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Daily Crunch: Facebook faces blistering civil rights audit

Words: Anthony Ha - TechCrunch - 22:10 08-07-2020

Auditors were not impressed by Facebook’s civil rights work, Tinder tests video chat and a new nasal spray could reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission. Here’s your Daily Crunch for July 8, 2020.

The big story: Facebook faces blistering civil rights audit

The results are out in a multi-year audit of Facebook’s approach to civil rights issues. In recent weeks, as the company has faced an advertiser boycott over some of these same issues, executives have pointed to the audit as a sign that it’s taking civil rights concerns seriously. But the findings aren’t exactly positive.

“While the audit process has been meaningful and has led to some significant improvements in the platform, we have also watched the company make painful decisions over the last nine months with real world consequences that are serious setbacks for civil rights,” wrote former ACLU director Laura W. Murphy and attorneys from law firm Relman Colfax.

Meanwhile, Facebook executives met with the leaders of the boycott yesterday, but it sounds like little progress was made, with Color of Change President Rashad Robinson criticizing the company for “expecting an A for attendance.”

The tech giants

Tinder now testing video chat in select markets, including US — The feature will allow Tinder users to go on virtual dates when both of them opt-in (something that’s probably a lot more appealing during the current pandemic).

Slack snags corporate directory startup Rimeto to up its people search game — With this acquisition, Slack could potentially improve the experience of searching for employees across a company.

Microsoft makes Teams video meetings less tiring with its new Together mode — Instead of presenting all the attendees as little squares, Together mode shows them sitting together in an auditorium. Although it sounds silly, Microsoft says this is actually easier for the brain to process.

Startups, funding and venture capital

Permutive raises $18.5 million to help publishers target ads in a new privacy landscape — Rather than relying on third-party cookies, Permutive uses a publisher’s first-party data to deliver more targeted ads.

Swiftmile raises $5 million round led by Thayer Ventures for micromobility charging stations — Swiftmile makes charging stations for electric bikes and scooters, with 150 stations deployed throughout the United States to date.

Harvard biomedical engineering professor to launch nasal spray that could reduce COVID-19 transmission risk — The product is called FEND, and the startup Sensory Cloud plans to release it in September.

Advice and analysis from Extra Crunch

What India’s TikTok ban means for China — Manish Singh discusses how a recent order from the Indian government is shifting the market in favor of local companies.

As media revenue struggles, subscription startups see growth — It’s not exactly a rosy picture for media startups, but there have been some promising subscription success stories.

Ford’s Bronco relaunch demonstrates the power of nostalgia — Even if you don’t care about the Bronco, this week’s rollout has been a master class in how companies can use nostalgia for marketing.

(Reminder: Extra Crunch is our subscription membership program, designed to democratize information about startups. You can sign up here.)

Trump’s sudden reversal on student visas will be felt in Silicon Valley — With international students no longer allowed to stay in the U.S. if their universities move their courses entirely online, there could be a big impact on technical talent and innovation.

The tech industry comes to grips with Hong Kong’s national security law — We interviewed a range of players to get a sense of what the new law will mean for internet freedom and entrepreneurship.

The Daily Crunch is TechCrunch’s roundup of our biggest and most important stories. If you’d like to get this delivered to your inbox every day at around 3pm Pacific, you can subscribe here.

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This VC just closed on $60M to fund ‘technical risk,’ saying other VCs mostly do not

Words: Connie Loizos - TechCrunch - 02:22 09-07-2020

Ashmeet Sidana, a longtime VC who struck out on his own in 2015 to form Engineering Capital, just closed his third and newest fund with $60 million in capital commitments from a university endowment, a fund of funds, and three foundations.

Sidana — who previously spent nearly nine years with Foundation Capital and received one of his first limited partner agreements  afterward from Foundation’s legendary founder, Kathryn Gould — says the fund came together despite the pandemic without too much pain.

That’s thanks in part to Sidana’s track record, including the sale of the cloud monitoring startup SignalFx to Splunk for $1 billion after it raised $179 million from VCs, and the sale of the cloud application monitoring startup Netsil by Nutanix for up for $74 million in stock after it raised just $5.7 million. (Engineering Capital was the first investor in both.)

Sidana’s day-to-day work in Palo Alto, Calif. –which centers on working with teams “that you can feed with two pizzas,” yet whose narrow technical insights can have broad applicability — was also an apparent draw. To learn more, we talked earlier today with Sidana, a self-described engineering nerd who studied computer science at Stanford about what “technical insights” have caught his attention most recently.

