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Archivo del Autor: Belen De Leon

Zwift, which turns indoor cycling workouts into multiplayer games, raises $120M

Fitness and gaming have been two of the most popular categories of apps for years, and now a startup founded out of London that has combined the two in a unique way has picked up a big round of funding to capitalise on that. Zwift, an interactive platform for people to turn indoor cycling workouts into massive, multi-participant races, social rides, and immersive explorations of new domains, has raised $120 million — money that its co-founder and CEO, Eric Min, said will be used to expand to more training categories (its first steps outside of cycling have been into running), and to add esports tournaments.

The funding — led by Highland Europe, with Europe’s True (not to be confused with True Ventures), Causeway Media and Novator participating — comes on the heels of very rapid growth for Zwift .

The startup now has over 1 million registered accounts (it doesn’t disclose active users), up from a mere 200,000 two years ago, with users ranging from amateur cycling enthusiasts, people who cycle as part of fitness regimes, and professional athletes who use it to supplement IRL global training schedules.

“More than one-third of the peloton in this year’s Tour de France” — despite all its controversies, still the gold standard for road races — “are users of Zwift,” Min told me. There are 200 Facebook groups built around Zwift communities, with people using them to organise rides and sometimes even to meet up in person afterwards at cafes, just as they might in actual outdoor rides. With customers in 100 countries, Min told me that there are on average 300 organised (group) rides a day happening on Zwift.

The company isn’t disclosing its valuation, but Min said that the startup is “approaching unicorn status” on account of its growth and big ambitions and it appears to be more than $500 million with “a very small dilution” — a big jump on the $180 million Pitchbook estimated its valuation to be in 2016 (it’s raised around $166 million to date).

Min believes that the upswing in e-sports could see the format getting ever-more mainstream acceptance. “Our goal is to bring Zwift to the Olympics,” he told me confidently.

Zwift is swiftly addressing two different shortcomings of two common home pastimes. One of the problems with exercising at home — and specifically training in cycling as a first effort — is that it might get a little boring, and one of the problems with playing too many video games is that they contribute to the tendency we have in our modern world to be too sedentary.

The service involves you providing your own bike, which you link up with a Zwift trainer (a rack-like piece of equipment that turns a bike into a stationary bike for indoor training), which in turn picks up your stats and adjusts tension and so on based on the course that you are riding. You cycle in front of a TV typically to get the immersive effect, linked up to a Mac, Windows or iOS App (it’s also on Apple TV). You start with a free trial before moving to a monthly fee of $15 (or $10 if you are currently on a trial or already subscribe: the higher fee was introduced last month).

There are no plans at the moment for VR headsets or other head-based wearables because so far they have proven to be too bulky to be usable in the physical environment of sometimes-gruelling cycling, Min said. And for now, you also don’t use spinners or other stationary cycling apparatuses because these can’t provide the right kind of ‘real-world’ riding feel, he said. But this might evolve as Zwift partners with more third parties (and with companies like Peloton a big hit with home fitness enthusiasts, you can see how that might evolve).

In all of its sports and sport ambitions, Zwift is bringing not just basic tension and gaming dynamics to the table: it’s using some interesting algorithms to help train its users, and figure out what might be the best logical step for them in terms of increasing or decreasing difficulty while measuring all other cycling stats. Min says this all starts with getting an accurate weight for each user.

Cycling accounts for 98 percent of the company’s business at the moment, and running is just taking off. For runners, people use running treadmills, and that is the template the company wants to follow, eventually including rowing machines, step machines, and more. Sometimes the locations are actual places like Innsbruck, pictured above. Sometimes they are make-believe terrains, like the fictional Pacific Island Watopia, below:

Min tells me he started Zwift out of London because that is where he lives, but much of the development has come out of southern California, since that is where there is a stronghold of gaming developers. Min himself is an expat from America (there are a lot of us here!), New York specifically, who previously had been a VP at JP Morgan and then founded a fintech company called Sakkonet Technology that’s still going strong, and he happens to be a cycling enthusiast going back to childhood.

