Crypto community slams ‘disastrous’ new amendment to Biden’s big infrastructure bill

Biden’s major bipartisan infrastructure plan struck a rare chord of cooperation between Republicans and Democrats, but changes it proposes to cryptocurrency regulation are tripping up the bill.

The administration intends to pay for $28 billion of its planned infrastructure spending by tightening tax compliance within the historically under-regulated arena of digital currency. That’s why cryptocurrency is popping up in a bill that’s mostly about rebuilding bridges and roads.

The legislation’s vocal critics argue that the bill’s effort to do so is slapdash, particularly a bit that would declare anyone “responsible for and regularly providing any service effectuating transfers of digital assets” to be a broker, subject to tax reporting requirements.

While that definition might be more straightforward in a traditional corner of finance, it could force cryptocurrency developers, companies and even anyone mining digital currencies to somehow collect and report information on users, something that by design isn’t even possible in a decentralized financial system.

Now, a new amendment to the critical spending package is threatening to make matters even worse.

Unintended consequences

In a joint letter about the bill’s text, Square, Coinbase, Ribbit Capital and other stakeholders warned of “financial surveillance” and unintended impacts for cryptocurrency miners and developers. The Electronic Frontier Foundation and Fight for the Future, two privacy-minded digital rights organizations, also slammed the bill.

Following the outcry from the cryptocurrency community, a pair of influential senators proposed an amendment to clarify the new reporting rules. Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden (D-OR) pushed back against the bill, proposing an amendment with fellow finance committee member Pat Toomey (R-PA) that would modify the bill’s language.

The amendment would establish that the new reporting “does not apply to individuals developing block chain technology and wallets,” removing some of the bill’s ambiguity on the issue.

“By clarifying the definition of broker, our amendment will ensure non-financial intermediaries like miners, network validators, and other service providers—many of whom don’t even have the personal-identifying information needed to file a 1099 with the IRS—are not subject to the reporting requirements specified in the bipartisan infrastructure package,” Toomey said.

Wyoming Senator Cynthia Lummis also threw her support behind the Toomey and Wyden amendment, as did Colorado Governor Jared Polis.

Picking winners and losers

The drama doesn’t stop there. With negotiations around the bill ongoing — the text could be finalized over the weekend — a pair of senators proposed a competing amendment that isn’t winning any fans in the crypto community.

That amendment, from Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH) and Mark Warner (D-VA), would exempt traditional cryptocurrency miners who participate in energy-intensive “proof of work” systems from new financial reporting requirements, while keeping those rules in place for those using a “proof of stake” system. Portman worked with the Treasury Department to author the cryptocurrency portion of the original infrastructure bill.

Rather than requiring an investment in computing hardware (and energy bills) capable of solving increasingly complex math problems, proof of stake systems rely on participants taking a financial stake in a given project, locking away some of the cryptocurrency to generate new coins.

Proof of stake is emerging as an attractive, climate-friendlier alternative that could reduce the need for heavy computing and huge amounts of energy required for proof of work mining. That makes it all the more puzzling that the latest amendment would specifically let proof of work mining off the hook.

Some popular digital currencies like Cardano are already built on proof of stake. Ethereum, the second biggest cryptocurrency, is in the process of migrating from a proof of work system to proof of stake to help scale its system and reduce fees. Bitcoin is the most notable digital currency that relies on proof of work.

The Warner-Portman amendment is being touted as a “compromise” but it’s not really halfway between the Wyden-Toomey amendment and the existing bill — it just introduces new problems that many crypto advocates view as a fresh existential threat to their work. Prominent members of the crypto community including Square founder and Bitcoin booster Jack Dorsey have thrown their support behind the Wyden-Lummis-Toomey amendment while slamming the second proposal as misguided and damaging.

Unfortunately for the crypto community — and the promise of the proof of stake model — the White House is apparently throwing its weight behind the Warner-Portman amendment, though that could change as eleventh hour negotiations continue.

#biden, #bitcoin, #blockchain, #broker, #cardano, #chairman, #coinbase, #cryptocurrencies, #cryptography, #democrats, #digital-currency, #electronic-frontier-foundation, #energy, #ethereum, #finance, #government, #internal-revenue-service, #jack-dorsey, #proof-of-stake, #proof-of-work, #republicans, #ribbit-capital, #ron-wyden, #tc, #white-house

Opioid addiction treatment apps found sharing sensitive data with third parties

Several widely used opioid treatment recovery apps are accessing and sharing sensitive user data with third parties, a new investigation has found.

As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and efforts to reduce transmission in the U.S, telehealth services and apps offering opioid addiction treatment have surged in popularity. This rise of app-based services comes as addiction treatment facilities face budget cuts and closures, which has seen both investor and government interest turn to telehealth as a tool to combat the growing addiction crisis.

While people accessing these services may have a reasonable expectation of privacy of their healthcare data, a new report from ExpressVPN’s Digital Security Lab, compiled in conjunction with the Opioid Policy Institute and the Defensive Lab Agency, found that some of these apps collect and share sensitive information with third parties, raising questions about their privacy and security practices.

The report studied 10 opioid treatment apps available on Android: Bicycle Health, Boulder Care, Confidant Health. DynamiCare Health, Kaden Health, Loosid, Pear Reset-O, PursueCare, Sober Grid, and Workit Health. These apps have been installed at least 180,000 times, and have received more than $300 million in funding from investment groups and the federal government.

Despite the vast reach and sensitive nature of these services, the research found that the majority of the apps accessed unique identifiers about the user’s device and, in some cases, shared that data with third parties.

Of the 10 apps studied, seven access the Android Advertising ID (AAID), a user-generated identifier that can be linked to other information to provide insights into identifiable individuals. Five of the apps also access the devices’ phone number; three access the device’s unique IMEI and IMSI numbers, which can also be used to uniquely identify a person’s device; and two access a users’ list of installed apps, which the researchers say can be used to build a “fingerprint” of a user to track their activities.

Many of the apps examined are also obtaining location information in some form, which when correlated with these unique identifiers, strengthens the capability for surveilling an individual person, as well as their daily habits, behaviors, and who they interact with. One of the methods the apps are doing this is through Bluetooth; seven of the apps request permission to make Bluetooth connections, which the researchers say is particularly worrying due to the fact this can be used to track users in real-world locations.

“Bluetooth can do what I call proximity tracking, so if you’re in the grocery store, it knows how long you’re in a certain aisle, or how close you are to someone else,” Sean O’Brien, principal researcher at ExpressVPN’s Digital Security Lab who led the investigation, told TechCrunch. “Bluetooth is an area that I’m pretty concerned about.”

