The Rose City isn’t happy with Uber… again. After the company failed to turn over details on its deeply sketchy “Greyball” software by Portland’s deadline, the city may seek to compel Uber to hand it over with a subpoena.
Those intentions, reported by the Oregonian, were articulated by Portland Commissioner Dan Saltzman, who oversees the city’s Bureau of Transportation (PBOT). “If I could issue a fine I thought would stand up, I would,” Saltzman told the Oregonian. “I’m upset by what they did. My interest now is in making sure this doesn’t happen again.”
Following the New York Time report that Uber evaded regulators with a secret software program, the city of Portland launched its own investigation. Uber used the software to reject ride requests from Portland officials as the company operated illegally within the city in 2014. PBOT published a full audit of the Greyball scandal today.
Uber’s premature launch in Portland, long an Uber holdout, was particularly rocky. The company openly flaunted city regulations before eventually agreeing to a pilot trial program in 2015, the year after it used Greyball within city limits.
Saltzman contends that the city needs access to both the company’s strategy playbook and the software itself to conduct its investigation. He argues that if the Greyball tool can be used to reject rides from regulators, a similar program might discriminate against passengers that Uber deems less profitable. Saltzman joins Portland Commissioner Nick Fish in calling for the city council to flex its subpoena power to get to the bottom of Uber’s shady business practices.
For perspective, Portland’s city council hasn’t issued a subpoena since a 2006 investigation into how Portland General Electric was involved in the Enron scandal.
Featured Image: Getty Images
Yik Yak cofounders Tyler Droll and Brooks Buffington published a farewell note to users on Friday, announcing they would shut down their once-popular anonymous social network this week. The app allowed people to connect with other users within a certain radius, and was widely marketed in and used on college campuses.
According to an SEC filing issued on April 16th, Square, has agreed to hire several of Yik Yak’s employees and to acquire a non-exclusive license to some of the company’s intellectual property for $1 million. That’s a deeply disappointing result for a startup that garnered lots of support from venture investors and users.
According to Crunchbase, Yik Yak had raised $73.4 million in venture funding since it was founded in 2013, with a valuation approaching $400 million in 2014, its halcyon days. The app faced problems that were predictable for any forum offering users anonymity and a means of chatting with one another. It was plagued by cyberbullies of every kind and even banned by some schools. But all the capital and advice in the world couldn’t help it maintain its buzz.
In 2015, Yik Yak had to admit to users that they were only masked from each other, not police officers or other authorities with a warrant. And then in 2016, security researchers with NYU, led by computer scientist and professor Keith Ross, found other ways to hack users’ personally identifiable information out of YikYak. All the while, cyberbullies and unsavory content drove down the app experience for others.
By the end of 2016, user downloads had declined 76% versus the same period in 2015, as TechCrunch reported then, and the company began laying off most of its employees. In their note, the cofounders reflected on happier accomplishments by their now-faded startup.
Yik Yak is not the first anonymous chat app to hit the deadpool. Secret also went out of business in 2015. And the company won’t be leaving a hole in the market, exactly.
Other chat apps, including anonymous, semi-anonymous and ephemeral options among them, abound. Yik Yak competitors still in business include: Whisper, the anonymous chat and sharing app; Kik which only requires usernames; Blind, the anonymous workplace chat app where Uber employees have recently aired grievances; and 7 Cups, where people can go for “active, non-judgemental listeners.”
Virtualities founder Ryan Burningham has a new idea for abandoned retail spaces — VR.
VR theaters and arcades like Virtualities are starting to pop up in warehouses and other empty spaces around the U.S., including Burningham’s startup, located in what used to be a Hot Topic on the second floor of the Gateway Mall on Salt Lake City’s west side.
The mall was built specifically to show off the fine dining and retail offerings of Utah as the world came to visit during the 2002 Winter Olympics. I can remember fighting the crowds to watch Sheryl Crow belt it out for the gold medal winners. But what was once a bustling outdoor mall has become eerily empty. One sad fountain on the edge of the Gateway still trumpets the Olympic theme tune every hour on the hour to mostly no one.
Part of the ghost town effect is due to the rapid decline in shopping malls throughout the country. Anchor stores have pulled out of some suburban areas as retail mainstays like Bebe and RadioShack successor General Wireless Operations Inc. file for bankruptcy. While the mall still seems to be the preferred method of shopping among teens, nearly a third of U.S. shopping malls are in danger of shutting down, according to analysts.
But the Gateway’s decline also comes out of a mixed-use shopping and retail development project meant to revive the heart of downtown Salt Lake. Five years ago the Mormon church — the predominant religion in the area — updated two large city blocks worth of downtown retail space right across from the famous Salt Lake Temple. The project benefitted both city and church by pulling tourists closer to the city’s main attraction but it also encouraged retailers and shoppers to jump ship in favor of the new City Creek mall, leaving Gateway’s 2.26 million-square-feet of retail space nearly deserted — and ripe for striking bargain basement deals. That gave Burningham the idea to use the space (and save some overhead in the deal).
