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ZTE will postpone the release of its quarterly earnings report after the United States government banned American companies from selling goods to the Chinese telecom and smartphone maker. In a filing with the Hong Kong stock exchange, ZTE said that its earnings report, originally set to be released on Thursday, is now delayed to an undetermined date. About a year ago, ZTE pleaded guilty to violating U.S. sanctions against Iran and North Korea. Its deal with the U.S. government included penalties and fines totaling more than a billion dollars, but allowed it to continue doing business with U.S. suppliers. On Monday, however, the U.S. Department of Commerce announced that ZTE had failed to follow the agreement’s terms. It accused the company of making false statements and failing to punish employees and senior management. As a result, the Department of Commerce slapped ZTE with a seven-year export restriction. This is a huge blow to ZTE, which sources a significant portion of its most important components, including processors, from U.S. companies like Qualcomm . It also means ZTE may lose access to software licensed from Google, including Android. This is the latest in ZTE’s string of entanglements with the U.S. government. Despite holding fourth place in the U.S. smartphone market share, after Samsung, Apple and LG, ZTE is under scrutiny by U.S. intelligence agencies, which believe that it and fellow Chinese smartphone maker Huawei may pose security concerns.

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After a report by Reveal suggested that Tesla was underreporting workplace injuries at its Fremont plant, Tesla responded with a blog post calling the report “completely false” and pinning it all up as a “calculated disinformation campaign.” Now California’s Division of Occupational Safety and Health (otherwise known as Cal/OSHA) is looking into things at the factory. As first noted by Bloomberg, the agency won’t give specifics on why it’s looking into Tesla — but in a comment sent our way, they start off by mentioning the aforementioned report. Here’s the statement sent to us by Cal/OSHA spokesperson Erika Monterroza: Cal/OSHA takes seriously reports of workplace hazards and allegations of employers’ underreporting recordable work-related injuries and illnesses on the Log 300. Cal/OSHA currently has an open inspection at Tesla. While we do not disclose details of open inspections, Cal/OSHA’s inspections typically include a review of the employer’s Log 300, as well as a review to ensure that serious injuries are reported directly to Cal/OSHA within eight hours as required by law. Cal/OSHA’s regulations define a serious injury or illness as one that requires employee hospitalization for more than 24 hours for other than medical observation, or in which a part of the body is lost or permanent disfigurement occurs. The “Log 300” mentioned here is part of the Occupational Safety and Health Act, which requires employers with ten or more full time employees to report any serious workplace-related injury or illness, keeping said records for five years. In a statement to Jalopnik regarding the investigation, Tesla notes that “Cal-OSHA is required to investigate any claims that are made, regardless of whether they have merit or are baseless (as we believe these are),” but that they’d be providing their “full cooperation” We’ve reached out to Tesla for additional comment, but the company had not responded at the time of publishing. We’ll update this post if we hear back.

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Getting to space is already tough, but getting there on short notice and then doing it again a couple weeks later? That’s a big ask. Nevertheless, DARPA is asking it as part of its Launch Challenge, announced today at the 34th Space Symposium in Colorado. Teams must take a payload to space with only days to prepare, then do it again soon after — if they want to win the $10M grand prize. The idea is to nurture small space companies under what DARPA envisions as the future of launch conditions in both commercial and military situations. The ability to adapt to rapidly changing circumstances or fail gracefully if not will be critical in the launch ecosystem of the near future. Here’s how it will go down. First, teams will have to pre-qualify to show they have the chops to execute this kind of task via a written explanation of their capabilities and the acquisition of a license to launch. Qualifying teams will be rewarded with $400,000 each. Once a set of teams is established (applications close in December), DARPA will bide its time… and then spring the launches on them sometime in the second half of 2019. How big is the payload? Does it need to be powered? Cooled? Does it need or provide data? All this will be a mystery until mere weeks before launch. For comparison, most launches are planned for years and only finalized months before the day. DARPA will, however, provide an “example orbit” earlier in 2019 so you have a general idea of what to expect. Teams won’t even know where they’re launching from until just before. “Competitors should assume any current or future FAA-licensed spaceport may be used. Launch site services are planned to be austere — primarily a concrete pad with bolt-down fixtures and generator or shore power.” Basically, be ready to rough it. Any team that successfully inserts the payload to the correct low-earth orbit will receive $2 million. But they won’t be able to rest on their laurels: the next launch, with similarly mysterious conditions, will take place within two weeks of the first. Teams that get their second payload into orbit correctly qualify for the grand prize — they’ll be ranked by “mass, time, and accuracy.” First place takes home $10M, second place $9M, and third place $8M. Not bad. More information will be available come May 23, when DARPA will host a meeting and Q&A. In the meantime, you can read the contest rules summary here (PDF), and if you happen to be a rocket scientist or the head of a commercial space outfit, you can register for the challenge here.

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iZettle, the startup out of Sweden that has been referred to as the Square of Europe, is today making a move that underscores its bigger strategy to build on its traction with small businesses in mobile payments, to expand into an ever-wider range of financial services to fill out its $950 million valuation. The company is launching a new e-commerce platform, where customers can build online inventory and check-out experiences either to complement the physical sales they are already making with iZettle itself, or as a standalone service as new customers to the company. The service is rolling out in Sweden and the U.K. first, with plans to extend to the rest of iZettle’s footprint in Europe and Latin America over the coming months. The idea is to provide a set of tools build and run shops quickly and easily for the same kinds of small businesses and sole traders that already use iZettle, or “Shopify simplified,” as iZettle’s founder and CEO Jacob DeGeer describes it. Pricing follows the same basic format as that of the company’s core mobile payments service. In the case of the UK, for example, DeGeer says iZettle takes a 1.75 percent fee for each transaction on its mobile payments, and the e-commerce product will come in at £29 per month plus 2.5 percent on each transaction. (Rates might vary depending on the market in question.) iZettle moving into e-commerce is not exactly a revolutionary idea. Square has been offering a Stripe-style online component to businesses since 2016, and of course companies like Shopify and Stripe and many others are also providing similar services. DeGeer says that iZettle’s service is differentiated and better because it follows on from iZettle’s belief that there have not been enough attention given to building products specifically for the small business person. “It’s a segment that is traditionally underserved,” he said. The same had been the case in card payments, where sole traders and small businesses were regularly not accepting cards simply because the cost of doing so was too high for them, a problem solved by turning ordinary smartphones and tablets into point of sale terminals with the help of a dongle. The same ethos appears to be applying here: for those who are already iZettle customers and running sales through the company’s platform, DeGeer said that they can bring their sales online with one click, and then all sales across both offline and online will be viewable in a single database. And why would customers add the online component? It’s potentially a way to, for example, facilitate online ordering ahead for a cafe, or for a jewellery vendor from a market or small shop to develop a web-based store — offerings that in the past would have been too costly or complicated for small businesses to create and integrate. For now, iZettle isn’t providing much in the way of fulfilment to its customers — one of the more compelling aspects of having a company like Amazon run and fulfil your online shops and subsequent distribution of goods — but DeGeer said that it “would listen” to what customers request, and potentially consider this down the line.

