U.S. mitigates Huawei ban by offering temporary reprieve

Two steps forward, one step back.

The Trump administration has seemingly been trying to calibrate its strategy around its intensifying trade dispute with China. Last week, it effectively banned Huawei from importing U.S. technology, a decision that forced several American companies including Google to partly sever their relationships with the Chinese handset and telecom provider.

Now, in an unpublished draft of a note in the Federal Register, the Department of Commerce and its Bureau of Industry and Security announced that Huawei would receive a “90-day temporary general license” to continue to use U.S. technology that it already has a license to. New technology and mobile phone models requiring new licenses would still need to apply for them — and those licenses are unlikely to be approved according to Reuters.

Reasons for the drawback are unclear. One answer might be the impact on American jobs. The Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, an industry trade and research group, argued in a new report today that export controls could cost up to $56.3 billion in damage to the U.S. economy and up to 74,000 jobs, depending on their scale. Obviously, the tech industry is mostly opposed to new tariffs or export controls, and the Trump administration has made American jobs a centerpiece of its domestic policy agenda.

The other answer might be that China is now fulminating against the actions and subtly threatening access to rare earth materials. President Xi Jinping toured a rare earths facility this weekend, in what was perceived by political analysts as a subtle reminder of China’s outsized role in rare earths exports, in which it is the world’s largest.

Regardless, the new temporary reprieve won’t do much to change the underlying trade calculus, but it may afford Huawei a little breathing space to figure out what it should next without U.S. technology.

On the Internet of Women with Moira Weigel

“Feminism,” the writer and editor Marie Shear famously said in an often-misattributed quote, “is the radical notion that women are people.” The genius of this line, of course, is that it appears to be entirely non-controversial, which reminds us all the more effectively of the past century of fierce debates surrounding women’s equality.

And what about in tech ethics? It would seem equally non-controversial that ethical tech is supposed to be good for “people,” but is the broader tech world and its culture good for the majority of humans who happen to be women? And to the extent it isn’t, what does that say about any of us, and about all of our technology?

I’ve known, since I began planning this TechCrunch series exploring the ethics of tech, that it would need to thoroughly cover issues of gender. Because as we enter an age of AI, with machines learning to be ever more like us, what could be more critical than addressing the issues of sex and sexism often at the heart of the hardest conflicts in human history thus far?

Meanwhile, several months before I began envisioning this series I stumbled across the fourth issue of a new magazine called Logic, a journal on technology, ethics, and culture. Logic publishes primarily on paper — yes, the actual, physical stuff, and a satisfyingly meaty stock of it, at that.

In it, I found a brief essay, “The Internet of Women,” that is a must-read, an instant classic in tech ethics. The piece is by Moira Weigel, one of Logic’s founders and currently a member of Harvard University’s “Society of Fellows” — one of the world’s most elite societies of young academics.

A fast-talking 30-something Brooklynite with a Ph.D. from Yale, Weigel’s work combines her interest in sex, gender, and feminism, with a critical and witty analysis of our technology culture.

In this first of a two-part interview, I speak with Moira in depth about some of the issues she covers in her essay and beyond: #MeToo; the internet as a “feminizing” influence on culture; digital media ethics around sexism; and women in political and tech leadership.

Greg E.: How would you summarize the piece in a sentence or so?

Moira W.: It’s an idiosyncratic piece with a couple of different layers. But if I had to summarize it in just a sentence or two I’d say that it’s taking a closer look at the role that platforms like Facebook and Twitter have played in the so-called “#MeToo moment.”

In late 2017 and early 2018, I became interested in the tensions that the moment was exposing between digital media and so-called “legacy media” — print newspapers and magazines like The New York Times and Harper’s and The Atlantic. Digital media were making it possible to see structural sexism in new ways, and for voices and stories to be heard that would have gotten buried, previously.

A lot of the conversation unfolding in legacy media seemed to concern who was allowed to say what where. For me, this subtext was important: The #MeToo moment was not just about the sexualized abuse of power but also about who had authority to talk about what in public — or the semi-public spaces of the Internet.

At the same time, it seemed to me that the ongoing collapse of print media as an industry, and really what people sometimes call the “feminization” of work in general, was an important part of the context.

When people talk about jobs getting “feminized” they can mean many things — jobs becoming lower paid, lower status, flexible or precarious, demanding more emotional management and the cultivation of an “image,” blurring the boundary between “work” and “life.”

The increasing instability or insecurity of media workplaces only make women more vulnerable to the kinds of sexualized abuses of power the #MeToo hashtag was being used to talk about.

