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Indian PM Narendra Modi’s reelection spells more frustration for US tech giants

The re-election of Modi will in many ways chart the path of India’s burgeoning startup ecosystem, the local play of Silicon Valley companies, and future of India’s internet

Amazon and Walmart’s problems in India look set to continue after Narendra Modi, the biggest force to embrace the country’s politics in decades, led his Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party to a historic landslide re-election on Thursday, reaffirming his popularity in the eyes of world’s largest democracy.

The re-election, which gives Modi’s government another five years in power, will in many ways chart the path of India’s burgeoning startup ecosystem, and the local play of Silicon Valley companies that have grown increasingly wary of recent policy changes.

At stake is also the future of India’s internet, the second largest in the world. With more than 550 million internet users in India, the nation has emerged as one of the last great growth markets for Silicon Valley companies. Google, Facebook, and Amazon count India as one of their largest and fastest growing markets. And until late 2016, they enjoyed great dynamics with the Indian government.

But in recent years, New Delhi has ordered more internet shutdowns than ever before; and puzzled many over crackdowns on sometimes legitimate websites. To top that, the government recently proposed a law that would require any intermediary — telecom operators, messaging apps, and social media services among others — with more than 5 million users to introduce a number of changes to how they operate in the nation. More on this shortly.

Growing tension

Gender, race and social change in tech; Moira Weigel on the Internet of Women, Part Two

Tech ethics can mean a lot of different things, but surely one of the most critical, unavoidable, and yet somehow still controversial propositions in the emerging field of ethics in technology is that tech should promote gender equality. But does it? And to the extent it does not, what (and who) needs to change?

In this second of a two-part interview “On The Internet of Women,” Harvard fellow and Logic magazine founder and editor Moira Weigel and I discuss the future of capitalism and its relationship to sex and tech; the place of ambivalence in feminist ethics; and Moira’s personal experiences with #MeToo.

Greg E.: There’s a relationship between technology and feminism, and technology and sexism for that matter. Then there’s a relationship between all of those things and capitalism. One of the underlying themes in your essay “The Internet of Women,” that I thought made it such a kind of, I’d call it a seminal essay, but that would be a silly term to use in this case…

Moira W.: I’ll take it.

Greg E.: One of the reasons I thought your essay should be required reading basic reading in tech ethics is that you argue we need to examine the degree to which sexism is a part of capitalism.

Moira W.: Yes.

Greg E.: Talk about that.

Moira W.: This is a big topic! Where to begin?

Capitalism, the social and economic system that emerged in Europe around the sixteenth century and that we still live under, has a profound relationship to histories of sexism and racism. It’s really important to recognize that sexism and racism themselves are historical phenomena.

They don’t exist in the same way in all places. They take on different forms at different times. I find that very hopeful to recognize, because it means they can change.

It’s really important not to get too pulled into the view that men have always hated women there will always be this war of the sexes that, best case scenario, gets temporarily resolved in the depressing truce of conventional heterosexuality.  The conditions we live under are not the only possible conditions—they are not inevitable.

A fundamental Marxist insight is that capitalism necessarily involves exploitation. In order to grow, a company needs to pay people less for their work than that work is worth. Race and gender help make this process of exploitation seem natural.

Image via Getty Images / gremlin

Certain people are naturally inclined to do certain kinds of lower status and lower waged work, and why should anyone be paid much to do what comes naturally? And it just so happens that the kinds of work we value less are seen as more naturally “female.” This isn’t just about caring professions that have been coded female—nursing and teaching and so on, although it does include those.

In fact, the history of computer programming provides one of the best examples. In the early decades, when writing software was seen as rote work and lower status, it was mostly done by women. As Mar Hicks and other historians have shown, as the profession became more prestigious and more lucrative, women were very actively pushed out.

You even see this with specific coding languages. As more women learn, say, Javascript, it becomes seen as feminized—seen as less impressive or valuable than Python, a “softer” skill. This perception, that women have certain natural capacities that should be free or cheap, has a long history that overlaps with the history of capitalism.  At some level, it is a byproduct of the rise of wage labor.

To a medieval farmer it would have made no sense to say that when his wife had their children who worked their farm, gave birth to them in labor, killed the chickens and cooked them, or did work around the house, that that wasn’t “work,” [but when he] took the chickens to the market to sell them, that was. Right?

A long line of feminist thinkers has drawn attention to this in different ways. One slogan from the 70s was, ‘whose work produces the worker?’ Women, but neither companies nor the state, who profit from this process, expect to pay for it.

Why am I saying all this? My point is: race and gender have been very useful historically for getting capitalism things for free—and for justifying that process. Of course, they’re also very useful for dividing exploited people against one another. So that a white male worker hates his black coworker, or his leeching wife, rather than his boss.

Greg E.: I want to ask more about this topic and technology; you are a publisher of Logic magazine which is one of the most interesting publications about technology that has come on the scene in the last few years.

