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Roku’s home entertainment hub, The Roku Channel, is expanding into kids’ programming. The company this morning announced plans to aggregate kids and family movies and TV alongside the channel’s other content, including its free, ad-supported movies and television, live TV, and subscriptions. In addition to the launch of the new “Kids & Family” section on The Roku Channel, Roku is also rolling out Parental Control features to give parents more control over what their kids can watch when accessing the channel. The latter — while useful for families who don’t want the kids stumbling upon their HBO or Cinemax subscriptions — will also be a hindrance when the parents go to watch their own shows in The Roku Channel, due to Roku’s current lack of user profiles. Meanwhile, the new kids section is not home to original content, but rather takes advantage of Roku’s ability to aggregate the streaming content on its own platform — including both free content from other channels and digital creators, as well as kid-friendly content from the family’s paid subscriptions. At launch, the Kids & Family section will offer 7,000 free, ad-supported TV episodes and movies from 20 partners, including All Spark, A Hasbro Company, DHX Media, Happy Kids TV, Lionsgate, Mattel, Moonbug, and pocket.watch, and others. This will bring a mix of classic franchises and favorite characters to the channel, like Care Bears, The Cat in the Hat, Leapfrog, Little Baby Bum, My Little Pony, Rev & Roll, Super Mario Brothers, Thomas & Friends and more.  This content will be mixed in with live, linear streams from Moonbug, pocket.watch, and XUMO-powered partners Ameba, BatteryPop, and KidGenius. There will also be five exclusive episodes of Ryan’s World by pocket.watch available. In addition, the new section can pull in premium kids content from services like Blue Ant Media’s ZooMoo, CONtv, Dove Channel, HBO, Hopster, NOGGIN, Starz, or Up Faith. That allows access to more well-known kids brands, like Bubble Guppies, Dora the Explorer, PAW Patrol, Peppa Pig, and family-friendly movies, including Adventures of Elmo in Groucholand, Muppets Take Manhattan and more. In total, there are nearly 30 partners participating in the Kids & Family section. Notably absent, however, are top sources for kids’ shows, like Netflix and Hulu. These larger streaming services want to own the user experience end-to-end and collect their own data. Roku says it will collect “non-user level data” from the new section, in order to see, in aggregate, which programs are popular. But it will not use data to personalize the experience for kids, target kids with ads, or make recommendations. Instead, the content in the Kids & Family section is organized by age range, character, and theme in an interface that resembles Netflix’s Kids’ profile layout. The ad load is also lighter than elsewhere on The Roku Channel, the company says. “For The Roku Channel overall, we have on average, approximately half of the advertising time of traditional ad-supported linear TV. So it’s a really light ad load. And we think that something’s really resonated with users. When we look at a Kids & Family viewing experience, we want to even further reduce that advertising time. So we’re taking it down to 40% of the advertising time on traditional linear,” says Roku’s Vice President of Programming Rob Holmes. He adds that the advertisers are kid-appropriate, and are vetted and served internally by Roku. Ad revenue is the only way the new section will be monetized. Roku tells us the premium kids content will only be displayed to existing subscribers, as it’s not in the business of trying to upsell to children. The launch follows several other recent developments for The Roku Channel, now one of Roku’s top five channels and a big selling point for Roku devices and TVs. Since its 2017 launch which focused on aggregating free movies, the company has expanded into news, sports, TV shows and other entertainment offerings both from traditional studios and digital networks, as well as paid subscriptions from networks like HBO, Cinemax, Showtime, Starz, EPIX and more. Roku closed out its second quarter with 30.5 million active accounts, up by 1.4 million from the prior quarter, and revenue up 59% year-over-year to $250.1 million. The company’s platform business is now the primary revenue driver, up 86% year-over-year to reach $167.7 million in the quarter. Users streamed 9.4 billion hours of content on Roku in Q2. Media companies have been heavily investing in kids’ programming, especially in the cord-cutting era, which gives Roku a large library to tap into. However, the biggest names in kids’ streaming — like Netflix and soon, Disney (with Disney+) — will not participate in aggregated sections like this, which ultimately limits their ability to become a true one-stop-shop for everything you want to stream. The Roku Channel is rolling out in the U.S. today, on Roku devices, the web, the Roku mobile app, and select Samsung smart TVs.

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Rocket Lab has successfully launched its eight mission, an Electron rocket rideshare flight carrying four satellites to orbit for various clients. The Electron launched from Rocket Lab’s Launch Complex 1 in New Zealand, at 12:12 AM NZST (8:12 AM ET). This was its second attempt, after a scrub last week due to adverse weather conditions on the launch range. On board, it carried a rideshare mission from launch services provider Spaceflight, which works to bring together payloads to simplify the process of finding a provider for smaller payloads and companies. The Spaceflight portion of the payload included three satellites: One satellite from BlackSky, which does Earth-imaging, and which will join its twin launched by Rocket Lab in June already in low-Earth orbit to form a constellation. Spaceflight’s cargo also included two experimental satellites launched by the U.S. Air Force Space Command, which will carry out tests of new technology related to spacecraft propulsion, power, communications and more, and which are designed to pave the way for deployment of related technologies in future spacecraft. There’s also a fourth satellite on board, a CubeSat that will be the anchor for a new constellation aimed at providing up-to-date and accurate monitoring of maritime traffic, operated by Unseenlabs. Rocket Lab’s New Zealand LC-1 will be joined by a second launch site in Virginia, to provide a U.S.-based complimentary launch site for serving customers on a monthly basis. The company also plans to eventually make its Electron rockets reusable, even though they were originally intended as fully expendable launch vehicles, using a recovery process that involves catching returning rockets mid-air after they re-enter Earth’s atmosphere. Today’s launch included a test of recovery equipment for the Electron’s first stage – an initial test that aimed to have the rocket land back in the Pacific via parachute, where Rocket Lab will attempt to pick it up from the ocean for potential refurbishment. Rocket Lab’s Electron rocket will go reusable, with the company aiming for mid-air helicopter recovery

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Twitter is being criticized for running promoted tweets by China’s largest state news agency that paint pro-democracy demonstrations in Hong Kong as violent, even though the rallies, including one that drew an estimated 1.7 million people this weekend, have been described as mostly peaceful by international media. Promoted tweets from China Xinhua News, the official mouthpiece of the Chinese Communist Party, were spotted and shared by the Twitter account of Pinboard, the bookmarking service founded by Maciej Ceglowski, and other users. Every day I go out and see stuff with my own eyes, and then I go to report it on Twitter and see promoted tweets saying the opposite of what I saw. Twitter is taking money from Chinese propaganda outfits and running these promoted tweets against the top Hong Kong protest hashtags pic.twitter.com/6Wb0Km6GOb — Pinboard (@Pinboard) August 17, 2019 I just came home from a completely peaceful march where possibly a million Hong Kong residents came out, with no police in sight, to call for basic democratic rights. What greets me is straight up lies from Xinhua about “bands of thugs”, courtesy of Twitter advertising. pic.twitter.com/pUTsnqZ5oN — Pinboard (@Pinboard) August 18, 2019 The demonstrations began in March to protest a now-suspended extradition bill, but have grown to encompass other demands including the release of imprisoned protestors, inquiries into police conduct, the resignation of current Chief Executive of Hong Kong Carrie Lam and a more democratic process for electing Legislative Council members and the Chief Executive. While China Xinhua News has repeatedly described demonstrators as violent, international observers have criticized the Hong Kong police’s use of excessive force against peaceful protestors, including incidents documented in footage verified by Amnesty International. The irony of China Xinhua News’ tweets is that they let the Chinese Communist Party disseminate its version of events to a worldwide audience even though Twitter is officially banned in China (along with other U.S. social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram, Google, YouTube, Tumblr and Snapchat). The Chinese government has also recently begun to keep a closer eye on citizens who use VPNs to access blocked services. For example, the Washington Post reported in January that even though there are only an estimated 10 million Chinese citizens on Twitter, its role as a platform for critics of the Chinese government means users are under increased scrutiny. In June, Twitter was accused of censoring critics of the Chinese government after numerous Chinese-language user accounts were removed days before the thirtieth anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre. The company said that the accounts had been removed by error and, despite speculation, “were not mass reported by the Chinese authorities.” It is unknown how much China Xinhua News has spent on promoted tweets or where they are being targeted. Twitter has been contacted for comment.

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Uncork Capital, the now 15-year-old, early-stage venture firm formerly known as SoftTech VC, has closed up two new pools of committed capital totaling $200 million: $100 million for its sixth early-stage fund, and $100 million for an “opportunity” fund so it can stuff a little more capital into those of its portfolio companies that start to break away from the pack. The firm had closed its first opportunity fund with $50 million in mid 2016. It closed its fifth early-stage fund at the same time with $100 million. We talked on Friday with Uncork founder Jeff Clavier about the firm, which is currently writing first checks that range from $750,000 to $2 million. He told us that as with Uncork’s most recent set of funds, the idea is to invest in roughly 35 companies across three years, taking 10 percent ownership on average, and up to 12 percent of a portfolio company when it is the lead investor. Clavier also said that while fully half of the fund will go into startups that sell cloud software to businesses, Uncork plans to invest roughly 10 percent of the fund in consumer marketplaces; roughly 10 percent in hardware; roughly 20 percent in so-called frontier tech — whether it be augmented reality or virtual reality or space of robotics or blockchain-related deals; and roughly 10 percent in bioinformatics and synthetic biology. That last area of interest is brand new to Uncork, so we asked if the firm — which counts Stephanie Palmeri and Andy McLoughlin as partners — was perhaps planning to hire a biotech investor. Clavier said that isn’t, that instead it will rely on external resources to help with due diligence and to learn along the way. “In the same way that I looked at 30 investments in space tech and invested in Loft Orbital [a company that’s assembling a constellation to carry payloads for customers who don’t want to operate their own satellites], my expectation is that I’ll look at a bunch of [synthetic bio] deals and we’ll end up with one or two,” he said. Uncork has enjoyed a steady stream of exits in recent years, including, mostly newly, the sale of ad tech company Vungle for a reported $750 million last month to the private equity firm Blackstone. [Clavier declined to confirm or correct its sale price.] Uncork is also an early investor in the food delivery company Postmates, which is reportedly on track to go public this year. And Uncork was an early backer in the email service startup SendGrid, which sold to the publicly traded communications platform Twilio earlier this last year for $3 billion in stock. Some of the firm’s other high-profile bets include Fitbit, which went public in 2015; Brightroll, which was acquired by Yahoo in 2015; and Eventbrite, which went public last fall (though its shares almost immediately fell below their IPO price and have remained below it). As for its first opportunity fund, the startup that has received the biggest check from Uncork — $5 million — is the fashion resale marketplace Poshmark, which is also reportedly eyeing an IPO in 2019.

