Tech stocks walloped as China retaliates in the latest salvo of its trade war with the U.S.

All U.S. stock markets were down severely today, and tech stocks were hit especially hard, as China retaliated to increasing U.S. tariffs by halting imports on U.S. agricultural goods and finally acceded to market pressures by letting the yuan slide in value against the dollar.

At one point, the Dow was down nearly 900 points before staging a late afternoon rally to close off by roughly 760 points. The Nasdaq, the marketplace which is home to a number of technology stocks, saw its value drop by 3.4% or 277.10 points.

Shares of Alphabet (the parent company of Google), Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Microsoft, Netflix, and Twitter were all down for the day. Indeed, as CNBC reported, the biggest tech stocks, Microsoft, Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Alphabet lost a combined $162 billion in market value.

Declines came as China allowed its currency to fall below what was once considered to be a red-line in the country’s currency peg against the dollar. That means that Chinese goods start to look more attractive globally as their prices decline in relation to the dollar. It could also trigger a wave of currency devaluations and protectionist measures across the globe — further putting downward pressure on global economic growth.

Stocks also continued to feel the pinch from the threat that President Donald Trump would make good on his threat to impose new tariffs on goods from China beginning September 1, 2019. Those tariffs are expected to take a bite into every day consumer goods and clothing, which adversely affects tech companies.

The big concern for these tech companies is the looming threat of that tariff expansion from the U.S. If those tariffs go into effect it would have significant consequences in these companies’ home market. 

“Assuming smartphones, tablets, smart watches, and computer systems are not categorically excluded from the final $300B tranche, we expect there will be material impact to Apple hardware product earnings,” analysts from Cowen & Co. wrote in a note quoted by CNBC .

Instagram and Facebook are experiencing outages

Users reported issues with Instagram and Facebook Sunday morning.

The mobile apps wouldn’t load for many users beginning in the early hours of the morning, prompting thousands to take to Twitter to complain about the outage. #facebookdown and #instagramdown are both trending on Twitter at time of publish.

We’ve reached out to Facebook for more information and when they are expecting services to come back online. We’ll update this story when we hear back.

 

MaC Ventures, the brainchild of Adrian Fenty and Marlon Nichols, is quietly making its first investments

MaC Ventures, the new Los Angeles-based investment firm formed from the merger of Cross Culture Ventures and M Ventures, has quietly started deploying capital from its fund.

One of the firm’s first disclosed investments is Edge Delta, which announced a $3 million seed round earlier this week.

The Seattle-based company, which has a tool to predict and identify faulty code and potential security issues in software designed for mobile environments, reflects the new continuing focus on companies that reflect the changing cultural environments throughout the commercial, cultural, and technological worlds.

And if anyone knows anything about downtime and application failures it would be the two co-founders who have held positions at Microsoft, Twitter, and Sumo Logic. That’s the background Ozan Unlu, a Microsoft and Sumo Logic alum, and Fatih Yildiz, who spent years at Twitter and Microsoft, will leverage as they pitch their services. 

“We have reached the inflection point for centralized security analytics, SIEM products like Splunk are struggling to scale and a lack of mature SaaS offerings mean that if customers want to keep up with growth in their environments, innovation is required,” said Will Peteroy, founder and chief executive of ICEBRG (acquired in 2018) and Chief Technology Officer for Security at Gigamon, in a statement.

That innovation is something that M Ventures and Cross Culture have tried to identify according to previous statements from both founders. And the merger between both firms was likely about growth and scale. Both firms have co-invested on a number of deals and both share the same emphasis on cultural shifts that create new opportunities.

Shared portfolio companies between the two firms include Blavity, BlocPower, and Mayvenn, and each reflect a different aspect of the firms’ commitment to the transformations impacting culture and community in the twenty-first century.

BlocPower is focused on urban resiliency and health in the face of new challenges to the power grid; Blavity has become the online community for black creativity and news; and Mayvenn is leveraging the economics of community to create new entrepreneurs and enable new businesses.

For Adrian Fenty and Marlon Nichols —  the two managing general partners of the new fund — and general partners and partners Charles King, Michael Palank, and Alyson DeNardo; MaC Ventures is a logical next step in their progression in the venture business.

Fenty, the former mayor of Washington, and an early special advisor to Andreessen Horowitz seven years ago, has long been interested in the intersection of technology and governance and said that politics was a great introduction to the venture world in an interview with TechCrunch when he joined Andreessen.

