An employee of Facebook died Thursday morning following an apparent suicide, Menlo Park police reported and the company confirmed.
“We were saddened to learn that one of our employees passed away at our Menlo Park headquarters earlier today,” a Facebook spokesperson told TechCrunch in an email.
The male employee was pronounced dead at the scene, which was near the 100 block of Jefferson Drive at a building on Facebook’s Menlo Park campus. Police say that after preliminary investigations they do not suspect any foul play.
“Menlo Park Police Officers and Menlo Park Fire Protection District personnel responded, and when they arrived, found the victim unresponsive,” a police press release reads.
“We’re cooperating with police in their investigation and providing support to employees. While the family is being notified, we have no information to share. We hope to provide an update when we learn additional information from law enforcement,” the Facebook spokesperson further noted.
If you or someone you know is struggling with depression or has had thoughts of harming themselves or taking their own life, get help. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-8255) provides 24/7, free, confidential support for people in distress, as well as best practices for professionals and resources to aid in prevention and crisis situations.
We’ve known this day would come for a long time town. Over the past several months, however, it feels like it’s arrived in slow motion. Seemingly legitimate concerns over security and sanction violations have been muddled by chest-puffing and braggadocio and large-headed leaders promising to do deals. Executives were arrested in Canada and the company was added to a trade blacklist, only to be given a temporary reprieve.
This morning, in spite of it all, Huawei unveiled its latest flagship. The Mate 30 Pro is a beast of a smartphone, as we’ve come to expect from the Chinese electronics powerhouse. It’s got a quartet of cameras aligned in a ring up top. On the flip side, a 6.53-inch flexible OLED hugs the corners of the handset, boasting an always-on functionality — the long-awaited new feature that served as the central selling point for Apple’s latest wearable.
From a 100-foot view, however, it seems inevitable that no one will remember the handset for its screen or cameras or beefy 4,500mAh. It’s what’s missing that’s the most notable. The Mate 30 and Mate 30 Pro don’t use full Android, but rather an open-source version of the operating system based on it. More importantly, they are missing Google’s fundamental apps like Gmail, Maps and Chrome, a fundamental part of the Android experience. Worse yet, there’s no Google Play Store to download them.
The solutions for now are mostly stop-gap. There’s a Huawei-branded browser that lets you download apps through a Huawei-branded channel. There are 45,000 or so. Not bad, but nowhere near the 2.7 million you’ll find via Google Play. There will be better solutions to these, but they take a lot of both time and money. Huawei’s got plenty of the latter, though the former has been the cause for some debate amongst those following the company.
Thiago Paiva is a fintech entrepreneur, writer and investor. He is the co-founder of Liquia Digital Assets, an investment platform for international investments using blockchain technology.
The super apps WeChat and Alipay became an integral part of the Chinese mobile ecosystem, growing to more than 1 billion monthly active users (MAU) and 1 billion annual active users (AAU), respectively. They both offer services from food delivery and bike sharing to a full suite of financial services such as payment, insurance and investments.
Now, companies from around the world are trying to replicate the successful Chinese model in their region. And Latin America is an especially compelling region for the emergence of super apps, due to its vast population, almost 650 million, distributed in more or less similar countries regarding language, culture and religion. It also has a mobile-first population with 62% of smartphone penetration, according toGSMA data.
The expansion of the super apps model
After the incredible success of WeChat and Alipay, many companies around the world decided to replicate their model in different regions. Due to the proximity to China and its influence and money, Southeast Asia was one of the first regions in which super apps started to appear. The Singaporean ride-hailing Grab and the Indonesian Go-Jek both raised billions of dollars to not only successfully block the expansion of Uber in the region but also to expand their portfolio of services provided beyond ride-hailing to food delivery, payments and other services.
Note that not all super apps are the same.
In India, payTM is expanding beyond its core service and positioning itself to be the leading player in the country, especially after Tapzo was acquired by Amazon last year and closed.
It is interesting to note that not all super apps are the same. Alipay came from the e-commerce Alibaba and is more focused on financial services, while WeChat started as a messenger app, expanding not only to financial services but also to daily services such as e-commerce, gaming, travel and many others. In Southeast Asia, Go-Jek and Grab started as ride-hailing, expanding to delivery before going to financial services, and payTM started as a prepaid recharge mobile platform and then moved to offer a range of financial and daily services.