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Minecraft is getting a free update that brings much-improved lighting and color to the game’s blocky graphics using real-time ray tracing running on Nvidia GeForce RTX graphics hardware. The new look is a dramatic change in the atmospherics of the game, and manages to be eerily realistic while retaining Minecraft’s pixelated charm. The ray tracing tech will be available via a free update to the game on Windows 10 PCs, but it’ll only be accessible to players using an Nvidia GeForce RTX GPU, since that’s the only graphics hardware on the market that currently supports playing games with real-time ray tracing active. It sounds like it’ll be an excellent addition to the experience for players who are equipped with the right hardware, however – including lighting effects not only from the sun, but also from in-game materials like glowstone and lava; both hard and soft shadows depending on transparency of material and angle of light refraction; and accurate reflections in surfaces that are supposed to be reflective (ie. gold blocks, for instance). This is welcome news after Minecraft developer Mojang announced last week that it cancelled plans to release its Super Duper Graphics Pack, which was going to add a bunch of improved visuals to the game, because it wouldn’t work well across platforms. At the time, Mojang said it would be sharing news about graphics optimization for some platforms “very soon,” and it looks like this is what they had in mind. Nvidia meanwhile is showing off a range of 2019 games with real-time ray tracing enabled at Gamescom 2019 in Cologne, Germany, including Dying Light 2, Cyperpunk 2077, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare and Watch Dogs: Legion. [gallery ids="1870333,1870334,1870335"]

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Disrupt Berlin 2019, our premier European tech conference, takes place on 11-12 December and draws 3,000 people from more than 50 countries. Every year we work hard to improve our content programming and present it in new and engaging ways to a very savvy startup audience. This year be sure to check out the Extra Crunch Stage for information you can put in place back at the home base. If you need to buy a super early-bird pass to Disrupt Berlin, why not take care of that essential detail now? Go ahead…we’ll wait. Okay, back to our regularly scheduled programming. On the Extra Crunch Stage, we’re focusing on the founders, investors and tech leaders who’ve been there, done that, who will provide how-to content, practical tips and actionable advice that founders need to succeed in the European tech landscape. The new name and mission come from TC’s recently launched subscription product. Designed for our most engaged readers, this extra crunchy layer of gated content goes deep on entrepreneurial and startup topics like inclusion and diversity, hiring practices, legal and product decisions, as well as mental health and wellness in high-performance businesses. Treat yourself to an Innovator, Founder or Investor pass, because that’s the only way you’ll gain access to this Extra Crunchy wisdom. Those same passes also provide access to all the fine content, speakers, panelists, interactive workshops and events that take place on the Main Stage, the Showcase Stage and in the Q&A sessions. That’s a whole lot to take in, and you’ll be busy indeed as you explore hundreds of early-stage startups exhibiting their tech and talent in Startup Alley. Marvel at the brilliant Startup Battlefield competitors vying for $50,000 as they launch on a global stage. Learn from our roster of speakers, the top players in the startup world — tech titans, leading investors and boundary-pushing founders — as they examine emerging trends and critical challenges. Disrupt Berlin 2019 takes place on 11-12 December. Get your super early-bird pass, get Extra Crunchy and get ready to make the most of your time at Disrupt. We’ll see you in Berlin! Is your company interested in sponsoring or exhibiting at Disrupt Berlin 2019? Contact our sponsorship sales team by filling out this form.

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Want to give your kids access to Spotify, but only the “clean” stuff? It’ll be an option soon. Spotify’s family plan — the one that gets you six accounts for 15 bucks — is picking up a feature that the company says people have been asking about for years: parental controls. Under the new setup, the primary Spotify account holder will be able to toggle the explicit content filter for any of their sub-accounts. Once it’s on, said sub-accounts won’t be able to turn off the filter without the account admin’s help. While Spotify has had an explicit content filter built in for a few years now, it was just a toggle the user could flip on and off for themselves— not something that parents could set on their kid’s accounts. Spotify is also introducing a feature it’s calling “family mix” — a custom generated playlist composed of tracks that Spotify thinks everyone in the family will be into. Going on a family road trip and didn’t have time to make a playlist? Family mix might help keep everyone happy for a few more minutes before the little one starts demanding you put on Moana again. The company says the new family features are rolling out in Ireland first, and it’ll roll out eveywhere else they offer family plans shortly thereafter.

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WeTransfer, the Amsterdam-headquartered company that is best know for its file-sharing service, is disclosing a €35 million secondary funding round. The investment is led by European growth equity firm, HPE Growth, with “significant” participation from existing investor Highland Europe. Being secondary funding — meaning that a number of shareholders have sold all or a portion of their holding — no new money has entered WeTransfer’s balance sheet. We are also told that Jonne de Leeuw, of HPE, will replace WeTransfer co-founder Nalden on the company’s Supervisory Board. He joins Bas Beerens (founder of WeTransfer), Irena Goldenberg (Highland Europe) and Tony Zappalà (Highland Europe). The exact financial terms of the secondary funding, including valuation, aren’t being disclosed. However, noteworthy is that WeTransfer says it has been profitable for 6 years. “The valuation of the company is not public, but what I can tell you is that it’s definitely up significantly since the Series A in 2015,” WeTransfer CEO Gordon Willoughby tells me. “WeTransfer has become a trusted brand in its space with significant scale. Our transfer service has 50 million users a month across 195 countries, sharing over 1.5 billion files each month”. In addition to the wildly popular WeTransfer file-sharing service, the company operates a number of other apps and services, some it built in-house and others it has acquired. They include content sharing app Collect (claiming 4 million monthly users), sketching tool Paper (which has had 25 million downloads) and collaborative presentation tool Paste (which claims 40,000 active teams). “We want to help people work more effectively and deliver more impactful results, with tools that collectively remove friction from every stage of the creative process — from sparking ideas, capturing content, developing and aligning, to delivery,” says Willoughby. “Over the past two years, we’ve been investing heavily in our product development and have grown tremendously following the acquisition of the apps Paper and Paste. This strengthened our product set. Our overarching mission is to become the go-to source for beautiful, intuitive tools that facilitate creativity, rather than distract from it. Of course, our transfer service is still a big piece of that — it’s a brilliantly simple tool that more than 50 million people a month love to use”. Meanwhile, Willoughby describes WeTransfer’s dual revenue model as “pretty unique”. The company offers a premium subscription service called WeTransfer Plus, and sells advertising in the form of “beautiful” full-screen ads called wallpapers on Wetransfer.com. “Each piece of creative is fully produced in-house by our creative studio with an uncompromising focus on design and user experience,” explains the WeTransfer CEO. “With full-screen advertising, we find that our users don’t feel they’re simply being sold to. This approach to advertising has been incredibly effective, and our ad performance has far outpaced IAB standards. Our advertising inventory is sought out by brands like Apple, Nike, Balenciaga, Adobe, Squarespace, and Saint Laurent”. Alongside this, WeTransfer says it allocates up to 30% of its advertising inventory and “billions of impressions” to support and spotlight up-and-coming creatives, and causes, such as spearheading campaigns for social issues. The company has 185 employees in total, with about 150 in Amsterdam and the rest across its U.S. offices in L.A. and New York.

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Singapore-based budget hotel booking startup RedDoorz is tiny in comparison to fast-growing giant Oyo. But it is holding its ground and winning the trust of an ever growing number of investors. On Monday, the four-year-old startup announced it has raised $70 million in Series C financing round, less than five months after it closed its $45 million Series B. The new round, which is ongoing, was led by Asia Partners and saw participation from new investors Rakuten Capital and Mirae Asset-Naver Asia Growth Fund. The startup, which has raised $140 million to date, has been seeing “tremendous interest from investors, so it is decided to do a back-to-back rounds,” said Amit Saberwal, founder and CEO of RedDoorz, in an interview with TechCrunch. Regardless, the new funds will help RedDoorz fight SoftBank-backed Oyo, which is already aggressively expanding to new markets. Oyo currently operates in more than 80 nations. Saberwal isn’t necessarily threatened by Oyo, on the contrary, he sees Oyo’s success as a testament that there is room for more players to be in the space. He is confident that RedDoorz is “on the right track to create the next tech unicorn in Southeast Asia,” and trade in public exchange in the next two to three years. RedDoorz operates a marketplace of “two-star, three-star and below” budget hotels, selling access to rooms to people. Currently it has 1,400 hotels on its network, said Saberwal. By the end of the year, the startup aims to grow this number to 2,000. The startup operates in 80 cities across Indonesia, Singapore, the Philippines and Vietnam, and plans to use the new capital to expand its network in its existing markets, said Saberwal. At least for the next one year, RedDoorz has no plans to expand beyond the four markets where it currently operates, he said. “Anything in the accommodation is our playground. We have all kinds of properties. We have three-star hotels, some hostels, so we will continue to go deeper and wider moving forward,” Saberwal, a former top executive at India’s travel giant MakeMyTrip, said. It’s a great combination: Making the ubiquity of typically unorganized local guesthouse-style rooms with the more organized and efficient — but pricier — hotel option. Some of the new capital will also go into broadening RedDoorz’s tech infrastructure, building a second engineering hub in Vietnam. (RedDoorz’s current regional tech hub is based in India.)

