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Reality Check: The marvel of computer vision technology in today’s camera-based AR systems

Posted by on May 15, 2019 in Animation, AR, ar/vr, Artificial Intelligence, Augmented Reality, Column, Computer Vision, computing, Developer, digital media, Gaming, gif, Global Positioning System, gps, mobile phones, neural network, starbucks, TC, virtual reality, VR | 0 comments

British science fiction writer, Sir Arther C. Clark, once said, “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”

Augmented reality has the potential to instill awe and wonder in us just as magic would. For the very first time in the history of computing, we now have the ability to blur the line between the physical world and the virtual world. AR promises to bring forth the dawn of a new creative economy, where digital media can be brought to life and given the ability to interact with the real world.

AR experiences can seem magical but what exactly is happening behind the curtain? To answer this, we must look at the three basic foundations of a camera-based AR system like our smartphone.

  1. How do computers know where it is in the world? (Localization + Mapping)
  2. How do computers understand what the world looks like? (Geometry)
  3. How do computers understand the world as we do? (Semantics)

Part 1: How do computers know where it is in the world? (Localization)

Mars Rover Curiosity taking a selfie on Mars. Source: https://www.nasa.gov/jpl/msl/pia19808/looking-up-at-mars-rover-curiosity-in-buckskin-selfie/

When NASA scientists put the rover onto Mars, they needed a way for the robot to navigate itself on a different planet without the use of a global positioning system (GPS). They came up with a technique called Visual Inertial Odometry (VIO) to track the rover’s movement over time without GPS. This is the same technique that our smartphones use to track their spatial position and orientation.

A VIO system is made out of two parts.


Source: The Tech Crunch

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Google starts rolling out better AMP URLs

Posted by on Apr 17, 2019 in Amp+, chrome, digital media, Google, google search, HTML, Mobile, mobile web, Online Advertising, TC, world wide web | 0 comments

Publishers don’t always love Google’s AMP pages, but readers surely appreciate their speed, and while publishers are loath to give Google more power, virtually every major site now supports this format. One AMP quirk that publisher’s definitely never liked is about to go away, though. Starting today, when you use Google Search and click on an AMP link, the browser will display the publisher’s real URLs instead of an “http//google.com/amp” link.

This move has been in the making for well over a year. Last January, the company announced that it was embarking on a multi-month effort to load AMP pages from the Google AMP cache without displaying the Google URL.

At the core of this effort was the new Web Packaging standard, which uses signed exchanges with digital signatures to let the browser trust a document as if it belongs to a publisher’s origin. By default, a browser should reject scripts in a web page that try to access data that doesn’t come from the same origin. Publishers will have to do a bit of extra work, and publish both signed and un-signed versions of their stories.

 

Quite a few publishers already do this, given that Google started alerting publishers of this change in November 2018. For now, though, only Chrome supports the core features behind this service, but other browsers will likely add support soon, too.

For publishers, this is a pretty big deal, given that their domain name is a core part of their brand identity. Using their own URL also makes it easier to get analytics, and the standard grey bar that sits on top of AMP pages and shows the site you are on now isn’t necessary anymore because the name will be in the URL bar.

To launch this new feature, Google also partnered with Cloudflare, which launched its AMP Real URL feature today. It’ll take a bit before it will roll out to all users, who can then enable it with a single click. With this, the company will automatically sign every AMP page it sends to the Google AMP cache. For the time being, that makes Cloudflare the only CDN that supports this feature, though others will surely follow.

“AMP has been a great solution to improve the performance of the internet and we were eager to work with the AMP Project to help eliminate one of AMP’s biggest issues — that it wasn’t served from a publisher’s perspective,” said Matthew Prince, co-founder and CEO of Cloudflare. “As the only provider currently enabling this new solution, our global scale will allow publishers everywhere to benefit from a faster and more brand-aware mobile experience for their content.”

 


Source: The Tech Crunch

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Apple ad focuses on iPhone’s most marketable feature — privacy

Posted by on Mar 14, 2019 in Apple, computing, digital media, digital rights, Facebook, Hardware, human rights, identity management, iPhone, law, Mobile, Privacy, TC, terms of service, Tim Cook, United States | 0 comments

Apple is airing a new ad spot in primetime today. Focused on privacy, the spot is visually cued, with no dialog and a simple tagline: Privacy. That’s iPhone.

In a series of humorous vignettes, the message is driven home that sometimes you just want a little privacy. The spot has only one line of text otherwise, and it’s in keeping with Apple’s messaging on privacy over the long and short term. “If privacy matters in your life, it should matter to the phone your life is on.”

The spot will air tonight in primetime in the U.S. and extend through March Madness. It will then air in select other countries.

You’d have to be hiding under a rock not to have noticed Apple positioning privacy as a differentiating factor between itself and other companies. Beginning a few years ago, CEO Tim Cook began taking more and more public stances on what the company felt to be your “rights” to privacy on their platform and how that differed from other companies. The undercurrent being that Apple was able to take this stance because its first-party business relies on a relatively direct relationship with customers who purchase its hardware and, increasingly, its services.

This stands in contrast to the model of other tech giants like Google or Facebook that insert an interstitial layer of monetization strategy on top of that relationship in the forms of application of personal information about you (in somewhat anonymized fashion) to sell their platform to advertisers that in turn can sell to you better.

Turning the ethical high ground into a marketing strategy is not without its pitfalls, though, as Apple has discovered recently with a (now patched) high-profile FaceTime bug that allowed people to turn your phone into a listening device, Facebook’s manipulation of App Store permissions and the revelation that there was some long overdue house cleaning needed in its Enterprise Certificate program.

I did find it interesting that the iconography of the “Private Side” spot very, very closely associates the concepts of privacy and security. They are separate, but interrelated, obviously. This spot says these are one and the same. It’s hard to enforce privacy without security, of course, but in the mind of the public I think there is very little difference between the two.

