How New Zealand’s Climate Fight Is Threatening Its Iconic Farmland

As the country puts a growing price on greenhouse emissions, investors are rushing to buy up pastures and plant carbon-sucking trees.

#agriculture-and-farming, #carbon-caps-and-emissions-trading-programs, #cattle, #global-warming, #greenhouse-gas-emissions, #labor-and-jobs, #land-use-policies, #livestock, #new-zealand, #ranches

Abroad, Jacinda Ardern Is a Star. At Home, She’s Losing Her Shine.

New problems in New Zealand like inflation and gang violence and old problems like unaffordable housing have sent her polling numbers to new lows as an election looms next year.

#ardern-jacinda, #elections, #labour-party-new-zealand, #new-zealand, #politics-and-government, #polls-and-public-opinion

New Zealand’s Biodiversity Crisis Prompts Extreme Measures

A few years ago, the nation vowed to rid itself of most imported predators. But now some people are asking if that goal is feasible, or worth what it will cost.

#biodiversity, #conservation-of-resources, #endangered-and-extinct-species, #invasive-species, #new-zealand, #volunteers-and-community-service

Wonking Out: How Low Must Inflation Go?

The peculiarity of the 2 percent target.

#blanchard-olivier-j, #economics-theory-and-philosophy, #federal-reserve-system, #inflation-economics, #interest-rates, #internal-sub-only-nl, #international-trade-and-world-market, #new-zealand

Can Ancient Maori Knowledge Aid Science? Ask These Freshwater Crayfish.

As a weed choked a New Zealand lake, a tribe found a surprising solution in a centuries-old tool, adding to a pitched debate over how Indigenous knowledge can complement conventional science.

#dawkins-richard, #indigenous-people, #maori, #new-zealand, #science-and-technology, #weeds

New Zealand’s Jacinda Ardern Tests Positive for Coronavirus

The prime minister’s rules kept transmission at bay for two years, and by the time the highly infectious Omicron variant hit, the vast majority of New Zealand’s population had been vaccinated.

#ardern-jacinda, #coronavirus-2019-ncov, #coronavirus-omicron-variant, #harvard-university, #new-zealand, #vaccination-and-immunization

These Photographers Chase Bioluminescence in New Zealand

Capturing bioluminescence, a phenomenon in which glowing algae give crashing waves an electric blue glow, requires technical skill and a bit of luck.

#algae, #auckland-new-zealand, #bioluminescence, #natural-phenomena, #new-zealand, #oceans-and-seas, #photography

New Zealand Protesters Seeded Marijuana Plants on Parliament Grounds

New Zealand officials say anti-vaccination protesters seeded cannabis during a three-week occupation.

#coronavirus-2019-ncov, #demonstrations-protests-and-riots, #legislatures-and-parliaments, #marijuana, #new-zealand, #vaccination-and-immunization, #wellington-new-zealand

Solomon Islands’ Leader Calls Concern Over China Security Deal ‘Insulting’

Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare criticized Australia and New Zealand as assuming that the island nation could not act in its own best interests.

#ardern-jacinda, #australia, #china, #defense-and-military-forces, #fiji, #global-warming, #international-relations, #morrison-scott-1968, #new-zealand, #papua-new-guinea, #security-and-warning-systems, #sogavare-manasseh, #solomon-islands

Australia Agrees to Let New Zealand Resettle Offshore Refugees

Under the arrangement, first offered in 2013, New Zealand will take in 150 refugees a year for three years from Australia’s widely criticized detention system.

#asylum-right-of, #australia, #international-relations, #manus-island-papua-new-guinea, #nauru, #new-zealand, #papua-new-guinea, #refugees-and-displaced-persons

It Seemed Like a Big Potato. Then Guinness Weighed In.

A couple in New Zealand found a giant growth in their garden, named it Doug and applied to the Guinness Book of World Records. Then the results of a DNA analysis came in.

#gardens-and-gardening, #guinness-world-records, #new-zealand, #potatoes

How Maori Stepped In to Save a Towering Tree Crucial to Their Identity

Tāne Mahuta, an ancient tree named after the god of forests in Māori mythology, is threatened by the slow creep of an incurable disease.

#biodiversity, #endangered-and-extinct-species, #forests-and-forestry, #maori, #new-zealand, #trees-and-shrubs

Hundreds Held After New Zealand-Led Investigation Into Images of Child Abuse

An international collaboration resulted in the rescue of dozens of children and exposed a secret global network used to share material on sexual abuse.

#child-abuse-and-neglect, #computers-and-the-internet, #europol, #new-zealand, #sex-crimes

As Cases Skyrocket, New Zealand Finally Faces Its Covid Reckoning

New Zealanders are anxious as they learn to live with the pandemic-related risk that has been a fact of life elsewhere for two years.

#ardern-jacinda, #bloomfield-ashley, #coronavirus-2019-ncov, #coronavirus-omicron-variant, #new-zealand, #vaccination-and-immunization, #wellington-new-zealand

New Zealand Police Move to End Protest, and Violence Erupts

Fires and violence at a protest opposing vaccine mandates were a rare sight in a country known for its relative serenity and stability.

#ardern-jacinda, #coronavirus-2019-ncov, #demonstrations-protests-and-riots, #fringe-groups-and-movements, #new-zealand, #right-wing-extremism-and-alt-right, #vaccination-and-immunization

New Zealand Antivaccine Protest Gets More Violent

An occupation in the capital demonstrates the dangerous influence that American disinformation is having on otherwise stable democracies.

#ardern-jacinda, #canada, #conspiracy-theories, #coronavirus-2019-ncov, #demonstrations-protests-and-riots, #manilow-barry, #new-zealand, #right-wing-extremism-and-alt-right, #rumors-and-misinformation, #vaccination-and-immunization

With No End in Sight, Ottawa Protests Extend Beyond Canada’s Borders

Officials are grappling with a new protest blocking a major border crossing, while similar demonstrations have disrupted traffic in New Zealand and Australia.

#ambassador-bridge, #ardern-jacinda, #australia, #canada, #conservative-party-canada, #coronavirus-2019-ncov, #demonstrations-protests-and-riots, #new-zealand, #trudeau-justin

New Zealand Inquiry Finds Hundreds of Reports of Abuse by Priests

The complaints, going back seven decades, attest to the pervasiveness of sexual and other abuse within the Catholic Church and are part of a worldwide reckoning.

#australia, #child-abuse-and-neglect, #new-zealand, #priests, #roman-catholic-church, #sex-crimes, #survivors-network-of-those-abused-by-priests

Tonga’s Diaspora Confronts Daunting Challenge of Disaster Response

Tens of thousands of overseas Tongans, intimately tied to their homeland, are contending with the pandemic, snarled supply chains and limited communications.

#australia, #new-zealand, #remittances, #supply-chain, #tonga, #volcanoes

Tongan Man Swept Away by Tsunami Survived After 26 Hours Afloat

Lisala Folau, a retired carpenter, spent a night and day at sea after an undersea volcanic eruption sent waves crashing through his home on the island of Atata.

#new-zealand, #rescues, #tidal-waves-and-tsunamis, #tonga, #volcanoes

Ash From Tonga Volcanic Eruption Still Poses a Threat

Ash from a volcanic eruption in the South Pacific nation presents risks to drinking water and air quality, experts say. Quantifying them in real time is a challenge.