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The Bugatti Centodieci is the French automaker’s most powerful supercar yet — coming in a skosh above the Chiron at 1,600 horsepower. But it’s not just the power — or the $8.9 million price tag — that makes the Centodieci stand out. The angular supercar, still dotted with the signature Bugatti design elements, tips its hat to the mid-engine EB110 supercar that debuted in 1991 when the company was owned by Romano Artioli. One look at the Bugatti Centodieci, which had its world debut at the Quail Gathering during Monterey Car Week, and it’s clear that the early 1990s supercar was an inspiration. The Bugatti Centodieci But the Centodieci isn’t a copycat of the wedge-shaped, seemingly two-dimensional EB110. Instead, Bugatti designers aimed to bring the EB110 into the modern era. “Transporting this classic look into the new millennium without copying it was technically complex, to say the least,” Bugatti head designer Achim Anscheidt said in a statement. “We had to create a new way of combining the complex aerothermal requirements of the underlying Chiron technology with a completely different aesthetic appearance.”  The Centodieci, which means 110 in Italian to commemorate the 110th anniversary of the company’s founding, has a newly developed, deep-seated front spoiler along with three-section air intakes. The iconic Bugatti horseshoe is smaller than its counterparts — a decision made to fit in with the car’s the low-dropping front. The Centodieci also has new, very narrow headlamps with integrated LED daytime running lights and five round air inserts to ensure sufficient air intake for its 16-cylinder engine. The nod to the 1990s ends inside the Centodieci. In here, it’s all modern-day engineering. The 8.0-liter W16 engine produces 1,600 horsepower and can accelerate from 0 to 62 miles per hour in 2.4 seconds. The top speed has been electronically limited to 236 mph. Here’s a 360-degree view of the vehicle. Bugatti will only produce 10 of the Centodieci and they’re already sold, Pierre Rommelfanger, Bugatti’s head of exterior and structure development confirmed to TechCrunch. Typically, supercars such as these can be highly customized to meet the desires of their owners. And the Bugatti Centodieci will be no different — to a point. “There are limits in order to reduce complexity,” Rommelfanger said. Deliveries to the first Centodieci customers will begin in 2022. Bugatti has other orders to fill besides the Centodieci. The company is also producing 40 of the Bugatti Divo and just one La Voiture Noire, which is the world’s most expensive new car ever sold at $18.68 million. The company also plans to produce 500 Bugatti Chiron cars. If president Stephan Winkelmann sticks to his plan to introduce two new products each year, more Bugatti models will soon join the Centodieci, Chiron, Divo and La Voiture Noire.

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Tesla is pitching customers on a new rental offering for solar power as a way to revive the flagging fortunes of its renewable energy business. Once among the largest installers of renewables in the country through SolarCity, Tesla has seen its share of the market decline significantly since its acquisition of SolarCity three years ago. In the second quarter Tesla deployed only 29 megawatts of new solar installations, while the number one and two providers of consumer solar, SunRun and Vivint Solar installed 103 megawatts and 56 megawatts respectively. That’s likely one reason why Elon Musk took to Twitter early Sunday morning to pitch the new solar rental program. One click to order solar & save ~$500/year in utility bills with no long-term contract (cancel anytime) — Elon Musk (@elonmusk) August 18, 2019 According to Musk, the new program is “like having a money printer on your roof” for potential customers who live in states with high energy costs. “Still better to buy,” Musk exhorted, “but the rental option makes the economics obvious.” Unlike SunRun and Vivint, which both used partnerships with homebuilders and retailers like Home Depot, BJ’s Wholesale, Costco and Sam’s Club to acquire customers, Tesla slashed ended door-to-door marketing and abandoned its partnership with Home Depot. The company began relying almost entirely on direct sales to power its solar business and eschewed the no-money-down lease model, which SolarCity had used so effectively. Under the new system, Telsa is offering customers the option to rent solar systems for anywhere from $65 for a small installation to $195 for its largest installation. Customers only need to pay a fully refundable $100 charge. Tesla said the contract can be canceled any time, but it would charge users $1,500 to remove the system once it has been installed. Tesla did not respond to a request for comment at the time of publication.  

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When we reviewed “Another Life” last week, we described it as an old-fashioned science fiction space show, something that’s been absent from TV for the past decade or so. “Wu Assassins” is another new Netflix series, and it’s also is a kind of a throwback — this time to ’90s martial arts series like “Vanishing Son” and “Kung Fu: The Legend Continues.” As we explain in the latest episode of the Original Content podcast, “Wu Assassins” — which tells the story of Kai, a San Francisco chef who receives mystical powers and must battle powerful nemeses known as the Wu Lords — has plenty of delightfully cheesy writing and special effects. But it’s set apart from those older shows in a couple key ways. First, there’s the fact that Indonesian martial arts star Iko Uwais (who you might recognize from “The Raid” and “Star Wars: The Force Awakens”) plays as Kai — he’s not a great dramatic actor, but once the action starts, he becomes a blur of punches and kicks. The producers have surrounded Uwais with other other accomplished martial artists, so the resulting fight scenes are extraordinary. “Wu Assassins” includes a couple big set pieces, but even more remarkably, every single fight (and there are plenty) feels like it’s been choreographed for the perfect mix of beauty and brutality. Even better, there’s Byron Mann’s performance as Uncle Six, a ruthless triad boss who has a long history with Kai. Mann brings real charisma and humanity to his performance, and he turns his dramatic scenes with Uwais into absolute highlight of the show. Plus, he’s just as compelling when he’s called upon to beat the crap out of his enemies. In addition to praising “Wu Assassins,” we also discuss the CBS-Viacom merger and listener response to our review of “Another Life.” You can listen in the player below, subscribe using Apple Podcasts or find us in your podcast player of choice. If you like the show, please let us know by leaving a review on Apple. You can also

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This week the New York Times published a five-years-later retrospective on Gamergate and its aftereffects, which is chilling and illuminating, and you should go read it. It makes an excellent case — several excellent written cases, actually — that “everything is Gamergate,” that it and its hate-screeching online mobs were the prototype for all the culture and media wars since and to come. Sadly, the lesson expounded herein by the NYT is one which they — and other media — do not yet seem to have actually learned themselves. Let’s look at another piece which called Gamergate a template for cultural warfare, using the media as a battleground. This one was written back in 2014, by one Kyle Walker, in Deadspin, and its scathing, take-no-prisoners real-time analysis was downright prophetic. A few of its most important passages: Gamergate is […] a relatively small and very loud group of video game enthusiasts who claim that their goal is to audit ethics in the gaming-industrial complex and who are instead defined by the campaigns of criminal harassment that some of them have carried out against several women […] What’s made it effective, though, is that it’s exploited the same basic loophole in the system that generations of social reactionaries have: the press’s genuine and deep-seated belief that you gotta hear both sides … that anyone more respectable than, say, an avowed neo-Nazi is operating in something like good faith It is now clear to us all that that last statement is no longer correct … in that it is far too optimistic. Two years ago, the NYT made it apparent that they are in fact willing to assume “an avowed neo-Nazi is operating in something like good faith,” when they published a piece about “the Nazi sympathizer next door,” one variously called “chummy” (Quartz), “sympathetic” (Business Insider), and “normalizing” (NYT readers themselves, among many others.) Back to Wagner in Deadspin: The demands for journalistic integrity coming from Gamergate have nothing at all to do with the systemic corruption of the gaming media … The claims from what we like to call the “bias journalisms” school of media criticism aren’t meant to express anything in particular, or even, perhaps, to be taken seriously; they’re meant to work the referees, to get them looking over their shoulders, to soften them up in the hopes that a particular grievance, whatever its merits, might get a better hearing next time around. How does it play out? Like this: Earlier this month, the New York Times covered Intel’s capitulation in the face of a coordinated Gamergate campaign, called “Operation Disrespectful Nod.” Here’s that NYT piece from five years ago. It, in turn, begins: For a little more than a month, a firestorm over sexism and journalistic ethics has roiled the video game community, culminating in an orchestrated campaign to pressure companies into pulling their advertisements from game sites. That campaign won a big victory in recent days with a decision by Intel, the chip maker, to pull ads from Gamasutra, a site for game developers. Intel’s decision added to a controversy that has focused attention on the treatment of women in the games business and the power of online mobs. The debate intensified in August, partly because of the online posts of a spurned ex-boyfriend of a female game developer. Wagner’s inescapable conclusion: The story continued in this vein—cautious, assiduously neutral, lobotomized […] Both sides were heard. And thus did Leigh Alexander’s commentary on the pluralism of gaming today get equal time with a campaign bent on silencing her. …Make it a story about an oppressive and hypocritical media conspiracy, and all of a sudden you have a cause, a side in a “debate.” Gamergate, like so many bad-faith movements since, followed a variant of the “motte and bailey” strategy, which is when you make a bold, controversial statement. Then when somebody challenges you, you claim you were just making an obvious, uncontroversial statement, so you are clearly right and they are silly for challenging you. Then when the argument is over you go back to making the bold, controversial statement. Here, the motte is an ugly or vile cause — in Gamergate’s case, vicious misogyny — and the bailey is an entirely different purported argument — for Gamergate, “it’s about ethics in games journalism.” They work the latter argument for credibility, but entirely in bad faith, because it is tacitly understood, both internally and externally, albeit in a quasi-deniable way, that what they actually care about is their ugly cause. This has become the playbook for so many modern disputes, because it continues to be a thoroughly effective way to manipulate the mainstream media. Arguments about purported “grievance politics,” or “the decline of America sanctioned by the elites,” or a manufactured, fictional “immigration crisis,” all continue to be treated by the media as legitimate grievances, and/or good-faith disputes, rather than a thin pretext for bald-faced racism and xenophobia. Every so often the motte is accidentally revealed, as when the head of the USCIS said, just this week, that the famous poem which adorns the Statue of Liberty referred to “people coming from Europe.” But in general the pretense of the bailey is upheld. Let me reiterate: the pretense. These are arguments knowingly made in bad faith. What’s more, the actual cause soon becomes apparent to those who investigate the subject with open and searching minds. Good journalists should not be willing accept such distorted pretenses at face value, nor assume good faith without evidence. The NYT clearly made that mistake, fell into that trap, with Gamergate five years ago. As Wagner put it then, What we have in Gamergate is a glimpse of how these skirmishes will unfold in the future—all the rhetorical weaponry and siegecraft of an internet comment section brought to bear on our culture, not just at the fringes but at the center. How right he was. And yet it is all too apparent that, in the heart and at the heights of the New York Times, nothing of significance has been learned. How else to explain how, five years after Gamergate, and two years after “readers accuse(d) us of normalizing a Nazi sympathizer,” the NYT continues to treat exactly the same kind of bad-faith arguments as if they are meaningful, important, and valid? Most visibly with its most recent headline debacle, but that is only the tip of the wilfuly ignorant iceberg. In the aftermath of that headline incident, Dean Baquet, its executive editor, told CNN a remarkable thing: “Our role is not to be the leader of the resistance.” In other words, the publisher of this excellent recent Gamergate exegesis has learned nothing from it. The NYT’s role should be to lead a resistance — not necessarily against any individual political party or figure, but a resistance of critical thinking, and searching analysis, against deceptive motte-and-bailey arguments. But they don’t seem willing to recognize that they are being manipulated by such bad-faith movements, much less accept that one of them has grown to occupy much of America’s political landscape. One wonders when the Gray Lady will finally open her eyes.

