Hot off the heels of a $250 million funding round and a lofty $4 billion valuation, DoorDash is launching in an additional six markets. As of today, the service is live in Anchorage, Alaska; Billings, Bozeman and Missoula, Montana; Sioux Falls, South Dakota; Fargo, North Dakota; Morgantown and Huntington, West Virginia; and Cheyenne, Wyoming, making it the first on-demand food delivery startup to operate in all 50 U.S. states.
“In the past year alone we’ve more than quintupled our geographic footprint from 600 to 3,300 cities across North America, democratizing access to door-to-door delivery for hundreds of millions of Americans across the nation,” DoorDash co-founder and chief executive officer Tony Xu said in a statement.
Founded in 2013, San Francisco-based DoorDash has raised nearly $1 billion in venture capital funding from SoftBank, Sequoia, Coatue Management, DST Global, Kleiner Perkins, Khosla Ventures, CRV and several others.
Postmates lines up another $100M ahead of IPO
A study by the Pew Research Center suggests most Facebook users are still in the dark about how the company tracks and profiles them for ad-targeting purposes.
Pew found three-quarters (74%) of Facebook users did not know the social networking behemoth maintains a list of their interests and traits to target them with ads, only discovering this when researchers directed them to view their Facebook ad preferences page.
A majority (51%) of Facebook users also told Pew they were uncomfortable with Facebook compiling the information.
While more than a quarter (27%) said the ad preference listing Facebook had generated did not very or at all accurately represent them.
The researchers also found that 88% of polled users had some material generated for them on the ad preferences page. Pew’s findings come from a survey of a nationally representative sample of 963 U.S. Facebook users ages 18 and older which was conducted between September 4 to October 1, 2018, using GfK’s KnowledgePanel.
In a senate hearing last year Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg claimed users have “complete control” over both information they actively choose to upload to Facebook and data about them the company collects in order to target ads.
But the key question remains how Facebook users can be in complete control when most of them they don’t know what the company is doing. This is something U.S. policymakers should have front of mind as they work on drafting a comprehensive federal privacy law.
Pew’s findings suggest Facebook’s greatest ‘defence’ against users exercising what little control it affords them over information its algorithms links to their identity is a lack of awareness about how the Facebook adtech business functions.
After all the company markets the platform as a social communications service for staying in touch with people you know, not a mass surveillance people-profiling ad-delivery machine. So unless you’re deep in the weeds of the adtech industry there’s little chance for the average Facebook user to understand what Mark Zuckerberg has described as “all the nuances of how these services work”.
Having a creepy feeling that ads are stalking you around the Internet hardly counts.
At the same time, users being in the dark about the information dossiers Facebook maintains on them, is not a bug but a feature for the company’s business — which directly benefits by being able to minimize the proportion of people who opt out of having their interests categorized for ad targeting because they have no idea it’s happening. (And relevant ads are likely more clickable and thus more lucrative for Facebook.)
Hence Zuckerberg’s plea to policymakers last April for “a simple and practical set of — of ways that you explain what you are doing with data… that’s not overly restrictive on — on providing the services”.
(Or, to put it another way: If you must regulate privacy let us simplify explanations using cartoon-y abstraction that allows for continued obfuscation of exactly how, where and why data flows.)
From the user point of view, even if you know Facebook offers ad management settings it’s still not simple to locate and understand them, requiring navigating through several menus that are not prominently sited on the platform, and which are also complex, with multiple interactions possible. (Such as having to delete every inferred interest individually.)
The average Facebook user is unlikely to look past the latest few posts in their newsfeed let alone go proactively hunting for a boring sounding ‘ad management’ setting and spending time figuring out what each click and toggle does (in some cases users are required to hover over a interest in order to view a cross that indicates they can in fact remove it, so there’s plenty of dark pattern design at work here too).
And all the while Facebook is putting a heavy sell on, in the self-serving ad ‘explanations’ it does offer, spinning the line that ad targeting is useful for users. What’s not spelt out is the huge privacy trade off it entails — aka Facebook’s pervasive background surveillance of users and non-users.
Nor does it offer a complete opt-out of being tracked and profiled; rather its partial ad settings let users “influence what ads you see”.
But influencing is not the same as controlling, whatever Zuckerberg claimed in Congress. So, as it stands, there is no simple way for Facebook users to understand their ad options because the company only lets them twiddle a few knobs rather than shut down the entire surveillance system.
The company’s algorithmic people profiling also extends to labelling users as having particular political views, and/or having racial and ethnic/multicultural affinities.