“As a mayor you have a lot of districts you work with, and every day is different,” Fenty said, noting that the same could be said for VCs who work with different startups. However, the pace will likely be a bit quicker in this space than it is in the political realm. “I believe that change should happen fast and in big ways, and that’s the tech industry,” he said. “Some of these entrepreneurs and CEOs, their energy and ability to come up with new ideas is infectious.”

As for Nichols, the introduction to venture capital came through work at Intel Capital before striking out with Troy Carter, a limited partner in the MaC Ventures fund, to form Cross Culture.

As the new firm finds its legs, it’s likely that some of the guiding principles that Nichols expressed when talking about Cross Culture will carry over to the new vehicle.

“This is the time to be here,” Nichols said in an interview earlier this year. “If you are going to invest in the companies of tomorrow you have to go where the world is moving to — and that’s black and brown, honestly.”

Facebook and YouTube’s moderation failure is an opportunity to deplatform the platforms

Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter have failed their task of monitoring and moderating the content that appears on their sites; what’s more, they failed to do so well before they knew it was a problem. But their incidental cultivation of fringe views is an opportunity to recast their role as the services they should be rather than the platforms they have tried so hard to become.

The struggles of these juggernauts should be a spur to innovation elsewhere: While the major platforms reap the bitter harvest of years of ignoring the issue, startups can pick up where they left off. There’s no better time to pass someone up as when they’re standing still.

Asymmetrical warfare: Is there a way forward?

At the heart of the content moderation issue is a simple cost imbalance that rewards aggression by bad actors while punishing the platforms themselves.

To begin with, there is the problem of defining bad actors in the first place. This is a cost that must be borne from the outset by the platform: With the exception of certain situations where they can punt (definitions of hate speech or groups for instance), they are responsible for setting the rules on their own turf.

That’s a reasonable enough expectation. But carrying it out is far from trivial; you can’t just say “here’s the line; don’t cross it or you’re out.” It is becoming increasingly clear that these platforms have put themselves in an uncomfortable lose-lose situation.

If they have simple rules, they spend all their time adjudicating borderline cases, exceptions, and misplaced outrage. If they have more granular ones, there is no upper limit on the complexity and they spend all their time defining it to fractal levels of detail.

Both solutions require constant attention and an enormous, highly-organized and informed moderation corps, working in every language and region. No company has shown any real intention to take this on — Facebook famously contracts the responsibility out to shabby operations that cut corners and produce mediocre results (at huge human and monetary cost); YouTube simply waits for disasters to happen and then quibbles unconvincingly.

Twitter tests a new way to label replies

Twitter is testing a new way to make conversation threads easier to follow, with the launch of a new test that labels notable replies with special icons. If the original poster replies somewhere in the thread, their tweet will have a small microphone icon next to their profile picture. Other tweets may be labeled, as well — including those from users who were mentioned in the original tweet and replies from people you’re already following on Twitter.

These will be labeled with the at symbol (@) and a small person icon with a checkmark by it, respectively.

The new test is the latest in a series of experiments Twitter has been running focused on making its product easier to use, particularly when conversations around a tweet become lengthy.

At the beginning of this year, the company first began a test where it labeled the original poster in a conversation thread as the “Original Tweeter.” That may have been a bit too confusing for some, because a few months later, Twitter changed it to “Author.” It then also added two other labels, for people who were mentioned in the original tweet, and those replies from people you’re following.

These, however, were text labels — meaning they took up valuable screen space on small mobile devices. They also cluttered up the already text-heavy interface with more distracting text to read.

The new icons don’t have that problem. But they’re also small and light gray and white in color, which makes them hard to see. In addition, their meaning isn’t necessarily clear to anyone who doesn’t hang around online forums like Reddit, for example, where it’s common to use a microphone to showcase the original poster’s follow-up comments.

It’s also unclear why Twitter thinks users are clamoring to see this information. Highlighting the original poster is fine, I guess, but the other labels seem extraneous.

While this is a minor change, it’s one of many things Twitter is tweaking in the hopes of making its service simpler and more approachable. It’s also running an experimental prototype app called twttr where it’s trying out new ideas around threaded conversations, like using color-coded replies or branching lines to connect tweets and their responses.

