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Y Combinator announces Launch YC, a way for its portfolio to shout to the public

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Y Combinator has announced Launch YC, a platform where people can sort accelerator startups by industry, batch and launch date to discover new products. The famed accelerator, which has seeded the likes of Instacart, Coinbase, OpenSea and Dropbox, invites users to vote for newly launched startups “to help them climb up the leaderboard, try out product demos, and learn about the founding team.”

In a blog post announcing the news, Y Combinator said that the program has existed for years but only internally for YC founders.

Y Combinator is using Launch to target founders, developers, investors and job-seekers looking for the “Stripes and Airbnbs of the future.” Y Combinator founders, meanwhile, can launch on any day at any time. YC Head of Communications Lindsay Amos said that YC founders who are currently participating in an accelerator batch can announce via Launch before Demo Day. To me, it makes the biannual event a more evergreen affair.

“​​We did this to solve a problem every founder faces: getting in front of early customers and investors,” Amos said over email.

Launch YC feels like Y Combinator’s strategically sound answer to one of the loudest critiques of its model in recent years: as its cohort size has bloated, standing out within a batch is harder than ever. As standing out inside of YC has become more difficult, and given how important distribution is for early-stage startups, YC offering a way for startups to make a bit more noise might make the implied equity cost of its program more attractive.

In my view, it looks like the accelerator is taking a not-so-subtle swipe at Product Hunt, a nearly decade-old website — and Y Combinator alum — that is the go-to place for founders to launch their products and services to users. Unlike Product Hunt, Y Combinator doesn’t have a comment section, yet they are taking feature requests. As of right now, Launch will only be for recently backed YC companies and product updates from YC alumni.

In response to questions about the overlap between the two institutions, Amos wrote that “we encourage YC founders to launch on many platforms — from the YC Directory to Product Hunt to Hacker News to Launch YC — in order to reach customers, investors, and candidates.”

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Hold-outs targeted in fresh batch of noyb GDPR cookie consent complaints

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Just over a year after launching a major project targeting thousands of sites blatantly flouting cookie tracking rules in Europe, local privacy campaign group noyb has fired off another batch of complaints targeting a hardcore of website operators that it says have ignored or not fully acted upon earlier warnings to bring their cookie consent banners into compliance with the EU’s legal standard for consent, such as the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).

Noyb says the latest batch of 226 complaints have been lodged with 18 data protection authorities (DPAs) around the bloc.

As with earlier actions by noyb, all the complaints relate to the most widely used cookie banner software, made by OneTrust. But it’s not the software itself that’s the issue — rather the complaints target deceptive settings it found being applied. Or even no choice at all being offered to site users to deny tracking in a clear breach of the law around consent.

Deceptive cookie pop-ups have had a corrosive impact not only on the privacy rights of web users in the region, systemically stripping people of their right to protect their information, but they have also been very damaging for the reputation of EU data protection rules like the GDPR — enabling critics to blame the regulation for spawning a tsunami of annoying cookie banners despite the fact the law clearly outlaws consent theft via cynical tactics like injecting one-way friction or offering users zero opt-out ‘choice’.

The vast scale of cookie consent violations has, nonetheless, posed a major enforcement challenge for the bloc’s network of under-resourced data protection authorities — hence noyb stepping in with a smart and strategic approach to help clean up the “cookie banner terror” scourge, as its campaign couches it.

Given noyb’s focus on impact, and the extremely widespread nature of cookie consent problems, the campaign group has sought to minimize how many formal complaints it’s filing with regulators — so its partially automated compliance campaign entails sending initial complaints to the offending sites in question, offering help to rectify whatever dark patterns (or other bogus consent issues) noyb has identified.

It’s only sites that have repeatedly ignored these nudges and step-by-step compliance guidance that are being targeted for formal complaints with the relevant oversight body now.

“We want to ensure compliance, ideally without filing cases. If a company however continues to violate the law, we are ready to enforce users’ rights,” said Max Schrems, chairman at noyb, in a statement.

“After one year, we got to the hopeless cases that hardly react to any invitation or guidance. These cases will now have to go to the relevant authorities,” he added.

Thus far, noyb credits its cookie consent campaign with generating what it couches as a “large spill-over effect” — with, not only directly targeted violating consent banners being amended but some non-targeted sites also adapting their settings after they heard about the complaints. “This shows that enforcement ensures compliance beyond the individual case,” argues Schrems. “I guess many users have realized that for example more and more ‘reject’ buttons gradually appeared on many websites in the last year.”

Discussing progress to date, a spokeswoman for noyb also told us: “We have seen an increasing compliance rate in our regular scans (where we scan several thousands websites in Europe using the CMP OneTrust) after our first round of warnings last May. This is probably due to an increased awareness due to our complaints, the ‘fear’ that this law might actually be enforced and because Onetrust proactively informed their customers about our complaints and adjusted their standard settings to be ‘noyb compliant’.

