Facebook under pressure over Soros smear tactics

Facebook is facing calls to conduct an external investigation into its own lobbying and PR activities by an aide to billionaire George Soros.

BuzzFeed reports that Michael Vachon, an advisor to the chairman at Soros Fund Management, made the call in a letter to friends and colleagues. The call follows an explosive investigation, published yesterday by the New York Times based on interviews with more than 50 sources on the company, which paints an ugly picture of how Facebook’s leadership team responded to growing pressure over election interference, in the wake of the Kremlin ads scandal of 2016, including by engaging an external firm to lobby aggressively on its behalf. The firm used smear tactics targeted at Soros, according to the NYT report, with the paper writing that: “A research document circulated by Definers [the PR firm engaged by Facebook] to reporters this summer, just a month after the House
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LocalGlobe, the London seed-stage VC, is raising a new fund aimed at Series B

LocalGlobe, the seed-stage venture capital firm founded by father and son duo Robin and Saul Klein, and one of the most active firms in the U.K., is gearing up to launch a new separate fund aimed at Series B.

According to sources — and since confirmed by LocalGlobe — the VC firm is raising a sister fund to formally back the most promising startups in its portfolio to help them scale. It isn’t unheard for LocalGlobe to follow on after seed during later funding rounds, having done so in successful companies such as Zoopla and TransferWise. However, the thinking here is to have a separate fund to make this more common, and provide LPs a way to double down on LocalGlobe’s most promising bets. The new fund is to be called “Latitude,” whist a recent regulatory filing mistakenly and inadvertently surfaced “Senderwood,” the holding company of
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Mozilla adds website breach notifications to Firefox

Mozilla is adding a new security feature to its Firefox Quantum web browser that will alert users when they visit a website that has recently reported a data breach.

When a Firefox user lands on a website with a breach in its recent past they’ll see a pop up notification informing them of the barebones details of the breach and suggesting they check to see if their information was compromised. “We’re bringing this functionality to Firefox users in recognition of the growing interest in these types of privacy- and security-centric features,” Mozilla said today. “This new functionality will gradually roll out to Firefox users over the coming weeks.” Here’s an example of what the site breach notifications look like and the kind of detail they will provide:

Mozilla’s website breach notification feature in Firefox

Mozilla is tying the site breach notification feature to an email account breach notification service
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Urban Massage re-brands to ‘Urban’ as it launches wellness services beyond massage

Urban Massage, the London-headquartered startup that lets you book a vetted massage therapist “on-demand”, is expanding into new wellness services in addition to changing its name.

Now simply called Urban, the company, which operates in several U.K. cities along with Paris, is adding the ability to book an expert nail technician, GOsC-regulated osteopath, or skin therapist. It will utilise the same logistics tech and app experience that enables therapists to be booked with as little as an hour’s notice. Founder Jack Tang tells me the move into new wellness categories forms part of a wider strategy to build Europe’s leading “holistic wellness” platform. This will see the company add fitness, yoga and other mental wellbeing-focused activities in the near future, including meditation. Further ahead, Urban has plans to integrate digital therapy services, such as counselling.
Urban founder Jack Tang

Urban founder Jack Tang

Tang says that since Urban launched back in 2014,
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Legrand acquires smart home startup Netatmo

French hardware startup Netatmo got acquired by the biggest manufacturer of switches and sockets in the world, Legrand. Terms of the deal are undisclosed.

Legrand and Netatmo already collaborated together on some products. Back in 2017, the company announced that it would work with industrial groups to connect everything in your home, starting with Legrand and Velux. With Legrand’s “Céliane with Netatmo” switches and power outlets, you could build a house with a smart electrical installation from day one. This way, you could have a wireless master switch near your entrance, activate some outlets using Amazon Alexa and control your home from Messenger. “Our strategy is the connected home. But there are some connected features that we can’t sell to consumers because those products are sold to professionals directly,” Netatmo founder and CEO Fred Potter told me at the time of the original announcement. Netatmo’s team is going to
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Pirate Studios raises $20M from Talis Capital for its ‘self-service’ tech-enabled music studios

Pirate Studios, the music technology company that operates fully automated and self-service 24 hour music studios, has secured $20 million. The investment was led by Talis Capital, the London-based VC family office.