TC: You talk about pursuing founders with technical insights. Is that not true of most venture capitalists?

AS: No. Silicon Valley is a tech investing ecosystem, but most of its participants aren’t solving hard technical problems. They have market insights or consumer insights. It’s the difference between Google and Facebook. Google figured out how to index better, how to better prioritize a sorting problem. Facebook was started with the consumer insight that people want to be connected with each other. I focus on companies based on technical insights. Most VCs don’t.

TC: What are you looking for exactly?

AS: A team that’s using software or tech to solve a known problem that exists but for which there does not exist a solution. Many such problems exist. For example, we know the future will be multi cloud. Amazon has succeeded wildly with AWS. Microsoft is doing well with its cloud business. Google is catching up to them. Then you have the seven dwarves, including DigitalOcean. It’s a difficult way for enterprises to engage with infrastructure. Another technical problem is rooted in all of us wanting to give our infrastructure over to the cloud but not our data. How do we solve this? Some are solving it legally, some with publicity. But really, it’s a technical problem.

TC: What’s a recent bet you’ve made that has solved a technical problem?

AS: I’m the first investor in Baffle, which is a really interesting company that enables the user of a traditional relational database to see the data but not an administrator. [Editor’s note: the company says it enables the field level protection of data without requiring any application code changes.] Or Robust Intelligence is an even newer investment that’s solving the problem of data contamination in artificial intelligence.

TC: How so?

AS: When you run models and do machine learning, you [employ] cybersecurity and protect them, but what about the data that the AI is working on? Robust has a killer demo that shows that when you deposit a check with your iPhone, your bank is of course using AI to recognize check and ensure the right amount goes into the proper account. [But a nefarious actor could] procure a small number of pixels that are invisible to the human eye in the photo of check and change the numbers and the routing number. What Robust does is protecting [both the bank and its customers] from that kind of data contamination.

TC: I know you tend to invest very early — often writing the first check. Are you hovering around Stanford all day? How do you find these nascent teams?

AS: I have good relationships with many schools, including [the University of] Michigan, Stanford, [UC] Berkeley, I’m involved with the University of Toronto’s Creative Destruction Lab; I keep active relationships with [schools in India]… I spend a lot of time with engineers in academia or industry.

TC: What size checks are you writing to get them started, and how much of their companies do you expect in return?

AS: Most people think investing in technical insights is expensive, but it can be very capital efficient if you are working with software. I’m also looking at companies where you can get to revenue with $1 million and $3 million and funding. That typically takes a small team of five to eight people who you can feed with two pizzas.  Linux was ultimately written by one person. VMWare was started by a technical insight addressed by two people. Google had its earlier stuff working with just Larry and Sergey.

As for ownership, my job is to buy low and sell high. I’m as greedy as the next VC and would love to have as much ownership as I can, but there is no formula.

TC: What’s a mistake you tend to see with new teams?

AS: Gluttony. Most think they have to go after a big market and solve a big problem, but the magic of doing a startup is to focus on an incredibly narrow problem that has broad applications. As Steve Jobs used to say it is difficult to throw away features, not to add them.

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Mercedes opts for more screens and fewer buttons in the 2021 S-Class

Words: Kirsten Korosec - TechCrunch - 19:31 08-07-2020

Teaser images and leaked photos of the 2021 Mercedes-Benz S-Class suggested the automaker was moving toward a more digital-centric interior. That might have been an understatement.

Mercedes-Benz revealed Monday its second-generation MBUX infotainment system, and it is loaded with new technology, including touchscreens, augmented reality heads-up display and improved voice and facial recognition. Gone are many of the physical switches found in the older version of the S-Class. Mercedes said it removed 27 mechanical switches for the 2021 model.

The upshot: Mercedes is linking technology with luxury. And while the entire interior of the new S-Class has yet to be revealed, it appears the company is transitioning away from a rather crowded dash and center console area that in previous models included every kind of analog button and switch, as well as newer digital displays.

Before diving into the tech that stands out in the newest version of MBUX, here’s a handy graphic that provides an overview.

The first-generation Mercedes-Benz User Experience, or MBUX, system was unveiled in January 2018 at the CES tech trade show and debuted in the automaker’s A Class hatchback. That was a departure for Mercedes, which has historically reserved its best tech for its flagship model, the S-Class. Mercedes is returning to that strategy with the new version of MBUX heading to the 2021 S-Class.

You read that correctly. The 2021 Mercedes S Class will have up to five touchscreens, which includes displays for passengers. The S-Class will come standardly equipped with 12.8-inch OLED screens that include haptic feedback.

