A man’s death in the Netherlands last month after an attack by a group of teenagers has prompted the authorities to clamp down on vigilantism.
On the Dutch island of Bonaire, foreign buyers are lured by good health care, an arid climate and an economy built on the U.S. dollar.
Mink are the only animal known to both catch the virus from people and transmit it to them.
Threats against a high school teacher who displayed a political cartoon that supported the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo have alarmed Dutch officials.
The driver was the only person on the city train and was unharmed in the accident early Monday morning, a local safety spokesman said.
They have long prided themselves on an efficient government, some say to the point of smugness. Ranking high in the rate of daily infections is forcing a reckoning.
A Dutch security researcher says he accessed President Trump’s @realDonaldTrump Twitter account last week by guessing his password: “maga2020!”.
Victor Gevers, a security researcher at the GDI Foundation and chair of the Dutch Institute for Vulnerability Disclosure, which finds and reports security vulnerabilities, told TechCrunch he guessed the president’s account password and was successful on the fifth attempt.
The account was not protected by two-factor authentication, granting Gevers access to the president’s account.
After logging in, he emailed US-CERT, a division of Homeland Security’s cyber unit Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), to disclose the security lapse, which TechCrunch has seen. Gevers said the president’s Twitter password was changed shortly after.
It’s the second time Gevers has gained access to Trump’s Twitter account.
The first time was in 2016, when Gevers and two others extracted and cracked Trump’s password from the 2012 LinkedIn breach. The researchers took his password — “yourefired” — his catchphrase from the television show The Apprentice — and found it let them into his Twitter account. Gevers reported the breach to local authorities in the Netherlands, with suggestions on how Trump could improve his password security. One of the passwords he suggested at the time was “maga2020!” he said. Gevers said he “did not expect” the password to work years later.
Dutch news outlet RTL News first reported the story.
Trump’s account is said to be locked down with extra protections after he became president, though Twitter has not said publicly what those protections entail. His account was untouched by hackers who broke into Twitter’s network in July in order to abuse an “admin tool” to hijack high-profile accounts and spread a cryptocurrency scam.
A spokesperson for the White House and the Trump campaign did not immediately comment. A Twitter spokesperson did not comment on the record. A spokesperson for CISA did not immediately confirm the report.
Our compromised liberalism has left a generation of writers weighing their words in fear.
Hugo de Jonge, the Dutch health minister, said that “incurably ill” children ages 1 to 12 should be able to die with the help of a doctor.
Dutch researchers say the “impact was real,” adding to hopes that doctors will learn more about factors contributing to preterm birth.
France imposed a curfew on Paris and other major cities, and other countries are taking similar steps as record caseloads fill hospitals and governments try to respond without lockdowns.
After having weathered high death rates when it resisted a lockdown in the spring, Sweden now has one of Europe’s lowest rates of daily new cases. Whether that is an aberration remains to be seen.
The outspoken conservative envoy, Pete Hoekstra, has been criticized for hosting a fund-raiser for a Dutch populist party at the U.S. Embassy.
“Two Laughing Boys” by Frans Hals has been taken from a museum in the Netherlands, after having been stolen in 1988 and again in 2011.
Dutch social enterprise, Fairphone, has moved a little closer to the sustainability dream of a circular economy by announcing the launch of a modular upgrade for its flagship smartphone.
The backwards compatible hardware units mean users of last year’s Fairphone 3 only need swap out a few modules to be holding the Fairphone 3+ in their hand instead of buying a whole new device.
Fairphone pulled off a similar feat with an earlier model of its ‘ethical smartphone’ but this time it’s managed to shrink the time it took it to offer ‘plug and play’ upgrade modules for its latest gen device.
“What we’ve been able to do is get that whole idea of plug and play to the consumer within the smartphone business,” says Fairphone co-founder Bas van Abel . “That part is not trivial because you have to imagine that getting everything into that module and being able to put it into the old phone… Not only the hardware has to fit and everything has to connect in the right way in that previous kind of architecture but also the software.
“But we’ve been able to do that, and it took some time but we’ve done it way faster than we were able to do it with the Fairphone 2. So we’re proud of that as well.”
“The most important part is it’s really also a signal towards the industry that it’s possible to do upgrades with your phone and not have to come out with a totally new phone every year,” he adds.
Finding clever ways to extend device longevity is a core plank of Fairphone’s mission. The biggest resource sinkhole associated with smartphone consumption is the annual or biennial upgrade cycle which encourages consumers to swap perfectly functional phones for a shiny new model. Fairphone 3 owners can get its latest kit with a cleaner conscience.
Fairphone is selling the Fairphone 3+ camera modules separately for current Fairphone 3 users — at an initial cost of €70 until the end of September (rising to ~€95 from October).
It is also selling a Fairphone 3+ handset for an RRP of €469, aimed at new to the brand users — opening up pre-sales from today on its website and via partner retailers, with a release date of September 14 across Europe.
Specs wise, the 4G Fairphone 3+ has a 5.7in Full-HD display with an 18:9 aspect ratio and is powered by a Qualcomm Snapdragon 632 chipset. Out of the box it runs Android 10. On board there’s 4GB of RAM and 64GB of ROM, expandable via microSD. The removable battery is 3,000mAh. There’s also Bluetooth 5.0, NFC and a fingerprint scanner.
van Abel confirms the business will continue to sell last year’s flagship — but at a reduced price of around €400.
The 3+ modules are only backwards compatible one generation of Fairphone which means anyone still using a Fairphone 2 can’t get this plug and play upgrade. The blocker there is the core module, per van Abel, who says not being able to swap the SOC out for an upgraded chipset remains the biggest challenge for modular upgrades that are able to span more than one smartphone generation.
“Our vision is definitely there that you can also eventually replace the core module… where the modem and the processor is,” he says, hazarding that it might be possible “within a couple of years”.
However the wider issue is the component industry still moves so fast it remains way out of step with Fairphone’s goal of longevity. The social enterprise pledges to provide up to five years of support for each device it sells, meaning it needs relevant spare parts to still be available in order that it can offer replacements or else stockpile them itself — a capital intensive process. And one that’s at sharp odds with the blistering upgrade trajectory of processor manufacturers.
From a sustainability and resource perspective, the best option is also for a smartphone user to keep using the same chipset for as long as possible. The maturity of the smartphone market and commoditization of the tech — leading to the more iterative device refreshes we generally see now — also tacitly supports that.
van Abel can point to consumers holding onto a handset for an average of about double the time they did when Fairphone got started. It’s a drift that’s providing uplift to environmentally sensitive brand focused on innovating to produce smartphones with a longer lifespan.
“We’ve done a lifecycle assessment on the Fairphone 3 and what comes out of that we’ve also tested what parts of the phone have what kind of footprint and you also see that almost 80% of the CO2 footprint of the phone is within the making and the production of the SOC,” he says. “So that means that if you really want to look at it from a sustainability perspective it really makes sense to keep that part of the phone just as long as possible. Because most of the harm on nature is on that part. So even replacing that part — being able to swap that part — it’s great but it’s kind of a shame that we throw away a lot of stuff and modules and components in the phone.”
“Recycling in the phone business at the moment is plain stupid,” he adds. “How it’s done is you collect the phones and they put them in an oven — they burn them. And then they get the minerals out… You can still reuse the minerals but there’s nothing smart about that. Nothing really has been reused so all the capacitors, the glass of the screen… So it does make sense at a certain point to being also able to swap the processor like you were able to do with the computers in the old days.”