The App Store itself, of course, still hosts apps from Google and Facebook among thousands of others that use personal data of yours in one form or another. Apple’s argument is that it protects the data you give to your phone aggressively by processing on the device, collecting minimal data, disconnecting that data from the user as much as possible and giving users as transparent a control interface as possible. All true. All far, far better efforts than the competition.

Still, there is room to run, I feel, when it comes to Apple adjudicating what should be considered a societal norm when it comes to the use of personal data on its platform. If it’s going to be the absolute arbiter of what flies on the world’s most profitable application marketplace, it might as well use that power to get a little more feisty with the bigcos (and littlecos) that make their living on our data.

I mention the issues Apple has had above not as a dig, though some might be inclined to view Apple integrating privacy with marketing as boldness bordering on hubris. I, personally, think there’s still a major difference between a company that has situational loss of privacy while having a systemic dedication to privacy and, well, most of the rest of the ecosystem which exists because they operate an “invasion of privacy as a service” business.

Basically, I think stating privacy is your mission is still supportable, even if you have bugs. But attempting to ignore that you host the data platforms that thrive on it is a tasty bit of prestidigitation.

But that might be a little too verbose as a tagline.


Source: The Tech Crunch

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Is Europe closing in on an antitrust fix for surveillance technologists?

Posted by on Feb 10, 2019 in android, antitrust, competition law, data protection, data protection law, DCMS committee, digital media, EC, Europe, European Commission, European Union, Facebook, General Data Protection Regulation, Germany, Giovanni Buttarelli, Google, instagram, Margrethe Vestager, Messenger, photo sharing, Privacy, Social, Social Media, social networks, surveillance capitalism, TC, terms of service, United Kingdom, United States | 0 comments

The German Federal Cartel Office’s decision to order Facebook to change how it processes users’ personal data this week is a sign the antitrust tide could at last be turning against platform power.

One European Commission source we spoke to, who was commenting in a personal capacity, described it as “clearly pioneering” and “a big deal”, even without Facebook being fined a dime.

The FCO’s decision instead bans the social network from linking user data across different platforms it owns, unless it gains people’s consent (nor can it make use of its services contingent on such consent). Facebook is also prohibited from gathering and linking data on users from third party websites, such as via its tracking pixels and social plugins.

The order is not yet in force, and Facebook is appealing, but should it come into force the social network faces being de facto shrunk by having its platforms siloed at the data level.

To comply with the order Facebook would have to ask users to freely consent to being data-mined — which the company does not do at present.

Yes, Facebook could still manipulate the outcome it wants from users but doing so would open it to further challenge under EU data protection law, as its current approach to consent is already being challenged.

The EU’s updated privacy framework, GDPR, requires consent to be specific, informed and freely given. That standard supports challenges to Facebook’s (still fixed) entry ‘price’ to its social services. To play you still have to agree to hand over your personal data so it can sell your attention to advertisers. But legal experts contend that’s neither privacy by design nor default.

The only ‘alternative’ Facebook offers is to tell users they can delete their account. Not that doing so would stop the company from tracking you around the rest of the mainstream web anyway. Facebook’s tracking infrastructure is also embedded across the wider Internet so it profiles non-users too.

EU data protection regulators are still investigating a very large number of consent-related GDPR complaints.

But the German FCO, which said it liaised with privacy authorities during its investigation of Facebook’s data-gathering, has dubbed this type of behavior “exploitative abuse”, having also deemed the social service to hold a monopoly position in the German market.

So there are now two lines of legal attack — antitrust and privacy law — threatening Facebook (and indeed other adtech companies’) surveillance-based business model across Europe.

A year ago the German antitrust authority also announced a probe of the online advertising sector, responding to concerns about a lack of transparency in the market. Its work here is by no means done.

Data limits

The lack of a big flashy fine attached to the German FCO’s order against Facebook makes this week’s story less of a major headline than recent European Commission antitrust fines handed to Google — such as the record-breaking $5BN penalty issued last summer for anticompetitive behaviour linked to the Android mobile platform.

But the decision is arguably just as, if not more, significant, because of the structural remedies being ordered upon Facebook. These remedies have been likened to an internal break-up of the company — with enforced internal separation of its multiple platform products at the data level.

This of course runs counter to (ad) platform giants’ preferred trajectory, which has long been to tear modesty walls down; pool user data from multiple internal (and indeed external sources), in defiance of the notion of informed consent; and mine all that personal (and sensitive) stuff to build identity-linked profiles to train algorithms that predict (and, some contend, manipulate) individual behavior.

Because if you can predict what a person is going to do you can choose which advert to serve to increase the chance they’ll click. (Or as Mark Zuckerberg puts it: ‘Senator, we run ads.’)

This means that a regulatory intervention that interferes with an ad tech giant’s ability to pool and process personal data starts to look really interesting. Because a Facebook that can’t join data dots across its sprawling social empire — or indeed across the mainstream web — wouldn’t be such a massive giant in terms of data insights. And nor, therefore, surveillance oversight.

Each of its platforms would be forced to be a more discrete (and, well, discreet) kind of business.

Competing against data-siloed platforms with a common owner — instead of a single interlinked mega-surveillance-network — also starts to sound almost possible. It suggests a playing field that’s reset, if not entirely levelled.

(Whereas, in the case of Android, the European Commission did not order any specific remedies — allowing Google to come up with ‘fixes’ itself; and so to shape the most self-serving ‘fix’ it can think of.)

Meanwhile, just look at where Facebook is now aiming to get to: A technical unification of the backend of its different social products.

Such a merger would collapse even more walls and fully enmesh platforms that started life as entirely separate products before were folded into Facebook’s empire (also, let’s not forget, via surveillance-informed acquisitions).

Facebook’s plan to unify its products on a single backend platform looks very much like an attempt to throw up technical barriers to antitrust hammers. It’s at least harder to imagine breaking up a company if its multiple, separate products are merged onto one unified backend which functions to cross and combine data streams.