The user can control or access features on the displays by touching or swiping the actual screen or by using voice control, natural hand gestures and now gaze control. Mercedes did hold back on some functions, like lights and windshield wipers off of the touchscreen. The climate control panel is permanently at the lower edge of the display.

The system will provide the kind of customization an S-Class owner would expect. Preferences can be stored in the vehicle’s personal “Mercedes me” profile. Up to seven different profiles are possible in the vehicle.

The appearance of the screens can also be individualized with a choice of four display styles — discreet, sporty, exclusive and classic. There are three user modes, as well, to cover navigation, assistance and service. Screen content can also be shared with other passengers.

In the back seat, where up to three screens are optionally available, passengers can share, select and amend navigation destinations.

Mercedes has adopted 3D technology into the vehicle, specifically for the driver display. The three-dimensional effect is possible without having to wear 3D glasses, the automaker said.

The company was able to achieve this effect by combining a conventional LCD display with a special pixel structure and a controllable LCD aperture grill. A barrier mask is placed a few millimeters in front of the LCD. The result is that the left and right eye see different pixels of the LCD, creating the illusion of depth.

The 3D display feature can be adjusted to a 2D or flatter graphic.

Mercedes-Benz put an early emphasis on voice in the first-generation of MBUX. The automaker said it has improved its voice assistant further. For instance, certain actions can be triggered without the “Hey Mercedes” activation keyword to accept a phone call or display the navigation map. “Hey Mercedes” can now explain further in-car questions such as where the first-aid kit is located or how to connect a smartphone via Bluetooth.

The voice assistant now understands commands and questions relating to infotainment sector and vehicle operation in 27 languages. It has also become far more natural and continues to learn — two areas we hope to test. For instance, the voice assistant understands indirect language, such as if a user says “I am cold” instead of the clear command “Set temperature in footwell to 72 degrees.”

There’s also a new “Chit-Chat” feature that supplies the right answer to many questions — even questions about animal noises or general knowledge can be answered, Mercedes claims.

Mercedes is all-in on the security of this vehicle. The classic PIN entry is still on the S-Class. The automaker has added a new authentication method to ensure a high level of security.

The system now combines fingerprint, face and voice recognition. This allows access to individual settings. That extra layer of security isn’t there to protect your seating preference, although perhaps that’s worth protecting. It’s also there to allow users to make payments digitally from within the vehicle.

Besides the voice assistant, the infotainment system is equipped with other tools to assist the driver.

For instance, there’s a special blind spot warning designed for drivers leaving their vehicle. Sensors and cameras can detect the driver’s intention to leave and will issue warning if there are road users and obstacles alongside the car. Another warning will alert of an unattached child seat on the front passenger seat.

The vehicle will also listen for cues to gauge the alertness level of the driver. If the driver says “I’m tired,” an activation program of energizing comfort control is started. The same sentence from the rear starts a well-being program.

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Google reportedly cancelled a cloud project meant for countries including China

Words: Catherine Shu - TechCrunch - 04:25 09-07-2020

After reportedly spending a year and a half working on a cloud service meant for China and other countries, Google cancelled the project, called “Isolated Region,” in May due partly to geopolitical and pandemic-related concerns. Bloomberg reports that Isolated Region, shut down in May, would have enabled it to offer cloud services in countries that want to keep and control data within their borders.

According to two Google employees who spoke to Bloomberg, the project was part of a larger initiative called “Sharded Google” to create data and processing infrastructure that is completely separate from the rest of the company’s network. Isolated Region began in early 2018 in response to Chinese regulations that mean foreign tech companies that want to enter the country need to form a joint venture with a local company that would hold control over user data. Isolated Region was meant to help meet requirements like this in China and other countries, while also addressing U.S. national security concerns.

Bloomberg’s sources said the project was paused in China in January 2019, and focus was redirected to Europe, the Middle East and Africa instead, before Isolated Region was ultimately cancelled in May, though Google has since considered offering a smaller version of Google Cloud Platform in China.

After the story was first published, a Google representative told Bloomberg that Isolated Region wasn’t shut down because of geopolitical issues or the pandemic, and that the company “does not offer and has not offered cloud platform services inside China.”

Instead, she said Isolated Region was cancelled because “other approaches we were actively pursuing offered better outcomes. We have a comprehensive approach to addressing these requirements that covers the governance of data, operational practices and survivability of software. Isolated Region was just one of the paths we explored to address these requirements.”

