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Elon Musk’s Las Vegas Loop might only carry a fraction of the passengers it promised

In pandemic-free years, America’s biggest trade show, CES, attracts more than 170,000 attendees, bringing traffic that jams surrounding roads day and night. To help absorb at least some of the congestion, the Las Vegas Convention Center (LVCC) last year planned a people-mover to serve an expanded campus. The LVCC wanted transit that could move up to 4,400 attendees every hour between exhibition halls and parking lots.

It considered traditional light rail that could shuttle hundreds of attendees per train, but settled on an underground system from Elon Musk’s The Boring Company (TBC) instead — largely because Musk’s bid was tens of millions of dollars cheaper. The LVCC Loop would transport attendees through two 0.8-mile underground tunnels in Tesla vehicles, four or five at a time. 

But planning files reviewed by TechCrunch seem to show that the Loop system will not be able to move anywhere near the number of people LVCC wants, and that TBC agreed to.

Fire regulations peg the occupant capacity in the load and unload zones of one of the Loop’s three stations at just 800 passengers an hour. If the other stations have similar limitations, the system might only be able to transport 1,200 people an hour — around a quarter of its promised capacity. 

If TBC misses its performance target by such a margin, Musk’s company will not receive more than $13 million of its construction budget — and will face millions more in penalty charges once the system becomes operational. 

Neither TBC nor LVCVA responded to multiple requests for comment. 

Fire regulations limit the load/unload zone near the cars to 800 people per hour. Credit: TBC/Clark County

The LVCC always realized that it was taking a gamble on the Loop. Although Musk built a short demonstration tunnel near Los Angeles, this would be the first public system with real customers and service requirements. An analysis by Las Vegas Mayor Carolyn Goodman in May 2019 concluded that TBC’s unproven system presented a high risk for the LVCC’s parent body, the Las Vegas Convention and Visitor’s Authority (LVCVA).

So when the LCVCA wrote its contract with The Boring Company, it did its best to incentivize Musk to deliver on his promises. The contract would be for a fixed price, and TBC would have to hit specific milestones to receive all of its payments. When the bare tunnels are completed, which could happen any day now, TBC will have earned just over 30% of the total. The next big milestone is the completion of the entire working system, which would result in a pay-out of over $10 million. 

That was scheduled to have happened by October 1, so that the system would be ready for the next CES show in January. Although CES 2021 has now gone virtual and there is less time pressure on Musk to deliver, he presumably still wants to get paid. 

In a tweet this week, Elon Musk wrote that the system would be open in “maybe a month or so. Some finishing touches need to be done on the stations.”

After another milestone for the completion of a test period and safety report, the system’s final three milestones relate to how many passengers it can carry. If the Loop can demonstrate moving 2,200 passengers an hour, TBC will get $4.4 million, then the same payment again for hitting 3,300, and the same again for 4,400 passengers an hour. Together, these capacity payments represent 30% of the fixed price contract. 

Even if TBC achieved those numbers during testing, the LVCVA was worried that it might not be able to maintain them once the system was operational, so it inserted yet another requirement: “[TBC] acknowledges liquidated damages are applicable for [TBC’s] failure to provide System Capacity for Full Facility Trade Show Events.” 

For each large trade show that TBC fails to transport an average capacity of 3,960 passengers per hour for 13 hours, it will have to pay LVCVA $300,000 in damages. If TBC keeps falling short, it keeps paying, up to a maximum of $4.5 million. 

So what is stopping TBC from transporting as many people as both it and the LVCC wants? There are national fire safety rules for underground transit systems that specify alarms, sprinklers, emergency exits and a maximum occupant load, to avoid overcrowding in the event of a fire.

Building plans submitted by The Boring Company include a fire code analysis for one of the Loop’s above-ground stations: 

Image source: The Boring Company/Clark County NV

The above screenshot from the plans notes that the area where passengers get into and out of the Tesla cars has a peak occupancy load of 100 people every 7.5 minutes, equivalent to 800 passengers an hour. Even if the other stations had higher limits, this would limit the system’s hourly capacity to about 1,200 people. 

