Ex-Mayor on Duterte’s ‘Narco Politician’ List Is Killed in the Philippines

The death came three days after the International Criminal Court’s departing chief prosecutor requested a full investigation into the bloody war on drugs in the Philippines.

#deaths-fatalities, #drug-abuse-and-traffic, #duterte-rodrigo, #international-criminal-court, #mayors, #murders-attempted-murders-and-homicides, #philippines, #police

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Android announces six new features, emphasizing safety and accessibility

Android shared information today about six features that will roll out this summer. Some of these are just quality of life upgrades, like starring text messages to easily find them later, or getting contextual Emoji Kitchen suggestions depending on what you’re typing. But other aspects of this update emphasize security, safety, and accessibility.

Last summer, Google added a feature on Android that basically uses your phone as a seismometer to create “the world’s largest earthquake detection network.” The system is free, and since testing in California, it’s also launched in New Zealand and Greece. Now, Google will introduce this feature in Turkey, the Philippines, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyz Republic, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. The company says that they’ll continue expanding the feature this year, prioritizing countries with the highest earthquake risk.

Image Credits: Google

Google is also expanding on another feature released last year, which made Google Assistant compatible with Android apps. In the initial update, apps were supported like Spotify, Snapchat, Twitter, Walmart, Discord, Etsy, MyFitnessPal, Mint, Nike Adapt, Nike Run Club, eBay, Kroger, Postmates, and Wayfair. Today’s update mentioned apps like eBay, Yahoo! Finance, Strava, and Capital One. These features are comparable to Apple’s support of Siri with iOS apps, which includes the ability to open apps, perform tasks, and record a custom command.

When it comes to accessibility, Google is ramping up its gaze detection feature, which is now in beta. Gaze detection allows people to ask Voice Access to only respond when they’re looking at their screen, allowing people to naturally move between talking with friends and using their phone. Now, Voice Access will also have enhanced password input — when it detects a password field, it will allow you to input letters, numbers, and symbols by saying “capital P” or “dollar sign,” for example, making it easier for users to more quickly enter this sensitive information. In October, Google Assistant became available on gaze-powered accessible devices, and in the same month, Google researchers debuted a demo that made it so people using sign language could be identified as the “active speaker” in video calls. Apple doesn’t have a comparable gaze detection feature yet that’s widely available, though they acquired SensoMotoric Instruments (SMI), an eye-tracking firm, in 2017. So, hopefully similar accessibility features will be in the works at Apple, especially as Google continues to build out theirs.

Today’s Android update also lets Android Auto users customize more of their experience. Now, you can set your launcher screen from your phone, set dark mode manually, and more easily browse content on media apps with an A-Z scroll bar and “back to top” button. Messaging apps like WhatsApp and Messages will now be compatible on the launch screen – proceed with caution and don’t drive distracted – and EV charging, parking, and navigation apps will now be available for use.

#android, #apps, #assistant, #california, #computing, #ebay, #etsy, #google, #google-assistant, #google-now, #google-play, #greece, #kazakhstan, #kroger, #mobile-linux, #myfitnesspal, #new-zealand, #nike, #operating-systems, #philippines, #postmates, #siri, #smartphones, #snapchat, #software, #spotify, #turkey, #walmart, #wayfair, #whatsapp, #yahoo

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U.S. to Ban Dogs From Over 100 Countries Amid Concern Over Spread of Rabies

The countries targeted by the ban, which will take effect on July 14, include the Dominican Republic, Colombia, Cuba, China, Russia and Ukraine.

#centers-for-disease-control-and-prevention, #china, #colombia, #cuba, #dogs, #dominican-republic, #india, #philippines, #rabies, #russia, #ukraine, #united-states, #vaccination-and-immunization

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Apple’s new encrypted browsing feature won’t be available in China, Saudi Arabia and more: report

Apple announced a handful of privacy-focused updates at its annual software developer conference on Monday. One called Private Relay particularly piques the interest of Chinese users living under the country’s censorship system, for it encrypts all browsing history so nobody can track or intercept the data.

As my colleague Roman Dillet explains:

When Private Relay is turned on, nobody can track your browsing history — not your internet service provider, anyone standing in the middle of your request between your device and the server you’re requesting information from. We’ll have to wait a bit to learn more about how it works exactly.

The excitement didn’t last long. Apple told Reuters that Private Relay won’t be available in China alongside Belarus, Colombia, Egypt, Kazakhstan, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Turkmenistan, Uganda and the Philippines.

Apple couldn’t be immediately reached by TechCrunch for comment.

Virtual private networks or VPNs are popular tools for users in China to bypass the “great firewall” censorship apparatus, accessing web services that are otherwise blocked or slowed down. But VPNs don’t necessarily protect users’ privacy because they simply funnel all the traffic through VPN providers’ servers instead of users’ internet providers, so users are essentially entrusting VPN firms with protecting their identities. Private Relay, on the other hand, doesn’t even allow Apple to see one’s browsing activity.

In an interview with Fast Company, Craig Federighi, Apple’s senior vice president of software engineering, explained why the new feature may be superior to VPNs:

“We hope users believe in Apple as a trustworthy intermediary, but we didn’t even want you to have to trust us [because] we don’t have this ability to simultaneously source your IP and the destination where you’re going to–and that’s unlike VPNs. And so we wanted to provide many of the benefits that people are seeking when in the past they’ve decided to use a VPN, but not force that difficult and conceivably perilous privacy trade-off in terms of trusting it a single intermediary.”

It’s unclear whether Private Relay will simply be excluded from system upgrades for users in China and the other countries where it’s restricted, or it will be blocked by internet providers in those regions. It also remains to be seen whether the feature will be available to Apple users in Hong Kong, which has seen an increase in online censorship in the past year.

Like all Western tech firms operating in China, Apple is trapped between antagonizing Beijing and flouting the values it espouses at home. Apple has a history of caving in to Beijing’s censorship pressure, from migrating all user data in China to a state-run cloud center, cracking down on independent VPN apps in China, limiting free speech in Chinese podcasts, to removing RSS feed readers from the China App Store.

#apple, #asia, #beijing, #belarus, #china, #colombia, #craig-federighi, #egypt, #firewall, #government, #great-firewall, #internet-censorship, #internet-security, #internet-service, #isp, #kazakhstan, #philippines, #saudi-arabia, #security, #south-africa, #tc, #uganda, #vpn

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WalletsClub wants to be the ‘Visa for e-wallets’ across the world

Digital payments are going mainstream around the world. By the end of 2020, there were more than 300 mobile money providers with over 100,000 active users, according to a report published by GSMA, an industry association for mobile network operators. Altogether, over 300 million mobile money accounts were active every month around the world.

Mobile money providers — more commonly known as e-wallets — are used to transfer money, pay and receive payments through mobile phones without the need for a traditional bank. They are useful so long as they enjoy wide adoption and a strong network effect. But even a popular service like Ant Groups’s Alipay, which has over one billion annual users, is practically unusable outside China due to its low penetration in most countries.

The problem is there is no interoperability between most wallets as there is between traditional banks, suggested Xue Zhixiang, who worked on the basic infrastructure for Alibaba’s cloud unit and Alipay before starting WalletsClub.

Registered in Hong Kong in 2019 with a small operational team in mainland China, WalletsClub sets its sights on becoming the Visa for digital wallets, making money transfers possible between the world’s hundreds of electronic money services.

“We are like a clearinghouse for digital wallets,” said Xue, the company’s CEO.

A clearing system is an intermediary for two parties engaged in a financial transaction. It’s designed to ensure the efficiency and security of a transfer by validating the availability of the funds and logging the transfer between two transacting parties. Payments can be sent and received in real-time using WalletsClub, Xue claimed, and its technology is based on the “ISO 20022” standard, a common language for financial institutions to exchange data across the globe.

In other words, WalletsClub is going after the hundreds of e-wallets around the world rather than individual end-users. Its vision is to let people pay with any mobile wallet anywhere as long as the sender’s service provider or financial institution and the receiver’s equivalent services are members of WalletsClub, similar to how Visa and Mastercard process credit cards issued by different banks that are in their networks. The company plans to monetize by charging a flat fee per transaction.

