Proctorio sued for using DMCA to take down a student’s critical tweets

A university student is suing exam proctoring software maker Proctorio to “quash a campaign of harassment” against critics of the company, including an accusation that the company misused copyright laws to remove his tweets that were critical of the software.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation, which filed the lawsuit this week on behalf of Miami University student Erik Johnson, who also does security research on the side, accused Proctorio of having “exploited the DMCA to undermine Johnson’s commentary.”

Twitter hid three of Johnson’s tweets after Proctorio filed a copyright takedown notice under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, or DMCA, alleging that three of Johnson’s tweets violated the company’s copyright.

Schools and universities have increasingly leaned on proctoring software during the pandemic to invigilate student exams, albeit virtually. Students must install the school’s choice of proctoring software to grant access to the student’s microphone and webcam to spot potential cheating. But students of color have complained that the software fails to recognize non-white faces and that the software also requires high-speed internet access, which many low-income houses don’t have. If a student fails these checks, the student can end up failing the exam.

Despite this, Vice reported last month that some students are easily cheating on exams that are monitored by Proctorio. Several schools have banned or discontinued using Proctorio and other proctoring software, citing privacy concerns.

Proctorio’s monitoring software is a Chrome extension, which unlike most desktop software can be easily downloaded and the source code examined for bugs and flaws. Johnson examined the code and tweeted what he found — including under what circumstances a student’s test would be terminated if the software detected signs of potential cheating, and how the software monitors for suspicious eye movements and abnormal mouse clicking.

Johnson’s tweets also contained links to snippets of the Chrome extension’s source code on Pastebin.

Proctorio claimed at the time, via its crisis communications firm Edelman, that Johnson violated the company’s rights “by copying and posting extracts from Proctorio’s software code on his Twitter account.” But Twitter reinstated Johnson’s tweets after finding Proctorio’s takedown notice “incomplete.”

“Software companies don’t get to abuse copyright law to undermine their critics,” said Cara Gagliano, a staff attorney at the EFF. “Using pieces [of] code to explain your research or support critical commentary is no different from quoting a book in a book review.”

The complaint argues that Proctorio’s “pattern of baseless DMCA notices” had a chilling effect on Johnson’s security research work, amid fears that “reporting on his findings will elicit more harassment.”

“Copyright holders should be held liable when they falsely accuse their critics of copyright infringement, especially when the goal is plainly to intimidate and undermine them,” said Gagliano. “We’re asking the court for a declaratory judgment that there is no infringement to prevent further legal threats and takedown attempts against Johnson for using code excerpts and screenshots to support his comments.”

The EFF alleges that this is part of a wider pattern that Proctorio uses to respond to criticism. Last year Olsen posted a student’s private chat logs on Reddit without their permission. Olsen later set his Twitter account to private following the incident. Proctorio is also suing Ian Linkletter, a learning technology specialist at the University of British Columbia, after posting tweets critical of the company’s proctoring software.

The lawsuit is filed in Arizona, where Proctorio is headquartered. Proctorio CEO Mike Olson did not respond to a request for comment.

#academia, #arizona, #articles, #ceo, #copyright-law, #crisis-communications, #digital-millennium-copyright-act, #education, #electronic-frontier-foundation, #higher-education, #privacy, #proctorio, #security, #twitter

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As ExxonMobil asks for handouts, startups get to work on carbon capture and sequestration

Earlier this week, ExxonMobil, a company among the largest producers of greenhouse gas emissions and a longtime leader in the corporate fight against climate change regulations, called for a massive $100 billion project (backed in part by the government) to sequester hundreds of millions of metric tons of carbon dioxide in geologic formations off the Gulf of Mexico.

The gall of Exxon’s flag-planting request is matched only by the grit from startup companies that are already working on carbon capture and storage or carbon utilization projects and announced significant milestones along their own path to commercialization even as Exxon was asking for handouts.

These are companies like Charm Industrial, which just completed the first pilot test of its technology through a contract with Stripe. That pilot project saw the company remove 416 tons of carbon dioxide equivalent from the atmosphere. That’s a small fraction of the hundred million tons Exxon thinks could be captured in its hypothetical sequestration project located off the Gulf Coast, but the difference between Exxon’s proposal and Charm’s sequestration project is that Charm has actually managed to already sequester the carbon.

The company’s technology, verified by outside observers like Shopify, Microsoft, CarbonPlan, CarbonDirect and others, converts biomass into an oil-like substance and then injects that goop underground — permanently sequestering the carbon dioxide, the company said.

Eventually, Charm would use its bio-based oil equivalent to produce “green hydrogen” and replace pumped or fracked hydrocarbons in industries that may still require combustible fuel for their operations.

While Charm is converting biomass into an oil-equivalent and pumping it back underground, other companies like CarbonCure, Blue Planet, Solidia, Forterra, CarbiCrete and Brimstone Energy are capturing carbon dioxide and fixing it in building materials. 

“The easy way to think about CarbonCure we have a mission to reduce 500 million tons per year by 2030. On the innovation side of things we really pioneered this area of science using CO2 in a value-added, hyper low-cost way in the value chain,” said CarbonCure founder and chief executive Rob Niven. “We look at CO2 as a value added input into making concrete production. It has to raise profits.”

Niven stresses that CarbonCure, which recently won one half of the $20 million carbon capture XPrize alongside CarbonBuilt, is not a hypothetical solution for carbon dioxide removal. The company already has 330 plants operating around the world capturing carbon dioxide emissions and sequestering them in building materials.

Applications for carbon utilization are important to reduce the emissions footprints of industry, but for nations to achieve their climate objectives, the world needs to move to dramatically reduce its reliance on emissions spewing energy sources and simultaneously permanently draw down massive amounts of greenhouse gases that are already in the atmosphere.

It’s why the ExxonMobil call for a massive project to explore the permanent sequestration of carbon dioxide isn’t wrong, necessarily, just questionable coming from the source.

The U.S. Department of Energy does think that the Gulf Coast has geological formations that can store 500 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide (which the company says is more than 130 years of the country’s total industrial and power generation emissions). But in ExxonMobil’s calculation that’s a reason to continue with business-as-usual (actually with more government subsidies for its business).

Here’s how the company’s top executives explained it in the pages of The Wall Street Journal:

The Houston CCS Innovation Zone concept would require the “whole of government” approach to the climate challenge that President Biden has championed. Based on our experience with projects of this scale, we estimate the approach could generate tens of thousands of new jobs needed to make and install the equipment to capture the CO2 and transport it via a pipeline for storage. Such a project would also protect thousands of existing jobs in industries seeking to reduce emissions. In short, large-scale CCS would reduce emissions while protecting the economy.

These oil industry executives are playing into a false narrative that the switch to renewable energy and a greener economy will cost the U.S. jobs. It’s a fact that oil industry jobs will be erased, but those jobs will be replaced by other opportunities, according to research published in Scientific American.

“With the more aggressive $60 carbon tax, U.S. employment would still exceed the reference-case forecast, but the increase would be less than that of the $25 tax,” write authors Marilyn Brown and Majid Ahmadi. “The higher tax causes much larger supply-side job losses, but they are still smaller than the gains in energy-efficiency jobs motivated by higher energy prices. Overall, 35 million job years would be created between 2020 and 2050, with net job increases in almost all regions.”

ExxonMobil and the other oil majors definitely have a role to play in the new energy economy that’s being built worldwide, but the leading American oil companies are not going to be able to rest on their laurels or continue operating with a business-as-usual mindset. These companies run the risk of going the way of big coal — slowly sliding into obsolescence and potentially taking thousands of jobs and local economies down with them.

To avoid that, carbon sequestration is a part of the solution, but it’s one of many arrows in the quiver that oil companies need to deploy if they’re going to continue operating and adding value to shareholders. In other words, it’s not the last 130 years of emissions that ExxonMobil should be focused on, it’s the next 130 years that aim to be increasingly zero-emission.

#articles, #biden, #carbon-sequestration, #co2, #exxon, #exxonmobil, #greenhouse-gas-emissions, #gulf-coast, #gulf-of-mexico, #leader, #microsoft, #nature, #oil, #president, #renewable-energy, #shopify, #tc, #the-wall-street-journal, #u-s-department-of-energy, #united-states, #wall-street-journal

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Will Budweiser brew eggs and will Post cereal make meat?

Corporations are quickly waking up to the market potential of alternative proteins with the nation’s biggest consumer brands continuing to make investments and create partnerships with startup companies helping consumers transition to healthier and more environmentally sustainable diets.

As Earth Week draws to a close (thankfully) new partnerships announced over the past week show the potential for new technologies to transform old businesses.

Yesterday the New York-based ZX Ventures, the investment and innovation arm of AB InBev, said that it would be partnering with Clara Foods, a developer of protein production technologies including (but not limited to), brewing egg substitutes. That’s right, the makers of Budweiser are hatching a scheme to make other kinds of liquids that are less potable and more poachable.

In that case, the yolk would definitely be on you, future consumer.

“Since day one, Clara has been on a mission to accelerate the world’s transition to animal-free protein, starting with the egg. More than one trillion eggs are consumed globally every year and corporate commitments for cage-free aren’t enough,” said Arturo Elizondo, the chief executive and co-founder of Clara Foods. “We’re thrilled to be partnering with the world’s largest fermentation company to work together to enable a kinder, greener, and more delicious future. This partnership is a major step towards realizing our vision.”

Graph showing the increasing size of investments into alternative proteins in 2020. From 2019 to 2020 investments in alternative proteins soared from just over $1 billion to $3 billion led by investments in plant protein products. Image Credit: Good Food Institute

There are market-driven reasons for the partnership. Demand for high quality proteins is expected to jump up to 98% by 2050, according to research cited by the two companies.

“Meeting the increased demand for food requires breakthrough solutions built on collaboration and innovation that spans several industry domains – both old and new. The ancient and natural process of fermentation can be further harnessed to help meet future demands in our global food system,” said Patrick O’Riordan, founder & CEO at BioBrew, ZX Ventures’ new business line trying to apply large-scale fermentation and downstream processing expertise beyond beer. “We look forward to exploring the development of highly-functional, animal-free egg proteins with Clara Foods in a scalable, sustainable and economically viable manner.”

Meanwhile, there’s a meeting of the minds happening in St. Louis where cereal giant Post is investing in Hungry Planet, a startup making meat a range of meat replacements.

Formed from the same Seventh Day Adventist focus on plant-based diet and health as a core of spirituality that launched the Kellogg’s cereal empire, Post has long been a rival to the corn flake king with its grape nuts cereal and other grain-based breakfast offerings.

Now the company has led a $25 million investment in Hungry Planet, which aims to provide meat-based replacements for crab cakes, lamb burgers, chicken, pork, and beef. Additional investors included the Singapore-based environmentally sustainable holding company, Trirec.

Alternative proteins are a big business. Last year, companies developing technologies and businesses to commercialize alternative sources of protein raised over $3 billion, according to the industry tracker, the Good Food Institute.

“Over the past year, the alternative protein industry has demonstrated not only resilience but acceleration, raising significantly more investment capital in 2020 than in prior years,” said GFI director of corporate engagement Caroline Bushnell, in a statement. “These capital infusions and the funding still to come will facilitate much-needed R&D and capacity building to enable these companies to scale and reach more consumers with delicious, affordable, and accessible alternative protein products.”

It’s all part of a push to provide more plant-based alternatives to animal proteins in a bid to halt planetary deforestation and reduce the greenhouse gas emissions associated with animal husbandry.

