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Targeted ads offer little extra value for online publishers, study suggests

Posted by on May 31, 2019 in Adtech, Advertising Tech, Alphabet, behavioral advertising, digital advertising, digital marketing, display advertising, Europe, Facebook, General Data Protection Regulation, IAB, Marketing, Media, Online Advertising, Privacy, programmatic advertising, Randall Rothenberg, Richard blumenthal, targeted advertising, United States | 0 comments

How much value do online publishers derive from behaviorally targeted advertising that uses privacy-hostile tracking technologies to determine which advert to show a website user?

A new piece of research suggests publishers make just 4% more vs if they were to serve a non-targeted ad.

It’s a finding that sheds suggestive light on why so many newsroom budgets are shrinking and journalists finding themselves out of work — even as adtech giants continue stuffing their coffers with massive profits.

Visit the average news website lousy with third party cookies (yes, we know, it’s true of TC too) and you’d be forgiven for thinking the publisher is also getting fat profits from the data creamed off their users as they plug into programmatic ad systems that trade info on Internet users’ browsing habits to determine the ad which gets displayed.

Yet while the online ad market is massive and growing — $88BN in revenues in the US in 2017, per IAB data, a 21% year-on-year increase — publishers are not the entities getting filthy rich off of their own content.

On the contrary, research in recent years has suggested that a large proportion of publishers are being squeezed by digital display advertising economics, with some 40% reporting either stagnant or shrinking ad revenue, per a 2015 Econsultancy study. (Hence, we can posit, the rise in publishers branching into subscriptions — TC’s own offering can be found here: Extra Crunch).

The lion’s share of value being created by digital advertising ends up in the coffers of adtech giants, Google and Facebook . Aka the adtech duopoly. In the US, the pair account for around 60% of digital ad market spending, per eMarketer — or circa $76.57BN.

Their annual revenues have mirrored overall growth in digital ad spend — rising from $74.9BN to $136.8BN, between 2015 and 2018, in the case of Google’s parent Alphabet; and $17.9BN to $55.8BN for Facebook. (While US online ad spend stepped up from $59.6BN to $107.5BN+ between 2015 and 2018.)

eMarketer projects 2019 will mark the first decline in the duopoly’s collective share. But not because publishers’ fortunes are suddenly set for a bonanza turnaround. Rather another tech giant — Amazon — has been growing its share of the digital ad market, and is expected to make what eMarketer dubs the start of “a small dent in the duopoly”.

Behavioral advertising — aka targeted ads — has come to dominate the online ad market, fuelled by platform dynamics encouraging a proliferation of tracking technologies and techniques in the unregulated background. And by, it seems, greater effectiveness from the perspective of online advertisers, as the paper notes. (“Despite measurement and attribution challenges… many studies seem to concur that targeted advertising is beneficial and effective for advertising firms.”

This has had the effect of squeezing out non-targeted display ads, such as those that rely on contextual factors to select the ad — e.g. the content being viewed, device type or location.

The latter are now the exception; a fall-back such as for when cookies have been blocked. (Albeit, one that veteran pro-privacy search engine, DuckDuckGo, has nonetheless turned into a profitable contextual ad business).

One 2017 study by IHS Markit, suggested that 86% of programmatic advertising in Europe was using behavioural data. While even a quarter (24%) of non-programmatic advertising was found to be using behavioural data, per its model. 

“In 2016, 90% of the digital display advertising market growth came from formats and processes that use behavioural data,” it observed, projecting growth of 106% for behaviourally targeted advertising between 2016 and 2020, and a decline of 63.6% for forms of digital advertising that don’t use such data.

The economic incentives to push behavioral advertising vs non-targeted ads look clear for dominant platforms that rely on amassing scale — across advertisers, other people’s eyeballs, content and behavioral data — to extract value from the Internet’s dispersed and diverse audience.

But the incentives for content producers to subject themselves — and their engaged communities of users — to these privacy-hostile economies of scale look a whole lot more fuzzy.

Concern about potential imbalances in the online ad market is also leading policymakers and regulators on both sides of the Atlantic to question the opacity of the market — and call for greater transparency.

A price on people tracking’s head

The new research, which will be presented at the Workshop on the Economics of Information Security conference in Boston next week, aims to contribute a new piece to this digital ad revenue puzzle by trying to quantify the value to a single publisher of choosing ads that are behaviorally targeted vs those that aren’t.

We’ve flagged the research before — when the findings were cited by one of the academics involved in the study at an FTC hearing — but the full paper has now been published.

