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Join the Q&A with top speakers at TC Sessions: Robotics + AI (March 3)

By Brian Heater

Over the past four years, TechCrunch has brought together some of the biggest names in robotics — founders, CEOs, VCs and researchers — for TC Sessions: Robotics + AI. The show has provided a unique opportunity to explore the future and present of robotics, AI and the automation technologies that will define our professional and personal lives.

While the panels have been curated and hosted by our editorial staff, we’ve also long been interested in providing show-goers an opportunity to engage with guests. For this reason, we introduced the Q&A stage, where some of the biggest names can more directly engage with attendees.

This year, we’ve got top names from SoftBank, Samsung, Sony’s Innovation Fund, Qualcomm, Nvidia and more joining us on the stage to answer questions. Here’s the full agenda of this year’s Q&A stage:

11:30 – 12:00 Russell Book signing
Stuart Russell

12:15 – 1:00 Corporate VC, Partnering and Acquisitions
Carlos Kocher (Qualcomm)
/> Kass Dawson (SoftBank)
Gen Tsuchikawa (Sony Innovation Fund)

1:15 – 2:00 Founders
Sebastien Boyer (FarmWise)
Noah Campbell-Ready (Built Robotics)

2:15 – 3:00 VC
Jocelyn Goldfein (Zetta Venture Partners)
/> Rob Coneybeer (Shasta Ventures)
Aaron Jacobson (New Enterprise Associates)

3:15 – 4:00 Building Robotics Platforms
Steven Macenski (Samsung)
Claire Delaunay (Nvidia)

$345 General admission tickets are still on sale — book yours here and join 1,000+ of today’s leading minds in the business for networking and discovery. The earlier you book the better, as prices go up at the door.

Students, save big with a $50 ticket and get full access to the show. Student tickets are available to current students only. Book yours here.

Dell sells RSA to consortium led by Symphony Technology Group for over $2B

By Ron Miller

Dell Technologies announced today that it was selling legacy security firm, RSA for $2.075 billion to a consortium of investors led by Symphony Technology Group. Other investors include Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan Board and AlpInvest Partners.

RSA came to Dell when it bought EMC for $67 billion in 2015. EMC had bought the company in 2006 for a similar price it was sold for today, $2.1 billion. The deal includes several pieces including the RSA security conference held each year in San Francisco.

As for products, the consortium gets RSA Archer, RSA NetWitness Platform, RSA SecurID, RSA Fraud and Risk Intelligence — in addition to the conference. At the time of the EMC acquisition, Michael Dell actually called out RSA as one of the companies he looked forward to welcoming to the Dell family after the deal was completed in a letter to customers.

“I am excited to work with the EMC, VMware, Pivotal, VCE, Virtustream and RSA teams, and I am personally committed to the success of our new company, our partners and above all, to you, our customers,” Dell wrote at the time.

Times change however, and perhaps Dell decided it was simply time to get some cash and jettison the veteran security company to go a bit more modern, as RSA’s approach no longer aligned with Dell’s company-wide security strategy.

“The strategies of RSA and Dell Technologies have evolved to address different business needs with different go-to-market models. The sale of RSA gives us greater flexibility to focus on integrated innovation across Dell Technologies, while allowing RSA to focus on its strategy of providing risk, security and fraud teams with the ability to holistically manage digital risk,” Dell Technology’s chief operating officer and vice chairman Jeff Clarke,” wrote in a blog post announcing the deal.

Meanwhile RSA president Rohit Ghai tried to put a happy spin on the outcome, framing it as the next step in the company’s long and storied history. “The one constant in every episode of our existence has been our focus on the success of our customers and our ability to endure through market disruption by innovating on behalf of our customers,” he wrote in a blog post on the RSA company website.

The deal is subject to the normal kinds of regulatory approval before it is finalized.

Intuition Robotics raises $36M for its empathetic digital companion

By Frederic Lardinois

Intuition Robotics, the company best known for its ElliQ robot, a digital home companion for the elderly, today announced that it has raised a $36 million Series B round co-led by SPARX Group and OurCrowd. Toyota AI Ventures, Sompo Holdings, iRobot, Union Tech Ventures, Happiness Capital, Samsung Next, Capital Point and Bloomberg Beta also participated in this round. This brings the total funding for the company, which was founded in 2016, to $58 million.

As the company, which sees it as its mission to build digital assistants that can create emotional bonds between humans and machines, also disclosed today, it is working with Toyota to bring its technology to the automaker’s LQ concept. Toyota previously said that it wanted to bring an empathetic AI assistant to the LQ that could create a bond between driver and car. This assistant, dubbed “Yui,” is powered by Intuition Robotics’ Q platform.

Intuition Robotics CEO and co-founder Dor Skuler

Intuition Robotics CEO and co-founder Dor Skuler tells me that the company spent the last two years gathering data through ElliQ. In the process, the company spent more than 10,000 days in the homes of early users to gather data. The youngest of those users were 78 and the oldest 97.

On average, users interacted with ElliQ eight times per day and spent about six minutes on those interactions. When ElliQ made proactive suggestions, users accepted those about half the time.

“We believe that we have been able to prove that she can create an enduring relationship between humans and machines that actually influences people’s feelings and behaviors,” Skuler told me. “That she’s able to create empathy and trust — and anticipate the needs of the users. And that, to us, is the real vision behind the company.”

While Intuition Robotics is most closely identified with ElliQ, though, that’s only one area the company is focusing on. The other is automotive — and as Skuler stressed, as a small startup, focus is key, even as there are some other obvious verticals it could try to get into.

In the car, the empathetic AI assistant will adapt to the individual user and, for example, provide personalized suggestions for trying out new features in the car, or suggest that you open the window and get some fresh air into the car when it senses you are getting tired. As Skuler stressed, the car is actually a great environment for a digital assistant, as it already has plenty of built-in sensors.

“The agent gets the data feed, builds context, looks at the goals and answers three questions: Should I be proactive? Which activity should I promote? And which version to be most effective? And then it controls the outcomes,” Skuler explained. That’s the same process in the car as it would be in ElliQ — and indeed, the same code runs in both.

The Intuition team decided that in order to allow third-parties to build these interactions, it needed to develop specialized tools and a new language that would help designers — not programmers — create the outlines of these interactions for the platform.

Unlike ElliQ, though, the assistant in the car doesn’t move, of course. In Toyota’s example, the car uses lights and a small screen to provide additional interactions with the driver. As Skuler also told me, the company is already working with another automotive company to bring its Q platform to more cars, though he wasn’t ready to disclose this second automotive partner.

“Intuition Robotics is creating disruptive technology that will inspire companies to re-imagine how machines might amplify the human experience,” said Jim Adler, founding managing partner at Toyota AI Ventures, who will also join the company’s board of directors.

Intuition Robotics’ team doubled over the course of the last year and the company now has 85 employees, most of whom are engineers. The company has offices in Israel and San Francisco.

Unsurprisingly, the plans for the new funding focus on building out its assistant’s capabilities. “We’re the only company in the world that can create these context-based, nonlinear personalized interactions that we call a digital companion,” Skuler told me. “We assume people will start doing similar things. There’s a lot more work to do. […] A big part of the work is to increase our research activities and increase the tools and the performance of the runtime engine for the agent.” He also told me that the team continues to gather data about ElliQ so it can prove that it improves the quality of life of its users. And in addition to this, the company obviously also will continue to build out its work around cars.

“We cracked something nobody’s cracked before,” Skuler said. “And now we’re on the verge of getting value out of it. And it will be hard work because this is not an app. It’s really hard work but we want to capture that value.”