So, what to expect in Latin America?
Latin American super apps should develop themselves in their own particular way, as the environment in the region is quite different from the one in China.
The internet ecosystem in the region is highly influenced by European and American tech companies that dominate segments such as communication, music, search and many others. It is quite hard for a local startup to compete in those markets. However, there are a few battlegrounds that are not as easy to dominate from abroad, such as ride-hailing, food delivery and finance. Those are on-the-ground or highly regulated industries that are very hard to scale, especially across different countries. Those are precisely the industries in which we have seen the emergence of some super apps candidates, fueled by an unprecedented amount of venture capital investment in the region.
The most prominent candidate to super app in the region is the Colombian on-demand delivery Rappi. It is one of the most funded startups in Latin America, backed by titans such as Sequoia, Andreessen Horowitz and SoftBank, which have poured US$ 1.4 billion in investments so far. Although it started offering just food delivery, it now provides services such as e-scooter, payments, P2P transfer, movie theater tickets and a debit card. It also operates in the most relevant countries in the region: Brazil, Mexico, Colombia, Argentina, Chile, Uruguay and Peru.
Another strong candidate is the financial side of the e-commerce behemoth Mercado Libre (MELI), Mercado Pago. It started as a way to enable payment between users in the marketplace; however, it grew to offer a diverse portfolio of financial services such as online and offline payment, bill payments and, more recently, investment (through itsMercado Fondo). Thanks to its parent company, it’s pretty much all over Latin America, and processes around 400 million transactions annually.
The Brazilian Movile is also positioning itself as a strong competitor. The company already has a diverse portfolio of services, from delivery food to event tickets, courier and even a kids Netflix, operating in Brazil, Mexico, Colombia and Argentina. Not only did it raise a total of US$395 million investment, but also one of its companies, iFood, raised a total of US$592 million.
Latin America is an especially compelling region for the emergence of super apps.
The Spanish Cabify is another company trying to position itself as a super app. It recently started to offer e-scooters and bike service, as well as financial services through its own fintech company, Lana. Even though it raised US$477 million in funding, it will be hard for Cabify to become a super app, as the ride-hailing competition is getting quite intense in the region. Its competitors Uber and Didi are also adding more services and trying to position themselves.
An interesting potential competitor would be Nubank, the Brazilian decacorn (private companies with more than US$10 billion of valuation). It already has more than 8 million customers in Brazil and is starting to expand in the region to Mexico, Argentina and Colombia. Although Nubank still only offers traditional financial services, it has Tencent as a significant investor and has raised US$1.1 billion, so far. Therefore, it would be no surprise if it decides to follow a similar path as WeChat.
Those are the most well-positioned candidates to be super apps in Latin America. Even so, other players could surprise, such as Magazine Luiza, leading retail and e-commerce in Brazil. Its CEO is transforming the company from a brick-and-mortar retail to a technology company and already showed its ambition to transform MagaLu (its app) into a super app offering many other services. Although it could compete in the Brazilian market, it would be doubtful that it becomes a regional player, as its primary business operates only in Brazil.
Super apps in Latin America will not be the same as in China
We are starting to see the rise of the super apps in Latin America, but they will not follow the Chinese path as the markets are very different. A better comparison could be with the Southeast Asian players as the markets are more similar; however, Latin American’s super apps will probably be the result of the unique environment in the region.
As more companies are looking into the Chinese success stories, we will probably see even more players competing to become the Latin American super app. The venture capitalists are already placing their bets on who will become the leading players in Latin America. One thing is certain: It will be exhilarating to see how the market unfolds in the region — the customers will be the true winners in this battle.
Twitter’s controversial “Hide Replies feature, aimed at civilizing conversations on its platform, is launching today in the U.S. and Japan after earlier tests in Canada. The addition is one of the more radical changes to Twitter to date. It puts people back in control of a conversation they’ve started by giving them the ability to hide those contributions they think are unworthy.
These replies, which may range from the irrelevant to the outright offensive, aren’t actually deleted from Twitter. They’re just put behind an extra click.
That means people who come into a conversation to cause drama, make inappropriate remarks, or bully and abuse others won’t have their voices heard by the majority of the conversation’s participants. Only those who choose to view the hidden replies will see those posts.