When we reviewed the Fairphone 3 last year we were impressed by how normal the Android device felt — belying its modular, deconstructable interior and all the years of effort Fairphone has ploughed into scrutinising and reworking supply chains to be able to stand up its bold claim of a phone that “dares to be fair”.
Now, with the launch of the Fairphone 3+ modules, last year’s handset is getting a boost to its camera hardware — with a 48MP main lens and a 16MP front-facing lens offered as replacements to last year’s 12MP and 8MP units via the new modules (the main and front modules can be purchased separately or as an upgrade bundle).
On the surface that looks like a huge step up in hardware but it’s down to the camera module using the Samsung GM1 sensor — which uses tiny pixels of 0.8-micro to deliver light sensitivity equal to 1.6-micro pixels.
So it’s actually a software technique to eke more out of the hardware, with a trade off in that it entails some compression of picture quality. A Fairphone spokeswoman confirmed the main lens’ “effective output” is still 12MP. “This is common practice in the industry with phones such as the Samsung S5KGM1, Samsung Galaxy A90 5G, Nokia 7.2 and the Sony IMX363,” she added.
As we noted in our review of the Fairphone 3 last September, the 2019 flagship took a fairly standard snap — with photo quality closer to acceptable, than stand out. The performance gap vs the premium end of the smartphone market was noticeable, even as Fairphone had substantially bested performance vs its earlier handsets.
The company looks keen to further shrink the photo quality gap. Now it touts “significantly” improved photo and video quality via the 3+ upgrade — which it says supports “sharper selfies and clearer video calls”.
It’s also done work to optimize the software, noting support for enhanced object tracking, faster autofocus and image stabilization “for more reliable shots”, as well as “louder, crisper sound” on the audio front, per its press release.
A focus on boosting photo and video performance makes sense given how central the camera has become for smartphone users — feeding into the rise of trendy social video sharing apps like TikTok.
Successfully convincing consumers to hold onto their existing handset for longer means paying attention to such app trends to make sure hardware and software are keeping up with how people are using their phones.
For buyers of the Fairphone 3+ handset there’s another improvement: It boasts 40% recycled plastics — up from just 9% in last year’s model. Fairphone says the volume of recycled plastics is now equivalent to a 33cl plastic drinking bottle — so that’s one piece of plastic waste prevented from ending up in the sea (for now).
While some might wonder if there’s a subtle contradiction in a sustainable smartphone brand launching a new model only a year after unboxing last year’s flagship, van Abel says expanding the portfolio in important — as part of the overall mission to grow demand for ethical smartphones.
That demand is in turn needed to build momentum for the kind of industry-wide shift required for a wholesale upgrade to a circular economy. And the potential of offering devices as a services.
“We want to sell as many phones as possible — because our mission is to show that there is a demand for ethical phones,” he tells TechCrunch. “So the more phones we sell the more we can show that the demand is really there. But that also makes a problem in terms of longevity so we have another KPI where we say we want people to use our phone as long as possible — so we measure how long people actually use our phones and that’s improving every year as well. So a sales person at Fairphone they get a very hard kind of assignment because they have to sell as many phones as possible but they can’t approach people that already have them.”
“We’re challenging ourselves to disconnect the business model from these resources as much as possible but because we take that challenge in the core of our business I think we’re also ahead of where the industry needs to move towards,” he adds.
“Nobody can neglect the fact that we’re running out of resources and it’s getting harder and harder to get these resources. Look at cobalt, for example. Lithium ion batteries. There’s a run on cobalt. It’s gone like 10x, 20x the price it used to be — because we have this energy transition that we need all kinds of batteries for. So even sustainability needs these resources that you can’t get purely from recycling. So we know that this has to change. Even for geopolitical reasons I think that what we’re doing forces us to be ahead of the game.”
Demand for Fairphones has been building steadily over the past decade and the social enterprise is now “almost” at profitability, per van Abel. “We’ve sold over 200k phones — of which 60k were Fairphone 1s. We’ve sold over 100k Fairphone 2s. And last year we sold almost 50k Fairphone 3s and this year we’re aiming for over 100k Fairphone 3+,” he says.
“We’ve never had a portfolio. Now we actually have a portfolio of two phones, Fairphone 3 and 3+, because we’re going to sell the 3 as well at a lower price with the older modules — the previous modules — and the 3+ with the new modules. So that we also have a price point for people that don’t need the newest camera improvements.”
Fairphone remains very much a European project — one that’s perfectly positioned to benefit from a pan-EU push towards sustainability and a circular economy in the coming years. (A ‘right to repair’ Commission proposal for mobiles certainly looks helpful.)
For now, the biggest market for Fairphones is still Germany, per van Abel. While he says its focus for sales of the new portfolio is to push for more growth in Germany, with France, Holland and the UK its other main markets of continued focus. “We’re aiming more also at Scandinavia,” he adds.
“The danger of a commoditizing industry is where you get a lot of easy, cheap access to all these technologies and you see it moving towards two sides: The high end and the really low end stuff. But I hope that customers will also value the companies themselves, and the brands and what they stand for. Whereas [iPhone maker] Apple stands for design; they have a premium to it — you buy something more than just the phone. And I think Fairphone has that as well.
“We have a compelling story. Especially you see the group of conscious consuming growing within every report I read. You see it growing steadily each year. So people do take more notice of what they actually buy.”
Funding wise, the social enterprise is comfortably positioned with the debt, equity and growth financing it raised a few years back from impact investors. Though van Abel moots the possibility of taking in more funding to put towards marketing and help it keep scaling.
“But at the moment we’re good,” he adds. “The impact investors are very patient. It goes with the mission of the company. I think people really are part of Fairphone — participate in this company because they believe not only in the cash return but also in the impact.”
He also notes that Fairphone is also doing separate financing for some related initiatives in the supply chain which are required to underpin its claim of fair and ethical electronics.
“A good example of that is the fair cobalt alliance that we’ve just set up,” he says. “We’re really proud of that. We have set up a great consortium with mining companies, with refineries, with big companies like Signify, that are part of that supply chain of cobalt. It’s partly funded, as well, by the Dutch government. So we have more of a broker position — and that is the nice thing about being a social enterprise. You sometimes can be in between the non-profit and the for-profit sector. You can bridge easily those two worlds.”
A class action style suit has been filed in the UK against hotel group Marriott International over a massive data breach that exposed the information of some 500 million guests around the world, including around 30 million residents of the European Union, between July 2014 and September 2018.
The representative legal action against Marriott has been filed by UK resident, Martin Bryant, on behalf of millions of hotel guests domiciled in England & Wales who made reservations at hotel brands globally within the Starwood Hotels group, which is now part of Marriott International.
Hackers gained access to the systems of the Starwood Hotels group, starting in 2014, where they were able to help themselves to information such as guests’ names; email and postal addresses; telephone numbers; gender and credit card data. Marriott International acquired the Starwood Hotels group in 2016 — but the breach went undiscovered until 2018.
Bryant is being represented by international law firm, Hausfeld, which specialises in group actions.
Commenting in a statement, Hausfeld partner, Michael Bywell, said: “Over a period of several years, Marriott International failed to take adequate technical or organisational measures to protect millions of their guests’ personal data which was entrusted to them. Marriott International acted in clear breach of data protection laws specifically put in place to protect data subjects.”
