhance the TikTok LIVE Platform.

Watchful also flagged another in-development feature that feels like a cross between a game and a virtual gifting experience. It allows users to add a “Treasure Box” to LIVE videos which doles out coins after a timer is up to a random set of users.

Image Credits: TikTok app image via Watchful

And it found TikTok was working on the in-app shopping experience, TikTok Shop, which is offered today in Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam, Mainland China, Hong Kong, and the U.K. Here, TikTok appears to be looking at adding a shopping bag icon to LIVE shopping videos which, when clicked, opens up a window where viewers can browse through available products with the option to click to add them to a cart for immediate purchase.

Image Credits: TikTok app image via Watchful

TikTok declined to comment on these other LIVE platform plans.

WhatsApp ramps up revenue with global launch of Cloud API and soon, a paid tier for its Business App

WhatsApp is continuing its push into the business market with today’s news it’s launching the WhatsApp Cloud API to all businesses worldwide. Introduced into beta testing last November, the new developer tool is a cloud-based version of the WhatsApp Business API — WhatsApp’s first revenue-generating enterprise product — but hosted on parent company Meta’s infrastructure.

The company had been building out its Business API platform over the past several years as one of the key ways the otherwise free messaging app would make money. Businesses pay WhatsApp on a per-message basis, with rates that vary based on the region and number of messages sent. As of late last year, tens of thousands of businesses were set up on the non-cloud-based version of the Business API including brands like Vodafone, Coppel, Sears Mexico, BMW, KLM Royal Dutch Airlines, Iberia Airlines, Itau Brazil, iFood, and Bank Mandiri, and others. This on-premise version of the API is free to use.

The cloud-based version, however, aims to attract a market of smaller businesses, and reduces the integration time from weeks to only minutes, the company had said. It is also free.

Businesses integrate the API with their backend systems, where WhatsApp communication is usually just one part of their messaging and communication strategy. They may also want to direct their communications to SMS, other messaging apps, emails, and more. Typically, businesses would work with a solutions provider like Zendeks or Twilio to help facilitate these integrations. Providers during the cloud API beta tests had included Zendesk in the U.S., Take in Brazil, and MessageBird in the E.U.

During Meta’s messaging-focused “Conversations” live event today, Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced the global, public availability of the cloud-based platform, now called the WhatsApp Cloud API.

“The best business experiences meet people where they are. Already more than 1 billion users connect with a business account across our messaging services every week. They’re reaching out for help, to find products and services, and to buy anything from big-ticket items to everyday goods. And today, I am excited to announce that we’re opening WhatsApp to any business of any size around the world with WhatsApp Cloud API,” he said.

He said the company believes the new API will help businesses, both big and small, be able to connect with more people.

In addition to helping businesses and developers get set up faster than with the on-premise version, Meta says the Cloud API will help partners to eliminate costly server expenses and help them provide customers with quick access to new features as they arrive.

Some businesses may choose to forgo the API and use the dedicated WhatsApp Business app instead. Launched in 2018, the WhatsApp Business App is aimed at smaller businesses that want to establish an official presence on WhatsApp’s service and connect with customers. It provides a set of features that wouldn’t be available to users of the free WhatsApp messaging app, like support automated quick replies, greeting messages, FAQs, away messaging, statistics, and more.

Today, Meta is also introducing new power features for its WhatsApp Business app that will be offered for a fee — like the ability to manage chats across up to 10 devices. The company will also provide new customizable WhatsApp click-to-chat links that help businesses attract customers across their online presence, including of course, Meta’s other applications like Facebook and Instagram.

These will be a part of a forthcoming Premium service for WhatsApp Business app users. Further details, including pricing, will be announced at a later date.

 

Netflix launches a new ‘Mystery Box’ feature to help kids discover new content

Netflix is introducing a new “Mystery Box” feature aimed at helping kids discover new movies and TV shows, the company announced on Thursday. The new feature, which is similar to a shuffle button based on your preferences, is rolling out globally on the company’s connected TV platforms today. Netflix notes that since kids often love rewatching their favorites, it can be hard to get them to try something new, which is why it’s rolling out this new feature.

Kids and their caregivers can access the new feature by finding the ‘Favorites Row’ featured at the top of the Netflix homepage when logged onto a Netflix Kids profile. From there, you need to hover over the sparkly “Mystery Box” to discover a new title. Once you hover over the box with a question mark, a preview of a TV show or movie will automatically start playing.

