Army photogrammetry technique makes 3D aerial maps in minutes

Aerial imagery is a common asset in military matters, but 3D maps can be difficult to collect on short notice without specialized equipment. This new photogrammetry technique from the Army Corps of Engineers, however, can make accurate 3D maps from ordinary aerial footage in just minutes.

Photogrammetry is the process of comparing multiple photos of the same location or item to produce a 3D map of it. It’s a well-known method but in some cases is still reliable on human intelligence to determine, for instance, which frames of a video should be used to produce the best results.

Ricky Massaro from the Army’s Geospatial Research Laboratory in Virginia has mitigated that problem and produced a highly efficient photogrammetric method that can turn aerial imagery into accurate 3D surface maps in near real-time without any human oversight.

This image shows the depth map as color – red being higher. It was created from combining multiple 2D images.

The system was tested by the 101st Airborne, which flew a drone over Fort Campbell in Kentucky and mapped a mock city used for training exercises. It was also deployed in Iraq for non-combat purposes. So this isn’t stuck in a lab somewhere — it’s been put to work, and is now being publicized because the patent filing is in and the Army is now negotiating to commercialize the system.

“Whether it’s for soldiers or farmers, this tech delivers usable terrain and intelligence products fast,” said Quinton King, a manager at TechLink, the Defense Department’s commercial tech transfer organization. “And I’m happy to help companies learn how they can leverage Dr. Massaro’s work for their own products or applications.”

The real-time photogrammetry wouldn’t replace lidar or ground-based mapping systems, but act in concert with them. Being able to produce accurate depth from ordinary aerial imagery, and without having to send tons of data to a central location or involve human experts, makes it adaptable to a variety of situations. If you’re curious about the specifics, you can check out the patent application here.

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‘Magic: The Gathering’ game maker exposed 452,000 players’ account data

The maker of Magic: The Gathering has confirmed that a security lapse exposed the data on hundreds of thousands of game players.

The game’s developer, the Washington-based Wizards of the Coast, left a database backup file in a public Amazon Web Services storage bucket. The database file contained user account information for the game’s online arena. But there was no password on the storage bucket, allowing who with the bucket’s name to access the files inside.

The bucket is not believed to have been exposed for long — since around early-September — but it was long enough for U.K. cybersecurity firm Fidus Information Security to find the database.

A review of the database file showed there were 452,634 players’ information, including about 470 email addresses associated with Wizards’ staff. The database included player names and usernames, email addresses, and the date and time of the account’s creation. The database also had user passwords, which were hashed and salted, making it difficult but not impossible to unscramble.

None of the data was encrypted. The accounts date back to at least 2012, according to our review of the data.

Fidus reached out to Wizards of the Coast but did not hear back. It was only after TechCrunch reached out that the game maker pulled the storage bucket offline.

Bruce Dugan, a spokesperson for the game developer, told TechCrunch in a statement: “We learned that a database file from a decommissioned website had inadvertently been made accessible outside the company.”

“We removed the database file from our server and commenced an investigation to determine the scope of the incident,” he said. “We believe that this was an isolated incident and we have no reason to believe that any malicious use has been made of the data,” but the spokesperson did not provide any evidence for this claim.

“However, in an abundance of caution, we are notifying players whose information was contained in the database and requiring them to reset their passwords on our current system,” he said.

Harriet Lester, Fidus’ director of research and development, said it was “surprising in this day and age that misconfigurations and lack of basic security hygiene still exist on this scale, especially when referring to such large companies with a userbase of over 450,000 accounts.”

“Our research team work continuously, looking for misconfigurations such as this to alert companies as soon as possible to avoid the data falling into the wrong hands. It’s our small way of helping make the internet a safer place,” she told TechCrunch.

The game maker said it informed the U.K. data protection authorities about the exposure, in line with breach notification rules under Europe’s GDPR regulations. The U.K.’s Information Commissioner’s Office did not immediately return an email to confirm the disclosure.

Companies can be fined up to 4% of their annual turnover for GDPR violations.

