Will Justin Trudeau remain the prime minister? A month ago, it might have looked like a sure thing.
A snap election that was supposed to be a show of strength has instead allowed opponents to highlight the prime minister’s weak points.
A long-struggling political faction has seen surprising gains this year, in part because of changes wrought by the pandemic. Can it hold on to them?
Twitter’s creator platform Super Follows is off to an inauspicious start, having contributed to somewhere around $6,000 in U.S. iOS revenue in the first two weeks the feature has been live, according to app intelligence data provided by Sensor Tower. And it’s made only around $600 or so in Canada. A small portion of that revenue may be attributed to Ticketed Spaces, Twitter’s other in-app purchase offered in the U.S. — but there’s no way for this portion to be calculated by an outside firm.
Twitter first announced its plans to launch Super Follows during its Analyst Day event in February, where the company detailed many of its upcoming initiatives to generate new revenue streams.
Today, Twitter’s business is highly dependant on advertising, and Super Follows is one of the few ways it’s aiming to diversify. The company is also now offering a way for creators to charge for access to their live events with Ticketed Spaces and, outside the U.S., Twitter has begun testing a premium product for power users called Twitter Blue.
But Super Follows, which targets creators, is the effort with the most potential appeal to mainstream users.
It’s also one that is working to capitalize on the growing creator economy, where content creators build a following, then generate revenue directly through subscriptions — decreasing their own dependence on ads or brand deals, as a result. The platforms they use for this business skim a little off the top to help them fund the development of the creator tools. (In Twitter’s case, it’s taking only a 3% cut.)
The feature would seem to make sense for Twitter, a platform that already allows high-profile figures and regular folks to hobnob in the same timeline and have conversations. Super Follows ups that access by letting fans get even closer to their favorite creators — whether those are musicians, artists, comedians, influencers, writers, gamers, or other experts, for example. These creators can set a monthly subscription price of $2.99, $4.99, or $9.99 to provide fans with access to bonus, “behind-the-scenes” content of their choosing. These generally come in the form of extra tweets, Q&As, other interactions with subscribers.
At launch, Twitter opened up Super Follows to a handful of creators, including the beauty and skincare-focused account @MakeupforWOC; astrology account @TarotByBronx; sports-focused @KingJosiah54; writer @myeshachou; internet personality and podcaster @MichaelaOkla; spiritual healer @kemimarie; music charts tweeter @chartdata; Twitch streamers @FaZeMew, @VelvetIsCake, @MackWood1, @GabeJRuiz, and @Saulsrevenge; YouTubers @DoubleH_YT, @LxckTV, and @PowerGotNow; and crypto traders @itsALLrisky and @moon_shine15; among others. Twitter says there are fewer than 100 creators in total who have access to Super Follows.
While access on the creation side is limited, the ability to subscribe to creators is not. Any Twitter iOS user in the U.S. or Canada can “Super Follow” any number of the supported creator accounts. In the U.S., Twitter has 169 million average monetizable daily active users as of Q2 2021. Of course, only some subset of those will be iOS users.
Still, Twitter could easily count millions upon millions of “potential” customers for its Super Follow platform at launch. Its current revenue indicates that, possibly, only thousands of consumers have done so, given many of the top in-app purchases are for creators offering content at lower price points.
Sensor Tower notes the $6,000 in U.S. consumer spending on iOS was calculated during the first two weeks of September (Sept. 1-14). Before this period, U.S. iOS users spent only $100 from August 25 through 31 — a figure that would indicate user spending on Ticketed Spaces during that time. In other words, the contribution of Tickets Spaces revenue to this total of $6,000 in iOS consumer spending is likely quite small.
In Canada, the other market where Super Follow is now available to subscribers, Twitter’s iOS in-app purchase revenue from September 1 through September 14 was a negligible $600. (This would also include Twitter Blue subscription revenue, which is being tested in Canada and Australia.)
Worldwide, Twitter users on iOS spent $9,000 during that same time, which would include other Ticketed Spaces revenues and tests of its premium service, Twitter Blue. (Twitter’s Tip Jar, a way to pay creators directly, does not work through in-app purchases).
Unlike other Twitter products that developed by watching what users were already doing anyway — like using hashtags or retweeting content — many of Twitter’s newer features are attempts at redefining the use cases for its platform. In a massive rush of product pushes, Twitter has recently launched tools for not just for creators, but also for e-commerce, organizing reading materials, subscribing to newsletters, socializing in communities, chatting through audio, fact-checking content, keeping up with trends, conversing more privately, and more.
Twitter’s position on the slower start to Super Follows is that it’s still too early to make any determinations. While that’s fair, it’s also worth tracking adoption to see if the new product had seen any rapid, of-the-gate traction.
“This is just the start for Super Follows,” a Twitter spokesperson said, reached for comment about Sensor Tower’s figures. “Our main goal is focused on ensuring creators are set up for success and so we’re working closely with a small group of creators in this first iteration to ensure they have the best experience using Super Follows before we roll out more widely.”
The spokesperson also noted Twitter Super Follows had been set up to help creators make more money as it scales.
“With Super Follows, people are eligible to earn up to 97% of revenue after in-app purchase fees until they make $50,000 in lifetime earnings. After $50,000 in lifetime earnings, they can earn up to 80% of revenue after in-app purchase fees,” they said.
Erin O’Toole, the Conservative Party leader, has brought his party into a statistical tie in polls with the Liberals.
The ability to offer stock options is utterly essential to startups. They convince talented people to join when the startup is unlikely to be capable of matching the high salaries that larger, established tech firms can offer.
However, it’s a complex business developing a competitive stock option plan. Luckily, London-based VC Index Ventures today launches both a handy web app to calculate all this, plus new research into how startups are compensating their key hires across Europe and the US.
OptionPlan Seed, is a web-app for seed-stage founders designing ESOPs (Employee Stock Ownership Plans). The web app is based on Index’s analysis of seed-stage option grants, drawing on data from over 1,000 startups.
The web app covers a variety of roles; 6 different levels of allocation benchmarks; calculates potential financial upside for each team member (including tax); and adjusts according to policy frameworks in the US, Canada, Israel, Australia, and 20 European countries.
It also builds on the OptionPlan for Series A companies that Index launched a few years ago.
As part of its research for the new tool, Index said it found that almost all seed-stage employees receive stock options. However, while this reaches 97% of technical hires at seed-stage startups and 80% of junior non-technical hires for startups in the US, in Europe only 75% of technical hires receive options, dropping to 60% for junior non-technical hires.
That said, Index found stock option grant sizes are increasing, particularly among startups “with a lot of technical DNA, and weighted towards the Bay Area”. In less tech-heavy sectors such as e-commerce or content, grant sizes have not shifted much. Meanwhile, grants are still larger overall as seed valuations have grown in the last few years.
Index found the ESOP size is increasing at seed stage, following a faster rate of hiring, and larger grants per employee. Index recommends an ESOP size at seed stage is set at 12.5% or 15%, rather than the more traditional 10% in order to retain and attract staff.
The research also found seed fundraise sizes and valuations have doubled, while valuations have risen by 2.5x, in Europe and the US.
Additionally, salaries at seed have “risen dramatically” with average salaries rising in excess of 60%. Senior tech roles at seed-stage startups in the US now earn an average $185,000 salary, a 68% increase over 3 years, and can rise to over $220,000. But in Europe, the biggest salary increases have been for junior roles, both technical and non-technical.
That said, Index found that “Europe’s technical talent continues to have a compensation gap” with seed-stage technical employees in Europe still being paid 40-50% less on average than their US counterparts. Indeed, Index found this gap had actually widened since 2018, “despite a narrowing of the gap for non-technical roles”.
Index also found variations in salaries across Europe are “much wider than the US”, reflecting high-cost hubs like London, versus lower-cost cities like Bucharest or Warsaw.
The war for talent is now global, with the compensation gap for technical hires narrowing to 20-25% compared to the US.
