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The “splinternet” is already here

Posted by on Mar 13, 2019 in alibaba, Asia, Baidu, belgium, Brussels, censorship, chief executive officer, China, Column, corbis, Dragonfly, Eric Schmidt, eu commission, Facebook, firewall, Getty-Images, Google, great firewall, Information technology, Internet, internet access, Iran, Mark Zuckerberg, net neutrality, North Korea, online freedom, open Internet, photographer, russia, Saudi Arabia, search engines, South Korea, Sundar Pichai, Syria, Tencent, United Kingdom, United Nations, United States, Washington D.C., world wide web | 0 comments

There is no question that the arrival of a fragmented and divided internet is now upon us. The “splinternet,” where cyberspace is controlled and regulated by different countries is no longer just a concept, but now a dangerous reality. With the future of the “World Wide Web” at stake, governments and advocates in support of a free and open internet have an obligation to stem the tide of authoritarian regimes isolating the web to control information and their populations.

Both China and Russia have been rapidly increasing their internet oversight, leading to increased digital authoritarianism. Earlier this month Russia announced a plan to disconnect the entire country from the internet to simulate an all-out cyberwar. And, last month China issued two new censorship rules, identifying 100 new categories of banned content and implementing mandatory reviews of all content posted on short video platforms.

While China and Russia may be two of the biggest internet disruptors, they are by no means the only ones. Cuban, Iranian and even Turkish politicians have begun pushing “information sovereignty,” a euphemism for replacing services provided by western internet companies with their own more limited but easier to control products. And a 2017 study found that numerous countries, including Saudi Arabia, Syria and Yemen have engaged in “substantial politically motivated filtering.”

This digital control has also spread beyond authoritarian regimes. Increasingly, there are more attempts to keep foreign nationals off certain web properties.

For example, digital content available to U.K. citizens via the BBC’s iPlayer is becoming increasingly unavailable to Germans. South Korea filters, censors and blocks news agencies belonging to North Korea. Never have so many governments, authoritarian and democratic, actively blocked internet access to their own nationals.

The consequences of the splinternet and digital authoritarianism stretch far beyond the populations of these individual countries.

Back in 2016, U.S. trade officials accused China’s Great Firewall of creating what foreign internet executives defined as a trade barrier. Through controlling the rules of the internet, the Chinese government has nurtured a trio of domestic internet giants, known as BAT (Baidu, Alibaba and Tencent), who are all in lock step with the government’s ultra-strict regime.

The super-apps that these internet giants produce, such as WeChat, are built for censorship. The result? According to former Google CEO Eric Schmidt, “the Chinese Firewall will lead to two distinct internets. The U.S. will dominate the western internet and China will dominate the internet for all of Asia.”

Surprisingly, U.S. companies are helping to facilitate this splinternet.

Google had spent decades attempting to break into the Chinese market but had difficulty coexisting with the Chinese government’s strict censorship and collection of data, so much so that in March 2010, Google chose to pull its search engines and other services out of China. However now, in 2019, Google has completely changed its tune.

Google has made censorship allowances through an entirely different Chinese internet platform called project Dragonfly . Dragonfly is a censored version of Google’s Western search platform, with the key difference being that it blocks results for sensitive public queries.

Sundar Pichai, chief executive officer of Google Inc., sits before the start of a House Judiciary Committee hearing in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Tuesday, Dec. 11, 2018. Pichai backed privacy legislation and denied the company is politically biased, according to a transcript of testimony he plans to deliver. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that “people have the right to seek, receive, and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.”

Drafted in 1948, this declaration reflects the sentiment felt following World War II, when people worked to prevent authoritarian propaganda and censorship from ever taking hold the way it once did. And, while these words were written over 70 years ago, well before the age of the internet, this declaration challenges the very concept of the splinternet and the undemocratic digital boundaries we see developing today.

As the web becomes more splintered and information more controlled across the globe, we risk the deterioration of democratic systems, the corruption of free markets and further cyber misinformation campaigns. We must act now to save a free and open internet from censorship and international maneuvering before history is bound to repeat itself.

BRUSSELS, BELGIUM – MAY 22: An Avaaz activist attends an anti-Facebook demonstration with cardboard cutouts of Facebook chief Mark Zuckerberg, on which is written “Fix Fakebook”, in front of the Berlaymont, the EU Commission headquarter on May 22, 2018 in Brussels, Belgium. Avaaz.org is an international non-governmental cybermilitating organization, founded in 2007. Presenting itself as a “supranational democratic movement,” it says it empowers citizens around the world to mobilize on various international issues, such as human rights, corruption or poverty. (Photo by Thierry Monasse/Corbis via Getty Images)

The Ultimate Solution

Similar to the UDHR drafted in 1948, in 2016, the United Nations declared “online freedom” to be a fundamental human right that must be protected. While not legally binding, the motion passed with consensus, and therefore the UN was provided limited power to endorse an open internet (OI) system. Through selectively applying pressure on governments who are not compliant, the UN can now enforce digital human rights standards.