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This Week in Apps: Apple’s vaping app ban, Disney+ gets installed, apps gear up for Black Friday

Welcome back to This Week in Apps, the Extra Crunch series that recaps the latest OS news, the applications they support, and the money that flows through it all. What are developers talking about? What do app publishers and marketers need to know? How are politics impacting the App Store and app businesses? And which apps are everyone using?

As mid-November rolls around, we’re looking at a few big stories, including Apple’s decision to ban an entire category of apps due to health concerns, the launch of Disney+ from an app perspective, what Black Friday will mean for e-commerce apps, and more.

Fast Facts

With Disney+’s huge launch (10+ million users!) on everyone’s minds, it’s time to think about what these streaming newcomers mean for the overall landscape and the app stores. In this case, it seems that Disney+’s user base was highly mobile. The company itself announced more than 10 million users, while data on the Disney+ app’s first few days indicates it now has over 10 million downloads. It seems like consumers definitely want to take their new streaming service with them everywhere they go.

  • In 2020, App Annie forecasts consumers will spend more than 674 billion hours in the Entertainment and Video Player and Editor categories worldwide on Android phones, up from an expected 558 billion hours in 2019. Thanks to Disney+, Apple TV+ and soon, HBO Max, Peacock and Quibi, to making the landscape both richer and more complicated.
  • On its launch day, Disney+ hit #1 by iPhone Overall downloads at 8 AM in the U.S. and at 11 AM in Canada — an indication of the ability that strong IP has can really excite consumers to come out in droves. (Unfortunately, that led to some launch day glitches, too.)
  • Apptopia estimated Disney+ was downloaded 3.2 million times in its first 24 hours. The firm also estimated users collectively spent 1.3 million hours watching Disney+ on day one — ahead of Amazon Prime Video, but well behind Netflix.

  • Sensor Tower waited to collect a little more data instead. It found that the Disney+ app was installed approximately 9.6 million times in all available markets (the U.S., Canada, and the Netherlands), since its U.S. launch on Tuesday, Nov. 12. For comparison’s sake, HBO Now’s U.S. launch only saw 180,000 installs in its first three days — or 2% of the Disney+ total. Combined with the test period installs in the Netherlands, the app has now been installed over 10 million times.
  • The hype around Disney+ has had a halo effect. Hulu and ESPN, which were offered in a bundle with Disney+, also grew as a result of the Disney+ launch. Sensor Tower found combined users of the apps in the U.S. and Canada were up 30% in the past week over the week prior.

Headlines

Apple removed all vaping apps from the App Store, citing CDC health concerns

The CDC says 42 people have died due to vaping product use and thousands more cases of lung injuries have been reported from 49 states. Now, Apple has made the controversial decision to remove all 181 vaping-related apps from its App Store — including those with news and information about vaping and even vaping-related games, Axios reported this week.

Some say Apple is helping to protect kids and teens by limiting their exposure to e-cigarette and vaping products, which are being used to addict a younger generation to nicotine and cause serious disease. Others argue that Apple is over-reaching. After all, many of the lung illnesses involve people who were vaping illegally obtained THC, studies indicated.

This isn’t the first time Apple has banned a category of apps because of what appear to be moral concerns. The company in the past had booted apps that promoted weed or depicted gun violence, for example. In the case of vaping apps, Apple cited the public health crisis and youth epidemic as contributing factors, telling Axios that:

We take great care to curate the App Store as a trusted place for customers, particularly youth, to download apps. We’re constantly evaluating apps, and consulting the latest evidence, to determine risks to users’ health and well-being. Recently, experts ranging from the CDC to the American Heart Association have attributed a variety of lung injuries and fatalities to e-cigarette and vaping products, going so far as to call the spread of these devices a public health crisis and a youth epidemic. We agree, and we’ve updated our App Store Review Guidelines to reflect that apps encouraging or facilitating the use of these products are not permitted. As of today, these apps are no longer available to download.

Existing users will still be able to use their apps, but new users will not be able to download the banned apps going forward.

