Google picks up Microsoft veteran, Javier Soltero, to head G Suite

Google has hired Microsoft’s former Cortana and Outlook VP, Javier Soltero, to head up its productivity and collaboration bundle, G Suite — which includes consumer and business tools such as Gmail, Hangouts, Drive, Google Docs and Sheets.

He tweeted the news yesterday, writing: “The opportunity to work with this team on products that have such a profound impact on the lives of people around the world is a real and rare privilege.”

 

Soltero joined Microsoft five years ago, after the company shelling out $200M to acquire his mobile email application, Acompli — staying until late last year.

His LinkedIn profile now lists him as vice president of G Suite, starting October 2019.

Soltero will report to Google Cloud CEO Thomas Kurian — who replaced Dianne Green when she stepped down from the role last year — per a company email reported by CNBC.

Previously, Google’s Prabhakar Raghavan — now SVP for its Advertising and Commerce products — was in charge of the productivity bundle, as VP of Google Apps and Google Cloud. But Mountain View has created a dedicated VP role for G Suite. Presumably to woo Soltero into his next major industry move — and into competing directly with his former employer.

The move looks intended to dial up focus on the Office giant, in response to Microsoft’s ongoing push to shift users from single purchase versions of flagship productivity products to subscription-based cloud versions, like Office 365.

This summer Google CEO, Sundar Pichai, announced that its cloud business unit had an $8 billion annual revenue run rate, up from $4BN reported in early 2018, though still lagging Microsoft’s Azure cloud.

He added that Google planned to triple the size of its cloud sales force over the next few years.

Former Stitch Fix COO Julie Bornstein is rewriting the e-commerce playbook

More than two years after Julie Bornstein–Stitch Fix’s former chief operating officer–mysteriously left the subscription-based personal styling service only months before its initial public offering, she’s taking the wraps off her first independent venture.

Shortly after departing Stitch Fix, Bornstein began building The Yes, an AI-powered shopping platform expected to launch in the first half of 2020. She’s teamed up with The Yes co-founder and chief technology officer Amit Aggarwal, who’s held high-level engineering roles at BloomReach and Groupon, and most recently, served as an entrepreneur-in-residence at Bain Capital Ventures, to “rewrite the architecture of e-commerce.”

“This is an idea I’ve been thinking about since I was 10 and spending my weekends at the mall,” Bornstein, whose resume includes chief marketing officer & chief digital officer at Sephora, vice president of e-commerce at Urban Outfitters, VP of e-commerce at Nordstrom and director of business development at Starbucks, tells TechCrunch. “All the companies I have worked at were very much leading in this direction.”

Coming out of stealth today, the team at The Yes is readying a beta mode to better understand and refine their product. Bornstein and Aggarwal have raised $30 million in venture capital funding to date across two financings. The first, a seed round, was co-led by Forerunner Ventures’ Kirsten Green and NEA’s Tony Florence. The Series A was led by True Ventures’ Jon Callaghan with participation from existing investors. Bornstein declined to disclose the company’s valuation.

“AI and machine learning already dominate in many verticals, but e-commerce is still open for a player to have a meaningful impact,” Callaghan said in a statement. “Amit is leading a team to build deep neural networks that legacy systems cannot achieve.”

Bornstein and Aggarwal withheld many details about the business during our conversation. Rather, the pair said the product will speak for itself when it launches next year. In addition to being an AI-powered shopping platform, Bornstein did say The Yes is working directly with brands and “creating a new consumer shopping experience that helps address the issue of overwhelm in shopping today.”

As for why she decided to leave Stitch Fix just ahead of its $120 million IPO, Bornstein said she had an epiphany.

“I realized that technology had changed so much, meanwhile … the whole framework underlying e-commerce had remained the same since the late 90s’ when I helped build Nordstrom.com,” she said. “If you could rebuild the underlying architecture and use today’s technology, you could actually bring to life an entirely new consumer experience for shopping.”