By adding interoperability to electronic wallets, even small, regional players can thrive because they gain compatibility wherever a clearing system is in place.

Instead of challenging the traditional financial system, WalletsClub wants to provide a way for unbanked individuals to easily move money around through digital wallets, which are easier to obtain than a bank account. A big demand will come from overseas migrant workers who need to send money back to their home countries, such as the millions of Southeast Asian workers abroad.

WalletsClub is potentially encroaching on the territory of a few players. Expatriate workers sending money home currently revert to longstanding remittance services like Western Union or MoneyGram, which have large networks of “agent” locations where users go send or collect money. In 2018, Alipay began allowing users in Hong Kong to send money to GCash accounts in the Philippines, but “the focus of Ant Group is payments rather than remittance,” Xue observed.

In 2019, money sent home from diaspora workers became the largest source of external financing in low- and middle-income countries excluding China, according to World Bank data. The money flows amounted to over $500 billion and surpassed the levels of foreign direct investment in these regions.

The other type of business that a clearinghouse for mobile wallets could threaten is cross-border payment aggregators, which save merchants from having to integrate with various digital payment methods.

The biggest challenge for the nascent startup is to establish trust with clients. At this stage, WalletsClub in talks with electronic money services founded by Chinese entrepreneurs in Hong Kong, Singapore and Canada. Chinese-made wallets are especially plentiful in emerging markets, thanks to these founders’ learning from China’s fintech boom over the decade. Many of them found it hard to compete with behemoths like Tencent and Ant, let alone China’s tightening regulations around fintech.

“If we reach 20 members and have several hundreds of transactions between every pair of members on a daily basis, we are basically profitable,” said Xue, adding that the goal is to onboard a dozen customers by this year.

#alibaba, #alibaba-group, #alipay, #ant-group, #asia, #bank, #canada, #china, #digital-currencies, #digital-wallet, #finance, #mastercard, #mobile-payment, #mobile-phones, #money, #moneygram, #online-payments, #philippines, #singapore, #tc, #visa, #western-union, #world-bank

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Philippine e-commerce enabler Great Deals raises $30M Series B led by logistics firm Fast Group

Steve Sy, the CEO of Great Deals, and William Chiongban, CEO of Fast Group, sign the contract for the companies' strategic partnership

Steve Sy, CEO of Great Deals, and William Chiongbian II, CEO of Fast Group, sign the contract for the companies’ strategic partnership. Image Credits: Great Deals

Founded in 2014, Great Deals is an e-commerce enabler that helps brands like Abbot, L’Oréal and Unilever build their online retail operations in the Philippines. The startup announced today that it has raised $30 million in Series B funding led by Fast Group, one of the Philippines’ biggest logistics firms, with support from CVC Capital Partners. Navegar, which led Great Deals’ Series A, also returned for this round.

The transaction was advised by Rocket Equities. The investment by Fast Group, which has a fleet of more than 2,500 vehicles and 90,000 stores in its distribution network, marks the beginning of a strategic partnership. Great Deals will use part of the new capital to build an automated fulfillment center, and the deal will help it increase its penetration outside the Greater Manila Area and offer more Instant Commerce, or deliveries under one hour.

Great Deals currently operates only in the Philippines, but plans to expand regionally next year, founder and chief executive officer Steve Sy told TechCrunch.

In a statement, Fast Group president and chief executive officer William Chiongbian II said, “The Fast Group sees a lot of synergies with Great Deals in building capacity. We are privileged to contribute to the growth of Philippine e-commerce, as it relies heavily on a strong supply chain backbone.”

Some of Great Deals’ other clients include Nestlé, Samsonite, GSK, Bayer and Fila. In addition to serving as an e-commerce distributor, it offers an end-to-end services for brands, including digital content production, marketing campaign coordination and management of marketplace listings (Great Deals’ partners include Lazada, Shopee, Zalora, Zilingo, Shopify and Magento).

#asia, #e-commerce, #e-commerce-enabler, #ecommerce, #fast-group, #fundings-exits, #great-deals, #philippines, #recent-funding, #southeast-asia, #startups, #tc

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Led by ex-Amazonians, Acquco raises $160M to buy and scale e-commerce businesses

There has been a flurry of investments in startups focused on acquiring third-party sellers on Amazon and helping them build their businesses.

The latest is Acquco, which aims to stand out from the others in that it was formed by a pair of founders — Raunak Nirmal and Wiley Zhang — who actually worked at Amazon, and then built multimillion-dollar businesses on its platform.

The New York City-based startup has raised $160 million in debt and equity in a Series A round that it says will fund its “aggressive growth plans.” CoVenture, Singh Capital Partners, Crossbeam and other notable investors such as GoDaddy CEO Aman Bhutani put money in the equity portion of the round. Acquco would not disclose the valuation at which the money was raised, nor the exact breakdown of debt and equity, other than to say “a significant portion was equity.” But CEO Raunak Nirmal did share a few other notable things. 

For one, the company has already scaled to over $100 million in revenue since its founding (in a year’s time) while deploying less than $2 million of equity capital. Plus, it’s been profitable “since day one,” he said.

Nirmal also claims that Acquco’s proprietary technology and “proven playbooks” give it an edge against competitors such as Thrasio and Perch. Specifically, the company says it helps Amazon sellers exit their business within 30 days and continue to scale their business “to the next level” post-acquisition. It also claims to offer flexible terms and that it does not prevent entrepreneurs from selling again on Amazon.

Acquco says it identifies the best businesses to acquire, and leverages what it describes as “flexible founder-friendly deal structures,” which essentially gives sellers a way to make money from the exit and then still get a cut of revenues down the line. The company claims that it on average achieves over 100% revenue growth after migrating brands onto its platform.

Forming Acquco was not an overnight story, but rather was years in the making.

“My first job out of college was actually at Amazon. I worked as a business analyst on the merchant technologies team there, which was really focused on third-party selling and helping empower third-party sellers to grow on the platform and then just growing that segment of the business,” Nirmal recalls. “At the time, third-party selling was smaller than the retail side for Amazon.”

A lot has changed since then, of course, as that segment of the e-commerce giant’s business has grown dramatically. 

In recent years, most sales on Amazon have come through Amazon Marketplace, where millions of outside sellers compete to find customers. Many pay Amazon to store and ship their goods, making them eligible for Prime shipping through an arrangement known as Fulfillment by Amazon, or FBA. This is where Acquco is focusing. 

While at Amazon years ago, Nirmal was tasked with starting a brand on the site so he could better understand sellers’ pain points, as well as the tools that could be built “to really help them grow.”

Eventually, Nirmal left Amazon to pursue selling on Amazon full time because the brand he’d started ended up selling over $7 million in its first year. After that, he and COO Zhang built and sold multiple brands in the Amazon ecosystem before going on to consult for “some of the largest sellers in the marketplace,” primarily based in China but selling in the U.S. market.

“A lot of these guys are actually public companies now,” Nirmal said. 

The duo went on to co-found a seller outsourcing firm in the Philippines, which helps to minimize the cost of operating the brands for sellers and make it more accessible for sellers that don’t have a huge team to build something on Amazon. 

Then they founded a company called Refund Labs, a seller tool that helps sellers essentially automatically identify issues in the payments that they receive from Amazon as well as recover money on their behalf for things like inventory that gets damaged or lost or the fees that are being charged that might be incorrect. 

Nirmal stepped down as CEO of Refund Labs to form Acquco.

“What we wanted to do is take this knowledge and experience that we really have built up over the last seven years, and apply it in the best way possible,” Nirmal told TechCrunch. “And rather than building brands from the ground up, or consulting for some of these large sellers, we thought, ‘Why not go and buy the best brands, and then help grow them using our expertise?’ ”

The company says its proprietary algorithms analyze thousands of criteria sets and millions of data inputs “to automate and maximize the performance of the core functions within supply chain and brand management” across their portfolio. 

Acquco plans to use its new capital to enter “hypergrowth mode,” according to Chief Strategy Officer Jerel Ho, who most recently led corporate development and strategy at WeWork, where he closed over $40 billion in M&A deals.