Alphabet, Google’s parent company, broke out Google Cloud as its own line item for the first time in its fourth-quarter and full-year earnings report, released in February. It revealed that its run rate grew 53.6% during the last year to just over $10 billion in 2019, making it a more formidable rival to competitors Amazon and Microsoft.

Alphabet earnings show Google Cloud on $10B run rate

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Report says Quibi lost 92% of its earliest users after free trials expired

Words: Lucas Matney - TechCrunch - 01:12 09-07-2020

The Independence Day weekend was a big one for Quibi, it was time to see how many of their earliest subscribers would convert from free users to paid subscribers.

Early reports indicate that the streaming service held onto some subscribers through that period, but perhaps at a lesser rate than recently launched rival services. Data provided to TechCrunch by Sensor Tower estimates that around 8% of the 910,000 users who signed up for a free trial of Quibi in the app’s first three days stuck with the service past the expiration of the three-month free trial period. All-in-all Sensor Tower approximates that “a maximum of” 72,000 subscribers of that 910,000 subscriber number stuck with Quibi after their free trials expired.

It’s important to note that this is not the total number of Quibi’s users and only accounts for conversions for the first 3 days of sign-ups. For context, Sensor Tower shared that of the 9.5 million downloads for Disney+ in its first three days of sign-ups, about 1 million users (or 11% of the total) converted to paid subscriptions. The huge difference here is that Quibi opted for a lengthy three month free trial, whereas Disney+ launched with a 7-day free trial.

Sensor Tower estimates Quibi has been downloaded 4.5 million times in total since April 6. After April, Quibi transitioned from a three-month free trial to a 14-day free trial as it scaled back its early efforts to juice early momentum.

TechCrunch has reached out to Quibi for comment.

In a statement to The Verge regarding the same data, a spokesperson for Quibi pushed back on Sensor Tower’s findings, saying that “the number of paid subscribers is incorrect by an order of magnitude. To date, over 5.6 million people have downloaded the Quibi app. Our conversion from download to trial is above mobile app benchmarks, and we are seeing excellent conversion to paid subscribers — both among our 90-day free trial sign-ups from April, as well as our 14-day free trial sign-ups from May and June.”

In response to Quibi’s statement, a Sensor Tower spokesperson indicated that the cause of the mismatch between total download numbers could be, in part, due to the fact that its data only counts installs as “the first download of an app by a single Apple ID or Google account. As such, our figures won’t reflect if the app is installed again by the same user, such as after deletion or to another device.”

What went wrong with Quibi?

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Apple says it’s ‘committed’ to supporting Thunderbolt on new Macs after Intel details latest version

Words: Brian Heater - TechCrunch - 22:26 08-07-2020

Earlier today, Intel offered some key insight into Thunderbolt 4, following an initial unveiling at CES back in January. The latest version of the connection standard isn’t actually faster than its predecessor (still offering up the same 40 gbps as its predecessor), but there are some key improvements on-board, including some updated system requirements.  Here’s the rundown, per Intel:

Double the minimum video and data requirements of Thunderbolt 3.

Video: Support for two 4K displays or one 8K display.

Data: PCIe at 32 Gbps for storage speeds up to 3,000 MBps.

Support for docks with up to four Thunderbolt 4 ports.

PC charging on at least one computer port.

Wake your computer from sleep by touching the keyboard or mouse when connected to a Thunderbolt dock. Required Intel VT-d-based direct memory access (DMA) protection that helps prevent physical DMA attacks.

The new version will be compatible with both Thunderbolt 3 and old USB connections, and it’s set to arrive at some point later in 2020 on laptops sporting Tiger Lake CPUs. One big question mark in all of this, however, is whether Apple will continue to support this latest connection on its upcoming line of ARM-based Macs. After all, the move marks a key rift in the longstanding relationship between Apple and Intel.

In a statement offered to TechCrunch, the company restated its commitment to connection it’s been so invested in over the past several years, noting, “Over a decade ago, Apple partnered with Intel to design and develop Thunderbolt, and today our customers enjoy the speed and flexibility it brings to every Mac. We remain committed to the future of Thunderbolt and will support it in Macs with Apple silicon.”

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Fisker raises $50 million to bring its all-electric Ocean SUV to market in 2022

Words: Kirsten Korosec - TechCrunch - 22:02 08-07-2020

Electric vehicle startup Fisker Inc. said Wednesday it has raised $50 million, much needed capital that will go toward funding the next phase of engineering work on the company’s all-electric luxury SUV.

The startup is aiming to launch the Fisker Ocean SUV in 2022.