#air-pollution, #humanitarian-aid, #new-zealand, #tonga, #volcanoes, #water-pollution

Tonga, Covered in Ash and Worried About Covid

As it struggles to clean up and reconnect with the world, Tonga confronts the risk that international aid workers could bring in a virus it has so far kept out.

#australia, #coronavirus-2019-ncov, #coronavirus-risks-and-safety-concerns, #new-zealand, #tonga, #volcanoes

Tonga Shrouded by Ash and Mystery After Powerful Volcano Erupts

So far, the only deaths reported occurred 6,000 miles away, in Peru. But outside emergency workers have yet to make their way to the Pacific island nation.

#ardern-jacinda, #deaths-fatalities, #new-zealand, #tidal-waves-and-tsunamis, #tonga, #volcanoes

A Tsunami Hits Tonga’s Capital After an Underwater Volcano Eruption

The waters prompted warnings and advisories on nearby islands and in parts of New Zealand and the United States.

#fiji, #new-zealand, #tidal-waves-and-tsunamis, #tonga, #volcanoes

Revival for New Zealand’s Moriori Nearly Pushed to Cultural Death

The Moriori, whose history of peaceful isolation was shattered by violent subjugation, are fighting to establish themselves as a thriving people alongside the Maori.

#indigenous-people, #maori, #moriori, #new-zealand

Keri Hulme, New Zealand’s First Booker Prize Winner, Dies at 74

The power Ms. Hulme drew from her Maori heritage shone through in her work, especially in “The Bone People,” which won the literary prize in 1985.

#books-and-literature, #deaths-obituaries, #hulme-keri, #man-booker-prize, #new-zealand, #writing-and-writers

New Zealand Plans to Eventually Ban All Cigarette Sales

The proposal, expected to become law next year, would raise the smoking age year by year until it covers the entire population.

#law-and-legislation, #maori, #new-zealand, #politics-and-government, #smoking-and-tobacco, #youth

Climate Change Driving Some Albatrosses to ‘Divorce,’ Study Finds

Warming oceans are sending the monogamous sea birds farther afield to find food, putting stress on their breeding and prompting some to ditch their partners.

#birds, #conservation-of-resources, #global-warming, #new-zealand, #reproduction-biological, #research

Jane Campion Is Taking Cinema to the Darkest Human Places

In “The Power of the Dog,” her first movie in 12 years, the filmmaker ventures into the American West — and the inner worlds of cruel, complicated men.

#australia, #campion-jane, #cannes-international-film-festival, #content-type-personal-profile, #cumberbatch-benedict, #dunst-kirsten, #new-zealand, #the-power-of-the-dog-movie, #top-of-the-lake-tv-program

New Zealand’s Sea Lions Are Back, and Crashing Golf Courses and Soccer Matches

After their populations were decimated by hunters, New Zealand’s sea lions are returning to the coasts — sometimes surprising locals by turning up in unexpected places.

#animals, #dunedin-new-zealand, #ecology-and-evolution-journal, #environment, #michigan-state-university, #new-zealand, #research, #sea-lions, #south-island-new-zealand

New Zealand Held a Contest for Bird of the Year. The Birds Lost.

The long-tailed bat, one of the country’s only two native land mammals, flew away with the top prize.

#bats, #birds, #contests-and-prizes, #new-zealand

New Zealand Wants a 90% Vaccination Rate. Its Street Gangs May Hold the Key.

The country’s leaders have set aside some misgivings and cooperated with gang leaders to reach their communities.

#coronavirus-2019-ncov, #gangs, #maori, #new-zealand, #organized-crime, #vaccination-and-immunization

An Official Wizard in New Zealand Loses His Job

The city of Christchurch has paid Ian Brackenbury Channell, 88, about $10,000 per year since 1998 for “acts of wizardry and other wizard-like services.” But he has been condemned recently for his jokes about women.

#channell-ian-brackenbury, #christchurch-new-zealand, #government-contracts-and-procurement, #new-zealand

Bringing Attention to the Maori Language, One Song at a Time

“Waiata/Anthems,” Lorde’s “Te Ao Marama” EP and a host of other projects are aimed at revitalizing the Indigenous language of New Zealand via music.

#ardern-jacinda, #language-and-languages, #lorde, #maori, #mereraiha-hana, #mohi-hinewehi, #music, #new-zealand, #runga-bic, #te-ao-marama-album, #translation-and-interpreters, #waiata-anthems-album, #williams-marlon-1990

New Zealand Attempts a Record-Setting ‘Vaxathon’

The country took a different approach to encouraging vaccinations on Saturday, with barbecues, a telethon and the chance to get jabbed in the business-class seat of a Boeing 787.

#coronavirus-2019-ncov, #maori, #new-zealand, #vaccination-and-immunization, #waititi-taika

How Maori Arrival in New Zealand Was Frozen in Antarctic Ice

Ice cores drilled from the southern continent preserved a signal of the peopling of islands thousands of miles away.

#antarctic-regions, #ice, #maori, #nature-journal, #new-zealand, #research, #wildfires, #your-feed-science

Battling Delta, New Zealand Abandons Its Zero-Covid Ambitions

The country is changing course seven weeks into a lockdown that has failed to end the outbreak and tested the patience of many residents.

#ardern-jacinda, #coronavirus-2019-ncov, #coronavirus-delta-variant, #new-zealand

Facebook revamps its business tool lineup following threats to its ad targeting business

Facebook today is announcing the launch of new products and features for business owners, following the threat to its ad targeting business driven by Apple’s new privacy features, which now allow mobile users to opt out of being tracked across their iOS apps. The social networking giant has repeatedly argued that Apple’s changes would impact small businesses that relied on Facebook ads to reach their customers. But it was not successful in getting any of Apple’s changes halted. Instead, the market is shifting to a new era focused more on user privacy, where personalization and targeting are more of an opt-in experience. That’s required Facebook to address its business advertiser base in new ways.

As the ability to track consumers declines — very few consumers are opting into tracking, studies find — Facebook is rolling out new features that will allow businesses to better position themselves in front of relevant audiences. This includes updates that will let them reach customers, advertise to customers, chat with customers across Facebook apps, generate leads, acquire customers and more.

The company earlier this year began testing a way for customers to explore businesses from underneath News Feed posts by tapping on topics they were interested in — like beauty, fitness, and clothing, and explore content from other related businesses. The feature allows people to come across new businesses that may also like, and would allow Facebook to create its own data set of users who like certain types of content. Over time, it could possibly even turn the feature into an ad unit, where businesses could pay for higher placement.

But for the time being, Facebook will expand this feature to more users across the U.S., and launch it in Australia, Canada, Ireland, Malaysia, New Zealand, Philippines, Singapore, South Africa, and the U.K.

Image Credits: Facebook

Facebook is also making it easier for businesses to chat with customers. They’re already able to buy ads that encourage people to message them on Facebook’s various chat platforms — Messenger, Instagram Direct, or WhatsApp. Now, they’ll be able to choose all the messaging platforms where they’re available, and Facebook will default the chat app showcased in the ad based on where the conversation is most likely to happen.