“Humanity needs solutions that match the scale and urgency of our problems,” said Elizondo. “

#articles, #brewing, #cellular-agriculture, #clara-foods, #fermentation, #food, #food-and-drink, #food-science, #greenhouse-gas-emissions, #kelloggs, #king, #meat, #new-york, #st-louis, #sustainability, #tc, #zx-ventures

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Orca AI, which puts computer vision onto cargo ships, raises $13M Series A funding

Tel Aviv’s Orca AI, a computer vision startup that can be retrofitted to cargo ships and improve navigation and collision avoidance, has raised $13 million in a Series A funding, taking its total raised to over $15.5 million. While most cargo ships carry security cameras, computer vision cameras are rare. Orca AI hopes its solution could introduce autonomous guidance to vessels already at sea.

There are over 4,000 annual marine incidents, largely due to human error. The company says this is getting worse as the Coronavirus pandemic makes it harder for regular crew changes. The recent events in the Suez Canal have highlighted how crucial this industry is.

The funding round was led by OCV Partners, with Principal Zohar Loshitzer joining Orca AI’s board. Mizmaa Ventures and Playfair Capital also featured.

The company was founded by naval technology experts, Yarden Gross and Dor Raviv. The latter is an former Israel navy computer vision expert. Customers include Kirby, Ray Car Carriers and NYK.

Orca AI’s AI-based navigation and vessel tracking system supports ships in difficult to tricky to navigate situations and congested waterways, using vision sensors, thermal and low light cameras, plus algorithms that look at the environment and alert crews to dangerous situations.

On the raise, Yarden Gross, CEO, and co-founder said: “The maritime industry… is still far behind aviation with technological innovations. Ships deal with increasingly congested waterways, severe weather and low-visibility conditions creating difficult navigation experiences with often expensive cargo… Our solution provides unique insight and data to any ship in the world, helping to reduce these challenging situations and collisions in the future.” 

Zohar Loshitzer, Principal from OCV added: “Commercial shipping has historically been a highly regulated and traditional industry. However, we are now “witnessing a positive change in the adoption of tech solutions to increase safety and efficiency.

#articles, #artificial-intelligence, #computer-vision, #emerging-technologies, #europe, #israel, #mizmaa-ventures, #playfair-capital, #science-and-technology, #ship, #tc

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Hustle Fund backs Fintor, which wants to make it easier to invest in real estate

Farshad Yousefi and Masoud Jalali used to drive through Palo Alto neighborhoods and marvel at the outrageous home prices. But the drives sparked an idea. They were not in a financial position to purchase a home in those neighborhoods (to be clear, not many people are) either for investment or to live. But what if they could invest in homes in up and coming cities throughout the U.S.?

Then they realized that even that might be a challenge considering that with all their student debt, affording a down payment would be impossible.

“There was nothing available out there besides a crowdfunding platform, which when we first signed up, took away $1,000 from our account that we didn’t have, and then our capital would be locked up for 3 to 10 years,” recalls Yousefi.

So the pair started doing research and spoke to 1,000 individuals under the age of 35. Eight out of 10 said they would like to invest in real estate but were deterred by all the barriers to entry.

“There is clearly a large demand for access to real estate,” Yousefi said. “And we wanted to give people a way to invest in it like they can in stocks, via a mobile app.”

And so the idea for Fintor was born.

Yousefi and Jalali founded the company in 2020 with the goal of purchasing homes via an LLC, and turning each into shares through a SEC-approved broker dealer. Individuals can then buy shares of the homes via Fintor’s platform. Its next step is to sign agreements with individual real estate investors or bigger real estate development firms to list their properties on the platform and give people the opportunity to buy shares.

And now Fintor has raised $2.5 million in seed money to continue building out its fractional real estate investing platform. The startup aims to “fractionalize” houses and other residential property, giving people in the U.S. access to investment opportunities “starting with as little as $5.” The company attracted the interest of investors such as 500 Startups, Hustle Fund, Graphene Ventures, Houston-based real estate investor Manny Khoshbin, Mana Ventures and other angel investors such as Cindy Bi, Skyler Fernandes, VU Venture Partners, Minal Hasan, Andrew Zalasin, Alluxo CEO and Founder Safa Mahzari, SquareFoot CEO and founder Jonathan Wasserstrum and Teachable CEO and founder Ankur Nagpal.

Image Credits: Fintor

Fintor is eying markets such as Kansas City, South Carolina, and Houston, Texas, where it already has some properties. It’s looking for homes in the $80,000 to $350,000 price range, and millennials and GenZers are its target demographic.

“Fintor can give the same return as the stock market, but at half the risk,” Yousefi said. “As two [Iranian] immigrants, we’ve seen how much this country has to offer and how real estate sits at the top of everything, yet is so inaccessible.”

The pair had originally set out to raise just $1 million but the round was quickly “way oversubscribed,” according to Yousefi, and they ended up raising $2.5 million at triple the original valuation.

Jalali said the company will use machine learning technology to filter and rate properties as it scales its business model.

“We’ll use ML to categorize neighborhoods and to come up with the price of properties to offer to potential sellers,” he added. “Our ultimate goal is to create indexes so that people can invest in multiple properties in a given city. That creates diversification right away.”

.Elizabeth Yin, co-founder and general partner of Hustle Fund, believes that Fintor is solving a generational problem with real estate.

“Retail investors have almost no access to great real estate investments today and the best opportunities are reserved for the select few,” she told TechCrunch. “Not to mention that in addition to access, retail investors often need a lot of capital in order to have a diversified portfolio or be accredited to join funds.”

Fintor’s approach to securitize real estate assets will give millions of investors who are not accredited investors access they would otherwise not have had, Yin added. 

“Simultaneously, it provides increased liquidity to property owners, while improving the user experience for both parties,” she said. “Effectively this becomes a new asset class, because it’s entirely turnkey and is fractionalized, which opens up many new pockets of investors.”

#ankur-nagpal, #articles, #ceo, #cindy-bi, #crowdfunding, #elizabeth-yin, #entrepreneurship, #financial-technology, #fintech, #funding, #fundings-exits, #graphene-ventures, #houston, #hustle-fund, #kansas-city, #machine-learning-technology, #ml, #palo-alto, #proptech, #real-estate, #recent-funding, #retail-investors, #south-carolina, #squarefoot, #startups, #tc, #technology, #texas, #u-s-securities-and-exchange-commission, #united-states, #venture-capital

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Scale AI founder and CEO Alexandr Wang will join us at TC Sessions: Mobility on June 9

Last week, Scale AI announced a massive $325 million Series E. Led by Dragoneer, Greenoaks Capital and Tiger Global, the raise gives the San Francisco data labeling startup a $7 billion valuation.

Alexandr Wang founded the company back in 2016, while still at MIT. A veteran of Quora and Addepar, Wang built the startup to curate information for AI applications. The company is now a break-even business, with a wide range of top-notch clients, including General Motors, NVIDIA, Nuro and Zoox.

Backed by a ton of venture capital, the company plans a large-scale increase in its headcount, as it builds out new products and expands into additional markets. “One thing that we saw, especially in the course of the past year, was that AI is going to be used for so many different things,” Wang told TechCrunch in a recent interview. “It’s like we’re just sort of really at the beginning of this and we want to be prepared for that as it happens.”

The executive will join us on stage at TC Sessions: Mobility on June 9 to discuss how the company has made a major impact on the industry in its short four years of existence, the role AI is playing in the world of transportation and what the future looks like for Scale AI.

In addition to Wang, TC Sessions: Mobility 2021 will feature an incredible lineup of speakers, presentations, fireside chats and breakouts all focused on the current and future state of mobility — like EVs, micromobility and smart cities for starters — and the investment trends that influence them all.

Investors like Clara Brenner (Urban Innovation Fund), Quin Garcia (Autotech Ventures) and Rachel Holt (Construct Capital) — all of whom will grace our virtual stage. They’ll have plenty of insight and advice to share, including the challenges that startup founders will face as they break into the transportation arena.

You’ll hear from CEOs like Starship Technologies’ Ahti Heinla. The company’s been busy testing delivery robots in real-world markets. Don’t miss his discussion touching on challenges ranging from technology to red tape and what it might take to make last-mile robotic delivery a mainstream reality.

Grab your early bird pass today and save $100 on tickets before prices go up in less than a month.

#addepar, #alexandr-wang, #articles, #artificial-intelligence, #autotech-ventures, #clara-brenner, #deliv, #economy, #entrepreneurship, #executive, #general-motors, #greenoaks-capital, #micromobility, #mit, #nuro, #nvidia, #quora, #rachel-holt, #san-francisco, #scale-ai, #starship-technologies, #startup-company, #tc-sessions-mobility, #technology, #tiger-global, #transportation, #urban-innovation-fund, #venture-capital, #wang

0

Geico admits fraudsters stole customer driver’s license numbers for months

Geico, the second-largest auto insurer in the U.S., has fixed a security bug that let fraudsters steal customer driver’s license numbers from its website.

In a data breach notice filed with the California attorney general’s office, Geico said information gathered from other sources was used to “obtain unauthorized access to your driver’s license number through the online sales system on our website.”

The insurance giant did not say how many customers were affected by the breach but said the fraudsters accessed customer driver’s license numbers between January 21 and March 1. Companies are required to alert the state’s attorney general’s office when more than 500 state residents are affected by a security incident.

Geico said it had “reason to believe that this information could be used to fraudulently apply for unemployment benefits in your name.”

Many financially-driven criminals target government agencies using stolen identities or data. But many U.S. states require a government ID — like a driver’s license — to file for unemployment benefits. To get a driver’s license number, fraudsters take public or previously breached data and exploit weaknesses in auto insurance websites to obtain a customer’s driver’s license number. That allows the fraudsters to obtain unemployment benefits in another person’s name.

Earlier this year, San Francisco-based insurance startup Metromile admitted a bug on its website was used to obtain driver’s license numbers for six months before the bug was fixed in January.

If you’ve received correspondence from your state government and haven’t filed for unemployment benefits, there’s a good chance your personal data may have been used fraudulently.

Geico spokesperson Christine Tasher did not return multiple requests for comment.

#apps, #articles, #attorney-general, #automotive, #california, #crime, #crimes, #deception, #driver, #fraud, #geico, #metromile, #san-francisco, #security, #spokesperson, #united-states

0

Knox Financial raises $10M to take the pain out of being a landlord

We’ve all heard the phrase “passive income” to describe how people can make money by owning rental properties. Many Americans would love to passively earn money, but the process of becoming a landlord can be intimidating and complicated. 

I mean, how many people have looked back and wished they hadn’t sold a property after seeing its value rise years after selling it?

And those who are already landlords can get overwhelmed by the complexities of managing properties.

One startup out of Boston, Knox Financial, aims to help people identify and manage residential rentals with its algorithm-based platform, and it’s raised a $10 million Series A to help it further that goal. Boston-based G20 Ventures led the round, which included participation from Greycroft, Pillar VC, 2LVC, and Gaingels.  

The investment brings Knox’s total raised since its inception in 2018 to $14.7 million. The company closed on a $3 million seed round in January 2020, led by Greycroft.

Knox co-founder and CEO David Friedman is no stranger to startups. He founded Boston Logic – an integrated marketing platform and online marketing services for real estate offices and agents – in 2004. He sold that company (now under the name Propertybase) to Providence Equity for an undisclosed amount in 2016.

Knox launched its platform in March of 2019, with the goal of offering homeowners who are ready to move “a completely hands-off way” of converting a home they’re moving out of into an investment property. It also claims to help landlords more easily and efficiently manage their rentals.

At the time of its seed round early last year, the company was only operating in the Boston market and had 50 units on its platform. It’s now operating in seven states, has “hundreds” of investment properties on its platform and is overseeing a portfolio of more than $100 million.

So how does it work? Once a property is enrolled on Knox’s “Frictionless Ownership Platform,” the company automates and oversees the property’s finances and taxes, insurance, leasing and legal, tenant and property care, banking and bill pay.

Knox also has developed a rental pricing and projection model for calculating the investment rate of return a property will produce over time.

Image Credits: Knox Financial

“We save investors a lot and almost always make their portfolios more profitable,” Friedman said. “If someone is moving or upsizing, we can turn properties into incredible ROI generators or cash flow.”