Virtualities so far has two locations; the first one in the Gateway Mall and a second location Burningham just opened about a month ago in a fading strip mall 30 minutes north of Salt Lake in Ogden, Utah.
The Void, famous for its Ghostbusters VR installation in New York and Dubai, also calls Utah home, 30 minutes to the south of Virtualities in the town of Lindon. That one is more of a VR park, combining a physical set with VR film experiences whereas Virtualities uses a large, open space for separate sections including gaming and its theater area, which is basically two rows of swivel chairs customers can use to sit in while strapping a VR device to their heads and watching a short film.
Both Utah-based businesses are part of only a handful of little VR upstarts in the country right now. However, IMAX has been testing out a standalone location with Samsung VR in LA and plans to install five VR movie theaters in the U.S., China and the U.K. in the coming months. The company, valued at $2.36 billion, has the means to make much more of an impact — and on a global scale. If the five test sites prove successful, the company says it will roll out VR cinema spaces in select multiplexes throughout the globe, posing a worrisome problem for these littler companies with fewer resources.
But nevermind all that for now. VR is new and, despite the growing trend towards nearly every tech company involving themselves in the industry somehow, not many folks can afford the best devices in the market on their own at the moment. Some forward thinkers, like Burningham, are capitalizing on that by providing the equipment and space so everyday people can experience the tech for themselves.
Each monthly membership costs a one-time $30 fee plus $58.50 for the first person plus an extra $40 for up to four other people you want to add to your group. And it’s a recipe that seems to be working for Burningham. He says he’s usually pretty busy. There were plenty of folks eager to try VR for the first time when we paid Virtualities a visit recently.
You can check out our recent visit to Virtualities and learn more about Burningham’s idea to convert old retail into VR theaters in the video above.
*This article is part of a larger series focusing on the Utah tech scene. We’re going to be sprinkling several of these articles and videos throughout the TechCrunch newsfeed for the next couple of weeks, so strap on your ski boots and stay tuned as we guide you through the “Silicon Slopes”!
Deep Sentinel, a home security startup, today announced that it had closed a $7.4 million Series A led by Shasta Ventures with participation from Bezos Expeditions, Lux Capital and UP2398. Founded by serial entrepreneur David Selinger, Deep Sentinel is betting that its emphasis on user experience can provide needed differentiation in the crowded space. Over tea in the… Read More
Rollout.io, a company that had developed technology that allowed mobile app developers to update their apps without having to go through the App Store approval process, is now entering a new business after Apple cracked down on apps using its software. Today, the former TechCrunch Disrupt Battlefield finalist has transitioned to a new product that allows developers to selectively roll out new features in their apps to subsets of users before deploying them the wider user base.
Rollout.io’s original product was well-received, as it solved a problem that many app developers’ face – the need to quickly patch a bug or address a critical security hole in a timely fashion. The App Store approval process can slow down getting those sorts of changes released to all users, and then it still relies on users updating the apps on their mobile device in order to see them applied.
But Apple wasn’t having it. In March, Apple began alerting developers that they would have to remove Rollout.io’s code because it was not in compliance with its guidelines for developers. For Apple, the decision was likely about being able to control its ecosystem, in addition to the possible security concerns that accompany being able to change apps without approval.
At the time, 2,000 app developers had installed the SDK, which was running on 80 million devices.
According to Rollout.io co-founder and CEO Erez Rusovsky, the company’s new product – called Rox by Rollout – was already in development before Apple made its decision. But now instead of being a secondary offering, it’s the main one.
In fact, Rusovsky says the development of Rox was influenced by feedback from its existing customer base, who had manipulated the hot patching solution to deploy new features safer and faster.
The idea of selectively rolling out features to a portion of an app’s users is something larger companies like Facebook and Twitter do all the time. Often, these are staged rollouts that give the company time to fix issues before a wider release, though other times they are more like A/B tests where the company can see how the subset of the user base responds to a new feature.
With Rox, mobile app developers have a similar option.
“Rox uses continuous feature deployment, which does not inject new code, but rather turns on/off existing code,” explains Rusovsky. “Rox not only solves the production bugs issue, but addresses the entire software deployment cycle including development, internal testing, QA, user acceptance testing, and full rollouts,” he says.
Because it doesn’t allow developers to change their apps on the fly – the code it selectively enables is already there to be scrutinized during the app review process – Apple should permit the solution to continue.
