Google says geofence warrants make up one-quarter of all US demands

For the first time, Google has published the number of geofence warrants it’s historically received from U.S. authorities, providing a rare glimpse into how frequently these controversial warrants are issued.

The figures, published Thursday, reveal that Google has received thousands of geofence warrants each quarter since 2018, and at times accounted for about one-quarter of all U.S. warrants that Google receives. The data shows that the vast majority of geofence warrants are obtained by local and state authorities, with federal law enforcement accounting for just 4% of all geofence warrants served on the technology giant.

According to the data, Google received 982 geofence warrants in 2018, 8,396 in 2019, and 11,554 in 2020. But the figures only provide a small glimpse into the volume of warrants received, and did not break down how often it pushes back on overly broad requests. A spokesperson for Google would not comment on the record.

Albert Fox Cahn, executive director of the Surveillance Technology Oversight Project (STOP), which led efforts by dozens of civil rights groups to lobby for the release of these numbers, commended Google for releasing the numbers.

“Geofence warrants are unconstitutionally broad and invasive, and we look forward to the day they are outlawed completely.” said Cahn.

Geofence warrants are also known as “reverse-location” warrants, since they seek to identify people of interest who were in the near-vicinity at the time a crime was committed. Police do this by asking a court to order Google, which stores vast amounts of location data to drive its advertising business, to turn over details of who was in a geographic area, such as a radius of a few hundred feet at a certain point in time, to help identify potential suspects.

Google has long shied away from providing these figures, in part because geofence warrants are largely thought to be unique to Google. Law enforcement has long known that Google stores vast troves of location data on its users in a database called Sensorvault, first revealed by The New York Times in 2019.

Sensorvault is said to have the detailed location data on “at least hundreds of millions of devices worldwide,” collected from users’ phones when they use an Android device with location data switched on, or Google services like Google Maps and Google Photo, and even Google search results. In 2018, the Associated Press reported that Google could still collect users’ locations even when their location history is “paused.”

But critics have argued that geofence warrants are unconstitutional because the authorities compel Google to turn over data on everyone else who was in the same geographic area.

Worse, these warrants have been known to ensnare entirely innocent people.

TechCrunch reported earlier this year that Minneapolis police used a geofence warrant to identify individuals accused of sparking violence in the wake of the police killing of George Floyd last year. One person on the ground who was filming and documenting the protests had his location data requested by police for being close to the violence. NBC News reported last year how one Gainesville, Fla. resident whose information was given by Google to police investigating a burglary, but was able to prove his innocence thanks to an app on his phone that tracked his fitness activity.

Although the courts have yet to deliberate widely on the legality of geofence warrants, some states are drafting laws to push back against geofence warrants. New York lawmakers proposed a bill last year that would ban geofence warrants in the state, amid fears that police could use these warrants to target protesters — as what happened in Minneapolis.

Cahn, who helped introduce the New York bill last year, said the newly released data will “help spur lawmakers to outlaw the technology.”

“Let’s be clear, the number of geofence warrants should be zero,” he said.

#android, #articles, #computing, #databases, #florida, #george-floyd, #google, #google-maps, #law-enforcement, #minneapolis, #new-york, #privacy, #security, #spokesperson, #technology, #the-new-york-times, #united-states, #warrant

Branch raises $48M from Lee Fixel’s Addition, Indeed to provide accelerated payments to workers

Branch, which has built a flexible workforce payments platform, announced today it has raised $48 million in Series B funding and closed on a $500 million credit facility.

Lee Fixel’s Addition –– which has also backed the likes of Flipkart, Stripe and Coinbase – led the equity financing while the credit facility was secured in the form of purchased assets from funds managed by Neuberger Berman.

Drive Capital, Crosscut Ventures, Bonfire Ventures, Matchstick Ventures, and HR Tech Investments LLC, a subsidiary of Recruit Holdings Co., Ltd. (an affiliate of job search site Indeed) also participated in the equity funding, among other investors. With the latest investment, Minneapolis-based Branch has brought in a total of $58 million in equity funding since its 2015 inception.

The raise marks Branch’s first since 2017.

Branch CEO and founder Atif Siddiqi declined to reveal at which valuation the company’s current round was raised but did note that it saw 300% revenue growth year over year in 2020, and a 700% increase in the number of enterprises using its platform.

Branch was founded to give companies a more cost-effective, faster way to pay employees and  contractors, which in turn theoretically can maybe help them attract and retain talent and save money compared to using traditional payment methods. 

When Siddiqi first started the company, Branch was focused on a use case of helping workers pick up additional hours at companies they already worked at to grow their income. But then the team started looking for other ways to help these workers financially.

One of our strengths was that we were connected to a lot of very disparate enterprise systems. And we were collecting a lot of really interesting employment data,” Siddiqi told TechCrunch. “With that data, we realized we could really build a better financial service experience for this consumer.”

Branch typically focuses on low to moderate income users, and sits between the company and its worker payment flows.

It started off with earned wage access and then began accelerating payments for workers. It has since expanded into use cases such as digital tip payments.

“One of the things we saw when we were working with a lot of Domino’s franchisees is that a lot of them didn’t have enough cash at the end of the day to tip out their drivers,” Siddiqi explains. Rather than be forced to go to an ATM to get cash, some turned to Branch’s Wallet offering, which gives franchise owners the ability to push tip payments in real time after a driver finishes a shift.

“Tips represent about 40% of a driver’s income on a monthly basis so that’s pretty significant,” Siddiqi said.

Branch then expanded into contractor payments, such as helping companies pay their 1099 contractors faster with a “uniform” payment experience.

“We realized we could rebuild a better financial service experience from the ground up, and that’s where you find Branch today,” Siddiqi said.

Siddiqi said the company tries to provide as many free options as possible such as not charging for instant transfers into the Branch Wallet and non-instant transfers to another financial account.

Like many other fintechs, the startup monetizes primarily off of interchange fees. It also charges a transaction fee for pushing funds instantly from the Branch Wallet to another financial account.

