Committed to privacy, Snips founder wants to take on Alexa and Google, with blockchain

Earlier this year we saw the headlines of how the users of popular voice assistants like Alexa and Siri and continue to face issues when their private data is compromised, or even sent to random people. In May it was reported that Amazon’s Alexa recorded a private conversation and sent it to a random contact. Amazon insists its Echo devices aren’t always recording, but it did confirm the audio was sent.

The story could be a harbinger of things to come when voice becomes more and more ubiquitous. After all, Amazon announced the launch of Alexa for Hospitality, its Alexa system for hotels, in June. News stories like this simply reinforce the idea that voice control is seeping into our daily lives. The French startup Snips thinks it might have an answer to the issue of security and data privacy. Its built its software to run 100% on-device, independently from
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Call for smart home devices to bake in privacy safeguards for kids

A new research report has raised concerns about how in-home smart devices such as AI virtual voice assistants, smart appliances, and security and monitoring technologies could be gathering and sharing children’s data. It calls for new privacy measures to safeguard kids and make sure age appropriate design code is included with home automation technologies. The report, entitled Home Life Data and Children’s Privacy, is the work of Dr Veronica Barassi of Goldsmiths, University of London, who leads a research project at the university investigating the impact of big data and AI on family life. Barassi wants the UK’s data protection agency to launch a review of what she terms “home life data” — meaning the information harvested by smart in-home devices that can end up messily mixing adult data with kids’ information — to consider its impact on children’s privacy, and “put this concept at the heart of future
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Apple has finished paying $15 billion European fine

Apple has finished wiring billions of euros to pay back illegal tax benefits to the Irish government according to Reuters. Overall, Apple has paid $15.3 billion (€13.1 billion) for the original fine as well as $1.4 billion (€1.2 billion) in interests. In August 2016 the European Commission ruled that Apple benefited from illegal tax benefits from 2003 to 2014. In particular, the company should have paid more taxes in Ireland — a lot more. Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager said that Apple’s effective corporate tax rate was much lower than expected. At the time, many global companies used the Double Irish structure to pay corporate tax on a fraction of your actual profit. Apple claimed that everything was legal, and the Irish government sided with Apple — probably because the huge fine would be bad for business. European governments lobbied to put an end to the
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Ostrichpillow Hood, the latest product from Studio Banana, is no joke

I’m not going to lie, when Studio Banana released the original Ostrichpillow back in 2012, despite breaking all Kickstarter records at the time, I thought the whole thing might be an elaborate joke. Or, worse still, since the sleep-at-your-desk styled product had found popularity amongst people who worked at startups, Silicon Valley was now parodying itself. Except that “transformative” design company Studio Banana is based in Europe, with offices based in London, Lake Geneva and Madrid. And 500,000 sales and five products later, the joke is arguably on its critics. As I’m fond of telling founders who ask for validation, ultimately it is the market that decides. Enter the latest Ostrichpillow creation: the aptly named Ostrichpillow Hood. Aptly named because, well, it’s a hood. However, unlike the previous products in the range, which were designed to facilitate sleep in non-traditional places, the Ostrichpillow Hood, we’re told, is to be
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Ultimate.ai nabs $1.3M for a customer service AI focused on non-English markets

For customer service, Ultimate.ai‘s thesis is it’s not humans or AI but humans and AI. The Helsinki- and Berlin-based startup has built an AI-powered suggestion engine that, once trained on clients’ data-sets, is able to provide real-time help to (human) staff dealing with customer queries via chat, email and social channels. So the AI layer is intended to make the humans behind the screens smarter and faster at responding to customer needs — as well as freeing them up from handling basic queries to focus on more complex issues. AI-fuelled chatbots have fast become a very crowded market, with hundreds of so called ‘conversational AI’ startups all vying to serve the customer service cause. Ultimate.ai stands out by merit of having focused on non-English language markets, says co-founder and CEO Reetu Kainulainen. This is a consequence of the business being founded in Finland, whose language belongs to a
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Divido, the consumer finance platform, scores $15M Series A