The Yes, headquartered in Silicon Valley and New York City, has also brought on Lisa Green, the former head of industry, fashion and luxury at Google, as its senior vice president of partnerships, and Taylor Tomasi Hill, whose had stints at Moda Operandi and FortyFiveTen, as its creative director. Other investors in the business include Comcast Ventures and Bain Capital Ventures

Daily Crunch: We review the Pixel 4

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. Pixel 4 review: Google ups its camera game

Brian Heater was impressed by the improvements in Google’s latest smartphone, including camera upgrades and the Recorder app.

However, he also argued that the Pixel 4 doesn’t exactly address what Google wants the Pixel to be, moving forward, especially after the Pixel 3a it was confirmed that consumers were looking for something cheaper.

2. NordVPN confirms it was hacked

The admission comes after rumors that the company had been breached, and what first emerged was that NordVPN had left an expired internal private key exposed, potentially allowing anyone to spin out their own servers imitating NordVPN.

3. Netflix to raise $2 billion in debt to fund more content spending

Despite a relatively strong earnings report last week, Netflix isn’t out of the woods just yet. Disney+ and Apple+ launch next month, and there’s more competition on the way.

4. Commercetools raises $145M from Insight for Shopify-style e-commerce APIs for large enterprises

The funding comes at the same time as commercetools is getting spun out by REWE, a German retail and tourist services giant that acquired the startup in 2015.

5. The Surface Pro 7 is a competent upgrade with USB-C, refreshed processors, but little else that’s new

The Pro 7, which is going on sale today, is a competent upgrade that gives Surface Pro users exactly what they want — even if it sticks to a tried and tested formula.

6. IPOs are the beginning, not the end

At Disrupt SF, PagerDuty’s Jennifer Tejada argued that an IPO “is part of the beginning of a long journey for a durable company that you want to build a legacy around.” (Extra Crunch membership required.)

7. This week’s TechCrunch podcasts

The Equity team talks to Greylock’s Sarah Guo about the future of software-as-a-service products, while Original Content has a review of “El Camino,” the new “Breaking Bad” movie on Netflix.

EU contracts with Microsoft raising “serious” data concerns, says watchdog

Europe’s chief data protection watchdog has raised concerns over contractual arrangements between Microsoft and the European Union institutions which are making use of its software products and services.

The European Data Protection Supervisor (EDPS) opened an enquiry into the contractual arrangements between EU institutions and the tech giant this April, following changes to rules governing EU outsourcing.

Today it writes [with emphasis]: “Though the investigation is still ongoing, preliminary results reveal serious concerns over the compliance of the relevant contractual terms with data protection rules and the role of Microsoft as a processor for EU institutions using its products and services.”

We’ve reached out to Microsoft for comment.

A spokesperson for the company told Reuters: “We are committed to helping our customers comply with GDPR [General Data Protection Regulation], Regulation 2018/1725 and other applicable laws. We are in discussions with our customers in the EU institutions and will soon announce contractual changes that will address concerns such as those raised by the EDPS.”

The preliminary finding follows risk assessments carried out by the Dutch Ministry of Justice and Security, published this summer, which also found similar issues, per the EDPS.

At issue is whether contractual terms are compatible with EU data protection laws intended to protect individual rights across the region.

“Amended contractual terms, technical safeguards and settings agreed between the Dutch Ministry of Justice and Security and Microsoft to better protect the rights of individuals shows that there is significant scope for improvement in the development of contracts between public administration and the most powerful software developers and online service outsourcers,” the watchdog writes today.

“The EDPS is of the opinion that such solutions should be extended not only to all public and private bodies in the EU, which is our short-term expectation, but also to individuals.”

A conference, jointly organized by the EDPS and the Dutch Ministry, which was held in August, brought together EU customers of cloud giants to work on a joint response to tackle regulatory risks related to cloud software provision. The event agenda included a debate on what was billed as “Strategic Vendor Management with respect to hyperscalers such as Microsoft, Amazon Web Services and Google”.

The EDPS says the idea for The Hague Forum — as it’s been named — is to develop a common strategy to “take back control” over IT services and products sold to the public sector by cloud giants.

Such as by creating standard contracts with fair terms for public administration, instead of the EU’s various public bodies feeling forced into accepting T&Cs as written by the same few powerful providers.