“Faster payments is a compelling and transformative benefit expected by today’s workforce,” Siddiqi said. “We’ve seen how it can significantly improve cash flow for both companies and workers, so we’re excited to deliver instant payments and other engaging tools to more sectors and workforces, from other workers living paycheck to paycheck to independent contractors growing their own businesses.”  

As part of the company’s efforts to grow beyond the multi-billion dollar earned wage access market, it has expanded into contractor and influencer payments with a new deal with influencer marketing platform Tagger and other on-demand delivery platforms. 

Branch also recently inked an agreement with Kelly, a global staffing firm. Other customers include Delivery Drivers, Inc. (DDI), an independent contractor management solution specializing in last-mile delivery, and HR and IT management platform Rippling.

The company is similar to another fintech, GigWage, but the biggest difference – according to Siddiqi –– is that Branch has built its own payment rails and system to push out funds instantly, and also has offerings for W-2 workforces.

Drive Capital Partner Andy Jenks believes that the company’s financial services address pay cycle gaps and cash flow challenges in a way “that can save time and costs for both workers and the companies they work for.”

“We’ve seen how impactful Branch’s acceleration of payments for employers and the W-2 workforce has been,” he wrote via email, “and look forward to their expansion into contractor payments where they can serve a range of rapidly growing industries such as last-mile delivery, logistics and influencers.”

#apps, #bonfire-ventures, #branch, #contractor, #crosscut-ventures, #drive-capital, #finance, #financial-services, #fintech, #funding, #fundings-exits, #matchstick-ventures, #minneapolis, #online-payments, #payments, #recent-funding, #startup, #startups, #tc, #venture-capital

Best Buy investing millions in Brown Venture Group, a firm exclusively backing BIPOC founders

Last summer, in the wake of George Floyd’s murder, Best Buy committed to “do better” when it came to supporting communities of color. As part of the retail giant’s self-proclaimed mission to better address underrepresentation and technology inequities, the company announced today that it is investing up to $10 million in Brown Venture Group.

Minnesota-based Brown Venture Group is a three-year-old venture capital firm that has pledged to exclusively back Black, Latino and Indigenous technology startups in “emerging technologies.” Black and Latin communities were the recipients of just 2.6% of total funding in 2020, according to Crunchbase data. 

Brown Venture Group is in the process of fundraising for its targeted inaugural $50 million fund, 75% of which has been committed, according to its principals. This means that Minneapolis-based Best Buy’s pledge to invest “up to $10 million” could represent as much as 20% of the total capital raised, making it a lead LP in the fund.

Brown Venture Group co-founder and managing partner Dr. Paul Campbell said that in the early days of forming the firm, he and co-founder Dr. Chris Brooks were told by “multiple people locally” that they should leave the Twin Cities metro area because “all the capital was on the coasts.”

“We just made a firm decision in the very early stages to stay put in the Twin Cities and that we wanted this to be a Twin City story,” Campbell told TechCrunch. “So when we thought about our Twin Cities ecosystem and who we wanted to be leading partners with, Best Buy was at the top of the list. So we are just more than excited to have Best Buy as a lead LP in our fund.” 

For its part, Best Buy — which notched $47 billion in revenue last year — said the move is aimed at helping “break down the systemic barriers often faced by Black, Indigenous and people of color (BIPOC) entrepreneurs — including lack of access to funding — and empowering the next generation within the tech industry.

The company added: “The partnership with Brown Venture Group will work toward making the technology startup landscape more inclusive and creating a stronger community of diverse suppliers.”

In conjunction with announcing Best Buy’s commitment to the fund, the company and venture firm said they would jointly launch an entrepreneurship program at Best Buy Teen Tech Centers to help develop young entrepreneurs through education, mentorship, networking and funding access.

Brown Venture Group — whose name was chosen to represent an “inclusive” skin color of the groups it represents — has so far invested in five companies, including clean energy startup Ecolution kwh.

Ten million dollars seems like a drop in the bucket for a company that generated sales of $47 billion last year. Best Buy said this initiative is just one of several that it has underway to support BIPOC businesses, including plans to provide $44 million to expand college prep and career opportunities for BIPOC students and a pledge to spend at least $1.2 billion with BIPOC and diverse businesses by 2025. The company has also said that by 2025 it will fill one out of three new non-hourly corporate positions with BIPOC employees and hire 1,000 new employees to its technology team, with 30% of them being diverse, specifically Black, Latinx, Indigenous and women.

“We’re committed to taking meaningful action to address the challenges faced by BIPOC entrepreneurs,” Best Buy CEO Corie Barry said in a written statement. “Through partnerships like this, we believe we can begin to do this by helping to build a stronger, more vibrant community of diverse innovators in the tech industry, some of whom we hope will become partners of Best Buy in the future.”

#best-buy, #brown-venture-group, #diversity, #funding, #fundings-exits, #george-floyd, #minneapolis, #minnesota, #recent-funding, #startups, #venture-capital

Austin-based Fetch Package secures $60M in equity & debt after tripling ARR in 2020

Fetch Package, a last-mile package delivery company for apartment communities, has raised $50 million in a Series C round of funding and closed on a $10 million venture debt facility.

Michael Patton founded Fetch in May 2016 after being frustrated by having packages lost at the apartment community in which he was living. 

“I took the time to research how communities were handling packages. What I found was that some communities are receiving up to 300 to 400 packages a week and trying to manage that volume manually, adding a significant time burden on the team,” he told TechCrunch. “I knew there had to be a better way and that solution needed to be one that could easily handle the future of package delivery as e-commerce was gaining significant traction.”

Fetch launched its operations in Dallas in February of 2017 with the goal of solving “the package problem” for apartment communities. The startup, which later moved its headquarters to Austin, has seen impressive growth.

By the end of 2017, the SaaS company was servicing approximately 2,000 apartments in the Dallas area. Over the next three years that number grew to almost 150,000 doors being serviced out of 25 warehouses in 15 markets, including Atlanta, Austin, Charlotte, Chicago, Denver, Houston, Orlando, Portland, Phoenix, Arizona and Seattle.