Karma Automotive to lay off 60 more workers at California headquarters

By Kirsten Korosec

Karma Automotive is laying off 60 workers at its Irvine, Calif., headquarters, just three months after cutting 200 workers, according to documents filed with the California Employment Development Department.

The Chinese-backed California-based startup filed the notice under the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act, which requires employers to alert the state of mass layoffs. The WARN report was updated Wednesday. The Orange County Register was first to report the layoffs.

A Karma spokesperson confirmed the layoffs and said a majority would be at the headquarters, with a significantly smaller number being impacted at its Moreno Valley, Calif. assembly plant. Karma didn’t provide details on its total employee count, but did say “adjustments” will be made at its Irvine headquarters, Moreno Valley assembly plant and its Detroit Technical Center in Troy, Mich.

Here’s the complete statement from spokesman Dave Barthmuss.

As Karma evolves beyond its initial birth as car company and emerges as a technology-focused innovator, there is a continuous need to adjust the size and skillset of its workforce to fulfill the task at hand. The company has therefore determined it necessary to realign resources in some business functions so it can grow its capabilities beyond just creating and selling luxury electric vehicles.

As Karma builds partnerships with other OEMs and start-ups to speed product development, we must staff appropriately to fully leverage and realize the kinds of efficiencies partnerships and collaborations can provide. The result of that decision is some adjustments at Karma’s Global Headquarters in Irvine, Calif.; the Karma Innovation and Customization Center in Moreno Valley, Calif.; and our Detroit Technical Center in Troy, Mich. Although clearly regrettable for the individuals involved, this action is part of the natural trajectory of a start-up enterprise and underlines Karma’s commitment to remain lean, nimble and focused on building partnerships to encourage success in a changing and hugely competitive marketplace.

The company continues to actively recruit, with emphasis on technology innovation, in functions across the company as we focus on retail deliveries of our current products and developing new vehicle platforms, technologies and business partnerships.

The layoff notice comes just a month after several executive hires at the company, including a chief revenue officer, a new vice president of strategy and vehicle line engineering and a head of supply chain. Karma does have a handful of jobs posted on its website, including 11 positions at its Irvine headquarters and two spots at the Moreno Valley plant.

Karma Automotive launched out of the remnants of Fisker Automotive, the startup led by Henrik Fisker  that ended in bankruptcy in 2013. China’s Wanxiang Group purchased what was left of Fisker in 2014 and Karma Automotive was born.

It hasn’t been the easiest of roads for the company. Karma’s first effort, known as the Revero, wasn’t received warmly. The Revero GT, which has been described as the first fully conceived product under the Karma name, followed with better reviews. The 2020 Revero GT is being delivered to retail customers, according to Karma.

Karma unveiled in November the Revero GTS and a new electric concept car called the SC2, just weeks after it laid off about 200 workers following a restructuring. Production of the GTS is slated for later this year.

The SC2 is a big part of Karma’s restructuring and plan to reinvent itself as a technology and design incubator that supplies other automakers. The company’s new business strategy is to open its engineering, design, customization and manufacturing resources to other companies. The GTS and SC2 were meant to show automakers what it is capable of.

Uber claims top spot in Indian ride-hailing market

By Manish Singh

Uber facilitated 14 million rides a week in India last year, the American ride-hailing firm said as it claimed the tentpole position in the key overseas market.

In a report (PDF) published on the sidelines of its quarterly earnings Thursday afternoon, Uber said that it commanded over 50% of the ride-hailing market in India — among some other regions — and was the category leader.

The publicly listed company cited its internal estimations for the claim, it said. In comparison, Uber handled 11 million rides a week in India in 2018, a spokesperson told TechCrunch.

The revelation is especially interesting, since both Uber and its chief local rival Ola have tended to avoid talks about the number of rides they serve in India.

In a 2018 blog post, Ola revealed that its platform “moves over two million people every day.” A spokesperson for the Indian startup, which like Uber counts SoftBank as an investor, declined to reveal the new figures, but issued a statement in which it identified itself as India’s “largest mobility platform.”

“As India’s largest mobility platform, Ola serves over 200 million customers through a network of 2.5 million driver-partners across a wide range of offerings including two, three and four-wheelers,” the spokesperson said, adding that the ride-hailing firm operates in 250 cities and towns in India.

Last month, Uber sold its food delivery Uber Eats’ India business to local rival Zomato for about $180 million in a move that some analysts said could help the ride-hailing firm better focus on its core business in the country.

An Uber spokesperson told TechCrunch that the company plans to expand from about 50 Indian cities where it currently operates to 200 in the country by the end of the year. It will focus on onboarding two-wheelers and three-wheelers in many of these cities, the firm said.

Uber’s expansion in India comes as Ola is entering one of the American firm’s key territories. Last week, Ola said it will begin operation in London on February 10.

Advocating reform, activist investor Elliott Management takes a $2.5B stake in SoftBank

By Jonathan Shieber

The activist investment firm Elliott Management has steadily amassed a $2.5 billion stake in the headline-grabbing, Japanese technology conglomerate SoftBank even as a series of missteps battered the company’s share price.

Famous for its investments in companies like Slack and Uber and infamous for betting billions on the co-working real estate marketplace and development company, WeWork, SoftBank presented an enticing target for Elliott’s brand of financial speculation, according to an initial report in The Wall Street Journal.

Last November, SoftBank Group reported a $6.5 billion loss thanks in part to its efforts to bail out its investment in WeWork — a company once valued in private markets at $47 billion.

Those losses sent the stock price tumbling, but despite its troubles, SoftBank still holds a vast stable of portfolio companies. It’s those assets that Elliott Management thinks are appealing enough to carve out some of its $34 billion in assets under management for a minority stake.

Elliott’s substantial investment in SoftBank Group reflects its strong conviction that the market significantly undervalues SoftBank’s portfolio of assets,” a spokesperson for the firm wrote in an email. “Elliott has engaged privately with SoftBank’s leadership and is working constructively on solutions to help SoftBank materially and sustainably reduce its discount to intrinsic value.”

SoftBank made waves in the technology investment world with its massive $100 billion Vision fund, which was designed to take stakes in emerging technology companies that required lots of cash, but could potentially transform various industries.

The audacious investment strategy was financed by working with sovereign wealth funds like the Saudi Arabian Public Investment Fund (whose principals are linked to a leadership known for ordering the assassination of journalists) and companies like Apple and Microsoft.

Through its limited partners and with its own cash, SoftBank was able to take large equity stakes in companies across a range of different industries. However, it now appears that those large equity stakes will be difficult to maintain or justify.

Over the last year, several of SoftBank’s portfolio companies have run into trouble, and it’s an open question whether any changes Elliott might be able to effect at the top of the organization would have an impact on the performance of the underlying portfolio.

Indeed, given SoftBank founder Masayoshi Son’s 22% ownership stake in the business, any corporate activism that Elliott may initiate or advocate for could have limited results.

There are good businesses in the SoftBank portfolio, and public investors have rushed in to buy the company’s stock on the back of the disclosure of Elliott Management’s investment.

However, the flood of capital that came into the venture market in 2018 seems to have crested, which could leave SoftBank and its new investors soaked.

Tinder to add new features including tools to filter matches, text and photo prompts

By Sarah Perez

In December, dating app Bumble announced new tools to filter match by more than just age and distance. Now, it seems Tinder is poised to do the same. Tinder parent company Match Group this week announced plans to expand its filtering capabilities, alongside other product updates such as new social engagement features and the forthcoming international launch for its interactive in-app experience called “Swipe Night.”

