As Samsung (re)unveiled its clamshell folding phone last week, I kept seeing the same question pop up amongst my social circles: why?
I was wondering the same thing myself, to be honest. I’m not sure even Samsung knows; they’d win me over by the end, but only somewhat. The halfway-folded, laptop-style “Flex Mode” allows you to place the phone on a table for hands-free video calling. That’s pretty neat, I guess. But… is that it?
The best answer to “why?” I’ve come up with so far isn’t a very satisfying one: Because they can (maybe). And because they sort of need to do something.
Let’s time-travel back to the early 2000s. Phones were weird, varied and no manufacturers really knew what was going to work. We had basic flip phones and Nokia’s indestructible bricks, but we also had phones that swiveled, slid and included chunky physical keyboards that seemed absolutely crucial. The Sidekick! LG Chocolate! BlackBerry Pearl! Most were pretty bad by today’s standards, but it was at least easy to tell one model from the next.
(Photo by Kim Kulish/Corbis via Getty Images)
Then came the iPhone in 2007; a rectangular glass slab defined less by physical buttons and switches and more by the software that powered it. The device itself, a silhouette. There was hesitation to this formula, initially; the first Android phones shipped with swiveling keyboards, trackballs and various sliding pads. As iPhone sales grew, everyone else’s buttons, sliders and keyboards were boiled away as designers emulated the iPhone’s form factor. The best answer, it seemed, was a simple one.
Twelve years later, everything has become the same. Phones have become… boring. When everyone is trying to build a better rectangle, the battle becomes one of hardware specs. Which one has the fastest CPU? The best camera?
Facebook may make it easier to escape its ranking algorithm and explore the News Feed in different formats. Facebook has internally prototyped a tabbed version of the News Feed for mobile that includes the standard Most Relevant feed, the existing Most Recent feed of reverse chronological posts that was previously buried as a sidebar bookmark and an Already Seen feed of posts you’ve previously viewed that historically was only available on desktop via the largely unknown URL facebook.com/seen.
The tabbed feed is currently unlaunched, but If Facebook officially rolls it, it could make the social network feel more dynamic and alive since it’d be easier to access Most Recent to view what’s happening in real time. It could also help users track down an important post they lost that they might want to learn from or comment on. The tabbed interface would be the biggest change to News Feed since 2013 when Facebook announced but later scrapped the launch of a multi-feed with side bar options for just exploring Music, Photos, Close Friends, and more.
The tabbed News Feed prototype was spotted in the Facebook for Android code by master reverse engineering specialist Jane Manchun Wong who’s provided tips on core of new features to TechCrunch in the past. She was able to generate these screenshots that show the tabs for Relevant, Recent, and Seen above the News Feed. Tapping these reveals a Sort Your News Feed configuration window where you can choose between the feeds, see descriptions from them, or dive into the existing News Feed preferences about who you block or see first.
CEO Mark Zuckerberg reveals the later-scrapped multi-feed
When asked by TechCrunch, a Facebook spokesperson confirmed this is something it’s considering testing externally, but it’s just internally available for now. It’s exploring whether the tabbed interface would make Most Recent and Seen easier to access. “You can already view your Facebook News Feed chronologically. We’re testing ways to make it easier to find, as well as sort by posts you’ve already seen” the spokesperson tells TechCrunch, and the company also tweeted.
Offering quicker ways to sort the feed could keep users scrolling longer. If they encounter a few boring posts chosen by the algorithm, want to see what friends are doing right now, or want to enjoy posts they already interacted with, a tabbed interface would give them an instant alternative beyond closing the app. While likely not the motive of this experiment, increasing time spent across these feeds could boost Facebook’s ad views at a time when it’s been hammered by Wall Street for slowing profit growth.
To many, Facebook’s algorithm can feel like an inscrutable black box that decides their content destiny. Feed it the wrong signals with pity Likes or guilty-pleasure video views and it can get confused about what you want. Facebook may finally deem us mature enough to have readily available controls over what we see.