Pew researchers asked about these two specific classifications too — and found that around half (51%) of polled users had been assigned a political affinity by Facebook; and around a fifth (21%) were badged as having a “multicultural affinity”.
Of those users who Facebook had put into a particular political bucket, a majority (73%) said the platform’s categorization of their politics was very or somewhat accurate; but more than a quarter (27%) said it was not very or not at all an accurate description of them.
“Put differently, 37% of Facebook users are both assigned a political affinity and say that affinity describes them well, while 14% are both assigned a category and say it does not represent them accurately,” it writes.
Use of people’s personal data for political purposes has triggered some major scandals for Facebook’s business in recent years. Such as the Cambridge Analytica data misuse scandal — when user data was shown to have been extracted from the platform en masse, and without proper consents, for campaign purposes.
In other instances Facebook ads have also been used to circumvent campaign spending rules in elections. Such as during the UK’s 2016 EU referendum vote when large numbers of ads were non-transparently targeted with the help of social media platforms.
And indeed to target masses of political disinformation to carry out election interference. Such as the Kremlin-backed propaganda campaign during the 2016 US presidential election.
Last year the UK data watchdog called for an ethical pause on use of social media data for political campaigning, such is the scale of its concern about data practices uncovered during a lengthy investigation.
Yet the fact that Facebook’s own platform natively badges users’ political affinities frequently gets overlooked in the discussion around this issue.
For all the outrage generated by revelations that Cambridge Analytica had tried to use Facebook data to apply political labels on people to target ads, such labels remain a core feature of the Facebook platform — allowing any advertiser, large or small, to pay Facebook to target people based on where its algorithms have determined they sit on the political spectrum, and do so without obtaining their explicit consent. (Yet under European data protection law political beliefs are deemed sensitive information, and Facebook is facing increasing scrutiny in the region over how it processes this type of data.)
Of those users who Pew found had been badged by Facebook as having a “multicultural affinity” — another algorithmically inferred sensitive data category — 60% told it they do in fact have a very or somewhat strong affinity for the group to which they are assigned; while more than a third (37%) said their affinity for that group is not particularly strong.
“Some 57% of those who are assigned to this category say they do in fact consider themselves to be a member of the racial or ethnic group to which Facebook assigned them,” Pew adds.
It found that 43% of those given an affinity designation are said by Facebook’s algorithm to have an interest in African American culture; with the same share (43%) is assigned an affinity withHispanic culture. While one-in-ten are assigned an affinity with Asian American culture.
(Facebook’s targeting tool for ads does not offer affinity classifications for any other cultures in the U.S., including Caucasian or white culture, Pew also notes, thereby underlining one inherent bias of its system.)
In recent years the ethnic affinity label that Facebook’s algorithm sticks to users has caused specific controversy after it was revealed to have been enabling the delivery of discriminatory ads.
As a result, in late 2016, Facebook said it would disable ad targeting using the ethnic affinity label for protected categories of housing, employment and credit-related ads. But a year later its ad review systems were found to be failing to block potentially discriminatory ads.
The act of Facebook sticking labels on people clearly creates plenty of risk — be that from election interference or discriminatory ads (or, indeed, both).
Risk that a majority of users don’t appear comfortable with once they realize it’s happening.
And therefore also future risk for Facebook’s business as more regulators turn their attention to crafting privacy laws that can effectively safeguard consumers from having their personal data exploited in ways they don’t like. (And which might disadvantage them or generate wider societal harms.)
Commenting about Facebook’s data practices, Michael Veale, a researcher in data rights and machine learning at University College London, told us: “Many of Facebook’s data processing practices appear to violate user expectations, and the way they interpret the law in Europe is indicative of their concern around this. If Facebook agreed with regulators that inferred political opinions or ‘ethnic affinities’ were just the same as collecting that information explicitly, they’d have to ask for separate, explicit consent to do so — and users would have to be able to say no to it.
“Similarly, Facebook argues it is ‘manifestly excessive’ for users to ask to see the extensive web and app tracking data they collect and hold next to your ID to generate these profiles — something I triggered a statutory investigation into with the Irish Data Protection Commissioner. You can’t help but suspect that it’s because they’re afraid of how creepy users would find seeing a glimpse of the the truth breadth of their invasive user and non-user data collection.”
In a second survey, conducted between May 29 and June 11, 2018 using Pew’s American Trends Panel and of a representative sample of all U.S. adults who use social media (including Facebook and other platforms like Twitter and Instagram), Pew researchers found social media users generally believe it would be relatively easy for social media platforms they use to determine key traits about them based on the data they have amassed about their behaviors.