The company’s revenue model is simple.

When a dollar of rent moves through our system, we keep a dime,” Friedman told TechCrunch. “We align our interests with our customers. If there’s no rent coming in, we’re not making money. Or if a tenant doesn’t pay rent, we don’t make money.”

Knox plans to use its new capital to continue expanding geographically and getting the word out to more people.

“We want to become the de facto platform for real estate investment acquisition and ownership,” Friedman said. “And we have to be coast to coast to really do that for everybody. So, we’re still very early in our growth trajectory.”

Bob Hower, co-founder and partner of G20 Ventures, shared that weeks after his college graduation, he had bought a fixer upper with his mother’s help. A week after finishing renovations, he put the house on the market. Over the subsequent 5 months, he gradually reduced the price as the market softened, and eventually the property sold at a small profit.

“That house now is worth a multiple of what I paid for it,” Hower recalls. “In hindsight, the mistake I made was deciding to sell the house at all.”

That experience helped Hower appreciate what he describes as a “clarity of thinking” in Knox’s business model.

“Had Knox existed decades ago, I’d likely still have that fixer-upper I bought after college,” he said. “Investing platforms such as Betterment have collapsed multiple advising and optimization activities into a simple single-sign-on service, and Knox is the first company to apply this type model to residential real estate investing.”

#articles, #banking, #boston, #david-friedman, #finance, #funding, #fundings-exits, #g20-ventures, #greycroft, #knox, #knox-financial, #landlord, #pillar, #real-estate, #recent-funding, #renting, #startups, #tc, #venture-capital

0

Gay dating site Manhunt hacked, thousands of accounts stolen

Manhunt, a gay dating app that claims to have 6 million male members, has confirmed it was hit by a data breach in February after a hacker gained access to the company’s accounts database.

In a notice filed with the Washington attorney general’s office, Manhunt said the hacker “gained access to a database that stored account credentials for Manhunt users,” and “downloaded the usernames, email addresses and passwords for a subset of our users in early February 2021.

The notice did not say how the passwords were scrambled, if at all, to prevent them from being read by humans. Passwords scrambled using weak algorithms can sometimes be decoded into plain text, allowing malicious hackers to break into their accounts.

Following the breach, Manhunt force-reset account passwords began alerting users in mid-March. Manhunt did not say what percentage of its users had their data stolen or how the data breach happened, but said that more than 7,700 Washington state residents were affected.

The company’s attorneys did not reply to an email requesting comment.

But questions remain about how Manhunt handled the breach. In March, the company tweeted that, “At this time, all Manhunt users are required to update their password to ensure it meets the updated password requirements.” The tweet did not say that user accounts had been stolen.

Manhunt was launched in 2001 by Online-Buddies Inc., which also offered gay dating app Jack’d before it was sold to Perry Street in 2019 for an undisclosed sum. Just months before the sale, Jack’d had a security lapse that exposed users’ private photos and location data.

Dating sites store some of the most sensitive information on their users, and are frequently a target of malicious hackers. In 2015, Ashley Madison, a dating site that encouraged users to have an affair, was hacked, exposing names, and postal and email addresses. Several people died by suicide after the stolen data was posted online. A year later, dating site AdultFriendFinder was hacked, exposing more than 400 million user accounts.

In 2018, same-sex dating app Grindr made headlines for sharing users’ HIV status with data analytics firms.

In other cases, poor security — in some cases none at all — led to data spills involving some of the most sensitive data. In 2019, Rela, a popular dating app for gay and queer women in China, left a server unsecured with no password, allowing anyone to access sensitive data — including sexual orientation and geolocation — on more than 5 million app users. Months later, Jewish dating app JCrush exposed around 200,000 user records.

Read more: 


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#jack, #apps, #articles, #ashley-madison, #china, #computer-security, #computing, #cryptography, #data-breaches, #password, #securedrop, #security, #security-breaches

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The TechCrunch Survey of Tech Startup Hubs in England and Wales

TechCrunch is embarking on a major new project to survey European founders and investors in cities outside the major European capitals.

Over the next few weeks, we will ask entrepreneurs in these cities to talk about their ecosystems, in their own words. For this survey we are interested in startup hubs in England and Wales. (Scotland will follow, and Northern Ireland is here).

So this is your chance to put your cities on the Techcrunch Map!

We’re like to hear from founders and investors. We are particularly interested in hearing from diverse founders and investors. These are our humble suggestions for the cities we’d most like to hear from:

Birmingham
Brighton
Bristol & Bath
Cambridge
Cardiff
Liverpool
Manchester
Newcastle
Oxford
Reading and Thames valley
York

If you are a tech startup founder or investor in one of the above cities please fill out the survey form here.

The more founders/investors we hear from in a particular city, the more likely it is that city will be featured in TechCrunch.

This is the follow-up to the huge survey of investors (see also below) we’ve done over the last six or more months, largely in capital cities.

These formed part of a broader series of surveys we’re doing regularly for ExtraCrunch, our subscription service that unpacks key issues for startups and investors.

In the first wave of surveys, the cities we wrote about were largely capitals. You can see them listed here.

This time, we will be surveying founders and investors in Europe’s other cities to capture how European hubs are growing, from the perspective of the people on the ground.

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

We leave submissions mostly unedited and are generally looking for at least one or two paragraphs in answers to the questions.

So if you are a tech startup founder or investor in one of these cities please fill out our survey form here.

Thank you for participating. If you have questions you can email mike@techcrunch.com and/or reply on Twitter to @mikebutcher.

#articles, #business, #economy, #entrepreneurship, #europe, #private-equity, #reading, #startup-company, #tc, #techcrunch, #verizon-media, #york

0

Temasek and BlackRock form Decarbonization Partners with $600 million to create a zero-emission economy

The $9 trillion financial management firm Blackrock is collaborating with the $313 billion Singapore investment firm Temasek to back companies developing technologies and services to help create a zero emission economy by 2050.

The two mega-investment firms will invest an initial $600 million to launch Decarbonization Partners, and look to raise money from investors committing to achieving a net zero world and long-term sustainable finacnial returns. The two partners have set themselves a goal to raise $1 billion for their first fund, including capital from Temasek and BlackRock.

The partnership, coming during Earth month, is one of several big multi-billion dollar initiatives that are underway to prevent global climate change caused by greenhouse gas emissions.

Indeed, BlackRock is somewhat tardy to the party. Temasek, for its part, has already made a number of high-profile bets in the alternative meat market — namely in companies like Impossible Foods — and in alternative energy technology developers including Eavor, a geothermal company, and a $500 million bet on a renewable power developer in India.

Meanwhile, a coalition of billionaires led by Bill Gates are already on their second billion dollar investment vehicle through Breakthrough Energy, a multi-stage, multi-strategy initiative that includes a venture capital arm as well as other types of financing on the way.

“The world cannot meet its net zero ambitions without transformational innovation,” said Larry Fink, Chairman and CEO of BlackRock, in a statement. “For decarbonization solutions and technologies to transform our economy, they need to be scaled. To do that, they need patient, well-managed capital to support their vital goals. This partnership will help define climate solutions as a standalone asset class that is both essential to our collective mission and a historic investment opportunity created by the net zero transition.”

To get a sense of what Decarbonization Partners might back, companies should probably look to the Breakthrough Energy portfolio — the firms share similar interests in new sources of energy, technologies to distribute that energy, building and manufacturing technologies, and material science and process innovations.

It’s a big swing that the firms are taking, but the flood of capital coming into the sustainability sector is commensurate with both the size of the problem, and the potential opportunity in returns generated by solving it.

A report from Morgan Stanley estimated that solving climate change would be a $50 trillion problem, according to a 2019 report from Forbes.

“Bold, aggressive actions are needed to make the global net zero ambition a reality. Decarbonization Partners represents one of several steps we are taking to follow through on our commitment to halve the emissions from our portfolio by 2030, and ultimately move to net zero emissions by 2050,” said Dilhan Pillay, Chief Executive Officer of Temasek International. “Through collective efforts with like-minded partners, we will be able to create sustainable value for all of our stakeholders over the long term, and investors will have the opportunity to help deliver innovative solutions at scale to address climate challenges.”

#articles, #bill-gates, #blackrock, #chief-executive-officer, #energy, #forbes, #greenhouse-gas-emissions, #impossible-foods, #india, #morgan-stanley, #singapore, #tc, #temasek, #temasek-holdings

0

ConsenSys raises $65M from JP Morgan, Mastercard, UBS to build infrastructure for DeFi

ConsenSys, a key player in crypto and a major proponent of the Ethereum blockchain, has raised a $65 million funding round from J.P. Morgan, Mastercard, and UBS AG, as well as major blockchain companies Protocol Labs, the Maker Foundation, Fenbushi, The LAO and Alameda Research. Additional investors include CMT Digital and the Greater Bay Area Homeland Development Fund. As well as fiat, several funds invested with Ethereum-based stablecoins, DAI and USDC, as consideration.

Sources told TechCrunch that this is an unpriced round because of the valuation risk, and the funding instrument is “full”, so the round is being closed now.

The fundraise looks like a highly strategic one, based around the idea that traditional institutions will need visibility into the increasingly influential world of ‘decentralized finance’ (DeFi) and the Web3 applications being developed on the Ethereum blockchain.

In a statement on the fundraise, ConsenSys said it has been through a “period of strategic evolution and growth”, but most outside observers would agree that this is that’s something of an understatement.

After a period of quite a lot of ‘creative disruption’ to put it mildly (at one point a couple of years ago, ConsenSys seemed to have everything from a VC fund, to an accelerator, to multiple startups under its wing), the company has restructured to form two main arms: ConsenSys, the core software business; and ConsenSys Mesh, the investment arm, incubator, and portfolio. It also acquired the Quorum product from J.P. Morgan which has given it a deeper bench into the enterprise blockchain ecosystem. This means it now has a very key product suite for the Etherum platform, including products such as Codefi, Diligence, Infura, MetaMask, Truffle, and Quorum.

This suite allows it to serve both public and private permissioned blockchain networks. It can also support Layer 2 Ethereum networks, as well as facilitate access to adjacent protocols like IPFS, Filecoin, and others. ConsenSys is also a major contributor to the Ethereum 2.0 project, for obvious reasons.

Commenting on the fundraise, Joseph Lubin, founder of ConsenSys and co-founder, Ethreum said in a statement: “When we set out to raise a round, it was important to us to patiently construct a diverse cap table, consistent with our belief that similar to how the web developed, the whole economy would join the revolutionaries on a next-generation protocol. ConsenSys’ software stack represents access to a new automated objective trust foundation enabled by decentralized protocols like Ethereum. We are proud to partner with preeminent financial firms alongside leading crypto companies to further converge the centralized and decentralized financial domains at this particularly exciting time of growth for ConsenSys and the entire industry.”

With financial institutions able to see, ‘in public’ DeFi happening on Ethereuem, because of the public chain, they can see how much of the financial system is gradually starting to merge with the blockchain world. So it’s becoming clearer what attracts these major institutions.

Mike Dargan, Head of Group Technology at UBS said: “Our investment in ConsenSys adds proven expertise in distributed ledger technology to our UBS Next portfolio.”

For MasterCard this appears to be not just a pure investment – Consensys has been working with it on a private permissioned network.

Raj Dhamodharan, executive vice president of digital asset and blockchain products and partnerships at Mastercard said: “Enterprise Ethereum is a key infrastructure on which we and our partners are building payment and non-payment applications to power the future of commerce… Our investment and partnership with ConsenSys helps us bring secure and performant Enterprise Ethereum capabilities to our customers.”

Colleen Sullivan, Co-Founder and CEO of CMT Digital said: “ConsenSys is the pioneer in bridging the gaps across traditional finance, centralized crypto, and DeFi, and more broadly, between Web 2.0 and Web 3.0. We are proud to participate in this funding round as the ConsenSys team continues to pave the way for global users  — retail and institutional — to easily access the crypto ecosystem.”

