Airbnb has confidentially filed to go public


In a turn of fortune, Airbnb today announced that it has filed to go public, albeit confidentially.

The move puts the home-sharing service on a path to a public offering sooner rather than later, and comes after reports that the company was prepping an IPO filing this month. Those same reports indicated that Airbnb could go public as soon as the end of the year.

A Q3 or Q4 Airbnb offering is therefore a distinct possibility.

Airbnb has mounted a comeback since COVID-19-related shutdowns slammed the travel market, tanking its revenues at the same time. Airbnb laid off nearly 2,000 workers, and took on expensive capital from external sources.

The company promised in 2019 that it would go public in 2020, but that pledge seemed far-off in the middle of the year. Since then, Airbnb has made noise about different parts of its business coming back to life, although changed by new travel and work and vacation patterns from its users.

If Airbnb has filed, we can presume that present results are good enough to get it life, else the firm would have not filed and would have simply gone public later. The question now becomes if its Q2 numbers were good enough to get it out the door, or if the company intends to update its S-1 filing with Q3 numbers, push the filing live and go public with more recovery time in its results.

Of course, such a course of action would put its public debut perilously close to the American election. And, Airbnb’s Q2 numbers are down not only from Q1 in revenue terms, but even more sharply from its year-ago results for the same calendar period. In short, Airbnb’s growth story may not be clear until Q3 numbers are tallied, a month and a half from now.

We’ll see, but the company’s public debut is back to being impending. Now the question becomes whether Airbnb intends to go public in an IPO, as the wording of its filing appears to suggest, or if a direct listing could still be in the cards. We think it’s more likely the former and not the latter, but, hey, in 2020 you never know.


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In a turn of fortune, Airbnb today announced that it has filed to go public, albeit confidentially.

The move puts the home-sharing service on a path to a public offering sooner rather than later, and comes after reports that the company was prepping an IPO filing this month. Those same reports indicated that Airbnb could go public as soon as the end of the year.

A Q3 or Q4 Airbnb offering is therefore a distinct possibility.

Airbnb has mounted a comeback since COVID-19-related shutdowns slammed the travel market, tanking its revenues at the same time. Airbnb laid off nearly 2,000 workers, and took on expensive capital from external sources.

The company promised in 2019 that it would go public in 2020, but that pledge seemed far-off in the middle of the year. Since then, Airbnb has made noise about different parts of its business coming back to life, although changed by new travel and work and vacation patterns from its users.

If Airbnb has filed, we can presume that present results are good enough to get it life, else the firm would have not filed and would have simply gone public later. The question now becomes if its Q2 numbers were good enough to get it out the door, or if the company intends to update its S-1 filing with Q3 numbers, push the filing live and go public with more recovery time in its results.

Of course, such a course of action would put its public debut perilously close to the American election. And, Airbnb’s Q2 numbers are down not only from Q1 in revenue terms, but even more sharply from its year-ago results for the same calendar period. In short, Airbnb’s growth story may not be clear until Q3 numbers are tallied, a month and a half from now.

We’ll see, but the company’s public debut is back to being impending. Now the question becomes whether Airbnb intends to go public in an IPO, as the wording of its filing appears to suggest, or if a direct listing could still be in the cards. We think it’s more likely the former and not the latter, but, hey, in 2020 you never know.





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Fearing coronavirus, a Michigan college tracks its students with a flawed app


Schools and universities across the United States are split on whether to open for the fall semester, thanks to the ongoing pandemic.

Albion College, a small liberal arts school in Michigan, said in June it would allow its nearly 1,500 students to return to campus starting in August for the new academic year. Lectures would be limited in size and the semester would finish by Thanksgiving rather than December. The school said it would test both staff and students upon their arrival to campus and throughout the academic year.

But less than two weeks before students began arriving on campus, the school announced it would require them to download and install a contact-tracing app called Aura, which it says will help it tackle any coronavirus outbreak on campus.

There’s a catch. The app is designed to track students’ real-time locations around the clock, and there is no way to opt out.

The Aura app lets the school know when a student tests positive for COVID-19. It also comes with a contact-tracing feature that alerts students when they have come into close proximity with a person who tested positive for the virus. But the feature requires constant access to the student’s real-time location, which the college says is necessary to track the spread of any exposure.

The school’s mandatory use of the app sparked privacy concerns and prompted parents to launch a petition to make using the app optional.

Worse, the app had at least two security vulnerabilities only discovered after the app was rolled out. One of the vulnerabilities allowed access to the app’s back-end servers. The other allowed us to infer a student’s COVID-19 test results.

The vulnerabilities were fixed. But students are still expected to use the app or face suspension.

Track and trace

Exactly how Aura came to be and how Albion became its first major customer is a mystery.

Aura was developed in the months after the pandemic began by Nucleus Careers, a Pennsylvania-based recruiting firm founded in 2020 with no apparent history or experience in building or developing healthcare apps besides a brief mention in a recent press release. The app was built in partnership with Genetworx, a Virginia-based lab providing coronavirus tests. (We asked Genetworx about the app and its involvement, but we did not hear back from the company.)

The app helps students locate and schedule COVID-19 testing on campus. Once a student is tested for COVID-19, the results are fed into the app.

If the test comes back negative, the app displays a QR code which, when scanned, says the student is “certified” free of the virus. If the student tests positive or has yet to be tested, the student’s QR code will read “denied.”

Aura uses the student’s real-time location to determine if they have come into contact with another person with the virus. Most other contact-tracing apps use nearby Bluetooth signals, which experts say is more privacy-friendly.

Hundreds of academics have argued that collecting and storing location data is bad for privacy.

The Aura app generates a QR code based on the student’s COVID-19 test results. Scan the QR code to reveal the student’s test result status. (Image: TechCrunch)

In addition to having to install the app, students were told they are not allowed to leave campus for the duration of the semester without permission over fears that contact with the wider community might bring the virus back to campus.

If a student leaves campus without permission, the app will alert the school, and the student’s ID card will be locked and access to campus buildings will be revoked, according to an email to students, seen by TechCrunch.

Students are not allowed to turn off their location and can be suspended and “removed from campus” if they violate the policy, the email read.

Private universities in the U.S. like Albion can largely set and enforce their own rules and have been likened to “shadow criminal justice systems — without any of the protections or powers of a criminal court,” where students can face discipline and expulsion for almost any reason with little to no recourse. Last year, TechCrunch reported on a student at Tufts University who was expelled for alleged grade hacking, despite exculpatory evidence in her favor.

