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Yesterday — October 22nd 2020Your RSS feeds

3 reforms social media platforms should make in light of ‘The Social Dilemma’

By Walter Thompson
Jason Morgese Contributor
Jason Morgese is the founder and CEO of Leavemark, the first ad-free, data storage and social media hybrid.

“The Social Dilemma” is opening eyes and changing digital lives for Netflix bingers across the globe. The filmmakers explore social media and its effects on society, raising some crucial points about impacts on mental health, politics and the myriad ways firms leverage user data. It interweaves interviews from industry executives and developers who discuss how social sites can manipulate human psychology to drive deeper engagement and time spent within the platforms.

Despite the glaring issues present with social media platforms, people still crave digital attention, especially during a pandemic, where in-person connections are strained if not impossible.

So, how can the industry change for the better? Here are three ways social media should adapt to create happier and healthier interpersonal connections and news consumption.

Stop censoring

On most platforms, like Facebook and Instagram, the company determines some of the information presented to users. This opens the platform to manipulation by bad actors and raises questions about who exactly is dictating what information is seen and what is not. What are the motivations behind those decisions? And some of the platforms dispute their role in this process, with Mark Zuckerberg saying in 2019, “I just believe strongly that Facebook shouldn’t be the arbiter of truth of everything that people say online.”

Censorship can be absolved with a restructured type of social platform. For example, consider a platform that does not rely on advertiser dollars. If a social platform is free for basic users but monetized by a subscription model, there is no need to use an information-gathering algorithm to determine which news and content are served to users.

This type of platform is not a ripe target for manipulation because users only see information from people they know and trust, not advertisers or random third parties. Manipulation on major social channels happens frequently when people create zombie accounts to flood content with fake “likes” and “views” to affect the viewed content. It’s commonly exposed as a tactic for election meddling, where agents use social media to promote false statements. This type of action is a fundamental flaw of social algorithms that use AI to make decisions about when and what to censor as well as what it should promote.

Don’t treat users like products

The issues raised by “The Social Dilemma” should reinforce the need for social platforms to self-regulate their content and user dynamics and operate ethically. They should review their most manipulative technologies that cause isolation, depression and other issues and instead find ways to promote community, progressive action and other positive attributes.

A major change required to bring this about is to eliminate or reduce in-platform advertising. An ad-free model means the platform does not need to aggressively push unsolicited content from unsolicited sources. When ads are the main driver for a platform, then the social company has a vested interest in using every psychological and algorithm-based trick to keep the user on the platform. It’s a numbers game that puts profit over users.

More people multiplied by more time on the site equals ad exposure and ad engagement and that means revenue. An ad-free model frees a platform from trying to elicit emotional responses based on a user’s past actions, all to keep them trapped on the site, perhaps to an addictive degree.

Encourage connections without clickbait

A common form of clickbait is found on the typical social search page. A user clicks on an image or preview video that suggests a certain type of content, but upon clicking they are brought to unrelated content. It’s a technique that can be used to spread misinformation, which is especially dangerous for viewers who rely on social platforms for their news consumption, instead of traditional outlets. According to the Pew Research Center, 55% of adults get their news from social media “often” or “sometimes.” This causes a significant problem when clickbait articles make it easier to offer distorted “fake news” stories.

Unfortunately, when users engage with clickbait content, they are effectively “voting” for that information. That seemingly innocuous action creates a financial reason for others to create and disseminate further clickbait. Social media platforms should aggressively ban or limit clickbait. Management at Facebook and other firms often counter with a “free speech” argument when it comes to stopping clickbait. However, they should consider the intent is not to act as censors that are stopping controversial topics but protecting users from false content. It’s about cultivating trust and information sharing, which is much easier to accomplish when post content is backed by facts.

“The Social Dilemma” is rightfully an important film that encourages a vital dialogue about the role social media and social platforms play in everyday life. The industry needs to change to create more engaged and genuine spaces for people to connect without preying on human psychology.

A tall order, but one that should benefit both users and platforms in the long term. Social media still creates important digital connections and functions as a catalyst for positive change and discussion. It’s time for platforms to take note and take responsibility for these needed changes, and opportunities will arise for smaller, emerging platforms taking a different, less-manipulative approach.

Flair’s Smart Vent system is a big improvement for anyone looking to improve their home HVAC

By Darrell Etherington

Smart thermostats are fairly ubiquitous these days, but depending on which one you’re using, you could be getting a lot more from your home heating and cooling – with relatively simple DIY upgrades. The Flair Smart Vent system is one such upgrade, and though it costs a bit upfront to get going (each register is $79 to start depending on size), you won’t have to call an HVAC contractor or break down any walls to take advantage of what it offers.

The basics

Flair’s system is designed around a simple idea: Controlling the airflow across individual rooms can help you be more efficient about where you direct your heating and cooling, and when. The basic ingredients Flair uses to make this happen are its Smart Vents, which fit into existing floor and wall register slots in standard sizes. The Flair designs are low profile, with all the electronics contained in casing that rests under floor level. They can be hardwired for power, but they also ship with two C batteries the provide “years” of power before they require replacement.

Flair advises three different approaches to determining how many Smart Vents you need to complement your existing system: If you have one room that’s too cold when cooling and too hot when heating, just get a Smart Vent and Flair Puck for that room. If you have just one room that gets too little cooling, and too little heating, equip all your other rooms with Smart Vents and Pucks (or Ecobee sensors if you have an Ecobee thermostat, but we’ll get to that later). If your HVAC is already pretty even, but you just want more control and efficiency gains, then equip the whole house as a third option.

Each room will require a Puck, which is a small round device that includes temperature control and monitoring. The first of these needs to be hardwired to power via the included USB cable, since it acts a bridge connecting the Flair system to your home network. All the others can be powered by included AAA batteries, and they’re very power efficient thanks in part to the e-Ink display.

Flair works in a number of modes, including one that’s compatible with any thermostat where you simply set the temperature for any room, and the associated vent(s) will open or close depending on whether the temperature in that room matches up. It can also work directly with Ecobee and Honeywell smart thermostats for a much more intelligent mode where they receive or send the temperature to the smart unit, and coordinate their open/shut status depending on that. Google has changed the Nest API, so Flair is working on supporting similar features on Nest systems through that in future, but for now it works with Nest installations the same way it would with ‘dumb’ thermostats.

Design and features

Image Credits: Flair

Flair’s Smart Vents themselves are attractive, well-made hardware. The vent covers themselves are made of metal, with an attractive grill design that will go with most decors. They’re exclusively white, which could be an issue for dark flooring, but they’re definitely a step up from your average registers. One one side, they have an LED light strip that is used during setup for identifying which is which, and underneath, the have the battery housing, louvres and the motors that control their open and shut status.

As mentioned, the Smart Vents can be associated with a Puck, which will provide them the ambient temp information, as well as target temp, in order to set them open or shut. They can also use an Ecobee sensor to get their marching orders when set up for software integration with an Ecobee system. I installed my review units and first tried them with the Flair app providing target temp info to the Ecobee, but then switched it around so that the Ecobee determined the desired temperature, and the Flair units all inherited that info and set their open/close status accordingly.