TechCrunch understands that the fundraise was started around the time of the Quorum acquisition, last June. The $65 million round is in majority fiat currency as opposed to cryptocurrency and is an adjunct to the round done with JP Morgan last summer.

The presence of significant crypto players such as Maker Protocol Labs shows the significance of the fund-raise, beyond the simple transaction. The announcement also comes just ahead of the Coinbase IPO, which makes for interesting timing.

ConsenSys’ products have become highly significant in the world where developers, enterprises, and consumers meet blockchain and crypto. In its statement, the company claims MetaMask now has over three million monthly active users across mobile and desktop, a 3x increase in the last five or six months, it says. This is roughly the same amount of monthly active customers as Coinbase.

The ConsenSys announcement comes just ahead of the Coinbase IPO. While Coinbase is acting as an exchange to turn fiat into crypto and vice versa, it has also been getting into DeFi of late. Where there are also resemblances with ConsenSys, is that Coinbase, with 3 million users, is used as a wallet, and MetMask, which also has 3 million users, can also be used as a wallet. The comparison ends there, but it’s certainly interesting, given Coinbase’s $100 billion valuation.

As Jeremy Millar, Chief Development Officer, told me: “Coinbase has pioneered an exchange, in one of the world’s most regulated financial markets, the US. And it has helped drive significant interest in the space. We enjoy a very positive relationship with Coinbase, trying to further enable the ecosystem and adoption of the technology.”

The background to this raise is that a lot of early-stage blockchain and crypto companies have been raising a lot of money recently, but much of this has been through crypto investment firms. Only a handful of Silicon Valley VCs are backing blockchain, such as Andreessen Horowitz.

What’s interesting about this announcement is that these incumbent financial giants are not only taking an interest, but working alongside ConsenSys to both invest and build products on Ethereum.

It’s ConsenSys’ view that every payment service provider, banks will need this financial infrastructure in the future, especially for DeFI.

Given there is roughly $43 billion collateralized in DeFi, it’s increasingly the case that major investors are involved, and there are increasingly higher returns than traditional yield and bond or bond yields.

The moves by Central Banks into digital currencies is also forcing companies and governments to realize digital currency, and the ‘blockchain rails’ on which it runs, is here to stay. This is what is suggested by the Greater Bay Area Homeland Development Fund’s (a Shenzhen / Hong Kong joint partnership) decision to get involved.

Another aspect of this story is that ConsenSys is sitting on some extremely powerful products. Consensys has six products that serve three different types of people.

Service developers who are building on Ethereum are using Truffle to develop smart contracts. Users joining the NFT hype are using MetaMask underneath it all.

The MetaMask wallet allows users to swap one token for another. This has proved quite lucrative for ConsenSys, which says it has resulted in $1.8 billion in volume in decentralized exchange use. ConsenSys takes a 0.875 percent cut on every swap that it serves.

And institutions are using Consensys’ products. The company says more than 150,000 developers use Infura’s APIs, and 4.5 million developers create and deploy smart contracts using Truffle, while its Protocols group — developer of Hyperledger Besu and ConsenSys Quorum — are building Central Bank Digital Currencies (CBDCs) for six central banks, says Consensys.

Consensys is also making hay with the NFT boom. Developers are using Consensys products for the nodes and infrastructure on Ethereum which stores the NFT files.

Consensys is also riding two waves. One is the developer eave and the other is the financial system wave.

As a spokesperson said: “Where the interest in money and invention started happening was on public networks like Ethereum. So we really believe that these are converging and they will continue to, and every one of our products offers public main net compatibility because we think this is the future.”

Millar added: “If we want to help the world adopt the technology we need to meet it at its adoption point, which for many large enterprises means inside the firewall first. But similarly, we think, just like the public Internet, the real value – the disruptive value – changes the ability to do this on a broader permissionless basis, especially when you have sufficient privacy and authentication available.”

#andreessen-horowitz, #articles, #blockchains, #co-founder, #coinbase, #consensys, #cryptocurrencies, #decentralization, #decentralized-finance, #energy, #ethereum, #finance, #firewall, #founder, #joseph-lubin, #jp-morgan, #mastercard, #player, #protocol-labs, #quorum, #shenzhen, #smart-contract, #software, #spokesperson, #tc, #technology, #united-states

0

Clim8 raises $8M from 7pc Ventures, launches climate-focused investing app for retail investors

Ethical investing remains something of a confusing maze, with a great deal of ‘greenwashing’ going on. A new UK startup is hoping to fix that with the launch of its new app and platform for retail investors.

Clim8 Investhas raised $8 million from 7pc Ventures (early backers of Oculus, acquired by Facebook),  British Business Bank Future Fund and a numbers of technology entrepreneurs and executives including Marcus Exall (Monese), Marcus Mosen (N26),  Paul Willmott (Lego Digital, McKinsey), Doug Scott (Redbrain), Matt Wilkins (Thought Machine), Andrew Cocker (Skyscanner), Steve Thomson (Redbrain), Monica Kalia (Neyber, Goldman Sachs), Doug Monro (Adzuna), Erik Nygard (Limejump). 

Consumers will be able to invest in companies and supply chains that are focused on tackling climate change. It will be competing with similar startups in the space such as London-based Tickr (backed by $3m from Ada Ventures), Helios in Paris, and Yova in Zurich.

Duncan Grierson, CEO of Clim8 said in a statement: “We are launching at an exciting time for sustainable investing. 2020 was an exceptional year for environmentally-focused investment offerings, as investors looked harder at climate-related opportunities. Sustainable investments have continued to outperform markets since the beginning of the Covid-19 Crisis and we believe this will continue.”

Grierson has 20 years of experience in the green space and was a winner of the EY Entrepreneur of Year Cleantech award.

The startup will take advantage of new, higher EU rules around the disclosure requirements for sustainable investment funds. Users can choose between either stocks and shares ISAs (up to £20k) or a taxable general investment account.

#ada-ventures, #adzuna, #articles, #ceo, #corporate-social-responsibility, #economy, #europe, #european-union, #facebook, #finance, #goldman-sachs, #london, #monese, #n26, #paris, #retail-investors, #social-finance, #tc, #technology-entrepreneurs, #united-kingdom, #zurich

0

How one founder identified a huge healthcare gap and acquired the skills necessary to address it

Our new podcast Found is now available, and the first episode features guest Iman Abuzeid, co-founder and CEO of Incredible Health. Abuzeid’s story of founding and building Incredible Health, a career platform for healthcare professionals focusing specifically on nurses, is all about a focused entrepreneur building a unique skill set, and acquiring the experience necessary to create a world-leading solution.

Abuzeid went to medical school and acquired her MD, but decided before residency to instead go get an MBA from Wharton, in order to pursue her dream of entrepreneurship, inspired by two generations of entrepreneurs in the family that preceded her. After eventually making her way to Silicon Valley and working in a couple of other startups in the healthcare space, Abuzeid took important lessons away from those experiences about what not to do when running your own company, and embarked on building her own with co-founder Rome Portlock, now the company’s CTO.

Incredible Health is tackling a huge challenge — the shortfall of availability of skilled nurses, and the lack of mature, sophisticated career resources to help those nurses in their professional life. COVID-19 threw those issues into stark relief, and Incredible Health adjusted its game plan to adapt to its users’ needs. Abuzeid tells us all about how she made those calls, and also how she convinced venture investors to come along for the ride.

We hope you enjoy this episode, and don’t forget to subscribe in Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or your podcast app of choice. We’d love to hear your feed back, too — either on Twitter or via email, and tune in weekly for more episodes.

Found is hosted by Darrell Etherington and Jordan Crook, and is produced, mixed and edited by Yashad Kulkarni. TechCrunch’s audio products are managed by Henry Pickavet, and Bryce Durbin created the show’s artwork. Found published weekly on Friday afternoons, and you can find past episodes on TechCrunch here.

#articles, #co-founder, #cto, #found, #found-podcast, #iman-abuzeid, #incredible-health, #maryland, #nursing, #podcast, #science-and-technology, #spotify, #tc, #technology

0

European tech event mainstays Shift and TOA find new homes, new models, post-COVID

Given the pandemic, huge changes are being wrought in tech events, something which used to be the lifeblood of the industry. Many a startup has pitched to win funding, and many a hackathon has formed teams that went on to greater things. It’s a sad fact that this era is over, at least until the pandemic has fully passed, but this could take some time. Two significant European events have now had to change in order to carry their brands into new realms.

European breakout success story Infobip (which has raised over $200 million) was born out of Croatia. And so was the seminal developer conference Shift. With Infobipo needing that engineering community, and Shift needing a more stable home in uncertain times, it seems only natural that Infobip would put developers front and center of their company strategy with the acquisition of Shift, and appointing its founder and CEO Ivan Burazinto the board as Chief Developer Experience Officer. Shift will now form the basis of Infobip’s all-new Developer Experience department.
 
As Burazin said: “The vision was always to become one of the largest developer conferences in the world, and also to strengthen Croatia’s connection to the world of software developers. So now with the backing of a Unicorn and the freedom to keep working on independently – the vision seems to have finally become possible.”

He says Shift won’t disappear, but will now expand globally, first to the US and then to Latin America and southeast Asia, initially in remote events.
 
Infobip CEO Silvio Kutić said: “Infobip is on a growth trajectory to expand rapidly into the B2C vertical, or more specifically Business-to-Developer (B2D) space. Having Ivan on board with his experience as the founder of Codeanywhere, a B2D SaaS company, and creator of Shift, the largest developer conference in the region, will be an asset to us going forward.”
  
Meanwhile, a key startup and founder/investor-oriented conference “Tech Open Air Berlin” is also changing.

Tech Open Air (TOA), was known for its technology and startup festival, which attracted upwards of 20,000 people in Berlin every summer, but it has now pivoted into a new brand: TOA Klub. This will now be a “cohort-based learning and doing platform.” The 4-6 weeks of online programs will be aimed at help professionals progress in the tech industry.

TOA Klub will offer Founders Klub (for founders learning to startup); Investors Klub (for newbie investors); Crypto Klub (a “crash course in the crypto field”); and Co-Creators Klub (for founders looking to pivot and grow).

The first confirmed mentors and speakers include Rolf Schrömgens (Founder, Trivago), Dominik Richter (Founder, HelloFresh) or Jeanette zu Fürstenberg (Founding Partner, La Famiglia VC).

Nikolas Woischnik, founder of TOA said: “The world will come out of this pandemic having digitally aged by decades, not years.  The complexity of our business environment has greatly accelerated. At TOA this gives our long-time mission of “making people, organizations and the planet futureproof” ever more purpose. With the launch of Klub, it is time for us to leverage technology to deliver on our mission in a more impactful and accessible way.”

I for one am glad these greats brands have found new homes, because I know the brands and the founders both carry huge respect in the European startup scene.

#articles, #berlin, #business, #ceo, #codeanywhere, #croatia, #europe, #founder, #hellofresh, #latin-america, #south-east-asia, #startup-company, #tc, #trivago, #united-states

0

Formation raises $4M led by Andreessen Horowitz to train truly ‘exceptional’ software engineers

Sophie Zhou Novati worked as a senior engineer at Facebook and then Nextdoor, where she struggled to hire great engineers for her team.

Frustrated, she decided to try training engineers to meet her team’s hiring standards by mentoring at a local coding bootcamp. After two and a half years of mentoring on nights and weekends, Novati decided to turn her passion into a career.

She and her husband, Michael, founded Formation with a couple of goals in mind. For one, they wanted to offer personalized training to help people not just learn to code, but to become “exceptional” software engineers. Sophie was also struck by the diversity of the people she witnessed going through coding bootcamps, but she realized that those graduates weren’t getting access to the same opportunities that students from traditional universities do.

