Original Content podcast: On ‘Guava Island,’ Donald Glover mixes music and politics

It was hard to know what to expect from “Guava Island.”

Last year, Donald Glover and Rihanna filmed the mysterious project with director Hiro Murai (who’s also directed multiple episodes of “Atlanta” and the music video for “This is America”, then they said almost nothing about it until debuting the film at Coachella and releasing it on Amazon.

“Guava Island” turns out to be a 54-minute, fable-like story of a musician named Deni (Glover) and his girlfriend Kofi (Rihanna) on a fictional Caribbean island. Deni plans to throw a music festival for the community, but the island boss Red Cargo wants to stop him — if his employees stay out late to party, they might not show up for work the next day.

On this week’s episode of the Original Content podcast, we’re joined by Jon Shieber to discuss our reactions to the film.

It’s certainly filled with beautiful footage of Cuba, as well as wonderful musical moments — like a restaging of “This is America” that makes its anti-capitalist themes even more obvious. But the story as a whole feels underdeveloped, and it’s a bit mystifying that someone would cast Rihanna in musical, then fail to give her a single moment to sing.

We also discuss an obscure little show called “Game of Thrones,” which returned for its final season last week. We have thoughts on the season premiere, and on what’s coming for the next five episodes.

You can listen in the player below, subscribe using Apple Podcasts or find us in your podcast player of choice. If you like the show, please let us know by leaving a review on Apple. You can also send us feedback directly. (Or suggest shows and movies for us to review!)

Daily Crunch: Zoom and Pinterest go public

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

1. Zoom pops 81 percent in Nasdaq debut

Thursday was a big day for tech IPOs, with Zoom opening trading at $65 a share. The company’s initial public offering gave it a fully diluted market cap of roughly $16 billion.

Meanwhile, Pinterest debuted on the New York Stock Exchange at $23.75 per share.

2. Facebook now says its password leak affected ‘millions’ of Instagram users

“We discovered additional logs of Instagram passwords being stored in a readable format,” the company said. “We now estimate that this issue impacted millions of Instagram users. We will be notifying these users as we did the others.”

3. Mueller report sheds new light on how the Russians hacked the DNC and the Clinton campaign

At one point, the Russians used servers located in the U.S. to carry out the massive data exfiltration effort, the report says.

The Instagram app is seen on an iPhone on 16 March, 2017. (Photo by Jaap Arriens/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

4. Instagram hides Like counts in leaked design prototype

Hiding Like counts could reduce the herd mentality, where people just Like what’s already got tons of Likes. It could also reduce the sense of competition.

5. The consumer version of BBM is shutting down on May 31

While the consumer version of BlackBerry Messenger is shutting down, the service will still exist. In fact, BlackBerry announced a plan to open its enterprise version to general consumers.

6. Amazon launches ad-supported music service to Echo owners

Until this week, Echo owners who wanted to stream music from Amazon could either pay for an annual Prime membership in order to access Prime Music, or they could pay $3.99 per month to stream from Amazon Music Unlimited.

7. The different playbooks of D2C brands

Venture capital firms have invested over $4 billion in D2C brands since 2012, with 2018 alone accounting for over $1 billion. How are these D2C brands going to evolve and how could they sustain as businesses? (Extra Crunch membership required.)

Daily Crunch: Zoom and Pinterest go public

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

1. Zoom pops 81 percent in Nasdaq debut

Thursday was a big day for tech IPOs, with Zoom opening trading at $65 a share. The company’s initial public offering gave it a fully diluted market cap of roughly $16 billion.

Meanwhile, Pinterest debuted on the New York Stock Exchange at $23.75 per share.

2. Facebook now says its password leak affected ‘millions’ of Instagram users

“We discovered additional logs of Instagram passwords being stored in a readable format,” the company said. “We now estimate that this issue impacted millions of Instagram users. We will be notifying these users as we did the others.”

3. Mueller report sheds new light on how the Russians hacked the DNC and the Clinton campaign

At one point, the Russians used servers located in the U.S. to carry out the massive data exfiltration effort, the report says.

