Biz Carson ( @bizcarson) is a San Francisco-based reporter at Protocol, covering Silicon Valley with a focus on startups and venture capital. Previously, she reported for Forbes and was co-editor of Forbes Next Billion-Dollar Startups list. Before that, she worked for Business Insider, Gigaom, and Wired and started her career as a newspaper designer for Gannett.
Goldman Sachs has joined efforts to assist the ailing crypto lending company Celsius, in what would be the biggest effort yet by a traditional financial institution to jump in amid a broad crypto crash. Several large crypto hedge funds, lending companies and brokerages have sought funding or credit amid a liquidity crunch in recent days.
Goldman is aiming to raise $2 billion to buy Celsius' distressed assets if there is a bankruptcy filing, according to CoinDesk. The investors could be crypto funds or more traditional asset managers or distressed investors.
Celsius has already brought in law firm Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld and restructuring firm Alvarez & Marsal, the The Wall Street Journal reported, as well as Citigroup to advise on possible restructuring, per The Block. Citi and Akin Gump have recommended that Celsius file for bankruptcy, CoinDesk reported.
Celsius earlier this month stopped all withdrawals and transfers amid concerns about market conditions and liquidity issues, pushing the larger crypto market further down amid fears of contagion.
The lending company held an unknown amount of UST, the stablecoin that collapsed after losing its peg to the dollar, as well as staked ether, or stETH, which also has suffered from liquidity challenges amid a broader crypto crash.
Meanwhile, crypto lender BlockFi secured a $250 million line of credit from FTX. Publicly traded crypto broker Voyager Digital secured $485 million in loans from Alameda Research and limited customer withdrawals after announcing its exposure to another troubled hedge fund, Three Arrows Capital.
Los Angeles could become the first major city in the country to ban the construction of new gas stations because of the climate crisis.
The move was announced by Los Angeles city council member Paul Koretz, who is drafting the policy. If approved, the measure will ensure that there will be no additions to the nearly 600 gas stations already in the county. “We are ending oil drilling in Los Angeles. We are moving to all-electric new construction. And we are building toward fossil fuel-free transportation,” Koretz said in a press release. “Our great and influential city, which grew up around the automobile, is the perfect place to figure out how to move off the gas-powered car.”
Los Angeles is not the first city to consider this ban. Petaluma, a small city 40 miles north of San Francisco, implemented a ban on new gas stations last year. “The actual motivation for this was — and is — our climate emergency resolution and the fact that we’re really trying to shift the needle in our town,” Petaluma Mayor Teresa Barrett told the LA Times in March 2021 when the ban was first announced.
The new proposal has a degree of added urgency. Gas prices are soaring to record highs, and the spike in price has actually been a challenge for gas station owners. According to the National Association of Convenience Stores, "the average fuel retailer today makes about 10-15 cents per gallon selling gas."
The proposal comes amid a flurry of activity in recent years to bring about more widespread adoption of electric vehicles. Gov. Gavin Newsom issued an executive order in 2020 that requires all new cars and passenger trucks sold in California to be zero-emission vehicles by 2035. More recently, the Biden administration set a national target of having 50% of all new auto sales being EVs by 2030. It has also begun to dole out money and roll out standards for a 500,000-strong EV charging network across the country.
A recent forecast from BCG found that up to 68% of new vehicles could be battery-electric by 2035. Though more bullish than other analyses, the BCG forecast shows why new gas stations aren't only a risk to the climate. They could be a risk to owners, who could be left holding stranded assets as the EV revolution takes off full steam. It's also a reminder policymakers will need to figure out what to do for existing gas station owners and workers as their customer base shrinks in the coming decades.
Six of Sony's internal game development studios have issued public messages of support for abortion rights and condemnations of the U.S. Supreme Court's overturning of Roe v. Wade on Friday. It's a notable shift for PlayStation, after Sony Interactive Entertainment CEO Jim Ryan told staff in May to "respect differences of opinion" on reproductive rights following POLITICO's disclosure of details from a leaked draft opinion in early May.
The Last of Us developer Naughty Dog and God of War developer Santa Monica Studio issued public messages via corporate Twitter accounts both supporting abortion rights and pledging to provide assistance to employees to support out-of-state medical needs. Spider-Man developer Insomniac Games, Days Gone developer Bend Studio, Horizon Zero Dawn studio Guerilla Games and Ghost of Tsushima creator Sucker Punch Productions all posted general messages of support for abortion rights as well.
The game industry has been largely silent on the issue of abortion rights over the past month and a half, despite countless studios and publishers issuing statements of support and donating to various causes over the past few years, ranging from Black Lives Matter to anti-Asian hate. One of the first and only developers to speak out for reproductive rights was Destiny developer Bungie, which is in the process of being acquired by Sony. (Bungie also reiterated its support in a blog post on Friday and said it is now "implementing a travel reimbursement program for any employee to use when they or a dependent cannot get access to the healthcare they need where they live.")
No other major studios with the exception of Microsoft-owned Double Fine spoke up in similar fashion. And despite Bungie's statement, Sony reportedly prohibited its internal studios from making similar statements following Ryan's email to staff.
Either that policy has changed given Friday's news, or the studios have chosen to defy Sony headquarters.
