Maryland and Montana are restricting police access to DNA databases

Maryland and Montana have become the first U.S. states to pass laws that make it tougher for law enforcement to access DNA databases.

The new laws, which aim to safeguard the genetic privacy of millions of Americans, focus on consumer DNA databases, such as 23andMe, Ancestry, GEDmatch and FamilyTreeDNA, all of which let people upload their genetic information and use it to connect with distant relatives and trace their family tree. While popular — 23andMe has more than three million users, and GEDmatch more than one million — many are unaware that some of these platforms share genetic data with third parties, from the pharmaceutical industry and scientists to law enforcement agencies.

When used by law enforcement through a technique known as forensic genetic genealogy searching (FGGS), officers can upload DNA evidence found at a crime scene to make connections on possible suspects, the most famous example being the identification of the Golden State Killer in 2018. This saw investigators upload a DNA sample taken at the time of a 1980 murder linked to the serial killer into GEDmatch and subsequently identify distant relatives of the suspect — a critical breakthrough that led to the arrest of Joseph James DeAngelo.

While law enforcement agencies have seen success in using consumer DNA databases to aid with criminal investigations, privacy advocates have long warned of the dangers of these platforms. Not only can these DNA profiles help trace distant ancestors, but the vast troves of genetic data they hold can divulge a person’s propensity for various diseases, predict addiction and drug response, and even be used by companies to create images of what they think a person looks like.

Ancestry and 23andMe have kept their genetic databases closed to law enforcement without a warrant, GEDmatch (which was acquired by a crime scene DNA company in December 2019) and FamilyTreeDNA have previously shared their database with investigators. 

To ensure the genetic privacy of the accused and their relatives, Maryland will, starting October 1, require law enforcement to get a judge’s sign-off before using genetic genealogy, and will limit its use to serious crimes like murder, kidnapping, and human trafficking. It also says that investigators can only use databases that explicitly tell users that their information could be used to investigate crimes. 

In Montana, where the new rules are somewhat narrower, law enforcement would need a warrant before using a DNA database unless the users waived their rights to privacy.

The laws “demonstrate that people across the political spectrum find law enforcement use of consumer genetic data chilling, concerning and privacy-invasive,” said Natalie Ram, a law professor at the University of Maryland. “I hope to see more states embrace robust regulation of this law enforcement technique in the future.”

The introduction of these laws has also been roundly welcomed by privacy advocates, including the Electronic Frontier Foundation. Jennifer Lynch, surveillance litigation director at the EFF, described the restrictions as a “step in the right direction,” but called for more states — and the federal government — to crack down further on FGGS.

“Our genetic data is too sensitive and important to leave it up to the whims of private companies to protect it and the unbridled discretion of law enforcement to search it,” Lynch said.

“Companies like GEDmatch and FamilyTreeDNA have allowed and even encouraged law enforcement searches. Because of this, law enforcement officers are increasingly accessing these databases in criminal investigations across the country.”

A spokesperson for 23andMe told TechCrunch: “We fully support legislation that provides consumers with stronger privacy protections. In fact we are working on legislation in a number of states to increase consumer genetic privacy protections. Customer privacy and transparency are core principles that guide 23andMe’s approach to responding to legal requests and maintaining customer trust. We closely scrutinize all law enforcement and regulatory requests and we will only comply with court orders, subpoenas, search warrants or other requests that we determine are legally valid. To date we have not released any customer information to law enforcement.”

GEDmatch and FamilyTreeDNA, both of which opt users into law enforcement searches by default, told the New York Times that they have no plans to change their existing policies around user consent in response to the new regulation. 

Ancestry did not immediately comment.

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#23andme, #ancestry, #dna, #electronic-frontier-foundation, #federal-government, #gedmatch, #genetics, #health, #judge, #law-enforcement, #maryland, #montana, #privacy, #security, #the-new-york-times, #united-states

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Robinhood raises $1B after trading halts to keep its platform running

After a turbulent week for the stock market and halts to the trading of certain speculative securities including GameStop (GME) and AMC, consumer investing app Robinhood has raised new capital. The new funds total more than $1 billion, with the company telling TechCrunch that they were raised from its existing investor base.

The New York Times reports that the company raised the new equity capital after tapping its credit lines for $500 to $600 million; the company did not answer a question from TechCrunch regarding its credit lines.

The reported drawdown matches reporting from yesterday indicating that Robinhood had accessed nine-figures of capital to ensure it had enough funds on hand to meet regulatory minimums and other requirements related to its users’ trading activity.

Individual retail investors, along with institutional capital, have attacked short positions in some stocks in recent weeks, leading to a tug-of-war between bullish investors and bearish wagers; the resulting tumult led to surging volume for volatile stocks, leading to Robinhood needing more capital to keep its gears turning.

In a post discussing its decision yesterday to restrict trading on select securities, Robinhood wrote that it has “many financial requirements, including SEC net capital obligations and clearinghouse deposits,” adding that “some of these requirements fluctuate based on volatility in the markets and can be substantial in the current environment.”

The unicorn consumer fintech company halted trading in stocks like GameStop that had become the center of the trading storm yesterday, leading to frenetic accusations from incensed users that something nefarious was afoot. Later in the day the clearing house entity powering trading for other consumer trading services also halted service for a similar set of stocks.

Robinhood told users that it would allow trading to begin in some fashion today in shares it had previously restricted.

It does not appear that the current trading scrap will abate soon. Shares of GameStop, the most famous so-called “meme stock” in the current trading war, is up just under 94% this morning in pre-market trading, implying that many investors are willing to continue pushing its value higher in hopes of breaking short bets laid by other investors.

One result of the current climate is a boom in demand for trading apps. Today on the US iOS App Store, Robinhood is ranked first; Webull, a rival service is second; Reddit, a hub for trading gossip mostly via r/WallStreetBets is third; Coinbase a popular crypto trading service is fourth in line. Square’s Cash App, which allows for share purchases is ranked seventh, Fidelity’s iOS app comes in tenth place, and TD Ameritrade is 16th. Finally, E*Trade’s own app is ranked 18th. That’s a good showing for fintech, both startup and incumbent alike.

No one knows what comes next, how the trades play out, and if the present-day surge in retail interesting in stock trading will persist. What does seem clear, however, is that today is going to be very silly.

#apps, #coinbase, #economy, #etrade, #finance, #gamestop, #money, #robinhood, #startups, #tc, #td-ameritrade, #the-new-york-times, #u-s-securities-and-exchange-commission

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The New York Times launches an AR-enabled crossword on Instagram

The New York Times is bringing its signature crosswords game into augmented reality. The media company announced this morning it’s launching a new AR-enabled game, “Shattered Crosswords,” on Instagram, where players will be able to solve clues by finding spinning broken crossword pieces in AR. When the right vantage point is achieved, players will find the words hidden among the shards above the puzzle.

The concept is similar to those found in other 3D puzzlers, like Polysphere, for example, where you swipe to rotate broken pieces to see a complete picture. But in this case, The NYT has made the whole gaming experience appear in augmented reality, as well.

The new game was built using technology from Facebook’s Spark AR platform, the company says, and it’s the first time The NYT has created an AR gaming experience.

