EU puts out final guidance on data transfers to third countries

The European Data Protection Board (EDPB) published its final recommendations yesterday setting on guidance for making transfers of personal data to third countries to comply with EU data protection rules in light of last summer’s landmark CJEU ruling (aka Schrems II).

The long and short of these recommendations — which are fairly long; running to 48 pages — is that some data transfers to third countries will simply not be possible to (legally) carry out. Despite the continued existence of legal mechanisms that can, in theory, be used to make such transfers (like Standard Contractual Clauses; a transfer tool that was recently updated by the Commission).

However it’s up to the data controller to assess the viability of each transfer, on a case by case basis, to determine whether data can legally flow in that particular case. (Which may mean, for example, a business making complex assessments about foreign government surveillance regimes and how they impinge upon its specific operations.)

Companies that routinely take EU users’ data outside the bloc for processing in third countries (like the US), which do not have data adequacy arrangements with the EU, face substantial cost and challenge in attaining compliance — in a best case scenario.

Those that can’t apply viable ‘special measures’ to ensure transferred data is safe are duty bound to suspend data flows — with the risk, should they fail to do that, of being ordered to by a data protection authority (which could also apply additional sanctions).

One alternative option could be for such a firm to store and process EU users’ data locally — within the EU. But clearly that won’t be viable for every company.

Law firms are likely to be very happy with this outcome since there will be increased demand for legal advice as companies grapple with how to structure their data flows and adapt to a post-Schrems II world.

In some EU jurisdictions (such as Germany) data protection agencies are now actively carrying out compliance checks — so orders to suspend transfers are bound to follow.

While the European Data Protection Supervisor is busy scrutinizing EU institutions’ own use of US cloud services giants to see whether high level arrangements with tech giants like AWS and Microsoft pass muster or not.

Last summer the CJEU struck down the EU-US Privacy Shield — only a few years after the flagship adequacy arrangement was inked. The same core legal issues did for its predecessor, ‘Safe Harbor‘, though that had stood for some fifteen years. And since the demise of Privacy Shield the Commission has repeatedly warned there will be no quick fix replacement this time; nothing short of major reform of US surveillance law is likely to be required.

US and EU lawmakers remain in negotiations over a replacement EU-US data flows deal but a viable outcome that can stand up to legal challenge as the prior two agreements could not, may well require years of work, not months.

And that means EU-US data flows are facing legal uncertainty for the foreseeable future.

The UK, meanwhile, has just squeezed a data adequacy agreement out of the Commission — despite some loudly enunciated post-Brexit plans for regulatory divergence in the area of data protection.

If the UK follows through in ripping up key tenets of its inherited EU legal framework there’s a high chance it will also lose adequacy status in the coming years — meaning it too could face crippling barriers to EU data flows. (But for now it seems to have dodged that bullet.)

Data flows to other third countries that also lack an EU adequacy agreement — such as China and India — face the same ongoing legal uncertainty.

The backstory to the EU international data flows issues originates with a complaint — in the wake of NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden’s revelations about government mass surveillance programs, so more than seven years ago — made by the eponymous Max Schrems over what he argued were unsafe EU-US data flows.

Although his complaint was specifically targeted at Facebook’s business and called on the Irish Data Protection Commission (DPC) to use its enforcement powers and suspend Facebook’s EU-US data flows.

A regulatory dance of indecision followed which finally saw legal questions referred to Europe’s top court and — ultimately — the demise of the EU-US Privacy Shield. The CJEU ruling also put it beyond legal doubt that Member States’ DPAs must step in and act when they suspect data is flowing to a location where the information is at risk.

Following the Schrems II ruling, the DPC (finally) sent Facebook a preliminary order to suspend its EU-US data flows last fall. Facebook immediately challenged the order in the Irish courts — seeking to block the move. But that challenge failed. And Facebook’s EU-US data flows are now very much operating on borrowed time.

As one of the platform’s subject to Section 702 of the US’ FISA law, its options for applying ‘special measures’ to supplement its EU data transfers look, well, limited to say the least.

It can’t — for example — encrypt the data in a way that ensures it has no access to it (zero access encryption) since that’s not how Facebook’s advertising empire functions. And Schrems has previously suggested Facebook will have to federate its service — and store EU users’ information inside the EU — to fix its data transfer problem.

Safe to say, the costs and complexity of compliance for certain businesses like Facebook look massive.

But there will be compliance costs and complexity for thousands of businesses in the wake of the CJEU ruling.

Commenting on the EDPB’s adoption of final recommendations, chair Andrea Jelinek said: “The impact of Schrems II cannot be underestimated: Already international data flows are subject to much closer scrutiny from the supervisory authorities who are conducting investigations at their respective levels. The goal of the EDPB Recommendations is to guide exporters in lawfully transferring personal data to third countries while guaranteeing that the data transferred is afforded a level of protection essentially equivalent to that guaranteed within the European Economic Area.

“By clarifying some doubts expressed by stakeholders, and in particular the importance of examining the practices of public authorities in third countries, we want to make it easier for data exporters to know how to assess their transfers to third countries and to identify and implement effective supplementary measures where they are needed. The EDPB will continue considering the effects of the Schrems II ruling and the comments received from stakeholders in its future guidance.”

The EDPB put out earlier guidance on Schrems II compliance last year.

It said the main modifications between that earlier advice and its final recommendations include: “The emphasis on the importance of examining the practices of third country public authorities in the exporters’ legal assessment to determine whether the legislation and/or practices of the third country impinge — in practice — on the effectiveness of the Art. 46 GDPR transfer tool; the possibility that the exporter considers in its assessment the practical experience of the importer, among other elements and with certain caveats; and the clarification that the legislation of the third country of destination allowing its authorities to access the data transferred, even without the importer’s intervention, may also impinge on the effectiveness of the transfer tool”.

Commenting on the EDPB’s recommendations in a statement, law firm Linklaters dubbed the guidance “strict” — warning over the looming impact on businesses.

“There is little evidence of a pragmatic approach to these transfers and the EDPB seems entirely content if the conclusion is that the data must remain in the EU,” said Peter Church, a Counsel at the global law firm. “For example, before transferring personal data to third country (without adequate data protection laws) businesses must consider not only its law but how its law enforcement and national security agencies operate in practice. Given these activities are typically secretive and opaque, this type of analysis is likely to cost tens of thousands of euros and take time. It appears this analysis is needed even for relatively innocuous transfers.”

“It is not clear how SMEs can be expected to comply with these requirements,” he added. “Given we now operate in a globalised society the EDPB, like King Canute, should consider the practical limitations on its power. The guidance will not turn back the tides of data washing back and forth across the world, but many businesses will really struggle to comply with these new requirements.”

 

#andrea-jelinek, #china, #data-controller, #data-protection, #data-security, #edpb, #edward-snowden, #eu-us-privacy-shield, #europe, #european-data-protection-board, #european-union, #facebook, #general-data-protection-regulation, #germany, #india, #law-enforcement, #law-firms, #linklaters, #max-schrems, #policy, #privacy, #schrems-ii, #surveillance-law, #united-kingdom, #united-states

0

Chinese sellers on Amazon in hot demand by VCs and e-commerce roll-ups

Chinese merchants selling on Amazon are having a moment. The scruffy exporters are used to roaming about suburban factory areas and dealing with constant cash flow strain, but suddenly they find themselves having coffee with top Chinese venture capital firms and investment representatives from internet giants, who come with big checks to hunt down the next Shein or Anker. While VCs can provide the money for them to scale quickly, many lack the expertise to help on the strategic side.

This is where brand aggregators can put their retail know-how to work. Also called roll-ups, these companies go around acquiring promising e-commmerce brands for operational synergies. After taking off in the United States, Europe, and lately Southeast Asia, it has also quietly landed in China, where traditional white-label manufacturers are trying to move up the value chain and establish their own brand presence.

The latest roll-up to enter China is Berlin Brands Group (BBG), which aims to buy “dozens of” brands in the country over the next few years, its founder and CEO Peter Chaljawski told TechCrunch. This will significantly boost the German company’s existing portfolio of 14 brands.

The move came on the back of BBG’s $240 million funding raised from debt and its announcement to commit $300 million on its balance sheet to buying up companies. The firm opted for debt in part because it has been profitable since its inception. The recent funding won’t be its last round and it may use other financial instruments in the future, said the founder.

Chaljawski doesn’t see VC and corporate investors as direct competitors in the hunt for brands. “There are tens of thousands of sellers in China that generate significant revenue on Amazon. I think the VC money applies to some of them, and the roll-up model applies also to only some of them. But ‘some’ is a very, very big number.”

BBG is no stranger to China. The 15-year-old company has been relying on Chinese manufacturers to make its kitchenware, gardening tools, sports gear and other home appliances, with 90% of its products still made in the country today. For the new brand buy-out initiative, it’s hiring dozens of staff in Shenzhen, which Chalijawski dubbed the “Silicon Valley of Amazon,” referring to the southern city’s key role in global export, manufacturing, and increasingly, design.

Amazon alternative

BBG hopes to offer a new way for Chinese consumer products to scale in Europe and the U.S. beyond being an anonymous brand on Amazon. Sellers may want to break free of the American behemoth to seize more control over consumer data, but building a direct-to-consumer (D2C) brand is no small feat.

Many merchants that are good at operating Amazon third-party businesses lack the infrastructure to go beyond Amazon, like an in-house logistics system, said the founder. In Europe, BBG manages 120,000 square meters of fulfillment centers, allowing it to shed dependence on Amazon.

Chinese brands may also want to find Amazon alternatives in Europe, where the e-commerce landscape is a lot more fragmented than that in the U.S, noted Chaljawski.

“If you look at the U.S., Amazon is dominant. If you look at Europe, Amazon only has 10% of the market share of online retail. So 90% is beyond Amazon. In the Netherlands, you have platforms like Bol. In Poland, you have Allegro, and in France, you have other dominant players.”

To bridge the gap for international brands targeting Europe, BBG operates close to 20 D2C web stores in major European countries, aside from selling on Amazon. Its sales growth in the U.S. has also been in full steam. Currently, over 60% of the firm’s revenues come from non-Amazon channels.

BBG is already in advanced negotiations with “some brands” in China but cannot disclose their names at this stage.

#amazon, #asia, #berlin-brands-group, #brand, #china, #consumer-products, #e-commerce, #e-commerce-aggregator, #ecommerce, #europe, #manufacturing, #online-retail, #online-shopping, #retailers, #roll-ups, #shenzhen, #tc

0

Vienna’s GoStudent raises $244M at a $1.7B valuation for its online tutor marketplace

Online teaching came into the spotlight for many students and parents in the last year, and today one of the companies that saw a big lift during that rush of activity is announcing a big round of funding to carry it into what has emerged as a more permanent change of habits for many learners.

GoStudent, a marketplace where K-12 students (and their parents) can find and engage with one-to-one video-based tutors in a variety of subjects, has raised €205 million ($244 million), in a Series C round that values the company at €1.4 billion ($1.7 billion).

The funding is coming at a time of strong growth. The Vienna, Austria-based startup is now live in 18 countries and sees some 400,000 sessions booked monthly on its platform, up 700% year-on-year (and up 15% month-on-month). It says it is on track to double employees to 1,000 and reach 10,000 tutors by the end of this year. The plan is to expand to more countries — Mexico and Canada are next on the list — and to continue growing its lists of tutors and subjects covered.

“We now plan to be even more aggressive geographically and plan to invest more into the brand,” Felix Ohswald, cofounder and CEO, told TechCrunch.

(As a point of comparison, when it last fundraised in March, GoStudent was booking a mere 250,000 tutoring sessions over its platform.)

DST Global is leading the round, with SoftBank (via its Vision Fund 2), Tencent, Dragoneer and previous backers Coatue, Left Lane Capital and DN Capital also participating. Vienna, Austria-based GoStudent has raised €291 million to date, including a €70 million round only this past March and €13.3 million in a Series A this past November.

The rapid pace of funding and GoStudent’s rising valuation — this investment makes it the highest-valued edtech startup in Europe, the company said — comes amid a streak of funding rounds for edtech companies.

And that may be no surprise: online and other digital tools in the last year especially felt more relevant (and in many cases were used more) than ever before due to social distancing during the pandemic. (Other recent deals have included funding for Byju’s, Kahoot, Formative, Engageli, Lingoda, Brainly, ClassDojo, Newsela, and Yuanfudao, among many others.)

But in the case of GoStudent, it’s also because the startup itself is also doing an A+ job in scaling its concept.

The company has been around since 2016 — when it started out initially providing a network for people to help each other answer questions (similar to Brainly), as well as connect with tutors, and for tutors to organize classes — but it was only about 2.5 years ago that GoStudent started to focus more squarely on one-to-one tutoring.

GoStudent provides a fully-integrated service, which lets students and their parents select from a range of topics that are typically taught in schools — currently some 30 subjects, including sciences, math, computing, languages, history, business and more — that they can be tutored on generally or specifically with the aim of taking an exam.

Tutoring comes from people who are tested, vetted and interviewed by GoStudent before they can join the platform; and before engaging tutors, parents and students interview an individual tutor and go through a practice lesson as part of that.

Learning plans are then organized according to students’ schedules and what they are setting out to do (they can send over their homework, or chapters they’re studying in school or even a curriculum outline); and the classes, assessments and payments (based on packages booked), are all handled over the platform, too.

Although there are a number of ways of learning a subject over the internet today — and specifically a number of online-only direct tutoring platforms in the market now (including Brainly, Yuanfudao, and others) — Ohswald said that by and large GoStudent’s biggest competition is the bigger in-person business of teaching, and of students and tutors connecting with each other through word of mouth — the “offline shadow market of tutors,” as he calls it.