Divido, the consumer finance platform that lets you take out credit at the point of purchase to help spread the cost of buying new things, has raised $15 million in Series A funding. Leading the round is Dawn Capital, and DN Capital, with participation from Mastercard, American Express Ventures and a number of previous investors. Renier Lemmens, who previously served as Chief Executive Officer of PayPal EMEA and was an executive at Barclays, has also been appointed as chairman. Launched in late 2015, London-based Divido currently works with over 1,000 partners to enable them to offer B2C and B2B finance to their customers at checkout. This includes being able to spread the cost of any product or service over a period of time by providing instant access to credit at the point of purchase, either online and in-store. However, where the company differentiates from the likes of Klarna is
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Insurtech startup Setoo closes $9.3M Series A from Kamet, AXA’s accelerator

Given all the scams of the last few years, consumers are increasingly unwilling to spend money on what they see as irrelevant insurance products. That means many business have lost out on revenue. Setoo is a UK startup which solves this problem, by helping online businesses to build and integrate simple insurance products tailor-made to the customer and automatically embedded into the customer journey. Today Setoo announces it has closed an €8million ($9.3 million) Series A funding round, bringing the total amount raised to date to €10.3million ($12 million). The main investor in this and the seed round is Kamet, AXA’s ‘Insurtech’ startup studio. Co-founder Eyal Gluska says “In French ‘c’est tout’ means ‘that’s it’. My chose the name Setoo to symbolise how simple and quick it is to create effective new protections products using the platform, and the simplicity of the products created for the consumer. This
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Natural Cycles contraception app told to clarify pregnancy risks

A multi-month investigation by Sweden’s Medical Products Agency into a number of unwanted pregnancies among users of ‘digital contraception’ app Natural Cycles has been closed after the startup agreed to clarify the risk of the product failing. But, on the self-reported data front, the agency said it was satisfied the number of unwanted pregnancies is in line with Natural Cycles’ own clinical evaluations which are included in the certification documentation for the product. In its marketing and on its website Natural Cycles describes the app-based system as “93% effective under typical use” — a finding that’s based on a clinical study it conducted of more than 22,000 of its users. The investigation by Sweden’s MPA began around eight months ago, after a number of users in Natural Cycle’s home market had reported unwanted pregnancies to a local hospital — which then reported the app to the regulator. The Natural Cycles
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Zortrax launches a new high-speed, high-resolution printer, the Inkspire

Zortrax has launched a new printer, the Inkspire, that prints using an LCD to create objects in high-quality resin in minutes. The printer – essentially an upgrade to traditional stereolithography (SLA) printers – uses a single frame of light to create layers of 25 microns. Most SLA printers use a laser or DLP to shine a pattern on the resin. The light hardens the resin instantly, creating a layer of material that the printer then pulls up and out as the object grows. The UV LCD in the $2,699 Inkspire throws an entire layer at a time and is nine times more precise than standard SLA systems. It can print 20 to 36 millimeters per hour and the system can print objects in serial, allowing you to to print hundreds of thousands of small objects per month. “The printer is also perfect for rapid prototyping of tiny yet incredibly detailed
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UK warns of satellite and space program problems in case of Brexit ‘no deal’

The U.K. government says that access to satellites and space surveillance programs will suffer in the event of a “no deal” departure from the European Union . Britain has less than six months to go before the country leaves the 28-member state bloc, after a little over half the country voted to withdraw membership from the European Union in a 2016 referendum. So far, the Brexit process has been a hot mess of political infighting and uncertainty, bureaucracy and backstabbing — amid threats of coups and leadership challenges. And the government isn’t even close to scoring a deal to keep trade ties open, immigration flowing and airplanes taking off. Now, the government has further said that services reliant on EU membership — like access to space programs — will be affected. The reassuring news is that car and phone GPS maps won’t suddenly stop working. But the government said
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Uber drivers in Denmark could face fines for every ride they offered