However, it’s not the first time The NYT has worked with AR technology.

This fall, The New York Times announced a multi-year collaboration with Facebook focused on publishing a series of AR-driven reporting on Instagram. The reports would use AR technology to tell stories in a more visual and interactive way. To support its new efforts, The NYT also launched its own AR Lab with a staff of over a dozen employees who would work alongside a dedicated newsroom team to develop the AR journalism content.

To date, the Lab has helped produce visual stories tied to the centennial of women’s suffrage, the science behind the effectiveness of face masks and coverage of the California wildfires.

The NYT had begun to experiment with AR in previous years, too, though not in partnership with Facebook. In 2018, for example, it announced it would begin using augmented reality to tell stories within its own native app for iOS and Android.

Before today, The NYT did feature “live solves” of its Crossword on social media platforms, including Twitter and Facebook, as a way to engage players on social media. But these were not standalone games or built with AR — they were viewing experiences.

That said, the new game itself may have limited appeal, beyond being an interesting demo of AR from The NYT. The puzzle is too small and simple to appeal to any serious crossword fans, and the process of finding clues in the shards requires gestures and movement, which can get frustrating after some time. It doesn’t move as smoothly as something like Polysphere, either, we found.

It’s not clear who would return to this sort of puzzle on a regular basis, compared with traditional mobile games or even the standard crossword puzzle.

The “Shattered Crosswords” game is available on the @NYTimes Instagram profile page under the “Effects” tab, alongside the company’s other AR reports. It works on both iOS and Android platforms.

#augmented-reality, #instagram, #media, #puzzles, #social-media, #spark-ar, #the-new-york-times

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FDA grants emergency use authorization for Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine, distribution to begin within days

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has granted an Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) for the COVID-19 vaccine developed by Pfizer and its partner BioNTech, the New York Times first reported on Friday night, and later supported by The Wall Street Journal. This EUA follows a recommendation by an independent panel of experts commissioned by the FDA to review Pfizer’s application and provide a recommendation, which the panel unanimously supported earlier this week.

Following this authorization, shipment of the vaccine are expected to begin immediately, with 2.9 million doses in the initial shipment order. Patients in the category of highly vulnerable individuals, which include healthcare workers and senior citizens in long-term care facilities, are expected to begin receiving doses within just a few days not was the EUA is granted.

This approval isn’t a full certification by the U.S. therapeutics regulator, but it is an emergency measure that still requires a comprehensive review of the available information supplied by Pfizer based on its Phase 3 clinical trial, which covered a group of 44,000 volunteer participants. Pfizer found that its vaccine, which is an mRNA-based treatment, was 95% effective in its final analysis of the data resulting form the trial to date – and also found that safety data indicated no significant safety issues in patients who received the vaccine.

On top of the initial 2.9 million dose order, the U.S. intends to distribute around 25 million doses by the end of 2020, which could result in far fewer people actually vaccinated since the Pfizer course requires two innoculations for maximum efficacy. Most American shouldn’t expect the vaccine to be available until at least late Q1 or Q2 2021, given the pace of Pfizer’s production and the U.S. order volume.

Still, this is a promising first step, and a monumental achievement in terms of vaccine development turnaround time, since it’s been roughly eight months since work began on the Pfizer vaccine candidate. Moderna has also submitted an EUA for its vaccine candidate, which is also an mRNA treatment (which provides instructions to a person’s cells to produce effective countermeasures to the virus). That could follow shortly, meaning two vaccines might be available under EUA within the U.S. before the end of the year.

#biontech, #biotech, #covid-19, #health, #medical-research, #medicine, #moderna, #pfizer, #science, #tc, #the-new-york-times, #the-wall-street-journal, #united-states, #vaccine

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TikTok takes down election misinformation aimed at younger users

TikTok confirmed today it has taken down videos spreading election misinformation that had been posted to two high-profile Republican-supporting accounts, The Republican Hype House and The Republican Boys. The accounts, popular with young, conservative voters, reach more than a million followers combined, and have the potential to reach even more users who would find their videos through other means — such as hashtags, shares or algorithmic recommendations.

The videos, which had made claims of “election fraud,” were first spotted by Taylor Lorenz, a reporter for The New York Times.

Though TikTok had committed to addressing election misinformation on its network, it was initially unclear to what extent it would challenge video content in cases such as this. However, the company reacted fairly quickly in taking down the disputed videos, as it turned out. It responded to Lorenz’s tweet in less than an hour’s time to confirm the content’s removal.

Reached for comment, TikTok also confirmed to TechCrunch it removed the videos in question for violating its policies against misleading information, but didn’t share any further comment on the decision.

This is not the first time The Republican Hype House has been penalized by TikTok for spreading political misinformation. In August, Media Matters noted it, along with another conservative TikTok account, had published a deceptively edited clip of Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden. Previously, the TikTok account had also been involved in spreading a conspiracy theory related to the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement.

As TechCrunch earlier reported, the close U.S. election results have plunged social media platforms into a battle against misinformation and conspiracies. On platforms like Facebook, Twitter and now TikTok, misinformation can go viral quickly, reaching hundreds, thousands or even millions of users before the platforms react.

Today, Twitter has already hidden behind warning labels multiple tweets from President Trump, due to its policies regarding election-related misinformation, for example. Facebook has labeled Trump’s posts, as well, and displayed in-app notifications to remind users the election results weren’t yet final as votes were still being counted.

Image Credits: Screenshot of a banned video on TikTok, courtesy of Media Matters

Less attention has been given to TikTok, however, despite its power to reach around 100 million monthly active U.S. users of a largely younger demographic, who collectively post some 46 million videos daily.

The U.S. elections have been one of the first big tests of TikTok’s ability to quickly enforce its misinformation policies.

Of note, TikTok’s future in the U.S. may also hinge on whether Trump — who banned the Chinese-owned video app citing national security concerns — continues to remain in power when all the votes are counted.

#2020-election, #apps, #bytedance, #culture, #internet-culture, #joe-biden, #misinformation, #mobile-applications, #president, #social-media-platforms, #the-new-york-times, #tiktok, #trump, #united-states

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Google Maps gets a COVID-19 layer

Google today announced an update to Google Maps that will bring a new COVID-19 layer to the service to help you better understand the number of cases in a given area. With the pandemic continuing to spread in many countries — and ahead of what many fear will be a second wave — Google Maps users can now enable this feature and see a color-coded map based on the number of cases per 100,000 people, as well as labels that indicate whether numbers are trending up or down.

Image Credits: Google

This data will be available for all the 220 countries and territories that Google Maps currently supports. Where possible, the data is granular down to the city level, but that obviously depends on the numbers Google is able to pull in.

Google says the data comes from a number of sources, including Johns Hopkins, The New York Times and Wikipedia, which get their their information from local and intergovernmental government organizations. That’s the same sources Google pulls from when it displays COVID data on its search results pages.

This new layer is now rolling out for Google Maps on Android and iOS this week, so it may take a few days before you’ll be able to see it. It doesn’t look like Google plans to bring it Maps on desktop any time soon, though.