The Series C funding round was led by Moore Strategic Ventures LLC, the private investment vehicle of Louis M. Bacon, the billionaire hedge fund manager.

“Since we first showed the car at CES earlier this year, reaction from customers and investors has been extremely positive,” Fisker Inc. Chairman and CEO Henrik Fisker said in a statement. “We are radically challenging the conventional industry thinking around developing and selling cars and this capital will allow us to execute our planned timeline to start producing vehicles in 2022.”

The company is also beefing up its executive lineup to help push the project along. Fisker said it has hired Burkhard Huhnke as its CTO. Huhnke was the former vice president of e-mobility for Volkswagen America and vice president of automotive at chipmaker Synopses.

As CTO, Huhnke will spread his time between the company’s R&D work in Los Angeles and its new Fisker Innovation Lab in Silicon Valley.

Building a car company isn’t easy. Just ask Fisker. The well-known automotive designer, who was behind the Aston Martin V8 Vantage, Aston Martin DB9 and BMW Z8 among others, launched a startup called Fisker Automotive that aimed to produce a luxury plug-in hybrid electric vehicles. The flagship vehicle, the Fisker Karma, debuted at the 2008 North American International Auto Show, and first deliveries were in 2011. But the company ran into numerous challenges and production was suspended in November 2012 and ended in bankruptcy a year later.

China’s Wanxiang Group purchased what was left of Fisker in 2014 and launched a new company called Karma Automotive . On a side note: Karma, which has had its own financial struggles, also announced Wednesday it had raised $100 million.

This time around, Fisker is focused on an SUV. The Fisker Ocean, which was officially revealed in January at CES 2020, starts at $37,499 before applying any federal income tax credit or state incentives.

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NASA injects $17M into four small companies with Artemis ambitions

Words: Devin Coldewey - TechCrunch - 21:51 08-07-2020

NASA awards millions of dollars a year to small businesses through the SBIR program, but generally it’s a lot of small awards to hundreds of companies. Breaking with precedent, today the agency announced a new multi-million-dollar funding track and its four first recipients, addressing urgent needs for the Artemis program.

The Small Business Innovation Research program has various forms throughout the federal government, but it generally provides non-dilutive funding on the order of a few hundred thousand dollars over a couple of years to nudge a nascent technology toward commercialization.

NASA has found, however, that there is a gap between the medium-size Phase II awards and Phase III, which is more like a full-on government contract; there are already “Extended” and “Pilot” programs that can provide up to an additional $1 million to promising companies. But the fact is space is expensive and time-consuming, and some need larger sums to complete the tech that NASA has already indicated confidence in or a need for.

Therefore the creation of this new tier of Phase II award: less than a full contract would amount to, but up to $5 million — nothing to sneeze at, and it comes with relatively few strings attached.

The first four companies to collect a check from this new, as yet unnamed program are all pursuing technologies that will be of particular use during the Artemis lunar missions:

It’s important to note that these companies aren’t new to the game — they have a long and ongoing relationship with NASA, as SBIR grants take place over multiple years. “Each business has a track record of success with NASA, and we believe their technologies will have a direct impact on the Artemis program,” said NASA’s Jim Reuter in a news release.

The total awarded is $17 million, but NASA, citing ongoing negotiations, could not be more specific about the breakdown except that the amounts awarded fall between $2.5 million and $5 million per company.

I asked the agency for a bit more information on the new program and how companies already in the SBIR system can apply to it or otherwise take advantage of the opportunity, and will update this post if I hear back.

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Facebook and Instagram boot close Trump ally Roger Stone for network of fake accounts

Words: Taylor Hatmaker - TechCrunch - 21:20 08-07-2020

Facebook released today its latest report detailing disinformation campaigns operating on its massive social network, and this one came with a few surprises. In the new report, Facebook disclosed that it had removed a network of accounts linked to close Trump ally and former campaign advisor Roger Stone for “inauthentic” activity and coordinated fake accounts around the time of the 2016 presidential election. Facebook has since removed Stone’s own accounts from both Facebook and Instagram.

The accounts linked to Stone, who is set to go to prison next week, posted on a number of topics, mostly from 2015 to 2017, including Florida politics, WikiLeaks’ release of hacked Democratic National Committee emails, the 2016 races and Stone himself, “praising his political acumen, defending him against criminal charges.” Facebook removed 54 Facebook accounts, 50 Facebook pages and four Instagram accounts linked to Stone and his close associates. The network ran related accounts on Twitter and YouTube, as well.