At first, I found the Flair app a bit intimidating just because with a multi-vent system it presents a lot of information, and some degree of logic to initially set up. But once I got the Ecobee integration working, the whole Flair system just worked – and worked like magic.

In this configuration, you never even have to think about the fact that the vents are Smart; they just do whatever they need to in order to equalize the temperature and keep heating and cooling routing intelligently. It made an impressive difference in the amount of airflow circulating around my nearly 100-year old house – and my setup isn’t necessarily ideal because there are a few non-standard, larger registers around that can’t yet be Flair-equipped.

The Pucks themselves are well designed, with magnetic, stick-up and screw-in installation options, and readible, power-efficient e-Ink displays. Their bezel turns for temperature control, and they can also be placed out of sight if you really just want to use them as remote sensors.

Bottom line

You might think that whether a register is open or closed wouldn’t make much difference to the efficacy of a house-wide HVAC system, but in my experience, the before-and-after of Flair was dramatically different. I started out with one problem spot primarily (the master bedroom) and afterwards it got to target temp much more quickly, both in heating and cooling modes.

Even if you find your central air and heating are already pretty effective, Flair seems like a wise upgrade that will provide lasting benefits in terms of consistency and power efficiency. Plus, if you use Flair as the controller, you can set different target temps for different rooms depending on individual occupant preferences.

True zoned HVAC systems can cost thousands – especially if you’re replacing existing ducting in walls. Flair’s solution is a lot more affordable by comparison, and provides effective results with DIY installation that takes just minutes to set up.

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Pickle app puts on users, as millennials/Gen-Z latch onto location apps to fight Covid lockdowns

By Mike Butcher

As the coming of winter combined with the coronavirus continues to put new restrictions on peoples’ movements, location-based apps are on the rise again. People are looking to find out who is close to them. Who is in their community. People are understandably looking for new friends and resources close to them.

Apps that connect young mums locally (Pumpspotting, Peanut), professionals (Fishbowl, Lunchclub), Jetset daters (Raya, Bumble), digital nomads (Homeis), locals (Nextdoor ) and millennials (Friended) are all being dialed-up.

And with government lockdowns coming back for their “2nd album” the UK’s millennials and Gen-Zs are increasingly turning to location-based apps to try and hang out with each other and burst the so-called ‘rule of six’ bubble, whether the government wants them to or not.

Pickle is fast making a name for itself amongst an estimated 350,000 millennials and Gen-Zs for that reason. After starting out as a taskrabbit-style app for Gen-Z, it is now seeing growth as an app for that generation to find fellow travelers locally, even as their normal travel has been curtailed by COVID-19.

Founder Daneh Westropp says: “Loneliness is the number one fear of young people today – ranking ahead of losing a home or a job. 71% of millennials reported feeling lonely [survey conducted by Cigna] and 69% of millennials experience FOMO when they can’t attend something that their family or friends are going to [study by Eventbrite]. So it comes as no surprise that people genuinely hate doing certain activities alone.” That’s why, she says, Pickle is climbing up app-store rankings.

Westropp understands the feeling of alienation. She ran away from Tehran during the 1988 Iran/Iraq war with her mother and sister, and was raised by a single mother who suffered from loneliness and depression. After dropping out of school at the age of 15 she went on to join the ranks of other entrepreneurs.

But a few problems remain with the Pickle app that are cause for concern. It has no 2FA for starters. Plus, the lack of regulation or content filtering means it’s anyone’s guess who users might be arranging to meet. Those are big red flags for the average observer.

Whether Gen-Z cares or not during a global pandemic that has shut down their lives, remains to be seen.

Stotles secures funding for platform which brings transparency to government tenders, contracts

By Mike Butcher

The public sector usually publishes its business opportunities in the form of ‘tenders,’ to increase transparency to the public. However, this data is scattered, and larger businesses have access to more information, giving them opportunities to grab contracts before official tenders are released. We have seen the controversy around UK government contracts going to a number of private consultants who have questionable prior experience in the issues they are winning contracts on.

And public-to-private sector business makes up 14% of global GDP, and even a 1% improvement could save €20B for taxpayers per year, according to the European Commission .

Stotles is a new UK startup technology that turns fragmented public sector data — such as spending, tenders, contracts, meeting minutes, or news releases — into a clearer view of the market, and extracts relevant early signals about potential opportunities.

It’s now raised a £1.4m seed round led by Speedinvest, with participation from 7Percent Ventures, FJLabs, and high-profile angels including Matt Robinson, co-founder of GoCardless and CEO at Nested; Carlos Gonzalez-Cadenas, COO at Go -Cardless; Charlie Songhurst, former Head of Corporate Strategy at Microsoft; Will Neale, founder of Grabyo; and Akhil Paul. It received a previous investment from Seedcamp last year.

Stotles’ founders say they had “scathing” experiences dealing with public procurement in their previous roles at organizations like Boston Consulting Group and the World Economic Forum.

The private beta has been open for nine months, and is used by companies including UiPath, Freshworks, Rackspace, and Couchbase. With this funding announcement, they’ll be opening up an early access program.

Competitors include: Global Data, Contracts Advance, BIP Solutions, Spend Network/Open Opps, Tussel, TenderLake. However, most of the players out there are focused on tracking cold tenders, or providing contracting data for periodic generic market research.

New Oxford machine learning-based COVID-19 test can provide results in under 5 minutes

By Darrell Etherington

Oxford scientists working out of the school’s Department of Physics have developed a new type of COVID-19 test that can detect SARS-CoV-2 with a high degree of accuracy, directly in samples taken from patients, using a machine learning-based approach that could help sidestep test supply limitations, and that also offers advantages when it comes to detecting actual virus particles, instead of antibodies or other signs of the presence of the virus which don’t necessarily correlate to an active, transmissible case.

The test created by the Oxford researchers also offer significant advantages in terms of speed, providing results in under five minutes, without any sample preparation required. That means it could be among the technologies that unlock mass testing – a crucial need not only for getting a handle on the current COVID-19 pandemic, but also on helping us deal with potential future global viral outbreaks, too. Oxford’s method is actually well-designed for that, too, since it can potentially be configured relatively easily to detect a number of viral threats.

The technology that makes this possible works by labelling any virus particles found in a sample collected by a patient using short, fluorescent DNA strands that act as markers. A microscope images the sample and the labelled viruses present, and then machine learning software takes over using algorithmic analysis developed by the team to automatically identify the virus, using differences that each one produces in terms of its fluorescent light emitted owing to their different physical surface makeup, size and individual chemical composition.

This technology, including the sample collection equipment, the microscopic imager and the flourescence insertion tools, as well as the compute capabilities, can be miniaturized to the point where it’s possible to be used just about anywhere, according to the researchers – including “businesses, music venues, airports,” and more. The focus now is to create a spinout company for the purposes of commercializing the device in a format that integrates all the components together.

The researchers anticipate being able to form the company, and start product development by early next year, with the potentially of having a device approved for use and ready for distribution around six months after that. It’s a tight timeline for development of a new diagnostic device, but timelines have changed already amply in the face of this pandemic, and will continue to do so as we’re unlikely to see if fade away anytime in the near future.