“That sounds correct,” says Glenn Corbett, a professor of security, fire and emergency management at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York. “But if that’s the bottleneck, the question from a safety standpoint is, what controls that [800 per hour]? Is it just pure honesty and people following the rules, or is there a mechanical thing that keeps them out?” 

The plans do not show any turnstiles or barriers to limit entry.

Even without the safety restrictions, the Loop may struggle to hit its capacity goals. Each of the 10 bays at the Loop’s stations must handle hundreds of passengers an hour, corresponding to perhaps 100 or more arrivals and departures, depending on how many people each car is carrying. That leaves little time to load and unload people and luggage, let alone make the 0.8-mile journey and occasionally recharge. 

Although TBC’s Loop website says that the system will use autonomous vehicles, a TBC executive told a planning committee last year that the cars would have human drivers “for additional safety.” TBC had proposed developing a larger capacity autonomous shuttle for the Loop, capable of carrying up to 16 people. The latest plans all show traditional sedans, however, and another Musk tweet this week admitted: “We simplified this a lot. It’s basically just Teslas in tunnels at this point.”

The most recent documents filed by TBC also show changes to the Loop’s original design.

Gone are striking curved roofs, with both aboveground stations now having flat photovoltaic canopies to help charge the Tesla vehicles. These terminal stations each have a single Supercharger station, and a “showpiece sculpture” consisting of a concrete segment similar to those used in the tunnels below.

The central, subterranean station has a large, open platform, and also houses the electrical, fire safety and IT equipment. Each station will have bays for 10 Tesla vehicles to load and unload passengers. 

Even before the first Loop is operating, TBC is planning two more Loop tunnels nearby, connecting the LVCC to the Wynn Encore and Resorts World casinos.

The tunnel to the Encore is long enough that safety regulations require an emergency exit about halfway along. Plans indicate an emergency egress shaft and a small hatch, but it is unclear whether passengers escaping a fire or breakdown would be expected to climb stairs or even a ladder.

Loop extension egress. Image source: The Boring Company/Clark County NV

TBC last year suggested an emergency ladder for its proposed Loop between Baltimore and Washington, D.C., a system that Corbett called “the definition of insanity,” as it did not account for passengers with limited mobility. That project is now on pause

TBC’s stated aim is to expand the LVCC Loop from a local people mover to a Vegas-wide transit system serving the Strip, the airport and eventually extending all the way to Los Angeles. If the company struggles to deliver capacity — and revenue — from its small-scale Convention Center system, the future of those ambitions could be in doubt. 

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Tesla scouts head to Tulsa, Austin as hunt for Cybertruck gigafactory location nears end

Tesla officials visited two sites in Tulsa, Oklahoma this week to search for a location for its future and fifth gigafactory that will produce its all-electric Cybertruck and Model Y crossover, a source familiar with the situation told TechCrunch.

Company representatives also visited Austin. A final decision has not been made, but Austin and Tulsa are among the finalists, according to multiple sources. The AP also reported Tulsa and Austin as top picks for the gigafactory.

Tesla expects to make a decision as soon as next month, and “certainly within three months,” CEO Elon Musk said April 29 during the company’s first quarter earnings call.

Musk tweeted in March that Tesla was scouting locations for a so-called “Cybertruck Gigafactory.” Musk said, at the time, that the factory would be located in the central part of the U.S. and would be used to produce Model Y crossovers for the East Coast market as well as the cybertruck.

Not long after the tweets, TechCrunch learned that Tesla was eyeing Nashville and had been in talks with officials there. Tesla informed Nashville officials this week that the city is out of the running for its gigafactory location, according to one source.

An email was sent to Tesla requesting comment. The article will be updated if Tesla responds.

Tulsa Mayor G.T. Bynum’s office issued a statement neither confirms nor denies the talks.

