FreshRSS

🔒
❌ About FreshRSS
There are new available articles, click to refresh the page.
Today — August 21st 2019Your RSS feeds

Splunk acquires cloud monitoring service SignalFx for $1.05B

By Frederic Lardinois

Splunk, the publicly traded data processing and analytics company, today announced that it has acquired SignalFx for a total price of about $1.05 billion. Approximately 60% of this will be in cash and 40% in Splunk common stock. The companies expect the acquisition to close in the second half of 2020.

SignalFx, which emerged from stealth in 2015, provides real-time cloud monitoring solutions, predictive analytics and more. Upon close, Splunk argues, this acquisition will allow it to become a leader “in observability and APM for organizations at every stage of their cloud journey, from cloud-native apps to homegrown on-premises applications.”

Indeed, the acquisition will likely make Splunk a far stronger player in the cloud space as it expands its support for cloud-native applications and the modern infrastructures and architectures those rely on.

2019 08 21 1332

Ahead of the acquisition, SignalFx had raised a total of $178.5 million, according to Crunchbase, including a recent Series E round. Investors include General Catalyst, Tiger Global Management, Andreessen Horowitz and CRV. Its customers include the likes of AthenaHealth, Change.org, Kayak, NBCUniversal and Yelp.

“Data fuels the modern business, and the acquisition of SignalFx squarely puts Splunk in position as a leader in monitoring and observability at massive scale,” said Doug Merritt, president and CEO, Splunk, in today’s announcement. “SignalFx will support our continued commitment to giving customers one platform that can monitor the entire enterprise application lifecycle. We are also incredibly impressed by the SignalFx team and leadership, whose expertise and professionalism are a strong addition to the Splunk family.”

Altruism Still Fuels the Web. Businesses Love to Exploit It

By Zeynep Tufekci
How open source projects reveal technology's free rider problem.
Before yesterdayYour RSS feeds

Join The New Stack for Pancake & Podcast with Q&A at TC Sessions: Enterprise

By Emma Comeau

Popular enterprise news and research site The New Stack is coming to TechCrunch Sessions: Enterprise on September 5 for a special Pancake & Podcast session with live Q&A, featuring, you guessed it, delicious pancakes and awesome panelists!

Here’s the “short stack” of what’s going to happen:

  • Pancake buffet opens at 7:45 am on Thursday, September 5 at TC Sessions: Enterprise
  • At 8:15 am the panel discussion/podcast kicks off; the topic, “The People and Technology You Need to Build a Modern Enterprise
  • After the discussion, the moderators will host a live audience Q&A session with the panelists
  • Once the Q&A is done, attendees will get the chance to win some amazing raffle prizes

You can only take part in this fun pancake-breakfast podcast if you register for a ticket to  TC Sessions: Enterprise. Use the code TNS30 to get 30% off the conference registration price!

Here’s the longer version of what’s going to happen:

At 8:15 a.m., The New Stack founder and publisher Alex Williams takes the stage as the moderator and host of the panel discussion. Our topic: “The People and Technology You Need to Build a Modern Enterprise.” We’ll start with intros of our panelists and then dive into the topic with Sid Sijbrandij, founder and CEO at GitLab, and Frederic Lardinois, enterprise reporter and editor at TechCrunch, as our initial panelists. More panelists to come!

Then it’s time for questions. Questions we could see getting asked (hint, hint): Who’s on your team? What makes a great technical team for the enterprise startup? What are the observations a journalist has about how the enterprise is changing? What about when the time comes for AI? Who will I need on my team?

And just before 9 a.m., we’ll pick a ticket out of the hat and announce our raffle winner. It’s the perfect way to start the day.

On a side note, the pancake breakfast discussion will be published as a podcast on The New Stack Analysts

But there’s only one way to get a prize and network with fellow attendees, and that’s by registering for TC Sessions: Enterprise and joining us for a short stack with The New Stack. Tickets are now $349, but you can save 30% with code TNS30.

Twitter blocks state-controlled media outlets from advertising on its social network

By Jonathan Shieber

Twitter is now blocking state-run media outlets from advertising on its platform.

The new policy was announced just hours after the company identified an information operation involving hundreds of accounts linked to China as part of an effort to “sow political discord” around events in Hong Kong after weeks of protests in the region. Over the weekend more than 1 million Hong Kong residents took to the streets to protest what they see as an encroachment by the mainland Chinese government over their rights.

State-funded media enterprises that do not rely on taxpayer dollars for their financing and don’t operate independently of the governments that finance them will no longer be allowed to advertise on the platform, Twitter said in a statement. That leaves a big exception for outlets like the Associated Press, the British Broadcasting Corp., Public Broadcasting Service and National Public Radio, according to reporting from BBC reporter, Dave Lee.

The affected accounts will be able to use Twitter, but can’t access the company’s advertising products, Twitter said in a statement.

“We believe that there is a difference between engaging in conversation with accounts you choose to follow and the content you see from advertisers in your Twitter experience which may be from accounts you’re not currently following. We have policies for both but we have higher standards for our advertisers,” Twitter said in its statement.

The policy applies to news media outlets that are financially or editorially controlled by the state, Twitter said. The company said it will make its policy determinations on the basis of media freedom and independence, including editorial control over articles and video, the financial ownership of the publication, the influence or interference governments may exert over editors, broadcasters and journalists, and political pressure or control over the production and distribution process.

Twitter said the advertising rules wouldn’t apply to entities that are focused on entertainment, sports or travel, but if there’s news in the mix, the company will block advertising access.

Affected outlets have 30 days before they’re removed from Twitter and the company is halting all existing campaigns.

State media has long been a source of disinformation and was cited as part of the Russian campaign to influence the 2016 election. Indeed, Twitter has booted state-financed news organizations before. In October 2017, the company banned Russia Today and Sputnik from advertising on its platform (although a representative from RT claimed that Twitter encouraged it to advertise ahead of the election).

 

Twitter says accounts linked to China tried to ‘sow political discord’ in Hong Kong

By Zack Whittaker

Twitter says a significant information operation involving hundreds of accounts linked to China were part of an effort to deliberately “sow political discord” in Hong Kong after weeks of protests in the region.

In a blog post, the social networking site said the 936 accounts it found tried to undermine “the legitimacy and political positions of the protest movement on the ground.”

More than a million protesters took to the streets this weekend to demonstrate peacefully against the Chinese government, which took over rule from the British government in 1997. Protests erupted months ago following a bid by Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam to push through a highly controversial bill that would allow criminal suspects to be extradited to mainland China for trial. The bill was suspended, effectively killing it from reaching the law books, but protests have continued, pushing back at claims that China is trying to meddle in Hong Kong’s affairs.

Although Twitter is banned in China, the social media giant says the latest onslaught of fake accounts is likely “a coordinated state-backed operation.”