The Danish Supreme Court has upheld large fines issued to several Uber drivers for operating without a taxi license, at a time when the ride-hailing giant was still running its non-licensed p2p driver UberPop service in the market. The decision could mean more than a thousand additional Uber drivers who sold rides in Denmark could also be faced with a big bill. The four drivers had appealed fines issues by the national court — of between DKK 40,000 (~$6,270) and DKK 486,500 (~$76,200) — but the Supreme Court judged the amounts to be appropriate. The level of fines is based on the number of Uber rides each driver carried out. In the case of the largest fine the unnamed individual had apparently run up 5,427 Uber rides. Uber drivers in Denmark have also faced demands for unpaid taxes this year, after Danish tax authorities found tax avoidance among almost all
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Google Street View rival Mapillary collaborates with Amazon to read text in its 350M image database

Mapillary, the Swedish startup that wants to take on Google and others in mapping the world by way of a crowdsourced database of street-level imagery, is taking an interesting step in the development of its platform. The company is now working with Amazon, and specifically its Rekognition API, to detect and read text in Mapillary’s database of 350 million images. The first application resulting from the new feature will come from a large US city (that Mapillary will not name right now), which plans to use the information that will now be “readable” from parking signs to build a parking app. “Parking is a super hot space and [parking information] is one of the most asked-for pieces of data that people want to use Mapillary for,” said Jan Erik Solem, CEO and co-founder of the Malmo, Sweden-based startup. He said that while parking will be the first application and one
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UK’s mass surveillance regime violated human rights law, finds ECHR

In another blow to the UK government’s record on bulk data handling for intelligence purposes the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) has ruled that state surveillance practices violated human rights law. Arguments against the UK intelligence agencies’ bulk collection and data sharing practices were heard by the court in November last year. In today’s ruling the ECHR has ruled that only some aspects of the UK’s surveillance regime violate human rights law. So it’s not all bad news for the government — which has faced a barrage of legal actions (and quite a few black marks against its spying practices in recent years) ever since its love affair with mass surveillance was revealed and denounced by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, back in 2013. The judgement reinforces a sense that the government has been seeking to push as close to the legal line as possible on surveillance, and sometimes stepping
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Kano’s latest computer kit for kids doubles down on touch

Learn-to-code startup Kano, whose products aim to turn kids into digital makers, has taken the wraps off the latest incarnation of its build-it-yourself computer kit. With the new flagship Kano is doubling down on touch interactions — urging kids to “make your own tablet”. The Computer Kit Touch packs a 10.1″ HD touchscreen, along with Kano’s now familiar bright orange wireless keyboard which comes with a built in trackpad. While touch is becoming increasingly central to its products, Kano says the keyboard remains an important component of the product — supporting text-based coding apps which its platform also provides access to, as well as the more approachable drag-and-drop block-based coding systems that do really benefit from having a touchscreen to hand. The kit, which Kano says is generally (but not exclusively) aimed at the 6-13 age range, is on sale from today, priced at $279.99 — via its website
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Discover Sono Motors’ vision of the electric car at Disrupt Berlin

New car makers have been popping up left and right. But instead of creating yet another Tesla-like company, German company Sono Motors is working on something completely new — a solar-powered car. That’s why I’m excited to announce that the company’s co-founder and CEO Laurin Hahn will join us at TechCrunch Disrupt Berlin. Sono Motors has been working for years on its first car — the Sion. The company now has a handful of prototypes on the road and is refining its manufacturing process to ship those cars to customers who preordered. The company is focusing on compact cars at first with the Sion. The car looks more like a Volkswagen Golf than a Mercedes E-Class. And it makes a ton of sense given that a solar car isn’t your average car. People in the automotive industry will tell you that cars remain parked for 90 percent or 95 percent
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Job Today gets a $16M top up as it preps for Brexit bump

