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Today — September 19th 2019Your RSS feeds

Private search engine Qwant’s new CEO is Mozilla Europe veteran Tristan Nitot

By Natasha Lomas

French startup Qwant, whose non-tracking search engine has been gaining traction in its home market as a privacy-respecting alternative to Google, has made a change to its senior leadership team as it gears up for the next phase of growth.

Former Mozilla Europe president, Tristan Nitot, who joined Qwant last year as VP of advocacy, has been promoted to chief executive, taking over from François Messager — who also joined in 2018 but is now leaving the business. Qwant co-founder, Eric Leandri, meanwhile, continues in the same role as president.

Nitot, an Internet veteran who worked at Netscape and helped to found Mozilla Europe in 1998, where he later served as president and stayed until 2015 before leaving to write a book on surveillance, brings a wealth of experience in product and comms roles, as well as open source.

Most recently he spent several years working for personal cloud startup, Cozy Cloud.

“I’m basically here to help [Leandri] grow the company and structure the company,” Nitot tells TechCrunch, describing Qwant’s founder as an “amazing entrepreneur, audacious and visionary”.

Market headwinds have been improving for the privacy-focused Google rival in recent years as concern about foreign data-mining tech giants has stepped up in Europe.

Last year the French government announced it would be switching its search default from Google to Qwant. Buying homegrown digital tech now apparently seen as a savvy product choice as well as good politics.

Meanwhile antitrust attention on dominant search giant Google, both at home and abroad, has led to policy shifts that directly benefit search rivals — such as an update of the default lists baked into its chromium engine which was quietly put out earlier this year.

That behind the scenes change saw Qwant added as an option for users in the French market for the first time. (On hearing the news a sardonic Leandri thanked Google — but suggested Qwant users choose Firefox or the Brave browser for a less creepy web browsing experience.)

“A lot of companies and institutions have decided and have realized basically that they’ve been using a search engine which is not European. Which collects data. Massively. And that makes them uncomfortable,” says Nitot. “They haven’t made a conscious decision about that. Because they bring in a computer which has a browser which has a search engine in it set by default — and in the end you just don’t get to choose which search engine your people use, right.

“And so they’re making a conscious decision to switch to Qwant. And we’ve been spending a lot of time and energy on that — and it’s paying off big time.”

As well as the French administration’s circa 3M desktops being switched by default to Qwant (which it expects will be done this quarter), the pro-privacy search engine has been getting traction from other government departments and regional government, as well as large banks and schools, according to Nitot.

He credits a focus on search products for schoolkids with generating momentum, such as Qwant Junior, which is designed for kids aged 6-12, and excludes sex and violence from search results as well as being ad free. (It’s set to get an update in the next few weeks.) It has also just been supplemented by Qwant School: A school search product aimed at 13-17 year olds.

“All of that creates more users — the kids talk to their parents about Qwant Junior, and the parents install Qwant.com for them. So there’s a lot of momentum creating that growth,” Nitot suggests.

Qwant says it handled more than 18 billion search requests in 2018.

A growing business needs money to fuel it of course. So fundraising efforts involving convertible bonds is one area Nitot says he’ll be focused on in the new role. “We are raising money,” he confirms.

Increasing efficiency — especially on the engineering front — is another key focus for the new CEO.

“The rest will be a focus on the organization, per se, how we structure the organization. How we evolve the company culture. To enable or to improve delivery of the engineering team, for example,” he says. “It’s not that it’s bad it’s just that we need to make sure every dollar or every euro we invest gives as much as possible in return.”

Product wise, Nitot’s attention in the near term will be directed towards shipping a new version of Qwant’s search engine that will involve reengineering core tech to improve the quality of results.

“What we want to do [with v2] is to improve the quality of the results,” he says of the core search product. “You won’t be able to notice any difference, in terms of quality, with the other really good search engines that you may use — except that you know that your privacy is respected by Qwant.

“[As we raise more funding] we will be able to have a lot more infrastructure to run better and more powerful algorithms. And so we plan to improve that internationally… Every language will benefit from the new search engine. It’s also a matter of money and infrastructure to make this work on a web scale. Because the web is huge and it’s growing.

“The new version includes NLP (Natural Language Processing) technology… for understanding language, for understanding intentions — for example do you want to buy something or are you looking for a reference… or a place or a thing. That’s the kind of thing we’re putting in place but it’s going to improve a lot for every language involved.”

Western Europe will be the focus for v2 of the search engine, starting with French, German, Italian, Spanish and English — with a plan to “go beyond that later on”.

Nitot also says there will also be staggered rollouts (starting with France), with Qwant planning to run old and new versions in parallel to quality check the new version before finally switching users over.

“Shipping is hard as we used to say at Mozilla,” he remarks, refusing to be fixed to a launch date for v2 (beyond saying it’ll arrive in “less than a year”). “It’s a universal rule; shipping a new product is hard, and that’s what we want to do with version 2… I’ve been writing software since 1980 and so I know how predictions are when it comes to software release dates. So I’m very careful not to make promises.”

Developing more of its own advertising technologies is another focus for Qwant. On this front the aim is to improve margins by leaning less on partners like Microsoft .

“We’ve been working with partners until now, especially on the search engine result pages,” says Nitot. “We put Microsoft advertising on it. And our goal is to ramp up advertising technologies so that we rely on our own technologies — something that we control. And that hopefully will bring a better return.”

Like Google, Qwant monetizes searches by serving ads alongside results. But unlike Google these are contextual ads, meaning they are based on general location plus the substance of the search itself; rather than targeted ads which entail persistent tracking and profiling of Internet users in order to inform the choice of ad (hence feeling like ads are stalking you around the Internet).

Serving contextual ads is a choice that lets Qwant offer a credible privacy pledge that Mountain View simply can’t match.

Yet up until 2006 Google also served contextual ads, as Nitot points out, before its slide into privacy-hostile microtargeting. “It’s a good old idea,” he argues of contextual ads. “We’re using it. We think it really is a valuable idea.” 

Qwant is also working on privacy-sensitive ad tech. One area of current work there is personalization. It’s developing a client-side, browser-based encrypted data store, called Masq, that’s intended to store and retrieve application data through a WebSocket connection. (Here’s the project Masq Github page.)

“Because we do not know the person that’s using the product it’s hard to make personalization of course. So we plan to do personalization of the product on the client side,” he explains. “Which means the server side will have no more details than we currently do, but on the client side we are producing something which is open source, which stores data locally on your device — whether that’s a laptop or smartphone — in the browser, it is encrypted so that nobody can reuse it unless you decide that you want that to happen.

“And it’s open source so that it’s transparent and can be audited and so that people can trust the technology because it runs on their own device, it stores on their device.”

“Right now it’s at alpha stage,” Nitot adds of Masq, declining to specify when exactly it might be ready for a wider launch.

The new CEO’s ultimate goal for Qwant is to become the search engine for Europe — a hugely ambitious target that remains far out of reach for now, with Google still commanding in excess of 90% regional marketshare. (A dominance that has got its business embroiled in antitrust hot water in Europe.)

Yet the Internet of today is not the same as the Internet of yesterday when Netscape was a browsing staple — until Internet Explorer knocked it off its perch after Microsoft bundled its rival upstart as the default browser on Windows. And the rest, as they say, is Internet history.

