Rivian is turning on the first EV fast chargers in its adventure network

Rivian will open this week three EV fast charging sites in California and Colorado as part of the automaker’s bid to build out an “adventure” network along interstates as well as locations near recreational activities aligned with its customer base.

The first Level 3 DC fast charging site, which opened Monday in Salida, Colorado, has four chargers that can provide more than 200 kilowatts of power, according to Rivian. This allows Rivian R1T drivers (and eventually R1S SUV drivers) to add as much as 140 miles of range in 20 minutes, the company said. One of the fast chargers is set up as a pull-through site to accommodate vehicles towing trailers.

Rivian said its second and third Adventure Network sites will open June 28 and June 29 in Inyokern and Bishop, California, locations that are near several recreational destinations such as Mammoth Lakes, Yosemite National Park and Death Valley National Park.

Opening the three DC fast charging sites are an important and first step towards Rivian’s plan to install 3,500 fast chargers at 600 sites across North America. But these fast chargers are just one piece of Rivian’s dual EV infrastructure strategy to install more than 10,000 chargers by the end of 2023.

The Rivian Adventure Network includes fast-chargers located along interstates, like the one that opened in Salida, and another layer that is atypical in the EV industry.

Rivian is also installing so-called Level 2 AC chargers at adventurous destinations like mountain bike and hiking trailheads, kayaking spots, national and state parks and even popular climbing crags. The aim is to appeal directly to Rivian’s customer base and notably, to attract new buyers. All of Rivian’s Level 2 AC chargers, which the company has dubbed”waypoints,” are open to the public and accessible to all electric vehicle brands with a J1772 plug. The DC fast chargers are only accessible to Rivian customers.

Rivian started last July to install the first of these waypoints at all 42 Colorado State Parks. Each park will have two Rivian Waypoints each.

The new fast charging sites opening this week also include the slower “waypoint” chargers. For instance, Rivian’s Salida location has four “Level 2” AC chargers that provide a 11.5kW charging speed. At that rate, the Level 2 charger should be able add up to 25 miles of range every hour on an R1T pickup truck and R1S SUV.

Rivian owners are able to locate the waypoints as well as its branded fast chargers through the vehicle’s navigation and the accompanying app.

FTX says no active talks to buy Robinhood

Crypto exchange FTX is open to partnering with Robinhood Markets, its CEO Sam Bankman-Fried said in a statement shared with TechCrunch.

Bloomberg News reported earlier that people familiar with the matter said FTX was exploring opportunities to acquire Robinhood, but Bankman-Fried denied those claims.

“We are excited about Robinhood’s business prospects and potential ways we could partner with them, and I have always been impressed by the business that Vlad and his team have built,” Bankman-Fried said. “That being said there are no active M&A conversations with Robinhood.”

In a comment to TechCrunch, a Robinhood spokesperson pointed to its dual-class shareholder setup, in which the company’s founders control more than half of its voting power. As such, no deal can be struck to purchase the company without their explicit approval. Given the tenor of the note, TechCrunch doubts that Robinhood’s founding duo are salivating at a chance to sell their business.

After the news broke earlier today on the possibility of an acquisition, Robinhood shares spiked 14% before falling nearly 3% in after-hours trading. Last month, Bankman-Fried shared that he bought a 7.6% stake in Robinhood Markets.

Although Robinhood isn’t a crypto-focused company, it offers trading for a handful of cryptocurrencies through its mobile app, alongside commission-free trading for stocks and exchange-traded funds. Crypto-related trading incomes were a key driver in Robinhood’s revenue growth on its path to the public markets, but have since declined.

In an effort to expand the crypto exchange, FTX amassed over $2 billion to spend on acquisitions and stakes in other companies, Bloomberg previously reported. The company also launched a $2 billion venture capital fund earlier this year to back teams building in web3.

This is a developing story and will be updated as more information becomes available.

Apple shares new iPad collage-making tutorial with artist Quentin Jones

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Apple has published a new video tutorial with artist Quentin Jones covering how to use Keynote to create an animated collage on iPad.

The six-minute clip, which is part of a new “Creative Projects” series, walks users through the process of making a mantra college using the free Keynote app on iPadOS.