Image Credits: Facebook

The company will tie WhatsApp to Instagram, as well, as part of this effort. Facebook explains that many businesses market themselves or run shops across Instagram, but rely on WhatsApp to communicate with customers and answer questions. So, Facebook will now allow businesses to add a WhatsApp click-to-chat button to their Instagram profiles.

This change, in particular, represents another move that ties Facebook’s separate apps more closely together, at a time when regulators are considering breaking up Facebook over antitrust concerns. Already, Facebook interconnected Facebook’s Messenger and Instagram messaging services, which would make such a disassembly more complicated. And more recently, it’s begun integrating Messenger directly into Facebook’s platform itself.

Image Credits: Facebook

In a related change, soon businesses will be able to create ads that send users directly to WhatsApp from the Instagram app. (Facebook also already offers ads like this.)

Separately from this news, Facebook announced the launch of a new business directory on WhatsApp, allowing consumers to find shops and services on the chat platform, as well.

Another set of changes being introduced involve an update to Facebook Business Suite. Businesses will be able to manage emails through Inbox and sending remarketing emails; use a new File Manager for creating, managing, and posting content; and access a feature that will allow businesses to test different versions of a post to see which one is most effective.

Image Credits: Facebook

Other new products include tests of paid and organic lead generation tools on Instagram; quote requests on Messenger, where customers answer a few questions prior to their conversations; and a way for small businesses to access a bundle of tools to get started with Facebook ads, which includes a Facebook ad coupon along with free access to QuickBooks for 3 months or free access to Canva Pro for 3 months.

Image Credits: Facebook

Facebook will also begin testing something called “Work Accounts,” which will allow business owners to access their business products, like Business Manager, separately from their personal Facebook account. They’ll be able to manage these accounts on behalf of employees and use single-sign-on integrations.

Work Accounts will be tested through the remainder of the year with a small group of businesses, and Facebook says it expects to expand availability in 2022.

Other efforts it has in store include plans to incorporate more content from creators and local businesses and new features that let users control the content they see, but these changes were not detailed at this time.

Most of the products being announced are either rolling out today or will begin to show up soon.

#advertising-tech, #app-store, #australia, #canada, #canva, #computing, #facebook, #instagram, #ireland, #malaysia, #messenger, #new-zealand, #philippines, #private-message, #singapore, #social, #social-media, #software, #south-africa, #technology, #united-kingdom, #united-states, #whatsapp

Tyk raises $35M for its open-source, open-ended approach to enterprise API management

APIs are the grease turning the gears and wheels for many organizations’ IT systems today, but as APIs grow in number and use, tracking how they work (or don’t work) together can become complex and potentially critical if something goes awry. Now, a startup that has built an innovative way to help with this is announcing some funding after getting traction with big enterprises adopting its approach.

Tyk, which has built a way for users to access and manage multiple internal enterprise APIs through a universal interface by way of GraphQL, has picked up $35 million, an investment that it will be using both for hiring and to continue enhancing and expanding the tools that it provides to users. Tyk has coined a term describing its approach to managing APIs and the data they produce — “universal data graph” — and today its tools are being used to manage APIs by some 10,000 businesses, including large enterprises like Starbucks, Societe Generale, and Domino’s.

Scottish Equity Partners led the round, with participation also from MMC Ventures — its sole previous investor from a round in 2019 after boostrapping for its first five years. The startup is based out of London but works in a very distributed way — one of the co-founders is living in New Zealand currently — and it will be hiring and growing based on that principle, too. It has raised just over $40 million to date.

Tyk (pronounced like “tyke”, meaning small/lively child) got its start as an open source side project first for co-founder Martin Buhr, who is now the company’s CEO, while he was working elsewhere, as a “load testing thing,” in his words.

The shifts in IT towards service-oriented architectures, and building and using APIs to connect internal apps, led him to rethink the code and consider how it could be used to control APIs. Added to that was the fact that as far as Buhr could see, the API management platforms that were in the market at the time — some of the big names today include Kong, Apigee (now a part of Google), 3scale (now a part of RedHat and thus IBM), MuleSoft (now a part of Salesforce) — were not as flexible as his needs were. “So I built my own,” he said.

It was built as an open source tool, and some engineers at other companies started to use it. As it got more attention, some of the bigger companies interested in using it started to ask why he wasn’t charging for anything — a sure sign as any that there was probably a business to be built here, and more credibility to come if he charged for the it.

“So we made the gateway open source, and the management part went into a licensing model,” he said. And Tyk was born as a startup co-founded with James Hirst, who is now the COO, who worked with Buhr at a digital agency some years before.

The key motivation behind building Tyk has stayed as its unique selling point for customers working in increasingly complex environments.

“What sparked interest in Tyk was that companies were unhappy with API management as it exists today,” Buhr noted, citing architectures using multiple clouds and multiple containers, creating more complexity that needed better management. “It was just the right time when containerization, Kubernetes and microservices were on the rise… The way we approach the multi-data and multi-vendor cloud model is super flexible and resilient to partitions, in a way that others have not been able to do.”

“You engage developers and deliver real value and it’s up to them to make the choice,” added Hirst. “We are responding to a clear shift in the market.”

One of the next frontiers that Tyk will tackle will be what happens within the management layer, specifically when there are potential conflicts with APIs.

“When a team using a microservice makes a breaking change, we want to bring that up and report that to the system,” Buhr said. “The plan is to flag the issue and test against it, and be able to say that a schema won’t work, and to identify why.”

Even before that is rolled out, though, Tyk’s customer list and its grow speak to a business on the cusp of a lot more.

“Martin and James have built a world-class team and the addition of this new capital will enable Tyk to accelerate the growth of its API management platform, particularly around the GraphQL focused Universal Data Graph product that launched earlier this year,” said Martin Brennan, a director at SEP, in a statement. “We are pleased to be supporting the team to achieve their global ambitions.”

Keith Davidson, a partner at SEP, is joining the Tyk board as a non-executive director with this round.

#api, #api-gateway, #api-management, #apigee, #apis, #ceo, #cloud-computing, #co-founder, #computing, #coo, #developer, #enterprise, #europe, #funding, #google, #graphql, #ibm, #london, #microservices, #mmc-ventures, #mulesoft, #new-zealand, #salesforce, #scottish-equity-partners, #societe-generale, #starbucks, #technology, #tyk

Bruce Is a Parrot With a Broken Beak. So He Invented a Tool.

The bird is a kea from New Zealand, and his fabrication of an instrument to help him preen his feathers appears to be unique, researchers say.

#animal-behavior, #new-zealand, #parrots, #research, #rock-and-stone, #scientific-reports-journal, #tools, #your-feed-animals, #your-feed-science

The Delta Variant and China’s Need to Change Its Covid-19 Policy

The benefits of the zero-infections policy have dropped in relation to the costs of implementation, and there are signs it is becoming counterproductive.

#australia, #china, #coronavirus-2019-ncov, #coronavirus-delta-variant, #coronavirus-reopenings, #deaths-fatalities, #disease-rates, #economic-conditions-and-trends, #international-relations, #international-trade-and-world-market, #nanjing-china, #national-bureau-of-statistics-china, #new-zealand, #politics-and-government, #singapore, #travel-warnings, #vaccination-and-immunization, #wechat-mobile-app, #wuhan-china

Apple’s dangerous path

Hello friends, and welcome back to Week in Review.

