Posted on

Human Capital: Uber engineer explains why he spoke out against Prop 22

Welcome back to Human Capital, where we discuss the latest in labor, diversity and inclusion in tech.

This week’s eyebrow-raising moment came Wednesday when the U.S. Department of Labor essentially accused Microsoft of reverse racism (not a real thing) for committing to hire more Black people at its predominantly white company.

And that wasn’t even the most notable news items of the week. Instead, that award goes to Uber engineer Kurt Nelson and his decision to speak out against his employer and urge folks to vote no on the Uber-sponsored ballot measure in California that aims to keep drivers classified as independent contractors. I caught up with Nelson to hear more about what brought him to the point of speaking out. You can read what he had to say further down in this newsletter.

But first, I have some of my own news to share —  Human Capital is launching in newsletter form on Friday, October 23. Sign up here so you don’t miss out.

Now, to the tea.


Stay Woke


Coinbase loses about 5% of workforce for its stance on social issues

Remember how Coinbase provided an out to employees who no longer wanted to work at the cryptocurrency company as a result of its stance on social issues? Well, Coinbase CEO Brian Armstrong said this week that about 5% of employees (60 people) have decided to take the exit package, but that there will likely be more since “a handful of other conversations” are still happening.

Armstrong noted how some people worried his stance would push out people of color and other underrepresented minorities. But in his blog post, Armstrong said those folks “have not taken the exit package in numbers disproportionate to the overall population.”

Trump’s DOL goes after Microsoft for committing to hire more Black people

Microsoft disclosed this week that the U.S. Department of Labor Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs contacted the company regarding its racial justice and diversity commitments made in June. Microsoft had committed to double the number of Black people managers, senior individual contributors and senior leaders in its U.S. workforce by 2025. Now, however, the OFCCP says that could be considered as unlawful discrimination in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. That’s because, according to the letter, Microsoft’s commitment “appears to imply that employment action may be taken based on race.”

“We are clear that the law prohibits us from discriminating on the basis of race,” Microsoft wrote in a blog post. “We also have affirmative obligations as a company that serves the federal government to continue to increase the diversity of our workforce, and we take those obligations very seriously. We have decades of experience and know full well how to appropriately create opportunities for people without taking away opportunities from others. Furthermore, we know that we need to focus on creating more opportunity, including through specific programs designed to cast a wide net for talent for whom we can provide careers with Microsoft.”

This comes shortly after the Trump administration expanded its ban on diversity and anti-racism training to include federal contractors. While this does not fall into the scope of that ban, it’s alarming to see the DOL going after a tech company for trying to increase diversity. However, it does seem that the effects of the ban are making its way into the tech industry.

Joelle Emerson, founder and CEO of diversity training service Paradigm, says she lost her first client as a result of the executive order. While it’s not clear which client it was, many of Paradigm’s clients are tech companies.

Crunchbase report sheds light on VC funding to Black and Latinx founders

It’s widely understood that Black and Latinx founders receive not nearly as much funding as their white counterparts. Now, Crunchbase has shed some additional light on the situation. Here are some highlights from its 2020 Diversity Spotlight report.

Image Credits: Crunchbase

  • Since 2015, Black and Latinx founders have raised more than $15 billion, which represents just 2.4% of the total venture capital raised. 
  • In 2020, Black and Latinx founders have raised $2.3 billion, which represents 2.6% of all VC funding through August 31, 2020.
  • Since 2015, the top 10 leading VC firms in the U.S. have invested in around 70 startups founded by Black or Latinx people.
  • Andreessen Horowitz and Founders Fund are the two firms with the highest count of new investments in Black or Latinx-founded companies since 2015.

Gig Work


Uber engineer encourages people to vote no on Uber-backed Prop 22

Going against his employer, Uber engineer Kurt Nelson penned an op-ed on TechCrunch about why he’s voting against Prop 22. Prop 22 is a ballot measure in California that seeks to keep rideshare drivers and delivery workers classified as independent contractors. I caught up with Nelson after he published his op-ed to learn more about what brought him to the point of speaking out against Prop 22. 

“It was a combination of COVID affecting unemployment and health insurance for a bunch of people, getting close to the election and not having seen anyone who is really former Uber or Uber or former any gig companies saying anything,” Nelson told me. 

Plus, Nelson is on his way out from Uber — something that he’s been forthcoming about with his manager. He had already been feeling frustrated about the way Uber handled its rounds of layoffs this year, but the company’s push for Prop 22 was “the final nail in the coffin.”