“Specifically, we identified large clusters of accounts behaving in a coordinated manner to amplify messages related to the Hong Kong protests,” the statement said.

china tweets

Two of the tweets supplied by Twitter

Twitter said many of the accounts are using virtual private networks — or VPNs — which can be used to tunnel through China’s vast domestic censorship system, known as the Great Firewall. The company added that the accounts it is sharing represent the “most active” portions of a wider spam campaign of about 200,000 accounts.

“Covert, manipulative behaviors have no place on our service — they violate the fundamental principles on which our company is built,” said Twitter.

News of the fake accounts comes days after Twitter user @Pinboard warned that China was using Twitter to send and promote tweets aimed at discrediting the protest movement.

Facebook said in its own post it also took down five Facebook accounts, seven pages and three groups on its site “based on a tip shared by Twitter.” The accounts frequently posted about local political news and issues, including topics like the ongoing protests in Hong Kong, said Nathaniel Gleicher, Facebook’s head of cybersecurity policy.

“Although the people behind this activity attempted to conceal their identities, our investigation found links to individuals associated with the Chinese government,” said Gleicher.

Some of the posts, Facebook said, referred to Hong Kong residents as “cockroaches.”

Twitter said it’s adding the complete set of the accounts’ tweets to its archive of information operations.

Ally raises $8M Series A for its OKR solution

By Frederic Lardinois

OKRs, or Objectives and Key Results, are a popular planning method in Silicon Valley. Like most of those methods that make you fill in some form once every quarter, I’m pretty sure employees find them rather annoying and a waste of their time. Ally wants to change that and make the process more useful. The company today announced that it has raised an $8 million Series A round led by Access Partners, with participation from Vulcan Capital, Founders Co-op and Lee Fixel. The company, which launched in 2018, previously raised a $3 million seed round.

Ally founder and CEO Vetri Vellore tells me that he learned his management lessons and the value of OKR at his last startup, Chronus. After years of managing large teams at enterprises like Microsoft, he found himself challenged to manage a small team at a startup. “I went and looked for new models of running a business execution. And OKRs were one of those things I stumbled upon. And it worked phenomenally well for us,” Vellore said. That’s where the idea of Ally was born, which Vellore pursued after selling his last startup.

Most companies that adopt this methodology, though, tend to work with spreadsheets and Google Docs. Over time, that simply doesn’t work, especially as companies get larger. Ally, then, is meant to replace these other tools. The service is currently in use at “hundreds” of companies in more than 70 countries, Vellore tells me.

One of its early adopters was Remitly . “We began by using shared documents to align around OKRs at Remitly. When it came time to roll out OKRs to everyone in the company, Ally was by far the best tool we evaluated. OKRs deployed using Ally have helped our teams align around the right goals and have ultimately driven growth,” said Josh Hug, COO of Remitly.

Desktop Team OKRs Screenshot

Vellore tells me that he has seen teams go from annual or bi-annual OKRs to more frequently updated goals, too, which is something that’s easier to do when you have a more accessible tool for it. Nobody wants to use yet another tool, though, so Ally features deep integrations into Slack, with other integrations in the works (something Ally will use this new funding for).

Since adopting OKRs isn’t always easy for companies that previously used other methodologies (or nothing at all), Ally also offers training and consulting services with online and on-site coaching.

Pricing for Ally starts at $7 per month per user for a basic plan, but the company also offers a flat $29 per month plan for teams with up to 10 users, as well as an enterprise plan, which includes some more advanced features and single sign-on integrations.

‘Breaking Into Startups’: Torch CEO and Well Clinic founder Cameron Yarbrough on mental health & coaching

By Arman Tabatabai
Chad M. Crabtree Contributor
Chad M. Crabtree is the editor-in-Chief at Career KarmaCareer Karma, covering the Future of Work, Tech Education, and Startups.

There has long been a stigma associated with therapy and mental health coaching, a stigma that is even more pronounced in the business world, despite considerable evidence of the efficacy of these services. One of the organizations that has set out to change this negative association is Torch, a startup that combines the therapeutic benefits of executive coaching with data-driven analytics to track outcomes.

Yet, as Torch co-founder and CEO Cameron Yarbrough explains in this Breaking Into Startups episode, the startup wasn’t initially a tech-oriented enterprise. At first, Yarbrough drew on his years of experience as a marriage and family counselor as he made the transition into executive coaching, even referring to the early iterations of Torch as little more than “a matchmaking service between coaches and professionals.”

In time, Yarbrough identified a virtually untapped market for executive coaching — one that, by his estimate, could amount to a $15 billion industry. To demonstrate to investors the great potential of this growing market, he first built up a clientele that provided Torch with sufficient recurring revenue and low churn rate.

Only then was Yarbrough able to raise a $2.4 million seed round from Initialized Capital, Y Combinator, and other investors, convincing them that data analytics software could enhance the coaching process — as well as coach recruitment — enough to effectively “productize feedback,” as he puts it.

For Yarbrough and Torch, “productizing feedback” involves certain well-known business strategies that complement traditional coaching methods. For instance, Torch’s coaching procedure includes a “360 review,” a performance review system that incorporates feedback from all angles, including an employee’s manager, peers, and other people within an organization who have knowledge of the employee’s work.

The 360 review is coupled with an OKR platform, which provides HR departments and other interested parties with the metrics and analytics to track employee progress through the program. This combination is designed to promote the development of soft skills, which in turn drive leadership.

Torch has achieved considerable success, landing several influential clients in the tech sector through its B2B approach. But Yarbrough is clear that his goal with the company is to “democratize” access to professional coaching, in hopes of providing the same kind of mental health counseling and support to employees in all levels of an organization.

In this episode, Yarbrough discusses the history and trajectory of Torch, his experience scaling a company many considered unscalable, and the methods he uses to manage his own emotional and mental health as the CEO of an expanding startup. Yarbrough offers insights into the feelings of anxiety and dread common among entrepreneurs and provides a close look at how he has found business and personal success with Torch.


Breaking Into Startups: There’s a difference between a mentor and a coach. Today, I want to talk about that difference and in addition to the intersection between business and psychology, What Cameron Yarbrough, CEO of Torch and Founder of Well Clinic.

If you’re someone that is looking for a mentor or a coach as you break into tech, or if you just want to be surrounded by peers, make sure you download the Career Karma app by going to www.breakingintostartups.com/download.

On today’s episode, you’re going to understand the importance of therapy, mental health and coaches, as well as how historically, it has been inaccessible to people and how Cameron is using his background to democratize this for the world.

If this is your first time listening to the Breaking Startups Podcast, make sure you leave a review on iTunes and tell your friends. Listen to it on Soundcloud and talk about it on Spotify. If you have any feedback for us, positive or negative, please let us know. Without further ado, let’s break-in.

Cameron Yarbrough is the CEO of Torch. He’s one of the best executive coaches in the world. Not only are we going to be talking about coaching and mentoring for executives, but we’ll also be talking about coaching in general for everyone. We’re going to go into how he created his company.

Shell’s first Greenlots electric vehicle fast charger lands in Singapore

By Kirsten Korosec

Royal Dutch Shell, the energy giant known for its fossil fuel production and hundreds of Shell gas stations, is creeping into the electric vehicle-power business.