Brazil’s Black Silicon Valley could be an epicenter of innovation in Latin America

By Walter Thompson
Paulo Rogério Nunes Contributor
Paulo is the co-founder of Vale do Dendê (Dende Valley) and AFAR Ventures, a global diversity and inclusion creative and consulting agency that identifies opportunities for multinational brands, corporations and investors in emerging markets.
Tara Sabre Collier Contributor
Tara Sabre Collier is an early-stage impact investor with more than 15 years of experience at the intersection of economic development, social entrepreneurship and impact investment. She is a Visiting Fellow of Oxford University where she teaches and writes about impact investing, diversity and equity.

Over the last five years, Brazil has witnessed a startup boom.

The main startups hubs in the country have traditionally been São Paulo and Belo Horizonte, but now a new wave of cities are building their own thriving local startup ecosystems, including Recife with Porto Digital hub and Florianópolis with Acate. More recently, a “Black Silicon Valley” is beginning to take shape in Salvador da Bahia.

While finance and media are typically concentrated in São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, Salvador, a city of three million in the state of Bahia, is considered one of Brazil’s cultural capitals.

With an 84% Afro-Brazilian population, there are deep, rich and visible roots of Africa in the city’s history, music, cuisine and culture. The state of Bahia is almost the size of France and has 15 million people. Bahia’s creative legacy is quite clear, given that almost all the big Brazilian cultural patrimonies have their roots here, from samba and capoeira to various regional delicacies.

Many people are unaware that Brazil has the largest Black population in any country outside of Africa. Like counterparts in the U.S. and across the Americas, Afro-Brazilians have long struggled for socio-economic equity. As with counterparts in the United States, Brazil’s Black founders have less access to capital.

According to research by professor Marcelo Paixão for the Inter-American Development Bank, Afro-Brazilians are three times more likely to have their credit denied than their white counterparts. Afro-Brazilians also have over twice the poverty rates of white Brazilians and only a handful of Afro-Brazilians have held legislative positions, despite comprising more than 50% of the population. Not to mention, they make up less than 5% of the top level of the top 500 companies. Compared with countries like the United States or the United Kingdom, the racial funding gap is even more stark as more than 50% of  Brazil’s population is classified as Afro-Brazilian.

Bahia could be an epicenter of innovation in Latin America

Salvador (Bahia’s capital) is the natural birthplace of Brazil’s Black Silicon Valley, which largely centers around a local ecosystem hub, Vale do Dendê.

Vale do Dendê coordinates with local startups, investors and government agencies to support entrepreneurship and innovation and runs startup acceleration programs specifically focusing on supporting Afro-Brazilian founders. The Vale do Dendê Accelerator organization has already been in the spotlight at international and national publications because of its innovative work in bringing startup and tech education from mainstream to traditionally underserved communities.

In almost three years, the accelerator has supported 90 companies directly that cut across various industries, with high representation from the creative and social impact sectors. Almost all of the companies have achieved double-digit growth and various companies have gone on to raise further funding or corporate backing. One of the first portfolio companies, TrazFavela, a delivery app that focuses on linking customers and goods from traditionally marginalized communities, was supported by the accelerator in 2019. Despite the lockdown, the business grew 230% between the period of March and May after incubation and recently signed an agreement for further support and investment from Google Brasil.

There is a clear recognition of the business case for Afro-Brazilian businesses. Another company supported in the beginning with mentoring by Vale do Dendê is Diaspora Black (which focuses on Black culture in the tourism sectors). It attracted backing from Facebook Brasil and grew 770% in 2020.

The same is true for AfroSaúde, a health tech company focused on low-income communities with a new service to prevent COVID-19 in favelas (urban slums, which incidentally have high Black representation). The app now has more than 1,000 Black health professionals on its platform, creating jobs while addressing a health crisis that had been tremendously racialized.

We’re at the brink of a renaissance here in Bahia

Despite Brazil’s challenging economic situation, large national and global companies and investors are taking notice of this startup boom. Major IT company Qintess has come on board as a major sponsor to help Salvador become the leading Black tech hub in Latin America.

The company announced an investment of around 10 million reais (nearly $2 million USD) over the next five years in Black startups, including a collaboration with Vale do Dendê to train around 2,000 people in tech and accelerate more than 500 startups led by Black founders. Also, in September, Google launched a 5 million reais (around $1 million USD) Black Founders Fund with the support of Vale do Dendê to boost the Afro-Brazilian startup ecosystem.

There is no doubt that the new wave of innovation will come from the emerging markets, and the African Diaspora can play an important role. With the world’s largest African diaspora population in the hemisphere, Brazil can be a major leader on this. Vale do Dendê is keen to build partnerships to make Brazil and Latin America a more representative startup and creative economy ecosystem.

Spain’s Savana Medica raises $15 million to bring its AI toolkit turning clinical notes into care insights to the US

By Jonathan Shieber

Savana, a machine learning-based service that turns clinical notes into structured patient information for physicians and pharmacists, has raised $15 million to take its technology from Spain to the U.S., the company said.

The investment was led by Cathay Innovation with participation from the Spanish investment firm Seaya Ventures, which led the company’s previous round, and new investors like MACSF, a French insurance provider for doctors. 

The company has already processed 400 million electronic medical records in English, Spanish, German, and French.

Founded in Madrid in 2014, the company is relocating to New York and is already working with the world’s largest pharmaceutical companies and over 100 healthcare facilities.

“Our mission is to predict the occurrence of disease at the patient level. This focuses our resources on discovering new ways of providing medical knowledge almost in real time — which is more urgent than ever in the context of the pandemic,” said Savana chief executive Jorge Tello. “Healthcare challenges are increasingly global, and we know that the application of AI across health data at scale is essential to accelerate health science.”

Company co-founder and chief medical officer, Dr. Ignacio Hernandez Medrano, also emphasized that while the company is collecting hundreds of millions of electronic records, it’s doing its best to keep that information private.

“One of our main value propositions is that the information remains controlled by the hospital, with privacy guaranteed by the de-identification of patient data before we process it,” he said. 

 

Twentyeight Health is a telemedicine company expanding access to women’s health and reproductive care

By Jonathan Shieber

New York’s Twentyeight Health is taking the wildly telemedicine services for women’s health popularized by companies like Nurx and bringing them to a patient population that previously hadn’t had access. 

The mission to provide women who are Medicaid or underinsured should not be deprived of the same kinds of care that patients who have more income security or better healthcare coverage enjoy, according to the company’s founder, Amy Fan.

The mission, and the company’s technology, have managed to convince a slew of investors who have poured $5.1 million in seed funding into the new startup. Third Prime led the round, which included investments from Town Hall Ventures, SteelSky Ventures, Aglaé Ventures, GingerBread Capital, Rucker Park Capital, Predictive VC, and angel investors like Stu Libby, Zoe Barry, and Wan Li Zhu.

“Women who are on Medicaid, who are underinsured or without health insurance often struggle to find access to reproductive health services, and these struggles have only increased with COVID-19 pandemic limiting access to in-person appointments,” said Amy Fan, co-founder of Twentyeight Health, in a statement. “We are fighting for healthcare equity, ensuring that all women, particularly BIPOC women and women from low-income backgrounds, can access high quality, dignified and convenient care.”

