Adobe’s work on a chain of custody that could link online images back to their origins is inching closer to becoming a reality. The prototype, part of the Content Authenticity Initiative (CAI), will soon appear in the beta of Photoshop, Adobe’s ubiquitous image editing software.
Adobe says the preview of the new tool will be available to users in the beta release of Photoshop and Behance over the next few weeks. The company calls the CAI implementation “an early version” of the open standard that it will continue to hone.
The project has a few different applications. It aims to make a more robust means of keeping creators’ names attached to the content they create. But its most compelling use case for CAI would see the tool become a “tamper-proof” industry standard aimed at images used to spread misinformation.
Adobe describes the project’s mission as an effort to “increase trust and transparency online with an industry-wide attribution framework that empowers creatives and consumers alike.” The result is a technical solution that could (eventually) limit the spread of deepfakes and other kinds of misleading online content.
“… Eventually you might imagine a social feed or a news site that would allow you to filter out things that are likely to be inauthentic,” Adobe’s director of CAI, Andy Parsons said earlier this year. “But the CAI steers well clear of making judgment calls — we’re just about providing that layer of transparency and verifiable data.”
The idea sounds like a spin on EXIF data, the embedded opt-in metadata that attaches information like lens type and location to an image. But Adobe says the new attribution standard will be less “brittle” and much more difficult to manipulate. The end result would have more in common with digital fingerprinting systems like the ones that identify child exploitation online than it would with EXIF.
“We believe attribution will create a virtuous cycle,” Allen said. “The more creators distribute content with proper attribution, the more consumers will expect and use that information to make judgement calls, thus minimizing the influence of bad actors and deceptive content.”
Update: The spacecraft has touched down and sample collection was successful! OSIRIS-REx is now moving away from the asteroid with the goods and will begin its homeward journey as soon as it’s clear.
NASA’s OSIRIS-REx probe is about to touch down on an asteroid for a smash-and-grab mission, and you can follow its progress live — kind of. The craft is scheduled to perform its collection operation this afternoon, and we’ll know within minutes if all went according to plan.
OSIRIS-REx, which stands for Origins Spectral Interpretation Resource Identification Security — Regolith Explorer, was launched in September of 2016 and since arriving at its destination, the asteroid Bennu, has performed a delicate dance with it, entering an orbit so close it set records.
Today is the culmination of the team’s efforts, the actual “touch and go” or TAG maneuver that will see the probe briefly land on the asteroid’s surface and suck up some of its precious space dust. Just a few seconds later, once sampling is confirmed, the craft will jet upward again to escape Bennu and begin its journey home.
Image Credits: NASA
While there won’t be live HD video of the whole attempt, NASA will be providing both a live animation of the process, informed by OSIRIS-REx’s telemetry, and presumably any good images that are captured as it descends.
We know for certain this is both possible and very cool because Japan’s Hayabusa-2 asteroid mission did something very similar last year, but with the added complexity (and coolness) of firing a projectile into the surface to stir things up and get a more diverse sample.
NASA’s coverage starts at 2 p.m. PDT, and the touchdown event is planned to take place an hour or so later, at 3:12, if all goes according to plan. You can watch the whole thing take place in simulation at this Twitch feed, which will be updated live, but NASA TV will also have live coverage and commentary on its YouTube channel. Images may come back from the descent and collection, but they’ll be delayed (it’s hard sending lots of data over a million-mile gap) so if you want the latest, listen closely to the NASA feeds.
Hello and welcome back to Equity, TechCrunch’s venture-capital-focused podcast where we unpack the numbers behind the headlines.
It’s a big day in tech because the U.S. federal government is going after Google on anti-competitive grounds. Sure, the timing appears crassly political and the case is not picking up huge plaudits thus far for its air-tightness, but that doesn’t mean we can ignore it.
So Danny and I got on the horn to chat it up for about 10 minutes to fill you in. For reference, you can read the full filing here, in case you want to get your nails in. It’s not a complicated read. Get in there.
As a pair we dug into what stood out from the suit, what we think about the historical context and also noodled at the end about what the whole situation could mean for startups; it’s not all good news, but adding lots of competitive space to the market would be a net-good for upstart tech companies in the long-run.
And consumers. Competition is good.
You can read TechCrunch’s early coverage of the suit here, and our look at the market’s reaction here. Let’s go!