“Learn how to use Keynote as a creative tool to craft animated mantra collages on iPad using Apple Pencil, with artist Quentin Jones and Creative Pro Anthony from Today at Apple,” Apple wrote of the clip in its video description.

The tutorial covers steps like gather inspiration and creating a mantra, as well as Keynote and iPad features like using Split View, cutting out photos with the Shapes Tool, removing negative space in images with Instant Alpha, and using an Apple Pencil to add words and other decorative elements.

To follow along with the tutorial, users will need an iPad model, the free Keynote app from the App Store, and an optional Apple Pencil.

Tesla will go back to court for racial discrimination lawsuit

Owen Diaz, a former elevator operator at Tesla’s Fremont factory who accused the company of racial discrimination, will once again face off against the automaker in court. After Diaz and his lawyers rejected a $15 million payout last week, which had been slashed from a jury-awarded $137 million, a federal California judge granted Tesla’s motion for a new trial.

Diaz is seeking compensatory and punitive damages from Tesla after alleging that colleagues subjected him to racial harassment and bias, including calling him racist slurs and drawing swastikas. In October 2021, a jury awarded Diaz $137 million, but in April, U.S. District Judge William Orrick in San Francisco said that was excessive and cut the award to $15 million.

Orrick gave Diaz two weeks to accept the award. Diaz and his lawyers rejected the lower payout, saying it was unjust and undermined Diaz’s constitutional rights.

Going back to court could prove to be time-consuming and expensive, as well as risky for Diaz who could come out the other side of this with less money. However, the most likely outcome will see Diaz getting an award somewhere in the middle of the $15 million and $137 million, according to Helen Rella, head of the employment law department at law firm Wilk Auslander.

Orrick scheduled a conference for July 12, but has not yet set a date for the new trial.

Tesla did not respond to a request for comment; the automaker has denied any wrongdoing in the past.

Tesla is facing a series of lawsuits for racial discrimination and sexual harassment. Earlier this month, a Tesla shareholder filed a lawsuit accusing Tesla’s CEO, Elon Musk, and the board of directors of neglecting worker complaints and allowing for a toxic workplace culture to flourish.

Meta introduces Instagram Reels APIs for developers

Meta announced today that it’s introducing Reels APIs to several endpoints on the Instagram Platform for developers starting tomorrow. The company says it’s introducing the new Reels APIs after hearing from its developer community that Reels is a top priority. Meta is expanding the scope of support of Reels to content publishing, insights, comment moderation, hashtag search, business discovery, mentions and more.

Developers will be able to use the APIs to schedule Reels and get social interaction metrics for Reels. Developers can also publish Reels on Instagram Business accounts using the new APIs. The APIs will also let developers reply to comments, delete comments, hide/unhide comments and disable/enable comments on Reels. In addition, developers will be able to find public Reels that have been tagged with specific hashtags. Developers will also be able to identify Reels in which an Instagram Business or Creator’s alias has been tagged or @mentioned.

The API enhancement will be available for the current version and all previous versions of the Instagram Graph API, which allows developers to connect their app to Instagram’s features and functionalities. Meta says Reels will become automatically available for developers who already have access to the applicable APIs. Developers won’t need to put their app through additional App Review, as long as their app has already been approved for the appropriate permission access levels.

“Beginning tomorrow, June 28, 2022, we will begin introducing Reels to several endpoints on the Instagram Platform,” ” the company said in a blog post. “We are always looking to improve our content publishing and consumption experiences, whether people use Instagram natively, or via a third-party. After consistently hearing from our developer community that Reels is a top priority, we are excited to introduce Reels to a number of the endpoints that you may already be familiar with.”

Starting tomorrow, around 25% of Instagram user accounts will have access to all Reels APIs. The APIs will gradually roll out to 100% of users by July 6th.

The launch of the Reels APIs comes as Meta has been betting big on the short-form video feature. As part of its Q1 2022 earnings, the company revealed that Reels now makes up more than 20% of the time that people spend on Instagram. At the time, Zuckerberg outlined that since starting Facebook 18 years ago, the company has seen multiple shifts in the media types that people use and that short-form video is only the latest iteration and is growing quickly. He outlined that while Meta is seeing an increase in short-form video, it’s also seeing a major shift in the advancement of AI recommendations driving more of its feeds, for both posts and Reels.

