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China lays out official stance on trade talks with U.S.

Posted by on Jun 2, 2019 in Asia, Beijing, China, fedex, Government, Huawei, Policy, smartphone, Trade war, U.S. China trade war, U.S. government, United States | 0 comments

On Sunday, China released a comprehensive white paper to formalize its positions on trade negotiations with the U.S. The set of statements come as the trade war escalates and Beijing threatens to hit back with a retaliatory blacklist of U.S. firms. Here are some key takeaways from the press conference announcing the white paper:

U.S. ‘responsible’ for stalled trade talks

The “U.S. government bears responsibility” for setbacks in trade talks, chided the paper, adding that the U.S. has imposed additional tariffs on Chinese goods that impede economic cooperation between the two countries and globally.

While it’s “common” for both sides to propose “adjustments to the text and language” in ongoing negotiations, the U.S. administration “kept changing its demands” in the “previous more than ten rounds of negotiations,” the paper alleged.

On the other hand, reports of China backtracking on previous trade deals are mere “mudslinging,” Wang Shouwen, the Chinese vice minister of commerce and deputy China international trade representative, said as he led the Sunday presser.

China ready to fight if forced to

China does not want a trade war with the U.S, but it’s not afraid of one and will fight one if necessary, said the white paper.

Beijing’s position on trade talks has never changed — that cooperation serves the interests of both countries and conflict can only hurt both — according to the paper. CNBC’s Eunice Yoon pointed out that Beijing’s latest stance repeats previous statements made back in September.

Deals must be equal

Difference and frictions remain on the economic and trade fronts between the two countries, but China is willing to work with the U.S. to reach a “mutually beneficial and win-win agreement,” stated the paper. However, cooperation has to be based on principles and must not compromise China’s core interests.

“Nothing is agreed until everything is agreed,” Wang said.

He said one needs not “overinterpret” China’s soon-to-come entity list, adding that it mainly targets foreign companies that run against market rules and violate the spirit of contracts, cut off supplies to Chinese firms for uncommercial reasons, damage the legitimate rights of Chinese companies, or threaten China’s national security and public interests.

China respects IP rights

The paper also touched on issues that are at the center of the prolonged U.S.-China trade dispute, including China’s dealings with intellectual property rights. U.S. allegations of China over IP theft are “an unfounded fabrication,” said the white paper, adding that China has made great efforts in recent years to protect and enforce IP rights.

Wang claimed that China pays the U.S. a significant sum to license IP rights every year. Of the $35.6 billion it shelled out for IP fees in 2018, nearly a quarter went to the U.S.

Investments are mutually beneficial

The white paper claimed that bilateral investments between the two countries are mutually beneficial rather than undermining for U.S. interests when taken account of “trade in goods and services as well as two-way investment.”

The Chinese government also pushed back at claims that it exerts influence on businesses’ overseas investments.

“The government is not involved in companies’ business activities and does not ask them to make specific investments or acquisitions,” said Wang. “Even if we make such requests, companies won’t obey.”

In response to China’s probe into FedEx over Huawei packages that went stray, Wang assured that “foreign businesses are welcome to operate legally in China, but when they break rules, they have to cooperate with regulatory investigations. That’s indisputable.”

The Shenzhen-based smartphone and telecom giant has been hit hard by during the trade negotiations as the Trump administration orders U.S. businesses to sever ties with the Chinese firm.


Source: The Tech Crunch

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Foxconn halts some production lines for Huawei phones, according to reports

Posted by on Jun 1, 2019 in android, Apple, Companies, Donald Trump, Foxconn, Google, Huawei, mobile phones, operating system, president, shenzhen, smart phone, smartphone, Smartphones, TC, telecommunications, United States, Xiaomi | 0 comments

Huawei, the Chinese technology giant whose devices are at the center of a far-reaching trade dispute between the U.S. and Chinese governments, is reducing orders for new phones, according to a report in The South China Morning Post.