The startup has the ambitious goal of scaling its portfolio to over $500 million in revenue by 2022. It plans to put the new money toward continuing to build out its technology platform — including tools that can automate the management of an entire brand on Amazon and across other retail channels — as well as continuing to acquire brands. It’s also, naturally, going to do some hiring.

“We’ve done a lot with very little,” Ho told TechCrunch. “But hyper growth plans require a much larger team across all functions.”

CoVenture founder Ali Hamed says that the Amazon third-party seller ecosystem does $200 billion of revenue and is growing at a compounded annual growth rate (CAGR) of over 50%. 

“It’s the most attractive market we’ve seen since founding our firm,” he told TechCrunch. “And of all the people we’ve talked to, Raunak is as plugged into the Amazon ecosystem as anyone we could find. In many ways, he taught us how to look, think and deploy capital into the market.”

To say Hamed is bullish on Acquco would be an understatement. Since first investing in the company in 2020, Nirmal “has exceeded” all of CoVenture’s expectations.

“We’ve been begging him to take more money every three months since writing our first check,” Hamed added. “Raunak is able to help buy businesses and make them better than they ever were before. He has a vision of how to operate these assets post-purchase that other operators who are not Amazon-native just don’t have.”

Besides Thrasio, other players in the space that have recently raised funding include Branded, which recently launched its own roll-up business on $150 million in funding, as well as Berlin Brands Group, SellerXHeydayHeroes and Perch. And, Valoreo, a Mexico City-based acquirer of e-commerce businesses, raised $50 million of equity and debt financing in a seed funding round announced in February.

#acquco, #ali-hamed, #amazon, #berlin-brands-group, #brand-management, #china, #coventure, #crossbeam, #e-commerce, #ecommerce, #funding, #fundings-exits, #godaddy, #heroes, #heyday, #mexico-city, #new-york-city, #perch, #philippines, #publishing, #recent-funding, #retailers, #sellerx, #startup, #startups, #supply-chain, #tc, #thrasio, #united-states, #venture-capital, #wework

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The Price They Pay for Your Perfect Vacation Photo

Scientists are concerned about unregulated feeding of ocean wildlife by tour operators.

#animal-behavior, #australia, #bahama-islands, #conservation-of-resources, #endangered-and-extinct-species, #fish-and-other-marine-life, #greece, #marine-biology, #philippines, #photography, #research, #sharks, #travel-and-vacations, #turtles-and-tortoises, #your-feed-animals, #your-feed-science

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Fighting Covid Poverty in the Philippines

People in the Philippines are stepping up to help one another where the state has failed them — only to be treated like insurgents. 

#coronavirus-2019-ncov, #duterte-rodrigo, #manila-philippines, #parlade-antonio, #philippines

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Top Philippine Diplomat Targets China in Expletive-Laced Tirade

In demanding that Beijing remove ships from Manila’s waters, the Philippine foreign minister used language on Twitter that is more often associated with the country’s president.

#china, #international-relations, #philippines, #territorial-disputes

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Philippines ‘buy now, pay later’ startup Plentina raises $2.2M seed round

Plentina co-founders Kevin Gabayan and Earl Valencia

Plentina co-founders Kevin Gabayan and Earl Valencia

E-wallets are rapidly gaining popularity in the Philippines, overtaking credit cards, which have a penetration rate of under 10%. Fintech startup Plentina is leveraging that trend with buy now, pay later (BNPL) installment loans that can be used and repaid through e-wallets.

The company announced today it has closed a $2.2 million seed round, co-led by former Tableau executive and ClearGraph chief executive officer Andrew Vigneault, Unpopular Ventures and DV Collective. Other participants included JG Digital Equity Ventures (JGDEV), Amino Capital, Canaan Partners Scout Fund and Ignite Impact Fund.

Its last funding was $750,000 pre-seed round raised last year from investors including Techstars, Emergent Ventures and the 500 Startups Vietnam Fund. Plentina also participated in the Techstars Western Union and Stanford’s StartX accelerator programs.

Plentina launched in the Philippines in October 2020 and has been downloaded more than 30,000 times. Its merchant partners include 7-Eleven Philippines and Smart Communications, a telecom provider with more than 70 million prepaid subscribers.  The company will use its seed round to onboard more merchant partners in the Philippines before expanding in Southeast Asia and other regions.

Plentina uses machine learning models to gauge the creditworthiness of loan applicants, drawing on founders Kevin Gabayan and Earl Valencia’s data science backgrounds. Gabayan was data science lead at Bump Technologies and then spent five years working at Google after it acquired the startup. Valencia’s experience includes serving as managing director of digital transformation at Charles Schwab.

“We’re making BNPL work in emerging markets where few have credit scores and merchants can’t easily integrate technology,” Valencia, Plentina’s chief business officer, told TechCrunch. In addition to alternative credit scoring, the startup also focuses on making installment payment work with merchants’ legacy workflows, he said.

So for, Plentina has generated 10 million credit scores from alternative data sources, including mobile data obtained with user permission and retail loyalty programs, and will continue to develop its models as its merchant partnerships and customer base grows. Customers who build good credit scores with Plentina can increase their credit limits and unlock more offers.

Loans have a flat 5% service fee, with no interest. 7-Eleven and Smart Communications both offer 14 day loans, and Plentina will introduce more dynamic loan terms in the future, Valencia said. Loans can be used to purchase goods at all of 7-Eleven’s 3000 stores in the Philippines and prepaid mobile airtime with Smart Communications.

Other installment loan services in the Philippines include BillEase, Tendopay and Cashalo. Valencia said Plentina “aim[s] to be a customer’s financial service partner throughout their lifetime. We’re starting by offering closed-loop store credit for essentials purchases for consumers to easily establish their financial identity. As a customer’s financial wellness matures, we can graduate them into additional financial services.”

In a press statement about his investment, Vigneault said, “I’ve worked with many early stage fintech companies over the years. However, I’ve come across few founders who are as impressive as Kevin and Earl and have been able to achieve such levels of success with customers, channel partners, and product at such an early stage.”

#asia, #bnpl, #buy-now-pay-later, #financial-services, #fintech, #fundings-exits, #philippines, #plentina, #southeast-asia, #startups, #tc

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Myanmar Coup Puts the Seal on Autocracy’s Rise in Southeast Asia

Not long ago, democracy seemed to be surging in the region. But in Thailand, Malaysia, the Philippines and elsewhere, it is in trouble.

#cambodia, #coups-detat-and-attempted-coups-detat, #defense-and-military-forces, #malaysia, #myanmar, #philippines, #politics-and-government, #thailand, #united-states-defense-and-military-forces

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US indicts California man accused of stealing Shopify customer data

A grand jury has indicted a California resident accused of stealing Shopify customer data on over a hundred merchants, TechCrunch has learned.

The indictment charges Tassilo Heinrich with aggravated identity theft and conspiracy to commit wire fraud by allegedly working with two Shopify customer support agents to steal merchant and customer data from Shopify customers to gain a competitive edge and “take business away from those merchants,” the indictment reads. The indictment also accuses Heinrich, believed to be around 18-years-old at the time of the alleged scheme, of selling the data to other co-conspirators to commit fraud.

A person with direct knowledge of the security breach confirmed Shopify was the unnamed victim company referenced in the indictment.

Last September, Shopify, an online e-commerce platform for small businesses, revealed a data breach in which two “rogue members” of its third-party customer support team of “less than 200 merchants.” Shopify said it fired the two contractors for engaging “in a scheme to obtain customer transactional records of certain merchants.”

Shopify said the contractors stole customer data, including names, postal addresses and order details, like which products and services were purchased. One merchant who received the data breach notice from Shopify said the last four digits of affected customers’ payment cards were also taken, which the indictment confirms.

Another one of the victims was Kylie Jenner’s cosmetics and make-up company, Kylie Cosmetics, the BBC reported.

The indictment accuses Heinrich of paying an employee of a third-party customer support company in the Philippines to access parts of Shopify’s internal network by either taking screenshots or uploading the data to Google Drive in exchange for kickbacks. Heinrich paid the employee in thousands of dollars worth of cryptocurrency, and also fake positive reviews claiming to be from merchants to whom the employee had provided customer service but had not left feedback. The indictment alleges that Heinrich received a year’s worth of some merchants’ data.