A lot of these changes feel a little unnecessary. Twitter isn’t as difficult to understand as the company believes it is.

At the end of the day, it’s a way to publish a public status update and reply to those others have posted. That’s its core value proposition — not live streaming video, not its clickable newsreels it calls “Moments,” and not its article bookmarking tools. Those are useful and fun additions, sure, but optional.

Instead, Twitter’s challenges around user growth aren’t because the service is overly complex, but because a public platform like this is rife for issues around online bullying and abuse, disinformation and propaganda, hate speech, spambots, and everything else that an unmoderated forum would face.

Twitter tests are live now, but not be showing for all users.

Twitter to attempt to address conversation gaps caused by hidden tweets

Twitter’s self-service tools when it comes to blocking content you don’t want to see, as well as a growing tendency for users to delete a lot of the content they post, is making some of the conversations on the platform look like Swiss cheese. The company says it will introduce added “context” on content that’s unavailable in conversations in the next few weeks, however, to help make these gaps at least less mystifying.

There are any number of reasons why tweets in a conversation you stumble upon might not be viewable, including that a poster has a private account, that the tweet was taken down due to a policy violation, that it was deleted after the fact or that specific keywords are muted by a user and present in those posts.

Twitter’s support account notes that the fix will involve providing “more context” alongside the notice that tweets in the conversation are “unavailable,” which, especially when presented in high volume, doesn’t really offer much help to a confused user.

Last year, Twitter introduced a new process for adding additional context and transparency to why an individual tweet was deleted, and it generally seems interested in making sure that conversations on the platform are both easy to follow, and easy to access and understand for users who may not be as familiar with Twitter’s behind-the-scenes machinations.

Twitter launches the ‘Hide Replies’ feature, in hopes of civilizing conversations

Twitter today is beginning its test of a radical and controversial change to its service with the launch of a new “Hide Replies” feature. Effectively, this option gives users the ability to wrestle back control over a conversation they’ve started by hiding any replies they feel aren’t worthy contributions — for example, replies that are irrelevant or outright offensive.

One of the problems with Twitter — and with many social networks, for that matter — is that an otherwise healthy conversation can easily be disrupted by a single individual or a small number of people who don’t contribute in a positive fashion. They come into a thread to start drama or they make inappropriate, rude or even hateful remarks.

Of course, users can choose for themselves to either Mute or Block people like this, which limits their ability to affect their own personal experience on Twitter. But this doesn’t remove their comments from others’ view. The “Hide Replies” feature, however, will.

But it’s not the equivalent of a delete button. In other words, hidden replies are not removed from Twitter entirely, they are just placed behind an icon. If people want to see the hidden replies, they can press this icon to view them.

author1 1

Twitter’s goal with the feature is to encourage more civil conversation on its platform. It could work, as those who want their comments seen by a wide audience will have to find a way to express themselves in an appropriate fashion — without taking the conversation off course or resorting to insults or trolling. Otherwise, they know their replies could be hidden from the default view.

But this change is not without significant downsides.

For example, a user could choose to hide replies that simply (and even politely!) disagreed with their view. This would then create a “filter bubble” where only people who shared the original poster’s same opinion would have their comments prominently displayed. In this case, the feature would be silencing other viewpoints — and that’s in direct opposition to Twitter’s larger goal of creating a public town square on the web, where every voice has a chance to be heard.

More worryingly, a user could choose to hide replies that attempt to correct misinformation or offer a fact check. That’s a significant concern at a time when social media platforms have turned into propaganda dissemination machines, and have been infiltrated by state-supported actors from foreign governments looking to manipulate public sentiment and influence elections.

Twitter claims the feature provides transparency because hidden replies are still available for viewing to anyone who wishes to see them. But this assumes that people will notice the small “hidden replies” icon and bother to click it.

The ability to hide replies is initially available only to users in Canada, but tweets with hidden replies will be accessible by all Twitter users worldwide.

In a statement posted as a series of tweets and replies to others, Twitter explained its goals around the new addition:

We’re testing a feature to hide replies from conversations. This experience will be available for everyone around the world, but at this time, only people in Canada can hide replies to their Tweets…They’ll be hidden from the main conversation for everyone behind a new icon. As long as it hasn’t been deleted and/or is not from an account with protected Tweets, everyone can still interact with a hidden reply by clicking the icon to view. We want everyone on Twitter to have healthy conversations, and we’re working on features that will help people feel more comfortable. We’re testing a way for people to hide replies they feel are irrelevant or offensive.