The Instagram app is seen on an iPhone on 16 March, 2017. (Photo by Jaap Arriens/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

4. Instagram hides Like counts in leaked design prototype

Hiding Like counts could reduce the herd mentality, where people just Like what’s already got tons of Likes. It could also reduce the sense of competition.

5. The consumer version of BBM is shutting down on May 31

While the consumer version of BlackBerry Messenger is shutting down, the service will still exist. In fact, BlackBerry announced a plan to open its enterprise version to general consumers.

6. Amazon launches ad-supported music service to Echo owners

Until this week, Echo owners who wanted to stream music from Amazon could either pay for an annual Prime membership in order to access Prime Music, or they could pay $3.99 per month to stream from Amazon Music Unlimited.

7. The different playbooks of D2C brands

Venture capital firms have invested over $4 billion in D2C brands since 2012, with 2018 alone accounting for over $1 billion. How are these D2C brands going to evolve and how could they sustain as businesses? (Extra Crunch membership required.)

Google’s Ivan Poupyrev shows off Jacquard, which connects his Levi’s jacket to the cloud

Ivan Poupyrev, the technical projects lead at Google’s Advanced Technology and Projects division, just gave a TED talk that was simultaneously a presentation and a demo of new technology.

Poupyrev was showing off Jacquard, a device that allowed him to use the sleeve of his jacket as a controller for his presentation slides. Google has talked about this work before, and there’s even a $350 Levi’s jacket available for purchase.

But today, Poupyrev actually used Jacquard to control his presentation, and laid out the vision behind the project. Although it didn’t quite work at first, once Poupyrev fixed things backstage and restarted his presentation, he could swipe forward on his sleeve to advance the presentation, or swipe back and revisit the previous slide.

Poupyrev didn’t offer many details about the Jacquard device itself, but he said it can be connected to clothing and other objects with just “a few electrodes,” and that it can recognize the object and then “reconfigure itself” to offer the right kinds of interaction.

The device he held up on stage was small and grey — I could have mistaken it for the key fob that I used to swipe into my old apartment. According to Poupyrev’s website, Jacquard also involves a conductive thread that can be woven on a standard loom.

Ivan Poupyrev

Ivan Poupyrev speaks at TED2019: Bigger Than Us. April 15 – 19, 2019, Vancouver, BC, Canada. Photo: Bret Hartman / TED

Why would you want to control a presentation from your jacket sleeve? Poupyrev (who’s also worked as a researcher for Walt Disney Imagineering and Sony) described our current options for computer interaction as “disappointing,” so he’s been looking to “hack into the things you use every day and make them interactive.”

“We need to make technology that changes makers of things into makers of smart things,” he said.

As these everyday objects become more interactive and connected, Poupyrev said it’s important to avoid fragmentation: “We have to create a single computing platform, which powers all those things.” In his view, the cloud is that platform, with Jacquard serving as the connection between everyday objects and the cloud.

Poupyrev suggested that Google could give Jacquard tags to manufacturers to incorporate into their products. It’s rolling out first through the aforementioned partnership with Levi’s, and Poupyrev was wearing a Jacquard-powered Levi’s jean jacket onstage.

“This jacket I’m wearing can control my mobile phone and presentation, but it remains a jacket,” he said. In other words, you can add new interactivity to clothing or furniture without interfering with their core function — just as a smartphone can now browse the Internet, take photos, install apps and more, while still allowing you to make phone calls.

Ivan Poupyrev

Ivan Poupyrev speaks at TED2019: Bigger Than Us. April 15 – 19, 2019, Vancouver, BC, Canada. Photo: Ryan Lash / TED

“We would like to let people who make those things — artists and engineers, brands and craftsmen — to imagine and create this new world where things are connected, where you don’t need keyboards and screens and mouses to interact with a computer,” he said.

After the presentation, TED’s Chris Anderson joined Poupyrev onstage. Anderson sounded impressed by the demo, but he also pointed out that it could “terrify some people,” since it potentially creates “the biggest ever surveillance network” for Google or another company.