In case you haven’t heard, TC Sessions: Mobility is back for second year. This one-day event, which will be held May 14 in San Jose, promises to feature some of best and brightest engineers, policymakers, investors, entrepreneurs and innovators, all of whom are vying to be a part of this new age of transportation.
Attendees of TC Sessions: Mobility can expect interviews with founders, investors and inventors, demos of the latest tech, breakout sessions, dozens of startup exhibits and opportunities to network and recruit.
We have announced several speakers for the event, including Klaus Zellmer, the president and CEO of Porsche Cars North America, Waymo’s href="https://techcrunch.com/2020/01/08/tc-sessions-mobility-2020-boris-sofman-of-waymo-and-nancy-sun-of-ike/">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.
And now we have another star to add to our TC Sessions: Mobility list. TechCrunch is excited to announce that Olaf Sakkers, general partner at Maniv Mobility will be joining us on stage this year. Sakkers is a founding partner at Maniv Mobility, a global fund investing in mobility.
Maniv started out with a focus on transportation and mobility-related startups in Israel, with a few in investments in the U.S. It expanded its mission to the global stage, a move buoyed by a $100 million fund that it closed last July with backing from 12 corporations, including the venture arms of Aptiv, BMW, Hyundai, Lear Corp., LG Electronics, the Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi Alliance, Shell and Valeo.
Maniv’s portfolio includes vehicle security company Owlcam, peer-to-peer car-sharing company Turo, teleoperations startup Phantom Auto, autonomous vehicle-focused chipmaker Hailo, shared electric moped company Revel, Spain-based car subscription startup Bipi and in-vehicle software management firm Aurora Labs.
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.
If you’re an early-stage, mobility startup, make sure you grab an exhibitor package to get your startup in front of today’s leading mobility leaders. Packages come with 4 tickets each and are just $2000. Book yours here.
Earlier this week, much was made of the e-commerce business Brandless deciding to shutter its doors. Industry observers found its fate particularly interesting, given that Brandless was only a few years old and had raised substantial funding, including $100 million from the SoftBank Vision Fund alone.
Still, Brandless is far from alone in having tried — and failed — to break away from its many rivals and become the kind of juggernaut that makes venture investors money. There are now thousands of venture-backed companies that once looked like bigger opportunities or whose growth has slowed, and which aren’t finding follow-on dollars.
Ravi Viswanathan of the venture firm NewView Capital sums up what’s happening out there this way: “Firms and funds are generally coming back to market faster with bigger funds, and they’e investing a lot more, so you’re seeing portfolio bloat across the industry. But [limited partners, the outfits and people supplying money to venture funds] are investing for you to make money, and that means spending time on the needle movers.”
So what’s a startup with dwindling attention from its investors to do? There are numerous options, some newer than others, and some more desirable than others.
Naturally some — maybe most — of these companies will eventually, like Brandless, close down. This is the least favorable scenario for everyone involved as it means lost jobs, lost dollars and often an uncertain future for the founders who’ve poured their heart and soul into the company.
Venture capitalists don’t love closing down companies, either, as it means writing down the holdings in their financial statements, something they’d rather put off as long as possible — though external events can also impact the timing.
As Jeff Clavier of the venture firm Uncork Capital explains it, “We maintain a company’s valuation on our books until we decide to impair it.” But if a venture firm has a “big gain [because another company sold or went public], we might as well take advantage and sell the shares for $1 or forego them altogether,” minimizing the firm’s overall tax bill in the process.
Other companies that have grown more self-sufficient might look to buy back their shares from investors at a discount. Joel Gascoigne, the founder of a now six-year-old social media management company called Buffer, publicly outlined his own process for saving up enough money to buy out the company’s main venture investors a couple of years ago.
It’s not easy to pull off. Gascoigne says it took more than a year to persuade the VCs to take the deal he was offering them, and their relationship suffered as result.
The reason, offers Clavier, is that in a buyback scenario, an “investor has to admit complete defeat, and that’s kind of the last stop on the road.” Unsurprisingly, Clavier suggests a far better strategy is to “get out sooner, when there’s more time for a proper exit.”
