has tweaked the settings for its Alexa voice AI to allow users to opt out of their voice recordings being manually reviewed by the company’s human workers. The policy shift took effect Friday, according to , which reports that Alexa users will now find an option in the settings menu of the Alexa smartphone app to disable human review of their clips. The Alexa T&C did not previously inform users of the possibility that audio recordings captured by the service might be manually reviewed by actual humans. (Amazon still doesn’t appear to provide this disclosure on its either.) But the Alexa app now includes a disclaimer in the settings menu that flags the fact human ears may in fact be listening, per the report. This disclosure appears only to surface if users go digging into the settings menu. Bloomberg says users must tap ‘Settings’ > ‘Alexa Privacy’ > ‘Manage How Your Data Improves Alexa’ before they see the following text: “With this setting on, your voice recordings may be used to develop new features and manually reviewed to help improve our services. Only an extremely small fraction of voice recordings are manually reviewed.” The policy tweak comes as regulators are dialling up attention on the privacy risks posed by voice AI technologies. it emerged that Google was ordered by a German data protection watchdog to halt manual reviews of audio snippets generated by its voice AI, after thousands of recordings were leaked to the Belgian media last month which was able to identify some of the people in the clips. Google has suspended reviews across the whole of Europe while it liaises with EU privacy regulators. In a statement on its website the Hamburg privacy watchdog raised concerns about other operators of voice AIs, urging EU regulators to make checks on providers such as Amazon and Apple — and “implement appropriate measures”. Coincidentally (or not) Apple also suspended human reviews of Siri snippets — globally, in its case — following privacy concerns raised by a recent UK media report. The Guardian newspaper quoted a whistleblower claiming contractors regularly hearing confidential personal data captured by Siri. While Google and Apple have entirely suspended human reviews of audio snippets (at least temporarily), Amazon has not gone so far. Nor does it automatically opt users out. The policy change just lets users disable reviews — which requires consumers to both understand the risk and act to safeguard their privacy. Amazon’s disclosure of the existence of human reviews is also currently buried deep in the settings, rather than being actively conveyed to users. It’s not clear whether any of this will wash with regulators in Europe. Bloomberg reports that Amazon declined to comment on whether it had been contacted by regulators about the Alexa recordings review program, saying only: “We take customer privacy seriously and continuously review our practices and procedures We’ll also be updating information we provide to customers to make our practices more clear.” We reached out to Amazon with questions but at the time of writing a spokesperson was not available.
Grab popcorn. As Internet fights go this one deserves your full attention — because the fight is over your attention. Your eyeballs and the creepy ads that trade data on you to try to swivel ’em. In the blue corner, the Internet Advertising Association’s CEO, who has been taking to Twitter increasingly loudly in recent days to savage Europe’s privacy framework, the GDPR, and bleat dire warnings about California’s Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) — including amplifying studies he claims show “the negative impact” on publishers. , tweeted August 1: More on the negative impact of on publishers (and more reasons is trying to fix so publishers, brands, & retailers don’t get killed). — (@r2rothenberg) NB: The IAB is a mixed membership industry organization which combines advertisers, brands, publishers, data brokers* and adtech platform tech giants — including the dominant adtech duopoly, Google and who take home ~60% of digital ad spend. The only entity capable of putting a dent in the duopoly, Amazon, is also in the club. Its membership reflects the sprawling interests attached to the online ad industry, and, well, the personal data that currently feeds it (your eyeballs again!), although some members clearly have pots more money to spend on lobbying against digital privacy regs than others. In a what now looks to have been deleted tweet last month Rothenberg publicly professed himself proud to have Facebook as a member of his ‘publisher defence’ club. Though, admittedly, per the above tweet, he’s also worried about brands and retailers getting “killed”. He doesn’t need to worry about Google and Facebook’s demise because that would just be ridiculous. Now, in the — I wish I could call it ‘red top’ corner, except these newspaper guys are anything but tabloid — we find premium publishers biting back at Rothenberg’s attempts to trash-talk online privacy legislation. Here’s the New York Times‘ data governance & privacy guy, Robin Berjon, demolishing Rothenberg via the exquisite medium of … One of the primary reasons we need the and (and more) today is because the , under 's leadership, has been given 20 years to self-regulate and has used the time to do [checks notes] nothing whatsoever. — Robin Berjon (@robinberjon) I’m going to quote Berjon in full because every single tweet packs a beautifully articulated punch: One of the primary reasons we need the #GDPR and #CCPA (and more) today is because the @iab, under @r2rothenberg’s leadership, has been given 20 years to self-regulate and has used the time to do [checks notes] nothing whatsoever. I have spent much of my adult life working in self-regulatory environments. They are never perfect, but when they work they really deliver. #Adtech had a chance to self-reg when the FTC asked them to — from which we got the joke known as AdChoices. They got a second major chance with DNT. But the notion of a level playing field between #adtech and consumers didn’t work for them so they did everything to prevent it from existing. At