“Personal data is increasingly critical as we live more of our lives online, but as consumers we don’t always realise the risks we are exposed to when our data is compromised through no fault of our own. I hope this case will raise awareness of the value of our personal data, result in fair compensation for those of us who have fallen foul of Marriott’s vast and long-lasting data breach, and also serve notice to other data owners that they must hold our data responsibly,” added Bryant in another supporting statement.
We’ve reached out to Marriott International for comment on the legal action.
A claim website for the action invites other eligible UK individuals to register their interest — and “hold Marriott to account for not securing your personal data”, as it puts it.
Here are the details of who is eligible to register their interest:
The ‘class’ of claimants on whose behalf the claim is brought includes all individuals who at any date prior to 10 September 2018 made a reservation online at a hotel operating under any of the following brands: W Hotels, St. Regis, Sheraton Hotels & Resorts, Westin Hotels & Resorts, Element Hotels, Aloft Hotels, The Luxury Collection, Tribute Portfolio, Le Méridien Hotel & Resorts, Four Points by Sheraton, Design Hotels. In addition, any other brand owned and/or operated by Marriott International Inc or Starwood Hotels and Resorts Worldwide LLC. The individuals must have been resident in England and Wales at some point during the relevant period prior to 10 September 2018 and are resident in England and Wales at the date the claim was issued. They must also have been at least 18 years old at the date the claim was issued.
The claim is being brought as a representative action under Rule 19.6 of the Civil Procedure Rules, per a press release, which also notes that everyone with the same interest as Bryant is included in the claimant class unless they opt out.
Those eligible to participate face no fees or costs, nor do affected guests face any financial risk from the litigation — which is being fully funded by Harbour Litigation Funding, a global litigation funder.
The suit is the latest sign that litigation funders are willing to take a punt on representative actions in the UK as a route to obtaining substantial damages for data issues. Another class action style suit was announced last week — targeting tracking cookies operated by data broker giants, Oracle and Salesforce.
Both lawsuits follow a landmark decision by a UK appeals court last year which allowed a class action-style suit against Google’s use between 2011 and 2012 of tracking cookies to override iPhone users’ privacy settings in Apple’s Safari browser to proceed, overturning an earlier court decision to toss the case.
The other unifying factor is the existence of Europe’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) framework which has opened the door to major fines for data protection violations. So even if EU regulators continue to lack uniform vigour in enforcing data protection law, there’s a chance the region’s courts will do the job for them if more litigation funders see value in bringing representative cases to pursue damages for privacy violations.
The dates of the Marriott data breach means it falls under GDPR — which came into application in May 2018.
The UK’s data watchdog, the ICO, proposed a $123M fine for the security failing in July last year — saying then that the hotel operator had “failed to undertake sufficient due diligence when it bought Starwood and should also have done more to secure its systems”.
However it has yet to hand down a final decision. Asked when the Marriott decision will be finalized, an ICO spokeswoman told us the “regulatory process” has been extended until September 30. No additional detail was offered to explain the delay.
Here’s the regulator’s statement in full:
Under Schedule 16 of the Data Protection Act 2018, Marriott has agreed to an extension of the regulatory process until 30 September. We will not be commenting until the regulatory process has concluded.
Five animals on two farms test positive, but many more are believed to be affected.
The suits will argue that mass surveillance of Internet users to carry out real-time bidding ad auctions cannot possibly be compatible with strict EU laws around consent to process personal data.
The litigants believe the collective claims could exceed €10BN, should they eventually prevail in their arguments — though such legal actions can take several years to work their way through the courts.
In the UK, the case may also face some legal hurdles given the lack of an established model for pursuing collective damages in cases relating to data rights. Though there are signs that’s changing.
Non-profit foundation, The Privacy Collective, has filed one case today with the District Court of Amsterdam, accusing the two data broker giants of breaching the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) in their processing and sharing of people’s information via third party tracking cookies and other adtech methods.
The Dutch case, which is being led by law-firm bureau Brandeis, is the biggest-ever class action in The Netherlands related to violation of the GDPR — with the claimant foundation representing the interests of all Dutch citizens whose personal data has been used without their consent and knowledge by Oracle and Salesforce.
A similar case is due to be filed later this month at the High Court in London England, which will make reference to the GDPR and the UK’s PECR (Privacy of Electronic Communications Regulation) — the latter governing the use of personal data for marketing communications. The case there is being led by law firm Cadwalader.
Under GDPR, consent for processing EU citizens’ personal data must be informed, specific and freely given. The regulation also confers rights on individuals around their data — such as the ability to receive a copy of their personal information.
It’s those requirements the litigation is focused on, with the cases set to argue that the tech giants’ third party tracking cookies, BlueKai and Krux — trackers that are hosted on scores of popular websites, such as Amazon, Booking.com, Dropbox, Reddit and Spotify to name a few — along with a number of other tracking techniques are being used to misuse Europeans’ data on a massive scale.
Per Oracle marketing materials, its Data Cloud and BlueKai Marketplace provider partners with access to some 2BN global consumer profiles. (Meanwhile, as we reported in June, BlueKai suffered a data breach that exposed billions of those records to the open web.)
While Salesforce claims its marketing cloud ‘interacts’ with more than 3BN browsers and devices monthly.
Discussing the lawsuit in a telephone call with TechCrunch, Dr Rebecca Rumbul, class representative and claimant in England & Wales, said: “There is, I think, no way that any normal person can really give informed consent to the way in which their data is going to be processed by the cookies that have been placed by Oracle and Salesforce.
“When you start digging into it there are numerous, fairly pernicious ways in which these cookies can and probably do operate — such as cookie syncing, and the aggregation of personal data — so there’s really, really serious privacy concerns there.”
The real-time-bidding (RTB) process that the pair’s tracking cookies and techniques feed, enabling the background, high velocity trading of profiles of individual web users as they browse in order to run dynamic ad auctions and serve behavioral ads targeting their interests, has, in recent years, been subject to a number of GDPR complaints, including in the UK.
These complaints argue that RTB’s handling of people’s information is a breach of the regulation because it’s inherently insecure to broadcast data to so many other entities — while, conversely, GDPR bakes in a requirement for privacy by design and default.
The UK Information Commissioner’s Office has, meanwhile, accepted for well over a year that adtech has a lawfulness problem. But the regulator has so far sat on its hands, instead of enforcing the law — leaving the complainants dangling. (Last year, Ireland’s DPC opened a formal investigation of Google’s adtech, following a similar complaint, but has yet to issue a single GDPR decision in a cross-border complaint — leading to concerns of an enforcement bottleneck.)
The two lawsuits targeting RTB aren’t focused on the security allegation, per Rumbul, but are mostly concerned with consent and data access rights.
She confirms they opted to litigate rather than trying to try a regulatory complaint route as a way of exercising their rights given the “David vs Goliath” nature of bringing claims against the tech giants in question.
“If I was just one tiny person trying to complaint to Oracle and trying to use the UK Information Commissioner to achieve that… they simply do not have the resources to direct at one complaint from one person against a company like Oracle — in terms of this kind of scale,” Rumbul told TechCrunch.
“In terms of being able to demonstrate harm, that’s quite a lot of work and what you get back in recompense would probably be quite small. It certainly wouldn’t compensate me for the time I would spend on it… Whereas doing it as a representative class action I can represent everyone in the UK that has been affected by this.
“The sums of money then work — in terms of the depths of Oracle’s pockets, the costs of litigation, which are enormous, and the fact that, hopefully, doing it this way, in a very large-scale, very public forum it’s not just about getting money back at the end of it; it’s about trying to achieve more standardized change in the industry.”