Heinrich allegedly spent at least a year siphoning off incrementing amounts of data from Shopify’s internal network, at one point asking if he could “remotely access” the customer support employee’s computer while they were asleep.

Heinrich was arrested by the FBI at Los Angeles International Airport in February,and is currently detained in federal custody pending trial, set to begin on September 7. Heinrich has pleaded not guilty.

A Shopify spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment.

#california, #companies, #data-breach, #ecommerce, #federal-bureau-of-investigation, #kylie-jenner, #philippines, #publishing, #security, #shopify, #spokesperson

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With Swarms of Ships, Beijing Tightens Its Grip on South China Sea

After building artificial islands, China is using large fleets of ostensibly civilian boats to press other countries’ vessels out of disputed waters.

#china, #duterte-rodrigo, #international-relations, #malaysia, #philippines, #reefs, #south-china-sea, #territorial-disputes, #vietnam, #xi-jinping

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Anti-Asian Attack in New York Hits a Nerve in the Philippines

The country’s foreign secretary responded forcefully to the recent assault on a Filipino immigrant in New York City. Some have called it hypocritical.

#asian-americans, #hate-crimes, #new-york-city, #philippines

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Google starts trialing its FLoC cookie alternative in Chrome

Google today announced that it is rolling out Federated Learning of Cohorts (FLoC), a crucial part of its Privacy Sandbox project for Chrome, as a developer origin trial.

FLoC is meant to be an alternative to the kind of cookies that advertising technology companies use today to track you across the web. Instead of a personally identifiable cookie, FLoC runs locally and analyzes your browsing behavior to group you into a cohort of like-minded people with similar interests (and doesn’t share your browsing history with Google). That cohort is specific enough to allow advertisers to do their thing and show you relevant ads, but without being so specific as to allow marketers to identify you personally.

This “interest-based advertising,” as Google likes to call it, allows you to hide within the crowd of users with similar interests. All the browser displays is a cohort ID and all your browsing history and other data stay locally.

Image Credits: Google / Getty Images

The trial will start in the U.S., Australia, Brazil, Canada, India, Indonesia, Japan, Mexico, New Zealand and the Philippines. Over time, Google plans to scale it globally. As we learned earlier this month, Google is not running any tests in Europe because of concerns around GDPR and other privacy regulations (in part, because it’s unclear whether FLoC IDs should be considered personal data under these regulations).

Users will be able to opt out from this origin trial, just like they will be able to do so with all other Privacy Sandbox trials.

Unsurprisingly, given how FLoC upends many of the existing online advertising systems in place, not everybody loves this idea. Advertisers obviously love the idea of being able to target individual users, though Google’s preliminary data shows that using these cohorts leads to similar results for them and that advertisers can expect to see “at least 95% of the conversions per dollar spent when compared to cookie-based advertising.”

Google notes that its own advertising products will get the same access to FLoC IDs as its competitors in the ads ecosystem.

But it’s not just the advertising industry that is eyeing this project skeptically. Privacy advocates aren’t fully sold on the idea either. The EFF, for example, argues that FLoC will make it easier for marketing companies that want to fingerprint users based on the various FLoC IDs they expose, for example. That’s something Google is addressing with its Privacy Budget proposal, but how well that will work remains to be seen.

Meanwhile, users would probably prefer to just browse the web without seeing ads (no matter what the advertising industry may want us to believe) and without having to worry about their privacy. But online publishers continue to rely on advertising income to fund their sites.

With all of these divergent interests, it was always clear that Google’s initiatives weren’t going to please everyone. That friction was always built into the process. And while other browser vendors can outright block ads and third-party cookies, Google’s role in the advertising ecosystem makes this a bit more complicated.

“When other browsers started blocking third-party cookies by default, we were excited about the direction, but worried about the immediate impact,” Marshall Vale, Google’s product manager for Privacy Sandbox, writes in today’s announcement. “Excited because we absolutely need a more private web, and we know third-party cookies aren’t the long-term answer. Worried because today many publishers rely on cookie-based advertising to support their content efforts, and we had seen that cookie blocking was already spawning privacy-invasive workarounds (such as fingerprinting) that were even worse for user privacy. Overall, we felt that blocking third-party cookies outright without viable alternatives for the ecosystem was irresponsible, and even harmful, to the free and open web we all enjoy.”

It’s worth noting that FLoC, as well as Google’s other privacy sandbox initiatives, are still under development. The company says the idea here is to learn from these initial trials and evolve the project accordingly.

#advertising-tech, #australia, #brazil, #canada, #computing, #google, #google-search, #india, #indonesia, #japan, #mexico, #new-zealand, #online-advertising, #philippines, #software, #tracking, #united-states, #web-browsers

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Jeff raises $1M to build alternative credit scoring and other fintech products for Southeast Asia

According to the World Bank, more than one billion people in South and East Asia lack access to a bank account. For many, this makes it is difficult to secure loans and other services because they don’t have traditional financial records like a credit score. Jeff’s loan brokerage platform was created to make it easier for financial service providers to integrate alternative data scoring, allowing them reach more potential borrowers.

The startup, which launched its app in Vietnam last year, announced today it has raised $1 million, led by the Estonian Business Angels Network (EstBAN). The funding will be used to enter other Southeast Asian markets, including Indonesia and the Philippines, and introduce new products, like free credit score and insurance offers, digital discount coupons and mobile wallet cashbacks. Other participants in the round included Startup Wise Guys; Taavi Tamkivi, the founder of Salv who formerly held lead roles at TransferWise and Skype; and angel investors from European on-demand ride platform Bolt.

Jeff currently claims more than 300,000 users in Vietnam. Though it is based in Latvia, Jeff will continue focusing on unbanked people in South and Southeast Asia, said founder and chief executive officer Toms Niparts. Its goal is to build a “super app” that combines personalized loan comparisons with other services like e-commerce, mobile top-ups and online discounts, Niparts told TechCrunch in an email.

Before starting Jeff, Niparts was CEO of Spain for Digital Finance International, a fintech company that is part of the Finstar Financial Group, which has investments in more than 30 countries. This gave Niparts the chance to “learn about the similarities and differences of financial services from the inside in different markets,” he said.

In particular, he saw that in Southeast Asian countries, most loan applicants “were rejected not because of bad credit history, low income or other similar reasons, but because there was not enough data about them.” While some lending companies have developed pilot projects for alternative data scoring, the process is often time-consuming, complicated and expensive.

“This is a massive problem in a big part of the world, and it makes absolute sense to build it as a centralised solution,” Niparts said.

In Vietnam, Jeff currently has between 12 to 15 active partners at a time (the number changes because lenders occasionally turn off demand, a standard industry practice), and is adding another eight to 10. In total, the company now has about 80 to 100 potential partners in its Vietnam pipeline, and part of its new funding will be used to expand its team to speed up the onboarding process.

In Indonesia, Jeff has identified about 40 potential partners, “but so far we have only been scratching the surface,” said Niparts. “The Indonesian market is considerably larger than what we have seen in Vietnam, and the forecast is we will grow the pipeline to 150-200 banks and partners in 2021.”

The company’s selling point hinges on its ability to accurately measure creditworthiness based on alternative data. For lenders, this means more pre-qualified leads and access to a larger customer segment.

“Building a credit score is a never-ending process, and we are at the very early stages of it. What we have right now is mainly around publicly accessible information and client-consented data,” Niparts said. This includes behavioral analytics, smart devices meta data, data from social media and other sources that have open APIs.

As Jeff grows, it also plans to make partnerships with mobile wallets, telecom companies and consumer apps. It is developing a lender toolkit that includes bank portal and lender API to reduce the amount of time needed to integrate with the app.

Loan brokerage app Jeff's onboarding chatbot, shown on a smartphone display

Jeff’s onboarding chatbot

Borrowers sign up for Jeff with the app’s chatbot and can start getting offers once they enter basic information like their name, contact information, the amount they want to borrow and the purpose of the loan. But adding more details and data sources to their profiles, which are screened by multiple lenders at once, increases their chances of approval, and unlocks more offers. This may include uploading documents, connecting social media accounts or consenting to share their smart device metadata.

