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Google CEO Sundar Pichai will reportedly meet with Republican lawmakers this week

Google CEO Sundar Pichai will meet in private with Republican lawmakers on Friday to discuss issues including its work in China and alleged political bias, reports the Wall Street Journal. The meeting was organized by House Majority leader Kevin McCarthy, who has accused Google of “controlling the internet” by boosting negative news stories about conservatives in its search results, despite the company’s denials.

The WSJ reports that Pichai also plans to appear at a House Judiciary Committee hearing scheduled to take place in November after the mid-term elections.

Pichai told the newspaper that “I look forward to meeting with members on both sides of the aisle, answering a wide range of questions, and explaining our approach. These meetings will continue Google’s long history of engaging with Congress, including testifying seven times to Congress this year.”

A vocal opponent of net neutrality, McCarthy tweeted earlier this month that “an invite will be on its way” to Google, which he accused in the same tweet of making a “silent donation” to an unnamed left-wing group to stop Trump; working with Russia and China to censor the Internet even though it cancelled a U.S. military contract and ignoring a Senate hearing.

McCarthy told the WSJ that “Google has a lot of questions to answer about reports of bias in its search results, violations of user privacy, anticompetitive behavior and business dealings with repressive regimes like China.”

As an example of what he claims to be Google’s anti-conservative bias, McCarthy previously cited search results that listed “Nazism” under the California Republican Party’s ideologies. Google blamed vandalism on Wikipedia for the descriptor, which appeared in an information box, and quickly removed it.

Though McCarthy did not specify what contract he was referring to in his tweet, it may have been Project Maven, an aerial drone imaging program that provided artificial intelligence to the Department of Defense. Google reportedly decided not to renew the contract when it expires because of ethical concerns and employee backlash.

In August, however, sources told the Intercept that Google is working on a version of its search engine for China, code-named Project Dragonfly, that would adhere to the government’s censorship regulations. This prompted bipartisan outcry and more employee backlash, including the resignation of senior research scientist Jack Poulson. Poulson told the Intercept that about five of Google’s employees have resigned over Project Dragonfly, which he says represents “the forfeiture of our public human rights commitments.”

As part of the Republican Party’s onslaught against what it perceives to be political bias on social media, Attorney General Jeff Sessions will also meet with state attorneys general to discuss social media’s alleged suppression of conservative users.

TechCrunch has contacted Google for comment.

Why Instagram’s founders are resigning: independence from Facebook weakened

Facebook promised Instagram autonomy, but reduced it over time leading to today’s bombshell revelation. Eight years after launching Instagram and six years after selling it to Facebook, Instagram co-founders CEO Kevin Systrom and CTO Mike Krieger are leaving the company, according to The New York Times. The founders apparently did not give a reason for their departure when they informed the company today that they’re resigning and that they’ll depart in the next few weeks.

But according to TechCrunch’s sources, tension had mounted this year between Instagram and Facebook’s leadership regarding Instagram’s autonomy. Facebook had agreed to let it run independently as part of the acquisition deal. But in May, Instagram’s beloved VP of Product Kevin Weil moved to Facebook’s new blockchain team and was replaced by former VP of Facebook News Feed Adam Mosseri — a member of Zuckerberg’s inner circle.

“Adam is a very strong-willed individual” said a source, and “Chris [Cox, Facebook’s Chief Product Officer] and Kevin never really got along.” Between the two, they could pressure Instagram to do more for Facebook — which was important given the impact of scandals and dwindling teen usage on Facebook’s brand. “When Chris started taking initiative and with Adam as more of the old-school in-crowd of Facebook, it was clear that it wasn’t going to be pleasant. I saw that this guy [Systrom] is gonna get squeezed.”

Systrom and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg had historically gotten along, but they had diverging opinions at times. A source said that a few times a year they’d clash before resolving things. Those clashes included “Sharing back to Facebook. Kevin wanted to keep the sharing on Instagram but at some point Mark wanted content production on Instagram to flow to Facebook. But things got more heated lately. “Recently Mark decided to pull all of the links to Instagram from Facebook.”