The company’s first DC fast charger from its newly acquired company Greenlots launched Monday at a Shell gas station in Singapore. Greenlots, an EV charging startup acquired by Shell in January, installed the charger. This is the first of 10 DC fast chargers that Greenlots plans to bring to Shell service stations in Singapore over the next several months.

The decision to target Singapore is part of Greenlots’ broader strategy to provide EV charging solutions across all applications throughout Asia and North America, the company said. Both Shell and Greenlots have a presence in Singapore. Greenlots, which is based in Los Angeles, was founded in Singapore; and Shell is one of Singapore’s largest foreign investors.

Singapore has been promoting the use of electric vehicles, particularly for car-sharing and ride-hailing platforms. The island city-state has been building up its EV infrastructure to meet anticipated demand as ride-hailing drivers and commercial fleets switch to electric vehicles.

Greenlots was backed by Energy Impact Partners, a cleantech investment firm, before it was acquired by Shell. The company, which combines its management software with the EV charging hardware, has landed some significant customers in recent years, notably Volkswagen. Greenlots is the sole software provider to Electrify America, the entity set up by Volkswagen as part of its settlement with U.S. regulators over its diesel emissions cheating scandal.

Clarification: Shell has other EV chargers. These are the first through its newly acquired company Greenlots.

The five great reasons to attend TechCrunch’s Enterprise show Sept. 5 in SF

By Robert Frawley

The vast enterprise tech category is Silicon Valley’s richest, and today it’s poised to change faster than ever before. That’s probably the biggest reason to come to TechCrunch’s first-ever show focused entirely on enterprise. But here are five more reasons to commit to joining TechCrunch’s editors on September 5 at San Francisco’s Yerba Buena Center for an outstanding day (agenda here) addressing the tech tsunami sweeping through enterprise. 

#1 Artificial Intelligence.
At once the most consequential and most hyped technology, no one doubts that AI will change business software and increase productivity like few if any, technologies before it. To peek ahead  into that future, TechCrunch will interview Andrew Ng, arguably the world’s most experienced AI practitioner at huge companies (Baidu, Google) as well as at startups. AI will be a theme across every session, but we’ll address again it head-on in a panel with investor Jocelyn Goldfein (Zetta), founder Bindu Reddy (Reality Engines) and executive John Ball (Salesforce / Einstein). 

#2. Data, The Cloud and Kubernetes.
If AI is at the dawn of tomorrow, cloud transformation is the high noon of today.  90% of the world’s data was created in the past two years, and no enterprise can keep its data hoard on-prem forever. Azure’s CTO
Mark Russinovitch (CTO) will discuss Microsft’s vision for the cloud. Leaders in the open-source Kubernetes revolution, Joe Beda (VMWare) and Aparna Sinha (Google) and others will dig into what Kubernetes means to companies making the move to cloud. And last, there is the question of how to find signal in all the data – which will bring three visionary founders to the stage: Benoit Dageville (Snowflake), Ali Ghodsi (Databricks), Murli Thirumale (Portworx). 

#3 Everything else on the main stage!
Let’s start with a fireside chat with
SAP CEO Bill McDermott and Qualtrics Chief Experience Officer Julie Larson-Green.  We have top investors talking where they are making their bets, and security experts talking data and privacy. And then there is quantum,  the technology revolution waiting on the other side of AI: Jay Gambetta, the principal theoretical scientist behind IBM’s quantum computing effort,  Jim Clarke, the director of quantum hardware at Intel Labs, and Krysta Svore, style="font-weight: 400;"> who leads the Microsoft’s quantum effort.

All told, there are 21 programming sessions.

#4 Network and get your questions answered.
There will be two Q&A breakout sessions with top enterprise investors for founders (and anyone else) to query investors directly. Plus, TechCrunch’s unbeatable CrunchMatch app makes it really easy to set up meetings with the other attendees, an
incredible array of folks, plus the  20 early-stage startups exhibiting on the expo floor.

#5 SAP
Enterprise giant SAP is our sponsor for the show, and they are not only bringing a squad of top executives, they are producing four parallel track sessions featuring key SAP Chief Innovation Officer
Max Wessel,  SAP Chief Designer and Futurist  Martin Wezowski and SAP.IO’s managing director Ram Jambunathan (SAP.iO) in sessions including, how to scale-up an enterprise startup, how startups win large enterprise customers, and what the enterprise future looks like.

Check out the complete agenda. Don’t miss this show! This line-up is a view into the future like none other. 

Grab your $349 tickets today, and don’t wait till the day of to book because prices go up at the door!

We still have 2 Startup Demo Tables left. Each table comes with 4 tickets and a prime location to demo your startup on the expo floor. Book your demo table now before they’re all gone!

Week in Review: Snapchat beats a dead horse

By Lucas Matney

Hey. This is Week-in-Review, where I give a heavy amount of analysis and/or rambling thoughts on one story while scouring the rest of the hundreds of stories that emerged on TechCrunch this week to surface my favorites for your reading pleasure.

Last week, I talked about how Netflix might have some rough times ahead as Disney barrels towards it.


3d video spectacles 3

The big story

There is plenty to be said about the potential of smart glasses. I write about them at length for TechCrunch and I’ve talked to a lot of founders doing cool stuff. That being said, I don’t have any idea what Snap is doing with the introduction of a third-generation of its Spectacles video sunglasses.

The first-gen were a marketing smash hit, their sales proved to be a major failure for the company which bet big and seemingly walked away with a landfill’s worth of the glasses.

Snap’s latest version of Spectacles were announced in Vogue this week, they are much more expensive at $380 and their main feature is that they have two cameras which capture images in light depth which can lead to these cute little 3D boomerangs. One one hand, it’s nice to see the company showing perseverance with a tough market, on the other it’s kind of funny to see them push the same rock up the hill again.

Snap is having an awesome 2019 after a laughably bad 2018, the stock has recovered from record lows and is trading in its IPO price wheelhouse. It seems like they’re ripe for something new and exciting, not beautiful yet iterative.

The $150 Spectacles 2 are still for sale, though they seem quite a bit dated-looking at this point. Spectacles 3 seem to be geared entirely towards women, and I’m sure they made that call after seeing the active users of previous generations, but given the write-down they took on the first-generation, something tells me that Snap’s continued experimentation here is borne out of some stubbornness form Spiegel and the higher-ups who want the Snap brand to live in a high fashion world and want to be at the forefront of an AR industry that seems to have already moved onto different things.