The first step would be to implement a transparent monitoring system which ensures that the full resources of the internet, and ability to operate on it, are easily accessible to all citizens. Countries such as North Korea, China, Iran and Syria, who block websites and filter email plus social media communication, would be encouraged to improve through the imposition of incentives and consequences.

All countries would be ranked on their achievement of multiple positive factors including open standards, lack of censorship, and low barriers to internet entry. A three tier open internet ranking system would divide all nations into Free, Partly Free or Not Free. The ultimate goal would be to have all countries gradually migrate towards the Free category, allowing all citizens full information across the WWW, equally free and open without constraints.

The second step would be for the UN to align itself much more closely with the largest western internet companies. Together they could jointly assemble detailed reports on each government’s efforts towards censorship creep and government overreach. The global tech companies are keenly aware of which specific countries are applying pressure for censorship and the restriction of digital speech. Together, the UN and global tech firms would prove strong adversaries, protecting the citizens of the world. Every individual in every country deserves to know what is truly happening in the world.

The Free countries with an open internet, zero undue regulation or censorship would have a clear path to tremendous economic prosperity. Countries who remain in the Not Free tier, attempting to impose their self-serving political and social values would find themselves completely isolated, visibly violating digital human rights law.

This is not a hollow threat. A completely closed off splinternet will inevitably lead a country to isolation, low growth rates, and stagnation.


Source: The Tech Crunch

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Tiger Global and Ant Financial lead $500M investment in China’s shared housing startup Danke

Posted by on Mar 1, 2019 in affordable housing, alibaba, Ant Financial, apartment, Asia, Baidu, Beijing, business intelligence, China, danke apartment, jack ma, LinkedIn, major, property, Real Estate, renting, Tiger Global Management, WeWork, Xi Jinping | 0 comments

A Chinese startup that’s taking a dorm-like approach to urban housing just raised $500 million as its valuation jumped over $2 billion. Danke Apartment, whose name means “eggshell” in Chinese, closed the Series C round led by returning investor Tiger Global Management and newcomer Ant Financial, Alibaba’s e-payment and financial affiliate controlled by Jack Ma.

Four years ago, Beijing-based Danke set out with a mission to provide more affordable housing for young Chinese working in large urban centers. It applies the coworking concept to housing by renting apartments that come renovated and fully furnished, a model not unlike that of WeWork’s WeLive. The idea is by slicing up a flat designed for a family of three to four — the more common type of urban housing in China — into smaller units, young professionals can afford to live in nicer neighborhoods as Danke takes care of hassles like housekeeping and maintenance. To date, the startup has set foot in ten major Chinese cities.

With the new funds, Danke plans to upgrade its data processing system that deals with rental transactions. Housing prices are set by AI-driven algorithms that take into account market forces such as locations rather than rely on the hunches of a real estate agent. The more data it gleans, the smarter the system becomes. That layout is the engine of the startup, which believes an internet platform play is a win-win for both homeowners and tenants because it provides greater transparency and efficiency while allowing the company to scale faster.

“We are focused on business intelligence from day one,” Danke’s angel investor and chairman Derek Shen told TechCrunch in an interview. Shen was the former president of LinkedIn China and was instrumental in helping the professional networking site enter the country. “By doing so we are eliminating the need to set up offline retail outlets and are able to speed up the decision-making process. What landlords normally care is who will be the first to rent out their property. The model is also copiable because it requires less manpower.”

“We’ve proven that the rental housing business can be decentralized and done online,” added Shen.

danke apartment

Photo: Danke Apartment via Weibo

Danke doesn’t just want to digitize the market it’s after. Half of the company’s core members have hailed from Nuomi, the local services startup that Shen founded and was sold to Baidu for $3.2 billion back in 2015. Having worked for a business of which mission was to let users explore and hire offline services from their connected devices, these executives developed a propensity to digitize all business aspects including Danke’s day-to-day operations, a scheme that will also take up some of the new funds. This will allow Danke to “boost operational efficiency and cut costs” as it “actively works with the government to stabilize rental prices in the housing market,” the company says.