Researchers at the social analytics firm Graphika dive into considerable detail in their own report on the newly unearthed campaign, which was discovered in connection with newly public search warrants from Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation.

Facebook also noted that some of the pages it removed had links to the Proud Boys, the extremist group Facebook eventually banned in 2018 after the group leveraged the platform to recruit and grow its ranks for months if not years. It began looking into the network of accounts through suspected activity by Proud Boys members seeking to return to the platform, uncovering the broader network after the search warrants came to light in April.

Last November, Stone was found guilty of seven felony charges, including making false statements to Congress, obstructing Congress and witness tampering. President Trump has hinted that he plans to pardon his longtime associate. Trump’s Attorney General William Barr created a firestorm of scrutiny earlier this year when he took the highly unusual step of intervening in order to reduce Stone’s sentence, presumably due to the president’s closeness with Stone.

Stone wasn’t the only high-profile political figure to be caught manipulating the social network. A parallel Facebook investigation into fake account networks in Brazil uncovered a cluster of accounts linked to the office of Brazil’s president Jair Bolsonaro and his sons, who had previously been investigated for running “a criminal fake news racket.”

Facebook is the recruiting tool of choice for far-right group the Proud Boys

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PQShield raises $7M for quantum-ready cryptographic security solutions

Words: Ingrid Lunden - TechCrunch - 19:01 08-07-2020

A deep tech startup building cryptographic solutions to secure hardware, software, and communications systems for a future when quantum computers may render many current cybersecurity approaches useless is today emerging out of stealth mode with $7 million in funding and a mission to make cryptographic security something that cannot be hackable, even with the most sophisticated systems, by building systems today that will continue to be usable in a post-quantum future.

PQShield (PQ being short for “post-quantum”), a spin out from Oxford University, is being backed in a seed round led by Kindred Capital, with participation also Crane Venture Partners, Oxford Sciences Innovation and various angel investors, including Andre Crawford-Brunt, Deutsche Bank’s former global head of equities.

PQShield was founded in 2018, and its time in stealth has not been in vain.

The startup claims to have the UK’s highest concentration of cryptography PhDs outside academia and classified agencies, and it is one of the biggest contributors to the NIST cybersecurity framework (alongside academic institutions and huge tech companies), which is working on creating new cryptographic standards, which take into account the fact that quantum computing will likely make quick work of breaking down the standards that are currently in place.

“The scale is massive,” Dr Ali El Kaafarani, a research fellow at Oxford’s Mathematical Institute and former engineer at Hewlett-Packard Labs, who is the founder and CEO of PQShield said of that project. “For the first time we are changing the whole of public key infrastructure.”

And according to El Kaafarani, the startup has customers — companies that build hardware and software services, or run communications systems that deal with sensitive information and run the biggest risks from being hacked.

They include entities in the financial and government sectors that it’s not naming, as well as its first OEM customer, Bosch. El Kaafarani said in an interview that it is also in talks with at least one major communications and messaging provider exploring more security for end-to-end encryption on messaging networks. Other target applications could include keyless cars, connected IoT devices, and cloud services.

The gap in the market the PQShield is aiming to address is the fact that while there are already a number of companies exploring the cutting edge of cryptographic security in the market — they include large tech companies like Amazon and Microsoft, Hub Security, Duality, another startup out of the UK focused on post-quantum cryptography called Post Quantum and a number of others — the concern is that quantum computing will be utilised to crack even the most sophisticated cryptography such as the RSA and Elliptic Curve cryptographic standards.

This has not been much of a threat so far since quantum computers are still not widely available and used, but there have been a number of signs of a breakthrough on the horizon.

El Kaafarani says that PQShield is the first startup to approach that predicament with a multi-pronged solution aimed at a variety of use cases, including solutions that encompass current cryptographic standards and provide a migration path the next generation of how they will look — meaning, they can be commercially deployed today, even without quantum computers being a commercial reality, but in preparation for that.

“Whatever we encrypt now can be harvested, and once we have a fully functioning quantum computer people can use that to get back to the data and the sensitive information,” he said.

For hardware applications, it’s designed a System on Chip (SoC) solution that will be licensed to hardware manufacturers (Bosch being the first OEM). For software applications, there is an SDK that secures messaging and is protected by “post-quantum algorithms” based on a secure, Signal-derived protocol.

Thinking about and building for the full spectrum of applications is central to PQShield’s approach, he added. “In security it’s important to understand the whole ecosystem since everything is about connected components.”

Some sectors in the tech world have been especially negatively impacted by the coronavirus and its consequences, a predicament that has been exacerbated by uncertainties over the future of the global economy.