Last week, we dove into the truly bizarre machinations of the NFT market. This week, we’re talking about something that’s a little bit more impactful on the current state of the web — Apple’s NeuralHash kerfuffle.

If you’re reading this on the TechCrunch site, you can get this in your inbox from the newsletter page, and follow my tweets @lucasmtny


the big thing

In the past month, Apple did something it generally has done an exceptional job avoiding — the company made what seemed to be an entirely unforced error.

In early August — seemingly out of nowhere** — the company announced that by the end of the year they would be rolling out a technology called NeuralHash that actively scanned the libraries of all iCloud Photos users, seeking out image hashes that matched known images of child sexual abuse material (CSAM). For obvious reasons, the on-device scanning could not be opted out of.

This announcement was not coordinated with other major consumer tech giants, Apple pushed forward on the announcement alone.

Researchers and advocacy groups had almost unilaterally negative feedback for the effort, raising concerns that this could create new abuse channels for actors like governments to detect on-device information that they regarded as objectionable. As my colleague Zach noted in a recent story, “The Electronic Frontier Foundation said this week it had amassed more than 25,000 signatures from consumers. On top of that, close to 100 policy and rights groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union, also called on Apple to abandon plans to roll out the technology.”

(The announcement also reportedly generated some controversy inside of Apple.)

The issue — of course — wasn’t that Apple was looking at find ways that prevented the proliferation of CSAM while making as few device security concessions as possible. The issue was that Apple was unilaterally making a massive choice that would affect billions of customers (while likely pushing competitors towards similar solutions), and was doing so without external public input about possible ramifications or necessary safeguards.

A long story short, over the past month researchers discovered Apple’s NeuralHash wasn’t as air tight as hoped and the company announced Friday that it was delaying the rollout “to take additional time over the coming months to collect input and make improvements before releasing these critically important child safety features.”

Having spent several years in the tech media, I will say that the only reason to release news on a Friday morning ahead of a long weekend is to ensure that the announcement is read and seen by as few people as possible, and it’s clear why they’d want that. It’s a major embarrassment for Apple, and as with any delayed rollout like this, it’s a sign that their internal teams weren’t adequately prepared and lacked the ideological diversity to gauge the scope of the issue that they were tackling. This isn’t really a dig at Apple’s team building this so much as it’s a dig on Apple trying to solve a problem like this inside the Apple Park vacuum while adhering to its annual iOS release schedule.

illustration of key over cloud icon

Image Credits: Bryce Durbin / TechCrunch /

Apple is increasingly looking to make privacy a key selling point for the iOS ecosystem, and as a result of this productization, has pushed development of privacy-centric features towards the same secrecy its surface-level design changes command. In June, Apple announced iCloud+ and raised some eyebrows when they shared that certain new privacy-centric features would only be available to iPhone users who paid for additional subscription services.

You obviously can’t tap public opinion for every product update, but perhaps wide-ranging and trail-blazing security and privacy features should be treated a bit differently than the average product update. Apple’s lack of engagement with research and advocacy groups on NeuralHash was pretty egregious and certainly raises some questions about whether the company fully respects how the choices they make for iOS affect the broader internet.

Delaying the feature’s rollout is a good thing, but let’s all hope they take that time to reflect more broadly as well.

** Though the announcement was a surprise to many, Apple’s development of this feature wasn’t coming completely out of nowhere. Those at the top of Apple likely felt that the winds of global tech regulation might be shifting towards outright bans of some methods of encryption in some of its biggest markets.

Back in October of 2020, then United States AG Bill Barr joined representatives from the UK, New Zealand, Australia, Canada, India and Japan in signing a letter raising major concerns about how implementations of encryption tech posed “significant challenges to public safety, including to highly vulnerable members of our societies like sexually exploited children.” The letter effectively called on tech industry companies to get creative in how they tackled this problem.


other things

Here are the TechCrunch news stories that especially caught my eye this week:

LinkedIn kills Stories
You may be shocked to hear that LinkedIn even had a Stories-like product on their platform, but if you did already know that they were testing Stories, you likely won’t be so surprised to hear that the test didn’t pan out too well. The company announced this week that they’ll be suspending the feature at the end of the month. RIP.

FAA grounds Virgin Galactic over questions about Branson flight
While all appeared to go swimmingly for Richard Branson’s trip to space last month, the FAA has some questions regarding why the flight seemed to unexpectedly veer so far off the cleared route. The FAA is preventing the company from further launches until they find out what the deal is.

Apple buys a classical music streaming service
While Spotify makes news every month or two for spending a massive amount acquiring a popular podcast, Apple seems to have eyes on a different market for Apple Music, announcing this week that they’re bringing the classical music streaming service Primephonic onto the Apple Music team.

TikTok parent company buys a VR startup
It isn’t a huge secret that ByteDance and Facebook have been trying to copy each other’s success at times, but many probably weren’t expecting TikTok’s parent company to wander into the virtual reality game. The Chinese company bought the startup Pico which makes consumer VR headsets for China and enterprise VR products for North American customers.

Twitter tests an anti-abuse ‘Safety Mode’
The same features that make Twitter an incredibly cool product for some users can also make the experience awful for others, a realization that Twitter has seemingly been very slow to make. Their latest solution is more individual user controls, which Twitter is testing out with a new “safety mode” which pairs algorithmic intelligence with new user inputs.


extra things

Some of my favorite reads from our Extra Crunch subscription service this week:

Our favorite startups from YC’s Demo Day, Part 1 
“Y Combinator kicked off its fourth-ever virtual Demo Day today, revealing the first half of its nearly 400-company batch. The presentation, YC’s biggest yet, offers a snapshot into where innovation is heading, from not-so-simple seaweed to a Clearco for creators….”

…Part 2
“…Yesterday, the TechCrunch team covered the first half of this batch, as well as the startups with one-minute pitches that stood out to us. We even podcasted about it! Today, we’re doing it all over again. Here’s our full list of all startups that presented on the record today, and below, you’ll find our votes for the best Y Combinator pitches of Day Two. The ones that, as people who sift through a few hundred pitches a day, made us go ‘oh wait, what’s this?’

All the reasons why you should launch a credit card
“… if your company somehow hasn’t yet found its way to launch a debit or credit card, we have good news: It’s easier than ever to do so and there’s actual money to be made. Just know that if you do, you’ve got plenty of competition and that actual customer usage will probably depend on how sticky your service is and how valuable the rewards are that you offer to your most active users….”


Thanks for reading, and again, if you’re reading this on the TechCrunch site, you can get this in your inbox from the newsletter page, and follow my tweets @lucasmtny

Lucas Matney

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After Stabbing Attack, New Zealand Examines Its Anti-Terrorism Efforts

A man who wounded seven people in a supermarket had been under surveillance for months. Officials say a loophole in the country’s laws needs to be closed.

#ardern-jacinda, #auckland-new-zealand, #islamic-state-in-iraq-and-syria-isis, #new-zealand, #surveillance-of-citizens-by-government, #terrorism

New Zealand Supermarket Stabbing Called a ‘Terrorist Attack’

The man was under surveillance when he injured six people at a West Auckland supermarket on Friday, officials said. The prime minister called it a “terrorist attack.”