some point it became evident that the @iab lacked the vision and leadership to shepherd the industry towards healthy, sustainable behaviour. That’s when regulation became unavoidable. No one has done as much as the @iab has to bring about strong privacy regulation. And to make things funnier the article that @r2rothenberg was citing as supporting his view is… calling for stronger enforcement of the #GDPR. If that’s not a metaphor for where the @iab’s at, I don’t know what is. Next time Facebook talks about how it can self-regulate its access to data I suggest you cc that entire thread. Also chipping in on Twitter to champion Berjon’s view about the IAB’s leadership vacuum in cleaning up the creepy online ad complex, is Aram Zucker-Scharff, aka the ad engineering director at — checks notes — The Washington Post. His punch is more of a jab — but one that’s no less painful for the IAB’s current leadership. “I say this rarely, but this is a must read,” he writes, in a quote tweet pointing to Berjon’s entire thread. I say this rarely, but this is a must read, Thread: — Aram Zucker-Scharff (@Chronotope) Another top tier publisher’s commercial chief also told us in confidence that they “totally agree with Robin” — although they didn’t want to go on the record today. In an interesting twist to this ‘mixed member online ad industry association vs people who work with ads and data at actual publishers’ slugfest, Rothenberg to Berjon’s thread, literally thanking him for the absolute battering. “Yes, thank you – that’s exactly where we’re at & why these pieces are important!” he tweeted, presumably still dazed and confused from all the body blows he’d just taken. “supports the competitiveness of the hundreds of small publishers, retailers, and brands in our global membership. We appreciate the recognition and your explorations,.” Yes, thank you – that’s exactly where we’re at & why these pieces are important! supports the competitiveness of the hundreds of small publishers, retailers, and brands in our global membership. We appreciate the recognition and your explorations, & — Randall Rothenberg (@r2rothenberg) Rothenberg also took the time to thank Bloomberg columnist, Leonid Bershidsky, who’d to point out that the article Rothenberg had furiously retweeted actually says the GDPR “should be enforced more rigorously against big companies, not that the GDPR itself is bad or wrong”. Who is Bershidsky? Er, just the author of the Rothenberg tried to nega-spin. So… uh… owned. May I point out that the piece that's cited here (mine) says the GDPR should be enforced more rigorously against big companies, not that the GDPR itself is bad or wrong? — Leonid Bershidsky (@Bershidsky) But there’s more! Berjon tweeted a response to Rothenberg’s thanks for what the latter tortuously referred to as “your explorations” — I mean, the mind just boggles as to what he was thinking to come up with that euphemism — thanking him for reversing his position on GDPR, and for reversing his prior leadership vacuum on supporting robustly enforced online privacy laws. “It’s great to hear that you’re now supporting strong GDPR enforcement,” he writes. “It’s indeed what most helps the smaller players. A good next step to this conversation would be an statement asking to transpose the GDPR to US federal law. Want to start drafting something?” It's great to hear that you're now supporting strong GDPR enforcement. It's indeed what most helps the smaller players. A good next step to this conversation would be an statement asking to transpose the GDPR to US federal law. Want to start drafting something? — Robin Berjon (@robinberjon) We’ve asked the IAB if, in light of Rothenberg’s tweet, it now wishes to share a public statement in support of transposing the GDPR into US law. We’ll be sure to update this post if it says anything at all. We’ve also screengrabbed the vinegar strokes of this epic fight — as an insurance policy against any further instances of the IAB hitting the tweet delete button. (Plus, I mean, you might want to print it out and get it framed.) Some light related reading can be found here: including a … !!!
Starting early next year Google will present Android users in Europe with a search engine choice screen when handsets bundle its own search service by default. In a announcing the latest change to flow from the European Union’s record-breaking $5B antitrust enforcement against Android , when the Commission found Google had imposed illegal restrictions on device makers (OEMs) and carriers using its dominant smartphone platform, it says new Android phones will be shown the choice screen once during set-up (or again after any factory reset). The screen will display a selection of three rival search engines alongside its own. OEMs will still be able to offer Android devices in Europe that bundle a non-Google search engine by default (though per they have to pay it to do so). In those instances Google said the choice screen will not be displayed. Google says rival search engines will be selected for display on the default choice screen, per market, via a fixed-price sealed bid annual auction — with any winners (and/or eligible search providers) being displayed in a random order alongside its own. Search engines that win the auction will secure one of three open slots on the choice screen, with Google’s own search engine always occupying one of the four total slots. “In each country auction, search providers will state the price that they are willing to pay each time a user selects them from the choice screen in the given country,” it writes. “Each country will have a minimum bid threshold. The three highest bidders that meet or exceed the bid threshold for a given country will appear in the choice screen for that country.” If there aren’t enough bids to surface three winners per auction then Google says it will randomly select from a pool of eligible search providers which it is also to participate in the choice screen. (Eligibility criteria can be .) “Next year, we’ll introduce a new way for Android users to select a search provider to power a search box on their home screen and as