The rest of the proceeds will go towards improving the quality of Danke’s apartment amenities and tenant experiences, a segment that Shen believes will see great revenue potential down the road, akin to how WeWork touts software services to enterprises. The money will also enable Danke, which currently zeroes in on office workers and recent college graduates, to explore the emerging housing market for blue-collar workers.

Other investors from the round include new backer Primavera Capital and existing investors CMC Capital, Gaorong Capital and Joy Capital.

China’s rental housing market has boomed in recent years as Beijing pledges to promote affordable apartments in a country where few have the money to buy property. As President Xi Jinping often stresses, “houses are for living in, not for speculation.” As such, investors and entrepreneurs have been piling into the rental flat market, but that fervor has also created unexpected risks.

One much-criticized byproduct is the development of so-called “rental loans.” It goes like this: Housing operators would obtain loans in tenants’ names from banks or other lending institutions allegedly by obscuring relevant details from contracts. So when a tenant signs an agreement that they think binds them to rents, they have in fact agreed to take on loans and their “rent” payments become monthly loan repayments.

Housing operators are keen to embrace such practices for the loans provide working capital for renovation and their pipeline of properties. On the other hand, the capital allows companies like Danke to lower deposits for cash-strapped young tenants. “There’s nothing wrong with the financial instrument itself,” suggested Shen. “The real issue is when the housing operator struggles to repay, so the key is to make sure the business is well-functioning.”

Danke alongside competitors Ziroom and 5I5J has drawn fire for not fully informing tenants when signing contracts. Shen said his company is actively working to increase transparency. “We will make it clear to customers that what they are signing are loans. As long as we give them enough notice, there should be little risk involved.”


Source: The Tech Crunch

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Tencent AI Lab loses key executive

Posted by on Jan 3, 2019 in andrew ng, Artificial Intelligence, Asia, Baidu, bytedance, computing, game publisher, machine learning, natural language processing, online games, optical character recognition, Seattle, Speech Recognition, Tencent, Toutiao, WeChat, Y Combinator | 0 comments

Chinese internet giant Tencent just lost a leading artificial intelligence figure. Zhang Tong, who previously worked at Yahoo, IBM and Baidu, has stepped down after directing Tencent’s AI Lab for nearly two years.

The scientist will return to academia and continue research in the AI field, Tencent confirmed with TechCrunch on Thursday, adding that it hasn’t appointed a successor.

”We are grateful for [Zhang]’s contributions to Tencent AI Lab and continue to explore fundamental and applied research that can make the benefits of AI accessible to everyone, everywhere,” Tencent said in a statement.

Zhang’s departure is the latest in a handful of top AI scientists quitting large Chinese tech firms. In 2017, search giant Baidu lost its chief scientist Andrew Ng who started Google’s deep learning initiative. Last year, the firm suffered another blow as renown AI expert Lu Qi resigned as chief operating officer and moved onto spearheading Y Combinator’s newly minted China program.

Talent is key to a tech firm’s AI endeavor, for a revered leader not only inspires employees but also boosts investor confidence. Baidu stocks plunged following Lu’s exit as markets weighed on the talent gap inside the company, which had poured resources into autonomous driving, smart speakers among other AI efforts. Tencent itself had poached Zhang from Baidu’s Big Data Lab to ramp up its own AI division.

Tencent is best known for its billion-user WeChat messenger and being the world’s largest video game publisher, but it’s also been doubling down on machine learning R&D to serve users and enterprise clients. It launched the AI Lab in April 2016 and opened its first U.S. research center in Seattle a year later to work on speech recognition and natural language processing (NLP).

The AI Lab dives into machine learning, computer vision, speech recognition and NLP. Meanwhile, the social and entertainment giant also works to put fundamental research to practical use, applying AI to its key businesses — content, social, online games and cloud computing.

One beneficiary has been WeChat, which applies NLP to enable seamless dialogues between users speaking different languages. Another case in point is Tencent’s news aggregator Tiantian Kuaibao, which deploys deep learning to recommend content based on readers’ past preference. Kuaibao is a direct competitor to Jinri Toutiao, the popular AI-powered news app run by TikTok’s parent company ByteDance.

To date, Tencent’s AI Lab has a team of 70 research scientists and 300 engineers, according to information on its website. Tencent operates another AI initiative called the Youtu Lab, which focuses on image understanding, face recognition, audio recognition and optical character recognition. While its sister AI Lab falls under Tencent’s research-focus Technology Engineering Group, Youtu is the brainchild of the Cloud & Smart Industries Group, a new unit that Tencent set up during its major organizational reshuffle in October to place more emphasis on enterprise businesses.


