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Volkswagen and Argo AI reveal first ID Buzz test vehicle for autonomous driving – TechCrunch

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Volkswagen Commercial Vehicles, a standalone VW brand responsible for the development and sales of light commercial vehicles, and Argo AI, an autonomous driving technology company, unveiled the first version of the ID Buzz AD (Autonomous Driving) on Sunday.

The two companies shared plans to test and commercially scale the jointly developed, fully-electric self-driving van over the next four years at the VW night event ahead of the 2021 IAA Mobility Event in Munich. Testing of the prototype, one of the first five planned test vehicles, has already begun and will continue at Argo’s development center in Neufahrn, near Munich, as well as at Argo’s nine hectare closed course near the Munich airport, which tests for a variety of traffic situations unique to European driving conditions, and Argo’s test track in the United States.

“Building on our five years of development and learnings from our operations in large, complex U.S. cities, we are excited to soon begin testing on the streets of Munich in preparation for the launch of the self-driving commercial ridepooling service with MOIA,” said Bryan Salesky, founder and CEO of Argo AI, in a statement. 

In 2025, MOIA, a subsidiary of the VW Group that works with cities and local public transport providers on mobility solutions, will be commercially launching the ID Buzz in Hamburg as part of a self-driving ride-pool system. The ride-pool service is designed to leverage the power of autonomous systems to relieve inner-city congestion.

At the event, Volkswagen Commercial Vehicles, which has developed a separate businesses unit devoted to autonomous driving and acquired a stake in Argo AI, demonstrated how ride-pooling via a self-driving system can help with managing traffic flows.

“An environment recognition system from six lidar, eleven radar and fourteen cameras, distributed over the entire vehicle, can capture much more than any human driver can from his seat,” said Christian Senger, head of autonomous driving at Volkswagen Commercial Vehicles, said at the event.

VW first revealed the ID Buzz as a concept vehicle back in 2017, a futuristic take on the classic microbus that invokes nostalgia as a family camper van. The final product looks a bit different than the iconic campers, now containing all of the bells and whistles of autonomy, such as Argo’s proprietary sensor Argo Lidar, which sits on top of the Buzz’s roof. According to Argo AI, its lidar can detect objects from a distance of more than 1,300 feet, or 400 meters. Four years ago, Argo acquired lidar company Princeton Lightwave, which has allowed the company to produce this new, highly accurate sensor with patented Geiger-mode technology that can detect a single photon, the smallest of light particles, so that it can capture, detect and precisely represent objects with low reflectivity like black vehicles.

Argo AI’s entire system consists of sensors and software that give the computer a 360 degree awareness of the vehicle’s environment, allowing it to “predict the actions of pedestrians, bicyclists and vehicles, and direct the engine, braking and steering systems so that the vehicle moves safely and naturally, like an experienced driver,” according to a statement from VW.

This isn’t the first time Argo’s tech will be used to transport humans where they need to go. In July, Argo and Ford announced plans to launch at least 1,000 self-driving vehicles on Lyft’s ride-hailing network over the next five years in cities like Miami and Austin. In the same month, the California Public Utilities Commission issued Argo a Drivered AV pilot permit so it could start testing on public California roads. Argo AI recently also received a $7.5 billion valuation, nearly two years after the VW Group finalized its $2.6 billion investment in the company.



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Marcy Venture Partners, cofounded by Jay-Z, just closed its second fund with $325 million – TechCrunch

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Marcy Venture Partners, the venture firm cofounded in 2018 by Shawn Carter (Jay-Z), former Roc Nation CEO Jay Brown, and former Walden VC general partner Larry Marcus, says it has closed its second fund with $325 million in capital commitments. The team, which closed its debut fund with $85 million, is now managing $600 million in assets altogether, says cofounder Marcus.

The firm describes itself as having a “consumer, culture and positive impact” investment strategy, and it says the majority of its existing portfolio companies are founded or run by people who identify as women or people of color.