Minecraft Earth arrives 

Minecraft Earth launched early last week across 9 countries on both Android and iOS and now it’s come to the U.S., Canada, the U.K., and several other markets. Some expect the app will rival the success of the AR breakout hit, Pokémon Go, which was thought at the time to be the precursor to a new wave of massive AR gaming titles. But in reality, that didn’t happen. The highly anticipated follow-up from Niantic, Harry Potter: Wizards Unite didn’t come close to competing with its predecessor, generating $12 million in its first month, compared with Pokémon Go’s first-month earnings of $300 million. With Minecraft Earth now sitting at No. 2 (c’mon, you can’t unseat Disney+) on the U.S. App Store, it seems there’s potential for another AR kingpin.

App Annie releases a user acquisition playbook

A top name in App Store intelligence, App Annie this week released a new how-to handbook focused on user acquisition strategies on mobile. Sure the free download is just a bit of lead gen for App Annie, but the guide promises to fill you in on all you need to know to be successful in acquiring mobile users. The playbook’s arrival follows App Annie’s acquisition of adtech insights firm Libring this fall, as it expands to cover more aspects of running an app business. Just as important as rankings and downloads are the very real costs associated with running an app business — including the cost of acquiring users.

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The House and Senate finally agree on something: Robocalls

In these times of political strife, it’s nice that despite our differences we can still band together as a nation in the face of a catastrophe that affects us all equally. I speak, of course, of robocalls, and it seems that the House and Senate have put their differences aside for the present in order to collaborate on a law combating this scourge.

Despite a great deal of FCC, a few high-profile fines, and some talk from telecoms about their plans to implement new anti-robocall standards, half the country’s phones are still blowing up regularly with recordings and scammers on the other side.

If regulators find it difficult to act, ultimately what’s needed is legislation, and lawmakers — who no doubt are receiving the calls themselves, which might have given the task a special urgency.

As often happens in Congress, two competing versions of the bill emerged to address this issue, and both passed in their respective chambers earlier this year. Now the leaders of the committees involved have announced an “agreement in principle” that will hopefully allow them to pass a unified version of the bill.

The “Pallone-Thune TRACED Act” owes its name to its primary sponsors — Rep. Pallone (D-NJ) and Sen. John Thune (R-SD) — and the earlier and superior acronym from the House act, Telephone Robocall Abuse Criminal Enforcement and Deterrence.

“Our agreement will require telephone carriers to verify calls and allow robocalls to be blocked in a consistent and transparent way, all at no extra charge to consumers. The agreement also gives the FCC and law enforcement the ability to quickly go after scammers,” said Rep. Pallone in a statement accompanying the news.

The bill text is expected to be finalized in a matter of days, and it will hopefully make it onto the legislative calendar in a hurry.

Meanwhile the FCC has been waiting patiently for telecoms to implement SHAKEN/STIR, an anti-spoofing measure they can implement on their networks, repeatedly warning that it will eventually take action if they don’t. A resolution in June made clear that robocalls from outside the country are legal to block, but didn’t say anything about potential fees. Fortunately the act mentioned above does make sure consumers don’t get dinged for the service.

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Those crappy pre-installed Android apps can be full of security holes

If you’ve ever bought a low-to-mid range Android phone, there’s a good chance you booted it up to find it pre-loaded with junk you definitely didn’t ask for.

These pre-installed apps can be clunky, annoying to remove, rarely updated… and, it turns out, full of security holes.

Security firm Kryptowire built a tool to automatically scan a large number of Android devices for signs of security shortcomings and, in a study funded by the US Department of Homeland Security, ran it on phones from 29 different vendors. Now, the majority of these vendors are ones most people have never heard of — but a few big names like Asus, Samsung, and Sony make appearances.

Kryptowire says they found vulnerabilities of all different varieties, from apps that can be forced to install other apps, to tools that can be tricked into recording audio, to those can silently mess with your system settings. Some of the vulnerabilities can only be triggered by other apps that come pre-installed (thus limiting the attack vector to those along the supply chain); others, meanwhile, can seemingly be triggered by any app the user might install down-the-road.