Fetch currently has just over 200,000 doors, or around 700 communities, across the country under contract. It says it works with seven of the top 10 nationally recognized apartment management companies in the country, in addition to “a majority of the largest owners and developers.” Last December, it inked a national preferred vendor agreement with management giant Greystar. Fetch delivered about 3.5 million packages in 2020, and hit the 2.5 million mark for volume in June 2021. The company says it’s currently on track to deliver more than 8 million packages by the end of the year. 

While the company would not disclose hard revenue figures, Patton says it tripled its year-over-year ARR (annual recurring revenue) in 2020 and GAAP revenue grew 6x year-over-year. Over the last two years, Fetch has seen “record sales,” he added, and is on pace to surpass 300,000 units by year’s end. Austin-based Ocelot Capital led its Series C round, which also included participation from Greenpoint Partners, Alpaca VC and Rose Park Advisors. Existing backers Iron Gate Capital, Signal Peak Ventures, Venn Ventures, Pando Ventures and Seamless also put money in the round. 

In addition to the equity raise, Signature Bank provided the company with a $10 million venture debt facility. The latest financing brings Fetch’s total funding to more than $92 million, and triples its valuation from its $18 million Series B raise last August.

Andrew Townsend, managing member at Ocelot Capital, believes that Fetch is “solving for a major bottleneck within the supply chain that is often overlooked.”

“We expect e-commerce delivery volume to continue to grow for the foreseeable future and Fetch is the only scalable solution available to multifamily operators,” he said. 

What makes Fetch stand out, in his view, is that the company can “efficiently” manage the fluctuations in package volume in ways that traditional parcel storage solutions cannot. It also provides apartment residents with the “unique convenience of on-demand doorstep delivery that aligns with the varied schedules of apartment dwellers,” Townsend added.

All packages at Fetch’s client communities are sent to the company’s facilities using a unique code identifier. The company then coordinates scheduled, direct-to-door delivery with residents directly via its app in a time frame that it says “works best for their schedule.”

“This takes the property out of the package management business and provides residents with a convenient amenity,” Patton said.

Fetch works with a mix of W2 employees as well as 1099 contractors to fulfill their service. On the W2 side, Fetch has had a 50% increase in total employees since the middle of last year, with about 350 employees today. This is in addition to the “thousands” of independent contractors/gig economy workers who also serve as drivers in all their markets.

Looking ahead, Fetch will use its new capital primarily to expand into new markets, with plans to launch in South Florida, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Nashville, Minneapolis and a “few other markets” over the next two quarters. Over the next 18 months, the company intends to launch around 20 new markets. The money will also go toward investing in its tech stack and operational infrastructure, Patton said.

#apps, #atlanta, #austin, #e-commerce, #fetch, #fetch-package, #funding, #fundings-exits, #houston, #logistics, #minneapolis, #ocelot-capital, #package-delivery, #phoenix, #real-estate, #recent-funding, #saas, #seamless, #series-c, #signal-peak-ventures, #startup, #startups, #supply-chain, #venture-capital

Gwoop Academy wants to help you get better at video games

Every sport has its practice drills and exercises to help players hone skills between games. Why would esports be any different?

Gwoop, a startup out of Minnesota, wants to be the place where gamers go to train between matches. They’re building up a collection of free browser-based training tools meant to help you measure and improve vital stats like reaction time, mouse control, and aim, and see how your stats compare to the best.

Some of the training games currently up and running:

  • Reaction Training: Wait for it … click! As soon as the screen changes from grey to orange, you click the mouse button. The lower your reaction time (measured in milliseconds), the better. Harder levels throw in more colors to fake you out and give you a bit of pause.
  • Visual Speed: Target boxes spawn one-at-a-time all around a 2D plane. Click one and another appears. The more boxes you click before time runs out, the higher your score.
  • Keyboard speed: Straightforward keyboard key-finding practice, because any time spent looking at your keyboard is time not spent dodging shots.

Image Credits: Gwoop

  • Mouse control: If you can’t get your mouse to go where you want it, you can’t aim. Gwoop’s mouse control exercise has you drag a ball through a curved track; the more tracks you complete, the higher your score.
  • FPS Training Arena: Strafe around a 3D arena (pictured up top), scanning for randomly generated targets and clicking them as they appear. Bonus points for hitting the dead center of a target.

All of the tools are linked back to an analytics dashboard, allowing you to gauge your performance metrics over time. Each skill gets its own leaderboard so you can see, for example, how your average reaction time compares to others worldwide and amongst your friends.

Even in its 3D exercises, Gwoop’s graphics are pretty simple — and that’s intentional. They want it to work for as many players as possible. They’ve got no reason to try to look like a AAA title; the more graphically intense a game is, the more powerful your computer would have to be to run it smoothly. Co-founder Gavin Lee tells me that their goal is to keep it so that “all you need is a computer and the internet. It doesn’t matter if your device is 10 years old.” Even its 2D exercises have switches you can flip to further simplify the graphics and improve performance.

It’s the same reason they’ve built everything to work in the browser: not requiring any downloads means more people can train, with the added benefit for the Gwoop team of not having to worry about maintaining separate Mac/PC clients.

While the existing exercises might seem focused around improving first-person shooter skills, Lee tells me that they’re aiming to be “genre-agnostic” and are planning expansions tailored to other kinds of games. He mentions a “MOBA Arena” in the works meant to help polish skills required for games like League of Legends or DOTA, and another exercise in progress that’s “very Rocket League-centric.” Their training tools seem mostly focused on keyboard/mouse users right now, but they’re working on more functionality for players who prefer controllers.

Image Credits: Gwoop

Gwoop is entirely free to players — so how will they make money? Lee tells me they’ve got two different strategies there: They’ll sell additional advanced analytics tools to teams, and, once they’ve got enough players clicking around, hopefully be able to serve as a platform for esports recruiters. Lee says players should be able to opt-in to having their data shared with potential sponsors and esports teams, with Gwoop getting paid to connect the dots. “All these division one schools have these platforms where you can upload football films and get recruited,” says Lee “we want to become that platform [for esports].”