The company was light on details about how Tinder’s new filters would work, but did say there would be both free and paid options available. In Bumble’s case, the company offered daters two filters for free but to add more options was a paid upgrade. It wouldn’t be surprising to see Tinder do something similar.

“We…want to make the utility of Tinder better and more efficient,” explained outgoing Match Group CEO Mandy Ginsberg, who recently announced she’s stepping down from her position after 14 years with the company.

“We’ll be introducing features to give members more control over their experience,” she continued. “Tinder U is an example of this type of feature, where we enable users to limit their matches only to other college students. It was well-received, particularly with female users. We believe there’s an opportunity to introduce both free and paid features to enhance the experience,” Ginsberg added.

The Tinder U experience was launched in 2018 as a way to give one of Tinder’s core demographics — college students — a way to limit matches only to other students at their school. But many dating app users want to limit matches in other ways as well. Apps often accommodate this by way of filters that let you specify other factors, like educational background, religion, relationship type, political leaning, family plans, drinking or drug use, and more, including sometimes even body type or height.

However, it’s not yet clear Tinder plans to filter users by these specific options, as Bumble or even Match Groups’s OKC allows. Reached for comment, Tinder declined to offer details.

Of course, it’s not proven that using filters actually delivers a better set of matches, but being able to filter is something much in demand among dating app users — and is a feature many find worth paying for. That fits into Tinder’s strategy in terms of finding new ways to monetize its product.

So far, the company has done very well on the front — Tinder generated a whopping $1.2 billion in revenue in 2019 thanks to its premium subscriptions and in-app purchases. Overall, Match Group made $2.1 billion in 2019 across a suite of dating apps that also includes OKCupid, Plenty of Fish, Hinge, and others, it said.

In addition, Tinder will also soon roll out new social engagement features, which the company describes as a way for users “to express themselves and show their interests. This is something Tinder believes is important for the Gen Z market, in particular.

Based on the screenshot provided, these appear to involve a set of text and photo prompts that encourage people to be more thoughtful with their conversations. For example, prompts may include things like: “a life goal of mine is…”, “a social cause I care about is…,” “biggest risk I’ve ever taken is…”, “best travel story…”, “believe it or not I…,” and so on.

Match Group’s latest acquisition, Hinge, used a similar set of prompts to help users craft more engaging profiles that showcased their personality, not just their looks. Tinder, however, didn’t get into the product specifics.

The prompts are expected to arrive in Q1 2020.

The company also confirmed that its in-app, choose-your-own-adventure style story called Swipe Night will roll out to ten new markets this quarter, in parts of Europe and Asia. Tinder had previously announced international ambitions for Swipe Night, after the U.S. launch was viewed by millions of users and led to double-digit increases in matches and messages.

Tinder’s product plans aren’t limited to the above in 2020. The company said it has a number of new ideas in the works, especially in the area of a la carte options.

These options will give Tinder users, especially power users, more advantages and benefits.

“On a platform such as games, you pay for advantages and it lends itself more to a consumable pay model,” explained Match Group President Shar Dubey, soon to be Match Group CEO. “Up until about three years ago, we had only pay-for-access subscription models on most of our platforms. Then we started experimenting with a couple of pay-for-advantage features, on Tinder particularly. And they’ve done really well and they already contribute north of 25% of our direct revenue,” she noted. “So we think we have a real opportunity to do more on the pay-for-advantage area and hence the focus on a la carte,” Dubey said.

The company also highlighted its recent investment in new safety features, powered by Noonlight, and said this rollout would be Tinder’s main focus in the first half of 2020.

Porsche NA CEO Klaus Zellmer is coming to TC Sessions: Mobility

By Kirsten Korosec

The name Porsche has been synonymous with gas-powered high-performance sports cars and racing for nearly three quarters of a century. Now, the sports car manufacturer that is owned by Volkswagen Group is trying to build a new legacy, starting with its first all-electric vehicle, the Porsche Taycan.

Porsche has said that the Taycan, which was first unveiled in September, is just the beginning. It has committed to invest more than $6 billion into electric mobility through 2025 — a goal that is already well underway. Porsche spent more than $1 billion developing the Taycan, a cost that included expanding its factory. The company is investing in tech too, including an increased stake in Croatian electric vehicle components and hypercar company Rimac Automobili. Its venture arm took a minority stake in TriEye, an Israeli startup that’s working on a sensor technology to help vehicle driver-assistance and self-driving systems see better in poor weather conditions like dust, fog and rain.

Where is Porsche headed next? TC Sessions: Mobility 2020 will hopefully provide some answers. We’re excited to announce that Klaus Zellmer, the president and CEO of Porsche Cars North America, will join us onstage for TC Sessions: Mobility 2020 on May 14, 2020 in San Jose, Calif.

As president and CEO of PCNA, Zellmer leads the brand’s operations in the United States and Canada. He is also CEO of Porsche Digital, the sports car manufacturer’s digital subsidiary. Zellmer previously served as head of Overseas and Emerging Markets, with responsibility for Australia, Japan and Korea, and as CEO of Porsche Germany.

Zellmer has been with Porsche more than 20 years, an era of huge change at the sports car manufacturer, notably its electric vehicle program. Zellmer will talk about Porsche’s push into electrification, digital services and even flying cars while onstage at TC Sessions: Mobility.

TechCrunch created TC Sessions: Mobility to explore new ideas and startups, dig into the tech and highlight the people driving change in this ever-changing industry. This one-day event is centered around the future of mobility and transportation. We’ve already announced a few of the engineers, investors, founders and technologists who will join us onstage, including Waymo’s Boris Sofman, Ike Robotics co-founder and chief engineer Nancy Sun, Trucks VC general partner Reilly Brennan and Shin-pei Tsay, director of policy, cities and transportation at Uber.

Stay tuned to see who we’ll announce next.

And … $250 Early-Bird tickets are now on sale — save $100 on tickets before prices go up on April 9; book today. Students, you can grab your tickets for just $50 here.

Smart TV hub Solaborate secures $10M Series A and a go-to-market partnership

By Mike Butcher

When siblings Labinot and Mimoza Bytyqi fled the war in Kosovo in 1999, arriving as refugees on the West Coast of the U.S., they would have had no idea they’d go on to launch a technology company together.

But as adults, the pair set up attacking the $6.7 billion telepresence and video communication category, which hasn’t evolved much since the older business systems from Cisco and Polycom . By integrating their Solaborate device with Smart TVs, the entrepreneurs have come up with a drastically cheaper device and platform.

Solaborate has now closed a $10 million Series A funding round from EPOS and Demant Group. EPOS is a newly established company under the healthcare tech company Demant Group in Denmark, which makes high-end audio solutions designed for enterprise and gaming. The funding will be used to accelerate the development of Solaborate’s new product line of all-in-one HELLO devices and its cloud communication platform.

After two successful Kickstarter campaigns, Solaborate will now work with EPOS to combine compute, microphones, speakers and Smart TVs with their technology to create products fully-owned by and branded under EPOS. These will include Solaborate’s patented auto echo-cancellation delay.

Labinot Bytyqi, founder and CE) said: “We believe that privacy is a fundamental human right and that’s why we engineered HELLO devices with video and audio built-in hack-proof privacy controls and end-to-end encryption for everyone’s protection and peace of mind.”

A HELLO device require only two cables – HDMI and power – and then turns any TV into a voice-controlled open cross-platform communication and collaboration device supporting video conferencing platforms such as Microsoft Teams, Google Hangouts Meet, Zoom, Skype, Cisco WebEx, Facebook Messenger, WeChat, BlueJeans, Fuze, Unify, and several more.