“If Salesforce and Oracle are not successful in fighting this then hopefully that send out ripples across the adtech industry as a whole — encouraging those that are using these quite pernicious cookies to change their behaviours,” she added.
The litigation is being funded by Innsworth, a litigation funder which is also funding Walter Merricks’ class action for 46 million consumers against Mastercard in London courts. And the GDPR appears to be helping to change the class action landscape in the UK — as it allows individuals to take private legal action. The framework can also support third parties to bring claims for redress on behalf of individuals. While changes to domestic consumer rights law also appear to be driving class actions.
Commenting in a statement, Ian Garrard, managing director of Innsworth Advisors, said: “The development of class action regimes in the UK and the availability of collective redress in the EU/EEA mean Innsworth can put money to work enabling access to justice for millions of individuals whose personal data has been misused.”
A separate and still ongoing lawsuit in the UK, which is seeking damages from Google on behalf of Safari users whose privacy settings it historically ignored, also looks to have bolstered the prospects of class action style legal actions related to data issues.
While the courts initially tossed the suit last year, the appeals court overturned that ruling — rejecting Google’s argument that UK and EU law requires “proof of causation and consequential damage” in order to bring a claim related to loss of control of data.
The judge said the claimant did not need to prove “pecuniary loss or distress” to recover damages, and also allowed the class to proceed without all the members having the same interest.
Discussing that case, Rumbul suggests a pending final judgement there (likely next year) may have a bearing on whether the lawsuit she’s involved with can be taken forward in the UK.
“I’m very much hoping that the UK judiciary are open to seeing these kind of cases come forward because without these kinds of things as very large class actions it’s almost like closing the door on this whole sphere of litigation. If there’s a legal ruling that says that case can’t go forward and therefore this case can’t go forward I’d be fascinated to understand how the judiciary think we’d have any recourse to these private companies for these kind of actions,” she said.
Asked why the litigation has focused on Oracle and Saleforce, given there are so many firms involved in the adtech pipeline, she said: “I am not saying that they are necessarily the worst or the only companies that are doing this. They are however huge, huge international multimillion-billion dollar companies. And they specifically went out and purchased different bits of adtech software, like BlueKai, in order to bolster their presence in this area — to bolster their own profits.
“This was a strategic business decision that they made to move into this space and become massive players. So in terms of the adtech marketplace they are very, very big players. If they are able to be held to account for this then it will hopefully change the industry as a whole. It will hopefully reduce the places to hide for the other more pernicious cookie manufacturers out there. And obviously they have huge, huge revenues so in terms of targeting people who are doing a lot of harm and that can afford to compensate people these are the right companies to be targeting.”
Rumbul also told us The Privacy Collective is looking to collect stories from web users who feel they have experienced harm related to online tracking.
“There’s plenty of evidence out there to show that how these cookies work means you can have very, very egregious outcomes for people at an individual level,” she added. “Whether that can be related to personal finance, to manipulation of addictive behaviors, whatever, these are all very, very possible — and they cover every aspect of our lives.”
Consumers in England and Wales and the Netherlands are being encouraged to register their support of the actions via The Privacy Collective’s website.
In a statement, Christiaan Alberdingk Thijm, lead lawyer at Brandeis, said: “Your data is being sold off in real-time to the highest bidder, in a flagrant violation of EU data protection regulations. This ad-targeting technology is insidious in that most people are unaware of its impact or the violations of privacy and data rights it entails. Within this adtech environment, Oracle and Salesforce perform activities which violate European privacy rules on a daily basis, but this is the first time they are being held to account. These cases will draw attention to astronomical profits being made from people’s personal information, and the risks to individuals and society of this lack of accountability.”
“Thousands of organisations are processing billions of bid requests each week with at best inconsistent application of adequate technical and organisational measures to secure the data, and with little or no consideration as to the requirements of data protection law about international transfers of personal data. The GDPR gives us the tool to assert individuals’ rights. The class action means we can aggregate the harm done,” added partner Melis Acuner from Cadwalader in another supporting statement.
We reached out to Oracle and Salesforce for comment on the litigation.
Oracle EVP and general counsel, Dorian Daley, said:
The Privacy Collective knowingly filed a meritless action based on deliberate misrepresentations of the facts. As Oracle previously informed the Privacy Collective, Oracle has no direct role in the real-time bidding process (RTB), has a minimal data footprint in the EU, and has a comprehensive GDPR compliance program. Despite Oracle’s fulsome explanation, the Privacy Collective has decided to pursue its shake-down through litigation filed in bad faith. Oracle will vigorously defend against these baseless claims.
A spokeswoman for Salesforce sent us this statement:
At Salesforce, Trust is our #1 value and nothing is more important to us than the privacy and security of our corporate customers’ data. We design and build our services with privacy at the forefront, providing our corporate customers with tools to help them comply with their own obligations under applicable privacy laws — including the EU GDPR — to preserve the privacy rights of their own customers.
Salesforce and another Data Management Platform provider, have received a privacy related complaint from a Dutch group called The Privacy Collective. The claim applies to the Salesforce Audience Studio service and does not relate to any other Salesforce service.
Salesforce disagrees with the allegations and intends to demonstrate they are without merit.
Our comprehensive privacy program provides tools to help our customers preserve the privacy rights of their own customers. To read more about the tools we provide our corporate customers and our commitment to privacy, visit salesforce.com/privacy/products/
Just like we enjoy a range of different possible modes of transportation on Earth, the potential of the space economy allows for many different types of of vehicles and launch systems. Dawn Aerospace took the wrapper off one today, a suborbital spaceplane called the Dawn Mk-II Aurora that’s smaller than a compact car and that will be capable of making multiple return trips to suborbital space per day.
The Mk-II is, as its name suggests, a second iteration of the concept created by Dawn. The Mk-I was actually built and flew in May 2018, demonstrating its ability to fire up its rockets during flight after taking off horizontally from a traditionally airstrip. One of the Mk-II’s key capabilities is its ability to take-off and land at conventional runways, obviating the need for specialized and expensive vertical launch compounds.
Dawn Aerospace was founded in Delft, in the Netherlands, with ties to the Technical University of Delft, and also operates out of New Zealand, which has a growing reputation in the New Space industry stemming from being the home of Rocket Lab, one of the most successful new companies operating commercial launch services. The company’s entire mission is built around sustainable space-based economy, and it also has a thriving business in CubeSat propulsion, building systems that use food-grade propellants for safe fuels that don’t carry as much of an environmental cost.
The Mk-II Aurora approaches the goal of sustainable commercial spaceflight in a different way, promising flights to 60 miles and above for payloads of 3U, which is small but perfectly suitable for a range of scientific experiments. It’ll be able to fly and return for multiple trips per day, at a cost of roughly $50,000 per flight, with realtime downlink communications capabilities.
Dawn has plans for a Mk-III iteration of its space plane that will be 60 feet long and be able to carry payloads weighing between 110 and 220 lbs all the way to orbit. Combined with its ability to do multiple daily flights and take off and land from conventional runways anywhere in the world, that would be a game-changer for the small satellite launch industry.
For anyone interested in the contested question of how much ‘value’ — or, well, how little — publishers derive from the privacy-hostile practice of tracking web users to behaviorally target them with ads, pro-privacy browser Brave has published some interesting data, obtained (with permission) from the Netherland’s public broadcaster, NPO.
