June 29, 2020

The driverless-car race gets more competition

June 29, 2020
The Hustle
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‘Zon the road

Amazon’s latest acquisition could shake up the future of driverless vehicles

Amazon is snapping up the driverless car maker Zoox for a deal estimated at a cool $1.2B. Zoox has spent the last couple years working on a robo-taxi. 

We’ve been hearing about driverless cars for years now, but developing this technology is stupid expensive and challenging. Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, with his seemingly bottomless bucket of cash, could help Zoox finally hit the road.

Amazon’s competition ain’t thrilled

Tesla CEO Elon Musk denounced the deal in a tweet, calling Bezos a copycat.

Tesla has been at the forefront of the driverless-car revolution, but it’s run into some roadblocks. (Musk is a frequent Bezos critic, and these 2 rich dudes are also embroiled in a space race — which might explain Musk’s indignation.)

This isn’t Amazon’s first foray into autonomous vehicles. Last year, it invested in Aurora Innovation, which develops tech for driverless cars. 

Amazon also plans to buy a whopping 100k electric delivery vans from the truck startup Rivian. And there’s Amazon’s long-idling drone project, Prime Air.

Ride-hailing titans should check the rearview mirror

If the AmaZoox venture is successful, it could spell big trouble for Uber and Lyft.

Both spend millions annually recruiting drivers, and face regulatory pressure to classify them as employees in New York and California. An autonomous ride-hailing service from Amazon could have a big advantage in terms of overhead costs.

And Amazon could easily offer discounted fares to its 100m+ Prime members, giving plenty of passengers an incentive to switch services. With some analysts estimating the ride-hailing industry to hit $60B+ by 2023, Amazon would have nothing to lose.

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Ice with that?

Starbucks deals social-media giants a scalding burn: No more ads

If you notice social media execs looking a little pale today, this news might be why: Starbucks is “pausing” ads on “all social media platforms” — minus YouTube — until those platforms can get their hate speech problems under control. 

Verizon, Coca-Cola, Unilever, and other heavyweights have already halted their ad spending. 

But Starbucks’ entry into the fray is important because it comes after Facebook — the main target of the big ad retreat — tried to brew a fix.

Facebook has to do more to sweeten the pot

On Friday, CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced that he would slap warning labels on posts from politicians that break Facebook’s rules about misinformation and violence. 

Sound familiar? That’s because it looks a lot like Twitter’s approach.

But Starbucks took one look at those changes and sipped its tea. Labels aren’t enough: The coffee kingpin is calling for tighter moderation of hate speech. 

Facebook is getting roasted

The New York Times has some estimates on how much each boycott might cost Big Blue (One example: Unilever spent ~$42m+ on Facebook ads last year).

The numbers might look measly compared to Facebook’s $17.7B in revenue — and that was just last quarter. After all, most of Facebook’s advertisers are small businesses that can’t afford to boycott. 

But high-profile drop-outs do matter — Facebook’s stock price tumbled 8.3% on Friday, erasing $7B of Zuckerberg’s personal wealth.

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Outfoxed

A messaging app won a cat-and-mouse game with the Russian government

Tech entrepreneurs brag about a lot of things, but not many of them can boast about outfoxing Russia.

Pavel Durov, the founder of the messaging app Telegram, is different. This month, the Russian government finally relented after trying to block his app for 2 years. 

The government wanted in, but Durov said nyet

As The Washington Post told it: Durov is an elusive privacy warrior who refused to give Russia access to Telegram users’ encrypted messages. 

The app is popular — and controversial. It says it has 400m monthly users worldwide, including 30m in Russia. In the US, white supremacists have used the platform to organize.

Roskomnadzor, the Russian agency responsible for internet censorship, tried to ban Telegram in 2018, but eventually failed. One reason why: It’s hard to ban something when your own government officials keep using it.

But don’t call him a hero just yet

Durov’s tactics for avoiding the crackdown caused collateral damage. When Roskomnadzor blocked IP addresses that Telegram had used, the game of internet whack-a-mole took down other services, too.

Russia’s not the only country to give Telegram the stink eye: Here in the US, the SEC said Friday that Telegram would pay an $18.5m fine to resolve allegations that its sale of cryptocurrency tokens violated federal securities laws.

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Got Beef?

Even butchers are going mobile

Behold, the latest innovation in traveling tech: rifle-slinging, apron-wearing mobile butchers for hire.

You can think of them as the meat industry’s answer to mobile kitchens. 

Slaughterhouses filled with workers are breeding grounds for COVID-19, so what’s a farmer to do? Trade groups like the North American Meat Institute think they should try a slice of slaughter-on-the-go.

Mobile butchers aren’t exactly hitmen 

But they do show up to kill your cattle, then haul the carcass off to their shops. They cut up the animal and deliver the pieces back to your doorstep.

Their work is still bloody rare: Just 16 USDA-approved mobile slaughter units are roving the country today. But that’s almost twice as many as 3 years ago.

Why aren’t there more? Some advocates and regulators have beef with the lack of inspection — they say it’s risky to have people cuttin’ carcasses without oversight.

Others say that’s a load of bull

Some advocates think mobile butchery is more humane than the industrialized alternative. 

But to manage the COVID-19 crisis, there’s another solution that is much more clean-cut than mobilizing an army of butchers: Invest in small, local slaughterhouses

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TRENDS

Getting Yeezy’s attention, one billboard at a time

When most people talk about 21st century marketing, they’ll highlight the evolution of tech giants like Google, Facebook, and TikTok, the need for diversification, saturation of channel X or Y, yadda yadda.

That’s cool and all, but let’s talk about something with a little more flare. 

Back in 2019, Harry Dry had an idea. He had stumbled upon several niche dating sites and decided to give “Yeezy Dating” a go. His antics quickly led to over 13k signups and a feature on BBC Radio One. But he didn’t stop there. He decided that for this thing to be a hit, he needed to get the big man –Yeezy — involved. 3 billboards later and some  persistence landed him a meeting with Kanye’s team.

His story deserves a read and is chronicled in his “Kanye story”.

Yeezy Dating never stuck around, but Harry’s viral marketing genius has, making him one of the most followed people on IndieHackers and the founder of the Marketing Examples newsletter that is treasured by over 20k people. 

That’s why we’re bringing in Harry for a rapid fire session of 30 marketing tips in 30 minutes

Join us on Thursday 7/2, at 3pm ET (12pm PT).

Grab your spot → Snippets

1️⃣  More worrisome news for Facebook: The “Stop Hate For Profit” ad-boycott campaign says it’s about to go global. 

2️⃣  Twitter’s fact-checking labels got a little out of hand on Friday: Briefly, every tweet containing the words “oxygen,” “5G,” and “frequency” got a fact check label.

3️⃣  The ghost kitchen might be the restaurant model that dominates the post-COVID economy.

4️⃣  Punk’d: Tech Twitter was buzzing over the mysterious app It Is What It Is — turns out, it’s just a clever way to promote racial justice charities.

5️⃣  Wuhan, where COVID-19 was first discovered, is China’s hottest travel destination right now. 

6️⃣  The doomsday bunker biz is still going strong. 

7️⃣  American Airlines announced plans to fully book its flights, but a pilot’s union wants the federal government to buy up middle seats instead.

8️⃣  Here’s how TikTok is rewriting the rules of our politics, according to researchers. 

9️⃣  Bored in quarantine? A pair of mathematicians were, so they solved the mythic “rectangular peg problem.”

🔟  One sign that the world may not be such a garbage place after all: Philanthropy is way up.

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