Index’s conclusion is that “ambitious seed founders in Europe should raise the bar in terms of who they hire, particularly in technical roles” as well as aiming for more experienced and higher-caliber candidates, larger fundraises to be competitive on salaries.
When people talk about “online food delivery” services, chances are that they’ll think of the Uber Eats, Instacarts and Getirs of this world. But today a startup that’s tackling a different aspect of the market — addressing the supply chain that subsequently turns the wheels of the bigger food distribution machine — is announcing a big round of funding as it continues to grow.
GrubMarket, which provides software and services that help link up and manage relationships between food suppliers and their customers — which can include wholesalers and other distributors, markets and supermarkets, delivery startups, restaurants, and consumers — has picked up $120 million in a Series E round of funding.
The funding is coming from a wide mix of investors. Liberty Street Funds, Walleye Capital, Japan Post Capital, Joseph Stone Capital, Pegasus Tech Ventures, Tech Pioneers Fund are among the new backers, who are being joined by existing investors Celtic House Asia Partners, INP Capital, Reimagined Ventures, Moringa Capital Management, and others, along with other unnamed participants
Mike Xu, GrubMarket’s founder and CEO (pictured, above), tells me that the company is currently profitable in a big way. It’s now at a $1 billion annualized run-rate, having grown revenues 300% over last year, with some markets like New York growing even more (it went from less than $10 million ARR to $100 million+).
With operations currently in Arizona, California, Connecticut, Georgia, Michigan, New York, New Jersey, Missouri, Massachusetts, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Texas, and Washington, and some 40 warehouses nationwide. GrubMarket had a pre-money valuation of over $1 billion, and now it will be looking to grow even more, both in terms of territory and in terms of tech, moving ahead in a market that is largely absent from competitors.
“We are still the first mover in this space,” Xu said when I asked him in an interview about rivals. “No one else is doing consolidation on the supply chain side as we are. We are trying to consolidate the American food supply chain through software technologies, while also trying to find the best solutions in this space.”
(And for some context, the $1 billion+ valuation is more than double GrubMarket’s valuation in October 2020, when it raised $60 million at a $500 million post-money valuation.)
Longer term, the plan will be to look at an IPO provisionally filing the paperwork by summer 2022, Xu added.
GrubMarket got its start several years ago as one of many companies looking to provide a more efficient farm-to-table service. Tapping into a growing consumer interest in higher quality, and more traceable food, it saw an opportunity to build a platform to link up producers to the consumers, restaurants and grocery stores that were buying their products. (Grocery stores, incidentally, might be independent operations, or something much bigger: one of GrubMarket’s biggest customers is Whole Foods, which uses GrubMarket for produce supply in certain regions of the U.S. It is currently is the company’s biggest customer.)
As we wrote last year, GrubMarket — like many other grocery delivery services — found that the pandemic initially provided a big fillip, and a big rush of demand, from that consumer side of the business, as more people turned to internet-based ordering and delivery services to offset the fact that many stores were closed, or they simply wanted to curtail the amount of shopping they were doing in-person to slow the spread of Covid-19.
But fast forward to today, while the startup still serves consumers, this is currently not the primary part of its business. Instead, it’s B2B2C, serving companies that in turn serve consumers. Xu says that overall, demand from consumers has dropped off considerably compared to a year ago.
“We think that restaurant re-openings have meant more people are dining out again and spending less time at home,” Xu said, ” and also they can go back to physical grocery stores, so they are not as interested as they were before in buying raw ingredients online. I don’t want to offend other food tech companies, but I think many of them will be seeing the same. I think B2C is really going to slow down going forward.”
The opening for GrubMarket has been not just positioning itself as a middleman between producers and buyers, but to do so by way of technology and consolidating what has been a very regionalized and fragmented market up to now.
GrubMarket has snapped up no less than 40 companies in the last three years. While some of these have been to help it expand geographically (it made 10 acquisitions in the Los Angeles area alone), many have also been made to double down on technology.
These have included the likes of Farmigo, once a Disrupt Battlefield contender that pivoted into becoming a software provider to CSAs (an area that GrubMarket sees a lot of opportunity), as well as software to help farms manage their business staffing, insurance and more: Pacific Farm Management is an example of the latter.
GrubMarket’s own in-house software, WholesaleWare, a cloud-based service for farmers and other food producers, saw its sales grow 3,500% over the last year, and it is now managing more than $4 billion in wholesale and retail activity across the U.S. and Canada.
There will be obvious ways to extend what GrubHub does deeper into the needs of its customers on the purchasing end, but this is in many ways also a very crowded market. (And not just crowded, but crowded with big companies. Just today, Toast, the company that builds software for restaurants, filed for a $717 million IPO at potentially a $16.5 billion valuation.) So instead, GrubHub will continue to focus on what has been a more overlooked aspect, that of the suppliers.
“I am focused on the food supply chain,” Xu said. “Operators in the food supply chain business most of the time don’t have any access to software and e-commerce technology. But we are not just a lightweight online ordering system. We do a lot of heavyweight lifting around inventory management, pricing and customer relations, and even HR management for wholesales and distributors.” That will also mean, longer term, that GrubMarket will likely also start to explore connected hardware to help those customers, too: robotics for picking and moving items are on that agenda, Xu said.
“GrubMarket has built a profitable, high-growth business underpinned by its best-in-class technology platform that’s reinventing how businesses access healthy, fresh foods,” said Jack Litowitz, director of strategic investments at Reimagined Ventures, in a statement. “We’re proud to support GrubMarket as it continues to expand into new regions and grow its WholesaleWare 2.0 software platform. At Reimagined Ventures, we always seek to invest in businesses that are disrupting inefficient industries in innovative ways. Mike Xu and the GrubMarket team have built one of these businesses. We’re excited to back their vision and work in making the food supply chain more efficient.”
“GrubMarket is transforming the trillion-dollar food distribution industry with unprecedented speed by implementing advanced digital solutions and operational discipline. The company’s scale, growth, and profitability are extraordinarily impressive. Pegasus is delighted and honored to be part of GrubMarket’s exciting journey ahead,” added Bill Reichert, partner at Pegasus Tech Ventures.
The company realized months ago that it could be running afoul of pay laws in a number of countries but has been slow to fix the problem, according to internal documents.
The 2021 U.S. Open has by no means been conventional, but amid a fluctuating pandemic, it has been a notable milestone on the road to tennis and civic normality.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who called the snap election two years ahead of schedule, was repeatedly attacked by the other four candidates.
The 19-year-old Canadian, who won 7-6 (3), 4-6, 6-4, becomes the youngest singles finalist at the U.S. Open since Serena Williams advanced at age 17 in 1999.
Roku’s expansion into original content continues with news that the streaming platform and device maker will debut its first original feature-length film during the 2021 holiday season. In partnership with Lionsgate, Roku announced it will introduce a movie based on the Emmy-winning TV series “Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist,” which will air on its free streaming hub, The Roku Channel later this year.
The new movie, “Zoey’s Extraordinary Christmas,” will continue where the series left off following its season 2 finale and series cancellation, which had upset fans who had taken to social media in hopes of saving the show by finding it a new home. Roku, as it turns out, is that home — not only will it air the new film, it will also make all 25 episodes of the series available to stream for free on The Roku Channel in the U.S. later this fall.
The feature film, meanwhile, begins production this month in Vancouver, and will see a number of actors reprising their roles, including Jane Levy, Skylar Astin, Alex Newell, John Clarence Stewart, Andrew Leeds, Alice Lee, Michael Thomas Grant, Kapil Talwalkar, David St. Louis, Mary Steenburgen, Peter Gallagher, and Bernadette Peters. Details of the film’s plot are still limited, however, noting only that it will be a continuation of Zoey’s journey as she “navigates work, family, love and everything in between.”