ByteDance, TikTok’s parent company, plans to launch a free music streaming app

Does the overcrowded and cut-throat music streaming business have room for an additional player? The world’s most valuable startup certainly thinks so.

Chinese conglomerate ByteDance, valued at over $75 billion, is working on a music streaming service, two sources familiar with the matter told TechCrunch. The company, which operates popular app TikTok, has held discussions with music labels in recent months to launch the app as soon as end of this quarter, one of the sources said.

The app will offer both a premium and an ad-supported free tier, one of the sources said. Bloomberg, which first wrote about the premium app, reported that ByteDance is targeting emerging markets with its new music app. A ByteDance spokesperson declined to comment.

For ByteDance, interest in a music app does not come as a surprise. Snippets of pop songs from movies and albums intertwined with videos shot by its humongous userbase is part of the service’s charm. The company already works with music labels worldwide to licence usage of their tracks on its platform. In China, where ByteDance claims to have tie ups with over 800 labels, it has been aggressively expanding efforts to find music talents and urge them to make their own tracks.

Besides, ByteDance has been expanding its app portfolio in recent months. Earlier this year, the company released Duoshan, a video chat app that appears to be a mix of TikTok and Snap. This week, it launched Feiliao, another chat app that is largely focused on text-driven conversations. At some point, the company may have realized the need for a standalone music consumption app.

When asked about TikTok’s partnership with music labels last month, Todd Schefflin, TikTok’s head of global music business development, told WSJ that music is part of the app’s “creative DNA” but it is “ultimately for short video creation and viewing, not a product for music consumption.”

The private Chinese company is likely eyeing India as a key market for its music app. The company has been in discussion with local music labels T Series and Times Music for rights. Moreover, its apps are estimated to have over 300 million monthly active users in the nation, though there could be significant overlaps among them.

India may have also inspired ByteDance to consider a free, ad-supported version of its music app. Even as more than 150 million users in India listen to music online, only a tiny portion of this user base is willing to pay for it.

This has made India a unique battleground for local and international music giants, most of which offer an ad-supported, free version of their apps in the market. Even premium offerings from Apple and Spotify cost under $1.2 a month. India is the only market where Spotify offers a free version of its app that has access to the entire catalog on-demand.

The launch of the app could put the spotlight again on ByteDance in India, where its TikTok app recently landed in hot water. An Indian court banned the app for roughly a week after expressing concerns over questionable content on the platform. Ever since the nation lifted the ban on TikTok, the company has become visibly cautious about its movement.

Maisie Williams’ talent discovery startup Daisie raises $2.5 million, hits 100K members

Maisie Williams’ time on Game of Thrones may have come to an end, but her talent discovery app Daisie is just getting started. Co-founded by film producer Dom Santry, Daisie aims to make it easier for creators to showcase their work, discover projects and collaborate with one another through a social networking-style platform. Only 11 days after Daisie officially launched to the public, the app hit an early milestone of 100,000 members. It also recently closed on $2.5 million in seed funding, the company tells TechCrunch.

The round was led by Founders Fund, which contributed $1.5 million. Other investors included 8VC, Kleiner Perkins, and newer VC firm Shrug Capital, from AngelList’s former head of marketing Niv Dror, who also separately invested. To date — including friends and family money and the founders’ own investment — Daisie has raised roughly $3 million.

It will later move toward raising a larger Series A, Santry says.

On Daisie, creators establish a profile as you would on a social network, find and follow other users, then seek out projects based on location, activity, or other factors.

“Whether it’s film, music, photography, art — everything is optimized around looking for collaborators,” explains Santry. “So the projects that are actively open and looking for people to get involved, are the ones we’re really pushing for people to discover and hopefully get involved with,” he says.

The company’s goal to offer an alternative path to talent discovery is a timely one. Today, the creative industry is waking up — as are many others — to the ramifications of the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements. As power-hungry abusers lose their jobs, new ways of working, networking and sourcing talent are taking hold.

As Williams said when she first introduced the app last year, Daisie’s focus is on giving the power back to the creator.

“Instead of [creators] having to market themselves to fit someone else’s idea of what their job would be, they can let their art speak for themselves,” she said at the time.

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The app was launched into an invite-only beta on iOS last summer, and quickly saw a surge of users. After 37,000 downloads in week one, it crashed.

“We realized that the community was a lot larger than the product we had built, and that scale was something we needed to do properly,” Santry tells TechCrunch.

The team realized there was another problem, too: Once collaborators found each other in Daisie, there wasn’t a clear cut way for them to get in touch with one another as the app had no communication tools or ways to share files built in.

“That journey from concept to production was pretty muddy and quite muddled…so we realized, if we were bringing teams together, we actually wanted to give them a place to work — give them this creative hub…and take their project from concept all the way to production on Daisie,” Santry notes.

With this broader concept in mind, Daisie began fundraising in San Francisco shortly after the beta launch. The round initially closed in October 2018, but was more recently reopened to allow Dror’s investment.