Uber’s big arguments around why drivers should remain independent contractors is that it’s what drivers want and that it’d be costly to make them employees. Uber has said it also doesn’t see a way to offer flexibility to drivers while also employing them.

“I think it’d be really challenging,” Uber Director of Policy, Cities and Transportation Shin-pei Tsay told me at TC Sessions: Mobility this week. “We would have to start to ensure that there’s coverage to ensure that there’s the necessary number of drivers to meet demand. That would be this forecasting that needs to happen. We would only be able to offer a certain number of jobs to meet that demand because people will be working in set amounts of time. I think there would be quite fewer work opportunities, especially the ones that people really have said that they like.”

But, as Nelson notes, Silicon Valley prides itself on tackling difficult problems. 

“We’re a tech company and we solve hard problems — that’s what we do,” he said.

In response to his op-ed, Nelson said some of his co-workers have reached out to him — some thanking him for saying something. Even prior to his op-ed, Nelson said he was one of the only people who would talk about Prop 22 in any negative way in Uber’s internal Slack channels. And it’s no wonder why, given the atmosphere Uber has created around Prop 22. 

During all-hands meetings, Nelson described how the executive team wears Yes on 22 shirts or has a Yes on 22 Zoom background. Uber has also offered employees free Yes on 22 car decals and shirts, Nelson said.

As for Nelson’s next job, he knows he doesn’t “want to touch the gig economy ever again,” he said. “I know that for a fact. I’m done with the gig economy.”


Union Life


Kickstarter settles with NLRB over firing of union organizer

Kickstarter agreed to pay $36,598.63 in backpay to Taylor Moore, a former Kickstarter employee who was fired last year, Vice reported. Moore was active in organizing the company’s union, which was officially recognized earlier this year. As part of the settlement with the National Labor Relations Board, Kickstarter also agreed to post a notice to employees about the settlement on its intranet and at its physical office whenever they reopen. 

In September 2019, Kickstarter fired two people who were actively organizing a union. About a year later, the Labor Board found merit that Kickstarter unlawfully fired a union organizer.

NLRB files complaint against Google contractor HCL America

It’s been about a year since 80 Google contractors voted to form a union with U.S. Steelworkers. But those contractors, who are officially employed by HCL America, have not been able to engage in collective bargaining, according to a new complaint from the National Labor Relations Board, obtained by Vice.

The complaint states HCL has failed to bargain with the union and has even transferred the work of members of the bargaining unit to non-union members based in Poland. The NLRB alleges HCL has done that “because employees formed, joined and assisted the Union and engaged in concerted activities, and to discourage employees from engaging in these activities.”


News bites


Read More

Posted on

Arm CEO Simon Segars discusses AI, data centers, getting acquired by Nvidia and more

Nvidia is in the process of acquiring chip designer Arm for $40 billion. Coincidentally, both companies are also holding their respective developer conferences this week. After he finished his keynote at the Arm DevSummit, I sat down with Arm CEO Simon Segars to talk about the acquisition and what it means for the company.

Segars noted that the two companies started talking in earnest around May 2020, though at first, only a small group of executives was involved. Nvidia, he said, was really the first suitor to make a real play for the company — with the exception of SoftBank, of course, which took Arm private back in 2016 — and combining the two companies, he believes, simply makes a lot of sense at this point in time.

“They’ve had a meteoric rise. They’ve been building up to that,” Segars said. “So it just made a lot of sense with where they are at, where we are at and thinking about the future of AI and how it’s going to go everywhere and how that necessitates much more sophisticated hardware — and a much more sophisticated software environment on which developers can build products. The combination of the two makes a lot of sense in this moment.”

The data center market, where Nvidia, too, is already a major player, is also an area where Arm has heavily focused in recent years. And while it goes up against the likes of Intel, Segars is optimistic. “We’re not in it to be a bit player,” he said. “Our goal is to get a material market share and I think the proof to the pudding is there.”

He also expects that in a few years, we’ll see Arm-powered servers available on all of the major clouds. Right now, AWS is ahead in this game with its custom-built Gravitron processors. Microsoft and Google do not currently offer Arm-based servers.

“With each passing day, more and more of the software infrastructure that’s required for the cloud is getting ported over and optimized for Arm. So it becomes a more and more compelling proposition for sure,” he said, and cited both performance and energy efficiency as reasons for cloud providers to use Arm chips.