To date, the trio has written checks to at least 21 companies, including in fashion, skin care, and food companies. Among those many bets includes Rihanna’s lingerie company Savage X Fenty; the sneaker marketplace StockX; Therabody, which makes percussion therapy tools; Simulate, which makes plant-based, chicken-flavored nuggets; and an allergen-free cookie maker called Partake Foods.

Carter and company have also begun investing in crypto projects, supporting Bitski, a San Francisco-based startup NFT marketplace, earlier this year, and investing more recently in spatial LABS (sLABS), a tech incubator that focuses on the metaverse and blockchain-based products

The San Francisco- and L.A.-based firm, named after the Marcy Projects in Brooklyn where Carter grew up, was initially targeting $200 million for the newest fund, per an SEC filing from April.



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Heart to Heart raises $750K to bring sweet, sweet flirtation to your ear-holes – TechCrunch

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Radio has long been described as the most intimate of media. Quips about putting radio on the internet aside, the persistent popularity of podcasting and the cockamamie climb of Clubhouse shows that audio-based platforms will continue to echo around the upper echelons of the ecosystem for a while yet. Joining the fray is Heart to Heart, an audio-first dating app aiming to bring back some intimacy to the process of finding the right person for your next foray, whether that’s a saucy encounter or a mate for life.

“I used to act, and from my time in acting, I saw how much voice, and audio experiences drive intimacy between people,” explains Joshua Ogundu, co-founder and CEO of Heart to Heart. “When it came down to the dating apps, it was never something I could get into. I felt like you needed to come up with a textual one-liner. That was never my way of approaching romantic conversations.”

Heart to Heart is pushing back against the endless swiping and messaging of many of its competitors, offering a contrasting experience to sending the same opening line to dozens of people or typing with your thumbs until deep into the night.

“I believe that the best consumer investments come from people who have unique insights on consumer behavior and ways that new tech products can allow new forms of social interaction,” said Charles Hudson from Precursor Ventures, who led the pre-seed investment round. “I have been a big fan of Josh’s TikTok videos for some time and his ability to poke at the tech industry with timely, relevant videos really showcased his creativity and ability to communicate via short-form video. I think the idea around confirming photos, storytelling, and audio will yield a product that really speaks to people’s unmet needs around communication and will create a whole new way for people to connect.”

While Precursor doesn’t particularly focus on audio-first startups, the team has seen a number of opportunities in that space. It was an early investor in Howard Akumiah’s company, Betty Labs (acquired by Spotify), as well as Isa Watson’s company (Squad), Falon Fatemi’s company (Fireside) and several others that are still in stealth.

“I believe that there is a major wave of interesting activity happening around non-music audio and I believe that we are still in the early innings of non-music, audio-driven social experiences,” says Hudson. “The last two companies that I feel really innovated in this category were Tinder and Bumble. I think Josh and his team have a new mechanic that feels differentiated and unique and I think it has the potential to be the foundation for a new way for people to meet and get to know each other in ways that aren’t easily accomplished today.”

Joshua Ogundu, co-founder and CEO of Heart to Heart (Photo provided by Heart to Heart)

The company raised the pre-seed round of $750,000. The round was led by Precursor Ventures, and Bryce Roberts of OATV & Angelica Nwandu of The Shade Room partnered on the investment, as well as Marie Rocha at Realist Ventures. In addition, a number of angel investors joined the round, including Chris Bennett (Wonderschool), Andy Weissman (USV) and Gregory Levey (Robinson Huntly).

“The main thing we are trying to accomplish with the $750K, is to focus on building our iOS app, and making LA our first launch market,” says Ogundu. “Dating is such a local experience, and it makes sense to us to build and improve locally, then scaling it up from there.”

“Voice is so intentional and intimate, and that is exactly what we’re building here at Heart to Heart,” says Ogundu, suggesting that the voice mechanic is helpful in a dating context because it helps slow people down. “I think that because it takes more energy to send that voice snippet to someone, you’ll be more intentional with who you even look to strike up conversations with.”