#assaults, #auckland-new-zealand, #new-zealand, #supermarkets-and-grocery-stores, #terrorism

Ubco 2X2 Adventure Bike review: Utility that shreds

A recent move to Auckland, New Zealand — a city with lackluster public transit and hills that can turn a quick bike ride to the store into a sweaty workout — piqued my interest in e-bikes. 

Strong demand and skyrocketing prices, however, made it difficult to access these coveted e-bikes here in the Land of the Long White Cloud. That changed after learning about Ubco, the New Zealand-based electric utility bike startup that recently raised $10 million from investors. 

The company provided me with the Ubco 2X2 Adventure Bike for nearly a month, which gave me plenty of time to put it to the test. 

I may not be Ubco’s target audience, although I did my best to use the bike as its design suggests, and packed it up with bags of books and other heavy things that might simulate the weight of delivered garlic bread, mail and other packages. The Ubco 2X2 Adventure Bike is made for city utility riding, with the option of going off-road, which I would later try with gusto.

The company’s flagship is the Ubco 2X2 Work Bike, an electric dirt bike that was originally designed to help farmers. The fresh capital the company raised in June will be used to expand into existing verticals like food delivery, postal service and last-mile logistics, scale a commercial subscription business and target sales growth in the United States. 

Domino’s drivers in Auckland, and I hear in the U.K., can be seen delivering hot pizzas on Ubco bikes, and the company has a range of other national clients, like the New Zealand Post, the Defense Force, the Department of Conservation, and Pāmu, or Landcorp Farming Limited, as well as other local restaurants and stores.

Image Credits: Rebecca Bellan

The handoff

CEO and co-founder Timothy Allan drove out from the company headquarters in Tauranga to hand off the bike personally. It was a sunny day in my neighborhood, and I listened impatiently as he described the various bits and bobs, how to work the machine and how to charge it.

Allan helped me download the Ubco app to pair my phone with the bike, which, among other functionalities, allowed me to select beginner mode, which would cap the vehicle speed at around 20 miles per hour. I made a mental note so that I could write about it here, but was determined to reach the top speed of 30 miles per hour right away. 

I did, and it was … pretty sick. I’m not supposed to gush, but man! It’s a sweet ride. Here’s why:

Appearance

The Adventure Bike comes standard in white and sits on 17X2.75-inch multi-use tires with aluminum rims, both of which are DOT compliant. My version also had Maori decals on the frame, in a nod to the indigenous people of New Zealand.  

The bike’s height is about 41 inches and the seat comes to 32 inches. From wheel to wheel, it’s about 72 inches. The payload, including the rider, is about 330 pounds, so both my partner (6’2” man) and I (5’7” female) rode this bike with ease, needing only to adjust the wide rearview mirrors sticking out of the handlebars. And no, we didn’t ride it together. This bike is designed as a one-seater. 

Image Credits: Rebecca Bellan

That said, there’s a little cargo rack above the back wheel, which holds the license plate (apparently these are classified as mopeds, which require registration in many places) and any other cargo one might carry. I didn’t try, but I reckon it could hold at least five pizza boxes tied down with a bungee cord. The bike rack also allows for saddlebags to be strapped on. Ubco sells what it calls the Pannier Back Pack, a weather-resistant roll-top cargo bag, for $189 that slots in very nicely and is actually a quality bag with 5.28-gallon capacity. 

Accessories aside, the alloy frame is lightweight and step-through, which I love in a bike — it lets me start to shift myself off before I fully park and I feel super agile and swift. Speaking of parking, the rules are different everywhere, I assume, but here, you park it on the street or in parking spaces, not on the sidewalk. It’s got a kickstand to hold it in place, and you can lock the front wheel so no one can just wheel it away. They could, however, probably chuck it into the back of their pickup truck if they so chose, since it’s only 145 pounds. 

The appearance of the bike stood out, and not just to me. During my multi-week test drive, numerous tradesmen and bike folks went out of their way to compliment its design, the exact demographic that Ubco is aiming for. 

Rideability

The lightness of the bike means that it’s easy to take off and find your balance. The battery is also in the middle of the frame, just near where your feet sit, which anchors the bike and gives you a stable center of gravity.

The lightweight nature of the bike is a blessing and a curse. Cutting a turn is easy, but on a windy day and an open road, there were moments I worried that I’d be knocked off it — but maybe that had more to do with riding next to a 10-wheeler on the street. Because it’s so light, it did feel a bit strange to me to be in the street lane with the other bigger, meaner cars rather than in the bike lanes.

The bike accelerates quickly via the fully electronic throttle control, even up steep hills, due to the high torque geared drivetrain. The drivetrain has two 1kw Flux2 motors with sealed bearings, active heat management and active venting for residual moisture — a necessity in this moistest of cities.

The acceleration sound, which mimics those of a gas-powered dirt bike but with a softer electronic tone, was a surprising plus. I didn’t realize how much I relied on my sense of sound to tell how fast I was going until I rode the Ubco. 

The braking system was a bit touchy. It felt very sensitive to me, probably because hydraulic and regenerative brakes are operating together on the vehicle. There’s also a passive regenerative braking system, which I gather is what put the brakes on for me when I was just trying to coast down one of those mammoth hills.

Image Credits: Rebecca Bellan

Both the front suspension, 130 mm, and rear suspension, 120 mm, have a coil spring with a hydraulic dampener and have preload and rebound adjustment. In other words, the shocks are awesome. Even when I actively drove myself off sidewalks and over speed bumps, I could barely feel a thing. 

To test its off-road capabilities, I took the bike to Cornwall Park, where I ran it at full speed on the grass, swerving between trees, flying over roots and rocks, doing doughnuts in the field. It was good fun and I felt completely in control of the vehicle. I can imagine why farmers have turned to the Work Bike.

When it was time to test out its use as a delivery bike, I packed the two saddlebags with books and groceries and took it for a spin. Still a great ride, although I was a little wobbly turning corners until I got the hang of it.

Value

Since the Ubco Adventure Bike doesn’t neatly fit into a specific bike category, it’s not a simple price comparison. An electric moped, like a Lexmoto Yadea or a Vespa Elettrica, could set you back anywhere from $2,400 or $7,000, respectively. Electric dirt bikes could cost anywhere from $6,000 to $11,000 for something like a KTM or Alta Motors. 

With that in mind, the Ubco Adventure Bike costs $6,999 with a 2.1 kW power supply and $7,499 for a 3.1 kW power supply. Depending on what you want it for, I’d say it’s somewhere around mid-range for a bike like this. Since you’d probably use it for work-related activities, it could get a tax write-off. Plus, you want quality in a bike that’s down to do some heavy lifting, and Ubco has plenty of that. It’s not only a handy utility bike, but it’s also got some excellent tech under the proverbial hood, which we’ll get to later. 

Ubco estimates a 10- to 15-year life expectancy, depending on use. Over-the-air software updates, replacing parts and full refurbishments can help keep the bike going for longer. The company encourages riders to send back the dead bikes because it’s committed to full product stewardship.

That said, if you wanted to buy a bike now, it’d be a preorder (unless your local Ubco dealer had some in stock). Ordering now could get you an Ubco by September if you live in the States. The company says it’s still feeling the effects of COVID, with high demand and a stretched supply chain causing delays. The preorder requires a $1,000 deposit. 