Another interesting aspect of the deal is that we may just see Arm sell some of Nvidia’s IP as well. That would be a big change — and a first — for Nvidia, but Segars believes it makes a lot of sense to do so.

“It may be that there is something in the portfolio of Nvidia that they currently sell as a chip that we may look at and go, ‘you know, what if we package that up as an IP product, without modifying it? There’s a market for that.’ Or it may be that there’s a thing in here where if we take that and combine it with something else that we were doing, we can make a better product or expand the market for the technology. I think it’s going to be more of the latter than it is the former because we design all our products to be delivered as IP.”

And while he acknowledged that Nvidia and Arm still face some regulatory hurdles, he believes the deal will be pro-competitive in the end — and that the regulators will see it the same way.

He does not believe, by the way, that the company will face any issues with Chinese companies not being able to license Arm’s designs because of export restrictions, something a lot of people were worried about when the deal was first announced.

“Export control of a product is all about where was it designed and who designed it,” he said. “And of course, just because your parent company changes, doesn’t change those fundamental properties of the underlying product. So we analyze all our products and look at how much U.S. content is in there, to what extent are our products subject to U.S. export control, U.K. export control, other export control regimes? It’s a full-time piece of work to make sure we stay on top of that.”

Here are some excerpts from our 30-minute conversation:

TechCrunch: Walk me through how that deal came about? What was the timeline for you?

Simon Segars: I think probably around May, June time was when it really kicked off. We started having some early discussions. And then, as these things progress, you suddenly kind of hit the ‘Okay, now let’s go.’ We signed a sort of first agreement to actually go into due diligence and then it really took off. It went from a few meetings, a bit of negotiation, to suddenly heads down and a broader set of people — but still a relatively small number of people involved, answering questions. We started doing due diligence documents, just the mountain of stuff that you go through and you end up with a document. [Segars shows a print-out of the contract, which is about the size of two phone books.]

You must have had suitors before this. What made you decide to go ahead with this deal this time around?

Well, to be honest, in Arm’s history, there’s been a lot of rumors about people wanting to acquire Arm, but really until SoftBank in 2016, nobody ever got serious. I can’t think of a case where somebody actually said, ‘come on, we want to try and negotiate a deal here.’ And so it’s been four years under SoftBank’s ownership and that’s been really good because we’ve been able to do what we said we were going to do around investing much more aggressively in the technology. We’ve had a relationship with Nvidia for a long time. [Rene Haas, Arm’s president of its Intellectual Property Group, who previously worked at Nvidia] has had a relationship with [Nvidia CEO Jensen Huang] for a long time. They’ve had a meteoric rise. They’ve been building up to that. So it just made a lot of sense with where they are at, where we are at and thinking about the future of AI and how it’s going to go everywhere and how that necessitates much more sophisticated hardware — and a much more sophisticated software environment on which developers can build products. The combination of the two makes a lot of sense in this moment.

How does it change the trajectory you were on before for Arm?

Read More

Posted on

Microsoft commits to putting more water than it consumes back into the ecosystems where it operates by 2030

One good trend in 2020 has been large technology companies almost falling over one another to make ever-bolder commitments regarding their ecological impact. A cynic might argue that just doing without most of the things they make could have a much greater impact, but Microsoft is the latest to make a commitment that not only focuses on minimizing its impact, but actually on reversing it. The Windows-maker has committed to achieving a net positive water footprint by 2030, by which it means it wants to be contributing more energy back into the environment in the places it operates than it is drawing out, as measured across all “basins” that span its footprint.

Microsoft hopes to achieve this goal through two main types of initiatives: First, it’ll be reducing the “intensity” of its water use across its operations, as measured by the amount of water used per megawatt of energy consumed by the company. Second, it will also be looking to actually replenish water in the areas of the world where Microsoft operations are located in “water-stressed” regions, through efforts like investment in area wetland restoration, or the removal and replacement of certain surfaces, including asphalt, which are not water-permeable and therefore prevent water from natural sources like rainfall from being absorbed back into a region’s overall available basin.

The company says that how much water it will return will vary, and depend on how much Microsoft consumes in each region, as well as how much the local basin is under duress in terms of overall consumption. Microsoft isn’t going to rely solely on external sources for this info, however: It plans to put its artificial intelligence technology to work to provide better information around what areas are under stress in terms of water usage, and where optimization projects would have the greatest impact. It’s already working toward these goals with a number of industry groups, including The Freshwater Trust.

