Blog of the website «TechCrunch» Прогноз погоды

People

John Smith

John Smith, 48

Joined: 28 January 2014

Interests: No data

Jonnathan Coleman

Jonnathan Coleman, 32

Joined: 18 June 2014

About myself: You may say I'm a dreamer

Interests: Snowboarding, Cycling, Beer

Andrey II

Andrey II, 41

Joined: 08 January 2014

Interests: No data

David

David

Joined: 05 August 2014

Interests: No data

David Markham

David Markham, 65

Joined: 13 November 2014

Interests: No data

Michelle Li

Michelle Li, 41

Joined: 13 August 2014

Interests: No data

Max Almenas

Max Almenas, 53

Joined: 10 August 2014

Interests: No data

29Jan

29Jan, 31

Joined: 29 January 2014

Interests: No data

s82 s82

s82 s82, 26

Joined: 16 April 2014

Interests: No data

Wicca

Wicca, 36

Joined: 18 June 2014

Interests: No data

Phebe Paul

Phebe Paul, 26

Joined: 08 September 2014

Interests: No data

Артем Ступаков

Артем Ступаков, 98

Joined: 29 January 2014

About myself: Радуюсь жизни!

Interests: No data

sergei jkovlev

sergei jkovlev, 59

Joined: 03 November 2019

Interests: музыка, кино, автомобили

Алексей Гено

Алексей Гено, 8

Joined: 25 June 2015

About myself: Хай

Interests: Интерес1daasdfasf, http://apple.com

ivanov5056 Ivanov

ivanov5056 Ivanov, 69

Joined: 20 July 2019

Interests: No data



Main article: Europe

<< Back Forward >>
Topics from 1 to 10 | in all: 2516

The Garage is a new blockchain-focused incubator based in Paris

12:10 | 13 November

Meet The Garage, a new incubator in Paris that is all about blockchain projects. Co-founded by Cyril Paglino from Starchain Capital, Fabrice Le Fessant from Dune Network and Oussama Ammar from The Family, the company will support blockchain startups, help big companies launch blockchain projects and educate engineers about blockchain development.

The Garage is a sort of puzzle made out of multiple pieces. First, it wants to create a community of startups and support those startups in different ways.

“We copy and paste The Family’s model, which means that it’s built on trust. We take 5% of equity after six months if the startup and The Garage are happy,” The Garage director Damien Daübe said during a small press conference yesterday.

In exchange for 5%, startups that are part of The Garage community get some help when it comes to product, engineering, press relations, marketing, etc. Eventually, The Garage wants to tap its network of investors to make some introductions and help them get some funding and traction.

There are already five startups participating in the program, such as Ipocamp, Ticket721 and Elite Chain. Eventually, The Garage wants to help 25 startups per year. The Family receives a lot of applications. You could imagine that The Family might recommend The Garage to some of them.

But taking some equity isn’t going to generate revenue from day one. The Garage is also going to work with Dune Network, the new blockchain from OCamlPro. According to The Block, OCamlPro was working with the Tezos Foundation but decided to part ways, create a fork and start a new blockchain.

The Garage is going to work with big corporate clients on some blockchain projects. This could generate some revenue much more quickly.

Finally, The Garage is also going to teach software engineers about blockchain development. The company will host with free lessons in the evening. There will be some online resources as well.

All of this is going to happen in a recently renovated building that looks like a hybrid between an Apple Store and a movie set. If you’re into concrete, metal and industrial design, it’s a beautiful place. It was mostly used for fashion week events until The Garage started renting it.

[gallery ids="1911098,1911099,1911100,1911101,1911102,1911103,1911104,1911105,1911106"]

 


0

Plum, the ‘AI’ money management app, raises $3M more and comes to Android

12:00 | 13 November

Plum, the U.K.-based “AI assistant” to help you manage your money and save more, has raised $3 million in additional funding — money it plans to use for further growth, including European expansion.

The London company has also quietly launched its app for Android phones, adding to an existing iOS app and Facebook Messenger chatbot.

Backing this round — which is essentially a second tranche to Plum’s earlier $4.5 million raise in the summer — is EBRB, and VentureFriends, both existing investors. Christian Faes, founder and CEO of LendInvest has also participated

It brings the fintech startup’s total funding to $9.3 million since being founded by early TransferWise employee Victor Trokoudes, and Alex Michael in 2016.

The new investment is said to come at the end of a year of “rapid expansion for Plum” in both London and Athens, including growing the team to 31 employees. Senior hires include Max Mawby, Plum’s Head of Behavioural Science, who previously worked for the U.K. government and ran the fintech sector-focused Behavioural Insights Team.

In a call, Trokoudes told me that take up for Plum’s iOS app has been high and Android is also following a similar trajectory, proof that the startup’s AI assistant has perhaps outgrown its chatbook and Facebook Messenger beginnings (competitor Cleo has also released dedicated iOS and Android apps as an alternative to Facebook Messenger).

He also says Plum now has 650,000 registered users, of which around 70% are active monthly. In recent user feedback sessions conducted by the startup, the biggest draw to the app is that it’s aim of changing financial behaviour to help people save more appears to be working.

When users stick around using Plum for long enough, Trokoudes says they are surprised (and delighted) that it actually works.

Like similar apps, Plum’s “artificial intelligence” deems what you can afford to save by analysing your bank transactions. It then puts money away each month in the form of round-ups and/or regular savings.

You can open an ISA investment account and invest based on themes, such as only in “ethical companies” or technology. Another related feature is “Splitter,” which, as the name suggests, lets you split your automatic savings between Plum savings and investments, selecting the percentage amounts to go into each pot from 0-100%.

Trokoudes says that Plum recently launched two new “intelligent” saving rules: the 52 Week Challenge, which aims to help you save £1367 over a year; and the Rainy Day Rule, which puts aside money whenever it rains (yes, really!).

“Saving rules use automation to help people save more effectively without overloading them with information,” adds the Plum founder in a statement. “We have good evidence that this approach works: our automated round-ups feature, that we launched earlier this year has become a firm favourite among Plum users, boosting their savings by 50% on average”.