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posted 5 days ago on techcrunch
Hey. This is Week-in-Review, where I give a heavy amount of analysis and/or rambling thoughts on one story while scouring the rest of the hundreds of stories that emerged on TechCrunch this week to surface my favorites for your reading pleasure. Last week, I talked about how Netflix might have some rough times ahead as Disney barrels towards it. The big story There is plenty to be said about the potential of smart glasses. I write about them at length for TechCrunch and I’ve talked to a lot of founders doing cool stuff. That being said, I don’t have any idea what Snap is doing with the introduction of a third-generation of its Spectacles video sunglasses. The first-gen were a marketing smash hit, their sales proved to be a major failure for the company which bet big and seemingly walked away with a landfill’s worth of the glasses. Snap’s latest version of Spectacles were announced in Vogue this week, they are much more expensive at $380 and their main feature is that they have two cameras which capture images in light depth which can lead to these cute little 3D boomerangs. One one hand, it’s nice to see the company showing perseverance with a tough market, on the other it’s kind of funny to see them push the same rock up the hill again. Snap is having an awesome 2019 after a laughably bad 2018, the stock has recovered from record lows and is trading in its IPO price wheelhouse. It seems like they’re ripe for something new and exciting, not beautiful yet iterative. Snap introduces Spectacles 3, with two HD cameras and 3D effects on Snapchat The $150 Spectacles 2 are still for sale, though they seem quite a bit dated-looking at this point. Spectacles 3 seem to be geared entirely towards women, and I’m sure they made that call after seeing the active users of previous generations, but given the write-down they took on the first-generation, something tells me that Snap’s continued experimentation here is borne out of some stubbornness form Spiegel and the higher-ups who want the Snap brand to live in a high fashion world and want to be at the forefront of an AR industry that seems to have already moved onto different things. Send me feedback on Twitter @lucasmtny or email [email protected] On to the rest of the week’s news. Trends of the week Here are a few big news items from big companies, with green links to all the sweet, sweet added context: WordPress buys Tumblr for chump change Tumblr, a game-changing blogging network that shifted online habits and exited for $1.1 billion just changed hands after Verizon (which owns TechCrunch) unloaded the property for a reported $3 million. Read more about this nightmarish deal here. Trump gives American hardware a holiday season pass on tariffs  The ongoing trade war with China generally seems to be rough news for American companies deeply intertwined with the manufacturing centers there, but Trump is giving U.S. companies a Christmas reprieve from the tariffs, allowing certain types of hardware to be exempt from the recent rate increases through December. Read more here. Facebook loses one last acquisition co-founder This week, the final remnant of Facebook’s major acquisitions left the company. Oculus co-founder Nate Mitchell announced he was leaving. Now, Instagram, WhatsApp and Oculus are all helmed by Facebook leadership and not a single co-founder from the three companies remains onboard. Read more here. GAFA Gaffes How did the top tech companies screw up this week? This clearly needs its own section, in order of badness: Facebook’s turn in audio transcription debacle: [Facebook transcribed users’ audio messages without permission] Google’s hate speech detection algorithms get critiqued: [Racial bias observed in hate speech detection algorithm from Google] Amazon has a little email mishap: [Amazon customers say they received emails for other people’s orders] Adam Neumann (WeWork) at TechCrunch Disrupt NY 2017 Extra Crunch Our premium subscription service had another week of interesting deep dives. My colleague Danny Crichton wrote about the “tech” conundrum that is WeWork and the questions that are still unanswered after the company filed documents this week to go public. WeWork’s S-1 misses these three key points …How is margin changing at its older locations? How is margin changing as it opens up in places like India, with very different costs and revenues? How do those margins change over time as a property matures? WeWork spills serious amounts of ink saying that these numbers do get better … without seemingly being willing to actually offer up the numbers themselves… Here are some of our other top reads this week for premium subscribers. This week, we published a major deep dive into the world’s next music unicorn and we dug deep into marketplace startups. How even the best marketplace startups get paralyzed How a Swedish saxophonist built Kobalt, the world’s next music unicorn Sign up for more newsletters in your inbox (including this one) here.

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posted 6 days ago on techcrunch
NASA and SpaceX continue their joint preparations for the eventually astronaut crew missions that SpaceX will fly for the agency, with a test of the emergency evacuation procedure for SpaceX’s GO Searcher seaborne ship. The ship is intended to be used to recover spacecraft and astronauts in an actual mission scenario, and the rehearsals this week are a key part of ensuring mission readiness before an actual crewed SpaceX mission. Photos from the dress rehearsal, which is the first coordinated end-to-end practice run involving the full NASA and SpaceX mission teams working in concert, saw NASA astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken don SpaceX’s fancy new crew suits and mimic a situation where they needed to be removed from the returned Crew Dragon spacecraft and taken to Cape Canaveral Air Force Station from the GO Searcher by helicopter. By all accounts, this was a successful exercise and seems to have left parties on both sides happy with the results. Check out photos released by NASA of the dry run below. [gallery ids="1870192,1870193,1870194,1870195,1870196,1870197,1870198,1870199,1870200,1870201,1870202,1870203,1870204,1870205,1870206,1870207"] SpaceX and NASA continue to work towards a goal of launching Crew Dragon’s first actual crewed flight this year, though they’ve encountered setbacks that make that potentially impossible, including the explosion of a Crew Dragon test vehicle during a static test fire in April.

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posted 6 days ago on techcrunch
Inside Voyage’s plan to deliver a driverless future In the autonomous vehicle space, startups have taken radically different strategies to building our AV future. Some companies like Waymo have driven all across different types of environments in order to rack up the datasets that they believe will be needed to effectively maneuver without a human driver. That’s the opposite strategy of Voyage, where CEO and founder Oliver Cameron and his team have focused on driving safety in the incredibly constrained context of two retirement communities. Our transportation editor Kirsten Korosec talked with the company and analyzes their approach in a new profile for Extra Crunch, and also drops some news about a partnership the company has brewing with a major automotive manufacturer. Cameron, who shies away from discussing timelines, describes the company as inching toward driverless service. Its self-driving software has now reached maturation in the communities it is testing in, and Voyage is now focusing on validation, according to Cameron. Voyage has developed a few systems that will help push it closer to a commercial driverless service while maintaining safety, such as a collision mitigation system that it calls Rango, an internal nickname inspired by the 2011 computer-animated Western action-comedy about a chameleon. This collision mitigation system is designed to be extremely fast-reacting, like a reptile — hence the Rango name. Rango, which has an independent power source and compute system and uses a different approach to perception than the main self-driving system, is designed to react quickly. If needed, it will engage the full force of the brakes. Startup ads are taking over the subway Public transit is just swimming in startup ads. From complete Brex takeovers of the San Francisco Caltrain station to the sleep puzzles posted by Casper across the New York City subway, startups have been taking advantage of this unique out-of-home advertising space. What’s the full story though? Our reporter Anthony Ha takes a look at how the subway ad market came to be in the past few years, and what the future holds for other marketers.