the default in Chrome (if installed),” it writes. “Search providers can apply to be part of the new choice screen, which will appear when someone is setting up a new Android smartphone or tablet in Europe.” “As always, people can continue to customize and personalize their devices at any time after set up. This includes selecting which apps to download, changing how apps are arranged on the screen, and switching the default search provider in apps like Google Chrome,” it adds. Google’s blog post makes no mention of whether the choice screen will be pushed to the installed base of Android devices. But a spokeswoman told us the implementation requires technical changes that means it can only be supported on new devices. Default selections on dominant platform are of course hugely important for gaining or sustaining marketshare. And it’s only since competition authorities dialled up their scrutiny that the company has started to make some shifts in how it bundles its own services in dominant products such as Android and Chrome. Google quietly added rival pro-privacy search engine DuckDuckGo as one of the default choices offered by its Chrome browser, for example. In it also began rolling out choice screens to both new and existing Android users in Europe — offering a prompt to download additional search apps and browsers. In the latter case, each screen shows five apps in total, including whatever search and browser is already installed. Apps not already installed are included based on their market popularity and shown in a random order. French pro-privacy search engine, Qwant, told us that since the rollout of the app service choice screen to Android devices the share of Qwant users using its search engine on mobile has leapt up from around 2% to more than a quarter (26%) of its total userbase. Qwant co-founder and CEO Eric Léandri said the app choice screen shows that competing against Google on search is possible — but only “thanks to the European Commission” stepping in and forcing the unbundling. However he raised serious concerns about the sealed bid auction structure that Google has announced for the default search choice — pointing out that many of the bidders for the slots will also be using Google advertising and technology; while the sealed structure of the auction means no-one outside Google will know what prices are being submitted as bids, making it impossible for rivals to know whether the selections Google makes are fair. Even Google’s own FAQ swings abruptly from claims of the auction it has devised being “a fair and objective method” for determining which search providers get slots, to a flat “no” and “no” on any transparency on bid amounts or the number of providers it deems eligible per market… “Even if Google is Google some people can choose something else if they have the choice. But now that Google knows it, it wants to stop the process,” Léandri told TechCrunch. “It is not up to Google to now charge its competitors for its faulty behavior and the amount of the fine, through an auction system that will benefit neither European consumers nor free competition, which should not be distorted by such process,” Qwant added in an emailed press statement. “The proposed bidding process would be open to so-called search engines that derive their results and revenues from Google, thereby creating an unacceptable distortion and a high risk of manipulation, inequity or disloyalty of the auction.” “The decision of the European Commission must benefit European consumers by ensuring the conditions of a freedom of choice based on the intrinsic merits of each engine and the expectations of citizens, especially regarding the protection of their personal data, and not on their ability to fund Google or to be financed by it,” it also said. In a further complaint, Léandri said Google is requiring bidders in the choice screen auction to sign an NDA in order to participate — which Qwant argues would throw a legal obstacle in the way of it being able to participate, considering it is a complainant in the EU’s antitrust case (ongoing because Google is appealing). “Qwant cannot accept that the auction process is subject to a non-disclosure agreement as imposed by Google while its complaint is still pending,” it writes. “Such a confidentiality agreement has no other possible justification than the desire to silence its competitors on the anomalies they would see. This, again, is an unacceptable abuse of its dominant position.” We’ve reached out to the Commission with questions about Google’s choice screen auction. founder, Gabriel Weinberg, has also been quick to point to flaws in the auction structure — writing on : “A ‘ballot box’ screen could be an excellent way to increase meaningful consumer choice if designed properly. Unfortunately, Google’s announcement today will not meaningfully deliver consumer choice. “A pay-to-play auction with only 4 slots means consumers won’t get all the choices they deserve, and Google will profit at the expense of the competition. We encourage regulators to work with directly with Google, us, and others to ensure the best system for consumers.”
Plans to open a new spaceport in Sutherland in Scotland have moved closer to final approval: The real estate companies working on the deal have signed a 75-year lease for the land to be used for , which will look to launch small satellites via private launch services from companies including startup Orbex, a micro-launch startup founded in 2015, and Lockheed Martin. The land lease is still dependent on final approval being given for the spaceport to be built, which is in process as the groups behind its development, including the are in process of working out the designs, funding and environmental impact studies. All of this will contribute to an overall planning application, which the partners are hoping will pave the way for construction to begin in 2020. Sutherland isn’t the only spaceport the UK is looking to open in an effort to open up its commercial launch capabilities: There are also plans in the works to open one in Cornwall, with support and funding from both the UKSA and .