To ensure that its catering to underserved communities, the company works with Bottomless Closet, a workforce entry program for women, and the 8 colleges in the City University of New York ecosystem including LaGuardia College, which has 45,000 students with 70% coming from families making less than $30,000 in annual income.

The company’s services are currently available across Florida, Maryland, New York, New Jersey, North Carolina and Pennsylvania and it’s the only telemedicine company focused on contraception services to accept Medicaid.

In another example of how awesome this company is, it’s also working to provide free birth control for women who aren’t able to pay out of pocket and are uninsured through a partnership with Bedsider’s Contraceptive Access Fund. The company also donates 2% of its revenue to Bedsider and the National Institute for Reproductive Health. (Y’all, this company is amaze.)

To sign up for the service, new customers fill out a medical questionnaire online. Once the questionnaire is reviewed by a US board-certified doctor within 24 hours customers can access over 100 FDA-approved brands of birth control pills, patches, rings, shots, and emergency contraception and receive a shipment within three days.

Twentyeight Health provides ongoing care through online audio consultations and doctor follow up messages to discuss issues around updating prescriptions or addressing side effects, the company said.

“Today, low-income women are three times more likely to have an unintended pregnancy than the average woman in the U.S., and nearly one-third of physicians nationwide aren’t accepting new Medicaid patients,” said Bruno Van Tuykom, co-founder of Twentyeight Health, in a statement. “This underscores why offering high-quality reproductive care that is inclusive of people across race, income bracket, or health insurance status is more important than ever.”

Launched in 2018, Twentyeight Health said it would use the new cash to continue to expand its services across the U.S.

 

Pitching tech to optimize building design for sustainability, Atlanta-based Cove.tool raises $5.7 million

By Jonathan Shieber

Patrick Chopson and Sandeep Ahuja started cove.tool, an Atlanta-based company developing software to optimize building design for sustainability and cost, because of problems they’d faced in their careers as architects.

Along with Patrick’s brother, Daniel Chopson, the two Georgia Institute of Technology graduates have developed a suite of software products that are now used by thousands of architects, engineers, contractors and developers like EYP, P2S, Skanska, and JLL in 22 countries around the world. The company’s software is also taught in universities including California Polytechnic State University, the University of Illinois, and UNC Charlotte, along with their alma matter, Georgia Tech.

Now the company is $5.7 million richer following the close of its series A funding led by the Los Angeles-based investment firm Mucker Capital and including previous investors Urban.us, Knoll Ventures, and Atlanta’s own Techsquare Labs.

The company’s first product is software that helps model the energy consumption of a building and provides insights on how to improve energy efficiency. The product turns what used to be a manual process that involved outside consultants and roughly 150 hours of work into a job that can be done in 30 minutes, according to the cove.tool.

The software can account for factors such as energy consumption, light exposure, glare, radiation, water and embodied carbon targets for new and existing buildings and offers the ability to compare different options, allowing architects and developers to determine the most cost-efficient way to meet energy targets. In its most recent update, the company added an occupancy tool to help developers understand the safest designs for reducing the potential spread of airborne diseases like COVID-19.

Buildings and building construction are a huge contributor to the greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to climate change, accounting for roughly 39 percent of carbon emissions annually, according to data released by the Global Alliance for Building and Construction and the International Energy Agency. And the continuing global migration to cities means that demand for new buildings and construction won’t slow down anytime soon. As demand for buildings increases, technologies like cove.tool’s software could save the equivalent of 40,000 trees on a typical construction project, the company said.

Example of cove.tool software for optimizing building design. Image Credit: cove.tool

We only have about 10 years to lower buildings to actually be net zero before the action would be useless in terms of stopping climate change,” said Ahuja, the company’s chief executive. 

With the new funds in hand cove.tool intends to expand global sales and marketing efforts and develop some new projects, according to Ahuja. Both founders said that the software is already designed to meet the building standards for Canada, the United Kingdom and Australia. And the company has a plan to see if it can design energy efficient structures for a martian environment.

“For fun, we’re going to do Mars,” Ahuja said. “We want to see what the model looks like.”

The big selling point for the software is that environmental sustainability is baked into the product so even if developers only care about cost-cutting, they’ll be improving their carbon footprint anyway.

“Every developer that uses our platform may or may not care about sustainability, but they definitely save on cost,” said Ahuja.

Next on the product roadmap is a marketplace that can provide energy efficient materials that construction managers and developers would need to turn the cove.tool designs into actual buildings.

“Everybody is using a completely different bad workflow,” Chopson, the company’s co-founder and product development lead, said. “This brings it together in terms of cost and the offset carbon targets that every building and every city actually need to meet.”

The roadmap is to create easier workflows from the architect to the contractor so everyone involved can coordinate more closely. As it moves into this side of the construction market, cove.tool will find itself facing some very well-funded competitors, but that’s because the construction management and procurement side of the market is massive.

Companies like Procore have become billion dollar businesses on the back of. their pitch to simplify the construction management process.

The cove.tool marketplace product will be arriving sometime in the middle of 2021 and the company has already amassed a database of over 1,000 products from hundreds of vendors that it intends to list, according to Ahuja.

“There’s a lot of product databases, but no one can analyze it,” said Chopson. “We’re the only ones who can analyze that glass is better than any other glass.. It’s highly disorganized and you can’t compare one thing versus another.. The key is to be able to analyze things and put the analysis you do in the context of a building.”

Ultimately, the focus will still be on efficiency and sustainability, the founders said. And in a rapidly warming world, there are few things that are important.

As Omar Hamoui, a partner at Mucker Capital and the new director on the cove.tool board, said in a statement, “Sustainable design is rapidly becoming a necessity in the built world.”

If the ad industry is serious about transparency, let’s open-source our SDKs

By Walter Thompson
Erick Fang Contributor
Erick Fang is the chief executive officer of Mintegral, where he oversees management, customer relationships and product development for this global mobile advertising platform.

Year after year, a lack of transparency in how ad traffic is sourced, sold and measured is cited by advertisers as a source of frustration and a barrier to entry in working with various providers. But despite progress on the protection and privacy of data through laws like GDPR and COPPA, the overall picture regarding ad-marketing transparency has changed very little.

In part, this is due to the staggering complexity of how programmatic and other advertising technologies work. With automated processes managing billions of impressions every day, there is no universal solution to making things more simple and clear. So the struggle for the industry is not necessarily a lack of intent around transparency, but rather how to deliver it.

Frustratingly, evidence shows that the way data is collected and used by some industry players has played a large part in reducing people’s trust in online advertising. This is not a problem that was created overnight. There is a long history and growing sense of consumer frustration with the way their data is being used, analyzed and monetized and a similar frustration by advertisers with the transparency and legitimacy of ad clicks for which they are asked to pay.

There are continuing efforts by organizations like the IAB and TAG to create policies for better transparency such as ads.txt. But without hard and fast laws, the responsibility lies with individual companies.

One relatively simple yet largely spurned practice that would engender transparency and trust for the benefit of all parties (brands, consumers and ad/marketing providers) would be for the industry to come together and have all parties open their SDKs.

Why open-sourcing benefits advertisers, publishers and the ad industry

Open-source software is code that anyone is free to use, analyze, alter and improve.