Commenting in a statement today, assistant EDPS, Wojciech Wiewiórowski, said: “We expect that the creation of The Hague Forum and the results of our investigation will help improve the data protection compliance of all EU institutions, but we are also committed to driving positive change outside the EU institutions, in order to ensure maximum benefit for as many people as possible. The agreement reached between the Dutch Ministry of Justice and Security and Microsoft on appropriate contractual and technical safeguards and measures to mitigate risks to individuals is a positive step forward. Through The Hague Forum and by reinforcing regulatory cooperation, we aim to ensure that these safeguards and measures apply to all consumers and public authorities living and operating in the EEA.”

EU data protection law means data controllers who make use of third parties to process personal data on their behalf remain accountable for what’s done with the data — meaning EU public institutions have a responsibility to assess risks around cloud provision, and have appropriate contractual and technical safeguards in place to mitigate risks. So there’s a legal imperative to dial up scrutiny of cloud contracts.

In parallel, the EDPS has been pushing for greater transparency in consumer agreements too.

On the latter front Microsoft’s arrangements with consumers using its desktop OS remain under scrutiny in the EU. Earlier this year the Dutch data protection agency referred privacy concerns about how Windows 10 gathers user data to the company’s lead regulator in Europe.

While this summer the company made changes to its privacy policy for its VoIP product Skype and AI assistant Cortana after media reports revealed it employed contractors who could listen in to audio snippets to improve automated translation and inferences.

The French government, meanwhile, has been loudly pursuing a strategy of digital sovereignty to reduce the state’s reliance on foreign tech providers. Though kicking the cloud giant habit may prove harder than ditching Google search.

New Nvidia Shield Android TV streaming device leaks via Amazon listing

The fact that Nvidia is updating its Shield TV hardware has already been telegraphed via an FCC filing, but a leak earlier today paints much more of a detailed picture. An Amazon listing for a new Nvidia Shield Pro set-top streaming device went live briefly before being taken down, showing a familiar hardware design and a new remote control and listing some of the forthcoming feature updates new to this generation of hardware.

The listing, captured by the eagle-eyed Android TV Rumors and shared via Twitter, includes a $199.99 price point, specs that include 3GB of RAM, 2x USB ports, a new Nvidia Tegra X1+ chip and 16GB of on-board storage. In addition to the price, the Amazon listing had a release date for the new hardware of October 28.

If this Amazon page is accurate (and it looks indeed like an official product page that one would expect from Nvidia), the new Shield TV’s processor will be “up to 25% faster than the previous generation,” and will offer “next-generation AI upscaling” for improving the quality of HD video on 4K-capable displays.

It’ll offer support for Dolby Vision HDR, plus surround sound with Dolby Atmos support, and provide “the most 4K HDR content of any streaming media player.” There’s also built-in Google Assistant support, which was offered on the existing hardware, and it’ll work with Alexa for hands-free control.

The feature photos for the listing show a new remote control, which has a pyramid-like design, as well as a lot more dedicated buttons on the face. There’s backlighting, and an IR blaster for TV control, as well as a “built-in lost remote locator” according to the now-removed Amazon page.

This Amazon page certainly paints a comprehensive picture of what to expect, and it looks like a compelling update to be sure. The listing is gone now, however, so stay tuned to find out if this is indeed the real thing, and if this updated streamer will indeed be available soon.

UPDATE: Yet another Nvidia leak followed the first, this time through retailer Newegg (via The Verge). This is different, however, and features a Shield TV device (no “Pro” in the name) that has almost all the same specs, but a much smaller design that includes a microSD card, and seems to have half the amount of on-board storage (8GB versus 16GB) and a retail price of around $150.

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Google Maps adds more Waze-like features, including driving-incident reports

Google Maps is starting to look a lot more like Waze. Google today announced a series of new features that will allow drivers using the Maps app on iOS to report accidents, speed traps and traffic jams. And on both iOS and Android, users will be able to report other driving hazards and incidents, like road construction, lane closures, disabled vehicles and objects in the road — like debris. These are all core Waze features and among the primary reasons why many users opt for Waze over Google Maps.

