TikTok returns to Pakistan, Apple launches a music-focused streaming station and SpaceX launches more Starlink satellites. This is your Daily Crunch for October 19, 2020. The big story: Pakistan un-bans TikTok The Pakistan Telecommunication Authority blocked the video app 11 days ago, over what it described as “immoral,” “obscene” and “vulgar” videos. The authority said today that it’s lifting the ban after negotiating with TikTok management.
“The restoration of TikTok is strictly subject to the condition that the platform will not be used for the spread of vulgarity/indecent content & societal values will not be abused,” it continued. This isn’t the first time this year the country tried to crack down on digital content. Pakistan announced new internet censorship rules this year, but rescinded them after Facebook, Google and Twitter threatened to leave the country. The tech giants Apple launches a US-only music video station, Apple Music TV — The new music video station offers a free, 24-hour live stream of popular music videos and other music content. Google Cloud launches Lending DocAI, its first dedicated mortgage industry tool — The tool is meant to help mortgage companies speed up the process of evaluating a borrower’s income and asset documents. Facebook introduces a new Messenger API with support for Instagram — The update means businesses will be able to integrate Instagram messaging into the applications and workflows they’re already using in-house to manage their Facebook conversations. Startups, funding and venture capital SpaceX successfully launches 60 more Starlink satellites, bringing total delivered to orbit to more than 800 — That makes 835 Starlink satellites launched thus far, though not all of those are operational. Singapore tech-based real estate agency Propseller raises $1.2M seed round — Propseller combines a tech platform with in-house agents to close transactions more quickly. Ready Set Raise, an accelerator for women built by women, announces third class — Ready Set Raise has changed its programming to be more focused on a “realistic fundraising process” vetted by hundreds of women. Advice and analysis for Extra Crunch Are VCs cutting checks in the closing days of the 2020 election? — Several investors told TechCrunch they were split about how they’re making these decisions. Disney+ UX teardown: Wins, fails and fixes — With the help of Built for Mars founder and UX expert Peter Ramsey, we highlight some of the things Disney+ gets right and things that should be fixed. Late-stage deals made Q3 2020 a standout VC quarter for US-based startups — Investors backed a record 88 megarounds of $100 million or more. (Reminder: Extra Crunch is our subscription membership program, which aims to democratize information about startups. You can sign up here.) Everything else US charges Russian hackers blamed for Ukraine power outages and the NotPetya ransomware attack — Prosecutors said the group of hackers, who work for the Russian GRU, are behind the “most disruptive and destructive series of computer attacks ever attributed to a single group.” Stitcher’s podcasts arrive on Pandora with acquisition’s completion — SiriusXM today completed its previously announced $325 million acquisition of podcast platform Stitcher from E.W. Scripps, and has now launched Stitcher’s podcasts on Pandora. Original Content podcast: It’s hard to resist the silliness of ‘Emily in Paris’ — The show’s Paris is a fantasy, but it’s a fantasy that we’re happy to visit. 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.
Facebook returns to its college roots, Alexa gets a printing feature and we take a deep dive into Unity’s business. This is your Daily Crunch for September 10, 2020. The big story: Facebook launches a college-only network If you’re old and decrepit like me, you remember when Facebook was only for college students and required a college email address to join. Well, it seems everything old is new again, because the company is piloting a new feature called Facebook Campus … which is only for college students and requires a college email address to join.