While a significant move for fans who simply wanted more of their favorite show, it’s a bigger step forward for Roku and its original content strategy. The company had already tested consumers’ appetite for original series by acquiring the content catalog from the short-lived streaming service Quibi earlier this year, whose shows then launched to The Roku Channel as the company’s first set of Roku Originals. The debut lineup included 30 titles, but Roku is continuing to roll out more shows as the year progresses. Last month, for instance, it released 23 more of those shows to its collection. The company also recently decided to reinvest in at least one previously Quibi-owned series by greenlighting a second season of “Most Dangerous Game.”
But until now, Roku has not invested in full-length movies.
Movies make a good fit for The Roku Channel, of course, as the free streaming is supported by advertising — and movies, due to their length, offer more ad slots to be filled. In fact, The Roku Channel got its start as free movies hub, before later expanding to include TV shows and other types of content, like news and sports.
So far, Roku’s original programming seems to be connecting with viewers. The company says its top 5 streamed TV shows this summer (May 20-July 18) were all Roku Originals.
The new film is produced by Lionsgate in association with the Tannenbaum Company, Feigco Entertainment, and Universal Music Group’s Polygram Entertainment and Zihuatenejo Productions. The series creator Austin Winsberg will write and executive produce. Richard Shepard, who filmed the show’s pilot, will direct. Kim Tannenbaum, Eric Tannenbaum, Paul Feig, David Blackman, and Daniel Inkeles will also serve as executive producers.
The movie will air on The Roku Channel during the holidays in the U.S., Canada, and the U.K.
A Canadian startup called Nuula that is aiming to build a superapp to provide a range of financial services to small and medium businesses has closed $120 million of funding, money that it will use to fuel the launch of its app and first product, a line of credit for its users.
The money is coming in the form of $20 million in equity from Edison Partners, and a $100 million credit facility from funds managed by the Credit Group of Ares Management Corporation.
The Nuula app has been in a limited beta since June of this year. The plan is to open it up to general availability soon, while also gradually bringing in more services, some built directly by Nuula itself and but many others following an embedded finance strategy: business banking, for example, will be a service provided by a third party and integrated closely into the Nuula app to be launched early in 2022; and alongside that, the startup will also be making liberal use of APIs to bring in other white-label services such as B2B and customer-focused payment services, starting first in the U.S. and then expanding to Canada and the U.K. before further countries across Europe.
Current products include cash flow forecasting, personal and business credit score monitoring, and customer sentiment tracking; and monitoring of other critical metrics including financial, payments and eCommerce data are all on the roadmap.
“We’re building tools to work in a complementary fashion in the app,” CEO Mark Ruddock said in an interview. “Today, businesses can project if they are likely to run out of money, and monitor their credit scores. We keep an eye on customers and what they are saying in real time. We think it’s necessary to surface for SMBs the metrics that they might have needed to get from multiple apps, all in one place.”
Nuula was originally a side-project at BFS, a company that focused on small business lending, where the company started to look at the idea of how to better leverage data to build out a wider set of services addressing the same segment of the market. BFS grew to be a substantial business in its own right (and it had raised its own money to that end, to the tune of $184 million from Edison and Honeywell). Over time, it became apparent to management that the data aspect, and this concept of a super app, would be key to how to grow the business, and so it pivoted and rebranded earlier this year, launching the beta of the app after that.
Nuula’s ambitions fall within a bigger trend in the market. Small and medium enterprises have shaped up to be a huge business opportunity in the world of fintech in the last several years. Long ignored in favor of building solutions either for the giant consumer market, or the lucrative large enterprise sector, SMBs have proven that they want and are willing to invest in better and newer technology to run their businesses, and that’s leading to a rush of startups and bigger tech companies bringing services to the market to cater to that.
Super apps are also a big area of interest in the world of fintech, although up to now a lot of what we’ve heard about in that area has been aimed at consumers — just the kind of innovation rut that Nuula is trying to get moving.
“Despite the growth in services addressing the SMB sector, overall it still lacks innovation compared to consumer or enterprise services,” Ruddock said. “We thought there was some opportunity to bring new thinking to the space. We see this as the app that SMBs will want to use everyday, because we’ll provide useful tools, insights and capital to power their businesses.”
Nuula’s priority to build the data services that connect all of this together is very much in keeping with how a lot of neobanks are also developing services and investing in what they see as their unique selling point. The theory goes like this: banking services are, at the end of the day, the same everywhere you go, and therefore commoditized, and so the more unique value-added for companies will come from innovating with more interesting algorithms and other data-based insights and analytics to give more power to their users to make the best use of what they have at their disposal.
It will not be alone in addressing that market. Others building fintech for SMBs include Selina, ANNA, Amex’s Kabbage (an early mover in using big data to help loan money to SMBs and build other financial services for them), Novo, Atom Bank, Xepelin, and Liberis, biggies like Stripe, Square and PayPal, and many others.
The credit product that Nuula has built so far is a taster of how it hopes to be a useful tool for SMBs, not just another place to get money or manage it. It’s not a direct loaning service, but rather something that is closely linked to monitoring a customers’ incomings and outgoings and only prompts a credit line (which directly links into the users’ account, wherever it is) when it appears that it might be needed.
“Innovations in financial technology have largely democratized who can become the next big player in small business finance,” added Gary Golding, General Partner, Edison Partners. “By combining critical financial performance tools and insights into a single interface, Nuula represents a new class of financial services technology for small business, and we are excited by the potential of the firm.”
“We are excited to be working with Nuula as they build a unique financial services resource for small businesses and entrepreneurs,” said Jeffrey Kramer, Partner and Head of ABS in the Alternative Credit strategy of the Ares Credit Group, in a statement. “The evolution of financial technology continues to open opportunities for innovation and the emergence of new industry participants. We look forward to seeing Nuula’s experienced team of technologists, data scientists and financial service veterans bring a new generation of small business financial services solutions to market.”
The semifinalists are part of a new wave of Canadian tennis stars who are changing the image of the game in their country and reflecting its increased diversity.
As she releases her memoir, Constand details her reactions to the court decision that overturned Bill Cosby’s conviction on sexual assault charges.
In the latest quasi-throwback toward ‘do not track‘, the UK’s data protection chief has come out in favor of a browser- and/or device-level setting to allow Internet users to set “lasting” cookie preferences — suggesting this as a fix for the barrage of consent pop-ups that continues to infest websites in the region.
European web users digesting this development in an otherwise monotonously unchanging regulatory saga, should be forgiven — not only for any sense of déjà vu they may experience — but also for wondering if they haven’t been mocked/gaslit quite enough already where cookie consent is concerned.
Last month, UK digital minister Oliver Dowden took aim at what he dubbed an “endless” parade of cookie pop-ups — suggesting the government is eyeing watering down consent requirements around web tracking as ministers consider how to diverge from European Union data protection standards, post-Brexit. (He’s slated to present the full sweep of the government’s data ‘reform’ plans later this month so watch this space.)
Today the UK’s outgoing information commissioner, Elizabeth Denham, stepped into the fray to urge her counterparts in G7 countries to knock heads together and coalesce around the idea of letting web users express generic privacy preferences at the browser/app/device level, rather than having to do it through pop-ups every time they visit a website.
In a statement announcing “an idea” she will present this week during a virtual meeting of fellow G7 data protection and privacy authorities — less pithily described in the press release as being “on how to improve the current cookie consent mechanism, making web browsing smoother and more business friendly while better protecting personal data” — Denham said: “I often hear people say they are tired of having to engage with so many cookie pop-ups. That fatigue is leading to people giving more personal data than they would like.
“The cookie mechanism is also far from ideal for businesses and other organisations running websites, as it is costly and it can lead to poor user experience. While I expect businesses to comply with current laws, my office is encouraging international collaboration to bring practical solutions in this area.”
“There are nearly two billion websites out there taking account of the world’s privacy preferences. No single country can tackle this issue alone. That is why I am calling on my G7 colleagues to use our convening power. Together we can engage with technology firms and standards organisations to develop a coordinated approach to this challenge,” she added.