Microsoft has made a number of commitments toward improving its global ecological impact, including a commitment from earlier this year to become “carbon negative” by 2030. Meanwhile, Apple said in July that its products, including the supply chains that produce them, will be net carbon neutral by 2030, while Google made a commitment just last week to use only energy from carbon-free sources by that same year.

Read More

Posted on

Homeland Security issues rare emergency alert over ‘critical’ Windows bug

Homeland Security’s cybersecurity advisory unit has issued a rare emergency alert to government departments after the recent disclosure of a “critical”-rated security vulnerability in server versions of Microsoft Windows.

The Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, better known as CISA, issued an alert late on Friday requiring all federal departments and agencies to “immediately” patch any Windows servers vulnerable to the so-called Zerologon attack by Monday, citing an “unacceptable risk” to government networks.

It’s the third emergency alert issued by CISA this year.

The Zerologon vulnerability, rated the maximum 10.0 in severity, could allow an attacker to take control of any or all computers on a vulnerable network, including domain controllers, the servers that manage a network’s security. The bug was appropriately called “Zerologon,” because an attacker doesn’t need to steal or use any network passwords to gain access to the domain controllers, only gain a foothold on the network, such as by exploiting a vulnerable device connected to the network.

With complete access to a network, an attacker could deploy malware, ransomware, or steal sensitive internal files.

Security company Secura, which discovered the bug, said it takes “about three seconds in practice” to exploit the vulnerability.

Microsoft pushed out an initial fix in August to prevent exploitation. But given the complexity of the bug, Microsoft said it would have to roll out a second patch early next year to eradicate the issue completely.

But the race is on to patch systems after researchers reportedly released proof-of-concept code, potentially allowing attackers use the code to launch attacks. CISA said that Friday that it “assumes active exploitation of this vulnerability is occurring in the wild.”

Although the CISA alert only applies to federal government networks, the agency said it “strongly” urges companies and consumers to patch their systems as soon as possible if not already.

Read More

Posted on

How the NSA is disrupting foreign hackers targeting COVID-19 vaccine research

The headlines aren’t always kind to the National Security Agency, a spy agency that operates almost entirely in the shadows. But a year ago, the NSA launched its new Cybersecurity Directorate, which in the past year has emerged as one of the more visible divisions of the spy agency.

At its core, the directorate focuses on defending and securing critical national security systems that the government uses for its sensitive and classified communications. But the directorate has become best known for sharing some of the more emerging, large-scale cyber threats from foreign hackers. In the past year the directorate has warned against attacks targeting secure boot features in most modern computers, and doxxed a malware operation linked to Russian intelligence. By going public, NSA aims to make it harder for foreign hackers to reuse their tools and techniques, while helping to defend critical systems at home.

But six months after the directorate started its work, COVID-19 was declared a pandemic and large swathes of the world — and the U.S. — went into lockdown, prompting hackers to shift gears and change tactics.

“The threat landscape has changed,” Anne Neuberger, NSA’s director of cybersecurity, told TechCrunch at Disrupt 2020. “We’ve moved to telework, we move to new infrastructure, and we’ve watched cyber adversaries move to take advantage of that as well,” she said.

Publicly, the NSA advised on which videoconferencing and collaboration software was secure, and warned about the risks associated with virtual private networks, of which usage boomed after lockdowns began.

But behind the scenes, the NSA is working with federal partners to help protect the efforts to produce and distribute a vaccine for COVID-19, a feat that the U.S. government called Operation Warp Speed. News of NSA’s involvement in the operation was first reported by Cyberscoop. As the world races to develop a working COVID-19 vaccine, which experts say is the only long-term way to end the pandemic, NSA and its U.K. and Canadian partners went public with another Russian intelligence operation aimed at targeting COVID-19 research.

“We’re part of a partnership across the U.S. government, we each have different roles,” said Neuberger. “The role we play as part of ‘Team America for Cyber’ is working to understand foreign actors, who are they, who are seeking to steal COVID-19 vaccine information — or more importantly, disrupt vaccine information or shake confidence in a given vaccine.”

Neuberger said that protecting the pharma companies developing a vaccine is just one part of the massive supply chain operation that goes into getting a vaccine out to millions of Americans. Ensuring the cybersecurity of the government agencies tasked with approving a vaccine is also a top priority.

Here are more takeaways from the talk, and you can watch the interview in full below:

Why TikTok is a national security threat

TikTok is just days away from an app store ban, after the Trump administration earlier this year accused the Chinese-owned company of posing a threat to national security. But the government has been less than forthcoming about what specific risks the video sharing app poses, only alleging that the app could be compelled to spy for China. Beijing has long been accused of cyberattacks against the U.S., including the massive breach of classified government employee files from the Office of Personnel Management in 2014.