“I wanted to do something different from fintech and the idea for Zwift was staring right at me,” he said. “I was a cyclist since I was a kid, painfully so. The worst thing you could do is ride your bike indoors because it was so boring. I used all the products I could but it wasn’t engaging enough, so we thought, what about taking the tech that out there for gaming, combining that with what you do in cycle training, and bring all that to a digital platform? Even if you could get 80 percent of the experience, that would be better than what was offered in the past.” 

Highland and the other investors are all strategic, in that they are already investing quite a bit in other fitness enterprises, which could in turn point to partnerships down the road. Highland’s in eGym and Huel; True backs the Ribble cycling brand; and Causeway invests in traditional sports and esports.

“Zwift is a fantastically innovative company and they are certainly leading the way in the indoor training space,” says Tony Zappala, Partner of Highland Europe in a statement. “It’s a highly scalable business and we’ve been impressed with how they have already managed to expand globally – already 70 percent of current subscribers are from outside the USA. Research points to an audience of 40 million competitive and enthusiast cyclists, and many of those lie in the traditional cycling nations of Central Europe, so in this market alone there is huge growth potential.”

With numbers like that, even without widening the company’s remit, there is a large opportunity to build a specialist fitness/gaming business here, but from what Min says it sounds like this is just phase one of his strategy.

Eschewing any comments about acquisitions when I brought up the topic in our conversation (“No acquisitions,” was his answer on that subject), he said that Zwift for now doesn’t have any formal commercial partnerships team in place.

Even without that, there are about 50 gyms that are already building programs for their customers around Zwift rides, so you can see how this might develop if it did put more focus on partnerships with gyms, offices, co-working spaces or hotels in the future. “We want to build a business that will last decades, or more,” he said.

Source: TechCrunch

YouTuber uses glitter bomb, fart sprayer to punish package thieves – CNET

He isn’t the first to go to extreme lengths to protect his porch.
Source: CNET

SoftBank Corp shares drop 14% on their first day of trading, but it’s still one of the largest IPOs ever

SoftBank Corp’s initial public offering today started with a bang before trailing off into a whimper, with the stock falling 14.5 percent during its first day of trading on the Tokyo Stock Exchange.

The company is the mobile unit of conglomerate SoftBank Group, whose holdings also include Sprint and the $100 billion Vision Fund.

Shares of SoftBank Corp opened at 1,463 yen, below the 1,500 yen the company had set for its IPO price (instead of a range), and closed at 1,282 yen. It offered 160 million shares, or about a third of the total held by parent company SoftBank Group. Despite a bumpy first day of trading, SoftBank Corp raised a total of 2.65 trillion yen (about $23.5 billion), making it Japan’s largest ever IPO and placing it just behind Alibaba’s record-setting $25 billion debut on the New York Stock Exchange in 2014 (SoftBank Group is one of Alibaba’s largest shareholders).

According to Bloomberg, 90 percent of the investors who bought SoftBank Corp shares at the 1,500 opening price were individuals, who the company had targeted in an unusual marketing campaign.

Factors that may have dampened investor enthusiasm about include a network outage earlier this month triggered by a shutdown of Ericsson equipment due to expired software certificates (O2 customers in Great Britain were also affected).

The outage underscored other concerns about SoftBank Corp’s telecommunications infrastructure. According to a Nikkei report published last week, the company has decided to stop using hardware from Huawei Technologies due to security concerns and replace them over the next several years with equipment by Ericsson and Nokia.

While the company says the hardware swap isn’t expected to cost a lot of money, it will also need to deal with more competition next year. SoftBank Corp’s rivals are currently NTT DoCoMo and KDDI, but Rakuten will launch cellular service in October 2019, making it Japan’s fourth mobile network operator.

Furthermore, SoftBank Group also carries massive debt that totaled 18 trillion yen (about $160 billion) as of the end of September, more than six times the amount it earns on an operating basis. This means the Vision Fund is especially reliant on Saudi Arabia’s sovereign fund, which contributed $48 billion, making it the fund’s largest investor.

Saudi Arabia’s sovereign fund, called the Public Investment Fund, is run by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who has been implicated by Turkish officials and the United State’s Central Intelligence Agency in the planning of journalist Jamal Khashoggi’s murder. Crown Prince bin Salman has denied involvement in the killing, but the situation still calls into question the future of Saudi Arabia’s involvement with SoftBank, especially since Crown Prince bin Salman said in October that Saudi Arabia plans to invest another $45 billion in the second Vision Fund.