"We believe that bodily autonomy and reproductive freedom are fundamental human rights," wrote Santa Monica Studios on Twitter earlier Friday. Naughty Dog Co-president Neil Druckmann also posted a screenshot to his account showing a $10,000 donation to NARAL and thanked Sony for matching his donation, indicating Sony may now have a company-wide policy in place for matching donations to abortion rights groups.
Insomniac's public statement may be the most noteworthy, however, because its chief executive explicitly told employees in May that Sony was prohibiting them from speaking out about the issue, according to a report from The Washington Post. “[Sony Interactive Entertainment] will not approve ANY statements from any studio on the topic of reproductive rights. We fought hard for this and we did not win," Insomniac CEO Ted Price told employees in an email last month.
In a separate response to employees, Price said there would be "material repercussions for us as a wholly owned subsidiary" if Insomniac or its employees tweeted support for abortion rights or disclosed a $50,000 donation Sony permitted the studio to make to the Women’s Reproductive Rights Assistance Project. "Among other things, any progress that we might make in helping change [Sony Interactive Entertainment’s] approach would be stopped dead in its tracks. We’d also probably be severely restricted from doing important public-facing work in the future," Price wrote at the time.
Now, Insomniac is speaking up. "We are human beings who make games," the studio wrote in a tweeted image. "Reproductive freedom and bodily autonomy are human rights."
Yelp is closing its New York, Chicago and Washington, D.C., offices as the company embraces remote work.
In a Thursday blog post, Yelp CEO Jeremy Stoppelman said employees were barely using those three offices. Yelp is also trimming its real estate footprint in Phoenix, he said.
“The most telling signal for us that people strongly prefer remote work has been the under-utilization of our offices,” Stoppelman wrote.
Only 1% of Yelp’s global employee base goes to the office every day, Stoppelman said, and employees were using less than 2% of the available workspaces in New York, Chicago and D.C. Those three offices will close July 29, he said.
Stoppelman has previously been a vocal advocate for remote work, going toe-to-toe with Founders Fund partner Keith Rabois last month when Rabois tweeted that he wanted to fund “IRL startups.”
Stoppelman tweeted that wanting to fund in-office startups was “equivalent to ‘looking to fund startups running Windows95,’” encouraging Rabois to “live in the future and fully embrace remote.”
Yelp downsized its San Francisco headquarters to three floors of a building in September of 2021. Before the pandemic Yelp was squeezed by the tech giants for both real estate and talent in San Francisco, although the picture looks very different now.
In the blog post, Stoppelman insisted that remote-first was best for Yelp and that even a hybrid model is a mistake when it requires employees to show up at the office regularly.
“It requires employees to live near an office, potentially driving up their housing costs, and to endure unpaid time spent commuting,” Stoppelman said. “It also means hiring is artificially constrained by geography, translating to a smaller and less diverse pool of talent.”
Yelp’s workforce is now distributed across every U.S. state and four countries, Stoppelman said, and has two remote C-level executives who don’t live near a Yelp office. The company has seen a “strong surge” in interest from job applicants, many of whom cited remote work as part of their interest in working at Yelp, he said.
Netflix is laying off hundreds of workers in its second round of layoffs in roughly a month, according to a report from CNBC on Thursday.
The streaming service has been struggling of late with a declining stock price due to slow growth and subscriber cancellations. “Today we sadly let go of around 300 employees,” Netflix said in a statement to CNBC. “While we continue to invest significantly in the business, we made these adjustments so that our costs are growing in line with our slower revenue growth. We are so grateful for everything they have done for Netflix and are working hard to support them through this difficult transition.”
Netflix has been reducing its workforce since it reported disastrous Q1 earnings in April showing the platform had lost 200,000 subscribers globally in the fist quarter of 2022. In May, the company let go of about 150 employees and additional contractors, with the company citing cost cutting.
That followed a marketing restructure in April unrelated to the earnings that nonetheless resulted in nearly two dozen layoffs, including some employees of Netflix's entertainment website Tudum. As Protocol reported last month, dozens of these employees came from marginalized backgrounds, representing a substantial step back for Netflix's diversity efforts.
Now, Netflix is adding hundreds more employees to the list as it tries to cut costs. The company is also exploring other options to salvage its revenue decline and slowing growth, including an ad-supported version of the service and a crackdown on password sharing.
Update June 23, 3:18PM ET: Clarified that Netflix's layoffs in April were part of a marketing restructure unrelated to its Q1 earnings.
Instagram is testing using facial analysis tools to verify age on the platform, Meta announced in a blog post Thursday.
People will be able to verify their age on Instagram by submitting a picture of their ID card, taking a video selfie or by asking mutual followers how old they are. For the video selfies, Meta has partnered with Yoti, which analyzes facial features to verify a person's age without disclosing their identity. After the selfie is shared between the two companies, it's deleted, Meta said.
"Understanding someone’s age online is a complex, industry-wide challenge," Erica Finkle, director of Data Governance at Meta, said in the post. "Many people, such as teens, don’t always have access to the forms of ID that make age verification clear and simple."
The company is also expanding its AI tools to ensure that the experience is tailored appropriately. That includes preventing underage users from accessing age-restricted features like Facebook Dating or Mentorship.