It’s called Online Tracking and Publishers’ Revenues: An Empirical Analysis, and is co-authored by three academics: Veronica Marotta, an assistant professor in information and decision sciences at the Carlson School of Management, University of Minnesota; Vibhanshu Abhishek, associate professor of information systems at the Paul Merage School of Business, University California Irvine; and Alessandro Acquisti, professor of IT and public policy at Carnegie Mellon University.

“While the impact of targeted advertising on advertisers’ campaign effectiveness has been vastly documented, much less is known about the value generated by online tracking and targeting technologies for publishers – the websites that sell ad spaces,” the researchers write. “In fact, the conventional wisdom that publishers benefit too from behaviorally targeted advertising has rarely been scrutinized in academic studies.”

“As we briefly mention in the paper, notwithstanding claims about the shared benefits of online tracking and behaviorally targeting for multiple stakeholders (merchants, publishers, consumers, intermediaries…), there is a surprising paucity of empirical estimates of economic outcomes from independent researchers,”  Acquisti also tells us.

In fact, most of the estimates focus on the advertisers’ side of the market (for instance, there have been quite a few studies estimating the increase in click-through or conversion rates associated with targeted ads); much less is known about the publishers’ side of the market. So, going into the study, we were genuinely curious about what we may find, as there was little in terms of data that could anchor our predictions.

“We did have theoretical bases to make possible predictions, but those predictions could be quite antithetical. Under one story, targeting increases the value of the audience, which increases advertisers’ bids, which increases publishers’ revenues; under a different story, targeting decreases the ‘pool’ of audience interested in an ad, which decreases competition to display ads, which reduces advertisers’ bids, eventually reducing publishers’ revenues.”

For the study the researchers were provided with a data-set comprising “millions” of display ad transactions completed in a week across multiple online outlets owned by a single (unidentified) large publisher which operates websites in a range of verticals such as news, entertainment and fashion.

The data-set also included whether or not the site visitor’s cookie ID is available — enabling analysis of the price difference between behaviorally targeted and non-targeted ads. (The researchers used a statistical mechanism to control for systematic differences between users who impede cookies.)

As noted above, the top-line finding is only a very small gain for the publisher whose data they were analyzing — of around 4%. Or an average increase of $0.00008 per advertisement. 

It’s a finding that contrasts wildly with some of the loud yet unsubstantiated opinions which can be found being promulgated online — claiming the ‘vital necessity’ of behavorial ads to support publishers/journalism.

For example, this article, published earlier this month by a freelance journalist writing for The American Prospect, includes the claim that: “An online advertisement without a third-party cookie sells for just 2 percent of the cost of the same ad with the cookie.” Yet does not specify a source for the statistic it cites.

(The author told us the reference is to a 2018 speech made by Index Exchange’s Andrew Casale, when he suggested ad requests without a buyer ID receive 99% lower bids vs the same ad request with the identifier. She added that her conversations with people in the adtech industry had suggested a spread between a 99% and 97% decline in the value of an ad without a cookie, hence choosing a middle point.)

At the same time policymakers in the US now appear painfully aware how far behind Europe they are lagging where privacy regulation is concerned — and are fast dialling up their scrutiny of and verbal horror over how Internet users are tracked and profiled by adtech giants.

At a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing earlier this month — convened with the aim of “understanding the digital ad ecosystem and the impact of data privacy and competition policy” — the talk was not if to regulate big tech but how hard they must crack down on monopolistic ad giants.

“That’s what brings us here today. The lack of choice [for consumers to preserve their privacy online],” said senator Richard Blumenthal. “The excessive and extraordinary power of Google and Facebook and others who dominate the market is a fact of life. And so privacy protection is absolutely vital in the short run.”

The kind of “invasive surveillance” that the adtech industry systematically deploys is “something we would never tolerate from a government but Facebook and Google have the power of government never envisaged by our founders,” Blumenthal went on, before a few of the types of personal data that are sucked up and exploited by the adtech industrial surveillance complex: “Health, dating, location, finance, extremely personal details — offered to anyone with almost no restraint.”

Bearing that “invasive surveillance” in mind, a 4% publisher ‘premium’ for privacy-hostile ads vs adverts that are merely contextually served (and so don’t require pervasive tracking of web users) starts to look like a massive rip off — of both publisher brand and audience value, as well as Internet users’ rights and privacy.

Yes, targeted ads do appear to generate a small revenue increase, per the study. But as the researchers also point out that needs to be offset against the cost to publishers of complying with privacy regulations.