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posted 6 days ago on techcrunch
Ikea’s smart home investments to date have been smart but scattered – now the Swedish home goods brand says it’s going to amp up its smart home bets with a brand new dedicated business unit. The company’s smart home endeavors began in 2012, and focused on wireless charging and smart lighting. It’s iterated in both areas since, developing self-installed integrated wireless chargers for its furniture, as well as light/charger combos, and finally with a new partnership with Sonos that produced the Symfonisk line of wireless smart speakers. Ikea also has its own ambitions in terms of being the hub for future smart home products, not only from a hardware perspective, but also via its Home smart app, which it rebranded from being more strictly focused on its Tradfri line of connected bulbs in June. During the Symfonisk launch, Ikea told me it has broader ambitions for the Home smart app as a central hub for connected home control for its customers. “At IKEA we want to continue to offer products for a better life at home for the many people going forward. In order to do so we need to explore products and solutions beyond conventional home furnishing,” said Björn Block, Head of the new IKEA Home smart Business Unit at IKEA of Sweden, in a press release from the company. Ikea also characterized this as its biggest new focus area in terms of the overall business and brand since it introduced its Children’s Ikea line. The partnership between Sonos and Ikea that produced the Symfonisk line is a long-term one, and both companies told me to expect more products to come out of that team-up in future. But it sounds like Ikea intends to explore how smart home tech might touch all aspects of its business, so it’s fair to anticipate more partnerships and product categories to follow as a result of this new investment focus, too.

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posted 6 days ago on techcrunch
SoftBank has a plant to loan up to $20 billion to its employees, including CEO Masayoshi Son, for the purposes of having that capital re-invested in SoftBank’s own Vision venture fund, according to a new report from the Wall Street Journal. That’s a highly unusual move that could be risky in terms of how much exposure SoftBank Group has on the whole in terms of its startup bets, but the upside is that it can potentially fill out as much as a fifth of its newly announced second Vision Fund’s total target raise of $108 billion from a highly aligned investor pool. SoftBank revealed its plans for its second Vision Fund last month, including $38 billion from SoftBank itself, as well as commitments from Apple, Microsoft and more. The company also took a similar approach to its original Vision Fund, WSJ reports, with stakes from employees provided with loans totalling $8 billion of that $100 billion commitment. The potential pay-off is big, provided the fund has some solid winners that achieve liquidation events that provide big returns that employees can then use to pay off the original loans, walking away with profit. That’s definitely a risk, however, especially in the current global economic client. As WSJ notes, the Uber shares that Vision Fund I acquired are now worth less than what SoftBank originally paid for them according to sources, and SoftBank bet WeWork looks poised to be another company whose IPO might not make that much, if any, money for later stage investors. Microsoft in talks to invest in SoftBank’s second Vision Fund

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posted 6 days ago on techcrunch
Apple’s next Apple Watch revision could include new materials for the case, including titanium and ceramic. That’s according to new assets pulled form the latest watchOS beta release, as uncovered by Brazilian site iHelp.br (via 9to5Mac). The new screens discovered in the beta show graphics used to pair the Apple Watch during setup, and list “Titanium Case” and “Ceramic Case” alongside model size identification info. Apple has previously offered a ceramic Apple Watch, alongside its Series 2 and Series 3 models, with a premium price and white and black case options. The company hasn’t previously used titanium, but the lightweight, durable metal is popular among traditional watchmakers because it can really significantly reduce the heft of a watch case, while still providing a premium look and feel. Last year’s Apple Watch Series 4 was the first significant change in body design for the wearable since its introduction in 2015, so it seems unlikely that Apple will change that this year again. The new physical design includes larger case sizes (40mm and 44mm, respectively, vs. 38mm and 42mm for previous generations), a thinner profile and a display with rounded corners and slimmer bezels. Offering new materials is a way for Apple to deliver new hardware that is observably new on the outside, in addition to whatever processor and component improvements they make on the inside. Apple will likely also offer these alongside their stainless steel and aluminum models, should they actually be released this fall, and would probably charge a premium for these material options, too. The Series 4 Apple Watch proved a serious improvement in terms of performance, and added features like the onboard ECG. Splashy new looks likely won’t be the extent of what Apple has planned for Series 5, however, especially since the company is revamping watchOS to be much more independent of the phone, which would benefit from more capable processors.

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posted 6 days ago on techcrunch
Privacy researchers in Europe believe they have the first proof that a long-theorised vulnerability in systems designed to protect privacy by aggregating and adding noise to data to mask individual identities is no longer just a theory. The research has implications for the immediate field of differential privacy and beyond — raising wide-ranging questions about how privacy is regulated if anonymization only works until a determined attacker figures out how to reverse the method that’s being used to dynamically fuzz the data. Current EU law doesn’t recognise anonymous data as personal data. Although it does treat pseudoanonymized data as personal data because of the risk of re-identification. Yet a growing body of research suggests the risk of de-anonymization on high dimension data sets is persistent. Even — per this latest research — when a database system has been very carefully designed with privacy protection in mind. It suggests the entire business of protecting privacy needs to get a whole lot more dynamic to respond to the risk of perpetually evolving attacks. Academics from Imperial College London and Université Catholique de Louvain are behind the new research. This week, at the 28th USENIX Security Symposium, they presented a paper detailing a new class of noise-exploitation attacks on a query-based database that uses aggregation and noise injection to dynamically mask personal data. The product they were looking at is a database querying framework, called Diffix — jointly developed by a German startup called Aircloak and the Max Planck Institute for Software Systems. On its website Aircloak bills the technology as “the first GDPR-grade anonymization” — aka Europe’s General Data Protection Regulation, which began being applied last year, raising the bar for privacy compliance by introducing a data protection regime that includes fines that can scale up to 4% of a data processor’s global annual turnover. What Aircloak is essentially offering is to manage GDPR risk by providing anonymity as a commercial service — allowing queries to be run on a data-set that let analysts gain valuable insights without accessing the data itself. The promise being it’s privacy (and GDPR) ‘safe’ because it’s designed to mask individual identities by returning anonymized results. The problem is personal data that’s re-identifiable isn’t anonymous data. And the researchers were able to craft attacks that undo Diffix’s dynamic anonymity. “What we did here is we studied the system and we showed that actually there is a vulnerability that exists in their system that allows us to use their system and to send carefully created queries that allow us to extract — to exfiltrate — information from the data-set that the system is supposed to protect,” explains Imperial College’s Yves-Alexandre de Montjoye, one of five co-authors of the paper. “Differential privacy really shows that every time you answer one of my questions you’re giving me information and at some point — to the extreme — if you keep answering every single one of my questions I will ask you so many questions that at some point I will have figured out every single thing that exists in the database because every time you give me a bit more information,” he says of the premise behind the attack. “Something didn’t feel right… It was a bit too good to be true. That’s where we started.” The researchers chose to focus on Diffix as they were responding to a bug bounty attack challenge put out by Aircloak. “We start from one query and then we do a variation of it and by studying the differences between the queries we know that some of the noise will disappear, some of the noise will not disappear and by studying noise that does not disappear basically we figure out the sensitive information,” he explains. “What a lot of people will do is try to cancel out the noise and recover the piece of information. What we’re doing with this attack is we’re taking it the other way round and we’re studying the noise… and by studying the noise we manage to infer the information that the noise was meant to protect. “So instead of removing the noise we study statistically the noise sent back that we receive when we send carefully crafted queries — that’s how we attack the system.” A vulnerability exists because the dynamically injected noise is data-dependent. Meaning it remains linked to the underlying information — and the researchers were able to show that carefully crafted queries can be devised to cross-reference responses that enable an attacker to reveal information the noise is intended to protect. Or, to put it another way, a well designed attack can accurately infer personal data from fuzzy (‘anonymized’) responses. This despite the system in question being “quite good,” as de Montjoye puts it of Diffix. “It’s well designed — they really put a lot of thought into this and what they do is they add quite a bit of noise to every answer that they send back to you to prevent attacks”. “It’s what’s supposed to be protecting the system but it does leak information because the noise depends on the data that they’re trying to protect. And that’s really the property that we use to attack the system.” The researchers were able to demonstrate the attack working with very high accuracy across four real-world data-sets. “We tried US censor data, we tried credit card data, we tried location,” he says. “What we showed for different data-sets is that this attack works very well. “What we showed is our attack identified 93% of the people in the data-set to be at risk. And I think more importantly the method actually is very high accuracy — between 93% and 97% accuracy on a binary variable. So if it’s a true or false we would guess correctly between 93-97% of the time.” They were also able to optimise the attack method so they could exfiltrate information with a relatively low level of queries per user — up to 32. “Our goal was how low can we get that number so it would not look like abnormal behaviour,” he says. “We managed to decrease it in some cases up to 32 queries — which is very very little compared to what an analyst would do.” After disclosing the attack to Aircloak, de Montjoye says it has developed a patch — and is describing the vulnerability as very low risk — but he points out it has yet to publish details of the patch so it’s not been possible to independently assess its effectiveness.  “It’s a bit unfortunate,” he adds. “Basically they acknowledge the vulnerability [but] they don’t say it’s an issue. On the website they classify it as low risk. It’s a bit disappointing on that front. I think they felt attacked and that was really not our goal.” For the researchers the key takeaway from the work is that a change of mindset is needed around privacy protection akin to the shift the security industry underwent in moving from sitting behind a firewall waiting to be attacked to adopting a pro-active, adversarial approach that’s intended to out-smart hackers. “As a community to really move to something closer to adversarial privacy,” he tells TechCrunch. “We need to start adopting the red team, blue team penetration testing that have become standard in security. “At this point it’s unlikely that we’ll ever find like a perfect system so I think what we need to do is how do we find ways to see those vulnerabilities, patch those systems and really try to test those systems that are being deployed — and how do we ensure that those systems are truly secure?” “What we take from this is really — it’s on the one hand we need the security, what can we learn from security including open systems, verification mechanism, we need a lot of pen testing that happens in security — how do we bring some of that to privacy?” “If your system releases aggregated data and you added some noise this is not sufficient to make it anonymous and attacks probably exist,” he adds. “This is much better than what people are doing when you take the dataset and you try to add noise directly to the data. You can see why intuitively it’s already much better.  But even these systems are still are likely to have vulnerabilities. So the question is how do we find a balance, what is the role of the regulator, how do we move forward, and really how do we really learn from the security community? “We need more than some ad hoc solutions and only limiting queries. Again limiting queries would be what differential privacy would do — but then in a practical setting it’s quite difficult. “The last bit — again in security — is defence in depth. It’s basically a layered approach — it’s like we know the system is not perfect so on top of this we will add other protection.” The research raises questions about the role of data protection authorities too. During Diffix’s development, Aircloak writes on its website that it worked with France’s DPA, the CNIL, and a private company that certifies data protection products and services — saying: “In both cases we were successful in so far as we received essentially the strongest endorsement that each organization offers.” Although it also says that experience “convinced us that no certification organization or DPA is really in a position to assert with high confidence that Diffix, or for that matter any complex anonymization technology, is anonymous”, adding: “These organizations either don’t have the expertise, or they don’t have the time and resources to devote to the problem.” The researchers’ noise exploitation attack demonstrates how even a level of regulatory “endorsement” can look problematic. Even well designed, complex privacy systems can contain vulnerabilities and cannot offer perfect protection.  “It raises a tonne of questions,” says de Montjoye. “It is difficult. It fundamentally asks even the question of what is the role of the regulator here? When you look at security my feeling is it’s kind of the regulator is setting standards and then really the role of the company is to ensure that you meet those standards. That’s kind of what happens in data breaches. “At some point it’s really a question of — when something [bad] happens — whether or not this was sufficient or not as a [privacy] defence, what is the industry standard? It is a very difficult one.” “Anonymization is baked in the law — it is not personal data anymore so there are really a lot of implications,” he adds. “Again from security we learn a lot of things on transparency. Good security and good encryption relies on open protocol and mechanisms that everyone can go and look and try to attack so there’s really a lot at this moment we need to learn from security. “There’s no going to be any perfect system. Vulnerability will keep being discovered so the question is how do we make sure things are still ok moving forward and really learning from security — how do we quickly patch them, how do we make sure there is a lot of research around the system to limit the risk, to make sure vulnerabilities are discovered by the good guys, these are patched and really [what is] the role of the regulator? “Data can have bad applications and a lot of really good applications so I think to me it’s really about how to try to get as much of the good while limiting as much as possible the privacy risk.”