Says Clavier, “The best thing you can do is find a nice home” for the founders, including so they can “move on, get a new gig, join something, rather than toiling away for the next three to five years” on a company that might eventually fail anyway.
In some cases where the investors have essentially written the deal down to zero, they’ll let the founders retain their intellectual property.
“It’s worth something to him or her or them,” says Hunter Walk, co-founder of the venture firm Homebrew, “and it’s really not worth anything to the investors and maybe the founder wants to re-start it as a non-venture-backed company.”
But notably, says Walk, this “usually occurs when they haven’t raised too much money.”
It’s a different story for startups that have raised bigger rounds, as VCs need to wring what they can from a company to fulfill their firm’s fiduciary obligations. That means selling off assets, from office chairs to IP.
Thankfully, for startups going nowhere fast, there’s also a third option that’s picking up traction: private equity firms that have grown increasingly focused on tech. Think Francisco Partners, Permira, Silver Lake. Their terms might not always be ideal, but the founder gets to claim an “exit” while the private equity firm gets to roll up sub-scale properties or bolt a startup onto one of its core assets and re-sell the package to another buyer.
These deals can sometimes be a “bitter pill to swallow” for investors, notes Viswanathan, though the “sooner you do it, the faster you free up resources and show your LPs that you can manage your portfolio.” Sometimes, too, he notes, investors hang on to their stake, expecting the PE firm will produce a better outcome.
Just last month, for example, Insight Partners, the New York-based private equity and venture firm, paid cash for Armis Security, a five-year-old company whose tech helps businesses secure their connected devices. Though terms of the deal weren’t disclosed, a number of Armis investors rolled their stakes into the new, Insight-controlled company.
Options #3 and #4
What if such a deal never materializes? Well, there are other alternatives still for startups that are chugging along — just not as quickly as once expected.
One is to try debt lenders. Debt is always a gamble, but one that sometimes pays off.
Another is to use convertible notes if one’s investors (or even outsiders) are open to the idea. These notes are structured as debt that convert into equity upon a specific event like a certain date or the closing of a priced investment round.
The Hail Mary pass
There’s always the hope, too, that a venture investor will let a bet ride.
Jason Lemkin, a former entrepreneur who now runs the venture firm SaaStr fund, says he’s open to doing this when he can. “My view as a founder and investor has evolved over time, but if I think it’s a good team and the company is achieving a few million in revenue and doesn’t need to raise money and has high retention and recurring revenue but is no longer on a venture trajectory, I’ll wait,” says Lemkin. “I’ll wait because things can change.”
It’s true of SaaS startups in particular, he says, “because competitors get acquired, they quit, they take too much money and stumble.”
It can take some time, of course, but “if you’re the last man or woman standing,” he says, “if you’re still out there fighting, you can win.”
“As we place the utmost importance on the safety and wellbeing of our customers, partners, media and employees, we have taken the difficult decision to withdraw from exhibiting and participating at MWC 2020 in Barcelona, Spain,” Sony wrote in a press release.
MWC is due to take place in Barcelona between February 24-27.
Sony said it will now run a press conference planned for the event via its official Xperia YouTube channel at the scheduled time of 8:30 AM (CET) on February 24.
“Sony would like to thank everyone for their understanding and ongoing support during these challenging times,” it added.
In recent days, a number of companies have announced they’re pulling out or scaling back their presence at the conference as a result of concerns about the spread of the virus, including Amazon, Ericsson, LG, NVIDIA and ZTE.
The World Health Organization dubbed the emergence and spread of the novel coronavirus a global emergency late last month.
At the time of writing, the majority of infections and deaths from the virus remain in China, where the virus was first identified in the town of Wuhan in the Hubei province.
Several Chinese tech companies, including ZTE and Xiaomi, have said they will make changes to their participation in MWC related to coronavirus concerns, such as placing limits on staff travelling from China or requiring they self isolate in the period before attending.
Yesterday the organizers of MWC, the GSMA, also announced stringent rules to try to safeguard attendees, including a ban on travellers from Hubei and a requirement that all travellers who have been in China must be able to prove they have been outside the country 14 days prior to the event.