Another major area of concern is the use of tracker SDKs in these apps, which O’Brien previously warned about in a recent investigation that revealed that hundreds of Android apps were sending granular user location data to X-Mode, a data broker known to sell location data to U.S. military contractors, and now banned from both Apple and Google’s app stores. SDKs, or software development kits, are bundles of code that are included with apps to make them work properly, such as collecting location data. Often, SDKs are provided for free in exchange for sending back the data that the apps collect.

“Confidentiality continues to be one of the major concerns that people cite for not entering treatment… existing privacy laws are totally not up to speed.” Jacqueline Seitz, Legal Action Center

While the researchers keen to point out that it does not categorize all usage of trackers as malicious, particularly as many developers may not even be aware of their existence within their apps, they discovered a high prevalence of tracker SDKs in seven out of the 10 apps that revealed potential data-sharing activity. Some SDKs are designed specifically to collect and aggregate user data; this is true even where the SDK’s core functionality is concerned.

But the researchers explain that an app, which provides navigation to a recovery center, for example, may also be tracking a user’s movements throughout the day and sending that data back to the app’s developers and third parties.

In the case of Kaden Health, Stripe — which is used for payment services within the app — can read the list of installed apps on a user’s phone, their location, phone number, and carrier name, as well as their AAID, IP address, IMEI, IMSI, and SIM serial number.

“An entity as large as Stripe having an app share that information directly is pretty alarming. It’s worrisome to me because I know that information could be very useful for law enforcement,” O’Brien tells TechCrunch. “I also worry that people having information about who has been in treatment will eventually make its way into decisions about health insurance and people getting jobs.”

The data-sharing practices of these apps are likely a consequence of these services being developed in an environment of unclear U.S. federal guidance regarding the handling and disclosure of patient information, the researchers say, though O’Brien tells TechCrunch that the actions could be in breach of 42 CFR Part 2, a law that outlines strong controls over disclosure of patient information related to treatment for addiction.

Jacqueline Seitz, a senior staff attorney for health privacy at Legal Action Center, however, said this 40-year-old law hasn’t yet been updated to recognize apps.

“Confidentiality continues to be one of the major concerns that people cite for not entering treatment,” Seitz told TechCrunch. “While 42 CFR Part 2 recognizes the very sensitive nature of substance use disorder treatment, it doesn’t mention apps at all. Existing privacy laws are totally not up to speed.

“It would be great to see some leadership from the tech community to establish some basic standards and recognize that they’re collecting super-sensitive information so that patients aren’t left in the middle of a health crisis trying to navigate privacy policies,” said Seitz.

Another likely reason for these practices is a lack of security and data privacy staff, according to Jonathan Stoltman, director at Opioid Policy Institute, which contributed to the research. “If you look at a hospital’s website, you’ll see a chief information officer, a chief privacy officer, or a chief security officer that’s in charge of physical security and data security,” he tells TechCrunch. “None of these startups have that.”

“There’s no way you’re thinking about privacy if you’re collecting the AAID, and almost all of these apps are doing that from the get-go,” Stoltman added.

Google is aware of ExpressVPN’s findings but has yet to comment. However, the report has been released as the tech giant prepares to start limiting developer access to the Android Advertising ID, mirroring Apple’s recent efforts to enable users to opt out of ad tracking.

While ExpressVPN is keen to make patients aware that these apps may violate expectations of privacy, it also stresses the central role that addiction treatment and recovery apps may play in the lives of those with opioid addiction. It recommends that if you or a family member used one of these services and find the disclosure of this data to be problematic, contact the Office of Civil Rights through Health and Human Services to file a formal complaint.

“The bottom line is this is a general problem with the app economy, and we’re watching telehealth become part of that, so we need to be very careful and cautious,” said O’Brien. “There needs to be disclosure, users need to be aware, and they need to demand better.”

Recovery from addiction is possible. For help, please call the free and confidential treatment referral hotline (1-800-662-HELP) or visit findtreatment.gov.

Read more:

#android, #app-developers, #app-store, #apple, #apps, #artificial-intelligence, #bluetooth, #broker, #computing, #director, #federal-government, #google, #google-play, #governor, #health, #health-insurance, #healthcare-data, #imessage, #law-enforcement, #mobile-app, #operating-systems, #privacy, #read, #security, #software, #stripe, #terms-of-service, #united-states

Real estate platform Casafari raises $15M to allow PE to buy single-family homes at scale

Just a Spotify used VC and PE backing to acquire the assets of the music industry so that we must now all rent our music via subscription, rather than own it for life, so a PropTech startup plans to follow a similar strategy for single-family homes.

Casafari, a real estate data platform in Europe based out of Lisbon, Portugal, has raised a $15 million Series A funding round led by Prudence Holdings in New York. But, crucially, it has also secured a $120 million “mandate” from Geneva-based private equity investors Stoneweg, among other PE players, in order to buy-to-let residential and commercial real estate. The startup already has operations in Portugal, Spain, France, and Italy.

Other investors include Armilar Venture Partners (the Portuguese VC behind unicorns Outsystems and Feedzai), HJM Holdings, 1Sharpe (founders of Roofstock), and FJ Labs (Fabrice Grinda, founder of OLX Group), as well as existing investor Lakestar.

Founded by Mila Suharev, Nils Henning, and Mitya Moskalchuk in 2018, Casafari is taking advantage of Europe’s often chaotic real estate data to achieve its goals, due to the lack of a unified Multiple Listings Service (“MLS”).

Casafari plans to aggregate, verify and distribute this data via its platform, hunting down single-family homes as an asset class for institutional investors.

According to Nils Henning, CEO, “CASAFARI has built a unique ecosystem, which connects brokers, developers, asset managers, and investors and enables sourcing, valuation, underwriting and deal collaboration on single units in all asset classes. We are very excited to represent important institutional clients like Stoneweg and others, in deploying their capital into fragmented acquisitions at scale, bringing more liquidity to the market and generating more transactions to the broker clients of our platform.”

Private investors are already using the platform. Since launching in 2018, Casafari has been used by Sotheby’s International Realty, Coldwell Banker, RE/MAX franchises, Savills, Fine & Country, Engel & Voelkers, Keller Williams, and important institutional investors and developers like Stoneweg, Kronos, Vanguard, and Vic Properties.

Mila Suharev, Casafari’s Co-CEO and CPO said: ”There are currently around 70 billion euros in dry powder in Europe that could be allocated in acquiring residential property in a buy to let strategy, and basically there’s no offer available. The property will be collected in portfolios, consisting of single units that pension funds, private equity real estate funds, want to build in Europe as they do in the US.”