“Majorities of social media users say it would be very or somewhat easy for these platforms to determine their race or ethnicity (84%), their hobbies and interests (79%), their political affiliation (71%) or their religious beliefs (65%),” Pew writes.
While less than a third (28%) believe it would be difficult for the platforms to figure out their political views, it adds.
So even while most people do not understand exactly what social media platforms are doing with information collected and inferred about them, once they’re asked to think about the issue most believe it would be easy for tech firms to join data dots around their social activity and make sensitive inferences about them.
Commenting generally on the research, Pew’s director of internet and technology research, Lee Rainie, said its aim was to try to bring some data to debates about consumer privacy, the role of micro-targeting of advertisements in commerce and political activity, and how algorithms are shaping news and information systems.
Update: Responding to Pew’s research, Facebook sent us the following statement:
We want people to understand how our ad settings and controls work. That means better ads for people. While we and the rest of the online ad industry need to do more to educate people on how interest-based advertising works and how we protect people’s information, we welcome conversations about transparency and control.
Motorola has revived the Razr name a few times over the years, but the once-mighty brand has failed to regain the heights of its early days as an ultra-slim flip phone. But what better time for the phone maker’s parent Lenovo to bring back the brand in earnest as the mobile world is readying itself for a wave of foldable smartphones?
Nostalgia’s a bit of a mixed bag in consumer electronics. Take the recent returns of Nokia (good), BlackBerry (okay) and Palm (yikes). Slapping a familiar brand on a new product is a fast track to prominence, but not necessarily success. What ultimately may hinder Razr’s rumored return, however, is price.
All of this stems from a new Wall Street Journal report noting Lenovo’s plan to revive the Razr as a foldable smartphone. The price point puts the handset north of even Apple and Samsung’s flagships, at $1,500. Of course, there isn’t really a standardized price point for the emerging foldables category yet.
The Royole FlexPai starts at around $1,300 — not cheap, especially for a product from a relative unknown. And Samsung, the next on the list to embrace the foldable, has never been afraid to hit a premium price point. Ultimately, $1,500 could well be standard for these sorts of products. Whether or not consumers are willing to pay that, however, is another question entirely.
The new Razr is apparently destined for Verizon this year. The carrier (which, as it happens, also owns TechCrunch) has had a longstanding relationship with Motorola. Success, however, is going to hinge on more than name recognition alone.
Amazon already gave Alexa the ability to whisper, and now it’s rolling out another way to change the assistant’s speaking style — it’s giving Alexa a “newscaster” voice. Starting today, when U.S. customers ask Alexa “what’s the latest?” to hear the day’s news, Alexa will respond using a voice that’s similar to how a professional newscaster delivers news.
The voice knows which words should be emphasized for a more realistic delivery of the news, explains Amazon.
To achieve this new voice, Amazon took advantage of recent developments it made with Neural TTS technology, or NTTS. This technology delivers a more natural-sounding voice, and allows Alexa to adapt her speaking style based on the context of your request. For the newscaster voice, NTTS produced speech with better intonation that emphasizes the right words in a sentence, Amazon says.
In addition, Amazon scientists used an approach called direct waveform modeling that applies deep learning to produce the speech signal.
The company had detailed this technology in November, saying at the time its latest text-to-speech system could be trained to use the newscaster style after just a few hours of training data. The development could pave the way for Alexa and other services to adopt different speaking styles for other contexts in the future, the researchers noted.
“The ability to teach Alexa to adapt her speaking style based on the context of the customer’s request opens the possibility to deliver new and delightful experiences that were previously unthinkable,” said Andrew Breen, senior manager with the TTS Research team at Amazon, in a statement. “We’re thrilled that our customers will get to listen to news and Wikipedia information from Alexa in this new way.”
Below is an audio sample of the previous technology, followed by one of the new newscaster voice:
The company also showed off how NTTS technology could allow Alexa to employ a neutral voice when reading Wikipedia information:
In India, startups are quietly building the tools and platforms to enable a different kind of gig economy: one that allows “micro-entrepreneurs” to tap growing access to the internet to sell goods and services online.
One such firm helping this burgeoning economy is Instamojo, a seven-year-old Bengaluru-based startup, which has pulled in a $7 million Series B as it aims to grow its reach to more than one million SMEs and micro-SMEs in India.
Founded in 2012 as a side project, Instamojo offers independent merchants the means to operate a mobile-optimized storefront, collect payment and even take micro-loans. In an interview with TechCrunch, CEO and co-founder Sampad Swain said the company has some 650,000 merchants, and it is adding a further 1,200 daily. Most of them, he said, tend to earn less than $30,000 in annual sales; with around half selling physical products, such as e-commerce items, and the remainder using Instamojo to invoice for physical services or sell digital items such as courses.