Albion said in an online Q&A that the “only time a student’s location data will be accessed is if they test positive or if they leave campus without following proper procedure.” But the school has not said how it will ensure that student location data is not improperly accessed, or who has access.

“I think it’s more creepy than anything and has caused me a lot of anxiety about going back,” one student going into their senior year, who asked not to be named, told TechCrunch.

A ‘rush job’

One Albion student was not convinced the app was safe or private.

The student, who asked to go by her Twitter handle @Q3w3e3, decompiles and analyzes apps on the side. “I just like knowing what apps are doing,” she told TechCrunch.

Buried in the app’s source code, she found hardcoded secret keys for the app’s backend servers, hosted on Amazon Web Services. She tweeted her findings — with careful redactions to prevent misuse — and reported the problems to Nucleus, but did not hear back.

A security researcher, who asked to go by her handle Gilda, was watching the tweets about Aura roll in. Gilda also dug into the app and found and tested the keys.

“The keys were practically ‘full access’,” Gilda told TechCrunch. She said the keys — since changed — gave her access to the app’s databases and cloud storage in which she found patient data, including COVID-19 test results with names, addresses and dates of birth.

Nucleus pushed out an updated version of the app on the same day with the keys removed, but did not acknowledge the vulnerability.

TechCrunch also wanted to look under the hood to see how Aura works. We used a network analysis tool, Burp Suite, to understand the network data going in and out of the app. (We’ve done this a few times before.) Using our spare iPhone, we registered an Aura account and logged in. The app normally pulls in recent COVID-19 tests. In our case, we didn’t have any and so the scannable QR code, generated by the app, declared that I had been “denied” clearance to enter campus — as to be expected.

But our network analysis tool showed that the QR code was not generated on the device but on a hidden part of Aura’s website. The web address that generated the QR code included the Aura user’s account number, which isn’t visible from the app. If we increased or decreased the account number in the web address by a single digit, it generated a QR code for that user’s Aura account.

In other words, because we could see another user’s QR code, we could also see the student’s full name, their COVID-19 test result status, and what date the student was certified or denied.

TechCrunch did not enumerate each QR code, but through limited testing found that the bug may have exposed about 15,000 QR codes.

We described the app’s vulnerabilities to Will Strafach, a security researcher and chief executive at Guardian Firewall. Strafach said the app sounded like a “rush job,” and that the enumeration bug could be easily caught during a security review. “The fact that they were unaware tells me they did not even bother to do this,” he said. And, the keys left in the source code, said Strafach, suggested “a ‘just-ship-it’ attitude to a worrisome extreme.”

An email sent by Albion president Matthew Johnson, dated August 18 and shared with TechCrunch, confirmed that the school has since launched a security review of the app.

We sent Nucleus several questions — including about the vulnerabilities and if the app had gone through a security audit. Nucleus fixed the QR code vulnerability after TechCrunch detailed the bug. But a spokesperson for the company, Tony Defazio, did not provide comment. “I advised the company of your inquiry,” he said. The spokesperson did not return follow-up emails.

In response to the student’s findings, Albion said that the app was compliant with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, or HIPAA, which governs the privacy of health data and medical records. HIPAA also holds companies — including universities — accountable for security lapses involving health data. That can mean heavy fines or, in some cases, prosecution.

Albion spokesperson Chuck Carlson did not respond to our emails requesting comment.

At least two other schools, Bucknell University and Temple University, are reopening for the fall semester by requiring students to present two negative COVID-19 tests through Genetworx. The schools are not using Aura, but their own in-house student app to deliver the test results.

Albion students, meanwhile, are split on whether to comply, or refuse and face the consequences. @Q3w3e3 said she will not use the app. “I’m trying to work with the college to find an alternative way to be tested,” she told TechCrunch.

Parents have also expressed their anger at the policy.

“I absolutely hate it. I think it’s a violation of her privacy and civil liberties,” said Elizabeth Burbank, a parent of an Albion student, who signed the petition against the school’s tracking effort.

“I do want to keep my daughter safe, of course, and help keep others safe as well. We are more than happy to do our part. I do not believe however, a GPS tracker is the way to go,” she said. “Wash our hands. Eat healthy. And keep researching treatments and vaccines. That should be our focus.

“I do intend to do all I can to protect my daughter’s right to privacy and challenge her right to free movement in her community,” she said.


Send tips securely over Signal and WhatsApp to +1 646-755-8849 or send an encrypted email to: zack.whittaker@protonmail.com


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Schools and universities across the United States are split on whether to open for the fall semester, thanks to the ongoing pandemic.

Albion College, a small liberal arts school in Michigan, said in June it would allow its nearly 1,500 students to return to campus starting in August for the new academic year. Lectures would be limited in size and the semester would finish by Thanksgiving rather than December. The school said it would test both staff and students upon their arrival to campus and throughout the academic year.

But less than two weeks before students began arriving on campus, the school announced it would require them to download and install a contact-tracing app called Aura, which it says will help it tackle any coronavirus outbreak on campus.

There’s a catch. The app is designed to track students’ real-time locations around the clock, and there is no way to opt out.

The Aura app lets the school know when a student tests positive for COVID-19. It also comes with a contact-tracing feature that alerts students when they have come into close proximity with a person who tested positive for the virus. But the feature requires constant access to the student’s real-time location, which the college says is necessary to track the spread of any exposure.

The school’s mandatory use of the app sparked privacy concerns and prompted parents to launch a petition to make using the app optional.

Worse, the app had at least two security vulnerabilities only discovered after the app was rolled out. One of the vulnerabilities allowed access to the app’s back-end servers. The other allowed us to infer a student’s COVID-19 test results.

The vulnerabilities were fixed. But students are still expected to use the app or face suspension.

Track and trace

Exactly how Aura came to be and how Albion became its first major customer is a mystery.

Aura was developed in the months after the pandemic began by Nucleus Careers, a Pennsylvania-based recruiting firm founded in 2020 with no apparent history or experience in building or developing healthcare apps besides a brief mention in a recent press release. The app was built in partnership with Genetworx, a Virginia-based lab providing coronavirus tests. (We asked Genetworx about the app and its involvement, but we did not hear back from the company.)

The app helps students locate and schedule COVID-19 testing on campus. Once a student is tested for COVID-19, the results are fed into the app.

If the test comes back negative, the app displays a QR code which, when scanned, says the student is “certified” free of the virus. If the student tests positive or has yet to be tested, the student’s QR code will read “denied.”

Aura uses the student’s real-time location to determine if they have come into contact with another person with the virus. Most other contact-tracing apps use nearby Bluetooth signals, which experts say is more privacy-friendly.