Send me feedback
on Twitter @lucasmtny or email
lucas@techcrunch.com

On to the rest of the week’s news.

tumblr phone sold

Trends of the week

Here are a few big news items from big companies, with green links to all the sweet, sweet added context:

  • WordPress buys Tumblr for chump change
    Tumblr, a game-changing blogging network that shifted online habits and exited for $1.1 billion just changed hands after Verizon (which owns TechCrunch) unloaded the property for a reported $3 million. Read more about this nightmarish deal here.
  • Trump gives American hardware a holiday season pass on tariffs 
    The ongoing trade war with China generally seems to be rough news for American companies deeply intertwined with the manufacturing centers there, but Trump is giving U.S. companies a Christmas reprieve from the tariffs, allowing certain types of hardware to be exempt from the recent rate increases through December. Read more here.
  • Facebook loses one last acquisition co-founder
    This week, the final remnant of Facebook’s major acquisitions left the company. Oculus co-founder Nate Mitchell announced he was leaving. Now, Instagram, WhatsApp and Oculus are all helmed by Facebook leadership and not a single co-founder from the three companies remains onboard. Read more here.

GAFA Gaffes

How did the top tech companies screw up this week? This clearly needs its own section, in order of badness:

  1. Facebook’s turn in audio transcription debacle:
    [Facebook transcribed users’ audio messages without permission]
  2. Google’s hate speech detection algorithms get critiqued:
    [Racial bias observed in hate speech detection algorithm from Google]
  3. Amazon has a little email mishap:
    [Amazon customers say they received emails for other people’s orders]

Adam Neumann (WeWork) at TechCrunch Disrupt NY 2017

Extra Crunch

Our premium subscription service had another week of interesting deep dives. My colleague Danny Crichton wrote about the “tech” conundrum that is WeWork and the questions that are still unanswered after the company filed documents this week to go public.

WeWork’s S-1 misses these three key points

…How is margin changing at its older locations? How is margin changing as it opens up in places like India, with very different costs and revenues? How do those margins change over time as a property matures? WeWork spills serious amounts of ink saying that these numbers do get better … without seemingly being willing to actually offer up the numbers themselves…

Here are some of our other top reads this week for premium subscribers. This week, we published a major deep dive into the world’s next music unicorn and we dug deep into marketplace startups.

Sign up for more newsletters in your inbox (including this one) here.

8 million Android users tricked into downloading 85 adware apps from Google Play

By Zack Whittaker

Dozens of Android adware apps disguised as photo taking and editing apps have been caught serving ads that would take over users’ screens as part of a fraudulent money-making scheme.

Security firm Trend Micro said it found 85 individual apps downloaded more than eight million times from the Google Play — all of which have since been removed from the app store.

More often than not adware apps will run on a user’s device and will silently serve and click ads in the background and without the user’s knowledge to generate ad revenue. But these apps were particularly brazen and sneaky, one of the researchers said.

“It isn’t your run-of-the-mill adware family,” said Ecular Xu, a mobile threat response engineer at Trend Micro. “Apart from displaying advertisements that are difficult to close, it employs unique techniques to evade detection through user behavior and time-based triggers.”

The researchers discovered that the apps would keep a record when they were installed and sit dormant for around half-an-hour. After the delay, the app would hide its icon and create a shortcut on the user’s home screen, the security firm said. That, they say, helped to protect the app from being deleted if the user decided to drag and drop the shortcut to the ‘uninstall’ section of the screen.

“These ads are shown in full screen,” said Xu. “Users are forced to view the whole duration of the ad before being able to close it or go back to app itself.”

When the app unlocked, it displayed ads on the user’s home screen. The code also checks to make sure it doesn’t show the same ad too frequently, the researchers said.

Worse, the ads can be remotely configured by the fraudster, allowing ads to be displayed more frequently than the default five minute intervals.

Trend Micro provided a list of the apps — including Super Selfie Camera, Cos Camera, Pop Camera, and One Stroke Line Puzzle — all of which had a million downloads each.

Users about to install the apps had a dead giveaway: most of the apps had appalling reviews, many of which had as many one-star reviews as they did five-stars, with users complaining about the deluge of pop-up ads.

Google does not typically comment on app removals beyond acknowledging their removal from Google Play.

Read more:

Media software Plex launches a new desktop app for Mac and Windows

By Sarah Perez

Plex today is launching a new desktop application for Mac and Windows, with the goal of eventually replacing Plex Media Player as the company’s only desktop solution. The app’s arrival also signals a change in direction for the company, which will also now remove its existing Windows Store application and end support for the traditional home theater PC setup — the latter which involves a desktop computer connected to a TV or home theater.

The company explains this decision was made after examining how people were using Plex today, and found that most would have an equal or even better experience with a streaming device and its new players.

“It marks the end of an era for us, and we’d be lying if we said it wasn’t a little bittersweet,” the company wrote in a blog post about the change.

plex desktop tidal recommended 1024x661

Home theater PC-style configurations are today a bit of a holdover from an earlier era where there were fewer resources to stream personal media from your PC to your TV. Today, however, Plex’s apps for streaming devices are fairly capable, and a heck of a lot simpler to set up and use by mainstream consumers.

The company also noted that the new Apple TV and Android players support nearly all the same formats and that Plex’s app for streaming devices has come a long way in recent years.

plex desktop tidal artist 1024x660

“Modern streaming devices don’t need as much care and feeding as desktop computers. They don’t need to sleep (much), they use a tiny amount of electricity…and they don’t require nearly as much effort to get up and running. They have remotes that work wonderfully out of the box (no more fiddly custom key mappings!) In short, they’re designed for the environment in which you’re using them, and it shows,” the company explained, in hopes of fending off any backlash.

Meanwhile, the new Plex desktop app includes all the capabilities of Plex Media Player along with support for offline access. Previously called “Sync,” this feature has been renamed to “Downloads,” and allows Plex users to take your media with you. Similar support for offline media will come to Plex’s mobile apps, too, at a later date, the company said.

To use the Downloads feature, you’ll need a Plex Pass subscription. But otherwise, the new desktop app is free.

Though the app is meant to replace Plex Media Player, the company says it will continue to update the software until January 2020, to allow time for everyone to make the transition.

How Facebook does IT

By Frederic Lardinois

If you have ever worked at any sizable company, the word “IT” probably doesn’t conjure up many warm feelings. If you’re working for an old, traditional enterprise company, you probably don’t expect anything else, though. If you’re working for a modern tech company, though, chances are your expectations are a bit higher. And once you’re at the scale of a company like Facebook, a lot of the third-party services that work for smaller companies simply don’t work anymore.

To discuss how Facebook thinks about its IT strategy and why it now builds most of its IT tools in-house, I sat down with the company’s CIO, Atish Banerjea, at its Menlo Park headquarter.

Before joining Facebook in 2016 to head up what it now calls its “Enterprise Engineering” organization, Banerjea was the CIO or CTO at companies like NBCUniversal, Dex One and Pearson.

“If you think about Facebook 10 years ago, we were very much a traditional IT shop at that point,” he told me. “We were responsible for just core IT services, responsible for compliance and responsible for change management. But basically, if you think about the trajectory of the company, were probably about 2,000 employees around the end of 2010. But at the end of last year, we were close to 37,000 employees.”