Google had already offered accident, speed trap and traffic slowdown reports on Android before today.

The new updates follow a steady launch of Waze-like additions to the Google Maps app.

For example, Google launched speed limits and speed trap alerts in more than 40 countries in Google Maps back in May. And it had been testing various driving hazard alerts before now. Google Maps also previously adopted other Waze features, like the ability to add a stop to your route while in navigation mode, or the ability to view nearby gas prices.Mid trip UGC ReportWhen you’re navigating your route in Google Maps, you can tap to add a report, then choose from a long list that now includes: Crash, Speed Trap, Slowdown, Construction, Lane Closure, Disabled vehicle and Object on Road.

With the additions, Google is chipping away at the many reasons why people still turn to Waze.

However, Waze is still better for planning a trip by connecting to your personal calendar or Facebook events, while Google Maps has instead focused more on helping users plan their commutes. Waze also is more social and includes a carpooling service.

The benefit of more users switching to Maps means more aggregate data to help power Google’s other products. Data collection from Google Maps is behind features like those that show the wait times, popular times and visit duration at local businesses, for example. Plus, Google Maps is a jumping off point for Google’s My Business platform, which has more recently been challenging Facebook Pages by allowing Maps users to follow their favorite businesses to track promotions and events, and even message the businesses directly.

Google says the new Google Maps features start rolling out globally on Android and iOS this week.

Farewell, Google Clips

Amid a slew of updated hardware, Clips has gone missing from Google’s online store. Odds are you probably don’t remember what Clips is. If you do, odds are you’re not surprised by this turn of events.

We’ve reached out to company to confirm whether this is, indeed, definitively the end for the niche device. All I can say for now is that the future doesn’t look bright for a product neither reviewers, consumers nor Google itself figured out. One the company knew for sure what that the Clips was unequivocally not a life-logging camera. The answer of what it was, however, was a far more difficult one.

The device was a kind of showcase for the company’s AI technologies, designed to capture candid life moments, so users weren’t stuck behind their cameras. I reviewed it and if nothing else got this fun Gif of my rabbit, Lucy:

unnamed 1

So not a total loss, I guess. Certainly not enough to justify paying $249, however. One colleague jokingly asking me ahead of this week’s Pixel event whether a Clips 2 was on the way. I suppose we know the answer now. SensorTower notes in an email to TechCrunch that it estimates around 15,000 installs for the Clips app, which should offer some context for fairly dismal sales figures. 

The discovery follows news that the company has discontinued its Daydream View, VR headset. Such is the Google circle of life. The lukewarmly reviewed first-gen Pixel Buds have been pulled from the store, as well. That line, at least, still has a future

Labor leaders and startup founders talk how to build a sustainable gig economy

Over the past few years, gig economy companies and the treatment of their labor force has become a hot button issue for public and private sector debate.

At our recent annual Disrupt event in San Francisco, we dug into how founders, companies and the broader community can play a positive role in the gig economy, with help from Derecka Mehrens, an executive director at Working Partnerships USA and co-founder of Silicon Valley Rising — an advocacy campaign focused on fighting for tech worker rights and creating an inclusive tech economy — and Amanda de Cadenet, founder of Girlgaze, a platform that connects advertisers with a network of 200,000 female-identifying and non-binary creatives.

Derecka and Amanda dove deep into where incumbent gig companies have fallen short, what they’re doing to right the ship, whether VC and hyper-growth mentalities fit into a sustainable gig economy, as well as thoughts on Uber’s new ‘Uber Works’ platform and CA AB-5. The following has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

Where current gig companies are failing

Arman Tabatabai: What was the original promise and value proposition of the gig economy? What went wrong?

Derecka Mehrens: The gig economy exists in a larger context, which is one in which neoliberalism is failing, trickle-down economics is proven wrong, and every day working people aren’t surviving and are looking for something more.

And so you have a situation in which the system we put together to create employment, to create our communities, to build our housing, to give us jobs is dysfunctional. And within that, folks are going to come up with disruptive solutions to pieces of it with a promise in mind to solve a problem. But without a larger solution, that will end up, in our view, exacerbating existing inequalities.