A German privacy watchdog has ordered to cease manual reviews of audio snippets generated by its voice AI. This follows a leak of scores of audio snippets from the Google Assistant service. A contractor working as a Dutch language reviewer handed more than 1,000 recordings to the Belgian news site which was then able to identify some of the people in the clips. It reported being able to hear people’s addresses, discussion of medical conditions, and recordings of a woman in distress. The Hamburg data protection authority used Article 66 powers of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) to make the order — which allows a DPA to order data processing to stop if it believes there is “an urgent need to act in order to protect the rights and freedoms of data subjects”. The Article 66 order to Google appears to be the first use of the power since GDPR came into force across the bloc in May last year. Google says it received the order on July 26 — which requires it to stop manually reviewing audio snippets in Germany for a period of three months. Although the company had already taken the decision to manually suspend audio reviews of Google Assistant across the whole of Europe — doing so on July 10, after learning of the data leak. Last month it also informed its lead privacy regulator in Europe, the Irish Data Protection Commission (DPC), of the breach — which also told us it is now “examining” the issue that’s been highlighted by Hamburg’s order. The Irish DPC’s head of communications, Graham Doyle, said Google Ireland filed an Article 33 breach notification for the Google Assistant data “a couple of weeks ago”, adding: “We note that as of 10 July Google Ireland ceased the processing in question and that they have committed to the continued suspension of processing for a period of at least three months starting today (1 August). In the meantime we are currently examining the matter.” It’s not clear whether Google will be able to reinstate manual reviews in Europe in a way that’s compliant with the bloc’s privacy rules. The Hamburg DPA writes in a [in German] on its website that it has “significant doubts” about whether Google Assistant complies with EU data-protection law. “We are in touch with the Hamburg data protection authority and are assessing how we conduct audio reviews and help our users understand how data is used,” Google’s spokesperson also told us. In a published last month after the leak, Google product manager for search, David Monsees, claimed manual reviews of Google Assistant queries are “a critical part of the process of building speech technology”, couching them as “necessary” to creating such products. “These reviews help make voice recognition systems more inclusive of different accents and dialects across languages. We don’t associate audio clips with user accounts during the review process, and only perform reviews for around 0.2% of all clips,” Google’s spokesperson added now. But it’s far from clear whether human review of audio recordings captured by any of the myriad always-on voice AI products and services now on the market will be able to be compatible with European’s fundamental privacy rights. These AIs typically have trigger words for activating the recording function that streams audio data to the cloud but the technology can easily be accidentally triggered — and leaks have shown they are able to hoover up sensitive and intimate personal data of anyone in their vicinity (which can include people who never got within sniffing distance of any T&Cs). In its the Hamburg DPA says the order against Google is intended to protect the privacy rights of affected users in the immediate term, noting that GDPR allows for concerned authorities in EU Member States to issue orders of up to three months. In a statement Johannes Caspar, the Hamburg commissioner for data protection, added: “The use of language assistance systems in the EU must comply with the data protection requirements of the GDPR. In the case of the Google Assistant, there are currently significant doubts. The use of language assistance systems must be done in a transparent way, so that an informed consent of the users is possible. In particular, this involves providing sufficient information and transparently informing those concerned about the processing of voice commands, but also about the frequency and risks of mal-activation. Finally, due regard must be given to the need to protect third parties affected by the recordings. First of all, further questions about the functioning of the speech analysis system have to be clarified. The data protection authorities will then have to decide on definitive measures that are necessary for a privacy-compliant operation. ” The DPA also urges other regional privacy watchdogs to prioritize checking on other providers of language assistance systems — and “implement appropriate measures” — name-checking providers of voice AIs, such as and . This suggests there could be wider ramifications for other tech giants operating voice AIs in Europe, flowing from this single Article 66 order. As we’ve said before, the real enforcement punch packed by GDPR is not the headline-grabbing fines, which can scale as high as 4% of a company’s global annual turnover — it’s the power that Europe’s DPAs now have in their regulatory toolbox to order that data stops flowing. “This is just the beginning,” one expert on European data protection legislation told us, speaking on condition of anonymity. “The Article 66 chest is open and it has a lot on offer.” In a sign of the potential scale of the looming privacy problems for voice AIs Apple also said that it’s suspending a quality control program for its Siri voice assistant. The move, which does not appear to be linked to any regulatory order, follows a Guardian detailing claims by a whistleblower that contractors working for Apple ‘regularly hear confidential details’ on Siri recordings, such as audio of people having sex and identifiable financial details, regardless of the processes Apple uses to anonymize the records. Apple’s suspension of manual reviews of Siri snippets applies worldwide.
The agriculture industry faces huge problems of sustainability. The world’s population is increasing, leading to higher food demand, but this then threatens increasing deforestation, pesticide use, and some fertilizers that are responsible for greenhouse emissions. Farming can also be a source of carbon sequestration, but how to preserve that? Plus, land quality is being decreased due to over-framing. All this while agriculture has been an underserved industry in terms of technology development compared to others. So it’s the right time to look at the importance of the “microbiome” in agriculture processes to understand what’s really happening in our crops. The microbiome comprises all of the genetic material within a microbiota (the entire collection of microorganisms in a specific niche, such as in farming ). It’s like looking at your gut bacteria, but for a farm. Soil contains millions of microbes that all play a crucial role in the health of the crop, and this is why microbes in the soil are an important “biomarker”. Thus, understanding the microbes in the soil can lead to important actionable data. Today , a technology company that uses advanced data analytics and artificial intelligence to analyze a soil’s ecosystem and provide actionable data-driven insights to farmers, has closed a $4M financing round led by Seaya Ventures and JME Ventures, with participation by London VC LocalGlobe. The financing will be used to keep expanding the company’s footprint across different geographies (U.S., Europe, Latam) and crop types, as well as an assessment system for agricultural products. The company was founded by Adrián Ferrero (CEO) and Alberto Acedo (CSO), who have previously co-founded a successful startup in digital healthcare and have a strong scientific background. This is the second financing round for the company as it has previously raised $2M from a group of international investors, including Illumina, the global leading manufacturer of sequencing instruments, through the Illumina Accelerator, Viking Global Investors, a leading US-based investment management firm. Although other companies as Indigo Ag, Concentric, Pivot Bio or Marrone BioInnovations use similar techniques for biome identification, they claim to be the only company providing an open digital service and portal aimed at farmers, in order to democratize the microbiological information that will help them make informed decisions about their agricultural practices. Biome Makers takes a different approach and looks below the surface. Currently, there are many companies that carry out physical-chemical analysis of the soil, but until now the microbiome dimension has not been taken into account. They say it is a new way of looking at the soil that provides information that had not been taken into account when making decisions in the field.
