What to expect from tomorrow’s antitrust hearing featuring big tech

Tomorrow, representatives from Facebook, Google, Amazon and Apple will testify before Congress in the second hearing organized as part of the House Judiciary Committee’s antitrust investigation into the world’s largest technology companies.

While the first hearing focused on the ways technology companies busted the traditional news business, this one promises to look at the “impact of market power of online platforms on innovation and entrepreneurship,” according to the committee.

Unlike the previous hearing, which featured representatives from media outlets and industry trade organizations attacking or defending the ways in which online advertising had gutted the news business, this latest outing led by Rhode Island Democratic Rep. David Cicilline will have actual tech company execs on hand to answer congressional queries.

One section of the testimony will feature Google’s economic policy head, Adam Cohen; Amazon’s associate general counsel, Nate Sutton; Facebook’s global head of policy, Matt Perault; and Kyle Andeer, Apple’s chief compliance officer.

Others expected to appear include Tim Wu, the Columbia Law professor who’s been an outspoken critic of technology consolidation and an advocate for more stringent antitrust oversight of tech companies, and Maureen Ohlhausen, a partner at Baker Botts and the former acting chairman of the Federal Trade Commission in charge of its antitrust actions.

Wu and his views sort of encapsulate much of the thinking from critics of these companies’ current dominance in the market.

“I would love, in fact, if a serious Facebook challenger took down Facebook, and I would stop calling for any antitrust action. It’s just when you become suspicious that the barriers have gotten strong enough that a company could survive, then maybe we need to have antitrust law loosened up, get things moving, and provide for the market cycle to take its place. Now eventually it will happen, but we can’t wait for 50 years,” Wu told the American Enterprise Institute in an interview earlier this year.

“It’s also possible that history would suggest that a company like Facebook, and perhaps Amazon, will soon try to get government on their side to defend themselves against competition. I don’t know what it will look like, but maybe Facebook agrees to some kind of privacy law, which for some reason is very hard for new entrants to adhere to. Amazon may try and instantiate itself as basically the national e-commerce monopolist, kind of like a Bell-regulated monopoly. That’s a next natural step, especially as a big star, to become less competitive. And so before that happens, I think we give the antitrust law its turn.”

Policy watchers can expect market criticisms of the big technology platforms to come from a few different angles (each company has different, slightly overlapping, issues that policymakers find worrisome).

For Alphabet, criticism stems primarily from the company’s dominance in online search and the ad networks it controls through its ownership of DoubleClick and AdMob (along with its ownership of YouTube’s wildly popular video platform). At Amazon, it’s the ways in which Jeff Bezos’e-commerce behemoth hoovers up sales information  and uses it to inform pricing and potentially anticompetitive practices that stymie the development of new e-commerce players by promoting its own brands and products.

For Facebook, it’s the dominance of the company’s social media platforms (including Instagram and the messaging service WhatsApp) that are a cause for concern — as is its unwillingness to open its social graph for other startups. The company also elicits howls from consumer advocates for its abysmal ability to protect user privacy and data.

Finally, Apple’s control over the entire ecosystem it pitches to consumers — and the pricing policies it enforces that some critics have called extortive are cause for concern among the political class.

These competitive concerns also play out against the outsized ambitions that these technology companies have in other areas. Facebook is trying to make an end run around the existing global financial system through the launch of its Libra cryptocurrency; Alphabet, Amazon and Facebook all have designs to dominate the development of artificial intelligence in open markets; and then there’s the work these companies are conducting in areas as diverse as healthcare, mobility technologies and even space travel and high-speed networking.

With so many interests in so many areas and core businesses generating so much money, it’s easy to conflate a broader unease with these companies’ ambitions and the core anti-competitive arguments that are worthy of discussion.

For this hearing — and indeed the Congressional investigation to be successful — the focus should be less on the global ambitions of these technology companies and more on the practices they’ve enacted to stifle competition.

