Hello friends and welcome back to the week in retrospect!
I’m back from a very fun and rehabilitative few weeks away from my phone, twitter account, and messaging cycle. Still, I really missed writing this newsletter and while Greg did a fantastic job in my absence, I won’t be releasing the reins anytime soon. A lot has happened this week and I was struggling to focus on a single topic, but I finally decided to focus on Bezos’ Blue Origin, which NASA was suing.
If you’re reading this on the TechCrunch site, you can get it in your inbox from the Newsletter page, and follow my tweets @lucasmtny.
The big thing
I wanted to write about OnlyFans for the newsletter this week and their rather shocking move of banning sexually explicit content from their website in order to stay friendly with the payment processors, but unfortunately I couldn’t help but write an article for ole TechCrunch dotcom instead. Here’s a link if you’re curious.
Now, I should also add that while on vacation I missed all of the conversations about Apple’s incredibly controversial child sexual abuse detection software that seems to really compromise the perceived integrity of personal devices. I’m not the only one to find this a fairly worrying development, though Apple intends to fend off a worse alternative. Hopefully one of these weeks I’ll have time to speak to some folks in the decentralized computing space about how badly our monolithic dependence on a few tech companies that have very little consumer input is very bad. In the meantime, I am going to bring your attention to some reports from TechCrunch’s own Zack Whittaker on this subject that you should read as I am sure that this will be a subject that I will return to here in the future.
Well then! On the current topic.
Federal agencies generally don’t generate much admiration. While great things have been achieved at the behest of ample federal funding and the tireless work of civil servants, most agencies are treated as bureaucratic bloat and generally not viewed as something worth passionately defending. In the public and especially among technologists, NASA occupies a rather sacred space. The American space agency was generally a source of bipartisan enthusiasm, as was the goal of getting astronauts back to the lunar surface by 2024.
Which brings us to some news this week. While so much digital ink was spilled, cowboy hat, champagne, and everything on Jeff Bezos’ little foray to the edge of space, there was less excitement over his space startup’s lawsuit against NASA, which we now know is the Lunar Lander will delay development of a new one by months, potentially calling into question NASA’s goal of getting astronauts back to the lunar surface on schedule.
Bezos’ upstart Blue Origin is protesting the fact they haven’t won a government contract while Elon Musk’s SpaceX won a $ 2.89 billion contract to build a lunar lander. This contract wasn’t recently awarded either, SpaceX won it back in April and Blue Origin had already filed a complaint with the Government Accountability Office. It did so before Bezos wrote an open letter promising NASA a $ 2 billion discount. Neither of these maneuvers proved convincing enough for the folks at NASA and pushed Bezos’ space startup to sue the agency.
That little feud has led long-minded Twitter users to dig up this little gem from a Bezos 2019 speech – as transcribed by Gizmodo – that highlights Bezos’ own dislike of how bureaucracy and greed highlight NASA’s ability to go for the stars grabbing, hindering:
“To the extent that large NASA programs are seen as employment programs and need to be distributed to the right states, where the right senators live, and so on. That will change the goal. Your goal is not to get a man to the moon or a woman to the moon, but to get a woman to the moon while maintaining X jobs in my district. This is a complexing agent and not a healthy one …[…]
Today, you know, there would be three protests and the losers would sue the federal government for not winning. It’s interesting, but what is slowing things down is procurement. It’s become the bigger bottleneck than technology, which I know for sure to all well-meaning folks at NASA is frustrating.
A spokesman for Blue Origin called the lawsuit an “attempt to correct the shortcomings in the acquisition process for NASA’s Human Landing System.” But the lawsuit really seems to highlight just how bad this deal is for Blue Origin’s ability to lock down top talent. Whether the startup can handle the reputational risk of suing NASA and delaying America’s return to the moon seems like a question worth asking.
Here are the TechCrunch news that caught my eye this week:
OnlyFans prohibits “sexually explicit content”
Lots of people had pretty visceral reactions to OnlyFans killing a pretty large chunk of their business and banning “sexually explicit content” on the platform. It appears that the decision was made by leaning on the company by banking and payment partners.
Musk “reveals” the “Tesla Bot”
It’s really hard for me to call this news at all, but I’d be remiss not to highlight how Elon Musk had a guy dress up in a spandex outfit and run around doing the robot and hundreds of messages about his new “Tesla” Bot “brought forth. While there could certainly be a product opportunity for Tesla here at some point, I’d bet all the Dogecoins in the world that its prototype, “coming next year,” either never arrives or falls hilariously below expectations.
Facebook drops a VR meeting simulator
This week Facebook released one of its better virtual reality apps, a workspace app designed to help people host meetings in virtual reality. To be clear, no one really asked for it, but the company created a full PR press for the app that helps headset owners simulate the pristine experience of sitting in a conference room.
Yeah, that looks stupid. But avatar-based work apps come for your zooms, and Facebook did a pretty compelling one here. https://t.co/aGvOW6zm8U
– Lucas Matney (@lucasmtny) August 19, 2021
Social platforms wrestle with Taliban presence on platforms
Following the Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan, social media platforms are being pushed to clarify their policies on accounts operated by identified Taliban members. It put some of the platforms in a hairy position.
Facebook publishes content transparency report
This week, Facebook released its first content transparency report, highlighting which data on the site had the greatest reach over a period of time, in this case three months. Compared to lists that highlight which posts are getting the most engagement on the platform, lists that are generally populated mostly by right-wing influencers and news sources, the list of posts with the greatest reach seems pretty harmless.
Security agencies open investigation into Tesla Autopilot
While Musk talks about building a branded humanoid robot, U.S. security officials are concerned about why Tesla autopilot vehicles are crashing into so many parked ambulances.
Some of my favorite reads from our Extra Crunch Subscription Service this week:
The Nuro EC-1
“..Dave Ferguson and Jiajun Zhu aren’t the only self-driving Google employees starting an AV startup, but they are perhaps the most underrated. Your business, Nuro, is valued at $ 5 billion and has high-profile partnerships with leading retail, logistics and grocery companies including FedEx, Domino’s and Walmart. And they seem to have successfully mastered the regulatory obstacle course – at least so far … “
A VC shares 5 keys for pitching VCs
“The success of a fundraiser Process depends entirely on how well an entrepreneur can manage it. During this phase, it is important for founders to be honest and straightforward and to recognize the value that meetings with venture capitalists and investors can bring beyond the purely monetary aspect.“
A crash course in corporate development
“… If you are acquired, you will likely spend a lot of time with corporate development teams. With a hot stock market, piles of cash and cheap debt floating around, the environment for acquisitions is extremely rich. “
Thank you for reading! Until next week…