Traditionally, IT organizations rely on third-party tools and software, but as Facebook grew to this current size, many third-party solutions simply weren’t able to scale with it. At that point, the team decided to take matters into its own hands and go from being a traditional IT organization to one that could build tools in-house. Today, the company is pretty much self-sufficient when it comes to running its IT operations, but getting to this point took a while.

“We had to pretty much reinvent ourselves into a true engineering product organization and went to a full ‘build’ mindset,” said Banerjea. That’s not something every organization is obviously able to do, but, as Banerjea joked, one of the reasons why this works at Facebook “is because we can — we have that benefit of the talent pool that is here at Facebook.”

IMG 20190702 125344

The company then took this talent and basically replicated the kind of team it would help on the customer side to build out its IT tools, with engineers, designers, product managers, content strategies, people and research. “We also made the decision at that point that we will hold the same bar and we will hold the same standards so that the products we create internally will be as world-class as the products we’re rolling out externally.”

One of the tools that wasn’t up to Facebook’s scaling challenges was video conferencing. The company was using a third-party tool for that, but that just wasn’t working anymore. In 2018, Facebook was consuming about 20 million conference minutes per month. In 2019, the company is now at 40 million per month.

Besides the obvious scaling challenge, Facebook is also doing this to be able to offer its employees custom software that fits their workflows. It’s one thing to adapt existing third-party tools, after all, and another to build custom tools to support a company’s business processes.

Banerjea told me that creating this new structure was a relatively easy sell inside the company. Every transformation comes with its own challenges, though. For Facebook’s Enterprise  Engineering team, that included having to recruit new skill sets into the organization. The first few months of this process were painful, Banerjea admitted, as the company had to up-level the skills of many existing employees and shed a significant number of contractors. “There are certain areas where we really felt that we had to have Facebook DNA in order to make sure that we were actually building things the right way,” he explained.

Facebook’s structure creates an additional challenge for the team. When you’re joining Facebook as a new employee, you have plenty of teams to choose from, after all, and if you have the choice of working on Instagram or WhatsApp or the core Facebook app — all of which touch millions of people — working on internal tools with fewer than 40,000 users doesn’t sound all that exciting.

“When young kids who come straight from college and they come into Facebook, they don’t know any better. So they think this is how the world is,” Banerjea said. “But when we have experienced people come in who have worked at other companies, the first thing I hear is ‘oh my goodness, we’ve never seen internal tools of this caliber before.’ The way we recruit, the way we do performance management, the way we do learning and development — every facet of how that employee works has been touched in terms of their life cycle here.”

Event Center 02

Facebook first started building these internal tools around 2012, though it wasn’t until Banerjea joined in 2016 that it rebranded the organization and set up today’s structure. He also noted that some of those original tools were good, but not up to the caliber employees would expect from the company.

“The really big change that we went through was up-leveling our building skills to really become at the same caliber as if we were to build those products for an external customer. We want to have the same experience for people internally.”

The company went as far as replacing and rebuilding the commercial Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) system it had been using for years. If there’s one thing that big companies rely on, it’s their ERP systems, given they often handle everything from finance and HR to supply chain management and manufacturing. That’s basically what all of their backend tools rely on (and what companies like SAP, Oracle and others charge a lot of money for). “In that 2016/2017 time frame, we realized that that was not a very good strategy,” Banerjea said. In Facebook’s case, the old ERP handled the inventory management for its data centers, among many other things. When that old system went down, the company couldn’t ship parts to its data centers.

“So what we started doing was we started peeling off all the business logic from our backend ERP and we started rewriting it ourselves on our own platform,” he explained. “Today, for our ERP, the backend is just the database, but all the business logic, all of the functionality is actually all custom written by us on our own platform. So we’ve completely rewritten our ERP, so to speak.”

In practice, all of this means that ideally, Facebook’s employees face far less friction when they join the company, for example, or when they need to replace a broken laptop, get a new phone to test features or simply order a new screen for their desk.

One classic use case is onboarding, where new employees get their company laptop, mobile phones and access to all of their systems, for example. At Facebook, that’s also the start of a six-week bootcamp that gets new engineers up to speed with how things work at Facebook. Back in 2016, when new classes tended to still have less than 200 new employees, that was still mostly a manual task. Today, with far more incoming employees, the Enterprise Engineering team has automated most of that — and that includes managing the supply chain that ensures the laptops and phones for these new employees are actually available.

But the team also built the backend that powers the company’s more traditional IT help desks, where employees can walk up and get their issues fixed (and passwords reset).

Event Center 10

To talk more about how Facebook handles the logistics of that, I sat down with Koshambi Shah, who heads up the company’s Enterprise Supply Chain organization, which pretty much handles every piece of hardware and software the company delivers and deploys to its employees around the world (and that global nature of the company brings its own challenges and additional complexity). The team, which has fewer than 30 people, is made up of employees with experience in manufacturing, retail and consumer supply chains.

Typically, enterprises offer their employees a minimal set of choices when it comes to the laptops and phones they issue to their employees, and the operating systems that can run on them tend to be limited. Facebook’s engineers have to be able to test new features on a wide range of devices and operating systems. There are, after all, still users on the iPhone 4s or BlackBerry that the company wants to support. To do this, Shah’s organization actually makes thousands of SKUs available to employees and is able to deliver 98% of them within three days or less. It’s not just sending a laptop via FedEx, though. “We do the budgeting, the financial planning, the forecasting, the supply/demand balancing,” Shah said. “We do the asset management. We make sure the asset — what is needed, when it’s needed, where it’s needed — is there consistently.”

In many large companies, every asset request is double guessed. Facebook, on the other hand, places a lot of trust in its employees, it seems. There’s a self-service portal, the Enterprise Store, that allows employees to easily request phones, laptops, chargers (which get lost a lot) and other accessories as needed, without having to wait for approval (though if you request a laptop every week, somebody will surely want to have a word with you). Everything is obviously tracked in detail, but the overall experience is closer to shopping at an online retailer than using an enterprise asset management system. The Enterprise Store will tell you where a device is available, for example, so you can pick it up yourself (but you can always have it delivered to your desk, too, because this is, after all, a Silicon Valley company).

A73A6581

For accessories, Facebook also offers self-service vending machines, and employees can walk up to the help desk.

The company also recently introduced an Amazon Locker-style setup that allows employees to check out devices as needed. At these smart lockers, employees simply have to scan their badge, choose a device and, once the appropriate door has opened, pick up the phone, tablet, laptop or VR devices they were looking for and move on. Once they are done with it, they can come back and check the device back in. No questions asked. “We trust that people make the right decision for the good of the company,” Shah said. For laptops and other accessories, the company does show the employee the price of those items, though, so it’s clear how much a certain request costs the company. “We empower you with the data for you to make the best decision for your company.”

Talking about cost, Shah told me the Supply Chain organization tracks a number of metrics. One of those is obviously cost. “We do give back about 4% year-over-year, that’s our commitment back to the businesses in terms of the efficiencies we build for every user we support. So we measure ourselves in terms of cost per supported user. And we give back 4% on an annualized basis in the efficiencies.”