Attendees will also be required to self-certify they have not been in contact with anyone affected, the GSMA said. Temperature screening will also be implemented at the event.
Last year the annual mobile tech conference drew almost 110,000 attendees from 198 countries.
“While further planning is underway, we will continue to monitor the situation and will adapt our plans according to developments and advice we receive. We are contending with a constantly evolving situation, that will require fast adaptability,” the GSMA also said.
Attendance at MWC has regularly broken 100,000 in recent years, but 2020’s conference seems likely to mark a break with business as usual as companies face pressure to rethink their travel priorities.
TVs this year will ship with a new feature called “filmmaker mode,” but unlike the last dozen things the display industry has tried to foist on consumers, this one actually matters. It doesn’t magically turn your living room into a movie theater, but it’s an important step in that direction.
This new setting arose out of concerns among filmmakers (hence the name) that users were getting a sub-par viewing experience of the media that creators had so painstakingly composed.
The average TV these days is actually quite a quality piece of kit compared to a few years back. But few ever leave their default settings. This was beginning to be a problem, explained LG’s director of special projects, Neil Robinson, who helped define the filmmaker mode specification and execute it on the company’s displays.
“When people take TVs out of the box, they play with the settings for maybe five minutes, if you’re lucky,” he said. “So filmmakers wanted a way to drive awareness that you should have the settings configured in this particular way.”
In the past they’ve taken to social media and other platforms to mention this sort of thing, but it’s hard to say how effective a call to action is, even when it’s Tom Cruise and Chris McQuarrie begging you:
I’m taking a quick break from filming to tell you the best way to watch Mission: Impossible Fallout (or any movie you love) at home. pic.twitter.com/oW2eTm1IUA
— Tom Cruise (@TomCruise) December 4, 2018
While very few people really need to tweak the gamma or adjust individual color levels, there are a couple settings that are absolutely crucial for a film or show to look the way it’s intended. The most important are ones that fit under the general term “motion processing.”
These settings have a variety of fancy-sounding names, like “game mode,” “motion smoothing,” “truemotion,” and such like, and they are on by default on many TVs. What they do differs from model to model, but it amounts to taking content at, say, 24 frames per second, and converting it to content at, say, 120 frames per second.
Generally this means inventing the images that come between the 24 actual frames — so if a person’s hand is at point A in one frame of a movie and point C in the next, motion processing will create a point B to go in between — or B, X, Y, Z, and dozens more if necessary.
This is bad for several reasons:
First, it produces a smoothness of motion that lies somewhere between real life and film, giving an uncanny look to motion-processed imagery that people often say reminds them of bad daytime TV shot on video — which is why people call it the “soap opera effect.”
Second, some of these algorithms are better than others, and some media is more compatible than the rest (sports broadcasts, for instance). While at best they produce the soap opera effect, at worst they can produce weird visual artifacts that can distract even the least sensitive viewer.
And third, it’s an aesthetic affront to the creators of the content, who usually crafted it very deliberately, choosing this shot, this frame rate, this shutter speed, this take, this movement, and so on with purpose and a careful eye. It’s one thing if your TV has the colors a little too warm or the shadows overbright — quite another to create new frames entirely with dubious effect.
So filmmakers, and in particular cinematographers, whose work crafting the look of the movie is most affected by these settings, began petitioning TV companies to either turn motion processing off by default or create some kind of easily accessible method for users to disable it themselves.
Ironically, the option already existed on some displays. “Many manufacturers already had something like this,” said Robinson. But with different names, different locations within the settings, and different exact effects, no user could really be sure what these various modes actually did. LG’s was “Technicolor Expert Mode.” Does that sound like something the average consumer would be inclined to turn on? I like messing with settings, and I’d probably keep away from it.
So the movement was more about standardization than reinvention. With a single name, icon, and prominent placement instead of being buried in a sub-menu somewhere, this is something people may actually see and use.