Macron defends his startup-friendly policies

For the third year as president, France’s president Emmanuel Macron talked to the French tech ecosystem at VivaTech in Paris. This time, he used this opportunity to defend his policies so far and say that tech startups have nearly everything they need to succeed

Frichti’s Julia Bijaoui, TransferWise’s Flora Coleman, OpenClassrooms’ Pierre Dubuc, Vinted’s Thomas Plantenga and UiPath’s Daniel Dines shared the stage with Macron and each asked one question about funding, European regulation, talent, the digital single market, etc.

Just like last year, Macron took a strong stance when it comes to corporate taxes. “In order to compete with American giants, you need to make sure that competition is fair. You pay taxes, so the tech giant that is competing against you should pay taxes too,” Macron said.

France recently approved a tax on tech giants. If you generate more than €750 million in revenue globally and €25 million in France, you have to pay 3 percent of your French revenue in taxes, even if your company is registered in Ireland, Luxembourg or the Netherlands.

“It’s a temporary measure because we want a tax at the European level, and more generally at the OECD level,” Macron said.

When it comes to funding, things look much better now than a few years ago. There are now more than a handful of French unicorns. And Macron defended his taxation policies, such as a the flat tax on capital gain and the end of the wealth tax on your shares in public or private companies.

And yet, it’s still complicated when it comes to exits — if you want to go down the public road, you most likely have to IPO in the U.S. “We have to build a European financial capital market,” Macron said. “It’ll require some modifications and deeper European integration,” he added later.

Given that Europe is about to vote for the European Parliament, a lot of Macron’s solutions involved the European Union. It sometimes felt like Macron was campaigning for his own party by saying that he wants to go further, but you need to vote for his party first.

When it comes to talent, Macron emphasized the quality of French universities and engineering schools. “We are competitive in terms of human capital and it’s no coincidence. A few years ago, everybody was saying ‘there are a lot of French people in Silicon Valley’. French people living in France are the same, but they cost much, much less,” Macron said.

He then mentioned the French Tech Visa to attract foreign talent, a special visa for tech talent and their families. The program has been overhauled a couple of months ago.

When it comes to regulation, Macron says that the European Union should follow the GDPR model. “What we did on privacy, one regulation for all, we have to do it for other areas,” he said. “On competition, on taxation, on data, we need to regulate.”

Macron concluded by defending a third way to regulate and foster tech companies, which is different from China and the U.S. “Europe can become the tech leader of tomorrow because we are building a tech ecosystem that is compatible with democracy,” he said.

According to him, China doesn’t do enough when it comes to individual rights and human rights, which could eventually backfire for tech companies. And American companies have become too powerful and out of control for the U.S. government.

Openfinance opens up US trading of third-party digital assets

Openfinance, the secondary market for trading digital alternative assets, announced it will be opening up trading of third-party digital securities to US Investors, making it the first trading platform to do so.

The company already supported the trading of third-party digital securities (securities that have been migrated onto the blockchain that are now traded on Openfinance’s blockchain-based platform) in Europe, but was unable to provide the same capability in the US due to minimum holding periods for new tokenized securities required by US regulators.

Now that the holding periods are up for two of the first security token assets traded on Openfinance — Blockchain Capital’s BCAP security token and SPiCE VC’s SPiCE token — both accredited and non-accredited investors in the US will now be able to access and trade both securities through the Openfinance network.

The BCAP and SPiCE tokens are the first of several digital securities that will soon be tradeable through Openfinance, as minimum holding periods conclude for a multitude of other assets that are currently tradable for the platform’s non-US investors.

As a result, Openfinance will be able to relieve significant pain points for those looking to sell digital alternative assets, who often are forced to sell at prices significantly below the asset’s true value due to poor liquidity.

“The ability for US investors to trade these digital assets and access liquidity marks a significant next step in the evolution of the digital securities market,” said Openfinance founder and CEO Juan Hernandez.

The launch is one of several firsts for Openfinance, which was also the first company to facilitate a secondary market for tokenized securities, and was also the first secondary market for digital alternative assets to become regulated by US agencies.

Unlike previous players in the digital securities space that seemed averse to government oversight, Openfinance represents a growing set of new companies that see a regulated future for the sector.

As a registered Alternative Trading System (ATS) regulated by the SEC, one regulatory step below a national exchange like a NASDAQ or NYSE, Openfinance is hoping become the go-to resource for investors looking for safe, stable access to digital securities or those looking to better understand rules related to unregulated securities.