, the UK-based startup that has developed a number of AI-based health services, including a chatbot used by the UK’s National Health Service to help diagnose ailments, has confirmed a massive investment that it plans to use to expand its business to the US and Asia, and expand its R&D to diagnose more serious, chronic conditions. It has closed a $550 million round of funding, valuing Babylon Health at over $2 billion, it announced today. This is the largest-ever fundraise in Europe or US for digital health delivery, Babylon said. “Our mission at Babylon is to put accessible and affordable healthcare into the hands of everyone on earth,” said Dr Ali Parsa, founder and CEO of Babylon, in a statement. “This investment will allow us to maximise the number of lives we touch across the world. We have a long way to go and a lot still to deliver. We are grateful to our investors, our partners and 1,500 brilliant Babylonians for allowing us to forge ahead with our mission. Chronic conditions are an increasing burden to affordability of healthcare across the globe. Our technology provides a solid base for a comprehensive solution and our scientists, engineers, and clinicians are excited to work on it. We have seen significant demand from partners across the US and Asia. While the burden of healthcare is global, the solutions have to be localised to meet the specific needs and culture of each country.” Before today’s announcement, the investment — a Series C — had been the subject of a lot of leaks, with over recent days suggesting the investment was anywhere $100 million and $500 million. The round brings together a number of strategic and financial investors including PIF (Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund); a large US-based health insurance company (which reports suggest to be Centene Corporation, although Babylon is not disclosing the name); Munich Re’s ERGO Fund; and returning investors Kinnevik and Vostok New Ventures. This is a big leap for the company, which had raised more modest rounds in the past such as . Babylon said that $450 million has been secured already, with another $50 million agreed to be exercised at a later date, and the remainder getting closed “shortly.” (The PIF has been a prolific, if , investor in a number of huge startups such as Uber and wider investment vehicles like SoftBank’s Vision Fund.) We’re at a moment right now when it seems like a daily occurrence that a new company or service launches using AI to advance health. But even within that bigger trend, Babylon has emerged as one of the key players. In addition to its work in the UK — which includes an NHS service that it offers to “take over” a user’s local GP relationship to diagnose minor ailments remotely, as well as a second-track Babylon Private paid tier that it’s built in partnership with private insurer Bupa — it says other partners include Prudential, Samsung and Telus. The NHS deal is an interesting one: the state’s health service is thought of by many as a national treasure, but it’s been very hard hit by budget problems, the strain of an ageing and growing population, and what seems sometimes like a slow-release effort to remove some of its most important and reliable services and bring more privitisation into the mix. Bringing in AI-based services that remove some of the overhead of people managing problems that machines can do just as well is one way of taking some of that pressure off the system — or so the logic goes, at least. The idea is that by handling some of the smaller issues, it helps prioritise the more urgent and difficult problems for people and face-to-face meetings. That additionally gives Babylon (and others in digital health) a big opportunity to break down some of the more persistent problems in healthcare, such as providing services in developing economies and remote regions: one of its big efforts alongside rollouts in mature markets like the UK and Canada has been a service in Rwanda to bring health services to digital platforms for the first time. Babylon has been growing and says it delivers 4,000 clinical consultations each day, or one patient interaction every 10 seconds. It says that it now covers 4.3 million people worldwide, with more than 1.2 million digital consultations completed to date, with more than 160,000 five-star ratings for our appointments. That is the kind of size and potential that has interested investors.
, the London startup offering a digital identity platform and app that lets you prove who you say you are when accessing services or making age verified purchases, has raised £8 million in additional funding. Backing the round is unnamed private investors, Yoti employees, and Robin Tombs, the startup’s co-founder and CEO, who previously founded and exited online gambling company Gamesys. I’m told that the startup has had around £65 million in investment in total since being founded in 2014, the majority of which has been made by Tombs and another Yoti co-founder, Noel Hayden. Noteworthy, Yoti says the injection of capital comes with a new valuation of £82 million, up from £40 million when Yoti raised £8 million about a year and a half ago. The caveat being, of course, that Tombs and Hayden have effectively helped to set that valuation from both sides of the table. “The current identity system is broken, outdated and insecure; we still have to show physical identity documents simply to prove who we are,” says Tombs, explaining the problem Yoti has set out to solve. “But this results in us sharing an excessive amount of personal information, putting us at risk of identity fraud. Additionally, millions of ID documents are lost and stolen every year, and our online accounts are vulnerable to data hacks”. Launched in November 2017, Yoti’s solution includes the Yoti digital identity app, which claims over 4.7 million installs. It essentially replaces a traditional ID card or other paper proof of identity. Yoti also has various partnerships that sees organisations use its ID verification technology within their own apps and websites. The idea is that Yoti can be used to prove your age on nights out, to check out faster when buying age restricted items at a store, for safer online dating and other social interactions online, or for accessing various business or government services. The underlying system is granular, too: a company or organisation can ask to verify only certain aspects of your identity that you choose to share on a need-to-know basis. “At Yoti we believe in putting people in control to share less personal information and enabling businesses to know who they are dealing with using less, higher quality verified data,” says Tombs. “For instance, someone could use Yoti to prove their age to buy age-restricted goods, but only share that they are 18+ to the business. This helps protect the individual’s personal data and privacy, whilst giving the company the details they need to be compliant. Everyone wins”. Yoti can also potentially be used to help children be safer online by reducing the number of fake accounts and ensuring age guidelines are more strictly adhered to. “As a parent, it’s very concerning just how easy it is for young kids to create social media accounts and access explicit age-restricted content online unchecked,” he says. “It’s too easy to create a fake profile online and give false details, so we can’t be confident about who we are meeting online”. More broadly, Tombs argues that a digital identity platform can also support social inclusion for people who otherwise have no form of identity at all. “Over 1.1 billion people around the world don’t have any form of identification; leaving them socially excluded, left behind and unable to access essential services. We want to help fix these issues. We believe everyone, no matter who they are or where they’re from, deserves a safe way of proving their identity,” he says. To that end, Yoti has formed a variety of partnerships spanning retail, government, travel and social media. These include Heathrow Airport, which is working with Yoti to explore biometric travel for passengers; NCR, which is using Yoti to improve age-verification at self-checkouts, and Yubo, which is deploying Yoti to verify the age of users and to “safeguard” young people online. Last year, Yoti was selected by the Government of Jersey as its digital identity provider. This, we are told, has seen 10% of the Jersey adult population use Yoti. Meanwhile, Yoti says it has developed a “private and secure” browser-based age verification solution called ProveMyAge, as it looks to cash in on the U.K.’s upcoming new Digital Economy Act. The product is designed to help adult websites comply with the age verification requirements of the legislation, which is set to come into force later this year.