Much has changed and much is changing. But abuses of market power are an old story. And as regulators act against today’s self-interested defaults there are savvy alternatives like Qwant primed and waiting to offer consumers a different kind of value.

“Qwant is created in Europe for the European citizens with European values,” says Nitot. “Privacy being one of these values that are central to our mission. It is not random that the CNIL — the French data protection authority — was created in France in 1978. It was the first time that something like that was created. And then GDPR [General Data Protection Regulation] was created in Europe. It doesn’t happen by accident. It’s a matter of values and the way people see their life and things around them, politics and all that. We have a very deep concern about privacy in France. It’s written in the European declaration of human rights.

“We build a product that reflects those values — so it’s appealing to European users.”

Before yesterdayYour RSS feeds

Google to pay $549 million fine and $510 million in back taxes in France

By Romain Dillet

After years of back and forth with tax authorities in France, Google has settled a fiscal fraud probe, as the financial prosecutor’s office told Reuters and AFP. Overall, Google will pay a $549 million fine as well as $510 million in back taxes (€500 million and €465 million, respectively).

This is a settlement, which means that French authorities are dropping charges against Google in France. It covers activities from 2005 to 2018.

According to previous reports, the company owed around $1.3 billion in taxes. In 2014, Google started putting aside some money for a potential fine.

This is a classic story of corporate tax optimization in Europe. For multiple years, Google allegedly issued advertising contracts from its European headquarters in Ireland. Profits generated from those contracts would be taxed in Ireland.

Separately, France has been working on a tax on tech giants. In order to avoid tax optimization schemes, big tech companies that generate significant revenue in France are taxed on their revenue generated in France.

If you’re running a marketplace or advertising company that generates more than €750 million in global revenue and €25 million in France, you have to pay 3% of your French revenue in taxes.

It has generated some drama with the U.S. — President Donald Trump first said that the U.S. would be placing tariffs on French wines.

France and the U.S. eventually reached an agreement at the Group of Seven summit. The French government now hopes that the OECD finds a way to properly tax tech companies in countries where they operate in order to scrap the French tax.

Zyl raises $1.1 million to resurface old memories from your photos

By Romain Dillet

French startup Zyl has raised $1 million (€1 million) in a round led by OneRagtime. The company has developed an app that uses artificial intelligence to find the most interesting photos and videos in your photo library.

Now that smartphones have been around for a while, many people have thousands of unsorted photos on their iPhone or Android device. And chances are you don’t often scroll back to look at past vacations and important life events.

Zyl is well aware of that. That’s why the company does the heavy lifting for you. The app scans your photo library to find important memories and photos you may have forgotten. It has even registered patents for some of its algorithms.

But identifying photos and videos is just one thing. In order to turn that process into a fun, nostalgia-powered experience, the app sends you a notification every day to tell you that Zyl has identified a new memory — they call it a Zyl. When you tap on it, the app reveals that memory and you can share it with your friends and family.

You then have to wait another 24 hours to unlock another Zyl. That slow-paced approach is key as you spend more time looking at Zyls and sharing them with loved ones.

mockup 3.1

It’s also worth noting that Zyl processes your photo library on your iPhone or Android device directly. Photos aren’t sent to the company’s server.

Up next, Zyl plans to enrich your collection of Zyls with more photos and videos from your friends and family. You could imagine a way to seamlessly share photos of the same life event with your loved ones, even if they are currently spread out over multiple smartphones.

With today’s funding round, the company wants to improve the app and reach millions of users. Zyl already has impressive retention rates with 38% of users opening the app regularly during 5 weeks or more.

Akeneo raises $46 million for its product information management service

By Romain Dillet

French startup Akeneo has raised a $46 million Series C round led by Summit Partners, with existing investors Alven, Partech, Salesforce Ventures and Stephan Dietrich also participating. The company develops a popular product information management (PIM) service to manage all information about products in your stores, online and in paper catalogs.

Akeneo started as a sort of CRM for product information. Instead of managing your catalog using Excel spreadsheets or an outdated ERP, Akeneo provides a service that works across all your communication channels. You can also collaborate in Akeneo directly.

Akeneo started as an open source PIM application. Today, thousands companies actively use that open source version. But Akeneo also offers an enterprise edition with a more traditional software-as-a-service approach. The startup has managed to attract 300 clients, such as Sephora, Fossil and Auchan.

“With the open source edition, we have 60,000 companies actively using Akeneo. It means that we are the most used PIM solution in the world,” co-founder and CEO Frédéric de Gombert told me.

Over the years, Akeneo has expanded beyond product information management. The company acquired Sigmento, a startup that collects public data about millions of products in order to automatically generate descriptions, specifications, keywords and more.

Akeneo has integrated Sigmento into its core product and now has a database of 50 million different products. Akeneo uses machine learning to clean up that data set. For Akeneo customers, it lets you automate several tasks and fix mistakes in specifications for instance.

“Investing in this technology is one of the goals of this funding round,” Frédéric de Gombert said.

With today’s funding round, the company also wants to hire more people and focus even more on the U.S. — it currently has 180 employees and they will be 300 by the end of 2020. 75% of its revenue is coming from abroad, and the company generates 20% of its revenue in the U.S.

Europe’s antitrust chief, Margrethe Vestager, set for expanded role in next Commission

By Natasha Lomas

As the antitrust investigations stack up on US tech giants’ home turf there’s no sign of pressure letting up across the pond.

European Commission president-elect Ursula von der Leyen today unveiled her picks for the next team of commissioners who will take up their mandates on November 1 — giving an expanded role to competition commissioner Margrethe Vestager. The pick suggests the next Commission is preparing to dial up its scrutiny of big tech’s data monopolies.

Under the draft list of commissioners-designate, which still needs to be approved in full by the European Parliament, Vestager has been named executive VP overseeing a new portfolio called ‘Europe fit for the digital age’.

But, crucially, she will also retain the competition portfolio — which implies attention on growing Europe’s digital economy will go hand in glove with scrutiny of fairness in ecommerce and ensuring a level playing field vs US platform giants.

“Executive vice-president Margrethe Vestager will lead our work on a Europe fit for the digital age,” said von der Leyen at a press conference to announce her picks. “Digitalization has a huge impact on the way we live, we work, we communicate. In some fields Europe has to catch up — for example in the field of business to consumer but in other fields we’re excellent. Europe is the frontrunner, for example in business to business, when we talk about digital twins of products and procedures.

“We have to make more out of the field of artificial intelligence. We have to make our single market a digital single market. We have to use way more the big data that is out there but we don’t make enough out of it. What innovation and startups are concerned. It’s not only need to know but it’s need to share big data. We have to improve on cyber security. We have to work hard on our technological sovereignty just to name a few issues in these broad topics.

“Margrethe Vestager will co-ordinate the whole agenda. And be the commissioner for competition. She will work together with the commissioner for internal market, innovation and youth, transport, energy, jobs, health and justice.”

If tech giants were hoping for Europe’s next Commission to pay a little less attention to question marks hanging over the fairness of their practices they’re likely to be disappointed as Vestager is set to gain expanded powers and a broader canvas to paint on. The new role clearly positions her to act on the review of competition policy she instigated towards the end of her current mandate — which focused on the challenges posed by digital markets.