Set against Facebook’s sudden desire to technically unify its full-flush of dominant social networks (Facebook Messenger; Instagram; WhatsApp) is a rising drum-beat of calls for competition-based scrutiny of tech giants.

This has been building for years, as the market power — and even democracy-denting potential — of surveillance capitalism’s data giants has telescoped into view.

Calls to break up tech giants no longer carry a suggestive punch. Regulators are routinely asked whether it’s time. As the European Commission’s competition chief, Margrethe Vestager, was when she handed down Google’s latest massive antitrust fine last summer.

Her response then was that she wasn’t sure breaking Google up is the right answer — preferring to try remedies that might allow competitors to have a go, while also emphasizing the importance of legislating to ensure “transparency and fairness in the business to platform relationship”.

But it’s interesting that the idea of breaking up tech giants now plays so well as political theatre, suggesting that wildly successful consumer technology companies — which have long dined out on shiny convenience-based marketing claims, made ever so saccharine sweet via the lure of ‘free’ services — have lost a big chunk of their populist pull, dogged as they have been by so many scandals.

From terrorist content and hate speech, to election interference, child exploitation, bullying, abuse. There’s also the matter of how they arrange their tax affairs.

The public perception of tech giants has matured as the ‘costs’ of their ‘free’ services have scaled into view. The upstarts have also become the establishment. People see not a new generation of ‘cuddly capitalists’ but another bunch of multinationals; highly polished but remote money-making machines that take rather more than they give back to the societies they feed off.

Google’s trick of naming each Android iteration after a different sweet treat makes for an interesting parallel to the (also now shifting) public perceptions around sugar, following closer attention to health concerns. What does its sickly sweetness mask? And after the sugar tax, we now have politicians calling for a social media levy.

Just this week the deputy leader of the main opposition party in the UK called for setting up a standalone Internet regulatory with the power to break up tech monopolies.

Talking about breaking up well-oiled, wealth-concentration machines is being seen as a populist vote winner. And companies that political leaders used to flatter and seek out for PR opportunities find themselves treated as political punchbags; Called to attend awkward grilling by hard-grafting committees, or taken to vicious task verbally at the highest profile public podia. (Though some non-democratic heads of state are still keen to press tech giant flesh.)

In Europe, Facebook’s repeat snubs of the UK parliament’s requests last year for Zuckerberg to face policymakers’ questions certainly did not go unnoticed.

Zuckerberg’s empty chair at the DCMS committee has become both a symbol of the company’s failure to accept wider societal responsibility for its products, and an indication of market failure; the CEO so powerful he doesn’t feel answerable to anyone; neither his most vulnerable users nor their elected representatives. Hence UK politicians on both sides of the aisle making political capital by talking about cutting tech giants down to size.

The political fallout from the Cambridge Analytica scandal looks far from done.

Quite how a UK regulator could successfully swing a regulatory hammer to break up a global Internet giant such as Facebook which is headquartered in the U.S. is another matter. But policymakers have already crossed the rubicon of public opinion and are relishing talking up having a go.

That represents a sea-change vs the neoliberal consensus that allowed competition regulators to sit on their hands for more than a decade as technology upstarts quietly hoovered up people’s data and bagged rivals, and basically went about transforming themselves from highly scalable startups into market-distorting giants with Internet-scale data-nets to snag users and buy or block competing ideas.

The political spirit looks willing to go there, and now the mechanism for breaking platforms’ distorting hold on markets may also be shaping up.

The traditional antitrust remedy of breaking a company along its business lines still looks unwieldy when faced with the blistering pace of digital technology. The problem is delivering such a fix fast enough that the business hasn’t already reconfigured to route around the reset. 

Commission antitrust decisions on the tech beat have stepped up impressively in pace on Vestager’s watch. Yet it still feels like watching paper pushers wading through treacle to try and catch a sprinter. (And Europe hasn’t gone so far as trying to impose a platform break up.) 

But the German FCO decision against Facebook hints at an alternative way forward for regulating the dominance of digital monopolies: Structural remedies that focus on controlling access to data which can be relatively swiftly configured and applied.

Vestager, whose term as EC competition chief may be coming to its end this year (even if other Commission roles remain in potential and tantalizing contention), has championed this idea herself.

In an interview on BBC Radio 4’s Today program in December she poured cold water on the stock question about breaking tech giants up — saying instead the Commission could look at how larger firms got access to data and resources as a means of limiting their power. Which is exactly what the German FCO has done in its order to Facebook. 

At the same time, Europe’s updated data protection framework has gained the most attention for the size of the financial penalties that can be issued for major compliance breaches. But the regulation also gives data watchdogs the power to limit or ban processing. And that power could similarly be used to reshape a rights-eroding business model or snuff out such business entirely.

The merging of privacy and antitrust concerns is really just a reflection of the complexity of the challenge regulators now face trying to rein in digital monopolies. But they’re tooling up to meet that challenge.

Speaking in an interview with TechCrunch last fall, Europe’s data protection supervisor, Giovanni Buttarelli, told us the bloc’s privacy regulators are moving towards more joint working with antitrust agencies to respond to platform power. “Europe would like to speak with one voice, not only within data protection but by approaching this issue of digital dividend, monopolies in a better way — not per sectors,” he said. “But first joint enforcement and better co-operation is key.”

The German FCO’s decision represents tangible evidence of the kind of regulatory co-operation that could — finally — crack down on tech giants.

Blogging in support of the decision this week, Buttarelli asserted: “It is not necessary for competition authorities to enforce other areas of law; rather they need simply to identity where the most powerful undertakings are setting a bad example and damaging the interests of consumers.  Data protection authorities are able to assist in this assessment.”

He also had a prediction of his own for surveillance technologists, warning: “This case is the tip of the iceberg — all companies in the digital information ecosystem that rely on tracking, profiling and targeting should be on notice.”

So perhaps, at long last, the regulators have figured out how to move fast and break things.