The evidence of that standoff can be seen in Facebook, which last year confirmed it was adding a shortcut to Instagram to its bookmarks menu. That shortcut has since disappeared. And the stress imposed by Facebook also manifested in other departures. Earlier this month, Instagram’s COO Marne Levine who was known as a strong unifying force, went back to lead partnerships at Facebook. Without an immediate replacement named, Instagram started to look more like just a product division within Facebook. And without Levine, it’s unclear who’d be fit to lead Instagram other than Zuckerberg loyalist Mosseri.

After growing the app to 1 billion users, conquering its archrival Snapchat, turning it into a massive advertising business, Instagram’s founders may feel that they’ve done their duty and are ready to tackle different challenges. And rather than fight through Facebook’s impositions, they’d rather go build something new.

In a statement, Systrom wrote that “We’re planning on taking some time off to explore our curiosity and creativity again. Building new things requires that we step back, understand what inspires us and match that with what the world needs; that’s what we plan to do.” Zuckerberg gave his own statement to TechCrunch, stating “Kevin and Mike are extraordinary product leaders and Instagram reflects their combined creative talents. I’ve learned a lot working with them for the past six years and have really enjoyed it. I wish them all the best and I’m looking forward to seeing what they build next.”

The departure follows fellow Facebook acquisition WhatsApp’s founders leaving under much more grim circumstances. Brian Acton cited Facebook privacy concerns amongst reasons for his departure, tweeting “Delete Facebook” amidst one of its recent scandals. Over the coming days, we’ll investigate whether any similar concerns contributed to the exit of the Instagram founders. Instagram spokespeople did not respond to several requests for comment.

CEO Kevin Systrom still gives final approval of all ads on Instagram

The pair, former Stanford classmates, originally built a social location app Burbn but discovered its photo filters were by far the most popular part of the app. By combining tools to make grainy photos from early smartphone look good with a social feed for sharing them, Instagram became perhaps the world’s most succesful mobile app. Deemed such a threat, Facebook spent $715 million to acquire the startup and its less-than 50 million monthly users.

Supercharged by Facebook’s engineering team, Krieger could finally rest a little after spending years fighting server fires in attempts to manage Instagram’s meteoric growth. Sales, internationalization, anti-spam, and other resources from Facebook let Instagram fuel its growth and sprout an advertising business.

The moment of truth for Instagram came in late 2016 with the launch of Stories, a clone of Snapchat’s trendy ephemeral sharing feature. At the time, Systrom admitted “they deserve all the credit”. But by jamming Stories atop the already-thriving Instagram feed, sorting them to show your best friends first unlike Snapchat, and focusing on performance in developing countries Snap neglected, the copycat soon surpassed the original. Instagram Stories now has 400 million daily users compared to 188 million on Snapchat’s whole app.

During those six years, Instagram also had its share of troubles. Cyberbully became rampant, leading the company to eventually invest heavily in artificial intelligence and human moderators to keep the app clean. Russian military operatives spread misinformation and propaganda on Instagram that reached 20 million Americans, implicating the company in an election interference scandal that will continue through the upcoming mid-term elections.

Facebook had largely allowed Instagram to run independently. Systrom and Zuckerberg worked closely, yet Instagram wasn’t forced to drown its users in cross-promotion for other Facebook products or make worrying privacy decisions. As Mosseri moved in and Facebook wanted Instagram to pull its weight, its autonomy was endangered, leading to disagreements between the two factions’ leaders.

Facebook has moved to exert more control over all of its acquistions. Chris Daniels, head of Internet.org, was moved to oversee WhatsApp. And Oculus was moved under the purview of Facebook’s head of hardware Andrew “Boz” Bosworth, another long-time confidant and Harvard classmate of Zuckerberg. Together, the moves seemed to endanger the independence of the conglomerate’s biggest acquisitions by appointing Facebook loyalists at the top. Without Systrom and Krieger, Instagram could see its autonomy dwindle. That might in turn endanger its ability to recruity retain talent.