Twitter had previously confirmed its plans to test a “Hide Replies” feature, and had announced its plan to launch the feature sometime this week.

Social media is due for a course correction, and Twitter at least isn’t afraid to try significant changes to its platform. (It’s even trying a new prototype of its app, called twttr.) However, some would argue that permanent bans on rulebreakers and more attention to enforcing existing policies would negate the need for features like this.

 

Snap turns to search giant Baidu to court Chinese advertisers

Two years have passed since Snap Inc first struck a deal with Baidu that authorized China’s largest search engine to be a reseller of Snapchat ads for companies in Greater China as well as Japan and South Korea, where Baidu runs a portfolio of mobile apps.

This week, the pair announced they have renewed the sales partnership without revealing how revenues are divided between the two and when the extended agreement expires.

Despite being blocked in China like most other western social media services, Snap has shown interest in China in various capacities, including a research and development center in Shenzhen for Spectacles. It’s also serving the country’s game developers, e-commerce merchants and other export-led advertisers who wish to capture the network’s 190 million daily active users around the world.

Facebook and Twitter are in the same overseas ad business in China. Facebook, with an “experience center” in Shenzhen for clients to learn how its ads work, counted China as its second-largest ad spender in 2018, according to Pivotal Research Group. Twitter also holds an annual summit in China for small and medium enterprises going global.

None of the western social giants can go it alone in China, which is why Snap chose Baidu to be its local partner to not only overcome regulatory restrictions on foreign entities but also tap the latter for language support, account management and an extensive advertiser network.

Baidu also intended to resell Facebook ads but did not manage to get a license, a former Facebook employee who wishes to remain anonymous told TechCrunch. Instead, Facebook works with Cheetah Mobile, PapayaMobile and seven other advertising representatives in China.

Through the deal, companies that purchase media through Baidu gain access to all forms of ad slots in Snap’s videos, real-time selfie effects, overlays and more. The return can be satisfying. Besides the opportunity to capture a predominantly young user base, advertisers are reaching a sticky group who, on average, opens Snapchat over 20 times and spends over 30 minutes on the app every day.

“With its young, vibrant user base, Snap’s advertising platform has been instrumental in driving growth for our game AFK Arena,” said Chris Zhang, vice president of Shanghai-based Lilith Games, in a statement.

“Our partnership with Snap Inc. provides Chinese companies new avenues to expand their businesses through Snapchat advertising,” said Sheng Hu, head of U.S. strategy and partnership at Baidu’s Global Business Unit that operates a range of overseas products such as Japanese keyboard app Simeji. “We look forward to connecting with marketing executives in China and beyond on behalf of Snap to discuss the benefits of these advertising solutions.”

Twitter.com launches its big redesign with simpler navigation and more features

Twitter’s website is getting a major overhaul. The company has been testing a new version of its desktop website since the beginning of the year, and today the final product is rolling out to the public. The upgraded experience simplifies navigation with a new — and fairly large — left-hand sidebar that directs you to all of Twitter’s key sections, including Notifications, Direct Messages, Explore, Bookmarks, Lists and more. The site also features an expanded, more inbox-like Direct Messages screen where you can view and respond to conversations in one place; plus easy profile switching, support for more themes, advanced search and other features.

The popular dark modes, Dim and the very black Lights Out mode, are now supported along with more ways to personalize Twitter through different themes and color options.

But the most noticeable change is the organization and layout of the Twitter home screen itself.

Below: the old Twitter.com

Screen Shot 2019 07 15 at 11.03.41 AMBelow: the new Twitter.com

Twitter Web Dark Mode2

The update is designed to make it easier to move around Twitter. Before, you’d have to click on your Profile icon to access features like Lists, Themes, Settings and other options. Meanwhile, getting to Moments was available both in this Profile drop-down menu and in the main Twitter navigation at the top of the screen, next to Notifications and Messages.

Screen Shot 2019 07 15 at 11.04.49 AM

Now, Moments is being downgraded to the “More” menu in the redesign — as seen in a test running earlier this summer — and Explore instead gets the top billing. As on mobile, Explore will direct users to more live videos and personalized local moments, says Twitter. This is also where you’ll find Top Trends, while Personalized Trends will be featured on the right-hand sidebar on the home screen (see above).