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Make no mistake: Fresh battle lines are being drawn in the clash between data-mining tech giants and Internet users over people’s right to control their personal information and protect their privacy. An update to European Union data protection rules next month — called the General Data Protection Regulation — is the catalyst for this next chapter in the global story of tech vs privacy. A fairytale ending would remove that ugly ‘vs’ and replace it with an enlightened ‘+’. But there’s no doubt it will be a battle to get there — requiring legal challenges and fresh case law to be set down — as an old guard of dominant tech platforms marshal their extensive resources to try to hold onto the power and wealth gained through years of riding roughshod over data protection law. Payback is coming though. Balance is being reset. And the implications of not regulating what tech giants can do with people’s data has arguably never been clearer. The exciting opportunity for startups is to skate to where the puck is going — by thinking beyond exploitative legacy business models that amount to embarrassing blackboxes whose CEOs dare not publicly admit what the systems really do — and come up with new ways of operating and monetizing services that don’t rely on selling the lie that people don’t care about privacy.   More than just small print Right now the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation can take credit for a whole lot of spilt ink as tech industry small print is reworded en masse. Did you just receive a T&C update notification about a company’s digital service? Chances are it’s related to the incoming standard. The regulation is generally intended to strengthen Internet users’ control over their personal information, as we’ve explained before. But its focus on transparency — making sure people know how and why data will flow if they choose to click ‘I agree’ — combined with supersized fines for major data violations represents something of an existential threat to ad tech processes that rely on pervasive background harvesting of users’ personal data to be siphoned biofuel for their vast, proprietary microtargeting engines. This is why Facebook is not going gentle into a data processing goodnight. Indeed, it’s seizing on GDPR as a PR opportunity — shamelessly stamping its brand on the regulatory changes it lobbied so hard against, including by taking out full page print ads in newspapers… Here we are. Wow, what a fun thinking about all these years of debates with fb representatives telling me ‘consumers don’t want privacy rights anymore’ and ‘a startup (sic) like facebook shouldn’t be overburdened’. #GDPR #dataprotection #privacy https://t.co/gowYVvKjJf — Jan Philipp Albrecht (@JanAlbrecht) April 15, 2018 This is of course another high gloss plank in the company’s PR strategy to try to convince users to trust it — and thus to keep giving it their data. Because — and only because — GDPR gives consumers more opportunity to lock down access to their information and close the shutters against countless prying eyes. But the pressing question for Facebook — and one that will also test the mettle of the new data protection standard — is whether or not the company is doing enough to comply with the new rules. One important point re: Facebook and GDPR is that the standard applies globally, i.e. for all Facebook users whose data is processed by its international entity, Facebook Ireland (and thus within the EU); but not necessarily universally — with Facebook users in North America not legally falling under the scope of the regulation. Users in North America will only benefit if Facebook chooses to apply the same standard everywhere. (And on that point the company has stayed exceedingly fuzzy.) It has claimed it won’t give US and Canadian users second tier status vs the rest of the world where their privacy is concerned — saying they’re getting the same “settings and controls” — but unless or until US lawmakers spill some ink of their own there’s nothing but an embarrassing PR message to regulate what Facebook chooses to do with Americans’ data. It’s the data protection principles, stupid. Zuckerberg was asked by US lawmakers last week what kind of regulation he would and wouldn’t like to see laid upon Internet companies — and he made a point of arguing for privacy carve outs to avoid falling behind, of all things, competitors in China. Which is an incredibly chilling response when you consider how few rights — including human rights — Chinese citizens have. And how data-mining digital technologies are being systematically used to expand Chinese state surveillance and control. The ugly underlying truth of Facebook’s business is that it also relies on surveillance to function. People’s lives are its product. That’s why Zuckerberg couldn’t tell US lawmakers to hurry up and draft their own GDPR. He’s the CEO saddled with trying to sell an anti-privacy, anti-transparency position — just as policymakers are waking up to what that really means.   Plus ça change? Facebook has announced a series of updates to its policies and platform in recent months, which it’s said are coming to all users (albeit in ‘phases’). The problem is that most of what it’s proposing to achieve GDPR compliance is simply not adequate. Coincidentally many of these changes have been announced amid a major data mishandling scandal for Facebook, in which it’s been revealed that data on up to 87M users was passed to a political consultancy without their knowledge or consent. It’s this scandal that led Zuckerberg to be perched on a booster cushion in full public view for two days last week, dodging awkward questions from US lawmakers about how his advertising business functions. He could not tell Congress there wouldn’t be other such data misuse skeletons in its closet. Indeed the company has said it expects it will uncover additional leaks as it conducts a historical audit of apps on its platform that had access to “a large amount of data”. (How large is large, one wonders… ) But whether Facebook’s business having enabled — in just one example — the clandestine psychological profiling of millions of Americans for political campaign purposes ends up being the final, final straw that catalyzes US lawmakers to agree their own version of GDPR is still tbc. Any new law will certainly take time to formulate and pass. In the meanwhile GDPR is it. The most substantive GDPR-related change announced by Facebook to date is the shuttering of a feature called Partner Categories — in which it allowed the linking of its own information holdings on people with data held by external brokers, including (for example) information about people’s offline activities. Evidently finding a way to close down the legal liabilities and/or engineer consent from users to that degree of murky privacy intrusion — involving pools of aggregated personal data gathered by goodness knows who, how, where or when — was a bridge too far for the company’s army of legal and policy staffers. Other notable changes it has so far made public include consolidating settings onto a single screen vs the confusing nightmare Facebook has historically required users to navigate just to control what’s going on with their data (remember the company got a 2011 FTC sanction for “deceptive” privacy practices); rewording its T&Cs to make it more clear what information it’s collecting for what specific purpose; and — most recently — revealing a new consent review process whereby it will be asking all users (starting with EU users) whether they consent to specific uses of their data (such as processing for facial recognition purposes). As my TC colleague Josh Constine wrote earlier in a critical post dissecting the flaws of Facebook’s approach to consent review, the company is — at very least — not complying with the spirit of GDPR’s law. Indeed, Facebook appears pathologically incapable of abandoning its long-standing modus operandi of socially engineering consent from users (doubtless fed via its own self-reinforced A/B testing ad expertise). “It feels obviously designed to get users to breeze through it by offering no resistance to continue, but friction if you want to make changes,” was his summary of the process. But, as we’ve pointed out before, concealment is not consent. To get into a few specifics, pre-ticked boxes — which is essentially what Facebook is deploying here, with a big blue “accept and continue” button designed to grab your attention as it’s juxtaposed against an anemic “manage data settings” option (which if you even manage to see it and read it sounds like a lot of tedious hard work) — aren’t going to constitute valid consent under GDPR. Nor is this what ‘privacy by default’ looks like — another staple principle of the regulation. On the contrary, Facebook is pushing people to do the opposite: Give it more of their personal information — and fuzzing why it’s asking by bundling a range of usage intentions. The company is risking a lot here. In simple terms, seeking consent from users in a way that’s not fair because it’s manipulative means consent is not being freely given. Under GDPR, it won’t be consent at all. So Facebook appears to be seeing how close to the wind it can fly to test how regulators will respond. Safe to say, EU lawmakers and NGOs are watching.   “Yes, they will be taken to court” “Consent should not be regarded as freely given if the data subject has no genuine or free choice or is unable to refuse or withdraw consent without detriment,” runs one key portion of GDPR. Now compare that with: “People can choose to not be on Facebook if they want” — which was Facebook’s deputy chief privacy officer, Rob Sherman’s, paper-thin defense to reporters for the lack of an overall opt out for users to its targeted advertising. Data protection experts who TechCrunch spoke to suggest Facebook is failing to comply with, not just the spirit, but the letter of the law here. Some were exceeding blunt on this point. “I am less impressed,” said law professor Mireille Hildebrandt discussing how Facebook is railroading users into consenting to its targeted advertising. “It seems they have announced that they will still require consent for targeted advertising and refuse the service if one does not agree. This violates [GDPR] art. 7.4 jo recital 43. So, yes, they will be taken to court.” Facebook says users must accept targeted ads even under new EU law: NO THEY MUST NOT, there are other types of advertising, subscription etc. https://t.co/zrUgsgxtwo — Mireille Hildebrandt (@mireillemoret) April 18, 2018 “Zuckerberg appears to view the combination of signing up to T&Cs and setting privacy options as ‘consent’,” adds cyber security professor Eerke Boiten. “I doubt this is explicit or granular enough for the personal data processing that FB do. The default settings for the privacy settings certainly do not currently provide for ‘privacy by default’ (GDPR Art 25). “I also doubt whether FB Custom Audiences work correctly with consent. FB finds out and retains a small bit of personal info through this process (that an email address they know is known to an advertiser), and they aim to shift the data protection legal justification on that to the advertisers. Do they really then not use this info for future profiling?” That looming tweak to the legal justification of Facebook’s Custom Audiences feature — a product which lets advertisers upload contact lists in a hashed form to find any matches among its own user-base (so those people can be targeted with ads on Facebook’s platform) — also looks problematical. Here the company seems to be intending to try to claim a change in the legal basis, pushed out via new terms in which it instructs advertisers to agree they are the data controller (and it is merely a data processor). And thereby seek to foist a greater share of the responsibility for obtaining consent to processing user data onto its customers. However such legal determinations are simply not a matter of contract terms. They are based on the fact of who is making decisions about how data is processed. And in this case — as other experts have pointed out — Facebook would be classed as a joint controller with any advertisers that upload personal data. The company can’t use a T&Cs change to opt out of that. Wishful thinking is not a reliable approach to legal compliance.   Fear and manipulation of highly sensitive data Over many years of privacy-hostile operation, Facebook has shown it has a major appetite for even very sensitive data. And GDPR does not appear to have blunted that. Let’s not forget, facial recognition was a platform feature that got turned off in the EU, thanks to regulatory intervention. Yet here Facebook is now trying to use GDPR as a route to process this sensitive biometric data for international users after all — by pushing individual users to consent to it by dangling a few ‘feature perks’ at the moment of consent. Veteran data protection and privacy consultant, Pat Walshe, is unimpressed. “The sensitive data tool appears to be another data grab,” he tells us, reviewing Facebook’s latest clutch of ‘GDPR changes’. “Note the subtlety. It merges ‘control of sharing’ such data with FB’s use of the data “to personalise features and products”. From the info available that isn’t sufficient to amount to consent for such sensitive data and nor is it clear folks can understand the broader implications of agreeing. “Does it mean ads will appear in Instagram? WhatsApp etc? The default is also set to ‘accept’ rather than ‘review and consider’. This is really sensitive data we’re talking about.” “The face recognition suggestions are woeful,” he continues. “The second image — is using an example… to manipulate and stoke fear — “we can’t protect you”. “Also, the choices and defaults are not compatible with [GDPR] Article 25 on data protection by design and default nor Recital 32… If I say no to facial recognition it’s unclear if other users can continue to tag me.” Of course it goes without saying that Facebook users will keep uploading group photos, not just selfies. What’s less clear is whether Facebook will be processing the faces of other people in those shots who have not given (and/or never even had the opportunity to give) consent to its facial recognition feature. People who might not even be users of its product. But if it does that it will be breaking the law. Yet Facebook does indeed profile non-users — despite Zuckerberg’s claims to Congress not to know about its shadow profiles. So the risk is clear. It can’t give non-users “settings and controls” not to have their data processed. So it’s already compromised their privacy — because it never gained consent in the first place. New Mexico Representative Ben Lujan made this point to Zuckerberg’s face last week and ended the exchange with a call to action: “So you’re directing people that don’t even have a Facebook page to sign up for a Facebook page to access their data… We’ve got to change that.” WASHINGTON, DC – APRIL 11: Facebook co-founder, Chairman and CEO Mark Zuckerberg prepares to testify before the House Energy and Commerce Committee in the Rayburn House Office Building on Capitol Hill April 11, 2018 in Washington, DC. This is the second day of testimony before Congress by Zuckerberg, 33, after it was reported that 87 million Facebook users had their personal information harvested by Cambridge Analytica, a British political consulting firm linked to the Trump campaign. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images) But nothing in the measures Facebook has revealed so far, as its ‘compliance response’ to GDPR, suggest it intends to pro-actively change that. Walshe also critically flags how — again, at the point of consent — Facebook’s review process deploys examples of the social aspects of its platform (such as how it can use people’s information to “suggest groups or other features or products”) as a tactic for manipulating people to agree to share religious affiliation data, for example. “The social aspect is not separate to but bound up in advertising,” he notes, adding that the language also suggests Facebook uses the data. Again, this whiffs a whole lot more than smells like GDPR compliance. “I don’t believe FB has done enough,” adds Walshe, giving a view on Facebook’s GDPR preparedness ahead of the May 25 deadline for the framework’s application — as Zuckerberg’s Congress briefing notes suggested the company itself believes it has. (Or maybe it just didn’t want to admit to Congress that U.S. Facebook users will get lower privacy standards vs users elsewhere.) “In fact I know they have not done enough. Their business model is skewed against privacy — privacy gets in the way of advertising and so profit. That’s why Facebook has variously suggested people may have to pay if they want an ad free model & so ‘pay for privacy’.” “On transparency, there is a long way to go,” adds Boiten. “Friend suggestions, profiling for advertising, use of data gathered from like buttons and web pixels (also completely missing from “all your Facebook data”), and the newsfeed algorithm itself are completely opaque.” “What matters most is whether FB’s processing decisions will be GDPR compliant, not what exact controls are given to FB members,” he concludes. US lawmakers also pumped Zuckerberg on how much of the information his company harvests on people who have a Facebook account is revealed to them when they ask for it — via its ‘Download your data’ tool. His answers on this appeared to intentionally misconstrue what was being asked — presumably in a bid to mask the ugly reality of the true scope and depth of the surveillance apparatus he commands. (Sometimes with a few special ‘CEO privacy privileges’ thrown in — like being able to selectively retract just his own historical Facebook messages from conversations, ahead of bringing the feature to anyone else.) ‘Download your Data’ is clearly partial and self-serving — and thus it also looks very far from being GDPR compliant.   Not even half the story Facebook is not even complying with the spirit of current EU data protection law on data downloads. Subject Access Requests give individuals the right to request not just the information they have voluntarily uploaded to a service, but also personal data the company holds about them; Including giving a description of the personal data; the reasons it is being processed; and whether it will be given to any other organizations or people. Facebook not only does not include people’s browsing history in the info it provides when you ask to download your data — which, incidentally, its own cookies policy confirms it tracks (via things like social plug-ins and tracking pixels on millions of popular websites etc etc) — it also does not include a complete list of advertisers on its platform that have your information. Instead, after a wait, it serves up an eight-week snapshot. But even this two month view can still stretch to hundreds of advertisers per individual. If Facebook gave users a comprehensive list of advertisers’ access to their information the number of third party companies would clearly stretch into the thousands. (In some cases thousands might even be a conservative estimate.) There’s plenty of other information harvested from users that Facebook also intentionally fails to divulge via ‘Download your data’. And — to be clear — this isn’t a new problem either. The company has a very long history of blocking these type of requests. In the EU it currently invokes a exception in Irish law to circumvent more fulsome compliance — which, even setting GDPR aside, raises some interesting competition law questions, as Paul-Olivier Dehaye told the UK parliament last month. “All your Facebook data” isn’t a complete solution,” agrees Boiten. “It misses the info Facebook uses for auto-completing searches; it misses much of the information they use for suggesting friends; and I find it hard to believe that it contains the full profiling information.” “Ads Topics” looks rather random and undigested, and doesn’t include the clear categories available to advertisers,” he further notes. Facebook wouldn’t comment publicly about this when we asked. But it maintains its approach towards data downloads is GDPR compliant — and says it’s reviewed what it offers via with regulators to get feedback. Earlier this week it also put out a wordy blog post attempting to diffuse this line of attack by pointing the finger of blame at the rest of the tech industry — saying, essentially, that a whole bunch of other tech giants are at it too. Which is not much of a moral defense even if the company believes its lawyers can sway judges with it. (Ultimately I wouldn’t fancy its chances; the EU’s top court has a robust record of defending fundamental rights.)   Think of the children… What its blog post didn’t say — yet again — was anything about how all the non-users it nonetheless tracks around the web are able to have any kind of control over its surveillance of them. And remember, some Facebook non-users will be children. So yes, Facebook is inevitably tracking kids’ data without parental consent. Under GDPR that’s a majorly big no-no. TC’s Constine had a scathing assessment of even the on-platform system that Facebook has devised in response to GDPR’s requirements on parental consent for processing the data of users who are between the ages of 13 and 15. “Users merely select one of their Facebook friends or enter an email address, and that person is asked to give consent for their ‘child’ to share sensitive info,” he observed. “But Facebook blindly trusts that they’ve actually selected their parent or guardian… [Facebook’s] Sherman says Facebook is “not seeking to collect additional information” to verify parental consent, so it seems Facebook is happy to let teens easily bypass the checkup.” So again, the company is being shown doing the minimum possible — in what might be construed as a cynical attempt to check another compliance box and carry on its data-sucking business as usual. Given that intransigence it really will be up to the courts to bring the enforcement stick. Change, as ever, is a process — and hard won. Hildebrandt is at least hopeful that a genuine reworking of Internet business models is on the way, though — albeit not overnight. And not without a fight. “In the coming years the landscape of all this silly microtargeting will change, business models will be reinvented and this may benefit both the advertisers, consumers and citizens,” she tells us. “It will hopefully stave off the current market failure and the uprooting of democratic processes… Though nobody can predict the future, it will require hard work.”