The idea is to tap into those just testing the water of online commerce and give them the tools to ramp up their fledgling enterprise as India’s internet “population” rises past 400 million people.
“A lot of micro-merchants in India are adopting [India’s payment service] UPI [through services like Paytm and PhonePe] but once they become a little more serious, at around 10-20 sales per month, we ask: ‘Can we give you lending, logistics, online store?'” explained Swain, who started the business with co-founders Akash Gehani and Aditya Sengupta.
It’s a market that few banks or financial institutions care about because small loans and sales require enormous scale to be relevant to them. But Swain is bullish, and he believes the company will pass one million retailers this year.
The new funding is led by existing investor AnyPay — the Japanese fintech startup — with other returning backers Kalaari Capital and Beenext, and angel investor Rashmi Kwatra joining. Gunosy Capital, the VC arm of Japanese news app Gunosy, joined as a new investor. The deal takes Instamojo to around $9 million from investors to date.
Instamojo collects revenue through a two percent cut on sales, a fee on successful deliveries and commission on its micro-loan product, which essentially gives merchants advanced credit (same-day or next-day) on their sales. The loans — which Swain describes as “sachet” lending — are from Instamojo’s recently established Mojo Capital unit, which includes partnerships with 12 financial organizations. In just four months, Instamojo has dished out around $4 million in credit — through 50,000-odd dispersions — and Swain predicts it will scale to a $30 million run rate before the end of this year.
“Even I am surprised!” he said of the rapid uptake.
Instamojo founders [left to right] Akash Gehani, Sampad Swain and Aditya SenguptaUnlike Meesho, a YC-backed micro-entrepreneurship service in India that recently raised $50 million, Instamojo isn’t dominated by e-commerce to friends, family and neighbors. Swain said typical Instamojo sellers look to access audiences outside of people they know, with platforms like YouTube, Facebook, WhatsApp and others commonly used to reach audiences. Instamojo’s big selling point is ease of sale; that’s through a unique link that sellers share with customers for the check-out, therein bypassing some of the challenges of online payment in India, which include somewhat cumbersome steps for card transactions.
“Sellers just create a link and share it with the customer,” Swain explained. “Essentially they click and check out with debit or credit card or other means. Over the years we realized that’s the best beginning for our business.”
That was Instamojo’s first launch, and since then it has built out online store options to manage inventory and product as well as the recent credit launch. Beyond growing its scale, Swain said the next big focus is on developing a community for merchants, where they can share tips, collaborate and more. He is also aiming to increase the tech team and raise Instamojo’s headcount from 120 right now to around 250 by 2020.
For now, Swain said the company isn’t seeking overseas opportunities, although he did admit that the business could expand to regions like Africa or Southeast Asia. But more immediately, he sees a huge opportunity in India, where he believes there are 65 million SMEs, of which 25 million are “micro-merchants,” to tackle initially. The company is planning a Series C round for later this year to finance a deeper push.
Article updated 1/16/19 07:55 PST to correct the names of the company co-founders.
The popular image of a Chapter 7 bankruptcy might be a large company like Enron failing, or maybe some lazy drifter trying to shirk their financial responsibilities. The reality is anything but those sorts of images. Today in America, the most common reason for bankruptcy is to discharge egregious sums of medical debt , which might have been incurred in a short stint in a hospital emergency room.
Bankruptcy allows people to get out from under a debilitating and permanent state of financial crisis — assuming one can afford it. Applying for bankruptcy itself costs money, potentially thousands of dollars depending on the attorney used. The cruel irony is that the people who can least afford to apply are those who are most locked out from the help they need.
Upsolve, one of the three nonprofit tech startups in Y Combinator’s current winter batch, is building a unified and efficient software product to allow users easy access to the bankruptcy system. Users go through a series of questions to collect the required information about their financial circumstances, then Upsolve provides automated bankruptcy forms reviewed by an Upsolve attorney — all for free.
“Our mission is to help the victims of our broken financial system,” Upsolve CEO and co-founder Rohan Pavuluri said to me. “If you are poor, you don’t have access to the same rights.” He describes Upsolve as “TurboTax for bankruptcy” (although to be clear, TurboTax is a for-profit business line of Intuit). Much like tax, bankruptcy is convoluted. “There are 23 forms to file for bankruptcy,” he said.