Meta has been facing major public pressure to make its platforms safer and less toxic. Privacy bills, like the one being proposed in California, and the Children's Code in the U.K. might be adding to the pressure, too.
Correction: This story was updated June 23 to clarify that the tools use facial analysis.
EBay was once known as a marketplace for trendy collectibles like Beanie Babies. Now it’s going deep into the new world of NFT digital collectibles.
The commerce site has acquired NFT marketplace KnownOrigin, which bills itself as a destination for rare digital art. Terms were not disclosed.
Despite the recent crash in crypto and NFT prices, more traditional ecommerce companies and big brands are seeking to jump into the quickly growing market. Shopify also announced plans Wednesday to enable NFTs as a way to unlock special products and perks for customers at Shopify merchant stores.
EBay has been seeking to move deeper into digital assets. It recently launched its own hockey NFT collection with NFT company OneOf, which uses the Tezos and Polygon blockchains.
U.K.-based KnownOrigin, founded in 2018, recently raised a $4.8 million series A funding round.
TikTok made several new commitments to its advertising and consumer practices, promising to better protect children from hidden ads and inappropriate content. The platform's new pledges come after a complaint filed in February 2021 from the European Consumer Organisation that alleged TikTok broke EU consumer rules.
The video-sharing app agreed to let users report ads and offers that could "push or trick children into purchasing goods or services"; ban the promotion of inappropriate products or services like "get rich quick" schemes; allow users to switch on a toggle when they publish content with brand-related keywords; review videos from users with more than 10,000 followers to ensure they abide by TikTok's content and community guidelines; and update policies surrounding purchasing products and receiving gifts.
Commissioner for Justice Didier Reynders said the new commitments will help users understand what ads are being served up to them on the platform and distinguish them from non-paid content. Regulators will continue to monitor TikTok's practices, Reynders said, "paying particular attention to the effects on young users."
"[Consumer Protection Cooperation Network] authorities will, in particular, monitor and assess compliance where concerns remain, such as whether there is sufficient clarity around children's understanding of the commercial aspects of TikTok's practices," the commission wrote in a release. The CPC may also take action on a national level to "ensure that EU standards are respected and to guarantee that all platforms abide by the same rules," the release states.
TikTok's pledges didn't make the EU completely happy. BEUC Deputy Director-General Ursula Pachl said there are still "significant concerns" about TikTok's impact on consumers even a year after talking with the platform. "We welcome that TikTok has committed to improve the transparency of marketing on their platform but the impact of such commitments on consumers remains highly uncertain," Pachl said.
Meta has agreed to settle a long-standing lawsuit filed by the Department of Housing and Urban Development alleging discrimination in Facebook's housing ad system. As part of the settlement, Meta vowed to change the way ads for housing, as well as employment and credit opportunities, are delivered on its platforms, and to pay a $115,054 fine.
"Discrimination in housing, employment and credit is a deep-rooted problem with a long history in the US, and we are committed to broadening opportunities for marginalized communities in these spaces and others," Roy Austin Jr., Meta's vice president of civil rights, wrote in a blog post.
The case, which was originally brought under then-HUD secretary Ben Carson in 2018, accused Facebook of allowing advertisers to discriminate on the basis of race and other protected characteristics when they were targeting housing ads. It also accused Facebook itself of discriminating through the actual delivery ads. Research has found that even when housing and employment ads are targeted in a neutral way, Facebook's algorithms can wind up skewing which demographics actually get to see the ads.
As part of the settlement, Meta is committing to institute what it's calling a “variance reduction system” to ensure that the intended target of an ad and the actual audience to which an ad is delivered align. "Today’s announcement reflects more than a year of collaboration with HUD to develop a novel use of machine learning technology that will work to ensure the age, gender and estimated race or ethnicity of a housing ad’s overall audience matches the age, gender, and estimated race or ethnicity mix of the population eligible to see that ad," Austin wrote in his statement.
Meta is also agreeing to do away with functionality called Special Ad Audiences that allows advertisers to target lookalike audiences of users for housing, employment and credit related ads. The company has previously removed certain ad targeting categories from housing, employment and credit related ads and added them to its public ad archive.
“This settlement is historic, marking the first time that Meta has agreed to terminate one of its algorithmic targeting tools and modify its delivery algorithms for housing ads in response to a civil rights lawsuit," Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division said in a statement.
Austin himself is a veteran of the DOJ's civil rights division. He joined Meta last year after a damning civil rights audit called Facebook out for everything from its failure to police former President Trump's posts to its history of enabling housing discrimination through ads.
Under Austin's leadership, Meta is undertaking a novel study that will analyze its impact on users of different races. "Are Black users treated differently than other users? Being able to measure that and be very transparent and forthright about the fact we are measuring that was incredibly important to me,” Austin told Protocol earlier this year. The techniques Meta has created to analyze users' races as part of that work will be crucial to the company's ability to vet the existence, or lack thereof, of discrimination in its ads.
Meta now has until the end of the year to implement the changes, at which point the Department of Justice will have an opportunity to approve the changes. "If Meta fails to demonstrate that it has sufficiently changed its delivery system to guard against algorithmic bias, this office will proceed with the litigation,” U.S. Attorney Damian Williams for the Southern District of New York said in a statement.