Other social media platforms don’t give so much power to commenters to disrupt conversations. On Facebook and Instagram, for example, you can delete any replies to your own posts.
But Twitter has a different vibe. It’s meant to be a public town square, where everyone has a right to speak (within reason.)
Unfortunately, Twitter’s open nature also led to bullying and abuse. Before today, the only options Twitter offered were to mute, block and report users. Blocking and muting, however, only impact your own Twitter experience. You may no longer see posts from those users, but others still could. Reporting a tweet is also a complicated process that takes time. It’s not an immediate solution for a conversation rapidly spinning out of control.
While “Hide Replies” will help to address these problems, it ships with challenges of its own, too. It could be used as a way to silence dissenting opinions, including those expressed thoughtfully, or even fact-checked clarifications.
Twitter believes the feature will ultimately encourage people to better behave when posting to its platform.
“We already see people trying to keep their conversations healthy by using block, mute, and report, but these tools don’t always address the issue. Block and mute only change the experience of the blocker, and report only works for the content that violates our policies,” explained Twitter’s PM of Health Michelle Yasmeen Haq earlier this year.
Since launching in Canada in July, Twitter said that people mostly used the feature to hide replies they found were irrelevant, abusive or unintelligible. User feedback was positive, as well, as those who used the tool said they found it was a helpful way to control what they saw, similar to keyword muting.
In a survey, 27% of those who had their tweets hidden said they would reconsider how they interact with others in the future, Twitter said. That’s not a large majority but it’s enough to make a dent. However, it’s unclear how representative this survey was. Twitter declined to say how many people used the feature or how many were surveyed about its impacts.
The system will now also ask users who hide replies if they also want to block the account, as means of clarifying that “hiding” is a different function.
“These are positive and heartening results: the feature helped people have better conversations, and was a useful tool against replies that deterred from the person’s original intent,” explained Twitter in a blog post, shared today. “We’re interested to see if these trends continue, and if new ones emerge, as we expand our test to Japan and the U.S. People in these markets use Twitter in many unique ways, and we’re excited to see how they might use this new tool,” the post read.
Despite the expansion, Twitter says “Hide Replies” is still considered a test as the company is continuing to evaluate the system, and it’s not available to Twitter’s global user base.
The new feature will start rolling out at 2 PM PT in both the U.S. and Japan and will be available across mobile and web clients.
Postmates, the popular food delivery service, has raised another $225 million at a valuation of $2.4 billion ahead of an imminent initial public offering, the company confirmed to TechCrunch on Thursday.
Private equity firm GPI Capital has led the investment, first reported by Forbes, which brings Postmates total funding to nearly $1 billion. GPI takes non-controlling stakes — between 2% and 20% — in both late-stage private companies and publicly-listed ventures.
As Forbes noted, last-minute financings are critical for companies poised to run out of cash, in need of an infusion prior to hitting the public markets. The motives for Postmates last-minute financing are unclear, however, Postmates will begin trading on the stock market at an interesting time. Though 2019 has proven to be the year of unicorn listings, former Silicon Valley darlings like Uber and Lyft have struggled to stabilize since their multi-billion-dollar debuts.
On-demand food delivery, although undeniably popular, has yet to prove its long-term viability as a money-making business. At the very least, a sizeable check from a private equity firm ensures Postmates has the capital it needs, for the time being, to accelerate growth and double down on its autonomous robotic delivery ambitions.
Founded in 2011, Postmates is also backed by Spark Capital, Founders Fund, Uncork Capital, Slow Ventures, Tiger Global, Blackrock and others.
Lime has operated a pilot program in Seattle since last year and is set to conclude at the end of the year. Throughout the program, more than 18,000 people took more than 200,000 trips in LimePods, according to a Lime spokesperson. At launch, the plan was to explore carsharing for short distances and eventually replace its vehicles with an all-electric fleet. Lime, however, is not looking to make LimePods a permanent fixture of the city at this point.
“While the program was a great learning experience, at our core, we are an electric mobility company first,” Lime wrote in an email to LimePod users. “We are committed — like Seattle is — to sustainability, lower carbon emissions, and to make cities more livable, all of which require reduced car travel.”