Not that there was no back-and-forth on the specification itself. For one thing, filmmaker mode also lowers the peak brightness of the TV to a relatively dark 100 nits — at a time when high brightness, daylight visibility, and contrast ratio are specs manufacturers want to show off.
The reason for this is, very simply, to make people turn off the lights.
There’s very little anyone in the production of a movie can do to control your living room setup or how you actually watch the film. But restricting your TV to certain levels of brightness does have the effect of making people want to dim the lights and sit right in front. Do you want to watch movies in broad daylight, with the shadows pumped up so bright they look grey? Feel free, but don’t imagine that’s what the creators consider ideal conditions.
Photo: Chris Ryan / Getty Images
“As long as you view in a room that’s not overly bright, I’d say you’re getting very close to what the filmmakers saw in grading,” said Robinson. Filmmaker mode’s color controls are a rather loose, he noted, but you’ll get the correct aspect ratio, white balance, no motion processing, and generally no weird surprises from not delving deep enough in the settings.
The full list of changes can be summarized as follows:
All this, however, relies on people being aware of the mode and choosing to switch to it. Exactly how that will work depends on several factors. The ideal option is probably a filmmaker mode button right on the clicker, which is at least theoretically the plan.
The alternative is a content specification — as opposed to a display one — that allows TVs to automatically enter filmmaker mode when a piece of media requests it to. But this requires content providers to take advantage of the APIs that make the automatic switching possible, so don’t count on it.
And of course this has its own difficulties, including privacy concerns — do you really want your shows to tell your devices what to do and when? So a middle road where the TV prompts the user to “Show this content in filmmaker mode? Yes/No” and automatic fallback to the previous settings afterwards might be the best option.
There are other improvements that can be pursued to make home viewing more like the theater, but as Robinson pointed out, there are simply fundamental differences between LCD and OLED displays and the projectors used in theaters — and even then there are major differences between projectors. But that’s a whole other story.
At the very least, the mode as planned represents a wedge that content purists (it has a whiff of derogation but they may embrace the term) can widen over time. Getting the average user to turn off motion processing is the first and perhaps most important step — everything after that is incremental improvement.
So which TVs will have filmmaker mode? It’s unclear. LG, Vizio, and Panasonic have all committed to bringing models out with the feature, and it’s even possible it could be added to older models with a software update (but don’t count on it). Sony is a holdout for now. No one is sure exactly which models will have filmmaker mode available, so just cast an eye over the spec list of you’re thinking of getting and, if you’ll take my advice, don’t buy a TV without it.
This story has been edited to reflect a new statement by ZTE that it will attend MWC as planned.
LG Electronics has cancelled its plan to participate in MWC later this month in Barcelona, Spain, because of coronavirus-related concerns, while a Xiaomi has cancelled its trip for Chinese media, but will still attend the event.
In a statement on its site, LG said it will skip MWC, the world’s largest mobile trade show, and launch this year’s releases at separate events “in the near future” instead.
“With the safety of its employees, partners and customers foremost in mind, LG has decided to withdraw from exhibiting and participating in MWC 2020 later this month in Barcelona, Spain,” the statement from LG, headquartered in Seoul, South Korea, read. “This decision removes the risk of exposing hundreds of LG employees to international travel which has already become more restrictive as the virus continues to spread across borders.”
A Xiaomi spokesperson told TechCrunch that the company is “paying close attention to the situation. Xiaomi is still attending this year’s event and will make necessary adjustment accordingly.”
Earlier the Verge reported that a ZTE had cancelled its press conference because of travel and visa delays, according to a company spokesperson, but also because “[we] tend to be an overly courteous company, and simply don’t want to make people uncomfortable.” But the company later tweeted that it plans to attend MWC as planned.
#ZTE will participate in #MWC20 Barcelona as planned, showcasing comprehensive #5G end-to-end solutions and a wide variety of 5G devices. ZTE’s booth is in 3F30, Hall 3, FIRA GRAN VIA. pic.twitter.com/vB9S4IpyZP
— ZTE Corporation (@ZTEPress) February 5, 2020
The coronavirus outbreak has disrupted travel and supply chains around the world. While the vast majority of cases reported have been inside China, the outbreak has also led to a wave of open racism and xenophobia targeted at people of Asian descent around the world.