Why the name “Gwoop”? Is it a bit of super cool gaming lingo, or some sort of acronym? Nope! It was just a quick, memorable domain Lee had been holding onto for decades. “I wish I had a better story for you,” he says, “but I bought the domain in 2002 just because I wanted a five-letter domain that you could pronounce and was available.” It’s okay, Gavin: Most people don’t care why Google is called Google, after all.

The team’s timing is pretty good here. With most people being stuck at home, more people are getting into gaming than ever before. Battle Royale games like Fortnite, PUBG and Apex Legends are blowing up … but it’s hard to get better in a game where you spend the first 10 minutes looting only to get shredded in 10 seconds when a skilled team rotates through. While many titles have dedicated training areas or firing ranges to practice in, they’re usually meant more for quick pre-game warmups and don’t do things like help you track metrics and improvements over time.

Image Credits: Gwoop

The Minneapolis-based team is currently comprised of its three co-founders. It’s self-funded to date, but I’m told a seed round is underway.

Gwoop is currently in semi-closed beta and generally requires an invite to signup, but Lee tells me that the code #TC2021# should let our readers past the signup gate.

 

#gaming, #gwoop, #minneapolis, #tc

AWS updates its edge computing solutions with new hardware and Local Zones

AWS today closed out its first re:Invent keynote with a focus on edge computing. The company launched two smaller appliances for its Outpost service, which originally brought AWS as a managed service and appliance right into its customers’ existing data centers in the form of a large rack. Now, the company is launching these smaller versions so that its users can also deploy them in their stores or office locations. These appliances are fully managed by AWS and offer 64 cores of compute, 128GB of memory and 4TB of local NVMe storage.

In addition, the company expanded its set of Local Zones, which are basically small extensions of existing AWS regions that are more expensive to use but offer low-latency access in metro areas. This service launched in Los Angeles in 2019 and starting today, it’s also available in preview in Boston, Houston and Miami. Soon, it’ll expand to Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas, Denver, Kansas City, Las Vegas, Minneapolis, New York, Philadelphia, Phoenix, Portland and Seattle. Google, it’s worth noting, is doing something similar with its Mobile Edge Cloud.

The general idea here — and that’s not dissimilar from what Google, Microsoft and others are now doing — is to bring AWS to the edge and to do so in a variety of form factors.

As AWS CEO Andy Jassy rightly noted, AWS always believed that the vast majority of companies, “in the fullness of time” (Jassy’s favorite phrase from this keynote), would move to the cloud. Because of this, AWS focused on cloud services over hybrid capabilities early on. He argues that AWS watched others try and fail in building their hybrid offerings, in large parts because what customers really wanted was to use the same control plane on all edge nodes and in the cloud. None of the existing solutions from other vendors, Jassy argues, got any traction (though AWSs competitors would surely deny this) because of this.

The first result of that was VMware Cloud on AWS, which allowed customers to use the same VMware software and tools on AWS they were already familiar with. But at the end of the day, that was really about moving on-premises services to the cloud.

With Outpost, AWS launched a fully managed edge solution that can run AWS infrastructure in its customers’ data centers. It’s been an interesting journey for AWS, but the fact that the company closed out its keynote with this focus on hybrid — no matter how it wants to define it — shows that it now understands that there is clearly a need for this kind of service. The AWS way is to extend AWS into the edge — and I think most of its competitors will agree with that. Microsoft tried this early on with Azure Stack and really didn’t get a lot of traction, as far as I’m aware, but it has since retooled its efforts around Azure Arc. Google, meanwhile, is betting big on Anthos.

#amazon-web-services, #atlanta, #aws-reinvent-2020, #boston, #chicago, #cloud, #cloud-applications, #cloud-computing, #cloud-infrastructure, #cloud-services, #computing, #dallas, #denver, #developer, #enterprise, #google, #houston, #kansas-city, #las-vegas, #los-angeles, #miami, #microsoft, #minneapolis, #mobile-edge, #new-york, #philadelphia, #phoenix, #portland, #seattle, #tc, #vmware, #web-hosting, #web-services

Google Pay gets a major redesign with a new emphasis on personal finance

Google is launching a major redesign of its Google Pay app on both Android and iOS today. Like similar phone-based contactless payment services, Google Pay — or Android Pay as it was known then — started out as a basic replacement for your credit card. Over time, the company added a few more features on top of that but the overall focus never really changed. After about five years in the market, Google Pay now has about 150 million users in 30 countries. With today’s update and redesign, Google is keeping all the core features intact but also taking the service in a new direction with a strong emphasis on helping you manage your personal finances (and maybe get a deal here and there as well).

Google is also partnering with 11 banks to launch a new kind of bank account in 2021. Called Plex, these mobile-first bank accounts will have no monthly fees, overdraft charges or minimum balances. The banks will own the accounts but the Google Pay app will be the main conduit for managing these accounts. The launch partners for this are Citi and Stanford Federal Credit Union.

Image Credits: Google

“What we’re doing in this new Google Pay app, think of it is combining three things into one,” Google director of product management Josh Woodward said as he walked me through a demo of the new app. “The three things are three tabs in the app. One is the ability to pay friends and businesses really fast. The second is to explore offers and rewards, so you can save money at shops. And the third is getting insights about your spending so you can stay on top of your money.”

Paying friends and businesses was obviously always at the core of Google Pay — but the emphasis here has shifted a bit. “You’ll notice that everything in the product is built around your relationships,” Caesar Sengupta, Google’s lead for Payments and Next Billion Users, told me. “It’s not about long lists of transactions or weird numbers. All your engagements pivot around people, groups, and businesses.”

It’s maybe no surprise then that the feature that’s now front and center in the app is P2P payments. You can also still pay and request money through the app as usual, but as part of this overhaul, Google is now making it easier to split restaurant bills with friends, for example, or your rent and utilities with your roommates — and to see who already paid and who is still delinquent. Woodward tells me that Google built this feature after its user research showed that splitting bills remains a major pain point for its users.

