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Apple patches nasty security bugs, HBO Max suddenly removes content, and a16z backs Neumann’s next thing



Hello hello! We’re back with another edition of Week in Review, the newsletter where we quickly recap the top stories to hit TechCrunch across the last seven days. Want it in your inbox? Sign up here. 

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a16z backs WeWork founder’s new thing: When a company implodes hard enough that it inspires a miniseries, would anyone back the founders again? It doesn’t seem to have dissuaded a16z, who recently put its biggest check ever into WeWork founder Adam Neumann’s next thing.

Black Girls Code founder fired by board: “Kimberly Bryant is officially out from Black Girls Code, eight months after being indefinitely suspended from the organization that she founded,” write Natasha Mascarenhas and Dominic-Madori Davis. Bryant has filed a lawsuit in response to the termination, alleging “wrongful suspension and conflict of interest.”

Google shutters IoT Core: Google’s IoT Core is a service meant to help device makers build internet-connected gadgets that connect to Google Cloud. This week, Google announced that they’re shutting it down, giving those device makers a year to figure out another solution.

Apple’s big security bug: Time to update your Apple devices! This week the company shipped critical patches that fix two (!) security issues that attackers seem to already be actively exploiting. The bugs involve Safari’s WebKit engine and can lead to an attacker having, essentially, full access to your device — so, really, go update.

HBO Max removing titles: HBO Max is merging with Discovery+, and for some reason this means a bunch of titles are getting the boot — and fast. I was going to tell everyone to go speed-binge their way through the incredible “Summer Camp Island” series before it’s gone, but apparently it already got removed. Find the full list of gone/soon-to-be-gone titles here.

TC battles stalkerware: Back in February, TechCrunch’s Zack Whittaker pulled back the curtain on a network of “stalkerware” apps that were meant to quietly gobble up a victim’s private text messages, photos, browsing history, etc. This week Zack launched a tool meant to help people determine if their Android phone — and thus, their private data — was impacted. We’ll hear more from Zack about this new tool below.

An illustration of a blue-lit phone with a location pointer over it, on a background of red and blue moving eyes.

Image Credits: Bryce Durbin / TechCrunch

audio stuff

What’s up in the world of TechCrunch podcasts? This week the Equity crew talked about why we need to “officially stop comparing Adam Neumann and Elizabeth Holmes,” and Burnsy talked with Ethena co-founder Roxanne Petraeus and Homebrew’s Hunter Walk about how to “sell the vision, not the business,” on TechCrunch Live.

additional stuff

What lies behind the TC+ paywall? Some really great stuff! Here’s a taste:

How does venture capital work?: It seems like a basic question, but it’s one we get…quite a lot. Haje, with his rare overlapping perspective as a reporter AND pitch coach AND former director at a VC fund, breaks it all down as only he can.

Planning to use your startup equity as collateral? Good luck: After years of work, you’ve managed to build up a ton of equity in the private company you’ve helped to build. Can you actually use it as collateral for anything? Compound’s Max Brenner walks us through the challenges.

writer spotlight: Zack Whittaker

Image Credits: Veanne Cao

This week we’re experimenting with a new section where we quickly catch up with one TechCrunch writer to hear a bit about them and the thing that’s on their mind this week. First up? The incredible, inimitable Zack Whittaker.

Who is Zack Whittaker? What do you do at TechCrunch?

Hi, I’m the security editor here, a.k.a. TechCrunch’s Bearer of Bad News, and I oversee the security desk. We uncover and report the big cybersecurity news of the day — hacks, data breaches, nation-state attacks, surveillance, and national security — and how it affects you, and the wider tech scene.

If you could snap your fingers and tell everyone in the world one thing about your beat, what would it be?

Think of cybersecurity as an investment for something you hope never happens, like a breach of your personal data. It’s better to get ahead of it now. Nowadays it’s easier than it’s ever been — and it’s never too late to start. Invest a small amount of time on three simple steps that make it so much tougher for hackers to break into your accounts or steal your data: Use a password manager, set up two-factor authentication everywhere you can, and keep your apps and devices up-to-date.

Tell me about this anti-stalkerware tool you launched this week

Back in February, TechCrunch revealed that a network of near-identical “stalkerware” apps share the same common security bug, which is spilling the private phone data of hundreds of thousands of Android device owners around the world. These malicious apps are planted by someone with access to your phone and designed to stay hidden, but silently steal a victim’s phone data, like messages, photos, call logs, location and more. Months later, we obtained a leaked list of every single device that was compromised by these apps. The data didn’t have enough information for us to identify or notify victims, so we built this lookup tool to allow anyone to check if their device was compromised — and how to remove the spyware, if it’s safe to do so.