Additionally, Lime said it was not able to find the right partner for its LimePod’s electric fleet, which led to the decision to end the program at the end of the pilot period.
“We deeply appreciate our partnership with the Seattle community and the opportunity to collaborate on our LimePod Pilot Program,” a Lime spokesperson told TechCrunch. “The experience is a testament to the city’s forward-looking position on the future of transportation and the necessity of sustainable options for citizens. We are similarly committed to that goal and the information gained during our pilot will support the work necessary should we decide to expand and improve this service with an all-electric fleet in the future.”
Lime, which got its beginnings as a bike-share company, has deployed its scooters and bikes in more than 100 cities in the U.S. and more than 20 international cities. Recently, Lime hit 100 million rides across its micromobility vehicles. Clearly, Lime sees more a future with shared bikes and scooters than it does with cars.
Ricoh has a well-earned good reputation when it comes to building smart, technically excellent photographic equipment – including the almost legendary Ricoh GR series of pocketable APS-C cameras, which are a favorite among street photographers everywhere. Earlier this year, the company released the Ricoh Theta Z1, which builds on its success with its pioneering Theta line of 360-degree cameras and delivers a step-up in terms of image quality and build that will feel at home in the hands of enthusiast and pro photographers.
The Theta Z1 is what happens when you push the limits of what’s possible in a portable form factor 360 camera, both in terms of build materials and what’s going on on the inside. Like its more affordable, older sibling the Theta V, it shoots both stills and video in 360 degrees – but unlike the V, it does so using two 1-inch sensors – unprecedented for a 360 camera in this category. Sony’s celebrated RX100 series was pushing boundaries with its own 1-inch sensor in a traditional compact camera, and the Ricoh is similarly expanding the boundaries of 360 photography by including not just one, but two such sensors in its Z1. That translates to unmatched image quality for 360 photographers – provided you’re willing to pay a premium price to get it.
Design and build
The Ricoh Theta Z1 feels a lot like previous iterations of the Theta line – it’s essentially a handle with two big lenses on top, which is a pretty optimal design overall for a device you’re mostly going to be using to hold up and take 360 photos and video. It’s a bit bulkier than previous generations, and heavier, too, but it’s still a very portable device despite the increased size.
With the bulkier build, you also get a magnesium outer case, which is textured and which feels fantastic when held. If you’ve ever held a pro DSLR or mirrorless camera, then the feel will be familiar, and that says a lot about Ricoh’s target audience with this $1,000 device. The magnesium alloy shell isn’t only for making it feel like it’s worth what it costs, however; you also get big durability benefits, which is important on a device that you’re probably going to want to use in remote locales and off the beaten path.
The build quality also feels incredibly solid, and the button layout is simple and easy to understand. There’s a single shutter button on the front of the camera, just above an OLED display that provided basic info about remaining space for images or video, battery life and connection status. A single LED indicates both mode and capture status information, and four buttons on the side control power on/off, Wifi and Bluetooth connections, photo and video mode switching and enabling basic functions like a shutter countdown timer.
Using the hardware buttons to control the Theta Z1 independent of your smartphone, where you can remotely control all aspects of the camera when connected via WiFi and using the app, is intuitive and easy, and probably the way you’ll use the Z1 more often than not when you’re actually out and about. There’s little to worry about when it comes to framing, for instance, because it captures a full 360 image, and since you can handle all of that after the fact with Ricoh’s editing tools prior to sharing.
On the bottom, there’s a USB-C port for charging and wired data transfer, and a 1/4″ standard tripod mount for attaching the Z1 to tripods or other accessories. This is useful, because if you use a small handle you’ll get a better overall image, since the Z1’s software automatically edits out the camera, and, to some extent, the thing that’s supporting it. There’s also a small lug for attaching a wrist strap, but what you won’t find is a flap or door for a micro SD card – the Theta Z1 relies entirely on built-in storage, and offers just under 20GB of usable storage.
Ricoh’s Theta Z1 has two 1-inch sensors on board, as mentioned, and those combine to provide an image resolution of 670×3360. The camera caputres two 180-degree fields of view from each lens, and automatically stitches them together in software to produce the final image. The result is the sharpest, most color-accurate still photos I’ve ever seen from a 360-degree camera, short of the kind of content shot by professionals on equipment costing at least 10x more.