Contacted for more on this “idea”, an ICO spokeswoman reshuffled the words thusly: “Instead of trying to effect change through nearly 2 billion websites, the idea is that legislators and regulators could shift their attention to the browsers, applications and devices through which users access the web.
“In place of click-through consent at a website level, users could express lasting, generic privacy preferences through browsers, software applications and device settings – enabling them to set and update preferences at a frequency of their choosing rather than on each website they visit.”
Of course a browser-baked ‘Do not track’ (DNT) signal is not a new idea. It’s around a decade old at this point. Indeed, it could be called the idea that can’t die because it’s never truly lived — as earlier attempts at embedding user privacy preferences into browser settings were scuppered by lack of industry support.
However the approach Denham is advocating, vis-a-vis “lasting” preferences, may in fact be rather different to DNT — given her call for fellow regulators to engage with the tech industry, and its “standards organizations”, and come up with “practical” and “business friendly” solutions to the regional Internet’s cookie pop-up problem.
It’s not clear what consensus — practical or, er, simply pro-industry — might result from this call. If anything.
Indeed, today’s press release may be nothing more than Denham trying to raise her own profile since she’s on the cusp of stepping out of the information commissioner’s chair. (Never waste a good international networking opportunity and all that — her counterparts in the US, Canada, Japan, France, Germany and Italy are scheduled for a virtual natter today and tomorrow where she implies she’ll try to engage them with her big idea).
Her UK replacement, meanwhile, is already lined up. So anything Denham personally champions right now, at the end of her ICO chapter, may have a very brief shelf life — unless she’s set to parachute into a comparable role at another G7 caliber data protection authority.
Nor is Denham the first person to make a revived pitch for a rethink on cookie consent mechanisms — even in recent years.
Last October, for example, a US-centric tech-publisher coalition came out with what they called a Global Privacy Standard (GPC) — aiming to build momentum for a browser-level pro-privacy signal to stop the sale of personal data, geared toward California’s Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA), though pitched as something that could have wider utility for Internet users.
By January this year they announced 40M+ users were making use of a browser or extension that supports GPC — along with a clutch of big name publishers signed up to honor it. But it’s fair to say its global impact so far remains limited.
More recently, European privacy group noyb published a technical proposal for a European-centric automated browser-level signal that would let regional users configure advanced consent choices — enabling the more granular controls it said would be needed to fully mesh with the EU’s more comprehensive (vs CCPA) legal framework around data protection.
The proposal, for which noyb worked with the Sustainable Computing Lab at the Vienna University of Economics and Business, is called Advanced Data Protection Control (ADPC). And noyb has called on the EU to legislate for such a mechanism — suggesting there’s a window of opportunity as lawmakers there are also keen to find ways to reduce cookie fatigue (a stated aim for the still-in-train reform of the ePrivacy rules, for example).
So there are some concrete examples of what practical, less fatiguing yet still pro-privacy consent mechanisms might look like to lend a little more color to Denham’s ‘idea’ — although her remarks today don’t reference any such existing mechanisms or proposals.
(When we asked the ICO for more details on what she’s advocating for, its spokeswoman didn’t cite any specific technical proposals or implementations, historical or contemporary, either, saying only: “By working together, the G7 data protection authorities could have an outsized impact in stimulating the development of technological solutions to the cookie consent problem.”)
So Denham’s call to the G7 does seem rather low on substance vs profile-raising noise.
In any case, the really big elephant in the room here is the lack of enforcement around cookie consent breaches — including by the ICO.
Add to that, there’s the now very pressing question of how exactly the UK will ‘reform’ domestic law in this area (post-Brexit) — which makes the timing of Denham’s call look, well, interestingly opportune. (And difficult to interpret as anything other than opportunistically opaque at this point.)
The adtech industry will of course be watching developments in the UK with interest — and would surely be cheering from the rooftops if domestic data protection ‘reform’ results in amendments to UK rules that allow the vast majority of websites to avoid having to ask Brits for permission to process their personal data, say by opting them into tracking by default (under the guise of ‘fixing’ cookie friction and cookie fatigue for them).
That would certainly be mission accomplished after all these years of cookie-fatigue-generating-cookie-consent-non-compliance by surveillance capitalism’s industrial data complex.
It’s not yet clear which way the UK government will jump — but eyebrows should raise to read the ICO writing today that it expects compliance with (current) UK law when it has so roundly failed to tackle the adtech industry’s role in cynically sicking up said cookie fatigue by failing to take any action against such systemic breaches.
The bald fact is that the ICO has — for years — avoided tackling adtech abuse of data protection, despite acknowledging publicly that the sector is wildly out of control.
Instead, it has opted for a cringing ‘process of engagement’ (read: appeasement) that has condemned UK Internet users to cookie pop-up hell.
This is why the regulator is being sued for inaction — after it closed a long-standing complaint against the security abuse of people’s data in real-time bidding ad auctions with nothing to show for it… So, yes, you can be forgiven for feeling gaslit by Denham’s call for action on cookie fatigue following the ICO’s repeat inaction on the causes of cookie fatigue…
Not that the ICO is alone on that front, however.
There has been a fairly widespread failure by EU regulators to tackle systematic abuse of the bloc’s data protection rules by the adtech sector — with a number of complaints (such as this one against the IAB Europe’s self-styled ‘transparency and consent framework’) still working, painstakingly, through the various labyrinthine regulatory processes.
France’s CNIL has probably been the most active in this area — last year slapping Amazon and Google with fines of $42M and $120M for dropping tracking cookies without consent, for example. (And before you accuse CNIL of being ‘anti-American’, it has also gone after domestic adtech.)
But elsewhere — notably Ireland, where many adtech giants are regionally headquartered — the lack of enforcement against the sector has allowed for cynical, manipulative and/or meaningless consent pop-ups to proliferate as the dysfunctional ‘norm’, while investigations have failed to progress and EU citizens have been forced to become accustomed, not to regulatory closure (or indeed rapture), but to an existentially endless consent experience that’s now being (re)branded as ‘cookie fatigue’.
Yes, even with the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) coming into application in 2018 and beefing up (in theory) consent standards.
This is why the privacy campaign group noyb is now lodging scores of complaints against cookie consent breaches — to try to force EU regulators to actually enforce the law in this area, even as it also finds time to put up a practical technical proposal that could help shrink cookie fatigue without undermining data protection standards.
It’s a shining example of action that has yet to inspire the lion’s share of the EU’s actual regulators to act on cookies. The tl;dr is that EU citizens are still waiting for the cookie consent reckoning — even if there is now a bit of high level talk about the need for ‘something to be done’ about all these tedious pop-ups.
The problem is that while GDPR certainly cranked up the legal risk on paper, without proper enforcement it’s just a paper tiger. And the pushing around of lots of paper is very tedious, clearly.
Most cookie pop-ups you’ll see in the EU are thus essentially privacy theatre; at the very least they’re unnecessarily irritating because they create ongoing friction for web users who must constantly respond to nags for their data (typically to repeatedly try to deny access if they can actually find a ‘reject all’ setting).
So the cookie consent/fatigue narrative is actually a story of faux compliance enabled by an enforcement vacuum that’s now also encouraging the watering down of privacy standards as a result of such much unpunished flouting of the law.
There is a lesson here, surely.
‘Faux consent’ pop-ups that you can easily stumble across when surfing the ‘ad-supported’ Internet in Europe include those failing to provide users with clear information about how their data will be used; or not offering people a free choice to reject tracking without being penalized (such as with no/limited access to the content they’re trying to access), or at least giving the impression that accepting is a requirement to access said content (dark pattern!); and/or otherwise manipulating a person’s choice by making it super simple to accept tracking and far, far, far more tedious to deny.
You can also still sometimes find cookie notices that don’t offer users any choice at all — and just pop up to inform that ‘by continuing to browse you consent to your data being processed’ — which, unless the cookies in question are literally essential for provision of the webpage, is basically illegal. (Europe’s top court made it abundantly clear in 2019 that active consent is a requirement for non-essential cookies.)