“If setting tracking cookies on visitors was cost free, the website would definitely be losing money. However, the widespread use of tracking cookies – and, more broadly, the practice of tracking users online – has been raising privacy concerns that have led to the adoption of stringent regulations, in particular in the European Union,” they write — going on to cite an estimate by the International Association of Privacy Professionals that Fortune’s Global 500 companies will spend around $7.8BN on compliant costs to meet the requirements of Europe’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). 

Wider costs to systematically eroding online privacy are harder to put a value on for publishers. But should also be considered — whether it’s the costs to a brand reputation and user loyalty as a result of a publisher larding their sites with unwanted trackers; to wider societal costs — linked to the risks of data-fuelled manipulation and exploitation of vulnerable groups. Simply put, it’s not a good look.

Publishers may appear complicit in the asset stripping of their own content and audiences for what — per this study — seems only marginal gain, but the opacity of the adtech industry implies that most likely don’t realize exactly what kind of ‘deal’ they’re getting at the hands of the ad giants who grip them.

Which makes this research paper a very compelling read for the online publishing industry… and, well, a pretty awkward newsflash for anyone working in adtech.

 

While the study only provides a snapshot of ad market economics, as experienced by a single publisher, the glimpse it presents is distinctly different from the picture the adtech lobby has sought to paint, as it has ploughed money into arguing against privacy legislation — on the claimed grounds that ‘killing behavioural advertising would kill free online content’. 

Saying no more creepy ads might only marginally reduce publishers’ revenue doesn’t have quite the same doom-laden ring, clearly.

“In a nutshell, this study provides an initial data point on a portion of the advertising ecosystem over which claims had been made but little empirical verification was completed. The results highlight the need for more transparency over how the value generated by flows of data gets allocated to different stakeholders,” says Acquisti, summing up how the study should be read against the ad market as a whole.

Contacted for a response to the research, Randall Rothenberg, CEO of advertising business organization, the IAB, agreed that the digital supply chain is “too complex and too opaque” — and also expressed concern about how relatively little value generated by targeted ads is trickling down to publishers.

“One week’s worth of data from one unidentified publisher does not make for a projectible (sic) piece of research. Still, the study shows that targeted advertising creates immense value for brands — more than 90% of the unnamed publisher’s auctioned ads were sold with targeting attached, and advertisers were willing to pay a 60% premium for those ads. Yet very little of that value flowed to the publisher,” he told TechCrunch. “As IAB has been saying for a decade, the digital supply chain is too complex and too opaque, and this diversion of value is more proof that transparency is required so that publishers can benefit from the value they create.”

The research paper includes discussion of the limitations to the approach, as well as ideas for additional research work — such as looking at how the value of cookies changes depending on how much information they contain (on that they write of their initial findings: “Information seem to be very valuable (from the publisher’s perspective) when we compare cookies with very little information to cookies with some information; after a certain point, adding more information to a cookie does not seem to create additional value for the publisher”); and investigating how “the (un)availability of a cookie changes the competition in the auction” — to try to understand ad auction competition dynamics and the potential mechanisms at play.

“This is one new and hopefully useful data point, to which others must be added,” Acquisti also told us in concluding remarks. “The key to research work is incremental progress, with more studies progressively adding a clearer understanding of an issue, and we look forward to more research in this area.”

This report was updated with additional comment


Source: The Tech Crunch

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A brief history of Uber’s bumpy road to an IPO

Posted by on May 10, 2019 in Alphabet, Anthony Levandowski, Arizona, California, carsharing, Colorado, Commuting, driver, Emil Michael, equal employment opportunity commission, executive, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Federal Trade Commission, Google, Lyft, pandodaily, Sarah Lacy, self-driving car, TC, transport, Travis Kalanick, Uber, Uber Startup, waymo | 0 comments

It’s been nine years since UberCab made its first appearance on the WordPress pages of this website. In the ensuing years, the startup has grown from an upstart looking to upend the taxi cab cartels, to a juggernaut that has its hands in every form of transportation and logistics service it can think of.

In the process, Uber has done some things that might give (and in fact has given) some shareholders pause.

From its first pitch deck to this historic public offering, TechCrunch has covered the über startup that has defined the post-financial-crisis era of consumer venture investing.

Here are some of the things that shouldn’t get swept into the dustbin of Uber’s history as the company makes its debut as a public company.