All the same, while there are tech tools involved in provisioning and running lessons, at its heart GoStudent is also still about humans connecting to help each other, rather than humans connecting with computer programs.

Interestingly, its founders believe that the Covid-19 pandemic effect was not uniformly positive for its business.

“The pandemic had mixed effects,” Ohswald said. “On the one hand there was a natural demand from kids and parents. But with the schools closed, there was less pressure, less exams, less demand for after-school study. That aspect had a negative effect. But more broadly, there was a BIG boost for digital education. So the mindset of the parent and family drastically shifted.”

He noted that many families turned to tutoring to help “support the kids at home, to help them to stop being overwhelmed.” (And I would add, especially in the first part of the lockdown last year when schools were scrambling a little to regroup and teach online, that as a parent, we found it a relief to have at least some consistency with private tutors online at that time.)

What that means, essentially, is that while GoStudent did well in the last year, the company does not want to tie its growth to a specific set of pandemic circumstances that may well become less of an issue in the year ahead.

Indeed, for better or worse, there are bigger factors at play that predate the pandemic. Increasing pressure on students to perform their best competing against others, a continuing focus on testing, and a general level of academic ambition; but also a much easier and cheaper way of finding and connecting with people who can help students feel more supported in their efforts: all of these are also playing a role.

“GoStudent is one of the fastest growing companies that we have ever backed. The company has grown 800% in terms of revenue and 70x in terms of value since 2020 and we are convinced that this is just the beginning,” Nenad Marovac, founder and managing partner, DN Capital, told TechCrunch. “We believe that GoStudent can become one of the top digital schools in the world. By leveraging technology GoStudent democratizes quality education to all at affordable prices.”

#edtech, #education, #europe, #funding, #gostudent, #online-education, #tutoring, #tutors

0

Sneaker community startup SoleSavy raises $12.5 million Series A to build an end-to-end sneakersphere

Collectibles boomed during the pandemic and while NFT outfits like NBA Top Shot exploded as consumers flirted with newer efforts, the sneaker world grew even more mature with enthusiasts digging deeper into communities dedicated to the hobby/passion/obsession/alternative asset class.

Vancouver’s SoleSavy, a sneaker community dedicated to giving fans a curated place to navigate the world of shoes, with all of its drops, news and rumors, has raised a $12.5 million Series A just months after wrapping a $2 million seed round, showcasing investor enthusiasm behind vertical-specific premium social experiences. The round was led by Bedrock Capital with participation from Dapper Labs’ CEO Roham Gharegozlou, Diplo, Bessemer Ventures and Turner Novak’s Banana Capital, among others.

CEO Dejan Pralica says the company has tripled its user base since its seed raise late last year, while growing its team from 10 to 37 employees in the same period.

Today, SoleSavy’s community is based largely around a network of Slack groups where users can discuss just about everything. Though the platform’s chat communities are organized in Slack now, Pralica sees a future where the company could build its own chat hub for members, something to further tie-in the startup’s app, website and online conversations. The more near-term goal is to grow this community into a hub of trusted buyers and sellers where a peer-to-peer member marketplace can thrive. SoleSavy is at the forefront of a new generation of more social internet marketplaces where vertical-specific communities can gather and grow inside an all-encompassing platform.

“I do envision on end-to-end platform that’s very integrated,” Pralica tells TechCrunch.”I want to make sneakers fun again and enjoyable for the people that are passionate about them.”

Part of that fun has been diminished by free-for-all chat groups that can quickly grow toxic or grow exploitative as moderators look to cash in on their networks, something SoleSavy hopes a more curated approach can bring back.

As my boss (and TC’s resident sneaker head) Matthew said in his write-up of SoleSavy’s seed raise earlier this year:

That positive community vibe is what Pralica says is SoleSavy’s long-term focus and differentiating factor that keeps the 4,000 members across the U.S. and Canada interacting with the group on a nearly daily basis… I’ve been in a dozen or so different groups focused on buying large quantities of each release to re-sell over the years and many of them are, at best, rowdy and at worst toxic. That’s an environment that SoleSavy wanted to stay away from, says Pralica. Instead, SoleSavy tries to court those who want to buy and wear the shoes, trade them and yes, maybe even resell personal pairs eventually to obtain and wear another grail.

The company’s sizable Series A raise just months after a seed showcases that plenty of investors are intrigued by the idea of verticalized marketplaces built up around social communities, Pralica sees the funding as a chance to ignore fundraising for a while and focus on “building for the future” while identifying new opportunities in the sneakersphere.

SoleSavy has been pretty focused on North American sneaker heads so far, but Pralica see that hefty Series A check taking the platform into new markets, including Australia and New Zealand, United Kingdom, Singapore, Japan and broader Europe. The company also plans to use the new funding to build out its editorial network with podcasts, editorial features, original video and member events.

#australia, #bedrock-capital, #bessemer-ventures, #canada, #ceo, #consumer-goods, #culture, #dapper-labs, #europe, #footwear, #groupware, #japan, #matthew, #national-basketball-association, #nba, #new-zealand, #peer-to-peer, #shoe, #singapore, #slack, #sneakers, #software, #tc, #united-kingdom, #united-states, #vancouver

0

Populist Leaders in Eastern Europe Run Into a Little Problem: Unpopularity

The leaders of Slovenia, Hungary and Poland, who rode to power on waves of anti-elitism anger, face rising opposition over their pandemic responses and heavy-handed policies.

#central-europe, #eastern-europe, #elections, #europe, #fidesz-party, #hungary, #law-and-justice-poland, #poland, #politics-and-government, #slovenia, #slovenian-democratic-party

0

Ban biometric surveillance in public to safeguard rights, urge EU bodies

There have been further calls from EU institutions to outlaw biometric surveillance in public.

In a joint opinion published today, the European Data Protection Board (EDPB) and the European Data Protection Supervisor (EDPS), Wojciech Wiewiórowski, have called for draft EU regulations on the use of artificial intelligence technologies to go further than the Commission’s proposal in April — urging that the planned legislation should be beefed up to include a “general ban on any use of AI for automated recognition of human features in publicly accessible spaces, such as recognition of faces, gait, fingerprints, DNA, voice, keystrokes and other biometric or behavioural signals, in any context”.

Such technologies are simply too harmful to EU citizens’ fundamental rights and freedoms — like privacy and equal treatment under the law — to permit their use, is the argument.

The EDPB is responsible for ensuring a harmonization application of the EU’s privacy rules, while the EDPS oversees EU institutions’ own compliance with data protection law and also provides legislative guidance to the Commission.

EU lawmakers’ draft proposal on regulating applications of AI contained restrictions on law enforcement’s use of biometric surveillance in public places — but with very wide-ranging exemptions which quickly attracted major criticism from digital rights and civil society groups, as well as a number of MEPs.

The EDPS himself also quickly urged a rethink. Now he’s gone further, with the EDPB joining in with the criticism.

The EDPB and the EDPS have jointly fleshed out a number of concerns with the EU’s AI proposal — while welcoming the overall “risk-based approach” taken by EU lawmakers — saying, for example, that legislators must be careful to ensure alignment with the bloc’s existing data protection framework to avoid rights risks.

“The EDPB and the EDPS strongly welcome the aim of addressing the use of AI systems within the European Union, including the use of AI systems by EU institutions, bodies or agencies. At the same time, the EDPB and EDPS are concerned by the exclusion of international law enforcement cooperation from the scope of the Proposal,” they write.

“The EDPB and EDPS also stress the need to explicitly clarify that existing EU data protection legislation (GDPR, the EUDPR and the LED) applies to any processing of personal data falling under the scope of the draft AI Regulation.”

As well as calling for the use of biometric surveillance to be banned in public, the pair have urged a total ban on AI systems using biometrics to categorize individuals into “clusters based on ethnicity, gender, political or sexual orientation, or other grounds on which discrimination is prohibited under Article 21 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights”.

That’s an interesting concern in light of Google’s push, in the adtech realm, to replace behavioral micromarketing of individuals with ads that address cohorts (or groups) of users, based on their interests — with such clusters of web users set to be defined by Google’s AI algorithms.

(It’s interesting to speculate, therefore, whether FLoCs risks creating a legal discrimination risk — based on how individual mobile users are grouped together for ad targeting purposes. Certainly, concerns have been raised over the potential for FLoCs to scale bias and predatory advertising. And it’s also interesting that Google avoided running early tests in Europe, likely owning to the EU’s data protection regime.)

In another recommendation today, the EDPB and the EDPS also express a view that the use of AI to infer emotions of a natural person is “highly undesirable and should be prohibited” —  except for what they describe as “very specified cases, such as some health purposes, where the patient emotion recognition is important”.

“The use of AI for any type of social scoring should be prohibited,” they go on — touching on one use-case that the Commission’s draft proposal does suggest should be entirely prohibited, with EU lawmakers evidently keen to avoid any China-style social credit system taking hold in the region.

However by failing to include a prohibition on biometric surveillance in public in the proposed regulation the Commission is arguably risking just such a system being developed on the sly — i.e. by not banning private actors from deploying technology that could be used to track and profile people’s behavior remotely and en masse.

Commenting in a statement, the EDPB’s chair Andrea Jelinek and the EDPS Wiewiórowski argue as much, writing [emphasis ours]:

“Deploying remote biometric identification in publicly accessible spaces means the end of anonymity in those places. Applications such as live facial recognition interfere with fundamental rights and freedoms to such an extent that they may call into question the essence of these rights and freedoms. This calls for an immediate application of the precautionary approach. A general ban on the use of facial recognition in publicly accessible areas is the necessary starting point if we want to preserve our freedoms and create a human-centric legal framework for AI. The proposed regulation should also prohibit any type of use of AI for social scoring, as it is against the EU fundamental values and can lead to discrimination.”

In their joint opinion they also express concerns about the Commission’s proposed enforcement structure for the AI regulation, arguing that data protection authorities (within Member States) should be designated as national supervisory authorities (“pursuant to Article 59 of the [AI] Proposal”) — pointing out the EU DPAs are already enforcing the GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) and the LED (Law Enforcement Directive) on AI systems involving personal data; and arguing it would therefore be “a more harmonized regulatory approach, and contribute to the consistent interpretation of data processing provisions across the EU” if they were given competence for supervising the AI Regulation too.

They are also not happy with the Commission’s plan to give itself a predominant role in the planned European Artificial Intelligence Board (EAIB) — arguing that this “would conflict with the need for an AI European body independent from any political influence”. To ensure the Board’s independence the proposal should give it more autonomy and “ensure it can act on its own initiative”, they add.

The Commission has been contacted for comment.

The AI Regulation is one of a number of digital proposals unveiled by EU lawmakers in recent months. Negotiations between the different EU institutions — and lobbying from industry and civil society — continues as the bloc works toward adopting new digital rules.

In another recent and related development, the UK’s information commissioner warned last week over the threat posed by big data surveillance systems that are able to make use of technologies like live facial recognition — although she claimed it’s not her place to endorse or ban a technology.

But her opinion makes it clear that many applications of biometric surveillance may be incompatible with the UK’s privacy and data protection framework.

#andrea-jelinek, #artificial-intelligence, #biometrics, #data-protection, #data-protection-law, #edpb, #edps, #europe, #european-data-protection-board, #european-union, #facial-recognition, #general-data-protection-regulation, #law-enforcement, #privacy, #surveillance, #united-kingdom, #wojciech-wiewiorowski

0

DataRails books $25M more to build better financial reporting tools for SMBs

As enterprise startups continue to target interesting gaps in the market, we’re seeing increasingly sophisticated tools getting built for small and medium businesses — traditionally a tricky segment to sell to, too small for large enterprise tools, and too advanced in their needs for consumer products. In the latest development of that trend, an Israeli startup called DataRails has raised $25 million to continue building out a platform that lets SMBs using Excel to run financial planning and analytics like their larger counterparts.

The funding closes out the company’s Series A at $43.5 million, after the company initially raised $18.5 million in April (some at the time reported this as its Series A, but it seems the round had yet to be completed). The full round includes Zeev Ventures, Vertex Ventures Israel, and Innovation Endeavors, with Vintage Investment Partners added in this most recent tranche. DataRails is not disclosing its valuation, except to note that it has doubled in the last four months, with hundreds of customers and on target to cross 1,000 this year, with a focus on the North American market. It has raised $55 million in total. 

The challenge that DataRails has identified is that on one hand, SMBs have started to adopt a lot more apps, including software delivered as a service, to help them manage their businesses — a trend that has been accelerated in the last year with the pandemic and the knock-on effect that has had for remote working and bringing more virtual elements to replace face-to-face interactions. Those apps can include Salesforce, NetSuite, Sage, SAP, QuickBooks, Zuora, Xero, ADP and more.

But on the other hand, those in the business who manage its finances and financial reporting are lacking the tools to look at the data from these different apps in a holistic way. While Excel is a default application for many of them, they are simply reading lots of individual spreadsheets rather than integrated data analytics based on the numbers.

DataRails has built a platform that can read the reported information, which typically already lives in Excel spreadsheets, and automatically translate it into a bigger picture view of the company.

For SMEs, Excel is such a central piece of software, yet such a pain point for its lack of extensibility and function, that this predicament was actually the germination of starting DataRails in the first place,

Didi Gurfinkel, the CEO who co-founded the company with Eyal Cohen (the CPO) said that DataRails’ initially set out to create a more general purpose product that could help analyze and visualize anything from Excel.

“We started the company with a vision to save the world from Excel spreadsheets,” he said, by taking them and helping to connect the data contained within them to a structured database. “The core of our technology knows how to take unstructured data and map that to a central database.” Before 2020, DataRails (which was founded in 2015) applied this to a variety of areas with a focus on banks, insurance companies, compliance and data integrity.