Source: The Tech Crunch

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How a Chinese anti-virus software maker builds a fintech firm to wrestle with giants

Posted by on Dec 18, 2018 in 360 Finance, 360 group, 360 Security, alibaba, alibaba group, Ant Financial, Asia, Baidu, ceo, China, Finance, financial services, funding, jack ma, JD Finance, JD.com, Oliver Wyman, online auction, Tencent, WeBank, WeChat | 0 comments

360 Finance, an online consumer loan platform that spun off from China’s anti-virus service giant 360 Group, has joined a raft of Chinese fintech companies to go public in the U.S. over the last two years.

The company priced its initial public offering at $16.50 per share last Friday, raising $51 million by selling 3.1 million American depositary shares. The stock ended its first day unchanged when escalating trade tensions have threatened to beat down shares of U.S.-listed Chinese firms.

360 Finance’s net loss widened to 572 million yuan, or $86.4 million, for the six months ended June 30 compared to 67 million yuan for the same period of 2017. The company notes in a regulatory filing that the jump was partly due to increased expenses from share-based compensation.

Meanwhile, the net income climbed from 60 million yuan in 2016 to 309 million yuan in 2017. 360 Finance drove most of its revenues from loan facilitation and post-origination services for consumers, although microcredit lending targeted at small enterprises will be a future focus, chief executive officer Xu Jun told TechCrunch.

360-finance360 Group, of which founder and CEO Zhou Hongyi owns a 14.1 percent stake in 360 Finance, marks the first in a clutch of Chinese internet-focused companies — including Alibaba, Tencent, Baidu and JD.com — to see their consumer finance affiliates go public. Some of these services have mulled a flotation while others are pulling in fresh capital to fuel growth.

Ant Financial, the payments juggernaut controlled by Alibaba founder Jack Ma, reportedly postponed its U.S. IPO plans amid regulatory pressure and growing rivalry in China. Market watchers put its valuation at a whopping $150 billion after it snagged $14 billion from a Series C round in June.

WeBank, an online-only bank that counts Tencent as a major shareholder, has kept its valuation in the dark but an auction in November revealed that it was worth about $21.3 billion.

JD Finance, the financial affiliate of Alibaba’s main rival, said in June that it didn’t have an IPO plan as it raised $1.96 billion at a valuation of nearly $20 billion.

In April, search titan Baidu sold the majority of its financial services — which it rebranded to Du Xiaoman — to a consortium of investors in a deal worth $1.9 billion.

Despite its IPO milestone, 360 Finance faces intense rivalry at home. A report by management consulting firm Oliver Wyman shows that 360 Finance ranked fifth among China’s fintech platforms in terms of loan origination volume in the second quarter. Ant Financial took the top spot while WeBank, JD Finance and Baidu’s financial arm followed behind.

360 Finance is vying for consumer attention in an online world dominated by larger peers who are capitalizing on the enormous user base of their allies. Ecommerce behemoth Alibaba, for instance, had 666 million monthly active users on mobile devices as of September and Tencent’s WeChat messenger reached over 1 billion MAUs.

By comparison, 360 Group has about 500 mobile MAUs, which its financial partner believes could lead to an edge in marketing and risk management.

“As the largest cybersecurity company in China, 360 Security has an unfair advantage in fighting frauds,” said Xu.

That’s because 360 Security gleans reams of user behavioral data from its security browsers to determine borrowers’ “willingness” to repay loans.

“For instance, we flag those who often visit gambling sites or have installed a lot of personal lending apps,” said Xu. “On the other hand, companies such as ecommerce services only have insights into whether users are ‘able’ to repay by looking at their shopping history. The willingness to repay becomes very relevant when you are giving out smaller loans. People are usually able to repay 4,000 yuan [$580], but not everyone is willing to do so.”

The executive added that the 360 Security partnership also helps lower user acquisition costs, though he doesn’t want to rely on one marketing channel in the long run. 40 percent of the proceeds raised in the IPO will go towards promotion.

360 Group currently contributes over 22.7 percent of the lending firm’s borrowers. App stores bring about two-thirds of the traffic while the remaining comes from news feed ads in popular apps like TikTok and user engagement on social media, according to the CEO.


Source: The Tech Crunch

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Lightspeed is raising its largest China fund yet

Posted by on Dec 17, 2018 in Asia, Baidu, China, Google, lightspeed, lightspeed venture partners, Startups, U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, Venture Capital | 0 comments

Lightspeed China Partners, the China-focused affiliate of Silicon Valley-based Lightspeed Venture Partners, has set a $360 million target for its fourth flagship venture fund, according to a document filed with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission today.

If the target is reached, the fund will be Lightspeed China’s largest yet, per PitchBook. Lightspeed China’s previous two funds each closed on $260 million. The VC raised $168 million for its debut fund in 2013.