According to unnamed sources, the Taiwanese technology manufacturer Foxconn has halted production lines for several Huawei phones after the Shenzhen-based company reduced orders. Foxconn also makes devices for most of the major smart phone vendors including Apple and Xiaomi (in addition to Huawei).

In the aftermath of President Donald Trump’s declaration of a “national emergency” to protect U.S. networks from foreign technologies, Huawei and several of its affiliates were barred from acquiring technologies from U.S. companies.

The blacklist has impacted multiple lines of Huawei’s business including it handset manufacturing capabilities given the company’s reliance on Google’s Android operating system for its smartphones.

In May, Google reportedly suspended business with Huawei, according to a Reuters report. Last year, Huawei shipped over 200 million handsets and the company had a stated goal to become the world’s largest vendor of smartphones by 2020.

These reports from The South China Morning Post are the clearest indication that the ramifications of the U.S. blacklisting are beginning to be felt across Huawei’s phone business outside of China.

Huawei was already under fire for security concerns, and will be forced to contend with more if it can no longer provide Android updates to global customers.

Contingency planning is already underway at Huawei. The company has built its own Android -based operating system, and can use the stripped down, open source version of Android that ships without Google Mobile Services. For now, its customers also still have access to Google’s app store. But if the company is forced to make developers sell their apps on a siloed Huawei-only store, it could face problems from users outside of China.

Huawei and the Chinese government are also retaliating against the U.S. efforts. The company has filed a legal motion to challenge the U.S. ban on its equipment, calling it “unconstitutional.”  And Huawei has sent home its American employees deployed at R&D functions at its Shenzhen headquarters.

It has also asked its Chinese employees to limit conversations with overseas visitors, and cease any technical meetings with their U.S. contacts.

Still, any reduction in orders would seem to indicate that the U.S. efforts to stymie Huawei’s expansion (at least in its smartphone business) are having an impact.

A spokesperson for Huawei U.S. did not respond to a request for comment.


Source: The Tech Crunch

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A price on people tracking’s head

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This report was updated with additional comment


Source: The Tech Crunch

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The Attorney General Investigates the Investigators

Posted by on May 15, 2019 in Attorneys General, Barr, William P, Durham, John H, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Justice Department, Presidential Election of 2016, Russian Interference in 2016 US Elections and Ties to Trump Associates, Trump, Donald J, United States, United States Politics and Government | 0 comments

William Barr has tapped a United States attorney, John Durham, to look into whether the F.B.I. acted improperly during the Russia investigation.
Source: New York Times

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White House refuses to endorse the ‘Christchurch Call’ to block extremist content online

Posted by on May 15, 2019 in Australia, California, Canada, censorship, Facebook, France, freedom of speech, Google, hate crime, hate speech, New Zealand, Social Media, Software, TC, Terrorism, Twitter, United Kingdom, United States, White House, world wide web | 0 comments

The United States will not join other nations in endorsing the “Christchurch Call” — a global statement that commits governments and private companies to actions that would curb the distribution of violent and extremist content online.

“While the United States is not currently in a position to join the endorsement, we continue to support the overall goals reflected in the Call. We will continue to engage governments, industry, and civil society to counter terrorist content on the Internet,” the statement from the White House reads.

The “Christchurch Call” is a non-binding statement drafted by foreign ministers from New Zealand and France meant to push internet platforms to take stronger measures against the distribution of violent and extremist content. The initiative originated as an attempt to respond to the March killings of 51 Muslim worshippers in Christchruch and the subsequent spread of the video recording of the massacre and statements from the killer online.

By signing the pledge, companies agree to improve their moderation processes and share more information about the work they’re doing to prevent terrorist content from going viral. Meanwhile, government signatories are agreeing to provide more guidance through legislation that would ban toxic content from social networks.

Already, Twitter, Microsoft, Facebook and Alphabet — the parent company of Google — have signed on to the pledge, along with the governments of France, Australia, Canada and the United Kingdom.