Formation co-founder and CEO Sophia Zhou Navati

Formation co-founder and CEO Sophia Zhou Navati

With Formation, her goal is to personalize the training experience via a remote fellowship program that combines automated instruction with access to a “network of top tier mentors” from companies such as Facebook and Google. After one year in beta, Formation is unveiling its Engineering Fellowship, where every fellow gets a “personalized training plan tailored to their unique career ambitions.” So far, it’s placed just over 30 people in engineering roles at companies such as Facebook, Microsoft and Lyft with an average starting salary of $120,000.

Formation aims to offer an experience beyond bootcamps, which Sophie argues “have gotten too big, too fast, churning hundreds or thousands of students through fixed curriculums without individualized attention.”

The startup attracted the attention of Andreessen Horowitz, which just led its $4 million seed round. Designer Fund, Combine, Lachy Groom, Slow Ventures and engineers from Airbnb, Notion, Rippling and others also participated in the financing.

“The first thing that really struck me about this community is just how diverse it is. Forty-four percent of graduates are reporting that they identify as nonmale, and the percentage of Black and Latinx graduates is nearly double the national average at traditional universities,” Sophie told TechCrunch. “But the problem is that only about 55% of bootcamp grads are getting a job as a software engineer, and of the ones that do, their median salary is only about $65,000. At the same time, companies everywhere are just desperately looking for ways to diversify their talent pool.”

Instead of having students follow a fixed curriculum, Formation leverages adaptive learning technology to build a personalized training plan tailored to each student’s specific skillset and career goals. The platform continuously assesses their skills and adapts their roadmap, according to Sophie.

About half of the people participating in Formation’s program are current engineers already working in the industry in some capacity. 

Connie Chan, general partner at Andreessen Horowitz, said she’s been examining the edtech space for a while, including companies building new tools for teaching and upleveling coding skills. 

Formation stood out to her as the “only true tech-based and scalable solution that optimizes each student’s mastery of important skills.” Its ability to dynamically change based on a student’s performance in particular was compelling.

“The founder-product fit is also super clear — Sophie brings her own best-in-class engineering experience to Formation, as well as her long-time passion for mentoring,” Chan wrote via email.

#ai, #airbnb, #andreessen-horowitz, #articles, #artificial-intelligence, #coding-bootcamp, #connie-chan, #designer-fund, #distance-education, #diversity, #edtech, #education, #facebook, #formation, #funding, #google, #lachy-groom, #lyft, #mentorship, #recent-funding, #slow-ventures, #software-engineer, #startups, #venture-capital

0

Education non-profit Edraak ignored a student data leak for two months

Edraak, an online education non-profit, exposed the private information of thousands of students after uploading student data to an unprotected cloud storage server, apparently by mistake.

The non-profit, founded by Jordan’s Queen Rania and headquartered in the kingdom’s capital, was set up in 2013 to promote education across the Arab region. The organization works with several partners, including the British Council and edX, a consortium set up by Harvard, Stanford, and MIT.

In February, researchers at U.K. cybersecurity firm TurgenSec found one of Edraak’s cloud storage servers containing at least tens of thousands of students’ data, including spreadsheets with students’ names, email addresses, gender, birth year, country of nationality, and some class grades.

TurgenSec, which runs Breaches.UK, a site for disclosing security incidents, alerted Edraak to the security lapse. A week later, their email was acknowledged by the organization but the data continued to spill. Emails seen by TechCrunch show the researchers tried to alert others who worked at the organization via LinkedIn requests, and its partners, including the British Council.

Two months passed and the server remained open. At its request, TechCrunch contacted Edraak, which closed the servers a few hours later.

In an email this week, Edraak chief executive Sherif Halawa told TechCrunch that the storage server was “meant to be publicly accessible, and to host public course content assets, such as course images, videos, and educational files,” but that “student data is never intentionally placed in this bucket.”

“Due to an unfortunate configuration bug, however, some academic data and student information exports were accidentally placed in the bucket,” Halawa confirmed.

“Unfortunately our initial scan did not locate the misplaced data that made it there accidentally. We attributed the elements in the Breaches.UK email to regular student uploads. We have now located these misplaced reports today and addressed the issue,” Halawa said.

The server is now closed off to public access.

It’s not clear why Edraak ignored the researchers’ initial email, which disclosed the location of the unprotected server, or why the organization’s response was not to ask for more details. When reached, British Council spokesperson Catherine Bowden said the organization received an email from TurgenSec but mistook it for a phishing email.

Edraak’s CEO Halawa said that the organization had already begun notifying affected students about the incident, and put out a blog post on Thursday.

Last year, TurgenSec found an unencrypted customer database belonging to U.K. internet provider Virgin Media that was left online by mistake, containing records linking some customers to adult and explicit websites.

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#articles, #british-council, #ceo, #computing, #cyberspace, #education, #edx, #email, #harvard, #jordan, #linkedin, #mit, #online-education, #phishing, #security, #server, #spamming, #spokesperson, #stanford, #united-kingdom, #virgin-media, #web-server

0

Private chef parties at home startup Yhangry raises $1.5M Seed from VC angels and Ollie Locke

There’s an “uber for everything” these days and now there are “Ubers for personal chefs”. Just take a look at PopTop or 100 Pleats for instance. Now in London, there is Yhangry (which brands itself as the appropriately shouty YHANGRY). This is a “private chef parties at home” website, and no doubt an app at some point. The startup has now raised a $1.5 million Seed round from a number of notable UK angels which also includes a few UK VCs for good measure, as well as ‘Made In Chelsea’ TV star Ollie Locke.

Founders Heinin Zhang and Siddhi Mittal created the startup before the pandemic, which lets people order a made-to-measure dinner party online. Although it trundled along until Covid, it had to pivot into virtual chef classes during lockdowns last year and this. The company is now poised to take advantage of London’s unlocking, which will see legal outdoor and indoor dining return.

The startup also speaks to the decentralization of experiences going on in the wake of the pandemic. In 2019 we were working out in gyms and going to restaurants. In 2021 we are working out at home and bringing the restaurant to us.

Normally booking private dinner parties involves a lot of hassle. The idea here is that Yhangry makes the whole affair as easy to order as an Uber Eats or Deliveroo.

Investors in the Seed round include Carmen Rico (Blossom Capital), Eileen Burbidge (Passion Capital), Orson Stadler (Antler) and Martin Mignot (Index Ventures), Made In Chelsea star Ollie Locke, plus fellow tech founders including Jack Tang (Urban), Adnan Ebrahim (MindLabs), Alex Fitzgerald (Cuckoo Internet), Georgina Kirby (Vinehealth) and Deepali Nangia (Alma Angels). Yhangry’s statement said all the investors are also keen customers. I bet they are.

Co-founder Mittal said in a statement: “By making private chef experiences more accessible and affordable, our customers regularly tell us they are finally able to catch up with friends at home… 70% of our customers have never had a private chef before and for them, the freedom and flexibility to curate their own evening is priceless.”

Yhangry now has 130 chefs on its books. Chefs have to pass a cooking trial and adhere to Covid rules. The funding will be used to double the size of the startup’s team.

The menus start at £17pp for six people. The price of the booking covers everything, including the cost of the fresh ingredients, but customers can add extras, such as wine etc. Since its launch in December 2019, the firm says it has served more than 7,000 Londoners.

Yhangry says it will enter key European markets, such as Paris, Berlin, Lisbon and Barcelona.

How will Yhangry survive post-Covid, with restaurants/bars opening up again?

Mittal said: “When restaurants were open between our launch and March 2020, we saw demand because people want to be able to spend time with their friends in a relaxed setting, and aren’t limited to the two-hour slot you get in a restaurant. Once places start to open up again, we believe Yhangry will follow this trend of at-home dining and socializing – not to mention for people who are not ready yet to go out to a busy pub or restaurant.”

#articles, #barcelona, #berlin, #chef, #co-founder, #companies, #deliveroo, #economy, #eileen-burbidge, #europe, #lisbon, #london, #martin-mignot, #online-food-ordering, #paris, #passion-capital, #restaurant, #startup-company, #tc, #uber, #uber-eats, #united-kingdom

0

Norwegian corporate training startup Attensi raises $26M from NYC’s Lugard Road, DX Ventures

Corporate training startup Attensi — which originally emerged out of Oslo, Norway — has raised $26 million from New York-based Lugard Road Capital, DX Ventures (a VC fund backed by Delivery Hero), and existing shareholder Viking Venture. The new funding will be used to expand in North America and Europe.

Attensi uses a ‘gamified approach to corporate training, putting employees into 3D simulations of their workplace and work processes. Its competitors include companies like GoSkills, Mindflash SAP Litmos Skilljar.

With the pandemic shifting all office work to remote, digital training platforms like this stand to benefit.

This is also yet another recent example of how US VCs are ‘going hunting’ for startups in Europe, putting pressure on local VCs.

Attensi co-founder and co-CEO, Trond Aas said in a statement: “With gamified simulation training, we have combined the best of workplace psychology with our expertise in simulations and gamification to create a new category of training solutions.”

The company claims it’s experienced a 63% CAGR in annual recurring revenue. Its clients include Daimler Mercedes Benz, Circle K, Equinor, BCG, and ASDA.

Doug Friedman, a partner at Lugard Road Capital, said: “We could not be more excited to be investing in the Attensi team as they work to forever change and improve corporate learning and development through their Attensi solutions.”

#articles, #business, #companies, #daimler, #delivery-hero, #europe, #gamification, #gaming, #lugard-road-capital, #new-york, #north-america, #norway, #oslo, #partner, #sap, #simulation, #startup-company, #tc

0

Mexican unicorn Kavak raises a $485M Series D at a $4B valuation.

Kavak, the Mexican startup that’s disrupted the used car market in Mexico and Argentina, today announced its Series D of $485 million, which now values the company at $4 billion. This round more than triples their previous valuation of $1.15 billion, which established them as a unicorn just a couple of months ago in October of 2020. Kavak is now one of the top five highest-valued startups in Latin America.

The round was led by D1 Capital Partners, Founders Fund, Ribbit, and BOND, and brings Kavak’s total capital raised to date to more than $900 million. Kavak recently soft-launched in Brazil, and this new round of funding will be used to build out the Brazilian market and beyond, said Carlos García Ottati, Kavak’s CEO and Co-Founder. The company plans to do a full launch in Brazil in the next 60 days, García said, and we can expect to see Kavak in markets outside Latin America in the next 24 months, he added.

“We were built to solve emerging market problems,” García said.

Kavak, which was founded in 2016, is an online marketplace that aims to bring transparency, security, and access to financing to the used car market. The company also offers its own financing through its fintech arm, Kavak Capital, and counts more than 2,500 employees and 20 logistics and reconditioning hubs in Mexico and Argentina.

“In Latin America, 90% of the [used car] transactions are informal, which leads to a 40% fraud rate,” said García, who experienced these challenges first-hand when he moved to Mexico from Colombia a couple of years ago and bought a used car. 

“My budget allowed me to buy a used car, but there was no infrastructure around it. It took me 6 months to buy the car, and then the car had legal and mechanical issues and I lost most of my money,” he said. Kavak buys cars from individuals, refurbishes them, and offers warranties to buyers.

“Instead of buying a new car, they can buy a better car that still has all the warranties. It’s a really aspirational process,” said García. The company, which really amounts to four companies in one given its areas of focus, was built to be comprehensive by design in order to meet the various gaps in the market, García said.

“When you’re building a business here [Latin America], you need to build several businesses because so many things are broken,” he said. That’s why the financing option, for example, has been a key to their success, according to García.

Financing has traditionally been hard to come by in Brazil, and as García said, the used car market lacks infrastructure there, too. That being said, Brazil is Latin America’s fintech hub, and the space has been made leaps and bounds over the last 7-10 years with companies such as Nubank, PagSeguro, Creditas, PicPay, and others leading the way. As a result, credit cards and loans are more widely available today in the region, offering competition for Kavak Capital. While Kavak has localized some of its product for the Brazilian market — namely building out a Portuguese language version of the app and website — García said the markets are very similar.