With the additional funding in tow, Daisie has been able to grow its team of five to eighteen, including new hires from Monzo, Deliveroo, BBC, Microsoft, and others — specifically engineers who were familiar with designing apps for scale. Tasked with developing better infrastructure and a more expansive feature set, the team set to work on bringing Daisie to the web.

Nine months later, the new version launched to the public and is stable enough to handle the load. Today, it topped 100,000 users — most of which are in London. However, Daisie is planning to focus on taking its app to other cities including Berlin, New York, and L.A. going forward.

The company has monetization ideas in mind, but the app does not currently generate revenue. However, it’s already fielding inquiries from companies who want Daisie to find them the right talent for their projects.

“We want the best for the creators on the platform, so if that means bringing clients on — and hopefully giving those connectivity opportunities — then we’ll absolutely [go] down those roads,” Santry says.

The app may also serve as a talent pipeline for Maisie Williams’ own Daisy Chain Productions. In fact, Daisie recently ran a campaign called London Creates which connected young, emerging creators with project teams, two of which were headed by Santry’s Daisy Chain Productions co-founders, Williams and Bill Milner.

Now Daisy Chain Productions is going to produce a film from the Daisie collaboration as a result.

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While celebs sometimes do little more than lend their name to projects, Williams was hands-on in terms of getting Daisie off the ground, Santry says. During the first quarter of 2019, she worked on Daisie 9-to-5, he notes. But she has since started another film project and plans to continue to work as an actress, which will limit her day-to-day involvement. Her role now and in the future may be more high-level.

“I think her role is going to become one of, culturally, like: where does Daisie stand? What do we stand for? Who do we work with? What do we represent?” he says. “How do we help creators everywhere? That’s mainly want Maisie wants to make sure Daisie does.”

On the Internet of Women with Moira Weigel

“Feminism,” the writer and editor Marie Shear famously said in an often-misattributed quote, “is the radical notion that women are people.” The genius of this line, of course, is that it appears to be entirely non-controversial, which reminds us all the more effectively of the past century of fierce debates surrounding women’s equality.

And what about in tech ethics? It would seem equally non-controversial that ethical tech is supposed to be good for “people,” but is the broader tech world and its culture good for the majority of humans who happen to be women? And to the extent it isn’t, what does that say about any of us, and about all of our technology?

I’ve known, since I began planning this TechCrunch series exploring the ethics of tech, that it would need to thoroughly cover issues of gender. Because as we enter an age of AI, with machines learning to be ever more like us, what could be more critical than addressing the issues of sex and sexism often at the heart of the hardest conflicts in human history thus far?

Meanwhile, several months before I began envisioning this series I stumbled across the fourth issue of a new magazine called Logic, a journal on technology, ethics, and culture. Logic publishes primarily on paper — yes, the actual, physical stuff, and a satisfyingly meaty stock of it, at that.

In it, I found a brief essay, “The Internet of Women,” that is a must-read, an instant classic in tech ethics. The piece is by Moira Weigel, one of Logic’s founders and currently a member of Harvard University’s “Society of Fellows” — one of the world’s most elite societies of young academics.

A fast-talking 30-something Brooklynite with a Ph.D. from Yale, Weigel’s work combines her interest in sex, gender, and feminism, with a critical and witty analysis of our technology culture.

In this first of a two-part interview, I speak with Moira in depth about some of the issues she covers in her essay and beyond: #MeToo; the internet as a “feminizing” influence on culture; digital media ethics around sexism; and women in political and tech leadership.

Greg E.: How would you summarize the piece in a sentence or so?

Moira W.: It’s an idiosyncratic piece with a couple of different layers. But if I had to summarize it in just a sentence or two I’d say that it’s taking a closer look at the role that platforms like Facebook and Twitter have played in the so-called “#MeToo moment.”

In late 2017 and early 2018, I became interested in the tensions that the moment was exposing between digital media and so-called “legacy media” — print newspapers and magazines like The New York Times and Harper’s and The Atlantic. Digital media were making it possible to see structural sexism in new ways, and for voices and stories to be heard that would have gotten buried, previously.

A lot of the conversation unfolding in legacy media seemed to concern who was allowed to say what where. For me, this subtext was important: The #MeToo moment was not just about the sexualized abuse of power but also about who had authority to talk about what in public — or the semi-public spaces of the Internet.

At the same time, it seemed to me that the ongoing collapse of print media as an industry, and really what people sometimes call the “feminization” of work in general, was an important part of the context.

When people talk about jobs getting “feminized” they can mean many things — jobs becoming lower paid, lower status, flexible or precarious, demanding more emotional management and the cultivation of an “image,” blurring the boundary between “work” and “life.”

The increasing instability or insecurity of media workplaces only make women more vulnerable to the kinds of sexualized abuses of power the #MeToo hashtag was being used to talk about.