In this same view, you can also find a list of companies you have recently transacted with — either by using the Google Pay tap-and-pay feature or because you’ve linked your credit card or bank account with the service. From there, you can see all of your recent transactions with those companies.

Image Credits: Google

Maybe the most important new feature Google is enabling with this update is indeed the ability to connect your bank accounts and credit cards to Google Pay so that it can pull in information about your spending. It’s basically Mint-light inside the Google Pay app. This is what enables the company to offer a lot of the other new features in the app. Google says it is working with “a few different aggregators” to enable this feature, though it didn’t go into details about who its partners are. It’s worth stressing that this, like all of the new features here, is off by default and opt-in.

Image Credits: Google

The basic idea here is similar to that of other personal finance aggregators. At its most basic, it lets you see how much money you spent and how much you still have. But Google is also using its smarts to show you some interesting insights into your spending habits. On Monday, it’ll show you how much you spent on the weekend, for example.

“Think of these almost as like stories in a way,” Woodward said. “You can swipe through them so you can see your large transactions. You can see how much you spent this week compared to a typical week. You can look at how much money you’ve sent to friends and which friends and where you’ve spent money in the month of November, for example.”

This also then enables you to easily search for a given transaction using Google’s search capabilities. Since this is Google, that search should work pretty well and in a demo, the team showed me how a search for ‘Turkish’ brought up a transaction at a kebab restaurant, for example, even though it didn’t have ‘Turkish’ in its name. If you regularly take photos of your receipts, you can also now search through these from Google Pay and drill down to specific things you bought — as well as receipts and bills you receive in your Gmail inbox.

Also new inside of Google Pay is the ability to see and virtually clip coupons that are then linked to your credit card, so you don’t need to do anything else beyond using that linked credit card to get extra cashback on a given transaction, for example. If you opt in, these offers can also be personalized.

Image Credits: Google

The team also worked with the Google Lens team to now let you scan products and QR codes to look for potential discounts.

As for the core payments function, Google is also enabling a new capability that will let you use contactless payments at 30,000 gas stations now (often with a discount). The partners for this are Shell, ExxonMobil, Phillips 66, 76 and Conoco.

In addition, you’ll also soon be able to pay for parking in over 400 cities inside the app. Not every city is Portland, after all, and has a Parking Kitty. The first cities to get this feature are Austin, Boston, Minneapolis, and Washington, D.C., with others to follow soon.

It’s one thing to let Google handle your credit card transaction but it’s another to give it all of this — often highly personal — data. As the team emphasized throughout my conversation with them, Google Pay will not sell your data to third parties or even the rest of Google for ad targeting, for example. All of the personalized features are also off by default and the team is doing something new here by letting you turn them on for a three-month trial period. After those three months, you can then decide to keep them on or off.

In the end, whether you want to use the optional features and have Google store all of this data is probably a personal choice and not everybody will be comfortable with it. The rest of the core Google Pay features aren’t changing, after all, so you can still make your NFC payments at the supermarket with your phone just like before.

#android, #apps, #artificial-intelligence, #austin, #bank, #boston, #citi, #computing, #exxonmobil, #google, #google-pay, #minneapolis, #mobile-payments, #online-payments, #p2p, #portland, #product-management, #shell, #tc, #up, #washington, #washington-d-c

SoftBank’s $100 million diversity and inclusion fund makes its first bet … in health Vitable Health

SoftBank’s Opportunity Growth Fund has made the health insurance startup Vitable Health the first commitment from its $100 million fund dedicated to investing in startups founded by entrepreneurs of color.

The Philadelphia-based company, which recently launched from Y Combinator, is focused on bringing basic health insurance to underserved and low-income communities.

Founded by Joseph Kitonga, a 23 year-old entrepreneur whose parents immigrated to the U.S. a decade ago, Vitable provides affordable acute healthcare coverage to underinsured or un-insured populations and was born out of Kitonga’s experience watching employees of his parents’ home healthcare agency struggle to receive basic coverage.

The $1.5 million commitment was led by the SoftBank Group Corp Opportunity Fund, and included Y Combinator, DNA Capital, Commerce Ventures, MSA Capital, Coughdrop Capital, and angels like Immad Akhund, the chief executive of Mercury Bank; and Allison Pickens, the former chief operating officer of Gainsight, the company said in a blog post.

“Good healthcare is a basic right that every American deserves, whoever they are,” said Paul Judge, the Atlanta-based Early Stage Investing Lead for the fund and the founder of Atlanta’s TechSquare Labs investment fund. “We’ve been inspired by Joseph and his approach to addressing this challenge. Vitable Health is bridging critical gaps in patient care and has emerged as a necessary, essential service for all whether they’re uninsured, underinsured, or simply need a better plan for their lifestyle.”

SoftBank created the opportunity fund while cities around the U.S. were witnessing a wave of public protests against systemic racism and police brutality stemming from the murder of the Black Minneapolis citizen George Floyd at the hands of white police officers.  Floyd’s murder reignited simmering tensions between citizens and police in cities around the country over issues including police brutality, the militarization of civil authorities, and racial profiling.

SoftBank has had its own problems with racism in its portfolio this year. A few months before the firm launched its fund, the CEO and founder of one of its portfolio companies, Banjo, resigned after it was revealed that he once had ties to the KKK.

With the Opportunity Fund, SoftBank is trying to address some of its issues, and notably, will not take a traditional management fee for transactions out of the fund “but instead will seek to put as much capital as possible into the hands of founders and entrepreneurs of color.”

The Opportunity Fund is the third investment vehicle announced by SoftBank in the last several years. The biggest of them all is the $100 billion Vision Fund; then last year it announced the $2 billion Innovation Fund focused on Latin America.