Hundreds of academics have argued that collecting and storing location data is bad for privacy.

The Aura app generates a QR code based on the student’s COVID-19 test results. Scan the QR code to reveal the student’s test result status. (Image: TechCrunch)

In addition to having to install the app, students were told they are not allowed to leave campus for the duration of the semester without permission over fears that contact with the wider community might bring the virus back to campus.

If a student leaves campus without permission, the app will alert the school, and the student’s ID card will be locked and access to campus buildings will be revoked, according to an email to students, seen by TechCrunch.

Students are not allowed to turn off their location and can be suspended and “removed from campus” if they violate the policy, the email read.

Private universities in the U.S. like Albion can largely set and enforce their own rules and have been likened to “shadow criminal justice systems — without any of the protections or powers of a criminal court,” where students can face discipline and expulsion for almost any reason with little to no recourse. Last year, TechCrunch reported on a student at Tufts University who was expelled for alleged grade hacking, despite exculpatory evidence in her favor.

Albion said in an online Q&A that the “only time a student’s location data will be accessed is if they test positive or if they leave campus without following proper procedure.” But the school has not said how it will ensure that student location data is not improperly accessed, or who has access.

“I think it’s more creepy than anything and has caused me a lot of anxiety about going back,” one student going into their senior year, who asked not to be named, told TechCrunch.

A ‘rush job’

One Albion student was not convinced the app was safe or private.

The student, who asked to go by her Twitter handle @Q3w3e3, decompiles and analyzes apps on the side. “I just like knowing what apps are doing,” she told TechCrunch.

Buried in the app’s source code, she found hardcoded secret keys for the app’s backend servers, hosted on Amazon Web Services. She tweeted her findings — with careful redactions to prevent misuse — and reported the problems to Nucleus, but did not hear back.

A security researcher, who asked to go by her handle Gilda, was watching the tweets about Aura roll in. Gilda also dug into the app and found and tested the keys.

“The keys were practically ‘full access’,” Gilda told TechCrunch. She said the keys — since changed — gave her access to the app’s databases and cloud storage in which she found patient data, including COVID-19 test results with names, addresses and dates of birth.

Nucleus pushed out an updated version of the app on the same day with the keys removed, but did not acknowledge the vulnerability.

TechCrunch also wanted to look under the hood to see how Aura works. We used a network analysis tool, Burp Suite, to understand the network data going in and out of the app. (We’ve done this a few times before.) Using our spare iPhone, we registered an Aura account and logged in. The app normally pulls in recent COVID-19 tests. In our case, we didn’t have any and so the scannable QR code, generated by the app, declared that I had been “denied” clearance to enter campus — as to be expected.

But our network analysis tool showed that the QR code was not generated on the device but on a hidden part of Aura’s website. The web address that generated the QR code included the Aura user’s account number, which isn’t visible from the app. If we increased or decreased the account number in the web address by a single digit, it generated a QR code for that user’s Aura account.

In other words, because we could see another user’s QR code, we could also see the student’s full name, their COVID-19 test result status, and what date the student was certified or denied.

TechCrunch did not enumerate each QR code, but through limited testing found that the bug may have exposed about 15,000 QR codes.

We described the app’s vulnerabilities to Will Strafach, a security researcher and chief executive at Guardian Firewall. Strafach said the app sounded like a “rush job,” and that the enumeration bug could be easily caught during a security review. “The fact that they were unaware tells me they did not even bother to do this,” he said. And, the keys left in the source code, said Strafach, suggested “a ‘just-ship-it’ attitude to a worrisome extreme.”

An email sent by Albion president Matthew Johnson, dated August 18 and shared with TechCrunch, confirmed that the school has since launched a security review of the app.

We sent Nucleus several questions — including about the vulnerabilities and if the app had gone through a security audit. Nucleus fixed the QR code vulnerability after TechCrunch detailed the bug. But a spokesperson for the company, Tony Defazio, did not provide comment. “I advised the company of your inquiry,” he said. The spokesperson did not return follow-up emails.

In response to the student’s findings, Albion said that the app was compliant with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, or HIPAA, which governs the privacy of health data and medical records. HIPAA also holds companies — including universities — accountable for security lapses involving health data. That can mean heavy fines or, in some cases, prosecution.

Albion spokesperson Chuck Carlson did not respond to our emails requesting comment.

At least two other schools, Bucknell University and Temple University, are reopening for the fall semester by requiring students to present two negative COVID-19 tests through Genetworx. The schools are not using Aura, but their own in-house student app to deliver the test results.

Albion students, meanwhile, are split on whether to comply, or refuse and face the consequences. @Q3w3e3 said she will not use the app. “I’m trying to work with the college to find an alternative way to be tested,” she told TechCrunch.

Parents have also expressed their anger at the policy.

“I absolutely hate it. I think it’s a violation of her privacy and civil liberties,” said Elizabeth Burbank, a parent of an Albion student, who signed the petition against the school’s tracking effort.

“I do want to keep my daughter safe, of course, and help keep others safe as well. We are more than happy to do our part. I do not believe however, a GPS tracker is the way to go,” she said. “Wash our hands. Eat healthy. And keep researching treatments and vaccines. That should be our focus.

“I do intend to do all I can to protect my daughter’s right to privacy and challenge her right to free movement in her community,” she said.


Send tips securely over Signal and WhatsApp to +1 646-755-8849 or send an encrypted email to: zack.whittaker@protonmail.com





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Just what would an enterprise company like Microsoft or Oracle do with TikTok?


By now you’ve probably heard that under pressure from the current administration, TikTok owner ByteDance is putting the viral video service up for sale, and surprisingly a couple of big name enterprise companies are interested. These organizations are better known for the kind of tech that would bore the average TikTok user to tears. Yet, stories have persisted that Microsoft and even Oracle are sniffing around the video social network.

As TechCrunch’s Danny Crichton pointed out last week, bankers involved in the sale have a lot of motivation to leak rumors to the press to drive up the price of TikTok. That means none of this might be true, yet the rumors aren’t going away. It begs the question why would a company like Oracle or Microsoft be interested in a property like TikTok?

For starters, Oracle is a lot more than the database company it was known for in the past. These days, it has its fingers in many, many pies including marketing automation and cloud infrastructure services. In April, as the pandemic was just beginning to heat up, Zoom surprised just about everyone when it announced a partnership with Oracle’s cloud arm.

Oracle isn’t really even on the board when it comes to cloud infrastructure market share, where it is well behind rivals AWS, Microsoft, Google, Alibaba and IBM, wallowing somewhere in single digit market share. Oracle wants to be a bigger player.