The partnership will focus on video collaboration to deliver integrated audio/video solutions to the platforms of EPOS’ current strategic partners such as Microsoft.

They are pushing at an open door. The video conferencing market is predicted to grow from an estimated $1.8 billion to more than $2.8 billion by 2022, according to some studies.

It’s time for tech startups to get political

By Walter Thompson
Xiao Wang Contributor
Xiao Wang is CEO at Boundless, a technology startup that has helped thousands of immigrant families apply for marriage green cards and U.S. citizenship while providing affordable access to independent immigration attorneys.

Between 2005 and 2018, the five biggest U.S. tech firms collectively spent more than half a billion dollars lobbying federal policymakers. But they shelled out even more in 2019: Facebook boosted its lobbying budget by 25%, while Amazon hiked its political outlay by 16%. Together, America’s biggest tech firms spent almost $64 million in a bid to shape federal policies.

Clearly, America’s tech giants feel they’re getting value for their money. But as CEO of Boundless, a 40-employee startup that doesn’t have millions of dollars to invest in political lobbying, I’m proposing another way. One of the things we care most about at Boundless is immigration. And while we’ve yet to convince Donald Trump and Stephen Miller that immigrants are a big part of what makes America great — hey, we’re working on it! — we’ve found that when you have a clear message and a clear mission, even a startup can make a big difference.

So how can scrappy tech companies make a splash in the current political climate? Here are some guiding principles we’ve learned.

1) Speak out

You can’t make a difference if you don’t make some noise. A case in point: Boundless is spearheading the business community’s pushback against the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s “public charge rule.” This sweeping immigration reform would preclude millions of people from obtaining U.S. visas and green cards — and therefore make it much harder for American businesses to hire global talent — based on a set of new, insurmountable standards. We’re doing that not by cutting checks to K Street but by using our own expertise, creativity and people skills — the very things that helped make our company a success in the first place.

By leveraging our unique strengths — including our own proprietary data — we’ve been able to put together a smart, business-focused amicus brief urging courts to strike down the public charge rule. And because we combine immigration-specific expertise with a real understanding of the issues that matter most to tech companies, we’ve been able to convince more than 100 other firms  — such as Microsoft, Twitter, Warby Parker, Levi Strauss & Co. and Remitly — to cosign our amicus brief. Will that be enough to persuade the courts and steer federal policy in immigrants’ favor? The jury’s still out. But whatever happens, we take satisfaction in knowing that we’re doing everything we can on behalf of the entire immigrant community, not just our customers, in defense of a cause we’re passionate about.

2) Take a stand

Taking a stand is risky, but staying silent is a gamble, too: Consumers are increasingly socially conscious, and almost nine out of 10 said in one survey that they prefer to buy from brands that take active steps to support the causes they care about. It depends a bit on the issue, though. One survey found that trash-talking the president will win you brownie points from millennials but cost you support among Baby Boomers, for instance.

So pick your battles — but remember that media-savvy consumers can smell a phony a mile off. It’s important to choose causes you truly stand behind and then put your money where your mouth is. At Boundless, we do that by hiring a diverse workforce — not just immigrants, but also women (we’re over 60%), people of color (35%) and LGBTQ+ (15%) — and putting time and energy into helping them succeed. Figure out what authenticity looks like for your company, and make sure you’re living your values as well as just talking about them.

3) Band together

Tech giants might have a bigger megaphone, but there are a lot of startups in our country, and quantity has a quality all its own. In fact, the Small Business Administration reported in 2018 that there are 30.2 million small businesses in the United States, 414,000 of which are classified as “startups.” So instead of trying to shout louder, try forging connections with other smart, up-and-coming companies with unique voices and perspectives of their own.

At Boundless, we routinely reach out to the other startups that have received backing from our own investor groups — national networks such as Foundry Group, Trilogy Equity Partners, Pioneer Square Labs, Two Sigma Ventures and Flybridge Capital Partners — in the knowledge that these companies will share many of our values and be willing to listen to our ideas.

For startups, the venture capitalists, accelerators and incubators that helped you launch and grow can be an incredible resource: Leverage their expertise and Rolodexes to recruit a posse of like-minded startups and entrepreneurs that can serve as a force multiplier for your political activism. Instead of taking a stand as a single company, you could potentially rally dozens of companies — from a range of sectors and unique weights in their fields — on board for your advocacy efforts.

4) Use your superpowers

Every company has a few key superpowers, and the same things that make you a commercial success can help to sway policymakers, too. Boundless uses data and design to make the immigration process more straightforward, and number-crunching and messaging skills come in handy when we’re doing advocacy work, too.

Our data-driven report breaking down naturalization trends and wait times by location made a big splash, for instance, and not just in top-ranked Cleveland. We presented our findings to Congress, and soon afterward some Texas lawmakers began demanding reductions in wait times for would-be citizens. We can’t prove our advocacy was the deciding factor, but it’s likely that our study helped nudge them in the right direction.

5) Work the media

Whether you’re Bill Gates or a small-business owner, if you’re quoted in The New York Times, then your voice will reach the same people. Reporters love to feel like they’re including quotes from the “little guy,” so make yourself accessible, and learn to give snappy, memorable quotes to reporters, and you’ll soon find that they keep you on speed dial.

Our phones rang off the hook when Trump tried to push through a healthcare mandate by executive order, for instance, and our founders were quoted by top media outlets — from Reuters to Rolling Stone. It takes a while to build media relationships and establish yourself as a credible source, but it’s a great way to win national attention for your advocacy.

6) Know your lawmakers

To make a difference, you’ll need allies in the corridors of power. Reach out to your senators and congresspeople, and get to know their staffers, too. Working in politics is often thankless, and many aides love to hear from new voices, especially ones who are willing to stake out controversial positions on big issues, sound the alarm on bad policies or help move the Overton window to enable better solutions.

We’ve often found that prior to hearing from us, lawmakers simply hadn’t considered the special challenges faced by smaller tech companies, such as lack of internal legal, human and financial resources, to comply with various regulations. And those lawmakers come away from our meetings with a better understanding of the need to craft straightforward policies that won’t drown small businesses in red tape.

Political change doesn’t just happen in the Capital Beltway, so make a point of reaching out to your municipal and state-level leaders, too. In 2018, Boundless pitched to the Civic I/O Mayors Summit at SXSW because we knew that municipal leaders played a critical role in welcoming new Americans into our communities. Local policies and legislation can have a big impact on startups, and the support of local leaders remains a critical foundation for the kinds of change we want to see made to the U.S. immigration system.

Take the next step

It’s easy to make excuses or expect someone else to advocate on your behalf. But if there’s something you think the government could be doing better, then you have an obligation to use your company’s energy, talent and connections to push back and create momentum for reform. Sure, it would be nice to splash money around and hire a phalanx of lobbyists to shape public policy — but it’s perfectly possible to make a big difference without spending a dime.

But first, figure out what you stand for and what strengths and superpowers you can leverage to bear the problems you and your customers face. Above all, don’t be afraid to take a stand.

Match Group invests in Noonlight to power new safety features in Tinder and other dating apps

By Sarah Perez

Match Group, the dating app giant and parent company to Match, Tinder, OkCupid, Plenty of Fish and several other dating apps, announced this morning it has invested in and partnered with connected safety platform Noonlight to roll out a series of new safety features to its suite of dating apps. The tools include those for emergency assistance, location tracking, photo verification and an updated in-app Safety Center.