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SpaceX has successfully deployed NASA’s new exoplanet-hunting telescope into high Earth orbit. From there, it will get a gravity assist from the moon and enter a wide orbit, beginning its mission. Meanwhile, back on the surface, the Falcon 9’s first stage landed successfully on the drone ship Of Course I Still Love You. This is the 8th launch this year, and the 24th time SpaceX has landed a Falcon 9 first stage — that is, the part of the rocket that accelerates it out of the atmosphere. Although the plan is eventually to catch the falling fairing in a “giant catcher’s mitt,” as Elon Musk once described it, the boat-borne mitt is currently in the Pacific Ocean and this launch was over the Atlantic. The rocket shortly after landing on Of Course I Still Love You. The ship’s feed cut out when the rocket landed. This rocket, after being inspected and refurbished, of course, is planned to be reused for the next ISS resupply mission SpaceX is performing, in June. Soon this generation of Falcon 9s will be exhausted, though: starting soon, SpaceX will be launching its 5th generation of Falcon 9’s (“Block 5”), which have a variety of improvements to improve their reusability past the two or three times previous ones could be used. The first such launch is planned for early next week — look for a separate post on that soon. A second burn went nominally and TESS successfully deployed; it’s now up to NASA to adjust the orbit further so it gets the necessary lunar boost. That will take some time, but we can expect data from the satellite to roll in soon (that is, within a few weeks or months) after.