Source: The Tech Crunch

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Facebook removes hundreds of accounts linked to fake news group in Indonesia

Posted by on Feb 1, 2019 in Asia, computing, digital media, Facebook, fake news, Indonesia, instagram, Myanmar, Philippines, photo sharing, Singapore, Social Media, social network, Software, Southeast Asia, sri lanka, TC, Thailand, United Nations, United States, world wide web | 0 comments

Facebook said today it has removed hundreds of Facebook and Instagram counts with links to an organization that peddled fake news.

The world’s fourth largest country with a population of over 260 million, Indonesia is in election year alongside Southeast Asia neighbors Thailand and the Philippines. Facebook said this week it has set up an ‘election integrity’ team in Singapore, its APAC HQ, as it tries to prevent its social network being misused in the lead-up to voting as happened in the U.S.

This Indonesia bust is the first move announced since that task force was put in place, and it sees 207 Facebook Pages, 800 Facebook accounts, 546 Facebook Groups, and 208 Instagram accounts removed for “engaging in coordinated inauthentic behavior.”

“About 170,000 people followed at least one of these Facebook Pages, and more than 65,000 followed at least one of these Instagram accounts,” Facebook said of the reach of the removed accounts.

The groups and accounts are linked to Saracen Group, a digital media group that saw three of its members arrested by police in 2016 for spreading “incendiary material,’ as Reuters reports.

Facebook isn’t saying too much about the removals other than: “we don’t want our services to be used to manipulate people.”

In January, the social network banned a fake news group in the Philippines in similar circumstances.

Despite the recent action, the U.S. company has struggled to manage the flow of false information that flows across its services in Asia. The most extreme examples come from Myanmar, where the UN has concluded that Facebook played a key role in escalating religious hatred and fueling violence. Facebook has also been criticized for allowing manipulation in Sri Lanka and the Philippines among other places.


Source: The Tech Crunch

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Announcing TC Sessions: Mobility, a one-day event on the future of mobility and transportation

Posted by on Jan 29, 2019 in AOL, blogs, detroit, digital media, Forward, henry ford, san jose, TC, TechCrunch, websites, west coast, world wide web | 0 comments

Mobility is changing and the world with it. Technology is upending century-old establishments, creating new lifestyles and routines. Regions across the globe are trying to replicate Silicon Valley, but all the while Silicon Valley has been replicating a different innovative American city: Detroit. Countless companies have sprung up around the Bay Area focused on the challenges around the industry. And the auto industry noticed, opening and expanding facilities on the West Coast. With its abundance of engineers and resources, Silicon Valley is uniquely suited to lead the mobility disruption.

TechCrunch is excited to announce a one-day event on July 10, 2019 in San Jose, CA that’s centered around future of mobility and transportation – TC Sessions: Mobility.

TC Sessions: Mobility will present a day of programming with the best founders, investors, and technologists who are hell-bent on inventing a future Henry Ford could have never imagined. These thinkers know that before autonomous vehicles are deployed as service, revolutionaries must forge rivers of regulation, consumer sentiment, embedded business thinking, and, perhaps most importantly, solutions to profound technological challenges. And that doesn’t include forging the relationships necessary outside of the industry, in fields such as blockchain, AI, satellite navigation and mobile networks.

The auto establishment and up-and-comers alike face similar questions. What’s the best way for mobility companies to navigation regulations and government bodies? How does a company scale manufacturing from MVP to thousands a week? And of course, every company developing autonomous vehicles need to examine the trolley problem — the ethical conundrum around who should autonomous vehicles hit in an accident, when unavoidable.

TC Sessions: Mobility is the latest in TechCrunch’s growing series of Sessions events that feature a deep dive into a specific topic. In the past, TechCrunch hosted similar events on robotics, the blockchain, and social justice. Through intimate interviews and in-depth discussions, attendees of TC Session events hear from the top individuals and companies pushing their respective field forward.

Through the coming weeks, TechCrunch will announce the participants of TechCrunch Mobility’s fireside chats, panels, and workshops.


Tickets
Early Bird Tickets are available now for $195 – that’s $100 savings before prices go up. Students can book a ticket for just $45 here.

Speakers/Demo Applications
We’re always looking for speakers/demos for our events. Apply here.

Sponsorship Opportunities
Fill out this form and someone from our sales team will get right back to you about sponsorship opportunities for this event.


Source: The Tech Crunch

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Netflix rival Iflix launches $5M search for up-and-coming filmmakers in Asia

Posted by on Dec 6, 2018 in africa, Asia, Bangladesh, Benjamin Grubbs, computing, digital media, iflix, Indonesia, malaysia, Media, Middle East, Netflix, Next 10 Ventures, Philippines, tiktok, Viddsee, world wide web, YouTube | 0 comments

Netflix is increasing its efforts in Asia after it commissioned more local content and began testing more aggressive price points, but one local rival is hitting back with a program to spotlight promising creators in the region.

Malaysia-headquartered Iflix, which operates in 26 countries across Africa, the Middle East and Asia, today announced a $5 million program to find 30 filmmakers across four of its largest markets: Indonesia, Malaysia, Bangladesh, and the Philippines. The company, which has raised nearly $300 million from investors that include Sky, offers a freemium service with a paid tier that costs around $3 per month. It claims an audience of ‘millions’ of users.

The twelve-month initiative will be run alongside Next 10 Ventures, a digital content program from ex-YouTube exec Benjamin Grubbs, with the aim of helping would-be or part-time filmmakers to fully pursue their passion.

“There’s ad revenue in some markets but it may not be sufficient enough to enable you to have a full-time career,” Grubbs, who was previously YouTube’s global director of top creator partnerships, told TechCrunch in an interview. “A commitment up front to support creative storytellers is a positive element fo the ecosystem… there are things people want to do without waiting for brand sponsorship.”

In addition to financing, the program will provide mentoring, equipment and other assistance to produce content exclusively for Iflix.