The Noonlight partnership follows an investigative report by ProPublica and Columbia Journalism Investigations from December 2019, which revealed how Match Group allowed known sexual predators to use its apps. The report also noted that Match Group didn’t have a uniform policy of running background checks on its dating app users, putting the responsibility on users to keep themselves safe.

The company explained at the time that it didn’t screen users of its free dating apps because it didn’t collect enough personal information to do so. But the results of that strategic decision meant that users of Tinder, OkCupid, Plenty of Fish and Match Group’s other free dating app platforms could encounter sexual predators — including registered sexual offenders, it admitted.

Today, Match Group says it has invested in Noonlight with the intention of rolling out new safety features to its apps, starting with Tinder on January 28, 2020. Tinder, now Match Group’s leading dating app and biggest moneymaker, has been downloaded more than 340 million times and has nearly 5.7 million paying subscribers. It was also the top-grossing non-game app of 2019.

The company didn’t disclose the size of its Noonlight investment, but did say it was joining Noonlight’s board of directors. Noonlight, which has been operating for five-plus years, today partners with Uber, Lyft, Alexa, Google Home, Fitbit, Canary, SmartThings and others, according to its website. It has handled more than 100,000 emergencies to date and runs three monitoring centers.

One key addition to Tinder, powered by Noonlight, will allow U.S. users to share details about upcoming dates via Noonlight’s Timeline technology. Tinder users will be able to share who they are meeting, where and when by adding the date to their timeline.

Beyond being a way to combat the reporting about dating app dangers, Match’s interest in this particular safety feature may also have been inspired by its new competition from Facebook. Last fall, the social network launched its Facebook Dating platform in the U.S., which allows daters to share their live location with a trusted friend via Messenger.

Another new feature in Tinder will allow users to easily and discreetly trigger emergency services via the Noonlight app, if they’re feeling uneasy or in need of assistance. This is something that ridesharing apps like Uber and Lyft also offer.

Similar to other buttons that connect users to emergency responders at 911, Noonlight’s own dispatchers will first reach out to the user, then alert emergency responders on their behalf, if needed. They’ll also be able to provide emergency dispatchers with information from the Tinder user’s timeline, like their location.

Other updates to Tinder include a new Photo Verification feature for verifying a match’s authenticity; a harassment detection prompt (“Does This Bother You?”), powered by machine learning; and a revamped, in-app Tinder Safety Center.

The photo verification feature will allow members to self-authenticate through real-time selfies, which are compared to their existing profile photos using a combination of human assistance and AI technology. Verified photos will get a blue checkmark to signal they’ve been verified. This feature is now in testing in select markets and will become more widely available in 2020.

Meanwhile, the “Does This Bother You?” prompt will appear when an offensive message has been sent. When a Tinder member responds “Yes,” they will have the option to report the person for their behavior. The technology will also be used to power a new feature called “Undo,” which will ask users if they want to take back a message that contains offensive language before it’s sent.

The new Tinder Safety Center, developed in collaboration with the Match Group Advisory Council, has also been updated to be more comprehensive, informing users of new tools and resources. This is launching first in the U.S., U.K., France and Germany, before rolling out to additional markets in 2020. In the future, the Safety Center will also become personalized to the app’s user.

This set of features will also roll out to Match Group’s other dating apps in the months ahead, with Match the next to arrive after Tinder. Match is expected to launch its own new Safety Center, photo verification and a new Date Check-In feature to alert friends and family of their date plans, sometime in 2020. Other Match Group brands will follow.

“A safe and positive dating experience is crucial to our business,” said Match Group CEO Mandy Ginsberg, in a statement about the deal. “We’ve found cutting-edge technology in Noonlight that can deliver real-time emergency services – which doesn’t exist on any other dating product – so that we can empower singles with tools to keep them safer and give them more confidence. Integrating this kind of technology, in addition to the other safety standards that Match Group is implementing across our brands, is a necessary step in dating innovation,” she said.

“We’re proud to partner with Match Group and start our integration with Tinder to provide an enhanced level of protection and comfort throughout the dating experience,” added Noonlight co-founder Nick Droege. “Meeting a new person can be an anxiety-inducing event for a myriad of reasons. In working closely with Match Group brands, our goal is to make sure safety isn’t one of those reasons.”

Memphis Meats raised $161 million from SoftBank Group, Norwest and Temasek

By Jonathan Shieber

Memphis Meats, a developer of technologies to manufacture meat, seafood and poultry from animal cells, has raised $161 million in financing from investors including Softbank Group, Norwest and Temasek, the investment fund backed by the government of Singapore.

The investment brings the company’s total financing to $180 million. Previous investors include individual and institutional investors like Richard Branson, Bill Gates, Threshold Ventures, Cargill, Tyson Foods, Finistere, Future Ventures, Kimbal Musk, Fifty Years and CPT Capital.

Other companies including Future Meat Technologies, Aleph Farms, Higher Steaks, Mosa Meat and Meatable are pursuing meat grown from cell cultures as a replacement for animal husbandry, whose environmental impact is a large contributor to deforestation and climate change around the world.

Innovations in computational biology, bio-engineering and materials science are creating new opportunities for companies to develop and commercialize technologies that could replace traditional farming with new ways to produce foods that have a much lower carbon footprint and bring about an age of superabundance, according to investors.

The race is on to see who will be the first to market with a product.

“For the entire industry, an investment of this size strengthens confidence that this technology is here today rather than some far-off future endeavor. Once there is a “proof of concept” for cultivated meat — a commercially available product at a reasonable price point — this should accelerate interest and investment in the industry,” said Bruce Friedrich, the executive director of the Good Food Institute, in an email. “This is still an industry that has sprung up almost overnight and it’s important to keep a sense of perspective here. While the idea of cultivated meat has been percolating for close to a century, the very first prototype was only produced six years ago.”

Scopely is buying FoxNext Games, adding MARVEL Strike Force to its game portfolio

By Jonathan Shieber

Scopely, the massively funded mobile game publisher, has made good on its promise to start buying up more properties with the treasure chest it amassed in a whopping $200 million round last year.

The target this time is Walt Disney Company’s FoxNext Games Los Angeles and Cold Iron Studios. Disney picked up Fox’s game division in the huge $71.3 billion deal which merged the two entertainment powerhouses in 2019.

There’s no word on how much Scopely spent on the deal, but the company is quickly becoming one of LA’s biggest mobile game studios, joining the ranks of companies like Jam City as mega-players in the mobile games ecosystem emerging in Los Angeles.

The city has long been home to game development talent including Riot Games, Activision Blizzard, and others.

FoxNext is already the home of the popular “Marvel Strike Force” game and is developing “Avatar: Pandora Rising”, which is a multiplayer strategy game based on the James Cameron blockbuster, “Avatar”.

The portfolio doesn’t include the Fox IP licensed game titles, which will continue to live under Disney’s licensed game business.

“We have been hugely impressed with the incredible game the team at FoxNext Games has built with MARVEL Strike Force and can’t wait to see what more we can do together,” said Tim O’Brien, Chief Revenue Officer at Scopely, in a statement. “In addition to successfully growing our existing business, we have been bullish on further expanding our portfolio through M&A, and FoxNext Games’ player-first product approach aligns perfectly with our focus on delivering unforgettable game experiences. We are thrilled to combine forces with their world-class team and look forward to a big future together.”

As a result of the acquisition, FoxNext’s President, Aaron Loeb will join Scopely in a newly created executive role, according to the company. Meanwhile, Amir Rahimi, FoxNext’s senior vice president will become assume the mantle of President, Games at FoxNext Games Los Angeles studio, the company said.

Last year, Scopely hit $1 billion in lifetime revenue and recently bought the DIGIT Game Studios to further expand its footprint in Europe and across North America.