I asked El Kaafarani if that translated to a particularly tricky time to raise money as a deep tech startup, given that deep tech companies so often work on long-term problems that may not have immediate commercial outcomes.

Interestingly, he said that wasn’t the case.

“We talked to VCs that were interested in deep tech to begin with, which made the discussion a lot easier,” he said. “And the fact is that we’re a security company, and that is one of the areas that is doing well. Everything has become digitised, and we have all become more heavily reliant on our digital connections. We ultimately help make the digital world more secure. There are people who understand that, and so it wasn’t too difficult to talk to them and understand the importance of this company.”

Indeed, Chrysanthos Chrysanthou, partner at Kindred Capital, echoed that sentiment:

“With some of the brightest minds in cryptography, mathematics and engineering, and boasting world-class software and hardware solutions, PQShield is uniquely positioned to lead the charge in protecting businesses from one of the most profound threats to their future,” he said. “We couldn’t be happier to support the team as it works to set a new standard for information security and defuse risks resulting from the rise of quantum.”

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Blistering civil rights audit raises alarms about Facebook’s ongoing policy failures

Words: Taylor Hatmaker - TechCrunch - 18:09 08-07-2020

The results of a multiyear investigation into Facebook’s policies and their consequences for the civil liberties of its more than 2.5 billion users are out.

The audit, conducted by former ACLU director Laura W. Murphy and lawyers from law firm Relman Colfax set out by collecting concerns from a broad swath of civil rights organizations concerned about Facebook’s growing power and its potentially harmful reverberations through marginalized communities in particular and democratic society more broadly. The auditors also used concerns from some lawmakers, who have become increasingly critical of Facebook since the 2016 U.S. election, to steer their investigation. The ultimate goal of the project was to “make sure important civil rights laws and principles are respected, embraced and robustly incorporated” into the social network.

As the report notes, the audit doesn’t situate Facebook’s decisions in the context of it competitors, instead evaluating the company’s behavior on its own. The approach is useful, because social media companies often get a pass for behavior that’s standard in the industry, an approach that lowers standards across the board rather than looking at real-world impacts. The auditors make a point of giving Facebook credit for its cooperation in the audit, which the company itself undertook with pressure from outside groups concerned about its failings on issues like race-based hate, misinformation, voter suppression and extremism.

Facebook boycott leaders ‘disappointed’ after meeting with Zuckerberg, Sandberg

While the report has its positive moments of giving credit where credit is due, the auditors found that Facebook’s progress on civil rights issues has had many one step forward, two steps back moments over the last two years. Any sense of optimism about the company’s progress is tempered by frustration about Facebook’s policy missteps at the very top.

“While the audit process has been meaningful and has led to some significant improvements in the platform, we have also watched the company make painful decisions over the last nine months with real world consequences that are serious setbacks for civil rights,” the auditors wrote.

As far as positive decisions go, they cite Facebook’s progress on changing policy in discriminatory housing and employment ads, expanded voter suppression policies, census interference prevention measures, more frequent meetings with civil rights leaders and changes to content moderation policies, like its prohibition of praise for white nationalism that went into effect last year.

In spite of some progress, the auditors say they still have a number of concerns. Specifically, they called for Facebook to implement its voter suppression policies more aggressively leading into the 2020 U.S. election, citing President Trump’s ominous false claims about voting in the 2020 election, which went untouched on the platform.

Twitter adds a warning label fact-checking Trump’s false voting claims

Facebook’s enforcement of its policies against white nationalism and white separatism (terms mostly synonymous with white supremacy) were also an area of concern, with the auditors calling for the company to forbid this kind of content even if it doesn’t use those terms specifically. The chalked some of these failures up to the company’s policies being “too reactive and piecemeal” rather than coherent, a statement that anyone paying attention to the company’s recent decisions can certainly relate to.

The audit cites a number of specific moments as failures for Facebook’s policies, including Nick Clegg’s deeply controversial assertion last year that politicians wouldn’t be subject to the company’s already shaky fact-checking program, a decision widely denounced by civil rights leaders and Facebook’s other critics for giving people in power “more freedom on the platform to make false, voter suppressive and divisive statements than the average user.”

Mark Zuckerberg’s Georgetown speech last October enshrining a very narrow and contentious conception of free speech at the expense of everything else was another major moment of departure for Facebook from its stated commitment to civil rights, the auditors write. “The prioritization of free expression over all other values, such as equality and nondiscrimination, is deeply troubling.”