Nonetheless, to the untrained eye — and sadly there are a lot of them where cookie consent notices are concerned — it can look like it’s Europe’s data protection law that’s the ass because it seemingly demands all these meaningless ‘consent’ pop-ups, which just gloss over an ongoing background data grab anyway.
The truth is regulators should have slapped down these manipulative dark patterns years ago.
The problem now is that regulatory failure is encouraging political posturing — and, in a twisting double-back throw by the ICO! — regulatory thrusting around the idea that some newfangled mechanism is what’s really needed to remove all this universally inconvenient ‘friction’.
An idea like noyb’s ADPC does indeed look very useful in ironing out the widespread operational wrinkles wrapping the EU’s cookie consent rules. But when it’s the ICO suggesting a quick fix after the regulatory authority has failed so spectacularly over the long duration of complaints around this issue you’ll have to forgive us for being sceptical.
In such a context the notion of ‘cookie fatigue’ looks like it’s being suspiciously trumped up; fixed on as a convenient scapegoat to rechannel consumer frustration with hated online tracking toward high privacy standards — and away from the commercial data-pipes that demand all these intrusive, tedious cookie pop-ups in the first place — whilst neatly aligning with the UK government’s post-Brexit political priorities on ‘data’.
Worse still: The whole farcical consent pantomime — which the adtech industry has aggressively engaged in to try to sustain a privacy-hostile business model in spite of beefed up European privacy laws — could be set to end in genuine tragedy for user rights if standards end up being slashed to appease the law mockers.
The target of regulatory ire and political anger should really be the systematic law-breaking that’s held back privacy-respecting innovation and non-tracking business models — by making it harder for businesses that don’t abuse people’s data to compete.
Governments and regulators should not be trying to dismantle the principle of consent itself. Yet — at least in the UK — that does now look horribly possible.
Laws like GDPR set high standards for consent which — if they were but robustly enforced — could lead to reform of highly problematic practices like behavorial advertising combined with the out-of-control scale of programmatic advertising.
Indeed, we should already be seeing privacy-respecting forms of advertising being the norm, not the alternative — free to scale.
Instead, thanks to widespread inaction against systematic adtech breaches, there has been little incentive for publishers to reform bad practices and end the irritating ‘consent charade’ — which keeps cookie pop-ups mushrooming forth, oftentimes with ridiculously lengthy lists of data-sharing ‘partners’ (i.e. if you do actually click through the dark patterns to try to understand what is this claimed ‘choice’ you’re being offered).
As well as being a criminal waste of web users’ time, we now have the prospect of attention-seeking, politically charged regulators deciding that all this ‘friction’ justifies giving data-mining giants carte blanche to torch user rights — if the intention is to fire up the G7 to send a collect invite to the tech industry to come up with “practical” alternatives to asking people for their consent to track them — and all because authorities like the ICO have been too risk averse to actually defend users’ rights in the first place.
Dowden’s remarks last month suggest the UK government may be preparing to use cookie consent fatigue as convenient cover for watering down domestic data protection standards — at least if it can get away with the switcheroo.
Nothing in the ICO’s statement today suggests it would stand in the way of such a move.
Now that the UK is outside the EU, the UK government has said it believes it has an opportunity to deregulate domestic data protection — although it may find there are legal consequences for domestic businesses if it diverges too far from EU standards.
Denham’s call to the G7 naturally includes a few EU countries (the biggest economies in the bloc) but by targeting this group she’s also seeking to engage regulators further afield — in jurisdictions that currently lack a comprehensive data protection framework. So if the UK moves, cloaked in rhetoric of ‘Global Britain’, to water down its (EU-based) high domestic data protection standards it will be placing downward pressure on international aspirations in this area — as a counterweight to the EU’s geopolitical ambitions to drive global standards up to its level.
The risk, then, is a race to the bottom on privacy standards among Western democracies — at a time when awareness about the importance of online privacy, data protection and information security has actually never been higher.
Furthermore, any UK move to weaken data protection also risks putting pressure on the EU’s own high standards in this area — as the regional trajectory would be down not up. And that could, ultimately, give succour to forces inside the EU that lobby against its commitment to a charter of fundamental rights — by arguing such standards undermine the global competitiveness of European businesses.
So while cookies themselves — or indeed ‘cookie fatigue’ — may seem an irritatingly small concern, the stakes attached to this tug of war around people’s rights over what can happen to their personal data are very high indeed.
Canada’s high-performance tennis program is achieving its goal of producing elite players, several of whom have advanced at the U.S. Open.
Hello friends, and welcome back to Week in Review.
Last week, we dove into the truly bizarre machinations of the NFT market. This week, we’re talking about something that’s a little bit more impactful on the current state of the web — Apple’s NeuralHash kerfuffle.
the big thing
In the past month, Apple did something it generally has done an exceptional job avoiding — the company made what seemed to be an entirely unforced error.
In early August — seemingly out of nowhere** — the company announced that by the end of the year they would be rolling out a technology called NeuralHash that actively scanned the libraries of all iCloud Photos users, seeking out image hashes that matched known images of child sexual abuse material (CSAM). For obvious reasons, the on-device scanning could not be opted out of.
This announcement was not coordinated with other major consumer tech giants, Apple pushed forward on the announcement alone.
Researchers and advocacy groups had almost unilaterally negative feedback for the effort, raising concerns that this could create new abuse channels for actors like governments to detect on-device information that they regarded as objectionable. As my colleague Zach noted in a recent story, “The Electronic Frontier Foundation said this week it had amassed more than 25,000 signatures from consumers. On top of that, close to 100 policy and rights groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union, also called on Apple to abandon plans to roll out the technology.”
(The announcement also reportedly generated some controversy inside of Apple.)
The issue — of course — wasn’t that Apple was looking at find ways that prevented the proliferation of CSAM while making as few device security concessions as possible. The issue was that Apple was unilaterally making a massive choice that would affect billions of customers (while likely pushing competitors towards similar solutions), and was doing so without external public input about possible ramifications or necessary safeguards.
A long story short, over the past month researchers discovered Apple’s NeuralHash wasn’t as air tight as hoped and the company announced Friday that it was delaying the rollout “to take additional time over the coming months to collect input and make improvements before releasing these critically important child safety features.”
Having spent several years in the tech media, I will say that the only reason to release news on a Friday morning ahead of a long weekend is to ensure that the announcement is read and seen by as few people as possible, and it’s clear why they’d want that. It’s a major embarrassment for Apple, and as with any delayed rollout like this, it’s a sign that their internal teams weren’t adequately prepared and lacked the ideological diversity to gauge the scope of the issue that they were tackling. This isn’t really a dig at Apple’s team building this so much as it’s a dig on Apple trying to solve a problem like this inside the Apple Park vacuum while adhering to its annual iOS release schedule.
Apple is increasingly looking to make privacy a key selling point for the iOS ecosystem, and as a result of this productization, has pushed development of privacy-centric features towards the same secrecy its surface-level design changes command. In June, Apple announced iCloud+ and raised some eyebrows when they shared that certain new privacy-centric features would only be available to iPhone users who paid for additional subscription services.
You obviously can’t tap public opinion for every product update, but perhaps wide-ranging and trail-blazing security and privacy features should be treated a bit differently than the average product update. Apple’s lack of engagement with research and advocacy groups on NeuralHash was pretty egregious and certainly raises some questions about whether the company fully respects how the choices they make for iOS affect the broader internet.
Delaying the feature’s rollout is a good thing, but let’s all hope they take that time to reflect more broadly as well.
** Though the announcement was a surprise to many, Apple’s development of this feature wasn’t coming completely out of nowhere. Those at the top of Apple likely felt that the winds of global tech regulation might be shifting towards outright bans of some methods of encryption in some of its biggest markets.
Back in October of 2020, then United States AG Bill Barr joined representatives from the UK, New Zealand, Australia, Canada, India and Japan in signing a letter raising major concerns about how implementations of encryption tech posed “significant challenges to public safety, including to highly vulnerable members of our societies like sexually exploited children.” The letter effectively called on tech industry companies to get creative in how they tackled this problem.