Over time, it could see a very specific application emerging, specifically for SMEs: providing a platform for FP&A (financial planning and analytics), which didn’t really have a solution to address it at the time. “So we enabled that to beat the market.”

“They’re already investing so much time and money in their software, but they still don’t have analytics and insight,” said Gurfinkel.

That turned out to be fortunate timing, since “digital transformation” and getting more out of one’s data was really starting to get traction in the world of business, specifically in the world of SMEs, and CFOs and other people who oversaw finances were already looking for something like this.

The typical DataRails customer might be as small as a business of 50 people, or as big as 1,000 employees, a size of business that is too small for enterprise solutions, “which can cost tens of thousands of dollars to implement and use,” added Cohen, among other challenges. But as with so many of the apps that are being built today to address those using Excel, the idea with DataRails is low-code or even more specifically no-code, which means “no IT in the loop,” he said.

“That’s why we are so successful,” he said. “We are crossing the barrier and making our solution easy to use.”

The company doesn’t have a huge number of competitors today, either, although companies like Cube (which also recently raised some money) are among them. And others like Stripe, while currently not focussing on FP&A, have most definitely been expanding the tools that it is providing to businesses as part of their bigger play to manage payments and subsequently other processes related to financial activity, so perhaps it, or others like it, might at some point become competitors in this space as well.

In the meantime, Gurfinkel said that other areas that DataRails is likely to expand to cover alongside FP&A are likely to include HR, inventory, and “planning for anything,” any process that you have running in Excel. Another interesting turn would be how and if DataRails decides to look beyond Excel at other spreadsheets, or bypass spreadsheets altogether.

The scope of the opportunity — in the U.S. alone there are more than 30 million small businesses — is what’s attracting the investment here.

“We’re thrilled to reinvest in DataRails and continue working with the team to help them navigate their recent explosive and rapid growth,” said Yanai Oron, General Partner at Vertex Ventures, in a statement. “With innovative yet accessible technology and a tremendous untapped market opportunity, DataRails is primed to scale and become the leading FP&A solution for SMEs everywhere.”

“Businesses are constantly about to start, in the midst of, or have just finished a round of financial reporting—it’s a never-ending cycle,” added Oren Zeev, founding partner at Zeev Ventures. “But with DataRails, FP&A can be simple, streamlined, and effective, and that’s a vision we’ll back again and again.”

#datarails, #enterprise, #europe, #excel, #finance, #financial-planning, #fpa, #funding, #low-code, #no-code, #smbs, #smes

0

Revolut revenue grew by 57% in 2020

Fintech startup Revolut has filed some financial results and is sharing details with the press. In 2020, the company reported $361 million in revenue (£261 million) — that’s a 57% increase compared to 2019 revenue of $229 million (£166 million).

Interestingly, those revenue figures have been adjusted to include fair value gains on cryptocurrency assets — it means that Revolut holds some crypto assets on its balance sheet. Revolut made $54 million (£39 million) in fair value gains on cryptocurrency assets.

Gross profit reached $170 million (£123 million) last year. At the same time, the company still reports operating losses. In particular, Q1 2020 was a particularly bad quarter with $76 million (£55 million) in adjusted operating loss.

In 2020, total non-adjusted operating loss reached $277 million (£200.6 million). Like many tech companies, administrative expenses are responsible for this loss. With a staff of 2,200 people, the company spent $367 million (£266 million) on administrative costs alone. But things seem to be improving as you can see:

Image Credits: Revolut

These trends aren’t that surprising as I reported that fintech startups spent most of 2020 focusing on profitability and improving their margins. At the end 2020, Revolut had 14.5 million personal customers and 500,000 companies using Revolut Business.

“As the extraordinary circumstances of 2020 drove the trend towards digital financial management we continued to innovate for customers to make their financial lives easier and accelerate daily use. We launched 24 new retail and business products, expanded into the US, Japan and Australia and launched banking services in Lithuania, all while significantly improving our profitability,” founder and CEO Nikolay Storonsky said in a statement. “We began 2021 with a more resilient and productive business that will enhance our trajectory towards rapid growth.”

When you compare Q1 2020 to Q1 2021, things are radically different for the fintech company. Revenue increased by 130% year-over-year and gross profit grew by 300% between Q1 2020 and Q1 2021.

Revolut has been launching a ton of products to diversify its sources of revenue. It is increasingly becoming a financial super app with current accounts, debit cards, trading services, insurance products, premium subscriptions, cryptocurrency trading and more.

Interestingly, interchange revenue from card transactions represents a good chunk of the company’s revenue. In 2020, cards and interchange generated $131 million (£95 million) in revenue. Every time a Revolut customer makes a card purchase, the card scheme (Visa or Mastercard) gives back some fees to Revolut. It’s an incredibly small percentage-based fee, but it can add up when you generate millions of purchases.

Foreign exchange and wealth generated $111 million (£80 million) in revenue. That’s another big one. And finally, subscriptions, such as Revolut Plus, Revolut Premium and Revolut Metal, accounted for $104 million (£75 million) in revenue.

Those are three strong pillars that all contribute to the company’s bottom line. They all represent a bit less or a bit more than a third of the company’s overall revenue.

Image Credits: Revolut

While the company has expanded aggressively over the years, the U.K. is still by far its biggest market. In 2020, 88.4% of the company’s (non-adjusted) revenue was related to its activities in the U.K. The European Economic Area without the U.K. represented 10.2% of revenue. The U.S., Japan, Australia and other markets were nearly negligible.

Revolut has also raised a mega round of funding in 2020 — a $500 million Series D round that was extended to $580 million in total. I wouldn’t be surprised if the company launches an initial public offering within the next 12 months.

#challenger-bank, #europe, #finance, #fintech, #neobank, #revolut, #startups

0

Apple’s App Store to face scrutiny in Germany as FCO opens ‘market power’ proceeding

Germany’s competition authority, the FCO, has completed its Big Tech GAFA ‘bingo’ card by opening a proceeding against Apple.

As with similar investigations already opened this year — into Amazon, Facebook and Google — the proceeding will determine whether or not the iPhone maker meets the threshold of Germany’s updated competition law.

The 10th amendment to the law, which came into force in January, enables the Bundeskartellamt to intervene proactively against the practices of large digital companies — if they are determined to have “paramount significance for competition across markets” and in order to prevent them from engaging in anti-competitive practices.

Discussing the key new provision to the Competition Act (aka, the GWB Digitalisation Act and specifically Section 19a) — in a panel discussion last week, the FCO’s president, Andreas Mundt, explained that the competition law update had been influenced by its experience with a long running (and pioneering) case against Facebook’s superprofiling of Internet users.

The upshot is that German competition law now has a theory of harm which entwines competition law and data protection — albeit, in the case of Apple, its tech empire is typically associated with defence (rather than abuse) of user privacy.

But the comprehensive amendments to German antitrust law are broadly targeted at Big Tech, with the goal of keeping markets open, fostering innovation and putting a stop to any abusive behavior, via provisions the FCO will be able to order — such an banning or restricting self-preferencing and bundling; or stopping giants tying products together to try to muscle into adjacent markets; or preventing them blocking interoperability and data access to try to lock out rivals, to name a few.

A mix of provisions are likely to be deployed, as tech giants are designated as addressable under the law, depending on the specifics of each case and the particular ecosystem business. So how it will operate in practice remains to be seen. So far the FCO is still in the process of determining (in each case) whether it can apply the law against GAFA.

For the Apple proceeding, Mundt said in a statement today that its operation of the App Store will be a “main focus” for the investigation because he said it “enables Apple in many ways to influence the business activities of third parties”.

“We will now examine whether with its proprietary operating system iOS, Apple has created a digital ecosystem around its iPhone that extends across several markets,” he added. “Apple produces tablets, computers and wearables and provides a host of device-related services. In addition to manufacturing various hardware products, the tech company also offers the App Store, iCloud, AppleCare, Apple Music, Apple Arcade, Apple TV+ as well as other services as part of its services business. Besides assessing the company’s position in these areas, we will, among other aspects, examine its extensive integration across several market levels, the magnitude of its technological and financial resources and its access to data.”

The FCO also noted that it has received a number of complaints against Apple “relating to potentially anti-competitive practices” — such as one from the advertising and media industry against Apple restricting user tracking with the introduction of its iOS 14.5 operating system; and a complaint against the exclusive pre-installation of the company’s own applications as a possible type of self-preferencing prohibited under Section 19a GWB.

“App developers also criticise the mandatory use of Apple’s own in-app purchase system (IAP) and the 30% commission rate associated with this,” it added in a press release. “In this context, the marketing restrictions for app developers in Apple’s App Store are also addressed. The latter complaint has much in common with the European Commission’s ongoing proceeding against Apple for imposing restrictions on the streaming service Spotify and accordingly preferencing its own services. Where necessary, the Bundeskartellamt will establish contact with the European Commission and other competition authorities in this regard. So far, no decision on initiating a further proceeding has been taken.”

Apple was contacted for comment on the FCO’s proceeding and it sent us this statement, attributed to a spokesperson:

Apple is proud to be an engine for innovation and job creation, with more than 250,000 jobs supported by the iOS app economy in Germany. The App Store’s economic growth and activity have given German developers of all sizes the same opportunity to share their passion and creativity with users around the world while creating a secure and trusted place for customers to download the apps they love with the privacy protections they expect. Germany is also home to Apple’s largest engineering hub in Europe, and a new €1BN investment in our European Silicon Design Center in Munich. We look forward to discussing our approach with the FCO and having an open dialogue about any of their concerns.”

Once issued by the FCO, a ‘paramount significance’ finding lasts for five years — while any legal challenges to orders made under Section 19a are intentionally expedited, with appeals going direct to Germany’s Federal Court of Justice (which is given exclusive competence). The goal being to avoid long drawn out litigations, as has occurred in the FCO’s case against Facebook’s superprofiling — which had legal questions referred to the CJEU back in March, some five years after the Bundeskartellamt began looking into Facebook’s data practices.

The coming months and years could be highly significant to how GAFA is able to operate in Europe’s largest economy — and, likely by extension, further afield in Europe and beyond as a number of jurisdictions are now paying active attention to how to regulate Big Tech.

Back in March, for example, the UK’s Competition and Markets Authority opened its own probe into Apple’s App Store. Simultaneously it’s working on reforming national law to create a ‘pro-competition’ for regulating tech giants.

While, last December, European Union lawmakers proposed the Digital Markets Act — also aiming to tackle the power market of so-called ‘gatekeeper’ platforms.

The FTC appointing Lina Khan as chair also appears to signify a change of direction on tech antitrust over in the US.

#andreas-mundt, #antitrust, #apple, #apps, #big-tech, #bundeskartellamt, #competition-law, #europe, #fco, #germany, #platform-regulation, #policy

0

Investors say Eindhoven poised to become Netherlands’ No. 2 tech hub

Eindhoven might not immediately spring to mind as a high-tech hub, but the Netherlands city is keen to position itself as a center for deep tech in Europe.

The Technical University of Eindhoven, High Tech Campus Eindhoven, and locally based corporates like ASML and Philips have been eyeing initiatives across Europe and applying what they’ve learned to the region’s strategy. Philips launched in Eindhoven in 1891 and played no small part in the municipality’s ambitions to become a tech hub.

Eindhoven produces a high number of patents per year considering its small population and has been home to an inordinate number of hardware startups. The local High Tech Campus has a high hardware focus, for instance.

Our survey respondents consider the city strong in areas like photonics, robotics, medical devices, materials science, deep tech, automotive tech, sustainability tech, medtech, Big Data, hardware and precision engineering. They are looking for more mature startups and scaleups focused on AI and hard tech.

Eindhoven is considered weaker in fintech and consumer products, and it exists in a small region with limited global visibility.

Over the next five years, one respondent said, “Eindhoven will have evolved to the Netherlands’ second-largest tech ecosystem, behind Amsterdam. On a European scale, Eindhoven will have entered the top 10.”

To learn more about Eindhoven, we queried the following investors:


Robert AL, Systema Circularis

What industry sectors is your tech ecosystem strong in? What are you most excited by? What is it weak in?

High-tech systems, photonics, robotics, medical devices.

Which are the most interesting startups in your city?

Lightyear, Bio-TRIP, EFFECT photonics, Nemo Healthcare, Sorama.

What are the tech investors like? What is the investment scene like in your city? What’s their focus?

Fully dedicated.

Who are the key startup people in your city (e.g., investors, founders, lawyers, designers, etc.)?

Steef Blok, Harm de Vries, Piet van der Wielen, Andy Lurling, Mark Cox.

Where do you see your city’s tech scene in five years’ time?

More mature, more focused on inclusive development, less quality coming from university spinoffs.

Nathan van den Dool, CEO, Space4Good

What industry sectors is your tech ecosystem strong in? What are you most excited by? What is it weak in?

High-tech systems and materials, the real high-tech and deep tech stuff that either leads to scientific breakthroughs or turns scientific breakthroughs into companies. Lithography makes a major contribution to that, as well as medical devices and production technologies.

Which are the most interesting startups in your city?

Nearfield Instruments, Optiflux, Dynaxion, AlphaBeats, Incooling.

What are the tech investors like? What is the investment scene like in your city? What’s their focus?

They focus mainly on high-tech machine building and software development, AI.

With the shift to remote working during the COVID-19 pandemic, will people stay in your city, move out or will others move in?

Largely unaffected.

Where do you see your city’s tech scene in five years’ time?

More integrated between AI and hard tech and production.

Pepijn Herman, venture builder, Brabantse Ontwikkelings Maat schappij

What industry sectors is your tech ecosystem strong in? What are you most excited by? What is it weak in?

The pros are high-tech systems, collaboration culture and excellent startup ecosystem; The cons are that it’s a small region with limited visibility globally.