The data shows the NPO grew ad revenue after ditching trackers to target ads in the first half of this year — and did so despite the coronavirus pandemic landing in March and dealing a heavy blow to digital advertising globally (contributing, for example, to Twitter reporting Q2 ad revenues down nearly a quarter).
The context here is that in January the broadcaster switched to serving contextual ads across its various websites, where it has an online video audience of 7.1M per month, and display reach of 5.8M per month.
Brave has just published an analysis of six months’ worth of data which shows NPO’s ad revenue increased every month over this period. Year-over-year increases after the broadcaster unplugged the usual morass of background adtech that makes surveillance capitalism ‘function’ are as follows:
- January: 62%; February 79%; March 27%; April 9%; May 17%; June 17%;
Earlier this month Brave published five months’ worth of the NPO ad revenue data. So this is actually an update on an earlier blog post on the topic. The updated figures from Ster, the NPO’s ad sales house, slightly amend the earlier amounts, revising the reported figures further upwards. So, in short, non-tracking ad revenue bump has been sustained for half a year. Even amid a pandemic.
Now the idea that switching from behavioral to contextual targeting can lead to revenue growth is not a narrative you’ll hear from the ad tracking industry and its big tech backers. Aka the platform giants whose grip on the Internet’s attention economy and the digital infrastructure used for buying and selling targeted ads has helped them to huge profits over the past half decade or so (even as publisher revenues have largely stagnated or declined during this boom period for digital ad spending).
The adtech industry prefers to chainlink tracking and targeting to ad revenue — claiming publisher revenues would tank if content producers were forced to abandon their reader surveillance systems. (Here’s Google’s VP of ad platforms, last year, telling AdExchanger that the impact of tracker blocking on publishers’ programmatic ad revenues could cut CPMs in half, for example.)
Yet it’s not the first time there’s been a report of (surprise!) publisher uplift after ditching ad trackers.
Last year Digiday reported that the New York Times saw its ad revenue rise in Europe after it switched off creepy ads ahead of a major regional regulatory update, shifting over to contextual and geographical targeting.
The NYT does have a certain level of brand cache which not every publisher can claim. Hence the tracking industry counterclaims that its experience isn’t one that can be widely replicated by publishers. So the NPO data is additionally interesting in that it shows revenue uplift for a public broadcaster even across websites that aren’t dominant in their particular category, per Brave’s analysis.
Here’s its chief policy & industry relations officer, Dr Johnny Ryan, who writes:
NPO and its sales house, Ster, invested in contextual targeting and testing, and produced vast sales increases even with sites that do not appear to dominate their categories. This may be a tribute to Ster’s ability to sell inventory across NPO’s media group as a collective, but this benefit would have applied in 2019 and does not account for the revenue jump in 2020. A publisher does not therefore need to have market dominance to abandon 3rd party tracking and reproduce NPO’s vast revenue increase.
And here’s Ryan’s take on why “legitimate” (i.e. non junk/clickbait) publishers of all sizes should be able to follow the NPO’s example:
Although it is a national broadcast group, NPO websites do not dominate the web traffic rankings in the Netherlands. Only one of NPO’s properties (Nos.nl) ranks in the top 5 in its category in the Netherlands, according to Similar Web. None of the other NPO properties are in the Netherland’s top 100. The other NPO websites for which Similar Web provides a traffic rank estimation (versus other websites in the Netherlands) range from 180th to 5,040th most popular in the Netherlands. NPO properties’ popularity or market position in each content category are not correlated with increases in impressions sold. Country site rank, category site rank, and numbers of page views, vary widely between the properties, whereas the increases in impression sold are all above 83%, with one explicable exception [due to technical difficulties over the tracked period which prevented ads being served against one of its most popular programs].
Brave has its own commercial iron in the fire here, of course, given its approach to monetizing user eyeballs aligns with an anti-tracking marketplace ethos. But that hardly takes away from the NPO’s experience of — surprise! — revenue growth from ditching creepy ads.
Joost Negenman, NPO’s privacy officer, told TechCrunch they had certainly not expected to see ad revenue uplift from making the switch. The decision to move to contextual ads was made mid last year, as a result of the public broadcaster becoming “convinced” the programmatic targeting ad system it was using wasn’t compatible with its “public task”, as he tells it.
“We expected a rather dramatic drop in revenue,” says Negenman, noting that at that time the NPO was only getting a consent rate from users of around 10% for the ad cookies Ster needed for its programmatic ad system — down from 75%+ prior to GDPR (“probably” because its Cookie Consent Module at the time had been based on “implicit instead of explicit consent”; whereas GDPR mandates for consent to be legally valid it must be specific, informed and freely given).
“We also expected a drop because advertisers could completely ignore us when NPO and Ster turned away from this market adtech standard together, at a time when there was no sophisticated alternative in place,” he continues. “This fortunate misjudgment on our side was also fuelled by the strong belief (and preaches) in programmatic ad-solutions by online marketeers and companies.”
Negenman attributes the surprise revenue bounty from selling contextual ads to a couple of factors: Namely the “A-brand” pull of NPO and its affiliate broadcasters, meaning advertisers still wanted to be able to reach their users. And, well, to having the pro-privacy zeitgeist on its side.
“We’re all aware of the growing scrutiny on the adtech business, no explanation needed!” he says.
It’s worth noting the NPO’s switch to contextual ads did require some investment to pull off. The publisher shelled out for technology to enable contextual targeting across its web properties — such as building out descriptive metadata to enable more granular contextual targeting on video content. And the level of investment required to achieve similarly sophisticated contextual ad targeting might not be available to every publisher.
Yet the sustained revenue bump NPO experienced post-switch means it very quickly earned back what it spent — so for publishers that can afford to invest up front in transitioning away from tracking it looks like a very compelling case study.
“It paid for itself within a month or so!” confirms Negenman. “Considering all the money Ster didn’t have to share with Google and other in-betweens. From 1 advertisement Euro, 1 Euro goes to Ster!”
Though he also notes the broadcaster was helped by Dutch law placing an obligation on it to have subtitles for over 90% of its assets — meaning some of the leg work to build out contextual targeting had already been done.
“Subtitles data of course provides valuable descriptive metadata. So those tools where already in place,” he says. “But beside subtitles — that are nowadays easier to automate — standard program information like (sub)genre, titles of actors are of great value as well to add context on a video asset.”
Brave’s Ryan posits that the role of NPO’s sales house is also important to its success with contextual ads. “Smaller publishers may benefit from engaging with reputable sales houses that can aggregate supply as Ster does for NPO’s various properties,” he suggests. “Publishers of all sizes will benefit according to their reputations — unless advertisers and agencies purchase from sales houses with poor reputations.”
Asked whether he believes the switch would work for all publishers, Negenman does not go that far. “For all A-brands I definitely see this approach working, also news outlets have the perfect (meta)data needed to feed such a system,” he says, arguing there’s a place in the market for both contextual and targeted ads.
“Not all online advertising is the same,” he argues. “A shoe annoyingly following you online is something other than creating (A-)brand awareness. Perhaps the contextual system can start by creating privacy friendly ‘lagoons’ where a person is not tracked or followed by a shoe. There the system gets time to prove its worth in revenue and respect for its audience.”
“For other public broadcasters I believe they have more or less an (moral) obligation to at least start testing contextual ads,” he adds. “The adtech system’s use of personal and behavioral data has become so un-explainable that the GDPR information obligation is almost impossible to meet.”