“While I can not comment on potential projects, it is clear that Tesla and Tulsa were forged in the same spirit,” Bynum said in an emailed statement. “Both founded by pioneers who dreamt big and made it happen. Both trying to change the world with a new kind of energy. Both investing big in what matters most: people. Tulsa is a city that doesn’t stifle entrepreneurs – we revere them. And as Tesla continues to rapidly change transportation all around the world, I can’t imagine a better place for them to further that important work than Green Country.”

This next gigafactory, wherever it is located, will likely be larger and produce multiple products, CFO Zachary Kirkhorn said during the same April 29 call.

“That’s under a belief that there’s significant efficiencies by having as much as possible and similar product lines under the same roof and as much vertical integration as possible all in one facility,” Kirkhorn said.

Musk has referred to these as future plants as “tera” factories — a nod to terawatt, or more specifically a terawatt-hour of battery capacity. The company’s first “gigafactory” is in Sparks, Nevada. The massive structure, which has surpassed. 1.9 million square feet, is where Tesla produces battery packs and electric motors for its Model 3 vehicles. The company has a joint venture with Panasonic,  which is making the lithium-ion cells.

Tesla dubbed the Sparks plant a “gigafactory” because the company said at the time it would be capable of producing 35 gigawatt-hours per year of battery cells.

Tesla assembles its Model S, Model X and Model 3 vehicles in Fremont, Calif. at a factory that was once home to GM and Toyota’s New United Motor Manufacturing Inc (NUMMI) operation. Tesla acquired the factory in 2010. The first Model S was produced at the factory in June 2012.

“Gigafactory 2” in Buffalo, New York, is where Tesla produces solar cells and modules. The company’s third gigafactory is located in Shanghai, China and started producing the Model 3 late last year. The first deliveries began in early January.

Tesla is now preparing to build another factory near Berlin. Once complete, this German factory will produce the Model 3 and Model Y for the European market.

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Elon Musk just put a new person in charge of production at Tesla’s Fremont factory

On the same day that Elon Musk defied local regulations and reopened Tesla’s factory in Fremont, California, the CEO put a new person in charge of production.

Musk named Richard Miller, who was director of paint operations at Tesla, to head of production at the factory, according to an internal email sent to employees Monday and viewed by TechCrunch. It appears that Miller replaces Jatinder Dhillon, who was the company’s manufacturing director. CNBC reported in March that Dhillon had left the company, although his LinkedIn profile still shows he is at the company and in the same role.

An email has been sent to Musk and Tesla for comment.

“Due to excellent performance as head of paint operations in Fremont, Richard Miller is hereby promoted to overall head of Fremont Production. Congratulations!,” the email reads.

The promotion comes at a chaotic moment for Musk and Tesla. Production at the company’s Fremont factory — where its electric vehicles are assembled — has been suspended since March 23 due to stay-at-home orders issued by Alameda County and Gov. Gavin Newsom. Musk restarted production Monday in direct conflict with county orders.

Tesla had planned to bring back about 30% of its factory workers May 8 as part of its reopening plan, after Newsom issued new guidance that would allow manufacturers to resume operations. However, the governor’s guidance included a warning that local governments could keep more restrictive rules in place. Alameda County, along with several other Bay Area counties and cities, have extended the stay-at-home orders through the end of May. The orders were revised and did ease some of the restrictions. However, it did not lift the order for manufacturing.

Musk has been at war with Alameda County, specifically aiming his ire at health officials, ever since the order was extended. Over the weekend, he threatened to sue and pull operations out of California. Tesla filed a lawsuit later that day against Alameda County seeking injunctive relief.

On Monday, Musk escalated matters further and announced on Twitter that he had restarted production.

Musk wrote he would  “be on the line,” a reference to the assembly line at the factory where Tesla makes the Model X, Model S, Model 3 and Model Y. He added “if anyone is arrested, I ask that it only be me.”

Alameda County issued a statement Monday acknowledging that it had learned that the Tesla factory in had opened beyond “minimum basic operations,” which was allowed.

“We have notified Tesla that they can only maintain Minimum Basic Operations until we have an approved plan that can be implemented in accordance with the local public health order,” the statement sent to TechCrunch said. “We are addressing this matter using the same phased approach we use for other businesses which have violated the order in the past, and we hope that Tesla will likewise comply without further enforcement measures.”