Facebook’s Charmaine Hung argued that the product is particularly relevant now: “With COVID-19, we see that many students aren’t returning to campus in the fall. Now, classes are being held online and students are trying to react to this new normal of what it’s like to connect to clubs and organizations that you care about, when you’re not together.” Of course, this could also be a way for Facebook to try to stay relevant to a younger demographic, before they move on to other apps. The tech giants Amazon launches Alexa Print, a way to print lists, recipes, games and educational content using your voice — The feature works with any second-generation Echo device or newer, as well as a range of printers. Google says it’s eliminating Autocomplete suggestions that target candidates or voting — The company says that it will now remove any Autocomplete predictions that seem to endorse or oppose a candidate or a political party, or that make a claim about voting or the electoral process. Microsoft Surface Duo review — Brian Heater calls it a beautiful, expensive work in progress. Startups, funding and venture capital Orchard real estate platform raises $69 million Series C led by Revolution Growth — Orchard (formerly Perch) launched in 2017 with a mission to digitize the entire experience of buying and selling a home. How Unity built a gaming engine for the future — Eric Peckham offers an in-depth look at the company’s financials as it prepares to go public. India’s Zomato raises $100M from Tiger Global, says it is planning to file for IPO next year — In an email to employees, CEO Deepinder Goyal said the food delivery startup has about $250 million cash in the bank, with several more “big name” investors preparing to join the current round. Advice and analysis from Extra Crunch Use ‘productive paranoia’ to build cybersecurity culture at your startup — We asked Casey Ellis, founder, chairman and chief technology officer at Bugcrowd, to share his ideas for how startups can improve their security posture. What’s driving API-powered startups forward in 2020? — It’s not hard to find startups with API-based delivery models that are doing well this year. (Reminder: Extra Crunch is our subscription membership program, which aims to democratize information about startups. You can sign up here.) Everything else Announcing the Startup Battlefield companies at TechCrunch Disrupt 2020 — This is our most competitive batch to date. $3 million Breakthrough Prize goes to scientist designing molecules to fight COVID-19 — David Baker’s work over the last 20 years has helped validate the idea that computers can help us understand and create complex molecules like proteins. Recorded music revenue is up on streaming growth, as physical sales plummet — With vastly more people stuck inside seeking novel methods of entertainment, paid subscriptions are up 24% year-over-year. 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.
Facebook joined the growing ranks of companies publicly complaining about the 30% fee that Apple collects on payments made through its App Store. Those complaints came midway through a blog post about the social network’s new feature supporting paid online events. Facebook said that to support struggling businesses, it won’t be collecting any fees on those events, at least for the next year, which means that those businesses keep 100% of payments on the web and on Android. But Facebook said that won’t be the case on iOS, due to App Store fees, and it took aim at Apple with surprisingly direct language (at least, direct for a corporate blog post):
We asked Apple to reduce its 30% App Store tax or allow us to offer Facebook Pay so we could absorb all costs for businesses struggling during COVID-19. Unfortunately, they dismissed both our requests and SMBs will only be paid 70% of their hard-earned revenue. Because this is complicated, as long as Facebook is waiving its fees, we will make all fees clear in our products.
iOS purchase flow on left, Android purchase flow on right. Image Credits: Facebook
To that end, the post includes screenshots of how the events payment flow will look on iOS and Android . On Android, it says, “Facebook doesn’t take a fee from this purchase,” while on iOS, it says, “Apple takes 30% of this purchase.” Facebook said this language is included in the app update “which we submitted to Apple today for approval” — suggesting that there’s a possibility that the update won’t be approved. This comes just about 24 hours after Fortnite was removed from the App Store, after Epic Games introduced direct payments into its hit title. It seemed like Epic was intentionally trying to provoke a fight, with the company quickly announcing a lawsuit against Apple and releasing a short in-game video parodying Apple’s famous 1984 commercial, with Apple cast as the villain. (The game publisher is in a similar battle with Google and Android.) While Apple’s 30% fee has been around for as long as the App Store itself, the issue came to the forefront earlier this summer after Basecamp got into a public feud with the company over its subscription email app Hey, for which the developer tried to circumvent App Store fees by only accepting subscription payments on its website. Apple’s Phil Schiller told us at the time that the controversy was not prompting the company to reconsider any of its rules, which he said were designed for a better app experience — to avoid situations where “you download the app and it doesn’t work.”
