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Armenian email campaign asks SpaceX not to aid Turkish regime with satellite launch

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SpaceX staff and members of the media have been inundated this morning with emails ostensibly from concerned Armenians around the world, asking the company to cancel a launch contract with the Turkish government. The concerns are valid — and the mass-email method surprisingly effective.

In the form email, received by TechCrunch staff hundreds of times in duplicate and with minor variations, the senders explain that they represent or stand in solidarity with Armenians worldwide, an ethnic and national group that has suffered under the authoritarian rule and regional influence of Turkey’s President, Tayyip Erdogan.

SpaceX is slated to launch the Turkish satellite Turksat-5A in the next month or two, a geostationary communications satellite built by Airbus that will serve a large area of Europe, Asia, and the Middle East. The deal has been on the books for a long time, and SpaceX CEO and founder Elon Musk even traveled to Turkey to meet with Erdogan regarding the satellite in 2017.

To enter into the complexities of the long conflict in which Armenia, Azerbaijan, Turkey, and nearby countries and powers have figured is beyond the scope of this article, but it is hardly controversial to say that there have been serious human rights abuses under Erdogan’s regime and others. The word “genocide” is frequently used.

As the email plea points out, many countries and governments have opted to condemn Turkey’s behavior, and some companies have stopped doing business with the government. Will SpaceX join them?

At this stage — a month before launch, when the payload is likely already locked in — it seems unlikely that SpaceX will return the millions of dollars Turkey has no doubt already paid it, in order to appear more ethical by deplatforming, as it were, the government there.

But the campaign raises a legitimate question that is increasingly faced by new tech-focused companies growing to encompass a global community that is diverse and at times difficult to navigate. Where do companies like SpaceX — or Apple, or Google, or Facebook, or for that matter Airbus — draw the line? Should SpaceX be disinterested and mercenary, simply providing services to anyone who pays? Or are there some governments or people whose money it will not take?

So far SpaceX hasn’t had to walk too narrow a path on that front; the launch industry is heavily weighted toward military and government contracts, so the deal is already made with that particular devil. But as it becomes more established and can be a bit more choosy with its customers, it may consider acting as a gatekeeper in the industry where 10 years ago it was a gatecrasher.

As for the email campaign, TechCrunch staff were surprised at its effectiveness in eluding Google’s spam filters. I contacted Artsakh Strong, listed in the email as the originator of the campaign, for more information and to be removed from future emails (which I was).

Strong said that the emails were sent by individuals, not from a central location, which despite their duplicative content may account for their all making it to our inboxes. “These are people who are coming together to make their unified voice heard,” she wrote. ” We are not affiliated with any groups but our message is one shared by every Armenian American. I apologize for the inconvenience of you having to delete excessive emails but our people are being murdered on a daily basis and we need to bring attention to our cause.”

She suggested that as an American company, SpaceX should embody the country’s (supposed) values and refuse to do business with regime’s like Erdogan’s. Furthermore, she noted that SpaceX receives a great deal of funding and business from the U.S. government, which amounts to a secondhand blessing of its deals as being in the public interest.

“There are calls for sanctions of Turkey by the US and other NATO countries,” she wrote. “SpaceX is strongly urged to take all these factors into consideration and decide for itself whether or not it wants to continue to aid Turkey in the face of such overwhelming and clear evidence of criminal actions. At the very least, Elon Musk and SpaceX can halt the launch to see what these investigations lead to. While this may be a loss of profit for SpaceX it would be a huge leap for world progress.”

Strong raises legitimate points that many companies providing services internationally must address or have their intentions inferred from their actions. This cannot be the first, nor will it be the last, that SpaceX or any of the new generation of space companies will have to make a difficult choice. At the very least they might explain why they choose how they do.

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Does Tor provide more benefit or harm? New paper says it depends

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Does Tor provide more benefit or harm? New paper says it depends

Enlarge (credit: Westend61 / Getty Images)

The Tor anonymity network has generated controversy almost constantly since its inception almost two decades ago. Supporters say it’s a vital service for protecting online privacy and circumventing censorship, particularly in countries with poor human rights records. Critics, meanwhile, argue that Tor shields criminals distributing child-abuse images, trafficking in illegal drugs, and engaging in other illicit activities.

Researchers on Monday unveiled new estimates that attempt to measure the potential harms and benefits of Tor. They found that, worldwide, almost 7 percent of Tor users connect to hidden services, which the researchers contend are disproportionately more likely to offer illicit services or content compared with normal Internet sites. Connections to hidden services were significantly higher in countries rated as more politically “free” relative to those that are “partially free” or “not free.”

Licit versus illicit

Specifically, the fraction of Tor users globally accessing hidden sites is 6.7, a relatively small proportion. Those users, however, aren’t evenly distributed geographically. In countries with regimes rated “not free” by this scoring from an organization called Freedom House, access to hidden services was just 4.8 percent. In “free” countries, the proportion jumped to 7.8 percent.