Since taking over as Europe’s competition chief back in 2014, Vestager has made a name for herself by blowing the dust off the brief and driving forward on a series of regulatory interventions targeting tech giants including Amazon, Apple and Google . In the latter case this has included opening a series of fresh probes as well as nailing the very long running Google Shopping saga inherited from her predecessor.

The activity of the department under her mandate has clearly catalyzed complainants — creating a pipeline of cases for her to tackle.

Just last month Reuters reported she had been preparing an “intensive” handover of work looking into complaints against Google’s job search product to her successor — a handover that won’t now be necessary, assuming the EU parliament gives its backing to von der Leyen’s team.

While the competition commissioner has thus far generated the biggest headlines for the size of antitrust fines she’s handed down — including a record-breaking $5BN fine for Google last year for illegal restrictions attached to Android — her attention on big data holdings as a competition risk is most likely to worry tech giants going forward.

See, for example, the formal investigation of Amazon’s use of merchant data announced this summer for a sign of the direction of travel.

Vestager has also talked publicly about regulating data flows as being a more savvy route to control big tech versus swinging a break up hammer. And while — on the surface — regulating data might sound less radical a remedy than breaking giants like Google and Facebook up, placing hard limits on how data can be used has the potential to effect structural separation via a sort of regulatory keyhole surgery that’s likely to be quicker and implies a precision that may also make it more politically palatable.

That’s important given the ongoing EU-US trade friction kicked up by the Trump administration which is never shy of lashing out, especially at European interventions that seek to address some of the inequalities generated by tech giants — most recently Trump gave France’s digital tax plans a tongue-lashing.

von der Leyen was asked during the press conference whether Vestager might not been seen as a controversial choice given Trump’s views of her activity to date (Europe’s “tax lady” is one of the nicer things he’s said about Vestager). The EU president-elect dismissed the point saying the only thing that matters in assigning Commission portfolios is “quality and excellence”, adding that competition and digital is the perfect combination to make the most of Vestager’s talents.

“Vestager has done an outstanding job as a commissioner for competition,” she went on. “At competition and the issues she’s tackling there are closely linked to the digital sector too. So having her as an executive vice-president for the digital in Europe is absolutely a perfect combination.

“She’ll have this topic as a cross-cutting topic. She’ll have to work on the Digital Single Market. She will work on the fact that we want to use in a better way big data that is out there, that we collect every day — non-personalized data. That we should use way better, in the need for example to share with others for innovation, for startups, for new ideas.

“She will work on the whole topic of cyber security. Which is the more we’re digitalized, the more we’re vulnerable. So there’s a huge field in front of her. And as she’s shown excellence in the Commission portfolio she’ll keep that — the executive vice-presidents have with the DGs muscles to deal with their vast portfolios’ subject they have to deal with.”

In other choices announced today, the current commissioner for Digital Economy and Society, Mariya Gabriel, will be taking up a new portfolio called ‘Innovation and Youth’. And Sylvie Goulard was named as ‘Internal Market’ commissioner, leading on industrial policy and promoting the Digital Single Market, as well as getting responsibility for Defence Industry and Space.

Another executive VP choice, Valdis Dombrovskis, looks likely to be tackling thorny digital taxation issues — with responsibility for co-ordinating the Commission’s work on what’s been dubbed an “Economy that Works for People”, as well as also being commissioner for financial services. 

In prepared remarks on that role, von der Leyen said: We have a unique social market economy. It is the source of our prosperity and social fairness. This is all the more important when we face a twin transition: climate and digital. Valdis Dombrovskis will lead our work to bring together the social and the market in our economy.”

Frans Timmermans, who was previously in the running as a possible candidate for Commission president but lost out to von der Leyen, is another exec VP pick. He be focused on delivering a European Green Deal and managing climate action policy.

Another familiar face — current justice, consumer and gender affairs commissioner Věra Jourová — has also been named as an exec VP, gaining responsibility for “Values and Transparency” which suggests she’ll continue to be involved in EU efforts to combat online disinformation on platforms.

The rest of the Commission portfolio appointments can be found here.

There are 26 picks in all — 27 counting von der Leyen who has already been confirmed as president; one per EU country, with the UK having no representation in the next Commission given it is due to leave the bloc on October 31, the day before the new Commission takes up its mandate.

von der Leyen touted the team she presented today as balanced and diverse, including on gender lines as well as geographically to take account of the full span of European Union members.

“It draws on all the strength and talents, men and women, experienced and young, east and west, south and north, a team that is well balanced, a team that brings together diversity of experience and competence,” she said. “I want a Commission that is led with determination, that is clearly focused on the issues at hand — and that provides answers.”

Commissioners elect

“There’s one fundamental that connects this team: We want to bring new impetus to Europe’s democracy,” she added. “This is our joint responsibility. And democracy is more than voting in elections in every five years; it is about having your voice heard. It’s about having been able to participate in the way our society’s built. We gave to address some of the deeper issues in our society that have led to a loss of faith in democracy.”

In a signal of her intention that the new Commission should “walk the talk” on making Europe fit for the digital age she announced that college meetings will be paperless and digital.

On lawmaking, she added that there will be a one-in, one-out policy — with any new laws and regulation supplanting an existing rule in a bid to cut red tape.

Mobile gaming is a $68.5 billion global business, and investors are buying in

By Jonathan Shieber
Omer Kaplan Contributor
Omer Kaplan is CMO and co-founder at ironSource.

By the end of 2019, the global gaming market is estimated to be worth $152 billion, with 45% of that, $68.5 billion, coming directly from mobile games. With this tremendous growth (10.2% YoY to be precise) has come a flurry of investments and acquisitions, everyone wanting a cut of the pie. In fact, over the last 18 months, the global gaming industry has seen $9.6 billion in investments and if investments continue at this current pace, the amount of investment generated in 2018-19 will be higher than the 8 previous years combined.

What’s interesting is why everyone is talking about games and who in the market is responding to this and how.

The gaming phenomenon

Today, mobile games account for 33% of all app downloads, 74% of consumer spend, and 10% of all time spent in-app. It’s predicted that in 2019, 2.4 billion people will play mobile games around the world – that’s almost one third of the global population. In fact, 50% of mobile app users play games, making this app category as popular as music apps like Spotify and Apple Music and second only to social media and communications apps in terms of time spent.

In the US, time spent on mobile devices has also officially outpaced that of television – with users spending 8 more minutes per day on their mobile devices. By 2021, this number is predicted to increase to over 30 minutes. Apps are the new primetime and games have grabbed the lion’s share.

Accessibility is the highest it’s ever been as barriers to entry are virtually non-existent. From casual games to the recent rise of the wildly popular hyper-casual genre of games which are quick to download, easy to play, and lend themselves to being played in short sessions throughout the day, games are played by almost every demographic stratum of society. Today, the average age of a mobile gamer is 36.3 (compared with 27.7 in 2014), the gender split is 51% female, 49% male, and one-third of all gamers are between the ages of 36-50. A far cry from the traditional stereotype of a ‘gamer’.

With these demographic, geographic, and consumption sea-changes in the mobile ecosystem and entertainment landscape, it’s no surprise that the game space is getting increased attention and investment, not just from within the industry, but more recently from traditional financial markets and even governments. Let’s look at how the markets have responded to the rise of gaming.