Ugh. Okay. So someone grabs your phone, installs one of these sketchy apps while you’re not paying attention, the app rips your private data for the installer to snoop around… meanwhile, the app is leaking a bunch of data to anyone who knows where to look. Does it seem like the folks behind the stalkerware apps have any intention of stopping?

Not at all. The Vietnam-based group of developers behind the stalkerware network went to great lengths to keep their identities hidden (but not well enough). The number of compromised devices was growing daily, but with no expectation of a fix, we published our investigation to help alert victims to the dangers of this spyware. Nobody in civil society should be subject to this kind of invasive surveillance without their knowledge or consent.

Besides this tool (which is excellent!), what’s your favorite post you’ve written or thing you’ve done with TC?

In the four years I’ve been here? That’s tough! One I still think about often is the inside story of how two British security researchers in their early-20s helped to save the internet from the fast-spreading WannaCry ransomware malware in 2017, which spread around the world, locking up computers in NHS hospitals, shipping giants, and transport hubs, causing billions of dollars in damage. But when one of them found and registered a certain domain name in the malware’s code, the attack stopped dead in its tracks. They found the malware’s kill switch, making them overnight “accidental” heroes. But the only thing holding back another WannaCry outbreak was keeping the kill switch domain in their hands alive, despite efforts by bad actors to force it offline by overwhelming it with internet traffic. “Being responsible for this thing that’s propping up the NHS? Fucking terrifying,” one of the researchers told me at the time.


Tesla more than tripled its Austin gigafactory workforce in 2022



Tesla’s 2,500-acre manufacturing hub in Austin, Texas tripled its workforce last year, according to the company’s annual compliance report filed with county officials. Bloomberg first reported on the news.

The report filed with Travis County’s Economic Development Program shows that Tesla increased its Austin workforce from just 3,523 contingent and permanent employees in 2021 to 12,277 by the end of 2022. Bloomberg reports that just over half of Tesla’s workers reside in the county, with the average full-time employee earning a salary of at least $47,147. Outside of Tesla’s factory, the average salary of an Austin worker is $68,060, according to data from ZipRecruiter.

TechCrunch was unable to acquire a copy of the report, so it’s not clear if those workers are all full-time. If they are, Tesla has hired a far cry more full-time employees than it is contracted to do. According to the agreement between Tesla and Travis County, the company is obligated to create 5,001 new full-time jobs over the next four years.

The contract also states that Tesla must invest about $1.1 billion in the county over the next five years. Tesla’s compliance report shows that the automaker last year invested $5.81 billion in Gigafactory Texas, which officially launched a year ago at a “Cyber Rodeo” event. In January, Tesla notified regulators that it plans to invest another $770 million into an expansion of the factory to include a battery cell testing site and cathode and drive unit manufacturing site. With that investment will come more jobs.

Tesla’s choice to move its headquarters to Texas and build a gigafactory there has helped the state lead the nation in job growth. The automaker builds its Model Y crossover there and plans to build its Cybertruck in Texas, as well. Giga Texas will also be a model for sustainable manufacturing, CEO Elon Musk has said. Last year, Tesla completed the first phase of what will become “the largest rooftop solar installation in the world,” according to the report, per Bloomberg. Tesla has begun on the second phase of installation, but already there are reports of being able to see the rooftop from space. The goal is to generate 27 megawatts of power.

Musk has also promised to turn the site into an “ecological paradise,” complete with a boardwalk and a hiking/biking trail that will open to the public. There haven’t been many updates on that front, and locals have been concerned that the site is actually more of an environmental nightmare that has led to noise and water pollution. The site, located at the intersection of State Highway 130 and Harold Green Road, east of Austin, is along the Colorado River and could create a climate catastrophe if the river overflows.

The site of Tesla’s gigafactory has also historically been the home of low-income households and has a large population of Spanish-speaking residents. It’s not clear if the jobs at the factory reflect the demographic population of the community in which it resides.

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Launch startup Stoke Space rolls out software tool for complex hardware development



Stoke Space, a company that’s developing a fully reusable rocket, has unveiled a new tool to let hardware companies track the design, testing and integration of parts. The new tool, Fusion, is targeting an unsexy but essential aspect of the hardware workflow.