When asked why Google would bring such a device to market, Poupyrev said, “I’m not a businessman, I’m a researcher.” Anderson pressed him on whether there needs to be “some kind of contract” ensuring that this data isn’t abused, to which Poupyrev replied, “I completely agree.” He said that in Google’s initial partnerships, “the data is completely locked in.”

“We’re trying to figure out what exactly are we going to do with this data,” he said. “We’re sensitive to this particular concern.”

Daily Crunch: Apple and Qualcomm settle their patent dispute

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

1. Apple and Qualcomm are ending their legal battles

In a standoff that has been brewing since 2017, Apple argued that Qualcomm was charging too much for patent licensing. After Apple shifted to using Intel chips, Qualcomm moved to get iPhone imports banned in countries around the world for patent infringement.

The two companies have just announced a settlement, with both agreeing to drop all litigation with the other worldwide.

2. Stripe acquires Touchtech, updates APIs to prep for strong customer authentication in Europe

Touchtech Payments is a startup out of Ireland that works with banks to help them build and manage Strong Customer Authentication, a verification process that will typically require customers to provide two different forms of authentication in order to process transactions.

3. Jack Dorsey says it’s time to rethink the fundamental dynamics of Twitter

For most of the interview, Dorsey outlined steps that Twitter has taken to combat abuse and misinformation, but the TED’s Chris Anderson explained why the company’s critics sometimes find those steps so insufficient and unsatisfying. He compared Twitter to the Titanic, and Dorsey to the captain, listening calmly to passengers’ concerns about the iceberg up ahead.

Billionaire Richard Liu, founder and chief executive officer of JD.com Inc., listens during an interview in Beijing, China, on Wednesday, Oct. 19, 2016. Photographer: Qilai Shen/Bloomberg via Getty Images

4. Student sues JD.com’s billionaire CEO Richard Liu for alleged rape

Four months after local prosecutors decided not to press charges, a Chinese student has filed a lawsuit against JD.com founder and chief executive Richard Liu, alleging the billionaire businessman raped her in Minnesota back in August.

5. Lyric raises $160M Series B led by Airbnb

Lyric is a hospitality platform for business travelers. The company secures its own inventory in multi-family residential buildings through partnerships with landlords. It then brings in its designers to beautify the place and pack it full of amenities, including coffee from a local roaster and a fully functional kitchen.

6. Twitter to launch a ‘hide replies’ feature, plus other changes to its reporting process

Speaking of Twitter and its attempts to improve conversational health: Twitter announced the “Hide Replies” feature is set to launch in June. This puts the original poster in control of which tweets appear in a conversation thread.

7. Netflix added 9.6M subscribers in Q1, with revenue of $4.5B

The earnings letter also says Netflix will be testing something new in Q2 by releasing weekly top 10 lists of popular content for U.K. viewers: “For those who want to watch what others are watching, this may make choosing titles even easier.”

TED raises $280M to help nonprofits battle climate change, online sex abuse and more

TED is unveiling the eight participants in the second year of The Audacious Project, a program aimed at helping nonprofits pursue their most ambitious goals.

TED’s Chris Anderson told reporters yesterday that this is “an attempt to solve one of the most annoying things about the nonprofit world” — the fact that organizations have to raise money “one bloody meeting at a time.” And since often they can’t get all the money they need, “they end up cutting back their dreams.”

So The Audacious Project (which TED runs with support from social impact advisor The Bridgespan Group) asks nonprofits to lay out their “biggest dream” on the TED stage. Comparing this to an IPO, Anderson said this is an “Audacious Project Offering designed to attract — not investment to make money out of shares, but investment to make change.”

Anderson also contrasted this approach with traditional philanthropy, which has been criticized with the question, “Why should rich people get to decide what to do about the world?”

“You can argue about that topic all day, but The Audacious Project has been specifically designed from the ground up to avoid that criticism,” he said. “This is a scenario where anyone in the world can apply” to participate, with the winners selected based on “what actually has a chance of working” and “how effective are the leaders.”