  • In 2014 Uber used a tool called “God View” to track the movements of passengers and shared those details publicly.At the time, the company was worth a cool $18.2 billion, and was already on the road to success (an almost pre-ordained journey given the company’s investors and capitalization), but even then, it could not get out of the way of its darker impulses.
  • A former executive of the company, Emil Michael, suggested that Uber should investigate journalists who were critical of the company and its business practices (including PandoDaily editor Sarah Lacy).
  • As it expanded internationally, Uber came under fire for lax hiring practices for its drivers. In India, the company was banned in New Delhi, after a convicted sex offender was arrested on suspicion of raping a female passenger.
  • Last year, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission opened an investigation into the company for gender discrimination around hiring and salaries for women at the company. Uber’s problems with harassment were famously documented by former employee Susan Fowler in a blog post that helped spur a reckoning for the tech sector.
  • Uber has been forced to pay fines for its inability to keep passenger and driver information private. The company has agreed to 20 years of privacy audits and has paid a fine to settle a case that was opened by the Federal Trade Commission dating back to 2017.
  • While Uber was not found to be criminally liable in the death of an Arizona pedestrian that was struck and killed by a self-driving car from the company’s fleet, it remains the only company with an autonomous vehicle involved in the death of a pedestrian.
  • Beyond its problems with federal regulators, Uber has also had problems adhering to local laws. In Colorado, Uber was fined nearly $10 million for not adhering to the state’s requirements regarding background checks of its drivers.
  • Uber was also sued by other companies. Notably, it was involved in a lengthy and messy trade secret dispute with Alphabet’s onetime self-driving car unit, Waymo. That was for picking up former Waymo employee Anthony Levandowski and some know-how that the former Alphabet exec allegedly acquired improperly before heading out the door.
  • Uber even had dueling lawsuits going between and among its executives and major shareholders. When Travis Kalanick was ousted by the Uber board, the decision reverberated through its boardroom. As part of that battle for control, Benchmark, an early investor in Uber sued the company’s founder and former chief executive,  Travis Kalanick for fraud, breach of contract and breach of fiduciary duty.
  • Uber’s chief people officer, Liane Hornsey was forced to resign following a previously unreported investigation into her alleged systematic dismissals of racial discrimination complaints within Uber.
  • Lawsuits against the company not only dealt with its treatment of gender and race issues, but also for accessibility problems with the ride-hailing service. The company was sued for allegedly violating Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act and the California Disabled Persons Act.
  • The ride-hailing service also isn’t free from legal woes in international markets. Earlier this year, the company paid around $3 million to settle charges that Uber had violated local laws by operating in the country illegally.
  • Finally, the company’s lax driver screening policies have led to multiple reports of assault by drivers of Uber passengers. Uber recently ended the policy of forcing those women to engage in mandatory arbitration proceedings to adjudicate those claims.
  • Not even the drivers who form the core of Uber’s service are happy with the company. On the eve of its public offering, a strike in cities across the country brought their complaints squarely in front of the company’s executive team right before the public offering, which was set to make them millions.


Source: The Tech Crunch

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Google’s Ivan Poupyrev shows off Jacquard, which connects his Levi’s jacket to the cloud

Posted by on Apr 18, 2019 in Alphabet, Google, Hardware, Ivan Poupyrev, project jacquard, TC, ted | 0 comments

Ivan Poupyrev, the technical projects lead at Google’s Advanced Technology and Projects division, just gave a TED talk that was simultaneously a presentation and a demo of new technology.

Poupyrev was showing off Jacquard, a device that allowed him to use the sleeve of his jacket as a controller for his presentation slides. Google has talked about this work before, and there’s even a $350 Levi’s jacket available for purchase.

But today, Poupyrev actually used Jacquard to control his presentation, and laid out the vision behind the project. Although it didn’t quite work at first, once Poupyrev fixed things backstage and restarted his presentation, he could swipe forward on his sleeve to advance the presentation, or swipe back and revisit the previous slide.

Poupyrev didn’t offer many details about the Jacquard device itself, but he said it can be connected to clothing and other objects with just “a few electrodes,” and that it can recognize the object and then “reconfigure itself” to offer the right kinds of interaction.

The device he held up onstage was small and grey — I could have mistaken it for the key fob that I used to swipe into my old apartment. According to Poupyrev’s website, Jacquard also involves a conductive thread that can be woven on a standard loom.

Ivan Poupyrev

Ivan Poupyrev speaks at TED2019: Bigger Than Us. April 15 – 19, 2019, Vancouver, BC, Canada. Photo: Bret Hartman / TED

Why would you want to control a presentation from your jacket sleeve? Poupyrev (who’s also worked as a researcher for Walt Disney Imagineering and Sony) described our current options for computer interaction as “disappointing,” so he’s been looking to “hack into the things you use every day and make them interactive.”

“We need to make technology that changes makers of things into makers of smart things,” he said.