Perhaps the strongest legacy of Systrom and Krieger will be how Instagram changed global culture. It made non-artists feel creative, and let people give friends a window into their world, engendering empathy and friendship.

At the same time, a desperate lust for Likes led many people to manicure their online image while hiding their sorrows and vulnerabilities. Instagram became the premier venue for success theater, where people engender health-harming envy in others by showing off just their most glamorous moments. And when Instagram launched Stories to try to get users to share more than just their life highlights, it ended up normalizing the behavior of interrupting every special moment with their smartphone camera.

Systrom took a stand on the digital well-being issue, saying “We’re building tools that will help the IG community know more about the time they spend on Instagram – any time should be positive and intentional . . . Understanding how time online impacts people is important, and it’s the responsibility of all companies to be honest about this. We want to be part of the solution. I take that responsibility seriously.”

Perhaps Systrom and Krieger’s next project will seek to offset some of the distortions to society caused by their creation.

This article has been updated with context from sources regarding why the founders are leaving, and with their official statement.

Car-sharing network Turo expands service in UK

Turo — the peer-to-peer car-sharing marketplace sometimes referred to as the ‘Airbnb of cars’ — is expanding to the UK. And this time, everyday car owners can actually use it.

The San Francisco-based company expanded to the UK once before in 2016. But at the time, the Turo platform was only offered to small rental car companies under its commercial host program. Now, anyone who owns or leases a 2008 model-year or newer vehicle can list it on the Turo app. The company’s insurance partner Allianz covers all vehicles rented by its pre-approved users.

Turo first launched in 2009 as Relay Rides and rebranded with a new name in 2015. Since then, the company has expanded to new markets, including Canada and Germany. Turo now has 8 million users, a third of whom were added this year, according to the company.

The UK is the company’s most-searched-for destination outside North America, according to Turo CEO Andre Haddad, who added that British guests in the U.S. and Canada represent its largest portion of international travelers. “This makes us confident that now is the right time to expand here,” Haddad said in a statement.

Turo markets itself to car owners as a way to earn extra money and cover the cost of owning their vehicle. Although some of its customers have turned into power users, people who own a fleet of vehicles that are listed on Turo. The average trip on Turo earns an owner £130 ($170, according to the company

Turo has received over $205 million in funding from Kleiner Perkins, August Capital, Shasta Venture and Google Ventures, among others. The company closed a $104 million Series D round earlier this year, which included investment from Sumitomo Corporation and American Express Ventures.

As English burns, Scrabble plays the fiddle adding 300 words like Bitcoin, botnet and emoji

Attention, Scrabble enthusiasts! A whopping 300 new words have been added to Merriam-Webster’s Official Scrabble Players Dictionary, including a few that are sure to satisfy millennials and aggravate everyone else: Bitcoin, emoji and botnet.

Merriam-Webster likes to keep up with the hip, younger crowd and often adds words that began as slang but infiltrated the average person’s vocabulary. 

‘Ew,’ ‘bizjet’ (a jet used for business purposes, of course), ‘aquafaba,’ ‘facepalm,’ ‘hivemind,’ ‘macaron,’ ‘yowza,’ ‘beatdown,’ ‘zomboid,’ ‘twerk,’ ‘sheeple,’ ‘wayback,’ ‘bokeh,’ ‘frowny,’ ‘puggle,’ ‘nubber‘ and ‘OK’ are also among the new entries.

“OK is something Scrabble players have been waiting for, for a long time,” Peter Sokolowski, Merriam-Webster editor-at-large, told The Associated Press. “Basically two- and three-letter words are the lifeblood of the game.”

OK may not be worth much, but bizjets could garner up to 120 points.

Earlier this month, Merriam-Webster added 800 new words to their flagship English dictionary, including ‘TL;DR,’ ‘instgramming,’ ‘fintech,’ ‘biohacking,’ ‘rando’ and ‘bingeable.’