Lightspeed China is led by David Mi (pictured). Mi, an investor in multiple billion-dollar Chinese companies, was previously the director of corporate development at Google, where he helped lead the search giant’s investment in Baidu. He joined Lightspeed in 2008 and established the firm’s China presence in 2011. Yan Han, a long-time Lightspeed investor and a founding partner of the firm’s Chinese branch, is also listed on the filing.

Lightspeed China has backed e-commerce platform Pingduoduo and loan provider Rong360, a pair of Chinese “unicorns” that both completed U.S. initial public offerings since 2017. Typically, the firm makes early-stage investments in the internet, mobile and enterprise spaces. 

Earlier this year, Lightspeed Venture Partners filed to raise a record $1.8 billion in new capital commitments. This month, it tacked five new partners onto its consumer and enterprise investment teams, including Slack’s former head of growth and Twitter’s former vice president of global business development.

Lightspeed didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.


Source: The Tech Crunch

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After losing half its value, Nvidia faces reckoning

Posted by on Dec 12, 2018 in Amazon, Apple, Artificial Intelligence, Asia, Baidu, Bitmain, blockchain, cryptocurrency, Facebook, Google, Government, GPU, Hardware, nvidia | 0 comments

Nvidia is a company that has reached the highest highs and the lowest lows, all in the span of a couple of weeks.

TechCrunch is experimenting with new content forms. This is a rough draft of something new – provide your feedback directly to the author (Danny at danny@techcrunch.com) if you like or hate something here.

Over the past two months, Nvidia’s stock has dropped from a closing price of $289.36 on Oct. 1 to today’s opening of $148.42, a decline of 48.8%.

It takes a lot for a company to lose nearly half its value in such a short period of time, but Nvidia is proving that an otherwise strong technology business can disappear in a blink of an eye. The company faces an almost perfect barrage of headwinds to its core products that is stalling its plans for long-term chip domination.

To step back a bit first though, Nvidia has traditionally made graphical processing units (GPUs) that are excellent at the kinds of parallel computation required for gaming and applications like computer-assisted design (CAD). It’s a durable and repeatable business, and one that Nvidia has a commanding market share in.

Yet, these markets are also fairly narrow, and so Nvidia has endeavored over the past few years to expand its product offerings to encompass new applications like artificial intelligence / machine learning, autonomous automotive, and crypto hashing. These applications all need strong parallelized processing, which Nvidia specializes in.

At least part of that story has worked well. Nvidia’s chips were extremely popular in the crypto run-up over the past few years, causing widespread shortages of the chips (and annoying its core gaming fans in the process).

This was huge for Nvidia. The company had revenues of $1.05 billion for the quarter ending Oct 31, 2013, and $1.31 billion two years later in 2015 — a fairly slow rate of growth as would be expected for a dominant player in a mature market. As the company expanded its horizons though, Nvidia engorged on growth in new applications like crypto, growing to $3.2 billion in revenue in its last reported quarter. As can be expected, the stock soared.

Now, Nvidia’s growth story is being hammered on multiple fronts. First and foremost, the huge sales of its chips into the crypto space have dried up as crypto prices have crashed in recent months. This is a pattern we are seeing with other companies, namely Bitmain, which has made specialized crypto chips a major part of its business but has lost an enormous amount of its momentum in the crypto bust. It announced it was shuttering its Israel office this week.

That bust is obvious in Nvidia’s revenues this year: they are essentially flat for three quarters now, hovering between $3.1 and $3.2 billion. Some have called this Nvidia’s “crypto hangover.” But crypto is just one facet of the challenges that Nvidia faces.

When it comes to owning next-generation application workflows, Nvidia is facing robust competition from startups and established players who want access to this potentially gigantic market. Even its potential customers are competing with it. Facebook is reportedly designing its own chips, Apple has been doing so for years, Google has been in the game a while, and Amazon is getting into the game fast. Nvidia has the know-how to compete, but these companies also understand the nuances of their applications really, really well. It’s a tough market position to be in.

If the challenges around applications weren’t enough, geopolitical tensions are also causing Nvidia serious harm. As Dan Strumpf and Wenxin Fan wrote in the Wall Street Journal two weeks ago in a deep dive, the company is emblematic of the challenge Silicon Valley firms face in the US / China trade standoff:

Nvidia executives are watching the trade fight with growing unease over whether it will curb its access to Chinese customers, according to a person familiar with the matter. Almost 20% of Nvidia’s $9.7 billion in revenue last year came from China. Many of its chips are used there for assembly into other products, and it has invested heavily to tap China’s burgeoning AI industries.