Kryptowire has a full list of observed vulnerabilities here, broken down by type and manufacturer. The firm says it found 146 vulnerabilities in all.

As Wired points out, Google is well aware of this potential attack route. In 2018 it launched a program called the Build Test Suite (or ‘BTS’) that all partner OEMs must pass. BTS scans a device’s firmware for any known security issues hiding amongst its pre-installed apps, flagging these bad apps as ‘Potentially Harmful Applications’ (or ‘PHAs’). As Google puts it in its 2018 Android security report:

OEMs submit their new or updated build images to BTS. BTS then runs a series of tests that look for security issues on the system image. One of these security tests scans for pre-installed PHAs included in the system image. If we find a PHA on the build, we work with the OEM partner to remediate and remove the PHA from the build before it can be offered to users.

During its first calendar year, BTS prevented 242 builds with PHAs from entering the ecosystem.

Anytime BTS detects an issue we work with our OEM partners to remediate and understand how the application was included in the build. This teamwork has allowed us to identify and mitigate systemic threats to the ecosystem.

Alas, one automated system can’t catch everything — and when an issue does sneak by, there’s no certainty that a patch or fix will ever arrive (especially on lower end devices, where longterm support tends to be limited.)

We reached out to Google for comment on the report, but have yet to hear back.

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Facebook’s Libra code chugs along ignoring regulatory deadlock

“5 months and growing strong” the Libra Association announced today in an post about its technical infrastructure that completely omits the fierce regulatory backlash to its cryptocurrency.

40 wallets, tools, and block explorers plus 1,700 Github commits have how now been built on its blockchain testnet that’s seen 51,000 mock transactions in the past two months. Libra nodes that process transactions are now being run by Coinbase, Uber, BisonTrails, Iliad, Xapo, Anchorage, and Facebook’s Calibra. Six more nodes are being established, plus there are 8 more getting set up from members who lack technical teams, meaning all 21 members have nodes running or in the works.

But the update on the Libra backend doesn’t explain how the association plans to get all the way to its goal of 100 members and nodes by next year when it originally projected a launch. And it gives no nod to the fact that even if Libra is technically ready to deploy its mainnet in 2020, government regulators in the US and around the world still won’t necessarily let it launch.

Last month’s congressional testimony from Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg was less contentious than Libra board member David Marcus’ appearances on Capitol Hill in July. Yet few of lawmakers’ core concerns about how Libra could facilitate money laundering, endanger users’ assets, and give Facebook even more power amidst ongoing anti-trust investigations were assuaged.

This set of announcements from the Libra Core summit of technical members was an opportunity for the project to show how it was focused on addressing fraud, security, and decentralization of power. Instead, the Libra Association took the easy route of focusing on what the Facebook-led development team knows best: writing code, not fixing policy. TechCrunch provided questions to the Libra Association and some members but the promised answers were not returned before press time.

For those organizations without a technical team to implement a node, the Libra Association is working on a strategy to support deployment in 2020, when the Libra Core feature set is complete” the Association’s Michael Engle writes. “The Libra Association intends to deploy 100 nodes on the mainnet, representing a mix of on-premises and cloud-hosted infrastructure.” It feels a bit like Libra is plugging its ears.

Having proper documentation, setting up CLAs to ease GitHub contributions, standardizing the Move code language, a Bug Bounty program, and a public technical roadmap are a good start. But until the Association can answers Congress’ questions directly, they’re likely to refuse Libra approval which Zuckerberg said the project won’t launch without.

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Why Salesforce is moving Marketing Cloud to Microsoft Azure

When Salesforce announced this week that it was moving Marketing Cloud to Microsoft Azure, it was easy to see this as another case of wacky enterprise partnerships. But there had to be sound business reasons why the partnership came together, rather than going with AWS or Google Cloud Platform, both of which are also Salesforce partners in other contexts.

If you ask Salesforce, it says it was ultimately because of compatibility with Microsoft SQL.