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In the ongoing race to build the best and smartest applications that tap into the advances of artificial intelligence, a startup out of London has raised a large round of funding to double down on solving persistent problems in areas like healthcare and energy . BenevolventAI announced today that it has raised $115 million to continue developing its core “AI brain” as well as different arms of the company that are using it specifically to break new ground in drug development and more. This venture round values the company at $2.1 billion post-money, its founder and executive chairman Ken Mulvaney confirmed to TechCrunch. Investors in this round include previous backer Woodford Investment Management, and while Mulvaney said the company was not disclosing the names of any other investors, he added it was a mix of family offices and some strategic backers, with a majority coming from the US, but would not specify any more. Notably, Benevolent.AI does not have any backing from more traditional VCs, which more generally have been doubling down on investments in AI startups. Founded in 2013, the company has now raised over $200 million to date. The core of Benevolent.AI’s business is focused around what Mulvaney describes as a “brain” built by a team of scientists — some of whom are disclosed, and some of whom are not for competitive reasons, Mulvaney said: there are 155 people working at the startup in all, with 300 projected by the end of this year. The brain has been created to ingest and compute billions of data points in specific areas such as health and material science, to help scientists better determine combinations that might finally solve persistently difficult problems in fields like medicine. The crux of the issue in a field like drug development, for example, is that even as scientists identify the many permutations and strains of, say, a particular kind of cancer, each of these strains can mutate, and that is before you consider that each mutation might behave completely differently depending on which person develops the mutation. This is precisely the kind of issue that AI which is massive computational power and “learning” from previous computations, can help address. (And Benevolvent.AI is not the only one taking this approach. Specifically in Cancer, others include Grail and Paige.AI.) But even with the speed that AI brings to the table, it’s a very long, long game for Benevolent.AI. The division of Benevolent.AI that is focused on drugs, called Benevolent Bio, currently has two drugs in more advanced stages of development, Mulvaney said, although neither of those happen to be in the area of cancer. A Parkinson’s drug is currently in Phase 2B clinical trials, after years of work. And an ALS medication currently in development — which Mulvaney says will aim to significantly extend the prospects for those who have been diagnosed with ALS — is about five years away from trials. It’s worth the effort to try, though: the best ALS medications on the market today at best only add about three month’s to a patient’s life expectancy. Some of the long period of development is because with drugs, there large regulatory framework a company has to go through. “But we benefit from that,” Mulvaney said, “because it means you can actually then offer something in the market.” (Blood tests a la Theranos are very different in terms of regulatory requirements, he said.) In part because of that long cycle, and also because Benevolent.AI has spotted an adjacent opportunity, the company has more recently also been extending applications from its “brain” to other adjacent areas that also tap into chemistry and biology, such as material science. One area Mulvaney said is of particular interest is to see if Benevolent can create materials that can both withstand extreme heat — to allow engines to work at higher rates without risks — as well as chemicals that could essentially create the next generation of efficient batteries that could provide more power in smaller formats for longer periods. “There has been little development beyond a lithium ion battery,” he noted, which may be fine for the Teslas of the world today. “But there is not enough lithium on this planet for us all to go electric, and there is not nearly enough energy density there unless you have thousands of batteries working together. We need other technology to provide more energy donation. That tech doesn’t exist yet because chemically it’s very difficult to do that.” And that spells opportunity for Benevolvent.AI. Other areas where the startup hopes to move into over the coming months and years include agriculture, veterinary science, and other categories that sit alongside those Benevolent.AI is already tapping.  

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Bob Ackerman Jr. Contributor Robert Ackerman Jr. is the founder and a managing director of Allegis Capital, an early-stage cybersecurity venture firm, and a founder of DataTribe, a startup “studio” for fledgling cyber startups staffed by former government technology innovators and cybersecurity professionals. More posts by this contributor The Trump team has failed to address the nation’s mounting cybersecurity threats Trump’s cybersecurity executive order is a good first step The unfettered internet is too often used for malicious purposes and is frequently woefully inaccurate. Social media — especially Facebook — has failed miserably at protecting user privacy and blocking miscreants from sowing discord. That’s why CEO Mark Zuckerberg was just forced to testify about user privacy before both houses of Congress. And now governmental regulation of FaceBook and other social media appears to be a fait accompli. At this key juncture, the crucial question is whether regulation — in concert with FaceBook’s promises to aggressively mitigate its weaknesses — correct the privacy abuses and continue to fulfill FaceBook’s goal of giving people the power to build transparent communities, bringing the world closer together? The answer is maybe. What has not been said is that FaceBook must embrace data science methodologies initially created in the bowels of the federal government to help protect its two billion users. Simultaneously, FaceBook must still enable advertisers — its sole source of revenue — to get the user data required to justify their expenditures. Specifically, Facebook must promulgate and embrace what is known in high-level security circles as homomorphic encryption (HE), often considered the “Holy Grail” of cryptography, and data provenance (DP). HE would enable Facebook, for example, to generate aggregated reports about its user psychographic profiles so that advertisers could still accurately target groups of prospective customers without knowing their actual identities. Meanwhile, data provenance – the process of tracing and recording true identities and the origins of data and its movement between data bases – could unearth the true identities of Russian perpetrators and other malefactors or at least identify unknown provenance, adding much needed transparency in cyberspace. Both methodologies are extraordinarily complex. IBM and Microsoft, in addition to the National Security Agency, have been working on HE for years but the technology has suffered from significant performance challenges. Progress is being made, however. IBM, for example, has been granted a patent on a particular HE method – a strong hint it’s seeking a practical solution – and last month proudly announced that its rewritten HE encryption library now works up to 75 times faster. Maryland-based ENVEIL, a startup staffed by the former NSA HE team, has broken the performance barriers required to produce a commercially viable version of HE, benchmarking millions of times faster than IBM in tested use cases. How Homomorphic Encryption Would Help FaceBook HE is a technique used to operate on and draw useful conclusions from encrypted data without decrypting it, simultaneously protecting the source of the information. It is useful to FaceBook because its massive inventory of personally identifiable information is the foundation of the economics underlying its business model. The more comprehensive the datasets about individuals, the more precisely advertising can be targeted. HE could keep Facebook information safe from hackers and inappropriate disclosure, but still extract the essence of what the data tells advertisers. It would convert encrypted data into strings of numbers, do math with these strings, and then decrypt the results to get the same answer it would if the data wasn’t encrypted at all. A particularly promising sign for HE emerged last year, when Google revealed a new marketing measurement tool that relies on this technology to allow advertisers to see whether their online ads result in in-store purchases. Unearthing this information requires analyzing datasets belonging to separate organizations, notwithstanding the fact that these organizations pledge to protect the privacy and personal information of the data subjects. HE skirts this by generating aggregated, non-specific reports about the comparisons between these datasets. In pilot tests, HE enabled Google to successfully analyze encrypted data about who clicked on an advertisement in combination with another encrypted multi-company dataset that recorded credit card purchase records. With this data in hand, Google was able to provide reports to advertisers summarizing the relationship between the two databases to conclude, for example, that five percent of the people who clicked  on an ad wound up purchasing in a store. Data Provenance Data provenance has a markedly different core principle. It’s based on the fact that digital information is atomized into 1’s and 0’s with no intrinsic truth. The dual digits exist only to disseminate information, whether accurate or widely fabricated. A well-crafted lie can easily be indistinguishable from the truth and distributed across the internet. What counts is the source of these 1’s and 0’s. In short, is it legitimate?  What is the history of the 1’ and 0’s? The art market, as an example, deploys DP to combat fakes and forgeries of the world’s greatest paintings, drawing and sculptures. It uses DP techniques to create a verifiable, chain-of-custody for each piece of the artwork, preserving the integrity of the market. Much the same thing can be done in the online world. For example, a FaceBook post referencing a formal statement by a politician, with an accompanying photo, would  have provenance records directly linking the post to the politician’s press release and even the specifics of the photographer’s camera. The goal – again – is ensuring that data content is legitimate. Companies such as Wal-Mart, Kroger, British-based Tesco and Swedish-based H&M, an international clothing retailer, are using or experimenting with new technologies to provide provenance data to the marketplace. Let’s hope that Facebook and its social media brethren begin studying HE and DP thoroughly and implement it as soon as feasible. Other strong measures — such as the upcoming implementation of the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation, which will use a big stick to secure personally identifiable information – essentially should be cloned in the U.S. What is best, however, are multiple avenues to enhance user privacy and security, while hopefully preventing breaches in the first place. Nothing less than the long-term viability of social media giants is at stake.

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It’s almost time for SpaceX to launch NASA’s TESS, a space telescope that will search for exoplants across nearly the entire night sky. The launch has been delayed more than once already: originally scheduled for March 20, it slipped to April 16 (Monday), then some minor issues pushed it to today — at 3:51 PM Pacific time, to be precise. You can watch the launch live below. TESS, which stands for Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite, is basically a giant wide-angle camera (four of them, actually) that will snap pictures of the night sky from a wide, eccentric and never before tried orbit. NASA’s planet-hunting TESS telescope launches Monday aboard a SpaceX rocket (Update: Wednesday) The technique it will use is fundamentally the same as that employed by NASA’s long-running and highly successful Kepler mission. When distant plants pass between us and their star, it causes a momentary decrease in that star’s brightness. TESS will monitor thousands of stars simultaneously for such “transits,” watching a single section of sky for a month straight before moving on to another. By two years, it will have imaged 85 percent of the sky — hundreds of times the area Kepler observed, and on completely different stars: brighter ones that should yield more data. TESS, which is about the size of a small car, will launch on top of a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket. SpaceX will attempt to recover the first stage of the rocket by having it land on a drone ship, and the nose cone will, hopefully, get a gentle parachute-assisted splashdown in the Atlantic, where it too can be retrieved. The feed below should go live 15 minutes before launch, or at about 3:35.

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Jeff Bezos is understandably all sorts of self-congratulatory in the annual shareholder letter Amazon released today. The note is full of all smanner of large numbers, including, perhaps most notably, 100 million. Amazon has exceeded that number of Prime subscribers globally, 13 years after the service launched as a free shipping offering. It’s no surprise, really. In spite of some recent price hikes, the company keeps layering incentives on top of the plan. The list now includes access to video, music, Kindle books and a six month subscription to the Bezos-owned Washington Post. From the looks of it, the company will also be adding Whole Foods deals to the pile in the very near future. Oh, the joys of conglomeration.  According to Bezos, Amazon shipped north of five billion items with Prime globally in 2017. India, one of the most recent countries to get Prime, is also the largest growing market for Amazon at the moment, adding “members in […] in its first year than any previous geography in Amazon’s history,” according to the letter. The company has been pumping investments into the country of late, launching its music service there in February, along with a “lite” version of its Android web browser, just this week.