What Casafari’s is doing is largely following the playbook of what Roofstock in the US did: an online marketplace for investing in leased single-family rental homes. Roofstock has raised $132.3 million to date.

#armilar-venture-partners, #broker, #ceo, #co-ceo, #coldwell-banker, #economy, #europe, #fabrice-grinda, #finance, #fj-labs, #founder, #france, #geneva, #investment, #italy, #kronos, #lakestar, #lisbon, #money, #new-york, #olx-group, #online-marketplace, #portugal, #private-equity, #property-technology, #prudence-holdings, #roofstock, #sothebys, #spain, #spotify, #stoneweg, #tc, #technology, #united-states

SoftBank pours up to $150M into GBM, a Mexico City-based investment platform

Grupo Bursátil Mexicano (GBM) is a 35-year-old investment platform in the Mexican stock market. In its first three decades of life, GBM was focused on providing investment services to high net worth individuals and local and global institutions.

Over the past decade, the Mexico City-based brokerage has ramped up its digital efforts, and, in the past five years, has evolved its business model to offer services to all Mexicans with the same products and services it offers large estates.

Today, GBM is announcing it has received an investment of “up to” $150 million from SoftBank via the Japanese conglomerate’s Latin America Fund at a valuation of “over $1 billion.” The investment is being made through one of GBM’s subsidiaries and is not contingent on anything, according to the company.

Co-CEO Pedro de Garay Montero told TechCrunch that GBM has built an app, GBM+, that organizes and invests clients’ money through three different tools: Wealth Management, Trading and Smart Cash.

Last year was a “historic” one for the company, he said, and GBM went from having 38,000 investment accounts in January 2020 to more than 650,000 by year’s end. In the first quarter of 2021, that number had grown to over 1 million — representing more than 30x growth from the beginning of 2020.

For some context, according to the National Banking and Securities Commission (CNBV), there were only 298,000 brokerage accounts in Mexico at the end of 2019, and that number climbed to 940,000 by the end of 2020 — with GBM holding a large share of them.

Most of GBM’s clients are retail clients, but the company also caters to “most of the largest investment managers worldwide,” as well as global companies such as Netflix, Google and BlackRock. Specifically, it services 40% of the largest public corporations in Mexico and a large base of ultra high net worth individuals.

The company is planning to use its new capital in part to invest “heavily” in customer acquisition.

Montero said that half of its team of 450 are tech professionals, and that the company plans to also continue hiring as it focuses on growth in its B2C and B2B offerings and expanding into new verticals.

“We are improving our already robust financial education offering,” he added, “so that Mexicans can take control of their finances. GBM’s mission is to transform Mexico into a country of investors.”

Because Mexico is such a huge market — with a population of over 120 million and a GDP of more than $1 trillion — GBM is laser-focused on growing its presence in the country.

“The financial services industry is dominated by big banks and is inefficient, expensive and provides a poor client experience. This has resulted in less than 1% of individuals having an investment account,” Montero told TechCrunch. “We will be targeting clients through our own platform and internal advisors, as well as growing our base of external advisors to reach as many people as possible with the best investment products and user experience.”

When it comes to institutional clients, he believes there is “enormous potential” in serving both the large corporations and the SMEs “who have received limited services from banks.”

Juan Franck, investment lead for SoftBank Latin America Fund in Mexico, believes the retail investment space in Mexico is at an inflection point.

“The investing culture in Mexico has historically been low compared to the rest of the world, even when specifically compared to other countries in Latin America, like Brazil,” he added. “However, the landscape is quickly changing as, through technology, Mexicans are being provided more education around investing and more investment alternatives.”

In the midst of this shift, SoftBank was impressed by GBM’s “clear vision and playbook,” Franck said.

So, despite being a decades-old company, SoftBank sees big potential in the strength of the digital platform that GBM has built out.

“GBM is the leading broker in Mexico in terms of trading activity and broker accounts,” he said. “The company combines decades of industry know-how with an entrepreneurial drive to revolutionize the wealth management space in the country.”

#apps, #blackrock, #brazil, #broker, #finance, #financial-services, #funding, #fundings-exits, #google, #laser, #latin-america, #mexico, #mexico-city, #money, #netflix, #softbank, #softbank-group, #tc, #ubs, #venture-capital, #vodafone

Homeward secures $371M to help people make all-cash offers on houses

Trying to buy a house in a competitive market is perhaps one of the most stressful things an adult can go through.

Competing with a bunch of people all putting offers on a house that fly off the market in a matter of days is not fun. One startup that is trying to give home buyers a competitive edge by giving them a way to offer all cash on a home has just raised a boatload of money to help it keep growing.

Austin-based Homeward, which aims to help people buy homes faster, announced today it has raised $136 million in a Series B funding round led by Norwest Venture Partners at a valuation “just north of $800 million.” The company has also secured $235 million in debt.

Blackstone, Breyer Capital and existing backers Adams Street, Javelin and LiveOak Venture Partners also participated in the equity financing, which brings Homeward’s total equity raised since inception to $160 million. 

Homeward’s model seems to be appealing to both home buyers (including first time ones) and agents alike, with lots of growth occurring since May 2020 when it raised $105 million in debt and equity. The company declined to reveal hard revenue figures but noted that its GMV (gross merchandise value) run rate is up over 600%+ year over year.

Also, as of March, Homeward says it had experienced a 5x increase in the volume of homes transacted and 9x year over growth in the number of new customers. Plus, It’s hired 161 employees since January alone, and currently has a headcount of 203, up from about 33 at this time last year. 

CEO Tim Heyl founded the real estate startup in late 2018 on the premise that in most cases, sellers prefer to receive all cash offers because they are more likely to close. Loans can fall through, but cash is cash.

Heyl started the company after having worked in the industry for the previous decade, first as a broker then as the owner of a title company. During that time, he saw firsthand many of the problems in the industry. And one conundrum he frequently ran into was people not wanting to make an offer on a home without knowing for sure their current house would sell in a certain amount of time. This is a dilemma many are facing during the COVID-19 pandemic as demand outweighs supply in many major U.S. cities.

“The pandemic has greatly increased demand for our product,” Heyl told TechCrunch. “It’s a historic seller’s market with unprecedented demand from buyers and the lowest inventory levels in decades.”

The company plans to use its new capital to “double down” on its offering, scale up to meet “outsized demand” and open additional markets. Currently, Homeward operates in Texas, Colorado and Georgia.

“Right now, we have a waiting list in every market across the country, so this growth capital will enable us to meet that demand,” Heyl said. Its ultimate goal is to open its offering to agents nationwide.