He elaborated that feeds are going from being exclusively curated by users’ social circles to being recommended by AI. TikTok’s powerful recommendation algorithm is one of the reasons behind its immense popularity, which is why it makes sense for Meta to focus on enhancing its own recommendation systems to get people to interact with Reels more, and in turn, be better aligned to compete with TikTok.

Epic's 'Support a creator' program pays out only 5% of game content makers' sales

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At the same time it rails against Apple’s payments through the App Store, Epic reaps 95% of the earnings of people participating in the new “Support a Creator” program.

Fortnite has been a rousing success for Epic Games, with the company benefiting from virtual currency purchases by players as well as from groups producing content specifically for the game. However, those groups of independent developers working on content certainly aren’t earning high amounts from in-game purchases.

In a profile of the rising numbers of creators making content for Fortnite, The Verge reports that small companies are being created specifically for the third-party efforts. However, those teams have to rely on working with brands to earn any significant revenue, as opposed to enjoying Epic-derived funds.

Covering discussions with companies like Beyond Creative who have worked with companies such as Verizon and Nvidia, the projects can end up requiring a lot of work. According to Alliance Studios co-owner Simon Bell, a project with a brand can last anywhere between two weeks and six months, depending on the workload.

These deals are also lucrative, with Bell confirming contracts can be between “four to six figures” in size. In return, the brands have a map and content that players can experience.

An Epic pittance

While the projects are generally successful, with roughly half the playtime of Fortnite users spent in the custom maps instead of the main game, the developers aren’t counting on earning much from the game directly.

Epic operates a Support-A-Creator program, which hands participants a Creator Code that players can enter into the game. Purchases made while a code is active on an account gives a small credit to the owner of that code.

The problem is that the amount that the creators receive can be quite low. It is so low, that in a FAQ about the program asking if creators could get rich from it, Epic warns “Please expect modest results.”

The Support-A-Creator program is open to anyone with over 1,000 followers on a social media program, are aged 13 years or older, can accept the agreement, can abide by Creator Content Guidelines, and can take payment from the company’s designated payments platform.

In exchange for agreeing to the terms, creators stand to earn a very low amount in return. In effect, creators can expect to earn $5 per $100 of in-game purchases by supporters using that creator’s code.

Furthermore, creators have to earn at least $100 in a 12-month period to be eligible for a payment. If that $100 barrier isn’t reached, “any attributed purchases and/or redemptions made by followers during that 12-month period will reset to zero.”

The amount that creators stand to earn from Epic is extremely low compared to other storefronts. For Apple’s App Store, it takes a 30% commission from purchases, 15% under certain circumstances, leaving developers with the lion’s share of the transaction’s value.

In April, Apple attacked Meta over a plan to charge developers up to 47.5% for virtual goods sold through the Meta Quest store, combining a 17.5% cut with a 30% platform fee.

Rival metaverse-style platform Roblox was also under fire in August 2021 for providing developers with a small cut of sales from its in-game sales. However, even that commission provided creators with around 35% of the full Robux value.

Epic’s astoundingly low payment rate to creators is ironic, given that one of the reasons behind Epic Games’ decision to withdraw Fortnite from the App Store and prompting a major legal fight was Apple’s 30% commission, and Epic’s intention to avoid paying it.

Fortnite’s stinginess isn’t just limited to creators of content. Epic Games has become the targets of criticism and lawsuits for allegedly stealing dance moves, which are then used as emotes in the game.

The financial difficulty of earning from Fortnite has pushed creators into working with brands to earn significant revenue, but they also wish there were more monetization options. For example, creating virtual items for sale in the digital storefront.

Epic CEO Tim Sweeney also hinted in April that Epic could offer more monetization options in the future. Sweeney commented that Epic was working on “Fortnite creator economy version 2 and 3″ and to expect “big changes throughout the year.”

This crypto winter may be long, but builders remain bullish

Many of the top digital assets in the cryptocurrency market are down significantly, but some market participants are shrugging it off and focusing on the long game.