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Girlboss, the juggernaut business and lifestyle brand launched by serial entrepreneur Sophia Amoruso (the founder of Nasty Gal), has launched a fresh redesign of its website as the company looks to evolve beyond publishing. While publishing will remain a central component of the business that Girlboss is building, Amoruso says that the brand encompasses much more than a content play. “We’re beginning with editorial content and our conferences and what looks like a publishing business, but the future will look like us incorporating our users in a much different capacity,” Amoruso says. [gallery ids="1624715,1624716,1624717,1624718"] In a blog post about the site redesign, the company’s new chief operating officer and editor in chief, walks through the functional changes that the company wanted for its web and mobile face. It’s fast. First and foremost, this experience should be fast. We only used system fonts. We don’t have any weird pop-ups or doodads to slow down the load time or to distract you from the reason why you’re actually here: the content. It’s intuitive (sort of). We built this thing to be mobile first. That means you swipe from category to category and scroll endlessly—even on desktop. It might feel a little weird at first, but only 10% of you are on desktop to begin with, so let’s call a spade a spade. It’s fun. There’s a lot of color here. Each category is noted with a different color (work is green, money is a coral-ish pink, wellness is yellow, etc), and you see those colors play in different ways on category pages, in related content, on article pages, and more. Those are visual cues that tell you where you are—and they’re also supposed to feel fun and immersive. We’re trying not to take ourselves too seriously here at Girlboss. We talk about serious things, but we hope to inject a bit of wit and humor into everything we do. And all of this color-soaked goodness should reflect that. It’s useful. This is a big one. We know that some people may never wander over to our website (although, you’re obviously not one of them), and we’re totally fine with that. We strive to inspire and delight and inform people where they are—whether that’s on email, on social, through podcasts, or IRL at our Rallies. But if you are visiting our website, we want you to walk away feeling like you got something meaningful out of the experience of spending time with us. We want to make things that open your eyes to new ways of thinking, and that offer you life and work and money advice that legitimately helps you advance and grow and save and evolve. That’s what this site is built to do—to make it easy to find the tools and tips and insights we’re offering up, while being transparent about how much time you might need to spend with a story or podcast or video to get what you need out of it. Beyond the purely functional and aesthetic aspects of the redesign, Gandhi hints that there’s a larger sense of purpose and mission to the company’s choices as well… and an indication of how Girlboss will evolve. “At Girlboss, when we think about the big picture, we want to help make change. We want to create opportunity and knock down the obstacles that stand in your way. We want to call out tokenism and create spaces where many women can thrive—and help each other make progress and advance,” Ghandi writes. Girlboss in this new incarnation seems to be as much of a networking and social engagement site as it is a publisher. This new model fits squarely within the new notion of what brands can mean and the role they can play. “It’s important for us to keep evolving and casting a line to build a social-first environment,”says Amoruso. With the new site, and an executive team built out on the back of $3.1 million in financing from Lightspeed Venture Partners, Gary Vaynerchuk, Atom Factory, and Slow Ventures, it looks like they’ve succeeded.

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One of the biggest headaches for freelance writers is the need to send an invoice for their work, then wait (and wait, and wait) for payment. Matt Saincome, founder of the punk-themed satirical news site The Hard Times, knows this, which is why he’s launching a new payment product called OutVoice. Saincome said he started out as a freelancer himself, and he recalled that after his first assignment he had to repeatedly ask an editor to get paid. When the check finally arrived, he tried to deposit it, only to find that it bounced, leaving him with a $35 fee — way more than the $12 that he was supposedly making. Obviously, this is a problem for freelancers, but Saincome said that when he became an editor, he realized that it was a problem for editors too. And when he became a publisher, he realized, “Wait, this is a horrible problem for everyone.” Sure, there may be some publishers who fully intend to rip off their writers, but for many others, it’s more an issue of not making the time to deal with all the invoices and send out the checks. And if they let this slip too badly, they may end up chasing away some of their most talented writers. OutVoice is designed to streamline all that. For starters, it helps onboard freelancers by automatically presenting them with the forms and contracts they need to fill out. Then it integrates with WordPress and Drupal (with other CMS integrations planned), so that when an editor is publishing a story, they can select a contributor and a payment amount on the same screen. Once they hit publish, the freelancer gets paid — no invoice needed, no delays. The product supports other kinds of working arrangements, too. If a publisher doesn’t pay freelancers on a per-article basis, but instead does it by the hour, the week or the month, they can still make payments through the OutVoice website. In our initial interview, I pointed out that some freelancers actually publish their stories themselves. Then Saincome emailed me to say that his team added a feature to take care of that, too — a freelancer can enter their own payment information as they publish, then the editor or publisher can approve the payment with a click. (Finally, someone takes my product advice!) Saincome said the music site Consequence of Sound plans to test the system, and it’s already being used by The Hard Times itself. Just to be clear, however, OutVoice is separate from The Hard Times — it’s a new company that Saincome is founding with Issa Diao, a developer who led the band Good Clean Fun.

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Picture this. You’re driving down the street and Google Maps tells you to turn right at the Burger King, instead of telling you to turn right on [insert street name you’ve never heard of]. Well, Google is starting to do this. I noticed this while I was in a Lyft in Washington, D.C., but I failed to remember it until TC’s sister publication, Engadget, reported it the other day. Anyway, the idea is that Google Maps is highlighting some landmarks and other points of interest (fast food restaurants) to help with guidance. TechCrunch/MRD Other people have noticed, too. So @googlemaps instructed me to “turn right after Burger King” … I think this is the best update yet. #mindblown — Deemah MS (@iamdeemah) April 14, 2018 Google Maps told me to make a right “right after the White Castle.” Does it do that now? — Scott Stein (@jetscott) April 14, 2018 Highlighting landmarks seems to be one method of Google’s experimentation with improving navigation and guidance for people.

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As you can probably imagine, launching satellites is a complicated business. To get into the game, companies must often go to the biggest players, like NASA. It puts the opportunity for small companies to participate in the benefits of satellite usage completely out of reach. Until recently. Mini or nano-satellites are proliferating, and so are the startups producing them. But even in this newer scenario, there are many moving parts, from manufacturing to launching, to the systems that might capture the data you want. But an innovative startup thinks it has the solution: create a turnkey, end-to-end system that is a one-stop-shop. That company is the U.K.’s Open Cosmos. It’s now raised $7 million in a Series A funding round as part of its mission to make satellites more affordable and more accessible to everyone. The round was led by BGF Ventures, with participation from LocalGlobe, Entrepreneur First, TransferWise co-founder Taavet Hinrikus and Microsoft’s former head of corporate strategy, Charlie Songhurst. Founded by aerospace engineer Rafael Jordà Siquier (pictured), the company plans to democratize satellites in the same way that computers became easier to use in the 1980s. It plans to manufacture 30 satellites a year and provide a full, end-to-end service. He said: “The space industry is ripe for the same disruption. We believe that our end-to-end service based on smaller, more affordable, more accessible satellites, will enable new applications to emerge.” Currently, to put a satellite into space you must have millions in funding, wait for years and assemble many providers. But Open Cosmos is offering entire missions that start from £500,000 ($700,000) and can be delivered in less than a year. Once satellites are in orbit, Open Cosmos takes full control of them. Data collected by the satellite will be sent to the customer. The company’s satellites, which range from 4kg to 30kg, follow a standardized modular design that makes it easy to integrate sensors; the idea being that space agencies and large or small companies can test new technologies, carry out research or provide services to their own customers. It’s now signed a $2 million “Pioneer” contract with the European Space Agency and will be providing an entire mission (satellite, launch procurement and operations) to demonstrate in orbit an innovative telecommunications transceiver. Wendy Tan White, BGF Ventures advisor, said: “Rafael is an exceptional entrepreneur. We are excited and confident that Raf and his team are going to revolutionize the satellite industry in the coming years and we look forward to seeing what kind of applications entrepreneurs can build when they have relatively cheap access to satellite data and an easily accessible operations stack.” Located in Oxford, England, the company has a team of 22, which it now intends to scale up.

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As renewable energy continues to gobble up more and more of the new energy capacity coming online, the solar project lending company Wunder Capital has raised $112 million in primarily debt financing to boost its business. The 90 percent debt and 10 percent equity commitment came from the multi-strategy investment firm Cyrus Investments, which has backed renewable energy projects for years through its investment in RePower Group. “The debt component is going to blow out the lending opportunity,” says Wunder chief executive Bryan Birsic. Wunder chose to consolidate the debt and equity round with a single lead investor to simplify the negotiation process on both sides of the table, Birsic said. “Since Cyrus is an equity holder in the company we can come to better terms,” on debt facilities and repayment, he said.  Wunder lends money to commercial solar energy development projects throughout the U.S. and its business has been buoyed by a flood of demand for new solar energy projects coming online. Since its launch in 2016, the company has financed more than 180 projects throughout the U.S., which are generating somewhere in the range of 50 megawatts (or enough electricity to power roughly 32,500 homes). The Boulder, Colo.-based company makes money in three ways: It charges closing fees, a servicing fee and annual interest rate on the debt it provides — typically Wunder will pull in between 4 percent and 5 percent off of each loan it provides to a project. And business… for renewable energy… is booming. For instance, the industry appears to have shaken off concerns over price increases stemming from the tariffs imposed on solar panels as part of broad punitive measures President Trump has taken against China (which supplies most of the world’s solar panels). “It was really pleasant to see that folks were less reactionary and more responsive to the data,” says Birsic. The headlines, Birsic explains, were worse than the reality for the industry. The headlines in January predicted a 30 percent tariff on solar panels, but banks thought those increases would ultimately result in a 3 percent price increase for residential solar installations and a 4 percent price increase for commercial solar. Those price increases would only bring costs in line with what they were at the end of 2017, since over the course of the year prices on installations declined 10 percent, Birsic says. “We’re very cool with the economics as it existed in 2017,” he said.   