Crypto lender BlockFi has secured a $250 million revolving credit line from FTX, a deal that comes as a broader market meltdown has forced other lenders to freeze withdrawals.
Sam Bankman-Fried, co-founder and CEO of FTX, tweeted Tuesday that the exchange is entering the partnership to allow BlockFi to “navigate the market from a position of strength.” BlockFi Founder and CEO Zac Prince said the credit "further bolsters our balance sheet and platform strength."
But the agreement comes as crypto lenders Celsius Network and Babel Finance have recently suspended customer withdrawals, citing pressures on their liquidity. That has raised questions about BlockFi's position. Prince acknowledged on Thursday that BlockFi liquidated an unnamed "large client" that failed to meet its obligations but said BlockFi would "continue to actively lend and operate normally across our global suite of products and services."
BlockFi also recently laid off 20% of its staff in response to a "dramatic shift in macroeconomic conditions." The company has raised about $1 billion from venture capital investors over its five years in business, according to Crunchbase.
BlockFi's "customer assets are appropriately managed, with no debt/risk from [Three Arrows Capital], Celsius, etc," Bankman-Fried tweeted. The credit line will be “contractually subordinate to all client balances across all account types,” according to Prince.
Bankman-Fried recently suggested that large, well-financed crypto companies such as FTX should help contain the losses of the recent crypto sell-off.
"I do feel like we have a responsibility to seriously consider stepping in, even if it is at a loss to ourselves, to stem contagion," he told NPR. "Even if we weren't the ones who caused it, or weren't involved in it. I think that's what's healthy for the ecosystem, and I want to do what can help it grow and thrive."
Alameda Research, a crypto company also run by Bankman-Fried, recently extended two credit lines, one for about $200 million and the other for about 15,000 bitcoin, to crypto broker Voyager Digital.
The solar panel market is a mess. An ill-timed Commerce Department probe has wrought uncertainty beyond the already-fraught supply chain, but at least some U.S. developers are trying to right the ship a bit.
A group of solar development heavyweights has promised to purchase up to $6 billion worth of U.S.-built panels over the course of four years. The plan is to source up to 7 gigawatts of domestically made panels per year, an amount equivalent to more than a quarter of all the solar capacity installed nationwide in 2021. The developers — AES Corp., Clearway Energy Group, Cypress Creek Renewables and D.E. Shaw Renewable Investment — created a pact to formalize the commitment, known as the U.S. Solar Buyer Consortium, according to a scoop from The Wall Street Journal published on Tuesday.
In theory, this attempt to lure manufacturers stateside could ease some of the reliance on solar panel imports from China and Southeast Asia, which are currently the subject of tariffs and the aforementioned probe. The past several months have made it clear that relying on a few countries for the majority of imports is a precarious proposition for an industry with a Biden administration-backed mandate to grow as quickly as possible.
David Zwillinger, chief executive of D.E. Shaw Renewable Investments, told the Journal that “the last year and a half have been challenging” and that major projects have been hit by delays. Indeed, utilities have delayed plans to decarbonize because the Commerce Department probe has created an uncertain solar panel market.
Even with the new $6 billion guarantee, though, the financial calculus is tough for would-be solar developers and stateside manufacturers. Experts told the Journal that given that the building blocks of solar panels (polysilicon, ingots, wafers and cells) are mostly produced in China, U.S. manufacturers will likely have to import those raw materials. That could make the panels produced here more expensive compared with the cheaper Chinese counterparts.
Just a few weeks ago, President Joe Biden took action to reduce the effect of the solar probe on U.S. developers, giving Southeast Asian panel suppliers a two-year reprieve from any new tariffs via his emergency authority. The president said this would give the domestic solar industry time to ramp up as well, and the new pile of guaranteed cash on the table could be an added incentive.
Cypress Creek CEO Sarah Slusser said the new consortium will start taking bids from potential suppliers immediately, with an eye toward identifying partners in the coming three to four months.
Microsoft will remove controversial automated tools that predict a person’s age, gender and emotional state from its Azure Face API artificial intelligence service that analyzes faces in images, according to a report published by The New York Times on Tuesday.
The technology giant said the AI features, which have been criticized as potentially biased and unreliable, will no longer be available to new users beginning this week and will be phased out for existing users within the year, the newspaper reported.
Microsoft also will restrict the use of the facial recognition tool as it adheres to a new “Responsible AI Standard,” a Microsoft-produced document that dictates requirements and tighter controls for its AI systems following a two-year review. Those requirements, according to The New York Times, were designed to prevent Microsoft’s AI systems from having a detrimental effect on society by ensuring they provide “valid solutions for the problems they are designed to solve” and “a similar quality of service for identified demographic groups, including marginalized groups.”
A team headed by Natasha Crampton, Microsoft’s chief responsible AI officer, will review any new technologies that could be used to make decisions about a person’s access to employment, education, health care, financial services or a “life opportunity” before they are released, The New York Times reported. Some companies have started to market AI tools that claim they can assess a person's emotional state, which has set off alarm bells among privacy advocates.
“The potential of AI systems to exacerbate societal biases and inequities is one of the most widely recognized harms associated with these systems,” Crampton said in a blog post on Tuesday.