The founding team consists of Joshua Ogundu, who wears the CEO hat. He is joined by Arihant Jain and Komal Shrivastava, who have been heading up the engineering and design efforts. The company hopes to get its product to market by the end of the year.



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The return of text is inevitable – TechCrunch

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Welcome to Startups Weekly, a fresh human-first take on this week’s startup news and trends. To get this in your inbox, subscribe here.

On Equity this week, we discussed the value of the written word. You can imagine that the resulting argument is inherently biased, considering we are three journalists who have bet our livelihoods on ink; but, I promise, there’s more nuance here beyond how important a lede is.

We recently published a recent deep dive on Automattic, the commercial media company behind the WordPress publishing platform. Founded in 2005, Automattic is one of the few companies that has been able to evolve and expand its way through a graveyard of media sites. Valued at $7.5 billion, it has also convinced investors of the financial promise of its vision.

I was most struck by how text has shaped Automattic’s hiring process: The company offers a purely written interview, where potential new hires never need to reveal their face or voice to anyone through the recruitment funnel. It takes away the inherent bias that comes with a Zoom interview, which, at its core, is just a digital version of a face-to-face interview. Monica Ohara, chief marketing officer of WordPress.com, explained more about her thinking:

“You normally think you’ve got to talk to them; see them on video. With text only, you remove all this bias and focus on the content of what they’re saying, and also test for a style of communication that’s really important in a distributed team.

“In Silicon Valley, everyone is competing for the same people that would add diversity to your pool. Which is great for those people, but what about all the others who don’t have those opportunities because of where they were born or live? For me, I was born in the Philippines and if I hadn’t had the luck to move here, I’d be living a different life.”

Rethinking the value of text, the same way we rethink how many synchronous meetings should be on our calendar, feels like the natural next step for companies figuring out how to scale distributed work. Even in a world seemingly ruled by short-form video, words — and sound — seem to matter in a way that other formats never will.

In the rest of this newsletter, we’ll talk about PayPal’s reported new friend, the Chinese venture capital market and not at all about Facebook’s impending new rebrand. 

PayPal picks Pinterest

Image Credits: TechCrunch

We rushed to Twitter Spaces this week after rumors came out that PayPal may be buying Pinterest for a reported $45 billion. The fintech giant has been on an acquisition spree of sorts, but scooping up a social, photo-sharing platform may signal its hungry to own the content — not just the customer.

Here’s what to know: This feels nostalgic. PayPal potentially joining forces with a more content-focused e-commerce business comes more than a half-decade after it divorced from eBay. But, as Finix Chief Growth Officer Jareau Wadé pointed out, Pinterest is not a shopping destination like eBay — it’s a place where shopping begins for nearly 450 million users.

In a Substack post, Wadé makes the following argument to describe why PayPal may buy Pinterest:

At its core, Pinterest is more like Google than eBay. It’s a search engine that conducts over 5 billion searches per month for fuzzy, hard-to-describe ideas where pictures, rather than words, are often the best place to start. It also has a growing ads business that produced $613 million last quarter, up 125% YoY. With Pinterest, PayPal would be buying the top of the funnel — the awareness and interest stages — for millions of websites on the internet. PayPal would provide Pinterest with the bottom of the funnel, allowing them to see the purchases that result from shopping that began on Pinterest.

Imagine if PayPal could use their core product and the commerce assets they’ve acquired over the past five years to build a deconstructed sales funnel, not just for one website, but for the whole internet.

Put a pin in it:

China is thriving

Flag of China with pile of bitcoin

Image Credits: TechCrunch

Data from CB Insights shows us that, aside from a single outsized 2018 round, China’s third quarter of 2021 was the best three-month period for Chinese startups ever — both in deal value and deal count.

Here’s what to know: We’re surprised, too. On Equity, we discussed how the growth of China’s venture capital market contrasts in sentiment with the region’s government restrictions. It seems that regulatory impact hasn’t stopped all companies from raising, and growing, their businesses there.