Every angle of Volvo’s first electric vehicle, the XC40 Recharge

Volvo Cars introduced Wednesday the XC40 Recharge, an all-electric vehicle that CTO Henrik Green described as “a car of firsts and a car of the future.”

The XC40 Recharge is hardly the first electric vehicle on the market. But for Volvo the XC40 is a “car of firsts.” This is the company’s first all-electric vehicle. It’s also the first Volvo to have an infotainment system powered by Google’s Android operating system as well as have the ability to make over-the-air software updates.

Before we move on to the photos, here are some of the specs.

The XC40 Recharge is equipped with an all-wheel drive powertrain and a 78 kilowatt-hour battery that can travel more than 400 kilometers (248 miles) on a single charge, in accordance with WLTP. The WLTP, or Worldwide Harmonised Light Vehicle Test Procedure, is the European standard to measure energy consumption and emissions, and tends to be more generous than the U.S. EPA estimates. The EPA estimates are not yet available, but it’s likely the XC40 Recharge will hit around the 200-mile range.

That would put the range of the Volvo XC40 Recharge below the Tesla Model 3, Chevy Bolt EV, Kia Niro and Hyundai Kona.

The vehicle’s electric motor produces the equivalent of 408 horsepower and 442 pound-feet of torque that allows the vehicle to go from zero to 60 mph in 4.8 seconds. The battery charges to 80% of its capacity in 40 minutes on a fast-charger system.

The XC40 Recharge is expected to go on sale in the U.S. late 2020.

Here’s what this car of “many firsts” looks like.

[gallery ids="1898424,1898427,1898434,1898428,1898429,1898431,1898432,1898435,1898436,1898426,1898437"]

Live Caption, Google’s automatic captioning technology, is now available on Pixel 4

Live Caption, Google’s automatic captioning system first introduced at its I/O developer conference this May, is now officially available, alongside the launch of the new Pixel 4. But unlike some of the other technologies highlighted at the company’s Pixel hardware event yesterday, Live Caption won’t be limited to Google’s new smartphone alone. After the initial debut on Pixel 4, the automatic captioning technology will roll out to Pixel 3, Pixel 3 XL, Pixel 3a and Pixel 3a XL before the year-end, says Google, and will become more broadly available in 2020.

The company has already offered automatic captions on YouTube for a decade, but that same sort of experience isn’t available across the wider web and mobile devices. For example, Google explains, you can’t read captions for things like the audio messages sent by your friends, on trending videos published elsewhere on social media, and on the content you record yourself.

There’s a significant accessibility issue with the lack of captions in all these places, but there’s a convenience issue, as well.

If you’re in a loud environment, like a commuter train, or trying to watch content privately and forgot your headphones, you may need to just use the captions. Or maybe you don’t want to blare the audio, which disturbs others around you. Or perhaps, you want to see the words appear because you’re having trouble understanding the audio, or just want to be sure to catch every word.

With the launch of the Pixel 4, Live Caption is also available for the first time to the general public.

The technology will capture and automatically caption videos and spoken audio on your device, except for phone and video calls. This captioning all happens in real-time and on your device — not in the cloud. That means it works even if your device lacks a cell signal or access to Wi-Fi. The captions also stay private and don’t leave your phone.

Google Live Caption UIDemo720 16MB

This is similar to how the Pixel 4’s new Recorder app functions. It, too, will do its speech-to-text processing all on your device, in order to give you real-time transcriptions of your meetings, interviews, lectures, or anything else you want to record, without compromising your privacy.

You can launch the Live Captions feature with a tap from the volume slider that appears, then reposition the caption box anything on your screen so it doesn’t get in the way of what you’re viewing.

Currently, the feature supports English only. But Google says it’s working to add more languages in the future.

After today’s launch on Pixel 4 and the rollout to the rest of the modern Pixel line of smartphones this year, it will start to show up in other new Android phones. Google says it’s working with other manufacturers to make the technology available to more people as soon as next year.