Facebook launches a climate change information center and commits to eliminating ‘scope 3’ emissions by 2030

Even as Facebook, the world’s largest social media platform, admits that climate change “is real” and that “the science is unambiguous and the need to act grows more urgent by the day” the platform appears unwilling to take steps to really stand up to the climate change denialism that circulates on its platform. 

The company is set to achieve net zero carbon emissions and be supported fully by renewable energy in its own operations this year.

But as the corporate world slaps a fresh coat of green paint on its business practices, Facebook is looking to get out in front with the launch of a Climate Science Information Center to “connect people with science-based information”.

The company is announcing a new information center, designed after its COVID-19 pandemic response. The center is designed to connect people to factual and up-to-date climate information, according to the company. So far, Facebook says that over 2 billion people have been directed to resources from health authorities with its COVID-19 response.

The company said that it will use The Climate Science Information Center to feature facts, figures, and data from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and their global network of climate science partners, including the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), World Meteorological Organization (WMO) and others. This center is launching in France, Germany, the UK and the US to start. 

While Facebook has been relatively diligent in taking down COVID-19 misinformation that circulates on the platform, removing 7 million posts and labeling another 98 million more for distributing coronavirus misinformation, the company has been accused of being far more sanguine when it comes to climate change propaganda and pseudoscience.

A July article from The New York Times revealed how climate change deniers use the editorial label to skirt Facebook’s policies around climate disinformation. In September 2019 a group called the CO2 Coalition managed to overturn a fact-check that would have labeled a post as misinformation by appealing to Facebook’s often criticized stance on providing and amplifying different opinions. By calling an editorial that contained blatant misinformation on climate science an editorial, the group was able to avoid the types of labels that would have redirected a Facebook user to information from recognized scientific organizations.  

Facebook disputes that characterization. “If it’s labeled an opinion piece, it’s subject to fact checking,” said Chris Cox, the chief product officer at Facebook.

“We look at the stuff that starts to go viral. There’s not a part of our policies that says anything about opinion pieces being exempted at all.”

With much of the Western coast of the United States now on fire, the issues are no longer academic. “We are taking important steps to reduce our emissions and arm our global community with science-based information to make informed decisions and tools to take action, and we hope they demonstrate that Facebook is committed to playing its part and helping to inspire real action in our community,” the company said in a statement.

Beyond its own operations, the company is also pushing to reduce operational greenhouse gases in its secondary supply chain by 75 percent and intends to reach net zero emissions for its value chain — including suppliers and employee commuting and business travel — by 2030, the company said. Facebook did not disclose how much money it would be investing to support that initiative.

Peloton launches new Bike+ and Tread smart home gym equipment, both at $2,495

Peloton has launched two new products for its home smart gym lineup, the Bike+ ($2,495) and the Tread ($2,495). While both carry the same price tag, the new exercise bike joins as the premium version of Peloton’s original stationary cycle, which will remain on sale at $1,895, and the Tread is the new entry-level Peloton treadmill product, with the original becoming the Tread+ at $4,295. Both products were leaked by Bloomberg last week prior to their official unveiling on Tuesday.

The new Peloton Bike+ includes a 23.8″ rotating, HD resolution touchscreen display. It can move 180 degrees in either direction, which is meant to allow at-home exercisers to use the screen (and Peloton’s range of remote workout instruction and classes) while they’re off the bike. There’s also a built-in four-speaker sound system, a one-tap contactless integration with Apple Gymkit that allows you to sync workouts to your Apple Watch, and an Auto-Follow resistance system that scales the resistance of the bike depending on your own target metrics for heart rate and breathing.

As mentioned, the Bike+ retails for $2,495, which is around $600 more than the newly repriced entry-level Bike. It’s going on sale in the U.S., Canada and Germany starting on September 9, and will be available on a financing plan for instalment payments. Peloton will also make it available on a 30-day home trial basis, as it does on its existing equipment.

Likewise the new Tread will be able to be bought over a financing period with instalment payments, and comes with the trial period. It’s set to launch in early 2021 in both the U.S. and Canada, but will go on sale a bit earlier in the UK on December 26, 2020. Germany will also get the new treadmill, but that’ll be later in 2021, according o the company.

Image Credits: Peloton

As for what the Tread provides, it also has a 23.8″ HD touchscreen, but it doesn’t rotate – it does tilt up and down 50 degrees for floor-based workouts, however. The new Tread is “smaller than most couches” according to the company, at 68″ L x 33″ W x 62″ H. It looks like a much more traditional treadmill belt assembly than the one found on the more premium Tread+, but the company points out that it doesn’t have any kind of front shroud housing like you’d find on most treadmills, which does lighten the look of the whole thing.

Peloton also announced a new kind of class called ‘Bike Bootcamp’ that includes strength training to provide a more comprehensive total body workout, alongside cardio exercises. Sounds like the perfect complement to that rotating display on the Bike+, in case it wasn’t clear that the company wants to be the one-stop shop for a holistic home exercise program.

In case any recent Peloton purchasers were feeling buyer’s remorse about the new gear, Peloton says that’ it’s automatically refunding anyone who are still in their 30-day home trial period, or who are still waiting for the Bike to be delivered, in order to instantly provide them the $350 price drop that they’ve instituted for the original exercise bike. Anyone who falls in that group and wants to swap for the upgraded model will also be able to do that while paying the difference.

Image Credits: Peloton

Meanwhile, if you’re not a recent purchaser but still would like some new gear, Peloton is extending a trade-in offer to current Bike owners that will provide them a $700 rebate, along with a Yoga & Training accessory equipment set, and free pick-up of your old bike when they deliver your new one. Not a bad upgrade incentive.

Fairphone’s new flagship, the 3+, costs just €70 as a modular upgrade

Dutch social enterprise, Fairphone, has moved a little closer to the sustainability dream of a circular economy by announcing the launch of a modular upgrade for its flagship smartphone.

The backwards compatible hardware units mean users of last year’s Fairphone 3 only need swap out a few modules to be holding the Fairphone 3+ in their hand instead of buying a whole new device.

Fairphone pulled off a similar feat with an earlier model of its ‘ethical smartphone’ but this time it’s managed to shrink the time it took it to offer ‘plug and play’ upgrade modules for its latest gen device.