Homeward also plans to double the size of its title and mortgage teams in the latter half of the year so it can offer its clients and partner agents “a single streamlined experience.” It’s also planning to integrate its consumer and internal software systems for approvals, offers and closing “so everyone can be on a single platform and we can eliminate confusion and waste,” Heyl added.

So, how does it work exactly? Homeward will make an all-cash offer on behalf of a customer wanting to buy a house. Meanwhile, that customer can hire an agent (from brokerages such as Redfin or Keller Williams) to list their home with less pressure to sell it in a certain amount of time or at a discounted price. Once Homeward buys a home, it will lease the property back to its customer until they sell their house, get a mortgage, and can buy the property back from Homeward, plus a 2 percent to 3 percent convenience fee. During the process, Homeward offers a predetermined guaranteed price for its customer’s home with the promise that if it’s unable to sell the house for at least that amount, it’ll buy the house from them.

Heyl believes Homeward’s “alternative iBuyer” model is a better deal for customers since it doesn’t purchase a customer’s old home for below market value. The company also works with agents, and not against them, he said. For example, its offerings are available to any agent, but the company “strategically” partners with top brokerages and teams, providing them with what it describes as “dedicated support, white-label branding, and digital marketing tools to help them stand out from the crowd and attract more clients.”

“Most alternatives to traditional real estate minimize or replace the agent,” Heyl said. “But we are agents ourselves, and we’ve built this for agents.”

Homeward is profitable on a per unit basis if you count transaction revenue minus costs to acquire and complete each transaction, according to Heyl. However, it is not yet profitable on a net income basis.

Jeff Crowe, managing partner at Norwest Venture Partners, will join Homeward’s board as part of the funding.

“Homeward is innovating at the intersection of real estate and fintech — that’s the next frontier,” he said. “Homeward’s cash offer addresses real problems for homebuyers in all market conditions, and the team has identified a winning strategy by partnering with agents and their clients.”

Jim Breyer of Breyer Capital describes Homeward as one of Austin’s most innovative companies.

“We are inspired by the company’s mission to build home finance solutions to overcome the limitations of the traditional mortgage and we are proud to support them as they continue to scale rapidly and efficiently,” he said.

#austin, #blackstone, #breyer-capital, #broker, #ceo, #colorado, #economy, #finance, #funding, #fundings-exits, #georgia, #jeff-crowe, #jim-breyer, #liveoak-venture-partners, #managing-partner, #norwest-venture-partners, #proptech, #real-estate, #real-estate-tech, #recent-funding, #redfin, #startup, #startups, #tc, #texas, #united-states, #venture-capital

Signalling that privacy is coming to DeFi, Sienna Network raises $11.2M for its platform

Last week we saw some major backing of the Secret Network blockchain, as significant blockchain players Arrington Capital and Blocktower Capital invested in the privacy-first smart contract platform. What this is signaling is the rise of privacy-oriented financial blockchain projects, which are crucial if “DeFi” (decentralized finance) is to have any kind of future. We have come to expect privacy in our ’normal’ financial lives, so we will expect it in the blockchain world.

Today there’s a new signal that this privacy movement in DeFi is taking off with the announcement from privacy decentralized finance company Sienna Network that it has raised $11.2 million from institutional investors and its public supporters. Of that raise, the private token sale raised $10 million from investors including NGC, Inclusion Capital, Lotus Capital, FBG, Skyvision Capital and others. It also raised $1.2 million on the DaoMaker and Polkastarter exchanges.

Sienna Network is built on the afore-mentioned Secret Network, and pitches itself as a privacy-first and cross-chain decentralized finance platform allowing asset holders to switch to privacy-oriented tokens.

Sienna is one of an increasing number of blockchain startups tackling the industry-wide problem of ‘front-running’. This – says Sienna – is where bad actors hijack future trades on public DeFi blockchains.

Monty Munford, chief evangelist and core contributor to Sienna Network said: “Sienna helps access to the privacy-preserving blockchain in a user-friendly way due to the blockchain’s inherent privacy design. Sienna saves no login information, no wallet data, no transaction data, or anything else. It does not even track its website or give any information to any Third Party.”

Here’s how a front-running scam works: A transaction on Ethereum can be preempted by someone else simply by them paying a higher transaction fee. It’s the close equivalent in the real world of trumping a trade on the stock market, just because you paid a higher fee to a broker. In other words, it’s a disaster if it continues to happen, and the entire infrastructure of decentralized finance is threatened because of this threat.

Commenting, Tor Bair, CEO Secret Network said: “We believe Sienna will be a key pillar of Secret DeFi and help drive mass adoption of a more secure decentralized financial ecosystem.”

#arrington-capital, #articles, #blockchain, #broker, #ceo, #cryptocurrencies, #decentralized-finance, #distributed-computing, #ethereum, #europe, #finance, #smart-contract, #tc, #the-dao, #uniswap

Trading platform eToro to go public via SPAC merger in $10B deal

Multi-asset investing and trading platform and Robinhood competitor eToro announced Tuesday it will go public via a merger with SPAC FinTech Acquisition Corp. V in a massive $10.4 billion deal.

Once the transaction closes sometime in the third quarter, the combined company will operate as eToro Group Ltd. and is expected to be listed on the Nasdaq exchange.

The 14-year-old Israeli company was founded on a “vision of opening up capital markets.” It launched its platform in the U.S. just over two years ago and has seen rapid growth as of late. Last year, eToro said it added over 5 million new registered users and generated gross revenues of $605 million, representing 147% year over year growth. In January alone, the company added over 1.2 million new registered users and executed more than 75 million trades on its platform. That compares to 2019 when monthly registrations averaged 192,000 and 2020, when they grew to 440,000.

eToro said its platform is capitalizing on a number of secular trends such as the rise of digital wealth platforms, growing retail participation and mainstream crypto adoption. The company no doubt benefitted from the recent rise in retail investment interest, and in consumer investment apps and services specifically, which resulted from the so-called ‘meme stock’ activity that began with Redditors trading GameStop stock in order to frustrate institutional short-sellers.

The platform, which spans “social” stock trading and cryptocurrency exchange, in November 2019 acquired Delta, the crypto portfolio tracker app. eToro claims to be one of the first regulated platforms to offer cryptoassets. Its platform is regulated in the U.K., Europe, Australia, the U.S. and Gibraltar.

The transaction includes commitments for a $650 million common share private placement from leading investors including ION Investment Group, SoftBank Vision Fund 2, Third Point LLC, Fidelity Management & Research Company LLC and Wellington Management. The overall $10.4 billion implied equity value of the merger arrangement includes an implied enterprise value for eToro of $9.6 billion.

eToro currently has over 20 million registered users across 100 countries, and its social community is rapidly expanding due to the growth of its total addressable market, supported in part by secular trends such as the growth of digital wealth platforms and the rise in retail participation.