Epic Games launches a campaign (and lawsuit) against Apple
Bangladesh’s regulator has ordered telecom operators and other internet providers in the nation to stop providing free access to social media services, becoming the latest market in Asia to take a partial stand against zero-rating deals. Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission, the local regulator, said late last week that it had moved to take this decision because free usage of social media services had spurred their misuse by some people to commit crimes. Local outlet Business Standard first reported about the development. Bangladesh is one of the largest internet markets in Asia with more than 100 million online users. Technology companies such as Facebook and Twitter have struck partnerships, more popularly known as zero-rating deals, with telecom operators and other internet providers in several markets in the past decade to make their services free to users to accelerate growth. Typically, tech companies bankroll the cost of data consumption of users as part of these deals. In Bangladesh, such zero-rating deals have been popular for several years, said Ahad Mohammad, chief executive of Bongo, an on-demand streaming service, in an interview with TechCrunch (Extra Crunch membership required) . Grameenphone and Robi Axiata, two of the largest telecom operators in Bangladesh, enable their mobile subscribers to access a handful of services of their partners even when their phones have run out of credit. Both telecom firms have said they are in the process to comply with Dhaka’s order. It remains unclear whether Free Basics, a program run by Facebook in dozens of markets through which it offers unlimited access to select services at no cost, will continue its presence in Bangladesh after the nation’s order. Facebook relies on telecom networks to offer data access for its Free Basics program. In Bangladesh, Facebook struck deals with Grameenphone and Robi Axiata, according to its official website, where Facebook continues to identify Bangladesh among dozens of markets where Free Basics is operational. Several nations in recent years have balked at zero-rating arrangements — though they have often cited different reasons. India banned Free Basics in early 2016 on the grounds that Facebook’s initiative was violating the principles of net neutrality. Free Basics also ended its program in Myanmar and several other markets in 2017 and 2018. Facebook did not respond to requests for comment.
It’s raised $5.7 billion from Facebook. It’s taken $1.5 billion from KKR, another $1.5 billion from Vista Equity Partners, $1.5 billion from Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund, $1.35 billion from Silver Lake, $1.2 billion from Mubadala, $870 million from General Atlantic, $750 million from Abu Dhabi Investment Authority, $600 million from TPG, and $250 million from L Catterton. And it’s done all that in just nine weeks. India’s Reliance Jio Platforms is the world’s most ambitious tech company. Founder Mukesh Ambani has made it his dream to provide every Indian with access to affordable and comprehensive telecommunications services, and Jio has so far proven successful, attracting nearly 400 million subscribers in just a few years. The unparalleled growth of Reliance Jio Platforms, a subsidiary of India’s most-valued firm (Reliance Industries), has shocked rivals and spooked foreign tech companies such as Google and Amazon, both of which are now reportedly eyeing a slice of one of the world’s largest telecom markets. What can we learn from Reliance Jio Platforms’s growth? What does the future hold for Jio and for India’s tech startup ecosystem in general? Through a series of reports, Extra Crunch is going to investigate those questions. We previously profiled Mukesh Ambani himself, and in today’s installment, we are going to look at how Reliance Jio went from a telco upstart to the dominant tech company in four years.
India’s richest man built a telecom operator everyone wants a piece of
The birth of a new empire Months after India’s richest man, Mukesh Ambani, launched his telecom network Reliance Jio, Sunil Mittal of Airtel — his chief rival — was struggling in public to contain his frustration. That Ambani would try to win over subscribers by offering them free voice calling wasn’t a surprise, Mittal said at the World Economic Forum in January 2017. But making voice calls and the bulk of 4G mobile data completely free for seven months clearly “meant that they have not gotten the attention they wanted,” he said, hopeful the local regulator would soon intervene. This wasn’t the first time Ambani and Mittal were competing directly against each other: in 2002, Ambani had launched a telecommunications company and sought to win the market by distributing free handsets. In India, carrier lock-in is not popular as people prefer pay-as-you-go voice and data plans. But luckily for Mittal in their first go around, Ambani’s journey was cut short due to a family feud with his brother — read more about that here.