“Salesforce chose Azure because it is a trusted platform with a global footprint, multi-layered security approach, robust disaster recovery strategy with auto failover, automatic updates and more,” a Salesforce spokesperson told TechCrunch. “Marketing Cloud also has a long standing relationship with Microsoft SQL which makes the transition to SQL on Azure a natural decision.”

Except for the SQL part, Microsoft’s chief rivals at AWS and Google Cloud Platform also provide those benefits. In fact, each of those reasons cited by the spokesperson — with the exception of SQL — are all part of the general cloud infrastructure value proposition that all the major cloud vendors provide.

There’s probably more to it than simply compatibility. There is also a long-standing rivalry between the two companies, and why in spite of their competition, they continue to make deals like this in the spirit of co-opetition. We spoke to a few industry experts to get their take on the deal to find out why these two seeming rivals decided to come together.

Retailer’s dilemma

Tony Byrne, founder and principal analyst at Real Story Group, thinks it could be related to the fact it’s a marketing tool and some customers may be wary about hosting their businesses on AWS while competing with Amazon on the retail side. This is a common argument for why retail customers in particular are more likely to go with Microsoft or Google over AWS.

“Salesforce Marketing Cloud tends to target B2C enterprises, so the choice of Azure makes sense in one context where some B2C firms are wary of Amazon for competitive reasons. But I’d also imagine there’s more to the decision than that,” Byrne said.

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D-Wave sticks with its approach to quantum computing

Earlier this month, at the WebSummit conference in Lisbon, D-Wave and Volkswagen teamed up to manage a fleet of buses using a new system that, among other things, used D-Wave’s quantum technology to help generate the most efficient routes. While D-Wave’s 2000Q only played a small part in this process, it’s nevertheless a sign that quantum computing is slowly getting ready for production use and that D-Wave’s approach, somewhat controversial in its early days, is paying off.

Unlike other players in the quantum computing market, D-Wave always bet on quantum annealing as its core technology. This technology lends itself perfectly to optimization problems like the kind of routing problem the company tackled with VW, as well as sampling problems, which, in the context of quantum computing, are useful for improving machine learning models, for example. Depending on their complexity, some of these problems are nearly impossible to solve with classical computers (at least in a reasonable time).

Grossly simplified, with quantum annealing, you are building a system that almost naturally optimizes itself for the lowest energy state, which then represents the solution to your problem.

Microsoft, IBM, Rigetti and others are mostly focused on building gate-model quantum computers and they are starting to see results (with the exception of Microsoft, which doesn’t have a working computer just yet and is hence betting on partnerships for the time being). But this is also a far more complex problem. And while you can’t really compare these technologies qubit to qubit, it’s telling that D-Wave’s latest machines, the Advantage, will feature 5,000 qubits — while the state of the art among the gate-model proponents is just over 50. Scaling these machines up is hard, though, especially given that the industry is still trying to figure out how to manage the noise issues.

D-Wave remains the only major player that’s betting on annealing, but the company’s CEO Vern Brownell remains optimistic that this is the right approach. “We feel more strongly about our decision to do quantum annealing now that there are a few companies that actually have quantum computers that people can access,” he said in an interview earlier this month.

“We have customers, Volkswagen included, that have run problems against those other computers and seeing what they can actually do and it’s vastly different. Our capability is many orders of magnitude faster for most problems than what you can do with other quantum computers. And that is because of the choice of quantum annealing. And that is because quantum healing is more robust to errors.” Error correction, he argues, remains the fundamental problem, and will hamper the performance of these systems for the foreseeable future. “And in order to move into the enterprise or any kind of practical application, that error correction needs to be wrestled with,” he noted.

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VC Cyan Banister on her path, who decides what at Founders Fund, and the state of San Francisco

Cyan Banister is an American success story. A homeless teenager who originally supported herself by making hemp necklaces, then silk-screen T-shirts, she went on to become a self-taught engineer and to later hold several management roles at the security startup IronPort. It was a life-changing experience for her. She made an early fortune when it sold to Cisco for $830 million in 2007. She also met her husband, Scott Banister, who cofounded the company, and the two together and separately began writing seed-stage checks, including to SpaceX, Uber, and a long list of companies that are now household names.