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posted 6 days ago on techcrunch
Hello and welcome back to Startups Weekly, a weekend newsletter that dives into the week’s noteworthy startups and venture capital news. Before I jump into today’s topic, let’s catch up a bit. Last week, I wrote about the differences between raising cash from angels and traditional venture capitalists. Before that, I summarized DoorDash’s acquisition of Caviar. Remember, you can send me tips, suggestions and feedback to [email protected] or on Twitter @KateClarkTweets. If you don’t subscribe to Startups Weekly yet, you can do that here. It’s Friday morning and I don’t want to dig into another IPO prospectus. The startups don’t care though, they’re in a mad dash to get to the public markets, reporters be damned. This week, three billion-dollar venture-backed “unicorns” unveiled S-1 filings, the paperwork necessary to complete an IPO. First came WeWork, the $47 billion co-working giant beloved by SoftBank. Then came Cloudflare, a business that provides web security and denial-of-service protection for websites. Then this morning, after we all thought it was time for a breather, “teledentistry” company SmileDirectClub made its filing public. There’s plenty to read on each of these high-profile IPOs; here’s a quick reading list: WeWork WeWork reveals IPO filing WeWork’s S-1 misses these three key points Making sense of WeWork’s S-1 (or trying to) Cloudflare Cloudflare files for initial public offering Cloudflare says cutting off customers like 8chan is an IPO ‘risk factor’ In its IPO filing, Cloudflare thanks a third co-founder: Lee Holloway SmileDirectClub SmileDirectClub files to go public amid concerns from dental associations On to other things… Meet the startups in Y Combinator’s summer batch As you may know, YC summer demo days are next week. A whopping 176 companies are expected to present and we’ll be there reporting live, as usual. In preparation, we’ve been cherry-picking companies in the latest batch that interest us. Here’s a look at our latest — more to come: Narrator wants to become the operating system for data science This startup is building a weed breathalyzer for cops  Lokal wants to bring local news to 900M Indians in their regional languages Holy Grail is using machine learning to build better batteries Shiru is developing a protein replacement for food additives Lumineye helps first responders identify people through walls GradJoy is a fintech startup to help you knock out your student loans Traces AI is creating a less invasive alternative to facial recognition tracking Equity Podcast This was a very special week for Equity. We taped two great episodes, one in which we hung out with Axios’ Dan Primack in Boston, the other featuring me recording out of a New York City Blue Bottle Coffee shortly after WeWork dropped its S-1 filing. You can listen to our latest episodes here and here. Equity drops every Friday at 6:00 am PT, so subscribe to us on Apple Podcasts or Spotify. Extra Crunch In our latest installment of EC-1, in which go deep on an up-and-coming startup, TechCrunch’s Eric Peckham tells the founding story of Kobalt, the world’s next music tech unicorn. Here’s a passage from Peckham’s extensive piece: “You may not have heard of Kobalt before, but you probably engage with the music it oversees every day, if not almost every hour. Combining a technology platform to better track ownership rights and royalties of songs with a new approach to representing musicians in their careers, Kobalt has risen from the ashes of the 2000 dot-com bubble to become a major player in the streaming music era. It is the leading alternative to incumbent music publishers (who represent songwriters) and is building a new model record label for the growing ‘middle class’ of musicians around the world who are stars within niche audiences.”