How Roblox avoided the gaming graveyard and grew into a $2.5B company

There are successful companies that grow fast and garner tons of press. Then there’s Roblox, a company which took at least a decade to hit its stride and has, relative to its current level of success, barely gotten any recognition or attention.

Why has Roblox’s story gone mostly untold? One reason is that it emerged from a whole generation of gaming portals and platforms. Some, like King.com, got lucky or pivoted their business. Others by and large failed.

Once companies like Facebook, Apple and Google got to the gaming scene, it just looked like a bad idea to try to build your own platform — and thus not worth talking about. Added to that, founder and CEO Dave Baszucki seems uninterested in press.

But overall, the problem has been that Roblox just seemed like an insignificant story for many, many years. The company had millions of users, sure. So did any number of popular games. In its early days, Roblox even looked like Minecraft, a game that was released long after Roblox went live, but that grew much, much faster.

Yet here we are today: Roblox now claims that half of all American children aged 9-12 are on its platform. It has jumped to 90 million monthly unique users and is poised to go international, potentially multiplying that number. And it’s unique. Essentially all other distribution services offering games through a portal have eventually fizzled, aside from some distant cousins like Steam.

This is the story of how Roblox not only survived, but built a thriving platform.

Seeds of an idea

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(Photo by Steve Jennings/Getty Images for TechCrunch)

Before Roblox, there was Knowledge Revolution, a company that made teaching software. While designed to allow students to simulate physics experiments, perhaps predictably, they also treated it like a game.

“The fun seemed to be in building your own experiment,” says Baszucki. “When people were playing it and we went into schools and labs, they were all making car crashes and buildings fall down, making really funny stuff.” Provided with a sandbox, kids didn’t just make dry experiments about mass or velocity — they made games, or experiences they could show off to friends for a laugh.

Knowledge Revolution was founded in 1989, by Dave Baszucki and his brother Greg (who didn’t later co-found Roblox, but is now on its board). Nearly a decade later, it was acquired for $20 million by MSC Software, which made professional simulation tools. Dave continued there for another four years before leaving to become an angel investor.

Baszucki put money into Friendster, a company that pre-dated Facebook and MySpace in the social networking category. That investment seeded another piece of the idea for Roblox. Taken together, the legacy of Knowledge Revolution and Friendster were the two key components undergirding Roblox: a physics sandbox with strong creation tools, and a social graph.

Baszucki himself is a third piece of the puzzle. Part of an older set of entrepreneurs, which might be called the Steve Jobs generation, Baszucki’s archetype seems closer to Mr. Rogers than Jobs himself: unfailingly polite and enthusiastic, never claiming superior insight, and preferring to pass credit for his accomplishments on to others. In conversation, he shows interests both central and tangential to Roblox, like virtual environments, games, education, digital identity and the future of tech. Somewhere in this heady mix, the idea of Roblox came about.

The first release

Daily Crunch: Apple disables Walkie Talkie app

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 disables Walkie Talkie app due to vulnerability that could allow iPhone eavesdropping

The Walkie Talkie app on Apple Watch allows two users who have accepted an invite from each other to receive audio chats via a “push to talk” interface reminiscent of the PTT buttons on older cell phones.

Apple has apologized for the bug and for the inconvenience of being unable to use the feature while a fix is made.

2. Amazon invests $700 million to retrain a third of its US workforce by 2025

The company’s stated goal is to “upskill” 100,000 of its U.S. employees for more in-demand jobs by 2025. That’s one in three of Amazon’s U.S. workers.

3. Hospitality business Sonder confirms new investment, $1B+ valuation

Sonder, which rents serviced apartments akin to boutique hotels, has raised $225 million at a valuation north of $1 billion.

4. N26 launches its challenger bank in the US

If you’re familiar with N26, the product going live today won’t surprise you much. Customers in the U.S. can download a mobile app and create a bank account from their phone in just a few minutes.