In a statement posted on its site today, MWC organizers GSMA said it “continues to monitor and assess the potential impact of the coronavirus on its MWC20 events held annually in Barcelona, Shanghai and Los Angeles and as well as the Mobile 360 Series of regional conferences. The GSMA confirms that there is minimal impact on the event thus far.”
All Barcelona events taking place February 24 to 27 will go on as scheduled. GSMA previously announced the measures it is taking to prevent the spread of the virus, including increased cleaning and disinfection of high-traffic areas, including catering areas, handrails, bathrooms, entrances and exits and touchscreens and more onsite medical support. It also said it will have a “mic change protocol” for speakers, and advise all attendees to “adopt a ‘no-handshake policy.”
The Apple TV app, including access to the new streaming service Apple TV+, has now arrived on LG smart TVs. This week, LG announced the launch of the Apple TV app on compatible 2019 LG smart TVs in the U.S. and in over 80 other countries worldwide. The app will also arrive on 2018 smart TVs later this year, and it’s available on 2020 TVs at launch.
Users are able to access the new app from the LG Home Launcher, and can then stream Apple TV+ shows, subscribe to Apple TV channels, access their iTunes video library, and buy or rent over 100,000 movies and TV shows from iTunes.
In addition, LG touts that Apple’s wide range of titles available in Dolby Vision — like most Apple TV+ content — will be supported on LG’s latest TVs. Apple’s AirPlay 2, which allows users to mirror content from their iPhone, iPad or Mac on their TV, is also available. So is Apple’s HomeKit, allowing the TV to be controlled with Apple’s Home app or by using Siri.
The Apple TV app, AirPlay 2, and HomeKit will now work on all of LG’s 2019 OLED TVs, NanoCell TVs (series SM9X and SM8X). Later this month, the app will arrive on select UHD TVs (series UM7X and UM6X). And later this year, support will be extended to LG’s 2018 TVs via an over-the-air firmware upgrade. However, anyone buying a 2020 LG TV will have the Apple TV app available at launch, the company says.
With the launch of Apple TV+ in November, Apple had no choice but to support a wider ecosystem in order to accommodate the variety of ways people today watch TV. Today, the TV app works on all Apple devices and the web, plus streaming media players like Fire TV and Roku. However, only Samsung was the first to have the TV app available across a wide number of smart TVs. According to Apple’s website, other TV manufacturers including Sony and VIZIO, only offer AirPlay 2 support for now.
If you’ve ever entered a company’s office as a visitor or contractor, you probably know the routine: check in with a receptionist, figure out who invited you, print out a badge and get on your merry way. Brussels, Belgium- and New York-based Proxyclick aims to streamline this process, while also helping businesses keep their people and assets secure. As the company announced today, it has raised a $15 million Series B round led by Five Elms Capital, together with previous investor Join Capital.
In total, Proxyclick says it’s systems have now been used to register over 30 million visitors in 7,000 locations around the world. In the UK alone, over 1,000 locations use the company’s tools. Current customers include L’Oreal, Vodafone, Revolut, PepsiCo and Airbnb, as well as a number of other Fortune 500 firms.
Gregory Blondeau, founder and CEO of Proxyclick, stresses that the company believes that paper logbooks, which are still in use in many companies, are simply not an acceptable solution anymore, not in the least because that record is often permanent and visible to other visitors.
“We all agree it is not acceptable to have those paper logbooks at the entrance where everyone can see previous visitors,” he said. “It is also not normal for companies to store visitors’ digital data indefinitely. We already propose automatic data deletion in order to respect visitor privacy. In a few weeks, we’ll enable companies to delete sensitive data such as visitor photos sooner than other data. Security should not be an excuse to exploit or hold visitor data longer than required.”
What also makes Proxyclick stand out from similar solutions is that it integrates with a lot of existing systems for access control (including C-Cure and Lenel systems). With that, users can ensure that a visitor only has access to specific parts of a building, too.