Talis was already an existing backer of Pirate Studios, with Talis’ Matus Maar also named as a co-founder of the startup. Other investors include Eric Archambeau (Spotify investor and ex-partner at Benchmark and Wellington Partners), Bart Swanson of Horizons Ventures, and partners of Gaw Capital, the $20 billion Hong Kong-headquartered proptech fund. The new funding will enable Pirate Studios to continue to expand across the U.K., Germany and the U.S., where it has been building what the startup describes as a community of musicians, DJs, producers and podcasters who need access to professional rehearsal, production and recording studios at affordable rates. The company charges as little as £4 per hour, depending on what
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iBanFirst raises $17 million to help companies move money around the world

French startup iBanFirst is raising another $17 million (€15 million) from Serena Capital and Breega Capital, with existing investor Xavier Niel putting more money as well.

iBanFirst solves a very specific problem. If you operate a company that works with suppliers all over the world, chances are you waste a ton of money exchanging and sending money. iBanFirst wants to make currency conversion as easy as transferring money from your savings account to your current account. You first send money from your corporate bank account to your iBanFirst account. You can then convert and hold money in 28 currencies. iBanFirst shows you the interbank exchange rate and how many fees you’ll pay. But you’ll likely pay way less than using your traditional bank account. With 100 employees and 2,000 clients, iBanFirst now focuses on clients who transfer at least €100,000 per year. “We’ve already done a €50 million transfer,”
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UK watchdog has eyes on Google-DeepMind’s health app hand-off

The shock news yesterday that Google is taking over a health app rolled out to UK hospitals over the past few years by its AI division, DeepMind, has caught the eye of the country’s data protection watchdog — which said today that it’s monitoring developments.

An ICO spokesperson told us: “An ICO investigation and an independent audit into the use of Google Deepmind’s Streams service by the Royal Free both highlighted the importance of clear and effective governance when NHS bodies use third parties to provide digital services, particularly to ensure the original purpose for processing personal data is respected.

“We expect all the measures set out in our undertaking, and in the audit, should remain in place even if the identity of the third party changes. We are continuing to monitor the situation.”

We’ve reached out to DeepMind and Google for a response. The project is already well
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Google gobbling DeepMind’s health app might be the trust shock we need

DeepMind’s health app being gobbled by parent Google is both unsurprising and deeply shocking.

First thoughts should not be allowed to gloss over what is really a gut punch. It’s unsurprising because the AI galaxy brains at DeepMind always looked like unlikely candidates for the quotidian, margins-focused business of selling and scaling software as a service. The app in question, a clinical task management and alerts app called Streams, does not involve any AI. The algorithm it uses was developed by the UK’s own National Health Service, a branch of which DeepMind partnered with to co-develop Streams. In a blog post announcing the hand-off yesterday, “scaling” was the precise word the DeepMind founders chose to explain passing their baby to Google . And if you want to scale apps Google does have the well oiled machinery to do it. At the same time Google has just hired Dr. David Feinberg,
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Discover the next messaging giant at Disrupt Berlin

Truecaller may already be a familiar name, but many of you probably don’t know that it’s slowly becoming a significant messaging app. That’s why I’m excited to announce that Truecaller co-founder and CEO Alan Mamedi will join us at TechCrunch Disrupt Berlin.