“As we evolve, new integrations and compatible accounts from other service providers—such as utilities, food delivery, and more—will be regularly added,” said Niparts.

Jeff’s partners currently offer near-prime, peer-to-peer and digital lending services that include unsecured consumer loans, installment loans and motorbike financing. It plans to add more loan products, and is also working on its first insurance collaborations, credit cards and other bank-grade products.

“Our ambition for Jeff is to become a super app, where people can not only get access to financial services that were previously unavailable to them, but also tap in other benefits and discounts,” Niparts said. “This is also a great way to learn more about creditworthiness and what’s on demand. Every new interactions gives us more data and insights to further evolve the accuracy and value added of Jeff’s credit score.”

The number of fintech startups focused on financial inclusion is on the rise across Southeast Asia. Jeff’s competitors fall into two main categories. The first are comparison portals like TopBank, TheBank and GoBear (which recently announced it is closing), that allow users to compare financial providers and banks, but don’t focus on enabling them to access services. The second are companies like CredoLab, Seon and Kalap that provide third-party services like single data-source insights and fraud prevention, but “do not have control over the customer journey,” Nipsart said.

Jeff’s goal is to “be a one-stop shop for both,” he added. “We provide both clients, as well as deeper insights about them for banks and other partners using our platform. At the same time, we are the main point of interaction for the users, which not only solves the main need of comparing financial services and accessing them, but also offers an increasing range of other discounts and benefits.”

#asia, #europe, #financial-inclusion, #fintech, #fundings-exits, #indonesia, #jeff, #latvia, #loan-brokerage, #philippines, #southeast-asia, #startups, #tc, #vietnam

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Philippine Security Forces Are Accused of Killing 9 Activists

A rights group said the activists were killed in coordinated raids in four provinces. An official confirmed that nine people were dead.

#deaths-fatalities, #duterte-rodrigo, #luzon-philippines, #new-peoples-army, #philippines

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Indonesian payments infra startup Xendit raises $64.6M in Accel-led Series B

Fueled by the COVID-19 pandemic, digital transformation is happening all over the world. And Southeast Asia is no exception.

Indonesia’s Xendit, a startup focused on building digital payments infrastructure for the region, has just raised $64.6 million in a Series B led by Silicon Valley heavyweight Accel. The funding brings the total amount raised by the Jakarta-based company to $88 million since its 2015.

Notably, Y Combinator also participated in the financing. In fact, Xendit is the first Indonesian company to go through Y Combinator’s accelerator program. It also was ranked No. 64 on Y Combinator’s top 100 companies (by valuation and top exits) list in January 2021

Xendit works with businesses of all sizes, processing more than 65 million transactions with $6.5 billion in payment value annually. Its website promises businesses that “with a single integration,” they can accept payments in Indonesia and the Philippines. The company describes itself as building out financial services and digital payments infrastructure “in which the next generation of Southeast Asian SaaS companies can be built on top of,” or put more simply, it aspires to be the Stripe of Southeast Asia.

Xendit has been growing exponentially since its launch — with its CAGR (compound annual growth rate) increasing annually by 700%, according to COO and co-founder Tessa Wijaya. In 2020, the company saw its customer count increase by 540%. Customers include Traveloka, TransferWise, Wish and Grab, among others. Xendit declined to reveal hard revenue figures.

It also declined to reveal its current valuation but we do know that as of October 2019, it was valued at at least $150 million – a pre-requisite for appearing on this Y Combinator liston which it ranked No. 53. 

The idea for Xendit was formed when CEO Moses Lo met his co-founders while studying at University of California, Berkeley. Shortly after, they went through Y Combinator, and launched Xendit in 2015. 

One of the company’s main benefactors was Twitch co-founder Justin Kan. According to Lo, “he happened to have some family in Indonesia, and it was also about the time when Asia was becoming more interesting for YC.”

Xendit was originally launched as a P2P payments platform before evolving into its current model.

Today, the startup aims to help businesses of all sizes seamlessly process online payments, run marketplaces, distribute payroll manage finances and detect fraud via machine learning. It aims for fast and easy integrations so that businesses can more easily accept payments digitally.

The market opportunity is there. One of the world’s most populous countries that is home to more than 270 million people — an estimated 175 million of which are internet users — Indonesia’s digital economy is expected to reach $300 billion by 2025.

Add to that a complex region that is home to 17,000 different islands and a number of regulatory and technological challenges.

“Trying to build the businesses of tomorrow on yesterday’s infrastructure is holding Southeast Asia’s businesses back,” Lo said.

The global shift toward more digital transactions over the past year led to increased demand for Xendit’s infrastructure and services, according to Wijaya. To meet that demand, the company doubled its employee headcount to over 350 currently.

The pandemic also led to Xendit branching out. Prior to 2020, many of the company’s customers were large travel companies. So the first few months of the year, the startup’s business was hit hard. But increased demand paved the way for Xendit to expand into new sectors, such as retail, gaming and other digital products.

Looking ahead, the startup plans to use its new capital to scale its digital payments infrastructure “quickly” with the goal of providing millions of small and medium-sized businesses across Southeast Asia with “an on-ramp to the digital economy.” It is also eyeing other markets. Xendit recently expanded into the Philippines and also is considering other countries in Southeast Asia, such as Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia and Singapore, according to Wijaya.

Xendit is also similar in scope to San Francisco-based Finix, which aims to make every software company a payments company. Xendit acknowledges the similarities, but notes it is also “looking to tackle broader challenges related to accessibility, security and reliability that are unique to Southeast Asia,” with a deep understanding of the region’s unique geographical and cultural nuances.

To Accel partner Ryan Sweeney, Xendit has “quietly” built a modern digital payments infrastructure that’s transformed how Southeast Asian businesses transact.

“Their team’s combination of deep local expertise and global ambitions means they’re uniquely positioned to do what no other company could do in the region,” he said. “The vision of Xendit is a bold one: they are building the digital payments infrastructure for Southeast Asia, and fits squarely into Accel’s global fintech thesis.”

Other fintechs that Accel has backed include Braintree/Venmo, WorldRemit,GoFundMe and Monzo, and more recently Galileo, TradeRepublic, Lydia, Public.com and Flink.

#accel, #digital-services, #digital-transformation, #finance, #fintech, #funding, #fundings-exits, #indonesia, #jakarta, #payment-solutions, #payments, #philippines, #recent-funding, #ryan-sweeney, #southeast-asia, #startups, #venture-capital, #xendit, #y-combinator

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ErudiFi raises $5 million Series A to give students in Southeast Asia more education financing options

Based in Singapore, ErudiFi wants to help more students in Southeast Asia stay in school by giving them affordable financing options. The startup announced today it has raised a $5 million Series A, co-led by Monk’s Hill Ventures and Qualgro.

ErudiFi currently works with more than 50 universities and vocational schools in Indonesia and the Philippines. Co-founder and chief executive officer Naga Tan told TechCrunch that students in those countries have limited financing options, and often rely on friends or family, or informal payday lenders that charge high interest rates.

To provide more accessible financing options, ErudiFi partners with accredited universities and schools to offer subsidized installment plans, using tech to scale up while keeping costs down. Interest rates and repayment terms vary between institutions, but can be as low as 0%, with loans payable in 12 to 24 months.

By providing their students with affordable financing plans, ErudiFi can increase retention rates at schools, helping them keep students who would otherwise be forced to drop out because of financial issues.

Tan said ErudiFi’s value proposition for educational institutions is “being able to offer a data-driven financing solution that helps with student recruitment and retention. Students also greatly benefit because our product is one of the few, if not the only, affordable financing option they have access to.”

In a press statement, Peng T. Ong, co-founder and managing partner of Monk’s Hill Ventures, said, “Access to affordable tertiary education remains a huge pain point in Southeast Asia where the cost is nearly double then the average GDP per capita. ErudiFi is tackling an underserved market that is plagued with high-interest rates by traditional financial institutions and limited reach from peer-to-peer lending companies.”