Meanwhile, another one of Plum’s competitors, Chip recently raised £3.8 million in equity crowdfunding on Crowdcube. It was part of a round targeting $7.3 million in total, although it isn’t clear if all of that has closed yet (last time I checked the company had so far secured $5 million). Noteworthy, the equity crowdfund gave Chip a pre-money valuation of £36.78 million based on “over 153,000” accounts opened.

 


0

Dutch court orders Facebook to ban celebrity crypto scam ads after another lawsuit

15:04 | 12 November

A Dutch court has ruled that Facebook can be required to use filter technologies to identify and pre-emptively take down fake ads linked to crypto currency scams that carry the image of a media personality, John de Mol.

The Dutch celerity filed a lawsuit against Facebook in April over the misappropriation of his likeness to shill Bitcoin scams via fake ads run on its platform.

In an immediately enforceable preliminary judgement today the court has ordered Facebook to remove all offending ads within five days, and provide de Mol with data on the accounts running them within a week.

Per the judgement, victims of the crypto scams had reported a total of €1.7 million (~$1.8M) in damages to the Dutch government at the time of the court summons.

The case is similar to a legal action instigated by UK consumer advice personality, Martin Lewis, last year, when he announced defamation proceedings against Facebook — also for misuse of his image in fake ads for crypto scams.

Lewis withdrew the suit at the start of this year after Facebook agreed to apply new measures to tackle the problem: Namely a scam ads report button. It also agreed to provide funding to a UK consumer advice organization to set up a scam advice service.

In the de Mol case the lawsuit was allowed to run its course — resulting in today’s preliminary judgement against Facebook. It’s not yet clear whether the company will appeal but in the wake of the ruling Facebook has said it will bring the scam ads report button to the Dutch market early next month.

In court, the platform giant sought to argue that it could not more proactively remove the Bitcoin scam ads containing de Mol’s image on the grounds that doing so would breach EU law against general monitoring conditions being placed on Internet platforms.

However the court rejected that argument, citing a recent ruling by Europe’s top court related to platform obligations to remove hate speech, also concluding that the specificity of the requested measures could not be classified as ‘general obligations of supervision’.

It also rejected arguments by Facebook’s lawyers that restricting the fake scam ads would be restricting the freedom of expression of a natural person, or the right to be freely informed — pointing out that the ‘expressions’ involved are aimed at commercial gain, as well as including fraudulent practices.

Facebook also sought to argue it is already doing all it can to identify and take down the fake scam ads — saying too that its screening processes are not perfect. But the court said there’s no requirement for 100% effectiveness for additional proactive measures to be ordered. Its ruling further notes a striking reduction in fake scam ads using de Mol’s image since the lawsuit was announced

Facebook’s argument that it’s just a neutral platform was also rejected, with the court pointing out that its core business is advertising.

It also took the view that requiring Facebook to apply technically complicated measures and extra effort, including in terms of manpower and costs, to more effectively remove offending scam ads is not unreasonable in this context.

The judgement orders Facebook to remove fake scam ads containing de Mol’s likeness from Facebook and Instagram within five days of the order — with a penalty of €10k per day that Facebook fails to comply with the order, up to a maximum of €1M (~$1.1M).

The court order also requires that Facebook provides de Mol with data on the accounts that had been misusing his image within seven days of the judgement, with a further penalty of €1k per day for failure to comply, up to a maximum of €100k.

Facebook has also been ordered to pay the case costs.

Responding to the judgement in a statement, a Facebook spokesperson told us:

We have just received the ruling and will now look at its implications. We will consider all legal actions, including appeal. Importantly, this ruling does not change our commitment to fighting these types of ads. We cannot stress enough that these types of ads have absolutely no place on Facebook and we remove them when we find them. We take this very seriously and will therefore make our scam ads reporting form available in the Netherlands in early December. This is an additional way to get feedback from people, which in turn helps train our machine learning models. It is in our interest to protect our users from fraudsters and when we find violators we will take action to stop their activity, up to and including taking legal action against them in court.

One legal expert describes the judgement as “

“. Law professor Mireille Hildebrandt told us that it provides for as an alternative legal route for Facebook users to litigate and pursue collective enforcement of European personal data rights. Rather than suing for damages — which entails a high burden of proof.

Injunctions are faster and more effective, Hildebrandt added.

The judgement also raises

around the burden of proof for demonstrating Facebook has removed scam ads with sufficient (increased) accuracy; and what specific additional measures it might deploy to improve its takedown rate.

Although the introduction of the ‘report scam ad button’ does provide one clear avenue for measuring takedown performance.

The button was finally rolled out to the UK market in July. And while Facebook has talked since the start of this year about ‘envisaging’ introducing it in other markets it hasn’t exactly been proactive in doing so — up til now, with this court order. 

 


0

PacketAI predicts IT incidents by parsing large event data sets

12:20 | 12 November

Meet PacketAI, a French startup that wants to alert you when there’s something wrong with your app or service. The company uses machine learning to parse raw event data and find out if there’s anything wrong.

PacketAI can intercept incidents at many different levels. For instance, the service can tell you if your users can’t write something on your database or if there’s something wrong with your compute layer.

PacketAI doesn’t try to reinvent the wheel. The startup is well aware that there are many monitoring tools our there — Datadog, Splunk and Dynatrace for instance.

“Those tools are primarily designed for humans so that they can understand information delivered by machines,” co-founder and CEO Hardik Thakkar told me.

PacketAI integrates directly with the APIs of Datadog, Splunk or Dynatrace to analyze raw event data in real time. Instead of scrolling through thousands of lines, you can get an alert that tells you that bank transfers take a a lot more time than usual to go through for instance.

Eventually, you should be able to repair your problem much more quickly, which could potentially improve your revenue.

For now, the startup creates a machine learning model for each client. But the plan is to create a model for each vertical as soon as you have four or five companies in the same space using PacketAI. You could imagine a model for banking companies, a model for telecom companies, etc.

The startup already raised $2.3 million (€2.1 million) from Aster Capital, BNP Paribas Developpement, Entrepreneur First and SGPA.

PacketAI is already working with some clients on the first implementations of its product. The service will be available to anyone in early 2020. Pricing varies depending on the number of nodes (any physical or virtual network element) you want to monitor using PacketAI.