Image courtesy of David Maung/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Games on games

The first substantial investments in mobile gaming came from those who already had a stake in the industry. Tencent invested $90M in Pocket Gems and$126M in Glu Mobile (for a 14.6% stake), gaming powerhouse Supercell invested $5M in mobile game studio Redemption Games, Boom Fantasy raised $2M from ESPN and the MLB and Gamelynx raised $1.2M from several investors – one of which was Riot Games. Most recently, Ubisoft acquired a 70% stake in Green Panda Games to bolster its foot in the hyper-casual gaming market.

Additionally, bigger gaming studios began to acquire smaller ones. Zynga bought Gram Games, Ubisoft acquired Ketchapp, Niantic purchased Seismic Games, and Tencent bought Supercell (as well as a 40% stake in Epic Games). And the list goes on.

Wall Street wakes up

Beyond the flurry of investments and acquisitions from within the game industry, games are also generating huge amounts of revenue. Since launch, Pokemon Go has generated $2.3B in revenue and Fortnite has amassed some 250M players. This is catching the attention of more traditional financial institutions, like private equity firms and VCs, who are now looking at a variety of investment options in gaming – not just of gaming studios, but all those who had a stake in or support the industry.

In May 2018, hyper-casual mobile gaming studio Voodoo announced a $200M investment from Goldman Sachs’ private equity investment arm. For the first time ever, a mobile gaming studio attracted the attention of a venerable old financial institution. The explosion of the hyper-casual genre and the scale its titles are capable of achieving, together with the intensely iterative, data-driven business model afforded by the low production costs of games like this, were catching the attention of investors outside of the gaming world, looking for the next big growth opportunity.

The trend continued. In July 2018, private equity firm KKR bought a $400M minority stake in AppLovin and now, exactly one year later Blackstone announced their plan to acquire mobile ad-network Vungle for a reported $750M. Not only is money going into gaming studios, but investments are being made into companies whose technology supports the mobile gaming space. Traditional investors are finally taking notice of the mobile gaming ecosystem as a whole and the explosive growth it has produced in recent years. This year alone mobile games are expected to generate $55B in revenue so this new wave of investment interest should really come as no surprise.

A woman holds up her cell phone as she plays the Pokemon Go game in Lafayette Park in front of the White House in Washington, DC, July 12, 2016. (Photo: JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)

Government intervention

Most recently, governments are realizing the potential and reach of the gaming industry and making their own investment moves. We’re seeing governments establish funds that support local gaming businesses – providing incentives for gaming studios to develop and retain their creatives, technology, and employees locally – as well as programs that aim to attract foreign talent.

As uncertainty looms in England surrounding Brexit, France has jumped on the opportunity with “Join the Game”. They’re painting France as an international hub that is already home to many successful gaming studios, and they’re offering tax breaks and plenty of funding options – for everything from R&D to the production of community events. Their website even has an entire page dedicated to “getting settled in France”, in English, with a step-by-step guide on how game developers should prepare for their arrival.

The UK Department for International Trade used this year’s Game Developers Conference as a backdrop for the promotion of their games fund – calling the UK “one of the most flourishing game developing ecosystems in the world.” The UK Games Fund allows for both local and foreign-owned gaming companies with a presence in the UK to apply for tax breaks. And ever since France announced their fund, more and more people have begun encouraging the British government to expand their program saying that the UK gaming ecosystem should be “retained and enhanced”. But, not only does the government take gaming seriously, the Queen does as well. In 2008, David Darling the CEO of hyper-casual game studio Kwalee was made a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) for his services to the games industry. CBE is the third-highest honor the Queen can bestow on a British citizen.

Over to Germany, and the government has allocated €50M of its 2019 budget for the creation of a games fund. In Sweden, the Sweden Game Arena is a public-private partnership that helps students develop games using government-funded offices and equipment. It also links students and startups with established companies and investors. While these numbers dwarf the investment of more commercial or financial players, the sudden uptick in interest governments are paying to the game space indicate just how exciting and lucrative gaming has become.

Support is coming from all levels

The evolution of investment in the gaming space is indicative of the stratospheric growth, massive revenue, strong user engagement, and extensive demographic and geographic reach of mobile gaming. With the global games industry projected to be worth a quarter of a trillion dollars by 2023, it comes as no surprise that the diverse players globally have finally realized its true potential and have embraced the gaming ecosystem as a whole.

Most EU cookie ‘consent’ notices are meaningless or manipulative, study finds

By Natasha Lomas

New research into how European consumers interact with the cookie consent mechanisms which have proliferated since a major update to the bloc’s online privacy rules last year casts an unflattering light on widespread manipulation of a system that’s supposed to protect consumer rights.

As Europe’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) came into force in May 2018, bringing in a tough new regime of fines for non-compliance, websites responded by popping up legal disclaimers which signpost visitor tracking activities. Some of these cookie notices even ask for consent to track you.

But many don’t — even now, more than a year later.

The study, which looked at how consumers interact with different designs of cookie pop-ups and how various design choices can nudge and influence people’s privacy choices, also suggests consumers are suffering a degree of confusion about how cookies function, as well as being generally mistrustful of the term ‘cookie’ itself. (With such baked in tricks, who can blame them?)

The researchers conclude that if consent to drop cookies was being collected in a way that’s compliant with the EU’s existing privacy laws only a tiny fraction of consumers would agree to be tracked.

The paper, which we’ve reviewed in draft ahead of publication, is co-authored by academics at Ruhr-University Bochum, Germany, and the University of Michigan in the US — and entitled: (Un)informed Consent: Studying GDPR Consent Notices in the Field.

The researchers ran a number of studies, gathering ~5,000 of cookie notices from screengrabs of leading websites to compile a snapshot (derived from a random sub-sample of 1,000) of the different cookie consent mechanisms in play in order to paint a picture of current implementations.

They also worked with a German ecommerce website over a period of four months to study how more than 82,000 unique visitors to the site interacted with various cookie consent designs which the researchers’ tweaked in order to explore how different defaults and design choices affected individuals’ privacy choices.

Their industry snapshot of cookie consent notices found that the majority are placed at the bottom of the screen (58%); not blocking the interaction with the website (93%); and offering no options other than a confirmation button that does not do anything (86%). So no choice at all then.

A majority also try to nudge users towards consenting (57%) — such as by using ‘dark pattern’ techniques like using a color to highlight the ‘agree’ button (which if clicked accepts privacy-unfriendly defaults) vs displaying a much less visible link to ‘more options’ so that pro-privacy choices are buried off screen.

And while they found that nearly all cookie notices (92%) contained a link to the site’s privacy policy, only a third (39%) mention the specific purpose of the data collection or who can access the data (21%).

The GDPR updated the EU’s long-standing digital privacy framework, with key additions including tightening the rules around consent as a legal basis for processing people’s data — which the regulation says must be specific (purpose limited), informed and freely given for consent to be valid.

Even so, since May last year there has been an outgrown in cookie ‘consent’ mechanisms popping up or sliding atop websites that still don’t offer EU visitors the necessary privacy choices, per the research.

“Given the legal requirements for explicit, informed consent, it is obvious that the vast majority of cookie consent notices are not compliant with European privacy law,” the researchers argue.

“Our results show that a reasonable amount of users are willing to engage with consent notices, especially those who want to opt out or do not want to opt in. Unfortunately, current implementations do not respect this and the large majority offers no meaningful choice.”