Image Credits: Netflix

“Kids are drawn to what they love — their favorite toys, foods, songs — and it’s hard to get them to try something new,” said TJ Marston, Netflix’s director of product innovation, kids and family, in a blog post. “We hope that kids will love the surprise and delight of revealing the next show or film recommended for them.”

Although there are already ways to discover new content on Netflix, this new feature is designed to be a more fun and interactive way for kids to get new suggestions. The company says the new feature will give kids a tailored experience that will help them find their next favorite series or movies, or even reconnect them with a familiar character.

The company has been introducing a number of new features aimed at kids over the past year. Last July, Netflix launched bi-weekly kids recap emails to give parents a better understanding of their child’s viewing preferences. The emails give parents access to coloring sheets and activities based on their child’s favorite characters. Among other things, they also include recommendations based on a child’s favorite shows and movies. At the same time, Netflix rolled out a “Kids Top 10” row featuring the most popular children’s content in your country.

Netflix also visually revamped its Kids profile last year to make it easier to navigate. Prior to the update, the layout for the Kids profile was similar to an adult’s, with rows that showed Trending shows and other suggestions. With the revamp, the top row now features the kid’s most-watched content. It made sense for Netflix to change up the user interface, especially since younger kids often navigate Netflix visually.

Uber, Grocery Outlet partner to pilot on-demand and scheduled grocery delivery

Uber is partnering with Grocery Outlet to pilot on-demand and scheduled grocery delivery, the company announced on Thursday. Starting today, users can shop at 72 Grocery Outlet stores in California, Oregon and Washington state via the Uber or Uber Eats app. The new partnership signifies Uber’s push into on-demand and scheduled grocery delivery.

Oskar Hjertonsson, the head of grocery at Uber, said in a statement that the goal of the new partnership is to “provide a reliable and affordable grocery delivery option that works for everyone, no matter your budget. We see our partnership with Grocery Outlet as an opportunity to do just that by delivering customers the brands they like at the Grocery Outlet prices they love, on-demand, right to their door.”

To mark the new partnership, the company is offering pilot customers free delivery on their first order of $30 or more through June 19. Uber One members can get free delivery on all Grocery Outlet orders with a $15 minimum purchase.

Earlier this month, Uber expanded its partnership with Albertsons to include more than 2,000 of the company’s stores nationwide, including Albertsons, Safeway, Jewel-Osco, ACME, Tom Thumb, Randalls and more. The expansion brought nearly 800 new locations to Uber Eats.

Uber initially launched grocery delivery in July 2020 in Latin America and Canada, and has since expanded the service to more than 400 U.S. cities and towns. The company says it’s “uniquely poised” to meet consumers’ desire to get the things they need from grocery stores in an “on-demand fashion.”

Today’s announcement comes as Uber recently unveiled a slew of new features at its global product event earlier this week. The company launched a new “Uber Travel” feature that will help riders book a ride to and from upcoming events, like flights or restaurant reservations, in advance. Uber also announced a new Uber Charter service that allows riders to book party buses, passenger vans and coach buses directly through the Uber app. The company also announced event vouchers, an EV and charging map, new Uber Eats products, new perks for its Uber One membership and more.

When big AI labs refuse to open source their models, the community steps in

Benchmarks are as important a measure of progress in AI as they are for the rest of the software industry. But when the benchmark results come from corporations, secrecy very often prevents the community from verifying them.

For example, OpenAI granted Microsoft, with which it has a commercial relationship, the exclusive licensing rights to its powerful GPT-3 language model. Other organizations say that the code they use to develop systems is dependent on impossible-to-release internal tooling and infrastructure or uses copyrighted data sets. While motivations can be ethical in nature — OpenAI initially declined to release GPT-2, GPT-3’s predecessor, out of concerns that it might be misused — by the effect is the same. Without the necessary code, it’s far harder for third-party researchers to verify an organization’s claims.

“This isn’t really a sufficient alternative to good industry open-source practices,” Columbia computer science Ph.D. candidate Gustaf Ahdritz told TechCrunch via email. Ahdritz is one of the lead developers of OpenFold, an open source version of DeepMind’s protein structure-predicting AlphaFold 2. “It’s difficult to do all of the science one might like to do with the code DeepMind did release.”