Source: TechCrunch

Elon Musk unveils first Boring Company tunnel under SpaceX HQ – CNET

Where we’re going, we won’t need roads.
Source: CNET

Facebook purges more ‘bad actors’ in Myanmar but it still won’t commit to a local office

As Facebook continues to grasp the severity of the situation in Myanmar, where the UN has concluded that its social network plays “determining role” in inciting genocide, the U.S. tech giant has completed a third sweep in recent months to remove bad actors from its platform.

Facebook said late Tuesday U.S. time that it has removed a total of 135 Facebook accounts, 425 Pages, 17 Groups and an additional 15 Instagram accounts with this latest piece of action.

Facebook has around 20 million users in Myanmar — that’s nearly all of the country’s internet users and nearly 40 percent of the population — and it gave some stats on the reach that it has now nullified:

  • Approximately 2.5 million people followed at least one of these Facebook Pages
  • Approximately 6,400 people belonged to at least one of these Facebook Groups
  • Approximately 1,300 people followed at least one these Instagram accounts

This is Facebook’s third such cull in recent months. Its previous removals impacted some high-profile individuals including Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, commander-in-chief of the armed forces, and the military-owned Myawady television network were removed from the social network following “evidence [that they] committed or enabled serious human rights abuses in the country.”

What’s notable about this newest action is that the company said it took action because of “the behavior of these actors rather than on the type of content they were posting.”

We’re waiting for further confirmation on exactly what that means, but acting irrespective of posted content would represent an interesting change in its policing, and it could impact Facebook’s efforts in Myanmar — and other areas — going forward.

Nearly everyone who has internet access in Myanmar uses Facebook, giving it an estimated user base of around 20 million. AFP PHOTO / Nicolas ASFOURI / Getty Images

That’s promising but, unfortunately, it appears that Facebook is still reluctant to commit to opening a local office in Myanmar. That’s something that local civic groups on the ground in Myanmar — who have worked with Facebook to improve the situation — have called a key requirement for meaningful progress.

“How many companies have 20 million users in one country but don’t have a single employee, it’s absurd,” Jes Petersen — CEO of accelerator firm Phandeeyar, which is part of the advisory group — told TechCrunch last month. “An office would go a long way to building relationships with stakeholders.”

Facebook declined to comment on the possibility of a Myanmar-based office when we asked.

The company has pledged to increase the number of Burmese translators working on Myanmar-based content to 100 by the end of this year. It has said a number of times that it is working on AI-based solutions, too, but cracks still appear.

Equally, while reaching 100 translators means Facebook has more than doubled its Burmese-compliant content checking contingent, the figure is dwarfed by others. Myanmar’s army reportedly has 700 people working on its own Facebook strategy.

Sources familiar with the company’s thinking told TechCrunch that Facebook is concerned that “there would be real risks involved” if it were to open an office, “including the potential for increased government leverage on content and data requests as well as potential risks to Facebook’s employees.”

That response is backed, according to the sources, by the findings of a BSR report that was released last month.

If this is consistent with the company’s strategy then it is troubling because that doesn’t tell the whole truth of what is a very nuanced issue.

While it is correct that the report did mention the potential risks associated with an office — around both the safety of staff and potential for government pressure — the conclusion wasn’t that Facebook shouldn’t open the office. It was that there are “advantages and disadvantages” to it doing so.

So you could equally argue that it should open an office if you choose to focus the positive argument from the report.

More generally, it is certainly ironic that Facebook is (partially) citing insight from a report that it controversially released on the eve of the U.S. mid-term elections, a move that many took as an effort to bury the findings while the news cycle was focused on a key political moment.

While it may not get the same press attention as Russian-backed U.S. election meddling, the Facebook-Myanmar situation is a key one to watch in 2019. Facebook is the de facto internet in Southeast Asia and other emerging markets so its influence extends beyond anything people in Western markets can begin to imagine.

Source: TechCrunch

Elon Musk Unveils the Boring Company’s Car-Flinging Tunnel

The Tesla and SpaceX CEO showed off the details of his latest scheme to slay traffic.
Source: Wired

Amnesty International used machine-learning to quantify the scale of abuse against women on Twitter

Update: Twitter’s response has been added to the end of this post. 