The “Christchurch Call” is consistent with other steps that government agencies are taking to address how to manage the ways in which technology is tearing at the social fabric. Members of the Group of 7 are also meeting today to discuss broader regulatory measures designed to combat toxic combat, protect privacy and ensure better oversight of technology companies.

For its part, the White House seems more concerned about the potential risks to free speech that could stem from any actions taken to staunch the flow of extremist and violent content on technology platforms.

“We continue to be proactive in our efforts to counter terrorist content online while also continuing to respect freedom of expression and freedom of the press,” the statement reads.”Further, we maintain that the best tool to defeat terrorist speech is productive speech, and thus we emphasize the importance of promoting credible, alternative narratives as the primary means by which we can defeat terrorist messaging.”

Signatories are already taking steps to make it harder for graphic violence or hate speech to proliferate on their platforms.

Last night, Facebook introduced a one-strike policy that would ban users who violate its live-streaming policies after one infraction.

The Christchurch killings are only the latest example of how white supremacist hate groups and terrorist organizations have used online propaganda to create an epidemic of violence at a global scale. Indeed, the alleged shooter in last month’s attack on a synagogue in Poway, Calif., referenced the writings of the Christchurch killer in an explanation for his attack, which he published online.

Critics are already taking shots at the White House for its inability to add the U.S. to a group of nations making a non-binding commitment to ensure that the global community can #BeBest online.


Source: The Tech Crunch

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Equity Shot: Judging Uber’s less-than-grand opening day

Posted by on May 10, 2019 in alex wilhelm, carsharing, China, Commuting, Equity podcast, initial public offering, Kate Clark, Lyft, Postmates, Startups, TC, TechCrunch, transport, Uber, unicorn, United States, Venture Capital | 0 comments

Hello and welcome back to Equity, TechCrunch’s venture capital-focused podcast, where we unpack the numbers behind the headlines.

We are back, as promised. Kate Clark and Alex Wilhelm re-convened today to discuss the latest from the Uber IPO. Namely that it opened down, and then kept falling.

A few questions spring to mind. Why did Uber lose ground? Was it the company’s fault? Was it simply the macro market? Was it something else altogether? What we do know is that Uber’s pricing wasn’t what we were expecting and its first day was not smooth.

There are a whole bunch of reasons why Uber went out the way it did. Firstly, the stock market has had a rough week. That, coupled with rising U.S.-China tensions made this week one of the worst of the year for Uber’s monstrous IPO.

But, to make all that clear, we ran back through some history, recalled some key Lyft stats, and more.

We don’t know what’s next but we will be keeping a close watch, specifically on the next cohort of unicorn companies ready to IPO (Postmates, hi!).

Equity drops every Friday at 6:00 am PT, so subscribe to us on Apple PodcastsOvercast, Pocket Casts, Downcast and all the casts.


Source: The Tech Crunch

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Singapore’s Grain, a profitable food delivery startup, pulls in $10M for expansion

Posted by on May 10, 2019 in Asia, bangkok, Cento Ventures, ceo, Deliveroo, Food, food delivery, Foodpanda, funding, Fundings & Exits, grain, Honestbee, Impossible foods, munchery, online food ordering, openspace ventures, Singapore, Southeast Asia, Spotify, Startup company, TC, Thailand, transport, Travis Kalanick, Uber, United States, websites, world wide web | 0 comments

Cloud kitchens are the big thing in food delivery, with ex-Uber CEO Travis Kalanick’s new business one contender in that space, with Asia, and particularly Southeast Asia, a major focus. Despite the newcomers, a more established startup from Singapore has raised a large bowl of cash to go after regional expansion.

Founded in 2014, Grain specializes in clean food while it takes a different approach to Kalanick’s CloudKitchens or food delivery services like Deliveroo, FoodPanda or GrabFood.

It adopted a cloud kitchen model — utilizing unwanted real estate as kitchens, with delivery services for output — but used it for its own operations. So while CloudKitchens and others rent their space to F&B companies as a cheaper way to make food for their on-demand delivery customers, Grain works with its own chefs, menu and delivery team. A so-called ‘full stack’ model if you can stand the cliched tech phrase.