Iflix launched its own original content program 18 months ago, and Craig Galvin — the company’s global head of content — said that the initiative isn’t just limited to creators’ local markets, which might be a logical assumption given Netflix’s more global approach.

Instead, Galvin — who launched Iflix’s first short-form video program earlier this year — argued that there is the potential to reach Iflix’s global viewers.

“We do see our pathway to be more local-centric but I do believe some of this content will travel well beyond their territories,” he told TechCrunch.

“For many, the remuneration isn’t quite there yet,” Galvin added. “So for us, it’s allowing them some scope to help reach their full potential.”

The short videos supported by the program won’t be quite as brief as the seconds-long shorts you’ll find on TikTok, the fast-growing video platform, since Galvin and Grubbs are seeking more episodic content. However, they remain open to “exploring experimentation” — potentially series of one-minute shorts — if such proposals are judged to resonate with audiences.

“There’s no definitive number but we’re expecting around 1,500 pieces of content as part of this program,” Galvin said, adding that he hopes to expand the program to cover more, or all, of Iflix’s markets in the future.

Filmmakers wanting to apply to the program can do so on the website here.

One obvious comparison to the Iflix initiative is Viddsee, a Singapore-based streaming service that features short video content from independent filmmakers in Asia and beyond.

Founded in 2012, Viddsee has raised a little over $2 million to date and it recently introduced a crowdfunding feature that allows filmmakers to raise money directly from its global audience. The company has also helped filmmakers to find brand sponsors in order to get the checks required to fund production.


Source: The Tech Crunch

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Facebook policy VP, Richard Allan, to face the international ‘fake news’ grilling that Zuckerberg won’t

Posted by on Nov 23, 2018 in Cambridge Analytica, data breach, digital media, Elizabeth Denham, Europe, Facebook, fake news, London, Mark Zuckerberg, online disinformation, Paul-Olivier Dehaye, Policy, Privacy, Richard Allan, Security, Social, Social Media, social network | 0 comments

An unprecedented international grand committee comprised of 22 representatives from seven parliaments will meet in London next week to put questions to Facebook about the online fake news crisis and the social network’s own string of data misuse scandals.

But Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg won’t be providing any answers. The company has repeatedly refused requests for him to answer parliamentarians’ questions.

Instead it’s sending a veteran EMEA policy guy, Richard Allan, now its London-based VP of policy solutions, to face a roomful of irate MPs.

Allan will give evidence next week to elected members from the parliaments of Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Ireland, Latvia, Singapore, along with members of the UK’s Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) parliamentary committee.

At the last call the international initiative had a full eight parliaments behind it but it’s down to seven — with Australia being unable to attend on account of the travel involved in getting to London.

A spokeswoman for the DCMS committee confirmed Facebook declined its last request for Zuckerberg to give evidence, telling TechCrunch: “The Committee offered the opportunity for him to give evidence over video link, which was also refused. Facebook has offered Richard Allan, vice president of policy solutions, which the Committee has accepted.”

“The Committee still believes that Mark Zuckerberg is the appropriate person to answer important questions about data privacy, safety, security and sharing,” she added. “The recent New York Times investigation raises further questions about how recent data breaches were allegedly dealt with within Facebook, and when the senior leadership team became aware of the breaches and the spread of Russian disinformation.”

The DCMS committee has spearheaded the international effort to hold Facebook to account for its role in a string of major data scandals, joining forces with similarly concerned committees across the world, as part of an already wide-ranging enquiry into the democratic impacts of online disinformation that’s been keeping it busy for the best part of this year.

And especially busy since the Cambridge Analytica story blew up into a major global scandal this April, although Facebook’s 2018 run of bad news hasn’t stopped there…

The evidence session with Allan is scheduled to take place at 11.30am (GMT) on November 27 in Westminster. (It will also be streamed live on the UK’s parliament.tv website.)

Afterwards a press conference has been scheduled — during which DCMS says a representative from each of the seven parliaments will sign a set of ‘International Principles for the Law Governing the Internet’.

It bills this as “a declaration on future action from the parliaments involved” — suggesting the intent is to generate international momentum and consensus for regulating social media.

The DCMS’ preliminary report on the fake news crisis, which it put out this summer, called for urgent action from government on a number of fronts — including floating the idea of a levy on social media to defence democracy.

However UK ministers failed to leap into action, merely putting out a tepid ‘wait and see’ response. Marshalling international action appears to be DCMS’ alternative action plan.

At next week’s press conference, grand committee members will take questions following Allan’s evidence — so expect swift condemnation of any fresh equivocation, misdirection or question-dodging from Facebook (which has already been accused by DCMS members of a pattern of evasive behavior).

Last week’s NYT report also characterized the company’s strategy since 2016, vis-a-vis the fake news crisis, as ‘delay, deny, deflect’.

The grand committee will hear from other witnesses too, including the UK’s information commissioner Elizabeth Denham who was before the DCMS committee recently to report on a wide-ranging ecosystem investigation it instigated in the wake of the Cambridge Analytica scandal.

She told it then that Facebooks needs to take “much greater responsibility” for how its platform is being used, and warning that unless the company overhauls its privacy-hostile business model it risk burning user trust for good.

Also giving evidence next week: Deputy information commissioner Steve Wood; the former Prime Minister of St Kitts and Nevis, Rt Hon Dr Denzil L Douglas (on account of Cambridge Analytica/SCL Elections having done work in the region); and the co-founder of PersonalData.IO, Paul-Olivier Dehaye.

Dehaye has also given evidence to the committee before — detailing his experience of making Subject Access Requests to Facebook — and trying and failing to obtain all the data it holds on him.