It expects to receivedapproval from FINRA for a broker dealer license, with plans to launch stocks in the U.S. in the second half of 2021. In a written statement, FinTech V chairman Betsy Cohen said that its sponsor platform Fintech Masala seeks out companies “with outsized growth, effective controls and excellent management teams.”

“eToro meets all three of these criteria,” she added. “In the last few years, eToro has solidified its position as the leading online social trading platform outside the U.S., outlined its plans for the U.S. market, and diversified its income streams. It is now at an inflection point of growth, and we believe eToro is exceptionally positioned to capitalize on this opportunity.”

#australia, #betsy-cohen, #broker, #cryptocurrency, #cryptocurrency-exchange, #etoro, #europe, #finance, #financial-services, #financial-technology, #finra, #fintech, #gamestop, #ing-group, #money, #robinhood, #softbank, #softbank-vision-fund, #spac, #tc, #third-point-llc, #united-kingdom, #united-states, #wellington-management

Crypto-currency pioneer Diana Biggs joins digital assets startup Valour as its new CEO

Crypto-currency pioneer and early Bitcoin thought-leader Diana Biggs has joined Swiss-based startup Valour, which lets investors easily buy digital assets through their bank or broker. The move is significant with the news that Tesla has bought $1.5 billion worth of Bitcoin, thus massively boosting the mainstream markets for crypto assets. Biggs explored the potential for blockchain technology to help solve humanitarian challenges through her venture, Proof of Purpose, in 2017, and her TEDx speech on Blockchain Technology that year is considered by many in the blockchain space to be one of the best in the genre.

Valour, a Zug, Switzerland-based issuer of investment products, brought in Biggs, the former Private Banking Global Head of Innovation for HSBC, as CEO after recently launching Bitcoin Zero, a fee-free, digital asset ETP product, which trades on the NGM stock exchange.

Biggs, who has been in the Bitcoin space since 2013 told TechCrunch: “I have never seen this much attention to Bitcoin and other crypto-assets… The time for decentralized technologies has arrived, and their potential is increasingly realized by institutional investors.”

Johan Wattenström, the founder of Valour, said: “Diana is the perfect candidate to lead the company through this next phase of growth and expansion. With a wealth of experience in traditional finance, as well as fintech, and her vision for bringing digital assets into the mainstream, we feel very lucky to have her on board.” Wattenström created and listed the digital asset ETP on Nasdaq Nordic, in 2015.

Biggs is an Associate Fellow at the University of Oxford’s Saïd Business School and served as Head Tutor for their Blockchain Strategy Programme from 2018 to 2020. She is on the Board of the World Economic Forum’s Digital Leaders of Europe community and is a member of the Milken Institute’s Young Leaders Circle. Prior to joining Valour, Biggs was Global Head of Innovation for HSBC Private Banking, where she led on fintech partnerships and driving open innovation.

#bank, #bitcoin, #broker, #ceo, #cryptocurrencies, #cryptography, #currency, #digital-currencies, #europe, #finance, #founder, #switzerland, #tc, #tesla, #world-economic-forum, #zug

Location broker X-Mode continues to track users despite app store bans

Hundreds of Android apps, far more than previously disclosed, have sent granular user location data to X-Mode, a data broker known to sell location data to U.S. military contractors.

The apps include messaging apps, a free video and file converter, several dating sites, and religion and prayer apps — each accounting for tens of millions of downloads to date, according to new research.

Sean O’Brien, principal researcher at ExpressVPN Digital Security Lab, and Esther Onfroy, co-founder of the Defensive Lab Agency, found close to 200 Android apps that at some point over the past year contained X-Mode tracking code.

Some of the apps were still sending location data to X-Mode as recently as December when Apple and Google told developers to remove X-Mode from their apps or face a ban from the app stores.

But weeks after the ban took effect, one popular U.S. transit map app that had been installed hundreds of thousands of times was still downloadable from Google Play even though it was still sending location data to X-Mode.

The new research, now published, is believed to be the broadest review to date of apps that collaborate with X-Mode, one of dozens of companies in a multibillion-dollar industry that buys and sells access to the location data collected from ordinary phone apps, often for the purposes of serving targeted advertising.

But X-Mode has faced greater scrutiny for its connections to government work, amid fresh reports that U.S. intelligence bought access to commercial location data to search for Americans’ past movements without first obtaining a warrant.

X-Mode pays app developers to include its tracking code, known as a software development kit, or SDK, in exchange for collecting and handing over the user’s location data. Users opt-in to this tracking by accepting the app’s terms of use and privacy policies. But not all apps that use X-Mode disclose to their users that their location data may end up with the data broker or is sold to military contractors.

X-Mode’s ties to military contractors (and by extension the U.S. military) was first disclosed by Motherboard, which first reported that a popular prayer app with more than 98 million downloads worldwide sent granular movement data to X-Mode.

In November, Motherboard found that another previously unreported Muslim prayer app called Qibla Compass sent data to X-Mode. O’Brien’s findings corroborate that and also point to several more Muslim-focused apps as containing X-Mode. By conducting network traffic analysis, Motherboard verified that at least three of those apps did at some point send location data to X-Mode, although none of the versions currently on Google Play do so. You can read Motherboard’s full story here.

X-Mode’s chief executive Josh Anton told CNN last year that the data broker tracks 25 million devices in the U.S., and told Motherboard its SDK had been used in about 400 apps.

In a statement to TechCrunch, Anton said:

“The ban on X-Mode’s SDK has broader ecosystem implications considering X-Mode collected similar mobile app data as most advertising SDKs. Apple and Google have set the precedent that they can determine private enterprises’ ability to collect and use mobile app data even when a majority of our publishers had secondary consent for the collection and use of location data.

We’ve recently sent a letter to Apple and Google to understand how we can best resolve this issue together so that we can both continue to use location data to save lives and continue to power the tech communities’ ability to build location-based products. We believe it’s important to ensure that Apple and Google hold X-Mode to the same standard they hold upon themselves when it comes to the collection and use of location data.”

The researchers also published new endpoints that apps using X-Mode’s SDK are known to communicate with, which O’Brien said he hoped would help others discover which apps are sending — or have historically sent — users’ location data to X-Mode.

“We hope consumers can identify if they’re the target of one of these location trackers and, more importantly, demand that this spying end. We want researchers to build off of our findings in the public interest, helping to shine light on these threats to privacy, security, and rights,” said O’Brien.