“In Brazil, you still have the same problems that you have in Mexico, but Brazil is a little more developed, especially in fintech, which is light years ahead of Mexico,” he said.

With the Brazilian product heading to the races, García said they already have plans for other regions, though he declined to name them.

“80% of people in emerging markets don’t have access to a car,” García said of the global market size. “We want to go into big markets where customers are facing similar problems and where Kavak can really change their lives,” he added.

#apps, #argentina, #articles, #automotive, #brazil, #colombia, #creditas, #d1-capital-partners, #ecommerce, #finance, #financial-technology, #financing, #founders-fund, #funding, #latin-america, #logistics, #mexico, #nubank, #online-lending, #online-marketplace, #pagseguro, #recent-funding, #series-d, #startups, #transportation, #unicorn, #used-cars

0

CaptivateIQ raises $46M for its no-code sales commissions platform

CaptivateIQ, which has developed a no-code platform to help companies design customized sales commission plans, has raised $46 million in a Series B round led by Accel.

Existing backers Amity, S28 Capital, Sequoia, and Y Combinator also participated in the financing, which brings the San Francisco-based company’s total raised to $63 million since its 2017 inception.

CaptivateIQ must be doing something right. While it is not yet profitable, the startup’s revenue has grown 600% year-over-year. To date, it has processed over $2 billion in commissions on its platform across hundreds of enterprise customers including Affirm, TripActions, Udemy, Intercom, Newfront Insurance and JMAC Lending.

“A big part of our growth is that we can help any company that offers a performance-based compensation plan, so we don’t have any restrictions with the types of businesses we work with,” said co-CEO Mark Schopmeyer. “We typically see conversations start with teams that have a minimum of 25 sales people, though we easily serve enterprises and public companies as well.”

The number of payees — defined as someone receiving a payout in CapitvateIQ’s system — was up four times in December 2020 from the year prior. Plus, the company had “back-to-back record months” from September through the end of the year in 2020, according to Schopmeyer.

He, co-CEO Conway Teng and CTO Hubert Wong founded CaptivateIQ after coming out of Y Combinator’s Winter 2017 cohort. 

Left to right: CaptivateIQ co-founders Hubert Wong, Mark Schopmeyer and Conway Teng

Left to right: CaptivateIQ co-founders Hubert Wong, Mark Schopmeyer and Conway Teng.

The company touts its SaaS platform as a combination of the familiarity of spreadsheets, with the scalability and performance of software, so that users can configure any commission plan “entirely on their own,” according to Teng. 

“Calculating commissions is really complicated and mission critical – think of it like a very complicated form of payroll – each company has a unique commission plan that involves a lot more calculations and data than your typical salary payroll math,” Teng said. “Also, in recent years, companies have access to more data than ever, giving them room to incentive employees on more performance metrics.” 

Today, CaptivateIQ has 90 employees, more than triple what it did one year ago.

In 2020, the startup saw a bump in the number of non-high technology companies buying its software, and as a result, CaptivateIQ is going to increase its efforts into those other verticals, according to Teng. So far, it has found success in particular in financial services, manufacturing, and business services, among other sectors.

The pandemic served as a tailwind to its business. Sales teams generally rely on in-person interactions to stay productive, Schopmeyer points out. Without those activities over the past year, “having the right incentives in place became ever more critical as companies required new ways to motivate teams during the shift to remote work.”

“We saw our product usage skyrocket at the beginning of the pandemic as businesses quickly adjusted incentives, team quotas, SPIFs, and other components of their comp plans to stay competitive,” he said. 

The company plans to use its new capital to improve upon the user experience. Specifically, Teng said, it plans to introduce “more powerful data transformations, a richer set of formulas, and off-the-shelf templates.”

Another goal is to automate and streamline the commissions process from beginning to end, he added. The startup is expanding its data integrations to support “all major data systems” and introducing new dashboarding capabilities. It’s also enhancing existing collaboration workflows around approvals, inquiries and contracts.

Looking ahead, CaptivateIQ is exploring the potential of applying its technology to solve for use cases outside the world of commissions — something that it says its customers are already doing.

“It’s exciting to see what people have been building, and we’re looking forward to enabling new solutions as we continue to release more of our core technology platform,” Teng said.

Accel Partner Ben Fletcher said the pain point of calculating and reporting sales commissions kept coming up among portfolio companies, with CaptivateIQ frequently referenced. Those companies, he said, tried more enterprise-grade solutions — “spending hundreds of thousands on implementation to ultimately find that their products did not work.” They also tried other newer tools that also just didn’t work well.

“As we dug in and talked with more and more customers, it was abundantly clear — CaptivateIQ was the best product in the space,” Fletcher said.

Besides ease of use, the fact that CaptivateIQ is a no-code tool, is a big deal to Accel.

“Similar to UIPath, Webflow, and Ada, CaptivateIQ is able to bring the power of customer development and automation to an easy to use, drag-and-drop product,” Fletcher said. 

#accel, #articles, #commission, #funding, #no-code, #recent-funding, #s28-capital, #saas, #san-francisco, #software, #startups, #venture-capital, #y-combinator

0

Putting Belfast on the TechCrunch map — TechCrunch’s European Cities Survey 2021

TechCrunch is embarking on a major new project to survey European founders and investors in cities outside the larger European capitals.

Over the next few weeks, we will ask entrepreneurs in these cities to talk about their ecosystems, in their own words.

This is your chance to put Belfast on the Techcrunch Map!

If you are a tech startup founder or investor in the city please fill out the survey form here.

This is the follow-up to the huge survey of investors (see also below) we’ve done over the last six or more months, largely in capital cities.

These formed part of a broader series of surveys we’re doing regularly for ExtraCrunch, our subscription service that unpacks key issues for startups and investors.

In the first wave of surveys, the cities we wrote about were largely capitals. You can see them listed here.

This time, we will be surveying founders and investors in Europe’s other cities to capture how European hubs are growing, from the perspective of the people on the ground.

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

We leave submissions mostly unedited and are generally looking for at least one or two paragraphs in answers to the questions.

So if you are a tech startup founder or investor in one of these cities please fill out our survey form here.

Thank you for participating. If you have questions you can email mike@techcrunch.com and/or reply on Twitter to @mikebutcher.

#articles, #business, #economy, #entrepreneurship, #europe, #startup-company, #tc, #techcrunch, #verizon-media

0

Shell invests in LanzaJet to speed up deliveries of its synthetic aviation fuel

The energy giant Shell has joined a slew of strategic investors including All Nippon Airways, Suncor Energy, Mitsui, and British Airways in funding LanzaJet, the company commercializing a process to convert alcohol into jet fuel. 

A spin-off from LanzaTech, one of the last surviving climate tech startups from the first cleantech boom that’s still privately held, LanzaJet is taking a phased investment approach with its corporate backers, enabling them to invest additional capital as the company scales to larger production facilities.

Terms of the initial investment, or LanzaJet’s valuation after the commitment, were not disclosed.

LanzaJet claims that it can help the aviation industry reach net-zero emissions, something that would go a long way toward helping the world meet the emissions reductions targets set in the Paris Agreement.

“LanzaJet’s technology opens up a new and exciting pathway to produce SAF using an AtJ process and will help address the aviation sector’s urgent need for SAF. It demonstrates that the industry can move faster and deliver more when we all work together,” said Anna Mascolo, President, Shell Aviation, in a statement. “Provided industry, government and society collaborate on appropriate policy mechanisms and regulations to drive both supply and demand, aviation can achieve net-zero carbon emissions. The strategic fit with LanzaJet is exciting.”

LanzaJet is currently building an alcohol-to-jet fuel facility in Soperton, Ga. Upon completion it would be the first commercial scale plant for sustainable synthetic jet fuel with a capacity of 10 million gallons per year.

The fuel is made by using an ethanol inputs — something that Shell is very familiar with. It’s also something that the oil giant has in ready supply. Through the Raízen joint venture in Brazil, Shell has been producing bio-ethanol for over ten years.

The company expects that its sustainable fuel will be mixed with conventional fossil jet fuel to power airplanes in a lower carbon intensity way. Roughly 90% of the company’s production output will be aviation fuel, while the remaining 10% will be renewable diesel, the company said.

LanzaJet’s SAF is approved to be blended up to 50% with fossil jet fuel, the maximum allowed  by ASTM, and is a drop-in fuel that requires no modifications to engines, aircraft, and infrastructure.  Additionally, LanzaJet’s SAF delivers more than a 70% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions on a  lifecycle basis, compared to conventional fossil jet fuel. The versatility in ethanol, and a focus on low carbon, waste-based, and non-food /non-feed sources, along with ethanol’s global availability, make  LanzaJet’s technology a relevant and enduring solution for SAF. 

 

#all-nippon-airways, #articles, #biofuels, #brazil, #british-airways, #energy, #food, #georgia, #greenhouse-gas-emissions, #jet-fuel, #lanzajet, #lanzatech, #mitsui, #president, #shell, #tc

0

How Jamaica failed to handle its JamCOVID scandal

As governments scrambled to lock down their populations after the COVID-19 pandemic was declared last March, some countries had plans underway to reopen. By June, Jamaica became one of the first countries to open its borders.

Tourism represents about one-fifth of Jamaica’s economy. In 2019 alone, four million travelers visited Jamaica, bringing thousands of jobs to its three million residents. But as COVID-19 stretched into the summer, Jamaica’s economy was in free fall, and tourism was its only way back — even if that meant at the expense of public health.

The Jamaican government contracted with Amber Group, a technology company headquartered in Kingston, to build a border entry system allowing residents and travelers back onto the island. The system was named JamCOVID and was rolled out as an app and a website to allow visitors to get screened before they arrive. To cross the border, travelers had to upload a negative COVID-19 test result to JamCOVID before boarding their flight from high-risk countries, including the United States.

Amber Group’s CEO Dushyant Savadia boasted that his company developed JamCOVID in “three days” and that it effectively donated the system to the Jamaican government, which in turn pays Amber Group for additional features and customizations. The rollout appeared to be a success, and Amber Group later secured contracts to roll out its border entry system to at least four other Caribbean islands.

But last month TechCrunch revealed that JamCOVID exposed immigration documents, passport numbers, and COVID-19 lab test results on close to half a million travelers — including many Americans — who visited the island over the past year. Amber Group had set the access to the JamCOVID cloud server to public, allowing anyone to access its data from their web browser.

Whether the data exposure was caused by human error or negligence, it was an embarrassing mistake for a technology company — and, by extension, the Jamaican government — to make.

And that might have been the end of it. Instead, the government’s response became the story.

A trio of security lapses

By the end of the first wave of coronavirus, contact tracing apps were still in their infancy and few governments had plans in place to screen travelers as they arrived at their borders. It was a scramble for governments to build or acquire technology to understand the spread of the virus.

Jamaica was one of a handful of countries using location data to monitor travelers, prompting rights groups to raise concerns about privacy and data protection.

As part of an investigation into a broad range of these COVID-19 apps and services, TechCrunch found that JamCOVID was storing data on an exposed, passwordless server.

This wasn’t the first time TechCrunch found security flaws or exposed data through our reporting. It also was not the first pandemic-related security scare. Israeli spyware maker NSO Group left real location data on an unprotected server that it used for demonstrating its new contact tracing system. Norway was one of the first countries with a contact tracing app, but pulled it after the country’s privacy authority found the continuous tracking of citizens’ location was a privacy risk.

Just as we have with any other story, we contacted who we thought was the server’s owner. We alerted Jamaica’s Ministry of Health to the data exposure on the weekend of February 13. But after we provided specific details of the exposure to ministry spokesperson Stephen Davidson, we did not hear back. Two days later, the data was still exposed.