A new study by Amnesty International and Element AI attempts to put numbers to a problem many women already know about: that Twitter is a cesspool of harassment and abuse. Conducted with the help of 6,500 volunteers, the study, billed by Amnesty International as “the largest ever” into online abuse against women, used machine-learning software from Element AI to analyze tweets sent to a sample of 778 women politicians and journalists during 2017. It found that 7.1%, or 1.1 million, of those tweets were either “problematic” or “abusive,” which Amnesty International said amounts to one abusive tweet sent every 30 seconds.

On an interactive website breaking down the study’s methodology and results, the human rights advocacy group said many women either censor what they post, limit their interactions on Twitter, or just quit the platform altogether: “At a watershed moment when women around the world are using their collective power to amplify their voices through social media platforms, Twitter’s failure to consistently and transparently enforce its own community standards to tackle violence and abuse means that women are being pushed backwards towards a culture of silence.”

Amnesty International, which has been researching abuse against women on Twitter for the past two years, signed up 6,500 volunteers for what it refers to as the “Troll Patrol” after releasing a report earlier this year that described Twitter as a “toxic” place for women.

In total, the volunteers analyzed 288,000 tweets sent between January to December 2017 to the 778 women studied, who included politicians and journalists across the political spectrum from the United Kingdom and United States. Politicians included members of the U.K. Parliament and the U.S. Congress, while journalists represented a diverse group of publications including The Daily Mail, The New York Times, Guardian, The Sun, gal-dem, Pink News, and Breitbart.

The Troll Patrol’s volunteers, who come from 150 countries and range in age from 18 to 70 years old, received training about constitutes a problematic or abusive tweet. Then they were shown anonymized tweets mentioning one of the 778 women and asked if the tweets were problematic or abusive. Each tweet was shown to several volunteers. In addition, Amnesty International said “three experts on violence and abuse against women” also categorized a sample of 1,000 tweets to “ensure we were able to assess the quality of the tweets labelled by our digital volunteers.”

The study defined “problematic” as tweets “that contain hurtful or hostile content, especially if repeated to an individual on multiple occasions, but do not necessarily meet the threshold of abuse,” while “abusive” meant tweets “that violate Twitter’s own rules and include content that promote violence against or threats of people based on their race, ethnicity, national origin, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, religious affiliation, age, disability, or serious disease.”


Then a subset of the labelled tweets was processed using Element AI’s machine-learning software to extrapolate the analysis to the total 14.5 million tweets that mentioned the 778 women during 2017. (Since tweets weren’t collected for the study until March 2018, Amnesty International notes that the scale of abuse was likely even higher because some abusive tweets may have been deleted or made by accounts that were suspended or disabled). Element AI’s extrapolation produced the finding that 7.1% of tweets sent to the women were problematic or abusive, amounting to 1.1 million tweets in 2017.

Black, Asian, Latinx, and mixed race women were 34% more likely to be mentioned in problematic or abusive tweets than white women. Black women in particular were especially vulnerable: they were 84% more likely than white women to be mentioned in problematic or abusive tweets. One in 10 tweets mentioning black women in the study sample was problematic or abusive, compared to one in 15 for white women.

“We found that, although abuse is targeted at women across the political spectrum, women of color were much more likely to be impacted, and black women are disproportionately targeted. Twitter’s failure to crack down on this problem means it is contributing to the silencing of already marginalized voices,” said Milena Marin, Amnesty International’s senior advisor for tactical research, in the statement.

Breaking down the results by profession, the study found that 7% of tweets that mentioned the 454 journalists in the study were either problematic or abusive. The 324 politicians surveyed were targeted at a similar rate, with 7.12% of tweets that mentioned them problematic or abusive.

Of course, findings from a sample of 778 journalists and politicians in the U.K. and U.S. is difficult to extrapolate to other professions, countries, or the general population. The study’s findings are important, however, because many politicians and journalists need to use social media in order to do their jobs effectively. Women, and especially women of color, are underrepresented in both professions, and many stay on Twitter simply to make a statement about visibility, even though it means dealing with constant harassment and abuse. Furthermore, Twitter’s API changes means many third-party anti-bullying tools no longer work, as technology journalist Sarah Jeong noted on her own Twitter profile, and the platform has yet to come up with tools that replicate their functionality.