TechCrunch analyzed the network traffic on about two-dozen of the most downloaded Android apps in the researchers’ findings to look for apps that were communicating with any of the known X-Mode endpoints, and confirmed that several of the apps were at some point sending location data to X-Mode.

We also used the endpoints identified by the researchers to look for other popular apps that may have communicated with X-Mode.

At least one app identified by TechCrunch slipped through Google’s app store ban.

New York Subway in Google Play., until it was removed by Google. (Image: TechCrunch)

New York Subway, a popular app for navigating the New York City subway system that has been downloaded 250,000 times, according to data provided by Sensor Tower, was still listed in Google Play as of this week. But the app, which had not been updated since the app store bans were implemented, was still sending location data to X-Mode.

As soon as the app loads, a splash screen immediately asks for the user’s consent to send data to X-Mode for ads, analytics and market research, but the app did not mention X-Mode’s government work.

Desoline, the Israel-based app maker, did not respond to multiple requests for comment, but removed references to X-Mode from its privacy policy a short while after we reached out. At the time of writing, the app has not returned to Google Play.

A Google spokesperson confirmed the company removed the app from Google Play.

Using the researchers’ list of apps, TechCrunch also found that previous versions of two highly popular apps, Moco and Video MP3 Converter, which account for more than 115 million downloads to date, are still sending user location data to X-Mode. That poses a privacy risk to users who install Android apps from outside Google Play, and those who are running older apps that are still sending data to X-Mode.

Neither app maker responded to a request for comment. Google would not say if it had removed any other apps for similar violations or what measures it would take, if any, to protect users running older app versions that are still sending location data to X-Mode.

None of the corresponding and namesake apps for Apple’s iOS that we tested appeared to communicate with X-Mode’s endpoints. When reached, Apple declined to say if it had blocked any apps after its ban went into effect.

Read more on TechCrunch

“The sensors in smartphones provide rich data that can be exploited to limit our movements, our free expression, and our autonomy,” said O’Brien. “Location spying poses a serious threat to human rights because it peers into the most sensitive aspects of our lives and who we associate with.”

The newly published research is likely to bring fresh scrutiny to how ordinary smartphone apps are harvesting and selling vast amounts of personal data on millions of Americans, often without the user’s explicit consent.

Several federal agencies, including the Internal Revenue Service and Homeland Security, are under investigation by government watchdogs for buying and using location data from various data brokers without first obtaining a warrant. Last week it emerged that intelligence analysts at the Defense Intelligence Agency buy access to commercial databases of Americans’ location data.

Critics say the government is exploiting a loophole in a 2018 Supreme Court ruling, which stopped law enforcement from obtaining cell phone location data directly from the cell carriers without a warrant.

Now the government says it doesn’t believe it needs a warrant for what it can buy directly from brokers.

Sen. Ron Wyden, a vocal privacy critic whose office has been investigating the data broker industry, previously drafted legislation that would grant the Federal Trade Commission new powers to regulate and fine data brokers.

“Americans are sick of learning that their location data is being sold by data brokers to anyone with a credit card. Industry self-regulation clearly isn’t working — Congress needs to pass tough legislation, like my Mind Your Own Business Act, to give consumers effective tools to prevent their data being sold and to give the FTC the power to hold companies accountable when they violate Americans’ privacy,” said Wyden.


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#apps, #broker, #government, #law-enforcement, #location-data, #mobile-app, #new-york-city, #policy, #privacy, #security, #smartphone

The Shed is a startup out of Virginia trying to revive the rental-for-everything business

Reducing consumption by expanding the notion of the rental economy and giving people access to tools and equipment has been something of a startup holy grail for some time.

It’s a model that’s worked famously well for fashion and accessories (just ask investors in Rent the Runway), but has had not had the same resonance for white label goods.

The Shed, out of Richmond, Va., hopes to change that.

Launched by Karen Rodgers O’Neil, a longtime marketing executive, and Daniel Perrone, a serial entrepreneur and technology executive whose previous company, BroadMap, was acquired by Apple; The Shed hopes to take the rental model that Home Depot has turned into a billion dollar business line and take it to the masses.

Unlike Home Depot, The Shed touts its presence in eight categories. Stanley Black & Decker is a marquee early partner and the company’s executives said that others have come on board.

“We don’t buy product,” said Perrone. “We take delivery of all the products and rent them out in the local marketplaces where we do business.”

The only thing the manufacturer provides is the products and some servicing starter kit so that The Shed and its employees can manage and maintain the product.

The Shed founders Karen Rodgers O’Neil and Daniel Perrone. Image Credit: The Shed

Since its launch in April the company has expanded beyond its Richmond, Va. home base to Denver — and will be looking to expand further into Portland, Austin, and San Jose, according to Perrone.

Among the features that the company intends to roll out as it expands is a dynamic pricing capability that will enable manufacturers to wring the most out of their goods when they’re in high demand.

Rodgers O’Neil came up with the concept back in 2012 when she was working as a marketing executive for General Electric out of Boston.  Perrone met Rodgers O’Neil at a networking event in Boston and became convinced that her notion of offering more rental options to encourage a more circular economy and reduce consumption was something that could resonate with consumers.

To be sure, The Shed isn’t the first company to attempt to bring the rental business to a broader array of consumer products in an effort to cut down on consumption. The Los Angeles-based startup Joymode was attempting to do much the same thing. That company sold to an early stage investment firm out of New York.

Joymode’s chief executive, Joe Fernandez spoke about the difficulty of running the business. “Part of the thesis was that by making things available for rental, people would want to do more stuff,” said Fernandez, but what happened was that consumers needed additional reasons to use the company’s service, and there weren’t enough events to drive demand.

By contrast, The Shed isn’t owning any of the inventory, just acting as a broker and managing inventory between local retailers and manufacturers who want to take advantage of the company’s service.

In addition to Stanley Black & Decker, companies like Primus camping equipment have placed their products on The Shed along with Mobility Plus, which added wheelchairs and mobility scooters; and Replacements, the largest china dealer in the country, which is offering a “Party in a Box” for dinner, cocktail or tea parties.

To date, the company has raised $1.75 million from investors and entrepreneurs from the Richmond, Va. area. Now, with 60 manufacturers on board and another 15 to 18 vendors signing up monthly, the company is looking to expand even further.

“I joined with Karen because I saw that this would be a game changer in the rental space,” said Perrone. There are a number of retailers in specific verticals that still don’t transact online, so The Shed becomes their avenue to reach the market, he said.

#apple, #articles, #austin, #boston, #brand, #broadmap, #broker, #business, #consumer-products, #denver, #general-electric, #graphic-design, #home-depot, #joe-fernandez, #joymode, #los-angeles, #marketing, #new-york, #portland, #product-management, #richmond, #san-jose, #tc, #virginia

Digital mortgage company Habito completes £35M Series C

Habito, the London startup that has spent the last few years moving the mortgage process online, including offering its own mortgages beyond acting as a broker, has completed £35 million in Series C funding.