The researchers also record a large differential in interaction rates with consent notices — of between 5 and 55% — generated by tweaking positions, options, and presets on cookie notices.

This is where consent gets manipulated — to flip visitors’ preference for privacy.

They found that the more choices offered in a cookie notice, the more likely visitors were to decline the use of cookies. (Which is an interesting finding in light of the vendor laundry lists frequently baked into the so-called “transparency and consent framework” which the industry association, the Internet Advertising Bureau (IAB), has pushed as the standard for its members to use to gather GDPR consents.)

“The results show that nudges and pre-selection had a high impact on user decisions, confirming previous work,” the researchers write. “It also shows that the GDPR requirement of privacy by default should be enforced to make sure that consent notices collect explicit consent.”

Here’s a section from the paper discussing what they describe as “the strong impact of nudges and pre-selections”:

Overall the effect size between nudging (as a binary factor) and choice was CV=0.50. For example, in the rather simple case of notices that only asked users to confirm that they will be tracked, more users clicked the “Accept” button in the nudge condition, where it was highlighted (50.8% on mobile, 26.9% on desktop), than in the non-nudging condition where “Accept” was displayed as a text link (39.2% m, 21.1% d). The effect was most visible for the category-and vendor-based notices, where all checkboxes were pre-selected in the nudging condition, while they were not in the privacy-by-default version. On the one hand, the pre-selected versions led around 30% of mobile users and 10% of desktop users to accept all third parties. On the other hand, only a small fraction (< 0.1%) allowed all third parties when given the opt-in choice and around 1 to 4 percent allowed one or more third parties (labeled “other” in 4). None of the visitors with a desktop allowed all categories. Interestingly, the number of non-interacting users was highest on average for the vendor-based condition, although it took up the largest part of any screen since it offered six options to choose from.

The key implication is that just 0.1% of site visitors would freely choose to enable all cookie categories/vendors — i.e. when not being forced to do so by a lack of choice or via nudging with manipulative dark patterns (such as pre-selections).

Rising a fraction, to between 1-4%, who would enable some cookie categories in the same privacy-by-default scenario.

“Our results… indicate that the privacy-by-default and purposed-based consent requirements put forth by the GDPR would require websites to use consent notices that would actually lead to less than 0.1 % of active consent for the use of third parties,” they write in conclusion.

They do flag some limitations with the study, pointing out that the dataset they used that arrived at the 0.1% figure is biased — given the nationality of visitors is not generally representative of public Internet users, as well as the data being generated from a single retail site. But they supplemented their findings with data from a company (Cookiebot) which provides cookie notices as a SaaS — saying its data indicated a higher accept all clicks rate but still only marginally higher: Just 5.6%.

Hence the conclusion that if European web users were given an honest and genuine choice over whether or not they get tracked around the Internet, the overwhelming majority would choose to protect their privacy by rejecting tracking cookies.

This is an important finding because GDPR is unambiguous in stating that if an Internet service is relying on consent as a legal basis to process visitors’ personal data it must obtain consent before processing data (so before a tracking cookie is dropped) — and that consent must be specific, informed and freely given.

Yet, as the study confirms, it really doesn’t take much clicking around the regional Internet to find a gaslighting cookie notice that pops up with a mocking message saying by using this website you’re consenting to your data being processed how the site sees fit — with just a single ‘Ok’ button to affirm your lack of say in the matter.

It’s also all too common to see sites that nudge visitors towards a big brightly colored ‘click here’ button to accept data processing — squirrelling any opt outs into complex sub-menus that can sometimes require hundreds of individual clicks to deny consent per vendor.

You can even find websites that gate their content entirely unless or until a user clicks ‘accept’ — aka a cookie wall. (A practice that has recently attracted regulatory intervention.)

Nor can the current mess of cookie notices be blamed on a lack of specific guidance on what a valid and therefore legal cookie consent looks like. At least not any more. Here, for example, is a myth-busting blog which the UK’s Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) published last month that’s pretty clear on what can and can’t be done with cookies.

For instance on cookie walls the ICO writes: “Using a blanket approach such as this is unlikely to represent valid consent. Statements such as ‘by continuing to use this website you are agreeing to cookies’ is not valid consent under the higher GDPR standard.” (The regulator goes into more detailed advice here.)

While France’s data watchdog, the CNIL, also published its own detailed guidance last month — if you prefer to digest cookie guidance in the language of love and diplomacy.

(Those of you reading TechCrunch back in January 2018 may also remember this sage plain english advice from our GDPR explainer: “Consent requirements for processing personal data are also considerably strengthened under GDPR — meaning lengthy, inscrutable, pre-ticked T&Cs are likely to be unworkable.” So don’t say we didn’t warn you.)

Nor are Europe’s data protection watchdogs lacking in complaints about improper applications of ‘consent’ to justify processing people’s data.

Indeed, ‘forced consent’ was the substance of a series of linked complaints by the pro-privacy NGO noyb, which targeted T&Cs used by Facebook, WhatsApp, Instagram and Google Android immediately GDPR started being applied in May last year.

While not cookie notice specific, this set of complaints speaks to the same underlying principle — i.e. that EU users must be provided with a specific, informed and free choice when asked to consent to their data being processed. Otherwise the ‘consent’ isn’t valid.

So far Google is the only company to be hit with a penalty as a result of that first wave of consent-related GDPR complaints; France’s data watchdog issued it a $57M fine in January.

But the Irish DPC confirmed to us that three of the 11 open investigations it has into Facebook and its subsidiaries were opened after noyb’s consent-related complaints. (“Each of these investigations are at an advanced stage and we can’t comment any further as these investigations are ongoing,” a spokeswoman told us. So, er, watch that space.)

The problem, where EU cookie consent compliance is concerned, looks to be both a failure of enforcement and a lack of regulatory alignment — the latter as a consequence of the ePrivacy Directive (which most directly concerns cookies) still not being updated, generating confusion (if not outright conflict) with the shiny new GDPR.

However the ICO’s advice on cookies directly addresses claimed inconsistencies between ePrivacy and GDPR, stating plainly that Recital 25 of the former (which states: “Access to specific website content may be made conditional on the well-informed acceptance of a cookie or similar device, if it is used for a legitimate purpose”) does not, in fact, sanction gating your entire website behind an ‘accept or leave’ cookie wall.

Here’s what the ICO says on Recital 25 of the ePrivacy Directive:

  • ‘specific website content’ means that you should not make ‘general access’ subject to conditions requiring users to accept non-essential cookies – you can only limit certain content if the user does not consent;
  • the term ‘legitimate purpose’ refers to facilitating the provision of an information society service – ie, a service the user explicitly requests. This does not include third parties such as analytics services or online advertising;

So no cookie wall; and no partial walls that force a user to agree to ad targeting in order to access the content.

It’s worth point out that other types of privacy-friendly online advertising are available with which to monetize visits to a website. (And research suggests targeted ads offer only a tiny premium over non-targeted ads, even as publishers choosing a privacy-hostile ads path must now factor in the costs of data protection compliance to their calculations — as well as the cost and risk of massive GDPR fines if their security fails or they’re found to have violated the law.)

Negotiations to replace the now very long-in-the-tooth ePrivacy Directive — with an up-to-date ePrivacy Regulation which properly takes account of the proliferation of Internet messaging and all the ad tracking techs that have sprung up in the interim — are the subject of very intense lobbying, including from the adtech industry desperate to keep a hold of cookie data. But EU privacy law is clear.