 


0

Angular Ventures outs $41M seed fund for European and Israeli enterprise and ‘deep tech’ startups

11:00 | 12 November

Angular Ventures, the early-stage enterprise and “deep tech”-focused VC firm founded by former DFJ Esprit partner Gil Dibner, is announcing the closing of its debut fund at $41 million.

Targeting startups in Europe and Israel, Angular Ventures has been operating in so-called “stealth mode” for almost two years, seeing its portfolio grow to 12 companies. The VC typically invests between $250,000 and $1.5 million, from writing a startup’s first cheque to Series A. It says it aims to do five-seven new investments per year.

Companies backed by Angular include “service intelligence” startup Aquant.io, HR workplace misconduct platform Vault, nano-tech security technology provider Dust Identity (also backed by Kleiner Perkins) and food supply chain optimization company Trellis.

Notably, Dibner is Angular Ventures’ sole general partner. Prior to founding Angular Ventures, he was most recently running an angel syndicate on AngelList, although his venture career goes back much further.

Prior to leading the syndicate, Dibner was a partner at London-based venture capital firm DFJ Esprit, which he departed in March 2015. Before that he was a principal at Index Ventures, also in London, and had earlier spells at Israeli VCs Gemini Israel Ventures and Genesis Partners, both in Tel Aviv.

Dibner says he wanted to “re-imagine” early-seed venture capital in Europe and Israel by building what he describes as a sector-focused firm, and removing geographical boundaries by investing in both Europe and Israel, and establishing a U.S. presence to support portfolio startups with global expansion.

Whether or not you think that is particularly unique, you’re mileage may vary, but there is no doubt Dibner has a decent investment track record in the enterprise space and beyond, either way.

Throughout his career to date, Dibner says he has backed 40 companies. Breaking this down further: 28 have raised capital from U.S.-based VC firms or exited to U.S.-based acquirers. In fact, he’s seen eight exits overall, and two of Dibner’s investments — JFrog and SiSense — have reached “unicorn” status, i.e. a valuation of $1 billion or more.

Despite his track record, Dibner says it took four years to finally close this fund, which has given him even more empathy for founders during fundraising.

“It took nearly four years to get from concept to a first close, and although we were ultimately significantly oversubscribed, I had to hear a lot of ‘nos’ to get this done,” he tells TechCrunch. “There are a lot of differences between raising a fund and raising money for a company, but experience has given me even more empathy with founders who are often enduring very difficult fundraising pathways. The most ambitious ideas usually have the most difficult fundraising.”

It is also probably worth noting that all of Angular’s LPs are private/commercial — in other words, no taxpayer money is at stake here, unlike a plethora of European VC funds. And whilst Dibner is the sole GP, he says he’s working with a team of advisors helping to source deals, provide due diligence and support portfolio companies.

They include: Fred Simon, founder of JFrog; Eldad Farkash, founder of SiSense and Firebolt, an Angular portfolio company; Guy Poreh, former EVP New Media at BBDO, who led Wix’s U.S. market launch and founded Playground; Jerry Dischler, who leads product for Google search and YouTube search; and Phil Wickham, who founded Sozo Ventures and is the chairman of the Kauffman Fellows Program.

 


0

Balderton Capital raises new $400M fund to back European tech startups at Series A

03:00 | 12 November

Balderton Capital, one of the so-called “big four” early-stage VC firms in London (the others being Accel, Atomico and Index), has raised a new $400 million fund to continue backing European tech startups at Series A.

Dealroom recently released a report that pegged Balderton as the most active Series A investor in Europe (between 2014-2018), and in many ways this new fund is a continuation, and business as usual for the firm. It is also roughly the same size as the VC’s last Series A fund, which it closed in 2017 at $375 million.

That’s not to be confused with Balderton’s other recently launched “secondary” fund, which is dedicated to buying equity stakes from early shareholders in European-founded “high-growth, scale-up” technology companies. The move essentially formalised the secondary share dealing that already happens — typically as part of a Series C or other later rounds — which often sees founders take some money off the table so they can improve their own financial situation and won’t be tempted to sell their company too soon, but also gives early investors a way out so they can begin the cycle all over again.

Meanwhile, Balderton says the new Series A fund is being launched against a backdrop of “unprecedented momentum” within the European tech ecosystem. The VC notes that the number of Series A rounds in Europe per year has quadrupled since 2012, with the total amount of VC funding going into European startups hitting record highs last year — from €11.5 billion in 2014 to a chunky €24.6 billion in 2018.

That, together with the sheer number of new funds that have launched over the last 12 months — and three I’m covering this week — leads me to wonder out loud if tech, and Europe in particular, has entered a bubble.

“I don’t think we are,” Balderton Partner Suranga Chandratillake tells me during a call, before acknowledging that it is often hard to know if you are in a bubble if you are actually in one. “If you look at the public markets, the valuations around tech companies, while they are high, I would argue that in many cases they are justifiable when you look at the profitability and the growth rate of those businesses, especially things like enterprise software. But I think it’s harder when you get into businesses where they are more one-off… [where] we don’t necessarily know exactly how to value those long term.”

On Europe specifically, Chandratillake points out that some European tech hubs are more heated than others and that sentiment can vary considerably per geography. “As you get to more and more the local level, of course, you can experience what feel like sort of comparative bubbles. So, you know, maybe London was expensive two years ago, and France is expensive right now at Series A or whatever, but I don’t think those things really matter in the long run, because ultimately they iron out as long as the employee valuations are sensible. And as an investor, you’re paying attention to that stuff when you’re going to make an investment.”

One rumour within London VC is there are firms that have felt pressured to do follow-on investments in portfolio companies they otherwise might not have during cooler times, for fear of signalling to the market not just that a company isn’t doing well but that the VC firm itself isn’t as founder-friendly as competing VCs. How does Balderton think about signaling?

“Signaling is a massive deal [in venture capital],” says Chandratillake. “And actually, this is an area where, you know, we think we have a fairly strong position, because for over 10 years now we have focused almost entirely on Series A… and we are very open about that.”

He says that unlike other Series A VCs that invest at Series B or Series C, too, and also quite often dabble in seed, companies backed by Balderton shouldn’t expect the firm to “lead or be a major part of your Series B.”