Meanwhile, Microsoft has successfully transitioned to the cloud as well as any company, but still remains far behind AWS in the cloud infrastructure market. It wants to close the gap with AWS and owning TikTok could get it closer to that goal faster.

Simply put, says Holger Mueller, an analyst at Constellation Research, if Oracle combined Zoom and TikTok, it could have itself a couple of nice anchor clients. Yes, like the proverbial mall trying to attract Target and Nordstrom, apparently Oracle wants to do the same with its cloud service, and if it has to buy the tenant, so be it.

“TikTok will add plenty of load to their infrastructure service. That’s what matters to them with viral loads preferred. If Microsoft gets TikTok it could boost their usage by between 2% and 5%, while for Oracle it could be as much 10%,” he said. He says the difference is that Oracle has a much smaller user base now, so it would relatively boost its usage all the more.

As Mueller points out with the government helping push TikTok’s owner to make the sale, it’s a huge opportunity for a company like Oracle or Microsoft, and why the rumors have weight. “It’s very plausible from a cloud business perspective, and plausible from a business opportunity perspective created by the US government,” he said.

While it could make sense to attract a large user base to your systems to drive up usage and market share in that way, Brent Leary, founder and principal analyst at CRM Essentials, says that just by having a large U.S. tech company buy the video app, it could make it less attractive to the very users Microsoft or Oracle is hoping to capture.

“An old guard enterprise tech company buying Tiktok would likely lessen the appeal of current users. Younger people are already leaving Facebook because the old folks have taken it over,” Leary said. And that could mean young users, who are boosting the platform’s stats today could jump ship to whatever is the next big social phenomenon.

It’s worth pointing out that just today, the president indicated support for Oracle, according to a Wall Street Journal report. The publication also reported that Oracle’s billionaire owner Larry Ellison is a big supporter of the president, having thrown him a fundraiser for his reelection bid at his house earlier this year. Oracle CEO Safra Catz also has ties to the administration, having served on the transition team in 2016.

It’s unclear whether these companies have a genuine interest, but the general feeling is someone is going to buy the service, and whoever does could get a big boost in users simply by using some percentage of their cash hordes to get there. By the way, another company with reported interest is Twitter. Certainly putting the two social platforms together could create a mega platform to compete more directly with Facebook.

You might see other big names trying to boost cloud infrastructure usage like IBM or Google enter the fray.  Perhaps even Amazon could make an offer to cement its lead, although if the deal has to go through the federal government, that makes it less likely given the tense relationship between Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos and the president that surfaced during the Pentagon JEDI cloud contract drama.

Apple has already indicated that in spite of having the largest cash on hand of any company with over $193 billion, give or take, it apparently isn’t interested.  Apple may not be, but somebody surely is, even some companies you couldn’t imagine owning a property like this.

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By now you’ve probably heard that under pressure from the current administration, TikTok owner ByteDance is putting the viral video service up for sale, and surprisingly a couple of big name enterprise companies are interested. These organizations are better known for the kind of tech that would bore the average TikTok user to tears. Yet, stories have persisted that Microsoft and even Oracle are sniffing around the video social network.

As TechCrunch’s Danny Crichton pointed out last week, bankers involved in the sale have a lot of motivation to leak rumors to the press to drive up the price of TikTok. That means none of this might be true, yet the rumors aren’t going away. It begs the question why would a company like Oracle or Microsoft be interested in a property like TikTok?

For starters, Oracle is a lot more than the database company it was known for in the past. These days, it has its fingers in many, many pies including marketing automation and cloud infrastructure services. In April, as the pandemic was just beginning to heat up, Zoom surprised just about everyone when it announced a partnership with Oracle’s cloud arm.

Oracle isn’t really even on the board when it comes to cloud infrastructure market share, where it is well behind rivals AWS, Microsoft, Google, Alibaba and IBM, wallowing somewhere in single digit market share. Oracle wants to be a bigger player.

Meanwhile, Microsoft has successfully transitioned to the cloud as well as any company, but still remains far behind AWS in the cloud infrastructure market. It wants to close the gap with AWS and owning TikTok could get it closer to that goal faster.

Simply put, says Holger Mueller, an analyst at Constellation Research, if Oracle combined Zoom and TikTok, it could have itself a couple of nice anchor clients. Yes, like the proverbial mall trying to attract Target and Nordstrom, apparently Oracle wants to do the same with its cloud service, and if it has to buy the tenant, so be it.

“TikTok will add plenty of load to their infrastructure service. That’s what matters to them with viral loads preferred. If Microsoft gets TikTok it could boost their usage by between 2% and 5%, while for Oracle it could be as much 10%,” he said. He says the difference is that Oracle has a much smaller user base now, so it would relatively boost its usage all the more.

As Mueller points out with the government helping push TikTok’s owner to make the sale, it’s a huge opportunity for a company like Oracle or Microsoft, and why the rumors have weight. “It’s very plausible from a cloud business perspective, and plausible from a business opportunity perspective created by the US government,” he said.

While it could make sense to attract a large user base to your systems to drive up usage and market share in that way, Brent Leary, founder and principal analyst at CRM Essentials, says that just by having a large U.S. tech company buy the video app, it could make it less attractive to the very users Microsoft or Oracle is hoping to capture.

“An old guard enterprise tech company buying Tiktok would likely lessen the appeal of current users. Younger people are already leaving Facebook because the old folks have taken it over,” Leary said. And that could mean young users, who are boosting the platform’s stats today could jump ship to whatever is the next big social phenomenon.

It’s worth pointing out that just today, the president indicated support for Oracle, according to a Wall Street Journal report. The publication also reported that Oracle’s billionaire owner Larry Ellison is a big supporter of the president, having thrown him a fundraiser for his reelection bid at his house earlier this year. Oracle CEO Safra Catz also has ties to the administration, having served on the transition team in 2016.

It’s unclear whether these companies have a genuine interest, but the general feeling is someone is going to buy the service, and whoever does could get a big boost in users simply by using some percentage of their cash hordes to get there. By the way, another company with reported interest is Twitter. Certainly putting the two social platforms together could create a mega platform to compete more directly with Facebook.

You might see other big names trying to boost cloud infrastructure usage like IBM or Google enter the fray.  Perhaps even Amazon could make an offer to cement its lead, although if the deal has to go through the federal government, that makes it less likely given the tense relationship between Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos and the president that surfaced during the Pentagon JEDI cloud contract drama.

