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Messenger Kids adds expanded parental controls, details how much kids’ data Facebook collects – TechCrunch

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Facebook’s messaging app for families with children, Messenger Kids, is being updated today with new tools and features to give parents more oversight and control over their kids’ chats. Now, parents will be able to see who a child is chatting with and how often, view recent photos and videos sent through chat, access the child’s reported and block list, remotely log out of the app on other devices and download the child’s chats, images and videos, both sent and received. The company is also introducing a new blocking mechanism and has updated the app’s Privacy Policy to include additional information about data collection, use and deletion practices.

The Messenger Kids app was first introduced in late 2017 as a way to give kids a way to message friends and family with parental oversight. It arrived at a time when kids were already embracing messaging — but were often doing so on less controlled platforms, like Kik, which attracted predators. Messenger Kids instead allows the child’s parents to determine who the child can chat with and when, through built-in parental controls.

In our household, for example, it became a convenient tool for chatting with relatives, like grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins, as well as a few trusted friends, whose parents I knew well.

But when it came time to review the chats, a lot of scrolling back was involved.

The new Messenger Kids features will help with the oversight aspects for those parents who allow their kids to online chat. That decision, of course, is a personal one. Some parents don’t want their kids to have smartphones and outright ban apps, particularly ones that allow interactions. Others, myself included, believe that teaching kids to navigate the online world is part of your parental responsibility. And despite Facebook’s reputation, there aren’t other chat apps offering these sort of parental controls — or the convenience of being able to add everyone in your family to a child’s chat list with ease. (After all, grandma and grandpa are already on Facebook and Messenger, but getting them to download new apps remains difficult.)

In the updated app, parents will be able to see who a child has been chatting with, and whether that’s text or video chat, over the past 30 days. This can save parents’ time, as they may not feel the need to review chat with trusted family members, for instance, so can redirect their focus and energy on reviewing the chats with friends. A log of images will help parents to see if all images and videos being sent and received are appropriate, and remove them or block them if not.

Parents also can now see if a child has blocked or reported a user in the app, or if they’ve unblocked them. This could be useful for identifying those problematic friends — the kind who sometimes cause trouble, but are later forgiven, then unblocked. (Anyone who’s dealt with tween-age drama can attest to the fact that there’s one in every group!) By gaining access to this information, parents can sit down with the child to talk about when to take that step and block someone, and when a disagreement with a friend can instead be worked out. These are decisions that a child will have to make on their own one day, so being able to use this as a teaching moment is useful.

With the update, unblocking is supported and parents are still able to review chats with blocked contacts. However, blocked contacts will remain visible to one another and will stay in shared group chats. They just aren’t able to message one-on-one. Kids are warned if they return to or are added to chats with blocked contacts. (If parents want a full block, they can just remove the blocked contact from the child’s contact list, as before.)

Remote device logout lets you make sure the child is logged out of Messenger Kids on devices you can’t physically access and control — like a misplaced phone. And the option to download the child’s information, similar to Facebook’s feature, lets you download a copy of everything — messages, images and videos. This could be a way to preserve their chat history when the child outgrows the app.

The Messenger Kids’ privacy policy was updated, as well, to better detail the information being collected. The app also attempts to explain this in plain language to the kids, using cute photos. In reality, parents should read the policy for themselves and make a decision, accordingly.

The app collects a lot of information — including names, profile photos, demographic details (gender and birthday), a child’s connection to parents, contacts’ information (like most frequent contacts), app usage information, device attributes and unique identifiers, data from device settings (like time zones or access to camera and photos), network information and information provided from things like bug reports or feedback/contact forms.

To some extent, this information is needed to help the app properly operate or to alert parents about a child’s activities. But the policy includes less transparent language about the collected information being used to “evaluate, troubleshoot, improve, create, and develop our products” or being shared with other Facebook Companies. There’s a lot of wiggle room there for extensive data collection on Facebook’s part. Service providers offering technical infrastructure and support, like a content delivery network or customer service, may also gain access to collected information, but must adhere to “strict data confidentiality and security obligations,” the policy claims, without offering further details on what those are.