ErudiFi’s Series A will be used on hiring for its product and engineering teams and to expand in Indonesia and the Philippines.

#asia, #education, #erudifi, #finance, #fintech, #fundings-exits, #indonesia, #philippines, #singapore, #southeast-asia, #startups, #tc

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Duterte’s Forces Have a New Target: University Students

The government in the Philippines has announced a decision to end a 32-year agreement barring security forces from a prestigious campus. Students say they won’t be intimidated.

#academic-freedom, #colleges-and-universities, #demonstrations-protests-and-riots, #duterte-rodrigo, #philippines, #politics-and-government, #school-discipline-students, #security-and-warning-systems

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The Mouse That Survived a Volcanic Apocalypse

Much as small mammals outlived the dinosaur extinction, this rodent beat the odds when Pinatubo blew its top in the Philippines in 1991.

#conservation-of-resources, #endangered-and-extinct-species, #luzon-philippines, #mice, #philippines, #research, #rodents, #volcanoes, #your-feed-animals, #your-feed-science

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How Roblox’s creator accelerator helps the gaming giant build new platform opportunities

As Roblox eyes what could be a historic debut on public markets in the coming months, investors who have valued the company at $29.5 billion are certainly eyeing the gaming company’s dedicated and youthful user base, but it’s the 7 million active creators and developers on the Roblox platform that they are likely most impressed by. 

Since 2015, Roblox has been running an accelerator program focused on enabling the next generation of game developers to be successful on its platform. Over the years, the program has expanded from one annual class to now three, each with now around 40 developers participating. That means over 100 developers per year are working directly with Roblox to gain mentorship, education, and funding opportunities to get their games off the ground.  

As the company’s efforts on this front have grown more formalized, Roblox in 2018 hired a former Accelerator alumni Christian Hunter, a Roblox gamer since age 10 and game developer since 13, to run the program full-time. Having been through the experience himself, Hunter brought to the program an understanding of how the Accelerator could improve, based on a developer’s own perspective. 

However, the COVID-19 pandemic threw the company’s plans to run the program into disarray. Instead of being able to invite developers to spend three months participating in classes hosted at Roblox’s San Mateo office, the company had to revamp the program for remote participation. 

As it turned out, developers who were used to playing and building games taking place in virtual worlds quickly adjusted to the new online experience. 

“Before COVID, everyone was together. It was easier to talk to people. [Developers] could just walk up to someone that was on our product or engineering team if they were running into issues,” explains Roblox Senior Product Manager Rebecca Crose. “But obviously, with COVID-19, we had to switch and think differently.”  

The remote program, though differently structured, offered several benefits. Developers could join the program’s Discord server to talk to both current participants and previous classes, and reach out and ask questions. They could also participate in the Roblox company Slack to ask the team questions, and there were more playtests being scheduled to gain reactions and feedback from Roblox employees.

Meanwhile, to get to know one another when they couldn’t meet in person, developers would have game nights where they’d play each other’s games or others that were popular on Roblox, and bond within the virtual environment instead of in face-to-face meetings and classes. 

The actual Accelerator content, however, remained fairly consistent during the remote experience. Participants had weekly leaders standup, talks on topics like game design and production, and weekly feedback sessions where they asked Roblox engineers questions. 

But by its nature, a remote Accelerator broadend who could attend. Instead of limiting the program to only those who could travel to San Mateo and stay for three months, the program was opened up to a more global and diverse audience. This drove increased demand, too. 

The 2020 program saw Roblox receiving the largest number of applications ever — 5 times the usual number.

As a result, the class included participants from five countries: The Philippines, South Korea, Sweden, Canada, and the U.S. 

The developers at IndieBox Studios saw the program as a chance to double down on their game development side hustles. The young friends spread across the UK and Kentucky spent their time during the accelerator scaling up their photorealistic title called Tank Warfare.

“We’ve actually never once met in real life, like we’ve been friends for going on what nine years now,” Michael Southern tells TechCrunch. “We met on Roblox.”

IndieBox is representative of many of Roblox’s early developer teams, younger gamers that have spent more than a decade learning the ins and outs of the evolving Roblox gaming platform.

“We all joined Roblox way back in 2008,” IndieBox’s Frank Garrison says. “But we only started developing on the platform in 2019. And for us, the decision to choose Roblox was more down to like, well it’s what we know, why not give it a bash?” 

The demographics of the accelerator have been shifting in other ways as the developer base grows more diverse.

“I would say, in the beginning, it was mostly young males. But as we’ve watched the program evolve, we’ve been getting so many new interesting teams,” notes Program Manager Christian Hunter. 

The 2020 program had more women participants than ever, for example, with 12 in a class of 50. And one team was all women. 

The age of participants, who are typically in the 18 to 22 year-old range, also evolved. 

“We’ve seen a lot more older folks,” Hunter says. “With [the COVID-19 pandemic], we actually saw our first 50-year old in the program. We’ve never had anyone older than, I’d say, 24. And in 2020, we had 12 individuals over the age of 30,” he notes. 

Two of the teams were also a combination of a kid and a parent. 

Shannon Clemens learned about the Roblox platform from her son Nathan, learning to code and bringing her husband Jeff in to form a studio called Simple Games. Nathan’s two sisters help the studio part time, as well as his friend Adrian Holgate.

“Seeing [my son’s] experience on Roblox getting involved with the platform, I thought it would be neat to learn how to make our own games,” Shannon Clemens told TechCrunch.

Their title Gods of Glory has received more than 13.5 million visits from Roblox players since launching in September.

“Our whole family is kind of creatively bent towards having fun with games and coming up with things like that,” Jeff Clemens tells us. “Why would we not try this? So, that’s when we applied to the program and said, ‘well, we’ll try and see if we get accepted,’ and we did and it’s been awesome.”

In addition to the changes facilitated by a remote environment, Roblox notes there were other perks enabled by remote learning. For one thing, the developers didn’t have to wake up so early to benefit from the experience.  

“With it being remote, the developers were working their hours,” says Crose. “As a developer, we tend to work later and stay up at night. Having them come in at 9 AM sharp was very difficult. It was hard for them because they’re just like…a zombie. So we definitely saw that by letting them work their own hours, [there is] less burnout and they increase their productivity,” she says. 

Though the COVID-19 crisis may eventually end as the world gets vaccinated, the learnings from the Accelerator and the remote advantages it offers will continue. Developers from the program hope that the growth seen on gaming platforms like Roblox continues as well.

“The pandemic has been great for most game studios,” developer Gustav Linde tells TechCrunch. “Obviously, it’s a very weird time, but the timing was good for us.”

The Gang Stockholm, a Swedish game development studio co-founded by Linde, has been building branded experiences for clients exclusively on the Roblox platform. The team of 12 has used the accelerator to slow down development deadlines and dig into some unique areas of the platform.  

“If you look at Steam and the App Store and Google Play, those markets are extremely crowded, and Roblox is a very exciting platform for developers right now.” said Linde. “Roblox is also getting a lot of attention and a lot of big brands are interested in entering the platform.”

Roblox says that going forward, future Accelerator programs will feature a remote element inspired by the COVID experience. The company plans to continue to make its program globally available, with the limitation for now, of English-speaking participants. But it’s looking to expand to reach non-English speakers with future programs.

The fall 2020 Accelerator class graduated in December 2020, and the next Spring class will start in February 2021. The applications are being reviewed now with a decision to be finalized soon. The next class will have some 40 participants, as is now usual, and Roblox will again aim to diversify the group of participants.

#app-store, #canada, #computing, #game-developer, #gaming, #kentucky, #online-games, #philippines, #product-manager, #roblox, #software, #south-korea, #sweden, #tc, #united-kingdom, #united-states, #video-gaming

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Philippine Drug Raid Leaves 13 Dead

Officials said 12 suspects and a police officer were killed in the shootout, the bloodiest episode in years in President Rodrigo Duterte’s war on drugs.

#duterte-rodrigo, #maguindanao-philippines, #philippines, #police-brutality-misconduct-and-shootings

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Philippines Helicopter Crash Leaves 7 Soldiers Dead

The helicopter had been on a supply run to troops in a remote, mountainous region where a hunt for communist rebels was taking place, the military said.