As we’ve said before, the evidence of viable alternatives to privacy-torching surveillance capitalism is stacking up — even as harms linked to adtech platforms’ exploitation of people’s information keep piling up.
And while contextual ads may not sum to a revenue boom for every type of publisher, the notion that it’s tracking or nothing is clearly bogus.
(You could also make a pretty compelling case that abusive exploitation of people’s data that sustains low grade publishing is not at all a net societal good and so supporting a system that supports bottom feeding clickbait (and massive levels of ad fraud) is simply bad for everyone — well, other than the bottom feeders… )
Ryan goes so far as to call conventional adtech “a cancer eating at the heart of legitimate publishers”. And having worked inside the beast he’s castigating, via an earlier stint at anti-ad-blocking adtech company called PageFair, his critique is all the more hard hitting.
He’s used his insider knowledge to file a number of complaints with European regulators — most notably against the real-time bidding (RTB) practice programmatic advertising can rely on, drawing in vast quantities of Internet users’ personal information and scattershotting it back out again.
He contends this high velocity trading of personal data can’t possibly be compliant with Europe’s data protection framework — which, conversely, mandates that people’s information be securely handled, not spread around like confetti. (Though he believes RTB can work fine if you strip out personal data and only use it for contextual ads.)
European data protection regulators agree there’s a ‘lawfulness’ problem with current adtech practices. But have so far sat on their hands rather than taking enforcement action, given how widespread the problem is.
(Interestingly, Negenman says the NPO investigated continuing using programmatic RTB but with personal data stripped out. Though, in the event, he says this idea never got past the production stage. “Personally I can imagine a compliant combination,” he notes, adding: “Most importantly, the personal data must not leave the trusted data partner [and be shared with] the advertisers.”)
Turning a tanker clearly takes time. But the more publishers that see not pushing creepy ads on their users as an opportunity to experiment with alternatives, the more chance there will be for the market to shift wholesale for privacy — a shift that can be a huge win for publishers and users alike, as the NPO experience illustrates.
Competition regulators, meanwhile, are closing in on big (ad)tech’s market power — and the conflicts of interest that arise from the “vertically integrated chain of intermediaries” which work to funnel the lion’s share of digital ad spend into platform coffers. So it’s not hard to conceive of an intervention to force market reform by breaking up Google’s business empire — to separate the ‘ad’ bits from its other ‘tech’.
The self-interested forces that underpin surveillance capitalism made their fortunes when no one was really looking at how their methods exploit people’s data. Now, with many more eyes trained on them, they are operating on borrowed time. It’s no longer a question of whether change is coming. The sands are shifting, with platforms themselves now moving to limit access to third party tracking cookies.
Savvy publishers would do well to get out ahead of the next round of platform power moves — and skate to where the puck’s headed.
In Boston and in the Netherlands, scientists are racing to build a vaccine against the virus strangling the world.
Almost 750 individuals in the UK have been arrested so far after an international coalition of law enforcement agencies infiltrated an encrypted chat platform in which the suspects openly discussed murder, arranged hits, illegal drug purchases, gun sales, and other alleged crimes.
The UK’s National Crime Agency (NCA) today announced the results of an investigation it dubbed Operation Venetic. UK agencies, taken together, have to date arrested 746 suspects and seized 77 guns, two metric tons of drugs, 28 million illicit pills, 55 “high value” cars, and more than £54 million ($67.4 million) in cash.
The arrests followed a breakthrough into an encrypted communications platform, Encrochat, used widely in the European underground. “The infiltration of this command and control communication platform for the UK’s criminal marketplace is like having an inside person in every top organized crime group in the country,” NCA Director of Investigations Nikki Holland said in a written statement. “This is the broadest and deepest ever UK operation into serious organized crime.”
A private art detective investigating the case said he was sent the images of the work, which was taken from a Dutch museum in March.
Yousef was just 13 when his family left Syria for Europe. Five years later, he’s adjusting to life separated from his three sisters and the ups and downs of adolescence.
Many Dutch professions went back to work in May, and most will return by July. But sex workers must wait until September — sending hundreds into poverty and forcing some to risk working in secret.
To stop the spread of the coronavirus, nightclubs are still shuttered as Europe emerges from a lockdown. But one German club has found another way to host a party. Honk if you’re having a good time.
Get up close to the finest mosaics in Western Europe, 19th-century busts (an earlier form of self-promotion), the archaeology of Turkey, the Met’s conservation projects and stately European homes.
Ballet and contemporary performers across Europe are returning to work in a different world, with masks, liability waivers and no touching.
A Dutch court ruled a woman violated Europe’s General Data Protection Regulation after refusing to take down photos of her grandchildren from social media.
Countries around the world are taking different approaches as they give guidelines on reopening — from work to play.
At least five bodies were found or seen in the foamy waters off the beach resort of Scheveningen, a district of The Hague.
An Amsterdam-based group has filed a lawsuit against the European Union for funding an infrastructure project in Eritrea built by conscripts.
For decades, the consensus has been that F.D.A. regulations require that the abortion pill be obtained in a clinic. But that’s changing.
Life in one of the world’s most complex border towns was made even more puzzling when Dutch and Belgian officials took very different approaches to handling the coronavirus.
The Station is a weekly newsletter dedicated to all things transportation. Sign up here — just click The Station — to receive it every Saturday in your inbox.
While COVID-related stay-at-home orders have been extended in places like the San Francisco Bay area, officials in other counties and states in the U.S. have decided to open up for business. The rest of us are watching and waiting to see how these two experiments play out.
These opposing approaches have managed to create even more tension in the United States. If politics didn’t divide us before, how and when to open amid a health pandemic is proving to be an effective wedge.
The “how” is as important, or even more so, than the “when.” What will life and business look like? Wuhan, China, a transportation and manufacturing metropolis of 11 million people and where COVID-19 started, offers a view into one approach. (The photo below shows a worker disinfecting a bus in Wuhan on April 30.)
When those stay-at-home orders are finally lifted, returning to work won’t be quick or easy. Wuhan was placed on lockdown January 23. Wuhan officials eased outgoing travel restrictions April 8. While the strictest component of that lockdown has been lifted, many businesses remain closed. Didi didn’t reopened its ride-hailing services in the city until April 30.
In short, it’s going to be complex. Ford’s back-to-work playbook is a case in point. The plan includes a number of daily measures such as online health self-certifications completed before work every day, face masks and no-touch temperature scans upon arrival. But that’s just a sliver of what it will take. Check it out their complete playbook.
I’ll alrighty folks, shall we dig in? Vamos.
It was a rough week for micromobility. Over at Lyft, the company laid off 982 employees and furloughed 288 amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Lyft also permanently ceased scooter operations in Oakland, San Jose and Austin.
“We’re focusing our resources where we can have the biggest impact and best serve cities and riders,” a Lyft spokesperson said in a statement to TechCrunch. “We’re continuing to invest in our bike and scooter business, but have made the tough decision to shift resources away from three scooter markets and toward opportunities where we are set up for longer-term success.”
At Lime, the startup let go 13% of its staff while the very next day relaunching its electric scooters in Baltimore and Ogden, Utah.
“Almost overnight, our company went from being on the eve of accomplishing an unprecedented milestone — the first next-generation micromobility company to reach profitability — to one where we had to pause operations in 99% of our markets worldwide to support cities’ efforts at social distancing,” Lime CEO Brad Bao wrote in a note to employees.
Just one day after those layoffs, the company relaunched scooters in Baltimore to help support essential medical workers as well as in Ogden.