Finally, Grain is also profitable. The new round has it shooting for growth — more on that below — but the startup was profitable last year, CEO and co-founder Yi Sung Yong told TechCrunch.

Now it is reaping the rewards of a model that keeps it in control of its product, unlike others that are complicated by a chain that includes the restaurant and a delivery person.

We previously wrote about Grain when it raised a $1.7 million Series A back in 2016 and today it announced a $10 million Series B which is led by Thailand’s Singha Ventures, the VC arm of the beer brand. A bevy of other investors took part, including Genesis Alternative Ventures, Sass Corp, K2 Global — run by serial investor Ozi Amanat who has backed Impossible Foods, Spotify and Uber among others — FoodXervices and Majuven. Existing investors Openspace Ventures, Raging Bull — from Thai Express founder Ivan Lee — and Cento Ventures participated.

The round includes venture debt, as well as equity, and it is worth noting that the family office of the owners of The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf — Sassoon Investment Corporation — was involved.

Grain covers individual food as well as buffets in Singapore

Three years is a long gap between the two deals — Openspace and Cento have even rebranded during the intervening period — and the ride has been an eventful one. During those years, Sung said the business had come close to running out of capital before it doubled down on the fundamentals before the precarious runway capital ran out.

In fact, he said, the company — which now has over 100 staff — was fully prepared to self-sustain.

“We didn’t think of raising a Series B,” he explained in an interview. “Instead, we focused on the business and getting profitable… we thought that we can’t depend entirely on investors.”

And, ladies and gentleman, the irony of that is that VCs very much like a business that can self-sustain — it shows a model is proven — and investing in a startup that doesn’t need capital can be attractive.

Ultimately, though, profitability is seen as sexy today — particularly in the meal space where countless U.S. startups has shuttered including Munchery and Sprig — but the focus meant that Grain had to shelve its expansion plans. It then went through soul-searching times in 2017 when a spoilt curry saw 20 customers get food poisoning.

Sung declined to comment directly on that incident, but he said that company today has developed the “infrastructure” to scale its business across the board, and that very much includes quality control.

Grain co-founder and CEO Yi Sung Yong [Image via LinkedIn]

Grain currently delivers “thousands” of meals per day in Singapore, its sole market, with eight-figures in sales per year, he said. Last year, growth was 200 percent, Sung continued, and now is the time to look overseas. With Singha, the Grain CEO said the company has “everything we need to launch in Bangkok.”

Thailand — which Malaysia-based rival Dahamakan picked for its first expansion — is the only new launch on the table, but Sung said that could change.

“If things move faster, we’ll expand to more cities, maybe one per year,” he said. “But we need to get our brand, our food and our service right first.”

One part of that may be securing better deals for raw ingredients and food from suppliers. Grain is expanding its ‘hub’ kitchens — outposts placed strategically around town to serve customers faster — and growing its fleet of trucks, which are retrofitted with warmers and chillers for deliveries to customers.

Grain’s journey is proof that startups in the region will go through trials and tribulations, but being able to bolt down the fundamentals and reduce burn rate is crucial in the event that things go awry. Just look to grocery startup Honestbee, also based in Singapore, for evidence of what happens when costs are allowed to pile up.


Source: The Tech Crunch

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Russian hacked ‘at least one’ Florida county prior to 2016 election

Posted by on Apr 18, 2019 in cybercrime, department of justice, election systems, fancy bear, Florida, Government, GRU, Hack, Homeland Security, phishing, presidential election, Security, Technology, United States | 0 comments

Russian operatives successfully targeted and hacked “at least one” Florida county government in the run up to the 2016 U.S. presidential election, according to new findings by the Special Counsel Robert Mueller.

The report, published Thursday by the Justice Department, said the county was targeted by the Russian intelligence service, known as the GRU. The hackers sent spearphishing emails to more than 120 email accounts used by county officials responsible for administering the election, the report said.