“What we’ve been able to do is get that whole idea of plug and play to the consumer within the smartphone business,” says Fairphone co-founder Bas van Abel . “That part is not trivial because you have to imagine that getting everything into that module and being able to put it into the old phone… Not only the hardware has to fit and everything has to connect in the right way in that previous kind of architecture but also the software.

“But we’ve been able to do that, and it took some time but we’ve done it way faster than we were able to do it with the Fairphone 2. So we’re proud of that as well.”

“The most important part is it’s really also a signal towards the industry that it’s possible to do upgrades with your phone and not have to come out with a totally new phone every year,” he adds.

Finding clever ways to extend device longevity is a core plank of Fairphone’s mission. The biggest resource sinkhole associated with smartphone consumption is the annual or biennial upgrade cycle which encourages consumers to swap perfectly functional phones for a shiny new model. Fairphone 3 owners can get its latest kit with a cleaner conscience.

Fairphone is selling the Fairphone 3+ camera and audio modules separately for current Fairphone 3 users — at an initial cost of €70 until the end of September (rising to ~€95 from October).

It is also selling a Fairphone 3+ handset for an RRP of €469, aimed at new to the brand users — opening up pre-sales from today on its website and via partner retailers, with a release date of September 14 across Europe.

Specs wise, the 4G Fairphone 3+ has a 5.7in Full-HD display with an 18:9 aspect ratio and is powered by a Qualcomm Snapdragon 632 chipset. Out of the box it runs Android 10. On board there’s 4GB of RAM and 64GB of ROM, expandable via microSD. The removable battery is 3,000mAh. There’s also Bluetooth 5.0, NFC and a fingerprint scanner.  

van Abel confirms the business will continue to sell last year’s flagship — but at a reduced price of around €400.

The 3+ modules are only backwards compatible one generation of Fairphone which means anyone still using a Fairphone 2 can’t get this plug and play upgrade. The blocker there is the core module, per van Abel, who says not being able to swap the SOC out for an upgraded chipset remains the biggest challenge for modular upgrades that are able to span more than one smartphone generation.

“Our vision is definitely there that you can also eventually replace the core module… where the modem and the processor is,” he says, hazarding that it might be possible “within a couple of years”.

However the wider issue is the component industry still moves so fast it remains way out of step with Fairphone’s goal of longevity. The social enterprise pledges to provide up to five years of support for each device it sells, meaning it needs relevant spare parts to still be available in order that it can offer replacements or else stockpile them itself — a capital intensive process. And one that’s at sharp odds with the blistering upgrade trajectory of processor manufacturers.

From a sustainability and resource perspective, the best option is also for a smartphone user to keep using the same chipset for as long as possible. The maturity of the smartphone market and commoditization of the tech — leading to the more iterative device refreshes we generally see now — also tacitly supports that.

van Abel can point to consumers holding onto a handset for an average of about double the time they did when Fairphone got started. It’s a drift that’s providing uplift to environmentally sensitive brand focused on innovating to produce smartphones with a longer lifespan.

“We’ve done a lifecycle assessment on the Fairphone 3 and what comes out of that we’ve also tested what parts of the phone have what kind of footprint and you also see that almost 80% of the CO2 footprint of the phone is within the making and the production of the SOC,” he says. “So that means that if you really want to look at it from a sustainability perspective it really makes sense to keep that part of the phone just as long as possible. Because most of the harm on nature is on that part. So even replacing that part — being able to swap that part — it’s great but it’s kind of a shame that we throw away a lot of stuff and modules and components in the phone.”

“Recycling in the phone business at the moment is plain stupid,” he adds. “How it’s done is you collect the phones and they put them in an oven — they burn them. And then they get the minerals out… You can still reuse the minerals but there’s nothing smart about that. Nothing really has been reused so all the capacitors, the glass of the screen… So it does make sense at a certain point to being also able to swap the processor like you were able to do with the computers in the old days.”

When we reviewed the Fairphone 3 last year we were impressed by how normal the Android device felt — belying its modular, deconstructable interior and all the years of effort Fairphone has ploughed into scrutinising and reworking supply chains to be able to stand up its bold claim of a phone that “dares to be fair”.

Now, with the launch of the Fairphone 3+ modules, last year’s handset is getting a boost to its camera hardware — with a 48MP main lens and a 16MP front-facing lens offered as replacements to last year’s 12MP and 8MP units via the new modules (the main and front modules can be purchased separately or as an upgrade bundle).

On the surface that looks like a huge step up in hardware but it’s down to the camera module using the Samsung GM1 sensor — which uses tiny pixels of 0.8-micro to deliver light sensitivity equal to 1.6-micro pixels.

So it’s actually a software technique to eke more out of the hardware, with a trade off in that it entails some compression of picture quality. A Fairphone spokeswoman confirmed the main lens’ “effective output” is still 12MP. “This is common practice in the industry with phones such as the Samsung S5KGM1, Samsung Galaxy A90 5G, Nokia 7.2 and the Sony IMX363,” she added.

As we noted in our review of the Fairphone 3 last September, the 2019 flagship took a fairly standard snap — with photo quality closer to acceptable, than stand out. The performance gap vs the premium end of the smartphone market was noticeable, even as Fairphone had substantially bested performance vs its earlier handsets.

The company looks keen to further shrink the photo quality gap. Now it touts “significantly” improved photo and video quality via the 3+ upgrade — which it says supports “sharper selfies and clearer video calls”.

It’s also done work to optimize the software, noting support for enhanced object tracking, faster autofocus and image stabilization “for more reliable shots”. While the new audio module serves “louder, crisper sound”, per its press release.

A focus on boosting photo and video performance makes sense given how central the camera has become for smartphone users — feeding into the rise of trendy social video sharing apps like TikTok.

Successfully convincing consumers to hold onto their existing handset for longer means paying attention to such app trends to make sure hardware and software are keeping up with how people are using their phones.

For buyers of the Fairphone 3+ handset there’s another improvement: It boasts 40% recycled plastics — up from just 9% in last year’s model. Fairphone says the volume of recycled plastics is now equivalent to a 33cl plastic drinking bottle — so that’s one piece of plastic waste prevented from ending up in the sea (for now).

While some might wonder if there’s a subtle contradiction in a sustainable smartphone brand launching a new model only a year after unboxing last year’s flagship, van Abel says expanding the portfolio in important — as part of the overall mission to grow demand for ethical smartphones.