#companies, #computing, #google, #google-search, #google-maps, #software, #tc, #the-new-york-times

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Facebook launches a climate change information center and commits to eliminating ‘scope 3’ emissions by 2030

Even as Facebook, the world’s largest social media platform, admits that climate change “is real” and that “the science is unambiguous and the need to act grows more urgent by the day” the platform appears unwilling to take steps to really stand up to the climate change denialism that circulates on its platform. 

The company is set to achieve net zero carbon emissions and be supported fully by renewable energy in its own operations this year.

But as the corporate world slaps a fresh coat of green paint on its business practices, Facebook is looking to get out in front with the launch of a Climate Science Information Center to “connect people with science-based information”.

The company is announcing a new information center, designed after its COVID-19 pandemic response. The center is designed to connect people to factual and up-to-date climate information, according to the company. So far, Facebook says that over 2 billion people have been directed to resources from health authorities with its COVID-19 response.

The company said that it will use The Climate Science Information Center to feature facts, figures, and data from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and their global network of climate science partners, including the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), World Meteorological Organization (WMO) and others. This center is launching in France, Germany, the UK and the US to start. 

While Facebook has been relatively diligent in taking down COVID-19 misinformation that circulates on the platform, removing 7 million posts and labeling another 98 million more for distributing coronavirus misinformation, the company has been accused of being far more sanguine when it comes to climate change propaganda and pseudoscience.

A July article from The New York Times revealed how climate change deniers use the editorial label to skirt Facebook’s policies around climate disinformation. In September 2019 a group called the CO2 Coalition managed to overturn a fact-check that would have labeled a post as misinformation by appealing to Facebook’s often criticized stance on providing and amplifying different opinions. By calling an editorial that contained blatant misinformation on climate science an editorial, the group was able to avoid the types of labels that would have redirected a Facebook user to information from recognized scientific organizations.  

Facebook disputes that characterization. “If it’s labeled an opinion piece, it’s subject to fact checking,” said Chris Cox, the chief product officer at Facebook.

“We look at the stuff that starts to go viral. There’s not a part of our policies that says anything about opinion pieces being exempted at all.”

With much of the Western coast of the United States now on fire, the issues are no longer academic. “We are taking important steps to reduce our emissions and arm our global community with science-based information to make informed decisions and tools to take action, and we hope they demonstrate that Facebook is committed to playing its part and helping to inspire real action in our community,” the company said in a statement.

Beyond its own operations, the company is also pushing to reduce operational greenhouse gases in its secondary supply chain by 75 percent and intends to reach net zero emissions for its value chain — including suppliers and employee commuting and business travel — by 2030, the company said. Facebook did not disclose how much money it would be investing to support that initiative.

#articles, #business-travel, #chris-cox, #climate-change, #facebook, #france, #germany, #national-oceanic-and-atmospheric-administration, #renewable-energy, #social-media, #tc, #the-new-york-times, #united-kingdom, #united-states

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Microsoft launches a deepfake detector tool ahead of US election

Microsoft has added to the slowly growing pile of technologies aimed at spotting synthetic media (aka deepfakes) with the launch of a tool for analyzing videos and still photos to generate a manipulation score.

The tool, called Video Authenticator, provides what Microsoft calls “a percentage chance, or confidence score” that the media has been artificially manipulated.

“In the case of a video, it can provide this percentage in real-time on each frame as the video plays,” it writes in a blog post announcing the tech. “It works by detecting the blending boundary of the deepfake and subtle fading or greyscale elements that might not be detectable by the human eye.”

If a piece of online content looks real but ‘smells’ wrong chances are it’s a high tech manipulation trying to pass as real — perhaps with a malicious intent to misinform people.

And while plenty of deepfakes are created with a very different intent — to be funny or entertaining — taken out of context such synthetic media can still take on a life of its own as it spreads, meaning it can also end up tricking unsuspecting viewers.

While AI tech is used to generate realistic deepfakes, identifying visual disinformation using technology is still a hard problem — and a critically thinking mind remains the best tool for spotting high tech BS.

Nonetheless, technologists continue to work on deepfake spotters — including this latest offering from Microsoft.

Although its blog post warns the tech may offer only passing utility in the AI-fuelled disinformation arms race: “The fact that [deepfakes are] generated by AI that can continue to learn makes it inevitable that they will beat conventional detection technology. However, in the short run, such as the upcoming U.S. election, advanced detection technologies can be a useful tool to help discerning users identify deepfakes.”

This summer a competition kicked off by Facebook to develop a deepfake detector served up results that were better than guessing — but only just in the case of a data-set the researchers hadn’t had prior access to.

Microsoft, meanwhile, says its Video Authenticator tool was created using a public dataset from Face Forensic++ and tested on the DeepFake Detection Challenge Dataset, which it notes are “both leading models for training and testing deepfake detection technologies”.

It’s partnering with the San Francisco-based AI Foundation to make the tool available to organizations involved in the democratic process this year — including news outlets and political campaigns.

“Video Authenticator will initially be available only through RD2020 [Reality Defender 2020], which will guide organizations through the limitations and ethical considerations inherent in any deepfake detection technology. Campaigns and journalists interested in learning more can contact RD2020 here,” Microsoft adds.

The tool has been developed by its R&D division, Microsoft Research, in coordination with its Responsible AI team and an internal advisory body on AI, Ethics and Effects in Engineering and Research Committee — as part of a wider program Microsoft is running aimed at defending democracy from threats posed by disinformation.

“We expect that methods for generating synthetic media will continue to grow in sophistication,” it continues. “As all AI detection methods have rates of failure, we have to understand and be ready to respond to deepfakes that slip through detection methods. Thus, in the longer term, we must seek stronger methods for maintaining and certifying the authenticity of news articles and other media. There are few tools today to help assure readers that the media they’re seeing online came from a trusted source and that it wasn’t altered.”

On the latter front, Microsoft has also announced a system that will enable content producers to add digital hashes and certificates to media that remain in their metadata as the content travels online — providing a reference point for authenticity.

The second component of the system is a reader tool, which can be deployed as a browser extension, for checking certificates and matching the hashes to offer the viewer what Microsoft calls “a high degree of accuracy” that a particular piece of content is authentic/hasn’t been changed.

The certification will also provide the viewer with details about who produced the media.

Microsoft is hoping this digital watermarking authenticity system will end up underpinning a Trusted News Initiative announced last year by UK publicly funded broadcaster, the BBC — specifically for a verification component, called Project Origin, which is led by a coalition of the BBC, CBC/Radio-Canada, Microsoft and The New York Times.

It says the digital watermarking tech will be tested by Project Origin with the aim of developing it into a standard that can be adopted broadly.

“The Trusted News Initiative, which includes a range of publishers and social media companies, has also agreed to engage with this technology. In the months ahead, we hope to broaden work in this area to even more technology companies, news publishers and social media companies,” Microsoft adds.

While work on technologies to identify deepfakes continues, its blog post also emphasizes the importance of media literacy — flagging a partnership with the University of Washington, Sensity and USA Today aimed at boosting critical thinking ahead of the US election.

This partnership has launched a Spot the Deepfake Quiz for voters in the US to “learn about synthetic media, develop critical media literacy skills and gain awareness of the impact of synthetic media on democracy”, as it puts it.