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Savedroid, a German company that purportedly raised $50 million in ICO and direct funding, has exited with a bang. The site is currently displaying the above image and the founder, one – Dr. Yassin Hankir – has posted a tweeted thanking investors and saying “Over and out.” Thanks guys! Over and out … #savedroidICO pic.twitter.com/PMRtjlbEdD — Yassin Hankir #savedroidico (@YassinHankir) April 18, 2018 A reverse image search found Hankir’s photo on this page for Founder Institute and he has pitched his product at multiple events including this one in German: Savedroid was originally supposed to use AI to manage user investments and promised a crypto-backed credit card, a claim that CCN notes is popular with scam ICOs. It ran for a number of months and was clearly well managed as the group was able to open an office and appear at multiple events. One Reddit user visit SaveDroid’s offices and recorded this desolate scene: Still another wrote: “The CEO on their twitter feed posted this several times ‘contribute now to participate in our #Airdrop and become a #Crypto Millionaire.’ Not about technology, its all about GIVE US MONEY AND WE WILL MAKE YOU A MILLIONAIRE. Anyone who fell for this despite all the warning signs can blame no one but themselves.” The beer Hankir is holding in that image is Egyptian and one can assume that the backdrop is easily recognizable and designed to throw pursuers off the trail… for good reason. It would be smart for investors to crowdfund to hire #hitman — crypto_prophet (@cryoto_prophet) April 18, 2018

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Facebook confirms to TechCrunch that it’s investigating a security research report that shows Facebook user data can be grabbed by third-party JavaScript trackers embedded on websites using Login With Facebook. The exploit lets these trackers gather a user’s data including name, email address, age range, gender, locale, and profile photo depending on what users originally provided to the website. It’s unclear what these trackers do with the data, but many of their parent companies including Tealium, AudienceStream, Lytics, and ProPS sell publisher monetization services based on collected user data. The abusive scripts were found on 434 of the top 1 million websites including freelancer site Fiverr.com, camera seller B&H Photo And Video, and cloud database provider MongoDB. That’s according to Steven Englehardt and his colleagues at Freedom To Tinker, which is hosted by Princeton’s Center For Information Technology Policy. Meanwhile, concert site BandsInTown was found to be passing Login With Facebook user data to embedded scripts on sites that install its Amplified advertising product. An invisible BandsInTown iframe would load on these sites, pulling in user data that was then accessible to embedded scripts. That let any malicious site using BandsInTown learn the identity of visitors. BandsInTown has now fixed this vulnerability. TechCrunch is still awaiting a formal statement from Facebook beyond “We will look into this and get back to you.” After TechCrunch brough the issue to MongoDB’s attention this morning, it investigated and just provided this statement “We were unaware that a third-party technology was using a tracking script that collects parts of Facebook user data. We have identified the source of the script and shut it down.” Fiverr and BandsInTown did not respond before press time.   The discovery of these data security flaws comes at a vulnerable time for Facebook. The company is trying to recover from the Cambridge Analytica scandal, CEO Mark Zuckerberg just testified before congress, and today it unveiled privacy updates to comply with Europe’s GDPR law. But Facebook’s recent API changes designed to safeguard user data didn’t prevent these exploits. And the situation shines more light on the little-understood ways Facebook users are tracked around the Internet, not just on its site. “When a user grants a website access to their social media profile, they are not only trusting that website, but also third parties embedded on that site” writes Englehardt. This chart shows that what some trackers are pulling from users. Freedom To Tinker warned OnAudience about another security issue recently, leading it to stop collecting user info. Facebook could have identified these trackers and prevented these exploits with sufficient API auditing. It’s currently ramping up API auditing as it hunts down other developers that might have improperly shared, sold, or used data like how Dr. Aleksandr Kogan’s app’s user data ended up in the hands of Cambridge Analytica. Facebook could also change its systems to prevent developers from taking an app-specific user ID and employing it to discover that person’s permanent overarching Facebook user ID. Revelations like this are likely to beckon a bigger data backlash. Over the years, the public had became complacent about the ways their data was exploited without consent around the web. While it’s Facebook in the hot seat, other tech giants like Google rely on user data and operate developer platforms that can be tough to police. And news publishers, desperate to earn enough from ads to survive, often fall in with sketchy ad networks and trackers. Zuckerberg makes an easy target because the Facebook founder is still the CEO, allowing critics and regulators to blame him for the social network’s failings. But any company playing fast and loose with user data should be sweating.

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A new space imaging startup called EarthNow aims to provide not just pictures of the planet on demand, but real-time video anywhere a client desires. Its ambition is matched only by its pedigree: Bill Gates, Intellectual Ventures, Airbus, Softbank, and OneWeb founder Greg Wyler are all backing the play. Its promise is a constellation of satellites that will provide video of anywhere on Earth with latency of about a second. You won’t have to wait for a satellite to come into range, or worry about leaving range; at least one will be able to view any area at any given time, so they can pass of the monitoring task to the next satellite over if necessary. Initially aimed at “high value enterprise and government customers,” EarthNow lists things like storm monitoring, illegal fishing vessels (or even pirates), forest fires, whale tracking, watching conflicts in real time, and more. Space imaging is turning into quite a crowded field — if all these constellations actually launch, anyway. The company is in the earliest stages right now, having just been spun out from years of work by founder and CEO Russell Hannigan at Intellectual Ventures under the Invention Science Fund. Early enough, in fact, that there’s no real timeline for prototyping or testing. But it’s not just pie in the sky. Wyler’s OneWeb connection means EarthNow will be built on a massively upgraded version of that company’s satellite platform. Details are few and far between, but the press release promises that “Each satellite is equipped with an unprecedented amount of onboard processing power, including more CPU cores than all other commercial satellites combined.” Presumably a large portion of that will be video processing and compression hardware, since they’ll want to minimize bandwidth and latency but don’t want to skimp on quality. Efficiency is important, too; satellites have extremely limited power, so running multiple off-the-shelf GPUs with standard compression methods probably isn’t a good idea. Real-time, continuous video from orbit (as opposed to near-real-time stills or clips) is as much a software problem as it is hardware. Machine learning also figures, of course: the company plans to do onboard analysis of the imagery, though to what extent isn’t clear. It really makes more sense to me to do this on the ground, but perhaps a first pass by the satellite’s hardware will help move things along. Airbus will do its part by actually producing the satellites, in Toulouse and Florida. The release doesn’t say how many will be built, but full (and presumably redundant) Earth coverage means dozens at the least. But if they’re mass manufactured standard goods, that should keep the price down, relatively speaking anyway. No word on the actual amount raised by the company in January, but with the stature of the investors and the high costs involved in the industry, I can’t imagine it’s less than a few tens of millions. Hannigan himself calls EarthNow “ambitious and unprecedented,” which could be taken as an admission of great risk, but it’s clear that the company has powerful partners and plenty of expertise; Intellectual Ventures doesn’t tend to spin something off unless it’s got something special going. Expect more specifics as the company grows, but I doubt we’ll see anything more than renders for a year or so.