When first started in 2015 the concept of an agency specifically geared to the strategic branding and culture of startups was definitely not new, but the fact that it was starting in Europe definitely was. At the time, I remember startups in Silicon Valley having access to, literally, multiple ways of scaling up their concept, from growth hacking partners to branding agencies, to many different types of assistance. Plenty of those mountains of VC cash wasn’t employed by the startups only internally, but also externally, on helpful agencies. In London and Europe the attitude was different: “Don’t spend it on agencies, spend it on building the product”! But as soon as Multiple appeared, I realized this was a sign that the European ecosystem was in fact maturing to be able to support this more sophisticated approach. Part of the reason Silicon Valley has become so powerful is that it supports a wide variety of these wider ecosystem players, and doesn’t just dole out cash to raw entrepreneurs who often are pretty experienced in company and brand building. Europe, it seemed, was finally growing up. Four years on and, I decided it was time to find out from Multiple co-founder , as a former entrepreneur and VC herself, to discuss what she and her cofounder have learned form dealing day in and day out with high-growth startups. After all, here at least it an organization that has seen it all in terms of company building… The timing is opportune. After several years in the market it’s also launching it’s “Scale Partners network”: A crack team of experienced players from the UK and European tech ecosystem to extend its capabilities and help their client companies grow faster. The network includes names such as Laurence Bret-Stern (former CRO at Pipedrive); Tracy Doree (founder at Kindred Capital); Dhiraj Mukerjee (co-founder, Shazam); Alicia Navarro (President, former CEO and founder at Skimlinks); and Rabin Yaghoubi (former CCO at Babylon Health, Director of Strategic Partnerships for Google EMEA, Doubleclick); among others. Mike Butcher: How did Multiple start? Katy Turner: Gabbi and I originally met each other through the network of Seedcamp mentors. We had a lot in common, having been investors, operators and (in Gabbi’s case) founders, and we recognized that having access to experienced external expertise is really valuable. We’d also been non-technical people working in and around tech companies and understood the power of brand, culture and growth when it comes to company building. Multiple originated from these conversations and we founded the business in 2015. MB: Multiple isn’t just an agency is it? You look at a startup pretty holistically. Can you explain that? KT: We try to supercharge a startup’s progress through both brand and culture. We support progressive companies to build the capabilities, culture and communications that will enable them to take out the competition, take a big exit or, in the classic phrase, take over the world. We’ve worked alongside the founders of companies such as Pipedrive, WeTransfer, Unbabel, Kalo, Aire, beryl (formerly Blaze), Verve, Drover, Favro and Trouva; and the Partners of funds such as Kindred, Connect, Whitestar and Albion. Often founders need help with clarifying their purpose, shaping their vision, positioning, strategy, you name it. That’s what we’re good at. MB: What are the biggest lessons you’re learned from advising startups? KT: We’ve found there’s huge value in being fully aligned around a clear purpose, mission and vision. These are the strategic foundations which provide the platform for success. Purpose is ‘the why’, the mission is ‘the what’ and vision is ‘the where’. Codifying these drives the fundamental alignment of the startup which then goes on to supercharge their progress. MB: Is there such a thing as a founder who is beyond help? Do they personally need something special? KT: It’s hard to help a founder if they don’t want help. Ideally, founders are coachable and willing to learn, versus having a fixed mindset. In our team, we’ve been founders, operators and investors —so we always remember how it feels in those everyday scenarios, stresses and situations that founders may face. It’s easier to empathize when you’ve done it yourself! MB: When should startup founders bring inexperienced “operators”, if they don’t have any, or can they grow into the role? When do find that you guys get asked into the picture? KT: We find we get asked to come in at the point at which real scale is needed with experienced heads – either inside or outside the business. This can, obviously, be extremely valuable. However we absolutely believe that founders can grow into the role of CEO, and we often see it as part of our job to help them do that. We typically get involved at key inflection points in the lifecycle of the business. For example, when you need to lift your head up from building the product and start to build the company. Or perhaps it might be during a significant fundraise; international expansion; a rebrand; a desire to codify and refine the culture ahead of a key hiring spree etc. It’s about achieving the next stage of progress as effectively as possible. Everyone goes through that, as I guess we have the advantage of having been on that journey many times with many different kinds of founders at all sorts of stages. MB: Everyone always says ‘leadership is key’ but what have you found are the best kinds of leadership? KT: Obviously, different leadership styles are appropriate for different companies depending on the culture you want build and steer. But we’ve found there’s no singular leadership style that is ‘right’, really. Leaders can have styles that are charismatic, transactional, situational or participative. They can all work, depending on the context. In a startup and scaleup context, we’ve experienced that ‘transformational leadership’ and ‘servant leadership’ styles can produce highly-effective organizations. MB: What do you mean by those terms? KT: A transformational leader is the visionary who leads their team with enthusiasm