5. Apple has pushed a silent Mac update to remove hidden Zoom web server

Zoom took flack from users following a public vulnerability disclosure on Monday by Jonathan Leitschuh, in which he described how “any website [could] forcibly join a user to a Zoom call, with their video camera activated, without the user’s permission.”

6. OneTrust raises $200M at a $1.3B valuation to help organizations navigate online privacy rules

It’s an outsized round for a Series A, being made at an equally outsized valuation, but according to CEO Kabir Barday, that’s because of the wide-ranging nature of the issue, and OneTrust’s early moves tackling it.

7. The future of car ownership: Cars-as-a-service

Previously, we explored the different startups attempting to change car buying. But not everyone wants to buy a car. (Extra Crunch membership required.)

Apple disables Walkie Talkie app due to vulnerability that could allow iPhone eavesdropping

Apple has disabled the Apple Watch Walkie Talkie app due to an unspecified vulnerability that could allow a person to listen to another customer’s iPhone without consent, the company told TechCrunch this evening.

Apple has apologized for the bug and for the inconvenience of being unable to use the feature while a fix is made.

The Walkie Talkie app on Apple Watch allows two users who have accepted an invite from each other to receive audio chats via a ‘push to talk’ interface reminiscent of the PTT buttons on older cell phones.

A statement from Apple reads:

We were just made aware of a vulnerability related to the Walkie-Talkie app on the Apple Watch and have disabled the function as we quickly fix the issue. We apologize to our customers for the inconvenience and will restore the functionality as soon as possible. Although we are not aware of any use of the vulnerability against a customer and specific conditions and sequences of events are required to exploit it, we take the security and privacy of our customers extremely seriously. We concluded that disabling the app was the right course of action as this bug could allow someone to listen through another customer’s iPhone without consent.  We apologize again for this issue and the inconvenience.

Apple was alerted to the bug via its report a vulnerability portal directly and says that there is no current evidence that it was exploited in the wild.

The company is temporarily disabling the feature entirely until a fix can be made and rolled out to devices. The Walkie Talkie App will remain installed on devices, but will not function until it has been updated with the fix.

Earlier this year a bug was discovered in the group calling feature of FaceTime that allowed people to listen in before a call was accepted. It turned out that the teen who discovered the bug, Grant Thompson, had attempted to contact Apple about the issue but was unable to get a response. Apple fixed the bug and eventually rewarded Thompson a bug bounty.  This time around, Apple appears to be listening more closely to the reports that come in via its vulnerability tips line and has disabled the feature.

Earlier today, Apple quietly pushed a Mac update to remove a feature of the Zoom conference app that allowed it to work around Mac restrictions to provide a smoother call initiation experience — but that also allowed emails and websites to add a user to an active video call without their permission.

Apple has pushed a silent Mac update to remove hidden Zoom web server

Apple has released a silent update for Mac users removing a vulnerable component in Zoom, the popular video conferencing app, which allowed websites to automatically add a user to a video call without their permission.

The Cupertino, Calif.-based tech giant told TechCrunch that the update — now released — removes the hidden web server, which Zoom quietly installed on users’ Macs when they installed the app.

Apple said the update does not require any user interaction and is deployed automatically.

The video conferencing giant took flack from users following a public vulnerability disclosure on Monday by Jonathan Leitschuh, in which he described how “any website [could] forcibly join a user to a Zoom call, with their video camera activated, without the user’s permission.” The undocumented web server remained installed even if a user uninstalled Zoom. Leitschuh said this allowed Zoom to reinstall the app without requiring any user interaction.

He also released a proof-of-concept page demonstrating the vulnerability.

Although Zoom released a fixed app version on Tuesday, Apple said its actions will protect users both past and present from the undocumented web server vulnerability without affecting or hindering the functionality of the Zoom app itself.

The update will now prompt users if they want to open the app, whereas before it would open automatically.