“The Responsible AI Standard sets out our best thinking on how we will build AI systems to uphold these values and earn society’s trust,” she said. “It provides specific, actionable guidance for our teams that goes beyond the high-level principles that have dominated the AI landscape to date … The Standard details concrete goals or outcomes that teams developing AI systems must strive to secure.”
Copilot, GitHub's AI code suggestion tool, is now available for everyone, the company announced on Tuesday. Anyone can use the pair programmer for $10 a month or $100 a year. It will be free for students and organizers of popular open source projects.
Copilot, built with OpenAI’s Codex tool and Microsoft-owned GitHub’s code database, launched almost exactly a year ago as a technical preview. From the jump, the program both wowed and terrified developers with its scarily useful blocks of code. It can autocomplete repetitive code, offer lists of potential solutions and turn comments into code. The tool could revolutionize coding education, style and workplace practices. Making it general access moves it one step closer to becoming mainstream in the workplace.
You can start using Copilot with a 60-day free trial. GitHub announced it will be offering Copilot to companies later this year.
DocuSign CEO Dan Springer is stepping down, the company's board of directors announced Tuesday, and Chairman of the Board Maggie Wilderotter will fill in as interim CEO during the executive search process. Springer's resignation comes on the heels of slowing growth for the e-signature giant.
Springer was appointed DocuSign CEO in 2017 and led the company through its IPO the following year. The SaaS company saw increased growth during the pandemic as demand for electronic signatures rose. In 2021 the company reported an increase in revenue of 57% over the previous year, driven by the fact that digital signatures became a necessity for doing business, and not just a convenience.
But since then, the company's growth has slowed. DocuSign's stock lost 60% of its value this year alone, according to CNBC.
The company's slowing growth may have played a part in Springer's resignation, but a huge miss on its earnings numbers earlier this month didn't help. As investors focus less on growth and more on profitability, the pressure on CEOs of SaaS companies is quickly escalating. Springer's next moves haven't been announced yet.
TikTok is now routing all of its U.S. user traffic to Oracle's cloud infrastructure services, in a bid to allay U.S. regulators’ concerns about data integrity on the popular short video app given its Chinese ownership.
The ByteDance-owned TikTok, which has more than a billion users, previously had stored its U.S. user data in its Virginia data center and used its Singapore data center as a backup storage location. TikTok has been working with Oracle for more than a year to better protect its app, systems and the security of its U.S. user data, according to Albert Calamug, a member of TikTok’s U.S. security public policy team.
“We've now reached a significant milestone in that work: We've changed the default storage location of U.S. user data,” Calamug said in a blog post Friday. “Today, 100% of US user traffic is being routed to Oracle Cloud Infrastructure. We still use our US and Singapore data centers for backup, but as we continue our work we expect to delete US users' private data from our own data centers and fully pivot to Oracle cloud servers located in the US.”
TikTok is also working with Oracle to develop data management protocols that Oracle will audit and manage to “give users even more peace of mind,” Calamug said.
TikTok recently set up a new department with U.S.-based leadership to solely manage its U.S. user data.
“Together, these changes will enforce additional employee protections, provide more safeguards, and further minimize data transfer outside of the US,” Calamug said. “These are critical steps, but there is more we can do. We know we are among the most scrutinized platforms from a security standpoint, and we aim to remove any doubt about the security of US user data.”
Reuters reported in March that TikTok was close to a deal to store its U.S. user data with Oracle — without its Chinese parent company getting access to it — after a U.S. security panel said ByteDance must divest TikTok amid fears that U.S. data could wind up in the hands of the communist Chinese government. In 2020, President Donald Trump nearly forced a deal between Oracle and TikTok that later fell apart.BuzzFeed reported Friday that China-based ByteDance employees have repeatedly accessed nonpublic data about U.S. TikTok users, according to leaked audio recordings of 80-plus TikTok meetings.
Bye-bye, Lighting port. Senate Democrats called on the Commerce Department to implement a common charging port for smartphones.
In a letter to Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo, Sens. Elizabeth Warren, Ed Markey and Bernie Sanders asked that the U.S. establish uniform charging accessory standards, arguing that planned obsolescence in consumer electronics causes financial stress and environmental harm. The letter comes on the heels of the EU's decision to require USB-C charging ports to be standard by 2024 for small- and medium-sized electronic devices sold there. The U.S. letter isn't specifically requesting USB-C for a standard, but it requests an open-ended “comprehensive strategy" developed by the Commerce Department.
The letter cites the a study from the European Commission, which reports that on average, consumers own around three mobile phone chargers, but 38% of the time can't charge their device because they don't have a compatible charger on hand.
"In our increasingly digital society, consumers frequently must pay for new specialized charging equipment and accessories for their different devices," the letter read. "This is not merely an annoyance; it can be a financial burden."
The EU's decision alone will save 11,000 tons of e-waste annually. The letter argues that implementing this strategy in the U.S. could do even more. "When electronics are not disposed of properly, e-waste can spread toxins in water, pollute soil, and degrade the air we breathe," the letter reads. "This is a global issue, with a lasting impact on our environment and public health. The U.S. government must respond."
SpaceX employees called Elon Musk's behavior a "distraction and embarrassment" in an open letter circulated this week. The company is now firing those involved with writing and circulating it, according to The New York Times.