That demand is in turn needed to build momentum for the kind of industry-wide shift required for a wholesale upgrade to a circular economy. And the potential of offering devices as a services.

“We want to sell as many phones as possible — because our mission is to show that there is a demand for ethical phones,” he tells TechCrunch. “So the more phones we sell the more we can show that the demand is really there. But that also makes a problem in terms of longevity so we have another KPI where we say we want people to use our phone as long as possible — so we measure how long people actually use our phones and that’s improving every year as well. So a sales person at Fairphone they get a very hard kind of assignment because they have to sell as many phones as possible but they can’t approach people that already have them.”

“We’re challenging ourselves to disconnect the business model from these resources as much as possible but because we take that challenge in the core of our business I think we’re also ahead of where the industry needs to move towards,” he adds.

“Nobody can neglect the fact that we’re running out of resources and it’s getting harder and harder to get these resources. Look at cobalt, for example. Lithium ion batteries. There’s a run on cobalt. It’s gone like 10x, 20x the price it used to be — because we have this energy transition that we need all kinds of batteries for. So even sustainability needs these resources that you can’t get purely from recycling. So we know that this has to change. Even for geopolitical reasons I think that what we’re doing forces us to be ahead of the game.”

Demand for Fairphones has been building steadily over the past decade and the social enterprise is now “almost” at profitability, per van Abel. “We’ve sold over 200k phones — of which 60k were Fairphone 1s. We’ve sold over 100k Fairphone 2s. And last year we sold almost 50k Fairphone 3s and this year we’re aiming for over 100k Fairphone 3+,” he says.

“We’ve never had a portfolio. Now we actually have a portfolio of two phones, Fairphone 3 and 3+, because we’re going to sell the 3 as well at a lower price with the older modules — the previous modules — and the 3+ with the new modules. So that we also have a price point for people that don’t need the newest camera improvements.”

Fairphone remains very much a European project — one that’s perfectly positioned to benefit from a pan-EU push towards sustainability and a circular economy in the coming years. (A ‘right to repair’ Commission proposal for mobiles certainly looks helpful.)

For now, the biggest market for Fairphones is still Germany, per van Abel. While he says its focus for sales of the new portfolio is to push for more growth in Germany, with France, Holland and the UK its other main markets of continued focus. “We’re aiming more also at Scandinavia,” he adds.

“The danger of a commoditizing industry is where you get a lot of easy, cheap access to all these technologies and you see it moving towards two sides: The high end and the really low end stuff. But I hope that customers will also value the companies themselves, and the brands and what they stand for. Whereas [iPhone maker] Apple stands for design; they have a premium to it — you buy something more than just the phone. And I think Fairphone has that as well.

“We have a compelling story. Especially you see the group of conscious consuming growing within every report I read. You see it growing steadily each year. So people do take more notice of what they actually buy.”

Funding wise, the social enterprise is comfortably positioned with the debt, equity and growth financing it raised a few years back from impact investors. Though van Abel moots the possibility of taking in more funding to put towards marketing and help it keep scaling.

“But at the moment we’re good,” he adds. “The impact investors are very patient. It goes with the mission of the company. I think people really are part of Fairphone — participate in this company because they believe not only in the cash return but also in the impact.”

He also notes that Fairphone is also doing separate financing for some related initiatives in the supply chain which are required to underpin its claim of fair and ethical electronics.

“A good example of that is the fair cobalt alliance that we’ve just set up,” he says. “We’re really proud of that. We have set up a great consortium with mining companies, with refineries, with big companies like Signify, that are part of that supply chain of cobalt. It’s partly funded, as well, by the Dutch government. So we have more of a broker position — and that is the nice thing about being a social enterprise. You sometimes can be in between the non-profit and the for-profit sector. You can bridge easily those two worlds.”

Ford, Bosch and Bedrock announce an automated valet parking garage in Detroit

Ford, Bosch and Bedrock today announced an automated valet parking demonstration in downtown Detroit. This system is designed to allow drivers to exit a vehicle and the vehicle would park itself in the parking structure.

Systems in a Ford Escape test vehicle communicate with Bosch sensors to locate an empty parking location and move the vehicle into the spot. This system includes safeguards that allows the vehicle to react and respond to objects and pedestrians in the drive path. The vehicle-to-infrastructure communication platform can be deployed via original construction or retrofitted solutions.

Bosch has been building similar systems for several years. The technology company partnered with Daimler in 2017 to build an automated valet system for the Mercedes-Benz Museum in Stuttgart, Germany. In 2019 the two companies received approval from German regulators to run the automated driverless parking function without a human safety driver behind the wheel. This made the system the world’s first fully automated driverless SAE Level 4 parking function to be officially approved for everyday use.

The demonstration announced today is located in Assembly Garage, a parking structure in Detroit’s Corktown neighborhood near the Ford-owned Michigan Central Station. The highly controlled demonstration will be on display through the end of September and available for viewing through scheduled tours.

According to the partnership, an automated valet system can accommodate up to 20% more vehicles, along with eventually offering additional services such as charging, refueling, or going through a car wash.

This partnership is located in a 40-mile corridor between downtown Detroit and Ann Arbor, Michigan that will is dedicated to developing systems for autonomous vehicles. To be built by Cavnue and a list of automotive partners, the company envisions numerous corridors designed for autonomous shuttles and buses, as well as trucks and personal vehicles.

Cavnue is joined by partners Ford, GM, Argo AI, Arrival, BMW, Honda, Toyota, TuSimple and Waymo on standards to develop the physical and digital infrastructure needed to move connected and autonomous cars out of pilot projects and onto America’s highways, freeways, interstates and city streets.

Today’s automated valet announcement was praised by the City of Detroit and the State of Michigan with Detroit’s Mayor and the state’s Lt. Governor joining representatives from Ford, Bosch and Bedrock in announcing the development.

After building a similar system with Daimler, Bosch’s partnership with Ford speaks to the lowering cost of entry to the technology. Ford’s demonstration today used a compact SUV with an average price of around $25,000. Daimler’s early systems relied on Mercedes-Benz vehicles costing over $100,000.

Ford CTO Ken Washington says the company is not ready to announce when the valet technology will hit production vehicles. He said today automated valet parking is on the company’s roadmap and the company has heard “loud and clear” that parking is a real pain point.