Facebook’s decision to this day to not reverse its course on posts from Trump that intentionally mislead the public about voting (in one he baselessly claimed vote-by-mail systems are “fraudulent”) also remains an ongoing source of frustration, undermining the company’s progress. The auditors wrote that they are confounded about why the company “has failed to grasp the urgency” of robust policy enforcement with fewer than five months to go before the U.S. presidential election, concluding that Facebook’s decision to keep the Trump posts up shows that civil rights and voting integrity fall far behind its expedient interpretation of free expression on the company’s list of values.

“This report outlines a number of positive and consequential steps that the company has taken, but at this point in history, the Auditors are concerned that those gains could be obscured by the vexing and heartbreaking decisions Facebook has made that represent significant setbacks for civil rights,” the report states.

The bits of the audit we’ve touched on here only scratch the surface of a fairly comprehensive and often clarifying examination of a complex company’s often troubling policy decisions, so we’ve embedded the full Facebook civil rights audit document below.

View this document on Scribd

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Strive School wants to increase the number of job-ready software engineers in Europe

Words: Natasha Mascarenhas - TechCrunch - 20:47 08-07-2020

College in the United States is expensive and, for many, comes with massive student debt. The price tag has led to the increase of coding bootcamps and alternative schooling options to help students gain employment, and a salary, without taking on millions of dollars in debt.

In Europe, the picture looks vastly different: A majority of universities are low-cost or free to attend. Students have to front the cost of living, textbooks and other externalities, but overall education in Europe comes with a lower price tag than the United States.

But accessibility doesn’t equate to effectiveness, according to Tobia De Angelis, the co-founder of Berlin-based p .

De Angelis launched Strive School to address what he sees as an existing weakness in European universities: outdated STEM course material. The company, which is currently going through Y Combinator, connects students to a six-month coding program and then connects them to a job in exchange for a portion of their future salary, also known as income-sharing agreements (ISA).

“The market is demanding [from] universities something they’re not meant to deliver in the first place: more high quality, job-ready software engineers,” De Angelis told TechCrunch.

ISAs are often used by companies as a pitch to help students forgo the expensive price tag of a university or online degree. The idea is that students only need to pay for the education once it works, or once it leads to a job.

Strive School, with its focus on Europe, needs to convince students to pay for education they could otherwise get low-cost because of the job prospects.

It’s hard to do, but so far Strive School has placed five out of seven students in its inaugural class. The second class is being placed, and the third class is in session. The company is accepting applications for its fourth cohort, starting in late September.

The company uses Europe’s free education model to its advantage by going to STEM faculties around Europe to recruit talent and students. The first focus for Strive School programming is full-stack web engineering.

Beyond that, Strive School looks and feels like a digital bootcamp. Students, or “strivers,” learn to code with deadlines, in a team environment and within the scope of a project. Lessons are taught fully remote with a mix of synchronous and asynchronous communication.

Strive’s curriculum, according to De Angelis, is more focused on soft skills (like applying code to real-life situations) than hard skills. The teachers on the platform are engineers, scientists and coders.

Once a student completes the coursework, Strive School will help them get placed. Its ISA terms are that it charges 10% of salary for four years with a maximum total of €18,000.

The ISA space has grown considerably in recent years, bringing with it a whole bunch of regulatory and legal scrutiny. Another Y Combinator company, p , tackles the coding skills shortage through an ISA model and launched in 2017. Since, p about the quality of education a company can bring when it demands venture-sized returns with an ISA model.

Lambda p in April, citing the coronavirus and a general dialing back of growth plans. Strive School’s De Angelis said that the coronavirus makes placing students into jobs harder due to layoffs, thus hurting the upstart’s main source of revenue, but he is hopeful of growth in sub-sectors within tech like e-commerce.

ISA struggles doesn’t mean companies are straying away just yet. Within the YC alumni network, Blair helps college students finance their education through p And VCs recently bet millions in Microverse, a Lambda School for the developing world.

De Angelis is confident that Europe is big and diverse enough to need a platform that is specialized in working for its student base.

De Angelis spent time working at two early-stage funds in Italy and Denmark, and his co-founder p is a software engineer who worked at startups and taught postgraduate courses in Trieste, Italy.

The coronavirus has forced the world to rethink online education models and move past the status quo put in place by institutional universities. It has brought re-skilling networks into the mainstream and forced questions about inclusion to be dealt with head-on. But perhaps p , an investor with Cowboy VC, p “You can give someone access to something, but it’s not true access unless they have the tools and structure to really engage with it.”

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