Equity drops every Monday at 7:00 a.m. PDT and Thursday afternoon as fast as we can get it out, so subscribe to us on Apple Podcasts, Overcast, Spotify and all the casts.
For all of the investors preaching that augmented reality technology will likely be the successor to the modern smartphone, today, most venture capitalists are still quite wary to back AR plays.
The reasons are plentiful, but all tend to circle around the idea that it’s too early for software and too expensive to try to take on Apple or Facebook on the hardware front.
Meanwhile, few spaces were frothier in 2016 than virtual reality, but most VCs who gambled on VR following Facebook’s Oculus acquisition failed to strike it rich. In 2020, VR did not get the shelter-in-place usage bump many had hoped for largely due to supply chain issues at Facebook, but VCs hope their new cheaper device will spell good things for the startup ecosystem.
To get a better sense of how VCs are looking at augmented reality and virtual reality in 2020, I reached out to a handful of investors who are keeping a close watch on the industry:
Some investors who are bullish on AR have opted to focus on virtual reality for now, believing that there’s a good amount of crossover between AR and VR software, and that they can make safer bets on VR startups today that will be able to take advantage of AR hardware when it’s introduced.
“Besides Pokémon Go I don’t think we have seen the engagement numbers needed for AR,” Boost VC investor Brayton Williams tells TechCrunch. “We believe VR is still the largest long-term opportunity of the two. AR complements the real world, VR creates endless new worlds.”
Most of the investors I got in contact with were still fairly active in the AR/VR world, but many still disagreed whether the time was right for VR startups. For Jacob Mullins of Shasta Ventures, “It’s still early, but it’s no longer too early.” While Gigi Levy-Weiss of NFX says that the market is “sadly not happening yet,” Facebook’s Quest headsets have shown promise.
On the hardware side, the ghost of Magic Leap’s formerly hyped glory still looms large. Few investors are interested in making a hardware play in the AR/VR world, noting that startups don’t have the resources to compete with Facebook or Microsoft on a large-scale rollout. “Hardware is so capital intensive and this entire industry is dependent on the big players continuing to invest in hardware innovation,” General Catalyst’s Niko Bonatsos tells us.
Even those that are still bullish on startups making hardware plays for more niche audiences acknowledge that life had gotten harder for ambitious founders in these spaces, “the spectacular flare-outs do make it harder for companies to raise large amounts with long product release horizons,” investor Tipatat Chennavasin notes.
Responses have been edited for length and clarity.
Niko Bonatsos, General Catalyst
What are your general impressions on the health of the AR/VR market today?
We’re seeing some progress in VR and some of that is happening because of the Oculus ecosystem. They continue to improve the hardware and have a growing catalog of content. I think their onboarding and consumption experience is very consumer-friendly and that’s going to continue to help with adoption. On the consumer side, we’re seeing some companies across gaming, fitness and productivity that are earning and retaining their audiences at a respectable rate. That wasn’t happening even a year ago so it may be partially a COVID lift but habits are forming.
The VR bets of several years ago have largely struggled to pan out, if you were to make a startup investment in this space today what would you need to see?
Companies to watch are the ones that are creating cool experiences with mobile as the first entry point. Wave VR, Rec Room, VRChat are making it really easy for consumers to get a taste of VR with devices they already own. They’re not treating VR as just another gaming peripheral but as a way to create very cool, often celebrity-driven, content. These are the kinds of innovations that makes me optimistic about the VR category in general.
Most investors I chat with seem to be long-term bullish on AR, but are reticent to invest in an explicitly AR-focused startup today. What do you want to see before you make a play here?
In both AR/VR, a founder needs to be both super ambitious but patient. They’ll need to be flexible in thinking and open to pivoting a few times along the way. Product-market fit is always important but I want to see that they have a plan for customer retention. Fun to try is great, habit-forming is much better. Gaming continues to do pretty well as a category for VC dollars but it’d be interesting to see more founders look at making IRL sports experiences more immersive or figuring out how to enhance remote meeting experiences with VR to fix Zoom fatigue.
There have been a few spectacular flare-outs when it comes to AR/VR hardware investments, is there still a startup opportunity in AR/VR hardware?
