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An AI-generated ‘South Park’ episode, Microsoft’s security woes, and Tesla’s first Cybertruck build


Hey, folks, welcome to Week in Review (WiR), TechCrunch’s regular roundup of the past week in tech. Too busy to check the headlines this week? Don’t sweat it. That’s why WiR exists — we’ll get you caught up to speed.

This edition of WiR features pieces about a fake AI-generated “South Park” episode; the surging downloads of Threads, an app that shares the same name as Meta’s Twitter competitor; and Tesla’s first Cybertruck build. We also recap the CEO of OnlyFans stepping down; Wix’s new tool that can create websites on the fly, using generative AI; and Plex’s free Winamp-inspired music player.

That’s a lot to cover, so let’s get cracking. Oh, and if you haven’t already, sign up here to get WiR in your inbox every Saturday.

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Poor timing for AI-generated TV: AI startup Fable Studios demoed its platform this week, using it to create a full, fake “South Park” episode in which Cartman tries to apply deepfake technology to the media industry. The tech was impressive, Devin writes, but — juxtaposed against the ongoing strike of creatives in TV and film — the stunt came across as a tad inartful.

Not a good look for Microsoft security: Microsoft still doesn’t know — or want to share — how China-backed hackers stole a key that allowed them to stealthily break into dozens of email inboxes, including those belonging to several government agencies. The company first disclosed the incident last Tuesday, attributing the monthlong activity to a newly discovered espionage group it’s calling Storm-0558, which it believes has a strong nexus to China.

The other Threads surges to new heights: Instagram’s Twitter clone Threads enjoyed a fairly fruitful first week in existence, sailing past 30 million users in the first 24 hours. But it’s had the unintended effect of thrusting Threads, an unrelated app first pitched as a Slack alternative, into the spotlight. Threads (the Slack alternative) reportedly racked up more than 880,000 downloads on iOS between July 6 and July 12, after Meta’s Threads launched, having had few downloads prior to this point.

Telsa unveils the first Cybertruck build: Tesla over the weekend said its first, much-anticipated Cybertruck came off the production line in Texas. The debut of the long-delayed, futuristic-looking pickup truck comes in the lead-up to Tesla’s second-quarter 2023 earnings call.

OnlyFans CEO steps down: After about two and a half years at the helm, Ami Gan is leaving OnlyFans. Chief strategy and operations officer Keily Blair will take over as CEO. As Amanda writes, OnlyFans is perhaps the best-known creator platform that supports adult content; according to Gan, the company paid out $10 billion to creators while she was CEO.

New sites, generated by AI: Wix, a longtime fixture of the web-building space, is betting that today’s customers don’t particularly care to spend time customizing every aspect of their site’s appearance. The company’s new AI Site Generator tool, announced this week, will allow Wix users to describe their intent and generate a website complete with a homepage, inner pages and text and images — as well as business-specific sections for events, bookings and more.

Plex makes its Winamp-inspired player free: Plexamp, the music player originally incubated by the Labs division of media company Plex, is now free. The project was first launched in 2017 as a subscription-based spin on the classic Winamp media player app, offering visualizations to accompany your tunes, tools for programming mixes, and more recently, a ChatGPT-powered “Sonic Sage” feature that builds unique playlists from users’ music libraries.

VanMoof e-bikes, saved: Since struggling e-bike startup VanMoof confirmed it has asked for a deferment of payment in Holland, there’s been a question hanging over the VanMoof bikes out there in the wild. Riding to the rescue, somewhat improbably, is Cowboy, VanMoof’s e-bike competitor over the border in Belgium. Cowboy’s “Bikey” app enables VanMoof riders to generate their unique digital key and keep riding, Mike writes.

Audio

TechCrunch’s roster of podcasts is, as the kids say, giving. Tune in for great new content this week.

On Equity, PitchBook venture guru Kyle Stanford came to riff with the crew on the venture capital in Q2 2023: the good, the bad, and the late stage.

The latest episode of Found, meanwhile, spotlighted Catherine Tabor, the founder and CEO of Sparkfly, a company that helps brands with marketing and customer engagement. Tabor talked about building a company fluid enough to adapt to changing technology trends over the last decade and how she was dismissed by venture capitalists despite landing notable customers.

TechCrunch+

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:

Electric utilities drive customers to startups: Of all the companies that should be eager to embrace the electric transition, electric utilities would seem to be at the top of the list. Yet they also appear to be some of the most hesitant. Startups are taking advantage of the situation, Tim writes.

Mixed-gender founding teams raise over a billion dollars: U.S. startups with mixed-gender founding teams — meaning they have at least one female founder — raised $24.1 billion in the first half of 2023, which breaks down to $17.2 billion in Q1 and $6.9 billion in Q2, per the latest PitchBook data. That’s a big deal — but it’s important to note that startups with all-women founding teams are still struggling to raise money this year.

Ripple’s XRP case and the lack of regulatory clarity: Last week, the crypto community celebrated a U.S. federal court case that ruled Ripple’s XRP token does not make up illegal securities sales — but only in some cases. Though many celebrated the ruling, it’s not a true win for crypto — Jacquelyn explains why.


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