“[Cookie consent]’s definitely broken (and has been for a while). But the GDPR is only partly to blame, it was not intended to fix this specific problem. The uncertainty of the current situation is caused the delay of the ePrivacy regulation that was put on hold (thanks to lobbying),” says Martin Degeling, one of the research paper’s co-authors, when we suggest European Internet users are being subject to a lot of ‘consent theatre’ (ie noisy yet non-compliant cookie notices) — which in turn is causing knock-on problems of consumer mistrust and consent fatigue for all these useless pop-ups. Which work against the core aims of the EU’s data protection framework.

“Consent fatigue and mistrust is definitely a problem,” he agrees. “Users that have experienced that clicking ‘decline’ will likely prevent them from using a site are likely to click ‘accept’ on any other site just because of one bad experience and regardless of what they actually want (which is in most cases: not be tracked).”

“We don’t have strong statistical evidence for that but users reported this in the survey,” he adds, citing a poll the researchers also ran asking site visitors about their privacy choices and general views on cookies. 

Degeling says he and his co-authors are in favor of a consent mechanism that would enable web users to specify their choice at a browser level — rather than the current mess and chaos of perpetual, confusing and often non-compliant per site pop-ups. Although he points out some caveats.

“DNT [Do Not Track] is probably also not GDPR compliant as it only knows one purpose. Nevertheless  something similar would be great,” he tells us. “But I’m not sure if shifting the responsibility to browser vendors to design an interface through which they can obtain consent will lead to the best results for users — the interfaces that we see now, e.g. with regard to cookies, are not a good solution either.

“And the conflict of interest for Google with Chrome are obvious.”

The EU’s unfortunate regulatory snafu around privacy — in that it now has one modernized, world-class privacy regulation butting up against an outdated directive (whose progress keeps being blocked by vested interests intent on being able to continue steamrollering consumer privacy) — likely goes some way to explaining why Member States’ data watchdogs have generally been loath, so far, to show their teeth where the specific issue of cookie consent is concerned.

At least for an initial period the hope among data protection agencies (DPAs) was likely that ePrivacy would be updated and so they should wait and see.

They have also undoubtedly been providing data processors with time to get their data houses and cookie consents in order. But the frictionless interregnum while GDPR was allowed to ‘bed in’ looks unlikely to last much longer.

Firstly because a law that’s not enforced isn’t worth the paper it’s written on (and EU fundamental rights are a lot older than the GDPR). Secondly, with the ePrivacy update still blocked DPAs have demonstrated they’re not just going to sit on their hands and watch privacy rights be rolled back — hence them putting out guidance that clarifies what GDPR means for cookies. They’re drawing lines in the sand, rather than waiting for ePrivacy to do it (which also guards against the latter being used by lobbyists as a vehicle to try to attack and water down GDPR).

And, thirdly, Europe’s political institutions and policymakers have been dining out on the geopolitical attention their shiny privacy framework (GDPR) has attained.

Much has been made at the highest levels in Europe of being able to point to US counterparts, caught on the hop by ongoing tech privacy and security scandals, while EU policymakers savor the schadenfreude of seeing their US counterparts being forced to ask publicly whether it’s time for America to have its own GDPR.

With its extraterritorial scope, GDPR was always intended to stamp Europe’s rule-making prowess on the global map. EU lawmakers will feel they can comfortably check that box.

However they are also aware the world is watching closely and critically — which makes enforcement a very key piece. It must slot in too. They need the GDPR to work on paper and be seen to be working in practice.

So the current cookie mess is a problematic signal which risks signposting regulatory failure — and that simply isn’t sustainable.

A spokesperson for the European Commission told us it cannot comment on specific research but said: “The protection of personal data is a fundamental right in the European Union and a topic the Juncker commission takes very seriously.”

“The GDPR strengthens the rights of individuals to be in control of the processing of personal data, it reinforces the transparency requirements in particular on the information that is crucial for the individual to make a choice, so that consent is given freely, specific and informed,” the spokesperson added. 

“Cookies, insofar as they are used to identify users, qualify as personal data and are therefore subject to the GDPR. Companies do have a right to process their users’ data as long as they receive consent or if they have a legitimate interest.”

All of which suggests that the movement, when it comes, must come from a reforming adtech industry.

With robust privacy regulation in place the writing is now on the wall for unfettered tracking of Internet users for the kind of high velocity, real-time trading of people’s eyeballs that the ad industry engineered for itself when no one knew what was being done with people’s data.

GDPR has already brought greater transparency. Once Europeans are no longer forced to trade away their privacy it’s clear they’ll vote with their clicks not to be ad-stalked around the Internet too.

The current chaos of non-compliant cookie notices is thus a signpost pointing at an underlying privacy lag — and likely also the last gasp signage of digital business models well past their sell-by-date.

Auto supplier Continental shifts gears — and its capital — to an electric future

By Kirsten Korosec

Continental AG, a global auto-parts supplier, will no longer invest in parts used in internal combustion engines, the latest sign that the automotive industry is being forced to respond to increasingly strict emissions laws.

Instead, the company said it will put more focus and capital on the electric powertrain, which it believes is the “future of mobility.”

“Our customers are increasingly and consistently turning to the electrification of combustion engines through hybrid drives as well as to pure battery-powered vehicles,” said Andreas Wolf, head of Continental’s Powertrain division, which in the future will operate under the name Vitesco Technologies with Wolf as CEO.

This shift toward electrification is being driven by tighter regulations around the world. Cities are clamping down on the use of diesel- and gas-powered cars, trucks and SUVs in urban centers and states like California are tightening rules to meet air quality and emissions targets to combat climate change. China has placed restrictions on gas-powered vehicles and provides incentives to electric ones. France wants to end the sale of fossil fuel-powered cars by 2040.

And automakers are following. Volvo, VW and others have announced plans over the past two years to increase sales of electric vehicles and move toward more electrification throughout their portfolios of existing vehicles. Electrification can mean hybrid, plug-in or all-electric vehicles.

There has been plenty of speculation and attempts to predict exactly when — not so much if — a tectonic shift to electric powertrains would occur. Suppliers have grappled with the “when” part. Putting too much capital too soon toward developing automotive parts can saddle a supplier with inventory and mounting costs.

What’s happening at Continental is starting to play out within the rest of the industry. If companies like Continental want to survive and keep up with the demands of automakers, they have to act. But not wildly. Development costs for powertrains are, after all, no small matter.

Continental is making specific choices on what exactly it pursues. The company, for instance, will not consider producing solid-state battery cells in the future. Apparently the company was open to making an investment in battery cell production. But now the company believes the market no longer offers any attractive economic prospects for battery cell production for Continental, Wolf said.

What Continental is going to do is reduce investment in its hydraulic components business, which includes parts like injectors and pumps for gasoline and diesel engines.

“Investments in research and development and in production capacity for innovations are becoming less profitable,” says Wolf, explaining the reasoning behind this decision.

Continental will fulfill existing orders. New orders will “play an increasingly marginal role.”

This shift within Continental will likely extend over a number of years, as combustion engines essentially serve as the basic drivers for hybrid solutions, Wolf said. The company will also review its business in components for exhaust-gas after treatment and fuel delivery.