The county added that since April 30 it has “continued to collaborate in good faith with Tesla to present a plan for reopening the Fremont plant that ensures the safety of their thousands of employees and the communities in which they live and work, and that also aligns with local and state requirements.”

“We continue to move closer to an agreed upon safety plan for reopening beyond Minimum Basic Operations by working through steps that Tesla has agreed to adopt,” the statement continued. “These steps include improving employee health screening procedures and engaging front-line staff on their concerns and feedback regarding safety protocols.”

The county said it expected Tesla to submit a site-specific plan later Monday as required under the State of California guidance and checklist for manufacturing issued on May 7.

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Tesla sues Alameda County to force California factory reopening

Tesla filed a lawsuit Saturday against Alameda County in an effort to invalidate orders that have prevented the automaker from reopening its factory in Fremont, California.

The lawsuit, which seeks injunctive and declaratory relief against Alameda County, was first reported by CNBC. The lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court for California’s Northern District.

Earlier Saturday, Tesla CEO Elon Musk tweeted that he was filing a lawsuit against Alameda County and threatened to move its headquarters and future programs to Texas or Nevada immediately.

Tesla had planned to bring back about 30% of its factory workers Friday as part of its reopening plan, defying Alameda County’s stay-at-home order. Musk was basing the reopening on new guidance issued Thursday by California Gov. Gavin Newsom that allows manufacturers to resume operations. The guidance won praise from Musk, who later sent an internal email to employees about plans to reopen based on the governor’s revised order. However, the governor’s guidance included a warning that local governments could keep more restrictive rules in place. Alameda County, along with several other Bay Area counties and cities, last week extended the stay-at-home orders through the end of May. The orders were revised and did ease some of the restrictions. However, it did not lift the order for manufacturing.

The lawsuit argues that by preventing Tesla from opening, the Alameda County is going against its own guidance.

“Alameda County has expressly recognized and publicized that “businesses may . . . operate to manufacture” batteries and electric vehicles,” the complaint reads. “Inexplicably, however, the Third Order as well as County officials have simultaneously insisted that Tesla must remain shuttered, thereby further compounding the ambiguity, confusion and irrationality surrounding Alameda County’s position as to whether Tesla may resume manufacturing activities at its Fremont Factory and elsewhere in the County.”

The term “third order” is a reference to a revised stay-in-place order issued by Alameda County.

On Friday, the Alameda County Health Department said Tesla had not been given “the green light” to reopen and said if the company did, it would be out of compliance with the order.

Read the full complaint here.

Tesla v Alameda County Comp… by TechCrunch on Scribd

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Elon Musk threatens to pull Tesla operations out of California and into Texas or Nevada

Tesla CEO Elon Musk said Saturday the company will file a lawsuit against Alameda County and threatened to move its headquarters and future programs to Texas or Nevada immediately, escalating a fight between the company and health officials over whether its factory in Fremont can reopen.

Tesla had planned to bring back about 30% of its factory workers Friday as part of its reopening plan, defying Alameda County’s stay-at-home order.

TechCrunch has reached out to Elon Musk directly. We will update the story if he responds.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom issued new guidance Thursday that allowed manufacturers to resume operations. The guidance won praise from Musk, who later sent an internal email to employees about plans to reopen based on the governor’s revised order. However, the governor’s guidance included a warning that local governments could keep more restrictive rules in place. Alameda County, along with several other Bay Area counties and cities, last week extended the stay-at-home orders through the end of May. The orders were revised and did ease some of the restrictions. However, it did not lift the order for manufacturing.

On Friday, the Alameda County Health Department said Tesla had not been given “the green light” to reopen and said if the company did, it would be out of compliance with the order.

In the tweet, Musk said Tesla is filing a lawsuit against Alameda County immediately. In a later tweet, he also encouraged shareholders to file a lawsuit against the county.