Source: The Tech Crunch

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How a small French privacy ruling could remake adtech for good

Posted by on Nov 20, 2018 in Adtech, Advertising Tech, data controller, data protection, digital media, DuckDuckGo, Europe, European Union, Facebook, General Data Protection Regulation, Google, iab europe, Ireland, Lawsuit, online ads, Online Advertising, Open Rights Group, Privacy, programmatic advertising, Real-time bidding, rtb, Security, Social, TC, United Kingdom, web browser | 0 comments

A ruling in late October against a little-known French adtech firm that popped up on the national data watchdog’s website earlier this month is causing ripples of excitement to run through privacy watchers in Europe who believe it signals the beginning of the end for creepy online ads.

The excitement is palpable.

Impressively so, given the dry CNIL decision against mobile “demand side platform” Vectaury was only published in the regulator’s native dense French legalese.

Digital advertising trade press AdExchanger picked up on the decision yesterday.

Here’s the killer paragraph from CNIL’s ruling — translated into “rough English” by my TC colleague Romain Dillet:

The requirement based on the article 7 above-mentioned isn’t fulfilled with a contractual clause that guarantees validly collected initial consent. The company VECTAURY should be able to show, for all data that it is processing, the validity of the expressed consent.

In plainer English, this is being interpreted by data experts as the regulator stating that consent to processing personal data cannot be gained through a framework arrangement which bundles a number of uses behind a single “I agree” button that, when clicked, passes consent to partners via a contractual relationship.

CNIL’s decision suggests that bundling consent to partner processing in a contract is not, in and of itself, valid consent under the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) framework.

Consent under this regime must be specific, informed and freely given. It says as much in the text of GDPR.

But now, on top of that, the CNIL’s ruling suggests a data controller has to be able to demonstrate the validity of the consent — so cannot simply tuck consent inside a contractual “carpet-bag” that gets passed around to everyone else in their chain as soon as the user clicks “I agree.”

This is important, because many widely used digital advertising consent frameworks rolled out to websites in Europe this year — in claimed compliance with GDPR — are using a contractual route to obtain consent, and bundling partner processing behind often hideously labyrinthine consent flows.

The experience for web users in the EU right now is not great. But it could be leading to a much better internet down the road.

Where’s the consent for partner processing?

Even on a surface level the current crop of confusing consent mazes look problematic.

But the CNIL ruling suggests there are deeper and more structural problems lurking and embedded within. And as regulators dig in and start to unpick adtech contradictions it could force a change of mindset across the entire ecosystem.

As ever, when talking about consent and online ads the overarching point to remember is that no consumer given a genuine full disclosure about what’s being done with their personal data in the name of behavioral advertising would freely consent to personal details being hawked and traded across the web just so a bunch of third parties can bag a profit share.

This is why, despite GDPR being in force (since May 25), there are still so many tortuously confusing “consent flows” in play.

The longstanding online T&Cs trick of obfuscating and socially engineering consent remains an unfortunately standard playbook. But, less than six months into GDPR we’re still very much in a “phoney war” phase. More regulatory rulings are needed to lay down the rules by actually enforcing the law.

And CNIL’s recent activity suggests more to come.

In the Vectaury case, the mobile ad firm used a template framework for its consent flow that had been created by industry trade association and standards body, IAB Europe.

It did make some of its own choices, using its own wording on an initial consent screen and pre-ticking the purposes (another big GDPR no-no). But the bundling of data purposes behind a single opt in/out button is the core IAB Europe design. So CNIL’s ruling suggests there could be trouble ahead for other users of the template.

IAB Europe’s CEO, Townsend Feehan, told us it’s working on a statement reaction to the CNIL decision, but suggested Vectaury fell foul of the regulator because it may not have implemented the “Transparency & Consent Framework-compliant” consent management platform (CMP) framework — as it’s tortuously known — correctly.

So either “the ‘CMP’ that they implemented did not align to our Policies, or choices they could have made in the implementation of their CMP that would have facilitated compliance with the GDPR were not made,” she suggested to us via email.

Though that sidesteps the contractual crux point that’s really exciting privacy advocates — and making them point to the CNIL as having slammed the first of many unbolted doors.

The French watchdog has made a handful of other decisions in recent months, also involving geolocation-harvesting adtech firms, and also for processing data without consent.

So regulatory activity on the GDPR+adtech front has been ticking up.

Its decision to publish these rulings suggests it has wider concerns about the scale and privacy risks of current programmatic ad practices in the mobile space than can be attached to any single player.

So the suggestion is that just publishing the rulings looks intended to put the industry on notice…

Meanwhile, adtech giant Google has also made itself unpopular with publisher “partners” over its approach to GDPR by forcing them to collect consent on its behalf. And in May a group of European and international publishers complained that Google was imposing unfair terms on them.

The CNIL decision could sharpen that complaint too — raising questions over whether audits of publishers that Google said it would carry out will be enough for the arrangement to pass regulatory muster.

For a demand-side platform like Vectaury, which was acting on behalf of more than 32,000 partner mobile apps with user eyeballs to trade for ad cash, achieving GDPR compliance would mean either asking users for genuine consent and/or having a very large number of contracts on which it’s doing actual due diligence.

Yet Google is orders of magnitude more massive, of course.

The Vectaury file gives us a fascinating little glimpse into adtech “business as usual.” Business which also wasn’t, in the regulator’s view, legal.

The firm was harvesting a bunch of personal data (including people’s location and device IDs) on its partners’ mobile users via an SDK embedded in their apps, and receiving bids for these users’ eyeballs via another standard piece of the programmatic advertising pipe — ad exchanges and supply side platforms — which also get passed personal data so they can broadcast it widely via the online ad world’s real-time bidding (RTB) system. That’s to solicit potential advertisers’ bids for the attention of the individual app user… The wider the personal data gets spread, the more potential ad bids.

That scale is how programmatic works. It also looks horrible from a GDPR “privacy by design and default” standpoint.

The sprawling process of programmatic explains the very long list of “partners” nested non-transparently behind the average publisher’s online consent flow. The industry, as it is shaped now, literally trades on personal data.

So if the consent rug it’s been squatting on for years suddenly gets ripped out from underneath it, there would need to be radical reshaping of ad-targeting practices to avoid trampling on EU citizens’ fundamental right.