“Of course, we’ll help, we’re going to do some of our pro-rata or maybe all of our pro-rata to try and protect some of our ownership, all those sorts of rational things we do. But we’re not raising a fund which allows us to be a big investor in your Series B and your C and your D and so on. I think as long as you’re really open with entrepreneurs about that early, they totally get that and they understand why it works economically for us and why it’s a good thing.

“Then if you do that for a long enough period of time, as we have, and stick to that — so you don’t do weird things like, you know, say that, but then on the other hand with the most interesting company, you try to bully your way into more of a Series B or whatever, then the ecosystem overall starts to realise… then the signal problem goes away.”

With regards to future investments, Chandratillake says Balderton will continue to invest all over Europe across any sector where “information technology” is being leveraged and creating value.

In the fund prior to last, for example, fintech was a major focus, backing companies like Revolut and Nutmeg, but more recently the VC has been investing more in health tech, where computer science is helping life science solve problems faster or cheaper.

“I think that there will be more of that,” says Chandratillake. “There’s a lot more to be done in this health tech space, both at the patient level, but also actually a lot of really interesting things behind the scenes that will help health systems operate more efficiently and use technology in interesting ways. It’s a really interesting area for Europe, because we have, you know, within the continent, a plethora of different health systems — from almost fully private systems through to obviously entirely state single payer systems like the NHS. It’s a great place to experiment with different models. It’s also of course, as a continent, home to some of the most important pharmaceutical companies [in the world].”

 


0

OLX Group invests up to $400M in used car marketplace Frontier Car Group at $700M valuation

15:10 | 11 November

Frontier Car Group, the Berlin-based startup building used-car marketplaces targeting high-growth, emerging markets, has picked up another significant round of funding from a strategic backer also focusing on the same geographical opportunity.

Today, OLX, the online classifieds division Prosus (the digital division of Naspers that listed earlier this year in Europe) announced that it would invest up to $400 million in Frontier, in a mix of equity, secondary share acquisitions and existing business shares. The deal will include a primary capital injection of an unspecified amount, which OLX has confirmed to me values Frontier Car Group at $700 million, post-money.

In terms of business shares: OLX also said that it will be contributing its shares in a JV it had in place with Frontier in India and Poland. Meanwhile, the secondary acquisitions — the shares are currently held by other investors, founders and management — are subject to a tender process. The markets that Frontier operates in now include Nigeria, Mexico, Chile, Pakistan, and Indonesia, and the USA (where it acquired WeBuyAnyCar last year) in addition to India and Poland.

Notably, even before the full $400 million amount is exercised (that is, after the tender process is completed), an OLX spokesperson confirmed that first capital injection will make it Frontier’s largest single shareholder (but not the majority shareholder), which essentially values the deal at less than $350 million (based on the $700 million valuation).

Today, Frontier Car Group offers buyers and sellers a range of services: in addition to basic inventory listings, there are inspection reports, financial, pricing guides, warranties and insurance. The plan will be to expand more services for one of the key players in the used-car space, dealers — via Frontier’s Dealer Management System — more resale services (via OLX), and more CarFax/Blue Book-style pricing guides and other products.

It’s not clear how big the business is today (we’re asking) but as a point of reference, in May of last year, when the company raised $58 million, it had sold 50,000 cars to date and was on track for $200 million in annualised revenues, and CEO and cofounder Sujay Tyle says the company has been on a growth tear.

“FCG has nearly tripled performance across every key metric since the first OLX Group investment less than 18 months ago and has expanded to four new countries in that time,” said Sujay Tyle, the co-founder and CEO, in a statement. “This is a testament to FCG’s team, the ripe market opportunity, and the results of early integration with OLX in our key markets. Together with OLX and Prosus, we are aiming to revolutionize the used car market in several emerging and developed economies by adding trust, transparency and a comprehensive suite of services to all participants in the ecosystem.”

“Together with FCG, we are aiming to build the leading global used car marketplace, offering a premium and convenient service to millions of car buyers, sellers and dealers,” said Martin Scheepbouwer, CEO of OLX Group. “We’re in a unique position to accelerate the expansion of this platform worldwide. Our experience in India is a great proof of concept, where within the space of a year, our joint venture has already increased the number of stores threefold, with car purchase volumes continuing to grow by 10% month-on-month.”

This is the second time that OLX has invested in Frontier: in May 2018, Naspers had invested $89 million in the business, an investment that came just weeks after Frontier had raised $58 million from Balderton, TPG and others.

The deal underscores the longtime trend of consolidation in e-commerce businesses — something Prosus is also seeing played out in a completely different arena, that of food delivery.

The basics of the economy-of-scale principle, as applied to used car sales, goes something like this: economies of scale makes a platform more useful (there will be more cars on it, and less on competitors’ sites); but it also potentially means that Frontier would be making more transactions, thereby more revenues overall; and building and running more sales on the same platform improves the margins on the investment that gets made in building and operating that platform.

Targeting P2P used car sales in emerging markets is a big potential business: in part because of the nature of those economies, car owners are more likely to sweat out assets rather than go for buying completely new vehicles. OLX notes that combining the operations in Frontier’s footprint with those of the JV businesses that it is now taking over, plus OLX’s own business in Latin America, Asia and Poland, results in a market where some 30 million used cars are sold annually, “more than double that of China.”

 


0

A chat about UK deep tech and spin-out success with Octopus Ventures

11:50 | 11 November

New research commissioned by UK VC firm Octopus Ventures has put a spotlight on which of the country’s higher education institutions are doing the most to support spin outs. The report compiles a ranking of universities, foregrounding those with a record of producing what partner Simon King dubs “quality spin outs”.

The research combines and weights five data points — looking at university spinouts’ relative total funding as a means of quantifying exit success, for example. The idea for the Enterpreneurial Impact Ranking, as it’s been called, is to identify not just those higher education institutions with a track record of encouraging academics to set up a business off the back of a piece of novel work but those best at identifying the most promising commercialization opportunities — ultimately leading to spinout success (such as an exit where the company was sold for more than it raised).

Hence the report looking at data over almost a ten year period (2009-2018) to track spin-outs as they progress from an idea in the lab through prototyping to getting a product to market.