Despite its lengthiness, the policy leaves plenty of room for Facebook to collect private information and share it. If you have a Facebook account, you’ve already agreed to this sort of “deal with the devil” for yourself, in order to benefit from Facebook’s free service. But parents need to strongly consider if they’re comfortable making the same decision for their children.

The policy also describes things Facebook plans to roll out later, when Messenger Kids is updated to support older kids. As kids enter tween to teen years, parents may want to loosen the reigns a bit. The new policy will cover those changes, as well.

It’s unfortunate that the easiest tool, and the one with the best parental controls, is coming from Facebook. The market is ripe for a disruptor in the kids’ space, but there’s not enough money in that, apparently. Facebook, of course, sees the potential of getting kids hooked early and can invest in a product that isn’t directly monetized. Few companies can afford to do this, but Apple would be the best to take Facebook on in this area.

Apple’s iMessage is a large, secure and private platform — but it lacks these advanced parental controls, as well as the other bells and whistles (like built-in AR filters) that make the Messenger Kids app fun. Critically, it doesn’t work across non-Apple devices, which will always be a limiter when it comes to finding an app that the extended family can use together.

To be clear, there is no way to stop Facebook from vacuuming up the child’s information except to delete the child’s Messenger Kids Account through the Facebook Help Center. So consider your choices wisely.

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Rivian has dropped its cheapest trim level due to low customer demand – TechCrunch

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Rivian is discontinuing the cheapest trim level of its all-electric truck and SUV known as the Explore package due to low demand, according to emails sent this week to customers.

The company said in the email, which was first cited in the Rivian Owners Forum, that customers  with a pre-order for the Explore package will need to reconfigure to the Adventure trim by September 1 or have their pre-order cancelled. Rivian also issued information on its customer support page that explains why it cancelled the package and what customers’ options are.

For customers who pre-ordered the Explore trim, the change means an increase of about $5,500. The base Adventure package, which includes a dual-motor and standard battery pack that gets more than 260 miles of range, starts at $73,000.

“In order to deliver as many vehicles as possible, we have made the decision to discontinue the Explore Package. We realize this news is unexpected and apologize for how it impacts your plans,” the email said.

A few customers on the forum expressed their anger at the changes. It’s unclear if Rivian will lose existing customers due to the change. Although with a reported backlog of orders, it may not matter. As of June 30, 2022, Rivian’s net R1 preorder backlog was about 98,000 from consumers in the U.S. and Canada, according to its second-quarter letter to shareholders.

The company initially launched its R1T truck and R1S SUV with two packages. The Explore was intended as the entry-level package and the Adventure was the higher priced trim that offered more features.

Rivian said in the email that it expected a large number of customers would choose Explore. It turns out, they have not.

“To date, only a small percentage of customers have chosen this configuration, with the vast majority selecting the Adventure trim. By focusing on the Adventure trim package, we’re able to streamline our supply chain and ultimately deliver vehicles more quickly,” the email stated.

Rivian has made other price changes this year that caused temporary outrage among customers.

In March 2022, Rivian raised the price of its R1T pickup by 17% and R1S SUV by about 20% in an effort to adjust to inflationary pressure, increases in the cost of raw materials and parts as well as a prolonged chip shortage. Those price increases initially included customers who had put down deposits.

CEO RJ Scaringe walked back those plans after public backlash and issued a press release that promised customers who placed their preorder for either vehicle prior to March 1 that their original price will be honored. He also offered to restore any preorders from customers who cancelled as a result of the planned change.

That price change was supposed to be part of Rivian’s broader plan to introduce a new dual-motor version of the truck and SUV in 2024. That new propulsion system includes motors designed and manufactured by Rivian.

The company  first introduced the R1T and R1S in 2018 as all-wheel drive EVs equipped with a quad-motor system that pumped up the horsepower and torque and helped the startup stand out. The base price of the quad-motor R1T and R1S were originally $67,500 and $70,000 respectively.