According to the findings:

In August 2016, GRU officers targeted employees of [REDACTED], a voting technology company that developed software used by numerous U.S. counties to manage voter rolls, and installed malware on the company network… the spearphishing emails contained an attached Word document coded with malicious software (commonly referred to as a Trojan) that permitted the GRU to access the infected computer.

The findings are a significant development from previous reporting that said Florida’s election systems were merely targets of the Russian operatives.

Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) was derided after he claimed just days before his eventual re-election that hackers had gained access to the state’s election systems. According to NBC News, some of Nelson’s assertions were based off classified information that was not yet public.

Nelson’s remarks came almost a year after The Intercept published a classified document — later discovered to have been sent by since-jailed NSA whistleblower and Reality Winner — showing that intelligence pointed to a concerted effort by the GRU to target election infrastructure. The NSA said the hackers sent emails impersonating voting technology company VR Systems to state government officials.

The Orlando Sentinel confirmed Thursday following the release of Mueller’s report’s that Volusia County was sent infected emails containing malware, suggesting Volusia County — north of Orlando — may have been the target.

Mueller’s report confirmed that the FBI investigated the incident.

The office of Florida’s secretary of state said that Florida’s voter registration system “was and remains secure,” and “official results or vote tallies were not changed.”

Two years later following the 2018 midterm elections, the Justice Department and Homeland Security said there was “no evidence” of vote hacking or tampering.


Source: The Tech Crunch

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Aptiv takes its self-driving car ambitions (and tech) to China

Posted by on Apr 17, 2019 in Aptiv, Automation, Automotive, automotive industry, boston, China, Co-founder, Delphi, Emerging-Technologies, Karl Iagnemma, Las Vegas, Lyft, manufacturing, NuTonomy, pittsburgh, president, Robotics, self driving cars, shanghai, Singapore, transport, Transportation, United States | 0 comments

Aptiv, the U.S. auto supplier and self-driving software company, is opening an autonomous mobility center in Shanghai to focus on the development and eventual deployment of its technology on public roads.

The expansion marks the fifth market where Aptiv has set up R&D, testing or operational facilities. Aptiv has autonomous driving operations in Boston, Las Vegas, Pittsburgh and Singapore. But China is perhaps its most ambitious endeavor yet.

Aptiv has never had any AV operations in China, but it does have a long history in the country including manufacturing and engineering facilities. The company, in its earlier forms as Delphi and Delco has been in China since 1993 — experience that will be invaluable as it tries to bring its autonomous vehicle efforts into a new market, Aptiv Autonomous Mobility President Karl Iagnemma told TechCrunch in a recent interview.

“The long-term opportunity in China is off the charts,” Iagnemma said, noting a recent McKinsey study that claims the country will host two-thirds of the world’s autonomous driven miles by 2040 and be trillion-dollar mobility service opportunity.

“For Aptiv, it’s always been a question of not ‘if’, but when we’re going to enter the Chinese market,” he added.

Aptiv will have self-driving cars testing on public roads by the second half of 2019.

“Our experience in other markets has shown that in this industry, you learn by doing,” Iagnemma explained.

And it’s remark that Iagnemma can stand by. Iagnemma is the co-founder of self-driving car startup nuTonomy, one of the first to launch a robotaxi service in 2016 in Singapore that the public—along with human safety drivers — could use.

NuTonomy was acquired by Delphi in 2017 for $450 million. NuTonomy became part of Aptiv after its spinoff from Delphi was complete.

Aptiv is also in discussions with potential partners for mapping and commercial deployment of Aptiv’s vehicles in China.

Some of those partnerships will likely mimic the types of relationships Aptiv has created here in the U.S., notably with Lyft . Aptiv’s self-driving vehicles operate on Lyft’s ride-hailing platform in Las Vegas and have provided more than 40,000 paid autonomous rides in Las Vegas via the Lyft app.

Aptiv will also have to create new kinds of partnerships unlike those it has in the U.S. due to restrictions and rules in China around data collection, intellectual property and creating high resolution map data.


Source: The Tech Crunch

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Source: The Tech Crunch

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