Which are the most interesting startups in your city?

LionVolt, DENS, Lightyear, Morphotonics.

What are the tech investors like? What is the investment scene like in your city? What’s their focus?

They focus mainly on high-tech machine building and software development, AI.

With the shift to remote working during the COVID-19 pandemic, will people stay in your city, move out or will others move in?

Others will move in! Housing is extremely expensive but the demand for a skilled workforce is extremely high. If people move to surrounding areas, within 30 km, housing prices skyrocket all over.

Who are the key startup people in your city (e.g., investors, founders, lawyers, designers, etc.)?\

BOM (that’s us!), Braventure, Brainport Development, TNO.

Where do you see your city’s tech scene in five years’ time?

Leading worldwide in several technology areas, mainly, high-precision, roll-to-roll processing atomic layer deposition, material handling, industry 4.0, silicon processing equipment.

Betsy Lindsey, CFO, Aircision

What industry sectors is your tech ecosystem strong in? What are you most excited by? What is it weak in?

The region is strong in deep tech, automotive tech, sustainability tech, medtech, Big Data, hardware and precision engineering. Most excited by sustainability tech and deep tech. The region is weak in fintech.

Which are the most interesting startups in your city?

Lightyear, Incooling.

What are the tech investors like? What is the investment scene like in your city? What’s their focus?

Conservative, non-risk-taking — there are so many subsidies they don’t need to take risks, so once the tech risk is gone, they are good, but they are not global enough; hardware.

With the shift to remote working during the COVID-19 pandemic, will people stay in your city, move out or will others move in?

Hardware is hands-on — people are still moving in! We have a housing “crisis!”

Who are the key startup people in your city (e.g., investors, founders, lawyers, designers, etc.)?

Innovation Industries.

Where do you see your city’s tech scene in five years’ time?

More mature startups and scaleups on the scene!

Andy Lurling, founding partner, LUMO Labs

What industry sectors is your tech ecosystem strong in? What are you most excited by? What is it weak in?

The region is strong in sustainable cities, health and well-being, and education.

Which are the most interesting startups in your city?

FruitPunch AI, AlphaBeats, Vaulut, Lightyear, Serendipity.

What are the tech investors like? What is the investment scene like in your city? What’s their focus?

Mainly hardware; LUMO Labs has an early-stage software focus.

With the shift to remote working during the COVID-19 pandemic, will people stay in your city, move out or will others move in?

Stay.

Who are the key startup people in your city (e.g., investors, founders, lawyers, designers, etc.)?

Nard Sintenie, Frank Claassen, Hans Bloemen.

Where do you see your city’s tech scene in five years’ time?

Competing on a global scale.

Han Dirkx, CEO and co-founder, AlphaBeats

What industry sectors is your tech ecosystem strong in? What are you most excited by? What is it weak in?

The region is strong in deep tech and health. I’m excited about opportunities for cooperation between different companies. It’s weak in seed investment.

Which are the most interesting startups in your city?

Lightyear, AlphaBeats, Carbyon, FruitPunch, Serendipity.

What are the tech investors like? What is the investment scene like in your city? What’s their focus?

Tech investors are mainly government-regulated constitutions or angels. Focus on scaleup.

With the shift to remote working during the COVID-19 pandemic, will people stay in your city, move out or will others move in?

They will stay; working from home has some benefits but meeting people in an inspiring environment gives the best synergy.

Who are the key startup people in your city (e.g., investors, founders, lawyers, designers, etc.)?

LUMO Labs, HighTechXL, Andy Lurling, Sven Bakkes, John Bell, Guus Frericks, Bert-Jan Woertman.

Where do you see your city’s tech scene in five years’ time?

Leading in the world.

Jonas Onland, managing partner, Serendipity

What industry sectors is your tech ecosystem strong in? What are you most excited by? What is it weak in?

The region is strong in building sustainable and resilient cities and a platform between cities/society and tech market.

Which are the most interesting startups in your city?

Digital Toolbox (a Serendipity spinoff), Amber (mobility), Active Esports Arena and other portfolio companies of LUMO Labs.

What are the tech investors like? What is the investment scene like in your city? What’s their focus?

Through LUMO Labs, there is a focus on societal investments; the rest is investment in high tech due to the big industries (VDLK, ASML, NXP, Phillips).

With the shift to remote working during the COVID-19 pandemic, will people stay in your city, move out or will others move in?

Work at home or mix in the office and at home.

Who are the key startup people in your city (e.g., investors, founders, lawyers, designers, etc.)?

A combination of accelerators (LUMO Labs, HighTechXL, Braventure) and Brainport (ecosystem management) supported by the Eindhoven University of Technology and big corporates.

Where do you see your city’s tech scene in five years’ time?

Leading in the world on societal/systemic change — moving from high-tech toward impact (more software and digitization).

Daan A.J. Kersten, CEO, PhotonFirst

What industry sectors is your tech ecosystem strong in? What are you most excited by? What is it weak in?

It’s strong in high-tech equipment, hardware, photonics, additive manufacturing, lighting, electronics, semiconductor technology and health tech, and weak in consumer products and apps.

Which are the most interesting startups in your city?

Lightyear, ELEO Technologies, EFFECT Photonics, SMART Photonics, PhotonFirst, Amber.

What are the tech investors like? What is the investment scene like in your city? What’s their focus?

There is a relatively low number of investors in early stage.

With the shift to remote working during the COVID-19 pandemic, will people stay in your city, move out or will others move in?

They will stay. Eindhoven is a hot spot with many cultures, international tech community and great infrastructure, while it feels like a village.

Who are the key startup people in your city (e.g., investors, founders, lawyers, designers, etc.)?

Nard Sintenie, startup founders, HighTechXL.

Where do you see your city’s tech scene in five years’ time?

Worldwide dominance in high-tech hardware scaleups.

Daniel den Boer, CEO and co-founder, Vaulut

What industry sectors is your tech ecosystem strong in? What are you most excited by? What is it weak in?

The Eindhoven ecosystem is really strong in the sectors of mobility, smart city and energy. I’m most excited about smart city. This is our focus sector and it is the embodiment of ecosystem collaboration with impact solutions.

Which are the most interesting startups in your city?

Vaulut, Roseman Labs, FruitPunch AI, Amber, Sendcloud, Lightyear.

What are the tech investors like? What is the investment scene like in your city? What’s their focus?

The investment scene is getting better. They are increasingly realizing that deep tech takes time and needs to be nurtured, but the potential impact is massive and can have a dramatic effect on the entire ecosystem. There are still relatively few early-stage impact drive investors. LUMO Labs is leading the pack on that front.

With the shift to remote working during the COVID-19 pandemic, will people stay in your city, move out or will others move in?

I think more people will stay as the need to move to Amsterdam as the tech hub of the Netherlands diminishes, giving Eindhoven a boost to strengthen its own ecosystem, which will in turn make even more people stay and attract people to move in the city. As a result, COVID-19 will have a positive effect on Eindhoven’s tech ecosystem, I believe.

Who are the key startup people in your city (e.g., investors, founders, lawyers, designers, etc.)?

LUMO Labs, the Eindhoven University of Technology, High Tech Campus, Amber, Brainport Eindhoven.

Where do you see your city’s tech scene in five years’ time?

In five years, I believe Eindhoven will have evolved to Netherlands’ second-largest tech ecosystem, behind Amsterdam. On a European scale, Eindhoven will have entered the top 10.

#aircision, #alphabeats, #andy-lurling, #brabantse-ontwikkelings-maat-schappij, #daan-a-j-kersten, #daniel-den-boer, #ec-investor-survey, #europe, #han-dirkx, #investor-survey, #jonas-onland, #lumo-labs, #nathan-van-den-dool, #netherlands, #pepijn-herman, #photonfirst, #robert-al, #serendipity, #space4good, #startups, #systema-circularis, #tc, #vaulut, #venture-capital

0

Perspectives on tackling Big Tech’s market power

The need for markets-focused competition watchdogs and consumer-centric privacy regulators to think outside their respective ‘legal silos’ and find creative ways to work together to tackle the challenge of big tech market power was the impetus for a couple of fascinating panel discussions organized by the Centre for Economic Policy Research (CEPR), which were livestreamed yesterday but are available to view on-demand here.

The conversations brought together key regulatory leaders from Europe and the US — giving a glimpse of what the future shape of digital markets oversight might look like at a time when fresh blood has just been injected to chair the FTC so regulatory change is very much in the air (at least around tech antitrust).

CEPR’s discussion premise is that integration, not merely intersection, of competition and privacy/data protection law is needed to get a proper handle on platform giants that have, in many cases, leveraged their market power to force consumers to accept an abusive ‘fee’ of ongoing surveillance.

That fee both strips consumers of their privacy and helps tech giants perpetuate market dominance by locking out interesting new competition (which can’t get the same access to people’s data so operates at a baked in disadvantage).

A running theme in Europe for a number of years now, since a 2018 flagship update to the bloc’s data protection framework (GDPR), has been the ongoing under-enforcement around the EU’s ‘on-paper’ privacy rights — which, in certain markets, means regional competition authorities are now actively grappling with exactly how and where the issue of ‘data abuse’ fits into their antitrust legal frameworks.

The regulators assembled for CEPR’s discussion included, from the UK, the Competition and Markets Authority’s CEO Andrea Coscelli and the information commissioner, Elizabeth Denham; from Germany, the FCO’s Andreas Mundt; from France, Henri Piffaut, VP of the French competition authority; and from the EU, the European Data Protection Supervisor himself, Wojciech Wiewiórowski, who advises the EU’s executive body on data protection legislation (and is the watchdog for EU institutions’ own data use).

The UK’s CMA now sits outside the EU, of course — giving the national authority a higher profile role in global mergers & acquisition decisions (vs pre-brexit), and the chance to help shape key standards in the digital sphere via the investigations and procedures it chooses to pursue (and it has been moving very quickly on that front).

The CMA has a number of major antitrust probes open into tech giants — including looking into complaints against Apple’s App Store and others targeting Google’s plan to depreciate support for third party tracking cookies (aka the so-called ‘Privacy Sandbox’) — the latter being an investigation where the CMA has actively engaged the UK’s privacy watchdog (the ICO) to work with it.

Only last week the competition watchdog said it was minded to accept a set of legally binding commitments that Google has offered which could see a quasi ‘co-design’ process taking place, between the CMA, the ICO and Google, over the shape of the key technology infrastructure that ultimately replaces tracking cookies. So a pretty major development.

Germany’s FCO has also been very active against big tech this year — making full use of an update to the national competition law which gives it the power to take proactive inventions around large digital platforms with major competitive significance — with open procedures now against Amazon, Facebook and Google.

The Bundeskartellamt was already a pioneer in pushing to loop EU data protection rules into competition enforcement in digital markets in a strategic case against Facebook, as we’ve reported before. That closely watched (and long running) case — which targets Facebook’s ‘superprofiling’ of users, based on its ability to combine user data from multiple sources to flesh out a single high dimension per-user profile — is now headed to Europe’s top court (so likely has more years to run).

But during yesterday’s discussion Mundt confirmed that the FCO’s experience litigating that case helped shape key amendments to the national law that’s given him beefier powers to tackle big tech. (And he suggested it’ll be a lot easier to regulate tech giants going forward, using these new national powers.)

“Once we have designated a company to be of ‘paramount significance’ we can prohibit certain conduct much more easily than we could in the past,” he said. “We can prohibit, for example, that a company impedes other undertaking by data processing that is relevant for competition. We can prohibit that a use of service depends on the agreement to data collection with no choice — this is the Facebook case, indeed… When this law was negotiated in parliament parliament very much referred to the Facebook case and in a certain sense this entwinement of competition law and data protection law is written in a theory of harm in the German competition law.

“This makes a lot of sense. If we talk about dominance and if we assess that this dominance has come into place because of data collection and data possession and data processing you need a parameter in how far a company is allowed to gather the data to process it.”

“The past is also the future because this Facebook case… has always been a big case. And now it is up to the European Court of Justice to say something on that,” he added. “If everything works well we might get a very clear ruling saying… as far as the ECN [European Competition Network] is concerned how far we can integrate GDPR in assessing competition matters.

“So Facebook has always been a big case — it might get even bigger in a certain sense.”

France’s competition authority and its national privacy regulator (the CNIL), meanwhile, have also been joint working in recent years.

Including over a competition complaint against Apple’s pro-user privacy App Tracking Transparency feature (which last month the antitrust watchdog declined to block) — so there’s evidence there too of respective oversight bodies seeking to bridge legal silos in order to crack the code of how to effectively regulate tech giants whose market power, panellists agreed, is predicated on earlier failures of competition law enforcement that allowed tech platforms to buy up rivals and sew up access to user data, entrenching advantage at the expense of user privacy and locking out the possibility of future competitive challenge.

The contention is that monopoly power predicated upon data access also locks consumers into an abusive relationship with platform giants which can then, in the case of ad giants like Google and Facebook, extract huge costs (paid not in monetary fees but in user privacy) for continued access to services that have also become digital staples — amping up the ‘winner takes all’ characteristic seen in digital markets (which is obviously bad for competition too).

Yet, traditionally at least, Europe’s competition authorities and data protection regulators have been focused on separate workstreams.

The consensus from the CEPR panels was very much that that is both changing and must change if civil society is to get a grip on digital markets — and wrest control back from tech giants to that ensure consumers and competitors aren’t both left trampled into the dust by data-mining giants.

Denham said her motivation to dial up collaboration with other digital regulators was the UK government entertaining the idea of creating a one-stop-shop ‘Internet’ super regulator. “What scared the hell out of me was the policymakers the legislators floating the idea of one regulator for the Internet. I mean what does that mean?” she said. “So I think what the regulators did is we got to work, we got busy, we become creative, got our of our silos to try to tackle these companies — the likes of which we have never seen before.