The top five cryptocurrencies by market capitalization have fallen 55% or more year to date, according to CoinMarketCap data. The top two, bitcoin and ether, have dropped 56.5% and 68.5%, respectively, during that period.

But Pascal Gauthier, chairman and CEO of Ledger, said during a panel at his company’s Op3n conference in New York City that “this doesn’t feel like a [crypto] bear market.”

“Now, for the macro economy, it’s a bloodbath,” Gauthier added.

For example, Swedish buy now, pay later provider Klarna is considering raising capital at about a $10 billion valuation, down from its mid-2021 valuation of over $45 billion, TechCrunch reported last week. And a number of fintech companies’ values are declining sharply, taking the downturn even harder than most other sectors.

Gauthier also referenced the Nasdaq, which is down 26% year to date. “So there are macro trends that are just impacting everything at a global scale, everywhere,” Gauthier said. “So actually, the [crypto] market is resisting pretty well and the [crypto] market has been impacted by macro events and our own greed.”

In contrast? Longtime bitcoin holder Dan Held, director of growth marketing at crypto exchange Kraken, said during the panel that “this crypto winter is as harsh as the other ones.”

“It’s going to be cold, but I’m still as bullish as ever on bitcoin,” Held said.

Apple close to series order for David Oyelowo dramedy 'Government Cheese'

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Apple is reportedly nearing a series order for a new dramedy series dubbed “Government Cheese,” which is set to star David Oyelowo.

The series is based on the Paul Hunter short film of the same name. Hunter is serving as co-creator on the show alongside Aeysha Carr, known for “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” and “The Carmichael Show.”

“Government Cheese” is said to be “nearing a pickup order” from Apple TV+, Variety reported Monday.

The series will follow Hampton Chambers, “a man recently released from prison who struggles to keep his criminal past at bay and win back his family, all while processing moments of divine intervention that seem to happen with increasing frequency.”

Hunter and Oyelowo originally brought the short film to MACRO and Apple — both of which will serve as co-studios on the show. Hunter, Carr, and Oyelowo will also executive produce alongside Charles D. King, Marta Fernandez, Jelani Johnson, and Ahmadou Seck.

“Government Cheese” would actually mark the second series with Oyelowo attached that could arrive at Apple. The actor has also signed on to appear in upcoming Apple TV+ original series “Wool.”

Period tracker Stardust surges following Roe reversal, but its privacy claims aren’t airtight

Period tracking app Stardust surged to the top of the U.S. Apple App Store in the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade after the app promised it will encrypt its users’ private data to keep it out of the hands of the government.

But TechCrunch found on Monday that the current version of the now-booming Stardust app is sharing the app users’ phone numbers with a third-party analytics company, which could be used to identify individual users of the app.

The decision to reverse Roe overturned 50 years of constitutional protections for abortion rights in the United States, allowing individual states to create laws to criminalize abortion. The decision has led to calls for users to delete their period-tracking apps from their phones, fearing the data collected by these apps could be used against them to prove an abortion was obtained illegally.

Others are abandoning their current period trackers and turning to apps like Stardust instead as a result of the company’s strong statement issued in light of the decision to overturn Roe. Stardust said it would implement end-to-end encryption so it would “not be able to hand over any of your period tracking data” to the government, helping to draw in hundreds of thousands of downloads over this weekend ahead of the release of the new, encryption-featured app version slated for release on Wednesday.

TechCrunch ran a network traffic analysis of Stardust’s iPhone app on Monday to understand what data was flowing in and out of the app. The network traffic showed that if that user logs into the app using their phone number (rather than through a login service provided by Apple or Google), Stardust will periodically share the user’s phone number with a third-party analytics service called Mixpanel.

Mixpanel is an analytics service that’s used widely by app developers to track their app’s usage and help identify errors or other ways to improve the app. It does this by tracking how someone uses the app and sending the data back to Mixpanel’s servers. Stardust also shared with Mixpanel details about the phone that the app was installed on, which iPhone model and software version, and which cell carrier the phone was connected to.

During the network traffic analysis, TechCrunch saw no health data shared with Mixpanel. But sharing a phone number that’s tied to a specific user of a period-tracking app with a third party, like Mixpanel, could allow prosecutors to compel Mixpanel to turn over that data — even if Stardust claims that it can’t.