“Therefore we consider those websites that still violate the GDPR despite all warnings as ‘hopeless’ cases. All of them are new cases, so none of the companies targeted already last year are in that batch.”

The so-called “hopeless” cases include a mix of (smaller) media sites, popular retailers and local pages, per noyb’s spokeswoman.

Asked for examples of pages which still violate “almost everything” (i.e. where cookie consent rules are concerned) more than a year after the group’s compliance campaign kicked off, she pointed to media sites including https://www.elle.com/ and https://www.menshealth.com/; recipe site www.delish.com; online travel agency booking.com; and fashion retailer aboutyou (in various EU countries).

Other high profile sites that are being targeted for formal complaints now — and which have remedied “at least some violations” (though not others), in noyb’s assessment — include football site fifa.com; cosmetics retailers rituals.com and clinique.at/de; and streaming giant hbo.com.

While noyb says “most” of the sites it’s formally complaining about now don’t provide users with an option to withdraw their consent to tracking, its spokeswoman noted: “Others have implemented a reject button (30% of all warned websites) but are still ignoring other aspects like deceptive designs.”

Noyb’s cookie complaints have already led to some regulatory action, with the European Data Protection Board (EDPB) establishing a special taskforce last year to coordinate responses to what the group suggests could end up as as many as 10,000 cookie consent complaints being filed — although the first DPA decisions related to complaints it lodged last year are still pending.

“We hope for the coordinated approach by the EDPB taskforce,” said its spokeswoman, adding: “The Austrian DPA so far has been the most active one in processing the complaints followed by some of the German DPAs. We hope to receive the first decisions by the end of this year.”

Now that this final round of OneTrust complaints has been filed, the not-for-profit group says it will move onto sites using other so called consent management platforms (CMPs) — expanding the scope of its automated complaint-cum-compliance platform to cover rival CMPs, such as TrustArc, Cookiebot, Usercentrics and Quantcast.

So scores more sites which haven’t been caught up in noyb’s sweeps yet, despite operating blatantly bogus consent banners, will be on the receiving end of a pointed letter vis-a-vis their cookie compliance in the near future.

In parallel with firing off lots of these letters over the past year+, noyb has also been gathering data on the impact of the cookie complaint project — and plans to issue a report on what it’s learned later this year.

Separately, France’s DPA, the CNIL, has been pretty active on cookie consent enforcement — taking some tough action against a number of tech giants (Amazon, Facebook and Google), under the ePrivacy Directive, that has enabled it to issue some major fines over abusive cookie tracking practices — and which appears to have forced (some) reform.

The ePrivacy legal route has allowed the CNIL to circumvent the GDPR’s one-stop-shop mechanism, which critics blame for undermining enforcement of the bloc’s flagship data protection regulation, especially against Big Tech, by funnelling (and bottlenecking) complaints through a handful of so-called lead DPAs (Ireland being the biggest) on account of a handful of markets having large numbers of tech giants regionally located on their soil.

noyb’s approach of filing large batches of thematic GDPR complaints is another strategy to push back against enforcement delays by simultaneously looping in DPAs across the bloc to tackle an issue, encouraging coordination, joint working and (it hopes) a pipeline of decisions that defend European citizens’ rights.

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Baidu to operate fully driverless commercial robotaxi in Wuhan and Chongqing

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Chinese internet giant Baidu has secured permits to offer a fully driverless commercial robotaxi service, with no human driver present, in Chongqing and Wuhan via the company’s autonomous ride-hailing unit, Apollo Go.

Baidu’s wins in Wuhan and Chongqing come a few months after the company scored a permit to provide driverless ride-hailing services to the public on open roads in Beijing. The difference here is the service in Beijing is still not a commercial service — Baidu is offering free driverless rides in the name of R&D and public acceptance — and Beijing’s permit still requires a human operator in the front passenger seat of the vehicle.

When Baidu launches in Wuhan and Chongqing, it’ll be the first time an autonomous vehicle company is able to offer a fully driverless ride-hailing service in China, Baidu claimed. Meanwhile in the U.S., Cruise recently began offering a driverless commercial service in San Francisco, and Waymo has been offering one in Arizona since 2020.

“This is a tremendous qualitative change,” said Wei Dong, vice president and chief safety operation officer of Baidu’s Intelligent Driving Group, in a statement. “We believe these permits are a key milestone on the path to the inflection point when the industry can finally roll out fully autonomous driving services at scale.”