#atlanta, #ceo, #chief-operating-officer, #commerce-ventures, #companies, #entrepreneur, #founder, #gainsight, #george-floyd, #healthcare, #investment-fund, #joseph-kitonga, #latin-america, #minneapolis, #paul, #philadelphia, #softbank-group, #tc, #united-states, #vision-fund, #vitable-health, #vodafone, #y-combinator

Minneapolis-based VC shop Bread & Butter focuses on its own backyard

While many investors say sheltering in place has broadened their appetite for funding companies located outside major hubs, one firm is doubling down on backing startups in America’s heartland.

Launched in 2016 by Brett Brohl, The Syndicate Fund rebranded to Bread & Butter Ventures earlier this month (a reference to one of Minnesota’s many nicknames). Along with the rebrand, longtime Google executive and Revolution partner Mary Grove joined the team as a general partner and Stephanie Rich came aboard as head of platform.

The growth of the Twin Cities’ startup ecosystem is precisely why The Syndicate Fund rebranded. The firm, which has $10 million in assets under management, will invest in three of Minneapolis’ biggest strengths: agriculture and food, health care and enterprise software.

Agtech interest spans the entire spectrum from farming to restaurants and grocery stores. The firm is also interested in the “messy middle” of supply chain and logistics around food, said Brohl and is interested in a mix of software, hardware and biosciences. Within health care, the firm evaluates solutions focused on prevention versus treatment, female health startups working on maternal health and fertility and software focused on the aging population and millennials.

It’s also looking at enterprise software that can serve large businesses and scale efficiently.

#agtech, #enterprise, #extra-crunch, #food, #health, #market-analysis, #mary-grove, #minneapolis, #revolution, #startups, #stephanie-rich, #tc, #venture-capital

Rewarding civic pride and boosting the local economy? Akron, Ohio is trying out a startup for that

Akron, Ohio, the hometown of LeBron James and the seat of the US tire industry; the one hundred and twenty seventh largest city in the US; and the home of America’s first toy company is now the latest site of a global experiment in whether cities can use behavioral economics to help foster good citizenship.

Thanks to the work of the city’s deputy mayor for integrated development, James Hardy, Akron is the first city to roll out services from an Israeli-based company called Colu. A startup backed by just over $20 million in financing from American and Israeli investors, the company has developed an app-based rewards service that cities can roll out to provide perks to users.

In Akron’s case, the initiative rewards points for shopping at local businesses that can be redeemed for discounts at those stores. The initial effort, which includes a platform for businesses to market directly to the app’s users, focuses on businesses owned by women and minorities (a response to the movement for racial justice that has sprung up in the wake of the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis).

Akron is the first city of what Colu founder Amos Meiri expects to be a nationwide rollout throughout the US. The company already has managed to ink another agreement with the city of Chula Vista, Calif.

Colu, which has raised its capital from investors associated with blockchain technologies like Barry Silbert’s Digital Currency Group; the Boston-based venture capital firm, Spark Capital; New York’s Box Group and the Israeli corporate conglomerate, IDB Group, has deep ties to the cryptocurrency world of alternative financial instruments through Meiri.

One of the original architects of the Ethereum protocol, Meiri’s work with Colu is in some ways an extension of that effort to create new kinds of economies powered by alternative financial mechanisms.

Meiri said cities typically pay for Colu out of their marketing budgets as a new way to communicate and attempt to influence civic behavior.

For Akron’s government officials, the company’s services are a way to boost locally owned businesses that have been hit hard by the state’s attempts to contain the COVID-19 outbreak.

“Our locally owned small businesses are facing enormous challenges and we need out-of-the-box ideas that safely connect them to consumers and turn local spending into a source of pride for residents,” said Akron Mayor Dan Horrigan, in a statement. “Our partnership with Colu will enable the city to reward customers for shopping local, improving revenues for our small businesses while helping folks stretch their dollars.”

Earlier work with the municipal government in Tel Aviv promoted sustainable business practice and encouraged businesses to do more to manage their waste and carbon footprint by introducing a “green label”. Businesses that followed the city’s guidelines were given the label and shoppers were encouraged to frequent those merchants.

Colu envisions itself as more than just a marketing and rewards platform for businesses. The company hopes it can draw users into a kind of social networking platform for civic engagement where users can share their own stories about city-life and their interactions with local business owners and the community.

In some ways, it’s a kinder, gentler version of China’s social credit scoring system, which is also designed to influence civic behavior. In this formulation, there’s a rewards system, but no mechanisms to punish citizens for bad behavior.

“Akron has a long history of innovation within our economy — this initiative draws on that legacy,” said Deputy Mayor Hardy, in a statement. “By putting the future of Akron’s locally owned small businesses in the palm of our citizens’ hands, we hope to make it easy for consumers to keep their money local and continue to strengthen our incredible community.”

#articles, #barry-silbert, #boston, #business, #california, #china, #cleveland, #colu, #economy, #george-floyd, #mayor, #minneapolis, #new-york, #ohio, #small-business, #spark-capital, #tc, #united-states, #venture-capital

Amazon won’t say if its facial recognition moratorium applies to the feds

In a surprise blog post, Amazon said it will put the brakes on providing its facial recognition technology to police for one year, but refuses to say if the move applies to federal law enforcement agencies.

The moratorium comes two days after IBM said in a letter it was leaving the facial recognition market altogether. Arvind Krishna, IBM’s chief executive, cited a “pursuit of justice and racial equity” in light of the recent protests sparked by the killing of George Floyd by a white police officer in Minneapolis last month.

Amazon’s statement — just 102 words in length — did not say why it was putting the moratorium in place, but noted that Congress “appears ready” to work on stronger regulations governing the use of facial recognition — again without providing any details. It’s likely in response to the Justice in Policing Act, a bill that would, if passed, restrict how police can use facial recognition technology.

“We hope this one-year moratorium might give Congress enough time to implement appropriate rules, and we stand ready to help if requested,” said Amazon in the unbylined blog post.

But the statement did not say if the moratorium would apply to the federal government, the source of most of the criticism against Amazon’s facial recognition technology. Amazon also did not say in the statement what action it would take after the yearlong moratorium expires.