The interactive quiz will be distributed across web and social media properties owned by USA Today, Microsoft and the University of Washington and through social media advertising, per the blog post.

The tech giant also notes that it’s supporting a public service announcement (PSA) campaign in the US encouraging people to take a “reflective pause” and check to make sure information comes from a reputable news organization before they share or promote it on social media ahead of the upcoming election.

“The PSA campaign will help people better understand the harm misinformation and disinformation have on our democracy and the importance of taking the time to identify, share and consume reliable information. The ads will run across radio stations in the United States in September and October,” it adds.

#artificial-intelligence, #canada, #computer-graphics, #deep-learning, #deepfakes, #disinformation, #election-interference, #facebook, #media, #media-literacy, #microsoft-research, #online-content, #san-francisco, #science-and-technology, #social-media, #special-effects, #synthetic-media, #the-new-york-times, #united-kingdom, #united-states, #university-of-washington, #usa-today

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Apple goes to war with the gaming industry

Most gamers may not view Apple as a games company to the same degree that they see Sony with PlayStation or Microsoft with Xbox, but the iPhone-maker continues to uniformly drive the industry with decisions made in the Apple App Store.

The company made the news a couple times late this week for App Store approvals. Once for denying a gaming app, and the other for approving one.

The denial was Microsoft’s xCloud gaming app, something the Xbox folks weren’t too psyched about. Microsoft xCloud is one of the Xbox’s most substantial software platform plays in quite some time, allowing gamers to live-stream titles from the cloud and play console-quality games across a number of devices. It’s a huge effort that’s been in preview for a bit, but is likely going to officially launch next month. The app had been in a Testflight preview for iOS, but as Microsoft looked to push it to primetime, Apple said not so fast.

The app that was approved was the Facebook Gaming app which Facebook has been trying to shove through the App Store for months to no avail. It was at last approved Friday after the company stripped one of its two central features, a library of playable mobile games. In a curt statement to The New York Times, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg said, “Unfortunately, we had to remove gameplay functionality entirely in order to get Apple’s approval on the stand-alone Facebook Gaming app.”

Microsoft’s Xbox team also took the unusually aggressive step of calling out Apple in a statement that reads, in-part, “Apple stands alone as the only general purpose platform to deny consumers from cloud gaming and game subscription services like Xbox Game Pass. And it consistently treats gaming apps differently, applying more lenient rules to non-gaming apps even when they include interactive content.”

Microsoft is still a $1.61 trillion company so don’t think I’m busting out the violin for them, but iOS is the world’s largest gaming platform, something CEO Tim Cook proudly proclaimed when the company launched its own game subscription platform, Apple Arcade, last year. Apple likes to play at its own pace, and all of these game-streaming platforms popping up at the same time seem poised to overwhelm them.

Image Credits: Microsoft

There are a few things about cloud gaming apps that seem at odds with some of the App Store’s rules, yet these rules are, of course, just guidelines written by Apple.  For Apple’s part, they basically said (full statement later) that the App Store had curators for a reason and that approving apps like these means they can’t individually review the apps which compromises the App Store experience.

To say that’s “the reason” seems disingenuous because the company has long approved platforms to operate on the App Store without stamping approval on the individual pieces of content that can be accessed. With “Games” representing the App Store’s most popular category, Apple likely cares much more about keeping their own money straight.

Analysis from CNBC pinned Apple’s 2019 App Store total revenue at $50 billion.

When these cloud gaming platforms like xCloud scale with zero iOS support, millions of Apple customers, myself included, are actually going to be pissed that their iPhone can’t do something that their friend’s phone can. Playing console-class titles on the iPhone would be a substantial feature upgrade for consumers. There are about 90 million Xbox Live users out there, a substantial number of which are iPhone owners I would imagine. The games industry is steadily rallying around game subscription networks and cloud gaming as a move to encourage consumers to sample more titles and discover more indie hits.

I’ve seen enough of these sagas to realize that sometimes parties will kick off these fights purely as a tactic to get their way in negotiations and avoid workarounds, but it’s a tactic that really only works when consumers have a reason to care. Most of the bigger App Store developer spats have played in the background and come to light later, but at this point the Xbox team undoubtedly sees that Apple isn’t positioned all that well to wage an App Store war in the midst of increased antitrust attention over a cause that seems wholly focused on maintaining their edge in monetizing the games consumers play on Apple screens.

CEO Tim Cook spent an awful lot of time in his Congressional Zoom room answering question about perceived anticompetitiveness on the company’s application storefront.

The big point of tension I could see happening behind closed doors is that plenty of these titles offer in-game transactions and just because that in-app purchase framework is being live-streamed from a cloud computer doesn’t mean that a user isn’t still using experiencing that content on an Apple device. I’m not sure whether this is actually the point of contention, but it seems like it would be a major threat to Apple’s ecosystem-wide in-app purchase raking.

The App Store does not currently support cloud gaming on Nvidia’s GeForce platform or Google’s Stadia which are also both available on Android phones. Both of these platforms are more limited in scope than Microsoft’s offering which is expected to launch with wider support and pick up wider adoption.

While I can understand Apple’s desire to not have gaming titles ship that might not function properly on an iPhone because of system constraints, that argument doesn’t apply so well to the cloud gaming world where apps are translating button presses to the cloud and the cloud is sending them back the next engine-rendered frames of their game. Apple is being forced to get pretty particular about what media types of apps fall under the “reader” designation. The inherent interactivity of a cloud gaming platform seems to be the differentiation Apple is pushing here — as well as the interfaces that allows gamers to directly launch titles with an interface that’s far more specialized than some generic remote desktop app.

All of these platforms arrive after the company already launched Apple Arcade, a non-cloud gaming product made in the image of what Apple would like to think are the values it fosters in the gaming world: family friendly indie titles with no intrusive ads, no bothersome micro-transactions and Apple’s watchful review.

Apple’s driver’s seat position in the gaming world has been far from a wholly positive influence for the industry. Apple has acted as a gatekeeper, but the fact is plenty of the “innovations” pushed through as a result of App Store policies have been great for Apple but questionable for the development of a gamer-friendly games industry.

Apple facilitated the advent of free-to-play games by pushing in-app purchases which have been abused recklessly over the years as studios have been irresistibly pushed to structure their titles around principles of addiction. Mobile gaming has been one of the more insane areas of Wild West startup growth over the past decade and Apple’s mechanics for fueling quick transactions inside these titles has moved fast and broken things.

Take a look at the 200 top grossing games in the App Store (data via Sensor Tower) and you’ll see that all 199 of them rely solely on in-app micro-transaction to reach that status — Microsoft’s Minecraft, ranked 50th costs $6.99 to download, though it also offers in-app purchases.

In 2013, the company settled a class-action lawsuit that kicked off after parents sued Apple for making it too easy for kids to make in-app purchases. In 2014, Apple settled a case with the FTC over the same mechanism for $32 million. This year, a lawsuit filed against Apple questioned the legality of “loot box” in-app purchases which gave gamers randomized digital awards.

“Through the games it sells and offers for free to consumers through its AppStore, Apple engages in predatory practices enticing consumers, including children to engage in gambling and similar addictive conduct in violation of this and other laws designed to protect consumers and to prohibit such practices,” read that most recent lawsuit filing.