Some researchers go so far as to say that withholding a system’s code “undermines its scientific value.” In October 2020, a rebuttal published in the journal Nature took issue with a cancer-predicting system trained by Google Health, the branch of Google focused on health-related research. The coauthors noted that Google withheld key technical details including a description of how the system was developed, which could significantly impact its performance.

OpenFold

Image Credits: OpenFold

In lieu of change, some members of the AI community, like Ahdritz, have made it their mission to open source the systems themselves. Working from technical papers, these researchers painstakingly try to recreate the systems, either from scratch or building on the fragments of publicly available specifications.

OpenFold is one such effort. Begun shortly after DeepMind announced AlphaFold 2, the goal is to verify that AlphaFold 2 can be reproduced from scratch and make available components of the system that might be useful elsewhere, according to Ahdritz.

“We trust that DeepMind provided all the necessary details, but … we don’t have [concrete] proof of that, and so this effort is key to providing that trail and allowing others to build on it,” Ahdritz said. “Moreover, originally, certain AlphaFold components were under a non-commercial license. Our components and data — DeepMind still hasn’t published their full training data — are going to be completely open-source, enabling industry adoption.”

OpenFold isn’t the only project of its kind. Elsewhere, loosely-affiliated groups within the AI community are attempting implementations of OpenAI’s code-generating Codex and art-creating DALL-E, DeepMind’s chess-playing AlphaZero, and even AlphaStar, a DeepMind system designed to play the real-time strategy game StarCraft 2. Among the more successful are EleutherAI and AI startup Hugging Face’s BigScience, open research efforts that aim to deliver the code and datasets needed to run a model comparable (though not identical) to GPT-3.

Philip Wang, a prolific member of the AI community who maintains a number of open source implementations on GitHub, including one of OpenAI’s DALL-E, posits that that open-sourcing these systems reduces the need for researchers to duplicate their efforts.

“We read the latest AI studies, like any other researcher in the world. But instead of replicating the paper in a silo, we implement it open source,” Wang said. “We are in an interesting place at the intersection of information science and industry. I think open source is not one-sided and benefits everybody in the end. It also appeals to the broader vision of truly democratized AI not beholden to shareholders.”

Brian Lee and Andrew Jackson, two Google employees, worked together to create MiniGo, a replication of AlphaZero. While not affiliated with the official project, Lee and Jackson — being at Google, DeepMind’s initial parent company — had the advantage of access to certain proprietary resources.

MiniGo

Image Credits: MiniGo

“[Working backward from papers is] like navigating before we had GPS,” Lee, a research engineer at Google Brain, told TechCrunch via email. “The instructions talk about landmarks you ought to see, how long you ought to go in a certain direction, which fork to take at a critical juncture. There’s enough detail for the experienced navigator to find their way, but if you don’t know how to read a compass, you’ll be hopelessly lost. You won’t retrace the steps exactly, but you’ll end up in the same place.”

The developers behind these initiatives, Ahdritz and Jackson included, say that they’ll not only help to demonstrate whether the systems work as advertised but enable new applications and better hardware support. Systems from large labs and companies like DeepMind, OpenAI, Microsoft, Amazon, and Meta are typically trained on expensive, proprietary datacenter servers with far more compute power than the average workstation, adding to the hurdles of open-sourcing them.

“Training new variants of AlphaFold could lead to new applications beyond protein structure prediction, which is not possible with DeepMind’s original code release because it lacked the training code — for example, predicting how drugs bind proteins, how proteins move, and how proteins interact with other biomolecules,” Ahdritz  said. “There are dozens of high-impact applications that require training new variants of AlphaFold or integrating parts of AlphaFold into larger models, but the lack of training code prevents all of them.”

“These open-source efforts do a lot to disseminate the “working knowledge” about how these systems can behave in non-academic settings,” Jackson added. “The amount of compute needed to reproduce the original results [for AlphaZero] is pretty high. I don’t remember the number off the top of my head, but it involved running about a thousand GPUs for a week. We were in a pretty unique position to be able to help the community try these models with our early access to the Google Cloud Platform’s TPU product, which was not yet publicly available.”

Implementing proprietary systems in open source is fraught with challenges, especially when there’s little public information to go on. Ideally, the code is available in addition to the data set used to train the system and what are called weights, which are responsible for transforming data fed to the system into predictions. But this isn’t often the case.