So far, the software platform seems to be finding traction. Since starting the org in summer of 2016 and launching their pilot in early 2018, Upsolve has processed $16 million in bankruptcies on behalf of 400 people and has diagnosed debt problems for 5,000 users during 2018, according to Pavuluri. We’re “automating a $40,000 check to these folks… for three hours’ worth of time.”
Unlike legal processes like estate planning, which are burdened with handling 50 different state processes, bankruptcy is based on federal law, which means that Upsolve’s solution can work across the country. Today, it supports 47 states, and the startup’s first target markets are New York and Illinois.
Where Upsolve gets really interesting is on the financial side, both in how it approaches revenues from users and also how it funds its operations.
On the revenue side, Upsolve is free. Inspired by GoFundMe and other startups, Pavuluri and his team have created a model where users donate “what they think is fair” for the service. That has worked so far, as “on a unit basis we cover our costs from the tipping model,” he said.
Over time, he hopes to break even using just the tipping model, but today the organization relies on legal aid funds to partially fund its operations. The U.S. government and many state governments have funding set aside to finance civil legal aid, and the Legal Services Corporation is the largest funder to date of Upsolve.
I asked about whether incumbent lawyers are threatened by Upsolve. Pavuluri said that most lawyers don’t want to handle these cases in the first place, because they are not profitable and generally need to be handled pro bono. He said that for simple Chapter 7 cases, you (almost certainly) don’t need a lawyer, and “we challenge legal exceptionalism in that sense.” He has spent the last two years criss-crossing the country meeting with bankruptcy groups, judges, bar associations and attorneys to undergird support for the startup’s work.
In addition to Y Combinator, Upsolve has been funded by Harvard University, the Robin Hood Foundation, Schmidt Futures (Eric Schmidt), Fast Forward and Breyer Labs.
 There is a large academic debate on how many bankruptcies are triggered by medical debt. The percentage varies hugely between different studies (from say 4 percent to 62 percent), and it really depends on how you define someone’s lead cause of bankruptcy. Most filers with medical debt also have other forms of debt, so what specifically triggered a bankruptcy? Due to stigma, filers will often point to medical debt when other forms of debt may be larger.
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Share your feedback on your startup’s attorney
My colleague Eric Eldon and I are reaching out to startup founders and execs about their experiences with their attorneys. Our goal is to identify the leading lights of the industry and help spark discussions around best practices. If you have an attorney you thought did a fantastic job for your startup, let us know using this short Google Forms survey and also spread the word. We will share the results and more in the coming weeks.
Stray thoughts (aka, what I am reading)
Short summaries and analysis of important news stories
Slack’s Financials are quite strong
Zoë Bernard and Alfred Lee at The Information have the scoop on Slack’s financials. Huge revenue growth of about 75 percent last year to $389 million. The challenge is that Slack’s valuation is still very heady given its revenues, and is currently valued at about an 18x multiple, according to the writers. That’s expensive, but perhaps still desirable by investors who are otherwise looking at a relatively bleak market of investment opportunities.
What’s next & obsessions
I am reading The Color of Law by Richard Rothstein. About half way through — and it’s quite thought-provoking (and depressing).
Arman is reading Never Lost Again by Bill Kilday, a history of mapping at Google and beyond.
Arman and I are interested in societal resilience startups that are targeting areas like water security, housing, infrastructure, climate change, disaster response, etc. Reach out if you have ideas or companies here.
On-demand telehealth company Tyto Care adds Sanford Health, Itochu and Shenzhen Capital Group as strategic investors
Tyto Care, a telehealth company that enables physicians to conduct on-demand remote exams, announced today that it has added $9 million to its Series C, bringing the round’s total to $33.5 million. The new funding comes from strategic investors Sanford Health, Itochu and Shenzhen Capital Group. First announced last year, the oversubscribed Series C was led by Ping An Global Voyager Fund, run by the Chinese financial conglomerate.
Itochu, Shenzhen Capital Group and Sanford Health, the largest rural not-for-profit healthcare system in the United States, will serve as Tyto’s new strategic partners as it expands in Japan, China and the U.S., its largest market. The New York-based company has now raised $54 million to date.
Tyto’s telehealth service combines a set of connected hardware that patients keep at home to make video calls to doctors. Called TytoHome, the small handheld tools are used to examine the heart, lungs, throat, ears, skin, abdomen, heart rate and body temperature of a patient, enabling doctors to assess their condition remotely and decide if they need further medical care. Tyto also integrates with third-party tools for blood pressure, blood oxygen saturation and weight scales. Patient data can be aggregated into Tyto’s data platform, which the company says will eventually be used to help with diagnosis and health alerts.