The ranking looks at five factors in all: Total funding per university; total spinouts created per university; total disclosures per university; total patents per university; and total sales from spinouts per university.

Topping the ranking is Queen’s University Belfast which the report notes has had a number of notable successes via its commercialization arm, Qubis, name checking the likes of Kainos (digital services), Andor Technology (scientific imaging) and Fusion Antibodies (therapeutics & diagnostics), all of whom have been listed on the London Stock Exchange.

The index ranks the top 100 UK universities on this entrepreneurial impact benchmark — but the rest of the top ten are as follows:

2) University of Cambridge
3) Cardiff University
4) Queen Mary University of London
5) University of Leeds
6) University of Dundee
7) University of Nottingham
8) King’s College London
9) University of Oxford
10) Imperial College London

Octopus Ventures says the ranking will help it to get a better handle on which universities to spend more time with as it searches for its next deep tech investment.

It also wants to increase visibility into how the UK is doing when it comes to commercializing academic research to feed further growth of the ecosystem by sharing best practice, per King.

“We are looking at a number of data points which are all self-reported by the universities themselves to the Higher Education Statistics Agency. And then we combine those in the way that we think brings out at a higher level which universities are doing a good job of spinning out companies,” he says.

“It means that you take into consideration which university is producing quality spin-outs. So it’s not just spray and pray and get lots of stuff out there. But actually which universities are creating spin-outs that then go on to return value back to them.”

 


0

Legislators from ten parliaments put the squeeze on Facebook

00:47 | 8 November

The third session of the International Grand Committee on Disinformation, a multi-nation body comprised of global legislators with concerns about the societal impacts of social media giants, has been taking place in Dublin this week — once again without any senior Facebook management in attendance.

The committee was formed last year after Facebook’s CEO Mark Zuckerberg repeatedly refused to give evidence to a wide-ranging UK parliamentary enquiry into online disinformation and the use of social media tools for political campaigns. That snub encouraged joint working by international parliamentarians over a shared concern that’s also a cross-border regulatory and accountability challenge.

But while Zuckerberg still, seemingly, does not feel personally accountable to international parliaments — even as his latest stand-in at today’s committee hearing, policy chief Monika Bickert, proudly trumpeted the fact that 87 per cent of Facebook’s users are people outside the US — global legislators have been growth hacking a collective understanding of nation-state-scale platforms and the deleterious impacts their data-gobbling algorithmic content hierarchies and microtargeted ads are having on societies and democracies around the world.

Incisive questions from the committee today included sceptical scrutiny of Facebook’s claims and aims for a self-styled ‘Content Oversight Board’ it has said will launch next year — with one Irish legislator querying how the mechanism could possibly be independent of Facebook , as well as wondering how a retrospective appeals body could prevent content-driven harms. (On that Facebook seemed to claim that most complaints it gets from users are about content takedowns.)

Another question was whether the company’s planned Libra digital currency might not at least partially be an attempt to resolve a reputational risk for Facebook, of accepting political ads in foreign currency, by creating a single global digital currency that scrubs away that layer of auditability. Bickert denied the suggestion, saying the Libra project is unrelated to the disinformation issue and “is about access to financial services”.

Twitter’s recently announced total ban on political issue ads also faced some critical questioning by the committee, with the company being asked whether it will be banning environmental groups from running ads about climate change yet continuing to take money from oil giants that wish to run promoted tweets on the topic. Karen White, director of public policy, said they were aware of the concern and are still working through the policy detail for a fuller release due later this month.

But it was Facebook that came in for the bulk of criticism during the session, with Bickert fielding the vast majority of legislators’ questions — almost all of which were sceptically framed and some, including from the only US legislator in the room asking questions, outright hostile.

Google’s rep, meanwhile, had a very quiet hour and a half, with barely any questions fired his way. While Twitter won itself plenty of praise from legislators and witnesses for taking a proactive stance and banning political microtargeting altogether.

The question legislators kept returning to during many of today’s sessions, most of which didn’t involve the reps from the tech giants, is how can governments effectively regulate US-based Internet platforms whose profits are fuelled by the amplification of disinformation as a mechanism for driving engage with their service and ads? 

Suggestions varied from breaking up tech giants to breaking down business models that were roundly accused of incentivizing the spread of outrageous nonsense for a pure-play profit motive, including by weaponizing people’s data to dart them with ‘relevant’ propaganda.

The committee also heard specific calls for European regulators to hurry up and enforce existing data protection law — specifically the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) — as a possible short-cut route to shrinking the harms legislators appeared to agree are linked to platforms’ data-reliant tracking for individual microtargeting.

A number of witnesses warned that liberal democracies remain drastically unprepared for the ongoing onslaught of malicious, hypertargeted fakes; that adtech giants’ business models are engineered for outrage and social division as an intentional choice and scheme to monopolize attention; and that even if we’ve now passed “peak vulnerability”, in terms of societal susceptibility to Internet-based disinformation campaigns (purely as a consequence of how many eyes have been opened to the risks since 2016), the activity itself hasn’t yet peaked and huge challenges for democratic nation states remain.

The latter point was made by disinformation researcher Ben Nimmo, director of investigations at Graphika.

Multiple witnesses called for Facebook to be prohibited from running political advertising as a matter of urgency, with plenty of barbed questions attacking its recent policy decision not to fact-check political ads.

Others went further — calling for more fundamental interventions to force reform of its business model and/or divest it of other social platforms it also owns. Given the company’s systematic failure to demonstrate it can be trusted with people’s data that’s enough reason to break it back up into separate social products, runs the argument.

Former Blackberry co-CEO, Jim Ballsillie, espoused a view that tech giants’ business models are engineered to profit from manipulation, meaning they inherently pose a threat to liberal democracies. While investor and former Facebook mentor, Roger McNamee, who has written a critical book about the company’s business model, called for personal data to be treated as a human right — so it cannot be stockpiled and turned into an asset to be exploited by behavior-manipulating adtech giants.

Also giving evidence today, journalist Carole Cadwalladr, who has been instrumental in investigating the Cambridge Analytica Facebook data misuse scandal, suggested no country should be trusting its election to Facebook. She also decried the fact that the UK is now headed to the polls, for a December general election, with no reforms to its electoral law and with key individuals involved in breaches of electoral law during the 2016 Brexit referendum now in positions of greater power to manipulate democratic outcomes. She too added her voice to calls for Facebook to be prohibited from running political ads.