Apple has already indicated that in spite of having the largest cash on hand of any company with over $193 billion, give or take, it apparently isn’t interested.  Apple may not be, but somebody surely is, even some companies you couldn’t imagine owning a property like this.



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Max Levchin is looking ahead to fintech’s next big opportunities


Max Levchin needs little introduction in the world of tech. As an entrepreneur, he’s been the co-founder of PayPal (now public), Slide (acquired by Google) and Affirm (reportedly about to go public), some of the hottest startups to have come out of Silicon Valley. And as an investor, he’s applied his power of observation and execution also towards helping many others build huge technology businesses.

We sat down with Levchin for a recent session of Extra Crunch Live, where he spoke at length about what he sees as some of the big opportunities in fintech. Here’s an edited version of the conversation. You can watch and listen to the whole discussion — which includes stories about Levchin’s coffee and cycling habits, and how many times he’s seen “The Seven Samurai” (hint: more than once) — here, also embedded below, and you can check out the rest of the pretty cool ECL program here.

How e-commerce failed to evolve since his days at PayPal

Even going as far back as PayPal I think the industry has devolved. I think fintech had the promise of really bringing simplicity, honesty and transparency to the customer. Instead, we ended up putting a really nice user interface on products that are not designed with the user’s best interest in mind. I’m a big fan of throwing shade on credit cards, because I think fundamentally, their business model is remarkably similar to that of payday loans. You are allowed to borrow some money and don’t really know exactly what the terms are. It’s all in the fine print, don’t worry about it and then you just make the minimum payments and you stay in debt. Potentially forever.

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Max Levchin needs little introduction in the world of tech. As an entrepreneur, he’s been the co-founder of PayPal (now public), Slide (acquired by Google) and Affirm (reportedly about to go public), some of the hottest startups to have come out of Silicon Valley. And as an investor, he’s applied his power of observation and execution also towards helping many others build huge technology businesses.

We sat down with Levchin for a recent session of Extra Crunch Live, where he spoke at length about what he sees as some of the big opportunities in fintech. Here’s an edited version of the conversation. You can watch and listen to the whole discussion — which includes stories about Levchin’s coffee and cycling habits, and how many times he’s seen “The Seven Samurai” (hint: more than once) — here, also embedded below, and you can check out the rest of the pretty cool ECL program here.

How e-commerce failed to evolve since his days at PayPal

Even going as far back as PayPal I think the industry has devolved. I think fintech had the promise of really bringing simplicity, honesty and transparency to the customer. Instead, we ended up putting a really nice user interface on products that are not designed with the user’s best interest in mind. I’m a big fan of throwing shade on credit cards, because I think fundamentally, their business model is remarkably similar to that of payday loans. You are allowed to borrow some money and don’t really know exactly what the terms are. It’s all in the fine print, don’t worry about it and then you just make the minimum payments and you stay in debt. Potentially forever.



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Lucid’s new all-electric sedan will let owners send energy to their homes by mid-2021


Lucid Motors said Wednesday that its upcoming all-electric Air sedan will have fast-charging capability that will let owners add 300 miles of range to the battery in 20 minutes and a home-charging unit that will allow owners to send energy from their car to their home.

Lucid said it is able to hit this benchmark because the vehicle has a 900-volt electrical architecture that when combined with its lithium-ion cells, battery and thermal management system and powertrain efficiency. Most electric vehicles — with the exception of the Porsche Taycan and future Kia EVs—  have a 400-volt architecture.

There are limitations to this speedy charging; a driver would need to access the correct DC fast charger, which are not exactly abundant at the moment. However, this capability does check an important box for EV owners. While the Lucid Air will have an eye-popping range of more than 500 miles — if its estimates are verified by EPA — the fast charging capability helps remove any lingering range anxiety and make long-distance travel more desirable.

The company revealed a number of other details surrounding charging, including that the Air will use the universal CCS (combined charging system) connector standard, which makes it compatible to public chargers. The vehicle will have a peak charging rate of over 300kW and a 19.2kW AC onboard charger that can support AC charging speeds up to 80 miles per hour.

Lucid also announced a partnership with Electrify America, VW Group’s U.S.-based charging network. Owners of the Air will be given three years of free charging at Electrify America chargers, which includes DC fast charging.

Lucid also has built out a number of home-based charging features, including a partnership with Qmerit on installation of its connected home charging station. But perhaps the most interesting feature is that Lucid has built in “vehicle-to-everything” charging capabilities into the Air and home charging unit. This means that the vehicle will be able to execute bi-directional charging between vehicles and even from the Air back to the owner’s home. Lucid specifically mentioned that it would allow owners to provide a temporary energy reserve for their homes, including “off grid vacation properties,” a weirdly specific detail that must be popular with the luxury EV owner demographic. Lucid told TechCrunch that this capability will become available in mid 2021.

Lucid said it also plans to repurpose older batteries for energy storage. The first prototype is already installed at Lucid’s Silicon Valley headquarters, where a team is working on producing a range of energy storage products.

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Lucid Motors said Wednesday that its upcoming all-electric Air sedan will have fast-charging capability that will let owners add 300 miles of range to the battery in 20 minutes and a home-charging unit that will allow owners to send energy from their car to their home.

Lucid said it is able to hit this benchmark because the vehicle has a 900-volt electrical architecture that when combined with its lithium-ion cells, battery and thermal management system and powertrain efficiency. Most electric vehicles — with the exception of the Porsche Taycan and future Kia EVs—  have a 400-volt architecture.

There are limitations to this speedy charging; a driver would need to access the correct DC fast charger, which are not exactly abundant at the moment. However, this capability does check an important box for EV owners. While the Lucid Air will have an eye-popping range of more than 500 miles — if its estimates are verified by EPA — the fast charging capability helps remove any lingering range anxiety and make long-distance travel more desirable.

The company revealed a number of other details surrounding charging, including that the Air will use the universal CCS (combined charging system) connector standard, which makes it compatible to public chargers. The vehicle will have a peak charging rate of over 300kW and a 19.2kW AC onboard charger that can support AC charging speeds up to 80 miles per hour.

Lucid also announced a partnership with Electrify America, VW Group’s U.S.-based charging network. Owners of the Air will be given three years of free charging at Electrify America chargers, which includes DC fast charging.

Lucid also has built out a number of home-based charging features, including a partnership with Qmerit on installation of its connected home charging station. But perhaps the most interesting feature is that Lucid has built in “vehicle-to-everything” charging capabilities into the Air and home charging unit. This means that the vehicle will be able to execute bi-directional charging between vehicles and even from the Air back to the owner’s home. Lucid specifically mentioned that it would allow owners to provide a temporary energy reserve for their homes, including “off grid vacation properties,” a weirdly specific detail that must be popular with the luxury EV owner demographic. Lucid told TechCrunch that this capability will become available in mid 2021.