“The unelected & ignorant “Interim Health Officer” of Alameda is acting contrary to the Governor, the President and our Constitutional freedoms & just plain common sense!,” the tweet said. He followed up with another tweet claiming that Tesla will now move its HQ and future programs to Texas or Nevada immediately.

“If we even retain Fremont manufacturing activity at all, it will be dependent on how Tesla is treated in the future. Tesla is the last carmaker left in CA,” Musk wrote.

Tesla has operations in Nevada; it doesn’t in Texas. The company’s massive battery factory – known as Gigafactory 1 — is located in Sparks, Nevada. Tesla is seeking out a new location to build a new U.S. gigafactory that will produce the Cybertruck and Model Y crossover. Some have speculated that Texas is a top pick.

Sources have told TechCrunch that Tesla is in talks with Nashville officials to locate a factory there that will produce the Cybertruck and Model Y crossover.

“Scouting locations for Cybertruck Gigafactory. Will be central USA,” Musk tweeted in March. He added that the factory would be used to produce Model Y crossovers for the East Coast market. The first Model Y vehicles are being produced at its plant in Fremont.

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Tesla prepares to bring back 30% of Fremont factory workers in spite of county order

Tesla is aiming to ramp up “limited operations” at its factory in Fremont, Calif., a decision that puts the company and its CEO Elon Musk in direct conflict with a stay-at-home order in Alameda County.

Employees received two emails — one from Musk and another from Valerie Workman, the company’s human resources director — indicating that the factory would open as early as Friday. Bloomberg was the first to report the emails. The decision to open was based on new guidance from Gov. Gavin Newsom, who said Thursday that manufacturers could resume operations.

However, Tesla is ignoring other parts of Newsom’s announcement, specifically that local governments could keep more restrictive rules in place. Tesla’s Fremont factory is located in Alameda County, which along with several other Bay Area counties and cities, issued revised stay-at-home orders that will last through the end of May. Those revised orders did ease some of the restrictions. However, if followed, Tesla wouldn’t be allowed to restart production of its Model S, Model X, Model 3 and now Model Y vehicles until June 1.

Officials at Alameda County could not be reached for comment. However, the county and other surrounding Bay Area cities and counties issued a joint statement Thursday, reiterating its order:

It is important that our local communities understand that the regional Health Orders that took effect May 4 are still in effect. These orders — in Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin, San Francisco, San Mateo and Santa Clara counties and the City of Berkeley — loosen restrictions on construction as well as outdoor activities and businesses. The Bay Area orders do not currently permit curbside pickup from non-essential, nonoutdoor businesses, and that is not allowed to begin on Friday, May 8.

Later in the statement, the officials said “in our current environment, if a county order differs from a state order, the more restrictive order takes precedence.”

Tesla did not respond to requests for comment.

Tesla has battled with Alameda officials before over regulations put in place due to COVID-19. The dispute began March 16 after Alameda County ordered all nonessential businesses to close, including bars, gyms and dine-in restaurants, because of the global spread of COVID-19.

Tesla kept the Fremont factory open despite the order, claiming that part of the company’s operations fell under an exemption in the county’s order. Musk told employees in an email that the company would continue operations at the Fremont factory. He also told employees they should not feel obligated to come to work if they “feel the slightest bit ill or even uncomfortable.”

The Alameda County Sheriff disagreed, and on March 17 tweeted that Tesla was not “essential.” The automaker still ignored the order and the sheriff’s tweet. Employees received another email from Workman that the factory was still open for production, because it had “conflicting guidance from different levels of government.” The email told employees to come to work if their job is to produce, service, deliver or test its electric vehicles.

A week after the order went into effect, Tesla suspended production at the Fremont factory. Basic operations have continued at the factory per an agreement with the county. The company said at the time it would suspend production through May 4, prompting it to cut pay for salaried employees between 10% and 30%, as well as furlough workers.

But toward the end of April, the Bay Area counties extended the stay-at-home order, triggering a tweetstorm from Musk, who criticized the rules and at one point wrote “FREE AMERICA NOW.”