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Days after Disney-owned ESPN launched its new streaming service, ESPN+, a three-year old streaming TV service for sports fans, fuboTV, is announcing the close of $75 million in Series D funding. The round was led by new investor AMC Networks, and includes existing investors 21st Century Fox, Luminari Capital, Northzone, Sky, and the former Scripps Networks Interactive, which was recently acquired by Discovery, Inc. FuboTV has been working to carve out a niche for itself in the streaming TV market, where a number of competitors are delivering television programming to cord cutters by way of the internet. In terms of subscribers, that space today is led by Dish’s Sling TV and AT&T’s newer DirecTV Now. But the market has also seen a lot of newcomers over the past year or so, with launches from Hulu’s Live TV, YouTube TV, and Philo. PlayStation Vue is a competitor as well, while CBS runs its own over-the-top streaming TV service with just its content, CBS All Access. While many streaming TV services offer some sports content in their base packages, or sell additional access through add-ons, fuboTV’s core focus has been on serving the sports fan. The service provides access to live games from the NBA, NHL, UFC, and more soccer than other streaming providers – including matches from Bundesliga, EPL and La Liga to Liga MX, MLS, FIFA World Cup qualifiers, UEFA Champions League matches and more. That access doesn’t come cheap, however. FuboTV’s basic package with 70-plus channels, Fubo Premier, is $19.99 for the first month, which then becomes $44.99 per month after. Customers can then customize their package with other options, like a “Sports Plus,” “Adventure Plus,” or “International Sports Plus” upgrade; a DVR with 500 hours of storage instead of just 30; or the option to add a third stream. Even though the entry-level package is more than a full subscription to a mainstream service like Sling TV or YouTube TV, fuboTV managed to reach over 100,000 paid subscribers as of September 2017, and is continuing to see double-digit growth, it says. Since the last funding round ten months ago, the company has streamed its first MLB All Star Game, Playoffs and World Series; Tour de France; NFL regular season, playoffs and Super Bowl; college football; and the Winter Olympic Games. And it has exited beta on Apple TV, Chromecast, Roku, iOS and Android; revamped its user interface; and debuted new features like “Lookback” and “Startover.” The lineup it offers has begun to broaden beyond sports in recent months, as well. While it has added several new sports additions in the last ten months, it has added entertainment networks, too  – including those from its strategic investors. These include AMC, BBC AMERICA, CBS, CBS Sports Network, CBSN, Food Network, FUSION TV, HGTV, IFC, MSG, MSG+, NESN, NFL Network, Pac-12 Network, Pop, SNY, SundanceTV, The Olympic Channel, Travel Channel and WE tv. Combined, fuboTV offers viewers over 30,000 sporting events per year, 10,000+ titles in its video-on-demand library. In addition, fuboTV has been adding broadcast affiliates and now offers Fox in 87 percent of U.S. households, and NBC and CBS in 72 percent and 68 percent, respectively. In total, it has 257 local broadcast affiliates and owned-and-operated stations on the service. FuboTV doesn’t just generate revenue from subscriptions, however – it also sells advertising. The company tells TechCrunch it’s forecasting a revenue run rate of over $100 million by this time next year. “We are very bullish from an ad perspective, even though we only launched server-side ad insertion in January,” notes fuboTV co-founder and CEO David Gandler. “One quarter in, advertising represents low single-digit percentage of our overall revenue, but it is growing quickly. As a benchmark, we are already experiencing ad revenue per subscriber above Spotify’s recently published ad revenue per user data,” he says. With the new investment, fuboTV plans to double its office space and engineers and product team, and open a second headquarters. The funding will also be used to develop new products and content offerings, and for marketing.    

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posted 3 days ago on techcrunch
It looks like at least one major news publisher is on-board with Brave, the ad-blocking web browser founded by former Mozilla CEO Brendan Eich. Brave Software and Dow Jones Media Group announced today they will be partnering in a deal that will bring Dow Jones content (specifically, full access to Barrons.com or a premium MarketWatch newsletter) to “a limited number of users who download the Brave browser on a first-come, first-serve basis.” In addition, Barron’s and MarketWatch are becoming verified publishers on Brave’s Basic Attention Token (BAT) platform, a blockchain-based system that will allow consumers and eventually advertisers to pay publishers. (Brave had a hugely successful initial coin offering last year.) And the companies said they will be working together to experiment with different ways to use blockchain technology in media and advertising. “As global digital publishers, we believe it is important to continually explore new and emerging technologies that can be used to build quality customer experiences,” said Barron’s Senior Vice President Daniel Bernard in the announcement. The language that the companies are using, as well as the absence of publisher’s flagship newspaper The Wall Street Journal from the deal, suggests that Dow Jones isn’t going all-in on this experiment yet. But it’s certainly a dramatic change in tone from the way most publishers talk about ad-blockers. In fact, a group of newspapers (including the Journal) published a letter two years stating that Brave’s business model was “indistinguishable from a plan to steal our content to publish on your own website.” Brave recently announced the launch of a referral program that rewards creators with BAT when they convince their fans to switch over to the browser. The company also said it has 2 million monthly active users.

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posted 3 days ago on techcrunch
In-store Echoes were clearly just the beginning of Whole Foods’ Amazon integration. Now that the massive online retailer owns your go-to chain for flax, kale and kombucha, it’s time to really roll it into Prime. This week, Whole Foods alerted shoppers via an email spotted by Market Watch that it’s going to sunset both its reward program and digital coupons at the beginning of May. The company teased what’s to come by promising, “We’re Growing Something Good,” along with an Amazon logo. That “good,” however, will not including rolling over benefits into the new program.  Details of the future integration are still sparse at the moment, and we’ve reached out to Amazon for more information. For now, however, the site’s FAQ suggests we all, “Stay tuned for additional announcements for Amazon Prime members.” Prime has, of course, become the great connective tissue in Amazoniverse in recent years. What started as an offer of free shipping has since grown to include all of the company’s multimedia offerings, along with other Bezos-owned businesses, including The Washington Post. Prime will get you six free months of Donald Trump’s least favorite newspaper. Well, one of them, at least. Tying Whole Foods’ rewards and coupons into Prime should prove a perfect bit of synergy for the two parties. Sign up for free shipping and get a deal on bulk chia seeds. What’s not to like? 

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posted 3 days ago on techcrunch
Yesterday brought some interesting news in the cryptocurrency space. In a move that is at once sleazy and ridiculous, PornHub and its tech arm MindGeek announced a partnership with the creators of VergeCoin (XVG), an anonymized cryptocurrency in the vein of Monero that is currently trading at 7 cents, down from an all-time high of about 26 cents during a recent pump. XVG is an epitome of a coin driven by mania. Originally billed as DogecoinDark in 2014, the currency has had some ups and downs but has always displayed the “move fast and break things” mentality that gives cryptocurrencies a bad name. The product is so hapless it can’t even get their Wikipedia entry right. The currency developers recently beseeched its rabid fans — many of whom have been waxing confused on Reddit — to raise $2 million to build a secret partnership. Weeks of speculation followed as Vergins speculated about partners, including eBay and Amazon. The price went up and down and has settled below 10 cents, placing it at position 23 on the CoinMarketCap list. It’s doing well, but not great. Yesterday the big announcement came, as it were. I received a few emails from PornHub PR announcing a crypto partnership but they refused to announce the currency. Now that the currency is officially announced, I’m sure there are some folks who are upset they bought a load of Titcoin. Verge has partnered with PornHub to allow users to pay with the currency. Why? And why would you want to? This is unclear. Presumably the currency allows you to pay completely anonymously but you still have to acquire Verge to pay with Verge and associating a currency with porn pretty much gives the game away as to why you’d spend it. Further, the extensive marketing efforts make PornHub look far more interesting than Verge, especially since Verge shares the same name with the Verge tech site, something that is bound to confuse average buyers. Finally, you get no real benefit from paying with Verge and, in fact, you can’t get your Verge refunded if you decide you no longer want to pay $9.99 a month for premium PR()N. Ultimately this is better for porn than it is for cryptocurrency. PornHub gets a little bit of a media boost and cryptocurrencies — including Bitcoin, Ether and ICO tokens — look like the only source for porn. While VHS and the internet grew out of porn, cryptocurrencies are already well-established and they don’t need any more “sin” associated with them. You can also pay for a number of services with crypto, including Flirt4Free, a cam girl site associated with LiveJasmin. Given that a series of stars in big trucks will be rolling through the U.S. over the next few months promoting cryptocurrencies — that $2 million had to go somewhere — it could be positive for crypto uptake but very bad for crypto perception. While I agree that crypto needs a shot in the arm and a sense of mission, I doubt making it easier to see naked people is quite it. I’d like to see real remittances, real real estate transactions and even real voting systems put in place. Until then, however, stunts like this do little to help.

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posted 3 days ago on techcrunch
Coverfox, one of a handful of companies aiming to digitize insurance in India, has landed fresh funding via a $22 million Series C round that will be used to push into more rural parts of the country. The investment is led by IFC, a sister organization of World Bank, and U.S. insurance firm Transamerica, with participation from existing investors SAIF Partners, Accel and Catamaran Ventures, the fund from Infosys co-founder Narayana Murthy. The company confirmed the round was actually closed in two phases, which explains why media reports around the Transamerica investment surfaced last June. Based in Mumbai, Coverfox is a digital platform that aggregates insurance options. Currently, it works with 35 partners to offer some 150-plus packages that span health, car, bike, life and travel insurance policies in India. Today’s announcement takes Coverfox, which was founded in 2013, to $39 million raised from investors. Many of those same Coverfox backers have also funded digital insurance firm Acko, which was started by Coverfox co-founder Varun Dua last year. Acko and Dua made headlines when, nearly a year ago, the startup announced a $30 million seed investment round that came in before a product had even hit the market. Acko got its license from the Insurance Regulatory & Development Authority of India (IRDAI) in September to go into business, and it again attracted headlines for its relationship with Amazon. The e-commerce firm was said to be in talks to invest (no deal has been announced) while Dua himself said the company was planning to develop products for the e-commerce giant, and potentially others of that scale too. To date, though, Coverfox isn’t working with Acko, according to its CEO Premanshu Singh. “We don’t work with Acko at all, and we don’t plan to work for next three to six months at least,” he said in an interview with TechCrunch, explaining that the company is going after larger insurance providers initially. He also dismissed the potential for consolidation between the two despite the common investor base. “Both entities are very different, with separate teams and different office locations. We can’t visualize anything strategic coming up,” Singh added. Coverfox itself said it has seen “impressive momentum and scale” lately, which Singh clarified as four-fold revenue growth over the past year, although he declined to give specific figures. The company plans to double down on growth and use the new money to expand into India’s tier-two and tier-three cities, where it said that insurance coverage is 35 percent lower than in urban areas, while coverage among women is lower still at 40 percent below that of men. The company also plans to put additional capital behind its Coverdrive app for Android, which is designed to equip insurance sales staff, who previously worked almost entirely offline, with digital-first materials to help grow their business using the Coverfox platform. Coverdrive is a smart addition because it helps the company tackle the long tail of rural India without initial investment upfront. Instead, insurers use its service to boost their own business, thereby growing Coverfox sales at the same time. Singh said Coverdrive accounts for around one-quarter of Coverfox sales. But that isn’t its only focus in tier-two and tier-three markets, where the company will roll out its own staff and focus on listing related policies. Citing the growth of mobile data usage in rural India and a growth in digital as internet banking chips away at the bank assurance model used by most insurance brands, Singh said that rural India is better positioned for expansion than in previous years. Coverfox isn’t yet looking at overseas options despite Singh explaining that there has been a considerable volume of inbound requests. “It’s going to happen for sure [but] we haven’t decided where to go first,” he said. Likewise, the model isn’t decided on either. Beyond a straight-up expansion, Coverfox could move into new markets via partnership or franchise.