Truecaller first started as a call screening app. Some countries are more affected than others. But it’s clear that text and call spam is the most intrusive form of spam. The Swedish company then leveraged this user base to quietly turn the app into a full-fledged messaging app with one focus in particular — India. With the acquisition of Chillr, the company shows that it wants to recreate a sort of WeChat for India. The company launched payment features — Truecaller Pay lets you pay other Truecaller users as well as pay your bills. Eventually, Truecaller wants to open up its platform to third-party services. Back in April,
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Challenger bank Tandem partners with Stripe for upcoming ‘Auto Savings’ feature

Tandem, the U.K. challenger bank, is gearing up to launch a new “Auto Savings” feature — a clever way to lower the barriers for Tandem app users who want to save for a rainy day — and to power the feature the company is partnering with Stripe.

The latter in itself isn’t necessarily huge news when you consider that Stripe is morphing into a payments company in the broadest sense. However, it does come at a time when other U.K. bank upstarts are attempting to wean users off making Stripe-powered card payments to top up their accounts since fees can soon add up. The new Auto Savings offering will mean that every Tandem app will effectively have a flexible savings bank account with Tandem, which they can pay money into based on various savings rules. These rules will be applied based on transaction data gleaned through third-party
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Loans marketplace Mintos scores €5M Series A and plans to launch a debit card

Mintos, the Latvian fintech that operates a global loans marketplace to let you invest in loans from various loan originators, has raised €5 million in Series A funding. Backing the startup once again is the Riga-based venture capital firm Grumpy Investments (previously known as Skillion Ventures). More noteworthy, the new capital will be used to launch a Mintos banking account and debit card, significantly expanding the company’s offering.

“Both banking account and the card in our opinion is a natural step in our journey of revolutionising financial services through technology and serving our investors and will nicely complement our current offering of investments in loans, and low-fee mid-market rate currency exchange,” Mintos co-founder and CEO Martins Sulte tells me. “This development also means that, theoretically, our investors won’t need their banks anymore”. The Mintos banking account will act like any other IBAN account. You’ll be able to receive a
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DeepMind hands off role as health app provider to parent Google

DeepMind’s recent foray into providing software as a service to U.K. hospitals has reached the end of its run.

The Google -owned AI division has just announced it will be stepping back from providing a clinical alerts and task management healthcare app to focus on research — handing off the team doing the day to day delivery of the Streams to its parent, Google. 

Announcing the move in a blog post entitled “Scaling Streams with Google,” DeepMind’s co-founders write: “Our vision is for Streams to now become an AI-powered assistant for nurses and doctors everywhere — combining the best algorithms with intuitive design, all backed

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Fintonic users offered 0% interest on Amazon.es purchases

Personal finance management app maker Fintonic has teamed up with ecommerce behemoth Amazon to offer users in Spain interest free purchases on the local Amazon .es marketplace.

The 0% finance offer is being timed to coincide with the annual Black Friday shopping fest that kicks off later this month. Qualifying Fintonic users can apply for Amazon Gift cards ranging from €200 to €1,000 via the app — and be able to defer payments for up to four months. The balance of the offered gift cards has a shelf life of ten years before expiry. Fintonic is asking interested users to sign up to a guest list in time for the offer to launch on November 23. The Madrid-based fintech startup offers a free app for consumers to manage their money, focusing on Spanish speaking markets. It pairs a financial assistant app with a brokering business model that’s based on taking a
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Cognigo raises $8.5M for its AI-driven data protection platform

Cognigo, a startup that aims to use AI and machine learning to help enterprises protect their data and stay in compliance with regulations like GDPR, today announced that it has raised an $8.5 million Series A round. The round was led by Israel-based crowdfunding platform OurCrowd, with participation from privacy company Prosegur and State of Mind Ventures.

The company promises that it can help businesses protect their critical data assets and prevent personally identifiable information from leaking outside of the company’s network. And it says it can do so without the kind of hands-on management that’s often required in setting these kinds of systems up and managing them over time. Indeed, Cognigo says that it can help businesses achieve GDPR compliance in days instead of months. To do this, the company tells me, it’s using pre-trained language models for data classification. That model has been trained to detect
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Mercaux bags $4.5M to help bricks-and-mortar retail tool up to sell more

Retail tech SaaS platform Mercaux has closed a £3.5 million (~$4.5M) Series A funding round led by European VC fund Nauta Capital. 