This is, of course, not how Apple sees its role in the gaming industry. In a statement to Business Insider responding to the company’s denial of Microsoft’s xCloud, Apple laid out its messaging.

The App Store was created to be a safe and trusted place for customers to discover and download apps, and a great business opportunity for all developers. Before they go on our store, all apps are reviewed against the same set of guidelines that are intended to protect customers and provide a fair and level playing field to developers.

Our customers enjoy great apps and games from millions of developers, and gaming services can absolutely launch on the App Store as long as they follow the same set of guidelines applicable to all developers, including submitting games individually for review, and appearing in charts and search. In addition to the App Store, developers can choose to reach all iPhone and iPad users over the web through Safari and other browsers on the App Store.

The impact has — quite obviously — not been uniformly negative, but Apple has played fast and loose with industry changes when they benefit the mothership. I won’t act like plenty of Sony and Microsoft’s actions over the years haven’t offered similar affronts to gamers, but Apple exercises the industry-wide sway it holds, operating the world’s largest gaming platform, too often and gamers should be cautious in trusting the App Store owner to make decisions that have their best interests at heart.


If you’re reading this on the TechCrunch site, you can get more of my weekly opinions and notes on the news by subscribing to Week in Review here, and following my tweets here.

#android, #app-store, #apple, #apple-app-store, #apple-arcade, #apple-inc, #ceo, #computing, #coo, #driver, #federal-trade-commission, #gaming, #geforce, #ios, #ipad, #iphone, #itunes, #microsoft, #mobile-app, #nvidia, #sensor-tower, #sheryl-sandberg, #smartphones, #software, #sony, #tc, #the-new-york-times, #tim-cook, #xcloud

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Data from Dutch public broadcaster shows the value of ditching creepy ads

For anyone interested in the contested question of how much ‘value’ — or, well, how little — publishers derive from the privacy-hostile practice of tracking web users to behaviorally target them with ads, pro-privacy browser Brave has published some interesting data, obtained (with permission) from the Netherland’s public broadcaster, NPO.

The data shows the NPO grew ad revenue after ditching trackers to target ads in the first half of this year — and did so despite the coronavirus pandemic landing in March and dealing a heavy blow to digital advertising globally (contributing, for example, to Twitter reporting Q2 ad revenues down nearly a quarter).

The context here is that in January the broadcaster switched to serving contextual ads across its various websites, where it has an online video audience of 7.1M per month, and display reach of 5.8M per month.

Brave has just published an analysis of six months’ worth of data which shows NPO’s ad revenue increased every month over this period. Year-over-year increases after the broadcaster unplugged the usual morass of background adtech that makes surveillance capitalism ‘function’ are as follows:

  • January: 62%; February 79%; March 27%; April 9%; May 17%; June 17%;

Earlier this month Brave published five months’ worth of the NPO ad revenue data. So this is actually an update on an earlier blog post on the topic. The updated figures from Ster, the NPO’s ad sales house, slightly amend the earlier amounts, revising the reported figures further upwards. So, in short, non-tracking ad revenue bump has been sustained for half a year. Even amid a pandemic.

Now the idea that switching from behavioral to contextual targeting can lead to revenue growth is not a narrative you’ll hear from the ad tracking industry and its big tech backers. Aka the platform giants whose grip on the Internet’s attention economy and the digital infrastructure used for buying and selling targeted ads has helped them to huge profits over the past half decade or so (even as publisher revenues have largely stagnated or declined during this boom period for digital ad spending).

The adtech industry prefers to chainlink tracking and targeting to ad revenue — claiming publisher revenues would tank if content producers were forced to abandon their reader surveillance systems. (Here’s Google’s VP of ad platforms, last year, telling AdExchanger that the impact of tracker blocking on publishers’ programmatic ad revenues could cut CPMs in half, for example.)

Yet it’s not the first time there’s been a report of (surprise!) publisher uplift after ditching ad trackers.

Last year Digiday reported that the New York Times saw its ad revenue rise in Europe after it switched off creepy ads ahead of a major regional regulatory update, shifting over to contextual and geographical targeting.

The NYT does have a certain level of brand cache which not every publisher can claim. Hence the tracking industry counterclaims that its experience isn’t one that can be widely replicated by publishers. So the NPO data is additionally interesting in that it shows revenue uplift for a public broadcaster even across websites that aren’t dominant in their particular category, per Brave’s analysis.

Here’s its chief policy & industry relations officer, Dr Johnny Ryan, who writes:

NPO and its sales house, Ster, invested in contextual targeting and testing, and produced vast sales increases even with sites that do not appear to dominate their categories. This may be a tribute to Ster’s ability to sell inventory across NPO’s media group as a collective, but this benefit would have applied in 2019 and does not account for the revenue jump in 2020. A publisher does not therefore need to have market dominance to abandon 3rd party tracking and reproduce NPO’s vast revenue increase.

And here’s Ryan’s take on why “legitimate” (i.e. non junk/clickbait) publishers of all sizes should be able to follow the NPO’s example:

Although it is a national broadcast group, NPO websites do not dominate the web traffic rankings in the Netherlands. Only one of NPO’s properties (Nos.nl) ranks in the top 5 in its category in the Netherlands, according to Similar Web. None of the other NPO properties are in the Netherland’s top 100. The other NPO websites for which Similar Web provides a traffic rank estimation (versus other websites in the Netherlands) range from 180th to 5,040th most popular in the Netherlands. NPO properties’ popularity or market position in each content category are not correlated with increases in impressions sold. Country site rank, category site rank, and numbers of page views, vary widely between the properties, whereas the increases in impression sold are all above 83%, with one explicable exception [due to technical difficulties over the tracked period which prevented ads being served against one of its most popular programs].

Brave has its own commercial iron in the fire here, of course, given its approach to monetizing user eyeballs aligns with an anti-tracking marketplace ethos. But that hardly takes away from the NPO’s experience of — surprise! — revenue growth from ditching creepy ads.

Joost Negenman, NPO’s privacy officer, told TechCrunch they had certainly not expected to see ad revenue uplift from making the switch. The decision to move to contextual ads was made mid last year, as a result of the public broadcaster becoming “convinced” the programmatic targeting ad system it was using wasn’t compatible with its “public task”, as he tells it.

“We expected a rather dramatic drop in revenue,” says Negenman, noting that at that time the NPO was only getting a consent rate from users of around 10% for the ad cookies Ster needed for its programmatic ad system — down from 75%+ prior to GDPR (“probably” because its Cookie Consent Module at the time had been based on “implicit instead of explicit consent”; whereas GDPR mandates for consent to be legally valid it must be specific, informed and freely given).

“We also expected a drop because advertisers could completely ignore us when NPO and Ster turned away from this market adtech standard together, at a time when there was no sophisticated alternative in place,” he continues. “This fortunate misjudgment on our side was also fuelled by the strong belief (and preaches) in programmatic ad-solutions by online marketeers and companies.”