In Wuhan, Baidu’s service will operate from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m and cover a 13 square kilometer area in the city’s Economic and Technological Development zone, which is known as China’s ‘Auto City.’ Chongqing’s service will run from 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. in a 30 square kilometer area in Yongchuan District. Each city will have a fleet of five Apollo 5th generation robotaxis, according to Baidu.

The zones where Baidu will operate aren’t densely populated, and they feature many new, wide roads that make it easier to operate autonomous systems. Both cities provide favorable regulatory and technological environments for Baidu to kick off its first commercial driverless service. In Chongqing, the Yongchuan District has been a pilot zone for autonomous driving, in which 30 robotaxis have accumulated 1 million kilometers’ worth of test driving.

The zone in Wuhan where Apollo Go will operate has revamped 321 kilometers of roads for testing AVs since 2021, which includes 106 kilometers’ worth that are covered by 5G-powered vehicle-to-everything (V2X) infrastructure. AVs can rely on V2X technology to collect real time information about their surrounding environment and share those perceptions with other vehicles or infrastructure, essentially giving the robotaxis another form of sensor to fall back on, aside from onboard lidar, radar and cameras. V2X infrastructure also helps Baidu monitor vehicles remotely and pilot the vehicles if necessary.

Last month, Baidu revealed the designs for its sixth generation electric robotaxi, the Apollo RT6 EV, which is a cross between an SUV and a minivan that comes with a detachable steering wheel. The company said it was able to trim production costs by developing the battery electric architecture in house, bringing the per-vehicle cost to $37,000 per unit. This will help Baidu get to a point of small scale testing and deployment of the RT6 by next year, branching out to large scale in 2024.

Aside from its new service in Wuhan and Chongqing and its driverless service in Beijing, Apollo Go also has a presence in Shanghai, Shenzhen, Guangzhou, Changsha, Cangzhou, Yangquan and Wuzhen. Baidu said it plans to expand its ride-hailing service to 65 cities by 2025 and 100 cities by 2030. By the end of this year, Baidu expects to add another 300 Apollo 5th gen robotaxis to its existing fleet, the company said.

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Amazon buys Roomba’s maker, Bolt vanishes, and YC slims down

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Hello again! Welcome back to Week in Review, the newsletter where we quickly recap the top stories to cross TechCrunch dot-com over the past seven days. Want it in your inbox? Get it here.

The most read story this week is kind of a wild one: Bolt Mobility, an on-demand bike/scooter rental company co-founded by Usain Bolt, kinda just…vanished. “The departure has been abrupt,” writes Rebecca, “leaving cities with abandoned equipment, unanswered calls and emails, and lots of questions.”

other stuff

Amazon buys iRobot: Bezos wants all the things. Whole Foods! One Medical! And now…Roomba? In this latest in a series of seemingly sudden and somewhat surprising acquisitions, Amazon is dropping $1.7 billion for the company best known for its robo vacuums.

Facebook shuts down live shopping: If you use Facebook’s “live shopping” feature to sell things via stream, it might be time to find a new platform. While live streaming isn’t going away, the dedicated shopping-focused features will go dark come October.

Starbucks is getting into web3: I’d roll my eyes, but given how many people I know insist on buying a Starbucks mug from every major city they visit…

More Robinhood layoffs: Oof. Just a few months back, Robinhood cut 9% of its full-time staff; this week, the company confirmed it’s letting go of another 23%. Citing overhiring over the last few wild years, CEO Vlad Tenev writes “I approved and took responsibility for our ambitious staffing trajectory — this is on me.”

YC gets smaller: It had to happen eventually. Y Combinator had been getting bigger and bigger with each accelerator class, peaking at an absurd 414 companies in the last batch. They’re scaling things back a bit with the next cohort — but at approximately 250 companies, it’s still relatively huge.

audio stuff

Podcasts! Get your podcasts!

This week in the world of TechCrunch podcasts, the Equity crew talked about YC’s smaller (but still pretty huge) cohort, Darrell and Becca talked about “Instagram being MySpaced by TikTok” on The TC Podcast, and Burnsy talked with Convoy co-founder Dan Lewis about the freight company’s “secret growth hack” on TechCrunch Live.

additional stuff

Glambook’s $2.5 million seed deck: Glambook recently raised millions to build what it calls “Uber for the beauty industry.” How’d they convince investors to get on board? In this latest edition of his Pitch Deck Teardown series, Haje buzzes through the deck and helps explain why certain things made the cut.

What really happens when your startup gets acquired?: There’s more to getting acquired than waiting for a bag of cash to appear on your desk. Yair Snir, VP at Dell Technologies Capital, gives us the high-level overview of the whole process, “from NDA to LOI.”

Dear Sophie: “How long am I required to stay at my current job after I get my green card?” It’s a reasonable question! Immigration attorney Sophie Alcorn weighs in.

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