#aviation-accidents-safety-and-disasters, #defense-and-military-forces, #new-peoples-army, #philippines

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Murders of Journalists Doubled in 2020

At least 30 journalists were killed this year, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists, with 21 slain as a direct result of their work.

#afghanistan, #committee-to-protect-journalists, #freedom-of-the-press, #mexico, #murders-attempted-murders-and-homicides, #news-and-news-media, #philippines, #syria

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A Brazen Police Shooting Caught on Video Sparks Anger in the Philippines

The video shows a police officer shooting a woman and her son after a dispute over a noisemaker. Some activists linked the killings to a culture of violence in which the police are allowed to act with impunity.

#duterte-rodrigo, #human-rights-and-human-rights-violations, #murders-attempted-murders-and-homicides, #philippines, #police-brutality-misconduct-and-shootings, #social-media

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Kenyan Planned 9/11-Style Attack After Training as Pilot, U.S. Says

An operative for the Qaeda branch in East Africa, known as Shabab, is accused of training as a pilot in the Philippines and researching how to hijack planes.

#airport-security, #al-qaeda, #hijacking, #manhattan-nyc, #philippines, #somalia, #terrorism, #united-states

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Court Finds Evidence of Crimes Against Humanity in the Philippines

The International Criminal Court has released its latest report on President Rodrigo Duterte’s bloody war on drugs.

#drug-abuse-and-traffic, #duterte-rodrigo, #human-rights-and-human-rights-violations, #international-criminal-court, #murders-attempted-murders-and-homicides, #philippines, #police, #war-crimes-genocide-and-crimes-against-humanity

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Bicycling Surges in Manila Amid Covid-19 Lockdowns

City dwellers around the world turned to bicycles as the pandemic forced urban areas to restrict public transit. In the crowded Philippine capital, that meant weaving through notoriously bad traffic.

#accidents-and-safety, #bicycles-and-bicycling, #coronavirus-2019-ncov, #manila-philippines, #philippines, #quarantine-life-and-culture, #roads-and-traffic, #transit-systems

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‘Within Seconds Everything Was Gone’: Devastating Floods Submerge the Philippines

Torrential rains and back-to-back typhoons have ripped through the country in the past two weeks, turning a once picturesque river into a sea of murky brown, killing dozens and setting off deadly landslides.

#duterte-rodrigo, #floods, #levees-and-dams, #philippines, #rescues, #typhoon-goni-2020, #typhoons, #weather

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Resellee wants to become the Pinduoduo of Southeast Asia

Launched in the Philippines, social commerce startup Resellee wants to recreate the success of Pinduoduo, one of China’s fastest-growing e-commerce companies, in Southeast Asia. A major part of Resellee’s business is grocery deliveries, including fresh produce, and it has struck partnerships with the government and farmers’ groups to meet demand during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The startup announced this week it has raised $1 million in seed funding from Mintech Enterprises and Hofan Capital to build its technology and expand into new countries. Resellee was co-founded last year by chief executive officer Marc Concio, former head of e-commerce at Voyager Innovations, parent company of PayMaya, one of the Philippines’ largest online payment services.

Concio told TechCrunch that there are currently about 40,000 resellers on Resellee’s platform, and each has an average of about 20 buyers. Resellee sellers typically make about P5,000, or US $100, a month.

Like Pinduoduo, India’s Meesho and other social commerce platforms, Reselllee does not require sellers to carry their own inventory. Instead, it maintains a network of suppliers, including manufacturers and farmers, and lists available products on a marketplace. Then sellers chose what they want to add to their stores, which they market to potential buyers through their social media networks.

Resellee offers a wide range of products, including electronics and fashion items, but it currently focuses on grocery deliveries and prepaid credit for mobile phones and online games, which are all in high demand because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Concio’s interest in social commerce was piqued after observing Pinduoduo’s astronomical growth in China, where it became the second-largest e-commerce company in the country less than five years after launching in 2015. Pinduoduo’s group buying model leverages users’ existing social networks, especially on WeChat, to pull together buyers for products at discounted prices, and has done well in smaller cities and rural areas.

“Resellee hopes to learn from this and be the Pinduoduo of Southeast Asia by pioneering social e-commerce and group buying in the Philippines, then expanding to Vietnam, Myanmar, Thailand and Cambodia, where social commerce has not started yet or is still in its early stage,” Concio said.

Social commerce is well-positioned to take off in the Philippines for several reasons, he added. One is the enormous amount of time spent of social media platforms there: four hours per day, versus two and a half hours in India, and two hours in China. The Philippines has one of the youngest median ages in Asia, around 23.5 years old, and that is the demographic most likely to use social commerce, Concio said.

Another reason is that many people want to start their own businesses, or need to make side income, especially during the pandemic, but have little access to working capital. Since Resellee’s sellers don’t need to carry their own inventory and can rely on the platform’s supply chain and logistics network, that means they can launch a store without spending any money. Most of the work they need to do is convincing people on their social media networks, like Facebook or Viber, to buy from their Resellee stores.

“We believe the same hypergrowth for social commerce will happen in the Philippines given all of the above, with Resellee pioneering both social e-commerce and group buying here,” Concio said.

Resellee’s competitors include some of the biggest e-commerce platforms in the region, like Lazada, Shopee and EZBuy, which have added social commerce features. Concio said one of Resellee’s advantages is its focus on helping sellers make money, and partnerships with farmers groups and the Philippine government. This includes a project to build an online platform that will aggregate supply information from farmer’s cooperatives across the country, and match them to Resellee’s sellers and buyers, eliminating middle men in the supply chain.

Resellee initially outsourced its logistics, but Concio said its deliveries were not prioritized by carriers, which led to customer complaints, especially for fresh produce. As a result, Resellee set up its own logistics arm, called Resellee Riders, in Metro Manila, where most of its grocery customers are. This enabled Resellee to launch next-day deliveries in the area this week (orders in other places are still carried out by third-party logistics providers).

While Resellee accepts online payments, including online wallets and bank cards, most buyers prefer to use its cash on delivery option. Sellers make money through commissions, which they can transfer to their online wallets or bank accounts. Resellee’s platform also gives them the option of using the funds to buy discounted mobile or gaming prepaid loads, or top-ups, which they can also offer in their stores. Along with fresh produce, prepaid loads are one of the key parts of Resellee’s business strategy. The platform guarantees the highest commissions and discounts for mobile prepaid loads from some of the Philippines’ top providers, including Smart, Sun and TalknText.

“The mobile prepaid market is a US $4 billion annual market versus total e-commerce in the Philippines of only US $2.3 billion,” Concio said. “This is one of our key strategies to own the mobile prepaid market, other than fruits and vegetables like Pinduoduo.”

#asia, #e-commerce, #fundings-exits, #online-groceries, #philippines, #resellee, #social-commerce, #southeast-asia, #startups, #tc

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How Some Skinks Lost Their Legs and Then Evolved New Ones

The lizards have complicated a rule of thumb that in evolution, once you lose a body part, you don’t regain it.

#evolution-biology, #philippines, #proceedings-of-the-royal-society-b-journal, #reptiles, #research, #your-feed-animals, #your-feed-science

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A Transfixed World Awaits What’s Next in America

As U.S. results trickled in, they were analyzed far and wide with the sort of blanket news coverage most often reserved for elections closer to home.

#australia, #biden-joseph-r-jr, #china, #japan, #philippines, #presidential-election-of-2020, #singapore, #south-korea, #trump-donald-j, #united-states-international-relations, #united-states-politics-and-government

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A Riveted World Waits to See What’s Next in America

As results trickled in, they were analyzed far and wide with the sort of blanket news coverage most often reserved for elections closer to home.

#australia, #biden-joseph-r-jr, #china, #japan, #philippines, #presidential-election-of-2020, #singapore, #south-korea, #trump-donald-j

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A Typhoon Spared the Philippine Capital. Will Manila Be So Lucky Next Time?

With climate change heightening the Philippines’ risk of natural disaster, the country is braced for the next catastrophe.