Internationally speaking:

Around TC

TC Sessions: SaaS 2021 is next week! My colleagues have put together an amazing show about the sector that seemingly can’t stop attracting millions from investors. We’ll see what stopped eating the world, how hunger is turning into innovation and definitely hit a few SaaSy notes through panels with experts.

Check out the event agenda, buy your pass and come hang with us on October 27.

Across the week

Seen on TechCrunch

A massive ‘stalkerware’ leak puts the phone data of thousands at risk

What do people want in a co-founder? YC has some answers

Station F adds an online program to educate the next generation of entrepreneurs

Trump to launch his own social media platform, calling it TRUTH Social

Seen on TechCrunch+

Mission-driven ventures are growing fast during the pandemic

Dear Sophie: Any suggestions for recruiting international tech talent?

Lessons from founders raising their first round in a bull market

Udemy targets valuation of $4B in major edtech IPO

Talk soon,

N 



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Decoupling tech supply chains would do more harm than good – TechCrunch

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For a technology sector that would much prefer to focus on growth over geopolitics, the push for U.S.-China “decoupling” poses an inescapable threat. The fuzziness of the concept only increases the danger.

U.S. distrust of China, particularly in technology, is nothing new. Indeed, Congress took action to keep Huawei and ZTE out of U.S. telecommunications almost a decade ago, during the Obama administration.

But during the administrations of both George W. Bush and Barack Obama, there was a broad push to engage in dialogue and find common ground between the world’s two biggest economies. As China emerged as a leading global economy and became an increasingly important trading partner to the U.S., (accounting for 2.5% of U.S. imports in 1989 and rising to a peak of 21.6% in 2017), there were moves to incorporate it into the U.S.-led global trading system. In 2005, Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick put forward the idea of China as a “Responsible Stakeholder,” under the assumption that embracing China’s entry into the global trading system would ensure that it helped that system continue to function.

Not long before that, the U.S. had agreed to China’s 2001 accession to the World Trade Organization. But while it was seen by many as a turning point, it was really just a waypoint. That year, China’s share of U.S. imports was already 9.0%. Growth in Chinese imports, moreover, reflected a rebalancing of Asian trade more than anything else; from 1989 to 2017, Asia’s share (including China) of U.S. imports grew from 42.3% to just 45.2%. China’s relative growth instead ate into the share of countries like Japan and Malaysia, reflecting a reordering within Asia. The standard system of trade accounting overplayed this shift, as a good that was finished in China and had 10% Chinese value added would count as 100% Chinese for trade statistics.

Regardless of what was labeled as produced where, the bottom line was that a well-developed Asian supply chain incorporated China as a major player. With increased engagement, however, and very different economic systems, the points of economic disagreement between China and the United States accumulated. During the Trump administration, dialogue took a back seat to new trade barriers. The United States applied tariffs on hundreds of billions of dollars of Chinese imports and China responded with barriers of its own. Although the Trump tariffs were initially cast as temporary measures meant to achieve finite policy objectives, some key policymakers within the Trump administration saw value in diminished interaction between the two countries.

Matthew Pottinger, who served as Deputy National Security Adviser under President Trump, subsequently wrote that “important U.S. institutions, especially in finance and technology, cling to self-destructive habits acquired through decades of ‘engagement,’ an approach to China that led Washington to prioritize economic cooperation and trade above all else.” His solution calls for bold steps “to frustrate Beijing’s aspiration for leadership in … high-tech industries.” The Biden administration recently announced, after a prolonged review, that it was maintaining the Trump tariffs and Congress has pushed to fund initiatives that would subsidize technological independence. These moves for lessening dependence, particularly in technology, have fallen under the broader rubric of “decoupling.”

Amidst all the newfound enthusiasm for U.S. decoupling from China, one might imagine that the term is well-defined. Yet it takes relatively little probing to discover a lack of clarity. Of course, the above-mentioned tariffs have served to discourage trade between the two countries, but how far is this policy meant to go?