The resulting images do incredibly well when viewed through VR headsets, for instance, or when you use Theta’s own 360 viewer for web in full-screen mode on high-resolution displays. They also make it possible to export flat images that still look sharp, which you can crop and edit in the Theta+ app. You can create some truly amazing images with interesting perspective that would be hard to get using a traditional camera.
Indoors in low light situations, the Ricoh Theta Z1 still performs pretty well, especially compared to its competitors, thanks to those big 1-inch sensors. Especially in well-lit indoor environments, like in the restaurant example below, details are sharp and crisp across the frame and colors come out great.
In settings where a lot of the frame is dark or unevenly lit, as in the example at the Robot Restaurant in Tokyo below, the results aren’t nearly as good when operating in full automatic mode. You can see that there is some blur in the parts of the scene with motion, and there’s more grain apparent in parts of the frame, too. Overall though, the audience is pretty well captured and the colors still look accurate and good despite the many different tones from different sources.
The Ricoh Theta Z1 still does its best work in bright outdoor settings, however – which is true for any camera, but especially for cameras with sensors smaller than full-frame or APS-C. It’s still definitely capable enough to capture images you can work with, and that provide a great way to revisit great events or memories in a more immersive way than standard 2D images can accomplish.
You can adjust settings including aperture to optimize your photo capture, including choosing between f/2.1, f/3.5 and f/5.6, with higher apertures offering higher resolution images. The built-in lens has been designed to reduce ghosting, purple fringe artifacts and flare, and it does an outstanding job at this. RAW capture allows you to edit DNG files using Lightroom, and it works amazingly well with Lightroom mobile for advanced tweaks right on the same device.
The Ricoh Theta Z1 does video, too – though the specs for the video it produces are essentially unchanged from the Theta V on paper. It can capture 4K video at 30 fps/56 mbps or 2K video at 30fps/16mbps, and live stream in both 4K and 2K. There’s a four-channel built in microphone for immersive audio recording, and it can record as much as 40 minutes of 4K or 130 minutes of 2K footage, though each individual recording session is capped at 5 minutes and 25 minutes for 4K and 2K respectively.
Ricoh has tougher competition when it comes to video in the 360 camera game – Insta 360’s One X has been a clear winner in this category, and has led to this camera even finding some fans when compared to action cameras like the GoPro Hero 7 and the DJI Osmo Action, thanks in large part to its fantastic built-in image stabilization.
The Ricoh Theta Z1 just frankly doesn’t impress in this regard. The sensors do allow for potentially better image quality overall, but the image stabilization is definitely lacking, as you can see below, and overall quality just isn’t there when measured against the Insta360 One X. For a fixed installation for real-time live-streaming, the Ricoh probably makes more sense, but video isn’t the device’s strength, and it’s a little disappointing given its still shooting prowess.
Features and sharing
The range of editing options available either via Theta+ or using the DNG files in both mobile and desktop phot editing software for the Theta Z1 is outstanding. You can really create and compose images in a wide variety of ways, including applying stickers and text that stick to the frame as a viewer navigates around the image. Sharing from the Theta app directly works with a number of platforms, including YouTube, Twitter, Facebook and theta360.com, where you can get embeddable 360 images like those found in this post above.
Ricoh has done a great job making sure you can not only capture the best possible 360 images with this camera, but also share them with others. It’s also leading the pack when it comes to the range of options you have for getting creative with slicing up those 7K spherical images in a variety of ways for traditional flat image output, which is not surprising given the company’s heritage.
Simply put, the Ricoh Theta Z1 is the best 360 camera for still photos that you can buy for under $1000 – even if just squeaks under that line. It’s the best still photo 360 camera you can pick up for considerably more than that, too, given its sensor arrangement and other technical aspects of the device including its selectable aperture settings and RAW output.
The $999.95 asking price is definitely on the high end for this category – the Theta V retails for less than half that, as does the Insta360 One X. But I mentioned the Sony RX100 above, and the pricing is similar: You can get a compact camera for much less money, including very good ones, but the latest RX100 always commands a premium price, which people are willing to pay for the very best in-class device.