The newly disclosed round — comprising an earlier Series C equity raise and a more recent Series C extension in the form of a convertible loan note, was led by new investors Augmentum Fintech, SBI Group and mojo.capital, with participation from various existing investors including Ribbit Capital, Atomico and Mosaic Ventures.

The convertible loan was also matched by the U.K. taxpayer-funded Future Fund, set up by the government to help mitigate the coronavirus crisis’ affect on the country’s venture-backed startup ecosystem. It brings the total raised by Habito to just over £63 million since launching in 2016.

In a call, Habito founder Daniel Hegarty that the new investment will be used by the company to continue digitising aspects of home financing and buying which still remain a pain-point for homebuyers and sellers.

The fintech/proptech started out by offering a digital mortgage brokerage, promising to help you secure a new mortgage and monitor the competitiveness of your existing mortgage. The idea was to make applying for or switching mortgages as frictionless as possible.

In July 2019, Habito announced that it would begin direct lending via its own range of mortgages. Starting with ‘buy to let’ mortgages, the move saw the company expand beyond brokerage after it received regulatory approval to become a mortgage lender. By doing so, the aim was to cut the timeframe from mortgage application to offer in half, enabled in part by Habito’s integration with the conveyancing process to add more transparency for the homebuyer, while the number of documents needed was also significantly reduced.

In January this year, Habito launched “Habito Plus,” something getting closer to an end-to-end homebuying service. It brings together a buyer’s mortgage application, conveyancing needs and surveys “under one roof” — which feels less vitamin pill and more actual painkiller for anyone who has ever experienced having to deal with and coordinate all of the various stakeholders and parties involved in buying or selling a property.

Most recently, Habito launched its broker portal, providing more than 3,000 external brokers access to its own buy-to-let mortgage products and “Instant Decision” technology capabilities. Hegarty tells me the company intends to develop a suite of “innovative” residential mortgage products for all types of homeowners, not just ‘buy to let’.

Notably, Habito recently become a “B Corp” certified company, meaning it has made a legal commitment to put “people and planet on the same level as profit”. Resembling somewhat of a movement, there are more than 3,000 accredited B Corp companies globally, including Ben & Jerry’s, Patagonia, and WeTransfer.

#atomico, #b-corp, #broker, #finance, #habito, #london, #mosaic-ventures, #ribbit-capital, #tc

Magnetis raises $11 million for its automated wealth management and brokerage service for Brazil

Magnetis, an automated wealth management solution for Brazilian investors, has raised $11 million in a new round of funding as it transforms itself into a full service brokerage for the nation’s investor class.

Investors in the round included Redpoint eventures and Vostok Emerging Finance, the company said.

“We’re quite happy with this vote of confidence from our investors. It only reinforces the credibility of our service and business model, which uses technology for goal-based investment management, without creating a conflict of interest,” said Luciano Tavares, founder and CEO of Magnetis. “The new funding will be used to launch our own brokerage and to develop new functionalities that improve customer experience and provide a complete and curated journey through goal-based investments.”

First launched five years ago, the company has set up 350,000 investment plans and has more than 430 million reals under management, according to a statement from the company.

The company said it planned to hit more than 1 billion reals by the end of 2021.

“Today, the Brazilian market is more sophisticated, with a sharp drop in a dependence on fixed income and a rise in more financial assets, including funds, shares, commodities and fixed-income securities. Defining a personal investment portfolio is a science, not a game or lottery,” said Anderson Thees, founder and managing partner of Redpoint eventures, in a statement. “Magnetis’ great differentiator is its ability to set up a personalized investment plan, with first-rate assets and its use of AI to manage all the variables in a sophisticated way. Magnetis is well-positioned for accelerated growth and our team at Redpoint is excited about guiding them during this new phase of our partnership as the fintech sector continues to boom in Brazil and beyond.”

Fintech in Latin America is a booming investment category, with companies like Nubank skyrocketing to multi-billion dollar valuations, and accounting for 22 percent of all Latin American fintech startups.

As the company closes on the new financing, it’s also launching a brokerage, which will enable the company to do more for its customers, according to Tavares. It may also allow the company to keep more money for itself since it doesn’t have to work with outside parties to execute trades.

“Our model for digital assets management and wealth creation is much more complete and sophisticated. The vision is to be a financial guide for our clients; making their investment experience simpler,” Tavares said in a statement. “A total integration with the broker makes the client’s journey simpler, more consolidated and complete.”

Tavares and Magnetis is also making a commitment to transparency around fees.

“We do not receive commissions on the products we recommend to customers,” said Tavares, in a statement. “The asset selection process is done in a transparent and automated way, and customers pay us an annual consulting fee based only on the amount they invest, and not according to the recommended investments. The end result is the selection of high quality products that are more aligned with the clients’ objectives.”

#artificial-intelligence, #brazil, #broker, #ceo, #economy, #finance, #financial-technology, #latin-america, #managing-partner, #money, #nubank, #redpoint, #tc, #wealth-management

Hackers release a new jailbreak that unlocks every iPhone

A renowned iPhone hacking team has released a new “jailbreak” tool that unlocks every iPhone, even the most recent models running the latest iOS 13.5.

For as long as Apple has kept up its “walled garden” approach to iPhones by only allowing apps and customizations that it approves, hackers have tried to break free from what they call the “jail,” hence the name “jailbreak.” Hackers do this by finding a previously undisclosed vulnerability in iOS that break through some of the many restrictions that Apple puts in place to prevent access to the underlying software. Apple says it does this for security. But jailbreakers say breaking through those restrictions allows them to customize their iPhones more than they would otherwise, in a way that most Android users are already accustomed to.

The jailbreak, released by the unc0ver team, supports all iPhones that run iOS 11 and above, including up to iOS 13.5, which Apple released this week.

Details of the vulnerability that the hackers used to build the jailbreak aren’t known, but it’s not expected to last forever. Just as jailbreakers work to find a way in, Apple works fast to patch the flaws and close the jailbreak.

Security experts typically advise iPhone users against jailbreaking, because breaking out of the “walled garden” vastly increases the surface area for new vulnerabilities to exist and to be found.

The jailbreak comes at a time where the shine is wearing off of Apple’s typically strong security image. Last week, Zerodium, a broker for exploits, said it would no longer buy certain iPhone vulnerabilities because there were too many of them. Motherboard reported this week that hackers got their hands on a pre-release version of the upcoming iOS 14 release several months ago.