Accel-backed mobile-first jobs app Job Today has pulled in another $16M — an expansion to its November 2016 $20M Series B round. It raised a $10M Series A in January of the same year. The 2015 founded startup offers a mobile app for job seekers that does away with the need for a CV. Instead job seekers create a profile in the app and can apply to relevant jobs. Employers can then triage potential applicants via the app and chat to any they like the look of via its messaging platform. The approach has been especially popular with fast turnover jobs in the service industry, such as hospitality and retail. Job Today says it has more than five million job seekers registered on its platform, and claims to have delivered more than 100 million candidate applications to the 400,000+ predominantly small businesses posting jobs via the app to date (with
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European parliament gives thumbs up to controversial copyright reforms

The European Parliament has just voted to back controversial proposals to reform online copyright — including supporting an extension to cover snippets of publishers content (Article 11), and to make platforms that hold significant amounts of content liable for copyright violations by their users (Article 13).

Today’s plenary vote in the European parliament was on amended proposals that had been rejected by MEPs in a vote in July with parliamentarians arguing for a fuller debate and more balanced measures. The vote is a major victory for MEP Axel Voss who has been driving the copyright reform. MEPs largely backed Voss’ amended proposals today which had narrowed the scope of the rejected text, such as, in the case of Article 11,

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Google Street View cars will be roaming around the planet to check our air quality with these sensors

Aclima, a San Francisco-based startup building Internet-connected air quality sensors has announced plans to integrate its mobile sensing platform into Google’s global fleet of Street View vehicles. Google uses the Street View cars to map the land for Google Maps. Starting with 50 cars in Houston, Mexico City and Sydney, Aclima will capture air quality data by generating snapshots of carbon dioxide (CO2), carbon monoxide (CO), nitric oxide (NO), nitrogen dioxide (NO2), ozone (O3), and particulate matter (PM2.5)while the Google cars roam the streets. The idea is to ascertain where there may be too much pollution and other breathing issues on a hyper local level in each metropolitan area. The data will then be made available as a public dataset on Google BigQuery. Aclima has had a close relationship with Google for the past few years and this is not its first ride in Street View cars. The startup
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Europe to push for one-hour takedown law for terrorist content

The European Union’s executive body is doubling down on its push for platforms to pre-filter the Internet, publishing a proposal today for all websites to monitor uploads in order to be able to quickly remove terrorist uploads. The Commission handed platforms an informal one-hour rule for removing terrorist content back in March. It’s now proposing turning that into a law to prevent such content spreading its violent propaganda over the Internet. For now the ‘rule of thumb’ regime continues to apply. But it’s putting meat on the bones of its thinking, fleshing out a more expansive proposal for a regulation aimed at “preventing the dissemination of terrorist content online”. As per usual EU processes, the Commission’s proposal would need to gain the backing of Member States and the EU parliament before it could be cemented into law. One major point to note here is that existing EU law does not
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Confrere, the video calling service for professionals and clients, raises $1.5M seed

Confrere, a video calling service designed specifically for professionals who need to hold online consultations or meeting with clients, has raised $1.5 million in seed funding. Leading the round is Berlin’s Point Nine Capital, with participation from Nordic Makers, The Nordic Web Ventures, and Fathom Capital. A number of angel investors also took part in the round, including Albert Armengo (the founder of Doctoralia, sold to Docplanner), as well as a number of physicians who are users of the product. Notably, Confrere was co-founded by CEO Svein Yngvar Willassen, who previously founded and headed up appear.in, another video calling service but one designed for team collaboration. The startup’s other co-founders are CTO Dag-Inge Aas and CPO Ida Aalen. “I knew from my time with appear.in that meetings between professionals and their clients were a different use case than team meetings,” Yngvar Willassen tells me.
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