When seed-stage valuations began soaring to levels that gave them both pause, they hit the brakes, and Banister, a self-described workaholic, headed over to AngelList as an “ev-angel-list” to help recruit people like herself to create syndicates — akin to mini pop-up funds — on its platform.  Soon after, Peter Thiel’s Founders Fund reached out to her and invited her to become a partner.

In a wide-ranging conversation at a San Francisco event on Wednesday, we talked with Banister about her path and her investing style, which still sees her make angel investments of $1.5 million or less in companies that are often ambitiously futuristic or boringly practical and very much needed. (She kidded that they balance out one another.)

We also chatted about Founders Fund, which has changed considerably since its 2005 founding yet maintained its reputation as a top fund, and we discussed why she thinks many of its original partners no longer live in San Francisco.

Among the things we learned: that Founders Fund doesn’t have Monday morning partner meetings, as do many firms. In fact, it doesn’t even have weekly meetings, with Banister instead describing a highly decentralized operation. “We don’t have Monday morning partner meetings. We have very few meetings, actually,” she said. “We have a brunch every two or three weeks that’s an hour, hour-and-a-half long. We submit the agenda over Slack; sometimes, we have nothing to talk about and it’s very short. You literally get a plate of food, talk about the one or two items, and you’re done.”

Founders Fund also has quarterly off-sites, typically at a partner’s house and these are “all day affairs,” she said, adding that the team “doesn’t talk about specific deals. We talk about the future, about what’s exciting to all of us, what our different strategies might be.”

As for how decisions get made, Banister explained that the voting structure is dependent on the size of the check. “So you’d meet with one or two or three or four partners, depending on your [investing] stage,” she told attendees. Because she’s looking at very early-stage startups, for example, she doesn’t have to meet with many people to make a decision. “We don’t have to do a lot of consensus-type investing,” she said. But as the “dollar amount gets larger,” she’d continued, “you’re looking at full GP oversight,” including the involvement of senior members like Brian Singerman and Keith Rabois, and “that can a little more difficult.”

Asked how involved Thiel himself is in these decisions, Banister said that there’s a certain threshold above which he is always involved. Pressed on what that number is, Banister smiled, adding, “Let’s just say it’s a lot.”

Pointing to the other senior members of the team, she offered that the partnership doesn’t “need Peter’s advice all the time, but there’s a certain point where he has to get involved and meet the founders. Ideally, it’s a company that we brought in at its early stages and has grown with us and he has already developed a relationship with [its founders]. We also do an off-site once a year, which is a great opportunity for him” to see everyone involved in the firm’s portfolio. “But he’s pretty involved,” she said. “He comes to these brunches and [quarterly] off-sites. We see him more now [since he called it quits in San Francisco and moved to L.A.] than we did when he lived next door because he’s stuck. If he comes to San Francisco, where’s he going to go? He has to stay in his office,” she said.

Banister declined to confirm or comment on a recent WSJ report that Founders Fund is in the process of closing on $3 billion in capital commitments across two funds — a flagship fund and an opportunity type of fund to support its companies as they remain private ever longer.

But before we let her go, we asked Banister about turnover at the firm. Specifically, we noted, while Founders Fund was formed by Thiel, along with cofounders Ken Howery, Luke Nosek and Sean Parker, Howery is now the ambassador to Sweden, Nosek runs a separate fund in Austin called Gigafund, and Parker is off doing a variety of other things, many of them also in L.A.

She explained that everyone is encouraged to do what they want. “Ken was encouraged to pursue his political aspirations; that’s something he has always wanted to do,” she said for example.