The letter specifically criticized Musk's tweets as a "de facto public statement by the company." “It is critical to make clear to our teams and to our potential talent pool that his messaging does not reflect our work, our mission, or our values,” the letter read.
In an email, SpaceX President and COO Gwynne Shotwell said the company investigated and "terminated a number of employees involved" with the letter because it made other employees "feel uncomfortable, intimidated and bullied, and/or angry." It's unclear how many people were fired, and a SpaceX spokesperson didn't return Protocol's request for comment.
"The letter pressured them to sign onto something that did not reflect their views,” Shotwell wrote in the email. “We have too much critical work to accomplish and no need for this kind of overreaching activism.”
"Blanketing thousands of people across the company with repeated unsolicited emails and asking them to sign letters and fill out unsponsored surveys during the work day is not acceptable," Shotwell added.
Employees don't usually criticize Musk's behavior unless it's under the condition of anonymity, The Times pointed out. As the letter was passed around, Musk met with Twitter employees for the first time before his $44 billion deal to buy the company takes shape. Twitter employees brought up several concerns about remote work and layoffs — at SpaceX, remote work is going away, and Tesla is laying off 10% of its salaried workforce.
Binance.US is about to announce it has raised more funding in a sign of continued investor interest despite the crypto downturn, CEO Brian Shroder told Protocol.
“In the next month or so, we will announce another close to our round,” Shroder said in an interview on Thursday. “Investors are not scared from investing in us further.”
Binance.US, the American arm of the world’s biggest cryptocurrency exchange, announced in April that it had raised a $200 million seed round, which valued the company at $4.5 billion.
The new funding comes at a time when crypto is joining a broad market slide. Major crypto players like Coinbase and BlockFi recently announced layoffs while offering a more downbeat view of the market.
But Shroder recently urged Binance.US employees to “ignore noise” as he stressed the company’s strength.
“I wanted to basically set the tone that not only is everything fine for us, but we're actually entering the crypto winter from a position of strength,” he said. “There is no world in which we emerge from this crypto winter not in a stronger position, given all of the things that we have done to enter it fully resourced and growing.”
Binance's challenges may be more regulatory than financial. The SEC is reportedly looking into the parent company's issuance of the BNB token, and it has faced inquiries and other setbacks around the world as it has sought legal sanction for its business. More recently, Binance has made progress in winning regulatory approvals, including in France, Italy and Dubai. And the American unit recently left the Blockchain Association in favor of building up its own government-affairs team in Washington.
Elon Musk met with Twitter employees Thursday, and it went exactly how you'd think it would go.
Musk talked about some of the things on employees' minds, like content moderation, the possibility of layoffs and whether remote work will remain in place if and when the company is purchased. Musk, who arrived 10 minutes late to the meeting, addressed some of those questions and talked about his vision for Twitter. He also talked about aliens.
The meeting was the first time Musk addressed Twitter employees directly since announcing his $44 billion bid to buy the company, and he said he'd be happy to meet with employees again.
- On the deal: Musk wasn't asked, and didn't say, whether he was still committed to buying Twitter.
- On remote work: Musk said really good employees can work remotely, but he’s not a fan of it overall. He wants Tesla workers back in the office full-time.
- On layoffs: He said Twitter should consider layoffs on a performance basis: "Right now, costs exceed revenue. That’s not a great situation." Layoffs are happening at Tesla right now.
- On content moderation: "We should allow people to say what they want."
- On what he wants Twitter to be: Musk really likes WeChat and TikTok. "You basically live on WeChat in China."
- On spam bots: According to Musk, they're his biggest enemy. Musk said he accidentally fell victim to a scam one time.
- On growing Twitter: Musk wants to reach 1 billion users or more in the next five to 10 years.
- On being CEO: He's not too concerned about being the head of Twitter.
- On aliens: "I have seen no actual evidence for aliens."
If you’re heavily invested in dogecoin, it’s likely for one of two reasons: You’re either a very-online crypto day trader who is willing to spend money on fun, speculative investments, or you’re a die-hard fan of Elon Musk. Now, an investor is suing Musk and his companies Tesla and SpaceX for claims that he was part of a scheme to pump the value of dogecoin.
The investor, Keith Johnson, is representing a class of people he says were duped into buying the currency after Musk made claims it had legitimate value. The suit seeks a total of $258 billion in damages and would force Musk, Tesla and SpaceX to stop promoting the token.
Dogecoin’s online brand is closely tied to a brand of absurdist, insidery internet culture that thrives on Twitter and Reddit. The same goes for “Technoking” Musk. So when Musk began tweeting about dogecoin, it came as no surprise. DOGE started as a utility-free memecoin, and Musk is often referred to by his online supporters as the “meme king.” Dogecoin's value peaked at nearly $89 billion last May, shortly before Musk hosted "Saturday Night Live" and joked about the cryptocurrency.
When Musk invested, many of his fans followed suit. When the self-described “dogecoin millionaire” Glauber Contessoto told the Daily how he came to hold over $1 million in DOGE — an investment which has subsequently shrunk to such a low value that he now says he “regrets everything” — he said it was largely because he was inspired by Musk. “Elon does a blast of eight or nine or 10 tweets, back to back to back to back, and … I’m like, this is it. This is the blast-off,” he told the New York Times podcast.