Ubco also has a subscription model, which is mainly available for enterprise customers at the moment and priced on a case-by-case basis. However, it’s piloting subscriptions for individuals in Auckland and Tauranga before rolling the program out globally. Subscriptions will start at around NZD $300 per month for a 36-month term.

Range

The Adventure Bike comes with either the 2.1 kWh battery pack, which has around 40 to 54 miles of range, or the 3.1 kWh, with 60 to 80 miles.

The battery is run off a management system, called “Scotty,” to monitor real-time performance and safety. The battery, which is sealed with alloy and vented during use, is made with 18650 lithium-ion cells, which means it’s a powerful battery that can handle up to 500 charging cycles. Ubco says its batteries are designed to be disassembled at the end of life.

Image Credits: Rebecca Bellan

The 10amp alloy fast charger can fuel the battery fully within four to six hours. You can charge it while it’s still in the vehicle by just connecting it to a power outlet, or you can unlock the battery and yank it out (it’s a little heavy) and charge it inside. Note: Charging is loud. Not sure if this is standard, but probably is. 

I charged it every two to three days, but that will depend on use and where you are. It’s winter in Auckland, so a bit cold, which affects battery life, and the hills are brutal, which also use up a lot of battery life.

I’d ride it downtown and around my neighborhood every day, but I’d wager a delivery driver would need to charge it nightly. As I mentioned earlier, the battery can be removed for charging, so if you take it to work, you can always take it up to the office or wherever to charge while you’re doing other things. 

Tech features

Vehicle management system

The vehicle runs off what Ubco calls its Cerebro vehicle management system, which integrates all electronic and electrical functions of the vehicles and provides control and updates via Bluetooth. Ubco builds with end of life in mind, so the CAN bus is isolated so future CAN devices can be easily integrated. 

Now, one of my first questions, given the heftiness of this bike and the likelihood of gig economy workers who would ride it for work living in urban dwellings, was this: How can I ensure no one will steal this thing when it’s on the street, because there’s no way I’m lugging it up to my fifth-floor walkup?

Like I said, you can lock the wheel in place, which would make it far more difficult for someone to wheel it off. If someone did decide to capture the whole cumbersome vehicle, Ubco would be able to track it for you. Each Ubco bike has telemetry, aka a SIM card, hardwired inside, and that can help provide data that can be used for location, servicing, theft, safety, route planning, etc. 

This VMS architecture is made for handling fleets via Ubco’s enterprise subscription vehicles, but it obviously has other uses, like providing peace of mind (personally, I’d still lock it up with chains, but I’m a New Yorker and trust no one). Obviously, if you think this telemetry is creepy, you can opt out, but it does come standard with subscriptions, allowing subscribers to track their bike’s location on the app.

Display

Image Credits: Rebecca Bellan

Mounted on the handlebar is an LCD display that shows speed, power levels and more. Also on the handlebars are switch controls for high or low beams, indicators and a horn. I found the indicators to be a bit sticky and sometimes I would slip and hit the horn. What I wish the handlebars also had was a mount for your phone so you could follow directions. I had my headphones in and was listening to Google Maps tell me how to get around, but that felt less safe and efficient. 

Turning it on

You can turn the power on with a keyless fob by either clicking the button on the fob or the button on the handlebars. I will note that the keyless fob button is weirdly sensitive. At multiple points, I had it in my pocket with my phone or other pocket inhabitants and it must have knocked into the button, turning the vehicle off while I was riding it. Thankfully, that never happened anywhere busy, but that’s something to be wary about. 

App

As I mentioned earlier, you could pair your phone, as well as other users’ phones, to the bike using the app. The app allows you to choose learner mode or restricted mode, which controls ride settings; turn the bike and lights on and off; change the metrics; and check the status of things like battery life, speed and motor temperature. It’s basically all the info on the dash, but on an app. I didn’t really feel the need to use it.

Lights

The LED headlights are on at all times when the vehicle is turned on, but there’s also a high and low beam, as well as peripheral parking lights, all of which are designed for disassembly at the end of life. There are also LED rear, brake and number plate lights, as well as DOT-approved indicator lights.

Other stuff

Among the features that don’t fit neatly into the other categories, there’s the field kit, which is fastened to the lift-up seat and contains a user manual and tools to set up and maintain the 2X2, which is really handy. Usually, when people buy an Ubco bike, it comes in a box and there are “a few simple steps to follow to get it ready to ride.” There’s also an UBCO University course that shows how to set it up. If you buy from one of Ubco’s dealers, they’ll unpack it and set it up when you come to collect it. 

Maintenance

Maintenance comes with the cost of a monthly subscription. Ubco has a network of technicians placed wherever the company sells its bikes if they’re in need of fixing. If there’s no authorized mechanic nearby, Ubco’s head office will work with customers to help them fix the bike. Ubco did not respond to information about how many authorized mechanics are in its network.

Again, being from New York, I’ve seen probably thousands of delivery riders on bikes and mopeds, oven mitts covered in a plastic bag taped onto the handlebars so drivers can keep their hands warm during the colder months. This bike can handle a hefty load for delivering goods, it’s quick and agile for weaving in and out of traffic, and it’s easy to ride and use.

The subscription offering, especially for enterprise, makes this a great city utility bike that can probably handle a range of weather conditions. I already know it can handle rain and mud, so all signs point to success in the sloshy, icy hell of a Northern city winter. And for the adventurer — the person who just wants to ride something sweet on- and off-road, out of the city and into the wilderness — this is also a great consumer ride that will last you quite a while.

#ebike, #electric-bikes, #hardware, #micromobility, #new-zealand, #reviews, #transportation, #ubco, #ubco-2x2-adventure-bike, #united-states

An Impossible Task? New Zealand Tries to Eliminate Delta.

The country is holding fast to a lockdown to contain an outbreak that began in mid-August. But it’s also acknowledging that lockdowns can’t go on forever.

#coronavirus-2019-ncov, #coronavirus-delta-variant, #new-zealand, #quarantines, #vaccination-and-immunization

New Zealand-based student wellbeing platform Komodo raises $1.8M NZD

Adolescence is a turbulent period and its challenges are being exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Even in the best of times, teens dealing with personal and school problems might have trouble talking about them. New Zealand-based startup Komodo is a student wellbeing platform that wants to give students a place to communicate with staff, while providing schools with data to help them spot and address issues like depression or bullying.

Founded in 2018 by Chris Bacon, Matt Goodson and Jack Wood, the startup announced today it has raised $1.8 million NZD (about $1.26 million) in seed funding led by Folklore Ventures, with participation from Icehouse Ventures and Flying Fox Ventures. Individual investors included employee engagement platform Culture Amp co-founder Rod Hamilton; Chloe Hamman, Culture Amp’s director of people science; leaders from learning platform Education Perfect; and Kristi Grant, the director of people experience at Auror.

Some of Komodo’s clients and partners in New Zealand and Australia include Marist College Ashgrove in Queensland; St. Andrew’s College in Christchurch; the Australian Boarding Schools Association (ABSA); Independent Schools of New Zealand; and the Council of British International Schools.

Komodo was originally created to monitor the wellbeing of youth athletes, based on research Bacon performed while earning a PhD at the University of Canterbury. A lot of its clients were schools, and that’s when the team began to expand Komodo’s scope.