“And I really think what we have done in the UK — and I’m excited if others think it will work in their jurisdictions — but I think that what really pushed us is that we needed to show policymakers and the public that we had our act together. I think consumers and citizens don’t really care if the solution they’re looking for comes from the CMA, the ICO, Ofcom… they just want somebody to have their back when it comes to protection of privacy and protection of markets.

“We’re trying to use our regulatory levers in the most creative way possible to make the digital markets work and protect fundamental rights.”

During the earlier panel, the CMA’s Simeon Thornton, a director at the authority, made some interesting remarks vis-a-vis its (ongoing) Google ‘Privacy Sandbox’ investigation — and the joint working it’s doing with the ICO on that case — asserting that “data protection and respecting users’ rights to privacy are very much at the heart of the commitments upon which we are currently consulting”.

“If we accept the commitments Google will be required to develop the proposals according to a number of criteria including impacts on privacy outcomes and compliance with data protection principles, and impacts on user experience and user control over the use of their personal data — alongside the overriding objective of the commitments which is to address our competition concerns,” he went on, adding: “We have worked closely with the ICO in seeking to understand the proposals and if we do accept the commitments then we will continue to work closely with the ICO in influencing the future development of those proposals.”

“If we accept the commitments that’s not the end of the CMA’s work — on the contrary that’s when, in many respects, the real work begins. Under the commitments the CMA will be closely involved in the development, implementation and monitoring of the proposals, including through the design of trials for example. It’s a substantial investment from the CMA and we will be dedicating the right people — including data scientists, for example, to the job,” he added. “The commitments ensure that Google addresses any concerns that the CMA has. And if outstanding concerns cannot be resolved with Google they explicitly provide for the CMA to reopen the case and — if necessary — impose any interim measures necessary to avoid harm to competition.

“So there’s no doubt this is a big undertaking. And it’s going to be challenging for the CMA, I’m sure of that. But personally I think this is the sort of approach that is required if we are really to tackle the sort of concerns we’re seeing in digital markets today.”

Thornton also said: “I think as regulators we do need to step up. We need to get involved before the harm materializes — rather than waiting after the event to stop it from materializing, rather than waiting until that harm is irrevocable… I think it’s a big move and it’s a challenging one but personally I think it’s a sign of the future direction of travel in a number of these sorts of cases.”

Also speaking during the regulatory panel session was FTC commissioner Rebecca Slaughter — a dissenter on the $5BN fine it hit Facebook with back in 2019 for violating an earlier consent order (as she argued the settlement provided no deterrent to address underlying privacy abuse, leaving Facebook free to continue exploiting users’ data) — as well as Chris D’Angelo, the chief deputy AG of the New York Attorney General, which is leading a major states antitrust case against Facebook.

Slaughter pointed out that the FTC already combines a consumer focus with attention on competition but said that historically there has been separation of divisions and investigations — and she agreed on the need for more joined-up working.

She also advocated for US regulators to get out of a pattern of ineffective enforcement in digital markets on issues like privacy and competition where companies have, historically, been given — at best — what amounts to wrist slaps that don’t address root causes of market abuse, perpetuating both consumer abuse and market failure. And be prepared to litigate more.

As regulators toughen up their stipulations they will need to be prepared for tech giants to push back — and therefore be prepared to sue instead of accepting a weak settlement.

“That is what is most galling to me that even where we take action, in our best faith good public servants working hard to take action, we keep coming back to the same questions, again and again,” she said. “Which means that the actions we are taking isn’t working. We need different action to keep us from having the same conversation again and again.”

Slaughter also argued that it’s important for regulators not to pile all the burden of avoiding data abuses on consumers themselves.

“I want to sound a note of caution around approaches that are centered around user control,” she said. “I think transparency and control are important. I think it is really problematic to put the burden on consumers to work through the markets and the use of data, figure out who has their data, how it’s being used, make decisions… I think you end up with notice fatigue; I think you end up with decision fatigue; you get very abusive manipulation of dark patterns to push people into decisions.

“So I really worry about a framework that is built at all around the idea of control as the central tenant or the way we solve the problem. I’ll keep coming back to the notion of what instead we need to be focusing on is where is the burden on the firms to limit their collection in the first instance, prohibit their sharing, prohibit abusive use of data and I think that that’s where we need to be focused from a policy perspective.

“I think there will be ongoing debates about privacy legislation in the US and while I’m actually a very strong advocate for a better federal framework with more tools that facilitate aggressive enforcement but I think if we had done it ten years ago we probably would have ended up with a notice and consent privacy law and I think that that would have not been a great outcome for consumers at the end of the day. So I think the debate and discussion has evolved in an important way. I also think we don’t have to wait for Congress to act.”

As regards more radical solutions to the problem of market-denting tech giants — such as breaking up sprawling and (self-servingly) interlocking services empires — the message from Europe’s most ‘digitally switched on’ regulators seemed to be don’t look to us for that; we are going to have to stay in our lanes.

So tl;dr — if antitrust and privacy regulators’ joint working just sums to more intelligent fiddling round the edges of digital market failure, and it’s break-ups of US tech giants that’s what’s really needed to reboot digital markets, then it’s going to be up to US agencies to wield the hammers. (Or, as Coscelli elegantly phrased it: “It’s probably more realistic for the US agencies to be in the lead in terms of structural separation if and when it’s appropriate — rather than an agency like ours [working from inside a mid-sized economy such as the UK’s].”)

The lack of any representative from the European Commission on the panel was an interesting omission in that regard — perhaps hinting at ongoing ‘structural separation’ between DG Comp and DG Justice where digital policymaking streams are concerned.

The current competition chief, Margrethe Vestager — who also heads up digital strategy for the bloc, as an EVP — has repeatedly expressed reluctance to impose radical ‘break up’ remedies on tech giants. She also recently preferred to waive through another Google digital merger (its acquisition of fitness wearable Fitbit) — agreeing to accept a number of ‘concessions’ and ignoring major mobilization by civil society (and indeed EU data protection agencies) urging her to block it.

Yet in an earlier CEPR discussion session, another panellist — Yale University’s Dina Srinivasan — pointed to the challenges of trying to regulate the behavior of companies when there are clear conflicts of interest, unless and until you impose structural separation as she said has been necessary in other markets (like financial services).

“In advertising we have an electronically traded market with exchanges and we have brokers on both sides. In a competitive market — when competition was working — you saw that those brokers were acting in the best interest of buyers and sellers. And as part of carrying out that function they were sort of protecting the data that belonged to buyers and sellers in that market, and not playing with the data in other ways — not trading on it, not doing conduct similar to insider trading or even front running,” she said, giving an example of how that changed as Google gained market power.

“So Google acquired DoubleClick, made promises to continue operating in that manner, the promises were not binding and on the record — the enforcement agencies or the agencies that cleared the merger didn’t make Google promise that they would abide by that moving forward and so as Google gained market power in that market there’s no regulatory requirement to continue to act in the best interests of your clients, so now it becomes a market power issue, and after they gain enough market power they can flip data ownership and say ‘okay, you know what before you owned this data and we weren’t allowed to do anything with it but now we’re going to use that data to for example sell our own advertising on exchanges’.

“But what we know from other markets — and from financial markets — is when you flip data ownership and you engage in conduct like that that allows the firm to now build market power in yet another market.”

The CMA’s Coscelli picked up on Srinivasan’s point — saying it was a “powerful” one, and that the challenges of policing “very complicated” situations involving conflicts of interests is something that regulators with merger control powers should be bearing in mind as they consider whether or not to green light tech acquisitions.

(Just one example of a merger in the digital space that the CMA is still scrutizing is Facebook’s acquisition of animated GIF platform Giphy. And it’s interesting to speculate whether, had brexit happened a little faster, the CMA might have stepped in to block Google’s Fitibit merger where the EU wouldn’t.)

Coscelli also flagged the issue of regulatory under-enforcement in digital markets as a key one, saying: “One of the reasons we are today where we are is partially historic under-enforcement by competition authorities on merger control — and that’s a theme that is extremely interesting and relevant to us because after the exit from the EU we now have a bigger role in merger control on global mergers. So it’s very important to us that we take the right decisions going forward.”

“Quite often we intervene in areas where there is under-enforcement by regulators in specific areas… If you think about it when you design systems where you have vertical regulators in specific sectors and horizontal regulators like us or the ICO we are more successful if the vertical regulators do their job and I’m sure they are more success if we do our job properly.

“I think we systematically underestimate… the ability of companies to work through whatever behavior or commitments or arrangement are offered to us, so I think these are very important points,” he added, signalling that a higher degree of attention is likely to be applied to tech mergers in Europe as a result of the CMA stepping out from the EU’s competition regulation umbrella.

Also speaking during the same panel, the EDPS warned that across Europe more broadly — i.e. beyond the small but engaged gathering of regulators brought together by CEPR — data protection and competition regulators are far from where they need to be on joint working, implying that the challenge of effectively regulating big tech across the EU is still a pretty Sisyphean one.

It’s true that the Commission is not sitting on hands in the face of tech giant market power.

At the end of last year it proposed a regime of ex ante regulations for so-called ‘gatekeeper’ platforms, under the Digital Markets Act. But the problem of how to effectively enforce pan-EU laws — when the various agencies involved in oversight are typically decentralized across Member States — is one key complication for the bloc. (The Commission’s answer with the DMA was to suggest putting itself in charge of overseeing gatekeepers but it remains to be seen what enforcement structure EU institutions will agree on.)

Clearly, the need for careful and coordinated joint working across multiple agencies with different legal competencies — if, indeed, that’s really what’s needed to properly address captured digital markets vs structural separation of Google’s search and adtech, for example, and Facebook’s various social products — steps up the EU’s regulatory challenge in digital markets.

“We can say that no effective competition nor protection of the rights in the digital economy can be ensured when the different regulators do not talk to each other and understand each other,” Wiewiórowski warned. “While we are still thinking about the cooperation it looks a little bit like everybody is afraid they will have to trade a little bit of its own possibility to assess.”

“If you think about the classical regulators isn’t it true that at some point we are reaching this border where we know how to work, we know how to behave, we need a little bit of help and a little bit of understanding of the other regulator’s work… What is interesting for me is there is — at the same time — the discussion about splitting of the task of the American regulators joining the ones on the European side. But even the statements of some of the commissioners in the European Union saying about the bigger role the Commission will play in the data protection and solving the enforcement problems of the GDPR show there is no clear understanding what are the differences between these fields.”

One thing is clear: Big tech’s dominance of digital markets won’t be unpicked overnight. But, on both sides of the Atlantic, there are now a bunch of theories on how to do it — and growing appetite to wade in.

#advertising-tech, #amazon, #andreas-mundt, #competition-and-markets-authority, #competition-law, #congress, #data-processing, #data-protection, #data-protection-law, #data-security, #digital-markets-act, #digital-rights, #doubleclick, #elizabeth-denham, #europe, #european-commission, #european-court-of-justice, #european-union, #facebook, #federal-trade-commission, #financial-services, #fitbit, #france, #general-data-protection-regulation, #germany, #human-rights, #margrethe-vestager, #policy, #privacy, #uk-government, #united-kingdom, #united-states, #yale-university

0

Mediflash is a freelancer marketplace for health professionals

Meet Mediflash, a new French startup that wants to improve temp staffing in healthcare facilities, such as nursing homes, clinics and mental health facilities. The company positions itself as an alternative to traditional temp staffing agencies. They claim to offer better terms for both caregivers and institutions.

“It costs a small fortune to health facilities while caregivers are paid poorly,” co-founder Léopold Treppoz told me.

Traditional temp staffing agencies hire caregivers and nurses on their payroll. When a facility doesn’t have enough staff, they ask their usual temp staffing agency. The agency finds someone and charges the facility.

“When we started, we thought we would do a temp staffing agency, but more digital, more tech,” Treppoz said. But the startup realized they would face the same issues as regular temp staffing agencies.

Instead, they looked at other startups working on freelancer marketplaces for developers, project managers, marketing experts and more. In France, a few of them have been quite successful, such as Comet, Malt, StaffMe and Brigad — some of them even run a vertical focused on health professionals. But Mediflash wants to focus specifically on caregivers.

Professionals signing up to Mediflash are freelancers. Mediflash only acts as a marketplace that connects health facilities with caregivers. The company says caregivers can expect more revenue — up to 20% — while facilities end up paying less.

Of course, it’s not a fair comparison as temp staffing agencies hire caregivers. As a freelancer, you don’t have the same benefits as a full-time employee. And in particular, you can’t get unemployment benefits.

“But a lot of caregivers say that this isn’t an issue because there is a lot of demand [from health facilities],” Treppoz said. On the platform, you’ll find students in nursing school who want to earn a bit of money, professionals who already have a part-time job looking for additional work as well as full-time substitute caregivers.

Usually, facilities just want someone for three days because they’re running short on staff. Mediflash is well aware that health facilities usually work with one temp staffing agency and that’s it. That’s why the startup has a sales team that has to talk with each facility one by one. Right now, the startup is mostly focused on Metz, Nancy and Strasbourg.

Mediflash recently raised a $2 million funding round (€1.7 million) led by Firstminute Capital. Several business angels are also participating, such as Alexandre Fretti (Malt), Alexandre Lebrun (Nabla), Simon Dawlat (Batch.com) and Marie

Outtier (Aiden.ai, acquired by Twitter).

So far, the company has managed 1,400 substitute days. Mediflash takes a cut on each transaction. The company now plans to expand to other cities all around the country.