Apple often pushes silent signature updates to Macs to thwart known malware — similar to an anti-malware service — but it’s rare for Apple to take action publicly against a known or popular app. The company said it pushed the update to protect users from the risks posed by the exposed web server.

Zoom spokesperson Priscilla McCarthy told TechCrunch: “We’re happy to have worked with Apple on testing this update. We expect the web server issue to be resolved today. We appreciate our users’ patience as we continue to work through addressing their concerns.”

More than four million users across 750,000 companies around the world use Zoom for video conferencing.

MLB Ballpark app adds Apple Business Chat-powered concierge experience for All-Star game

Just in time for tonight’s Home Run Derby, Major League Baseball is rolling out a new feature on its Ballpark app that utilizes Apple’s Business Chat feature for a customized in-person experience. MLB says it’s the first league to roll out out the feature, letting users ask location specific questions. Though Apple Business Chat has been used for things like drink orders in the past.

Clicking into the Indians section will bring you Progressive Field, the center of this week’s festivities, where you can access the new All-Star Concierge feature. Developed alongside New York-based AI startup Satisfi Labs, the feature is designed to answer simple questions.

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From there, it will either answer straight away or open the appropriate app, like Maps and Calendar. In the case of this week’s events, that could mean something as simple as the start time for the derby or something more specific like where to pick up a shuttle to a specific hotel.

The feature is being rolled out to start with tonight’s Home Run Derby and tomorrow’s All-Star game, but it should start arriving in more parks after the All-Star break as different stadiums begin to implement it. MLB has been experimenting with a number of different features to enhance the ballpark experience via smartphone, including, notably, the addition of an AR stat feature.

Y Combinator-backed Project Wren is aiming to make carbon offsets more consumer friendly

When Landon Brand and Benjamin Stansfield graduated from the University of Southern California this year, they already had the plans for Project Wren, their service for selling carbon offsets to a new generation of conscious consumers.

Along with fellow co-founder Mimi Tran Zambetti (who’s still attending USC), Brand and Stansfield aim to make carbon offsets more accessible to people who may feel like there’s nothing they can do on a personal level to reduce their carbon footprint or support projects that reduce carbon emissions. 

It’s not a novel concept. In 2004, TerraPass launched its service to provide carbon offsets for consumers. The company was acquired in 2014 and now operates as a subsidiary of the publicly traded Canadian retail energy company, Just Energy.

Since TerraPass, other organizations have come in with services to offset consumer and corporate carbon emissions. The Swiss non-profit MyClimate is another organization working on offsets for corporations and individuals (as is the German non-profit, Atmosfair) and the North American public benefit corporation, NativeEnergy also has both a retail and corporate offset program.

Project Wren sources its offset investments from Project Drawdown and is trying to choose the projects that the company’s founders consider “most additional”, according to Brand.

Brand, Stansfield and Tran Zambetti met at USC while pursuing a bachelor of science degree in USC’s new Jimmy Iovine and Andre Young Academy. The two men are the co-founders of Beats, which sold to Apple for roughly $3 billion, but perhaps are more famous for their work in the music business as the co-founder of Interscope records and the rapper and producer known as Dr. Dre.

From the outset the three students worked together on side projects and in student organizations, and decided last year to launch a sustainable business that could impact consumers in a positive way. The first idea, and the one that was initially incorporated as Project Wren, was to develop an algorithmically enhanced software service to promote diversity and inclusion in companies.

“The idea was promising, but it’s a hard product to sell. Companies aren’t used to leveraging software to help build their culture,” Brand wrote in an email. “Trying to get people to use the product made us realize how difficult it is to build something that’s useful and good for the world. If we were going to build a company around doing good, it would take a decade or more.”

The group convened earlier this year and decided, after spending a year working on their idea, that the over ten years it would take to build a successful business was too long for them to see the impact they wanted to make in the world. “We felt like the mission of making companies a better place to work was important, but not urgent,” Brand wrote to me in an email. “Climate change is urgent. It’s the biggest challenge humanity has ever faced. That’s why we decided to pivot.”