Bear Robotics, a company making robot waiters, just raised a $32 million round led by SoftBank

By Connie Loizos

Back in August, we flagged a filing for you that we found interesting, one for a now 2.5-year-old, 40-person Redwood City, Calif.,-based startup called Bear Robotics that’s been developing robots to deliver food to restaurant customers. The filing listed a $35.8 million target; Bear Robotics founder and CEO John Ha now tells us the final close, being announced today, was $32 million in Series A funding.

The round was led by SoftBank Group, whose other recent robotics bets include the currently beleaguered food truck company Zume and, as we reported yesterday, Berkshire Grey, a seven-year-old, Lexington, Mass.-based company that makes pick, pack and sorting robots for fulfillment centers and that just raised a whopping $263 million in Series B funding led by SoftBank.

Because we know you’re interested in much more than Bear Robotics’ funding picture, we asked Ha — a former Intel research scientist turned technical lead at Google who in recent years opened and closed his own restaurant — to share more about the company and its robot servers.

TC: You were an engineer at Google. Why then start your own restaurant?

JH: It’s not like I had a dream of having a restaurant; it was more of an investment. It sounded fun, but it didn’t turn out to be fun. What I was really shocked by was how much hard work is involved and how low [employees’] income is. I felt [as I was forced to close it] that this was going to be my life’s work — to transform the restaurant industry with the skills I have. I wanted to remove the hard work and the repetitive tasks so that humans can focus on the truly human side, the hospitality. At restaurants, you’re selling food and service, but most of your time is spent dealing with hiring people and people not showing up, and I suspect our product will change [the equation] so restaurants can focus more on food and service.

TC: How did you come up with the first idea or iteration of the robot you’ve created, that you’re calling Penny?

JH: First, me and my restaurant staff constantly discussed, ‘If we have this robot, what would it look like and what capacity and features would it need?’ I knew it couldn’t be too big; robots have to be able to move well in narrow spaces. We also focused on the right capacity. And we didn’t want to make a robotic restaurant. I wanted to build a robot that no one really cares about; it’s just in the background, sort of like R2-D2 to Luke Skywalker. It’s a sidekick — a bland robot with a weak personality to get things done for your master.

TC Let’s talk parts. How are these things built?

JH: It’s self-driving tech that’s been adopted for indoor space, so it can safely navigate from Point A to Point B. A server puts the food on Penny, and it finds a way to get to the table. It has a two-wheel differential drive, plus casters. It’s pretty safe. A lot of similar-looking robots have blind spots, but ours doesn’t. It can detect baby hands on the floor — even something as thin as a wallet that’s fallen from someone’s table.

We’re not using robot arms because it’s very difficult to make it 100% safe when you have arms in a crowded space. The material — it’s going to be plastic — is safe and easy to clean and able to work with the sanitizers and detergents used in restaurants. We’ve also had to make sure the wheels won’t accumulate food waste, because that would cause issues with the health department.

TC: So this isn’t out in the world yet.

JH: We haven’t entered the mass-manufacturing phase yet.

TC: Where will these be built, and how will you charge for them?

JH: They’ll be made somewhere in Asia — maybe China or some other country. And we haven’t figured out pricing yet but restaurants will be leasing these, not buying them, and there will be a monthly subscription fee that they are paying for a white-glove service, so they don’t have to worry about maintenance or support.

TC: How customizable are these Penny robots going to be? Are there different tiers of service?

JH: Penny can be configured into several modes. The default is [for it to hold] three trays, so it can carry food to a table or a server can use it for busing help.

TC: Will it address the customers?

JH: Penny can speak and play sound, but it’s not conversational yet. It can say, ‘Please take your food,’ or play music while it’s moving. That’s where customers may want to personalize the robot for their own purposes.

TC: Ultimately, the idea is for this to be sold where — just restaurants?

JH: Wherever food is served, so it’s being tested right now in some restaurants, casinos, some homes. [I’m sure we’ll add] nursing homes, too.

Skylo raises $103 million to affordably connect the Internet of Things to satellite networks

By Darrell Etherington

One of the biggest opportunities in the new space economy lies in taking the connectivity made possibly by ever-growing communications satellite constellations, and making that useful for things and companies here on Earth. Startup Skylo, which emerged from stealth today with a $103 million Series B funding announcement, is one of the players making that possible in an affordable way.

The funding brings Skylo’s total raised to $116 million, following a $14 million Series A. This new round was led by Softbank Group (which at this point carries a complicated set of connotations) and includes existing investors DCM and Eric Schmidt’s Innovation Endeavors. Skylo’s business is based on connecting Internet of Things (IoT) devices, including sensors, industrial equipment, logistics hardware and more, to satellite networks using the cellular-based Narrowband IoT protocol. Its network is already deployed on current geostationary satellites, too, meaning its customers can get up and running without waiting for any new satellites or constellations with dedicated technology to launch.

Already, Skylo has completed tests of its technology with commercial partners in real-world usage, including partners in private enterprise and government, across industries including fisheries, maritime logistics, automotive and more. The company’s main claim to advantage over other existing solutions is that it can offer connectivity for as little as $1 per seat, along with hardware that sells for under $100, which it says adds up to a cost savings of as much as 95 percent vs. other satellite IoT connectivity available on the market.

Its hardware, the Skylo Hub, is a satellite terminal that connects to its network on board geostationary satellites, acting as a “hot spot” to make that available to standard IoT sensors and devices. It’s roughly 8″ by 8″, can be powered internally via battery or plugged in, and is easy for customers to install on their own without any special expertise.

The company was founded in 2017, by CEO Parth Trivedi, CTO Dr. Andrew Nuttall and Chief Hub Architect Dr. Andrew Kalman. Trivedi is an MIT Aerospace and Astronautical engineering graduate; Nuttal has a Ph.D in Aeronautics from Stanford, and Kalman is a Stanford professor who previously founded CubeSat component kit startup Pumpkin, Inc.

African fintech firm Flutterwave raises $35M, partners with Worldpay

By Jake Bright

San Francisco and Lagos-based fintech startup Flutterwave has raised a $35 million Series B round and announced a partnership with Worldpay FIS for payments in Africa.

With the funding, Flutterwave will invest in technology and business development to grow market share in existing operating countries, CEO Olugbenga Agboola — aka GB — told TechCrunch.

The company will also expand capabilities to offer more services around its payment products.

More than payments

“We don’t just want to be a payment technology company, we have sector expertise around education, travel, gaming, e-commerce, fintech companies. They all use our expertise,” said GB.

That means Flutterwave will provide more solutions around the broader needs of its clients.

The Nigerian-founded startup’s main business is providing B2B payments services for companies operating in Africa to pay other companies on the continent and abroad.

Launched in 2016, Flutterwave allows clients to tap its APIs and work with Flutterwave developers to customize payments applications. Existing customers include Uber, Booking.com and e-commerce company Jumia.

In 2019, Flutterwave processed 107 million transactions worth $5.4 billion, according to company data.

Flutterwave did the payment integration for U.S. pop-star Cardi B’s 2019 performances in Nigeria and Ghana. Those are two of the countries in which the startup operates, in addition to South Africa, Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Zambia, the U.K. and Rwanda.

Flutterwave Cardi B Nigeria“We want to scale in all those markets and be the payment processor of choice,” GB said.

The company will hire more business development staff and expand its developer team to create more sector expertise, according to GB.

“Our business goes beyond payments. People don’t want to just make payments, they want to do something,” he said. And Fluterwave aims to offer more capabilities toward what those clients want to do in Africa.