Xiaomi reports 3.1% revenue growth in Q2 despite restricted production in India

Xiaomi reported a revenue of $7.77 billion for the quarter that ended in June this year, up 3.1% since the same period last year and up 7.7% over the previous quarter as the Chinese smartphone maker sees recovery in most of its overseas markets.

The company, which appointed Alain Lam (former APAC senior executive from Credit Suisse) as its new CFO this week, said its profit in the second quarter stood at $650 million, up 129.8% year-on-year and 108% compared to Q1 2020.

Its smartphone sales, which still account for the bulk of its revenue, has recovered in most of its international markets. Excluding India, the average daily number of overseas smartphone activations reached 120% of the pre-pandemic level recorded in January 2020, it said.

India, its biggest market outside of China, is a different story. New Delhi ordered a nationwide lockdown in late March that resulted in closing of most shops across the nation. Package delivery of “non-essential” items ordered online were also restricted for weeks.

Even as India, where Xiaomi has been the top smartphone vendor for the last 12 quarters, has eased lockdown restrictions in the months since, daily number of smartphone activations were still at 72% (compared to January 2020) as of last month, Xiaomi said in its quarterly earnings presentation today.

Xiaomi said local production yields are to be blamed. “As the production capacity had not yet returned to the normal level, our sales were still limited by the production constraints,” it said.

The company has found a silver lining in Europe. In the second quarter of 2020, according to research firm Canalys, Xiaomi’s smartphone shipments grew by 64.9% year-on-year in Europe, achieving a total market share of 16.8%.

In Western Europe, Xiaomi’s smartphone shipments grew 115.9% year-on-year, accounting for a 12.4% market share. Similarly, according to Canalys, Xiaomi commanded the top smartphone vendor position in Spain, second in France, and 4th in Germany and Italy.

The company said shipment of its premium smartphones — those that sell at retail price of €300 ($350) or more — grew 99.2% year-on-year in international markets. “Driven by the higher proportion of sales from mid- to high-end smartphones, the average selling price of the company’s smartphones increased by 11.8% YoY and 7.5% QoQ,” it added.

The smartphone giant, which has been attempting to grow its advertisement business, said there were 343.5 million MIUI users as of June 30 this year, up 23.3% year-over-year. MIUI is Xiaomi’s custom Android operating system that runs on the vast majority of its smartphones. (Xiaomi has also launched a handful of smartphones with pure Android version.)

As the company’s smartphone install base grows, its advertising revenue is also surging. In the second quarter of 2020, its advertising revenue increased by 23.2% year-on-year to $450 million, it said.

Here are four areas the $311 billion CPPIB investment fund thinks will be impacted by COVID-19

The Canadian Pension Plan Investment Board, an asset manager controlling around $311 billion in assets for the Canada’s pensioners and retirees, has identified four key industries that are set to experience massive changes as a result of the global economic response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The firm expects the massive changes in e-commerce, healthcare, logistics, and urban infrastructure to remain in place for an extended period of time and is urging investors to rethink their approaches to each as a result.

“It really ties into the mandate that we have in thematic investing,” said Leon Pedersen, the head of Thematic Investments at CPPIB.

There was a realization at the firm that structural changes were happening and that there was value for the fund manager in ensuring that the changes were being addressed across its broad investment portfolio. “We have a long term mandate and we have a long term investment horizon so we can afford to think long term in our investment outlook,” Pedersen said.

The Thematic Investments group within CPPIB will make mid-cap, small-cap and private investments in companies that reflect the firm’s long term theses, according to Pedersen. So not only does this survey indicate where the firm sees certain industries going, but it’s also a sign of where CPPIB might commit some investment capital.

The research, culled from international surveys with over 3,500 respondents as well as intensive conversations with the firm’s investment professionals and portfolio companies, indicates that there’s likely a new baseline in e-commerce usage that will continue to drive growth among companies that offer blended retail offerings and that offices are likely never going to return to full-time occupancy by every corporate employee.

Already CPPIB has made investments in companies like Fabric, a warehouse management and automation company.

The e-commerce wave has crested, but the tide may turn

Amid the good news for e-commerce companies is a word of warning for companies in the online grocery space. While usage surged to 31 percent of U.S. households, up from 13 percent in August, consumers gave the service poor marks and many grocers are actually losing money on online orders. The move online also favored bigger omni-channel vendors like Amazon and Walmart, the study found.

The CPPIB also found that there may be opportunities for brick and mortar vendors in the aftermath of the epidemic. As younger consumers return to shopping center they’re going to find fewer retailers available, since bankruptcies are coming in both the US and Europe. That could open the door for new brands to emerge. Meanwhile, in China, more consumers are moving offline with malls growing and customers returning to shopping centers.

Some of the biggest winners will actually be online entertainment and cashless payments — since fewer stores are accepting cash and music and video streaming represent low-risk, easier options than live events or movie theaters.

LOS ANGELES, CA – MAY 30: General views of tourists and shoppers returning to the Hollywood & Highland shopping mall for the first weekend of in-store retail business being open since COVID-19 closures began in mid-March on May 30, 2020 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by AaronP/Bauer-Griffin/GC Images)

Healthcare goes digital and privacy matters more than ever

Consumers in the West, already reluctant to hand over personal information, have become even more sensitive to government handling of their information despite the public health benefits of tracking and tracing, according to the CPPIB. In Germany and the U.S. half of consumers said they had concerns about sharing their data with government or corporations, compared with less than 20 percent of Chinese survey respondents.

However, even as people are more reluctant to share personal information with governments or corporations, they’re becoming more willing to share personal information over technology platforms. One-third of the patients who used tele-medical services in the U.S. during the pandemic did so for the first time. And roughly twenty percent of the nation had a telemedicine consultation over the course of the year, according to CPPIB data.

Technologies that improve the experience are likely to do well, because of the people who did try telemedicine, satisfaction levels in the service went down.

DENVER, CO – MARCH 12: Healthcare workers from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment check in with people waiting to be tested for COVID-19 at the state’s first drive-up testing center on March 12, 2020 in Denver, Colorado. The testing center is free and available to anyone who has a note from a doctor confirming they meet the criteria to be tested for the virus. (Photo by Michael Ciaglo/Getty Images)

Cities and infrastructure will change

“From mass transit to public gatherings, few areas of urban life will be left unmarked by COVID-19,” write the CPPIB report authors.