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posted 3 days ago on techcrunch
What if there’s a drug that already exists that could treat a disease with no known therapies, but we just haven’t made the connection? Finding that connection by exhaustively analyzing complex biomechanics within the body — with the help of machine learning, naturally — is the goal of ReviveMed, a new biotech startup out of MIT that just raised $1.5 million in seed funding. Around the turn of the century, genomics was the big thing. Then, as the power to investigate complex biological processes improved, proteomics became the next frontier. We may have moved on again, this time to the yet more complex field of metabolomics, which is where ReviveMed comes in. Leila Pirhaji, ReviveMed’s founder and CEO, began work on the topic during her time as a postgrad at MIT. The problem she and her colleagues saw was the immense complexity of interactions between proteins, which are encoded in DNA and RNA, and metabolites, a class of biomolecules with even greater variety. Hidden in these innumerable interactions somewhere are clues to how and why biological processes are going wrong, and perhaps how to address that. “The interaction of proteins and metabolites tells us exactly what’s happening in the disease,” Pirhaji told me. “But there are over 40,000 metabolites in the human body. DNA and RNA are easy to measure, but metabolites have tremendous diversity in mass. Each one requires its own experiment to detect.” As you can imagine, the time and money that would be involved in such an extensive battery of testing have made metabolomics difficult to study. But what Pirhaji and her collaborators at MIT decided was that it was similar enough to other “big noisy data set” problems that the nascent approach of machine learning could be effective. “Instead of doing experiments,” Pirhaji said, “why don’t we use AI and our database?” ReviveMed, which she founded along with data scientist Demarcus Briers and biotech veteran Richard Howell, is the embodiment of that proposal. Pharmaceutical companies and research organizations already have a mess of metabolites masses, known interactions, suspected but unproven effects, and disease states and outcomes. Plenty of experimentation is done, but the results are frustratingly vague owing to the inability to the inability to be sure about the metabolites themselves or what they’re doing. Most experimentation has resulted in partial understanding of a small proportion of known metabolites. That data isn’t just a few drives’ worth of spreadsheets and charts, either. Not only does the data comprise drug-protein, protein-protein, protein-metabolite, and metabolite-disease interactions, but they’re including data that’s essentially never been analyzed: “We’re looking at metabolites that no one has looked at before.” The information is sitting in an archive somewhere, gathering dust. “We actually have to go physically pick up the mass spectrometry files,” Pirhaji said. (“They’re huge,” she added.) Once they got the data all in one place (Pirhaji described it as “a big hairball with millions of interactions,” in a presentation in March), they developed a model to evaluate and characterize everything in it, producing the kind of insights machine learning systems are known for. The “hairball.” The results were more than a little promising. In a trial run, they identified new disease mechanisms for Huntington’s, new therapeutic targets (i.e. biomolecules or processes that could be affected by drugs), and existing drugs that may affect those targets. The secret sauce, or one ingredient anyway, is the ability to distinguish metabolites with similar masses (sugars or fats with different molecular configurations but the same number and type of atoms, for instance) and correlate those metabolites with both drug and protein effects and disease outcomes. The metabolome fills in the missing piece between disease and drug without any tests establishing it directly. At that point the drug will, of course, require real-world testing. But although ReviveMed does do some verification on its own, this is when the company would hand back the results to its clients, pharmaceutical companies, which then take the drug and its new effect to market. In effect, the business model is offering a low-cost, high-reward R&D as a service to pharma, which can hand over reams of data it has no particular use for, potentially resulting in practical applications for drugs that already have millions invested in their testing and manufacture. What wouldn’t Pfizer pay to determine that Robitussin also prevents Alzheimers? That knowledge is worth billions, and ReviveMed is offering a new, powerful way to check for such things with little in the way of new investment. This is the kind of web of molecules and effects that the system sorts through. ReviveMed, for its part, is being a bit more choosy than that — its focus is on untreatable diseases with a good chance that existing drugs affect them. The first target is fatty liver disease, which affects millions, causing great suffering and cost. And something like Huntington’s, in which genetic triggers and disease effects are known but not the intermediate mechanisms, is also a good candidate for which the company’s models can fill the gap. The company isn’t reliant on Big Pharma for its data, though. The original training data was all public (though “very fragmented”) and it’s that on which the system is primarily based. “We have a patent on our process for getting this metabolome data and translating it into insights,” Pirhaji notes, although the work they did at MIT is available for anyone to access (it was published in Nature Methods, in case you were wondering). But compared with genomics and proteomics, not much metabolomic data is public — so although ReviveMed can augment its database with data from clients, its researchers are also conducting hundreds of human tests on their own to improve the model. The business model is a bit complicated as well — “It’s very case by case,” Pirhaji told me. A research hospital looking to collaborate and share data while sharing any results publicly or as shared intellectual property, for instance, would not be a situation where a lot of cash would change hands. But a top-5 pharma company — two of which ReviveMed already has dealings with — that wants to keep all the results for itself and has limitless coffers would pay a higher cost. I’m oversimplifying, but you get the idea. In many cases, however, ReviveMed will aim to be a part of any intellectual property it contributes to. And of course the data provided by the clients goes into the model and improves it, which is its own form of payment. So you can see that negotiations might get complicated. But the company already has several revenue-generating pilots in place, so even at this early stage those complications are far from insurmountable. Lastly there’s the matter of the seed round: $1.5 million, led by Rivas Capital along with TechU, Team Builder Ventures, and WorldQuant. This should allow them to hire the engineers and data scientists they need and expand in other practical ways. Placing well in a recent Google machine learning competition got them $200K worth of cloud computing credit, so that should keep them crunching for a while. ReviveMed’s approach is a fundamentally modern one that wouldn’t be possible just a few years ago, such is the scale of the data involved. It may prove to be a powerful example of data-driven biotech as lucrative as it is beneficial. Even the early proof-of-concept and pilot work may provide help to millions or save lives — it’s not every day a company is founded that can say that.

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posted 3 days ago on techcrunch
Entrepreneurs know the stress that comes from bootstrapping a tech startup on a shoestring budget — and a frayed one at that. That’s why we’re reminding you that you can still save big bucks on passes to San Francisco Disrupt 2018, which runs from September 5-7. The Super Early Bird price offers up to $1,800 in savings, but it all disappears on May 3 — just two short weeks from now. Go get your passes right here. Entrepreneurs also know good ROI when they see it. Disrupt attracts some of the greatest minds, movers, shakers and makers on the frontier of technology. Whether you’re looking to secure funding, find collaborators, meet a new co-founder or invest in a startup, the networking opportunities alone make Disrupt a must-attend event. TechCrunch Disrupt is known for debuting tech innovations that change the way we live, work and play. And, in case you haven’t heard, Disrupt SF 2018 will be our biggest most ambitious event ever. What does that mean? Let’s start with the new venue — Moscone Center West — with three times more floor space. And we’ll need it to accommodate the more than 10,000 people attending three full days packed with the best tech programming around. We’re talking four different stages — including the Main Stage showcasing emerging tech — interactive workshops, Q&A Sessions, 12 different category tracks and more than 1,200 startups and exhibitors. You’ll find those 1,200 pre-series A startups exhibiting in Startup Alley, the very soul of TechCrunch Disrupt. Companies in just about every vertical you can think of will showcase their best tech, talent, products, platforms and services. Did we mention our incredible speakers? We’ll have more announcements to come, but we’re off to an exciting start because GirlBoss Media CEO Sophia Amoruso, Carbon CEO Dr. Joseph DeSimone and Adidas CMO Eric Liedtke will be gracing the Disrupt SF stage. Disrupt wouldn’t be Disrupt without the Startup Battlefield, the best pitch-competition platform for launching your startup to the world. Again, this year we’re going bigger and better. The grand-prize champion scores a very cool $100,000 (folks, that’s not a typo). Think your startup has what it takes to win the Disrupt Cup? You have nothing to lose and 100,000 things to gain. Apply today at our new TechCrunch Application Hub. And for the first time ever, we’re taking the Hackathon global. Yup, now thousands of devs, hackers, coders and programmers from around the world will compete in our Virtual Hackathon. Sign up here to receive updates on how you can participate. Disrupt San Francisco 2018 takes place on September 5-7, 2018. It’s bigger, better and value-packed. Don’t miss your chance to get in at the lowest price. Buy your passes now before May 3 and save.

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