Auditing the code and adjusting the SDKs functionality based on individual needs is a common practice — and so too are audits by security companies or interested parties who are rightly on the lookout for app fraud. By showing exactly how the code within the SDK has been written, it is the best way to reassure developers and partners that there are no hidden functions or unwanted features.

Everyone using open-source SDKs can learn exactly how it works, and because it is under an open-source license, anyone can suggest modifications and improvements in the code.

Open source brings some risks, but much bigger rewards

The main risk from opening up an SDK code is that third parties will look for ways to exploit it and insert their own malicious code, or else look at potential vulnerabilities to access back-end services and data. However, providers should be on the lookout and be able to fix the potential vulnerabilities as they arise.

As for the rewards, open-sourcing engenders trust and transparency, which should certainly translate into customer loyalty and consumer confidence. After all, we are all operating in a market where advertisers and developers can choose who they want to work with — and on what terms.

Selfishly but practically speaking, opening SDKs can also help companies in our industry protect themselves from others’ baseless claims that are simply intended to promote their products. With open standards, there are no unsubstantiated, false accusations intended for publicity. The proof is out there for everyone to see.

How ad tech is embracing open source

In the ad tech space, companies such as MoPub, Appodeal and AppsFlyer are just a few that have already made some or all of their SDKs available through an open-source license.

All of these companies have decided to use an open-source approach because they recognize the importance of transparency and trust, especially when you are placing the safety and reputation of your brand in the hands of an algorithm. However, the majority of SDKs remain closed.

Relying on forward-thinking companies to set their own transparency levels will only take our industry so far. It’s time for stronger action around trust and data transparency. In the same way that GDPR and COPPA have required companies to address privacy and, ultimately, to have forced a change that was needed, open-sourcing our SDKs will take the ad-marketing space to new heights and drive new levels of trust and deployment with our clients, competitors, legislators and consumers.

The industry-wide challenge of transparency won’t be solved any time soon, but the positive news is that there is movement in the right direction, with steps that some companies are already taking and others can easily take. By implementing measures to ensure brand-safe placements and helping limit ad fraud; improving relationships between brands, agencies, and programmatic partners; and bringing clarity to consumer data use; confidence in the advertising industry will improve and opportunities will subsequently grow.

That’s why we are calling on all ad/marketing companies to take this step forward with us — for the benefit of our consumers, brands, providers and industry at large — to embrace open-source SDKs as the way to engender trust, transparency and industry transformation. In doing so, we will all be rewarded with consumers who are more trusting of brands and brand advertising, and subsequently, brands who trust us and seek opportunities to implement more sophisticated solutions and grow their business.

Calling Lisbon VCs: Be featured in The Great TechCrunch Survey of European VC

By Mike Butcher

TechCrunch is embarking on a major new project to survey Europe’s top venture capital investors.

Our upcoming survey of VCs in Lisbon will capture how the city is faring, and what changes are being wrought amongst investors by the coronavirus pandemic. (Please note, if you have filled the survey out already, there is no need to do it again).

We’d like to know how Lisbon’s startup scene is evolving, how the tech sector is being impacted by COVID-19, and, generally, how your thinking will evolve from here.

Our survey will only be about investors, and only the contributions of VC investors will be included. Multiple partners from the same firm are welcome to fill out the survey.

The shortlist of questions will require only brief responses, but the more you can add, the better.

You can fill out the survey here.

Obviously, investors who contribute will be featured in the final surveys, with links to their companies and profiles.

What kinds of things do we want to know? Questions include:

  • Which trends are you most excited by?
  • What startup do you wish someone would create?
  • Where are the overlooked opportunities?
  • What are you looking for in your next investment, in general?
  • How is your local ecosystem going?
  • And how has COVID-19 impacted your investment strategy?

This survey is part of a broader series of surveys we’re doing to help founders find the right investors.

https://techcrunch.com/extracrunch/investor-surveys/

For example, here is the recent survey of London.

You are not in Lisbon, but would like to take part? Or you are in another part of the country? That’s fine! Any European VC investor can STILL fill out the survey, as we probably will be putting a call out to your city next anyway! And we will use the data for future surveys on vertical topics.

The survey is covering almost every European country on the continent of Europe (not just EU members, btw), so just look for your country and city on the survey and please participate (if you’re a venture capital investor).

Thank you for participating. If you have questions, please email mike@techcrunch.com.

A prison video visitation service exposed private calls between inmates and their attorneys

By Zack Whittaker

Fearing the spread of coronavirus, jails and prisons remain on lockdown. Visitors are unable to see their loved ones serving time, forcing friends and families to use prohibitively expensive video visitation services that often don’t work.

But now the security and privacy of these systems are under scrutiny after one St Louis-based prison video visitation provider had a security lapse that exposed thousands of phone calls between inmates and their families, but also calls with their attorneys that were supposed to be protected by attorney-client privilege.

HomeWAV, which serves a dozen prisons across the U.S., left a dashboard for one of its databases exposed to the internet without a password, allowing anyone to read, browse and search the call logs and transcriptions of calls between inmates and their friends and family members. The transcriptions also showed the phone number of the caller, which inmate, and the duration of the call.

Security researcher Bob Diachenko found the dashboard, which had been public since at least April, he said. TechCrunch reported the issue to HomeWAV, which shut down the system hours later.

In an email, HomeWAV chief executive John Best confirmed the security lapse.

“One of our third-party vendors has confirmed that they accidentally took down the password, which allowed access to the server,” he told TechCrunch, without naming the third-party. Best said the company will inform inmates, families and attorneys of the incident.

Somil Trivedi, a senior staff attorney at the ACLU’s Criminal Law Reform Project, told TechCrunch: “What we see again and again is that the rights of incarcerated people are the first to be trampled when the system fails — as it always, invariably does.”

“Our justice system is only as good as the protections for the most vulnerable. As always, people of color, those who can’t afford lawyers, and those with disabilities will pay the highest price for this mistake. Technology cannot fix the fundamental failings of the criminal legal system — and it will exacerbate them if we’re not deliberate and cautious,” said Trivedi.

Inmates have almost no expectations of privacy, and nearly all prisons in the U.S. record the phone and video calls of their inmates — even if it’s not disclosed at the beginning of each call. Prosecutors and investigators are known to listen back to recordings in case an inmate incriminates themselves on a call.

HomeWAV, a prison video visitation tech company, exposed thousands of phone calls between inmates and their families, but also calls with their attorneys that were supposed to be protected by attorney-client privilege. (Image: HomeWAV/YouTube)

The calls between inmates and their attorneys, however, are not supposed to be monitored because of attorney-client privilege, a rule that protects the communications between an attorney and their client from being used in court.

Despite this, there are known cases of U.S. prosecutors using recorded calls between an attorney and their incarcerated clients. Last year, prosecutors in Louisville, Ky., allegedly listened to dozens of calls between a murder suspect and his attorneys. And, earlier this year defense attorneys in Maine said they were routinely recorded by several county jails, and their calls protected under attorney-client privilege were turned over to prosecutors in at least four cases.

HomeWAV’s website says: “Unless a visitor has been previously registered as a clergy member, or a legal representative with whom the inmate is entitled to privileged communication, the visitor is advised that visits may be recorded, and can be monitored.”