Does decoupling mean the U.S. will turn away from inbound and outbound foreign direct investment? What about portfolio investment, such as the purchase of U.S. Treasuries? Does it mean that the U.S. should avoid importing final goods produced by Chinese firms? What about European firms producing in China? What about U.S. firms producing in China? Or European or U.S. firms producing outside China but incorporating Chinese parts? Or companies selling into the Chinese market and thus, presumably, subject to Chinese influence?

The sheer breadth of economic interactions between the two giant economies illustrates the implausibility of a clean divide between them. Instead, the most likely result of an attempt at exclusion would be another reordering, not China’s disappearance as a supply chain power. This is particularly true when other global economic powers, such as the European Union, do not share even the vague objective of decoupling.

TechCrunch Global Affairs Project

The nebulous nature of the decoupling push poses a particular threat to the tech sector. Over decades, the push to take advantage of scale economies and to drive down production costs has resulted in highly-integrated global tech production. Further, in subsectors that have recently emerged as particularly contentious, such as the production of semiconductors, investments have to be made at large scale and well in advance. That leaves the sector especially vulnerable to rapidly-shifting rule changes, as policymakers struggle to give substance to a problematic concept at a time of difficult supply chain disruptions. Policy responses that shower the sector with subsidies, as some bills in Congress have proposed, seem appealing, but lose their effectiveness when countries such as Japan move to match them.

A world in which the United States provides an extreme answer to the above questions and is absolutist in its separation from China is likely to be one in which the United States cripples itself technologically, denying itself access to globally-competitive sourcing and empowering competitors elsewhere. The only politically viable alternative at the moment, a world in which the United States takes a more moderate stance and struggles to find a middle ground, is likely to be an unpredictable one in which rules are constantly evolving.

In either case, proponents of U.S.-China decoupling will find such a move counterproductive. Far from resolving strategic policy concerns, its primary impact may be to challenge U.S. technology leadership instead.



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Software product company Arbisoft on the growing startup market in Pakistan – TechCrunch

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“In 2007, I, along with a few other colleagues, founded Arbisoft because we loved solving a variety of computing problems rather than staying close to one particular domain or technology vertical. We felt it was much easier to do that in a software services company than a software product company,” says Yasser Bashir, co-founder of Arbisoft. “In addition to our love for software development, we also had strong ideas on the kind of culture that would likely inspire smart people to do their best in a technology-focused organization. Arbisoft is a manifestation of many of those ideas.”

Over the past two weeks, Anna Heim has interviewed Bashir from Arbisoft as part of our Experts project. They were recommended to us through our survey; we’d love to know which software consultants you’d recommend to other startups. We also had guest columns focused on growth marketing about growth tactics and early-stage comm teams, but more on that below.

Software Consulting

Consultant: Arbisoft
Recommended by: Omri Traub, CEO of Popcart
Testimonial: “We were able to create a high-performance dev team that includes dev, QA and DevOps. We had access to top talent and, importantly, elasticity in hiring. If we wanted to add a developer, we could have an incredible one join our team in under one week. It would have taken us weeks and months to recruit and hire a developer in Boston or the U.S.”

Consultant: Solwey Consulting
Recommended by: Paul Shaked, Sandland
Testimonial: “They helped us tremendously — a not so great dev team in Europe built our site with no documentation and lots of sloppy code, but Solwey was able to come in and sort through everything. Not to mention, our e-comm site is built on a headless CMS x Shopify checkout. Solwey was one of the only teams that was able to jump in and really get things to a good place with almost no major delays due to tech debt.”

Consultant: Planetary
Recommended by: Ryan Doney, Ad Lunam
Testimonial: “I vetted several different consultancies, and Planetary not only brought technical expertise to the table, but their startup-specific mindset meant that it was incredibly easy to get aligned on our mission, and how to best build it. Josh is a great talent, and he’s built a remarkable team. Their work dramatically cut down our time to market, as well as giving us a ready-made jumping off point to start iterating on our product.”