Stardust founder Rachel Moranis told TechCrunch that “The current (old) version of Stardust leverages several data collection mechanisms of Mixpanel that we have disabled/removed in the new version. In addition to not sending [personally identifiable information] to Mixpanel, we have also disabled IP tracking for our users to protect from that metadata being used to identify our users.”

In a tweet, Stardust said it was “working on” a way to allow users to sign in anonymously.

Stardust’s privacy policy, updated on June 26, indicates the app is not as protected as it claims. It notes the app collects a variety of data about users’ devices, activity, and location, including through cookies and other tracking technologies. It also carves out some exceptions with regard to data sharing, noting how it may disclose de-personalized data with some providers, with user consent, or when required by law — if it must “comply with or respond to law enforcement or a legal process or a request for cooperation by a government or other entity, whether or not legally required.”

This also seems to contradict the part of the policy that insists that the company will never share users’ ages or “any data related to your health with any third parties.”)

Since the overturning of Roe, tech companies are bracing for a new regime under which they could face legal orders compelling the turnover of pregnancy-related user data to state authorities and prosecutors. Some of the biggest tech companies still have not said how they would handle demands for data related to investigations relating to people seeking or providing abortions. That’s contributed to a rush to find apps and services that use end-to-end encryption, which prevents anyone — even the app maker — from accessing a user’s data.

Thanks to its announcement that it’s moving to encryption, Stardust’s app drew in 135,000 new installs on June 24, a 4,400% spike in the number of installs it saw on the previous day, about 3,000 installs, according to data from app intelligence firm Sensor Tower. On Saturday, June 25, the app saw another 200,000 installs and hit No. 1 on the U.S. App Store, up from its prior rank of No. 119. Combined, the two weekend days delivered 82% of Stardust’s more than 400,000 total lifetime installs.

TechCrunch asked the founders for more information about how the app is implementing end-to-end encryption. Stardust founder Moranis told TechCrunch that “all traffic to our servers is through standard SSL (hosted on AWS) and subsequent data storage on AWS RDS utilizing their built-in AES-256 encryption implementation.” Although this describes the use of encryption to protect data while in transit and while it’s stored on Amazon’s servers, it’s not clear if this implementation would be considered true end-to-end encryption.

Given its complexity and the stakes involved, implementing end-to-end encryption is often a time- and resource-intensive effort, where a single coding flaw could undermine the protections of the users’ data. It’s also not uncommon for companies that use end-to-end encryption to publish papers and technical notes explaining how their systems work – often even a point of pride for some companies – or even open-sourcing and publishing their code, as cryptographic proof that their systems are secure.

When asked if the company had conducted a third-party security audit of the app’s code, Moranis said that the company intends to “fully publish our implementation along with a third-party audit once it is complete,” but a timeline was not given. (TechCrunch will follow up when the results of the audit are available.)

After we heard from Stardust, the company quietly changed its privacy policy again to remove mentions of end-to-end encryption.

It’s hard to argue with people’s fears — the period tracking app industry was already found to have engaged in leaky data-sharing practices with third-party tracking and analytic firms, as well as tech giants like Facebook and Google. One app, Flo, had to settle last year with the U.S. Federal Trade Commission for violating its own privacy policy. Among other things, the app had falsely claimed it only shared “non-personally identifiable” information with third parties — which an investigation by The Wall St. Journal proved to be untrue.

Another app, Glow, had to settle with the state of California the year prior for exposing women’s medical information.

Consumer Reports said in May that many apps continue to use third-party trackers and don’t store consumers’ data locally on their devices where it can’t be shared or sold.

Plus, period tracking apps don’t have to comply with the federal privacy law known as the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, or HIPAA.

With the threat of losing their entire user bases, however, many period trackers released statements to ensure customers their data is safe. Flo, which completed an independent privacy review in March, said that it will do “everything in its power” to protect users’ data and privacy. It also said it would launch a new “Anonymous Mode” feature that removes users’ personal identities from their Flo accounts.