Neuberger said that the “scope and scale” of TikTok’s app’s data collection makes it easier for Chinese spies to answer “all kinds of different intelligence questions” on U.S. nationals. Neuberger conceded that U.S. tech companies like Facebook and Google also collect large amounts of user data. But that there are “greater concerns on how [China] in particular could use all that information collected against populations other than its own,” she said.

NSA is privately disclosing security bugs to companies

The NSA is trying to be more open about the vulnerabilities it finds and discloses, Neuberger said. She told TechCrunch that the agency has shared a “number” of vulnerabilities with private companies this year, but “those companies did not want to give attribution.”

One exception was earlier this year when Microsoft confirmed NSA had found and privately reported a major cryptographic flaw in Windows 10, which could have allowed hackers to run malware masquerading as a legitimate file. The bug was so dangerous that NSA reported the vulnerability to Microsoft, which patched the bug.

Only two years earlier, the spy agency was criticized for finding and using a Windows vulnerability to conduct surveillance instead of alerting Microsoft to the flaw. The exploit was later leaked and was used to infect thousands of computers with the WannaCry ransomware, causing millions of dollars’ worth of damage.

As a spy agency, NSA exploits flaws and vulnerabilities in software to gather intelligence on the enemy. It has to run through a process called the Vulnerabilities Equities Process, which allows the government to retain bugs that it can use for spying.

Read More

Posted on

The $10B JEDI contract is locked, loaded and still completely stuck

The other day I took a moment to count the number of stories we’ve done on TechCrunch on the DoD’s $10 billion, decade-long, winner-take-all, JEDI cloud contract. This marks the 30th time we’ve written about this deal over the last two years, and it comes after a busy week last week in JEDI cloud contract news.

That we’re still writing about this is fairly odd if you consider the winner was announced last October when the DoD chose Microsoft, but there is no end in sight to the on-going drama that is this procurement process.

Government contracts don’t typically catch our attention at TechCrunch, but this one felt different early on. There was the size and scope of the deal of course. There was the cute play on the “Star Wars” theme. There was Oracle acting like a batter complaining to the umpire before the first pitch was thrown. There was the fact that everyone thought Amazon would win until it didn’t.

There was a lot going on. In fact, there’s still a lot going on with this story.

Oracle doth protest too much

Let’s start with Oracle, which dispatched CEO Safra Catz to the White House in April 2018 even before the RFP had been written. She was setting the stage to complain that the deal was going to be set up to favor Amazon, something that Oracle alleged until the day Microsoft was picked the winner.

Catz had been on the Trump transition team and so had the ear of the president. While the president certainly interjected himself in this process, it’s not known how much influence that particular meeting might have had. Suffice to say that it was only the first volley in Oracle’s long war against the JEDI contract procurement process.

It would include official complaints with the Government Accountability Office and a federal lawsuit worth not coincidentally $10 billion. It would claim the contract favored Amazon. It would argue that the one-vendor approach wasn’t proper. It would suggest that because the DoD had some former Amazon employees helping write the RFP, that it somehow favored Amazon. The GAO and two court cases found otherwise, ruling against Oracle every single time.

It’s worth noting that the Court of Appeals ruling last week indicated that Oracle didn’t even meet some of the basic contractual requirements, all the while complaining about the process itself from the start.

Amazon continues to press protests

Nobody was more surprised that Amazon lost the deal than Amazon itself. It still believes to this day that it is technically superior to Microsoft and that it can offer the DoD the best approach. The DoD doesn’t agree. On Friday, it reaffirmed its choice of Microsoft. But that is not the end of this, not by a long shot.

Amazon has maintained since the decision was made last October that the decision-making process had been tainted by presidential interference in the process. They believe that because of the president’s personal dislike of Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, who also owns the Washington Post, he inserted himself in the process to prevent Bezos’ company from winning that deal.

In January, Amazon filed a motion to stop work on the project until this could all be sorted out. In February, a judge halted work on the project until Amazon’s complaints could be heard by the court. It is September and that order is still in place.

In a blog post on Friday, Amazon reiterated its case, which is based on presidential interference and what it believes is technical superiority. “In February, the Court of Federal Claims stopped performance on JEDI. The Court determined AWS’s protest had merit, and that Microsoft’s proposal likely failed to meet a key solicitation requirement and was likely deficient and ineligible for award. Our protest detailed how pervasive these errors were (impacting all six technical evaluation factors), and the Judge stopped the DoD from moving forward because the very first issue she reviewed demonstrated serious flaws,” Amazon wrote in the post.