“The draw for us was witnessing specific examples,” Wood told TechCrunch. “We had schools coming back to us saying ‘we’ve got a kid that’s been bullied for the past three months who hasn’t even remotely felt confident to approach a staff member and start talking about it. We’ve finally seen that come up in Komodo and they feel happy they have a confidential channel to voice that concern.’”

A photo of Komodo Wellbeing co-founders Jack Wood and Chris Bacon

Komodo co-founders Jack Wood and Chris Bacon

Komodo has a web application and a mobile app, which is what most students use. The platform can be customized by schools and includes psychologist-designed surveys and questions about topics like how students feel about going to school, socialization and relationships or major transitions like starting high school or preparing for university. The amount of time students check into Komodo depends on their school. At some it’s once a week, others once every two weeks or month. Schools use the platform differently based on their environment—for example, if they’re learning remotely, they may do more frequent check-ins.

For schools, data collected from surveys can help them see trends emerge and catch potential problems earlier, like cyberbullying. Before implementing Komodo, its founders say some schools did wellbeing surveys a few times per year, but many of them relied on staff and teachers’ intuition—for example, if a student who is typically outgoing suddenly becomes withdrawn. Komodo gives them a more efficient way to identify and address issues, though Wood and Bacon emphasize that it’s not meant to replace person-to-person interactions.

“Ultimately our bigger vision is facilitating and getting wellbeing support to students as early as possible,” said Bacon. The founders have spent a lot of time talking with Culture Amp’s Hamilton “about how it’s really important that the individuals you’re providing data to can actually understand and use it on a regular basis,” he added. “The key part for us to provide visibility and psychologists who can come in and support [school staff] even more.”

Komodo’s seed funding will be used to add more psychologists to its in-house team, develop the platform and expand into more schools in Australia and New Zealand before other markets, including the United States.

 

#komodo, #komodo-wellbeing, #mental-health, #new-zealand, #schools, #student-wellness, #tc

KKR to acquire New Zealand bus company Ritchies Transport at value of $347M

Global investment firm KKR has plans to acquire a New Zealand bus and coach company with an 86-year heritage, Ritchies Transport. The terms of the deal were not disclosed, but sources familiar with the circumstances say the deal values Ritchies at over $347 million ($500 million NZD).

On Thursday, the two companies signed the definitive agreements under which KKR will acquire Ritchies, marking KKR’s first infrastructure investment in New Zealand. KKR said acquiring the bus company, which currently has a fleet of more than 1,600 vehicles and 42 depots that operate across the country, will help it advance its mission “to better connect local communities, support the country’s expanding public transport network and promote greener transportation solutions.”

New Zealand is still largely an ICE-fueled nation, but the country has plans to electrify. The government now requires all of its agencies and ministries to electrify fleets within the next five years, and aims to decarbonize public transport, which mainly relies on buses, entirely by 2035. Kiwi Bus Builders, a New Zealand manufacturer, recently assembled a range of ADL electric buses which have made it to Auckland’s city streets.

Director on KKR’s infrastructure team Andrew Jennings said in a statement that Ritchies buses will represent “a highly visible opportunity to encourage the adoption of zero-emissions technology” as New Zealand continues to see “demand for high quality, greener public transport solutions.”

KKR told TechCrunch that it does have a plan to help Ritchies electrify its fleet, and that the firm has made advancements globally across areas related to sustainable transportation, and it will be leveraging those experiences to advance the country as it moves towards zero emissions.

The investment comes from KKR’s Asia Pacific Infrastructure Fund. The transaction is still conditional on OIO approval, which KKR says is expected within four to five months. Once the deal is completed, the Ritchie family will continue to hold a stake in the company, and Andrew Ritchie, current director of operations, will be appointed as CEO of the company as Glenn Ritchie, the current CEO, retires.

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#bus, #kkr, #new-zealand, #tc

UK names John Edwards as its choice for next data protection chief as gov’t eyes watering down privacy standards

The UK government has named the person it wants to take over as its chief data protection watchdog, with sitting commissioner Elizabeth Denham overdue to vacate the post: The Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) today said its preferred replacement is New Zealand’s privacy commissioner, John Edwards.

Edwards, who has a legal background, has spent more than seven years heading up the Office of the Privacy Commissioner In New Zealand — in addition to other roles with public bodies in his home country.

He is perhaps best known to the wider world for his verbose Twitter presence and for taking a public dislike to Facebook: In the wake of the 2018 Cambridge Analytica data misuse scandal Edwards publicly announced that he was deleting his account with the social media — accusing Facebook of not complying with the country’s privacy laws.

An anti-‘Big Tech’ stance aligns with the UK government’s agenda to tame the tech giants as it works to bring in safety-focused legislation for digital platforms and reforms of competition rules that take account of platform power.

If confirmed in the role — the DCMS committee has to approve Edwards’ appointment; plus there’s a ceremonial nod needed from the Queen — he will be joining the regulatory body at a crucial moment as digital minister Oliver Dowden has signalled the beginnings of a planned divergence from the European Union’s data protection regime, post-Brexit, by Boris Johnson’s government.

Dial back the clock five years and prior digital minister, Matt Hancock, was defending the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) as a “decent piece of legislation” — and suggesting to parliament that there would be little room for the UK to diverge in data protection post-Brexit.

But Hancock is now out of government (aptly enough after a data leak showed him breaching social distancing rules by kissing his aide inside a government building), and the government mood music around data has changed key to something far more brash — with sitting digital minister Dowden framing unfettered (i.e. deregulated) data-mining as “a great opportunity” for the post-Brexit UK.

For months, now, ministers have been eyeing how to rework the UK’s current (legascy) EU-based data protection framework — to, essentially, reduce user rights in favor of soundbites heavy on claims of slashing ‘red tape’ and turbocharging data-driven ‘innovation’. Of course the government isn’t saying the quiet part out loud; its press releases talk about using “the power of data to drive growth and create jobs while keeping high data protection standards”. But those standards are being reframed as a fig leaf to enable a new era of data capture and sharing by default.

Dowden has said that the emergency data-sharing which was waived through during the pandemic — when the government used the pressing public health emergency to justify handing NHS data to a raft of tech giantsshould be the ‘new normal’ for a post-Brexit UK. So, tl;dr, get used to living in a regulatory crisis.

A special taskforce, which was commissioned by the prime minister to investigate how the UK could reshape its data policies outside the EU, also issued a report this summer — in which it recommended scrapping some elements of the UK’s GDPR altogether — branding the regime “prescriptive and inflexible”; and advocating for changes to “free up data for innovation and in the public interest”, as it put it, including pushing for revisions related to AI and “growth sectors”.

The government is now preparing to reveal how it intends to act on its appetite to ‘reform’ (read: reduce) domestic privacy standards — with proposals for overhauling the data protection regime incoming next month.

Speaking to the Telegraph for a paywalled article published yesterday, Dowden trailed one change that he said he wants to make which appears to target consent requirements — with the minister suggesting the government will remove the legal requirement to gain consent to, for example, track and profile website visitors — all the while framing it as a pro-consumer move; a way to do away with “endless” cookie banners.

Only cookies that pose a ‘high risk’ to privacy would still require consent notices, per the report — whatever that means.

“There’s an awful lot of needless bureaucracy and box ticking and actually we should be looking at how we can focus on protecting people’s privacy but in as light a touch way as possible,” the digital minister also told the Telegraph.