Unsurprisingly, the company has by now gathered enough data about employee requests (Shah said the team fulfills about half a million transactions per year) that it can use machine learning to understand trends and be proactive about replacing devices, for example.

IMG 8238

Facebooks’ Enterprise Engineering group doesn’t just support internal customers, though. Another interesting aspect to Facebook’s Enterprise Engineering group is that it also runs the company’s internal and external events, including the likes of F8, the company’s annual developer conference. To do this, the company built out conference rooms that can seat thousands of people, with all of the logistics that go with that.

The company also showed me one of its newest meeting rooms where there are dozens of microphones and speakers hanging from the ceiling that make it easier for everybody in the room to participate in a meeting and be heard by everybody else. That’s part of what the organization’s “New Builds” team is responsible for, and something that’s possible because the company also takes a very hands-on approach to building and managing its offices.

Facebook also runs a number of small studios in its Menlo Park and New York offices, where both employees and the occasional external VIP can host Facebook Live videos.

Event Center 56

Indeed, live video, it seems, is one of the cornerstones of how Facebook employees collaborate and help employees who work from home. Typically, you’d just use the camera on your laptop or maybe a webcam connected to your desktop to do so. But because Facebook actually produces its own camera system with the consumer-oriented Portal, Banerjea’s team decided to use that.

“What we have done is we have actually re-engineered the Portal,” he told me. “We have connected with all of our video conferencing systems in the rooms. So if I have a Portal at home, I can dial into my video conferencing platform and have a conference call just like I’m sitting in any other conference room here in Facebook. And all that software, all the engineering on the portal, that has been done by our teams — some in partnership with our production teams, but a lot of it has been done with Enterprise Engineering.”

Unsurprisingly, there are also groups that manage some of the core infrastructure and security for the company’s internal tools and networks. All of those tools run in the same data centers as Facebook’s consumer-facing applications, though they are obviously sandboxed and isolated from them.

It’s one thing to build all of these tools for internal use, but now, the company is also starting to think about how it can bring some of these tools it built for internal use to some of its external customers. You may not think of Facebook as an enterprise company, but with its Workplace collaboration tool, it has an enterprise service that it sells externally, too. Last year, for the first time, Workplace added a new feature that was incubated inside of Enterprise Engineering. That feature was a version of Facebook’s public Safety Check that the Enterprise Engineering team had originally adapted to the company’s own internal use.

“Many of these things that we are building for Facebook, because we are now very close partners with our Workplace team — they are in the enterprise software business and we are the enterprise software group for Facebook — and many [features] we are building for Facebook are of interest to Workplace customers.”

As Workplace hit the market, Banerjea ended up talking to the CIOs of potential users, including the likes of Delta Air Lines, about how Facebook itself used Workplace internally. But as companies started to adopt Workplace, they realized that they needed integrations with existing third-party services like ERP platforms and Salesforce. Those companies then asked Facebook if it could build those integrations or work with partners to make them available. But at the same time, those customers got exposed to some of the tools that Facebook itself was building internally.

“Safety Check was the first one,” Banerjea said. “We are actually working on three more products this year.” He wouldn’t say what these are, of course, but there is clearly a pipeline of tools that Facebook has built for internal use that it is now looking to commercialize. That’s pretty unusual for any IT organization, which, after all, tends to only focus on internal customers. I don’t expect Facebook to pivot to an enterprise software company anytime soon, but initiatives like this are clearly important to the company and, in some ways, to the morale of the team.

This creates a bit of friction, too, though, given that the Enterprise Engineering group’s mission is to build internal tools for Facebook. “We are now figuring out the deployment model,” Banerjea said. Who, for example, is going to support the external tools the team built? Is it the Enterprise Engineering group or the Workplace team?

Chances are then, that Facebook will bring some of the tools it built for internal use to more enterprises in the long run. That definitely puts a different spin on the idea of the consumerization of enterprise tech. Clearly, not every company operates at the scale of Facebook and needs to build its own tools — and even some companies that could benefit from it don’t have the resources to do so. For Facebook, though, that move seems to have paid off and the tools I saw while talking to the team definitely looked more user-friendly than any off-the-shelf enterprise tools I’ve seen at other large companies.

VMware says it’s looking to acquire Pivotal

By Frederic Lardinois

VMware today confirmed that it is in talks to acquire software development platform Pivotal Software, the service best known for commercializing the open-source Cloud Foundry platform. The proposed transaction would see VMware acquire all outstanding Pivotal Class A stock for $15 per share, a significant markup over Pivotal’s current share price (which unsurprisingly shot up right after the announcement).

Pivotal’s shares have struggled since the company’s IPO in April 2018. The company was originally spun out of EMC Corporation (now DellEMC) and VMware in 2012 to focus on Cloud Foundry, an open-source software development platform that is currently in use by the majority of Fortune 500 companies. A lot of these enterprises are working with Pivotal to support their Cloud Foundry efforts. Dell itself continues to own the majority of VMware and Pivotal, and VMware also owns an interest in Pivotal already and sells Pivotal’s services to its customers, as well. It’s a bit of an ouroboros of a transaction.

Pivotal Cloud Foundry was always the company’s main product, but it also offered additional consulting services on top of that. Despite improving its execution since going public, Pivotal still lost $31.7 million in its last financial quarter as its stock price traded at just over half of the IPO price. Indeed, the $15 per share VMware is offering is identical to Pivotal’s IPO price.

An acquisition by VMware would bring Pivotal’s journey full circle, though this is surely not the journey the Pivotal team expected. VMware is a Cloud Foundry Foundation platinum member, together with Pivotal, DellEMC, IBM, SAP and Suse, so I wouldn’t expect any major changes in VMware’s support of the overall open-source ecosystem behind Pivotal’s core platform.

It remains to be seen whether the acquisition will indeed happen, though. In a press release, VMware acknowledged the discussion between the two companies but noted that “there can be no assurance that any such agreement regarding the potential transaction will occur, and VMware does not intend to communicate further on this matter unless and until a definitive agreement is reached.” That’s the kind of sentence lawyers like to write. I would be quite surprised if this deal didn’t happen, though.

Buying Pivotal would also make sense in the grand scheme of VMware’s recent acquisitions. Earlier this year, the company acquired Bitnami, and last year it acquired Heptio, the startup founded by two of the three co-founders of the Kubernetes project, which now forms the basis of many new enterprise cloud deployments and, most recently, Pivotal Cloud Foundry.

Every TC Sessions: Enterprise 2019 ticket includes a free pass to Disrupt SF

By Emma Comeau

Shout out to all the savvy enterprise software startuppers. Here’s a quick, two-part money-saving reminder. Part one: TC Sessions: Enterprise 2019 is right around the corner on September 5, and you have only two days left to buy an early-bird ticket and save yourself $100. Part two: for every Session ticket you buy, you get one free Expo-only pass to TechCrunch Disrupt SF 2019.