In addition, though, it also supports existing meeting rooms, calendaring and parking systems and integrates with Wi-Fi credentialing tools so your visitors don’t have to keep asking for the password to get online.
Like similar systems, Proxyclick provides businesses with a tablet-based sign-in service that also allows them to get consent and NDA signatures right during the sign-in process. If necessary, the system can also compare the photos it takes to print out badges with those on a government-issued ID to ensure your visitors are who they say they are.
Blondeau noted that the whole industry is changing, too. “Visitor management is becoming mainstream, it is transitioning from a local, office-related subject handled by facility managers to a global, security and privacy driven priority handled by Chief Information Security Officers. Scope, decision drivers and key people involved are not the same as in the early days,” he said.
It’s no surprise then that the company plans to use the new funding to accelerate its roadmap. Specifically, it’s looking to integrate its solution with more third-party systems with a focus on physical security features and facial recognition, as well as additional new enterprise features.
London-based seed fund LocalGlobe is incredibly active at the early-stage end of the startup pipeline with a broad focus across multiple sectors and areas, including health.
We interviewed partner Julia Hawkins about the opportunities and risks related to femtech investing in light of the fund’s early backing for Ferly, a female-founded startup with a subscription app that describes itself as an audio guide to “mindful sex.”
The startup says its mission is to open up conversations around female sexual pleasure and create a place for self-discovery and empowering community — touting “sex-positive” content that it says is “backed by research, written by experts, and personalized to you.”
The interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg has lost his campaign’s chief information security officer, citing “differences” with the campaign over its security practices.
Mick Baccio, who served under the former South Bend mayor’s campaign for the White House, left his position earlier this month.
The Wall Street Journal first reported the news. TechCrunch also confirmed Baccio’s resignation, who left less than a year after joining the Buttigieg campaign.
“I had fundamental philosophical differences with campaign management regarding the architecture and scope of the information security program,” Baccio told TechCrunch.
“We thank him for the work he did to protect our campaign against attacks,” said Buttigieg spokesperson Chris Meagher. The spokesperson said that the campaign had retained a new security firm, but would not say which company.
Baccio was the only known staffer to oversee cybersecurity out of all the presidential campaigns. News of his departure comes at a time just months to go before millions of Americans are set to vote in the 2020 presidential campaign.
But concerns have been raised about the overall security posture of the candidates’ campaigns, as well as voting and election infrastructure across the United States, ahead of the vote.
A report from a government watchdog last March said Homeland Security “does not have dedicated staff” focused on election infrastructure. Since then, security researchers found many of the largest voting districts are vulnerable to simple cyberattacks, such as sending malicious emails designed to look like a legitimate message, a type of tactic used by Russian operatives during the 2016 presidential election.
In October, Iran-backed hackers unsuccessfully targeted President Trump’s re-election campaign.
Mass surveillance regimes in the UK, Belgium and France which require bulk collection of digital data for a national security purpose may be at least partially in breach of fundamental privacy rights of European Union citizens, per the opinion of an influential advisor to Europe’s top court issued today.
Advocate general Campos Sánchez-Bordona’s (non-legally binding) opinion, which pertains to four references to the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU), takes the view that EU law covering the privacy of electronic communications applies in principle when providers of digital services are required by national laws to retain subscriber data for national security purposes.
A number of cases related to EU states’ surveillance powers and citizens’ privacy rights are dealt with in the opinion, including legal challenges brought by rights advocacy group Privacy International to bulk collection powers enshrined in the UK’s Investigatory Powers Act; and a La Quadrature du Net (and others’) challenge to a 2015 French decree related to specialized intelligence services.
At stake is a now familiar argument: Privacy groups contend that states’ bulk data collection and retention regimes have overreached the law, becoming so indiscriminately intrusive as to breach fundamental EU privacy rights — while states counter-claim they must collect and retain citizens’ data in bulk in order to fight national security threats such as terrorism.