But when asked, HomeWAV’s Best would not say why the company had recorded and transcribed conversations protected by attorney-client privilege.

Several of the transcriptions reviewed by TechCrunch showed attorneys clearly declaring that their calls were covered under attorney-client privilege, effectively telling anyone listening in that the call was off-limits.

TechCrunch spoke to two attorneys, whose communications with their clients in prison over the past six months were recorded and transcribed by HomeWAV, but asked that we not name them or their clients as doing so might harm their client’s legal defense. Both expressed alarm that their calls had been recorded. One of the attorneys said that they had verbally asserted attorney-client privilege on the call, while the other attorney also considered that their call was protected by attorney-client privilege but declined to comment further until they had spoken to their client.

Another defense attorney, Daniel Repka, told TechCrunch confirmed one of his calls with a client in prison in September was recorded, transcribed and subsequently exposed, but said that the call was not sensitive.

“We did not relay any information that would be considered protected by attorney-client privilege,” said Repka. “Anytime I have a client who calls me from a jail, I’m very conscious and aware of the possibility not only of security breaches, but also the potential ability to access these phone calls by the county attorney’s office,” he said.

Repka described attorney-client privilege as “sacred” for attorneys and their clients. “It’s really the only way that we’re able to ensure that attorneys are able to represent their clients in the most effective and zealous way possible,” he said.

“The best practice for attorneys is always, always, always to go visit your client at the jail in person where you’re in a room, and you have far more privacy than over a telephone line that you know has been designated as a recording device,” he said.

But the challenges brought by the pandemic has made in-person visits difficult, or impossible in some states. The Marshall Project, a non-partisan organization focusing on criminal justice in the U.S., said several states have suspended in-person visitation because of the threat posed by coronavirus, including legal visits.

Even prior to the pandemic, some prisons ended in-person visitation in favor of video calls.

Video visitation technology is now a billion-dollar industry, with companies like Securus making millions each year by charging callers often exorbitant fees to call their incarcerated loved ones.

HomeWAV isn’t the only video visitation service to have faced security issues.

In 2015, an apparent breach at Securus resulted in the leak of some 70 million inmate phone calls by an anonymous hacker and shared with The Intercept. Many of the recordings in the cache also contained calls designated protected by attorney-client privilege, the publication reported.

In August, Diachenko reported a similar security lapse at TelMate, another prison visitation provide, which saw millions of inmate messages exposed because of a passwordless database.


You can send tips securely over Signal and WhatsApp to +1 646-755-8849 or you can send an encrypted email to: zack.whittaker@protonmail.com

These 3 factors are holding back podcast monetization

By Walter Thompson
Krystina Rubino Contributor
Krystina Rubino is a marketing executive who leads the offline growth marketing practice at Right Side Up.
Grant Durando Contributor
Grant Durando is a growth marketing leader, currently consulting on podcast and offline advertising at Right Side Up.

Podcast advertising growth is inhibited by three major factors:

  • Lack of macro distribution, consumption and audience data.
  • Current methods of conversion tracking.
  • Idea of a “playbook” for podcast performance marketing.

Because of these limiting factors, it’s currently more of an art than a science to piece disparate data from multiple sources, firms, agencies and advertisers, into a somewhat conclusive argument to brands as to why they should invest in podcast advertising.

1. Lack of macro distribution, consumption and audience data

There were several resources that released updates based on what they saw in terms of consumption when COVID-19 hit. Hosting platforms, publishers and third-party tracking platforms all put out their best guesses as to what was happening. Advertisers’ own podcast listening habits had been upended due to lockdowns; they wanted to know how broader changes in listening habits were affecting their campaigns. Were downloads going up, down or staying the same? What was happening with sports podcasts, without sports?


Read part 1 of this article, Podcast advertising has a business intelligence gap, on TechCrunch.


At Right Side Up, we receive and analyze all of the available research from major publishers (Stitcher, aCast), to major platforms (Megaphone) and third-party research firms (Podtrac, IAB, Edison Research). However, no single entity encompasses the entire space or provides the kind of interactive, off-the-shelf customizable SaaS product we’d prefer, and that digitally native marketers expect. Plus, there isn’t anything published in real-time; most sources publish once or twice annually.

So what did we do? We reached out to trusted publishers and partners to gather data around shifting consumption due to COVID-19 ourselves, and determined that, though there was a drop in downloads in the short term, it was neither as precipitous nor as enduring as some had feared. This was confirmed by some early reports available, but how were we to evidence our own piecewise sample with another? Moreover, how could you invest 6-7 figures of marketing dollars if you didn’t have the firsthand intelligence we gathered and our subject matter experts on deck to make constant adjustments to your approach?

We were able to piece together trends we’re seeing that point to increased download activity in recent months that surpass February/March heights. We’ve determined that the industry is back on track for growth with a less steep, but still growing, listenership trajectory. But even though more recent reports have been published, a longitudinal, objective resource has not yet emerged to show a majority of the industry’s journey through one of the most disruptive media environments in recent history.

There is a need for a new or existing entity to create cohesive data points; a third party that collects and reports listening across all major hosts and distribution points, or “podcatchers,” as they’re colloquially called. As a small example: Wouldn’t it be nice to objectively track seasonal listening of news/talk programming and schedule media planning and flighting around that? Or to know what the demographics of that audience look like compared to other verticals?

What percentage increase in efficiency and/or volume would you gain from your marketing efforts in the channel? Would that delta be profitable against paying a nominal or ongoing licensing or research fee for most brands?

These challenges aren’t just affecting advertisers. David Cohn, VP of Sales at Megaphone, agrees that “full transparency from the listening platforms would make our jobs easier, along with everyone else’s in the industry. We’d love to know how much of an episode is listened to, whether an ad is skipped, etc. Along the same lines, having a central source for [audience] measurement would be ideal — similar to what Nielsen has been for TV.” This would also enable us to understand cross-show ad frequency, another black box for advertisers and the industry at large.

Virgin Hyperloop to safety test its hyperloop technology at new West Virginia certification center

By Darrell Etherington

Virgin Hyperloop announced a key step in its long-term goal of making hyperloop transportation a reality in the U.S. on Thursday. The company revealed it will be doing its certification testing at a new West Virginia facility. This will be crucial to the creation of a national safety certification framework for the U.S., which will involve working directly with the U.S. Department of Transportation – a process already underway thanks to the DOT’s issuance of guidance documentation in advance of a framework this past July.

Before now, Virgin Hyperloop has been developing and testing its hyperloop technology at its full-scale proving ground in North Las Vegas. The company created a 500-meter long ‘development loop’ for running its tests, and performed its first full-scale system test in 2017. This new facility will be used specifically for certification, but will involve similar large-scale systems testing and involve ‘thousands’ of new jobs created, according to the company.

Virgin Hyperloop ultimately hopes to fully safety certify its system by 2025, and then ultimately enter into commercial operation with a real system by 2030, if all goes well.

Here’s the curtain raise on the Sight Tech Global agenda

By Ned Desmond

The goal of Sight Tech Global, a virtual, global event on December 2-3, 2020, is to gather the world’s top experts who are applying advanced technologies, notably AI, to the future of accessibility and assistive tech for people who are blind or visually impaired.