The draft of this Great British ‘light touch’ data protection framework will emerge next month, so all the detail is still to be set out. But the overarching point is that the government intends to redefine UK citizens’ privacy rights, using meaningless soundbites — with Dowden touting a plan for “common sense” privacy rules — to cover up the fact that it intends to reduce the UK’s currently world class privacy standards and replace them with worse protections for data.

If you live in the UK, how much privacy and data protection you get will depend upon how much ‘innovation’ ministers want to ‘turbocharge’ today — so, yes, be afraid.

It will then fall to Edwards — once/if approved in post as head of the ICO — to nod any deregulation through in his capacity as the post-Brexit information commissioner.

We can speculate that the government hopes to slip through the devilish detail of how it will torch citizens’ privacy rights behind flashy, distraction rhetoric about ‘taking action against Big Tech’. But time will tell.

Data protection experts are already warning of a regulatory stooge.

While the Telegraph suggests Edwards is seen by government as an ideal candidate to ensure the ICO takes a “more open and transparent and collaborative approach” in its future dealings with business.

In a particularly eyebrow raising detail, the newspaper goes on to report that government is exploring the idea of requiring the ICO to carry out “economic impact assessments” — to, in the words of Dowden, ensure that “it understands what the cost is on business” before introducing new guidance or codes of practice.

All too soon, UK citizens may find that — in the ‘sunny post-Brexit uplands’ — they are afforded exactly as much privacy as the market deems acceptable to give them. And that Brexit actually means watching your fundamental rights being traded away.

In a statement responding to Edwards’ nomination, Denham, the outgoing information commissioner, appeared to offer some lightly coded words of warning for government, writing [emphasis ours]: “Data driven innovation stands to bring enormous benefits to the UK economy and to our society, but the digital opportunity before us today will only be realised where people continue to trust their data will be used fairly and transparently, both here in the UK and when shared overseas.”

The lurking iceberg for government is of course that if wades in and rips up a carefully balanced, gold standard privacy regime on a soundbite-centric whim — replacing a pan-European standard with ‘anything goes’ rules of its/the market’s choosing — it’s setting the UK up for a post-Brexit future of domestic data misuse scandals.

You only have to look at the dire parade of data breaches over in the US to glimpse what’s coming down the pipe if data protection standards are allowed to slip. The government publicly bashing the private sector for adhering to lax standards it deregulated could soon be the new ‘get popcorn’ moment for UK policy watchers…

UK citizens will surely soon learn of unfair and unethical uses of their data under the ‘light touch’ data protection regime — i.e. when they read about it in the newspaper.

Such an approach will indeed be setting the country on a path where mistrust of digital services becomes the new normal. And that of course will be horrible for digital business over the longer run. But Dowden appears to lack even a surface understanding of Internet basics.

The UK is also of course setting itself on a direct collision course with the EU if it goes ahead and lowers data protection standards.

This is because its current data adequacy deal with the bloc — which allows for EU citizens’ data to continue flowing freely to the UK — was granted only on the basis that the UK was, at the time it was inked, still aligned with the GDPR. So Dowden’s rush to rip up protections for people’s data presents a clear risk to the “significant safeguards” needed to maintain EU adequacy. Meaning the deal could topple.

Back in June, when the Commission signed off on the UK’s adequacy deal, it clearly warned that “if anything changes on the UK side, we will intervene”.

Add to that, the adequacy deal is also the first with a baked in sunset clause — meaning it will automatically expire in four years. So even if the Commission avoids taking proactive action over slipping privacy standards in the UK there is a hard deadline — in 2025 — when the EU’s executive will be bound to look again in detail at exactly what Dowden & Co. have wrought. And it probably won’t be pretty.

The longer term UK ‘plan’ (if we can put it that way) appears to be to replace domestic economic reliance on EU data flows — by seeking out other jurisdictions that may be friendly to a privacy-light regime governing what can be done with people’s information.

Hence — also today — DCMS trumpeted an intention to secure what it billed as “new multi-billion pound global data partnerships” — saying it will prioritize striking ‘data adequacy’ “partnerships” with the US, Australia, the Republic of Korea, Singapore, and the Dubai International Finance Centre and Colombia.

Future partnerships with India, Brazil, Kenya and Indonesia will also be prioritized, it added — with the government department cheerfully glossing over the fact it’s UK citizens’ own privacy that is being deprioritized here.

“Estimates suggest there is as much as £11 billion worth of trade that goes unrealised around the world due to barriers associated with data transfers,” DCMS writes in an ebullient press release.

As it stands, the EU is of course the UK’s largest trading partner. And statistics from the House of Commons library on the UK’s trade with the EU — which you won’t find cited in the DCMS release — underline quite how tiny this potential Brexit ‘data bonanza’ is, given that UK exports to the EU stood at £294 billion in 2019 (43% of all UK exports).

So even the government’s ‘economic’ case to water down citizens’ privacy rights looks to be puffed up with the same kind of misleadingly vacuous nonsense as ministers’ reframing of a post-Brexit UK as ‘Global Britain’.

Everyone hates cookies banners, sure, but that’s a case for strengthening not weakening people’s privacy — for making non-tracking the default setting online and outlawing manipulative dark patterns so that Internet users don’t constantly have to affirm they want their information protected. Instead the UK may be poised to get rid of annoying cookie consent ‘friction’ by allowing a free for all on citizens’ data.

 

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Dawn Aerospace conducts five flights of its suborbital spaceplane

While the rocket launch sector is quickly becoming crowded, the same can’t be said for companies developing suborbital spaceplanes. This means there’s plenty of room to grow for startups like Dawn Aerospace, which has now completed five test flights of its Mk-II Aurora spaceplane that is designed to fly up to 60 miles above the Earth’s surface.

The flights, which took place at the Glentanner Aerodrome in New Zealand’s South Island in July, were to assess the vehicle’s airframe and avionics. While the vehicle only reached altitudes of 3,400 feet, the flights allowed Dawn’s team to capture “extensive data enabling further R&D on the capability of Mk-II,” CEO Stefan Powell said in a statement.

Dawn’s approach is to build a vehicle that can take off and land from conventional airports and potentially perform multiple flights to and from space per day. The obvious benefit of this approach is that it’s significantly less capital-intensive than vertical launches. Mk-II is also barely the size of a compact car, less than 16 feet long and weighing only 165 pounds empty, which further lowers costs.

As the name suggests, the Mk-II is the second iteration of the vehicle, but Dawn doesn’t plan on stopping there. The company has plans to build a two-stage-to-orbit Mk-III spaceplane that can also be used to conduct scientific research, or even capture atmospheric data for weather observations and climate modeling. While Mk-II has a payload of 3U, or less than 8.8 pounds, Mk-III will be capable of carrying up to 551 pounds to orbit.

The Mk-II will ultimately be fitted with a rocket engine to enable supersonic performance and high-altitude testing.

The company hit a major milestone last December when it received an Unmanned Aircraft Operator Certificate from the New Zealand Civil Aviation Authority to fly Mk-II from airports. It also received a grant from by the province of Zuid-Holland in the Netherlands, along with Radar Based Avionics and MetaSensing, to test a low-power sense and detect radar system. That demonstration, which is scheduled to take place next year, will happen once Mk-II undergoes some minor modifications, Powell told TechCrunch.

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