Remote work will accelerate dramatically changing the complexion of downtown environments as the breadth of amenities on offer will spread to suburban communities where residents flock.  According to CPPIB’s data roughly half of workers in China, the UK and the US worked from home during the pandemic, up from 5 percent or less in 2019. In Canada, four-in-ten Canadian were telecommuting.

To that end, the CPPIB sees opportunities for companies enabling remote work (including security, collaboration and productivity technologies) and automating business practices. On the flip side, for those workers who remain wedded to the office by necessity or natural inclination, there’s going to need to be cleaning and sanitation services and someone’s going to have to provide some COVID-19 specific tools.

With personal space at a premium, public transit and ride hailing is expected to take a hit as well, according to the CPPIB report.

New York City, NY is shown in the above Maxar satellite image. Image Credit: Maxar

Supply chains become the ties that bind in a distributed, virtual world

As more aspects of daily life become socially distanced and digital, supply chains will assume an even more central position in the economy.

“Amid rising labor costs and heightened geopolitical risk, companies today are focused on resilience,” write the CPPIB authors.

Companies are reassessing their reliance on Chinese manufacturing since political pressure is coming from more regions on Chinese suppliers thanks to the internment of the Uighur population in Xinjiang and the crackdown on Hong Kong’s democratic and open society. According to CPPIB, India, Southeast Asia, and regional players like Mexico and Poland are best positioned to benefit from this supply chain diversification. Supply chain management software providers, and robotics and automation services stand to benefit.

“Confined to their homes for months and subjected to a rapid reordering of their perceived health risks and economic prospects, consumers are emerging from a shared trauma that will change their priorities and concerns for years to come,” the CPPIB study’s authors write.

Omio takes $100M to shuttle through the coronavirus crisis

Multimodal travel platform Omio (formerly GoEuro) has raised $100M in late stage funding to help see its business through the coronavirus crisis. It also says it’s eyeing potential M&A opportunities within the hard-hit sector.

New and existing investors in the Berlin -based startup participated in the late stage convertible note, although omio isn’t disclosing any new names. Among the list of returning investors are: Temasek, Kinnevik, Goldman Sachs, NEA and Kleiner Perkins. Omio’s business has now pulled in around $400M in total since being founded back in 2013 — with the prior raise being a $150M round back in 2018.

In a supporting statement on the latest raise, Georgi Ganev, CEO of Kinnevik, said: “We are very impressed how fast and effective Omio adapted to such an unprecedented crisis for the global travel industry. The management team has delivered quickly and we can see the robustness of the business model which is well diversified across markets and transport modes. We are looking forward to supporting Omio on its way to become the go-to destination for travellers across the world.”

While COVID-19 has thrown up major headwinds to global tourism and travel — with foreign trips discouraged by specific government quarantine requirements, and the overarching requirement for people to maintain social distancing meaning certain types of holidays or activities are less attractive or even feasible, Omio is nonetheless sounding upbeat — reporting a partial recovery in bookings this summer in Europe.

In Germany and France it says bookings are above 50% of the pre-COVID-19 level at this point, despite only “marginal” marketing spend over the crisis period.

Its business is likely better positioned than some in the travel space to adapt to changes in how people are moving around and holidaying, given it caters to multiple modes of transport. The travel aggregator platform spans flights, rail, buses and even ferry routes, allowing users to quickly compare different modes of transport for their planned journey.

More recently Omio has added car sharing and car rentals to its platform, including via a partnership with rentalcars.com. So as travellers in Europe have adapted to living with COVID-19 — perhaps opting to take more local trips and/or avoiding mass transit when they go on holiday — it’s in a strong position to cater to changing demand through its partnerships with ground transportation networks and providers.

“That diversification in terms of not depending on a single mode of transport has really helped the business come back much stronger, because we’re not depending on — for example — air or bus,” CEO and founder Naren Shaam tells TechCrunch. “The diversification has helped us.”

“People will travel a lot more to smaller regions, explore the countryside a little more,” he predicts, suggesting the current dilution of travel focus it’s seeing — away from usual tourist hotspot destinations in favor of a broader, more rural mix of places — augurs a wider shift to more a diversified, more sustainable type of travel being here to stay.

“It’s not longer just airport to airport travel,” he notes. “People are traveling to where they want to go — and it’s a lot more distributed across geographies, where people want to explore. A platform like ours can accelerate this behaviour because we serve, not just flights, but trains, buses, even ferries etc, you can actually reach any destination with us.”

Direct booking via Omio’s platform is possible where it has partner agreements in place (so not universally across all routes, though it may still be able to offer route planning info).

Its multimodal booking mix extends to 37 countries in Europe and North America — where it launched at the start of this year. Last year it acquired Rome2Rio, bulking out its global flight and transport planning inventory. The grand vision is “all transport, end to end, in a single product”, as Shaam puts it — although executing on that means continuing to build out partnerships and integrations across its market footprint. 

Asked whether the new funding will give Omio enough headroom to see it through the current coronavirus crisis, Shaam tells TechCrunch: “The unknown unknown is how long the crisis lasts. But as we can see if the crisis lasts a couple of years we will make it through that.”

He says the raise will help the business come out of the crisis “stronger” — by enabling Omio to spend on adapting its product to meet changing consumer demand, such as the shift to ground transportation. “All of those things we can use these capital to shape the future of how the travel industry actually interacts with consumers,” he suggests.

Another shift in the industry that’s been triggered by the coronavirus relates to consumer expectations around information. In short, people expect a lot more travel intel up front.

“We have hypotheses on what comes back [post-crisis]. I think travel will be a lot more information centric, especially coming out of COVID-19. Customers will seek clarity in the near term around basic information around what regions can I travel to, do I need to quarantine, do I need to wear a mask inside the train etc,” he says.

“But that’ll drive a type of consumer behavior where they are seeking more information and companies will need to provide this information to satisfy the consumer needs of the future. Because consumers are getting used to having relevant information at the right point in time. So it’s not a data dump of all information… it’s when I get to the train station, what do I need to do?

“Each of those is almost hyperlocal in terms of information and that’s going to drive a change in consumer behaviour.”