TED says the eight recipients were chosen from more than 1,500 applications. And even before taking the stage tonight, The Audacious Project helped them raise $280 million in funding.

Anderson said he doesn’t expect the funding to increase “massively” after the nonprofitstake the stage, “but we think that in terms of the number of people engaged, it will increase a lot.” And that could also translate into more fundraising down the road.

Here are this year’s recipients:

  • The Center for Policing Equity plans to use data capture technology to bring measurable behavior change to police departments.
  • Educate Girls is partnering with 35,000 volunteers to persuade parents and elders in remote Indian communities to register girls who are out-of-school and to support them so they stay enrolled.
  • The Institute for Protein Design is trying to design new proteins to create new medicines and materials.
  • The Salk Institute for Biological Studies is working to make plants more effective at capturing and storing carbon in their roots.
  • The END Fund plans to bring treatment for parasitic worms to 100 million people, while also providing access to clean water, sanitation and hygiene education.
  • The Nature Conservancy aims to protect 4 million square kilometers of the ocean by buying up the debt of 20 island and coastal nations — in exchange for government commitments to protect their marine areas.
  • Thorn is building tech products to fight child sexual abuse online, for example by making it easier to locate the victims.
  • Waterford UPSTART aims to help 250,000 children prepare for kindergarten by providing proactive family coaching and personalized learning.

Netflix added 9.6M subscribers in Q1, with revenue of $4.5B

Netflix just released its earnings letter for the first quarter of 2019. Teh company says it saw growth of 9.6 million paying subscribers, up 16 percent year-over-year.

That’s significantly ahead of the 8.9 million new subscribers that analysts had predicted. On the financial side, it came in right at expectations, with revenue of $4.5 billion and earnings per share of 76 cents.

The company says it now has 148.9 million paid streaming memberships. Most of this growth (7.9 million of the net additions in Q1) is happening internationally.

Things aren’t looking quite as strong in Q2, with Netflix forecasting 5 million net additions, which would be 8 percent lower than growth during the same period in 2018.

As of 4:36pm Eastern, Netflix shares are down about 1.8 percent in after hours trading, presumably in response to that Q2 forecast.

This comes as Netflix is rolling out significant price hikes in the United States, Brazil, Mexico and parts of Europe.

“The response in the US so far is as we expected and is tracking similarly to what we saw in Canada following our Q4’18 increase, where our gross additions are unaffected, and we see some modest short-term churn effect as members consent to the price change,” the company says.

The letter also includes viewership numbers about a number of Netflix Originals. (Remember: This isn’t an apples-to-apples comparison with standard TV ratings.)

It says “The Umbrella Academy” was viewed by 45 million member households during its first four weeks on the service, “Triple Frontier” was viewed by 52 million households and “The Highwayman” is on-track to be watched by more than 40 million households. On the nonfiction side, the service’s Fyre Festival documentary was viewed by more than 20 million households.

The letter also says Netflix will be testing something new in the product in Q2, by releasing weekly top 10 lists of popular content for U.K. viewers: “For those who want to watch what others are watching, this may make choosing titles even easier.”

And of course, Netflix also faces increasing competition, with Apple and Disney both revealing more details about their upcoming streaming services in recent weeks.

Here’s how the letter discusses thos announcements.:

Both companies are world class consumer brands and we’re excited to compete; the clear beneficiaries will be content creators and consumers who will reap the rewards of many companies vying to provide a great video experience for audiences.

We don’t anticipate that these new entrants will materially affect our growth because the transition from linear to on demand entertainment is so massive ​and because of the differing nature of our content offerings​.

Daily Crunch: Hands on with the Samsung Galaxy Fold

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

1. Unfolding the Samsung Galaxy Fold

After eight years of teasing a folding device, Samsung finally pulled the trigger with an announcement at its developer’s conference late last year. But the device itself remained mysterious.

Earlier this week, Brian Heater finally held the Galaxy Fold in his hands, and he was pretty impressed.