As these everyday objects become more interactive and connected, Poupyrev said it’s important to avoid fragmentation: “We have to create a single computing platform, which powers all those things.” In his view, the cloud is that platform, with Jacquard serving as the connection between everyday objects and the cloud.

Poupyrev suggested that Google could give Jacquard tags to manufacturers to incorporate into their products. It’s rolling out first through the aforementioned partnership with Levi’s, and Poupyrev was wearing a Jacquard-powered Levi’s jean jacket onstage.

“This jacket I’m wearing can control my mobile phone and presentation, but it remains a jacket,” he said. In other words, you can add new interactivity to clothing or furniture without interfering with their core function — just as a smartphone can now browse the internet, take photos, install apps and more, while still allowing you to make phone calls.

Ivan Poupyrev

Ivan Poupyrev speaks at TED2019: Bigger Than Us. April 15 – 19, 2019, Vancouver, BC, Canada. Photo: Ryan Lash / TED

“We would like to let people who make those things — artists and engineers, brands and craftsmen — to imagine and create this new world where things are connected, where you don’t need keyboards and screens and mouses to interact with a computer,” he said.

After the presentation, TED’s Chris Anderson joined Poupyrev onstage. Anderson sounded impressed by the demo, but he also pointed out that it could “terrify some people,” since it potentially creates “the biggest ever surveillance network” for Google or another company.

When asked why Google would bring such a device to market, Poupyrev said, “I’m not a businessman, I’m a researcher.” Anderson pressed him on whether there needs to be “some kind of contract” ensuring that this data isn’t abused, to which Poupyrev replied, “I completely agree.” He said that in Google’s initial partnerships, “the data is completely locked in.”

“We’re trying to figure out what exactly are we going to do with this data,” he said. “We’re sensitive to this particular concern.”


Source: The Tech Crunch

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Birth control delivery startup Nurx taps Clover Health’s Varsha Rao as CEO

Posted by on Apr 17, 2019 in Airbnb, Alphabet, board member, Chelsea Clinton, chief executive officer, Chief Operating Officer, Clover Health, Companies, Health, healthcare, Kleiner Perkins, Lowercase Capital, Medicare, Nurx, sharing economy, Startups, telemedicine, Union Square Ventures, United States, vacation rental, Venture Capital, websites, Y Combinator | 0 comments

Varsha Rao, Airbnb’s former head of global operations and, most recently, the chief operating officer at Clover Health, has joined Nurx as its chief executive officer.

Rao replaces Hans Gangeskar, Nurx’s co-founder and CEO since 2014, who will stay on as a board member.

Nurx, which sells birth control, PrEP, the once-daily pill that reduces the risk of getting HIV, and an HPV testing kit direct to consumer, has grown 250 percent in the last year, doubled its employee headcount and attracted 200,000 customers. Rao tells TechCrunch the startup realized they needed talent in the C-suite that had experienced this kind of growth.

“The company has made some really great progress in bringing on strong leaders and that’s one of the things that got me excited about joining,” Rao told TechCrunch. Nurx recently hired Jonathan Czaja, Stitch Fix’s former vice president of operations, as COO, and Dave Fong, who previously oversaw corporate pharmacy services at Safeway, as vice president of pharmacy.

Rao, for her part, joined Clover Health, a Medicare Advantage startup backed by Alphabet, in late 2017 after three years at Airbnb.

“After being at Airbnb, a really mission-driven company, I couldn’t go back to something that wasn’t equally or more so and healthcare really inspired me,” Rao said. “In terms of accessibility, I feel like [Nurx] is super important. We are really fortunate to live in a place where can access birth control and it can be more easily found but there are lots of parts of the country where physical access is challenging and costs can be a factor. To be able to break down barriers of access both physically and from an economic standpoint is hugely meaningful to me.”

Nurx, a graduate of Y Combinator, has raised about $42 million in venture capital funding from Kleiner Perkins, Union Square Ventures, Lowercase Capital and others. It launched in 2015 to facilitate women’s access to birth control across the U.S. with a HIPAA-compliant web platform and mobile application that delivers contraceptives directly to customers’ doorsteps.

Today, the telehealth startup is available to customers in 24 states and counts Chelsea Clinton as a board member.


Source: The Tech Crunch

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Lyft’s imminent IPO could value the company at $23B

Posted by on Mar 18, 2019 in Alphabet, Andreessen Horowitz, Companies, Floodgate Fund, General Motors, initial public offering, Lyft, online marketplaces, rakuten, San Francisco, TC, the wall street journal, transport, Uber, Wall Street Journal | 0 comments

Ridehailing firm Lyft will make its Nasdaq debut as early as next week at a valuation of up to $23 billion, The Wall Street Journal reports. The business will reportedly price its shares at between $62 and $68 apiece, raising roughly $2 billion in the process.