“We’re selling 2 things: liquidity and legitimacy,” Hernandez told TechCrunch.

The company’s regulated position also allows it to play a more influential role in shaping the standards around the digital security asset class. As an ATS, Openfinance can set requirements for assets looking to get listed on its platform, such as potentially requiring audited financials or otherwise.

As liquidity for digital securities improves and as regulatory agencies continue to provide more guidance around the rules that govern them, Openfinance believes more institutional players will begin to get involved in the asset class as well.

Longer-term, the company is hoping to support much more than just token securities on its platform. “We look at security token offerings (STOs) as proof of concepts of our technology,” Hernandez told TechCrunch. “Can you compliantly list it on-chain? Can you trade it on-chain? We think yes because we’ve proved it out – we’ve accomplished proof of concept.”

Down the road, Openfinance has its eyes set on the broader alternative asset class, including anything from digital securities issued by pre-IPO companies to those of VC firms and hedge funds. Openfinance believes that every investor should be able to access these traditionally exclusive assets, rather than just a small set of insiders or those backed by significant amounts of wealth or capital.

“Openfinance is democratizing the space and making these opportunities available to a broader universe,” said Hernandez.

“We’re bringing access, transparency and liquidity to this market and that’s what we want to do longer-term.”

The White House wants to know if you’ve been ‘censored or silenced’ by social media

It’s no secret that the Trump administration has been at war with social media. In the past year, the President has accused several online giants of censoring conservative voices, in particular giants like Twitter, Google and Facebook.

Today, the White House launched a Typeform site aimed at collecting personal reports of social media censorship relating to political bias.

“SOCIAL MEDIA PLATFORMS should advance FREEDOM OF SPEECH,” the minimalistic site reads. “Yet too many Americans have seen their accounts suspended, banned, or fraudulently reported for unclear ‘violations’ of user policies.”

For those who feel they’ve been wronged in some way by one of the major platforms, the 16 part questionnaire lets you chose from a list including Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube, while inquiring about specific tweets that were censored or accounts that were targeted. Users can submit screenshots and other supporting evidence and opt in for “President Trump’s fight for free speech” after entering a name, email address, phone number and proving they’re not real by answering a trivia question about the Declaration of Independence (take that, robots).

Trump has made a “shadow banning” and other perceived slights against conservatives voices a key cause in recent months. Last summer, he took to Twitter to address issues with the platform, writing, “Twitter ‘SHADOW BANNING’ prominent Republicans. Not good. We will look into this discriminatory and illegal practice at once! Many complaints.”

Late last month, the President met with Jack Dorsey for 30 minutes in the Oval Office, to discuss making Twitter “healthier and more civil,” according to the tech exec. No word on what the White House plans to do with the evidence it compiles.

G7 countries to sign charter on tech regulation in August

Digital ministers of the Group of 7 nations are meeting today to discuss an upcoming charter on toxic content and tech regulation at large. Those countries plan to sign a charter during the annual G7 meeting in Biarritz, France in August.

“Everyone has to deal with hateful content,” France Digital Minister Cédric O said in a meeting with a few journalists. “This industry needs to reach maturity and, in order to do that, we need to rethink the accountability of those companies and the role of governments.”

You may have noticed that G7 countries also announced the Christchurch Call today. It is a nonbinding pledge asking tech companies to improve their moderation processes to prevent terrorist content from going viral.

Those two things are separate. The French government views the Christchurch Call as a way to start a discussion with tech platforms and put the spotlight on a particular issue. But the charter should be broader than the Christchurch Call and mention other issues.

And yet, it’s going to be hard to sign a common agreement between such a diverse group of countries. “There are Nordic countries that are very concerned about free speech and there are Latin countries that are pushing for more regulation,” Cédric O said.

In addition to the Group of 7 nations (Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the U.K. and the U.S.), officials from Australia, India and New Zealand are participating in today’s discussions.

The charter won’t define hateful speech too precisely so that countries can interpret that phrase in their own way. But the negotiations should lead to a set of principles that each country can turn into laws.

In particular, officials want to encourage transparency when it comes to moderation processes through audits, as well as increased cooperation between tech companies, governments and civil society.

In December 2018, the Group of 7 nations announced plans to create a global panel to study the effects of AI. Ministers are discussing the implementation of this panel during today’s meeting, as well.

Sources working for the French Economy Ministry say that the U.S. might not sign the charter in August. “We won’t compromise too much — either all countries can agree on a strong stance, or some countries don’t sign the charter,” a source said.