2. YouTube’s algorithm added 9/11 facts to a live stream of the Notre-Dame Cathedral fire

Some viewers following live coverage of the Notre-Dame Cathedral broadcast on YouTube were met with a strangely out-of-place info box offering facts about the September 11 attacks. Ironically, the feature is supposed to fact check topics that generate misinformation on the platform.

3. Hulu buys back AT&T’s minority stake in streaming service now valued at $15 billion

Disney now has a 67 percent ownership stake in Hulu — which it gained, in part, through its $71 billion acquisition of 21st Century Fox. Comcast has a 33 percent stake.

4. I asked the US government for my immigration file and all I got were these stupid photos

The “I” in question is our security reporter Zack Whittaker, who filed a Freedom of Information request with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services to obtain all of the files the government had collected on him in order to process his green card application. Seven months later, disappointment.

5. TikTok downloads ordered to be blocked on iOS and Android in India over porn and other illegal content

Video app TikTok has become a global success, but it stumbled hard in one of the world’s biggest mobile markets, India, over illicit content.

6. Smart speakers’ installed base to top 200 million by year end

Canalys forecasts the installed base will grow by 82.4 percent, from 114 million units in 2018 to 207.9 million in 2019.

7. Salesforce ‘acquires’ Salesforce.org for $300M in a wider refocus on the nonprofit sector

The company announced that it will integrate Salesforce.org — which had been a reseller of Salesforce software and services to the nonprofit sector — into Salesforce itself as part of a new nonprofit and education vertical.

Jack Dorsey says it’s time to rethink the fundamental dynamics of Twitter

Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey took the stage today at the TED conference. But instead of giving the standard talk, he answered questions from TED’s Chris Anderson and Whitney Pennington Rodgers.

For most of the interview, Dorsey outlined steps that Twitter has taken to combat abuse and misinformation, but Anderson explained why the company’s critics sometimes find those steps so insufficient and unsatisfying. He compared Twitter to the Titanic, and Dorsey to the captain, listening to passengers’ concerns about the iceberg up ahead — then going back to the bridge and showing “this extraordinary calm.”

“It’s democracy at stake, it’s our culture at stake,” Anderson said, echoing points made yesterday in a talk by journalist Carole Cadwalladr. So why isn’t Twitter addressing these issues with more urgency?

“We are working as quickly as we can, but quickness will not get the job done,” Dorsey replied. “It’s focus, it’s prioritization, it’s understanding the fundamentals of the network.”

He also argued that while Twitter could “do a bunch of superficial things to address the things you’re talking about,” that isn’t the real solution.

“We want the changes to last, and that means going really, really deep,” Dorsey said.

In his view, that means rethinking how Twitter incentivizes user behavior. He suggested that the service works best as an “interest-based network,” where you log in and see content relevant to your interests, no matter who posted it — rather than a network where everyone feels like they need to follow a bunch of other accounts, and then grow their follower numbers in turn.

Dorsey recalled that when the team was first building the service, it decided to make follower count “big and bold,” which naturally made people focus on it.

“Was that the right decision at the time? Probably not,” he said. “If I had to start the service again, I would not emphasize the follower count as much … I don’t think I would create ‘likes’ in the first place.”

Since he isn’t starting from scratch, Dorsey suggested that he’s trying to find ways to redesign Twitter to shift the “bias” away from accounts and towards interests.

More specifically, Rodgers asked about the frequent criticism that Twitter hasn’t found a way to consistently ban Nazis from the service.

“We have a situation right now where that term is used fairly loosely,” Dorsey said. “We just cannot take any one mention of that word accusing someone else as a factual indication of whether someone can be removed from the platform.”

He added that Twitter does remove users who are connected to hate groups like the Ku Klux Klan and the American Nazi Party, as well those who post hateful imagery or who are otherwise guilty of conduct that violates Twitter’s terms and conditions — terms that Dorsey said the company is rewriting to make them “human readable,” and to emphasize that fighting abuse and hateful content is the top priority.

“Our focus is on removing the burden of work from the victims,” Dorsey said.