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Tesla to reduce price of standard range Model 3 in China

Tesla said it will reduce the price of its standard range Model 3 vehicle in China to meet the government’s new eligibility requirements for subsidies.

This marks the second time this year that the automaker has reduced the price. Several months ago, the base version of China-made Model 3 was lowered by 9%.

Tesla has to cut the price of the vehicle to continue to qualify for government rebates on electric vehicles. The Chinese government instituted new regulations that require prices below 300,000 yuan for electric vehicles to qualify for subsidies.

The base price of the standard range Model 3 made in China is 323,800 yuan, or $45,754 before subsidies.

The price reduction will go into effect tomorrow in China, Tesla CEO Elon Musk said in a earnings call Wednesday. Musk, who didn’t provide a specific figure, said he is confident the vehicle will deliver a gross margin despite the reduction in price.

Tesla chief financial officer Zachary Kirkhorn added that the cost of vehicles produced at its Shanghai factory in the first quarter is already lower than the cost to produce the Model 3 in the United States. That margin should improve as the company improves its local supply chain in China. Tesla still ships some parts from the U.S. to build cars at its Shanghai factory.

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TechCrunch’s Top 10 investigative reports from 2019

Facebook spying on teens, Twitter accounts hijacked by terrorists, and sexual abuse imagery found on Bing and Giphy were amongst the ugly truths revealed by TechCrunch’s investigating reporting in 2019. The tech industry needs more watchdogs than ever as its size enlargens the impact of safety failures and the abuse of power. Whether through malice, naivety, or greed, there was plenty of wrongdoing to sniff out.

Led by our security expert Zack Whittaker, TechCrunch undertook more long-form investigations this year to tackle these growing issues. Our coverage of fundraises, product launches, and glamorous exits only tell half the story. As perhaps the biggest and longest running news outlet dedicated to startups (and the giants they become), we’re responsible for keeping these companies honest and pushing for a more ethical and transparent approach to technology.

If you have a tip potentially worthy of an investigation, contact TechCrunch at tips@techcrunch.com or by using our anonymous tip line’s form.

Image: Bryce Durbin/TechCrunch

Here are our top 10 investigations from 2019, and their impact:

Facebook pays teens to spy on their data

Josh Constine’s landmark investigation discovered that Facebook was paying teens and adults $20 in gift cards per month to install a VPN that sent Facebook all their sensitive mobile data for market research purposes. The laundry list of problems with Facebook Research included not informing 187,000 users the data would go to Facebook until they signed up for “Project Atlas”, not receiving proper parental consent for over 4300 minors, and threatening legal action if a user spoke publicly about the program. The program also abused Apple’s enterprise certificate program designed only for distribution of employee-only apps within companies to avoid the App Store review process.

The fallout was enormous. Lawmakers wrote angry letters to Facebook. TechCrunch soon discovered a similar market research program from Google called Screenwise Meter that the company promptly shut down. Apple punished both Google and Facebook by shutting down all their employee-only apps for a day, causing office disruptions since Facebookers couldn’t access their shuttle schedule or lunch menu. Facebook tried to claim the program was above board, but finally succumbed to the backlash and shut down Facebook Research and all paid data collection programs for users under 18. Most importantly, the investigation led Facebook to shut down its Onavo app, which offered a VPN but in reality sucked in tons of mobile usage data to figure out which competitors to copy. Onavo helped Facebook realize it should acquire messaging rival WhatsApp for $19 billion, and it’s now at the center of anti-trust investigations into the company. TechCrunch’s reporting weakened Facebook’s exploitative market surveillance, pitted tech’s giants against each other, and raised the bar for transparency and ethics in data collection.

Protecting The WannaCry Kill Switch

Zack Whittaker’s profile of the heroes who helped save the internet from the fast-spreading WannaCry ransomware reveals the precarious nature of cybersecurity. The gripping tale documenting Marcus Hutchins’ benevolent work establishing the WannaCry kill switch may have contributed to a judge’s decision to sentence him to just one year of supervised release instead of 10 years in prison for an unrelated charge of creating malware as a teenager.