But she also acknowledged, when asked, that San Francisco itself might be a common thread. “It’s too expensive here. That’s the problem. We need to build more housing. We can’t afford people to even serve us in this town, they come in from other cities, they can’t even live here. And that’s a huge problem when you’re investing and your thesis is to invest only in Silicon Valley and the surrounding area.” It’s hard for founders who’ve been dogmatic about keeping their teams together and are now more likely to plant some core members in the Bay Area and hire globally, she said.  It’s also a challenge for Founders Fund, she suggested, saying that “we’re already starting to look elsewhere [for startups], including in the Midwest.”

As for whether San Francisco is doing enough for founders — or founders enough for San Francisco — Banister suggested both are coming up far short, saying of the city that “it should be the most technologically advanced” in the world. “There’s no reason we shouldn’t be like Tokyo . . . when we gave birth to Airbnb and Uber, and yet our city looks the way it does and operates the way it does and it’s a disaster.”

Tech founders and employees are in a particularly “weird situation” where on the one side a “a large part of this city hates technology and hates all of us,” and on the other are people like Salesforce founder Marc Benioff who are funneling money into the city but whose efforts don’t appear to her to be making a difference. “I’ve yet to see a dent” in homelessness, she said, as an example. More, she said, “Crime is going up and we now have a district attorney who won’t prosecute crimes that have to do with any sort of quality-of-life [issue]. [San Francisco is] going to start something instead where if your [car] window is broken, they’ll replace it with some kind of window Uber app at a discounted rate.”

The crowd laughed. Some attendees thought she was joking about the window replacement service. (She wasn’t.)  “This is a really bad direction [we’re headed in],” she said. “We need diversity of thinking here, and we don’t have it on the political level, and we all need to get more involved.”

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Daily Crunch: TikTok starts experimenting with commerce

The Daily Crunch is TechCrunch’s roundup of our biggest and most important stories. If you’d like to get this delivered to your inbox every day at around 9am Pacific, you can subscribe here.

1. TikTok tests social commerce

The short-form video app said it’s allowing some users to add links to e-commerce sites (or any other destination) to their profile, while also offering creators the ability to easily send their viewers to shopping websites.

On their own, these changes might not sound that dramatic, and parent company ByteDance characterizes them as experiments. But it could eventually lead TikTok to become a major force in commerce — and to follow the lead of Instagram, where “link in bio” has become one of the most common promotional messages.

2. Despite bans, Giphy still hosts self-harm, hate speech and child sex abuse content

A new report from Israeli online child protection startup L1ght  has uncovered a host of toxic content hiding within the popular GIF-sharing community, including illegal child abuse content, depictions of rape and other toxic imagery associated with topics like white supremacy and hate speech.

3. Lyft is ceasing scooter operations in six cities and laying off 20 employees

Lyft notified employees today that it’s pulling its scooters from six markets: Nashville, San Antonio, Atlanta, the Phoenix area, Dallas and Columbus. A spokesperson told us, “We’re choosing to focus on the markets where we can have the biggest impact.”

4. Takeaways from Nvidia’s latest quarterly earnings

After yesterday’s earnings report, Wall Street seems to have barely budged on the stock price — everyone’s waiting for resolution on some of the key questions facing the company. (Extra Crunch membership required.)

5. Virgin Galactic begins ‘Astronaut Readiness Program’ for first paying customers

The program is being run out of the global headquarters of Under Armour, Virgin Galactic’s partner for its official astronaut uniforms. The training, with instruction from Chief Astronaut Instructor Beth Moses and Chief Pilot Dave Mackay, is required for all Virgin Galactic passengers.

6. AWS confirms reports it will challenge JEDI contract award to Microsoft

In a statement, an Amazon spokesperson suggested that there was possible bias in the selection process: “AWS is uniquely experienced and qualified to provide the critical technology the U.S. military needs, and remains committed to supporting the DoD’s modernization efforts.”

7. SoftBank Vision Fund’s Carolina Brochado is coming to Disrupt Berlin

At SoftBank’s Vision Fund, Brochado focuses on fintech, digital health and marketplace startups. Some of her past investments with both Atomico and SoftBank include LendInvest, Gympass, Hinge Health, Ontruck and Rekki.

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