#caregiver, #europe, #france, #france-newsletter, #freelancer, #fundings-exits, #marketplace, #mediflash, #staffing, #startups

0

UK’s ICO warns over ‘big data’ surveillance threat of live facial recognition in public

The UK’s chief data protection regulator has warned over reckless and inappropriate use of live facial recognition (LFR) in public places.

Publishing an opinion today on the use of this biometric surveillance in public — to set out what is dubbed as the “rules of engagement” — the information commissioner, Elizabeth Denham, also noted that a number of investigations already undertaken by her office into planned applications of the tech have found problems in all cases.

“I am deeply concerned about the potential for live facial recognition (LFR) technology to be used inappropriately, excessively or even recklessly. When sensitive personal data is collected on a mass scale without people’s knowledge, choice or control, the impacts could be significant,” she warned in a blog post.

“Uses we’ve seen included addressing public safety concerns and creating biometric profiles to target people with personalised advertising.

“It is telling that none of the organisations involved in our completed investigations were able to fully justify the processing and, of those systems that went live, none were fully compliant with the requirements of data protection law. All of the organisations chose to stop, or not proceed with, the use of LFR.”

“Unlike CCTV, LFR and its algorithms can automatically identify who you are and infer sensitive details about you. It can be used to instantly profile you to serve up personalised adverts or match your image against known shoplifters as you do your weekly grocery shop,” Denham added.

“In future, there’s the potential to overlay CCTV cameras with LFR, and even to combine it with social media data or other ‘big data’ systems — LFR is supercharged CCTV.”

The use of biometric technologies to identify individuals remotely sparks major human rights concerns, including around privacy and the risk of discrimination.

Across Europe there are campaigns — such as Reclaim your Face — calling for a ban on biometric mass surveillance.

In another targeted action, back in May, Privacy International and others filed legal challenges at the controversial US facial recognition company, Clearview AI, seeking to stop it from operating in Europe altogether. (Some regional police forces have been tapping in — including in Sweden where the force was fined by the national DPA earlier this year for unlawful use of the tech.)

But while there’s major public opposition to biometric surveillance in Europe, the region’s lawmakers have so far — at best — been fiddling around the edges of the controversial issue.

A pan-EU regulation the European Commission presented in April, which proposes a risk-based framework for applications of artificial intelligence, included only a partial prohibition on law enforcement’s use of biometric surveillance in public places — with wide ranging exemptions that have drawn plenty of criticism.

There have also been calls for a total ban on the use of technologies like live facial recognition in public from MEPs across the political spectrum. The EU’s chief data protection supervisor has also urged lawmakers to at least temporarily ban the use of biometric surveillance in public.

The EU’s planned AI Regulation won’t apply in the UK, in any case, as the country is now outside the bloc. And it remains to be seen whether the UK government will seek to weaken the national data protection regime.

A recent report it commissioned to examine how the UK could revise its regulatory regime, post-Brexit, has — for example — suggested replacing the UK GDPR with a new “UK framework” — proposing changes to “free up data for innovation and in the public interest”, as it puts it, and advocating for revisions for AI and “growth sectors”. So whether the UK’s data protection regime will be put to the torch in a post-Brexit bonfire of ‘red tape’ is a key concern for rights watchers.

(The Taskforce on Innovation, Growth and Regulatory Reform report advocates, for example, for the complete removal of Article 22 of the GDPR — which gives people rights not to be subject to decisions based solely on automated processing — suggesting it be replaced with “a focus” on “whether automated profiling meets a legitimate or public interest test”, with guidance on that envisaged as coming from the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO). But it should also be noted that the government is in the process of hiring Denham’s successor; and the digital minister has said he wants her replacement to take “a bold new approach” that “no longer sees data as a threat, but as the great opportunity of our time”. So, er, bye-bye fairness, accountability and transparency then?)

For now, those seeking to implement LFR in the UK must comply with provisions in the UK’s Data Protection Act 2018 and the UK General Data Protection Regulation (aka, its implementation of the EU GDPR which was transposed into national law before Brexit), per the ICO opinion, including data protection principles set out in UK GDPR Article 5, including lawfulness, fairness, transparency, purpose limitation, data minimisation, storage limitation, security and accountability.

Controllers must also enable individuals to exercise their rights, the opinion also said.

“Organisations will need to demonstrate high standards of governance and accountability from the outset, including being able to justify that the use of LFR is fair, necessary and proportionate in each specific context in which it is deployed. They need to demonstrate that less intrusive techniques won’t work,” wrote Denham. “These are important standards that require robust assessment.

“Organisations will also need to understand and assess the risks of using a potentially intrusive technology and its impact on people’s privacy and their lives. For example, how issues around accuracy and bias could lead to misidentification and the damage or detriment that comes with that.”

The timing of the publication of the ICO’s opinion on LFR is interesting in light of wider concerns about the direction of UK travel on data protection and privacy.

If, for example, the government intends to recruit a new, ‘more pliant’ information commissioner — who will happily rip up the rulebook on data protection and AI, including in areas like biometric surveillance — it will at least be rather awkward for them to do so with an opinion from the prior commissioner on the public record that details the dangers of reckless and inappropriate use of LFR.

Certainly, the next information commissioner won’t be able to say they weren’t given clear warning that biometric data is particularly sensitive — and can be used to estimate or infer other characteristics, such as their age, sex, gender or ethnicity.

Or that ‘Great British’ courts have previously concluded that “like fingerprints and DNA [a facial biometric template] is information of an ‘intrinsically private’ character”, as the ICO opinion notes, while underlining that LFR can cause this super sensitive data to be harvested without the person in question even being aware it’s happening. 

Denham’s opinion also hammers hard on the point about the need for public trust and confidence for any technology to succeed, warning that: “The public must have confidence that its use is lawful, fair, transparent and meets the other standards set out in data protection legislation.”

The ICO has previously published an Opinion into the use of LFR by police forces — which she said also sets “a high threshold for its use”. (And a few UK police forces — including the Met in London — have been among the early adopters of facial recognition technology, which has in turn led some into legal hot water on issues like bias.)

Disappointingly, though, for human rights advocates, the ICO opinion shies away from recommending a total ban on the use of biometric surveillance in public by private companies or public organizations — with the commissioner arguing that while there are risks with use of the technology there could also be instances where it has high utility (such as in the search for a missing child).

“It is not my role to endorse or ban a technology but, while this technology is developing and not widely deployed, we have an opportunity to ensure it does not expand without due regard for data protection,” she wrote, saying instead that in her view “data protection and people’s privacy must be at the heart of any decisions to deploy LFR”.

Denham added that (current) UK law “sets a high bar to justify the use of LFR and its algorithms in places where we shop, socialise or gather”.

“With any new technology, building public trust and confidence in the way people’s information is used is crucial so the benefits derived from the technology can be fully realised,” she reiterated, noting how a lack of trust in the US has led to some cities banning the use of LFR in certain contexts and led to some companies pausing services until rules are clearer.

“Without trust, the benefits the technology may offer are lost,” she also warned.

There is one red line that the UK government may be forgetting in its unseemly haste to (potentially) gut the UK’s data protection regime in the name of specious ‘innovation’. Because if it tries to, er, ‘liberate’ national data protection rules from core EU principles (of lawfulness, fairness, proportionality, transparency, accountability and so on) — it risks falling out of regulatory alignment with the EU, which would then force the European Commission to tear up a EU-UK data adequacy arrangement (on which the ink is still drying).

The UK having a data adequacy agreement from the EU is dependent on the UK having essentially equivalent protections for people’s data. Without this coveted data adequacy status UK companies will immediately face far greater legal hurdles to processing the data of EU citizens (as the US now does, in the wake of the demise of Safe Harbor and Privacy Shield). There could even be situations where EU data protection agencies order EU-UK data flows to be suspended altogether…

Obviously such a scenario would be terrible for UK business and ‘innovation’ — even before you consider the wider issue of public trust in technologies and whether the Great British public itself wants to have its privacy rights torched.

Given all this, you really have to wonder whether anyone inside the UK government has thought this ‘regulatory reform’ stuff through. For now, the ICO is at least still capable of thinking for them.

 

#artificial-intelligence, #biometrics, #clearview-ai, #data-protection, #data-protection-law, #elizabeth-denham, #europe, #european-commission, #european-union, #facial-recognition, #general-data-protection-regulation, #information-commissioners-office, #law-enforcement, #privacy, #privacy-international, #safe-harbor, #surveillance, #tc, #uk-government, #united-kingdom

0

Vitosha Venture Partners launches $30M fund to back Bulgarian-related early-stage startups

Vitosha Venture Partners is a brand new venture fund launching out of Bulgaria, and backed by the Bulgarian government. The 26 million euro ($30M) fund aims to invest in approximately 100 companies, starting from low ticket sizes all the way up to a million, in early-stage and growth-stage companies that are based in or related to Bulgaria.

Vitosha will be co-financed by the European Structural and Investment Funds under the Operational Programme for Innovation and Competitiveness 2014-2020, managed by the Fund of Funds in Bulgaria. Beyond standard VC conventions, it will also back companies that matter for the growth, sustainability, and development of the local economy in Bulgaria and the Central European region.

Speaking to me over a call, co-founder Max Gurvits said: “Bulgaria and this whole region of South-eastern Europe is a very early ecosystem. The cool thing that’s happening here and that’s something we’re excited about and proud of is that because Bulgaria started a little earlier in tech than the neighboring countries, it’s still very early, but there are 1000s of people now in startups.”

He added: “I do think that in Bulgaria, something like the emergence of a unicorn-like UIPath might happen in the next two or three years. So we’re slowly but surely catching up.”

“There’s a lot of FoodTech / AgTech here, there there’s a lot of connected hardware manufacturing like electric bicycles. While those companies might not be groundbreaking or world-changing they are actually quite solid fast-growing businesses that have a pretty high probability of exiting for 2x 3x 4x 5x or more.”

Vitosha Accelerate also run an acceleration program.

The team consists of:
Erik Anderson- Managing Partner (ex WiseGuys)
Max Gurvits – Managing partner
Marin Iliev- Managing partner
Maris Prii – Managing Partner
Nikola Stojanow – Managing Partner
Paul Weinberger- Managing partner
Kamen Bankovski – Principal
Stoyan Nedin – Venture Partner

Portfolio – 17 companies up to date
Investments between EUR 150k and EUR 800k
Hobo – https://hobo.bg
Quendoo – https://www.quendoo.com
Econic One – https://econicone.com
Eirene Studio- https://eirenestudio.com
Tokwise- https://www.tokwise.com
Omnio-https://omniotech.net
Petmall- https://petmall.bg
Assen Aero- http://assen.aero
MeatMe Bar- https://www.meatmebar.com/bg
PelletBox- Stealth

Vitosha ACCELERATE startups (tickets up to EUR 50k)
Gridmetrics – https://www.gridmetrics.co
Trace the Taste- Stealth
FidU Trade-https://fidutrade.com
Augment- https://augment.gg
NulaBG-https://nula.bg
Bye Bye Stuttering- https://www.byebyestuttering.com
Ecopolitech- Stealth

The companies that became part of Vitosha’s portfolio in April are:
Tokwise- €150K
Omnio-€200K
Petmall- €800K
Assen Aero- €600K
MeatMe Bar- €400K
PelletBox- €200K
Gridmetrics-€50K
Trace the Taste-€50K
FidU Trade-€75K
Augment-€50K
NulaBG-€50K
Bye Bye Stuttering-€50K
EcoPolytech-€50K

#agtech, #bulgaria, #co-founder, #eastern-europe, #europe, #managing-partner, #max-gurvits, #tc, #uipath, #venture-capital

0

Wise announces plans to go public via direct listing

Wise, the fintech company formerly known as TransferWise, has announced that it wants to become a public company on the London Stock Exchange. Instead of following the traditional IPO route, Wise plans to go public via a direct listing. This is going to be the biggest direct listing on the London Stock Exchange.

If you’re not familiar with Wise, the company specializes in cross-border money transfers. If you want to send money to someone living in another country, traditional retail banks charge a lot in foreign exchange fees, foreign transaction fees, etc.

Of course, there are some well-known alternative options, such as Western Union and MoneyGram. While those companies provide some convenient on-ramp and off-ramp methods, they’re still more expensive than Wise.

With Wise, users first upload money to their Wise account using a bank transfer or a debit card. They can then send money in another currency to a recipient’s bank account. The company tries to be as transparent and upfront as possible when it comes to fixed and variable fees.

Originally founded in 2011, Wise has grown quite a lot as its revenue grew from $422 million to $586 million in its most recent financial year (from £303 million to £421 million respectively). It represents $57 million (£41 million) in profit before tax — the company says it has been profitable since 2017.

Overall, Wise has 10 million customers who process around $7 billion (£5 billion) in cross-border transactions every month. More recently, the company diversified its revenue by adding new products.

For instance, customers can hold money in 56 currencies in their Wise accounts. They get account numbers in 10 different currencies as well as a debit card. This feature is particularly useful for freelancers who want to accept payments in another country or people moving abroad for a year or two.

The company has also expanded beyond B2C with Wise Business. Those accounts work a bit like regular Wise accounts, but with multiple users and additional features. Wise also powers cross-border transactions in third-party services, such as Monzo and N26.

Opting for a direct listing is an interesting move. A few companies have chosen direct listings in the U.S., such as Spotify, Coinbase and Slack. It means that you’re confident there’ll be enough interests from investors as banks aren’t helping you with your introduction.

It also means that Wise doesn’t need more money as a direct listing doesn’t let you raise additional capital.

Like many tech companies, Wise plans to introduce a dual-class share structure, which means that all of Wise’s existing shareholders will get more votes per share for a while. This is going to be an important listing for the European fintech scene and also for the British tech ecosystem. Now, let’s see how investors feel about Wise.