GB Flutterwave disrupt

Olugbenga Agboola, aka GB

“If you are a charity that wants to raise money for cancer research in Ghana, or you want to sell online, or you’re Cardi B…who wants to do concerts in Africa…we want to be able to set up payments, write the code and create the platform for those needs,” GB explained.

That also means Flutterwave, which built its early client base across global companies, aims to serve smaller African businesses, including startups. Current customers include African-founded tech companies, such as moto ride-hail venture Max.ng.

Worldpay partnership

The new round makes Flutterwave the payment provider for Worldpay in Africa.

“With this partnership, any Worldpay merchant in Europe or the U.S. can accept any African payment. If someone goes to pay Netflix with an African card, it just works,” GB said.

In 2019, Worldpay was acquired for a reported $35 billion by FIS, a U.S. financial services provider. At the time of the purchase, it was projected the two companies would generate revenues of $12 billion annually, yet neither has notable presence in Africa.

Therein lies the benefit of collaborating with Flutterwave.

FIS’s Head of Ventures Joon Cho confirmed the partnership with TechCrunch. FIS also backed Flutterwave’s $35 million Series B. US VC firms Greycroft and eVentures led the round, with participation of Visa, Green Visor and African fund CRE Venture Capital.

Flutterwave’s latest funding brings the company’s total investment to $55 million and follows a year in which the fintech venture announced a series of weighty partnerships.

In July 2019, the startup joined forces with Chinese e-commerce company Alibaba’s Alipay to offer digital payments between Africa and China.

The Alipay collaboration followed one between Flutterwave and Visa to launch a consumer payment product for Africa, called GetBarter.

Flutterwave and African fintech

Flutterwave’s $35 million round and latest partnership are among the reasons the startup has become a standout in Africa’s digital-finance landscape.

As a sector, fintech gains the bulk of dealflow and the majority of startup capital flowing to African startups annually. VC to Africa totaled $1.35 billion in 2019, according to WeeTracker’s latest stats.

While a number of payment startups and products have scaled — see Paga in Nigeria and M-Pesa in Kenya — the majority of the continent’s fintech companies are P2P in focus and segregated to one or two markets.

Flutterwave’s platform has served the increased B2B business payment needs spurred by the decade of growth and reform that has occurred in Africa’s core economies.

The value the startup has created is underscored not just by transactional volume the company generates, but the partnerships it has attracted.

A growing list of the masters of the payment universe — Visa, Alipay, Worldpay — have shown they need Flutterwave to do finance in Africa.

Privacy experts slam UK’s ‘disastrous’ failure to tackle unlawful adtech

By Natasha Lomas

The UK’s data protection regulator has been slammed by privacy experts for once again failing to take enforcement action over systematic breaches of the law linked to behaviorally targeted ads — despite warning last summer that the adtech industry is out of control.

The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) has also previously admitted it suspects the real-time bidding (RTB) system involved in some programmatic online advertising to be unlawfully processing people’s sensitive information. But rather than take any enforcement against companies it suspects of law breaches it has today issued another mildly worded blog post — in which it frames what it admits is a “systemic problem” as fixable via (yet more) industry-led “reform”.

Yet it’s exactly such industry-led self-regulation that’s created the unlawful adtech mess in the first place, data protection experts warn.

The pervasive profiling of Internet users by the adtech ‘data industrial complex’ has been coming under wider scrutiny by lawmakers and civic society in recent years — with sweeping concerns being raised in parliaments around the world that individually targeted ads provide a conduit for discrimination, exploit the vulnerable, accelerate misinformation and undermine democratic processes as a consequence of platform asymmetries and the lack of transparency around how ads are targeted.

In Europe, which has a comprehensive framework of data protection rights, the core privacy complaint is that these creepy individually targeted ads rely on a systemic violation of people’s privacy from what amounts to industry-wide, Internet-enabled mass surveillance — which also risks the security of people’s data at vast scale.

It’s now almost a year and a half since the ICO was the recipient of a major complaint into RTB — filed by Dr Johnny Ryan of private browser Brave; Jim Killock, director of the Open Rights Group; and Dr Michael Veale, a data and policy lecturer at University College London — laying out what the complainants described then as “wide-scale and systemic” breaches of Europe’s data protection regime.

The complaint — which has also been filed with other EU data protection agencies — agues that the systematic broadcasting of people’s personal data to bidders in the adtech chain is inherently insecure and thereby contravenes Europe’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which stipulates that personal data be processed “in a manner that ensures appropriate security of the personal data”.

The regulation also requires data processors to have a valid legal basis for processing people’s information in the first place — and RTB fails that test, per privacy experts — either if ‘consent’ is claimed (given the sheer number of entities and volumes of data being passed around, which means it’s not credible to achieve GDPR’s ‘informed, specific and freely given’ threshold for consent to be valid); or ‘legitimate interests’ — which requires data processors carry out a number of balancing assessment tests to demonstrate it does actually apply.

“We have reviewed a number of justifications for the use of legitimate interests as the lawful basis for the processing of personal data in RTB. Our current view is that the justification offered by organisations is insufficient,” writes Simon McDougall, the ICO’s executive director of technology and innovation, developing a warning over the industry’s rampant misuse of legitimate interests to try to pass off RTB’s unlawful data processing as legit.

The ICO also isn’t exactly happy about what it’s found adtech doing on the Data Protection Impact Assessment front — saying, in so many words, that it’s come across widespread industry failure to actually, er, assess impacts.

“The Data Protection Impact Assessments we have seen have been generally immature, lack appropriate detail, and do not follow the ICO’s recommended steps to assess the risk to the rights and freedoms of the individual,” writes McDougall.

“We have also seen examples of basic data protection controls around security, data retention and data sharing being insufficient,” he adds.

Yet — again — despite fresh admissions of adtech’s lawfulness problem the regulator is choosing more stale inaction.

In the blog post McDougall does not rule out taking “formal” action at some point — but there’s only a vague suggestion of such activity being possible, and zero timeline for “develop[ing] an appropriate regulatory response”, as he puts it. (His preferred ‘E’ word in the blog is ‘engagement’; you’ll only find the word ‘enforcement’ in the footer link on the ICO’s website.)

“We will continue to investigate RTB. While it is too soon to speculate on the outcome of that investigation, given our understanding of the lack of maturity in some parts of this industry we anticipate it may be necessary to take formal regulatory action and will continue to progress our work on that basis,” he adds.

McDougall also trumpets some incremental industry fiddling — such as trade bodies agreeing to update their guidance — as somehow relevant to turning the tanker in a fundamentally broken system.

(Trade body the Internet Advertising Bureau’s UK branch has responded to developments with an upbeat note from its head of policy and regulatory affairs, Christie Dennehy-Neil, who lauds the ICO’s engagement as “a constructive process”, claiming: “We have made good progress” — before going on to urge its members and the wider industry to implement “the actions outlined in our response to the ICO” and “deliver meaningful change”. The statement climaxes with: “We look forward to continuing to engage with the ICO as this process develops.”)

McDougall also points to Google removing content categories from its RTB platform from next month (a move it announced months back, in November) as an important development; and seizes on the tech giant’s recent announcement of a proposal to phase out support for third party cookies within the next two years as ‘encouraging’.

Privacy experts have responded with facepalmed outrage to yet another can-kicking exercise by the UK regulator — warning that cosmetic tweaks to adtech won’t fix a system that’s designed to feast off an unlawful and inherently insecure high velocity background trading of Internet users’ personal data.