Save money and increase your ROI by completing one simple task: buy your early-bird ticket today.

About 1,000 members of enterprise software’s powerhouse community will join us for a full day dedicated to exploring the current and future state of enterprise software. It’s certainly tech’s 800-pound gorilla — a $500 billion industry. Some of the biggest names and brightest minds will be on hand to discuss critical issues all players face — from early-stage startups to multinational conglomerates.

The day’s agenda features panel discussions, main-stage talks, break-out sessions and speaker Q&As on hot topics including intelligent marketing automation, the cloud, data security, AI and quantum computing, just to name a few. You’ll hear from people like SAP CEO Bill McDermott; Aaron Levie, Box co-founder; Jim Clarke, director of Quantum Hardware at Intel and many, many more.

Customer experience is always a hot topic, so be sure to catch this main-stage panel discussion with Amit Ahuja (Adobe), Julie Larson-Green (Qualtrics) and Peter Reinhardt (Segment):

The Trials and Tribulations of Experience Management: As companies gather more data about their customers and employees, it should theoretically improve their experience, but myriad challenges face companies as they try to pull together information from a variety of vendors across disparate systems, both in the cloud and on prem. How do you pull together a coherent picture of your customers, while respecting their privacy and overcoming the technical challenges?

TC Sessions: Enterprise 2019 takes place in San Francisco on September 5. Take advantage of this two-part money-saving opportunity. Buy your early-bird ticket by August 16 at 11:59 p.m. (PT) to save $100. And score a free Expo-only pass to TechCrunch Disrupt SF 2019 for every ticket you buy. We can’t wait to see you in September!

Interested in sponsoring TC Sessions: Enterprise? Fill out this form and a member of our sales team will contact you.

Tesla Model 3 owner implants RFID chip to turn her arm into a key

By Kirsten Korosec

Forget the keycard or phone app, one software engineer is trying out a new way to unlock and start her Tesla Model 3.

Amie DD, who has a background in game simulation and programming, recently released a video showing how she “biohacked” her body. The software engineer removed the RFID chip from the Tesla Model 3 valet card using acetone, then placed it into a biopolymer, which was injected through a hollow needle into her left arm. A professional who specializes in body modifications performed the injection.

You can watch the process below, although folks who don’t like blood should consider skipping it. Amie DD also has a page on Hackaday.io that explains the project and the process.

The video is missing one crucial detail. It doesn’t show whether the method works. TechCrunch will update the post once a new video delivering the news is released.

Amie is not new to biohacking. The original idea was to use the existing RFID implant chip that was already in her hand to be able to start the Model 3. That method, which would have involved taking the Java applet and writing it onto her own chip, didn’t work because of Tesla’s security. So, Amie DD opted for another implant.

Amie DD explains why and how she did this in another, longer video posted below. She also talks a bit about her original implant in her left hand, which she says is used for “access control.” She uses it to unlock the door of her home, for instance.

 

 

Adobe’s Amit Ahuja will be talking customer experience at TechCrunch Sessions: Enterprise

By Ron Miller

As companies collect increasingly large amounts of data about customers, the end game is about improving the customer experience. It’s a term we’re hearing a lot of these days, and we are going to be discussing that very topic with Amit Ahuja, Adobe’s vice president of ecosystem development, next month at TechCrunch Sessions: Enterprise in San Francisco. Grab your early-bird tickets right now – $100 savings ends today!

Customer experience covers a broad array of enterprise software and includes data collection, analytics and software. Adobe deals with all of this including the Adobe Experience Platform for data collection, Adobe Analytics for visualization and understanding and Adobe Experience Cloud for building applications.

The idea is to begin to build an understanding of your customers through the various interactions you have with them, and then build applications to give them a positive experience. There is lots of talk about “delighting” customers, but it’s really about using the digital realm to help them achieve what they want as efficiently as possible, whatever that means to your business.

Ahuja will be joining TechCrunch’s editors along with Qualtrics chief experience officer Julie Larson-Green and Segment CEO Peter Reinhardt to discuss the finer points of what it means to build a customer experience, and how software can help drive that.

Ahuja has been with Adobe since 2005 when he joined as part of the $3.4 billion Macromedia acquisition. His primary role today involves building and managing strategic partnerships and initiatives. Prior to this, he was the Head of Emerging businesses and the GM of Adobe’s Data Management Platform business, which focuses on advertisers. He also spent 7 years in Adobe’s Corporate Development Group where he helped complete the acquisitions of Omniture, Scene7, Efficient Frontier, Demdex and Auditude.

Amit will be joining us on Sept 5 in San Francisco along with some of the biggest influencers in enterprise including Bill McDermott from SAP, Scott Farquhar from Atlassian, Aparna Sinha from Google, Wendy Nather from Duo Security, Aaron Levie from Box and Andrew Ng from Landing AI.

Early-bird savings end today, August 9. Book your tickets today and you’ll save $100 before prices go up.

Bringing a group? Book our 4+ group tickets and you’ll save 20% on the early-bird rate. Bring the whole squad here.

Why AI needs more social workers, with Columbia University’s Desmond Patton

By Arman Tabatabai

Sometimes it does seem the entire tech industry could use someone to talk to, like a good therapist or social worker. That might sound like an insult, but I mean it mostly earnestly: I am a chaplain who has spent 15 years talking with students, faculty, and other leaders at Harvard (and more recently MIT as well), mostly nonreligious and skeptical people like me, about their struggles to figure out what it means to build a meaningful career and a satisfying life, in a world full of insecurity, instability, and divisiveness of every kind.

In related news, I recently took a year-long paid sabbatical from my work at Harvard and MIT, to spend 2019-20 investigating the ethics of technology and business (including by writing this column at TechCrunch). I doubt it will shock you to hear I’ve encountered a lot of amoral behavior in tech, thus far.

A less expected and perhaps more profound finding, however, has been what the introspective founder Priyag Narula of LeadGenius tweeted at me recently: that behind the hubris and Machiavellianism one can find in tech companies is a constant struggle with anxiety and an abiding feeling of inadequacy among tech leaders.

In tech, just like at places like Harvard and MIT, people are stressed. They’re hurting, whether or not they even realize it.

So when Harvard’s Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society recently posted an article whose headline began, “Why AI Needs Social Workers…”… it caught my eye.

The article, it turns out, was written by Columbia University Professor Desmond Patton. Patton is a Public Interest Technologist and pioneer in the use of social media and artificial intelligence in the study of gun violence. The founding Director of Columbia’s SAFElab and Associate Professor of Social Work, Sociology and Data Science at Columbia University.

desmond cropped 800x800

Desmond Patton. Image via Desmond Patton / Stern Strategy Group

A trained social worker and decorated social work scholar, Patton has also become a big name in AI circles in recent years. If Big Tech ever decided to hire a Chief Social Work Officer, he’d be a sought-after candidate.

It further turns out that Patton’s expertise — in online violence & its relationship to violent acts in the real world — has been all too “hot” a topic this past week, with mass murderers in both El Paso, Texas and Dayton, Ohio having been deeply immersed in online worlds of hatred which seemingly helped lead to their violent acts.