#europe, #finance, #fintech, #startups, #transferwise, #wise

0

For Biden, Europe Trip Achieved 2 Major Goals. And Then There’s Putin and Russia.

The president reassured European allies that America is back and rallied them to begin to counter China. Whether he established “red lines” for the Kremlin remains to be seen.

#biden-joseph-r-jr, #england, #europe, #geneva-switzerland, #macron-emmanuel-1977, #merkel-angela, #north-atlantic-treaty-organization, #putin-vladimir-v, #united-states-international-relations

0

Russia’s Pro-Putin Commentators Praise Biden After Summit

Cooler heads say President Biden skillfully laid the groundwork for what he can, and cannot, reasonably expect to gain from the Kremlin.

#biden-joseph-r-jr, #cyberwarfare-and-defense, #europe, #geneva-switzerland, #navalny-aleksei-a, #putin-vladimir-v, #trump-donald-j, #united-states-international-relations

0

Internxt gets $1M to be ‘the Coinbase of decentralized storage’

Valencia-based startup Internxt has been quietly working on an ambitious plan to make decentralized cloud storage massively accessible to anyone with an Internet connection.

It’s just bagged $1M in seed funding led by Angels Capital, a European VC fund owned by Juan Roig (aka Spain’s richest grocer and second wealthiest billionaire), and Miami-based The Venture City. It had previously raised around half a million dollars via a token sale to help fund early development.

The seed funds will be put towards its next phase of growth — its month-to-month growth rate is 30% and it tells us it’s confident it can at least sustain that — including planning a big boost to headcount so it can accelerate product development.

The Spanish startup has spent most of its short life to date developing a decentralized infrastructure that it argues is both inherently more secure and more private than mainstream cloud-based apps (such as those offered by tech giants like Google).

This is because files are not only encrypted in a way that means it cannot access your data but information is also stored in a highly decentralized way, split into tiny shards which are then distributed across multiple storage locations, with users of the network contributing storage space (and being recompensed for providing that capacity with — you guessed it — crypto).

“It’s a distributed architecture, we’ve got servers all over the world,” explains founder and CEO Fran Villalba Segarra. “We leverage and use the space provided by professionals and individuals. So they connect to our infrastructure and start hosting data shards and we pay them for the data they host — which is also more affordable because we are not going through the traditional route of just renting out a data center and paying them for a fixed amount of space.

“It’s like the Airbnb model or Uber model. We’ve kind of democratized storage.”

Internxt clocked up three years of R&D, beginning in 2017, before launching its first cloud-based apps: Drive (file storage), a year ago — and now Photos (a Google Photos rival).

So far it’s attracting around a million active users without paying any attention to marketing, per Villalba Segarra.

Internxt Mail is the next product in its pipeline — to compete with Gmail and also ProtonMail, a pro-privacy alternative to Google’s freemium webmail client (and for more on why it believes it can offer an edge there read on).

Internxt Send (file transfer) is another product billed as coming soon.

“We’re working on a G-Suite alternative to make sure we’re at the level of Google when it comes to competing with them,” he adds.

The issue Internxt’s architecture is designed to solve is that files which are stored in just one place are vulnerable to being accessed by others. Whether that’s the storage provider itself (who may, like Google, have a privacy-hostile business model based on mining users’ data); or hackers/third parties who manage to break the provider’s security — and can thus grab and/or otherwise interfere with your files.

Security risks when networks are compromised can include ransomeware attacks — which have been on an uptick in recent years — whereby attackers that have penetrated a network and gained access to stored files then hold the information to ransom by walling off the rightful owner’s access (typically by applying their own layer of encryption and demanding payment to unlock the data).

The core conviction driving Internxt’s decentralization push is that files sitting whole on a server or hard drive are sitting ducks.

Its answer to that problem is an alternative file storage infrastructure that combines zero access encryption and decentralization — meaning files are sharded, distributed and mirrored across multiple storage locations, making them highly resilient against storage failures or indeed hack attacks and snooping.

The approach ameliorates cloud service provider-based privacy concerns because Internxt itself cannot access user data.

To make money its business model is simple, tiered subscriptions: With (currently) one plan covering all its existing and planned services — based on how much data you need. (It is also freemium, with the first 10GB being free.)

Internxt is by no means the first to see key user value in rethinking core Internet architecture.

Scotland’s MaidSafe has been trying to build an alternative decentralized Internet for well over a decade at this point — only starting alpha testing its alt network (aka, the Safe Network) back in 2016, after ten years of testing. Its long term mission to reinvent the Internet continues.

Another (slightly less veteran) competitor in the decentralized cloud storage space is Storj, which is targeting enterprise users. There’s also Filecoin and Sia — both also part of the newer wave of blockchain startups that sprung up after Bitcoin sparked entrepreneurial interest in cryptocurrencies and blockchain/decentralization.

How, then, is what Internxt’s doing different to these rival decentralized storage plays — all of which have been at this complex coal face for longer?

“We’re the only European based startup that’s doing this [except for MaidSafe, although it’s UK not EU based],” says Villalba Segarra, arguing that the European Union’s legal regime around data protection and privacy lends it an advantage vs U.S. competitors. “All the others, Storj, plus Sia, Filecoin… they’re all US-based companies as far as I’m aware.”

The other major differentiating factor he highlights is usability — arguing that the aforementioned competitors have been “built by developers for developers”. Whereas he says Internxt’s goal is be the equivalent of ‘Coinbase for decentralized storage’; aka, it wants to make a very complex technology highly accessible to non-technical Internet users.

“It’s a huge technology but in the blockchain space we see this all the time — where there’s huge potential but it’s very hard to use,” he tells TechCrunch. “That’s essentially what Coinbase is also trying to do — bringing blockchain to users, making it easier to use, easier to invest in cryptocurrency etc. So that’s what we’re trying to do at Internxt as well, bringing blockchain for cloud storage to the people. Making it easy to use with a very easy to use interface and so forth.

“It’s the only service in the distributed cloud space that’s actually usable — that’s kind of our main differentiating factor from Storj and all these other companies.”

“In terms of infrastructure it’s actually pretty similar to that of Sia or Storj,” he goes on — further likening Internxt’s ‘zero access’ encryption to Proton Drive’s architecture (aka, the file storage product from the makers of end-to-end encrypted email service ProtonMail) — which also relies on client side encryption to give users a robust technical guarantee that the service provider can’t snoop on your stuff. (So you don’t have to just trust the company not to violate your privacy.)

But while it’s also touting zero access encryption (it seems to be using off-the-shelf AES-256 encryption; it says it uses “military grade”, client-side, open source encryption that’s been audited by Spain’s S2 Grupo, a major local cybersecurity firm), Internxt takes the further step of decentralizing the encrypted bits of data too. And that means it can tout added security benefits, per Villalba Segarra.

“On top of that what we do is we fragment data and then distribute it around the world. So essentially what servers host are encrypted data shards — which is much more secure because if a hacker was ever to access one of these servers what they would find is encrypted data shards which are essentially useless. Not even we can access that data.

“So that adds a huge layer of security against hackers or third party [access] in terms of data. And then on top of that we build very nice interfaces with which the user is very used to using — pretty much similar to those of Google… and that also makes us very different from Storj and Sia.”

Storage space for Internxt users’ files is provided by users who are incentivized to offer up their unused capacity to host data shards with micropayments of crypto for doing so. This means capacity could be coming from an individual user connecting to Internxt with just their laptop — or a datacenter company with large amounts of unused storage capacity. (And Villalba Segarra notes that it has a number of data center companies, such as OVH, are connected to its network.)

“We don’t have any direct contracts [for storage provision]… Anyone can connect to our network — so datacenters with available storage space, if they want to make some money on that they can connect to our network. We don’t pay them as much as we would pay them if we went to them through the traditional route,” he says, likening this portion of the approach to how Airbnb has both hosts and guests (or Uber needs drivers and riders).

“We are the platform that connects both parties but we don’t host any data ourselves.”

Internxt uses a reputation system to manage storage providers — to ensure network uptime and quality of service — and also applies blockchain ‘proof of work’ challenges to node operators to make sure they’re actually storing the data they claim.

“Because of the decentralized nature of our architecture we really need to make sure that it hits a certain level of reliability,” he says. “So for that we use blockchain technology… When you’re storing data in your own data center it’s easier in terms of making sure it’s reliable but when you’re storing it in a decentralized architecture it brings a lot of benefits — such as more privacy or it’s also more affordable — but the downside is you need to make sure that for example they’re actually storing data.”

Payments to storage capacity providers are also made via blockchain tech — which Villalba Segarra says is the only way to scale and automate so many micropayments to ~10,000 node operators all over the world.

Discussing the issue of energy costs — given that ‘proof of work’ blockchain-based technologies are facing increased scrutiny over the energy consumption involved in carrying out the calculations — he suggests that Internxt’s decentralized architecture can be more energy efficient than traditional data centers because data shards are more likely to be located nearer to the requesting user — shrinking the energy required to retrieve packets vs always having to do so from a few centralized global locations.

“What we’ve seen in terms of energy consumption is that we’re actually much more energy efficient than a traditional cloud storage service. Why? Think about it, we mirror files and we store them all over the world… It’s actually impossible to access a file from Dropbox that is sent out from [a specific location]. Essentially when you access Dropbox or Google Drive and you download a file they’re going to be sending it out from their data center in Texas or wherever. So there’s a huge data transfer energy consumption there — and people don’t think about it,” he argues.

“Data center energy consumption is already 2%* of the whole world’s energy consumption if I’m not mistaken. So being able to use latency and being able to send your files from [somewhere near the user] — which is also going to be faster, which is all factored into our reputation system — so our algorithms are going to be sending you the files that are closer to you so that we save a lot of energy from that. So if you multiple that by millions of users and millions of terabytes that actually saves a lot of energy consumption and also costs for us.”

What about latency from the user’s point of view? Is there a noticeable lag when they try to upload or retrieve and access files stored on Internxt vs — for example — Google Drive?

Villalba Segarra says being able to store file fragments closer to the user also helps compensate for any lag. But he also confirms there is a bit of a speed difference vs mainstream cloud storage services.

“In terms of upload and download speed we’re pretty close to Google Drive and Dropbox,” he suggests. “Again these companies have been around for over ten years and their services are very well optimized and they’ve got a traditional cloud architecture which is also relatively simpler, easier to build and they’ve got thousands of [employees] so their services are obviously much better than our service in terms of speed and all that. But we’re getting really close to them and we’re working really fast towards bringing our speed [to that level] and also as many features as possible to our architecture and to our services.”

“Essentially how we see it is we’re at the level of Proton Drive or Tresorit in terms of usability,” he adds on the latency point. “And we’re getting really close to Google Drive. But an average user shouldn’t really see much of a difference and, as I said, we’re literally working as hard as possible to make our services as useable as those of Google. But we’re ages ahead of Storj, Sia, MaidSafe and so forth — that’s for sure.”

Internxt is doing all this complex networking with a team of just 20 people currently. But with the new seed funding tucked in its back pocket the plan now is to ramp up hiring over the next few months — so that it can accelerate product development, sustain its growth and keep pushing its competitive edge.

“By the time we do a Series A we should be around 100 people at Internxt,” says Villalba Segarra. “We are already preparing our Series A. We just closed our seed round but because of how fast we’re growing we are already being reached out to by a few other lead VC funds from the US and London.

“It will be a pretty big Series A. Potentially the biggest in Spain… We plan on growing until the Series A at at least a 30% month-to-month rate which is what we’ve been growing up until now.”

He also tells TechCrunch that the intention for the Series A is to do the funding at a $50M valuation.

“We were planning on doing it a year from now because we literally just closed our [seed] round but because of how many VCs are reaching out to us we may actually do it by the end of this year,” he says, adding: “But timeframe isn’t an issue for us. What matters most is being able to reach that minimum valuation.”

*Per the IEA, data centres and data transmission networks each accounted for around 1% of global electricity use in 2019

#angels-capital, #blockchain, #cloud-computing, #cloud-storage, #coinbase, #cryptocurrencies, #decentralization, #dropbox, #encryption, #energy-consumption, #europe, #european-union, #fundings-exits, #gmail, #internxt, #privacy, #recent-funding, #spain, #startups, #storage, #tc, #the-venture-city, #valencia

0

Beamery raises $138M at an $800M valuation for its ‘operating system for recruitment’

Online job listings were one of the first things to catch on in the first generation of the internet. But that has, ironically, also meant that some of the most-used digital recruitment services around today are also some of the least evolved in terms of tapping into all of the developments that tech has to offer, leaving the door open for some disruption. Today, one of the startups doing just that is announcing a big round of funding to double down on its growth so far.

Beamery, which has built what it describes as a “talent operating system” — a way to manage sourcing, hiring and retaining of people, plus analyzing the bigger talent picture for an organization, a “talent graph” as Beamery calls it, in an all-in-one, end-to-end service — has raised $138 million, money that it plans to use to continue building out more technology, as well as growing its business, which has been expanding quickly and saw 337% revenue growth year over year in Q4.

The Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan Board (Ontario Teachers’), a prolific tech investor, is leading the round by way of its Teachers’ Innovation Platform (TIP). Other participants in this Series C includes several strategic backers who are also using Beamery: Accenture Ventures, EQT Ventures, Index Ventures, M12 (Microsoft’s venture arm) and Workday Ventures (the venture arm of the HR software giant).

Abakar Saidov, co-founder and CEO at London-based Beamery, told TechCrunch in an interview that it is not disclosing valuation, but sources in the know say it’s in the region of $800 million.

The round is coming on the heels of a very strong year for the company.

The “normal” way of doing things in the working world was massively upended with the rise of Covid-19 in early 2020, and within that, recruitment was among one of the most impacted areas. Not only were people applying and interviewing for jobs completely remotely, but in many cases they were getting hired, onboarded and engaged into new jobs without a single face-to-face interaction with a recruiter, manager or colleague.