Hence, in recent years, we’ve seen attempts by certain EU Member States to create national frameworks which effectively rubberstamp swingeing surveillance powers — that then, in turn, invite legal challenge under EU law.
The AG opinion holds with previous case law from the CJEU — specifically the Tele2 Sverige and Watson judgments — that “general and indiscriminate retention of all traffic and location data of all subscribers and registered users is disproportionate”, as the press release puts it.
Instead the recommendation is for “limited and discriminate retention” — with also “limited access to that data”.
“The Advocate General maintains that the fight against terrorism must not be considered solely in terms of practical effectiveness, but in terms of legal effectiveness, so that its means and methods should be compatible with the requirements of the rule of law, under which power and strength are subject to the limits of the law and, in particular, to a legal order that finds in the defence of fundamental rights the reason and purpose of its existence,” runs the PR in a particularly elegant passage summarizing the opinion.
The French legislation is deemed to fail on a number of fronts, including for imposing “general and indiscriminate” data retention obligations, and for failing to include provisions to notify data subjects that their information is being processed by a state authority where such notifications are possible without jeopardizing its action.
Belgian legislation also falls foul of EU law, per the opinion, for imposing a “general and indiscriminate” obligation on digital service providers to retain data — with the AG also flagging that its objectives are problematically broad (“not only the fight against terrorism and serious crime, but also defence of the territory, public security, the investigation, detection and prosecution of less serious offences”).
The UK’s bulk surveillance regime is similarly seen by the AG to fail the core “general and indiscriminate collection” test.
There’s a slight carve out for national legislation that’s incompatible with EU law being, in Sánchez-Bordona’s view, permitted to maintain its effects “on an exceptional and temporary basis”. But only if such a situation is justified by what is described as “overriding considerations relating to threats to public security or national security that cannot be addressed by other means or other alternatives, but only for as long as is strictly necessary to correct the incompatibility with EU law”.
If the court follows the opinion it’s possible states might seek to interpret such an exceptional provision as a degree of wiggle room to keep unlawful regimes running further past their legal sell-by-date.
Similarly, there could be questions over what exactly constitutes “limited” and “discriminate” data collection and retention — which could encourage states to push a ‘maximal’ interpretation of where the legal line lies.
Nonetheless, privacy advocates are viewing the opinion as a positive sign for the defence of fundamental rights.
In a statement welcoming the opinion, Privacy International dubbed it “a win for privacy”. “We all benefit when robust rights schemes, like the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights, are applied and followed,” said legal director, Caroline Wilson Palow. “If the Court agrees with the AG’s opinion, then unlawful bulk surveillance schemes, including one operated by the UK, will be reined in.”
The CJEU will issue its ruling at a later date — typically between three to six months after an AG opinion.
The opinion comes at a key time given European Commission lawmakers are set to rethink a plan to update the ePrivacy Directive, which deals with the privacy of electronic communications, after Member States failed to reach agreement last year over an earlier proposal for an ePrivacy Regulation — so the AG’s view will likely feed into that process.
This makes the revised e-Privacy Regulation a *huge* national security battleground for the MSes (they will miss the UK fighting for more surveillance) and is v relevant also to the ongoing debates on “bulk”/mass surveillance, and MI5’s latest requests… #ePR
— Ian Brown (@1Br0wn) January 15, 2020
The opinion may also have an impact on other legislative processes — such as the talks on the EU e-evidence package and negotiations on various international agreements on cross-border access to e-evidence — according to Luca Tosoni, a research fellow at the Norwegian Research Center for Computers and Law at the University of Oslo.
“It is worth noting that, under Article 4(2) of the Treaty on the European Union, “national security remains the sole responsibility of each Member State”. Yet, the advocate general’s opinion suggests that this provision does not exclude that EU data protection rules may have direct implications for national security,” Tosoni also pointed out.
“Should the Court decide to follow the opinion… ‘metadata’ such as traffic and location data will remain subject to a high level of protection in the European Union, even when they are accessed for national security purposes. This would require several Member States — including Belgium, France, the UK and others — to amend their domestic legislation.”