Remote health exams are especially helpful for children, elderly people, patients with chronic conditions and patients recovering from operations who need frequent monitoring. In an email, CEO and co-founder Dedi Gilad told TechCrunch that the company also targets rural areas that have limited access to healthcare facilities or are affected by the global shortage of physicians.
The U.S., Japan and China “are all turning to digital health technology to help solve myriad public health issues, including expensive healthcare and aging and dense populations,” Gilad said.
Founded in 2012, the company launched in the U.S. in 2017 after receiving clearance from the Food and Drug Administration, and in 2018 in Canada after it also received regulatory approval there. Because of different healthcare systems and regulations in each of its markets, the company expands in new markets like Japan and China through strategic partnerships with health systems, telehealth companies (including Ping An Good Doctor in China, which has 170 million users), large private practices and self-insured employers. So far it has struck partnerships with 50 health organizations.
Tyto’s new funding will be used to find new partners in the U.S. and expand into new markets in Europe and Asia. It also plans to add new modular exam tools for home diagnostics and remote monitoring.
In a statement, Shenzhen Capital Group chairman Zewang Ni said “Tyto Care’s mission of making high-quality healthcare accessible from the comfort of home is crucial, especially in China. We believe that telehealth will significantly improve the lives of Chinese consumers, whether they are parents with sick children at home, elderly patients facing chronic illnesses, or citizens living in remote areas with less access to medical care.”
Facebook is launching some of its self-styled ‘election security’ initiatives into more markets in the coming months ahead of several major votes in countries around the world.
In an interview with Reuters the social networking giant confirmed it’s launching checks on political adverts on its platform in Nigeria, Ukraine and the European Union, reiterating too that ad transparency measures will launch in India ahead of its general election.
Although it still hasn’t confirmed how it will respond in other countries with looming votes this year, including Australia, Indonesia, Israel and the Philippines.
Concern about election interference in the era of mass social media has stepped up sharply since revelations about the volume of disinformation targeted at the 2016 U.S. presidential election (and amplified by Facebook et al).
More than two years later Facebook’s approach to election security remains ad hoc, with different policy and transparency components being launched in different markets — as it says it’s still in a learning mode.
It also claims its variable approach reflects local laws and conversations with governments and civil society groups. Although it says it’s also hoping to have a set of tools that applies to advertisers globally by the end of June.
“Our goal was to get to a global solution. And so, until we can get to that in June, we had to look at the different elections and what we think we can do,” Facebook’s director of global politics and outreach, Katie Harbath told Reuters.
Many markets where Facebook’s platform operates also still have no limits on who can buy and target political ads, as too do many smaller elections, such as local elections.
Even as the checks and balances the company does offer in other markets remain partial and far from perfect. For instance Facebook does not always offer meaningful checks on issue-based political advertising because, in some markets, it narrowly draws the definition as related to parties and candidates only, thereby limiting the effectiveness of the policy.
(And plenty of Kremlin propaganda targeted at the 2016 US presidential election was focused on weaponizing issues to whip up social divisions, for example, such as by playing up racial tensions, rather than promoting or attacking particular candidates.)
Facebook told Reuters it’s launching an authorization process for political advertisers in Nigeria today, ahead of a presidential election on February 16, which requires those running political ads to be located in the country.
It said the same policy will apply to Ukraine next month, ahead of elections on March 31.
Facebook also reiterated that election security measures are incoming ahead of India’s general election last month. From next month it will launch a searchable online library for election ads in India which votes for parliament this spring. The ads will be held in the library for seven years.
It has already launched searchable political ad archives in the U.S., Brazil and the U.K. But again its narrow definition of what constitutes a political ad limits the scope of the transparency measure in the U.K., for example. (Whereas in the U.S. the archive can include ads about much debated issues such as immigration and climate change.)
The Indian archive will contain contact information for some ad buyers or official regulatory certificates, according to Reuters.
While, in the case of individuals buying political ads, Facebook said it would ensure their listed name matches government-issued identity documents.
The European Union, which goes to the polls in May to elect MEPs for the European Parliament, will also get a version of the Indian authorization and transparency system ahead of that vote.
The European Commission has stepped up pressure on tech platforms over election security, announcing a package of measures last month intended to combat democracy-denting disinformation which included pressing platforms to increase transparency around political ads and purge fake accounts.
The EC also said it would be monitoring platforms’ efforts — warning that it wants to see “real progress”, not more “excuses” and “foot-dragging”.
We contacted Facebook for further comment on its international election security efforts but at the time of writing it said it had nothing more to add.