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EV bus and truck maker The Lion Electric to take SPAC route to public markets

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Canadian electric truck and bus manufacturer The Lion Electric Company said Monday it plans to become a publicly traded company via a merger with special-purpose acquisition company Northern Genesis Acquisition Corp.

The combined company, which will be listed on the New York Stock Exchange, will have a valuation of $1.9 billion. The companies raised $200 million in private investment in public equity, or PIPE, and hold about $320 million in cash proceeds.

The deal is the latest example of an electric automaker opting to go public via a SPAc merger in an aim to access the level of capital needed to become a high-volume vehicle manufacturer. Arrival, Canoo, Fisker, Lordstown Motors and Nikola Corp., have all announced SPAC mergers in 2020.

In Lion’s case, the combined net cash will be used to fund the company’s growth, notably the planned construction of a U.S.-based factory and to further develop its advanced battery systems. Lion is evaluating more than 10 potential brownfield plant sites in nine states, including California, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, New York, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Washington and Wisconsin. The company told TechCrunch it plans to to pick a site and complete its industrialization plan by the end of the year. Production at this yet-to-be named factory is expected to start in the beginning of 2023.

Lion is already producing all-electric medium and heavy-duty urban trucks and buses at a 2,500-vehicle-per-year manufacturing facility. Some 300 vehicles are on the road today and the company has plans to to deliver 650 trucks and buses in 2021. It even landed a contract with Amazon to supply the e-commerce giant with 10 electric trucks for its ‘middle mile’ operations.

Completion of the proposed transaction is expected to occur in the first quarter of 2021. Lion is expected to be listed on the NYSE under the new ticker symbol “LEV.” Lion’s CEO and founder Marc Bedard will continue in his role. The combined company will have a board of directors consisting of nine directors, including Bedard, Pierre Larochelle from Power Sustainable as Chairman, and five other existing Lion board members, as well as Ian Robertson and Chris Jarratt, who are co-founders of Algonquin Power & Utilities Corp.

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Daily Crunch: Facebook acquires Kustomer for $1B

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Facebook makes a billion-dollar acquisition, we learn more about Twitter’s Clubhouse-style feature and Moderna applies for emergency authorization for its COVID-19 vaccine. This is your Daily Crunch for November 30, 2020.

The big story: Facebook acquires Kustomer for $1B

Kustomer says it can give customer service teams better data and a more unified view of the people they’re interacting with. So with this acquisition, Facebook can improve its offerings for businesses that have a presence (in some cases, their primary digital presence) on the social network.

The terms of the deal were not disclosed, but TechCrunch has confirmed that the deal price was around $1 billion.

Facebook isn’t the only social media company making acquisitions to improve its customer service features. Earlier this month, Snap bought Voca.ai, a startup creating AI-based voice agents for call centers.

The tech giants

Alphabet’s DeepMind achieves historic new milestone in AI-based protein structure prediction — The advance in DeepMind’s AlphaFold capabilities could lead to a significant leap forward in areas like our understanding of disease, as well as future drug discovery and development.

Twitter’s Audio Spaces test includes transcriptions, speaker controls and reporting features — Earlier this month, Twitter announced it would soon begin testing its own Clubhouse rival, called Audio Spaces.

With an eye for what’s next, longtime operator and VC Josh Elman gets pulled into Apple — Elman said he will be focused on the company’s App Store and helping “customers discover the best apps for them.”

Startups, funding and venture capital

HungryPanda raises $70M for a food delivery app aimed at overseas Chinese consumers — HungryPanda makes a Mandarin-language app specifically targeting Chinese consumers outside of China.

Materialize scores $40M investment for SQL streaming database — CEO Arjun Narayan told us that every company needs to be a real-time company, and it will take a streaming database to make that happen.

Curio Wellness launches $30M fund to help women and minorities own a cannabis dispensary — The new fund, started by the Maryland-based medical cannabis company Curio Wellness, aims to help underserved entrepreneurs entering the cannabis market.

Advice and analysis from Extra Crunch

DoorDash aims to add $11B to its valuation during public offering — The delivery platform gave a range of $75 to $85 per share.

Strike first, strike hard, no mercy: How emerging managers can win — Investors at Fika Ventures argue that “Cobra Kai” offers valuable lessons for VC.

The road to smart city infrastructure starts with research — The right technology can upgrade any city, but we need to understand its impacts.

(Extra Crunch is our membership program, which aims to democratize information about startups. And until November 30 — that’s today! — you can get 25% off an annual membership.)

Everything else

Moderna claims 94% efficacy for COVID-19 vaccine, will ask FDA for emergency use authorization today — If granted the authorization, Moderna will be able to provide it to high-risk individuals such as front-line healthcare workers.

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai will step down to make way for the Biden administration — Pai’s tenure has been a controversial one.

Original Content podcast: Just don’t watch Netflix’s ‘Holidate’ with your parents — But if you avoid parental awkwardness, it’s a perfectly adequate holiday-themed romantic comedy.

The Daily Crunch is TechCrunch’s roundup of our biggest and most important stories. If you’d like to get this delivered to your inbox every day at around 3pm Pacific, you can subscribe here.

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