The 2013 founded London-based startup sells software for retailers to tap into digital capabilities in their physical retail stores — offering a modular platform that’s intended to support digital transformations at a pace of the retailer’s choosing. “Historically offline retail was just a sales channel. But with the rise of e-commerce, and ability to communicate with clients digitally at any moment of time, offline stores (and in-store employees) have started to play multiple roles,” says founder and CEO Olga Kotsur. Physical stores are “not just a sales channel but also an e-commerce window, marketing channel, customer relationship centre” and much more, she argues. Or, well, they can be — if retailers spend to upgrade legacy IT systems that have not been designed with more expansive
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Kaspersky starts processing threat data in Europe as part of trust reboot

Security firm Kaspersky Labs has opened its first self-styled ‘Transparency Center’ and begun processing threat-related data from European users in data centers located in Switzerland — flipping the switch on the start of a relocation commitment it announced late last year in the face of suspicion that its antivirus software had been compromised by the Russian government and used to suck up US intelligence. 

The first stage of its fightback strategy to reboot trust, a code review plan, was announced a year ago. Then, in May, the company announced it would be moving some core infrastructure processes to Zurich in Switzerland, saying also that it would arrange for its processes to be independently supervised by a third party qualified to conduct technical software reviews. This facility has now begun processing data, starting with European users. Although this is just the start of the reconfiguration. Software assembly will also
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Chinese WeWork rival Ucommune raises $200M to go after international growth

China’s Ucommune, the country’s largest rival to WeWork, has been on a busy acquisition spree to build out its domestic business and now it is looking at overseas opportunities after it closed a $200 million Series D funding round.

The new round was led by Hong Kong-based All-Stars Investment with participation from Chinese investment bank CEC Capital and other investors. Ucommune said in a statement that the deal gives it a valuation of $3 billion, that represents a significant jump on its Series C in August which valued it at $1.8 billion. This new round takes Ucommune to around $650 million from investors to date, according to Crunchbase. Founded in 2015, Ucommune has emerged as WeWork’s main rival in China since the U.S. firm acquired Naked Hub earlier this year in a deal said to be worth $400 million. Ucommune claims to operate more than 200 co-working spaces, most
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Anorak raises £5M Series A for its life insurance advice platform

Anorak Technologies, the U.K. startup building a life insurance advice platform, has raised £5 million in Series A funding. Notably, the round is led by previous backer Kamet Ventures, the tech incubator funded by insurance giant AXA. It brings the total raised by Anorak to £9 million.

In a call, co-founder and CEO David Vanek told me the startup’s mission is to build the world’s “smartest” automated life insurance advice platform. It wants to offer insurance advice at the most appropriate time and place in a person’s life, such as when buying a house or starting a family, and in turn open up life insurance cover to many more people. As it stands, life insurance, such as accidental death cover, tends to be sold through financial advisors or brokers targeting high net worth individuals. That leaves swathes of people and their dependents without any cover at all.
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Fluidly, the ‘intelligent’ cashflow management SaaS for SMEs, picks up £5M Series A

Fluidly, the London-based fintech that offers an “intelligent” cashflow management SaaS for SMEs, has raised £5 million in Series A funding. The round is led by New-York based Nyca Partners, with participation from other investors including Octopus Ventures, Anthemis, and angel investors Simon Murdoch, and Charlie Songhurst.

Claiming to define a new software category, namely “Intelligent Cash,” Fluidly want to significantly improve small and medium-sized businesses’ cashflow management. To do this it has built machine learning-based technology to predict and optimise the future cash flows for SMEs, thus helping business owners conduct better financial decision-making. As part of this, you connect Fluidly to your business bank account via Open Banking, and to your cloud accounting software. “Fluidly is then able to access the transaction-level bank and accounting data and it uses this data to automatically forecast future cash flows by predicting when invoices will arrive, get paid or other
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