Consultant: OpenCubicles
Recommended by: Anonymous
Testimonial: “The OpenCubicles team helped us improve our infrastructure utilization, response time and other aspects critical to e-commerce success. We were able to rationalize cloud infrastructure costs due to thorough analysis and optimization. They helped us automate many aspects of operations. Would recommend to those looking for reliable technology services, especially e-commerce development.”

Consultant: ThinkNimble
Recommended by: Philip Deng, Grantable
Testimonial: “They are focused on helping startups succeed and they care deeply about the missions of the companies they help. They brought us way forward in terms of our design and also connected us with lots of thoughtful people beyond the company who have helped us move forward.”

Arbisoft co-founder Yasser Bashir on building trust with early-stage startups: Anna and Bashir spoke about how Arbisoft has grown over the past 13 years, how they build trust with their clients and the startup scene in Pakistan. Bashir says, “I have been very involved with the startup and tech ecosystem in the country since its inception. It is indeed taking off like a rocket ship right now, and we couldn’t be more excited about it. This year, startups raised more funding than all of the previous years combined. Arbisoft is excited because many of these startups need technology services, and therefore, we have a new and exhilarating market at our disposal.”

Growth Marketing

Marketer: Ki from WITHIN
Recommended by: Anonymous
Testimonial: “Ki has been supporting our business for over three years, and every time he finds unique ways to exceed expectations. From launching new products that sell out in days rather than weeks, being able to onboard new members of our team so they can contribute faster, and being someone that can work at a strategic level with our VPs and at the data-driven level with analysts, his range is truly outstanding and I believe he is in the 1% of the 1% of marketers.”

Marketer: Kaveh from WITHIN
Recommended by: Anonymous
Testimonial: “Kaveh is one of the most empathetic and collaborative marketers I have ever worked with. Our team was largely brand marketers and Kaveh did a great job of bridging their world and our profit-optimized media strategy seamlessly (even if it meant an after-hours marketing jam session). Not only that, but you could tell he really cared about the brand, catching small issues with the site and sharing them with the team proactively, etc.”

(TechCrunch+) Smart growth tactics put account-based marketing within reach for startups and SMBs: Jonas van de Poel, head of content marketing at Unmuted, says, “F​​or many startups and SMBs, successfully setting up account-based marketing strategies can feel like a pipe dream. Startups still struggling to find product-market fit wouldn’t dream of being able to identify and map out their ideal customer profile (ICP) clearly enough. At the same time, small and midsize businesses often lack the resources to invest in elaborate multitouch-point content marketing strategies.” Van de Poel shares what account-based marketing is, the importance of mapping a customers journey to marketing content and more.

(TechCrunch+) Hiring is just the first step when building an early-stage comms team: Yousuf Khan, partner at Ridge Ventures, writes about not just the importance of having an early-stage comms team, but the importance of communicating with them. Khan says, “It’s not just important to have relationships between executives and media — you should have solid relationships with your comms people, too. Allow them to get to know you, your likes and dislikes, the environments in which you thrive and where you feel most comfortable.”



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SaaS on Oct. 27th – TechCrunch

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This year automation hit center stage when robotic process automation (RPA) vendor UiPath went public after raising $2 billion in private investment. Investors who had been a part of that were richly rewarded when it closed above its private valuation. At the same time, established companies like ServiceNow, Microsoft, IBM and others were seeing the value in building automation into their product sets.

We are fortunate to have three people who have been smack dab in the middle of this trend on a panel called “Automation’s Moment Is Now” at TC Sessions: SaaS happening on October 27th. Those panelists include UiPath CEO Daniel Dines; Laela Sturdy, general partner at CapitalG and Dave Wright, chief innovation officer at ServiceNow.

Dines’ company, which went public in April, concentrates mostly on RPA, and is the market leader according to Gartner, but automation has many dimensions beyond RPA, including no-code/low-code tools and workflow automation. As we wrote on in an article on the hot automation market earlier this year:

What we have here is a frothy mix of startups and large companies racing to provide a comprehensive spectrum of workflow automation tools to empower companies to spin up workflows quickly and move work involving both human and machine labor through an organization.