Those tweets weren’t just jokes, the lawsuit alleges, but risky advice to investors. Musk said that dogecoin was more useful for the actual purchasing of goods than bitcoin, and that he was investing in the coin on behalf of his son X Æ A-Xii. He allowed customers to start purchasing some Tesla and SpaceX merchandise with DOGE.
And according to the lawsuit’s plaintiff, these behaviors, combined with tweets and interviews reasserting his confidence in the token, all went too far. “Defendants falsely and deceptively claim that dogecoin is a legitimate investment when it has no value at all,” Johnson said in the complaint.
The case could set a precedent that might have other high-profile figures shaking in their boots. Influential people from Kim Kardashian to Larry David have promoted cryptocurrencies in the last year, and much of the market has tanked.
At noon PT Thursday, dogecoin traded at just over $0.05. At its peak last year, it was worth about $0.69.
Circle is about to issue a second stablecoin, this one pegged to the euro. The euro coin, or EUROC, will become available on June 30, the company announced Thursday.
Circle said that like USDC, the second-biggest stablecoin by market circulation, the euro coin will be “fully-backed by euro-denominated reserves held conservatively in the custody of leading financial institutions” in the U.S. “beginning with Silvergate Bank,” the company said.
“There is clear market demand for a digital currency denominated in euros, the world’s second-most-traded currency after the U.S. dollar,” Circle CEO Jeremy Allaire said in a statement.
The move comes at a time when the crypto market is reeling from a severe downturn. The total value of all cryptocurrencies have shed roughly $2 trillion since late last year with bitcoin falling to around $21,000.
The market was also rocked by the crash of the UST stablecoin. The UST coin used algorithms to dynamically control the supply of tokens in order to maintain a price peg. The two other major stablecoins, USDC and tether, keep monetary reserves to back their pegs.
Stablecoins have been an increasing area of focus for regulators, who are concerned about their potential effects on the stability of financial markets. A recently introduced Senate bill would only allow for asset-backed stablecoins.
Tether is the largest stablecoin with a market circulation of $70 billion, according to CoinMarketCap. USDC is second with a market circulation of about $54 billion. Tether has seen a series of redemptions in the past month, while USDC's circulation has risen, suggesting that it may be benefiting from the concerns about the quality of competing stablecoins' backing.
The European Commission's long awaited Code of Practice is finally here — and it has some giant names attached.
The Code — which was developed by 34 signatories, including Meta, Google, TikTok and Microsoft — is essentially a list of disinformation-fighting practices tech companies can employ if they want to demonstrate they’re at least trying to mitigate risk and stay in compliance with the Digital Services Act in Europe.
“To be credible, the new Code of Practice will be backed up by the DSA — including for heavy dissuasive sanctions,” Thierry Breton, European Commissioner for Internal Market, said in a statement on Thursday. “Very large platforms that repeatedly break the Code and do not carry out risk mitigation measures properly risk fines of up to 6% of their global turnover.”
The list of signatories also includes Twitter, Twitch, Vimeo, Clubhouse, Adobe and a range of civil society, research and fact-checking groups. Notably missing from the list, however, are other tech giants, including Apple and Telegram, which have played a particularly key role in the spread of misinformation around the war in Ukraine. Amazon is also largely missing, with the exception of livestreaming platform Twitch, which the company owns.
Not every company that did sign on has committed to every line item in the code, leading to some ongoing conflict even among signatories. In some cases, that could be because the commitment just isn’t relevant to their business. In others, it could mean tech platforms are picking and choosing the commitments that are the easiest for them to pull off.
Still, the list of companies that have signed up — and what they have signed up for — is significant, and could lead to dramatically more transparency into some of the world’s biggest platforms.
Companies now have a six-month window to implement the code. Here are a few of the biggest promises they’re making:
The Code would increase pressure on platforms to not only cease carrying disinformation but also “avoid the placement of advertising next to Disinformation content or on sources that repeatedly violate these policies.”
More political ad transparency
The companies committed to creating “dedicated searchable ad repositories” and ensuring that political ads come with a disclaimer and details about how much an ad cost and how long it ran. Meta and Google already offer this, but the Code would encourage even more platforms that want to stay on the right side of the DSA to provide this visibility. (Of course, it could also, alternatively, push some platforms to cut off political ads altogether, as Twitter, LinkedIn and Twitch already do, a move some argue has only made it harder for small campaigns and advocacy groups to get their messages out.)
More data sharing with researchers
The Code requires companies to offer researchers “automated access to non-personal, anonymized, aggregated or manifestly made public data.”
“This is potentially huge,” Mathias Vermeulen, director of European data rights agency AWO, said in a tweet. “It could entail the development of a Crowdtangle platform for all these companies.”
“In the words of Joe Biden, ‘it's a big fucking deal,’ and potentially an inflection point in the history of social media,” tweeted CrowdTangle founder Brandon Silverman, who has become an outspoken advocate for transparency in the tech industry. “But whether that's true will be determined in all the work that happens from this point on..and there's a lot.”
More reporting on progress
Under the Code, “very large platforms” (defined as having more than 45 million average monthly active users in the EU) will have to report every six months on their progress implementing the Code. Other companies will report on an annual basis.