For example, in developing OpenFold, Ahdritz and team had to gather information from the official materials and reconcile the differences between different sources, including the source code, supplemental code, and presentations that DeepMind researchers gave early on. Ambiguities in steps like data prep and training code led to false starts, while a lack of hardware resources necessitated design compromises.

“We only really get a handful of tries to get this right, lest this drag on indefinitely. These things have so many computationally intensive stages that a tiny bug y can greatly set us back, such that we had to retrain the model and also regenerate lots of training data,” Ahdritz said. “Some technical details that work very well for [DeepMind] don’t work as easily for us because we have different hardware … In addition, ambiguity about what details are critically important and which ones are selected without much thought makes it hard to optimize or tweak anything and locks us in to whatever (sometimes awkward) choices were made in the original system.”

So, do the labs behind the proprietary systems, like OpenAI, care that their work is being reverse-engineered and even used by startups to launch competing services? Evidently not. Ahdritz says the fact that DeepMind in particular releases so many details about its systems suggests it implicitly endorses the efforts, even if it hasn’t said so publicly.

“We haven’t received any clear indication that DeepMind disapproves or approves of this effort,” Ahdritz said. “But certainly, no one has tried to stop us.”

Everstream Analytics secures new cash to predict supply chain disruptions

Everstream Analytics, a supply chain insights and risk analytics startup, today announced that it raised $24 million in a Series A round led by Morgan Stanley Investment Management with participation from Columbia Capital, StepStone Group, and DHL. CEO Julie Gerdeman said that the new money would be used to “propel technology innovation” and “further global expansion.”

Everstream, which was launched as Resilience360 and Riskpulse, provides predictive insights for supply chains. Drawing on billions of supply chain interactions, the company applies AI to assess materials, suppliers, and facilities for risk.

Plenty of startups claim to do this, including Backbone, Altana, and Craft. Project44 recently raised $202 million to expand its own set of predictive analytics tools, including estimated time of arrivals for shipments.

But what sets Everstream apart is its access to proprietary data that goes beyond what competitors are leveraging, according to Gerdeman.

“[Everstream provides] visibility into essentially every network, component, ingredient, ​and raw material around the world,” she told TechCrunch via email. “Connected business networks, scalable computing power, graph data base technology, and advances in AI algorithms enable Everstream to combine massive volumes of public and proprietary data to build a model of the global supply chain.”

As new data enters the platform, Everstream, which integrates with existing enterprise resource planning systems, retrains its AI system to reflect the current supply chain environment. Customers receive proactive warnings based on signals including financial reports and news of weather events, environmental and sustainability risks, and natural disasters.

For example, Everstream can warn businesses when it might be difficult to source a specific material and how likely customers are to cancel, increase, or move forward orders. It can also provide suggestions for optimizing logistics operations based on metrics such as timeliness, quality, and cost of goods shipped.

“Everstream’s AI-based models and preset dynamic thresholds can be used to predict disruptions and prescribe recommendations to mitigate risk and deliver better results to the business needs,” Gerdeman added. “[Everstream] identifies the most impactful risks in the network and creates targeted insights-based on inputs from the … platform, including incident monitoring, predictive risks, ESG, and shipment data — slashing time, cost, and complexity.”

Most would argue these are useful tools at a time when uncertainty continues to dog the supply chain — assuming Everstream’s AI systems perform as well as advertised. While some surveys show tepid adoption of predictive analytics among the supply chain industry, Gartner recently found that 87% of supply chain professionals plan to invest in “resilience” within the next two years, including automation and AI.

Investors seemingly see the potential. Last year was a banner year for venture-backed supply chain management companies, which saw $11.3 billion in funding, according to Crunchbase.

For its part, Everstream claims its customer base has grown 550% to date in 2022 and now includes brands like AB InBev, Google, Bayer, Schneider Electric, Unilever, and Whirlpool. Mum’s the word on concrete revenue numbers; Gerdeman demurred when asked about them.

“The pandemic has illustrated why deep visibility is needed not only into a company’s network, but down to the component, ingredient, ​and raw material level, because it doesn’t matter if the company’s supplier is operational if their suppliers are not,” Gerdeman said. “Everstream’s insights are not only predictive in nature, but they are also prescriptive – meaning we not only tell clients what’s coming next, but also what they should do about it.”

Everstream, which employs 100 people, has raised $70 million in equity and debt funding so far.