However, Rox stops short of being a full A/B testing platform. Instead, Rox lets mobile developers control over the deployment of new features from a centralized dashboard. From here, developers can target their rollouts to specific groups of users or devices, and can either manually control or automate deployment by allowing the system to determine when it’s safe to push the new feature out to everyone.
While Rox could help developers build the infrastructure needed for A/B testing, it doesn’t provide the analytics that accompanies that sort of solution. However, it does integrate with existing development tools and workflows, the company says.
The pricing for the new solution starts at $500 per month, but discounts for startups are available. Rox is currently iOS-only, but Android support is pending.
Rollout.io’s Rox lets app developers deploy new features safely – just like the big guys do
5 minutes ago by Sarah Perez
Equity podcast: Earnings clown car and the profitable-ish Dropbox with Hunter Walk
5 minutes ago by Alex Wilhelm
BMW’s plug-in hybrid 530e iPerformance will get wireless charging
6 minutes ago by Darrell Etherington
Apple stops paying royalties to Qualcomm
15 minutes ago by Romain Dillet
The Cinder is the Terminator’s panini maker
1 hour ago by John Biggs
Alexa learns to talk like a human with whispers, pauses & emotion
1 hour ago by Sarah Perez
Meet four of the startups in the Founder Spotlight at TC Disrupt NY
1 hour ago by Jordan Crook
Apple’s self-driving test Lexus SUV photographed on Silicon Valley roads
2 hours ago by Darrell Etherington
Uber adds privacy info and easy account deletion
3 hours ago by Kate Conger
StreetDrone’s new autonomous electric car is made for the education market
3 hours ago by Darrell Etherington
Welcome back to Equity, TechCrunch’s venture-capital focused podcast where we unpack the numbers behind the narrative. Homebrew’s own Hunter Walk joined us for this episode along with co-hosts Katie Roof, Matthew Lynley and myself. This week has been a delightful clown car of technology earnings, so we dove into Twitter’s surprisingly strong report that drove its share… Read More
April 28, 2017
Delays in website load times are a prime reason today’s mobile shoppers aren’t purchasing via a mobile device as much as they are using the device for product search and browsing.
In fact, while half of consumers tap smartphones for product insight just one in five complete the purchase on the device, according to a new Akamai Online Retail Performance Report.
The big hurdle are website load time delays — even a 100-millisecond delay — is impacting conversation rates by 7 percent, notes a release on the study. A two-second delay leads to a 103 percent increase in bounce rate and 53 percent of mobile site shoppers will leave a page that takes three seconds to load.
“Results from our State of Online Retail Performance report have shown that user experience is critical to e-commerce success, and things aren’t getting any easier,” Ash Kulkarni, senior VP and general manager of the Web Experience Division for Akamai, said in a statement. “Customers have extremely short attention spans, and degradations in website performance — no matter how small — can cause consumers to go elsewhere in an instant.”
At Disrupt NY in May, we’re launching the Founder Spotlight, where startup founders will be able to tell the human story behind their company.
Bowery Farming is a startup looking to change the way we grow food. With the global population growing, and extreme weather and pollution threatening outdoor agriculture, Bowery Farming uses vertical, indoor farms to grow food in an efficient, clean and sustainable fashion. With a combination of robotics, LED lighting, computer vision, sensors and data analytics, Bowery grows leafy greens with no pesticides 365 days a year, producing 100 times more leafy greens than an outdoor farm and using 95 percent less water. Bowery has raised a total of $7.5 million.
Button has made a name for itself by flying under the radar. The technology allows app makers to integrate with other apps in a meaningful way. Publishers, who tend to have large audiences with easily detectable intent, can send those users to apps that sell products and services to both serve the user and drive conversions. Button also has a marketplace where both publishers and service providers can handles these integrations on their own. The company has raised nearly $35 million since launch.
Launching out of Y Combinator in 2015, Function of Beauty looks to add real personalization to hair care products. Taking into account a user’s hair profile and hair goals, Function of Beauty creates truly unique shampoo and conditioner. The company says its algorithm is able to deliver up to 12 billion custom ingredient combinations. This spring, Function of Beauty launched a pop-up shop in NYC and plans to offer a permanent retail store in the coming months. FoB has raised $9.6 million in funding.
Finding a job just out of college is daunting for most students. But WayUp, a platform that connects employers and college students, has made that process easier for all parties involved. WayUp lets students create their own profile, including their interests, skills, achievements, etc. and then lets employers unlock those profiles based on the position they’re trying to fill. WayUp has raised $27.5 million since it launched.
The Founder Spotlight is one of many exciting things taking place on the Disrupt NY stage. You can check out the full agenda here. And you can pick up a ticket to the conference here.
Sponsors make TechCrunch events possible. If you’re interested in learning more about sponsorships with TechCrunch, shoot an email to [email protected].
Featured Image: filmstroem/iStock