More collaboration across platforms
The signatories agreed to work more closely across platforms to compare notes on manipulative user behavior they’re encountering. That’s a potentially meaningful shift, which would give smaller companies operating in Europe the benefit of visibility into what the largest players with the most resources are seeing — and what they’re doing about it.
A task force to keep commitments fresh
The hardest part of regulating tech is that innovation often outpaces the law itself. The Code establishes a task force, which will “review and adapt the commitments in view of technological, societal, market and legislative developments.”
A new blog post from Kraken titled “Kraken Culture Explained” has sparked heated discussions on diversity in the workplace. CEO Jesse Powell just doubled down in a Twitter thread claiming that the arguments over culture were stifling Kraken's productivity. "Most people don't care and just want to work," Powell tweeted as part of a long thread, "but they can't be productive while triggered people keep dragging them in to debates and therapy sessions."
The message references “The Mission” throughout the post, which states that the main goal of Kraken is to “accelerate the worldwide adoption of cryptocurrency.”
One of Kraken's 10 “Tentaclemandments” delineated in the post claims that “bitcoin removes politics from money,” while another says that Kraken will “engage in lobbying, as a single-issue donor, supporting controversial politicians and legislation that furthers The Mission, possibly to the detriment of other civil rights causes.”
The seventh “Tentaclemandment” stated that diversity would not exist without diversity of thought and tolerance of diverse thoughts, which then led to an outline of basic principles for communicating, one of which demanded that employees “not call someone’s words toxic, hateful, racist, x-phobic, unhelpful, etc.”
5/ What are they upset about?
* DEI (Silicon Valley's version)
* pronouns, whether someone can identify as a different race and be allowed to use the N-word
* whether differences in human sex exist at all
* being respected and unoffended
* being "harmed" by "violent" words
— Jesse Powell (@jespow) June 15, 2022
With all the touting of inclusion and diversity of thought in the company's culture, Powell also maintains that those who disagreed with the culture could quit and opt into a program providing four months of pay if they affirmed that they would never work at Kraken again, according to a New York Times story.
For those who have opted to quit, Kraken will “be rehiring for positions that become vacant as a result of the transition program.”
This isn't the first time Powell has been the center of a controversy regarding his views on diversity. In April he tweeted, "Do you have to be Asian to leave reviews on @Yelp?" He also reportedly added his views on women's intelligence in an internal discussion on Slack, where he said that the debate was still unsettled. "Most American ladies have been brainwashed in modern times," he said.
The problem doesn't seem to be limited to Kraken. Companies in the fintech industry, like Coinbase, and in other sectors of tech have published similar mission-driven culture statements saying that workplace conversations about social and political issues are not allowed for employees.
Mapbox has just been slapped with a complaint from the National Labor Relations Board that alleges the company's leadership threatened job loss in retaliation for union organizing and then fired union organizers after the unionization vote failed last summer.
The complaint, reviewed by Protocol, is based on charges filed by the Communication Workers of America, the national union that represented Mapbox leaders in the oft-vicious and failed unionization effort last summer. The Mapbox union effort, while originally supported by about two-thirds of workers when it was first announced in June 2021, failed by a margin of more than 40 votes in August 2021 after the company spent months arguing that the union could hurt future investment and divide the domestic and international workforce.
Current and former Mapbox workers told Protocol this week that the company's anti-union effort squelched its culture of openness and easy communication, and they blamed the effort for the departure of hundreds of workers in 2021.
The charge from NLRB attorneys asks that union organizers Heather Scott, Trevor Specht and Kara Mahoney be reinstated and given back pay and compensation for damages. The NLRB has little power to impose monetary fines or other damages, but it can usually demand "in-kind" actions from the company as recourse for illegal behavior. The company has until June 28 to reply to the complaint, and a hearing has been set for October 3 if no settlement is reached.
Mapbox did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
DeFi lender Celsius has hired law firm Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld to help keep the company afloat, sources told The Wall Street Journal on Tuesday. The company halted trading and withdrawals earlier this week amid what it called “extreme market conditions.”
The company is discussing multiple options with attorneys, ranging from seeking more investor capital to undergoing a complete financial restructuring. The company promises customers up to 18.63% yield on cryptocurrencies and claims to have approximately 1.7 million users. Though the company markets itself as similar to a bank, it operates more like a hedge fund, holding upwards of $11 billion in assets in May. And Celsius was incredibly successful at consistently producing those returns as cryptocurrencies boomed in 2020 and 2021, leading to an over $10 billion valuation in November.
The company has not only suffered from the cryptocurrency bear market hitting all blockchain projects; it’s also dragged the value of ether down with it. The company held an undisclosed amount of UST, and so was exposed to the Terra collapse. But the bigger hit came when a crypto derivative — Lido Staked ether, or stETH — lost its unofficial one-to-one peg with ETH. The company was relying on the 1-1 ratio for liability purposes while staking ether on the Ethereum Beacon Chain. Ether stored on the Ethereum Beacon Chain cannot be unstaked, so when stETH lost its unofficial peg, Celsius lost considerable liquid assets. When Celsius halted trading, the value of ether slid.
Celsius and Akin Gump did not respond to Protocol's requests for comment.