The company also is concerned that deteriorating relations between the world’s two biggest economies are causing Beijing to double down on efforts to reduce reliance on U.S. suppliers of key hardware such as chips by nurturing homegrown competitors, eating into Nvidia’s long-term business.

Crypto, customers, and China. That’s how you lose half your company’s value in two months.

Quick Bites

Hạ Long Bay, Vietnam. Photo by Andrea Schaffer via Flickr used under Creative Commons.

Google ‘studying steps’ to open headquarters in Vietnam in accordance with cybersecurity laws Following the testimony yesterday from Sundar Pichai on Capitol Hill, it’s interesting to see Google reportedly attempting to open this office in Vietnam, where it faces many of the same challenges as its expansion into China. Vietnam, like many other nations around the world, has recently passed a data sovereignty law that requires that local data be stored locally, forcing Google’s hand. China may be the bogeyman du jour, but the market access challenges posed by China are hardly unique.

Japan’s top 3 telcos to exclude Huawei, ZTE network equipment, according to Japanese news reports – Huawei’s bad news continues, this time with Japanese telcos supposedly vowing not to use the company’s equipment. This is something of a major development if it pans out — so far, the blocks on Huawei equipment have originated from the group of five nations known as the Five Eyes, who share intelligence information. Japan is not a member of that network, and could set the tone for other nations in Asia.

Baidu among 80 plus companies found faking corporate informationBaidu was censured for erroneous information in its Chinese corporate filings. That’s bad news for Baidu, which has hit rock bottom in its share price in the past few days, declining from a 52-week high of $284.22 to today’s opening of $180.50.

What’s next

Arman and I are still investigating the next-generation silicon space. Some good conversations the past few days with investors and supply-chain folks to learn more about this space. Nvidia’s analysis above is the tip of the iceberg. Have thoughts? Give me a ring: danny@techcrunch.com.

This newsletter is written with the assistance of Arman Tabatabai from New York


Source: The Tech Crunch

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Hospital in China denies links to world’s first gene-edited babies

Posted by on Nov 26, 2018 in Asia, Baidu, Biotech, Cancer, China, Genetics, hiv, MIT, shenzhen, TC | 0 comments

News of the world’s first ever gene-edited human babies being born in China caused a huge stir on Monday after the MIT Technology Review and the Associated Press brought the project to light. People in and outside China rushed to question the ethical implications of the scientific breakthrough, reportedly the fruit of a Chinese researcher named He Jiankui from a university in Shenzhen.

There’s another twist to the story.

According to the AP, He had sought and received approval from Shenzhen HarMoniCare Women’s and Children’s Hospital to kick off the experiment. The MIT Technology Review’s report also linked to documents stating that He’s research received the green light from HarMoniCare’s medical ethics committee.

When contacted by TechCrunch, however, a HarMoniCare spokesperson said she was not aware of He’s genetic test and that the hospital is probing the validity of the circulated documents. TechCrunch will update when the case makes progress.

“What we can say for sure is that the gene editing process did not take place at our hospital. The babies were not born here either,” the spokesperson said of He’s project.

He, who studied at Rice and Standford Universities, led a research team at Southern University of Science and Technology which set out to eliminate the gene associated with HIV, smallpox, and cholera by utilizing the CRISPR gene-editing tool, according to the MIT Technology Review. The technology is ethically fraught because changes to the embryo will pass on to future generations. He’s daring initiative is set to cause debate at the upcoming Second International Summit on Human Genome Editing in Hong Kong, which he will attend.

It’s also noteworthy that HarMoniCare belongs to the vast Putian network, a fold of 8,000 private healthcare providers originated from Putian, Fujian province. That’s according to a list compiled by DXY.cn, a Chinese online community for healthcare professionals. Putian hospitals expanded across China quickly over the years with little government oversight until the death of a college student. In 2016, 21-year-old Wei Zexi died of cancer after receiving dubious treatment from a Putian hospital. The incident also provoked a public outcry over China’s largest search engine Baidu, which counted Putian hospitals as a major online advertiser.


Source: The Tech Crunch

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Cryptocurrency and blockchain bring Asia funds to the forefront of U.S. tech

Posted by on Aug 26, 2018 in Andreessen Horowitz, Asia, Baidu, blockchain, China, Connie Chan, cryptocurrency, decentralization, didi, Finance, Huobi, Meituan-Dianping, sequoia capital, Softbank, Tencent, Uber, Venture Capital, Y Combinator | 0 comments

Since early 2017, there’s been a new trend in the U.S. where a number of Asian funds have been actively involved in early-stage crypto investing. Many folks in traditional tech have not heard of them before, but these funds will only be growing more important as cryptocurrency and blockchain solidify their position in the American tech industry.