Lucid said it also plans to repurpose older batteries for energy storage. The first prototype is already installed at Lucid’s Silicon Valley headquarters, where a team is working on producing a range of energy storage products.



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Twitter claims increased enforcement of hate speech and abuse policies in last half of 2019


Twitter has given its biannual transparency reports a new home with today’s launch of the Twitter Transparency Center, which the company says was designed to make the reporting more easily understood and accessible. The launch was timed alongside the belated release of Twitter’s latest transparency report covering the second half of 2019. The company attributed the delay to the COVID-19 health crisis and its work in getting the new Transparency Center up and running. The report touts Twitter’s increasing efforts in enforcing its policies, including a 95% increase in accounts actioned for violating its abuse policy, a 47% increase in account locks and suspensions, and a 54% increase in accounts actioned for violating hateful conduct policies, among others.

The company claims its ability to “proactively” surface content violations for human review has helped it increase enforcement of its rules, along with more detailed policies, improved reporting tools, and other factors.

As a result, this period saw the largest increase in the number of accounts actioned under Twitter’s abuse policies — a metric that could speak to better technology, as Twitter claims, but also perhaps hints at the devolving nature of online discourse.

Meanwhile, Twitter attributed the increase in actions taken on accounts demonstrating hateful conduct, in part, to its new “dehumanization policy” announced on July 9, 2019.

Twitter increased enforcement of its rules in other areas during this reporting period, including the posting of sensitive media/adult content (enforcement actions were up 39%), suicide & self-harm (enforcement actions up 29%), doxxing (enforcement actions up 41%), and non-consensual nudity (enforcement actions up 109%). The only area to see a decline was violent threats, which saw a 5% decrease in the number of accounts actioned for policy violations.

Twitter also actioned 60,807 accounts for violating policies around regulated goods or services.

Online harassment has been a significant challenge for Twitter as it has grown. The social network now encompasses a wider swath of the general public, compared with its early days when tech enthusiasts knew it as twttr, a sort of public-facing SMS. Today, Twitter’s idealistic goal of being an “online public town square” is bumping up against the limitations of that model, which is also increasingly criticized as a flawed or even delusional sort of analogy for what Twitter has become.

Twitter, like much of social media, can over-amplify fringe beliefs, controversy, and toxic content, to the detriment of conversation health. It can help polarize users’ opinions. And it serves as a breeding ground for cancel culture.

The company itself, as of late, seems to be waking up to the problem of putting the world together in one room to debate ideas, and the ramifications of amplifying misinformation that results in.

It suspended accounts from the fringe conspiracy movement, QAnon, in July. It has also flagged and screened Trump’s tweets and briefly froze his ability to share misinformation. On the product side, Twitter rolled out a tool that let users hide replies that don’t add value to conversations and, just last week, publicly launched a feature that lets users only tweet with friends and followers, instead of with the general public.

Abuse policy enforcement isn’t the only big change that took place in the last half of 2019. Government requests for user data also increased, Twitter found.

Twitter says that the U.S. made up the highest percentage of legal requests for information during the reporting period, accounting for 26% of all global requests. Japan was second, comprising 22% of information requests. Overall, government requests grew 21% in the period July 1 to December 31, 2019, and the aggregate number of accounts specified in the requests grew 63%.

Both metrics were the largest Twitter has seen since it began transparency reporting in 2012, it noted.

Twitter also saw 27,538 legal demands to remove content specifying 98,595 accounts — again, the largest number to date. 86% of these demands came from Japan, Russia, and Turkey.

“Our work to increase transparency efforts across the company is tireless and constant. We will continue to work on increasing awareness and understanding about how our policies work and our practices around content moderation, data disclosures and other critical areas,” the company blog post about the new center explained. “In addition, we will take every opportunity to highlight the actions of law enforcement, governments, and other organizations that impact Twitter and the people who use our service across the world,” it noted.

More metrics, including those focused on spam, terrorism, child exploitation and extremism, are available on the new Twitter Transparency Center.


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Twitter has given its biannual transparency reports a new home with today’s launch of the Twitter Transparency Center, which the company says was designed to make the reporting more easily understood and accessible. The launch was timed alongside the belated release of Twitter’s latest transparency report covering the second half of 2019. The company attributed the delay to the COVID-19 health crisis and its work in getting the new Transparency Center up and running. The report touts Twitter’s increasing efforts in enforcing its policies, including a 95% increase in accounts actioned for violating its abuse policy, a 47% increase in account locks and suspensions, and a 54% increase in accounts actioned for violating hateful conduct policies, among others.

The company claims its ability to “proactively” surface content violations for human review has helped it increase enforcement of its rules, along with more detailed policies, improved reporting tools, and other factors.

As a result, this period saw the largest increase in the number of accounts actioned under Twitter’s abuse policies — a metric that could speak to better technology, as Twitter claims, but also perhaps hints at the devolving nature of online discourse.

Meanwhile, Twitter attributed the increase in actions taken on accounts demonstrating hateful conduct, in part, to its new “dehumanization policy” announced on July 9, 2019.

Twitter increased enforcement of its rules in other areas during this reporting period, including the posting of sensitive media/adult content (enforcement actions were up 39%), suicide & self-harm (enforcement actions up 29%), doxxing (enforcement actions up 41%), and non-consensual nudity (enforcement actions up 109%). The only area to see a decline was violent threats, which saw a 5% decrease in the number of accounts actioned for policy violations.

Twitter also actioned 60,807 accounts for violating policies around regulated goods or services.

Online harassment has been a significant challenge for Twitter as it has grown. The social network now encompasses a wider swath of the general public, compared with its early days when tech enthusiasts knew it as twttr, a sort of public-facing SMS. Today, Twitter’s idealistic goal of being an “online public town square” is bumping up against the limitations of that model, which is also increasingly criticized as a flawed or even delusional sort of analogy for what Twitter has become.

Twitter, like much of social media, can over-amplify fringe beliefs, controversy, and toxic content, to the detriment of conversation health. It can help polarize users’ opinions. And it serves as a breeding ground for cancel culture.

The company itself, as of late, seems to be waking up to the problem of putting the world together in one room to debate ideas, and the ramifications of amplifying misinformation that results in.