Uber is weighing its own layoffs. The Information reported that the company could cut up to 20% of its staff. That translates to more than 5,000 jobs. Those cuts could be announced in stages over the next several weeks. Meanwhile, Thuan Pham, who was hired as Uber’s chief technology officer by former CEO Travis Kalanick back in 2013, is leaving the company in three weeks, the ride-share giant revealed in an SEC filing.
— Megan Rose Dickey
Deal of the week
Chinese electric vehicle startup Nio secured a $1 billion investment from several state-owned companies in Hefei in return for agreeing to establish headquarters in the city’s economic development hotspot and giving up a stake in one of its business units.
The injection of capital comes from several investors, including Hefei City Construction and Investment Holding Group, CMG-SDIC Capital and Anhui Provincial Emerging Industry Investment Co.
Why deal of the week? The deal alleviates some concerns about Nio’s liquidity. It also marks the latest Chinese EV startup to turn to the state as private capital has shrunk.
There is no free lunch, however. The deal itself is complex and involves some asset shuffling. Nio is transferring its core businesses in China into a new company called Nio China. The investors will get a 24.1% stake in Nio China. The shareholding structure of the parent company is unchanged.
Other deals announced this week are below. Keep in mind that just because a deal is announced that doesn’t mean it closed amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Fundraising rounds often close weeks and even months before they’re announced.
Otonomo, an automotive data services startup based in Israel, raised $46 million in a Series C funding round that included investments from SK Holdings, Avis Budget Group and Alliance Ventures. Existing investors Bessemer Venture Partners also participated. Otonomo has raised $82 million, to date.
The company has a software platform that captures and anonymizes vehicle data so it can then be used to create apps to provide services such as electric vehicle management, subscription-based fueling, parking, mapping, usage-based insurance and emergency service.
KlearNow, a startup that has built a software platform to automate the customs clearance process, raised $16 million in a Series A funding round led by GreatPoint Ventures, with additional participation from Autotech Ventures, Argean Capital and Monta Vista Capital. Ashok Krishnamurthi, managing partner at GreatPoint Ventures, will join KlearNow’s board. Daniel Hoffer from Autotech Ventures is joining as a board observer.
Skycell, a Switzerland-based startup that builds hardware and operates a logistics network designed to transport pharmaceuticals has raised $62 million.
A merger between UK’s JustEat and the Netherlands’ Takeaway.com has been approved by regulators. The merged company announced that it had raised €700 million ($756 million) in new outside funding in the form of new shares and convertible bonds.
Cheetah, a San Francisco-based startup that provided a wholesale delivery service and has pivoted to selling to consumers during COVID-19, raised $36 million in Series B funding.
Innovation of the week
Computer vision company Eyesight Technologies has tweaked its driver monitoring system so it can detect driver distraction and drowsiness even while wearing a medical face mask.
This “innovation of the week” gets back to my opening remarks about “how” we get back to work. Face masks will likely be a part of our world for some time.
Driver monitoring systems, which are increasingly being used by commercial fleets, are trained to detect and monitor facial features of the driver. The system will take in data points like head pose, mouth, eyes and eyelids and use the gathered visual data to detect signs of drowsiness and distraction. If the sensor can’t read one or more of these features the system could fail to detect a drowsy truck driver or inattentive transit worker.
Eyesight Technologies says that its computer vision and AI algorithms have been trained to detect distraction and drowsiness even if a driver is wearing a mask and glasses.
“We are living in unprecedented times,” Eyesight Technologies CEO David Tolub said. “Without a concrete end date to the current situation, wearing medical masks may be a reality for the foreseeable future. Eyesight Technologies is forging ahead and adapting to provide a reliable solution to help guarantee safety even under less than ideal circumstances.”
Audi punts on Level 3
The feature, which is branded Traffic Jam Pilot, theoretically allows the vehicle to operate on its own without the human driver keeping their eyes on the road. But it’s never been commercially deployed.
Traffic Jam Pilot was supposed to be in the latest-generation A8 that debuted in 2017. It’s now 2020. What happened? Regulations, or lack of them, have been the primary scapegoat. But it’s not quite the whole story.
TechCrunch reached out to Audi to dig into why? In short, the company told us, that it’s complicated. The lack of a legal framework has raised concerns about liability. To further complicate the problem, the A8 is now progressing through its generational life cycle. And Audi was faced with continuing to pour money into the feature to adapt it without promise of framework progressing.
Here’s a few tidbits from the folks at Audi.
On the legal framework:
As of now, there is no legal framework for Level 3 automated driving. Consistently it is not possible to homologate such function anywhere in the world in a series production car. It is still very challenging to plan the exact introduction scenarios for level 3 systems, as we continuously moving in an intensive interplay between the findings from ongoing testing and the requirements that legislators and approval authorities are now defining for conditional automated driving.
On development costs:
As these clarifications and safeguards continue to take time, we also monitor economic aspects in addition. This includes development costs, which are summing up continuously. Secondly, the remaining life of the determined target model A8 combined with the forecasted installation rate and the expected market greediness in the individual countries are playing an important role.
This has brought us to the following decision: We will not see the traffic jam pilot on the road with its originally planned level 3 series function in the current model generation of the Audi A8 because our luxury sedan has already gone through a substantial part of its model life cycle.
Audi’s belief in automated driving:
We still believe in the technology of automated driving and today we know better than almost anyone when it comes to the decisive technological key factors. During the development phase we continuously learned more and more technical “unknown unknowns” and developed approaches how to handle the fact, that there will appear more.
Together with the above mentioned dependencies concerning legislation and type approval, we believe that actually it is not the right moment to deliver the function to the customer. This is our attitude of responsibility.
How Audi is moving forward:
An important part of the truth, which the industry is now facing: development of automated driving is extremely complex and cost-intensive. Our aim more than ever before is to generate the greatest possible synergies.
Within the VW group we therefore have the best preconditions. We have consolidated our efforts to further develop level 3 automated driving in the Car.Software organization. This is a new organization within the Volkswagen Group .
Former Audi managers will be head of two out of the five domains within this new organization: Thomas Müller will manage the automated driving area, and Dr. Klaus Büttner will manage the Intelligent Body&Cockpit area. Together with the specialists coming from Audi, Volkswagen and Porsche, this ensures that the current expertise in this cross-brand organization is available for the greatest possible benefit to everyone in the Volkswagen Group.
Customs is the sieve of international supply chains. And yet despite its critical role, clearing customs for freight brokers can be a slow and opaque process reliant on manual data entry and prone to errors.
Silicon Valley-based KlearNow has developed a platform that aims to bring customs clearance into the digital age. Now, with $16 million new funding, KlearNow aims to expand its geographic reach and to improve its product to cover increasingly complex export-import verticals and time-sensitive shipments.
The company has certification to handle any import into the U.S., no matter what the commodity is. KlearNow is close to getting certified in Canada and UK, and plans to expand to Netherlands, Belgium, Spain and Germany. KlearNow has about two dozen customers.
The Series A funding round was led by GreatPoint Ventures with additional participation from Autotech Ventures, Argean Capital and Monta Vista Capital . Ashok Krishnamurthi, managing partner at GreatPoint Ventures, will join KlearNow’s board. Daniel Hoffer from Autotech Ventures joining as a board observer.
“This is a significant opportunity to transform an archaic industry that is key to global commerce,” Krishnamurthi said in a statement.