All of this translates into big changes within the company, including the technologies it decides to invest in, jobs and even locations of some of its operations. Continental said it will also consider partnerships.

Not your typical startup: How being a cooperative drives our business and product development

By Arman Tabatabai
Pola Henderson & Maxime Bouroumeau-Fuseau Contributor
Pola Henderson is a communications specialist and Digicoop’s Content & Community Manager. Maxime Bouroumeau-Fuseau is a developer, entrepreneur, and co-founder of Digicoop.

Our French startup Digicoop is a remote-first worker cooperative. We started the company in 2015, based on our shared values and passion for technology. The goal was simple: make good products that will have a positive impact on companies. The road to funding, not so simple.

Due to our unique business model, which focuses on building a sustainable company, we had to forego venture capital and convince lots of players to take a chance. The effort paid off. Here’s a look at why we chose to be a co-op, how we got the funding and how it drives our product development.

Table of Contents

Raison d’être

Unlike many startups, Digicoop wasn’t founded because of a particular product. Our story is a bit different. In 2015, a few friends and former colleagues came together to work on projects they were passionate about. Initially we didn’t know what those would be, but we quickly figured out the theme: collaborative work tools for teams. 

Making that our focus was no coincidence. We recognized that the workplace was changing: distributed teams were becoming more common, and with that more transparency and an increased cross-team collaboration necessary. We became frustrated with traditional work tools and processes, as they were no longer enough.

We saw an opportunity to develop products suitable for the digital future, but that wasn’t our only driver. Being passionate about technology and the impact it can have on the society, we set out to build tools that could make a positive difference. The idea was to empower employees, not only managers.

Our shared values and vision of the workplace were the reason we decided to go against the grain and structure Digicoop as a worker cooperative (called SCOP in France), giving each employee a real stake in the company.

SCOP: We’re all in this together

Google’s Titan security keys come to Japan, Canada, France and the UK

By Frederic Lardinois

Google today announced that its Titan Security Key kits are now available in Canada, France, Japan and the UK. Until now, these keys, which come in a kit with a Bluetooth key and a standard USB-A dongle, were only available in the U.S.

The keys provide an extra layer of security on top of your regular login credentials. They provide a second authentication factor to keep your account safe and replace more low-tech two-factor authentication systems like authentication apps or SMS messages. When you use those methods, you still have to type the code into a form, after all. That’s all good and well until you end up on a well-designed phishing page. Then, somebody could easily intercept your code and quickly reuse it to breach your account — and getting a second factor over SMS isn’t exactly a great idea to begin with, but that’s a different story.

Authentication keys use a number of cryptographic techniques to ensure that you are on a legitimate site and aren’t being phished. All of this, of course, only works on sites that support hardware security keys, though that number continues to grow.

The launch of Google’s Titan keys came as a bit of a surprise, given that Google had long had a good relationship with Yubico and previously provided all of its employees with that company’s keys. The original batch of keys also featured a security bug in the Bluetooth key. That bug was hard to exploit, but nonetheless, Google offered free replacements to all Titan Key owners.

In the U.S., the Titan Key kit sells for $50. In Canada, it’ll go for $65 CAD. In France, it’ll be €55, while in the UK it’ll retail for £50 and in Japan for ¥6,000. Free delivery is included.

 

Heat waves bring record-breaking temperatures on a geological scale

By Jonathan Shieber

From Alaska to Europe the world has spent the past few weeks roasting under temperatures never before seen in recorded history.

In Alaska, all-time high record temperatures were set across the state on July 4th, according to the National Weather Service. In Anchorage, the mercury soared to highs of 90 degrees, the highest temperature since recording began in 1952.

Temperatures in Alaska have reached 90 degrees in other cities around the state before, but this is the first time that the thermometer hit that mark in Anchorage.

The #4thofjuly2019 was one for the books. Several ALL-TIME high temperature records were set at official observation sites throughout Southern #Alaska. But that's not all…there were more daily temperature records set too! #AKwx #ItsHotInAlaska pic.twitter.com/GxcdUaD9ld

— NWS Anchorage (@NWSAnchorage) July 5, 2019

Meanwhile, hot winds blowing North from the Sahara set temperatures in Europe soaring to record highs, according to data released by the Copernicus Climate Change Service.

It was Europe’s record three degree temperature spike that brought global temperatures to their recorded-history highs.

Screen Shot 2019 07 05 at 12.16.41 PM

“Although local temperatures may have been lower or higher than those forecast, our data show that the temperatures over the southwestern region of Europe during the last week of June were unusually high,” said Jean-Noël Thépaut, head of the Copernicus Climate Change Service. “Although this was exceptional, we are likely to see more of these events in the future due to climate change.”

According to data from Copernicus, the temperature spikes across Europe was the highest on record for the month.

Compared for the same five-day period during the last thirty year climatological reference period, six to ten degree Celsius temperature spikes happened in most of France and Germany, throughout northern Spain, northern Italy, Switzerland, Austria and the Czech Republic.

As these events become common, the need for technologies that can reduce carbon emissions because more pressing.

Increasingly, businesses and investors are returning to the once-shunned market of clean technology and renewable energy to back new electric vehicle manufacturers, new energy efficient construction technologies, the rehabilitation of outdated infrastructure and consumer goods that have a smaller carbon footprint or reduce waste.

Data from Bloomberg New Energy Finance published earlier this year indicated that venture investments into what was once called clean technology hit $9.2 billion in 2018. That’s the highest cumulative investment in the sector since 2009. Much of those deals were in Chinese electric vehicle manufacturers who attracted some $3.3 billion in venture capital and private equity dollars.

That’s critical because global carbon emissions have increased over the past two years, according to estimates from the Global Carbon Project.

“We thought, perhaps hoped, emissions had peaked a few years ago,” said Rob Jackson, a professor of Earth system science in Stanford’s School of Earth, Energy & Environmental Sciences (Stanford Earth). “After two years of renewed growth, that was wishful thinking.”

In the U.S. specifically, climate related pressures (a warmer summer and a colder winter) led to increasing demand along with an uptick in gasoline consumption as demand for bigger vehicles fueled higher gas consumption.

“We’re driving more miles in bigger cars, changes that are outpacing improvements in vehicle fuel efficiency,” Jackson explained.

Karamel is an app to find activities for your kids

By Romain Dillet

French startup Karamel wants to help you find things to do for your kids. The company is launching a mobile app that lets you find and book kid-friendly activities around you.

The startup also just raised a $560,000 round (€500,000) from Kima Ventures, Roxanne Varza, Thibaud Elzière and Oleg Tscheltzoff. Varza participates in the Atomico Angel Programme, which means that Atomico handed out $100,000 to invest in multiple early-stage companies. Atomico and Varza both see returns if the company eventually succeeds.

Karamel wants to become a one-stop shop for things your kids can do. When you open the app, you get a curated selection of activities around you so that you can find something to do this weekend, for instance.

If you’re looking for something specific, you can search for activities based on multiple criteria, such as the age of your child, an activity category, price, distance and day of the week.

You also can find recurring activities in case your child really wants to learn a new instrument or start a new sport, for instance.

On the other side of the marketplace, there are many different organizations in charge of activities. It’s a fragmented market, and those organizations don’t always know how to reach parents efficiently.

