Brooklinen, known for high-quality bed sheets, launches its first line of loungewear

Brooklinen, the direct-to-consumer bed sheet brand backed by investors including FirstMark, is entering the apparel space with its first line of loungewear. The company says its designs, including tops, pants, shorts and a dress, are inspired by vintage athletic clothing and made from cotton and modal blended with spandex. Prices range from $28 for a t-shirt to $75 for jogger pants.

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The startup, whose investors also include NYU Innovation Venture Fund and Dorm Room Fund, has built its reputation around high-quality but affordable linens and is able to offer lower prices by controlling the design, manufacturing and logistics and fulfillment of its sheets, comforters, pillows and towels. It is primarily an e-commerce startup, but has also run pop-up shops. Brooklinen’s last round of funding was a $10 million Series A announced in 2017.

Swit, a collaboration suite that offers “freedom from integrations,” raises $6 million in seed funding

A marketplace dominated by Slack and Microsoft Teams, along with a host of other smaller workplace communication apps, might seem to leave little room for a new entrant, but Swit wants to prove that wrong. The app combines messaging with a roster of productivity tools, like task management, calendars and Gantt charts, to give teams “freedom from integrations.” Originally founded in Seoul and now based in the San Francisco Bay Area, Swit announced today that it has raised a $6 million seed round led by Korea Investment Partners, with participation from Hyunadi Venture Investment Corporation and Mirae Asset Venture Investment.

Along with an investment from Kakao Ventures last year, this brings Swit’s total seed funding so far to about $7 million. Swit’s desktop and mobile apps were released in March and since then more than 450 companies have adopted it, with 40,000 individual registered users. The startup was launched last year by CEO Josh Lee and Max Lim, who previously co-founded auction.co.kr, a Korean e-commerce site acquired by eBay in 2001.

While Slack, which recently went public, has become so synonymous with the space that “Slack me” is now part of workplace parlance at many companies, Lee says Swit isn’t playing catch up. Instead, he believes Swit benefits from “last mover advantage,” solving the shortfalls of other workplace messaging, collaboration and productivity apps by integrating many of their functions into one hub.

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“We know the market is heavily saturated with great unicorns, but many companies need multiple collaboration apps and there is nothing that seamlessly combines them, so users don’t have to go back and forth between two platforms,” Lee tells TechCrunch. Many employees rely on Slack or Microsoft Teams to chat with one another, on top of several project management apps, like Asana, Jira, Monday and Confluence, and email to communicate with people at other companies (Lee points to a M.io report that found most businesses use at least two messaging apps and four to seven collaboration tools).

Lee says he used Slack for more than five years and during that time, his teammates added integrations from Asana, Monday, GSuite and Office365, but were unsatisfied with how they worked.

“All we could do with the integrations was receive mostly text-based notifications and there were also too many overlapping features,” he says. “We realized that working with multiple environments reduced team productivity and increased communication overhead.” In very large organizations, teams or departments sometimes use different messaging and collaboration apps, creating yet more friction.

Swit’s goal is to covers all those needs in one app. It comes with integrated Kanban task management, calendars and Gantt charts and at the end of this year about 20 to 30 bots and apps will be available in its marketplace. Swit’s pricing tier currently has free and standard tiers, with a premium tier for enterprise customers planned for fall. The premium version will have full integration with Office365 and GSuite, allowing users to drag-and-drop emails into panels or convert them into trackable tasks.

While being a late-mover gives Swit certain advantages, it also means it must convince users to switch from their current apps, which is always a challenge when it comes to attracting enterprise clients. But Lee is optimistic. After seeing a demo, he says 91 percent of potential users registered on Swit, with more than 75 percent continuing to use it every day. Many of them used Asana or Monday before, but switched to Swit because they wanted to more easily communicate with teammates while planning tasks. Some are also gradually transitioning over from Slack to Swit for all their messaging (Swit recently released a Slack migration tool that enables teams to move over channels, workspaces and attachments. Migration tools for Asana, Trello and Jira are also planned).

In addition to “freedom from integrations,” Lee says Swit’s competitive advantages include being developed from the start for small businesses as well as large enterprises that still frequently rely on email to communicate across different departments or locations. Another differentiator is that all of Swit’s functions work on both desktop and mobile, which not all integrations in other collaboration apps can.

