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1. Telegram gets 3M new signups during Facebook apps’ outage
In a message sent to his Telegram channel, founder Pavel Durov wrote, “I see 3 million new users signed up for Telegram within the last 24 hours.” Durov doesn’t offer an explicit explanation for Telegram’s sudden spike in signups, but he does take a thinly veiled swipe at social networking giant Facebook.
It’s probably not a coincidence that Facebook and its related family of apps went down for most of Wednesday.
2. Google removed 2.3B bad ads, banned ads on 1.5M apps + 28M pages, plans new Policy Manager this year
Using both manual reviews and machine learning, Google said that in 2018 it removed 2.3 billion “bad ads” that violated its policies — which at their most general forbid ads that mislead or exploit vulnerable people.
3. Uber reportedly raising $1B in deal that values self-driving car unit at up to $10B
Uber is in negotiations with investors, including the SoftBank Vision Fund, to secure an investment as large as $1 billion for its autonomous vehicles unit. The deal would value the business at between $5 billion and $10 billion, according to a report from The Wall Street Journal.
4. Opportunity’s last Mars panorama is a showstopper
The Opportunity Mars Rover may be officially offline for good, but its legacy of science and imagery is ongoing — and NASA just shared the last (nearly) complete panorama the robot sent back before it was blanketed in dust.
5. AI photo startup Polarr raises an $11.5 million Series A
At the moment, Polarr is probably best known for its photography app for iOS and Android, which utilizes machine learning and AI to improve image editing. The company says it has around four million monthly active users.
6. WeWork Labs is launching a food tech accelerator
WeWork is committing $1 million to back the first batch of companies.
7. Facebook won’t store data in countries with human rights violations — except Singapore
When Mark Zuckerberg said in a lengthy blog post that Facebook would not build data centers in countries with poor human rights, he chose to ignore Singapore — known for a lack of privacy and freedom of expression.
Musk says Twitter will offer “amnesty” to suspended accounts • TechCrunch
Elon Musk said Thursday Twitter will grant “a general amnesty” to accounts that had been suspended from the platform beginning next week. The CEO posted a poll the day earlier over whether the platform should restore affected accounts.
The news comes within a week of Musk also ending former president Donald Trump’s ban from the platform after running a similar poll. Trump was banned after the January 6, 2021 attack on the U.S. Capitol, but said he doesn’t intend to return to the platform.
Musk’s poll to users included a caveat that suspended account holders could rejoin the platform “provided they have not broken the law or engaged in egregious spam.” Around 3.2 million users responded to the poll, which voted 72.4% in favor of amnesty.
“The people have spoken. Amnesty begins next week. Vox Populi, Vox Dei,” Musk said, using a Latin phrase that means “The voice of the people is the voice of god.”
Historically, Twitter has banned accounts that glorify hate and harassment, have the potential to incite violence or rampantly spread misinformation that can lead to harm. Some high profile individuals who were banned include MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell after he made a series of claims that Trump actually won the 2020 presidential election; former Trump advisor and former executive chairman of Breitbart Steve Bannon after he said Anthony Fauci and FBI Director Christopher Wray should be beheaded; and Proud Boys founder Gavin McInnes for violating the site’s policy of prohibiting violent extremist groups.
It’s unclear from Musk’s brief tweet how Twitter will deal with content moderation in the future, now that more potentially problematic voices will be returning to the platform. These concerns have only been exacerbated by Musk’s mass layoffs and the general exodus of employees who’d rather quit than be “hardcore.”
Amazon is working on a TV series about FTX drama with Russo Brothers • TechCrunch
The FTX drama is not over yet — and Amazon wants a piece of it. The company is partnering with Russo Brothers, best known for Marvel movies, to make a show on the spectacular collapse of the giant cryptocurrency empire.
Amazon has partnered with the duo’s production house AGBO to make the show, which will go into production in Spring 2023, Variety first reported. Amazon is also trying to rope in the brothers to direct the show, the report added.
The company confirmed the news in a statement and said “Hunters” creator David Weil will write the pilot.
“We are excited to be able to continue our great working relationship with David, Joe, Anthony, and the AGBO team with this fascinating event series I can’t think of better partners to bring this multifaceted story to our global Prime Video audience,” Amazon Studios head Jennifer Salke said.
The Russos are also working with Amazon to create a multinational international spy series called “Citadel.”
“This is one of the most brazen frauds ever committed. It crosses many sectors — celebrity, politics, academia, tech, criminality, sex, drugs, and the future of modern finance,” the Russos said of the upcoming show surrounding FTX in a statement. “At the center of it all sits an extremely mysterious figure with complex and potentially dangerous motivations. We want to understand why.”
FTX and its former CEO Sam Bankman-Fried have been at the center of media coverage across the world after the celebrated cryptocurrency exchange imploded earlier this month.
Coindesk reported earlier about the concerning finances of Alameda Research, the trading firm founded by Bankman-Fried and intertwined closely with the exchange. The report triggered a set of events, culminating in Binance chief executive Changpeng “CZ” Zhao unveiling plans to sell FTX’s native token FTT that it had received as part of an investment exit from the firm.
The move shook the confidence of retail investors and prompted a bank run on FTX and unraveled fraudulent misuse of FTX customers’ data.