After we spoke to two American travelers whose data was spilling from the server, we narrowed down the owner of the server to Amber Group. We contacted its chief executive Savadia on February 16, who acknowledged the email but did not comment, and the server was secured about an hour later.

We ran our story that afternoon. After we published, the Jamaican government issued a statement claiming the lapse was “discovered on February 16” and was “immediately rectified,” neither of which were true.

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Instead, the government responded by launching a criminal investigation into whether there was any “unauthorized” access to the unprotected data that led to our first story, which we perceived to be a thinly veiled threat directed at this publication. The government said it had contacted its overseas law enforcement partners.

When reached, a spokesperson for the FBI declined to say whether the Jamaican government had contacted the agency.

Things didn’t get much better for JamCOVID. In the days that followed the first story, the government engaged a cloud and cybersecurity consultant, Escala 24×7, to assess JamCOVID’s security. The results were not disclosed, but the company said it was confident there was “no current vulnerability” in JamCOVID. Amber Group also said that the lapse was a “completely isolated occurrence.”

A week went by and TechCrunch alerted Amber Group to two more security lapses. After the attention from the first report, a security researcher who saw the news of the first lapse found exposed private keys and passwords for JamCOVID’s servers and databases hidden on its website, and a third lapse that spilled quarantine orders for more than half a million travelers.

Amber Group and the government claimed it faced “cyberattacks, hacking and mischievous players.” In reality, the app was just not that secure.

Politically inconvenient

The security lapses come at a politically inconvenient time for the Jamaican government, as it attempts to launch a national identification system, or NIDS, for the second time. NIDS will store biographic data on Jamaican nationals, including their biometrics, such as their fingerprints.

The repeat effort comes two years after the government’s first law was struck down by Jamaica’s High Court as unconstitutional.

Critics have cited the JamCOVID security lapses as a reason to drop the proposed national database. A coalition of privacy and rights groups cited the recent issues with JamCOVID for why a national database is “potentially dangerous for Jamaicans’ privacy and security.” A spokesperson for Jamaica’s opposition party told local media that there “wasn’t much confidence in NIDS in the first place.”

It’s been more than a month since we published the first story and there are many unanswered questions, including how Amber Group secured the contract to build and run JamCOVID, how the cloud server became exposed, and if security testing was conducted before its launch.

TechCrunch emailed both the Jamaican prime minister’s office and Jamaica’s national security minister Matthew Samuda to ask how much, if anything, the government donated or paid to Amber Group to run JamCOVID and what security requirements, if any, were agreed upon for JamCOVID. We did not get a response.

Amber Group also has not said how much it has earned from its government contracts. Amber Group’s Savadia declined to disclose the value of the contracts to one local newspaper. Savadia did not respond to our emails with questions about its contracts.

Following the second security lapse, Jamaica’s opposition party demanded that the prime minister release the contracts that govern the agreement between the government and Amber Group. Prime Minister Andrew Holness said at a press conference that the public “should know” about government contracts but warned “legal hurdles” may prevent disclosure, such as for national security reasons or when “sensitive trade and commercial information” might be disclosed.

That came days after local newspaper The Jamaica Gleaner had a request to obtain contracts revealing the salaries state officials denied by the government under a legal clause that prevents the disclosure of an individual’s private affairs. Critics argue that taxpayers have a right to know how much government officials are paid from public funds.

Jamaica’s opposition party also asked what was done to notify victims.

Government minister Samuda initially downplayed the security lapse, claiming just 700 people were affected. We scoured social media for proof but found nothing. To date, we’ve found no evidence that the Jamaican government ever informed travelers of the security incident — either the hundreds of thousands of affected travelers whose information was exposed, or the 700 people that the government claimed it notified but has not publicly released.

TechCrunch emailed the minister to request a copy of the notice that the government allegedly sent to victims, but we did not receive a response. We also asked Amber Group and Jamaica’s prime minister’s office for comment. We did not hear back.

Many of the victims of the security lapse are from the United States. Neither of the two Americans we spoke to in our first report were notified of the breach.

Spokespeople for the attorneys general of New York and Florida, whose residents’ information was exposed, told TechCrunch that they had not heard from either the Jamaican government or the contractor, despite state laws requiring data breaches to be disclosed.

The reopening of Jamaica’s borders came at a cost. The island saw over a hundred new cases of COVID-19 in the month that followed, the majority arriving from the United States. From June to August, the number of new coronavirus cases went from tens to dozens to hundreds each day.

To date, Jamaica has reported over 39,500 cases and 600 deaths caused by the pandemic.

Prime Minister Holness reflected on the decision to reopen its borders last month in parliament to announce the country’s annual budget. He said the country’s economic decline last was “driven by a massive 70% contraction in our tourist industry.” More than 525,000 travelers — both residents and tourists — have arrived in Jamaica since the borders opened, Holness said, a figure slightly more than the number of travelers’ records found on the exposed JamCOVID server in February.

Holness defended reopening the country’s borders.

“Had we not done this the fall out in tourism revenues would have been 100% instead of 75%, there would be no recovery in employment, our balance of payment deficit would have worsened, overall government revenues would have been threatened, and there would be no argument to be made about spending more,” he said.

Both the Jamaican government and Amber Group benefited from opening the country’s borders. The government wanted to revive its falling economy, and Amber Group enriched its business with fresh government contracts. But neither paid enough attention to cybersecurity, and victims of their negligence deserve to know why.


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#articles, #ceo, #contact-tracing, #contractor, #federal-bureau-of-investigation, #florida, #government, #health, #jamaica, #mass-surveillance, #mobile-applications, #new-york, #norway, #nso-group, #privacy, #securedrop, #security, #social-media, #software, #spokesperson, #technology, #united-states

0

QuikNode is building a blockchain developer cloud platform to compete with AWS

As hot as the blockchain space appears to be these days, it’s still far from simple to get a decentralized application reliably up-and-running. The NFT boom and rising cryptocurrency prices have brought more attention to applications running on the blockchain, but the dominant cloud service platforms aren’t quite ready to make a full-commit to the needs of these developers.

QuikNode, which recently raised funding from Y Combinator and is in the process of wrapping its seed funding, has been building out a Web3 cloud platform for blockchain developers that can help them create and scale applications. The startup seems to be further along than most of its fellow YC batch mates, founded back in 2017.

At the moment, running a decentralized app can involve a lot of base infrastructure headaches that take developer attention away from their actual products. The initial setup can require days worth of downloads to sync to these networks for the first time while maintenance costs can also be high, the startup says. QuikNode allows app developers to rent access to nodes that let them operate on the blockchain network of their choice, enabling them to sidestep maintaining and monitoring their own node.

Alongside node management and maintenance, QuikNode’s product integrates developer tools and analytics to simplify running a decentralized app. The challenge for QuikNode will likely be maintaining an edge here in the shadow of cloud giants if the decentralized app market grows to a sizable (and consistent) presence on the web. QuikNode is itself a customer of these large cloud companies, opting to focus on software rather than building up physical data centers, nevertheless they’re still directly competing with these big players.

“I think we have about two years on Amazon, we’re on their radar,” CEO Dmitry Shklovsky tells TechCrunch.

For the time being, QuikNode’s small size gives it a distinct pricing advantage compared to nascent programs from other cloud providers. Plans start at just $9 for users launching the most basic applications, with structured plans increasing depending on the amount of “method calls” being performed. Renting a dedicated node is $300 per month. From there, the startup offers several chain-specific add-ons with options like Archive mode that give applications access all historical value states inside smart contracts on the network or Trace mode, which lets developers request nodes to re-execute transactions.

The team currently operates over 1,000 nodes and has around 400 customers. As QuikNode aims to scale their customer base, Shklovsky says that one of the best paths to customer acquisition have been guides educating decentralized app developers on how to connect to the most popular networks. 

Currently, the largely Miami-based team supports networks on six chains including Ethereum, Bitcoin, xDai, Binance Smart Chain, Polygon and Optimism.

#amazon, #articles, #blockchain-network, #blockchains, #ceo, #cloud-computing, #cryptocurrencies, #cryptocurrency, #decentralization, #ethereum, #miami, #smart-contract, #tc, #technology, #y-combinator

0

Put your city on the TC map — TechCrunch’s European Cities Survey 2021

TechCrunch is embarking on a major new project to survey European founders and investors in cities outside the larger European capitals.

Over the next few weeks, we will ask entrepreneurs in these cities to talk about their ecosystems, in their own words.

This is your chance to put your city on the Techcrunch Map!

This is the follow-up to the huge survey of investors (see also below) we’ve done over the last 6 or more months, largely in capital cities.

These formed part of a broader series of surveys we’re doing regularly for ExtraCrunch, our subscription service which unpacks key issues for startups and investors.

In the first wave of surveys (as you can see below) the cities we wrote about were largely capitals.

This time, we will be surveying founders and investors in Europe’s other cities to capture how European hubs are growing, from the perspective of the people on the ground.

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

We leave submissions mostly un-edited, and generally looking for at least one or two paragraphs in answers to the questions.

So if you are tech startup founder or investor in one of these cities please fill out our survey form here.

Austria: Graz, Linz
Belgium: Antwerp
Croatia: Zagreb, Osjek
Czech Republic: Brno, Ostrava, Plzen
England: Bristol, Cambridge, Oxford, Manchester
Estonia: Tartu
France: Toulouse, Lyon, Lille
Germany: Hamburg, Munich, Cologne, Bielefeld, Frankfurt
Greece: Thessaloniki
Ireland: Cork
Israel: Jerusalem
Italy: Trieste, Bologna, Turin, Florence, Milan
Netherlands: Delft, Eindhoven, Rotterdam, Utrecht
Northern Ireland: Belfast, Derry
Poland: Gdańsk, Wroclaw, Krakow, Poznan
Portugal: Porto, Braga
Romania: Cluj, Lasi, Timisoara, Oradea, Brasov
Scotland: Edinburgh, Glasgow
Spain: Valencia
Sweden: Malmo
Switzerland: Geneva, Lausanne

Thank you for participating. If you have questions you can email mike@techcrunch.com and/or reply on Twitter to @mikebutcher

Here are the cities that previously participated in The Great TechCrunch Survey of Europe’s VCs:

Amsterdam/Netherlands

Athens/Greece

Berlin/Germany

Brussels/Belgium

Bucharest/Romania

Copenhagen/Denmark

Dublin/Ireland

Helsinki/Finland

Lisbon/Portugal

London/UK

Madrid & Barcelona/Spain (Part 1 & Part 2)

Oslo/Norway

Paris/France

Prague/Czech Republic

Rome, Milan/Italy

Stockholm/Sweden

Tel Aviv/Israel

Vienna/Austria

Warsaw/Poland (Part 1 & Part 2)

Zurich/Switzerland

#articles, #austria, #bristol, #business, #cambridge, #cologne, #economy, #edinburgh, #entrepreneurship, #europe, #florence, #hamburg, #munich, #oxford, #startup-company, #tc, #techcrunch, #trieste, #verizon-media

0

Startups have about $1 trillion worth of reasons to love the Biden infrastructure plan

The sweeping infrastructure package put forward today by President Joe Biden comes with a price tag of roughly $2 trillion (and hefty tax hikes) but gives startups and the broader tech industry about $1 trillion worth of reasons to support it.

Tech companies have spent the past decade or more developing innovations that can be applied to old-world industries like agriculture, construction, energy, education, manufacturing and transportation and logistics. These are industries where structural impediments to technology adoption have only recently been broken down by the advent of incredibly powerful mobile devices.

Now, these industries are at the heart of the President’s plan to build back better, and the hundreds of billions of dollars that are earmarked to make America great again will, either directly or indirectly, be a huge boost to a number of startups and large tech companies whose hardware and software services will enable much of the work the Biden administration wants done.