With a $600 million financing, Lyft was valued at $15.1 billion in June.

Lyft filed paperwork for an initial public offering in December, mere hours before its competitor Uber did the same. The car-sharing behemoths have been in a race to the public markets, igniting a pricing war ahead of their respected IPOs in a big to impress investors.

Uber’s IPO may top $120 billion, though others have more modestly pegged its initial market cap at around $90 billion. Uber has not made its S-1 paperwork public but is expected to launch its IPO in April.

Lyft has not officially priced its shares. Its S-1 filing indicated a $100 million IPO fundraise, which is typically a placeholder amount for companies preparing for a float. Lyft’s IPO roadshow, or the final stage ahead of an IPO, begins Monday.

San Francisco-based Lyft has raised a total of $5.1 billion in venture capital funding from key stakeholders including the Japanese e-commerce giant Rakuten, which boasts a 13 percent pre-IPO stake, plus General Motors (7.76 percent), Fidelity (7.1 percent), Andreessen Horowitz (6.25 percent) and Alphabet (5.3 percent). Early investors, like seed-stage venture capital firm Floodgate, also stand to reap big returns.

Lyft will trade under the ticker symbol “LYFT.” JPMorgan Chase & Co., Credit Suisse Group AG and Jefferies Financial Group Inc. are leading the IPO.

Lyft recorded $2.2 billion in revenue in 2018 — more than double 2017’s revenue — on a net loss of $911 million.

Lyft declined to comment.


Source: The Tech Crunch

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Bill Gates and Jeff Bezos-backed fund invests in a global geothermal energy project developer

Posted by on Mar 3, 2019 in Alphabet, Bill Gates, Breakthrough Energy Ventures, dandelion energy, electricity, Energy, geothermal energy, jack ma, Japan, jeff bezos, spokesperson, steel, TC, United States | 0 comments

Breakthrough Energy Ventures, the investment firm financed by billionaires like Jeff Bezos, Bill Gates, and Jack Ma that invests in companies developing technologies to decarbonize society, is investing $12.5 million in a geothermal project development company called Baseload Capital.

Baseload Capital is a project investment firm that provides capital to develop geothermal energy power plants using technology developed by its Swedish parent company, Climeon.

Like the spinoff from Google’s parent company, Alphabet, Dandelion Energy, which recently raised $16 million in a new round of financing, Climeon builds standardized machines to tap geothermal energy. But Dandelion is targeting consumers with its technology to provide home heating, while Climeon turns geothermal energy into electricty.

The company’s modules — which stand around two meters cubed, produce 150 kilowatts of electricity, which is enough to power roughly 250 European households, according to a company spokesperson.

Climeon, which was founded back in 2011, formed Baseload Capital about a year ago to invest in special purpose vehicles to build the power plants that use Climeon’s technology. Baseload takes an equity stake in these companies and provides debt financing for them.

Through its investment into Baseload Capital, Breakthrough Energy Ventures will help finance and develop these small-scale power plants globally (Baseload has already formed special purpose vehicles that are developing projects in Japan).

Climeon and Baseload Capital focus on three primary industries — geothermal, shipping and heavy industry. “We sell our machines to the [maritime industry] where we turn the waste heat from the engines into electricity (Virgin Voyages has bought several systems), to industries such as steel where they also have a lot of waste heat and then to companies that develop and operate geothermal power plants,” a Climeon spokesperson wrote in an email. “This could be a newly formed SPV or an existing energy company. In the U.S., for example, our modules will be used in an existing geothermal site.”

The company’s pitch is that it’s modular units make it easy to scale up or decommission plants. Modules list for EUR350,000 and customers also spend EUR5,000 per-module, per-year on Climeon’s power plant management software.

So far, the company says it has an order backlog of roughly $88 million.

The investment in Baseload Capital is Breakthrough Energy’s second foray into the geothermal industry. Last year, the company backed Fervo Energy, which uses proven technologies to help speed the development of geothermal energy at a cost of 5 to 7 cents per kilowatt hour.

“We believe that a baseload resource such as low temperature geothermal heat power has the potential to transform the energy landscape. Baseload Capital, together with Climeon’s innovative technology, has the potential to deliver GHG-free electricity at large scale, economically and efficiently,” said Carmichael Roberts of Breakthrough Energy Ventures, in a statement.