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What happens when a Black founder is ousted? – TechCrunch

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To play on a Langston Hughes poem — what happens to a Black founder ousted? Are they forgotten, like words on the tip of one’s tongue? Or revered like a deity and then thrown to the sun?

The topic is often awkward to ponder and layered in its probe since the reasons for a Black founder’s booting are shrouded in unknown intentions:

A Black founder could have messed up severely – but is the retaliation fair? Is it harsher than what their white counterparts would have received?

A Black founder could encounter an accusation – but was it doused in microaggressive anger?

Would things have unfolded in the way they did if the founder was white?

Each time a Black founder is removed from or criticized at their company, apprehension arises around figuring out what happened. This makes such conversations hard.

“It is in our best interest to operate with the understanding that our mistakes cost more, hurt more, and are rarely forgiven.” Oladosu Teyibo, founder of Analog Teams

For example, news broke last week that Kimberly Bryant, the founder of Black Girls Code, was fired from the organization she spent decades building. The reception was mixed. Founders who spoke to TechCrunch agreed that the employees who alleged misconduct by Bryant were right to speak out; they also said the board of BGC was too swift in Bryant’s ousting and denied her proper due process.

“Two things can be true at the same time,” Minda Harts, a consultant on equity and inclusion, told TechCrunch regarding the BGC situation. “All involved deserved better.”

Aside from Bryant, there have been a few high-profile cases of Black founders being ousted from their organizations. Marceau Michel was recently removed from his venture fund Black Founders Matter for matters still publicly undisclosed. Brian Brackeen was shown the door at his company, Kairos, in 2018, with the board citing “willful misconduct.” Other founder situations have flown under the radar; many are still too afraid to speak out.

What is known is that when Black founders are lost, the entire community suffers.

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Zūm founder strikes balance between accessibility and a massive logistics network – TechCrunch

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Zūm’s mission is simple – to introduce student transportation that is reliable, efficient, sustainable and transparent.

To achieve the feat of modernizing an incredibly outdated, stuck-in-the-mud system, Zūm relies on cloud-based analytics software to create an agile bus routing system with real-time visibility for schools and parents. The startup also uses a diverse fleet that includes buses, vans and cars that it distributes based on specific use cases. For example, kids who live on busier routes will be assigned to school buses, and those who are slightly more remote will be sent vans or cars to increase overall efficiency.

When we last talked to Ritu Narayan, Zūm’s founder, the startup had just won a $150 million contract to modernize student transportation at the San Francisco Unified School District and was working on a plan to transform its fleet of electric school buses into a virtual power plant to provide backup energy to the grid.

“Zūm is a very recession-proof business. No matter what, kids are going to go to school every day, whether there’s a recession or inflation.” Zūm founder Ritu Narayan

Since then, Zūm has signed a $68 million contract with Seattle Public Schools and a $400 million contract with the Los Angeles Unified School District to bring their outdated busing systems into 2022 and beyond. The company also closed a $130 million Series D led by Softbank Vision Fund 2, bringing its total funding to more than $200 million, and set a goal to have a 100% electrified fleet of buses, vans and cars by 2025.

We sat down with Narayan to catch up on the past year and talk about how to bring on top tech talent, how growth-stage startups can attract next-level investors, and how to pick a recession-proof business.

Editor’s note: The following interview, part of an ongoing series with founders who are building transportation companies, has been edited for length and clarity.

TechCrunch: Zūm has had some impressive new executive hires lately — it looks like you’ve poached from the likes of Amazon, Microsoft, Uber and Netflix. Do you have any tips for other startups looking to attract top tech talent?

Ritu Narayan: The No. 1 thing is the focus on the mission and the purpose. The business that we are disrupting is a pretty old business. It has been around for 80 to 100 years with not much change. So when looking for potential hires, we just map out very clearly what change Zūm is bringing. We believe everybody has faced some kind of school bus story, whether they got bullied on the bus or maybe didn’t have access to one and had to walk. It’s such a part of people’s lives, that when we actually explain our mission and founding story, people are very much able to relate.

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