Omio’s initial response to this need for more information up front was the launch of a hub — called the Open Travel Index — where users can look up information on restrictions related to specific destinations to help them plan their journey.

However he admits it’s a struggle to keep up with requirements that can switch over night (in one recent example, the UK added France to a list of countries from which returning travellers must self quarantine for two weeks — leading to a mad dash by scores of holidaymakers trying to beat a 4am deadline to get back on UK soil).

“This is a product we launched about a month and a half ago that tells you, if you’re based in the UK, where you can go in Europe,” he says. “We need to update it faster because information’s changing very, very quickly — so it’s on us now to figure out how to keep up with the constant changes of information.”

Discussing other COVID-19 changes, Shaam points to the shift to apps that’s being accelerated by the public health crisis — a trend that’s being replicated in multiple industries of course, not just travel.

“More than half of the ground transport industry was booked at a kiosk at a station [before COVID-19]. So this will drive a clear change with people uncomfortable touching a kiosk button,” he adds, arguing that that shift will help create better consumer products in the sector.

“If you imagine the kind of consumer products that the app/web world has created you can imagine that should come to the consumer experiences in travel,” he suggests. “So these are the things, I think, that will come in terms of consumer behavior and it’s up to us to make sure that we lead that change as a company.”

“We’re investing quite heavily in some of the other shifts that we’re seeing — in terms of days to departure, flexibility of fares, more insurance type products so you can cancel,” he adds. “We’re also trying to help customers in terms of whether they can go.

“We’re investing heavily in routing so you can connect modes of transport, not just flights, so you can travel longer distances with just trains. And we’re also in talks with all our suppliers to say hey, how can we help you come back — because not all suppliers are state monopolies. There’s a lot of small, medium suppliers on our product and we want to bring them back as well so we’re investing there as well.”

On M&A, Shaam says growth via acquisition is “definitely on the radar for us”. Though he also says it’s not top of the priority list right now.

“We’ve actively got our ears out. More so now, going forward, than looking back — because the last four months, imagine what we went through as a travel company, I just wanted to stablize that situation and bring us to a stable position,” he says.

“We are still in COVID-19. The situation’s not yet over, so our primary goal coming out of this is very much investing in the shifts in consumer behavior in our core product… Any M&A acquisitions we’ll do is more opportunistic, based on [factors like] pricing and what’s happening in the industry.

“But more of our capital and my time and everything will go a lot more to build the future of transport. Because that’s going to change so much more for so many millions of consumers that use our product today.”

There is still plenty of work that can be done on Omio’s core proposition — aka, linking up natural travel search for consumers by knitting together a diverse mix and range of service providers in a way that shrinks the strain of travel planning, and building out support for even more multifaceted trips people might wish to take in future.

“No one brings the natural search for consumers. Consumers just want to go London to Portsmouth. They don’t say ‘London Portsmouth train’. They do that today because that’s what the industry forces them to do — so by enabling this core product to work where you can search any modes of transport, anywhere in Europe, one click to buy, everything is a simple, mobile ticket, and you use the whole product on the app — that’s the big driver for the industry,” Shaam adds.

“On top of that you’ve got shifts towards ground transport, shifts towards app, shifts towards sustainability, which is a big topic — even pre-COVID-19 — that we can actually help drive even more change coming out of this. These are the bigger opportunities for us.”

Uncertainty clearly remains a constant for the travel sector now that COVID-19 has become a terrible ‘new normal’. So even with an unexpected summer travel bump in Europe it remains to be seen what will happen in the coming months as the region moves from summer to winter.

“In general the overall business outlook we’re taking is purely something of more caution,” says Shaam. “We just don’t know. Anything at all with respect to COVID-19, no one knows, basically. I’ve seen a number of reports in the industry but no one really knows. So in general our outlook is one of caution. And that’s why we were surprised in our uptick already through the summer. We didn’t even expect that kind of growth with near zero marketing spend levels.”

“We’ll adapt,” he adds. “The business is high variable costs so we can scale up and down fairly easily, so it’s asset light and these things help us adapt. And let’s see what happens in the winter.”

Over in the US — where Omio happened to launch slightly ahead of the COVID-19 crisis — he says it’s been a very different story, with no bookings bump. “No surprise, given the situation there,” he says, emphasizing the importance of government interventions to help control the spread of the virus.

“Governments play a very important role here. Europe has done a superior job compared to a lot of other regions in the world… But entire economies [in the region] depend on tourism,” he says. “Hopefully entire [European] countries shouldn’t go into shutdowns again because the systems are strong enough to identify local spike in cases and they ring fence it very quickly and can act on it. It’s the same as us as a company. If there’s a second wave we know how to react because we’ve gone through this horrible phrase one… So using those learnings and applying them quickly I think will help stabilize the industry as a whole.”

Legal clouds gather over US cloud services, after CJEU ruling

In the wake of yesterday’s landmark ruling by Europe’s top court — striking down a flagship transatlantic data transfer framework called Privacy Shield, and cranking up the legal uncertainty around processing EU citizens’ data in the U.S. in the process — Europe’s lead data protection regulator has fired its own warning shot at the region’s data protection authorities (DPAs), essentially telling them to get on and do the job of intervening to stop people’s data flowing to third countries where it’s at risk.

Countries like the U.S.

The original complaint that led to the Court of Justice of the EU (CJEU) ruling focused on Facebook’s use of a data transfer mechanism called Standard Contractual Clauses (SCCs) to authorize moving EU users’ data to the U.S. for processing.

Complainant Max Schrems asked the Irish Data Protection Commission (DPC) to suspend Facebook’s SCC data transfers in light of U.S. government mass surveillance programs. Instead, the regulator went to court to raise wider concerns about the legality of the transfer mechanism.

That in turn led Europe’s top judges to nuke the Commission’s adequacy decision, which underpinned the EU-U.S. Privacy Shield — meaning the U.S. no longer has a special arrangement greasing the flow of personal data from the EU. Yet, at the time of writing, Facebook is still using SCCs to process EU users’ data in the U.S. Much has changed, but the data hasn’t stopped flowing — yet.

Yesterday the tech giant said it would “carefully consider” the findings and implications of the CJEU decision on Privacy Shield, adding that it looked forward to “regulatory guidance.” It certainly didn’t offer to proactively flip a kill switch and stop the processing itself.