If want you want is the best still photography 360 camera on the market, than the Ricoh Theta Z1 is easily it, and if that’s the specific thing you’re looking for, than Ricoh has packed a lot of cutting edge tech into a small package with the Z1.
Google today announced its largest package of renewable energy deals yet. Worth a total of 1,600-megawatts, the package includes 18 deals in the U.S., Chile and Europe. This brings Google’s current set of wind and solar agreements to about 5,500 megawatts (MW) and the company’s number of total renewables projects it’s involved in to 52. Google argues that these new projects it announced today will drive about $2 billion in investments in new energy infrastructure.
In the U.S., Google says it’ll purchase a total of 720 MW from solar farms in North Carolina, South Carolina and Texas. In Chile, it’s buying an additional 125 MW to power its data center there. For reasons only known to Google PR, the company will only announce details of its plans for Europe tomorrow, at an event in Finland, where Google CEO Sundar Pichai will be present.
In today’s announcement, Pichai notes that many of Google’s earlier investments were in wind energy. Its new investments in the U.S. are mostly in solar, though. The reason for that, he notes, is the declining cost of solar. In Chile, the company is investing in a hybrid solar and wind deal for the first time. “Because the wind often blows at different times than the sun shines, pairing them will allow us to match our Chilean data center with carbon-free electricity for a larger portion of each day,” Pichai writes.
Google’s announcements follow Amazon’s pledge to run its business on 100% renewable energy by 2030 and buy 100,000 electric vans earlier today.
“We were so low that people would take advantage of us. People we knew well would just lie to us. One of my favorites was a company we did an enormous amount of work for and really helped save. We then went to see the CEO and he said, ‘I really love you guys but we just don’t make these kinds of investments.’”
When you hear an investment banker recounting the tribulations of raising a private equity fund, your first response might be to get out the metaphorical small violin in your head. But when I met-up recently with Stephen Schwarzman, The Blackstone Group’s Chairman, CEO and co-founder, and heard several statements like the one above, I came to appreciate that he and his co-founder, gentlemen capitalist (and former Commerce Secretary) Pete Petersen, endured their fair share of indignities and near-fatal setbacks on the road to establishing Blackstone as an alternative investment management powerhouse.
At 38 years old at the time of Blackstone’s founding, Schwarzman was already successful and celebrated for having played an integral role in orchestrating a rescue of Lehman Brothers from a set of risky trades spurred on by its then-trader-CEO Lew Glucksman. But Schwarzman’s journey from banker to Wall Street entrepreneur to head of a $500-billion-plus asset manager is more interesting and nuanced than I had realized. On that basis alone, Schwarzman’s new book easily clears the hurdle rate for the entrepreneurially minded, and especially for those interested in the unique challenges of scaling a financial services business from scratch.
Thinkful, an online education site for developers, has confirmed a data breach, just days after it confirmed it would be acquired.
“We recently discovered that an unauthorized party may have gained access to certain Thinkful company credentials so, out of an abundance of caution, we are notifying all of our users,” said Erin Rosenblatt, the company’s vice-president of operations, in an email to users.
“As soon as we discovered this unauthorized access, we promptly changed the credentials, took additional steps to enhance the security measures we have in place, and initiated a full investigation,” the executive said.
At the time of writing, there has been no public acknowledgement of the breach beyond the email to users.
Thinkful, based in Brooklyn, New York, provides education and training for developers and programmers. The company claims the vast majority of its graduates get jobs in their field of study within a half-year of finishing their program. Earlier this month, education tech giant Chegg bought Thinkful for $80 million in cash.
But the company would not say when the breach happened — or if Chegg knew of the data breach prior to the acquisition announcement.
A spokesperson for Chegg did not respond to a request for comment. Thinkful spokesperson Catherine Zuppe did not respond to several emails of questions about the breach.
The email to users said the stolen credentials could not have granted the hacker access to certain information, such as government-issued IDs and Social Security numbers, or financial information. But although the company said it’s seen “no evidence” of any unauthorized access to user’s account data, it did not rule out any improper access to user data.
Thinkful said it is requiring all users to change their passwords.
We also asked Thinkful what security measures it has employed since the credentials breach, such as employing two-factor authentication, but did not hear back.
Just months earlier, Chegg confirmed a data breach, which forced the online technology giant to reset the passwords of its 40 million users.