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posted 6 days ago on techcrunch
It’s true, you’ve got the Galaxy Note to thank for your big phone. When the device hit the scene at IFA 2011, large screens were still a punchline. That same year, Steve Jobs famously joked about phones with screens larger than four inches, telling a crowd of reporters, “nobody’s going to buy that.” In 2019, the average screen size hovers around 5.5 inches. That’s a touch larger than the original Note’s 5.3 inches — a size that was pretty widely mocked by much of the industry press at the time. Of course, much of the mainstreaming of larger phones comes courtesy of a much improved screen to body ratio, another place where Samsung has continued to lead the way. In some sense, the Note has been doomed by its own success. As the rest of the industry caught up, the line blended into the background. Samsung didn’t do the product any favors by dropping the pretense of distinction between the Note and its Galaxy S line. Ultimately, the two products served as an opportunity to have a six-month refresh cycle for its flagships. Samsung, of course, has been hit with the same sort of malaise as the rest of the industry. The smartphone market isn’t the unstoppable machine it appeared to be two or three years back. Like the rest of the industry, the company painted itself into a corner with the smartphone race, creating flagships good enough to convince users to hold onto them for an extra year or two, greatly slowing the upgrade cycle in the process. Ever-inflating prices have also been a part of smartphone sales stagnation — something Samsung and the Note are as guilty of as any. Samsung’s Galaxy Note gets even larger (and smaller) So what’s a poor smartphone manufacturer to do? The Note 10 represents baby steps. As it did with the S line recently, Samsung is now offering two models. The base Note 10 represents a rare step backward in terms of screen size, shrinking down slightly from 6.4 to 6.3 inches, while reducing resolution from Quad HD to Full HD. The seemingly regressive step lets Samsung come in a bit under last year’s jaw dropping $1,000. The new Note is only $50 cheaper, but moving from four to three figures may have a positive psychological effect for wary buyers. While the slightly smaller screen coupled with a better screen to body ratio means a device that’s surprisingly slim. If anything, the Note 10+ feels like the true successor to the Note line. The baseline device could have just as well been labeled the Note 10 Lite. That’s something Samsung is keenly aware of, as it targets first-time Note users with the 10 and true believers with the 10+. In both cases, Samsung is faced with the same task as the rest of the industry: offering a compelling reason for users to upgrade. Earlier this week, a Note 9 owner asked me whether the new device warrants an upgrade. The answer is, of course, no. The pace of smartphone innovation has slowed, even as prices have risen. Honestly, the 10 doesn’t really offer that many compelling reasons to upgrade from the Note 8. That’s not a slight against Samsung or the Note, per se. If anything, it’s a reflection on the fact that these phones are quite good — and have been for a while. Anecdotally, industry excitement around these devices has been tapering for a while now, and the device’s launch in the midst of the doldrums of August likely didn’t help much. [gallery ids="1865978,1865980,1865979,1865983,1865982,1865990,1866000,1866005,1866004"] The past few years have seen smartphones transform from coveted, bleeding-edge luxury to necessity. The good news to that end, however, is that the Note continues to be among the best devices out there. The common refrain in the earliest days of the phablet was the inability to wrap one’s fingers around the device. It’s a pragmatic issue. Certainly you don’t want to use a phone day to day that’s impossible to hold. But Samsung’s remarkable job of improving screen to body ratio continues here. In fact, the 6.8-inch Note 10+ has roughly the same footprint as the 6.4-inch Note 9. The issue will still persist for those with smaller hands — though thankfully Samsung’s got a solution for them in the Note 10. For the rest of us, the Note 10+ is easily held in one hand and slipped in and out of pants pockets. I realize these seem like weird things to say at this point, but I assure you they were legitimate concerns in the earliest days of the phablet, when these things were giant hunks of plastic and glass. Samsung’s curved display once again does much of the heavy lifting here, allowing the screen to stretch nearly from side to side with only a little bezel at the edge. Up top is a hole-punch camera — that’s “Infinity O” to you. Those with keen eyes no doubt immediately noticed that Samsung has dropped the dual selfie camera here, moving toward the more popular hole-punch camera. The company’s reasoning for this was both aesthetic and, apparently, practical. The company moved back down to a single camera for the front (10 megapixel), using similar reasoning as Google’s single rear-facing camera on the Pixel: software has greatly improved what companies can do with a single lens. That’s certainly the case to a degree, and a strong case can be made for the selfie camera, which we generally require less of than the rear-facing array. The company’s gone increasingly minimalist with the design language — something I appreciate. Over the years, as the smartphone has increasingly become a day to day utility, the product’s design has increasingly gotten out of its own way. The front and back are both made of a curved Gorilla Glass that butts up against a thin metal form with a total thickness of 7.9 millimeters. On certain smooth surfaces like glass, you’ll occasionally find the device gliding slightly. I’d say the chances of dropping it are pretty decent with its frictionless design language, so you’re going to want to get a case for your $1,000 phone. Before you do, admire that color scheme on the back. There are four choices in all. Like the rest of the press, we ended up with Aura Glow. It features a lovely, prismatic effect when light hits it. It’s proven a bit tricky to photograph, honestly. It’s also a fingerprint magnet, but these are the prices we pay to have the prettiest phone on the block. One of the interesting footnotes here is how much the design of the 10 will be defined by what the device lost. There are two missing pieces here — both of which are a kind of concession from Samsung for different reasons. And for different reasons, both feel inevitable. The headphone jack is, of course, the biggie. Samsung kicked and screamed on that one, holding onto the 3.5mm with dear life and roundly mocking the competition (read: Apple) at every turn. The company must have known it was a matter of time, even before the iPhone dropped the port three years ago. Courage. Samsung glossed over the end of the jack (and apparently unlisted its Apple-mocking ads in the process) during the Note’s launch event. It was a stark contrast from a briefing we got around the device’s announcement, where the company’s reps spent significantly more time justifying the move. They know us well enough to know that we’d spend a little time taking the piss out of the company after three years of it making the once ubiquitous port a feature. All’s fair in love and port. And honestly, it was mostly just some good-natured ribbing. Welcome to the club, Samsung. The headphone jack dies not with a bang, but a Note As for why Samsung did it now, the answer seems to be two-fold. The first is a kind of critical mass in Bluetooth headset usage. Allow me to quote myself from a few weeks back: The tipping point, it says, came when its internal metrics showed that a majority of users on its flagship devices (the S and Note lines) moved to Bluetooth streaming. The company says the number is now in excess of 70% of users. Also, as we’re all abundantly aware, the company put its big battery ambitions on hold for a bit, as it dealt with…more burning problems. A couple of recalls, a humble press release and an eight-point battery check later, and batteries are getting bigger again. There’s a 3,500mAh on the Note 10 and a 4,300mAh on the 10+. I’m happy to report that the latter got me through a full day plus three hours on a charge. Not bad, given all of the music and videos I subjected it to in that time. There’s no USB-C dongle in-box. The rumors got that one wrong. You can pick up a Samsung-branded adapter for $15, or get one for much cheaper elsewhere. There is, however, a pair of AKG USB-C headphones in-box. I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again: Samsung doesn’t get enough credit for its free headphones. I’ve been known to use the pairs with other devices. They’re not the greatest the world, but they’re better sounding and more comfortable than what a lot of other companies offer in-box. Obviously the standard no headphone jack things apply here. You can’t use the wired headphones and charge at the same time (unless you go wireless). You know the deal. The other missing piece here is the Bixby button. I’m sure there are a handful of folks out there who will bemoan its loss, but that’s almost certainly a minority of the minority here. Since the button was first introduced, folks were asking for the ability to remap it. Samsung finally relented on that front, and with the Note 10, it drops the button altogether. Thus far the smart assistant has been a disappointment. That’s due in no small part to a late launch compared to the likes of Siri, Alexa and Assistant, coupled with a general lack of capability at launch. In Samsung’s defense, the company’s been working to fix that with some pretty massive investment and a big push to court developers. There’s hope for Bixby yet, but a majority of users weren’t eager to have the assistant thrust upon them. Instead, the power button has been shifted to the left of the device, just under the volume rocker. I preferred having it on the other side, especially for certain functions like screenshotting (something, granted, I do much more than the average user when reviewing a phone). That’s a pretty small quibble, of course. Bixby can now be quickly accessed by holding down the power button. Handily, Samsung still lets you reassign the function there, if you really want Bixby out of your life. You can also hold down to get the power off menu or double press to launch Bixby or a third-party app (I opted for Spotify, probably my most used these days), though not a different assistant. Imaging, meanwhile, is something Samsung’s been doing for a long time. The past several generations of S and Note devices have had great camera systems, and it continues to be the main point of improvement. It’s also one of few points of distinction between the 10 and 10+, aside from size. The Note 10+ has four, count ’em, four rear-facing cameras. They are as follows: Ultra Wide: 16 megapixel Wide: 12 megapixel Telephoto: 12 megapixel DepthVision That last one is only on the plus. It’s comprised of two little circles to the right of the primary camera array and just below the flash. We’ll get to that in a second. The main camera array continues to be one of the best in mobile. The inclusion of telephoto and ultra-wide lenses allow for a wide range of different shots, and the hardware coupled with machine learning makes it a lot more difficult to take a bad photo (though believe me, it’s still possible). [gallery ids="1869716,1869715,1869720,1869718,1869719"] The live focus feature (Portrait mode, essentially) comes to video, with four different filters, including Color Point, which makes everything but the subject black and white. Samsung’s also brought a very simple video editor into the mix here, which is nice on the fly. You can edit the length of clips, splice in other clips, add subtitles and captions and add filters and music. It’s pretty beefy for something baked directly into the camera app, and one of the better uses I’ve found for the S Pen. Note 10+ with Super Steady (left), iPhone XS (right) Ditto for the improved Super Steady offering, which smooths out shaky video, including Hyperlapse mode, where handshakes are a big issue. It works well, but you do lose access to other features, including zoom. For that reason, it’s off by default and should be used relatively sparingly. Note 10+ (left), iPhone XS (right) Zoom-on Mic is a clever addition, as well. While shooting video, pinch-zooming on something will amplify the noise from that area. I’ve been playing around with it in this cafe. It’s interesting, but less than perfect. [gallery ids="1869186,1869980,1869975,1869974,1869973,1869725,1869322,1869185,1869184,1869190"] Zooming into something doesn’t exactly cancel out ambient noise from outside of the frame. Everything still gets amplified in the process and, like digital picture zoom, a lot of noise gets added in the process. Those hoping for a kind of spy microphone, I’m sorry/happy to report that this definitely is not that. The DepthVision Camera is also pretty limited as I write this. If anything, it’s Samsung’s attempt to brace for a future when things like augmented reality will (theoretically) play a much larger role in our mobile computing. In a conversation I had with the company ahead of launch, they suggested that a lot of the camera’s AR functions will fall in the hands of developers. For now, Quick Measure is the one practical use. The app is a lot like Apple’s more simply titled Measure. Fire it up, move the camera around to get a lay of the land and it will measure nearby objects for you. An interesting showcase for AR potential? Sure. Earth shattering? Naw. It also seems to be a bit of a battery drain, sucking up the last few bits of juice as I was running it down. 3D Scanner, on the other hand, got by far the biggest applause line of the Note event. And, indeed, it’s impressive. In the stage demo, a Samsung employee scanned a stuffed pink beaver (I’m not making this up), created a 3D image and animated it using an associate’ movements. Practical? Not really. Cool? Definitely. It was, however, not available at press time. Hopefully it proves to be more than vaporware, especially if that demo helped push some viewers over to the 10+. Without it, there’s just not a lot of use for the depth camera at the moment. There’s also AR Doodle, which fills a similar spot as much of the company’s AR offerings. It’s kind of fun, but again, not particularly useful. You’ll likely end up playing with it for a few minutes and forget about it entirely. Such is life. The feature is built into the camera app, using depth sensing to orient live drawings. With the stylus you can draw in space or doodle on people’s faces. It’s neat, the AR works okay and I was bored with it in about three minutes. Like Quick Measure, the feature is as much a proof of concept as anything. But that’s always been a part of Samsung’s kitchen-sink approach — some combination of useful and silly. That said, points to Samsung for continuing to de-creepify AR Emojis. Those have moved firmly away from the uncanny valley into something more cartoony/adorable. Less ironic usage will surely follow. Asked about the key differences between the S and Note lines, Samsung’s response was simple: the S Pen. Otherwise, the lines are relatively interchangeable. Samsung’s return of the stylus didn’t catch on for handsets quite like the phablet form factor. They’ve made a pretty significant comeback for tablets, but the Note remains fairly singular when it comes to the S Pen. I’ve never been a big user myself, but those who like it swear by it. It’s one of those things like the ThinkPad pointing stick or BlackBerry scroll wheel. Like the phone itself, the peripheral has been streamlined with a unibody design. Samsung also continues to add capabilities. It can be used to control music, advance slideshows and snap photos. None of that is likely to convince S Pen skeptics (I prefer using the buttons on the included headphones for music control, for example), but more versatility is generally a good thing. If anything is going to convince people to pick up the S Pen this time out, it’s the improved handwriting recognition. That’s pretty impressive. It was even able to decipher my awful chicken scratch. You get the same sort of bleeding-edge specs here you’ve come to expect from Samsung’s flagships. The 10+ gets you a baseline 256GB of storage (upgradable to 512), coupled with a beefy 12GB of RAM (the regular Note is a still good 8GB/256GB). The 5G version sports the same numbers and battery (likely making its total life a bit shorter per charge). That’s a shift from the S10, whose 5G version was specced out like crazy. Likely Samsung is bracing for 5G to become less of a novelty in the next year or so. The new Note also benefits from other recent additions, like the in-display fingerprint reader and wireless power sharing. Both are nice additions, but neither is likely enough to warrant an immediate upgrade. Once again, that’s not an indictment of Samsung, so much as a reflection of where we are in the life cycle of a mature smartphone industry. The Note 10+ is another good addition to one of the leading smartphone lines. It succeeds as both a productivity device (thanks to additions like DeX and added cross-platform functionality with Windows 10) and an everyday handset. There’s not enough on-board to really recommend an upgrade from the Note 8 or 9 — especially at that $1,099 price. People are holding onto their devices for longer, and for good reason (as detailed above). But if you need a new phone, are looking for something big and flashy and are willing to splurge, the Note continues to be the one to beat. [gallery ids="1869169,1869168,1869167,1869166,1869165,1869164,1869163,1869162,1869161,1869160,1869159,1869158,1869157,1869156,1869155,1869154,1869153,1869152"]