Here are the TechCrunch news stories that especially caught my eye this week:
LinkedIn kills Stories
You may be shocked to hear that LinkedIn even had a Stories-like product on their platform, but if you did already know that they were testing Stories, you likely won’t be so surprised to hear that the test didn’t pan out too well. The company announced this week that they’ll be suspending the feature at the end of the month. RIP.
FAA grounds Virgin Galactic over questions about Branson flight
While all appeared to go swimmingly for Richard Branson’s trip to space last month, the FAA has some questions regarding why the flight seemed to unexpectedly veer so far off the cleared route. The FAA is preventing the company from further launches until they find out what the deal is.
Apple buys a classical music streaming service
While Spotify makes news every month or two for spending a massive amount acquiring a popular podcast, Apple seems to have eyes on a different market for Apple Music, announcing this week that they’re bringing the classical music streaming service Primephonic onto the Apple Music team.
TikTok parent company buys a VR startup
It isn’t a huge secret that ByteDance and Facebook have been trying to copy each other’s success at times, but many probably weren’t expecting TikTok’s parent company to wander into the virtual reality game. The Chinese company bought the startup Pico which makes consumer VR headsets for China and enterprise VR products for North American customers.
Twitter tests an anti-abuse ‘Safety Mode’
The same features that make Twitter an incredibly cool product for some users can also make the experience awful for others, a realization that Twitter has seemingly been very slow to make. Their latest solution is more individual user controls, which Twitter is testing out with a new “safety mode” which pairs algorithmic intelligence with new user inputs.
Some of my favorite reads from our Extra Crunch subscription service this week:
Our favorite startups from YC’s Demo Day, Part 1
“Y Combinator kicked off its fourth-ever virtual Demo Day today, revealing the first half of its nearly 400-company batch. The presentation, YC’s biggest yet, offers a snapshot into where innovation is heading, from not-so-simple seaweed to a Clearco for creators….”
“…Yesterday, the TechCrunch team covered the first half of this batch, as well as the startups with one-minute pitches that stood out to us. We even podcasted about it! Today, we’re doing it all over again. Here’s our full list of all startups that presented on the record today, and below, you’ll find our votes for the best Y Combinator pitches of Day Two. The ones that, as people who sift through a few hundred pitches a day, made us go ‘oh wait, what’s this?’
All the reasons why you should launch a credit card
“… if your company somehow hasn’t yet found its way to launch a debit or credit card, we have good news: It’s easier than ever to do so and there’s actual money to be made. Just know that if you do, you’ve got plenty of competition and that actual customer usage will probably depend on how sticky your service is and how valuable the rewards are that you offer to your most active users….”
Protesters have harassed health care workers in three provinces, as well as politicians.
North Atlantic right whales had been making a slow recovery, but ocean changes linked to global warming are pushing down their numbers again, scientists say.
Facebook is getting into fantasy sports and other types of fantasy games. The company this morning announced the launch of Facebook Fantasy Games in the U.S. and Canada on the Facebook app for iOS and Android. Some games are described as “simpler” versions of the traditional fantasy sports games already on the market, while others allow users to make predictions associated with popular TV series, like “Survivor” or “The Bachelorette.”
The first game to launch is Pick & Play Sports, in partnership with Whistle Sports, where fans get points for correctly predicting the winner of a big game, the points scored by a top player, or other events that unfold during the match. Players can also earn bonus points for building a streak of correct predictions over several days. This game is arriving today.
In the months ahead, it will be followed by other games in sports, TV, and pop culture, including Fantasy Survivor, where players choose a set of Castaways from the popular CBS TV show to join their fantasy team and Fantasy “The Bachelorette,” where fans will pick a group of men from the suitors vying for the Bachelorette’s heart and get points based on their actions and events that take place during the show. Other upcoming sports-focused games include MLB Home Run Picks, where players pick the team that they think will hit the most home runs, and LaLiga Winning Streak, where fans predict the team that will win that day.
In addition to top players being featured on leaderboards, games have a social component for those who want to play with friends.
Players can create their own fantasy league with friends to compete with one another or against other fans, either publicly or privately. League members can compare scores with each other and will have a place where they can share picks, reactions and comments. This league area resembles a private group on Facebook, as it offers its own compose box for posting only to members and its own dedicated feed. However, the page is designed to support groups with specific buttons to “play” or view the “leaderboard,” among others.
The addition of fantasy games could help Facebook increase the time users spent on its app at a time when the company is facing significant competition in social, namely from TikTok. According to App Annie, the average monthly time spent per user in TikTok grew faster than other top social apps in 2020, including by 70% in the U.S., surpassing Facebook.
Facebook had dabbled in the idea of becoming a second screen companion for live events in the past, but in a different way than fantasy sports and games. Instead, its R&D division tested Venue, which worked as a way for fans to comment on live events which were hosted in the app by well-known personalities.
The new league games will be available from the bookmark menu on the mobile app and in News Feed through notifications.
The abuse last year of an Indigenous woman in a Quebec hospital has prompted outrage and underlined the discrimination facing Canada’s Indigenous community.
Readers take issue with an Opinion guest essay about the ways of Wall Street. Also: Grandma’s advice about the vaccine; universal health care; Andrew Cuomo’s Emmy; the history of slavery.
Apple today is launching a new program that will allow subscription news organizations that participate in the Apple News app and meet certain requirements to lower their commission rate to 15% on qualifying in-app purchases taking place inside their apps on the App Store. Typically, Apple’s model for subscription-based apps involves a standard 30% commission during their first year on the App Store which then drops to 15% in year two. But the new Apple News Partner Program, announced today, will now make 15% the commission rate for participants starting on day one.
Meanwhile, for publishers headquartered outside one of the four existing Apple News markets — the U.S., U.K., Australia, or Canada — they can instead satisfy the program’s obligations by providing Apple with an RSS feed.
On the App Store, the partner app qualifying for the 15% commission must be used to deliver “original, professionally authored” news content, and they must offer their auto-renewable subscriptions using Apple’s in-app purchase system.
While there is some initial work involved in establishing the publisher’s connection to Apple News, it’s worth noting that most major publishers already participate on Apple’s platform. That means they won’t have to do any additional work beyond what they’re already doing in order to transition over to the reduced commission for their apps. However, the program also serves as a way to push news organizations to continue to participate in the Apple News ecosystem, as it will make more financial sense to do so across their broader business.
That will likely be an area of contention for publishers, who would probably prefer that the reduced App Store commission didn’t come with strings attached.
Some publishers already worry that they’re giving up too much control over their business by tying themselves to the Apple News ecosystem. Last year, for example, The New York Times announced it would exit its partnership with Apple News, saying that Apple didn’t allow it to have as direct a relationship with readers as it wanted, and it would rather drive readers to its own app and website.
Apple, however, would argue that it doesn’t stand in the way of publishers’ businesses — it lets them paywall their content and keep 100% of the ad revenue from the ads they sell. (If they can’t sell it all or would prefer Apple to do so on their behalf, they then split the commission with Apple, keeping 70% of revenues instead.) In addition, for the company’s Apple News+ subscription service — where the subscription revenue split is much higher — it could be argued that it’s “found money.” That is, Apple markets the service to customers the publisher hadn’t been able to attract on its own anyway.
The launch of the new Apple News Partner program comes amid regulatory scrutiny over how Apple manages its App Store business and more recently, proposed legislation aiming to address alleged anticompetitive issues both in the U.S. and in major App Store markets, like South Korea.
Sensing this shift in the market, Apple had already been working to provide itself cover from antitrust complaints and lawsuits — like the one underway now with Epic Games — by adjusting its App Store commissions. Last year, it launched the App Store Small Business Program, which also lowered commissions on in-app purchases from 30% to 15% — but only for developers earning up to $1 million in revenues.