“That means if people integrate multiple apps into a desktop app or web browser, they might not be able to use them on mobile. So if they are looking for data, they have to search app by app, channel by channel, product by product, so data and information is scattered everywhere, hair on fire,” Lee says. “We provide one centralized command center for team collaboration without losing context and that is one of our biggest sources of customer satisfaction.”
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Online community theAsianparent raises Series C to add e-commerce and expand into new markets

TheAsianparent, Southeast Asia’s largest online community and content platform for mothers with 23.5 million monthly active users, announced today that it has raised a Series C led by Fosun Group, the Chinese conglomerate. The amount was undisclosed, but a person familiar with the deal says it was between $10 million to $30 million. E-commerce giant JD.com also participated, along with ATM Capital, Redbadge Pacific and returning investors Global Grand Leisure and WHG Holdings.

The new funding will be used on theAsianparent’s new e-commerce business and its expansion into new markets in Asia and Africa, focusing first on Nigeria, Kenya and South Africa. Roshni Mahtani, the founder and CEO of Tickled Media, theAsianparent’s publisher, tells TechCrunch it looks for countries with high birth rates but relatively few online resources and communities for new parents. The site will have its own branding for African markets and launch first in Nigeria with localized content and a social network.

TheAsianparent, which currently has a team of 180 people across 12 countries and is headquartered in Singapore, will focus on building its e-commerce business in Asia markets first, specifically Indonesia, the Philippines and Singapore, with JD.com providing advice on things like logistics. TheAsianparent will start selling products through its site and launch its own direct-to-consumer brand later this year.

“The way I see it is that for media companies to be relevant, you need to have content, community and commerce, so that it becomes very easy for consumers to trust you for content and community, and also be able to buy products that you recommend and that have been created for their communities,” says Mahtani, who launched theAsianparent as a parenting blog in 2009.

TheAsianparent’s mobile app, which includes articles, community features and baby development trackers, launched in September 2018, has been installed 1.6 million times so far. Mahtani says the theAsianparent had a traffic growth rate of about 70 percent before funding and expects it to increase by a much faster rate now. It is expected to make $10 million in revenue this year and reach $100 million within the next five years.

In a prepared statement, Wilson Jin, the chairman of Fosun RZ Capital, said “TheAsianparent, as the largest maternal and child community in Southeast Asia, has won the trust of young mothers in Southeast Asia and has a huge commercial space. In the past few years, theAsianparent has fully verified its business development and product evolution capabilities , it is an outstanding entrepreneurial team.”

The Commerce Department will accept applications from companies that want to supply Huawei, but it remains blacklisted

About two months after Huawei was placed on the Commerce Department’s Entity List, the Chinese telecom equipment and smartphone giant will be able to do business with American suppliers again–but only if they get a license from the U.S. government. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross made the announcement during a department conference, adding that companies must first demonstrate that the technology they sell to Huawei will not put national security at risk.

Huawei will remain on the entity list, however, and license applications will be reviewed under a “presumption of denial,” making it likely that most will not be approved.

Last month while both presidents were in Japan for the G20 Summit, Donald Trump told Chinese leader Xi Jinping that he would allow U.S. companies to sell equipment to Huawei again, but the promise created confusion about how it would be carried out, with the Commerce Department instructing staff to continue acting as if the blacklist is still in place. Huawei, the world’s largest telecom equipment maker and second-largest smartphone vendor, is a major bargaining chip in the ongoing trade war between the U.S. and China.

The blacklist has had a major impact on Huawei, with important suppliers like Qualcomm, Intel and Google severing ties after it was placed on the entity list. Huawei, which has repeatedly denied being a threat to U.S. national security, said that being blacklisted would cost the company about $30 billion in revenue, though founder and CEO Ren Zhengfei later downplayed the impact in an interview with CNBC. It also means U.S. companies have lost an important customer. Out of the $70 billion Huawei spent buying components last year, $11 billion went to American companies like Qualcomm, Intel and Micron.

A vulnerability in Zoom’s Mac client could allow websites to turn on cameras without permission

A vulnerability in the Mac client for popular web conferencing app Zoom may allow any website to join a video call without permission, writes software engineer and security researcher Jonathan Leitschuch. In a Medium post published today, Leitschuch detailed the vulnerability, writing that it remains an issue even if users have uninstalled the Mac client: “If you’ve ever installed the Zoom client and then uninstalled it, you still have a localhost webserver on your machine that will happily reinstall the Zoom client for you, without requiring any user interaction on your behalf besides visiting a webpage. This re-install ‘feature’ continues to work to this day.”