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posted 6 days ago on techcrunch
As people strive ever harder to minutely quantify every action they do, the sensors that monitor those actions are growing lighter and less invasive. Two prototype sensors from crosstown rivals Stanford and Berkeley stick right to the skin and provide a wealth of physiological data. Stanford’s stretchy wireless “BodyNet” isn’t just flexible in order to survive being worn on the shifting surface of the body; that flexing is where its data comes from. The sensor is made of metallic ink laid on top of a flexible material like that in an adhesive bandage. But unlike phones and smart watches, which use tiny accelerometers or optical tricks to track the body, this system relies on how it is itself stretched and compressed. These movements cause tiny changes in how electricity passes through the ink, changes that are relayed to a processor nearby. Naturally if one is placed on a joint, as some of these electronic stickers were, it can report back whether and how much that joint has been flexed. But the system is sensitive enough that it can also detect the slight changes the skin experiences during each heartbeat, or the broader changes that accompany breathing. The problem comes when you have to get that signal off the skin. Using a wire is annoying and definitely very ’90s. But antennas don’t work well when they’re flexed in weird directions — efficiency drops off a cliff, and there’s very little power to begin with — the skin sensor is powered by harvesting RFID signals, a technique that renders very little in the way of voltage. The second part of their work, then, and the part that is clearly most in need of further improvement and miniaturization, is the receiver, which collects and re-transmits the sensor’s signal to a phone or other device. Although they managed to create a unit that’s light enough to be clipped to clothes, it’s still not the kind of thing you’d want to wear to the gym. The good news is that’s an engineering and design limitation, not a theoretical one — so a couple years of work and progress on the electronics front and they could have a much more attractive system. “We think one day it will be possible to create a full-body skin-sensor array to collect physiological data without interfering with a person’s normal behavior,” Stanford professor Zhenan Bao in a news release. Over at Cal is a project in a similar domain that’s working to get from prototype to production. Researchers there have been working on a sweat monitor for a few years that could detect a number of physiological factors. Normally you’d just collect sweat every 15 minutes or so and analyze each batch separately. But that doesn’t really give you very good temporal resolution — what if you want to know how the sweat changes minute by minute or less? By putting the sweat collection and analysis systems together right on the skin, you can do just that. While the sensor has  been in the works for a while, it’s only recently that the team has started moving towards user testing at scale to see what exactly sweat measurements have to offer. “The goal of the project is not just to make the sensors but start to do many subject studies and see what sweat tells us — I always say ‘decoding’ sweat composition. For that we need sensors that are reliable, reproducible, and that we can fabricate to scale so that we can put multiple sensors in different spots of the body and put them on many subjects,” explained Ali Javey, Berkeley professor and head of the project. As anyone who’s working in hardware will tell you, going from a hand-built prototype to a mass-produced model is a huge challenge. So the Berkeley team tapped their Finnish friends at VTT Technical Research Center, who make a specialty of roll-to-roll printing. For flat, relatively simple electronics, roll-to-roll is a great technique, essentially printing the sensors right onto a flexible plastic substrate that can then simply be cut to size. This way they can make hundreds or thousands of the sensors quickly and cheaply, making them much simpler to deploy at arbitrary scales. These are far from the only flexible or skin-mounted electronics projects out there, but it’s clear that we’re approaching the point when they begin to leave the lab and head out to hospitals, gyms, and homes. The paper describing Stanford’s flexible sensor appeared this week in the journal Nature Electronics, while Berkeley’s sweat tracker was in Science Advances.

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posted 6 days ago on techcrunch
Businesses need to understand cause and effect: Someone did X and it increased sales, or they did Y and it hurt sales. That’s why many of them turn to analytics — but Bilal Mahmood, co-founder and CEO of ClearBrain, said existing analytics platforms can’t answer that question accurately. “Every analytics platform today is still based on a fundamental correlation model,” Mahmood said. It’s the classic correlation-versus-causation problem — you can use the data to suggest that an action and a result are related, but you can’t draw a direct cause-and-effect relationship. That’s the problem that ClearBrain is trying to solve with its new “causal analytics” tool. As the company put it in a blog post, “Our goal was to automate this process [of running statistical studies] and build the first large-scale causal inference engine to allow growth teams to measure the causal effect of every action.” You can read the post for (many) more details, but the gist is that Mahmood and his team claim they can draw accurate causal relationships where others can’t. The idea is to use this in conjunction with A/B testing — customers look at the data to prioritize what to test next, and to make estimates about the impact of things that can’t be tested. Otherwise, Mahmood said, “If you wanted to measure the actual impact of every variable on your website and your app — the actual impact it has on conversation — it could take you years.” When I wrote about ClearBrain last year, it was using artificial intelligence to improve ad targeting, but Mahmood said the company built the new analytics technology in response to customer demand: “People didn’t just want to know who was going to convert, they wanted to know why, and what caused them to do so.” The causal analytics tool is currently available to early access users, with plans for a full launch in October. Mahmood said there will be a number of pricing tiers, but they’ll be structured to make the product free for many startups. In addition to launching the analytics tool in early access, ClearBrain also announced this week that it’s raised an additional $2 million in funding from Harrison Metal and Menlo Ventures. ClearBrain uses AI to help advertisers target the right users

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posted 6 days ago on techcrunch
Upfront Ventures, the 23-year-old, L.A.-based venture capital firm, is gearing up for far more deal-making. In addition to filing paperwork with the SEC this summer to raise its third growth-stage investment fund (it is also investing a $400 million early-stage fund and probably announcing another soon), the firm just added two new general partners to its line-up of investors. One of them, Michael Carney, joined Upfront as a principal in 2015, after working as an editor at the news site Pandodaily, and, before that, working as an investor and analyst at a boutique merchant bank called Worldvest. The firm’s second new general partner is Aditi Maliwal, who has also circled in and out of investing before, including stints as an associate with Crosslink Capital and, more recently, spending several years with Google, where Maliwal worked in corporate development before becoming a project manager. We talked with both this week to congratulate them, as well as to learn more about where they’ll be shopping — and from where. For her part, Maliwal, who begins work at Upfront next month, says the idea is for her to eventually open a San Francisco office, though for now, she’ll be operating from the Bay Area out of a space that’s yet to be determined and spending every Monday or every other Monday down in L.A. with the rest of the team. She got to know Upfront through another general partner, Kara Nortman, who joined Upfront in 2014 and “we’d continue to see each other at events. I also have family ties in L.A. so would see her there.” Maliwal says she also says she would observe on her trips that the “ecosystem in L.A. has really grown from 2014 to where it is today. I think the Bay Area continues to see how important it is, too.” As for becoming an investor again, Maliwal says she was always interested in becoming a VC, thanks in part to a class taught at Stanford by renowned venture capitalist Heidi Roizen VC that inspired her. She says spending time with founders in her husband’s business school class at Stanford this past year whet her appetite anew. “There are four or five companies I’m close to and they’re good friends and when I was up at 11 pm working on a company idea with one of them earlier this year, I just realized that this is what gives me a lot of energy and this is a space I want to [get involved in again].” What she’ll be focusing on, she says it will mostly likely be business to business to consumer models, as well as SaaS applications, fintech, and, when the opportunity arises, consumer products. More broadly speaking, says Maliwal, she hopes to serve as a bridge for Bay Area startups looking for a foothold in the L.A. market and vice versa. Meanwhile, Carney is, and will remain, more focused on later-stage bets that Upfront funded early on and whose success the firm wants to ensure (to the extent that any firm can). Understandably, he sounds excited — still — about the work. “In 2012, [when I was at Pandodaily] L.A. was crossing and inflection point, with a number of second- and third-time founders coming out of later-stage marquee companies. When I joined Upfront, it felt similar. It was an incredible platform, it was a year or two after the firm was rebranded [from GRP Ventures] and Kara had been there less than a year and [fellow general partner] Greg [Bettinelli] had been there maybe two years. The team was kind of maturing and I feel lucky to join when I did.” Carney suggests the opportunities have only grown stronger, in his view of the later-stage world. “We’re definitely seeing [greater bifurcation] between the haves and have nots, with company that can break out as clear leaders tending to have access to larger amounts of capital than in past years. For the best of the best, the conditions remain as favorable as possible, while it’s gotten harder for companies to raise capital that fail to hit those growth rates, even in good times.” Being able to recruit employees from roles at top companies in the Bay Area is just one reason solid L.A. companies have attained more momentum. “I think that owes to the maturation of the L.A. ecosystem. I think people are drawn to L.A. because Silicon Valley, for all its incredible success in the tech sector, is an industry town and L.A. has a more diverse economy and ecosystem. But also, five years ago, people would ask themselves, ‘If this new role [in L.A.] doesn’t work out, what do I do next?’ And I think the answer to that question is much clearer and more positive today.” According to Upfront, 40 percent of its initial checks are written to companies based in L.A., though it has bets in other parts of the U.S. and world. Some of the best-known deals in its current portfolio include the scooter company Bird, the sneaker marketplace GOAT, and the online resale store ThredUp. Upfront was also an investor in Ring, the smart doorbell company acquired early last year by Amazon for $1 billion. In addition to Maliwal, Carney, Nortman and Bettinelli, the firm is managed by general partners Kobie Fuller, Kevin Zhang, Mark Suster and founder Yves Sisteron.

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