The freight ecosystem is filled with different players from the factories and port authorities to the ship liners and the last-mile delivery companies. Each of them have their own systems.
“There’s no one system that you can transmit the data to,” KlearNow founder and CEO Sam Tyagi said in a recent interview. “So everybody dumps technology down to a PDF or a PNG or some sort of format that everybody can read. The broker gets those documents, and then they print it out — so now they become non-digital.”
If you go to any customs brokers office they look like the old doctor’s office where all those folders are there with nicely arranged, really organized but very manual process,” he added. From here, Tyagi said, a broker will read off from those printed out documents and type the information into another system that is communicated to Customs and Border Patrol’s system.
“It is very manual, it’s very small, and they work in a siloed system,” Tyagi said. “There is no visibility for the customer, or the importer and it’s very costly because of the manual intervention.”
KlearNow developed a digital customs clearance platform that aims to be agnostic. This allows importers, customs brokers and freight forwarders to integrate with local customs authorities and conduct business on a single digital platform remotely and in real time. The platform automates this process to eliminate errors and reduces the time to clear customs. KlearNow says it can slash customs clearance times from hours to minutes.
The startup is also betting that its platform will find new customers in this remote work era that was caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Custom brokers, who might normally travel into central offices and manage physical paperwork, are now faced with completing that task from home.
“Remote work is impossible for these people,” because they often need to access large format printers, Tyagi said.
The company said its digital platform can funnel new clients, like these newly remote workers, directly to brokers for global customs clearance.
Tyagi said the company has also added new capabilities in response to COVId-19, such as expediting their FDA module to clear much-needed medical supplies and is temporarily offering free clearance for non-profit organizations that are importing masks, hand sanitizers, and ventilators.
The makers of the world’s most ethical smartphone, the Fairphone 3, have teamed up for a version of the device with even less big tech on board.
The Netherlands-based device maker has partnered with France’s /e/OS to offer a ‘de-Googled’ version of its latest handset, running an Android AOSP fork out of the box that’s itself built atop a fork of CyanogenMod (remember them?) — called LineageOS (via Engadget).
“The deGoogled Fairphone 3 is most likely the first privacy conscious and sustainable phone,” runs the blurb on /e/OS’ website. “It combines a phone that cares for people and planet and an OS and apps that care for your privacy.”
A pithy explainer of its “privacy by design ecosystem” — and the point of “Android without Google” — further notes: “We have removed many pieces of code that send your personal data to remote servers without your consent. We don’t scan your data in your phone or in your cloud space, and we don’t track your location hundred times a day or collect what you’re doing with your apps.”
When the Fairphone 3 launched last September it came with Android 9 preloaded. But the company touted a post-launch update that would make it easy for buyers to wipe Google services off their slate and install the Android Open Source Project, which it recommended for advanced users.
The new /e/OS flavor offers a third OS option.
Per Engadget, Fairphone said it polled members of its community asking which alternative OS to offer and /e/OS got more votes than a number of others. The company also highlighted /e/OS’ privacy by design as a factor in the choice, lauding how it shuts down “unwanted data flows”, meaning users have more control over what their phone is doing.
The e/OS flavor of the Fairphone 3 ships from May 6, priced at just under €480 — a €30 premium on the Googley flavor of Android you get on the standard Fairphone 3.
Existing owners of Fairphone’s third gen handset can manually install /e/OS gratis via an installer on its website.
When the Fairphone 3 launched last year the company told us only around 5% of Fairphone users opt to go full open source — which suggests the /e/OS Fairphone 3 will be a niche choice for even these discerning buyers.
It is the third multibillion-euro lifeline extended this past week by the French government to companies battered by the pandemic.
Marieke Lucas Rijneveld’s novel “The Discomfort of Evening” was a best seller in the Netherlands. Now, it’s been nominated for the Booker International Prize.
On the heels of Amazon getting approval from the competition authority to proceed with an investment leading a $575 million round for food delivery startup Deliveroo in the UK, two of Deliveroo’s biggest rivals got their own £6.2 billion merger approved, and they have subsequently picked up an extra $756 million to come out fighting.
Today, the competition watchdog in the UK officially gave a nod to the merger, originally valued at $10 billion but more currently valued at £6.2 billion, between UK’s JustEat and the Netherlands’ Takeaway.com. And along with that, the merged company announced that it had raised €700 million ($756 million) in new outside funding in the form of new shares and convertible bonds.
JustEat and Takeaway had already been respectively trading on the London and Netherlands stock exchanges — on LSE as ‘JET’ and on AMS as ‘TKWY’ — and they said they would use the capital and convertible bond issue to pay down debts, business development and other corporate purposes and potential acquisitions in what remains a very fragmented and crowded market for food delivery in Europe and elsewhere, despite the rapid scaling we’re seeing among some of the biggest players.
Specifically the pair said in their announcement that they would use the money to “partially pay down revolving credit facilities currently utilised by both Just Eat and Takeaway.com, for general corporate purposes as well as to provide the Company with financial flexibility to act on strategic opportunities which may arise.”
The two also noted that the placement is conditional on the two getting successfully admitted to trade as a merged company. They’ve made the application for this and it is expected to become effective on April 27.
The Competition and Markets Authority, meanwhile, noted that its decision was influenced by the fact that Takeaway.com had not been active in the UK market and “we are satisfied that there are no competition concerns.”
“Millions of people in the UK use online food platforms for takeaways and, where a merger could raise competition concerns, we have a duty to rigorously investigate whether customers could lose out. In this case, we carefully considered whether Takeaway.com could have re-entered the UK market in future, giving people more choice,” it said. “It was important we investigated this properly, but after gathering additional evidence which indicates this deal will not reduce competition, it is also the right decision to now clear the merger.”
The moves cap of a turbulent nine months for the two companies, which announced their intention to merge last year to bulk up against pricey competition from Uber Eats, Deliveroo (which itself was getting a huge cash injection and support from the mighty Amazon) and more. After the two announced their intentions to come together, Prosus (the tech holdings of Naspers) also made a protracted, hostile bid for JustEat.
Online food delivery services have been a popular business in the world of tech: three-sided marketplaces bring together restaurants, consumers who would rather stay home but still want to eat restaurant food, and an army of delivery people who largely work as contractors to shuttle between the other two — but their growth has come at high costs.
Heavy competition between a number of firms, and the overall unit economics of on-demand services, have meant that all of them need large sums of cash to grow and often survive while they slowly inch towards profitability. (And those that cannot raise that cash often fall by the wayside or are swallowed up in larger consolidation plays for economy of scale.)
The big question is how the current climate is going to affect that general model. Stay-at-home orders have been a huge boost for businesses that cater to people making transactions virtually, or staying at home; and food delivery services check both of those boxes.
At least in the short term, that has spelled major opportunity for all of them, and the most optimistic believe that even if that outsized surge abates when some of our COVID-19 restrictions get relaxed, it will leave in its place a permanent shift among consumer and business behaviour.
For its part, the CMA noted that “millions” of people in the UK are using take-out services and that it is trying to be more flexible and efficient during COVID-19 to enable more services to people.
“During the COVID-19 outbreak, the CMA is working with businesses where it can to be flexible – for example, by recognising that there may be delays in providing the information it needs to conduct investigations,” it said. “However, it is also trying to complete investigations efficiently at this time, wherever possible, to provide businesses with certainty. In this case, the CMA was able to publish its final decision 26 days ahead of the statutory deadline.”
A Dutch community encourages residents to design their own houses, and much more.