Leitschuch included patches for the vulnerability, including how to disable the ability for Zoom to turn on your webcam when joining a meeting, a terminal command for disabling video by default and instructions on how to shut down the web server and remove web server application files.

In a timeline, Leitschuch said that the vulnerability was originally disclosed to Zoom on March 26, with a proposed “quick fix,” but that Zoom took 10 days to confirm the vulnerability, and that despite talking to the company he only saw on June 24 that Zoom had implemented the quick fix.

“Ultimately, Zoom failed at quickly confirming that the reported vulnerability actually existed and they failed at having a fix to the issue delivered to customers in a timely manner. An organization of this profile and with such a large user base should have been more proactive in protecting their users from attack,” he wrote.

Leitschuch added that he is publicizing the vulnerability because “this is essentially a Zero Day. Unfortunately, Zoom has not fixed this vulnerability in the allotted 90-day disclosure window I gave them, as is the industry standard. As such, the 4+ million users of Zoom on Mac are now vulnerable to an invasion of their privacy by using this service.”

A Zoom spokesperson told TechCrunch that “Zoom is working with a security researcher who raised concerns about video-on-by-default as a security vulnerability: Zoom by default turns on the video of a user when they join a meeting. This could, in theory, create the potential for a hacker to trick a target into joining a video meeting on camera. Of note, we have no indication that this has ever happened.”

In a longer statement, the company said that currently, “All first-time Zoom users, upon joining their first meeting from a given device, are asked whether they would like their video to be turned OFF. For subsequent meetings, users can configure their client video settings to turn OFF video when joining a meeting. Additionally, system administrators can pre-configure video settings for supported devices at the time of install or change the configuration at anytime.”

It added that “As part of our July 2019 release, Zoom will apply and save the user’s video preference from their first Zoom meeting to all future Zoom meetings. Users and system administrators can still configure their client video settings to turn OFF video when joining a meeting. This change will apply to all client platforms.”

Amazon warehouse workers in Minnesota plan to strike on Prime Day over labor practices

Amazon warehouse workers in Minnesota are planning to strike during Prime Day on July 15, one of the company’s biggest sales events. Bloomberg reports that about 100 employees are expected to walk out for a total of six hours to demand changes in labor practices, including converting more temporary workers to employees and relaxing productivity quotas that they say create unsafe working conditions.

Striking workers at Amazon’s warehouse in Shakopee, Minnesota will be joined by several engineers in a show of solidarity. The activism is being led by the Awood Center, a workers’ rights advocacy group, and backed by the Service Employees International Union, the Teamsters and the Minnesota chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations.

In a statement to Bloomberg, Amazon claimed that it “offers already what this outside organization is asking for,” including hourly rates from $16.25 to $20.80 with benefits. It also said that “on average” 90 percent of workers at the Shakopee warehouse are full-time Amazon employees and it provides coaching for people who are not reaching their productivity quotas.

Amazon announced last October that it was raising minimum wage for all workers to $15 an hour, but many workers said that increase was not enough, especially since it was also getting rid of incentive pay and restricted stock unit grants (the company claimed that its new wage hike compensated for the new wage structure).

There are more than 100 Amazon warehouses in the United States and the walkout will probably not affect logistics on Prime Day, but it is notable as the latest example of activism against the company’s labor practices, which are also under scrutiny from lawmakers. Democratic candidates Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren have made Amazon’s practices a key part of their platforms. For example, Sanders introduced legislation aimed at forcing Amazon, Walmart and other large companies to pay higher wages, while Amazon is one of the tech companies Warren wants to break up.

According to the Bloomberg report, stronger unions in Europe mean Amazon employees there often stage walkouts on important sales days like Prime Day and Black Friday, but this is the first time American employees have walked out during a major sales events. The Minnesota strike follows other activism by Amazon warehouse workers in Minnesota, including a three-hour strike in March for better working conditions and calls last year for more prayer time and reduced workloads during fasting for Ramadan led by East African Muslim immigrants.