and energy, whereas a servant leader is driven by the need to have a deep impact and to help others. In both cases, these leaders create highly collaborative, innovative and autonomous cultures, through their ultimate desire to facilitate the success of others. MB: What have been the worst kinds of leadership? KT: We’ve seen a few examples in our time, given we deal so closely with entrepreneurs, but for the worst I’d say “transactional”. It’s just very non-motivating to feel that someone who is in charge is only ever dealing with their team on a transactional basis, as in “did you do this?” Or “you must do this in order for this to happen” etc. The other one is “situational”. Dealing with things on a situation-by-situation basis, where there’s just no obvious, overall strategy, shows a lack of consistency and will ultimately undermine the confidence of the team in their leadership. MB: How much can you plan ahead in high growth companies? This is highly stage-dependent. The earlier the company, the shorter the time horizon for forward planning. Having clarity over your mission is critical to the planning process. The mission is the master ‘OKR’ (Objectives and Key Results) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/OKR in the business. It has to be trackable and measurable. For a high growth company, a 3-5 year mission makes sense. Then you can build shorter-term plans which act as staging posts along the way – so for example what’s the plan for the next 12 months if our 5 year mission is to become the market leader in our category or enable a billion people to access education? MB: What are the organizational structures you’ve seen which work best with tech startups? KT: To paraphrase Ben Horowitz, “the first rule of organizational design is that all organizational design is imperfect”. Structures that allow for small, multidisciplinary, cross-functional teams delivering against clearly defined objectives work extremely well. The use of DRIs (directly responsible individuals) and OKRs help to keep the team on track, enabling clear ownership and priorities so that individuals can do their best work. MB: Is there such as thing as transitioning from startup to “scaleup” or is that just another funding round? KT: In our experience, the moment of transition comes when a product has established validation and traction in its market. And when the organization requires the systems and processes to enable it to retain and grow its customer base. In essence, it comes after product-market fit, where you need to deliver the product and revenue in a measurable and repeatable manner. We’ve found that from a funding round perspective, Series B is when the journey towards real scale is being tackled. MB: What are the best ways to establish Product/Market Fit? KT: The route to product-market fit is highly dependent on the kind of product you are building for the market you are serving. Product market fit needs to happen repeatedly at every stage. At early stage, people are willing to pay for your product even when its imperfect, because it’s the best or only way to address the problem they have. And what constitutes product-market fit at Series A might change as you scale beyond Series B. Product market fit = solid and sustainable unit economics and a product that your customers can’t live without. At every stage, ongoing customer development, obsession and experimentation are critical. MB: Have you assisted in fund-raising? What are the lessons learned? Especially in the UK. KT: The short answer answer is yes. We’ve contributed to our companies’ fundraising at every key investment stage from seed to Series C. What we’ve learned is that like all human beings, investors respond positively to powerful stories that illustrate the ambition of the organization and the ‘ ent’ it wants to make in the universe. The fundraising narrative must also be shot through with the personality of the organization. Investment decks that don’t reflect the brand will not cut the mustard. Investors in the UK are like investors anywhere else – they want to believe in a team with a strong sense of purpose and a big vision. MB: What is some of the hiring advice you give? KT: We find it’s best to ensure you have enshrined values and practices that are imperative or directive, that can be used as a guide to hire against. Then build out a hiring process that tests whether the individual’s personal goals and ambitions marry with those of the organization. MB: When should startups think about branding? KT: Branding is often thought of far too narrowly. We believe that brand is everything you make, say, do and provide. Your tech, your code, your pricing, and of course your positioning and personality are all elements of your brand. So even if an organisation hasn’t been intentional about building out their brand, they will have one anyway. The earlier you can be intentional, the greater chance you have of being consistent and coherent in your execution. MB: Can you fix a bad tech brand? KT: Yes. However, it takes an investment of time, resource, capital and desire to ensure that it’s fit for purpose. We always go back to the foundation stones of purpose, mission and vision as the starting point for this work. Everything builds from these strategic assets that direct the why, what and where. MB: Is a relaunch the kiss of death? KT: If it’s done badly and built on weak foundations then yes. However, if you are thoughtful and intentional about why you are doing it, then it can be successful. Are you simply painting the hallways, or are you rebuilding the house from the ground up i.e. infusing the brand with clarity around its positioning and personality that expresses genuine meaning and benefits which add value to the team, the business and your customers? MB: Should you build a company culture or a cult? KT: You should build a culture. Cultures adapt and evolve, survive and thrive. Cults ultimately self-immolate, let’s face it… MB: Here’s from legendary startup guru and investor Paul Graham.What would be your 19th? KT: Number 19: The inability to sell. Selling is existential – in the broadest sense. You always need to be selling whether bringing on board a co-founder, selling a story to the market, convincing a customer or raising funding. We sometimes joke: “I sell, therefore I am…”