#abs-cbn-corp, #disasters-and-emergencies, #duterte-rodrigo, #global-warming, #luzon-philippines, #manila-philippines, #philippines, #typhoon-bopha-2012, #typhoon-haiyan-2013, #typhoon-mangkhut-2018, #typhoons

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Philippines Braces for Typhoon Goni, Likely to Be Year’s Strongest Storm

“We are forecasting widespread destruction,” an official said of the typhoon, which was expected to make landfall on Sunday.

#luzon-philippines, #philippines, #typhoons

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Outcry in Philippines Over General’s ‘Warning’ to Female Celebrities

Accusing a women’s rights group of ties to Communist rebels, the general told an actress she could be killed if she associated with the organization.

#defense-and-military-forces, #parlade-antonio, #philippines, #politics-and-government, #soberano-liza-1998, #threats-and-threatening-messages, #women-and-girls, #womens-rights

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‘The Real Facebook Oversight Board’ launches to counter Facebook’s ‘Oversight Board’

Today a group of academics, researchers and civil rights leaders go live on with ‘The Real Facebook Oversight Board’ which is designed to criticize and discuss the role of the platform in the upcoming US election. The group includes Facebook’s ex-head of election security, leaders of the #StopHateForProfit campaign and Roger McNamee, early Facebook investor. Facebook launched its own ‘Oversight Board’ last November to deal with thorny issues of content moderation, but Facebook has admitted it will not be overseeing any of Facebook’s content or activity during the course of the US election, and will only adjudicate on issues after the event.

The press conference for the launch is streamed live today, below:

Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg claimed last November that the Oversight Board was “an incredibly important undertaking” and would “prevent the concentration of too much decision-making within our teams” and promote “accountability and oversight”.

The move was seen as an acknowledgment of the difficulty of decision-making inside Facebook. Decisions on what controversial posts to remove fall on the shoulders of individual executives, hence why the Oversight Board will act like a ‘Supreme Court’ for content moderation.

However, the Oversight Board has admitted it will take up to three months to make a decision and will only make judgments about content that has been removed from the platform, not what stays up. 

Facebook has invested $130 million in this board and announced its first board members in May, including ex-prime minister of Denmark, Helle Thorning-Schmidt and the ex-editor-in-chief of the Guardian, Alan Rusbridger.

The activist-led ‘Real Facebook Oversight Board’ includes the ex-President of Estonia, Toomas Henrik Ilves, an outspoken critic of Facebook and Maria Ressa, the journalist currently facing imprisonment in the Philippines for cyberlibel.

Board members also include Shoshana Zuboff, author of Surveillance Capitalism, Derrick Johnson, president of the NAACP, Yael Eisenstat, former head of election integrity at Facebook, Rashad Robinson, president of Color of Change, and Jonathan Greenblatt, CEO of the Anti-Defamation League .

This issue of how Facebook moderates its content and allows its users to be targetted by campaigns has become ever more pressing as the US election looms closer. It’s already been revealed by Channel 4 News in the UK that 3.5 million Black Americans were profiled and categorized on Facebook, and other social media, as needing to be deterred from voting by the Trump campaign.

#anti-defamation-league, #articles, #author, #ceo, #computing, #denmark, #editor-in-chief, #estonia, #europe, #facebook, #facebook-oversight-board, #inside-facebook, #journalist, #maria-ressa, #mark-zuckerberg, #naacp, #oversight-board, #philippines, #president, #roger-mcnamee, #social-media, #software, #supreme-court, #surveillance-capitalism, #tc, #the-guardian, #trump, #united-kingdom, #united-states

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Duterte Lashes Out at Facebook After It Takes Down Fake Accounts

The Philippine leader, who harnessed the social network as he rose to power, is now making vague threats to shut it down.

#duterte-rodrigo, #facebook-inc, #philippines, #rumors-and-misinformation

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Philippines payment processing startup PayMongo lands $12 million Series A led by Stripe

Stripe has led a $12 million Series A round in Manila-based online payment platform PayMongo, the startup announced today.

PayMongo, which offers an online payments API for businesses in the Philippines, was the first Filipino-owned financial tech startup to take part in Y Combinator’s accelerator program. Y Combinator and Global Founders Capital, another previous investor, both returned for the Series A, which also included participation from new backer BedRock Capital.

PayMongo partners with financial institutions, and its products include a payments API that can be integrated into websites and apps, allowing them to accept payments from bank cards and digital wallets like GrabPay and GCash. For social commerce sellers and other people who sell mostly through messaging apps, the startup offers PayMongo Links, which buyers can click on to send money. PayMongo’s platform also includes features like a fraud and risk detection system.

In a statement, Stripe’s APAC business lead Noah Pepper said it invested in PayMongo because “we’ve been impressed with the PayMongo team and the speed at which they’ve made digital payments more accessible to so many businesses across the Philippines.”

The startup launched in June 2019 with $2.7 million in seed funding, which the founders said was one of the largest seed rounds ever raised by a Philippines-based fintech startup. PayMongo has now raised a total of almost $15 million in funding.

Co-founder and chief executive Francis Plaza said PayMongo has processed a total of almost $20 million in payments since launching, and grown at an average of 60% since the start of the year, with a surge after lockdowns began in March.

He added that the company originally planned to start raising its Series A in in the first half of next year, but the growth in demand for its services during COVID-19 prompted it to start the round earlier so it could hire for its product, design and engineering teams and speed up the release of new features. These will include more online payment options; features for invoicing and marketplaces; support for business models like subscriptions; and faster payout cycles.

PayMongo also plans to add more partnerships with financial service providers, improve its fraud and risk detection systems and secure more licenses from the central bank so it can start working on other types of financial products.

The startup is among fintech companies in Southeast Asia that have seen accelerated growth as the COVID-19 pandemic prompted many businesses to digitize more of their operations. Plaza said that overall digital transactions in the Philippines grew 42% between January and April because of the country’s lockdowns.

PayMongo is currently the only payments company in the Philippines with an onboarding process that was developed to be completely online, he added, which makes it attractive to merchants who are accepting online payments for the first time. “We have a more efficient review of compliance requirements for the expeditious approval of applications so that our merchants can use our platform right away and we make sure we have a fast payout to our merchants,” said Plaza.

If the momentum continues even as lockdowns are lifted in different cities, that means the Philippine’s central bank is on track to reach its goal of increasing the volume of e-payment transactions to 20% of total transactions in the country this year. The government began setting policies in 2015 to encourage more online payments, in a bid to bolster economic growth and financial inclusion, since smartphone penetration in the Philippines is high, but many people don’t have a traditional bank account, which often charge high fees.

Though lockdown restrictions in the Philippines have eased, Plaza said PayMongo is still seeing strong traction. “We believe the digital shift by Filipino businesses will continue, largely because both merchants and customers continue to practice safety measures such as staying at home and choosing online shopping despite the more lenient quarantine levels. Online will be the new normal for commerce.”

#asia, #financial-tech, #fintech, #fundings-exits, #online-payments, #paymongo, #philippines, #southeast-asia, #startups, #tc

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A Manila Barbershop’s Mirrors Reflect the Pain of the Pandemic

Seven months since the Philippines enacted its first lockdown, Jolog’s Barbershop exemplifies the toll the coronavirus has exacted on the country in lost lives, income and sense of community.

#barbers-and-barbering, #coronavirus-2019-ncov, #deaths-fatalities, #duterte-rodrigo, #manila-philippines, #philippines, #recession-and-depression

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Facebook Takes Down Fake Pages Created in China Aimed at Trump, Biden

The social media campaign was small but targeted all sides of the debate. Officials said Beijing had not decided whether to wade more directly in the American presidential race.

#biden-joseph-r-jr, #china, #cyberwarfare-and-defense, #espionage-and-intelligence-services, #facebook-inc, #philippines, #presidential-election-of-2020, #rumors-and-misinformation, #social-media, #trump-donald-j, #united-states-international-relations, #united-states-politics-and-government

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He Killed a Transgender Woman in the Philippines. Why Was He Freed?

The pardon of U.S. Marine Lance Cpl. Joseph Scott Pemberton by President Rodrigo Duterte is the final chapter in a case that reignited debate over old defense treaties.

#amnesties-commutations-and-pardons,