Consumers swap period tracking apps in search of increased privacy following Roe v. Wade ruling

Consumers are ditching their current period tracking apps in favor of what they perceive to be safer options in the wake of the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision that allows individual U.S. states to criminalize abortion. The app switching trend is impacting all manner of period tracking apps, including leading app Flo, which owns a 47% share of the period tracking app market in the U.S., according to data provided by Apptopia. The app may have both lost customers to rival apps while gaining new users from others over the weekend. Other apps are seeing similar trends.

The patterns of app switching indicate consumers are seeking out increased privacy, as many of those gaining from this trend are companies that have made public statements in support of strengthened data security and privacy practices. But it’s also clear that consumers don’t necessarily have a good understanding of which apps to trust given that the current beneficiary of this increased switching activity is a potentially problematic app called Stardust, which had yet to implement its new privacy protections at the time it was making promises to users.

As a result of its claims, Stardust saw its daily average downloads increase by as much as 6,000% over the past weekend, Apptopia said. The relative newcomer to the period tracking market drew attention by promoting itself as a small, women-led team who wanted to provide users with a more secure app. Those claims resonated with consumers, driving the app to No. 1 on the App Store on Saturday. But in terms of data security, being a small team is not necessarily an advantage. TechCrunch found various data privacy issues with the version of the app that users downloaded over the weekend, including its sharing of users’ phone numbers with a third party.

Despite these issues, app intelligence firm Sensor Tower said the app gained 82% of its total 400,000+ lifetime installs this past Saturday through Sunday.

Another top app, Clue, also benefitted from consumers seeking alternatives. Apptopia found Clue’s app saw a 2,200% increase in installs over the weekend after it made comments in the press that it won’t divulge sensitive information to states. Sensor Tower reported Clue had also reached its highest-ever rank on Saturday as the No. 15 overall free app on the App Store. It has since dropped to No. 93, which suggests the rank change had been the result of a surge of app switchers.

Several other apps saw increased installs on Saturday, June 25, too. Compared with the month of June, Glow’s ovulation app saw its average daily downloads jump 21% and its period tracker Eve saw average daily installs increase 83%, Apptopia said. An app called Natural Cycles – Birth Control saw average daily installs rise 53%; another called Period Tracker by GP Apps saw a 17% increase; and the app Femometer saw a 10% increase. Single-digit increases were also seen in apps including My Calendar – Period Tracker and Ovia Fertility & Cycle Tracker, the firm found.

Finally, leading app Flo moved up slightly on Saturday as a result of the app switching activity. Flo jumped from No. 197 on June 23 before the ruling to No. 187 on Saturday, June 25, Sensor Tower said. It’s now moved up more to No. 180 as of the time of writing. It’s worth noting that Flo’s average daily installs had been on the decline for several months, Apptopia had reported — in part, likely due to news of its 2021 settlement with the FTC over earlier privacy violations. That indicates consumers have been thinking about data privacy well before the Supreme Court ruling.

After the court’s decision on Friday, Flo issued a statement in hopes of stemming the tide of app switchers or those inclined to delete their accounts. It said:

“Flo will always stand up for the health of women, and will do everything in its power to protect the data and privacy of our users. To add to our security measures already in place (read more about that here), we will soon be launching a new feature called “Anonymous Mode” – an option that allows users to remove their personal identity from their Flo account. Lastly, Flo will never require a user to log an abortion or offer details that they feel should be kept private, and users can delete their data at any time. We firmly believe that our users deserve complete control over their data and we are here to support our users every step of the way.”

Clue also issued a lengthy response to Roe v. Wade on its website, which stressed its adherence to strict European data privacy laws and use of encryption. GP Apps, the maker of Period Tracker, published a strong statement, as well, though its privacy policy indicates that it would comply with legal requests and subpoenas. (However, it noted that consumers can opt to use its account without an online account, which would then only store data locally on the user’s device.) Other companies have published statements on their websites and social media accounts, as well.

But without a deeper analysis of each company’s privacy policy and more sophisticated testing of each app’s privacy and security protections, it’s hard to recommend that the use of any third-party period tracking app is a 100% safe decision at this time, regardless of their statements and claims.

One possible solution to this problem is to simply use Apple’s Health app alone for the time being, where end-to-end encryption of users’ Health records is available through iCloud. Unfortunately, data on Apple’s first-party apps isn’t available so we’ll never know how many consumers made this choice.