This program may have helped smaller publishers, but it was clear some major publishers still weren’t satisfied. After the reduced commissions for small businesses were announced in November, the publisher trade organization Digital Content Next (DCN) — a representative for the AP, The New York Times, NPR, ESPN, Vox, The Washington Post, Meredith, Bloomberg, NBCU, The Financial Times, and others — joined the advocacy group and lobbying organization the Coalition for App Fairness (CAF) the very next month.
These publishers, who had previously written to Apple CEO Tim Cook to demand lower commissions — had other complaints about the revenue share beyond just the size of the split. They also didn’t want to be required to use Apple’s services for in-app purchases for their subscriptions, saying this “Apple tax” forces them to raise their prices for consumers.
It remains to be seen how these publishers will now react to the launch of the Apple News Partner program.
While it gives them a way to lower their App Store fees, it doesn’t address their broader complaints against Apple’s platform and its rules. If anything, it ties the lower fees to a program that locks them in further to the Apple ecosystem.
Apple, in a gesture of goodwill, also said today it would recommit support to three leading media non-profits, Common Sense Media, the News Literacy Project, and Osservatorio Permanente Giovani-Editori. These non-profits offer nonpartisan, independent media literacy programs, which Apple views as key to its larger mission to empower people to become smart and active news readers. Apple also said it would later announce further media literacy projects from other organizations. The company would not disclose the size of its commitment from a financial standpoint however, or discuss how much it has sent such organizations in the past.
“Providing Apple News customers with access to trusted information from our publishing partners has been our priority from day one,” said Eddy Cue, Apple’s senior vice president of Services, in a statement. “For more than a decade, Apple has offered our customers many ways to access and enjoy news content across our products and services. We have hundreds of news apps from dozens of countries around the world available in the App Store, and created Apple News Format to offer publishers a tool to showcase their content and provide a great experience for millions of Apple News users,” he added.
More details about the program and the application form will be available at the News Partner Program website.
Just days after Elastic announced the acquisition of build.security, the company is making yet another security acquisition. As part of its second-quarter earnings announcement this afternoon, Elastic disclosed that it is acquiring Vancouver, Canada based security vendor CMD. Financial terms of the deal are not being publicly disclosed.
CMD‘s technology provides runtime security for cloud infrastructure, helping organizations gain better visibility into processes that are running. The startup was founded in 2016 and has raised $21.6 million in funding to date. The company’s last round was a $15 million Series B that was announced in 2019, led by GV.
Elastic CEO and co-founder Shay Banon told TechCrunch that his company will be welcoming the employees of CMD into his company, but did not disclose precisely how many would be coming over. CMD CEO and co-founder Santosh Krishan and his fellow co-founder Jake King will both be taking executive roles within Elastic.
Both build.security and CMD are set to become part of Elastic’s security organization. The two technologies will be integrated into the Elastic Stack platform that provides visibility into what an organization is running, as well as security insights to help limit risk. Elastic has been steadily growing its security capabilities in recent years, acquiring Endgame Security in 2019 for $234 million.
Banon explained that, as organizations increasingly move to the cloud and make use of Kubernetes, they are looking for more layers of introspection and protection for Linux. That’s where CMD’s technology comes in. CMD’s security service is built with an open source technology known as eBPF. With eBPF, it’s possible to hook into a Linux operating system for visibility and security control. Work is currently ongoing to extend eBPF for Windows workloads, as well.
CMD isn’t the only startup that has been building based on eBP. Isovalent, which announced a $29 million Series A round led by Andreessen Horowitz and Google in November 2020, is also active in the space. The Linux Foundation also recently announced the creation of an eBPF Foundation, with the participation of Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Netflix and Isovalent.
Fundamentally, Banon sees a clear alignment between what CMD was building and what Elastic aims to deliver for its users.
“We have a saying at Elastic – while you observe, why not protect?” Banon said. “With CMD if you look at everything that they do, they also have this deep passion and belief that it starts with observability. “
It will take time for Elastic to integrate the CMD technology into the Elastic Stack, though it won’t be too long. Banon noted that one of the benefits of acquiring a startup is that it’s often easier to integrate than a larger, more established vendor.
“With all of these acquisitions that we make we spend time integrating them into a single product line,” Banon said.
That means Elastic needs to take the technology that other companies have built and fold it into its stack and that sometimes can take time, Banon explained. He noted that it took two years to integrate the Endgame technology after that acquisition.
“Typically that lends itself to us joining forces with smaller companies with really innovative technology that can be more easily taken and integrated into our stack,” Banon said.
The Rangers great, whose death at the age of 80 was announced on Sunday, was more than a sensational player and a good guy, writes a former Times hockey reporter.
Apple recently began a research study designed to collect speech data from study participants. Earlier this month, the company launched a new iOS app called “Siri Speech Study” on the App Store, which allows participants who have opted in to share their voice requests and other feedback with Apple. The app is available in a number of worldwide markets but does not register on the App Store’s charts, including under the “Utilities” category where it’s published.
According to data from Sensor Tower, the iOS app first launched on August 9 and was updated to a new version on August 18. It’s currently available in the U.S., Canada, Germany, France, Hong Kong, India, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Mexico, New Zealand, and Taiwan — an indication of the study’s global reach. However, the app will not appear when searching the App Store by keyword or when browsing through the list of Apple’s published apps.
The Siri Speech Study app itself offers little information about the study’s specific goals, nor does it explain how someone could become a participant. Instead, it only provides a link to a fairly standard license agreement and a screen where a participant would enter their ID number to get started.
Reached for comment, Apple told TechCrunch the app is only being used for Siri product improvements, by offering a way for participants to share feedback directly with Apple. The company also explained people have to be invited to the study — there’s not a way for consumers to sign up to join.
The app is only one of many ways Apple is working to improve Siri.
In the past, Apple had tried to learn more about Siri’s mistakes by sending some small portion of consumers’ voice recordings to contractors for manual grading and review. But a whistleblower alerted media outlet The Guardian that the process had allowed them to listen in on confidential details at times. Apple shortly thereafter made manual review an opt-in process and brought audio grading in-house. This type of consumer data collection continues, but has a different aim that what a research study would involve.
Unlike this broader, more generalized data collection, a focus group-like study allows Apple to better understand Siri’s mistakes because it combines the collected data with human feedback. With the Siri Speech Study app, participants provide explicit feedback on per request basis, Apple said. For instance, if Siri misheard a question, users could explain what they were trying to ask. If Siri was triggered when the user hadn’t said “Hey Siri,” that could be noted. Or if Siri on HomePod misidentified the speaker in a multi-person household, the participant could note that, too.
Another differentiator is that none of the participants’ data is being automatically shared with Apple. Rather, users can see a list of the Siri requests they’ve made and then select which to send to Apple with their feedback. Apple also noted no user information is collected or used in the app, except the data directly provided by participants.
Apple understands that an intelligent virtual assistant that understands you is a competitive advantage.
This year, the company scooped up ex-Google A.I. scientist Samy Bengio to help make Siri a stronger rival to Google Assistant, whose advanced capabilities are often a key selling point for Android devices. In the home, meanwhile, Alexa-powered smart speakers are dominating the U.S. market and compete with Google in the global landscape, outside China. Apple’s HomePod has a long way to go to catch up.
But despite the rapid progress in voice-based computing in recent years, virtual assistants can still have a hard time understanding certain types of speech. Earlier this year, for example, Apple said it would use a bank of audio clips from podcasts where users had stuttered to help it improve its understanding of this kind of speech pattern. Assistants can also stumble when there are multiple devices in a home that are listening for voice commands from across several rooms. And assistants can mess up when trying to differentiate between different family members’ voices or when trying to understand a child’s voice.
In other words, there are still many avenues a speech study could pursue over time, even if these aren’t its current focus.
That Apple is running a Siri speech study isn’t necessarily new. The company has historically run evaluations and studies like this in some form. But it’s less common to find Apple’s studies published directly on the App Store.