While we will continue to see a lot of consolidation among smaller startups in the area of financial technology, or fintech, there are also some much bigger combinations at play to help tap into economies of scale against current and future competition. Today, Fiserv announced that it would acquire First Data — respectively giants in financial services and e-commerce payments — in a deal worth $22 billion.
It is a merger, but Fiserv will be getting the upper hand in the deal: its CEO Jeffery Yabuki will become CEO of the combined entity, while First Data’s CEO Frank Bisignano will become president and COO.
This will be an all-stock transaction. Specifically, First Data shareholders will get a fixed exchange ratio of 0.303 Fiserv shares for each share of First Data common stock, “for an equity value of $22 billion.” Fiserv said the price it’s paying is a premium of 29 percent to the five-day volume weighted average price as of yesterday’s closing. After the close of the deal, Fiserv shareholders will own 57.5 percent of the combined company, while First Data shareholders will own 42.5 percent.
The merger underscores the general trend of consolidating different parts of the financial services ecosystem, providing a one-stop-shop to clients, and building more integrated services overall.
Traditional banks and the services that they provide to users — from savings accounts to credit and loan services to remittance and money transfer services and payments — have been disrupted in the last 10-15 years with the emergence of a host of startups that are taking them on with faster, more agile solutions based on cloud architectures, apps, catchy marketing, AI and machine learning to improve responsiveness and overall user experience, as well as undercut some of the rates that banks provide.
Up and coming names include PayPal (which you might argue is no longer disruptive in this sense), Stripe, Square, TransferWise, Ant Financial (a frenemy of sorts) and more. Other tech companies like Amazon and Apple also are throwing their weight in terms of “owning” customers’ financial expenditures.
Fiserv, which is now 35 years old, has actually played a part in trying to help banks combat that bigger trend, for example it once built its own smartphone-based card reader to compete with Square’s that it intended to sell to banks to take on the smaller firm.
First Data, meanwhile, has been mainly swimming in its own lane, acting as a consolidator of interesting fintech startups like Clover, Perka, Gyft, Blue Pay, Spree and more. It went public in 2015 and says that its tech is active across 6 million physical businesses and 4,000 financial institutions in over 100 countries, and that it processes some 3,000 transactions per second and $2.4 trillion per year.
Now, they will be combining their respective work into more integrated offerings. As examples the companies give, it will merge First Data’s digital merchant account enrollment capabilities can be integrated into Fiserv’s digital banking solutions that serve thousands of financial institutions.
They said they will also be investing $500 million over the next five years on new tech in areas like merchant solutions, digital services, risk management, and payments.
“Through this transformative combination, we expect to redefine the manner in which people and institutions move money and information,” said Jeffery Yabuki, President and Chief Executive Officer of Fiserv in a statement. “We admire First Data for its excellence in merchant acquiring and global issuing services, and the tremendous progress they have made under Frank’s leadership. We expect this combination to catalyze and support an enhanced value proposition for our collective clients and their customers.”
“I have long admired what Fiserv has achieved over the years, and I look forward to working with the talented associates of both companies as we set a higher standard of innovation and service in the industry,” said First Data Chairman and CEO Frank Bisignano in a statement. “Our goal at First Data has always been to provide our clients with the most comprehensive suite of innovative, highly-differentiated solutions and services, and I am excited by the significant value that the combination with Fiserv creates for all stakeholders.”
While this is about creating products to better compete against the rest of the financial services field, it’s also about saving money at the two companies themselves. Fiserv and First Data say that they expect $900 million in run-rate cost savings and $500 million or more in revenue synergies.
The companies said they expect the deal to close in the second half of 2019.
Verizon Wireless is now offering free access to Apple Music. The music streaming service is available on select Verizon Wireless plans starting on January 17, 2019. Previously, Verizon and Apple offered a free 6-month trial to the streaming service.
The partnership comes as Apple is clearly looking for partners to help extend the reach of Apple’s services. Just last week, at CES 2019, multiple consumer electronic companies announced compatibility and support for several of Apple’s services including Airplay 2, HomeKit and iTunes video streaming services. This Verizon partnership further demonstrates Apple’s willingness to piggyback on another company to reach new users.
Verizon Wireless is America’s largest wireless carriers though it’s unclear how many users will have access to this service. The free Apple Music offer is only available to Verizon subscribers on select plans. Starting January 17, Apple Music will be included in Beyond Unlimited and Above Unlimited plans. For other users, a six-month trial is still available.
Wireless carriers have long looked to offering outside services to its subscribers to prop up their offerings. T-Mobile offers free Netflix and limited access to GoGo. Sprint gives subscribers free Hulu and Tidal. Sprint lets users on some plans pick from free HBO, Cinemax, Showtime or other services. Verizon is the first to offer free Apple Music.