“The climate-oriented investment in Biden’s new plan would be roughly ten times what came through ARRA,” wrote Shayle Kann, a partner with the investment firm, Energy Impact Partners. “It would present a huge opportunity for a variety of climate tech sectors, ranging from clean electricity to carbon management to vehicle electrification.”

Much of this will look and feel like a Green New Deal, but sold under a package of infrastructure modernization and service upgrades that the country desperately needs.  Indeed, it’s hard to invest in infrastructure without supporting the kind of energy efficiency and renewable development plans that are at the core of the Green New Deal, since efficiency upgrades are just a part of the new way of building and making things.

Over $700 billion of the proposed budget will go to improving resiliency against natural disasters; upgrading critical water, power, and internet infrastructure; and rehabilitating and improving public housing, federal buildings, and aging commercial and residential real estate.

Additionally there’s another roughly $400 billion in spending earmarked for boosting domestic manufacturing of critical components like semiconductors; protecting against future pandemics; and creating regional innovation hubs to promote venture capital investment and startup development intended to “support the growth of entrepreneurship in communities of color and underserved communities.”

Climate resiliency 

Given the steady drumbeat of climate disasters that hit the U.S. over the course of 2020 (and their combined estimated price tag of nearly $100 billion), it’s not surprising that the Biden plan begins with a focus on resiliency.

The first big outlay of cash outlined in the Biden plan would call for $50 billion in financing to improve, protect and invest in underserved communities most at risk from climate disasters through programs from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Department of Housing and Urban Development, and new initiatives from the Department of Transportation. Most relevant to startups is the push to fund initiatives and technologies that can help prevent or protect against extreme wildfires; rising sea levels and hurricanes; new agriculture resource management; and “climate-smart” technologies.

As with most of Biden’s big infrastructure initiatives, there are startups tackling these issues. Companies like Cornea, Emergency Reporting, Zonehaven are trying to solve different facets of the fire problem; while flood prediction and weather monitoring startups are floating up their services too. Big data analytics, monitoring and sensing tools, and robotics are also becoming fixtures on the farm. For the President’s water efficiency and recycling programs, companies like Epic CleanTec, which has developed wastewater recycling technologies for residential and commercial buildings.

Fables of the reconstruction

Energy efficiency and building upgrades represent by far the biggest chunk of the Biden infrastructure package — totaling a whopping $400 billion of the spending package and all devoted to upgrading homes, offices, schools, veteran’s hospitals and federal buildings.

It gives extra credence to the thesis behind new climate-focused funds from Greensoil Proptech Ventures and Fifth Wall Ventures, which is raising a $200 million investment vehicle to focus on energy efficiency and climate tech solutions.

As Fifth Wall’s newest partner Greg Smithies noted last year, there’s a massive opportunity in building retrofits and startup technologies to improve efficiency.

“What excites me about this space is that there’s so much low-hanging fruit. And there’s $260 trillion worth of buildings,” Smithies said last year. “The vast majority of those are nowhere up to modern codes. We’re going to have a much bigger opportunity by focusing on some not-so-sexy stuff.”

Decarbonizing real estate can also make a huge difference in the fight against global climate change in addition to the its ability to improve quality of life and happiness for residents. “Real estate consumes 40% of all energy. The global economy happens indoors,” said Fifth Wall co-founder Brendan Wallace, in a statement. “Real estate will be the biggest spender on climate tech for no other reason than its contribution to the carbon problem.”

The Biden plan calls on Congress to enact new grant programs that award flexible funding to jurisdictions that take concrete steps to eliminate barriers to produce affordable housing. Part of that will include $40 billion to improve the infrastructure of the public housing in America.

It’s a project that startups like BlocPower are already deeply involved in supporting.

“Get the superhero masks and capes out. The Biden Harris Climate announcement is literally a plan to save the American economy and save the planet. This is Avengers Endgame in real life. We can’t undo the last five years… but we can make smart, massive investments in the climate infrastructure of the future,” wrote Donnel Baird, the chief executive and founder of BlocPower. “Committing to electrify 2 million American buildings, moving them entirely off of fossil fuels is exactly that — an investment in America leading theway towards creating a new industry creating American jobs that cannot be outsourced, and beginning to reduce the 30% of greenhouse gas emissiosn that come from buildings.”

As part of the package that directly impacts startups, there’s a proposal for a $27 billion Clean Energy and Sustainability Accelerator to mobilize private investment, according to the White House. The focus will be on distributed energy resources, retrofits of residential, commercial and municipal buildings; and clean transportation. A focus there will be on disadvantaged communities that haven’t had access to clean energy investments.

Financing the future startup nation

“From the invention of the semiconductor to the creation of the Internet, new engines of economic growth have emerged due to public investments that support research, commercialization, and strong supply chains,” the White House wrote. “President Biden is calling on Congress to make smart investments in research and development, manufacturing and regional economic development, and in workforce development to give our workers and companies the tools and training they need to compete on the global stage.”

To enable that, Biden is proposing another $480 billion in spending to boost research and development — including $50 billion for the National Science Foundation to focus on semiconductors and advanced communications technologies, energ technologies and biotechnology. Another $30 billion is designed to be targeted toward rural development; and finally the $40 billion in upgrading research infrastructure.

There’s also an initiative to create ARPA-C, a climate focused Advanced Research Projects Agency modeled on the DARPA program that gave birth to the Internet. There’s $20 billion heading toward funding climate-focused research and demonstration projects for energy storage, carbon capture and storage, hydrogen, advanced nuclear and rare earth  element separations, floating off shore wind, biofuel/bioproducts, quantum computing and electric vehicles.

The bulk of Biden’s efforts to pour money into manufacturing represents another $300 billion in potential government funding. That’s $30 billion tickets for biopreparedness and pandemic preparedness; another $50 billion in semiconductor manufacturing and research; $46 billion for federal buying power for new advanced nuclear reactors and fuel, cars, ports, pumps and clean materials.

Included in all of this is an emphasis on developing economies fairly and equally across the country — that means $20 billion in regional innovation hubs and a Community Revitalization Fund, which is designed to support innovative, community-led redevelopment efforts and $52 billion in investing in domestic manufacturers — promoting rural manufacturing and clean energy.

Finally for startups there’s a $31 billion available for programs that give small businesses access to credit, venture capital, and R&D dollars. Specifically, the proposal calls for funding for community-based small business incubators and innovation hubs to support growth in communities of color and underserved communites.

Water and power infrastructure 

America’s C- grade infrastructure has problems extending across the length and breadth of the country. It encompasses everything from crumbling roads and bridges to a lack of clean drinking water, failing sewage systems, inadequate recycling facilities, and increasing demands on power generation, transmission and distribution assets that the nation’s electricity grid is unable to meet.

“Across the country, pipes and treatment plants are aging and polluted drinking water is endangering public health. An estimated six to ten million homes still receive drinking water through lead pipes and service lines,” the White House wrote in a statement.

To address this issue, Biden’s calling for an infusion of $45 billion into the Environmental Protection Agency’s Drinking Water State Revolving Fund and Water Infrastructure Improvements for the Nation Act grants. While that kind of rip and replace project may not directly impact startups, another $66 billion earmarked for upgrades to drinking water, wastewater and stormwater systems and monitoring and managing the presence of contaminants in water will be a huge boon for the vast array of water sensing and filtration startups that have flooded the market in the past decade or more (there’s even an entire incubator dedicated to just water technologies).

The sad fact is that water infrastructure in America has largely failed to keep up in large swaths of the country, necessitating this kind of massive capital infusion.

And what’s true for water is also true increasingly true for power. Outages cost the U.S. economy upwards of $70 billion per year, according to the White House. So when analysts compare those economic losses to a potential $100 billion outlay, the math should be clear. For startups that math equals dollar signs.

Calls to build a more resilient transmission system should be music to the ears of companies like Veir, which is developing a novel technology for improving capacity on transmission lines (a project that the Biden administration explicitly calls out in its plan).

The Biden plan also includes more than money, calling for the creation of a new Grid Deployment Authority within the Department of Energy to better leverage rights-of-way along roads and railways and will support financing tools to develop new high-voltage transmission lines, the White House said.

The administration doesn’t stop there. Energy storage and renewable technologies are going to get a boost through a clutch of tax credits designed to accelerate their deployment. That includes a ten-year extension and phase down of direct-pay investment tax credits and production tax credits. The plan aslo calls for clean energy block grants and calls for the government to purchase nothing but renewable energy all day for federal buildings.

Complimenting this push for clean power and storage will be a surge in funding for waste remediation and cleanup, which is getting a $21 billion boost under Biden.

Companies like Renewell Energy, or various non-profits that are trying to plug abandoned oil wells, can play a role here. There’s also the potential to recover other mineral deposits or reuse the wastewater that comes from these wells. And here, too, investors can find early stage businesses looking for an angle. Part of the money frm the Biden plan will aim to redevelop brownfields and turn them into more sustainable businesses.

That’s where some of the indoor agriculture companies, like Plenty, Bowery Farms, AppHarvest could find additional pots of money to turn unused factory and warehouse space into working farms. Idled factories could also be transformed into hubs for energy storage and community based power generation and distribution facilities, given their position on the grid.

“President Biden’s plan also will spur targeted sustainable, economic development efforts through the Appalachian Regional Commission’s POWER grant program, Department of Energy retooling grants for idled factories (through the Section 132 program), and dedicated funding to support community-driven environmental justice efforts – such as capacity and project grants to address legacy pollution and the cumulative impacts experienced by frontline and fenceline communities,” the White House wrote.

Key to these redevelopment efforts will be the establishment of pioneer facilities that demonstrate carbon capture retrofits for large steel, cement, and chemical production facilities. But if the Biden Administration wanted to, its departments could go a step further to support lower emission manufacturing technologies like the kind companies including Heliogen, which is using solar power to generate energy for a massive mining operation, or Boston Metal, which is partnering with BMW on developing a lower emission manufacturing process for steel production.

Critical to ensuring that this money gets spent is a $25 billion commitment to finance pre-development activities, that could help smaller project developers, as Rob Day writes in Forbes.

“As I’ve written about elsewhere, local project developers are key to getting sustainability projects built where they will actually do the most good — in the communities hit hardest by both local pollution and climate change impacts. These smaller project developers have lots of expenses they must pay just to get to the point where private-sector infrastructure construction investments can come in,” Day wrote. “Everyone in sustainability policy talks about supporting entrepreneurs, but in reality much of the support is aimed at technology innovators and not these smaller project developers who would be the ones to actually roll out those technology innovations. Infrastructure investors are typically much more reticent to provide capital before projects are construction-ready.”

Building a better Internet

“Broadband internet is the new electricity. It is necessary for Americans to do their jobs, to participate equally in school learning, health care, and to stay connected,” the White House wrote. “Yet, by one definition, more than 30 million Americans live in areas where there is no broadband infrastructure that provides minimally acceptable speeds. Americans in rural areas and on tribal lands particularly lack adequate access. And, in part because the United States has some of the highest broadband prices among OECD countries, millions of Americans can’t use broadband internet even if the infrastructure exists where they live.”

The $100 billion that the Biden Administration is earmarking for broadband infrastructure includes goals to meet 100 percent high-speed broadband coverage and prioritizes support for networks owned, operated, or faffiliated with local governments, non-profits and cooperatives.

Attendant with the new cash is a shift in regulatory policy that would open up opportunities for municipally-owned or affiliated providers and rural electric co-ops from competing with prive providers and requiring internet providers to be more transparent about their pricing. This increased competition is good for hardware vendors and ultimately could create new businesses for entrepreneurs who want to become ISPs of their own.

Wander is one-such service providing high speed wireless internet in Los Angeles.

“Americans pay too much for the internet – much more than people in many other countries – and the President is committed to working with Congress to find a solution to reduce internet prices for all Americans, increase adoption in both rural and urban areas, hold providers accountable, and save taxpayer money,” the White House wrote.

 

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