The dangers of Elon Musk’s tunnel

TechCrunch contributor Mark Harris’ investigation discovered inadequate emergency exits and more problems with Elon Musk’s plan for his Boring Company to build a Washington D.C.-to-Baltimore tunnel. Consulting fire safety and tunnel engineering experts, Harris build a strong case for why state and local governments should be suspicious of technology disrupters cutting corners in public infrastructure.

Bing image search is full of child abuse

Josh Constine’s investigation exposed how Bing’s image search results both showed child sexual abuse imagery, but also suggested search terms to innocent users that would surface this illegal material. A tip led Constine to commission a report by anti-abuse startup AntiToxin (now L1ght), forcing Microsoft to commit to UK regulators that it would make significant changes to stop this from happening. However, a follow-up investigation by the New York Times citing TechCrunch’s report revealed Bing had made little progress.

Expelled despite exculpatory data

Zack Whittaker’s investigation surfaced contradictory evidence in a case of alleged grade tampering by Tufts student Tiffany Filler who was questionably expelled. The article casts significant doubt on the accusations, and that could help the student get a fair shot at future academic or professional endeavors.

Burned by an educational laptop

Natasha Lomas’ chronicle of troubles at educational computer hardware startup pi-top, including a device malfunction that injured a U.S. student. An internal email revealed the student had suffered a “a very nasty finger burn” from a pi-top 3 laptop designed to be disassembled. Reliability issues swelled and layoffs ensued. The report highlights how startups operating in the physical world, especially around sensitive populations like students, must make safety a top priority.

Giphy fails to block child abuse imagery

Sarah Perez and Zack Whittaker teamed up with child protection startup L1ght to expose Giphy’s negligence in blocking sexual abuse imagery. The report revealed how criminals used the site to share illegal imagery, which was then accidentally indexed by search engines. TechCrunch’s investigation demonstrated that it’s not just public tech giants who need to be more vigilant about their content.

Airbnb’s weakness on anti-discrimination

Megan Rose Dickey explored a botched case of discrimination policy enforcement by Airbnb when a blind and deaf traveler’s reservation was cancelled because they have a guide dog. Airbnb tried to just “educate” the host who was accused of discrimination instead of levying any real punishment until Dickey’s reporting pushed it to suspend them for a month. The investigation reveals the lengths Airbnb goes to in order to protect its money-generating hosts, and how policy problems could mar its IPO.

Expired emails let terrorists tweet propaganda

Zack Whittaker discovered that Islamic State propaganda was being spread through hijacked Twitter accounts. His investigation revealed that if the email address associated with a Twitter account expired, attackers could re-register it to gain access and then receive password resets sent from Twitter. The article revealed the savvy but not necessarily sophisticated ways terrorist groups are exploiting big tech’s security shortcomings, and identified a dangerous loophole for all sites to close.

Porn & gambling apps slip past Apple

Josh Constine found dozens of pornography and real-money gambling apps had broken Apple’s rules but avoided App Store review by abusing its enterprise certificate program — many based in China. The report revealed the weak and easily defrauded requirements to receive an enterprise certificate. Seven months later, Apple revealed a spike in porn and gambling app takedown requests from China. The investigation could push Apple to tighten its enterprise certificate policies, and proved the company has plenty of its own problems to handle despite CEO Tim Cook’s frequent jabs at the policies of other tech giants.

Bonus: HQ Trivia employees fired for trying to remove CEO

This Game Of Thrones-worthy tale was too intriguing to leave out, even if the impact was more of a warning to all startup executives. Josh Constine’s look inside gaming startup HQ Trivia revealed a saga of employee revolt in response to its CEO’s ineptitude and inaction as the company nose-dived. Employees who organized a petition to the board to remove the CEO were fired, leading to further talent departures and stagnation. The investigation served to remind startup executives that they are responsible to their employees, who can exert power through collective action or their exodus.

If you have a tip for Josh Constine, you can reach him via encrypted Signal or text at (585)750-5674, joshc at TechCrunch dot com, or through Twitter DMs

Source: TechCrunch