The group then decided that they would pool their resources on another project — a vegan cloud kitchen that could potentially become a franchise or chain.

“Meat production is responsible for as much as 20% of greenhouse gas emissions,” Brand wrote. “If we could make eating vegan food easier than eating meat, we would have a huge impact.”

The group ran a cloud kitchen out of Brand’s apartment for two weeks before deciding that, too, ultimately was a wash for the three young co-founders.

With that idea behind them, the three began researching carbon offsets, which led them to Project Drawdown, which led them to build their current website and, ultimately, Y Combinator .

Customers who buy offsets using Wren will support projects that the company has selected for their additionality (meaning the projects would not have been done without the support of organizations like Wren). Once the offsets are purchased Project Wren retires them from circulation so they can’t be traded on any exchange after their creation.

The company makes money by taking a 20% commission above the price of the project for operating expenses and marketing, says Brand.

What Brand sees as the young company’s competitive advantage is its ability to communicate more directly with a new audience of offset acquirers — engaging them more in the process by providing updates on the project.

“Photos, and stories too, from people on the ground will add a more human, real, touch,” to the projects and their reporting back to carbon offset buyers, according to Brand. “We just talk to a bunch of potential partners and see which partners would be able to give unique compelling updates to our users.”

UnitedMasters releases iPhone app for DIY cross-service music distribution

Alphabet-backed UnitedMasters, the music label distribution startup and record label alternative that offers artists 100 percent ownership of everything they create, launched its iPhone app today.

The iPhone app works like the service they used to offer only via the web, giving artists the chance to upload their own tracks (from iCloud, Dropbox or directly from text messages), then distribute them to a full range of streaming music platforms, including Spotify, Apple Music, Tidal and more. In exchange for this distribution, as well as analytics on how your music is performing, UnitedMasters takes a 10% share on revenue generated by tracks it distributes, but artists retain full ownership of the content they create.

UnitedMasters also works with brand partners, including Bose, the NBA and AT&T, to place tracks in marketing use across the brand’s properties and distributed content. Music creators are paid out via PayPal once they connect their accounts, and they can also tie-in their social accounts for connecting their overall online presence with their music.

UnitedMasters

Using the app, artists can create entire releases by uploading not only music tracks but also high-quality cover art, and by entering information like whether any producers participated in the music creation, and whether the tracks contain any explicit lyrics. You can also specific an exact desired release date, and UnitedMasters will do its best to distribute across services on that day, pending content approvals.

UnitedMasters was founded by former Interscope Records president Steve Stoute, and also has funding from Andreessen Horwitz and 20th Century Fox. It’s aiming to serve a new generation of artists who are disenfranchised by the traditional label model, but seeking distribution through the services where listeners actually spend their time, and using the iPhone as manage the entire process definitely fits with serving that customer base.

Twelve South’s HiRise Wireless is a super versatile wireless smartphone charger

Wireless charging has been a wonderful addition to mainstream flagship smartphones including the iPhone, Samsung’s Galaxy lineup and Google’s Pixel phones. But there hasn’t been a really great option for bringing the benefits of wireless charging with you on the road, while keeping your desktop setup tidy until now, with TwelveSouth’s recently released HiRise Wireless.

The HiRise Wireless builds on the good reputation of the existing HiRise line from TwelveSouth, which includes the Duet, a great combo charger for both iPhone and Apple Watch. The Wireless version, as implied by the name, includes wireless charging of up to 10W, which means you get the fastest cable-free charging rate available for devices that support Qi charging, including the iPhone X, XR and XS, as well as the Pixel 3 and Samsung Galaxy S10.

The HiRise is unique in that it provides a charging puck that can both mount in the frame (which has a nice weighted base to stay rock solid on your desk) and pop out to either provide a lie-flat wireless charger (which will work with the new wireless AirPods charging case, for instance) or pack away in a bag.