And that’s before you consider the new set of constraints that HR teams were under in many places: variously, we saw hiring freezes, furloughs, layoffs and budget cuts (often more than one of these per business), and yet work still needed to get done.

All that really paved the way for platforms like Beamery’s — designed not only to be remote-friendly software-as-a-service running in the cloud, but to handle the whole recruiting and talent management process from a single place — to pick up new customers and prove its role as an updated, more user-friendly approach to the task of sourcing and placing talent.

“Traditional HR is very admin-heavy, and when you add in payroll and benefits, the systems that exist are very siloed,” said Saidov in the interview. “The innovation for us has been to move out of that construct and into something that is human, and has a human touch. From a data perspective, we’re creating the underlying system of record for all of the people touching a business. So when you build on top of that, everything looks like a consumer application.”

In the last 12 months, the company said that customers — which are in the area of large enterprises and include Covid vaccine maker AstraZeneca, Autodesk, Nasdaq, several major tech giants, and strategic investor Workday — filled 1 million roles through its platform, a figure that includes not just sourcing and placing candidates from outside of an organization’s walls, but also filling roles internally.

The work that Beamery is doing is definitely helping the business not just pull its weight — its last round was a much more modest $28 million, which was raised way back in 2018 — but grow and invest in new services.

The company said it had a year-on-year increase of 462% in jobs posted across its customer base. A year before that (which would have extended into pre-pandemic 2019), the number of candidates pipelined increased by a mere 46%, pointing to acceleration.

Beamery today already offers a pretty wide range different services.

They include tools to source candidates. This can be done organically by creating your own job boards to be found by anyone curious enough to look, and by leveraging other job boards on other platforms like LinkedIn, the Microsoft-owned professional networking platform that counts “Talent Solutions” — ie recruitment — as one of its primary business lines. (Recall Microsoft is one of Beamery’s backers.) It also provides tools to create and manage online recruitment events.

Beamery also offers tools to help people get the word out about a role, with a service akin to programmatic advertising (similar to ZipRecruiter) to populate other job boards, or run more targeted executive recruitment searches. It also provides a way for HR teams to create internal recruitment processes, and also run surveys with existing teams to get a better picture of the state of play.

And it has some analytics tools in place to measure how well recruitment drives, retention and other metrics are evolving to help plan what to do in the future.

The big question for me now is how and if Beamery will bring more into that universe. There have been some interesting startups emerging in the wider world of talent IT (if we could call it that) that could be interesting complements to what Beamery already has, or provide a roadmap for what it might try to build itself.

It includes much more extensive work on internal job boards (such as what Gloat has built); digging much deeper into building accurate pictures of who is at the company and what they do (see: ChartHop); or the many services that are building ways of sourcing and connecting with contractors, which are a huge, and growing, part of the talent equation for companies (see: Turing,  RemoteDeelPapaya GlobalLattice, Factorial, and many others).

Beamery already includes contractors alongside full- and part-time roles that can be filled using its platform, but when it comes to managing those contractors, that’s something that Beamery does not do itself, so that could be one area where it might grow, too.

“The key reason enterprises work with us it to consolidate a bunch of workflows,” Saidov said. “HR hates having different systems and everything becomes easier when things interoperate well.” Employing contractors typically involves three elements: sourcing, management and scheduling, so Beamery will likely approach how it grows in that area by determining which piece might be “super core” the centralization of more data, he added.

Another two likely areas he hinted are on Beamery’s roadmap are assessments — that is, providing tools to recruiters who want to measure the skills of applicants for jobs (another startup-heavy area today) — and tools to help recruiters do their jobs better, whether that involves more native communications tools in video and messaging, as well as Gong-like coaching to help them measure and improve screening and interviewing.

It might also consider developing a version for smaller businesses to use.

Questions investors are happy to see considered, it seems, as they invest in what looks like a winner in the bigger race. TIP’s other investments have included ComplyAdvantage, Epic Games, Graphcore, KRY and SpaceX, a long run in a wide field.

“Leading companies worldwide are prioritising recruitment and retention. They are turning to Beamery for a best-in-class talent solution that can be seamlessly integrated with their business,” said Maggie Fanari, MD for TIP in Emea. “Beamery’s best-in-class approach is already recognized by top-tier companies. I’m excited by the company’s vision of to use technology to support long-term talent growth and build better businesses. Beamery is the first company to bring predictive marketing and data science into recruitment. They are a truly innovative company, building a vision that can shape the future of work – the company fits all the criteria we look for in a TIP investment and more.”

#beamery, #enterprise, #europe, #funding, #hiring, #hr, #job-boards, #jobs, #labor, #recruitment, #talent

0

A Senate proposal for a new US agency to protect Americans’ data is back

Democratic Senator Kirsten Gillibrand has revived a bill that would establish a new U.S. federal agency to shield Americans from the invasive practices of tech companies operating in their own backyard.

Last year, Gillibrand (D-NY) introduced the Data Protection Act, a legislative proposal that would create an independent agency designed to address modern concerns around privacy and tech that existing government regulators have proven ill-equipped to handle.

“The U.S. needs a new approach to privacy and data protection and it’s Congress’ duty to step forward and seek answers that will give Americans meaningful protection from private companies that value profits over people,” Sen. Gillibrand said.

The revamped bill, which retains its core promise of a new “Data Protection Agency,” is co-sponsored by Ohio Democrat Sherrod Brown and returns to the new Democratic Senate with a few modifications.

In the spirit of all of the tech antitrust regulation chatter going on right now, the 2021 version of the bill would also empower the Data Protection Agency to review any major tech merger involving a data aggregator or other deals that would see the user data of 50,000 people change hands.

Other additions to the bill would establish an office of civil rights to “advance data justice” and allow the agency to evaluate and penalize high-risk data practices, like the use of algorithms, biometric data and harvesting data from children and other vulnerable groups.

Gillibrand calls the notion of updating regulation to address modern tech concerns “critical” — and she’s not alone. Democrats and Republicans seldom find common ground in 2021, but a raft of new bipartisan antitrust bills show that Congress has at last grasped how important it is to rein in tech’s most powerful companies lest they lose the opportunity altogether.

The Data Protection Act lacks the bipartisan sponsorship enjoyed by the set of new House tech bills, but with interest in taking on big tech at an all-time high, it could attract more support. Of all of the bills targeting the tech industry in the works right now, this one isn’t likely to go anywhere without more bipartisan interest, but that doesn’t mean its ideas aren’t worth considering.

Like some other proposals wending their way through Congress, this bill recognizes that the FTC has failed to meaningfully punish big tech companies for their bad behavior. In Gillibrand’s vision, the Data Protection Agency could rise to modern regulatory challenges where the FTC has failed. In other proposals, the FTC would be bolstered with new enforcement powers or infused with cash that could help the agency’s bite match its bark.

It’s possible that modernizing the tools that federal agencies have at hand won’t be sufficient. Cutting back more than a decade of overgrowth from tech’s data giants won’t be easy, particularly because the stockpile of Americans’ data that made those companies so wealthy is already out in the wild.

A new agency dedicated to wresting control of that data from powerful tech companies could bridge the gap between Europe’s own robust data protections and the absence of federal regulation we’ve seen in the U.S. But until something does, Silicon Valley’s data hoarders will eagerly fill the power vacuum themselves.

#congress, #data-security, #europe, #federal-trade-commission, #policy, #regulation, #senate, #tc, #terms-of-service, #the-battle-over-big-tech, #united-states

0

Insurtech AI startup Akur8 closes $30M Series B

Automating insurance claims is a big business, and the world of AI is coming at it ‘full pelt’. The latest is Akur8, an insurtech automating insurance platform whose ‘Transparent AI’ product is trying to eat into the incumbent large business of Willis Towers watson, among others.

It’s now closed a Series B funding round of $30m led by an undisclosed investor. This brings its total funding to $42m. The round is to support international expansion.

Akur8 is used by actuaries and pricing teams to make faster decisions about insurance claims.

Customers include AXA, Generali, and Munich Re, specialty insurers Canopius and Tokio Marine Kiln, insurtechs Wakam and wefox, as well as mutualistic player Matmut.

Samuel Falmagne, co-founder and CEO of Akur8 commented: “We are happy to announce the closing of our Series B funding round and are grateful for the support we have seen from our investors. This latest milestone will enable us to accelerate the transformation of insurance pricing even further, fuel our international expansion in the US and APAC, and equip P&C and health carriers with a state-of-the-art, integrated pricing solution that we have been building and refining tirelessly.”

Julien Creuzé, Partner at BlackFin Capital Partners Said: “The BlackFin team is thrilled to see Akur8 continue to spread its wings and deploy its next-generation pricing platform across insurance carriers worldwide. We have built a great relationship with the Akur8 management team and it’s a pleasure to welcome new investors and continue this journey with them.”

#akur8, #artificial-intelligence, #axa, #blackfin-capital-partners, #europe, #finance, #financial-services, #insurance, #munich-re, #partner, #tc, #united-states

0

Co-living startup Habyt closes $24M Series B, merges with Homefully

When WeWork appeared, other entrepreneurs looked at the model and thought that if you could apple co-working to property, then why not apply co-living. Thus, in the US, Common appeared, as did Hmlet in Asia. Imn the EU, Habyt launched, but has already gobbled-up its competitors Quarters, Goliving, and Erasmo’s Room.

It’s now closed a series B round of €20M / $24M, and merged with another competitor, Homefully, founded by Sebastian Wuerz in 2016. The round was backed by HV Capital (formerly Holtzbrink Ventures), Vorwerk Ventures, P101 and Picus Capital.

Founded in 2017 by Luca Bovone, Habyt will now have over 5,000 units across 15 cities and 6 countries. The merged companies will offer fully furnished and serviced living units, coupled with a tech-enabled user-experience and a focus on community, aimed at young professionals between 20 and 35 years old who move jobs and cities fairly frequently.

Luca Bovone, Founder and CEO of Habyt, said: “We have been on an incredible journey in the past year and a half. In spite of less than perfect market conditions we have been able to grow a lot via a very successful M&A strategy that brought us into the position of leaders of our sector in Europe and that still has a lot of potential. This 20M series B round really opens our doors to keep building Habyt both via organic growth and via more M&As. We are now looking at strategic targets in Europe, specifically in France and Italy, and also in other continents, especially in Asia.”

Sebastian Wuerz, Founder of homefully, said: “The coliving market is going through a consolidation phase and Habyt has really seized this opportunity quickly and effectively and is on the best track to become the leader of the sector at a global scale. Joining forces is a crucial step in this direction and I am very excited for the team to be part of this journey.”

Felix Kluehr, Partner at HV said: “We are happy to see that Habyt has emerged as the leading player in the European co-living market and HV is excited to support the team in their ambitious plan to build the leading European coliving company”.

Over an interview, Bovone told me: “It’s like a member’s club. We have a subscription model, where people pay a monthly fee, which is your rent, and then you can, of course, apply for a room somewhere else and know that we have a fairly decent scale across Europe and eventually, also in southern Europe. You are able to move from one place to the other. Our motto is live anywhere.”

He said that the pandemic had meant that people were ditching co-working spaces and “They would prefer to spend 50 to 100 euro more per month on getting better housing where they can work comfortably from home.”

“We are already seeing within our customer base, they want to stay six months in Berlin, three months in Madrid, then move back to Berlin and so on. The traditional housing market just doesn’t allow that to happen. You have contracts with utilities and so on, which you can never break and it’s just an outdated product offering, and we’re trying to tackle that.”

#asia, #berlin, #ceo, #co-living, #economy, #europe, #european-union, #france, #housing, #hv-capital, #italy, #madrid, #partner, #picus-capital, #sharing-economy, #tc, #united-states, #vorwerk-ventures, #wework

0

Biden and Putin Express Desire for Better Relations at Summit Shaped by Disputes

After their first summit meeting, the two leaders described each other with respect but resolved none of the disagreements that have sent U.S.-Russian ties to their lowest level since the Cold War.

#arms-control-and-limitation-and-disarmament, #biden-joseph-r-jr, #europe, #geneva-switzerland, #human-rights-and-human-rights-violations, #putin-vladimir-v, #russia, #united-states, #united-states-international-relations

0

On a growth tear, DuckDuckGo reveals it picked up $100M in secondary investment last year

Privacy tech continues cooking on gas. To wit: Non-tracking search engine DuckDuckGo has just revealed that it beefed up its balance sheet at the back end of last year with $100 million+ in “mainly secondary investment” — from a mix of existing and new investors.

Its blog post name-checks Omers Ventures, Thrive, GP Bullhound, Impact America Fund, and also WhatsApp founder Brian Acton; inventor of the world wide web Tim Berners-Lee; VC and diversity activist Freada Kapor Klein; and entrepreneur Mitch Kapor as being among the participating investors. So quite the line up.

DuckDuckGo said the secondary investment allowed some of its early employees and investors to cash out a chunk of their equity while bolstering its financial position.

Although it also says its business — which has been profitable since 2014 — is “thriving”, reporting that revenues are now running at $100M+ a year. Hence it not needing to keep dipping into an external investor pot.

Its last VC raise was in 2018 when it took in $10M after being actively pursued by Omers Ventures — who convinced it to take the money to help support growth objectives (especially internationally).

DDG has a few other metrics to throw around now: Over the last 12 months it said its apps were downloaded over 50M times — more than in all prior years combined.

It’s also revealed that its monthly search traffic increased 55% and says marketshare trackers indicate that it grabbed the #2 spot for search engine on mobile in a number of countries, including the U.S., Canada, Australia, and the Netherlands. (StatCounter/