Negenman attributes the surprise revenue bounty from selling contextual ads to a couple of factors: Namely the “A-brand” pull of NPO and its affiliate broadcasters, meaning advertisers still wanted to be able to reach their users. And, well, to having the pro-privacy zeitgeist on its side.

“We’re all aware of the growing scrutiny on the adtech business, no explanation needed!” he says.

It’s worth noting the NPO’s switch to contextual ads did require some investment to pull off. The publisher shelled out for technology to enable contextual targeting across its web properties — such as building out descriptive metadata to enable more granular contextual targeting on video content. And the level of investment required to achieve similarly sophisticated contextual ad targeting might not be available to every publisher.

Yet the sustained revenue bump NPO experienced post-switch means it very quickly earned back what it spent — so for publishers that can afford to invest up front in transitioning away from tracking it looks like a very compelling case study.

“It paid for itself within a month or so!” confirms Negenman. “Considering all the money Ster didn’t have to share with Google and other in-betweens. From 1 advertisement Euro, 1 Euro goes to Ster!”

Though he also notes the broadcaster was helped by Dutch law placing an obligation on it to have subtitles for over 90% of its assets — meaning some of the leg work to build out contextual targeting had already been done.

“Subtitles data of course provides valuable descriptive metadata. So those tools where already in place,” he says. “But beside subtitles — that are nowadays easier to automate — standard program information like (sub)genre, titles of actors are of great value as well to add context on a video asset.”

Brave’s Ryan posits that the role of NPO’s sales house is also important to its success with contextual ads. “Smaller publishers may benefit from engaging with reputable sales houses that can aggregate supply as Ster does for NPO’s various properties,” he suggests. “Publishers of all sizes will benefit according to their reputations — unless advertisers and agencies purchase from sales houses with poor reputations.”

Asked whether he believes the switch would work for all publishers, Negenman does not go that far. “For all A-brands I definitely see this approach working, also news outlets have the perfect (meta)data needed to feed such a system,” he says, arguing there’s a place in the market for both contextual and targeted ads.

“Not all online advertising is the same,” he argues. “A shoe annoyingly following you online is something other than creating (A-)brand awareness. Perhaps the contextual system can start by creating privacy friendly ‘lagoons’ where a person is not tracked or followed by a shoe. There the system gets time to prove its worth in revenue and respect for its audience.”

“For other public broadcasters I believe they have more or less an (moral) obligation to at least start testing contextual ads,” he adds. “The adtech system’s use of personal and behavioral data has become so un-explainable that the GDPR information obligation is almost impossible to meet.”

As we’ve said before, the evidence of viable alternatives to privacy-torching surveillance capitalism is stacking up — even as harms linked to adtech platforms’ exploitation of people’s information keep piling up.

And while contextual ads may not sum to a revenue boom for every type of publisher, the notion that it’s tracking or nothing is clearly bogus.

(You could also make a pretty compelling case that abusive exploitation of people’s data that sustains low grade publishing is not at all a net societal good and so supporting a system that supports bottom feeding clickbait (and massive levels of ad fraud) is simply bad for everyone — well, other than the bottom feeders… )

Ryan goes so far as to call conventional adtech “a cancer eating at the heart of legitimate publishers”. And having worked inside the beast he’s castigating, via an earlier stint at anti-ad-blocking adtech company called PageFair, his critique is all the more hard hitting.

He’s used his insider knowledge to file a number of complaints with European regulators — most notably against the real-time bidding (RTB) practice programmatic advertising can rely on, drawing in vast quantities of Internet users’ personal information and scattershotting it back out again.

He contends this high velocity trading of personal data can’t possibly be compliant with Europe’s data protection framework — which, conversely, mandates that people’s information be securely handled, not spread around like confetti. (Though he believes RTB can work fine if you strip out personal data and only use it for contextual ads.)

European data protection regulators agree there’s a ‘lawfulness’ problem with current adtech practices. But have so far sat on their hands rather than taking enforcement action, given how widespread the problem is.

(Interestingly, Negenman says the NPO investigated continuing using programmatic RTB but with personal data stripped out. Though, in the event, he says this idea never got past the production stage. “Personally I can imagine a compliant combination,” he notes, adding: “Most importantly, the personal data must not leave the trusted data partner [and be shared with] the advertisers.”)

Turning a tanker clearly takes time. But the more publishers that see not pushing creepy ads on their users as an opportunity to experiment with alternatives, the more chance there will be for the market to shift wholesale for privacy — a shift that can be a huge win for publishers and users alike, as the NPO experience illustrates. 

Competition regulators, meanwhile, are closing in on big (ad)tech’s market power — and the conflicts of interest that arise from the “vertically integrated chain of intermediaries” which work to funnel the lion’s share of digital ad spend into platform coffers. So it’s not hard to conceive of an intervention to force market reform by breaking up Google’s business empire — to separate the ‘ad’ bits from its other ‘tech’.

The self-interested forces that underpin surveillance capitalism made their fortunes when no one was really looking at how their methods exploit people’s data. Now, with many more eyes trained on them, they are operating on borrowed time. It’s no longer a question of whether change is coming. The sands are shifting, with platforms themselves now moving to limit access to third party tracking cookies.

Savvy publishers would do well to get out ahead of the next round of platform power moves — and skate to where the puck’s headed.

#adtech, #advertising-tech, #brave, #digital-advertising, #digital-marketing, #europe, #gdpr, #google, #johnny-ryan, #marketing, #media, #netherlands, #online-advertising, #privacy, #real-time-bidding, #rtb, #targeted-advertising, #tc, #the-new-york-times

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Magic Leap has a new chief executive and it’s former Microsoft exec Peggy Johnson

Peggy Johnson, the former executive vice president of business development at Microsoft, has been named as the new chief executive of Magic Leap, the company said in a statement.

Johnson, who will begin her new role on August 1, 2020, comes to Magic Leap after a thirty year career in the technology industry.

It’s been a tumultuous 2020 for Magic Leap. Struggling to survive amid a cash crunch and facing bankruptcy, the company laid off most of its staff in April and was casting around for a white knight investor to come in and keep the company afloat. While the Paradise, Fla.-based company found the $375 million in funding it needed, according to The New York Times, that investment came at the price of Rony Abovitz’s position as chief executive.

Abovitz, whose vision for the future of spatial computing managed to rake in over a billion dollars in funding, was a consummate hype man whose products failed to deliver on the promise they’d held.

In Johnson Magic Leap has a proven executive who joined Microsoft in 2014 from Qualcomm as an executive hire made by chief executive Satya Nadella. There, she ran business development and had a hand in a number of the company’s major acquisitions and partnerships including the $26.2 billion blockbuster acquisition of LinkedIn . The 58 year-old Johnson also launched Microsoft’s venture capital fund (known as M12).

At Magic Leap, Johnson will take the reins of a company whose direction has shifted to focus more on businesses than on consumers — a strategy that mirrors approaches taken both by Microsoft’s Hololens extended reality product and by early wearable tech progenitor Google Glass.

It’s also a company that managed to burn through nearly $3.5 billion under Abovitz’s stewardship and lose a valuation of

“Since its founding in 2011, Magic Leap has pioneered the field of spatial computing, and I have long admired the relentless efforts and accomplishments of this exceptional team. Magic Leap’s technological foundation is undeniable, and there is no question that has the potential to shape the future of XR and computing,” said Ms. Johnson.