The upright angle the wireless charger provides when mounted in the frame is perfect for registering Face ID unlocks when used with an iPhone X or later, and positioned on your desk. That’s a great way to give yourself access to phone notifications without distracting too much from your desktop work. And the puck itself is a lot smaller than most wireless chargers, which isn’t idea for typical at-home charging, but which is terrific for stowing it in a gadget pouch.

The puck also has a rubberized ring bordering the charging pad to prevent your device from slipping around, and it works with a detachable USB-C to USB-A cable that comes in the box which adds to the portability, and means you can easily use it with whatever USB-C charging cables you already have on-hand for your Mac or other devices.

If you’re in the market for a wireless charger and travel a decent amount, it’s hard to beat the value of the HiRise Wireless. It’s $79.99, which is more than you’ll pay for a lot of quality wireless chargers, but Twelve South’s unique design is worth the premium in this case for people looking for its unique flexibility.

Why you should naturalize — now, not later

It’s no secret that America thrives on tech-savvy immigrants who put down permanent roots: Three in five of the country’s biggest tech companies — Apple, Facebook, and Google among them — were founded by first- or second-generation immigrants.

Those giants combined boast a market cap of over $4 trillion and employ nearly two million workers. Considering such clear economic benefits, you’d expect an efficient, straightforward process for turning America’s tech-savviest new arrivals into U.S. citizens.

But that’s not the case. Naturalizing has only gotten harder and more expensive in recent years. And because of those barriers, even immigrants who manage to secure U.S. permanent residence often stop short of officially becoming U.S. citizens. In fact, a third of citizenship-eligible green card holders, or around 9.3 million people, have yet to apply.

If you’re among that group, don’t wait to take the final step of your immigration journey. After all, U.S. citizenship brings a host of tangible and intangible perks.

Taking the oath of citizenship, for one, is a profound experience and an affirmation that you’ve finally been welcomed into the American family. From the moment you naturalize, you become an equal stakeholder in our national project — as much an American as anyone born in this nation.

Of course, naturalization offers practical benefits, too. So take some time this Fourth of July to consider all the reasons why you should set your sights on citizenship now, not later:

It won’t get easier

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Image via Getty Images / Vaselena

The single best reason to file a citizenship application is to make sure you don’t miss the boat. The Trump administration is prone to overhauling immigration rules on short notice — so if you’re eligible today, it doesn’t necessarily mean you will be tomorrow.

Applying sooner will make the process quicker and cheaper, too. Already, the government plans to further complicate naturalization steps, at an estimated cost to applicants of nearly $205 million a year.

The bottom line: Getting citizenship will only get harder in the months and years ahead — applying for citizenship under the current rules will protect you from the future whims of America’s leaders. File your papers today, and save yourself headaches or heartbreak down the line.

Have your say

For many new citizens, this is the big one: As an American, you’ll be eligible to vote in all federal, state, and local elections and have your say in who gets to steer the country you’ve chosen to call home. Still, if you’re hoping to pull the lever for your preferred candidate in the 2020 presidential election, you’ll need to get a move on — there’s now a 10-month average wait just to get your application approved. Add all the other steps, and you could be looking at a total wait time of up to 1.6 years, and the line is only growing longer.

Also worth bearing in mind: Citizenship is a requirement for federal office and most state and local political positions. As a naturalized citizen, you’ll be able to run for office yourself.

And while immigrants can’t become president, plenty of naturalized Americans already represent their communities in Congress. Get your paperwork squared away if you want to be next.

Plan for the future 

Whether you’re starting a business, building your career, or buying a home, it helps to have the security that citizenship affords. Naturalizing also makes it far easier to bring relatives — even your parents and adult children — to America on green cards of their own. Spouses and immediate relatives of U.S. citizens get preferential treatment when it comes to green card applications, which means much shorter waits compared to the spouses and relatives of green cardholders.