Hardware is so capital intensive and this entire industry is dependent on the big players continuing to invest in hardware innovation. Facebook and Microsoft seem to be the main companies willing to spend here while others have backed away. If we expand our thinking for a minute, maybe the first real mainstream breakthrough AR/VR consumer experience isn’t visual. For VR, it might be the mobile experiences. For AR maybe AirPods or AirPod-like devices are the right entry point for consumers. They’re in millions of people’s ears already and who doesn’t want their own special-agent-like earpiece? That’s where founders might find some opportunity.
Tipatat Chennavasin, The Venture Reality Fund
This morning Root Insurance, a neoinsurance provider that has attracted ample private capital for its auto-insurance business, is targeting a valuation of as much as $6.34 billion in its pending IPO.
The former startup follows insurtech leader Lemonade to the public markets during a year in which IPOs have been well-received by investors focused more on growth than profitability. In the wake of Lemonade’s strong public offering and rich revenue multiples, it was not impossible to see another, similar startup test the same waters.
Root’s $6.34 billion valuation upper limit at its current price range matches expectations for its bulk. The company is targeting $22 to $25 per share in its debut.
The startup will raise over $500 million from the shares it is selling in its regular offering. Concurrent placements worth $500 million from Dragoneer and Silver Lake raise that figure to north of $1 billion and could help boost general demand for shares in the company. Snowflake’s epic IPO came with similar private placements from well-known investors in what became the transaction of the year.
Will we see Root boost its target? And what does Root’s IPO price range mean for insurtech startups? Let’s dig into the numbers.
We’ve dug into Root’s business a few times now, both before and after it formally filed its IPO documents. This morning we will merge both sets of work, snag a fresh revenue multiple from Lemonade, apply it to Root’s own numbers, observe any valuation deficit and ask ourselves what’s next for the debuting company.
Will we see Root’s IPO price rise? Here’s how to think about the question:
The pandemic has put stress on companies dealing with a workforce that is mostly — and sometimes suddenly — working from home. That has led to rising needs for security and governance tooling, something that Egnyte is looking to meet with new features aimed at helping companies cope with file management during the pandemic.
Egnyte helps customers manage files wherever they live — on premises or in the cloud. Over the years, it has added security and governance tooling to bring collaboration around files together with security and governance on a single platform.
“It’s no surprise that there’s been a rapid shift to remote work, which has I believe led to mass adoption of multiple applications running on multiple clouds, and tied to that has been a nonlinear reaction of exponential growth in data security and governance concerns,” Vineet Jain, co-founder and CEO at Egnyte, explained.
Egnyte’s announcements today are in part a reaction to the changes that COVID has brought, a mix of net-new features and capabilities that were on its road map, but accelerated to meet the needs of the changing technology landscape.
The company is introducing a new feature called Smart Cache to make sure that content (wherever it lives) that an individual user accesses most will be ready whenever they need it.
“Smart Cache uses machine learning to predict the content most likely to be accessed at any given site, so administrators don’t have to anticipate usage patterns. The elegance of the solution lies in that it is invisible to the end users,” Jain said. The end result of this capability could be lower storage and bandwidth costs, because the system can make this content available in an automated way only when it’s needed.
Another new feature is email scanning and governance. As Jain points out, email is often a company’s largest data store, but it’s also a conduit for phishing attacks and malware. So Egnyte is introducing an email governance tool that keeps an eye on this content, scanning it for known malware and ransomware and blocking files from being put into distribution when it identifies something that could be harmful.
As companies move more files around it’s important that security and governance policies travel with the document, so that policies can be enforced on the file wherever it goes. This was true before COVID-19, but has only become more true as more folks work from home.
Finally, Egnyte is using machine learning for auto-classification of documents to apply policies to documents without humans having to touch them. By identifying the document type automatically, whether it has personally identifying information or it’s a budget or planning document, Egnyte can help customers auto-classify and apply policies about viewing and sharing to protect sensitive materials.
Egnyte is reacting to the market needs as it makes changes to the platform. While the pandemic has pushed this along, these are features that companies with documents spread out across various locations can benefit from regardless of the times.
The company is over $100 million ARR today, and grew 22% in the first half of 2020. Whether the company can accelerate that growth rate in H2 2020 is not yet clear. Regardless, Egnyte is a budding IPO candidate for 2021 if market conditions hold.