Today we’re excited to roll out most of the agenda. There are another half-dozen sessions and breakouts still to come, notably sessions on AI bias and civil rights. What we’ve discovered over the many weeks of research and conversation is a consistent, strong interest on the part of researchers, technologists and product and design thinkers to convene and talk over the future — its promises, challenges and even threats.

We’re delighted to have top-level talent from virtually every leading technology company, many research universities and some startups ready for fireside chats and small panel discussions with expert moderators. Some sessions will take questions from our audience as well.

When the event dates are closer, we will add dates and times to each of these sessions as well as announce additional speakers. Register today to get a free pass and please browse the first edition of the Sight Tech Global agenda below.

Seeing AI: Where does Microsoft’s blockbuster app go from here?

With ever more powerful computer and data resources available in the cloud, Microsoft’s Seeing AI mobile app is destined to become a steadily better ally for anyone with vision challenges. Co-founder Saqib Shaikh leads the engineering team that’s charting the app’s cloud-enabled future.

Saqib Shaikh, co-founder of Seeing AI, Microsoft
Moderator: Devin Coldewey, TechCrunch

The future according to OrCam

As AI-based computer vision, voice recognition and natural language processing race ahead, the engineering challenge is to design devices that can perceive the physical world and communicate that information in a timely manner. Amnon Shashua’s OrCam MyEye is the most sophisticated effort yet to merge those technologies in a seamless experience on a dedicated device.

Amnon Shashua, co-founder of OrCam and Mobileye
Moderator: Matthew Panzarino, TechCrunch

Accessibility from the wheels up: The Waymo self-driving taxi

If people who are blind or visually impaired find Uber and Lyft liberating, imagine how they will feel summoning a self-driving ride from an app on their mobile phones. But wait, how exactly will they locate the cars and what happens when they climb in? Presenter Clem Wright is responsible for the self-driving taxi’s accessibility, and he will be joined by leadership from two organizations closely involved in that effort: The Lighthouse for the Blind SF and the Foundation for Blind Children.

Clem Wright, Accessibility product manager, Waymo
/> Marc Ashton, CEO, Foundation for Blind Children
Bryan Bashin, CEO, Lighthouse for the Blind
Moderator: Kirsten Korosec, TechCrunch

Our AI future is already here

Whether it’s Alexa, Tesla or Facebook, AI is already deeply embedded in our daily lives. Few understand that better than Dr. Kai-Fu Lee, a scientist who developed the first speaker-independent, continuous speech recognition system as a Ph.D. student at Carnegie Mellon, led Google in China and held senior roles at Microsoft and Apple. Today, Dr. Lee runs Sinovation Ventures, a $2 billion fund based in China, is president of the Sinovation’s Artificial Intelligence Institute and has 50 million followers on social media.

Dr. Kai-Fu Lee, chairman and CEO, Sinovation Ventures
/> Moderator: Ned Desmond, Sight Tech Global

The future of AT devices and the companies that make them

Dedicated devices versus accessible platforms? Victor Reader Stream versus iPhones and Alexa? How will AT companies take advantage of a world with cloud data and edge computational power, AI algorithms and more demanding customers than ever? Humanware, eSight and APH are already looking far into that future.

Gilles Pepin, CEO, Humanware
Greg Stilson, head of Global Innovation, APH
Charles Lim, CTO, eSight
Moderator: Betsy Beaumon, CEO, Benetech

If the Jetsons had screen readers, would they be using keyboard commands?

The screen reader is arguably the most consequential digital technology ever for people who are blind or visually impaired. At the same time, screen readers depend on a dizzying array of keyboard commands, and — when it comes to reading websites in a browser — they struggle with the ugly reality of poor website accessibility. New technologies may lead the way to better outcomes.

Glen Gordon, Software fellow, Vispero; architect, JAWS
James Teh, Accessibility engineer, Mozilla; co-founder, NVDA
Léonie Watson, director, TetraLogical
Moderator: Matt King, Accessibility technical program manager, Facebook

Alexa, what is your future?

When Alexa launched six years ago, no one imagined that the voice assistant would reach into millions of daily lives and become a huge convenience for people who are blind or visually impaired. This fall, Alexa introduced personalization and conversational capabilities that are a step-change toward more human-like home companionship. Amazon’s Josh Miele and Anne Toth will discuss the impact on accessibility as Alexa becomes more capable.

Anne Toth, director, Alexa Trust at Amazon
Josh Miele, principal accessibility researcher, Lab126 at Amazon
/> Moderator: Devin Coldewey, TechCrunch

Augmented reality and perception: What’s the best way to get the message across?

It’s one thing for an AI-based system to “know” when it’s time to turn left, who came through the door or how far away the couch is: It’s quite another to convey that information in a timely fashion with minimal distraction. Researchers are making use of haptics, visual augmented reality (AR), sound and language to figure out the right solutions.

Amos Miller, Product strategist, Microsoft AI and Research
Ashley Tuan, VP Medical Devices, Mojo Vision
Sile O’Modhrain, associate professor, Performing Arts Technology, University of Michigan
Moderator: Nick Giudice, professor of Spatial Informatics, University of Maine

Wayfinding: Finding the mark

Map apps on mobile phones are miraculous tools accessible via voice output, but mainstream apps don’t announce the detailed location information (which people who are blind or visually impaired really want), especially inside buildings and in public transportation settings. Efforts in the U.S. and U.K. are improving accessible navigation.

Tim Murdoch, founder and CEO, Waymap
Nick Giudice, professor of Spatial Informatics, University of Maine
Moderator: Mike May, chief evangelist, GoodMaps

Computer vision, AI and accessibility: What’s missing from this picture?

For an AI to interpret the visual world on behalf of people who are blind or visually impaired, the AI needs to know what it’s looking at, and no less important, that it’s looking at the right thing. Mainstream computer vision databases don’t do that well — yet.

Danna Gurari, assistant professor and director of the Image and Video Computing Group, University of Texas
Patrick Clary, product manager, AI and accessibility, Google
/> Moderator: Roberto Manduchi, professor CS and Engineering, UC Santa Cruz

Keep an out for more sessions and breakouts later this month. In the meantime, registration is open. Get your pass today!

Sight Tech Global is eager to hear from potential sponsors. We’re grateful to current sponsors Amazon, Ford, Google, Microsoft, Mojo Vision, Waymo, Wells Fargo and Humanware. All sponsorship revenues go to the nonprofit Vista Center for the Blind and Visually Impaired, which has been serving the Silicon Valley area for 75 years.

Special thanks to the Sight Tech Global advisors — Tech Matters Jim Fruchterman, UC Santa Cruz’s Roberto Manduchi, Verizon Media’s Larry Goldberg, Facebook’s Matt King and Be My Eyes’ Will Butler — who are playing an invaluable role on this project.

Neutrino Detectors Could Be Used to Spot Nuclear Rogues

By Sarah Scoles
In theory, the particles could reveal whether a reactor is building up plutonium for weapons. US energy experts are starting to take the idea seriously.