Fortunately, we have Patton to help us understand all of these issues. Here is my conversation with him: on violence and trauma in tech on and offline, and how social workers could help; on deadly hip-hop beefs and “Internet Banging” (a term Patton coined); hiring formerly gang-involved youth as “domain experts” to improve AI; how to think about the likely growing phenomenon of white supremacists live-streaming barbaric acts; and on the economics of inclusion across tech.

Greg Epstein: How did you end up working in both social work and tech?

Desmond Patton: At the heart of my work is an interest in root causes of community-based violence, so I’ve always identified as a social worker that does violence-based research. [At the University of Chicago] my dissertation focused on how young African American men navigated violence in their community on the west side of the city while remaining active in their school environment.

[From that work] I learned more about the role of social media in their lives. This was around 2011, 2012, and one of the things that kept coming through in interviews with these young men was how social media was an important tool for navigating both safe and unsafe locations, but also an environment that allowed them to project a multitude of selves. To be a school self, to be a community self, to be who they really wanted to be, to try out new identities.

Robocall blocking apps caught sending your private data without permission

By Zack Whittaker

Robocall-blocking apps promise to rid your life of spoofed and spam phone calls. But are they as trustworthy as they claim to be?

One security researcher said many of these apps can violate your privacy as soon as they are opened.

Dan Hastings, a senior security consultant cybersecurity firm NCC Group, analyzed some of the most popular robocall-blocking apps — including TrapCall, Truecaller, and Hiya — and found egregious privacy violations.

Robocalls are getting worse, with some getting tens or dozens of calls a day. These automated calls demand you “pay the IRS” a fine you don’t owe or pretend to be tech support. They often try to trick you into picking up the phone by spoofing their number to look like a local caller. But as much as the cell networks are trying to cut down on spam, many are turning to third-party apps to filter their incoming calls.

But many of these apps, said Hastings, send user or device data to third-party data analytics companies — often to monetize your information — without your explicit consent, instead burying the details in their privacy policies.

One app, TrapCall, sent users’ phone numbers to a third-party analytics firm, AppsFlyer, without telling users — either in the app nor in the privacy policy.

He also found Truecaller and Hiya uploaded device data — device type, model and software version, among other things — before a user could accept their privacy policies. Those apps, said Hastings, violate Apple’s app guidelines on data use and sharing, which mandate that app makers first obtain permission before using or sending data to third-parties.

Many of the other apps aren’t much better. Several other apps that Hastings tested immediately sent some data to Facebook as soon as the app loaded.

“Without having a technical background, most end users aren’t able to evaluate what data is actually being collected and sent to third parties,” said Hastings. “Privacy policies are the only way that a non-technical user can evaluate what data is collected about them while using an app.”

None of the companies acted on emails from Hastings warning about the privacy issues, he said. It was only after he contacted Apple when TrapCall later updated its privacy policy.

But he reserved some criticism for Apple, noting that app privacy policies “don’t appear to be monitored” as he discovered with Truecaller and Hiya.

“Privacy policies are great, but apps need to get better about abiding by them,” said Hastings.

“If most people took the time to read and try to understand privacy policies for all the apps they use (and are able to understand them!), they might be surprised to see how much these apps collect,” he said. “Until that day, end-users will have to rely on security researchers performing manual deep dives into how apps handle their private information in practice.”

Spokespeople for TrapCall, Truecaller, and Hiya did not comment when reached prior to publication.

Facebook could face billions in potential damages as court rules facial recognition lawsuit can proceed

By Jonathan Shieber

Facebook is facing exposure to billions of dollars in potential damages as a federal appeals court on Thursday rejected Facebook’s arguments to halt a class action lawsuit claiming it illegally collected and stored the biometric data of millions of users.

The class action lawsuit has been working its way through the courts since 2015, when Illinois Facebook users sued the company for alleged violations of the state’s Biometric Information Privacy Act by automatically collecting and identifying people in photographs posted to the service.

Now, thanks to a unanimous decision from the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco, the lawsuit can proceed.

The most significant language from the decision from the circuit court seems to be this:

We conclude that the development of face template using facial-recognition technology without consent (as alleged here) invades an individual’s private affairs and concrete interests. Similar conduct is actionable at common law.

The American Civil Liberties Union came out in favor of the court’s ruling.

“This decision is a strong recognition of the dangers of unfettered use of face surveillance technology,” said Nathan Freed Wessler, staff attorney with the ACLU Speech, Privacy, and Technology Project, in a statement. “The capability to instantaneously identify and track people based on their faces raises chilling potential for privacy violations at an unprecedented scale. Both corporations and the government are now on notice that this technology poses unique risks to people’s privacy and safety.”

As April Glaser noted in Slate, Facebook already may have the world’s largest database of faces, and that’s something that should concern regulators and privacy advocates.

“Facebook wants to be able to certify identity in a variety of areas of life just as it has been trying to corner the market on identify verification on the web,” Siva Vaidhyanathan told Slate in an interview. “The payoff for Facebook is to have a bigger and broader sense of everybody’s preferences, both individually and collectively. That helps it not only target ads but target and develop services, too.”

That could apply to facial recognition technologies as well. Facebook, thankfully, doesn’t sell its facial recognition data to other people, but it does allow companies to use its data to target certain populations. It also allows people to use its information for research and to develop new services that could target Facebook’s billion-strong population of users.

As our own Josh Constine noted in an article about the company’s planned cryptocurrency wallet, the developer community poses as much of a risk to how Facebook’s products and services are used and abused as Facebook itself.

Facebook has said that it plans to appeal the decision. “We have always disclosed our use of face recognition technology and that people can turn it on or off at any time,” a spokesman said in an email to Reuters.

Now, the lawsuit will go back to the court of U.S. District Judge James Donato in San Francisco who approved the class action lawsuit last April for a possible trial.

Under the privacy law in Illinois, negligent violations could be subject to damages of up to $1,000 and intentional violations of privacy are subject to up to $5,000 in penalties. For the potential 7 million Facebook users that could be included in the lawsuit, those figures could amount to real money.

“BIPA’s innovative protections for biometric information are now enforceable in federal court,” added Rebecca Glenberg, senior staff attorney at the ACLU of Illinois. “If a corporation violates a statute by taking your personal information without your consent, you do not have to wait until your data is stolen or misused to go to court. As our General Assembly understood when it enacted BIPA, a strong enforcement mechanism is crucial to hold companies accountable when they violate our privacy laws. Corporations that misuse Illinoisans sensitive biometric data now do so at their own peril.”

These civil damages could come on top of fines that Facebook has already paid to the U.S. government for violating its agreement with the Federal Trade Commission over its handling of private user data. That resulted in one of the single largest penalties levied against a U.S. technology company. Facebook is potentially on the hook for a $5 billion payout to the U.S. government. That penalty is still subject to approval by the Justice Department.

❌