Pro tip: If you’re a permanent resident and have a pending marriage green card application for your spouse, naturalizing upgrades you to the fast-track process for spouses of U.S. citizens.

Of course, naturalization is also a fantastic gift for your future offspring who are born abroad — they’re automatically citizens if you’re American at the moment of their birth. As a citizen, you’ll be able to register your children as U.S. citizens simply by reporting their birth to the nearest U.S. consulate or embassy.

Access public benefits

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Image via Getty Images / PeterSnow

As an immigrant, you’re likely already paying taxes that fund public programs such as Social Security and Medicaid — but in many cases, you can’t actually benefit from those programs. In fact, you’ve probably been justly wary of using any government assistance whatsoever, for fear of being labeled a “public charge” and jeopardizing your immigration status.

As a citizen, all that changes: You’ll have as much right as anyone else to public benefits, and you won’t have to fret about being penalized for seeking help. You might never need public support beyond Social Security and Medicare — studies show that naturalized citizens use most benefits at much lower rates than the native-born — but it’s good to know there’s a safety net waiting to catch you if you fall.

Protect yourself

In theory, green cards offer permanent residence, but it’s still possible to lose your immigration status if you spend significant time outside the United States, if you have legal problems, or if the rules change. Citizens receive far greater protections and can’t be deported even if they run afoul of the law. You’ll also have an incontrovertible right to work in America and to win federal jobs and contracts that are off-limits to non-citizens.

One caveat: It’s been reported that the U.S. government is planning to “denaturalize” some citizens. This applies mostly to cases where applicants committed identity fraud or were subject to deportation orders that they did not disclose to immigration officers during the application process. That shouldn’t affect the vast majority of naturalized citizens, though, and in virtually any legal tangle you’ll be better off as a U.S. citizen.

Get a passport, and see the world

In these turbulent times, a U.S. passport is worth its weight in gold. You’ll be able to apply for the coveted navy-blue travel document immediately after receiving your Certificate of Naturalization and can look forward to visa-free travel to more than 180 countries. You’ll also be able to call on local U.S. embassies for assistance if you run into trouble while traveling.

As a citizen, you won’t have to worry about losing your status, regardless of how long you’re away from the United States. And remember: The United States allows dual citizenship, so depending on your nation of origin, you might not have to give up your existing passport — let alone your original nationality — in order to become an American.

Give back by getting ahead

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Image via Getty Images / katflare

Getting citizenship is a smart financial decision. Citizens fare better economically than non-citizen immigrants, perhaps because they’re better placed to put down roots and invest in their future.

Research shows that naturalized immigrants earn an average of $3,200 more each year than eligible non-citizens and also increase their homeownership rate by 6.3 percent. In fact, it’s estimated that if just half of eligible immigrants went ahead and gained citizenship, it would boost America’s GDP by up to $52 billion a year.

All those extra earnings translate into billions of dollars in extra local, state, and federal tax revenues, too. That makes naturalization a great way not just to make more money, but also to support your new community and make America a stronger and more prosperous place for yourself and your loved ones.

You’ve earned it, so go get it

Gaining citizenship is more than just a patriotic gesture; it’s a practical step toward building a secure future in America and seizing all the opportunities this country has to offer. As any immigrant knows, the pursuit of happiness is an American ideal — but it’s one that’s a whole lot easier to achieve if you have citizenship.

If you’re eligible to become a U.S. citizen, then you’ve already earned your place in this country by investing years of your life here, working hard, and playing by the rules. Applying for citizenship is a way to seal the deal, both by underscoring your commitment to the American project and receiving a definitive assurance that you’re welcome and wanted in the Land of the Free.

So this Fourth of July, if you’re chasing your own little piece of the American dream, bear in mind that there are real and concrete benefits to naturalization. After all, the smoke and noise from the fireworks will eventually fade away — but your American citizenship will last forever.