Thanks to Karamel, those organizations should get more traffic and could focus more on activities themselves. The startup doesn’t charge any monthly subscription fee. Instead, Karamel is taking a cut on transactions. Parents pay the same price if they book directly or though Karamel.

The service is currently live in Paris. And if you live in Marseille, Lyon, Bordeaux or Montpellier, you can search for activities but can’t book through the app just yet.

In the U.S., KidPass provides something vaguely similar, but with a monthly subscription fee. KidPass opted for a credit-based system like Audible or ClassPass.

Karamel

Clever Cloud launches GPU-based instances

By Romain Dillet

French startup Clever Cloud is a cloud-hosting company that operates a Platform-as-a-Service (or PaaS). The company just launched GPU-based instances for machine learning purposes under a new brand, Clever Grid.

Behind the scene, the company uses Nvidia GeForce GTX 1070. You get billed by the minute and the most basic instance costs €0.42 per hour, €10 per day or €300 per month. For this price, you get 6GB of RAM, an 8-core CPU, a one GPU and 250GB of storage.

Of course, you can pay more to access beefier machines. If you max out your GPU instance, you get 60GB of RAM, 32 CPU cores and 4 GPUs on the same instance. It can cost as much as €1,200.

Screen Shot 2019 07 04 at 6.59.39 PM

If you’re a data scientist and don’t know much about cloud infrastructure, Clever Cloud tries to abstract infrastructure management as much as possible. You can run your Python code directly on your cloud instance using a web interface.

Those instances also support TensorFlow, Scikit-learn, CUDA, Keras and PyTorch. You also can run Docker containers on those GPU instances.

One of the advantages of Clever Cloud is that it integrates directly with a GitHub repository. You can connect to your GitHub account and start a cloud instance based on a repository. The company then deploys and runs your code on a server.

In addition to seamless deployments, Clever Cloud has additional features to make sure your service runs smoothly, such as monitoring, backups and security updates.

Clever Cloud clients include Airbus, MAIF, Compte Nickel, Sogeti and the South African Ministry of Health.

Clever Grid

Ornikar raises $40 million for its driving school marketplace

By Romain Dillet

French startup Ornikar is raising a $40 million Series B round (€35 million) from Idinvest and Bpifrance. The company competes with traditional driving schools in Europe with an online marketplace of students and teachers.

And Ornikar has been a massive success in France. Overall, 35 percent of driving school registrations in 2019 are handled by Ornikar.

There are many advantages in choosing Ornikar. For driver students, Ornikar is much more flexible than a traditional driving school. Driving schools in France are usually pretty small with only a handful of employees. It’s sometimes hard to book lessons, especially if you have a full-time work.

When you sign up to Ornikar, you can connect to your Ornikar account and book an hour or two from there. Ornikar works with a pool of 650 instructors so that you get to study at your own pace.

Ornikar is also cheaper than a traditional driving school. By automating the administration work as much as possible, the startup says that it is 35 percent cheaper than a traditional driving school. It currently costs €750 for 20 hours of lessons.

“We’ve been profitable in 2018 and very profitable in 2019 for the French market,” Ornikar co-founder and CEO Benjamin Gaignault told me.

Here are some numbers. Every month, 30,000 people sign up to Ornikar in France. The startup manages 70,000 hours of lessons per month on its marketplace.

Ornikar works with qualified instructors who got a license to work in a driving school. They get paid €15 per hour, which is theoretically more than in a normal driving school.

With today’s funding round, the startup wants to expand to more countries. Ornikar is already live in Germany and Spain, but the company wants to grow the product there. Eventually, the company will also expand to Italy and the U.K.

In addition to new countries, Ornikar wants to sell other car-related products. The company is partnering with third-party companies for car insurance products, and there will be more products down the road.

Ornikar had previously raised an $11.3 million Series A (€10 million) and a $1.3 million seed round (€1 million). Existing investors include Brighteye, Partech, Elaia, Xavier Niel, Jacques-Antoine Granjon and Marc Simoncini.

India reportedly wants to build its own WhatsApp for government communications

By Manish Singh

India may have plans to follow France’s footsteps in building a chat app and requiring government employees to use it for official communications.

The New Delhi government is said to be pondering about the need to have homegrown email and chat apps, local news outlet Economic Times reported on Thursday.

The rationale behind the move is to cut reliance on foreign entities, the report said, a concern that has somehow manifested amid U.S.’s ongoing tussle with Huawei and China.

“We need to make our communication insular,” an unnamed top government official was quoted as saying by the paper. The person suggested that by putting Chinese giant Huawei on the entity list, the U.S. has “set alarm bells ringing in New Delhi.”

India has its own ongoing trade tension with the U.S. Donald Trump earlier this month removed the South Asian nation from a special trade program after India did not assure him that it will “provide equitable and reasonable access to its markets.” India called the move “unfortunate”, and weeks later, increased tariffs on some U.S. exports.

The move to step away from foreign communication apps, if it comes to fruition, won’t be the first time a nation has attempted to cautiously restrict usage of popular messaging apps run by foreign players in government offices.

France launched an encrypted chat app — called Tchap — for use in government offices earlier this year. Only those employed by the French government offices can sign up to use the service, though the nation has open sourced the app’s code for the world to see and audit.

Of course, a security flaw in Tchap came into light within the first 24 hours of its release. Security is a real challenge that the government would have to tackle and it might not have the best resources — talent, budget, and expertise — to deal with it.

China, which has restricted many foreign companies from operating in the nation, also maintains customized versions of popular operating systems for use in government offices. So does North Korea.

It won’t be an unprecedented step for India, either. The nation has been trying to build and scale its own Linux-based desktop operating system called BOSS for several years with little success as most government agencies continue to use Microsoft’s Windows operating system.

Even as India has emerged as the third-largest startup hub in the world, the country has failed to build local alternatives for many popular services. Facebook’s WhatsApp has become ubiquitous for communication in India, while Google’s Android and Microsoft’s Windows power most smartphones and computers in the nation.

Taster raises another $8 million for its native food delivery brands

By Romain Dillet

If you’re an Instagram user, chances are you’ve encountered a ton of ads for companies trying to sell products directly to consumers, using social networks as storefronts paired with online stores. French startup Taster is doing the same thing with restaurants built specifically for food delivery startups.

The startup raised an $8 million funding round from Battery Ventures, with existing investors Heartcore Capital, LocalGlobe, GFC and Marc Ménasé investing again.

Taster is creating native brands for Deliveroo, UberEats or Glovo in Europe. The company has launched three different brands — Mission Saigon, O Ke Kai and Out-Fry. These restaurants don’t have any tables, they’re basically kitchens for food delivery. They even have multiple addresses in the same city.

So far, the startup has delivered 400,000 meals in Paris, London and Madrid. And Taster now tries to predict trends to order just the right amount of food for a specific day. There are 115 full-time employees working for the company, including 100 people in the kitchens.

With today’s funding round, the company plans to launch three new brands and open more kitchens. In order to scale more rapidly, the company doesn’t handle real estate itself. Taster now relies on third-party companies, such as Travis Kalanick’s CloudKitchens.

By focusing as much as possible on creating brands and cooking food, Taster can quickly scale and compete aggressively with more traditional restaurants.

The company doesn’t have to manage deliveries, which is an advantage over full-stack startups like Frichti. And unlike traditional restaurants, Taster doesn’t have to rent expensive locations and hire waiters.

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