Final week to score $50 student passes to TC Sessions: Mobility 2020

By Alexandra Ames

Class is about to be in session, students. If you’re passionate about mobility and transportation tech and hungry to learn from the visionaries, makers and investors who are building the future today, don’t miss out on TC Sessions: Mobility 2020 on October 6-7.

We support you, the next generation of mobility tech leaders, so take advantage of our $50 student pass — a $145 savings. But don’t delay. The price increases on October 5.

TC Sessions: Mobility 2020 offers two days packed with 1:1 interviews and panel discussions with the people at the top of game — the leaders, movers and shakers who continue to push beyond what seems possible. You won’t just hear from them, you’ll engage with them during a series of Q&A breakout sessions.

Whether you’re focused on micromobility, connected data, EVs or regulatory trends, you’ll find it — and much more — across the main stage, breakout sessions and sponsored sessions. Here’s a taste of what to expect. Be sure to study the event agenda and start strategizing your schedule now.

Driving the Mobility Revolution with Connected Car Data: Bret Scott, Wejo VP, discusses the future of mobility and how connected car data impacts the world of autonomous, electric and shared cars.

Software is Revolutionizing the Driver Experience and Driving Mass Electrification: Software in EVs enables a shift from buying a car to investing in an experience. ChargePoint CEO, Pasquale Romano discusses how it’s driving adoption, revolutionizing behavior and keeping up with demand.

Uber’s City Footprint: Uber touches many aspects of the transportation ecosystem — autonomous vehicles, food delivery, trucking and traditional ride-hailing. Director of Policy, Cities & Transportation, Shin-pei Tsay discusses Uber’s place in cities and how she navigates various regulatory frameworks.

This virtual conference draws a global audience and thousands of attendees. Talk about the perfect place to build your network — an essential part of any successful career. Find that dream internship or exciting employment opportunities and explore more than 40 early-stage mobility startups in the expo area.

Take advantage of CrunchMatch, our free AI-enhanced networking platform. It’s an easy-to-use tool to find and connect with the people who can help you advance your startup aspirations. Stay focused and organized as you schedule 1:1 meetings, meet founders, pitch investors, discuss your resume and otherwise impress the pants off influential people.

Class is in session on October 6-7. Join your community, dazzle the experts and build a firm foundation for your future at TC Sessions: Mobility 2020. Purchase your student pass before the price increases on October 5 and save a chunk of cash.

Is your company interested in sponsoring or exhibiting at TC Sessions: Mobility 2020? Contact our sponsorship sales team by filling out this form.

Mental health startup eQuoo will be distributed by Unilever in new global youth campaign

By Mike Butcher

Last December (yes, in the before-times) UK-based mental health startup eQuoo had a round of announcements, becoming the NHS approved mental health game, as well as signing Barmer, the largest insurance company in Germany, as a client.

It’s now been selected as the Mental Health App for Unilever’s new global initiative aimed at the mental health of young people. The move came after Unilever’s People Data Centre (PDC) selected eQuoo out of all the mental health games on the Google Playstore, being, as it is, one of the few backed by scientific research. Unilever’s new brand campaign, which will feature eQuoo app – will be marketed to over 70,000 18 to 35-year olds.

“eQuoo teaches important skills in a fun and engaging way,” said Unilever’s Global PDC Search and Social Analyst, Janelle Tomayo. “The game teaches you how to become a better communicator using fictional characters to navigate through difficult circumstances with skills and storylines empirically based on current psychological research.”

Silja Litvin, founder and CEO of eQuoo said: “1 in 3 young adults experience an anxiety disorder, crippling and harming too many people at the cusp of their adult lives. Together eQuoo and Unilever will equip thousands of people with the personal resilience to manage the pressures of today’s world.”

PsycApps, which makes eQuoo, is a Digital Mental Health startup that is using gamification, Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), Positive Psychology and AI to treat mental illness, using evidence-based features. It’s achieved a top rating at ORCHA, the leading health app assessment platform and is also available through the GP EMIS data bank, meaning that NHS doctors can now refer their patients to eQuoo to improve their mental health and wellbeing.

The market for mental health-oriented games and apps is increasing considerably. AKILI, the first ADHD game for children, attained FDA approval. In June, the European Medicines Agency approved Akili’s digital therapy for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), which uses a video game to treat the underlying cause of the condition. The European Commission has granted a CE mark for the game called EndeavorRx, allowing the product to be marketed in Europe.

Healthcare giant UHS hit by ransomware attack, sources say

By Zack Whittaker

Universal Health Services, one of the largest healthcare providers in the U.S., has been hit by a ransomware attack.

The attack hit UHS systems early on Sunday morning, according to two people with direct knowledge of the incident, locking computers and phone systems at several UHS facilities across the country, including in California and Florida.

One of the people said the computer screens changed with text that referenced the “shadow universe,” consistent with the Ryuk ransomware. “Everyone was told to turn off all the computers and not to turn them on again,” the person said. “We were told it will be days before the computers are up again.”

It’s not immediately known what impact the ransomware attack is having on patient care.

An executive who oversees cybersecurity at another U.S. hospital system, who asked not to be named as they were not authorized to speak to the press, told TechCrunch that patient medical data is “likely safe” as UHS relies on Cerner, a healthcare technology company, to handle its patients’ electronic health records.

UHS has 400 hospitals and healthcare facilities in the U.S. and the U.K., and serves millions of patients each year.

A spokesperson for UHS did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The Ryuk ransomware is linked to a Russian cybercrime group, known as Wizard Spider, according to security firm Crowdstrike. Ryuk’s operators are known to go “big game hunting” and have previously targeted large organizations, including shipping giant Pitney Bowes and the U.S. Coast Guard.

Some ransomware operators said earlier this year that they would not attack health organizations and hospitals during the COVID-19 pandemic, but Ryuk’s operators did not.

Last week, police in Germany launched a homicide investigation after a woman died after she was redirected to another hospital following a ransomware attack.


Send tips securely over Signal and WhatsApp to +1 646-755-8849 or send an encrypted email to: zack.whittaker@protonmail.com

Skydio partners with EagleView for autonomous residential roof inspections via drone

By Darrell Etherington

Skydio only just recently announced its expansion into the enterprise and commercial market with hardware and software tools for its autonomous drone technology, and now it’s taking the lid off a brand new big partnership with one commercial partner. Skydio will work with EagleView to deploy automated residential roof inspection using Skydio drones, with service initially provide via EagleView’s Assess product, launching first in the Dallas/Ft. Worth area of Texas.

The plan is to expand coverage to additional metro areas starting next year, and then broaden to rural customers as well. The partners will use AI-based analysis, paired with Skydio’s high-resolution, precision imaging to provide roofing status information to insurance companies, claims adjustment companies and government agencies, providing a new level of quality and accuracy for property inspections that don’t even require an in-person roof inspection component.

Skydio announced its enterprise product expansion in July, alongside a new $100 million funding round. The startup, which has already delivered two generations of its groundbreaking fully autonomous consumer drone, also debuted the X2, a commercial drone that includes additional features like a thermal imaging camera. It’s also offering a suite of “enterprise skills,” software features that can provide its partners with automated workflows and AI analysis and processing, including a House Scan feature for residential roof inspection, which is core to this new partnership.

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