“When an industry is premised and profiting from clear and entrenched illegality that breach individuals’ fundamental rights, engagement is not a suitable remedy,” said UCL’s Veale in a statement. “The ICO cannot continue to look back at its past precedents for enforcement action, because it is exactly that timid approach that has led us to where we are now.”

ICO believes that cosmetic fixes can do the job when it comes to #adtech. But no matter how secure data flows are and how beautiful cookie notices are, can people really understand the consequences of their consent? I'm convinced that this consent will *never* be informed. 1/2 https://t.co/1avYt6lgV3

— Karolina Iwańska (@ka_iwanska) January 17, 2020

The trio behind the RTB complaints (which includes Veale) have also issued a scathing collective response to more “regulatory ambivalence” — denouncing the lack of any “substantive action to end the largest data breach ever recorded in the UK”.

“The ‘Real-Time Bidding’ data breach at the heart of RTB market exposes every person in the UK to mass profiling, and the attendant risks of manipulation and discrimination,” they warn. “Regulatory ambivalence cannot continue. The longer this data breach festers, the deeper the rot sets in and the further our data gets exploited. This must end. We are considering all options to put an end to the systemic breach, including direct challenges to the controllers and judicial oversight of the ICO.”

Wolfie Christl, a privacy researcher who focuses on adtech — including contributing to a recent study looking at how extensively popular apps are sharing user data with advertisers — dubbed the ICO’s response “disastrous”.

“Last summer the ICO stated in their report that millions of people were affected by thousands of companies’ GDPR violations. I was sceptical when they announced they would give the industry six more months without enforcing the law. My impression is they are trying to find a way to impose cosmetic changes and keep the data industry happy rather than acting on their own findings and putting an end to the ubiquitous data misuse in today’s digital marketing, which should have happened years ago. The ICO seems to prioritize appeasing the industry over the rights of data subjects, and this is disastrous,” he told us.

“The way data-driven online marketing currently works is illegal at scale and it needs to be stopped from happening,” Christl added. “Each day EU data protection authorities allow these practices to continue further violates people’s rights and freedoms and perpetuates a toxic digital economy.

“This undermines the GDPR and generally trust in tech, perpetuates legal uncertainty for businesses, and punishes companies who comply and create privacy-respecting services and business models.

“Twenty months after the GDPR came into full force, it is still not enforced in major areas. We still see large-scale misuse of personal information all over the digital world. There is no GDPR enforcement against the tech giants and there is no enforcement against thousands of data companies beyond the large platforms. It seems that data protection authorities across the EU are either not able — or not willing — to stop many kinds of GDPR violations conducted for business purposes. We won’t see any change without massive fines and data processing bans. EU member states and the EU Commission must act.”

Foxconn and Fiat Chrysler partner to develop EVs and an ‘internet of vehicles’ business

By Kirsten Korosec

Foxconn Technology Group, the Taiwanese electronics giant best known for its iPhone manufacturing contract, is forming a joint venture with Fiat Chrysler Automobiles to build electric vehicles in China.

The joint venture was disclosed in a regulatory filing. Nikkei was first to report the joint venture.

According to the filing, each party will own 50% of the venture to develop and manufacture electric vehicles and engage in an IOV, what Foxconn parent company Hon Hai calls the “internet of vehicles” business. Hon Hai’s direct shareholding in the subsidiary will not exceed 40%, the filing says.

The venture will initially focus on making electric vehicles for China. But these vehicles could be exported at a later date, according to Foxconn.

The wording in the regulatory filing suggests these will be new vehicles that are designed and built from the ground up and not a project to electrify any of the vehicles in FCA’s current portfolio.

The venture could give FCA a better path to capturing more business in China, the world’s largest market for electric vehicles.

Foxconn has invested in other electric vehicle ventures before, although this appears to be the first tie-up in which the company will develop and build the product. EV startup Byton was originally started as Future Mobility Corporation as a joint venture between Harmony Auto, Tencent and Foxconn. And Foxconn is also an investor in XPeng Motors, the Chinese electric vehicle startup that recently raised a fresh injection of $400 million in capital and has taken on Xiaomi  as a strategic investor.

NextNav raises $120M to deploy its indoor positioning tech to find people in skyscrapers

By Kirsten Korosec

NextNav LLC has raised $120 million in equity and debt to commercially deploy an indoor-positioning system that can pinpoint a device’s location — including what floor it’s on — without GPS .

The company has developed what it calls a Metropolitan Beacon System, which can find the location of devices like smartphones, drones, IoT products or even self-driving vehicles in indoor and urban areas where GPS or other satellite location signals cannot be reliably received. Anyone trying to use their phone to hail an Uber or Lyft in the Loop area of Chicago has likely experienced spotty GPS signals.

The MBS infrastructure is essentially bolted onto cellular towers. The positioning system uses a cellular signal, not line-of-sight signal from satellites like GPS does. The system focuses on determining the “altitude” of a device, CEO and co-founder Ganesh Pattabiraman told TechCrunch.

GPS can provide the horizontal position of a smartphone or IoT device. And wifi and Bluetooth can step in to provide that horizontal positioning indoors. NextNav says its MBS has added a vertical or “Z dimension” to the positioning system. This means the MBS can determine within less than 3 meters the floor level of a device in a  multi-story building.

It’s the kind of system that can provide emergency services with critical information such as the number of people located on a particular floor. It’s this specific use-case that NextNav is betting on. Last year, the Federal Communication Commission issued new 911 emergency requirements for wireless carriers that mandates the ability to determine the vertical position of devices to help responders find people in multi-story buildings.

Today, the MBS is in the Bay Area and Washington D.C. The company plans to use this new injection of capital to expand its network to the 50 biggest markets in the U.S., in part to take advantage of the new FCC requirement.

The technology has other applications. For instance, this so-called Z dimension could come in handy for locating drones. Last year, NASA said it will use NextNav’s MBS network as part of its City Environment for Range Testing of Autonomous Integrated Navigation facilities at its Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia.

The round was led by funds managed by affiliates of Fortress Investment Group . Existing investors Columbia Capital, Future Fund, Telcom Ventures, funds managed by Goldman Sachs Asset Management, NEA and Oak Investment Partners also participated.

XM Satellite Radio founder Gary Parsons is executive chairman of the Sunnyvale, Calif-based company.

Former Docker CEO Steve Singh joins Madrona

By Ron Miller

Madrona Venture Group announced today that is has hired former Docker CEO Steve Singh as a managing director at the firm.

Singh stepped down as CEO of Docker last May and Seattle-based Madrona seems like logical landing spot. He is a long-time resident of Seattle, and has been working behind the scenes with Madrona for many years as a strategic director and angel investor, according to the firm.

Singh says that while there are a number of areas he’s interested in, he wants to concentrate on intelligent applications in the enterprise. “While there are a number of broad themes we are excited about, I am particularly passionate about the potential of intelligent applications to transform business and our lives. Next generation, cloud-native application companies such as Clari, HighSpot, and Amperity, have incredible opportunities to solve large scale business challenges and become multi-billion-dollar businesses,” he said in a statement.

He certainly has broad enterprise experience. Beyond Docker, he was chairman and CEO at Concur for more than 20 years, and oversaw the company’s sale to SAP in 2014 for a hefty $8.3 billion. In addition, he sits on a variety of boards including Clari, Talend, DocuSign and others.

Singh joins S. Somasegar, who was a former corporate vice president at Microsoft and Hope Cochran, who was a long time CFO and helped take a couple of companies public, as managing directors added at the firm in recent years.

Madrona is celebrating its 25th anniversary in business this year, and can boast that one of its earliest investments was a Series A for a little Seattle startup called Amazon.

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