In another compelling testimony, Marc Rotenberg, president and executive director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center (Epic) in Washington DC, recounted the long and forlorn history of attempts by US privacy advocates to win changes to Facebook’s policies to respect user agency and privacy — initially from the company itself, before petitioning regulators to try to get them to enforce promises Facebook had renaged on, yet still getting exactly nowhere.

No more ‘speeding tickets’

“We have spent the last many years trying to get the FTC to act against Facebook and over this period of time the complaints from many other consumer organizations and users have increased,” he told the committee. “Complaints about the use of personal data, complaints about the tracking of people who are not Facebook users. Complaints about the tracking of Facebook users who are no longer on the platform. In fact in a freedom of information request brought by Epic we uncovered 29,000 complaints now pending against the company.”

He described the FTC judgement against Facebook, which resulted in a $5BN penalty for the company in June, as both a “historic fine” but also essentially just a “speeding ticket” — because the regulator did not enforce any changes to its business model. So yet another regulatory lapse.

“The FTC left in place Facebook’s business practices and left at risk the users of the service,” he warned, adding: “My message to you today is simple: You must act. You cannot wait. You cannot wait ten years or even a year to take action against this company.”

He too urged legislators to ban the company from engaging in political advertising — until “adequate legal safeguards are established”. “The terms of the GDPR must be enforced against Facebook and they should be enforced now,” Rotenberg added, calling also for Facebook to be required to divest of WhatsApp — “not because of a great scheme to break up big tech but because the company violated its commitments to protect the data of WhatsApp users as a condition of the acquisition”.

In another particularly awkward moment for the social media giant, Keit Pentus-Rosimannus, a legislator from Estonia, asked Bickert directly why Facebook doesn’t stop taking money for political ads.

The legislator pointed out that it has already claimed revenue related to such ads is incremental for its business, making the further point that political speech can simply be freely posted to Facebook (as organic content); ergo, Facebook doesn’t need to take money from politicians to run ads that lie — since they can just post their lies freely to Facebook.

Bickert had no good answer to this. “We think that there should be ways that politicians can interact with their public and part of that means sharing their views through ads,” was her best shot at a response.

“I will say this is an area we’re here today to discuss collaboration, with a thought towards what we should be doing together,” she added. “Election integrity is an area where we have proactively said we want regulation. We think it’s appropriate. Defining political ads and who should run them and who should be able to and when and where. Those are things that we would like to work on regulation with governments.”

“Yet Twitter has done it without new regulation. Why can’t you do it?” pressed Pentus-Rosimannus.

“We think that it is not appropriate for Facebook to be deciding for the world what is true or false and we think that politicians should have an ability to interact with their audiences. So long as they’re following our ads policies,” Bickert responded. “But again we’re very open to how together we could come up with regulation that could define and tackle these issues.”

tl;dr Facebook could be seen once again deploying a policy minion to push for a ‘business as usual’ strategy that functions by seeking to fog the issues and re-frame the notion of regulation as a set of self-serving (and very low friction) ‘guide-rails’, rather than as major business model surgery.

Bickert was doing this even as the committee was hearing from multiple voices making the equal and opposite point with acute force.

Another of those critical voices was congressman David Cicilline — a US legislator making his first appearance at the Grand Committee. He closely questioned Bickert on how a Facebook user seeing a political ad that contains false information would know they are being targeted by false information, rejecting repeated attempts to misleading reframe his question as just about general targeting data.

“Again, with respect to the veracity, they wouldn’t know they’re being targeted with false information; they would know why they’re being targeted as to the demographics… but not as to the veracity or the falseness of the statement,” he pointed out.

Bickert responded by claiming that political speech is “so heavily scrutinized there is a high likelihood that somebody would know if information is false” — which earned her a withering rebuke.

“Mark Zuckerberg’s theory that sunlight is the best disinfectant only works if an advertisment is actually exposed to sunlight. But as hundreds of Facebook employees made clear in an open letter last week Facebook’s advanced targeting and behavioral tracking tools — and I quote — “hard for people in the electorate to participate in the public scrutiny that we’re saying comes along with political speech” — end quote — as they know — and I quote — “these ads are often so microtargeted that the conversations on Facebook’s platforms are much more siloed than on the other platforms,” said Cicilline.

“So, Ms Bickert, it seems clear that microtargeting prevents the very public scrutiny that would serve as an effective check on false advertisements. And doesn’t the entire justification for this policy completely fall apart given that Facebook allows politicians both to run fake ads and to distribute those fake ads only to the people most vulnerable to believe in them? So this is a good theory about sunlight but in fact in practice you policies permit someone to make false representations and to microtarget who gets them — and so this big public scrutiny that serves as a justification just doesn’t exist.”

Facebook’s head of global policy management responded by claiming there’s “great transparency” around political ads on its platform — as a result of what she dubbed its “unprecedented” political ad library.

“You can look up any ad in this library and see what is the breakdown on the audience who has seen this ad,” she said, further claiming that “many [political ads] are not microtargeted at all”.

“Isn’t the problem here that Facebook has too much power — and shouldn’t we be thinking about breaking up that power rather than allowing Facebook’s decisions to continue to have such enormous consequences for our democracy?” rejoined Cicilline, not waiting for an answer and instead laying down a critical statement. “The cruel irony is that your company is invoking the protections of free speech as a cloak to defend your conduct which is in fact undermining and threatening the very institutions of democracy it’s cloaking itself in.”

The session was long on questions for Facebook and short on answers with anything other than the most self-serving substance from Facebook.

Major GDPR enforcements coming in 2020

During a later session without any of the tech giants present which was intended for legislators to query the state of play of regulation around online platforms, Ireland’s data protection commissioner, Helen Dixon, signalled that no major enforcements will be coming against Facebook et al this year — saying instead that decisions on a number of cross-border cases will be coming in 2020.

Ireland has a plate stacked high with complaints against tech giants since the GDPR came into force in May 2018. Among the 21 “large scale” investigations into big tech companies that remain ongoing are probes around transparency and the lawfulness of data processing by social media platform giants.