Amnesty International’s other research about abusive behavior towards women on Twitter includes a 2017 online poll of women in 8 countries, and an analysis of abuse faced by female members of Parliament before the UK’s 2017 snap election. The organization said the Troll Patrol isn’t about “policing Twitter or forcing it to remove content.” Instead, the organization wants the platform to be more transparent, especially about how the machine-learning algorithms it uses to detect abuse.

Because the largest social media platforms now rely on machine learning to scale their anti-abuse monitoring, Element AI also used the study’s data to develop a machine-learning model that automatically detects abusive tweets. For the next three weeks, the model will be available to test on Amnesty International’s website in order to “demonstrate the potential and current limitations of AI technology.” These limitations mean social media platforms need to fine-tune their algorithms very carefully in order to detect abusive content without also flagging legitimate speech.

“These trade-offs are value-based judgements with serious implications for freedom of expression and other human rights online,” the organization said, adding that “as it stands, automation may have a useful role to play in assessing trends or flagging content for human review, but it should, at best, be used to assist trained moderators, and certainly should not replace them.”

TechCrunch has contacted Twitter for comment. Twitter replied with several quotes from a formal response issued to Amnesty International on December 12, Vijaya Gadde, Twitter’s legal, policy, and trust and safety global lead.

“Twitter has publicly committed to improving the collective health, openness, and civility of public conversation on our service. Twitter’s health is measured by how we help encourage more healthy debate, conversations, and critical thinking. Conversely, abuse, malicious automation, and manipulation detract from the health of Twitter. We are committed to holding ourselves publicly accountable towards progress in this regard.

“Twitter uses a combination of machine learning and human review to adjudicate abuse reports and whether they violate our rules. Context matters when evaluating abusive behavior and determining appropriate enforcement actions. Factors we may take into consideration include, but are not limited to whether: the behavior is targeted at an individual or group of people; the report has been filed by the target of the abuse or a bystander; and the behavior is newsworthy and in the legitimate public interest. Twitter subsequently provides follow-up notifications to the individual that reports the abuse. We also provide recommendations for additional actions that the individual can take to improve his or her Twitter experience, for example using the block or mute feature.

“With regard to your forthcoming report, I would note that the concept of “problematic” content for the purposes of classifying content is one that warrants further discussion. It is unclear how you have defined or categorised such content, or if you are suggesting it should be removed from Twitter. We work hard to build globally enforceable rules and have begun consulting the public as part of the process – a new approach within the industry.

“As numerous civil society groups have highlighted, it is important for companies to carefully define the scope of their policies for purposes of users being clear what content is and is not permitted. We would welcome further discussion about how you have defined “problematic” as part of this research in accordance with the need to protect free expression and ensure policies are clearly and narrowly drafted.”

Source: TechCrunch

Elon Musk’s ‘vision for transport’ is a 3D network of tunnels for autonomous electric vehicles

Billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk’s vision of an “entirely new system of transport,” which he unveiled Wednesday night at a splashy event in Hawthorne, California, wasn’t a reusable rocket like the ones he’s building at his nearby SpaceX headquarters. Nor is it an electric vehicle, like the Teslas he is producing at a factory in Fremont, California.

Tonight, Musk showed off a 1.14-mile test tunnel — that snakes its way underneath 120th Street in the city of Hawthorne — that his other business, the Boring Company, dug for about $10 million using a modified boring machine called Godot. (That $10 million figures includes the cost of building the tunnel, all internal infrastructure, lighting, 
communication and video, safety systems, ventilation, and track, according to the company.) For Musk, this is merely a demonstration of what could be: a network of low-cost tunnels used for transportation, utilities or water and built for millions of dollars, or even billions less than those constructed for subways or trains.

And it’s a vision that he’s funding, for now. Musk estimates he’s spent about $40 million of his own money funding The Boring Company .

These tunnels, which at about 12-feet in diameter are smaller than a subway, are cheaper to build thanks to the company’s boring machines, Musk and Boring Company president Steve Davis contend.