Source: The Tech Crunch

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Robotics, AR and VR are poised to reshape healthcare, starting in the operating room

Posted by on Feb 21, 2019 in Alphabet, Auris Health, Dell, Health, healthcare, initialized capital, Intuitive Surgical, Johnson & Johnson, MarketsandMarkets, medicine, Microsoft, Robotics, Samsung, TC, Vicarious Surgical, VINCI, virtual reality, Vivid Vision, zSpace | 0 comments

About 20 years ago, a medical device startup called Intuitive Surgical debuted the da Vinci robot and changed surgical practices in operating rooms across the United States.

The da Vinci ushered in the first age of robotic-assisted surgical procedures with a promise of greater accuracy and quicker recovery times for patients undergoing certain laparoscopic surgeries. 

For a time, it was largely alone in the market. It has skyrocketed in value since 2000, when the stock first debuted on public markets. From the $46 million that the company initially raised in its public offering to now, with a market capitalization of nearly $63 billion, Intuitive has been at the forefront of robotic-assisted surgeries, but now a new crop of startups is emerging to challenge the company’s dominance.

Backed by hundreds of millions in venture capital dollars, new businesses are coming to refashion operating rooms again — this time using new visualization and display technologies like virtual and augmented reality, and a new class of operating robots. Their vision is to drive down the cost and improve the quality of surgical procedures through automation and robotic equipment.

“There were 900,000 surgeries done using surgical robotics out of a total of 313 million surgical procedures,” globally, says Dror Berman, a managing director of Innovation Endeavors.

Berman is an investor in Vicarious Surgical, a new robotics company that plans to not only improve the cost and efficiency of surgical procedures, but enable them to be performed remotely so the best surgeons can be found to perform operations no matter where in the world they are.

“Robotics and automation present multiple opportunities to improve current processes, from providing scientists the opportunity to vastly increase experimental throughput, to allowing people with disabilities to regain use of their limbs,” Berman wrote in a blog post announcing his firm’s initial investment in Vicarious.

The $3.4 billion acquisition of Auris Health by Johnson & Johnson shows just how lucrative the market for new surgical robotics can be.

That company, founded by one of the progenitors of the surgical robotics industry, Fred Moll, is the first to offer serious competition to Intuitive Surgical’s technological advantage — no wonder, considering Dr. Moll also founded Intuitive Surgical.

Last year, the company unveiled its Monarch platform, which takes an endoscopic approach to surgical procedures that is less invasive and more accurate to test for — and treat — lung cancer.

“A CT scan shows a mass or a lesion,” Dr. Moll said in an interview at the time. “It doesn’t tell you what it is. Then you have to get a piece of lung, and if it’s a small lesion. It isn’t that easy — it can be quite a traumatic procedure. So you’d like to do it in a very systematic and minimally invasive fashion. Currently it’s difficult with manual techniques and 40 percent of the time, there is no diagnosis. This is has been a problem for many years and [inhibits] the ability of a clinician to diagnose and treat early-stage cancer.”

Monarch uses an endoscopy procedure to insert a flexible robot into hard-to-reach places inside the human body. Doctors trained on the system use video game-style controllers to navigate inside, with help from 3D models.


Source: The Tech Crunch

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Google’s still not sharing cloud revenue

Posted by on Feb 5, 2019 in Alphabet, Cloud, cloud computing, cloud revenue, Diane Greene, Earnings, Enterprise, G Suite, Google, google cloud platform, ruth porat, Sundar Pinchai | 0 comments

Google has shared its cloud revenue exactly once over the last several years. Silence tends to lead to speculation to fill the information vacuum. Luckily there are some analyst firms who try to fill the void, and it looks like Google’s cloud business is actually trending in the right direction, even if they aren’t willing to tell us an exact number.

When Google last reported its cloud revenue, last year about this time, they indicated they had earned $1 billion in revenue for the quarter, which included Google Cloud Platform and G Suite combined. Diane Greene, who was head of Google Cloud at the time, called it an “elite business.” but in reality it was pretty small potatoes compared to Microsoft’s and Amazon’s cloud numbers, which were pulling in $4-$5 billion a quarter between them at the time. Google was looking at a $4 billion run rate for the entire year.

Google apparently didn’t like the reaction it got from that disclosure so it stopped talking about cloud revenue. Yesterday when Google’s parent company, Alphabet, issued its quarterly earnings report, to nobody’s surprise, it failed to report cloud revenue yet again, at least not directly.

Google CEO Sundar Pichai gave some hints, but never revealed an exact number. Instead he talked in vague terms calling Google Cloud “a fast-growing multibillion-dollar business.” The only time he came close to talking about actual revenue was when he said, “Last year, we more than doubled both the number of Google Cloud Platform deals over $1 million as well as the number of multiyear contracts signed. We also ended the year with another milestone, passing 5 million paying customers for our cloud collaboration and productivity solution, G Suite.”