The adtech industry’s use of personal data in the real-time bidding programmatic process is also under the regulatory microscope.

Dixon and the Irish Data Protection Commission (DPC) takes center stage as a regulator for US tech giants given how many of these companies have chosen to site their international headquarters in Ireland — encouraged by business friendly corporate tax rates.

The DPC has a pivot al role on account of a one-stop-shop mechanism within the regulation that allows for a data protection agency with primary jurisdiction over a data controller to take a lead on cross-border data processing cases, with other EU member states’ DPAs able to feed but not lead such a complaint.

Some of the Irish DPC’s probes have already lasted as long as the 18 months since GDPR came into force across the bloc.

Dixon argued today that this is still a reasonable timeframe for enforcing an updated data protection regime, despite signalling further delay before any enforcements in these major cases. “It’s a mistake to say there’s been no enforcement… but there hasn’t been an outcome yet to the large scale investigations we have open, underway into the big tech platforms around lawfulness, transparency, privacy by design and default and so on. Eighteen months is not a long time. Not all of the investigations have been open for 18 months,” she said.

“We must follow due process or we won’t secure the outcome in the end. These companies they’ve market power but they also have the resources to litigate forever. And so we have to ensure we follow due process, we allow them a right to be heard, we conclude the legal analysis carefully by applying what our principles in the GDPR to the scenarios at issue and then we can hope to deliver the outcomes that the GDPR promises.

“So that work is underway. We couldn’t be working more diligently at it. And we will have the first sets of decisions that will start rolling out in the very near term.”

Asked by the committee about the level of cooperation the DPC is getting from the tech giants under investigation she said they are “engaging and cooperating” — but also that they’re “challenging at every turn”.

She also expressed a view that it’s not yet clear whether GDPR enforcement will be able to have a near-term impact on reining in any behaviors found to be infringing the law, given further potential legal push back from platforms after decisions are issued.

“The regulated entities are obliged under the GDPR to cooperate with investigations conducted by the data protection authority, and to date of the 21 large-scale investigations were have opened into big tech organizations they are engaging and cooperating. With equal measure they’re challenging at every turn as well and seeking constant clarifications around due process but they are cooperating and engaging,” she told the committee.

“What remains to be seen is how the investigations we currently have open will conclude. And whether there will ultimately be compliance with the outcomes of those investigations or whether they will be subject to lengthy challenge and so on. So I think the big question of whether we’re going to be able to near-term drive the kind of outcomes we want is still an open question. And it awaiting us as a data protection authority to put down the first final decisions in a number of cases.”

She also expressed doubt about whether the GDPR data protection framework will, ultimately, sum to a tool that can  regulate underlying business models that are based on collecting data for the purpose of behavioral advertising.

“The GDPR isn’t set up to tackle business models, per se,” she said. “It’s set up to apply principles to data processing operations. And so there’s a complexity when we come to look at something like adtech or online behavioral advertising in that we have to target multiple actors.

“For that reason we’re looking at publishers at the front end, that start the data collection from users — it’s when we first click on a website that the tracking technologies, the pixels, the cookies, the social plug-ins — start the data collection that ultimately ends up categorizing us for the purposes of sponsored stories or ad serving. So we’re looking at that ad exchanges, we’re looking at the real-time bidding system. We’re looking at the front end publishers. And we’re looking at the ad brokers who play an important part in all of this in combining online and offline sources of data. So we’ll apply the principles against those data processing operations, we’ll apply them rigorously. We’ll conclude and then we’ll have to see does that add up to a changing of the underlying business model? And I think the jury is out on that until we conclude.”

Epic’s Rotenberg argued to the contrary on this when asked by the committee for the most appropriate model to use for regulating data-driven platforms — saying that “all roads lead to the GDPR”.

“It’s a set of rights and responsibilities associated with the collection and use of personal data and when companies choose to collect personal data they should be held to account,” he said, suggesting an interpretation of the law that does not require other European data protection agencies to wait for Ireland’s decision on key cross-border cases.

“The Schrems decision of 2015 makes clear that while co-ordinated enforcement anticipated under the GDPR is important, individual DPAs have their own authority to enforce the provisions of the charter — which means that individual DPAs do not need to wait for a coordinated response to bring an enforcement action.”

A case remains pending before Europe’s top court that looks set to lay down a firm rule on exactly that point.

“As a matter of law the GDPR contains the authority within its text to enforce the other laws of the European Union — this is largely about the misuse and the collection and use of personal data for microtargeting,” Rotenberg also argued. “That problem can be addressed through the GDPR but it’s going to take an urgent response. Not a long term game plan.”

When GDPR enforcement decisions do come Dixon suggested they could have a wider impact than only applying to the direct subject, saying there’s an appetite from data processors generally for more guidance on compliance with the law — meaning that both the clarity and deterrence factor derived from large scale platform enforcement decisions could help steer the industry down a reforming path.

Though, again, what exactly those platform enforcements may be remains pending until 2020.

“Probably the first large-scale investigation we’re going to conclude under GDPR is one into the principle of transparency and involving one of the larger platforms,” Dixon also told the committee, responding to a legislator’s question asking if she believes consumers are clear about exactly what they’re giving up when they agree to their information being processed to access a digital service.

“We will shortly be making a decision spelling out in detail how compliance with the transparency obligations under Articles 12 to 14 of the GDPR should look in that context. But it is very clear that users are typically unaware,” she suggested. “For example some of the large platforms do have capabilities for users to completely opt out of personalized ad serving but most users aren’t aware of it. There are also patterns in operation that nudge users in certain directions. So one of the things that [we’re doing] — aside from the hard enforcement cases that we’re going to take — we’ve also published guidance recently for example on that issue of how users are being nudged to make choices that are perhaps more privacy invasive than they might otherwise if they had an awareness.

“So I think there’s a role for us as a regulatory authority, as well as regulating the platforms to also drive awareness amongst users. But it’s an uphill battle, given the scale of what users are facing.”

Asked by the committee about the effectiveness of financial penalties as a tool for platform regulation, Dixon pointed to research that suggests fines alone make no difference — but she highlighted the fact that GDPR affords Europe’s regulators with a far more potent power in their toolbox: The power to order changes to data processing or even ban it altogether.