Microsoft for the win?

Microsoft on the other hand went quietly about its business throughout this process. It announced Azure Stack, a kind of portable cloud that would work well as a field operations computer system. It beefed up its government security credentials.

Even though Microsoft didn’t agree with the one-vendor approach, indicating that the government would benefit more from the multivendor approach many of its customers were taking, it made clear if those were the rules, it was in it to win it — and win it did, much to the surprise of everyone, especially Amazon.

Yet here we are, almost a year later and in spite of the fact that the DoD found once again, after further review, that Microsoft is still the winner, the contract remains in limbo. Until that pending court case is resolved, we will continue to watch and wait and wonder if this will ever be truly over, and the JEDI cloud contract will actually be implemented.

Read More

Posted on

PandaDoc employees arrested in Belarus after founders protest against Lukashenko regime

Yesterday the four employees (pictured) of US-headquartered enterprise startup PandaDoc were arrested in Minsk by the Belarus police, in what appears to be an act of state-led retaliation, after the company’s founders joined protests against the 26 year-long regime of President Alexander Lukashenko. Lukashenko is widely believed by international observers to have rigged the country’s recent elections in his favor, preventing the election of opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya.

PandaDoc — which has raised $51.1M and is now headquartered in San Francisco after debuting at a TechCrunch Meetup in Berlin in 2013 — issued a statement saying their Minsk development office was raided by police and the ‘Financial Investigation Department’ yesterday morning.

PandaDoc has released a statement on a new web site, SavePandaDoc, outlining the incident, saying employees had been prevented from leaving the office, refused access to lawyers, and a director was taken away by Police.

One of the founders of the company, Mikita Mikado, who lives in the US, has also released a statement to this effect on his Instagram and Youtube.

[embedded content]

Four of the arrested PandaDoc employees have been charged with embezzling 107,000 BYR ($41,000) from company and therefore avoiding tax. The employees have been detained for two months.

However, PandaDoc released a statement saying: “We declare that this accusation is completely untrue and has no basis whatsoever. All activities of the company were carried out in full compliance with the legislation, which is confirmed by repeated international audits and inspections.”

Now held in custody are (also pictured):

Yulia Shardiko, Chief Accountant
Dmitry Rabtsevich, Director
Victor Kuvshinov, Product Director
Vladislav Mikholap, HR

Although the company HQ is in San Francisco, it has a large office on the Belarusian High Technologies Park, which was set up by the government supposedly to support the tech industry.

PandaDoc said the police raid was likely linked to the fact that the founders of PandaDoc, in particular Mikado, have protested publicly against the brutal crackdown on pro-democracy protesters by Lukashenko, but have done so strictly in a personal capacity.

Mikado recently became a leading voice in the protest movement. He set up an initiative, ProtectBelarus.org, offering Belarusian police officers who had decided to disobey orders to beat and torture protesters financial aid and re-training in the tech industry.

Belarussian police officers are effectively ‘indentured employees’ because they are paid in large sums at the beginning of their contract, but this immediately becomes a debt to the state the moment they decide to break leave their contract.

In a statement, Mikado said that as of August 29th, the platform had received more than 6,000 messages and almost 600 requests for help. The platform is run by volunteers and has no relation to PandaDoc, the company.

Mikado said in a statement: “We are asking international tech community to support PandaDoc by sharing this message and reaction to it with a #SavePandaDoc tag.”

“There is no more law. The authorities do not even try to act according to the law, they simply fabricate cases for political orders that come from above. And if you thought that this would not affect you, then we can safely assure you of the opposite – it has already affected everyone,” the statement reads.

“We will not be silent anymore! The country is full of legal chaos. The actions of the authorities cannot be called anything except genocide and repression. The further it goes, the longer the road back. And soon there will be a cliff. We demand to immediately release our colleagues, close the criminal case, let the company work normally and bring benefits and income, including to the state.”

The company now says it will be forced to close the company in Belarus and “will begin to establish an alternative to the Park of High Technologies outside the Republic of Belarus.”

PandaDoc only recently raised $30 million in a Series B extension from One Peak, Microsoft Venture Fund M12 and EBRD Venture Fund.