Bankman-Fried, who along with his firm have attracted regulatory scrutiny in recent weeks, attempted to salvage FTX by signing a deal to be acquired by Binance, its chief rival then. Binance pulled out of the deal after finding FTX had dug too deep of a hole in its balance sheet. Within days, FTX filed for bankruptcy with Bankman-Fried stepping down from the CEO post.
In the aftermath of this chaos, Bankman-Fried gave a Vox reporter an interview over Twitter direct messages in which he criticized regulators and expressed regrets about filing for bankruptcy and walked back on many of the long-believes he had portrayed about himself to the world. Reports have since also found that FTX used corporate funds to purchase houses for employees and owes the top 50 creditors over $3 billion.
Time for the show
All of this makes for a good TV, for sure. It also helps that startup founders doing things has become a sleeper hit of a genre in recent years as evidenced by hits like “WeCrashed” (Apple TV+) on the WeWork and Adam Neumann fiasco, “Dropout” (Hulu) on the Theranos-Elizabeth Holmes saga, and “Super Pumped” (Showtime) on Uber led by Travel Kalanick. So Amazon is keen to get a hit show centering on a controversial tech founder on its catalog. But we could see more adoption of the FTX story.
Earlier this week, Deadline reported that buyers — including Apple — are chasing to sign celebrated author Michael Lewis’ yet-to-be-published book. Lewis — who has previously written hits that were later adapted into movies such as “The Big Short,” “Moneyball,” and “The Blind Side” — had been closely following Bankman-Fried for over six months before the recent implosion.
Amazon’s show will be based on “insider reporting” from various journalists who have covered the issue extensively, according to Variety.
Mark Cuban-backed streaming app Fireside acquires Stremium to bring live, interactive shows to your TV • TechCrunch
Mark Cuban-backed streaming app Fireside, which today offers podcasters and other creators a way to host interactive, live shows with audience engagement, will soon expand to the TV’s big screen. Variety reported, and Fireside confirmed, it’s acquired the open streaming TV platform Stremium, which will allow Fireside’s shows to become available to a range of connected TV devices, including Amazon Fire TV, Roku, smart TVs and others.
Deal terms were not disclosed. Cuban retweeted Variety’s reporting but made no other public comment.
A company spokesperson confirmed the deal to TechCrunch, noting it was for a combination of IP and talent.
“Fireside has acquired all of Stremium including its full team and intellectual property,” the spokesperson said. “The company is the first interactive web3 streaming platform and the acquisition will help Fireside accelerate delivering on being the only platform that turns creators, celebrities, brands, and IP owners into the studio, networks, and streaming services of the future. Expect other major announcements coming soon on this front,” they added.
Launched just over a year ago, Fireside arrived on the heels of the pandemic-fueled demand for startups offering live entertainment as well as a growing number of startups catering to the creator economy.
Despite some early — and erroneous — comparisons between Fireside and other live audio platforms like Twitter Spaces or Clubhouse, the startup gained traction due to a differentiated feature set that also prioritizes video content. Shows on Fireside’s platform could be streamed live to its app, recorded, saved, or even simulcast to other social networks. The app additionally includes audience engagement tools and other features to aid creators with promotion, editing, measurement, distribution, monetization, and audience growth, all of which are part of Fireside’s end-to-end content production experience. More recently, the company had been exploring web3 technologies, including NFTs.
Co-founded by Cuban, early Yammer employee Mike Ihbe, and former Googler, YouTuber and Node co-founder Falon Fatemi, who sold her last company to SugarCRM, Fireside has managed to attract some high-profile creators like Jay Leno, Michael Dell, Melissa Rivers, Craig Kilborn, and screenwriter and Entourage creator Doug Ellin over the past year.
In a letter to Fireside investors published by Variety, Fatemi shared that the Stremium acquisition would help Fireside to offer a “second screen experience where the audience can use their phones to engage and interact in real-time while watching on their TVs.”
“Imagine watching a live cookalong show with your favorite chef simultaneously on your TV and your phone where you can interact and get invited to talk directly to them and even show them what you are cooking from the palm of your hand,” Fatemi explained. Plus, Stremium’s infrastructure would allow creators to upload, publish, program and distribute their live shows across both mobile and TV, she added. (Stremium confirmed to us the letter’s accuracy.)
TechCrunch this February reported Fireside was in talks to raise a $25 million Series A that valued its business at $125 million. That round has since closed, but Fireside hasn’t yet made a formal announcement about raise, investors, or its valuation. We understand this may be because Fireside is still adding some additional strategic investors to the deal, and it plans to detail the fundraise soon. Of course, the funding may have helped pave the way for Fireside to make this new acquisition.
Other investors in Fireside include the Chainsmokers, HBSE, Goodwater, Animal Capital, and NFL stars Larry Fitzgerald and Kelvin Beachum and former NBA star Baron Davis, in addition to Cuban. Ahead of its Series A, Fireside had raised around $8 million.
Stremium had been developing a service that allowed consumers to aggregate all their favorite channels using their “TV Everywhere” credentials and use a cloud DVR instead of downloading separate streaming apps. It also included a selection of free streaming channels. But the service faced an increasingly competitive landscape where there are now numerous ways to watch free streaming content, like Tubi, Pluto TV, The Roku Chanel, Freevee (formerly IMDb TV), Plex, and more. Meanwhile, cord-cutting is accelerating leaving fewer people with cable TV logins for Stremium to market its services to.
The Stremium website is now pointing visitors to Fireside and confirms the acquisition. Fireside is aiming to release its TV product sometime next year as a result of the deal.
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