It suspended accounts from the fringe conspiracy movement, QAnon, in July. It has also flagged and screened Trump’s tweets and briefly froze his ability to share misinformation. On the product side, Twitter rolled out a tool that let users hide replies that don’t add value to conversations and, just last week, publicly launched a feature that lets users only tweet with friends and followers, instead of with the general public.

Abuse policy enforcement isn’t the only big change that took place in the last half of 2019. Government requests for user data also increased, Twitter found.

Twitter says that the U.S. made up the highest percentage of legal requests for information during the reporting period, accounting for 26% of all global requests. Japan was second, comprising 22% of information requests. Overall, government requests grew 21% in the period July 1 to December 31, 2019, and the aggregate number of accounts specified in the requests grew 63%.

Both metrics were the largest Twitter has seen since it began transparency reporting in 2012, it noted.

Twitter also saw 27,538 legal demands to remove content specifying 98,595 accounts — again, the largest number to date. 86% of these demands came from Japan, Russia, and Turkey.

“Our work to increase transparency efforts across the company is tireless and constant. We will continue to work on increasing awareness and understanding about how our policies work and our practices around content moderation, data disclosures and other critical areas,” the company blog post about the new center explained. “In addition, we will take every opportunity to highlight the actions of law enforcement, governments, and other organizations that impact Twitter and the people who use our service across the world,” it noted.

More metrics, including those focused on spam, terrorism, child exploitation and extremism, are available on the new Twitter Transparency Center.





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NOAA and World View partner on stratospheric composition research


Arizona -based high-altitude balloon startup World View has a new partnership with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to help the latter collect data to help it deepen its study of the Earth’s stratosphere, the second layer of the Earth’s atmosphere that spans between 4.3 and 12 miles above the surface depending on where you are in the world.

NOAA will be sending up miniaturized instrument hardware that can measure atmospheric particles, or aerosols, in the stratosphere. Studying these can help scientists better understand how the atmospheric layer, and the ozone e that it contains, and human impact on both can affect the transmission of ultraviolet radiation and what kind of chemical interactions are incurring that could present a risk to humans on the surface.

World View’s ‘Stratollites’ balloons will be able to host these instruments at altitudes higher than 55,000 feet (over 10 miles) above the Earth, for trips that can span multiple weeks at a time. Traditional NOAA research has relied on sensors carried by weather balloons, and aircraft, which can’t make those kinds of long-duration data-gathering excursions; or on satellites, which operate at a completely different altitude and can’t provide the same quality of data as an an instrument actually located within the stratosphere itself.

To get a sense of what kind of difference NOAA could realize from using World View’s stratollites, consider that the Administration says that while current weather balloon flights provide around 11 days’ worth of data from a full year of flights, while just a single flight of World View’s vehicle could provide 40 days’ worth of data.

The first Wold View and NOAA flights should take place sometime next year, and the data gathered from the excursions will be made available to the public for general research use after a period of six months, as is standard for the agency.

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Arizona -based high-altitude balloon startup World View has a new partnership with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to help the latter collect data to help it deepen its study of the Earth’s stratosphere, the second layer of the Earth’s atmosphere that spans between 4.3 and 12 miles above the surface depending on where you are in the world.

NOAA will be sending up miniaturized instrument hardware that can measure atmospheric particles, or aerosols, in the stratosphere. Studying these can help scientists better understand how the atmospheric layer, and the ozone e that it contains, and human impact on both can affect the transmission of ultraviolet radiation and what kind of chemical interactions are incurring that could present a risk to humans on the surface.

World View’s ‘Stratollites’ balloons will be able to host these instruments at altitudes higher than 55,000 feet (over 10 miles) above the Earth, for trips that can span multiple weeks at a time. Traditional NOAA research has relied on sensors carried by weather balloons, and aircraft, which can’t make those kinds of long-duration data-gathering excursions; or on satellites, which operate at a completely different altitude and can’t provide the same quality of data as an an instrument actually located within the stratosphere itself.

To get a sense of what kind of difference NOAA could realize from using World View’s stratollites, consider that the Administration says that while current weather balloon flights provide around 11 days’ worth of data from a full year of flights, while just a single flight of World View’s vehicle could provide 40 days’ worth of data.

The first Wold View and NOAA flights should take place sometime next year, and the data gathered from the excursions will be made available to the public for general research use after a period of six months, as is standard for the agency.



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BlackBerry’s brand switches hands again, set to return as a 5G Android handset


A good brand is hard to kill. Over the past several years, the smartphone space has seen a resurgence of once-mighty mobile brands making a comeback with various degrees of success. HMD’s Nokia phones are probably the best and most successful example, but even Palm had a brief moment in the sun.

And then there’s the case of BlackBerry. TCL surprised the mobile world by bringing the brand raring back with an Android handset that re-embraced the QWERTY keyboard. That, in and of itself, wasn’t enough, of course. But TCL has the chops to deliver quality hardware, and certainly did so with the KeyOne. I know I was surprised the first time I saw one in person behind the scenes at CES a few years back.

Early this year, TCL announced the end of the partnership, noting, “We… regret to share… that as of August 31, 2020, TCL Communication will no longer be selling BlackBerry-branded mobile devices.” From its phrasing, it seemed like a less than amicable end for the deal. But TCL has already moved on to producing devices under its own brand name after years of subsidiaries and branded deals.

All of which brings us to this week’s announcement that a company you’ve never heard of, called OnwardMobility, is bringing the BlackBerry name to hardware for North America and Europe (other branding deals have existed in other markets). It’s a strange deal for starters, due to the fact that OnwardMobility is hardly a household name. It’s based in Austin, Texas, has fewer than 50 employees and was founded in March of last year, perhaps with such a partnership in mind.

After all, while a branding deal is far from a guaranteed recipe for success, it is, at least, a way of getting that first foot through the door. I’m not really sure I would be writing anything about OnwardMobility for TechCrunch dot com at the moment, were it not for the promise of reviving the BlackBerry name yet again. So that’s something. The company’s staff also notably involves some former TCL folk, as well as people involved with the BlackBerry software side of things. Another name that pops up a lot is Sonim Technologies, another Austin-based company that is a subsidiary of a Shenzhen-based brand of the same name. They largely specialize in rugged devices for first responders.

CEO Peter Franklin has both Microsoft and Zynga on his resume, and produced this fairly low-fi YouTube video to explain the company’s mission:

OnwardMobility says it’s a standalone startup. No word yet on investments or investors, though it will certainly be interesting to find out who’s backing this latest push to make the BlackBerry name relevant again. Notably, the company’s not sharing renders yet, either, but says it’s bringing a 5G device to market in 2021, with a physical keyboard and the focus on security that’s long been a key differentiator for the BlackBerry brand.