GDPR’s really big change was supersized fines. So ignoring the law would get very expensive.

Oh hai real-time bidding!

In Vectaury’s case, CNIL discovered the company was holding the personal data of a staggering 67.6 million people when it conducted an on-site inspection of the company in April 2018.

That already sounds like A LOT of data for a small mobile adtech player. Yet it might actually have been a tiny fraction of the personal data the company was routinely handling — given that Vectaury’s own website claims 70 percent of collected data is not stored.

In the decision there was no fine, but CNIL ordered the firm to delete all data it had not already deleted (having judged collection illegal given consent was not valid); and to stop processing data without consent.

But given the personal-data-based hinge of current-gen programmatic adtech, that essentially looks like an order to go out of business. (Or at least out of that business.)

And now we come to another interesting GDPR adtech complaint that’s not yet been ruled on by the two DPAs in question (Ireland and the U.K.) — but which looks even more compelling in light of the CNIL Vectaury decision because it picks at the adtech scab even more daringly.

Filed last month with the Irish Data Protection Commission and the U.K.’s ICO, this adtech complaint — the work of three individuals, Johnny Ryan of private web browser Brave; Jim Killock, exec director of digital and civil rights group, the Open Rights Group; and University College London data protection researcher, Michael Veale — targets the RTB system itself.

Here’s how Ryan, Killock and Veale summarized the complaint when they announced it last month:

Every time a person visits a website and is shown a “behavioural” ad on a website, intimate personal data that describes each visitor, and what they are watching online, is broadcast to tens or hundreds of companies. Advertising technology companies broadcast these data widely in order to solicit potential advertisers’ bids for the attention of the specific individual visiting the website.

A data breach occurs because this broadcast, known as an “bid request” in the online industry, fails to protect these intimate data against unauthorized access. Under the GDPR this is unlawful.

The GDPR, Article 5, paragraph 1, point f, requires that personal data be “processed in a manner that ensures appropriate security of the personal data, including protection against unauthorised or unlawful processing and against accidental loss.” If you can not protect data in this way, then the GDPR says you can not process the data.

Ryan tells TechCrunch that the crux of the complaint is not related to the legal basis of the data sharing but rather focuses on the processing itself — arguing “that it itself is not adequately secure… that they’re aren’t adequate controls.”

Though he says there’s a consent element too, and so sees the CNIL ruling bolstering the RTB complaint. (On that keep in mind that CNIL judged Vectaury should not have been holding the RTB data of 67.6M people because it did not have valid consent.)

“We do pick up on the issue of consent in the complaint. And this particular CNIL decision has a bearing on both of those issues,” he argues. “It demonstrates in a concrete example that involved investigators going into physical premises and checking the machines — it demonstrates that even one small company was receiving tens of millions of people’s personal data in this illegal way.

“So the breach is very real. And it demonstrates that it’s not unreasonable to suggest that the consent is meaningless in any case.”

Reaching for a handy visual explainer, he continues: “If I leave a briefcase full of personal data in the middle of Charing Cross station at 11am and it’s really busy, that’s a breach. That would have been a breach back in the 1970s. If my business model is to drive up to Charing Cross station with a dump-truck and dump briefcases onto the street at 11am in the full knowledge that my business partners will all scramble around and try and grab them — and then to turn up at 11.01am and do the same thing. And then 11.02am. And every microsecond in between. That’s still a fucking data breach!

“It doesn’t matter if you think you’ve consent or anything else. You have to [comply with GDPR Article 5, paragraph 1, point f] in order to even be able to ask for a legal basis. There are plenty of other problems but that’s the biggest one that we highlighted. That’s our reason for saying this is a breach.”

“Now what CNIL has said is this company, Vectaury, was processing personal data that it did not lawfully have — and it got them through RTB,” he adds, spelling the point out. “So back to the GDPR — GDPR is saying you can’t process data in a way that doesn’t ensure protection against unauthorized or unlawful processing.”

In other words, RTB as a funnel for processing personal data looks to be on inherently shaky ground because it’s inherently putting all this personal data out there and at risk…

What’s bad for data brokers…

In another loop back, Ryan says the regulators have been in touch since their RTB complaint was filed to invite them to submit more information.

He says the CNIL Vectaury decision will be incorporated into further submissions, predicting: “This is going to be bounced around multiple regulators.”

The trio is keen to generate extra bounce by working with NGOs to enlist other individuals to file similar complaints in other EU Member States — to make the action a pan-European push, just like programmatic advertising itself.

“We now have the opportunity to connect our complaint with the excellent work that Privacy International has done, showing where these data end up, and with the excellent work that CNIL has done showing exactly how this actually applies. And this decision from CNIL takes, essentially my report that went with our complaint and shows exactly how that applies in the real world,” he continues.

“I was writing in the abstract — CNIL has now made a decision that is very much not in the abstract, it’s in the real world affecting millions of people… This will be a European-wide complaint.”

But what does programmatic advertising that doesn’t entail trading on people’s grubbily obtained personal data actually look like? If there were no personal data in bid requests Ryan believes quite a few things would happen. Such as, for e.g. the demise of clickbait.

“There would be no way to take your TechCrunch audience and buy it cheaper on some shitty website. There would be no more of that arbitrage stuff. Clickbait would die! All that nasty stuff would go away,” he suggests.

(And, well, full disclosure: We are TechCrunch — so we can confirm that does sound really great to us!)

He also reckons ad values would go up. Which would also be good news for publishers. (“Because the only place you could buy the TechCrunch audience would be on TechCrunch — that’s a really big deal!”)

He even suggests ad fraud might shrink because the incentives would shift. Or at least they could so long as the “worthy” publishers that are able to survive in the new ad world order don’t end up being complicit with bot fraud anyway.

As it stands, publishers are being screwed between the twin plates of the dominant adtech platforms (Google and Facebook), where they are having to give up a majority of their ad revenue — leaving the media industry with a shrinking slice of ad revenues (that can be as lean as ~30 percent).