After the Belarusian presidential election on August 9th (which was not recognized as free and fair by the EU, the UK and the US due to widely reported and documented vote-rigging in favor of Lukashenko) the police violently cracked down on peaceful protests, leading to six reported deaths and 450 UN-documented cases of police torture.

Read More

Posted on

DoD reaffirms Microsoft has won JEDI cloud contract, but Amazon legal complaints still pending

We have seen a lot of action this week as the DoD tries to finally determine the final winner of the $10 billion, decade-long DoD JEDI cloud contract. Today, the DoD released a statement that after reviewing the proposals from finalists Microsoft and Amazon again, it reiterated that Microsoft was the winner of the contract.

“The Department has completed its comprehensive re-evaluation of the JEDI Cloud proposals and determined that Microsoft’s proposal continues to represent the best value to the Government. The JEDI Cloud contract is a firm-fixed-price, indefinite-delivery/indefinite-quantity contract that will make a full range of cloud computing services available to the DoD,” the DoD said in a statement.

This comes on the heels of yesterday’s Court of Appeals decision denying Oracle’s argument that the procurement process was flawed and that there was a conflict of interest because a former Amazon employee helped write the requirements for the RFP.

While the DoD has determined that it believes that Microsoft should still get the contract, after selecting them last October, that doesn’t mean this is the end of the line for this long-running saga. In fact, a federal judge halted work on the project in February pending a hearing on an ongoing protest from Amazon, which believes it should have won based on merit, and the fact it believes the president interfered with the procurement process to prevent Jeff Bezos, who owns The Washington Post, from getting the lucrative contract.

The DoD confirmed that the project could not begin until the legal wrangling was settled. “While contract performance will not begin immediately due to the Preliminary Injunction Order issued by the Court of Federal Claims on February 13, 2020, DoD is eager to begin delivering this capability to our men and women in uniform,” the DoD reported in a statement.

A Microsoft spokesperson said the company was ready to get to work on the project as soon as it got the OK to proceed. “We appreciate that after careful review, the DoD confirmed that we offered the right technology and the best value. We’re ready to get to work and make sure that those who serve our country have access to this much needed technology,” a Microsoft spokesperson told TechCrunch .

Meanwhile, in a blog post published late this afternoon, Amazon made it clear that it was unhappy with today’s outcome and will continue to pursue legal remedy for what they believe to be presidential interference that has threatened the integrity of the procurement process. Here’s how they concluded the blog post:

We strongly disagree with the DoD’s flawed evaluation and believe it’s critical for our country that the government and its elected leaders administer procurements objectively and in a manner that is free from political influence. The question we continue to ask ourselves is whether the President of the United States should be allowed to use the budget of the Department of Defense to pursue his own personal and political ends? Throughout our protest, we’ve been clear that we won’t allow blatant political interference, or inferior technology, to become an acceptable standard. Although these are not easy decisions to make, and we do not take them lightly, we will not back down in the face of targeted political cronyism or illusory corrective actions, and we will continue pursuing a fair, objective, and impartial review.

While today’s statement from DoD appears to take us one step closer to the end of the road for this long-running drama, it won’t be over until the court rules on Amazon’s arguments. It’s clear from today’s blog post that Amazon has no intention of stepping down.

Note: We have  updated this story with content from an Amazon blog post responding to this news.

Read More

Posted on

Daily Crunch: India bans PUBG and other Chinese apps

India continues to crack down on Chinese apps, Microsoft launches a deepfake detector and Google offers a personalized news podcast. This is your Daily Crunch for September 2, 2020.

The big story: India bans PUBG and other Chinese apps

The Indian government continues its purge of apps created by or linked to Chinese companies. It already banned 59 Chinese apps back in June, including TikTok.

India’s IT Ministry justified the decision as “a targeted move to ensure safety, security, and sovereignty of Indian cyberspace.” The apps banned today include search engine Baidu, business collaboration suite WeChat Work, cloud storage service Tencent Weiyun and the game Rise of Kingdoms. But PUBG is the most popular, with more than 40 million monthly active users.

The tech giants

Microsoft launches a deepfake detector tool ahead of US election — The Video Authenticator tool will provide a confidence score that a given piece of media has been artificially manipulated.

Google’s personalized audio news feature, Your News Update, comes to Google Podcasts — That means you’ll be able to get a personalized podcast of the latest headlines.

Twitch launches Watch Parties to all creators worldwideTwitch is doubling down on becoming more than just a place for live-streamed gaming videos.