Ireland’s DPA, meanwhile, which is Facebook’s lead data regulator in the region, sidestepped questions over what action it would be taking in the wake of yesterday’s ruling — saying it (also) needed (more) time to study the legal nuances.

The DPC’s statement also only went so far as to say the use of SCCs for taking data to the U.S. for processing is “questionable” — adding that case by case analysis would be key.

The regulator remains the focus of sustained criticism in Europe over its enforcement record for major cross-border data protection complaints — with still zero decisions issued more than two years after the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) came into force, and an ever-growing backlog of open investigations into the data processing activities of platform giants.

In May, the DPC finally submitted to other DPAs for review its first draft decision on a cross-border case (an investigation into a Twitter security breach), saying it hoped the decision would be finalized in July. At the time of writing we’re still waiting for the bloc’s regulators to reach consensus on that.

The painstaking pace of enforcement around Europe’s flagship data protection framework remains a problem for EU lawmakers — whose two-year review last month called for uniformly “vigorous” enforcement by regulators.

The European Data Protection Supervisor (EDPS) made a similar call today, in the wake of the Schrems II ruling — which only looks set to further complicate the process of regulating data flows by piling yet more work on the desks of underfunded DPAs.

“European supervisory authorities have the duty to diligently enforce the applicable data protection legislation and, where appropriate, to suspend or prohibit transfers of data to a third country,” writes EDPS Wojciech Wiewiórowski, in a statement, which warns against further dithering or can-kicking on the intervention front.

“The EDPS will continue to strive, as a member of the European Data Protection Board (EDPB), to achieve the necessary coherent approach among the European supervisory authorities in the implementation of the EU framework for international transfers of personal data,” he goes on, calling for more joint working by the bloc’s DPAs.

Wiewiórowski’s statement also highlights what he dubs “welcome clarifications” regarding the responsibilities of data controllers and European DPAs — to “take into account the risks linked to the access to personal data by the public authorities of third countries.”

“As the supervisory authority of the EU institutions, bodies, offices and agencies, the EDPS is carefully analysing the consequences of the judgment on the contracts concluded by EU institutions, bodies, offices and agencies. The example of the recent EDPS’ own-initiative investigation into European institutions’ use of Microsoft products and services confirms the importance of this challenge,” he adds.

Part of the complexity of enforcement of Europe’s data protection rules is the lack of a single authority; a varied patchwork of supervisory authorities responsible for investigating complaints and issuing decisions.

Now, with a CJEU ruling that calls for regulators to assess third countries themselves — to determine whether the use of SCCs is valid in a particular use-case and country — there’s a risk of further fragmentation should different DPAs jump to different conclusions.

Yesterday, in its response to the CJEU decision, Hamburg’s DPA criticized the judges for not also striking down SCCs, saying it was “inconsistent” for them to invalidate Privacy Shield yet allow this other mechanism for international transfers. Supervisory authorities in Germany and Europe must now quickly agree how to deal with companies that continue to rely illegally on the Privacy Shield, the DPA warned.

In the statement, Hamburg’s data commissioner, Johannes Caspar, added: “Difficult times are looming for international data traffic.”

He also shot off a blunt warning that: “Data transmission to countries without an adequate level of data protection will… no longer be permitted in the future.”

Compare and contrast that with the Irish DPC talking about use of SCCs being “questionable,” case by case. (Or the U.K.’s ICO offering this bare minimum.)

Caspar also emphasized the challenge facing the bloc’s patchwork of DPAs to develop and implement a “common strategy” toward dealing with SCCs in the wake of the CJEU ruling.

In a press note today, Berlin’s DPA also took a tough line, warning that data transfers to third countries would only be permitted if they have a level of data protection essentially equivalent to that offered within the EU.

In the case of the U.S. — home to the largest and most used cloud services — Europe’s top judges yesterday reiterated very clearly that that is not in fact the case.

“The CJEU has made it clear that the export of data is not just about the economy but people’s fundamental rights must be paramount,” Berlin data commissioner Maja Smoltczyk said in a statement [which we’ve translated using Google Translate].

“The times when personal data could be transferred to the U.S. for convenience or cost savings are over after this judgment,” she added.

Both DPAs warned the ruling has implications for the use of cloud services where data is processed in other third countries where the protection of EU citizens’ data also cannot be guaranteed too, i.e. not just the U.S.

On this front, Smoltczyk name-checked China, Russia and India as countries EU DPAs will have to assess for similar problems.

“Now is the time for Europe’s digital independence,” she added.

Some commentators (including Schrems himself) have also suggested the ruling could see companies switching to local processing of EU users’ data. Though it’s also interesting to note the judges chose not to invalidate SCCs — thereby offering a path to legal international data transfers, but only provided the necessary protections are in place in that given third country.

Also issuing a response to the CJEU ruling today was the European Data Protection Board (EDPB). AKA the body made up of representatives from DPAs across the bloc. Chair Andrea Jelinek put out an emollient statement, writing that: “The EDPB intends to continue playing a constructive part in securing a transatlantic transfer of personal data that benefits EEA citizens and organisations and stands ready to provide the European Commission with assistance and guidance to help it build, together with the U.S., a new framework that fully complies with EU data protection law.”

Short of radical changes to U.S. surveillance law, it’s tough to see how any new framework could be made to legally stick, though. Privacy Shield’s predecessor arrangement, Safe Harbour, stood for around 15 years. Its shiny “new and improved” replacement didn’t even last five.

In the wake of the CJEU ruling, data exporters and importers are required to carry out an assessment of a country’s data regime to assess adequacy with EU legal standards before using SCCs to transfer data there.

“When performing such prior assessment, the exporter (if necessary, with the assistance of the importer) shall take into consideration the content of the SCCs, the specific circumstances of the transfer, as well as the legal regime applicable in the importer’s country. The examination of the latter shall be done in light of the non-exhaustive factors set out under Art 45(2) GDPR,” Jelinek writes.

“If the result of this assessment is that the country of the importer does not provide an essentially equivalent level of protection, the exporter may have to consider putting in place additional measures to those included in the SCCs. The EDPB is looking further into what these additional measures could consist of.”

Again, it’s not clear what “additional measures” a platform could plausibly deploy to “fix” the gaping lack of redress afforded to foreigners by U.S. surveillance law. Major legal surgery does seem to be required to square this circle.