Amazon is known to have pitched its facial recognition technology, Rekognition, to federal agencies, like Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Last year, Amazon’s cloud chief Andy Jassy said in an interview the company would provide Rekognition to “any” government department.

Amazon spokesperson Kristin Brown declined to comment further or say if the moratorium applies to federal law enforcement.

There are dozens of companies providing facial recognition technology to police, but Amazon is by far the biggest. Amazon has come under the most scrutiny after its Rekognition face-scanning technology showed bias against people of color.

In 2018, the ACLU found that Rekognition falsely matched 28 members of Congress as criminals in a mugshot database. Amazon criticized the results, claiming the ACLU had lowered the facial recognition system’s confidence threshold. But a year later, the ACLU of Massachusetts found that Rekognition had falsely matched 27 New England professional athletes against a mugshot database. Both tests disproportionately mismatched Black people, the ACLU found.

Investors brought a proposal to Amazon’s annual shareholder meeting almost exactly a year ago that would have forcibly banned Amazon from selling its facial recognition technology to the government or law enforcement. Amazon defeated the vote with a wide margin.

The ACLU acknowledged Amazon’s move to pause sales of Rekognition, which it called a “threat to our civil rights and liberties,” but called on the company and other firms to do more.

#amazon, #american-civil-liberties-union, #andy-jassy, #computing, #congress, #face-id, #facial-recognition, #facial-recognition-software, #federal-government, #george-floyd, #massachusetts, #minneapolis, #privacy, #publishing, #security

Decrypted: DEA spying on protesters, DDoS attacks, Signal downloads spike

This week saw protests spread across the world sparked by the murder of George Floyd, an unarmed Black man, killed by a white police officer in Minneapolis last month.

The U.S. hasn’t seen protests like this in a generation, with millions taking to the streets each day to lend their voice and support. But they were met with heavily armored police, drones watching from above, and “covert” surveillance by the federal government.

That’s exactly why cybersecurity and privacy is more important than ever, not least to protect law-abiding protesters demonstrating against police brutality and institutionalized, systemic racism. It’s also prompted those working in cybersecurity — many of which are former law enforcement themselves — to check their own privilege and confront the racism from within their ranks and lend their knowledge to their fellow citizens.


THE BIG PICTURE

DEA allowed ‘covert surveillance’ of protesters

The Justice Department has granted the Drug Enforcement Administration, typically tasked with enforcing federal drug-related laws, the authority to conduct “covert surveillance” on protesters across the U.S., effectively turning the civilian law enforcement division into a domestic intelligence agency.

The DEA is one of the most tech-savvy government agencies in the federal government, with access to “stingray” cell site simulators to track and locate phones, a secret program that allows the agency access to billions of domestic phone records, and facial recognition technology.

Lawmakers decried the Justice Department’s move to allow the DEA to spy on protesters, calling on the government to “immediately rescind” the order, describing it as “antithetical” to Americans’ right to peacefully assembly.

#ceo, #cloudflare, #computer-security, #cybercrime, #cyberwarfare, #decrypted, #department-of-justice, #extra-crunch, #federal-government, #george-floyd, #google, #government, #information-technology, #inky, #insight-partners, #internet-security, #iphone, #israel, #lastline, #law-enforcement, #market-analysis, #matthew, #matthew-prince, #minneapolis, #moxie-marlinspike, #national-security, #online-harassment, #police-brutality, #prevention, #privacy, #security, #series-b, #startups, #surveillance, #team8, #techcrunch, #united-states, #vmware

Border Patrol flies anti-terrorism drone over Minneapolis protestors

Border Patrol flies anti-terrorism drone over Minneapolis protestors

Enlarge (credit: Customs and Border Patrol)

Thousands of people took to the streets of Minneapolis on Friday to protest the death of George Floyd, a local black man who died after a white police officer knelt on his neck during an arrest. All the while, a Customs and Border Patrol drone kept a careful eye on the unfolding unrest.

The drone, using the tracking signal CBP104, took off from Grand Forks Airforce Base at 9:08 am Central Daylight Time and shortly afterward headed directly to Minneapolis, this feed from live flight tracking service FlightAware showed. The drone then circled the city six times from about 10:45 until noon. The aircraft maintained an altitude of about 20,000 feet.

Grand Forks AFB is the home of the Air Force’s 319th Reconnaissance Wing. It is also a site Customs and Border Patrol personnel use for takeoff and landing of the Predator B unmanned aircraft system. CPB uses the drone in anti-terrorism operations by helping to identify and intercept potential terrorists and illegal cross-border activity.

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#biz-it, #drones, #minneapolis, #policy, #surveillance

Twitter screens Trump’s Minneapolis threat-tweet for glorifying violence

After applying a fact-checking label Tuesday to a misleading vote-by-mail tweet made by US president Donald Trump, Twitter is on a roll and has labeled another of the president’s tweets — this time screening his words from casual view with what it calls a “public interest notice” that states the tweet violated its rules about glorifying violence. 

Here’s how the tweet appears without further interaction (second tweet in the below screengrab):

The public interest notice replaces the substance of what Trump wrote, meaning a user has to actively click through to view the offending tweet.

Engagement options are also limited as a result by this label, meaning users can only retweet the offending tweet with a comment; they cannot like it, reply to it or vanilla retweet it.

Twitter’s notice goes on to explain why it has not removed the offending tweet entirely — and this is where the public interest element of the policy kicks in — with the company writing: “Twitter has determined that it may be in the public’s interest for the Tweet to remain accessible.” 

Twitter appears to be shrugging off the president’s decision yesterday to sign an executive order targeting the legal shield which internet companies rely on to protect them from liability for user-created content — doubling down on displeasing Trump who has accused social media platforms generally of deliberately suppressing conservative views, despite plenty of evidence that ad-targeting platform algorithms actually boost outrage-fuelled content and views — which tends, conversely, to amplify conservative viewpoints.

In the latest clash, Trump had tweeted in reference to violent demonstrations taking place in Minneapolis sparked by the killing of a black man, George Floyd, by a white police officer — with the president claiming that “THUGS are dishonoring the memory of George Floyd” before threatening to send in the “Military”.