Before joining Microsoft, Ms. Johnson spent 24 years at Qualcomm, where she held various leadership positions, and served as a member of Qualcomm’s Executive Committee.

“As a company that has been a leader in transforming what will become the next era of computing, we have been fortunate to have a number of extremely qualified candidates express interest in the position of CEO. However, as soon as Peggy raised her hand there was no question in my mind, or the Board’s, that she was absolutely the best person to lead this company into the future,” said Abovitz in a statement. “As Magic Leap drives towards commercializing spatial computing for enterprise, I can’t think of a better and more capable leader than Peggy Johnson to carry our mission forward.”

 

#linkedin, #magic-leap, #microsoft, #mixed-reality, #peggy-johnson, #qualcomm, #rony-abovitz, #satya-nadella, #tc, #the-new-york-times, #wearable-devices

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President Trump reportedly will sign executive order temporarily suspending work visas for H-1B holders

President Donald Trump is expected to sign an executive order temporarily halting work visas like the H-1B visa program for highly skilled workers, cutting off a critical source of foreign labor for tech companies already complaining about tech talent shortages, according to reports in media outlets including The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times.

Visa-holders already in the US and those applicants who have received a visa already are exempt from the ban. But the restrictions are intended to last until the end of the year, which would disrupt the government’s typical process of awarding new visas at the beginning of the national fiscal calendar in October.

Officials from the Trump Administration told the Journal that the move is intended to protect American jobs, but executives in the technology industry have long warned that visa restrictions would hurt the nation’s ability to compete in industries that have both strategic and financial significance as engines of economic growth.

Tech officials have even cited immigration curbs as a factor that would force companies to relocate more of their operations overseas in an effort to hire and retain top technology talent.

“The technology industry is working overtime to keep Americans connected during a global pandemic by providing food delivery services, telehealth care, collaborative business solutions, and ways for families and friends to stay connected,” said Linda Moore, the president and chief executive of the tech industry’s lobbying group, TechNet. “Looking forward, technology will continue to be crucial to the rebuilding of our economy. Today’s executive order only hinders the ability of businesses to make decisions on how best to deploy their existing workforce and hire new employees. This will slow innovation and undermine the work the technology industry is doing to help our country recover from unprecedented events.”

According to the news reports, officials expect these new restrictions to last until the end of the year, and expand the immigration bans that the President put in place in April that blocked family members of U.S. citizens from immigrating and slashed the number of visas available to high-skilled  workers looking to immigrate to the US.

Estimates provided to the Wall Street Journal indicate that roughly 525,000 people will be unable to enter the country as a result of the expanded travel restrictions including 170,000 green-card holders barred from entering the US since April. The Trump administration official quoted by the Journal called the initiative an “America-first recovery” that would potentially open up 500,000 jobs for out-of-work Americans.

Technology executives are already voicing their displeasure with the reported ban. “Banning all H1B [sic] visas means CEOs like me have to open offices and hire more people in countries like Canada that allow immigration. This visa ban is morally wrong and economically stupid,” wrote Anshu Sharma, the chief executive officer of the technology startup Skyflow.

Investors are also up-in-arms about the decision’s impact on America’s ability to compete.

“Whether his administration realizes it or not, they creating a significant handicap for US innovation. Our most innovative and impactful portfolio companies and many of their employees started as H-1b holders,” wrote Stonly Baptiste, the co-founder of technology investment fund, Urban.us. “We literally couldn’t have built our portfolio in an environment without H-1B. And we’re not even an immigrant focused fund.”

Also on the chopping block are H-2B visas, which are used to let short-term seasonal workers in landscaping and non-farm jobs into the country, J-1 jobs for short-term workers like camp counselors and au pairs and L-1 visas for corporate company transfers, the Journal reported.

Healthcare workers, coronavirus researchers, food supply workers in food packaging are all exempt from the visa suspensions.

Technology executives aren’t the only ones coming out against the tighter immigration rules. A group of nine Republican senators including South Carolina’s powerful senior senator, Lindsey Graham, and Texas Senator John Cornyn, issued a joint letter on May 27, which pleaded with the President to reconsider the rumored immigration restrictions.

“Guest workers are needed to boost American business, not take American jobs,” they wrote.

#america, #anshu-sharma, #canada, #chief-executive-officer, #contents, #donald-trump, #executive, #h-1b-visa, #official, #president, #skyflow, #south-carolina, #tc, #the-new-york-times, #the-wall-street-journal, #trump-administration, #united-states, #wall-street-journal

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UK government reverses course on Huawei’s involvement in 5G networks

Conservative members of the United Kingdom’s government have pushed Prime Minister Boris Johnson to draw up plans to remove telecom equipment made by the Chinese manufacturer Huawei from the nation’s 5G networks by 2023, according to multiple reports.

The decision by Johnson, who wanted Huawei’s market share in the nation’s telecommunications infrastructure capped at 35 percent, brings the UK back into alignment with the position Australia and the United States have taken on Huawei’s involvement in national communications networks, according to both The Guardian and The Telegraph.

The debate over Huawei’s role in international networking stems from the company’s close ties to the Chinese government and the attendant fears that relying on Huawei telecom equipment could expose the allied nations to potential cybersecurity threats and weaken national security.

Originally, the UK had intended to allow Huawei to maintain a foothold in the nation’s telecom infrastructure in a plan that had received the approval of Britain’s intelligence agencies in January.

“This is very good news and I hope and believe it will be the start of a complete and thorough review of our dangerous dependency on China,” conservative leader Sir Iain Duncan Smith told The Guardian when informed of the Prime Minister’s reversal.

As TechCrunch had previously reported, the Australian government and the U.S. both have significant concerns about Huawei’s ability to act independently of the interests of the Chinese national government.

“The fundamental issue is one of trust between nations in cyberspace,” wrote Simeon Gilding, until recently the head of the Australian Signals Directorate’s signals intelligence and offensive cyber missions. “It’s simply not reasonable to expect that Huawei would refuse a direction from the Chinese Communist Party.”

Given the current tensions between the U.S. and China, allies like the UK and Australia would be better served not exposing themselves to any risks from having the foreign telecommunications company’s technology in their networks, some security policy analysts have warned.

“It’s not hard to imagine a time when the U.S. and China end up in some sort of conflict,” Tom Uren of the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI) told TechCrunch. “If there was a shooting war, it is almost inevitable that the U.S. would ask Australia for assistance and then we’d be in this uncomfortable situation if we had Huawei in our networks that our critical telecommunications networks would literally be run by an adversary we were at war with.”

U.S. officials are bound to be delighted with the decision. They’ve been putting pressure on European countries for months to limit Huawei’s presence in their telecom networks.

“If countries choose to go the Huawei route it could well jeopardize all the information sharing and intelligence sharing we have been talking about, and that could undermine the alliance, or at least our relationship with that country,” U.S. Secretary of Defense Mark Esper told reporters on the sidelines of the Munich Security Conference, according to a report in The New York Times.