OK, it’s not an actual dollar figure, but it’s a sense that the company is actually moving the needle in the cloud business. A bit later in the call, CFO Ruth Porat threw in this cloud revenue nugget. “We are also seeing a really nice uptick in the number of deals that are greater than $100 million and really pleased with the success and penetration there. At this point, not updating further.” She is not updating further. Got it.

That brings us to a company that guessed for us, Canalys. While the firm didn’t share its methodology, it did come up with a figure of $2.2 billion for the quarter. Given that the company is closing larger deals and was at a billion last year, this figure feels like it’s probably in the right ballpark, but of course it’s not from the horse’s mouth, so we can’t know for certain.

Frankly, I’m a little baffled why Alphabet’s shareholders actually let the company get away with this complete lack of transparency. It seems like people would want to know exactly what they are making on that crucial part of the business, wouldn’t you? As a cloud market watcher, I know I would. So we’re left to companies like Canalys to fill in the blanks, but it’s certainly not as satisfying as Google actually telling us. Maybe next quarter.


Source: The Tech Crunch

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Alphabet revenues are up 22% but the stock is still dropping

Posted by on Feb 4, 2019 in Alphabet, Earnings, Google, TC | 0 comments

Despite delivering a Q4 earnings revenue beat, Google parent company Alphabet’s stock is seeing a bit of a drop.

The massive search company reported revenue of $39.3 billion, up 22 percent year-over-year with an EPS of $12.77. Alphabet stock dropped more than 2 percent in after-hours trading.

The company’s beat of analyst estimates would have been a miss if not for a $1.3 billion unrealized gain “related to a non-marketable debt security.” Alphabet didn’t detail this further, but it kind of skews the earning beat based on what analysts actually had reason to expect.

Advertising revenues were up 20 percent YoY in Q4 to $32.6 billion. “Other” revenues (Cloud, hardware) were reported at $6.49 billion, up 31 percent year-over-year. “Other Bets,” which includes ventures like Waymo, Fiber and Verily, saw losses climb sharply to $1.3 billion with revenue sitting at $154 million, short of Wall Street estimates.

A number that analysts were increasingly looking closely at, traffic acquisition costs, climbed to $7.4 billion in Q4 up 15 percent year-over-year and up 13 percent from last quarter.


Source: The Tech Crunch

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Ciitizen raises $17 million to give cancer patients better control over their health records

Posted by on Jan 17, 2019 in Alphabet, andreessen, Andreessen Horowitz, Apple, Barack Obama, bill maris, California, General Partner, google ventures, head, healthcare, president, san francisco bay area, TC, United States, Vijay Pande | 0 comments

Ciitizen, the company founded by the creators of Gliimpse (an Apple acquisition that’s been incorporated into the company’s HealthKit) which is developing tools to help patients organize and share their medical records, has raised $17 million in new funding.

Ciitizen, like Gliimpse before it, is an attempt to break down the barriers that keep patients from being able to record, store, and share their healthcare information with whomever they want in their quest for treatment.

The digitization of health records — a featured element of President Barack Obama’s overhaul of the healthcare system back in 2009 — remains an obstacle to quality care and proper treatment nearly a decade later. Hospitals spend millions and the US healthcare system spends billions on Electronic Health Records annually. All with very little too show for the expense.

Those kinds of challenges are what attracted investors in the Andreessen Horowitz -led round. New investors Section 32, formed by the former head of Google Ventures, Bill Maris; and Verily, one of the healthcare subsidiaries that spun out of Google X and is a part of Google’s parent company, Alphabet.

“Ciitizen uniquely understands the challenges cancer patients face – including the intense friction patients experience when managing their medical records in our current healthcare system,” said Vijay Pande, a general partner in Andreessen Horowitz’s Bio fund, in a statement. “Using their deep insights, the Ciitizen team have developed sophisticated technology and tools that remove this friction, putting the power back in the patients’ hands and literally saving lives.”

Pande may be a little biased since Andreessen Horowitz also led the company’s seed funding last July, in what was, at the time, one of the earlier investments from the Bio fund’s latest $450 million second investment vehicle.

“The continued support from Andreessen Horowitz reaffirms the rapid progress we have already made and further validates our potential to significantly impact healthcare globally. Adding Section 32 and Verily to our effort further enhances our ability to transform the way patients engage with their health data,” said Anil Sethi, CEO and Founder of Ciitizen, in a statement.


Source: The Tech Crunch

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