He also pointed to efforts that Twitter has already announced to measure (and then improve) conversational health and to use machine learning to automatically detect abusive content. (The company said today that 38 percent of abusive content that Twitter takes action against is found proactively.)

And while Dorsey said he’s less interested in maximizing time spent on Twitter and more in maximizing “what people take away from it and what they want to learn from it,” Anderson suggested that Twitter may struggle with that goal since it’s a public company, with a business model based on advertising. Would Dorsey really be willing to see time spent on the service decrease, even if that means improving the conversation?

“More relevance means less time on the service, and that’s perfectly fine,” Dorsey said, adding that Twitter can still serve ads against relevant content.

In terms of how the company is currently measuring its success, Dorsey said it focuses primarily on daily active users, and secondly on “conversation chains — we want to incentivize healthy contributions back to the network.”

Getting back to Dorsey himself, Rodgers wondered whether serving as the CEO of two public companies (the other is Square) gives him enough time to solve these problems.

“My goal is to build a company that is not dependent upon me and outlives me,” he said. “The situation between the two companies and how my time is spent forces me immediately to create frameworks that are scalable, that are decentralized, that don’t require me being in every single detail … That is true of any organization that scales beyond the original founding moment.”

Journalist Carole Cadwalladr says ‘the gods of Silicon Valley’ have broken democracy

On the same day that she became a Pulitzer Prize finalist for her work bringing the Cambridge Analytica scandal to light, journalist Carole Cadwalladr took the stage at TED to “address you directly, the gods of Silicon Valley.”

Cadwalladr began her talk by recounting a trip she took after the Brexit referendum, back to her hometown in South Wales.

She recalled feeling “a weird sense of unreality” walking around a town filled with new infrastructure funded by the European Union, while being told by residents that the EU had done nothing for them. Similarly, she said they told her about the dangers of immigration, even though they lived in a town with “one of the lowest rates of immigration in the country.”

Cadwalladr said she began to understand where those sentiments were coming from after her story ran, and someone contacted her about seeing scary, misleading ads about Turkey and Turkish immigration on Facebook . Cadwalladr, however, couldn’t see those ads, because she wasn’t targeted, and Facebook offered no general archive of all ads that had run on the platform.

Eventually, Facebook began building that archive of ads. And the pro-Brexit campaign was found guilty of breaking British election laws by breaching campaign spending limits to fund campaigns on Facebook.

Meanwhile, Cadwalladr said her interest in these issues led her to Christopher Wylie, whose whistleblowing about Cambridge Analytica’s use of Facebook user data helped prompt broader scrutiny of the social network’s privacy practices.

Cadwalladr described Wylie as “extraordinarily brave,” particularly since Cambridge Analytica repeatedly threatened them with legal action. The final threat, she said, came a day before publication, and it came from Facebook itself.

“It said that if we published, they would sue us,” Cadwalladr said. “We did it anyway. Facebook, you were on the wrong side of history on that, and you are on the wrong side of history in this.”

The “this” in question is what she characterized as a failure by the social media platforms to fully reckon with the extent to which they’ve become tools for the spread of lies and misinformation. For example, she pointed to CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s refusal thus far to appear before parliaments around the world that have asked him to testify.

Calling out executives like Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg, Alphabet/Google’s Larry Page and Sergey Brin and Twitter’s Jack Dorsey (who’s scheduled to take the stage tomorrow morning), Cadwalladr insisted that the stakes could not be higher.

“This technology you have invented has been amazing, but now it’s a crime scene, and you have the evidence,” she said. “It is not enough to say that you will do better in the future, because to have any hope of stopping this from happening again, we have to know the past.”

She went on to declare that the Brexit vote demonstrates that “liberal democracy is broken.”

“This is not democracy,” Cadwalladr said. “Spreading lies in darkness, paid for with illegal cash from God knows where — it’s subversion, and you are accessories to it.”

And for those of us who don’t run giant technology platforms, she added, “My question to everybody else is: Is this what we want? To let them get away with it, and to sit back and play with our phones as this darkness falls?”