Hey, folks, welcome to Week in Review (WiR), TechCrunch’s regular newsletter covering the major happenings in the tech-o-sphere — or most of them, anyway. As the world’s largest AI conference, NeurIPS, got underway in sunny New Orleans, Google shared more on Gemini, its flagship AI model family — and lots happened elsewhere.
In this edition of WiR, we cover Cruise slashing 24% of its driverless workforce (and, relatedly, Tesla’s autopilot recall), Twitch’s new nudity policy conundrum, Adobe’s updated app design language and Instagram launching a generative AI–powered background editor. We also spotlight Meta’s Threads app expanding, the FCC denying Starlink a subsidy, Apple’s changing policies around push notification data and Amazon competing with its own Goodreads service.
It’s a lot to recap, so we won’t dillydally. But first, a reminder to sign up here to receive WiR in your inbox every Saturday if you haven’t already done so.
Gemini comes to more apps: Google’s Gemini GenAI models — specifically Gemini Pro, a lightweight version of a more capable model, Gemini Ultra, set to arrive in the coming months — is making its way into more Google products. Duet AI, the company’s suite of dev assistance tools for code completion and generation, will soon start using Gemini. So will AI Studio (formerly MakerSuite), Google’s AI app design experience on the web, and Vertex AI, the tech giant’s managed AI dev platform for enterprises.
Cruise slashes workforce: Cruise, GM’s self-driving car subsidiary, is laying off 900 mostly field staffers as part of a plan to slash costs and revamp the company, Kirsten reports. Wall Street appeared to approve of the cutbacks, which followed an October 2 incident that left a pedestrian stuck under and then dragged by one of Cruise’s robotaxis; GM shares rose after the downsizing was announced.
Tesla issues recall: Tesla is limiting the use of its Autopilot driver-assistance software as part of a two-million-vehicle recall — one of the first results to come from an ongoing multiyear investigation by the U.S.’s top automotive safety regulator, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). In documents released Wednesday, the NHTSA says that the way Tesla’s cars check to see if drivers are paying attention to the road while using Autosteer, an Autopilot feature that allows the cars to stay planted in the center of a lane even around big curves, is “insufficient.”
Nudes on Twitch: Twitch this week announced sweeping updates to its sexual content policy and content classification system, briefly allowing previously prohibited content such as illustrated nipples and “erotic dances” — but then quickly backtracked. Effective Friday, depictions of both real and fictional nudity are banned on Twitch again. Streamers will still be able to show nudity in M-rated games.
Adobe unveils Spectrum 2: Adobe has launched an update to Spectrum, the design system the company has used as the basis for all of its app and web products for the last 10 years. Called Spectrum 2 (no surprise there), the new design system backs off a bit from the austerity of the current Spectrum design and adds quite a few more splashes of color. You can already find parts of Spectrum 2 in recent Adobe web apps like the company’s Firefly generative AI service, Adobe Express and some of the new Acrobat web experiences.
Instagram intros background editor: Instagram introduced its GenAI-powered background editing tool to U.S.-based users on Wednesday. The tool lets users quickly change the background to their images; when users tap on the new background editor icon on an image, they get pre-populated prompts like “On a red carpet,” “Being chased by dinosaurs” and “Surrounded by puppies.” Users can write their own prompts to change the background as well.
Threads grows: Rumor has it that Meta’s set to launch Threads in the EU next month — possibly with a “view-only mode” to comply with the EU’s regulations around data handling and recommendation algorithms. In the meantime, the social network’s working on bringing a fact-checking program to Threads and testing support for ActivityPub, the open social networking protocol adopted by decentralized social networking platforms, including Mastodon.
FCC denies Starlink: The FCC has made a final denial of Starlink’s application for $885 million in public funds to expand its orbital communications infrastructure to cover parts of rural America, saying the company “failed to demonstrate that it could deliver the promised service.” As Devin notes, the money in question was part of the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund, a multi-billion-dollar program to subsidize the rollout of internet service in places where private companies have previously decided it’s too expensive or distant to do so.
Apple changes its notification policy: Apple said it will no longer give over records of users’ push notifications to law enforcement unless the company receives a valid judge’s order. Previously, the company allowed police to obtain these records with a subpoena, which are issued by police departments and law enforcement agencies with no judicial oversight. The policy change lands days after U.S. senator Ron Wyden disclosed that Apple and Google can be “secretly compelled by governments” to hand over the contents of push notifications sent to customers’ phones.
Amazon competes with its own Goodreads: This week, Amazon launched its own competitor to Goodreads, a book tracking and recommendations site it also owns. Your Books organizes all the books you’ve bought, borrowed or saved, including print books, as well as Amazon’s Kindle and Audible titles. As Sarah points out, with Your Books, the focus is directed more on commerce and leveraging Amazon’s data to make recommendations, rather than — as with Goodreads — leaning on other people’s reviews, negative or positive.
In need of weekend podcast listening material? Good news — TechCrunch has plenty on offer there.
On Equity, the crew welcomed Matt Mullenweg, the CEO of Automattic and co-founder of WordPress, along with Kishan Bagaria, the founder of Texts.com. Automattic bought all-in-one messaging app Texts.com for $50 million back in October, and on this week’s Equity episode, the hosts dug into the transaction and what it means — and the general state of the written word online.
Meanwhile, Found centered on James Wagoner, the co-founder and CEO of Joule Case, a startup that’s creating a cleaner alternative to diesel generators. Wagoner talked about his journey to kick-starting the company after the first startup he and his co-founder launched didn’t survive the 2008 financial crisis.
And on Chain Reaction, Jacquelyn interviewed Johann Kerbrat, the general manager of crypto at Robinhood. Johann is leading the app’s effort to expand its crypto exchange business and make digital assets more accessible to retail investors.
TC+ subscribers get access to in-depth commentary, analysis and surveys — which you know if you’re already a subscriber. If you’re not, consider signing up. Here are a few highlights from this week:
Temu vs. Shein: Alex writes about fast-fashion retailer Temu’s latest lawsuit against chief rival Shein. In it, Temu alleges “dubious copyright infringement” complaints filed against it by Shein — and also alleges that Shein abuses its suppliers by leveraging a “monopoly power” and “exclusive-dealing agreements.”
COP28 recap: Tim reports on the UN climate change conference proceedings this year. COP28 was significant in a few unexpected respects, he says — and not just because the United Arab Emirates, the world’s seventh largest oil producer, hosted.
Epic fallout: Google losing the antitrust lawsuit brought by Epic Games concerning the Play Store will have far-reaching implications for the mobile app economy. Alex has the full story.