Boring tunnel_exit_lights

The tunnels could be stacked — Musk calls it a 3D network — and operate like a giant underground highway with vehicles entering and exiting at strategic points along the way via ramp, spiral or elevator depending on available space. The main tunnel would allow vehicles, which are stabilized via a retractable tracking wheels, to travel up to 150 miles per hour. Once a vehicle leaves the main artery, speeds would be reduced. (The retractable tracking wheels are important, new development; Musk said they originally were going to place the vehicles on a skate, which would travel at high speeds, but ditched the idea because it was too “complex.”

These entry points could take as little room as two parking spaces for an elevator, Musk said, which TechCrunch was able to attest to, at least with the demonstration tunnel.

“You can weave these stations throughout the fabric of the city without changing the character of the city, Musk said during a press briefing.

There are some important caveats to this system. This is a concept; it currently doesn’t exist at the scale Musk envisions, although there are numerous cities and utilities interested. (Davis noted they get between 5 and 20 requests or inquires a day from municipalities and utilities).

And only autonomous, electric vehicles would be allowed in the Loop, as The Boring Company is calling the concept. A Tesla Model X was used in the demo Wednesday night, although Musk insisted during a press briefing that “this is not some walled garden or something only for Teslas.” He also said, several times, that this is meant to be a complement to other forms of transport, not to the exclusion of other things.

The Loop would also have dedicated vehicles for pedestrians and bicyclists that Musk speculated could cost about $1 a ride, if shared. The vehicles designated for public transport would run in a loop and get priority.

The public transport piece is notable because, if the Loop existed today, there would be few vehicles that could qualify as autonomous and electric, except Tesla. While the Tesla Model X was used in the demo rides Wednesday night, Musk said he believes smaller electric vehicles like the Model 3, or the yet to be seen Model Y, would be better use cases. And yes, there would be bike racks.

The demo ride

TechCrunch’s ride through the Hawthorne test tunnel began near 120th street and Prairie Avenue, next to a nondescript building — “The Brick Store” stenciled discreetly on one side — that only stood out because of all the security surrounding it. The Model X had been outfitted with the  retractable wheels, which Musk said would be an aftermarket product that might cost between $200 and $300.

Once the vehicle descended, the test driver slowly accelerated to about 44 mph through the tunnel, back towards Crenshaw and 120th Street. The tunnel, hazy with dust from the construction, and lit by neon-like lighting, delivered a bumpy-ish ride on occasion. Musk later explained that this was because they had some trouble with the paving. A system for the public would be much smoother, he said.

The entry point, near the Brick Store, provides an important link to the Boring Company story and vision. Earlier this year, TechCrunch reported that Musk has started a company called The Brick Store LLC to produce and sell bricks, according to public documents. The new company, which was founded in July, will be managed by Davis, the ex-SpaceX engineer who is also running The Boring Company (TBC).

The plan, is for the Boring Company to use the dirt extracted during the boring process to produce bricks, which will cost $0.10 a brick, Musk said. These bricks were on display, in the form of a giant watchtower, outfitted with a Medieval-era guard.

The next step for the Boring Company is to develop its next generation boring machine, the Line Storm (reference to a Robert Frost poem) and eventually Prufrock, which will deliver a 15-fold cost savings to current technologies, said Musk, who noted that 15% of overall tunnel cost is dirt removal.

This cheaper tunnel is possible, Musk says, through a several small yet notable innovations. Costs are reduced by tripling the boring speed and keeping the tunnels to a smaller diameter. But the real key is the ability of the machine to simultaneously mine and install the reinforcement segments, something the next-generation Line Storm will be able to do.

And that’s just the beginning.

“The Loop is just a stepping stone to the hyperloop, Musk said, in reference to the high-speed futuristic mode of transport he first floated in a white paper several years ago. “the Loop will be transport within cities and the hyperloop will be transport between them.”

Source: TechCrunch

Facebook removes more pages, accounts linked to Myanmar military – CNET

Military-linked accounts have fueled deadly violence in the country.
Source: CNET

Penny Marshall dies at 75, celeb tributes flow: 'She was glorious' – CNET

Actors Tom Hanks and Rosie O’Donnell, filmmaker Rob Reiner and more honor the actor and director on Twitter.
Source: CNET