It’s a solution born out of “ubiquitous pain in the industry,” Stoke CEO Andy Lapsa said in a recent interview. The current parts tracking status quo is marked by cumbersome, balkanized solutions built on piles of paperwork and spreadsheets. Many of the existing tools are not optimized “for boots on the ground,” but for finance or procurement teams, or even the C-suite, Lapsa explained.

In contrast, Fusion is designed to optimize simple inventory transactions and parts organization, and it will continue to track parts through their lifespan: as they are built into larger assemblies and go through testing. In an extreme example, such as hardware failures, Fusion will help teams connect anomalous data to the exact serial numbers of the parts involved.

Image credit: Stoke Space

“If you think about aerospace in general, there’s a need and a desire to be able to understand the part pedigree of every single part number and serial number that’s in an assembly,” Lapsa said. “So not only do you understand the configuration, you understand the history of all of those parts dating back to forever.”

While Lapsa clarified that Fusion is the result of an organic in-house need for better parts management – designing a fully reusable rocket is complicated, after all – turning it into a sell-able product was a decision that the Stoke team made early on. It’s a notable example of a rocket startup generating pathways for revenue while their vehicle is still under development.

Fusion offers particular relevance to startups. Many existing tools are designed for production runs – not the fast-moving research and development environment that many hardware startups find themselves, Lapsa added. In these environments, speed and accuracy are paramount.

Brent Bradbury, Stoke’s head of software, echoed these comments.

“The parts are changing, the people are changing, the processes are changing,” he said. “This lets us capture all that as it happens without a whole lot of extra work.”

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Amid a boom in AI accelerators, a UC Berkeley-focused outfit, House Fund, swings open its doors



Companies at the forefront of AI would naturally like to stay at the forefront, so it’s no surprise they want to stay close to smaller startups that are putting some of their newest advancements to work.

Last month, for example, Neo, a startup accelerator founded by Silicon Valley investor Ali Partovi, announced that OpenAI and Microsoft have offered to provide free software and advice to companies in a new track focused on artificial intelligence.

Now, another Bay Area outfit — House Fund, which invests in startups with ties to UC Berkeley — says it is launching an AI accelerator and that, similarly, OpenAI, Microsoft, Databricks, and Google’s Gradient Ventures are offering participating startups free and early access to tech from their companies, along with mentorship from top AI founders and executives at these companies.

We talked with House Fund founder Jeremy Fiance over the weekend to get a bit more color about the program, which will replace a broader-based accelerator program House Fund has run and whose alums include an additive manufacturing software company, Dyndrite, and the managed app development platform Chowbotics, whose most recent round in January brought the company’s total funding to more than $60 million.

For founders interested in learning more, the new AI accelerator program runs for two months, kicking off in early July and ending in early September. Six or so companies will be accepted, with the early application deadline coming up next week on April 13th. (The final application deadline is on June 1.) As for the time commitment involved across those two months, every startup could have a different experience, says Fiance. “We’re there when you need us, and we’re good at staying out of the way.”

There will be the requisite kickoff retreat to spark the program and founders to get to know one another. Candidates who are accepted will also have access to some of UC Berkeley’s renowned AI professors, including Michael Jordan, Ion Stoica, and Trevor Darrell. And they can opt into dinners and events in collaboration with these various constituents.

As for some of the financial dynamics, every startup that goes through the program will receive a $1 million investment on a $10 million post-money SAFE note. Importantly, too, as with the House Fund’s venture dollars, its AI accelerator is seeking startups that have at least one Berkeley-affiliated founder on the co-founding team. That includes alumni, faculty, PhDs, postdocs, staff, students, dropouts, and other affiliates.

There is no demo day. Instead, says Fiance, founders will receive “directed, personal introductions” to the VCs who best fit with their startups.

Given the buzz over AI, the new program could supercharge House Fund, the venture organization, which is already growing fast. Fiance launched it in 2016 with just $6 million and it now manages $300 million in assets, including on behalf of Berkeley Endowment Management Company and the University of California.

At the same time, the competition out there is fierce and growing more so by the day.

Though OpenAI has offered to partner with House Fund, for example, the San Francisco-based company announced its own accelerator back in November. Called Converge, the cohort was to be made up of 10 or so founders who received $1 million each and admission to five weeks of office hours, workshops and other events that ended and that received their funding from the OpenAI Startup Fund.

Y Combinator, the biggest accelerator in the world, is also oozing with AI startups right now, all of them part of a winter class that will be talking directly with investors this week via demo days that are taking place tomorrow, April 5th, and on Thursday.

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