#apple, #apple-inc, #broker, #iphone, #jailbreak, #mobile-phones, #operating-systems, #security, #smartphones

Austin’s Homeward raises $105 million to buy your new home for you

Austin-based company Homeward was founded by a former real estate agent with a deceptively simple premise.

Homeward, which has just raised $20 million in equity funding from Adams Street Partners and another $85 million in debt from undisclosed lenders, pitches a plan where the company will loan money to would-be homebuyers equal to the amount of their home equity so these buyers can make an all-cash offer to purchase their next home. The company also makes a “floor-price” guarantee on the existing home if the owners aren’t able to sell the property for full market value.

That offer has attracted the attention of venture investors like Adams Street Partners, Javelin Venture Partners and LiveOak Venture Partners, which have invested $20 million in equity into the new startup, the company said. Homeward also said it has received another $85 million in debt financing from undisclosed lenders.

For the buyers who who use Homeward’s all-cash offer, there’s the promise of an average discount between 2 percent and 5 percent, which at least makes up for the 2 percent-to-3 percent convenience fee that the company charges for its services. Homeward also makes money off of the rent it charges to homeowners on their new home before they’re able to close a deal on the old one.

“Most of our customers are seeing discounts that exceed the cost of their fee that gets tacked back on the home,” said Homeward chief executive and founder, Tim Heyl. “Depending on the services that they use for homeward they will see discounts that would drive down the fees that they would have otherwise paid.” 

Homeward compares its services to institutional buyers, who can charge up to 9 percent of the home sale price and may force homebuyers to work with an exclusive agent provided by the institution.

The benefit, the company says, is that would-be home buyers (through Homeward) can make an all cash pitch to sellers which often results in a discount on the asking price — and the new owners can move in faster — all while having someone else manage the process of selling their old home.

“We are focused on building the future real estate agent and putting the client relationship at the center of that experience,” said Heyl

A former broker himself, Heyl said that the company’s willingness to work with real estate brokers rather than replace them was another significant differentiator for the company.

“Homeward is focused very specifically on helping the real estate agent deliver a home buying experience… homeowner wants to move but they don’t want to list their house til they know where they’re going,” said Heyl. “The real estate agent will refer the customer to Homeward… we gather that data and run it through our models and we approve or deny the customers.”

With the new cash, Homeward is looking to expand in the existing markets it’s working in: Colorado, Georgia and Texas, with an eye toward national expansion down the line.

To date, Homeward has raised $24 million in equity and $106 million in debt.

“We’re being very selective at the moment, but Homeward stood out.” said Jeffrey Diehl, a managing partner at Adams Street Partners, in a statement. “The company’s growth is impressive, the leaders have deep industry experience, and their traction with agent partners has been much better than expected.”

By working with real estate agents instead of trying to circumvent them, Homeward has a built in sales channel for its services. Roughly 43 percent of home buyers have an existing home to sell before they buy their next house, according to data from Zillow cited by the company. The need to sell a home before buying the next one slows down the process and hits the bottom line of real estate agencies that depend on turnover.

Homeward works with agents to register clients for Homeward’s service so they can be approved for a loan by the company.

“Working with Homeward, my clients got approved and made a winning offer within days.” said Grant Rothberg, a top real-estate agent in Houston, in a statement provided by the company. “They were able to move into their new home first, then take their time to sell their old home, ultimately earning them $40,000 more than low-ball ibuyer offers.”

#adams-street-partners, #austin, #broker, #colorado, #georgia, #houston, #javelin-venture-partners, #liveoak-venture-partners, #managing-partner, #tc, #texas

KlearNow raises $16 million to bring customs clearance industry into the digital age

Customs is the sieve of international supply chains. And yet despite its critical role, clearing customs for freight brokers can be a slow and opaque process reliant on manual data entry and prone to errors.

Silicon Valley-based KlearNow has developed a platform that aims to bring customs clearance into the digital age. Now, with $16 million new funding, KlearNow aims to expand its geographic reach and to improve its product to cover increasingly complex export-import verticals and time-sensitive shipments.

The company has certification to handle any import into the U.S., no matter what the commodity is. KlearNow is close to getting certified in Canada and UK, and plans to expand to Netherlands, Belgium, Spain and Germany. KlearNow has about two dozen customers.

The Series A funding round was led by GreatPoint Ventures with additional participation from Autotech Ventures, Argean Capital and Monta Vista Capital . Ashok Krishnamurthi, managing partner at GreatPoint Ventures, will join KlearNow’s board. Daniel Hoffer from Autotech Ventures joining as a board observer.

“This is a significant opportunity to transform an archaic industry that is key to global commerce,” Krishnamurthi said in a statement.

The freight ecosystem is filled with different players from the factories and port authorities to the ship liners and the last-mile delivery companies. Each of them have their own systems.

“There’s no one system that you can transmit the data to,” KlearNow founder and CEO Sam Tyagi said in a recent interview. “So everybody dumps technology down to a PDF or a PNG or some sort of format that everybody can read. The broker gets those documents, and then they print it out — so now they become non-digital.”

If you go to any customs brokers office they look like the old doctor’s office where all those folders are there with nicely arranged, really organized but very manual process,” he added. From here, Tyagi said, a broker will read off from those printed out documents and type the information into another system that is communicated to Customs and Border Patrol’s system.

“It is very manual, it’s very small, and they work in a siloed system,” Tyagi said. “There is no visibility for the customer, or the importer and it’s very costly because of the manual intervention.”

KlearNow developed a digital customs clearance platform that aims to be agnostic. This allows importers, customs brokers and freight forwarders to integrate with local customs authorities and conduct business on a single digital platform remotely and in real time. The platform automates this process to eliminate errors and reduces the time to clear customs. KlearNow says it can slash customs clearance times from hours to minutes.

The startup is also betting that its platform will find new customers in this remote work era that was caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Custom brokers, who might normally travel into central offices and manage physical paperwork, are now faced with completing that task from home.

“Remote work is impossible for these people,” because they often need to access large format printers, Tyagi said. 

The company said its digital platform can funnel new clients, like these newly remote workers, directly to brokers for global customs clearance.

Tyagi said the company has also added new capabilities in response to COVId-19, such as expediting their FDA module to clear much-needed medical supplies and is temporarily offering free clearance for non-profit organizations that are importing masks, hand sanitizers, and ventilators.

#autotech-ventures, #belgium, #broker, #canada, #ceo, #customs, #economy, #fda, #germany, #greatpoint-ventures, #logistics, #monta-vista-capital, #netherlands, #silicon-valley, #spain, #tc, #transportation, #united-kingdom, #united-states