Smart scooter company Gogoro launches GoShare, an end-to-end vehicle sharing platform

Founded in 2011, Gogoro now makes the best-selling electric scooters in Taiwan, where it is headquartered. The startup has always seen itself as an end-to-end platform developer, however, and today it marked a major milestone with the announcement of a new vehicle sharing system. Called GoShare, the program will start operating with a pilot fleet of about 1,000 Gogoro smart scooters next month in Taoyuan City, Taiwan, before becoming available as a turnkey solution for partners.

Gogoro, which develops everything from their scooters and batteries to software, telematics control units and backend servers, describes GoShare as “first fully integrated mobility sharing platform and solution.” Co-founder and CEO Horace Luke tells TechCrunch that Gogoro wants to work with partners to expand GoShare into international markets in Europe, Australia and Asia next year. He adds that building the entire platform, including its unique swappable battery system, gives Gogoro an advantage over vehicle sharing programs from companies like Uber, Lyft, Lime, Bird and Coup because it can constantly track vehicle performance, fine-tune the system and incorporate feedback into new designs.

One of Gogoro scooters’ main advantages are their batteries, which are about the size of shoeboxes and slide in and out of scooters and charging kiosks. In Taiwan, batteries can be swapped at kiosks found at gas stations and more offbeat locations, including retail stores and cafes. GoShare scooters can use the same kiosks as privately-owned Gogoro vehicles. This means that users can keep riding the same vehicle all day, swapping batteries whenever necessary (on average, Gogoro scooters can travel about 80 km on one charge). Once they are done using them, they can leave them wherever it is legal to park scooters.

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“We’re a platform, we create hardware, software and server technology to serve the transportation of the future and if we can make cities cleaner and healthier, we will do it anyway possible, whether through ownership and charging batteries at home or buying scooters and swapping batteries in the system we provide or, in this case, not even buying a vehicle, but sharing it,” says Luke.

To sign up, users download an iOS or Android app and upload a photo of their driver’s license. Gogoro then uses AI-based face scanning software to check if they match the license’s photo before asking for payment information. Once enrolled, drivers can use the app to locate and reserve scooters. GoShare’s pricing has not been announced yet, but Luke says it will be competitive with public transportation. Gogoro is working with Taoyuan City’s government to offer incentives like free parking in an effort to reduce pollution and traffic.

In a press statement, Taoyuan City Mayor Wen-Tsan Cheng said “We are confident this Gogoro partnership will continue producing remarkable reductions in air pollution caused by vehicle emissions and will accelerate the transformation of Taoyuan into a smart, livable city.”

With other vehicle sharing systems, “it has always been the dream to have the vehicles be free-floating and autonomous in management. But they are not autonomous,” says Luke. “Most are used once or twice a day because they run out of power, or the battery is low and people are worried about them running out of energy. That is where Gogoro comes in, because we have a network that enables people to ride vehicles for as long as they want.”

There are currently about 1,200 charging kiosks in Taiwan, with about 200 in Taoyuan City, delivering power to about 200,000 scooters. Eight years after it launched, Luke says Gogoro now holds a 97 percent share of electric scooters sold each month in the country. When counted as part of the larger vehicle market in Taiwan, including gas vehicles, Gogoro now holds a 17 percent share.

Luke says the company sees Taiwan, where scooters are very popular but also a major contributor to air pollution, as Gogoro’s pilot market. It recently launched the Gogoro 3, and announced partnerships with Yamaha, Aeon and PGO to develop scooters that will run on its batteries.

The ultimate goal of Gogoro’s end-to-end system is to package it as a turnkey solution for partners around the world, says Luke. “You don’t need to shop around anymore. You can come to us with your vehicle-sharing program and say you want to turn it on.”

MoviePass temporarily suspends service to improve its mobile app

MoviePass is temporarily suspending its service, starting on July 4, in order to finish working on improvements to its mobile app, the company announced today. The hiatus comes after a difficult year for the cash-burning company, and as Regal, the second-largest movie theater chain in the United States, is reportedly preparing to launch its own ticket subscription service.

MoviePass’ announcement said the hiatus will start at 5 A.M. Eastern Time on July 4 and that subscribers will be automatically credited for the number of affected days once service resumes. It did not say when service would return, but replies to customers from its Twitter account say the company “estimate[s] this process will take several weeks.”