In addition, Twitter finally brought the more than year-old Bookmarks feature to the desktop’s main navigation.

With the update, the new navigation menu includes: Home, Explore, Notifications, Messages, Bookmarks, Lists, Profile and More — the latter, a menu where you’ll find things like Moments, Twitter’s ad tools, Settings and other features.

The new Compose feature has been slightly tweaked as well, with options to include a photo, GIF, poll or emoji now all in the bottom left — with the emoji button now swapping in for the location button, following Twitter’s decision to make sharing precise location less of a priority, given its lack of use.

Though the new home screen is arguably better-organized, the navigation text itself and the amount of screen real estate it takes up is overly large.

This detracts somewhat from the main content — the tweets themselves — because your eye is naturally drawn to the oversize navigation labels at first, not the posts flowing in the timeline. This also can be a jarring change to get used to for longtime Twitter.com users. (Good thing there’s a new Mac desktop app on the way.)

Screen Shot 2019 07 15 at 11.49.11 AM

If you really can’t stand the navigation labels’ size, you can make the webpage smaller, which then hides the text labels of the navigation items, leaving only their icons. This, unfortunately, isn’t all that useful if you like to keep Twitter open in a tab alongside all your other tabs. It works better if you pop out Twitter.com into its own window.

The navigation changes were likely a design choice Twitter made, in part, to simplify the use of its product by more casual users and newcomers.

The company has struggled with user growth throughout its history, even changing how it reports metrics to paint a better picture of its business. Now, you’d have to be almost completely web illiterate to not find your way around the new Twitter.com. But only time will tell what effect this has on growing its user base.

Not all the changes will be as controversial as the new layout, though.

For example, the now double-paned Direct Message section is more welcome as it makes using Messages feel more like the real inbox it often is — with the message list on the left and conversations on the right.

Search got an update, as well, which puts tabs for moving between “Top,” “Latest,” “People,” “Photos” and “Videos” at the top of the screen, with Advanced Search Filters to the right.

Screen Shot 2019 07 15 at 11.55.49 AM

And for those with multiple Twitter accounts, you can now switch between them from the main navigation. That’s helpful.

Twitter’s tests of the updated design had been rolling out to more people throughout the year — it even tried two different versions for a time. Throughout this process, the company incorporated some of the user feedback it received. For example, the changes to the Messaging screen and the high priority given to Bookmarks were among the requests Twitter addressed.

But generally speaking, Twitter was aiming to deliver a more consistent, seamless experience across both the phone and the web platforms with this update, a company spokesperson told us.

There’s some bad news for old-school Twitter.com users — as of this public launch of the redesign, there’s no option for going back to the legacy experience, as there was during the testing period.

Twitter says the upgraded look will begin rolling out globally starting today.

Daily Crunch: Twitter will let you hide replies

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. Twitter will start testing its ‘hide replies’ feature next week, in Canada

Before you start complaining about censorship, keep in mind that hidden replies won’t actually get pulled from Twitter — they’ll disappear from the default view, but you can still tap a gray icon to see them.

The goal is to give the person who starts a conversation more control over which comments are visible, making it harder for trolls to jump in and derail things.

2. Ford and Volkswagen team up on EVs, with Ford the first outside automaker to use VW’s MEB platform

This EV tie-up will see Ford using Volkswagen’s platform to develop “at least one” fully electric car for the European market.

3. YouTube is giving creators more ways to make money

The new features include Super Stickers, allowing users to purchase original animated stickers during a live stream or premiere.

4. Amazon said to be launching new Echo speaker with premium sound next year

Amazon has plans for an Echo that more directly competes with high-end speakers like Apple’s HomePod, according to a new report from Bloomberg.

5. FEC says political campaigns can now get discounted cybersecurity help

In a long-awaited decision, the Federal Elections Commission will now allow political campaigns to appoint cybersecurity helpers to protect themselves from cyberthreats and malicious attackers.

6. WPP sells 60% of market research giant Kantar to Bain, valuing Kantar at $4B

Kantar provides stats and insights on how consumers buy and think of products in areas like technology, media and health — we’ve written many stories citing their numbers.

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

Time for a new EC-1, which provides an in-depth profile of a successful startup! This time, we’re focusing on Roblox, a company that took at least a decade to hit its stride. (Extra Crunch membership required.)