Jelinek said the EDPB would be studying the judgement with the aim of putting out more granular guidance in the future. But her statement warns data exporters they have an obligation to suspend data transfers or terminate SCCs if contractual obligations are not or cannot be complied with, or else to notify a relevant supervisory authority if it intends to continue transferring data.

In her roundabout way, she also warns that DPAs now have a clear obligation to terminate SCCs where the safety of data cannot be guaranteed in a third country.

“The EDPB takes note of the duties for the competent supervisory authorities (SAs) to suspend or prohibit a transfer of data to a third country pursuant to SCCs, if, in the view of the competent SA and in the light of all the circumstances of that transfer, those clauses are not or cannot be complied with in that third country, and the protection of the data transferred cannot be ensured by other means, in particular where the controller or a processor has not already itself suspended or put an end to the transfer,” Jelinek writes.

One thing is crystal clear: Any sense of legal certainty U.S. cloud services were deriving from the existence of the EU-U.S. Privacy Shield — with its flawed claim of data protection adequacy — has vanished like summer rain.

In its place, a sense of déjà vu and a lot more work for lawyers.

Germany tightens online hate speech rules to make platforms send reports straight to the feds

While a French online hate speech law has just been derailed by the country’s top constitutional authority on freedom of expression grounds, Germany is beefing up hate speech rules — passing a provision that will require platforms to send suspected criminal content directly to the Federal police at the point it’s reported by a user.

The move is part of a wider push by the German government to tackle a rise in right wing extremism and hate crime — which it links to the spread of hate speech online.

Germany’s existing Network Enforcement Act (aka the NetzDG law) came into force in the country in 2017, putting an obligation on social network platforms to remote hate speech within set deadlines as tight as 24 hours for easy cases — with fines of up to €50M should they fail to comply.

Yesterday the parliament passed a reform which extends NetzDG by placing a reporting obligation on platforms which requires them to report certain types of “criminal content” to the Federal Criminal Police Office.

A wider reform of the NetzDG law remains ongoing in parallel, that’s intended to bolster user rights and transparency, including by simplifying user notifications and making it easier for people to object to content removals and have successfully appealed content restored, among other tweaks. Broader transparency reporting requirements are also looming for platforms.

The NetzDG law has always been controversial, with critics warning from the get go that it would lead to restrictions on freedom of expression by incentivizing platforms to remove content rather than risk a fine. (Aka, the risk of ‘overblocking’.) In 2018 Human Rights Watch dubbed it a flawed law — critiquing it for being “vague, overbroad, and turn[ing] private companies into overzealous censors to avoid steep fines, leaving users with no judicial oversight or right to appeal”.

The latest change to hate speech rules is no less controversial: Now the concern is that social media giants are being co-opted to help the state build massive databases on citizens without robust legal justification.

A number of amendments to the latest legal reform were rejected, including one tabled by the Greens which would have prevented the personal data of the authors of reported social media posts from being automatically sent to the police.

The political party is concerned about the risk of the new reporting obligation being abused — resulting in data on citizens who have not in fact posted any criminal content ending up with the police.

It also argues there are only weak notification requirements to inform authors of flagged posts that their data has been passed to the police, among sundry other criticisms.

The party had proposed that only the post’s content would be transmitted directly to police who would have been able to request associated personal data from the platform should there be a genuine need to investigate a particular piece of content.

The German government’s reform of hate speech law follows the 2019 murder of a pro-refugee politician, Walter Lübcke, by neo nazis — which it said was preceded by targeted threats and hate speech online.

Earlier this month police staged raids on 40 hate speech suspects across a number of states who are accused of posting “criminally relevant comments” about Lübcke, per national media.

The government also argues that hate speech online has a chilling effect on free speech and a deleterious impact on democracy by intimidating those it targets — meaning they’re unable to freely express themselves or participate without fear in society.

At the pan-EU level, the European Commission has been pressing platforms to improve their reporting around hate speech takedowns for a number of years, after tech firms signed up to voluntary EU Code of Conduct on hate speech.

It is also now consulting on wider changes to platform rules and governance — under a forthcoming Digital Services Act which will consider how much liability tech giants should face for content they’re fencing.

DroneBase nabs $7.5 million in a slight down round to double down on its work in renewable energy

DroneBase, a Los Angeles-based provider of drone pilots for industrial services companies, has raised $7.5 million during the pandemic to double down on its work with renewable energy companies.

While chief executive Dan Burton acknowledged that the company was fundraising prior to the pandemic, the industrial lockdown actually accelerated demand for the company’s services.

Even with the increased demand, the company had to make some changes. It laid off six employees and refocused its business.

“In the past three months it’s become clear that this is a moment for drones as an industry,” Burton said. “We were really pushing hard as a company, certainly on revenue growth and harvesting all the investments we made in technology and having a clear, near-term view to profitability.”

The new round, which closed in May, was a slight down round, according to people familiar with the company’s business.

“We see raising a growth round later this year,” Burton said.

New investors in the company included Valor Equity Partners and Razi Ventures, who joined Union Square Ventures, Upfront Ventures, Hearst Ventures, Pritzker Group Venture Capitla and DJI.

In all, DroneBase has raised nearly $32 million in financing, according to a company statement.

The new round will enable the company to focus on its data and analytics services that it has been developing around its core drone pilot provisioning technology — and gives DroneBase more financial wherewithal to expand its European operations under the DroneBase Europe, which operates out of Germany.

“DroneBase’s expansion into renewable energy reflects our belief in the growth potential of wind and solar energy industries,” said Burton in a statement. “Since many energy companies have both wind and solar assets, we are well positioned to leverage our DroneBase Insights platform to grow our global market share in renewable energy.”  

The key application for DroneBase has been allowing wind power companies to monitor and manage their turbines, improving uptimes and spotting problems before they effect operations, the company said.

For solar power companies, DroneBase offers a network of pilots trained in infrared imaging to detect anomalies like defects or hot spots on solar panels, the company said.

“DroneBase has established themselves as the drone leader in the commercial market, and its new work in renewables will have a lasting impact on the future of energy by keeping infrastructure operational for generations,” says Sam Teller, Partner at Valor Equity Partners, in a statement. “We believe DroneBase will continue to be a valuable partner in drone operations and data analysis across a multitude of industries globally.”