Funds with Asian money, primarily from China, have been in Silicon Valley for a long time. However, in the past, they were rarely heard or seen in the press, mostly because their assets under management (AUM) and investment check sizes were smaller in size and fewer in frequency than their American counterparts on average. These funds were often only found investing in later-stage rounds, since they weren’t able to compete against the top venture funds in the early rounds for highly-coveted startups, as many entrepreneurs weren’t familiar with them.

This has changed in the last few years and recent investment stats are very telling of a different trend. In 2017,  Asian investors directed 40% of the record $154bn in global venture financing, versus their American counterparts at 44%, according to an analysis by the Wall Street Journal. Specifically, deals led by U.S.-based venture capital and tech investment firms, such as Sequoia Capital or Andreessen Horowitz, made up of $67 billion in venture financing, just slightly more than the $61 billion led by Asian investors, including Tencent and SoftBank. Asia’s share is up from less than 5% just ten years ago.

Not only is there more money coming from Asia, but U.S. funds are also coming to realize the growing and massively underinvested tech opportunity in China and the rest of Asia. In a joint study issued by China’s Ministry of Science and Technology affiliate and a Beijing-based consultancy, the 2017 China Unicorn Enterprise Development Report showed that in the same year, China had 164 unicorns, worth a combined US$628.4 billion, while the most recent U.S. figures suggested 132 unicorns. Companies such as Meituan Dianping (the Yelp equivalent of China) and Didi (the Uber equivalent of China) are examples of large disruptive technology companies from China that have garnered massive valuations.

Subsequently, more U.S.-based funds are branching out geographically. In the past, some funds may have had an understanding of China’s large market opportunity and had a China-focused partner, team, or partnership relationships in Asia. But now, there is increasingly more focus on Asia from these funds than ever before, not only driven by the potential investment opportunities, but also by the untapped market opportunity for their portfolio companies.

Several funds have been ahead of the game. For example, Y Combinator recently made a big entrance into China with their announcement of a new China office headed by Qi Lu, the former COO of Baidu. Additionally, Connie Chan, who has been responsible for spearheading Andreessen Horowitz’s China network, was promoted to general partner earlier this year, the first to be promoted from within the company.

Cryptocurrency and blockchain accelerate West-East investment ties

Now, cryptocurrency and blockchain have accelerated this cross-border activity. The global, or rather, the censorship-resistance nature of cryptocurrency and blockchain have brought Asia – and specifically China – to the forefront of the focus. In the blockchain space, Chinese companies make up more than 80% share in mining compute power, while Asia in aggregate makes up a significant market share in cryptocurrency trading. The top Cryptocurrency exchanges, including Binance, OKex and Huobi, are also run by Chinese teams.

The cryptocurrency phenomenon began in Asia and the U.S. around the same time, but Asia got a head start due to a favorable set of regulations compared to the U.S. While certainly not laissez faire, blockchain technology has been hailed by regulators throughout countries such as China, Japan and Korea. Since the start of this year, blockchain has been highlighted as one of the most promising technologies by China’s President Xi Jingping, calling it “a breakthrough technology.” Japan has also placed a spotlight on the technology in an effort for the country to re-invigorate itself and its economy. And last but not least, Korean regulators have started debating the idea of using blockchain technology as part of the democratic process, with advocates calling for the introduction of blockchain-powered voting systems.

As a result, Chinese and Korean cryptocurrency and blockchain funds for the first time have an edge, with access to proprietary information and relationships, along with a massive market that cryptocurrency companies in the U.S. can no longer ignore.

Eric Ly, a former CTO and co-founder of LinkedIn, recently started a blockchain based company called Hub. And in our conversation, he has recognized the importance of Asia as a market: “it’s a region that is not to be dismissed, especially in the crypto world in terms of the interest and the activities that’s going on there.” With more funds coming from China and Asia, and many crypto projects coming out of Asia, there will be more cross-border activities on both the investment as well as business development front.

Given the global nature of cryptocurrencies and blockchain, it’s increasingly important for entrepreneurs to raise money from investors who are not just local to where their team is based but also globally useful to one’s success as a cryptocurrency and blockchain company. Not only can overseas investors bring a vastly different point of view to the table, but they can also provide access and market opportunities in the other half of the hemisphere that otherwise would have been difficult.

Strong examples of this fundraising pattern are emerging. Take Messari for instance, a company based out of New York with the mission to create an authoritative data resource for crypto assets. CEO Ryan Selkis has mentioned how he has made a conscious effort to raise from Asian and other global funds when he initially raised the company’s seed round.