Startups, funding and venture capital

Indonesian insurtech startup PasarPolis gets $54 million Series B from investors including LeapFrog and SBI — The startup’s goal is to reach people who have never purchased insurance before with products like inexpensive “micro-policies” that cover broken device screens.

XRobotics is keeping the dream of pizza robots alive — XRobotics’ offering resembles an industrial 3D printer, in terms of size and form factor.

India’s online learning platform Unacademy raises $150 million at $1.45 billion valuation — India has a new startup unicorn.

Advice and analysis from Extra Crunch

The IPO parade continues as Wish files, Bumble targets an eventual debut — Alex Wilhelm looks at the latest IPO news, including Bumble planning to go public at a $6 to $8 billion valuation.

3 ways COVID-19 has affected the property investment market — COVID-19 has stirred up the long-settled dust on real estate investing.

Deep Science: Dog detectors, Mars mappers and AI-scrambling sweaters — Devin Coldewey kicks off a new feature in which he gets you all caught up on the most recent research papers and scientific discoveries.

(Reminder: Extra Crunch is our subscription membership program, which aims to democratize information about startups. You can sign up here.)

Everything else

‘The Mandalorian’ launches its second season on Oct. 30 — The show finished shooting its second season right before the pandemic shut down production everywhere.

GM, Ford wrap up ventilator production and shift back to auto business — Both automakers said they’d completed their contracts with the Department of Health and Human Services.

The Daily Crunch is TechCrunch’s roundup of our biggest and most important stories. If you’d like to get this delivered to your inbox every day at around 3pm Pacific, you can subscribe here.

Read More

Posted on

Walmart-exclusive TrillerTok will run on Azure, or Oracle, or something

If you can’t keep up with the latest rumor mill on TikTok’s impending doom acquisition, my suggestion is simple: don’t. Or instead, enjoy it for what it is: one of the most absurd bakeoff deals in investment banking history.

Walmart and its always low prices are in the fray. Oracle is looking to find synergies to make enterprise resource planning software more enticing to Gen Z workers. Triller — who the hell are they again? — is supposedly teaming up with an asset management firm (and a planet near the Hoth system) called Centricus according to Bloomberg (to which TikTok responded nah). Twitter is in — maybe? — with key corporate strategic advice from Beyoncé on the social network’s debt underwriting strategy.

SoftBank is apparently looking, and also just happened to announce yesterday its intention to sell off $14 billion of its core Japanese mobile services business to net cash quickly. (The upshot is that at least TikTok lost most of its value before SoftBank’s investment!)

Everything here is absurd. TikTok is absurd. The videos of people doing what they are doing on TikTok are absurd. TikTok’s growth is absurd. A president setting a deadline on the sale of a company is absurd. This process is absurd. Selling a company as large as TikTok in 45 days is absurd. Walmart is absurd (and also a mirage, since they are still banned from New York City lest someone gets discounted soap in a pandemic).

I warned a few weeks ago to “beware bankers” peddling TikTok rumors. And that’s still the right answer, in the sense that of course we are going to get to the furthest reaches of the M&A universe as bankers try to salvage TikTok’s final sale price (“We’re approaching the Centricus system, sir!”). But that approach is so much more boring than just assuming that every rumor is true and trying to imagine Wall Street advisors trundling through this morass of bids.

My advice here is simple: let’s all take our analyst hats off for a week and put on our clown costumes, since — and it’s key you don’t work at TikTok for this or have money at stake in the company — this story is actually enjoyable.

COVID-19 is serious, the U.S. presidential election is weeks away, social justice in our cities is critically important. Just in the past few hours, T’Challa passed away, Hurricane Laura ripped up the Gulf Coast, and the longest continuously-serving Japanese prime minister of the post-war era (yes, I know, that’s a lot of qualifiers) just resigned due to health issues. It can get weighty on the front pages of the newspapers these days.

So it’s just nice to know that you can flip to the business pages and get some farce.

Maybe this whole story will eventually turn into the next great business book à la Barbarians at the Gate. But at least the barbarians then knew how to destroy a company with the proper levels of debt leverage. Here, you’ve got the pre-smoldered detritus of a business being bid on by the company that brought us The Greeter.

Whatever this saga brings next (hint: Microsoft buying the company), I’ll just say this: the warmth and cheeriness that TikTok provided millions of teenagers though short videos of awakward dance routines is the same mirth that it provides acerbic financial analysts with a caustic eye on the markets. In what has been a miserable year for all of us, for that small twinkle of amusement, I’m thankful.

Read More