Screenshot from MoviePass' Twitter replies

This is an especially inopportune time for a hiatus because the July 4 holiday is when many major titles are released. In a press statement, MoviePass CEO Mitch Lowe said “There’s never a good time to have to do this. But to complete the improved version of our app, one that we believe will provide a much better experience for our subscribers, it has to be done.”

He added that “We have listened and we understand the frustrations of our subscribers. To provide the level of service you deserve and we can be proud of, we need to improve our mobile app. We plan to make this improvement by utilizing an enhanced technology platform, which is in the final stages of completion.”

MoviePass (owned by Helios and Matheson Analytics) and competitor Sinemia both offer subscription plans that give users access to multiple films in one month for a flat fee, but they have been locked in an expensive war of attrition as they compete for subscribers and box office sales. Both companies have also been hit with constant complaints about poor customer service. When Sinemia launched, it was able to capitalize on anti-MoviePass sentiment, but quickly began to rack up its own negative feedback about hidden fees, cancellations without refunds and poor app performance.

This makes room for new rivals to step in. For example, AMC’s A-List service reached 785,000 subscribers in May and if Regal’s version comes to fruition, it may also appeal to movie-goers who are willing to stick to one chain in exchange for consistent service.

Despite Trump’s promised reprieve, Commerce Department tells staff to continue treating Huawei as blacklisted

President Donald Trump recently promised to ease the ban on American companies doing business with Huawei, but the Commerce Department is requiring its staff to treat Huawei as if the blacklist is still in place, reports Reuters.

Enforcement staff were sent an internal letter this week by John Sonderman, the Deputy Director of the Office of Export Enforcement, to continue treating Huawei as blacklisted. The letter, viewed by Reuters, said applications from companies that want to sell to Huawei should be considered on merit and flagged with language that notes Huawei is on the entity list. The applications should also still be viewed under a “presumption of denial” policy that applies to companies on the blacklist. This means license applications are scrutinized more closely and most of them are rejected.

Along with 70 other companies, Huawei was added in May to an “entity list” of companies that U.S. companies are forbidden to do business with. As a result, many of Huawei’s most important component suppliers, including Qualcomm and Intel, severed ties with Huawei, while Google cut off its access to Android--a major headache for Huawei, which is the third-largest smartphone maker in the world. Huawei founder and CEO Ren Zhengfei said the ban would result in $30 billion in lost revenue.

According to Reuters, this is the only guidance enforcement officials have received since Trump’s surprise announcement, made after he met with Chinese premier Xi Jinping at the G20 summit. In an apparent concession to China, which sees Huawei as major sticking point in the U.S.-China trade war, Trump suggested that the U.S. will allow American companies to resume selling hardware to Huawei as long as it doesn’t pose a “great national emergency problem,” and would hold meetings about Huawei’s trade status.

After Trump’s announcement, Ren downplayed the effect of the promised partial reprieve, telling the Financial Times that the ban has helped the company “become more united than ever.” He added “if we aren’t allowed to use U.S. components, we are very confident in our ability to use components made in China and other countries.”

TikTok is being investigated in the U.K. for how it handles children’s data and safety

TikTok is being investigated in the U.K. for how it handles the safety and personal data of underage users. According to the Guardian, information commissioner Elizabeth Denham told a parliamentary committee that the probe started in February, after the U.S. Federal Trade Commission levied a $5.7 million fine against TikTok for breaking children’s privacy law.

Denham told the Guardian that the commission is examining how TikTok collects private data and concerns about the open messaging system, which may allow adult users to contact children. “We are looking at the transparency tools for children. We’re looking at the messaging system, which is completely open, we’re looking at the kind of videos that are collected and shared by children online. We do have an active investigation into TikTok right now, so watch this space,” she said.

The investigation will also examine if the popular app, owned by ByteDance, violates the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which requires companies to put special protections in place for underage users and provide them with different services than adults.

The FTC’s investigation, which began when TikTok was still known as Musical.ly, ruled that the app broke the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act by failing to seek parental consent before collecting names, email addresses and other personal information from users under 13. The ruling resulted in an age gate being added to an app that prevents users under 13 from filming and posting videos on it.

ByteDance, the Chinese media startup now valued at $75 billion, told the Guardian in a statement that “We cooperate with organizations such as the ICO to provide relevant information about our product to support their work. Ensuring data protection principles are upheld as a top priority for TikTok.”