That then has a knock on impact on funding newsrooms and quality journalism. And, well, on the wider web too — given all the weird incentives that operate in today’s big tech social media platform-dominated internet.

While a privacy-sucking programmatic monster is something only shadowy background data brokers that lack any meaningful relationships with the people whose data they’re feeding the beast could truly love.

And, well, Google and Facebook.

Ryan’s view is that the reason an adtech duopoly exists boils down to the “audience leakage” being enabled by RTB. Leakage which, in his view, also isn’t compliant with EU privacy laws.

He reckons the fix for this problem is equally simple: Keep doing RTB but without any personal data.

A real-time ad bidding system that’s been stripped of personal data does not mean no targeted ads. It could still support ad targeting based on real-time factors such as an approximate location (say to a city region) and/or generic and aggregated data.

Crucially it would not use unique identifiers that enable linking ad bids to a individual’s entire digital footprint and bid request history — as is the case now. Which essentially translates into: RIP privacy rights.

Ryan argues that RTB without personal data would still offer plenty of “value” to advertisers — who could still reach people based on general locations and via real-time interests. (It’s a model that sounds much like what privacy search engine DuckDuckGo is doing, and also been growing.)

The really big problem, though, is turning the behavioral ad tanker around. Given that the ecosystem is embedded, even as the duopoly milks it.

That’s also why Ryan is so hopeful now, though, having parsed the CNIL decision.

His reading is regulators will play a decisive role in pushing the ad industry’s trigger — and force through much-needed change in their targeting behavior.

“Unless the entire industry moves together, no one can be the first to remove personal data from bid requests but if the regulators step in in a big way… and say you’re all going to go out of business if you keep putting personal data into bid requests then everyone will come together — like the music industry was forced to eventually, under Steve Jobs,” he argues. “Everyone can together decide on a new short term disadvantageous but long term highly advantageous change.”

Of course such a radical reshaping is not going to happen overnight. Regulatory triggers tend to be slow motion unfoldings at the best of times. You also have to factor in the inexorable legal challenges.

But look closely and you’ll see both momentum massing behind privacy — and regulatory writing on the wall.

“Are we going to see programmatic forced to be non-personal and therefore better for every single citizen of the world (except, say, if they work for a data broker),” adds Ryan, posing his own concluding question. “Will that massive change, which will help society and the web… will that change happen before Christmas? No. But it’s worth working on. And it’s going to take some time.

“It could be two years from now that we have the finality. But a finality there will be. Detroit was only able to fight against regulation for so long. It does come.”

Who’d have though “taking back control” could ever sound so good?


Source: The Tech Crunch

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Gawker is relaunching in early 2019

Posted by on Sep 11, 2018 in bryan goldberg, bustle, Deadspin, digital media, Gawker, Gawker Media, General Catalyst, google ventures, kotaku, Media, Officer, PayPal, Peter Thiel, social + capital, TC, univision, Venture Capital | 0 comments

After a two-year hiatus, Gawker is coming back. Peter Thiel, be damned.

Bustle-owner Bryan Goldberg, who paid $1.35 million for rights to the defunct gossip site in a bankruptcy auction in July, wrote in a memo to Bustle staff Tuesday that Gawker would relaunch next year with Amanda Hale, the former chief revenue officer of The Outline, as its publisher.

A spokesperson for Bustle confirmed the hiring and upcoming launch to TechCrunch, adding that Hale “will be responsible for building out the sales and marketing teams, and developing the overall strategy for the brand. Her first project will be to solidify a plan to ensure the Gawker archives have a safe and permanent home. We will be investing significant resources in this relaunch, and we will continue to make further announcements as plans progress.”

According to the memo, the new Gawker will take advantage of Bustle’s resources, technology and business platform.

“We won’t recreate Gawker exactly as it was, but we will build upon Gawker’s legacy and triumphs — and learn from its missteps,” Goldberg wrote. “In so doing, we aim to create something new, vibrant, highly relevant, and worth visiting daily … completely distinct from our other properties and sit within a separate corporate subsidiary,”

Here’s the full memo, obtained by The Wall Street Journal’s Ben Mullin:

Goldberg, a man, is the founder of Bustle, a site that creates content for millennial women. He’s raised some $80 million in venture capital for the site, which appears to have found its footing after a rough start. In 2014, one year after Bustle’s launch, Goldberg penned a painfully tone-deaf blog post announcing a $6.5 million round:

“Isn’t it time for a women’s publication that puts world news and politics alongside beauty tips?” he wrote. “What about a site that takes an introspective look at the celebrity world, while also having a lot of fun covering it? How about a site that offers career advice and book reviews, while also reporting on fashion trends and popular memes?”

Google Ventures pulled out of that round for ethical reasons following the blog post. Goldberg went on to ink deals with several VCs, including GGV, General Catalyst, Saban Capital Group and Social Capital.

As for Hale, she left The Outline in May amid struggles at the digital media startup. Just last week, The Outline announced it was laying off its remaining staff writers and would rely solely on freelancers. It’s likely nearing a shutdown, despite having raised $5 million in venture capital funding earlier this year.

The Outline’s reported struggles don’t hold a candle to Gawker’s tumultuous past.

Gawker parent company Gawker Media was forced to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection when a Florida court ordered it to pay $140 million in damages to Hulk Hogan, who had sued Gawker for publishing his sex tape. The lawsuit, and two others against Gawker, was bankrolled by Peter Thiel. The PayPal co-founder and Silicon Valley billionaire had a long-standing vendetta against the site since it reported that he was gay before he had come out publicly.

In its heyday, Gawker attracted 23 million visits in a month, according to Wikipedia. Based in New York and founded in 2003, Gawker Media also ran Jezebelio9Deadspin and Kotaku — all of which were acquired by Univision for $135 million following the infamous lawsuit.


Source: The Tech Crunch

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