Though Apple could have published the app through the enterprise distribution process to keep it more under wraps, it chose to use its public marketplace. This more closely follows the App Store’s rules, as the research study is not an internally-facing app meant only for Apple employees.
Still, it’s not likely consumers will stumble across the app and be confused — the Siri Speech Study app is hidden from discovery. You have to have the app’s direct link to find it. (Good thing we’re nosy!)
Reels are coming to Facebook in the U.S. The company this morning announced it will begin testing a new feature, Facebook Reels, which will give Facebook users the ability to create and share short-form video content directly within the News Feed or within Facebook Groups. The addition is an expansion of tests launched earlier this year in India, Mexico and Canada, which had focused on bringing short-form videos to Facebook users, including by sharing existing Instagram Reels to Facebook, as had been reported.
In addition, Facebook today says it will also test a new feature that will give Instagram creators in the U.S. the option to have their Instagram Reels shown as recommended content on Facebook. If the creators opt in, their videos will appear in the “Reels” section in users’ News Feed, alongside other Reels created on Facebook.
There will be many places where users can create Reels from Facebook, as the new feature launches.
Initially, you’ll be able to tap a “Create” button from the Reels’ section that appears as you scroll the News Feed, while you’re watching Reels, or by tapping on “Reels” at the top of your News Feed. From here, users will gain access to a standard set of creation tools, including those for video capture, music selection, camera roll import, timed text, and more — much like you would have access to on Instagram.
For audio, you can either choose a song from Facebook’s music library, record your own original audio, or even use someone else’s audio, if their Reels are set to “public.” There are also a variety of effects and editing tools to choose from, including a timer for recording Reels hands-free, tools to speed up or slow down a part of the video or your original audio, and a number of augmented reality effects created either by Facebook or third-party developers.
Facebook told us that, for the time being, “most” of Instagram Reels’ features will also be available on Facebook Reels. But other features — like Remix (its take on TikTok’s side-by-side videos called Duets) — will be added over time as the test scales to more people. The user interface for Reels may also evolve over time to look somewhat different from Reels on Instagram, depending on user feedback.
After a Reel has been created, you can choose who to share it with — such as “Friends,” a specific audience like “Friends except…”, or the general public. The latter is the default setting.
The feature will be made available within Facebook Groups, where Reels can be created then shared with members of the community who have similar interests.
Users can also choose to tap into “My Reels,” to view past creations. And you can browse Reels created by others in the News Feed, and in select Groups and Pages — where you can like, comment or share them, just as you could with any other type of post. Reels will now be surfaced in Search results, too, Facebook told us.
Like much of what appears on Facebook, Reels will be recommended to users based on what people are interested in, what they engage with, and what’s broadly popular. This will apply to both the shared Instagram Reels and the Facebook Reels.
The company explained the decision to replicate the Reels product inside Facebook is a result of consumers’ growing interest in video, and particularly short-form video. Today, video accounts for almost half of all time spent on Facebook, in fact. On Facebook’s latest earnings call, CEO Mark Zuckerberg remarked that Reels was “already the largest contributor to engagement growth on Instagram,” given the popularity of short-form video.
“We’re very focused on making it easy for anyone to create video, and then for those videos to be viewed across all of our different services, starting with Facebook and Instagram first,” he had told investors.
But Facebook also understands that people have different communities and audiences on Instagram and Facebook, so simply offering a cross-posting option may not have sufficed.
However, for existing Reels creators who do want to tap into Facebook’s large audience, a new option will allow them to opt-in to have their Reels shared to Facebook. This could be useful for those producing more general-interest Reels content.
These shared Reels will display the creator’s Instagram username, as well, which could help them to build a following. Creators’ Reels can also be remixed, with the creator’s permission, and their original audio can be re-used in other people’s Reels — again, much like on TikTok.
This feature will also be first introduced as a “test,” Facebook said.
While Instagram is already beginning to monetize Reels through ads, Facebook told us that Reels on Facebook don’t currently include ads. But: “we plan to roll out ads in the future,” a Facebook spokesperson added.
Reels, which is Facebook’s answer to the growing threat of TikTok, first launched to global audiences a year ago. This launch alone was not enough to win Instagram the top spot as the world’s most downloaded mobile app. In 2020, that win went to TikTok, after years where Facebook-owned apps dominated the top charts. And TikTok today continues to sit at the top of App Store charts in terms of both app installs and consumer spending, according to multiple third-party reports.
For Facebook, TikTok represents an existential threat to its business. If users’ time and attention are being spent elsewhere, Facebook’s advertisers could then follow, impacting Facebook’s bottom line. So instead of competing with TikTok in just one app, Facebook is now using two. And it’s leveraging its apps’ interoperability to ensure the best content can easily flow to both places.
The company is also directly investing in the creator community in hopes of tipping the scales back in its direction.
In July, the company announced a plan to invest over $1 billion in creators across both Facebook and Instagram through 2022. This fund will reward more than just Reels’ creators, to be clear, as it will also pay out bonuses for videos with in-stream ads enabled or for enabling IGTV ads, among other things. It will also bonus top creators who have invited fans to send them tips in the form of a virtual currency, “stars.” But Instagram Reels, and now Facebook Reels, will be looped into that initiative.
Today, Facebook said it will announce additional bonus programs and seed funding in the months ahead that will pay out bonuses for Reels on Facebook. These will be funded from that $1 billion commitment. The company declined to share details on this front, but this news alone indicates Facebook Reels is far more than just “a test” in Facebook’s eyes.
The new Facebook Reels features will begin to roll out starting today, Aug. 19, in the U.S. It will first be available to a “small percentage” of U.S. users on iOS and Android.
The feature will continue to operate in India, Mexico and Canada, as well.
Let states bring in workers from around the world, based on their labor needs.
Last fall, Spotify introduced a new format that combined spoken word commentary with music, allowing creators to reproduce the radio-like experience of listening to a DJ or music journalist who shared their perspective on the tracks they would then play. Today, the company is making the format, which it calls “Music + Talk,” available to global creators through its podcasting software Anchor.
Creators who want to offer this sort of blended audio experience can now do so by using the new “Music” tool in Anchor, which provides access to Spotify’s full catalog of 70 million tracks that they can insert into their spoken-word audio programs. Spotify has said this new type of show will continue to compensate the artist when the track is streamed, the same as it would elsewhere on Spotify’s platform. In addition, users can also interact with the music content within the shows as they would otherwise — by liking the song, viewing more information about the track, saving the song, or sharing it, for example.
The shows themselves, meanwhile, will be available to both free and Premium Spotify listeners. Paying subscribers will hear the full tracks when listening to these shows, but free users will only hear a 30-second preview of the songs, due to licensing rights.
The format is somewhat reminiscent of Pandora’s Stories, which was also a combination of music and podcasting, introduced in 2019. However, in Pandora’s case, the focus had been on allowing artists to add their own commentary to music — like talking about the inspiration for a song — while Spotify is making it possible for anyone to annotate their favorite playlists with audio commentary.
Since launching last year, the product has been tweaked somewhat in response to user feedback, Spotify says. The shows now offer clearer visual distinction between the music and talk segments during an episode, and they include music previews on episode pages.
The ability to create Music + Talk shows was previously available in select markets ahead of this global rollout, including in the U.S., Canada, the U.K., Ireland, Australia, and New Zealand.
With the expansion, creators in a number of other major markets are now gaining access, including Japan, India, the Philippines, Indonesia, France, Germany, Spain, Italy, the Netherlands, Sweden, Mexico, Brazil, Chile, Argentina, and Colombia. Alongside the expansion, Spotify’s catalog of Music + Talk original programs will also grow today, as new shows from Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Chile, India, Japan, and the Philippines will be added.
Spotify will also begin to more heavily market the feature with the launch of its own Spotify Original called “Music + Talk: Unlocked,” which will offer tips and ideas for creators interested in trying out the format.
“It’s changing quite rapidly,” says a hunter in Canada. “And I’m not old at all. I’m 31.”