Beyond costs, what else can we do to make housing affordable?

This week on Extra Crunch, I am exploring innovations in inclusive housing, looking at how 200+ companies are creating more access and affordability. Yesterday, I focused on startups trying to lower the costs of housing, from property acquisition to management and operations.

Today, I want to focus on innovations that improve housing inclusion more generally, such as efforts to pair housing with transit, small business creation, and mental rehabilitation. These include social impact-focused interventions, interventions that increase income and mobility, and ecosystem-builders in housing innovation.

Nonprofits and social enterprises lead many of these innovations. Yet because these areas are perceived to be not as lucrative, fewer technologists and other professionals have entered them. New business models and technologies have the opportunity to scale many of these alternative institutions — and create tremendous social value. Social impact is increasingly important to millennials, with brands like Patagonia having created loyal fan bases through purpose-driven leadership.

While each of these sections could be their own market map, this overall market map serves as an initial guide to each of these spaces.

Social impact innovations

These innovations address:

World leaders ask tech giants to tackle toxic content with Christchurch Call

On Wednesday, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern will ask tech companies to sign a pledge called the Christchurch Call, as The New York Times previously reported. Digital ministers of the Group of 7 nations are meeting tomorrow to talk about toxic content and tech regulation.

The Christchurch Call is the first result on that work and a way to start involving tech companies with a nonbinding pledge. Named after the terrorist attack in Christchurch, the agreement should ask tech platforms to increase their efforts when it comes to blocking toxic content. In other words, democracies don’t want another shooting video going viral and also don’t want to block Facebook, YouTube or Twitter altogether.

According to people working for the French Economy Ministry, the Christchurch Call doesn’t contain any specific recommendations for new regulation. Countries get to decide what they mean by violent and extremist content for instance.

“For now, it’s a focus on an event in particular that caused an issue for multiple countries,” France Digital Minister Cédric O said in a meeting with a few journalists.

Companies that sign the pledge agree to improve their moderation processes and share more information about the work they’re doing to prevent terrorist content from going viral. On the other side, governments agree to work on laws that ban toxic content from social networks.

Tomorrow, a handful of countries are expected to sign the Christchurch Call. According to French government officials, members of the Group of 7 nations should sign it but the U.S. might not sign it. New Zealand, Norway and a handful of countries that are not part of the Group of 7 nations should also sign the pledge.

After that, it’ll be up to tech companies to side with those governments and say that they have heard their plea. It’s a nonbinding agreement after all, so I’m sure many social networks will see it as gestures of goodwill.

In addition to digital ministers and government officials, the French Economy Ministry says that representatives from Microsoft, Facebook, Twitter, Snap, Mozilla, Google, Qwant, the Wikimedia Foundation and the Web Foundation will be there on Wednesday.

So you can expect that some, if not all of them, will sign the pledge. The New York Times says that Facebook, Google and Microsoft have already agreed to sign the pledge.

Google announces $11.2 million grant fund for organizations working on safety

Google.org, the charitable arm of Google, just announced a new grant fund for European organizations. This fund in particular will support nonprofits, universities, research teams and for-profit social enterprises working on safety issues and combatting abuse.

Google .org has already partnered with the Institute for Strategic Dialogue to help organizations in the U.K. But they want to take this program one step further by expanding to other organizations across Europe.

Each eligible organization will receive between €50,000 and €1 million (between $56,000 and $1.12 million). Applications are open until June 28th. Google lists hate, extremism and child safety as key areas for today’s new fund.

The timing of this announcement is interesting. Last week, Google spent a lot of time talking about its efforts when it comes to privacy at its Google I/O developer conference.

Digital ministers of the G7 as well as Australia, India and New Zealand are also meeting in Paris tomorrow to discuss tech regulation. Among other things, they’ll talk about transparency on moderation processes to make sure that big online platforms remain safe.

With Google’s new fund, the company shows that it also cares about these issues and is already acting in order to make the web safer for everyone. But a grant fund doesn’t necessarily replace audit processes and legal requirements.

Market map: the 200+ innovative startups transforming affordable housing

In this section of my exploration into innovation in inclusive housing, I am digging into the 200+ companies impacting the key phases of developing and managing housing.

Innovations have reduced costs in the most expensive phases of the housing development and management process. I explore innovations in each of these phases, including construction, land, regulatory, financing, and operational costs.

Reducing Construction Costs

This is one of the top three challenges developers face, exacerbated by rising building material costs and labor shortages.