“It’s our view that we will be obliged to impose fines where we find infringements and so that’s what will happen but we expect that it’s the corrective powers that we apply — the bans on processing, the requirements to bring processing operations into compliance that’s going to have the more significant effects,” she said, suggesting that under her watch the DPC will not shy away from using corrective powers if or when an infringement demands it.

The case for special measures

Also speaking today in a different public forum, Europe’s competition chief, Margrethe Vestager, made a similar point to Dixon’s about the uphill challenge for EU citizens to enforce their rights.

“We have you could call it digital citizens’ rights — the GDPR — but that doesn’t solve the question of how much data can be collected about you,” she said during an on stage interview at the Web Summit conference in Lisbon where she was asked whether platforms should have a fiduciary duty towards users to ensure they are accountable for what they’re distributing. The antitrust commissioner is also set for an expanded digital strategy role in the incoming European Commission.

“We also need better protection and better tools to protect ourselves from leaving a trace everywhere we go,” she suggested. “Maybe we would like to be more able to choose what kind of trace we would leave behind. And that side of the equation will have to be part of the discussion as well. How can we be better protected from leaving that trace of data that allows companies to know so much more about any one of us than we might even realize ourselves?”

“I myself am very happy that I have digital rights my problem is that I find it very difficult to enforce them,” Vestager added. “The only real result of me reading terms and conditions is that I get myself distracted from wanting to read the article that wanted me to tap T&Cs. So we need that to be understandable so that we know what we’re dealing with. And we need software and services that will enable us not to leave the same kind of trace as we would otherwise do… I really hope that the market will also help us here. Because it’s not just for politicians to deal with this — it is also in an interaction with the market that we can find solutions. Because one of the main challenges in dealing with AI is of course that there is a risk that we will regulate for yesterday. And then it’s worth nothing.”

Asked at what point she would herself advocate for big tech companies to be broken up, Vestager said there would need to be a competition case that involves damage that’s extreme enough to justify it. “We don’t have that kind of case right now,” she argued. “I will never exclude that that could happen but so far we don’t have a problem that big that breaking up a company would be the solution.”

She also warned against the risk of potentially creating more problems by framing the problem of platform giants as a size issue — and therefore the solution as breaking the giants up.

“The people advocating it don’t have a model as to have to do this. And if you know this story about an antique creature when you chopped out one head two or seven came up — so there is a risk you do not solve the problem you just have many more problems,” she said. “And you don’t have a way of at least trying to control it. So I am much more in the line of thinking that you should say that when you become that big you get a special responsibility — because you are de facto the rule setter in the market that you own. And we could be much more precise about what that then entails. Because otherwise there’s a risk that the many, many interesting companies they have no chance of competing.”

 


0

Naspers CEO Bob van Dijk to talk about late-stage bets at Disrupt Berlin

12:00 | 7 November

South African internet company Naspers isn’t a particularly well-known name in the startup community. And yet, the company made an early investment in a small Chinese company called… Tencent. Naspers still retains a 31% stake in Tencent that is valued at around $100 billion (with a B). That’s why I’m excited to announce that Naspers CEO Bob van Dijk is joining us at TechCrunch Disrupt Berlin.

It’s hard to talk about Naspers without talking about SoftBank, another company that made an early bet on Alibaba, another small Chinese company back then. But Naspers doesn’t want to be compared to SoftBank as it doesn’t have the same approach.

Naspers recently created a new holding company for its tech investments called Prosus NV. A couple of months ago, Prosus went public in Amsterdam — the holding company is currently valued at $114 billion.

This has been a huge deal for Naspers — and also a highly unusual listing. And it should open up a lot of possibilities for more late-stage investments in the future. Prosus isn’t a traditional fund with limited partners that expect returns. It means that it can hold investments for multiple decades.

Naspers has invested in online classifieds business OLX, in fintech startups with PayU and Remitly, in food delivery startups Delivery Hero, iFood and Swiggy, and in dozens of other startups across the globe.

While many venture capital firms are focused on the U.S., Naspers has investments in 90 countries. If you want to learn more about the mega-trends of the tech industry, you have to hear what Bob van Dijk has to say.

Buy your ticket to Disrupt Berlin to listen to this discussion — and many others. The conference will take place December 11-12.

In addition to panels and fireside chats, like this one, new startups will participate in the Startup Battlefield to compete for the highly coveted Battlefield Cup.

 


0
<< Back Forward >>
Topics from 1 to 10 | in all: 2516

Site search


Last comments

Walmart retreats from its UK Asda business to hone its focus on competing with Amazon
Peter Short
Good luck
Peter Short

Evolve Foundation launches a $100 million fund to find startups working to relieve human suffering
Peter Short
Money will give hope
Peter Short

Boeing will build DARPA’s XS-1 experimental spaceplane
Peter Short
Great
Peter Short

Is a “robot tax” really an “innovation penalty”?
Peter Short
It need to be taxed also any organic substance ie food than is used as a calorie transfer needs tax…
Peter Short

Twitter Is Testing A Dedicated GIF Button On Mobile
Peter Short
Sounds great Facebook got a button a few years ago
Then it disappeared Twitter needs a bottom maybe…
Peter Short

Apple’s Next iPhone Rumored To Debut On September 9th
Peter Short
Looks like a nice cycle of a round year;)
Peter Short

AncestryDNA And Google’s Calico Team Up To Study Genetic Longevity
Peter Short
I'm still fascinated by DNA though I favour pure chemistry what could be
Offered is for future gen…
Peter Short

U.K. Push For Better Broadband For Startups
Verg Matthews
There has to an email option icon to send to the clowns in MTNL ... the govt of India's service pro…
Verg Matthews

CrunchWeek: Apple Makes Music, Oculus Aims For Mainstream, Twitter CEO Shakeup
Peter Short
Noted Google maybe grooming Twitter as a partner in Social Media but with whistle blowing coming to…
Peter Short

CrunchWeek: Apple Makes Music, Oculus Aims For Mainstream, Twitter CEO Shakeup
Peter Short
Noted Google maybe grooming Twitter as a partner in Social Media but with whistle blowing coming to…
Peter Short