Partnering with wireless carriers is a proven strategy to supercharge growth. Previously, Spotify used similar methods to introduce its service to customers. Others such as Dropbox followed. It’s a smart move: go where there are already customers. Wireless carriers offer service companies access to a huge range of customers from various demographic groups.
Going forward, it will be interesting to see if Apple discloses the source of Apple Music subscribers in quarterly reports. This deal will likely result in a massive increase of subscribers who are not paying for the service through traditional means.
Disclosure: TechCrunch is a Verizon Media company.
A slew of banks are coming together to back a new roll-up strategy for the Los Angeles-based mobile gaming studio, Jam City and giving the company $145 million in new funding to carry that out.
There’s no word on whether the new money is in equity or debt, but what is certain is that JPMorgan Chase Bank, Bank of America Merrill Lynch and syndicate partners including Silicon Valley Bank, SunTrust Bank and CIT Bank are all involved in the deal.
“In a global mobile games market that is consolidating, Jam City could not be more proud to be working with JPMorgan, Bank of America Merrill Lynch, Silicon Valley Bank, SunTrust Bank and CIT Group to strategically support the financing of our acquisition and growth plans,” said Chris DeWolfe, co-founder and CEO of Jam City. “This $145 million in new financing empowers Jam City to further our position as a global industry consolidator. As we grow our global business, we are honored to be working alongside such prestigious advisers who share Jam City’s mission of delivering joy to people everywhere through unique and deeply engaging mobile games.”
The new money comes after a few years of speculation on whether Jam City would be the next big Los Angeles-based startup company to file for an initial public offering. It also follows a new agreement with Disney to develop mobile games based on intellectual property coming from all corners of the mouse house — a sweet cache of intellectual property ranging from Pixar, to Marvel, to traditional Disney characters.
Jam City is coming off of a strong year of company growth. The Harry Potter: Hogwarts Mystery game which launched last year, became the company’s fastest title to hit $100 million in revenue
New Harry Potter game, launching today, lets players enroll in Hogwarts
Add that to the company’s expansion into new markets with strategic acquisitions to fuel development and growth in Toronto and Bogota, and it’s clear that the company is looking to make more moves in 2019.
Jam City already holds intellectual property for a new game built on Disney’s Frozen 2, the company’s newly acquired Fox Studio assets like Family Guy and the Harry Potter property. Add that to its own Cookie Jam and Panda Pop properties and it seems like the company is ready to make moves.
Meanwhile, games are quickly becoming the go-to revenue driver for the entertainment industry. According to data collected by Newzoo, mobile games revenue reached a record $63.2 billion worldwide in 2018, representing roughly 47% of the total revenue for the gaming industry in the year. That number could reach $81.3 billion by 2020, the Newzoo data suggests.
Roughly half of the U.S. plays mobile games and they’re spending significant dollars on those games in app stores. App Annie suggests that roughly 75% of the money spent on app stores over the past decade has been spent on mobile games. And consumers are expected to spend roughly $129 billion in the app store over the next year. The data and analytics firm suggests that mobile gaming will capture some 60% of the overall gaming market in 2019 as well.
All of that bodes well for the industry as a whole, and points to why Jam City is looking to consolidate. And the company isn’t the only mobile games studio making moves.
The publicly traded games studio Zynga, which rose to fame initially on the back of Facebook’s gaming platform, recently expanded its European footprint with the late December acquisition of the Helsinki-based gaming studio, Small Giant Games.
Tesla today is launching a new home charging station designed for the modern home. The new Wall Connector is the auto maker’s first home charging solution that can be plugged into a wall outlet rather than being hardwired into the home’s electrical system. This charger can plug directly into a NEMA 14-50 plug — the most common high-voltage plug in the U.S.
This is a departure from Tesla’s previous strategy, but one that makes sense. This Wall Connector allows home owners to install a high-voltage charging system in a home without hiring an electrician. Just plug it in.
The new Wall Connector offers a faster recharge time than the Gen 2 Mobile Connector, which also offers a NEMA 14-50 plug. The new offering provides up to 40 amps to most Tesla vehicles while the Gen 2 Mobile Connector caps at 32 amps. Even still, Tesla’s hardwired Wall Connector recharges even quicker. Tesla is clearly looking to the new product to live in-between its previous two chargers: It’s quicker and offers a cleaner look than the mobile connector, though slower but with a lower overall cost than the hardwired solution.
At $500, the new charger is in line with other home EV power solutions. It comes with a 24-foot cable and is only available in silver.