Typically, regional investors will have better information and relationship with the local businesses and regulators, and that should prove to be useful as the company scales and grows overseas. Additionally, local investors will likely be more in touch with the policies and the regulators, which is crucial when it comes to treading through the gray areas in cryptocurrency and blockchain space. Having someone who recognizes and can predict regulatory inflection points would be hugely valuable for the company as they map out their global strategy.


Source: The Tech Crunch

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Daimler deepens ties with China’s Baidu on automated driving

Posted by on Jul 25, 2018 in Automotive, Baidu, Daimler, Transportation | 0 comments

Daimler, the owner of the Mercedes-Benz brand, and China’s Baidu are expanding their partnership with plans to cooperate more closely on automated driving and connectivity services in the German automaker’s vehicles.

The two companies have signed an agreement to collaborate in these two areas, specifically with Baidu’s Apollo program, an open-source autonomous driving platform. Both companies said they will also work to explore new fields in vehicle connectivity services.

What this deeper relationship will produce isn’t entirely clear, although there is at least one component of the announcement that provides a bit more detail.  Baidu’s connectivity services will be integrated into Mercedes-Benz’s new infotainment system known as MBUX, Daimler said.

Daimler’s relationship with Baidu has strengthened as it has expanded its presence in China. Daimler was one of the first partners to join Apollo, which Baidu launched in April 2017. Daimler is also a member of the Apollo Committee, a group that wants to accelerate research on safer solutions in automated driving in China and promotes the drafting of related laws and regulations.

Daimler  was granted in July a license to test self-driving vehicles on public roads in Beijing, making it the first international automaker to receive such permission. The automaker was given the test permit by the Chinese government after extensive closed-course testing. Daimler said, at the time, that is marked an important milestone in its research and development efforts in China.

Baidu’s open source Apollo program reflects the Chinese search engine’s strategy to gaining a piece of the autonomous vehicle industry pie. Baidu isn’t interested in making the actual car — just the software that drives it.

Baidu has focused its effort on delivering services, like data and high-skilled computing. And it’s betting that its tech will help it become China’s leading developer of self-driving vehicles.

The goal, of course, is to persuade as many companies as possible to use its Apollo platform. Some 116 partners are now on the Apollo platform, including new partners Jaguar Land Rover, Valeo, Byton, Leopard Imaging and Suning Logistics. Daimler was one of the first.

Baidu unveiled an upgrade to the Apollo platform at its developer conference in July.  Apollo 3.0, as it’s being called, aims to better support autonomous driving in geo-fenced areas. It also includes new solutions to support valet parking, autonomous mini buses and autonomous microcars.

A previous update, announced in January at CES 2018, included support for new computing platforms, new reference vehicles and more HD mapping services.


Source: The Tech Crunch

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Daimler can now test self-driving cars on public roads in Beijing

Posted by on Jul 6, 2018 in Asia, Automotive, Baidu, China, Daimler, self driving cars, TC, Transportation | 0 comments

Daimler has been granted a license to test self-driving vehicles on public roads in Beijing, making it the first international automaker to receive such permission.

The owner of the Mercedes-Benz brand was given the test permit by the Chinese government after extensive closed-course testing, the company said in a statement, adding that it marks a milestone in its research and development efforts in China.

Daimler, which also has licenses in Germany and the U.S., said it will now begin road tests in Beijing.

There are other companies testing autonomous vehicles in China, notably Baidu, which has been on public roads since at least 2016. For Daimler to qualify, the company said it had to add to its Mercedes-Benz test vehicles technical applications from Baidu’s Apollo platform. Daimler had to undergo testing at the National Pilot Zone (Beijing and Hebei) for Intelligent Mobility, with test drivers receiving rigorous automated driving training.

Daimler has also deepened its relationship with Baidu, specifically in R&D efforts focused on safety and autonomous driving. The goal is to understand the special requirements for automated driving in China, and to develop an early intuition regarding local technical trends, Daimler said.

Earlier this week, Baidu announced an update to its Apollo autonomous driving system, which is capable of Level 4 operations, a designation by automotive engineering association SAE International that means the vehicles take over all driving in certain conditions.

The Apollo program is an open-source autonomous driving platform that has been under development for years. Baidu isn’t interested in making the actual car — just the software that drives it. And it wants as many companies as possible to use its Apollo platform. Some 116 partners are now on the Apollo platform, including new partners Jaguar Land Rover, Valeo, Byton, Leopard Imaging and Suning Logistics.


Source: The Tech Crunch

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