In recent months the U.S. government has stepped up its assault against the technology giant on multiple fronts. Earlier in May, the U.S. issued new restrictions on the use of American software and hardware in certain strategic semiconductor processes. The rules would affect all foundries using U.S. technologies, including those located abroad, some of which are Huawei’s key suppliers.

At a conference earlier this week, Huawei’s rotating chairman Guo Ping admitted that while the firm is able to design some semiconductor parts such as integrated circuits (IC), it remains “incapable of doing a lot of other things.”

“Survival is the keyword for us at present,” he said.

Huawei has challenged the ban, saying that it would damage the international technology ecosystem that has developed to manufacture the hardware that powers the entire industry.

“In the long run, [the U.S. ban] will damage the trust and collaboration within the global semiconductor industry which many industries depend on, increasing conflict and loss within these industries.”

#5g, #australia, #boris-johnson, #chairman, #china, #chinese-communist-party, #companies, #head, #huawei, #integrated-circuits, #semiconductor, #tc, #techcrunch, #telecommunications, #the-guardian, #the-new-york-times, #the-telegraph, #u-s-government, #united-kingdom, #united-states

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Hypnosis for health? Investors have placed a $1.1 million bet on Mindset Health that it can work

Chris and Alex Naoumidis came to hypnotherapy through dresses.

As The New York Times reported last year, the two brothers initially started their careers as startup entrepreneurs with a peer-to-peer dress-sharing app for women. The Australian natives, overcome with doubt, about their ability to succeed in startupland and when apps didn’t work, their father suggested they try hypnotherapy.

Those sessions led the brothers to launch Mindset Health and raise $1.1 million in funding from investors including Fifty Years, YC, Gelt VC, Giant Leap VC, and angel investors across the US and Australia

It’s a lot of backers for a small round that closed in November of 2019, but it’s indicative of the kind of bets that investors are willing to take in the mental health space these days.

A whole slew of apps have come to market to treat the mental disorders that seemingly accompany living in the modern world. There are companies that facilitate matching with therapists, companies that provide mental wellness tools in the form of cognitive behavioral therapies, billion-dollar companies that offer mindfulness and meditation, and companies that offer hypnotherapy.

The hypnotherapy sessions that Alex and his brother took gave them an idea. “Could we do this similar to meditation and bring this to market in a way that would be helpful?” Alex Naoumidis told me.

Meditation is a multi-million dollar business with apps like Calm and Headspace raking in millions of dollars in venture financing and giving them billions of dollars in perceived valuation.

Alex Naoumidis stresses that the app isn’t therapy — the company can’t pitch it that way under current regulations. “It’s more of a self-management tool,” he said. “Helping people with anxiety or [irritable bowel syndrome] to manage those symptoms at home to compliment the work they’re doing.”

The goal, according to Naoumidis, is to have a number of apps under the Mindset umbrella that deal with specific conditions. While it began as a more general mental wellness app, the company now has Nerva, its IBS focused product, alongside its general mental wellness Mindset toolkit.

Nerva’s not a cheap subscription. There’s an upfront payment of $99 and then $88 three-month subscription. The Mindset subscription service costs $11 (priced to sell in the COVID-19 era) down from $64 when the Times’ writer, Nellie Bowles first tried the product.

Here’s how she described it:

As a first step, the app suggested that I text a friend or tweet to the public the quote “He who conquers himself is the mightiest warrior.” For the next 19 minutes, a soft male voice told me that my mind can slow down. It can convert concerns to decisions. The process can even become second nature. And if it does, I can be a person of action. A person of action.

I did another module, Increase Productivity, which is voiced by a peppy younger man — a start-up bro right in my ear asking me to repeat after him: “I give myself permission to know what I want to be and what I want to do and do it efficiently.”

These mental health apps, or any app, supplement, or business that’s promoting wellness need to have some clinical studies to back up their claims and mindset is working with doctors on the products. The initial Mindset app was designed in concert with Dr. Michael Japko while the IBS app was designed with Dr. Simone Peters.

Both receive revenue share with the company for their work developing the course of therapies.

The company’s co-founder says that they’re unscientifically seeing successes come from the service. People self-report their symptoms at the start and at the end of the program. For people who complete the program, 90 percent have reduced symptoms (I’m not sure what percentage of signups complete the program).

“Our idea is we want to help researchers who develop these amazing programs deliver them digitally,” said Naoumidis. “We worked with world leading researchers to make it more accessible.”

#calm, #co-founder, #headspace, #medicine, #meditation, #mindfulness, #peer-to-peer, #spirituality, #tc, #the-new-york-times, #the-times, #united-states, #writer

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White House and House Democrats agree to funding package for paid sick leave, funding for tests

Late Friday night, after nearly two full days of negotiations, the House of Representatives is finally set to pass a bipartisan plan to provide sweeping new benefits to workers and businesses affected by the outbreak of the novel coronavirus in the U.S.

The new bill will offer paid sick leave, stronger unemployment benefits, free virus testing and more money for food assistance and Medicaid and was approved only after 13 phone calls between the House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, according to a report in The New York Times.

After its approval this evening, the Senate will have to vote to approve the measure early next week before it can be signed into law by President Trump.

While stocks rose sharply after the President’s address, delaying the bill could cause further economic uncertainty and continue what has been a wild couple of months for financial markets beset by barrage of bad news and stopgap measures designed to boost the economy, but failing to address the actual pressures impacting global markets (driving people to invest in stock markets doesn’t solve the financial shock that stems from an economy grinding to a halt in response to a national epidemic).

As cities and states encourage (or in some cases mandate) social distancing and self-quarantines as a response to limit the spread of COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus SARS-CoV-2, huge swaths of America’s service sectors will be affected.

That applies to startups like the retail chains b8ta and Neighborhood Goods, the beauty brand, Glossier, the Los Angeles-based arcade chain for the new millennium, Two Bit Circus; and the most celebrated of the direct to consumer startups, Warby Parker.

It’s also a factor for gig and sharing economy companies like Postmates, Instacart, Lyft, Uber, Airbnb and others — companies which were venture capital darlings for their novel approach to excess resources (be it cars, spare time, or space).

These companies have already faced criticism from lawmakers on Capitol Hill over their compensation practices for workers who may be affected by the coronavirus outbreak.

Hitting pause on America’s shopping and dining in malls and restaurants, entertainment in bars, theaters, concerts, and at plays, and the closure of public spaces, along with work-from-home policies that reduce foot traffic to local businesses or retail chains in business districts will hit low-income workers and hospitality staff, who don’t have paid-time-off or at risk of losing their jobs as business slows.

Those social distancing measures are also one of the best chances cities have to slow the spread of the virus, according to most experts. And paid time off has been shown to reduce the spread of disease, according to the New York Times report on the bill’s passage.

“Today, we will pass the Families First Coronavirus Response Act after reaching an agreement with the Administration,” Speaker Pelosi wrote on Twitter. “This legislation builds on the action that House Democrats took last week to put #FamiliesFirst with our strong, bipartisan $8.3 billion emergency funding package.”

 

#house-of-representatives, #instacart, #los-angeles, #lyft, #nancy-pelosi, #postmates, #speaker, #steve-mnuchin, #tc, #the-new-york-times, #trump, #uber, #warby-parker

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