BlackBerry (the software company) certainly seems to be on board with its new partner here. CEO John Chen had this to say about the deal:

BlackBerry is thrilled OnwardMobility will deliver a BlackBerry 5G smartphone device with physical keyboard leveraging our high standards of trust and security synonymous with our brand. We are excited that customers will experience the enterprise and government level security and mobile productivity the new BlackBerry 5G smartphone will offer.

More or less what you’d anticipate on that front. For now, the news is basically OnwardMobility’s entry onto the scene and announcement of its BlackBerry licensing deal. I’m honestly not sure how much clout the BlackBerry name holds in 2020 — nor do I necessarily believe there’s a critical mass of consumers clamoring to return to the physical keyboard. So OnwardMobility has a lot to prove in an extremely crowded mobile market. I guess we’ll see what it has to offer next year. Stay tuned.

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A good brand is hard to kill. Over the past several years, the smartphone space has seen a resurgence of once-mighty mobile brands making a comeback with various degrees of success. HMD’s Nokia phones are probably the best and most successful example, but even Palm had a brief moment in the sun.

And then there’s the case of BlackBerry. TCL surprised the mobile world by bringing the brand raring back with an Android handset that re-embraced the QWERTY keyboard. That, in and of itself, wasn’t enough, of course. But TCL has the chops to deliver quality hardware, and certainly did so with the KeyOne. I know I was surprised the first time I saw one in person behind the scenes at CES a few years back.

Early this year, TCL announced the end of the partnership, noting, “We… regret to share… that as of August 31, 2020, TCL Communication will no longer be selling BlackBerry-branded mobile devices.” From its phrasing, it seemed like a less than amicable end for the deal. But TCL has already moved on to producing devices under its own brand name after years of subsidiaries and branded deals.

All of which brings us to this week’s announcement that a company you’ve never heard of, called OnwardMobility, is bringing the BlackBerry name to hardware for North America and Europe (other branding deals have existed in other markets). It’s a strange deal for starters, due to the fact that OnwardMobility is hardly a household name. It’s based in Austin, Texas, has fewer than 50 employees and was founded in March of last year, perhaps with such a partnership in mind.

After all, while a branding deal is far from a guaranteed recipe for success, it is, at least, a way of getting that first foot through the door. I’m not really sure I would be writing anything about OnwardMobility for TechCrunch dot com at the moment, were it not for the promise of reviving the BlackBerry name yet again. So that’s something. The company’s staff also notably involves some former TCL folk, as well as people involved with the BlackBerry software side of things. Another name that pops up a lot is Sonim Technologies, another Austin-based company that is a subsidiary of a Shenzhen-based brand of the same name. They largely specialize in rugged devices for first responders.

CEO Peter Franklin has both Microsoft and Zynga on his resume, and produced this fairly low-fi YouTube video to explain the company’s mission:

OnwardMobility says it’s a standalone startup. No word yet on investments or investors, though it will certainly be interesting to find out who’s backing this latest push to make the BlackBerry name relevant again. Notably, the company’s not sharing renders yet, either, but says it’s bringing a 5G device to market in 2021, with a physical keyboard and the focus on security that’s long been a key differentiator for the BlackBerry brand.

BlackBerry (the software company) certainly seems to be on board with its new partner here. CEO John Chen had this to say about the deal:

BlackBerry is thrilled OnwardMobility will deliver a BlackBerry 5G smartphone device with physical keyboard leveraging our high standards of trust and security synonymous with our brand. We are excited that customers will experience the enterprise and government level security and mobile productivity the new BlackBerry 5G smartphone will offer.

More or less what you’d anticipate on that front. For now, the news is basically OnwardMobility’s entry onto the scene and announcement of its BlackBerry licensing deal. I’m honestly not sure how much clout the BlackBerry name holds in 2020 — nor do I necessarily believe there’s a critical mass of consumers clamoring to return to the physical keyboard. So OnwardMobility has a lot to prove in an extremely crowded mobile market. I guess we’ll see what it has to offer next year. Stay tuned.



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Top Facebook executive in India files criminal complaint against a journalist for sharing news report


Ankhi Das, a top Facebook executive in India, has filed a criminal complaint against a journalist who she alleges attempted to defame her in a public Facebook post and made “sexually coloured remarks.”

A review of the journalist Awesh Tiwari’s post, written in Hindi (the most widely spoken language in India), finds that it was merely summarizing a recent WSJ report, which was critical of the way Das oversaw enforcement of Facebook’s hate speech policies on some posts.

The Wall Street Journal reported last week that Das, Facebook’s top public-policy executive in India, had opposed applying the company’s hate-speech rules to a member of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s party.

The report said that posts from at least three more members of BJP individuals and groups were flagged internally for “promoting or participating in violence.” Punishing those violations by politicians from Modi’s party would damage the company’s business prospects in the country, Das said of those posts, according to the report, which cited current and former employees.

The article erupted a discussion on social media with several Indian politicians — both from Modi’s BJP party and the opposition Congress — criticizing one another and also Facebook for political biasses. Several users also tweeted and submitted posts on Facebook criticizing Das’ decision.

On Monday, she filed a criminal complaint with the cyber unit of the Delhi police against a handful of users, including journalist Tiwari for posts that, she alleged, insulted and intimidated her, and made sexually coloured remarks.

Except, in the case of Tiwari, his post only summarizes WSJ’s report and shares some background information on Das that is in the public domain.

Tiwari told Indian news outlet Newslaundry that Facebook executive’s action was curbing his freedom of speech on Facebook.

If charged and convicted, Tiwari and others stand to face fines and up to two years in prison for sexual harassment, up to two years for defamation, and up to seven years in prison for criminal intimidation, according to the local law.

The Committee to Protect Journalists called on Das Wednesday to withdraw her complaint against Tiwari and respect citizens’ rights to criticize her.

Facebook, a company apparently committed to freedom of speech, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Reuters reported on Wednesday that a handful of employees have written a letter asking Facebook to denounce “anti-Muslim bigotry” posts from BJP politicians that Ankhi Das protected and shared herself on the platform.

In a comment posted internally to employees, Ajit Mohan, the head of Facebook in India, said the company was confident that WSJ article’s claim about political affiliations influencing decision making in India is “inaccurate and without merit”, Reuters reported.

Facebook has yet to offer any evidence to dispute the claims made in the WSJ report — and has not disputed them at all in its statements to news outlets. In its public statements, Facebook has said it is making “progress on enforcement and conduct regular audits.”

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