“Any difficulty and we will assume control but, when the looting starts, the shooting starts. Thank you!” Trump added — making a bald threat to use military force against civilians.

Twitter has wrestled with the issue of how to handle world leaders who break its content rules for years. Most often as a result of Trump who routinely uses its platform to bully all manner of targets — from rival politicians to hated journalists, disobedient business leaders, and even actors who displease him — as well as to dispense direct and sometimes violent threats.

Since being elected, Trump has also used Twitter’s global platform as a foreign policy weapon, firing military threats at the likes of North Korea and Iran in tweet form.

Back in 2018, for example, he teased North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un with button-pushing nuclear destruction (see below tweet) — before going on to “fall in love” with the dictator when he met him in person.

Twitter’s go-to defence for not taking offending Trump tweets down in the past has been that, as US president, the substance of what the man tweets — however mad, bad and dangerous — is inherently newsworthy.

However, more recently, the company has created a policy tool that allows it to intervene — defining terms last summer around “public interest” content on Twitter.

It warned then (almost a full year ago, in June 2019) that it might place a public interest notice on tweets that would otherwise violate its rules (and therefore merit a takedown) — in order to “to provide additional context and clarity”, rather than removing the offensive tweet.

Fast forward a year and the tech giant has started applying labels to Trump’s tweets — beginning with a fact-check label earlier this week, related to the forthcoming US election, and following up now with a public interest notice related to Trump glorifying violence.

So, finally, the tech giant seems to be inching towards drawing a limit-line around Trump in near real-time.

Explaining its decision to badge the US president’s threat to order the military to shoot looters in Minneapolis, the company writes: “This Tweet violates our policies regarding the glorification of violence based on the historical context of the last line, its connection to violence, and the risk it could inspire similar actions today.”

“We’ve taken action in the interest of preventing others from being inspired to commit violent acts, but have kept the Tweet on Twitter because it is important that the public still be able to see the Tweet given its relevance to ongoing matters of public importance,” Twitter goes on.

It also links to its policy against tweets that glorify violence — which states unequivocally [in bold]: “You may not threaten violence against an individual or a group of people.”

Back in June, when Twitter announced the ‘abusive behavior’ label, it also warned that tweets which get screened with a public interest notice will not benefit from any algorithmic acceleration, writing: “We’ll also take steps to make sure the Tweet is not algorithmically elevated on our service, to strike the right balance between enabling free expression, fostering accountability, and reducing the potential harm caused by these Tweets.”

However the newsworthiness of Twitter’s decision to finally apply its own rules vis-a-vis Trump will ensure there’s plenty of non-algorithmic amplification (and no little irony).

We reached out to the company with questions about its decision to apply a public interest screen on Trump’s latest tweet but at the time of writing it had not responded.

On Wednesday night, Twitter CEO and co-founder, Jack Dorsey, put out a series of tweets defending its decision to apply a fact-check label to Trump’s earlier misleading tweets about vote-by-mail.

“This does not make us an “arbiter of truth”,” wrote Dorsey. “Our intention is to connect the dots of conflicting statements and show the information in dispute so people can judge for themselves. More transparency from us is critical so folks can clearly see the why behind our actions.”

Dorsey’s remarks followed pointed comments made by Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg to Fox News, seeking to contrast Facebook’s claimed ‘neutrality’ when policing its platform with Twitter’s policy of taking a stance on issues such as political advertising (which Twitter does not allow).

“I just believe strongly that Facebook shouldn’t be the arbiter of truth of everything that people say online,” Zuckerberg told the conservative news station. “Private companies… especially these platform companies, shouldn’t be in the position of doing that.”

It’s notable that Dorsey used Zuckerberg’s exact turn of phrase — “arbiter of truth” — to reject Facebook’s attack on Twitter’s policy as a straw man argument.

#donald-trump, #facebook, #freedom-of-expression, #jack-dorsey, #mark-zuckerberg, #minneapolis, #north-korea, #political-advertising, #social, #social-media-platforms, #twitter, #united-states

Minneapolis-based Yardbird raised $4.4 million for furniture made from recycled ocean-bound plastic

The Minneapolis-based outdoor furniture brand Yardbird, which makes its wares in part from recycled plastic harvested from beaches and ocean-bound waterways, has raised $4.4 million in financing.

Even heading into the teeth of a pandemic, American consumers won’t be denied their sustainably manufactured patio furniture.

Yardbird, which closed the round in March, makes its furniture from recycled plastic that the company says is repurposed ocean plastic sourced from beaches, waterways and ocean-bound susceptible locations. The company said it incorporated over 75,000 pounds of this material into its furniture in 2020 alone — meaning roughly half of every piece of resin-based wicker furniture that the company makes contains that recycled material.

It’s not only the feedstock that makes the company green. The company said it offsets its entire carbon footprint — from commuting, product transportation, and warehouse, showroom and office electricity and heating — with a service called CarbonFund.

Since the coroanvirus outbreak hit in late March, the company has worked to change several aspects of its business, according to company co-founder Jay Dillon.

The digital nature of the business means that the company didn’t have much in the way of a physical footprint to shut down, but its emphasis on building a direct to consumer brand has meant increased investment in the company’s website.

“Our supply chain runs through China and in mid-February when the outbreak hit them the hardest, I was very concerned about supply concerns and was up all night talking with factories. At the time, we wanted to get as much product in-hand as possible to manage inventory, but now we are scaling that back because there are so many unknowns in the U.S. even though China is back on the grid,” wrote Dillon in an email.

The company moved to contactless delivery of its furniture in late March and has seen steady online sales for its outdoor furniture as consumers invest in sprucing up the only outdoor spaces they can access in some fases.

“We still believe in our model, and so do our investors—we have secured bank lines of credit to help us weather this storm but as of right now, we don’t know how long the storm will last,” Dillon wrote.

#articles, #brand, #business, #china, #denver, #detroit, #furniture, #kansas-city, #marketing, #minneapolis, #tc, #united-states