RPA helps companies automate a series of mundane legacy tasks, which can include human intervention or not. Think of pulling information from an insurance claim, adding it to a spreadsheet and emailing a human administrator with the needed information — and doing all of this without a human touching it.

ServiceNow got into RPA in March when it bought Indian startup Intellibot. It also has several tools for low-code and workflow automation, and with the Intellibot purchase, other acquisitions and organic development, has built automation across its entire platform.

Sturdy was an investor in UiPath and serves on its board. Other investments include Stripe, Cloudflare and Credit Karma, which Intuit bought last year for $7.1 billion. She was also the captain of the women’s basketball team while attending Harvard, and participated in the 1998 NCAA basketball tournament, helping defeat No. 1 Stanford in a huge upset.

We’re going to discuss why automation is coming to the fore now, the role of the pandemic in its rising popularity and whether it’s a jobs killer or if it’s actually making life easier for employees.

We hope you’ll join us at TechCrunch Sessions: SaaS on October 27th. We’ll also be talking to Monte Carlo CEO Barr Moses, Microsoft executive Jared Spataro and investor Casey Aylward.



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Tech watchdog campaign challenges big tech for hiding behind small business – TechCrunch

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Time and time again, tech’s most powerful companies have pushed the narrative that any threat to their own trillion-ish dollar businesses will trickle down, hurting the small companies that rely on their products.

But counter to the warm and fuzzy anecdotes that big tech has rolled out over the years, some business owners struggle with relying so heavily on massive, opaque corporations and often have little recourse if things go wrong.

Those struggles are the kind of thing that tech watchdog group Accountable Tech wants to draw attention to with its new awareness push, “Main Street Against Big Tech.” The six figure campaign includes a full-page ad in San Jose’s daily paper the Mercury News next week, digital ads across social platforms and an ongoing video series highlighting experiences from small business owners that run counter to the PR narratives from tech companies.

The project has received support from the Main Street Alliance, Small Business Rising, the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, and the American Economic Liberties Project.

“The [campaign] really underscores the litany of Big Tech’s harms to which these small business owners are subject – from misleading and unreliable data, to hidden costs and sudden changes to rules or algorithms that can kneecap their entire company without any access to customer service,” Accountable Tech co-founder Jesse Lehrich told TechCrunch. “Each entrepreneur has their own story and reason for speaking out.”

Lehrich calls Facebook’s longstanding PR campaign around standing up for small business “incredibly cynical and opportunistic” — a position that some Facebook employees appear to share. The reality of running a business on big tech platforms isn’t always rosy for small business owners, who are subject to the whims of massively powerful corporations they have only a tenuous relationship with.

“They are completely at the mercy of these giants, with little access to legitimate metrics or customer service,” Lehrich said. “It’s not a partnership; it’s exploitation.”

Public sentiment also seems to be moving into a phase where people widely acknowledge that even free tech platforms extract a cost, whether that’s in the form of privacy sacrifices or the endless streams of user-created content that provide a canvas for advertising.

Small businesses may rely on tools from dominant tech companies, but that doesn’t mean that in theory an upstart competitor couldn’t build something that serves them just as well or better. “This is how monopolies and oligopolies work –– these Big Tech corporations and their services are only ‘essential’ because they’ve engaged in an endless array of anticompetitive behavior to ensure they’re the only game in town,” Lehrich told TechCrunch.

As Congress wrestles with how to update laws designed for an era well before internet businesses even existed, the biggest companies in tech will continue to lean into their market dominance, leaving businesses and users alike stuck with what they’ve got.

“In an effort to avoid regulatory scrutiny, monopolists like Facebook, Google, and Amazon have spent millions of dollars persuading lawmakers and the public that their business products are a lifeline for small businesses when in fact the opposite is true,” Accountable Tech Co-Founder and Executive Director Nicole Gill said. “… But now small business owners are fighting back by sharing their lived experience to expose the real relationship between Big Tech and Main Street.”



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