As two of the largest players in online-food ordering and delivery in Europe , one of its biggest rivals has made an acquisition to expand its own tech muscle. , the London-based food delivery startup that is itself valued in the billions, has acquired a small Scottish startup called , a software development and user experience design house that has worked with a number of big names, . Deliveroo — which today has 80,000 restaurants and 60,000 riders on its books across 500 cities in 14 markets in Europe and beyond (Australia, Belgium, France, Germany, Hong Kong, Italy, Ireland, Netherlands, Singapore, Spain, Taiwan, United Arab Emirates, Kuwait and the United Kingdom) — is subsequently creating a new fintech hub in Edinburgh, where Cultivate is headquartered. It will be run by Andy Robinson, currently chief commercial officer for Cultivate. “We have a fantastic relationship with Deliveroo, supporting them through an amazing period of growth. We were attracted by the array of interesting problems being tackled by their team, and how they are addressing them using modern and emerging technology,” Robinson said in a statement. “We’re proud to have built such a great team here in Edinburgh, and today’s announcement is a testament to their hard work and expertise in building world-class software. We are excited to continue this work, create highly skilled jobs, and build a centre of tech excellence here in Edinburgh.” The plan will be to expand the team to 50 in the next three years, hiring engineers, product managers, user researchers, and designers and data scientists. (It’s worth pointing out too that Amazon has been a major employer in Edinburgh, where it also has a key R&D operation working in various areas including AI and search.) Terms of the acquisition were not disclosed but it’s likely to be a modest deal. Cultivate itself was a , from the looks of its filings with Companies House. It was also off the radar somewhat as a startup. Originally , Cultivate was initially acquired in 2009 ago by Texas firm EdgeCase, which was then itself in 2017 in a bid to take on Shopify and rebranded to become Neo. Subsequent to that, Cultivate was amicably spun out again. In that time it had raised an undisclosed amount of funding from unnamed investors. Deliveroo, founded in 2013 by William Shu and Greg Orlowski, was most recently valued at over $2 billion, although that was into the company earlier this year. It has raised around $1.5 billion in funding to date. Cultivate — which had worked for many of clients — will now be working for just one, its owner. The two had already built Deliveroo’s payments technology, but as Deliveroo continues to work on ways to differentiate itself from its competitors through tech, it will be investing more in this area. In addition to building new (not yet launched) services, some of the other areas of focus for the new Edinburgh operation will be to create more efficient payment systems for riders (which today use a Cash Out feature to access earnings quickly) and restaurants; to expand Deliveroo’s analytics for restaurants to figure out how to better plan for surges and to figure out what is popular and what is not; and (for both restaurants and riders) to better manage finances. Cultivate had been involved in a number of social enterprise community initiatives to promote technology education alongside its paid work and Deliveroo said these efforts will continue. “Cultivate have always been at the centre of the tech scene in Edinburgh and have supported events and initiatives across the board,” said Stephen Coleman, CEO of CodeBase, the tech campus in Edinburgh where Cultivate was based. “We are really pleased for the Cultivate team and Deliveroo’s plans to grow here in Scotland and are looking forward to having one of Europe’s top tech companies based here at CodeBase.” News of this acquisition comes in the same week that Takeaway.com and Just Eat announced that their respective boards had agreed on the basic terms of a merger to create an expanded footprint across Europe. The deal, if it completes, will not only give the two more economies of scale, and thus a better return on their own tech investment, but the aim will be to help them compete better against the likes of Uber Eats (a major priority for now-public Uber) as well as Deliveroo, which is now continuing its growth now with the might and will of Amazon behind it. In that context, the Cultivate acquisition is demonstration not just of Deliveroo’s own investments into its tech, but specifically into what is a sizeable and important tech hub in the region, where Amazon has also been very active. “Deliveroo is proud to be investing in Edinburgh and creating more high skilled jobs in the UK,” said Dan Winn, Deliveroo VP of engineering, in a statement. “Edinburgh is one of the UK’s fastest growing tech hubs, with access to an excellent talent pool of highly skilled people and university graduates. Deliveroo is committed to offering riders flexible, well-paid work and helping restaurants to grow their businesses. Building on Cultivate’s expertise, we are excited to create new products and services that will help us achieve this.” Notes to Editors Deliveroo is one of the UK’s leading tech unicorns and a British tech success story. Its investment in world-leading proprietary technology yields substantial benefits for customers, restaurants and riders. The Frank algorithm – which finds the optimal way to deliver food from restaurant to customer – has cut the average delivery time by nearly 20%, significantly reducing customer wait times. Frank’s machine-learning capabilities improves the allocation of orders and reduces restaurant waiting times for riders, helping them to earn higher fees without riding longer hours. And Deliveroo’s innovative products and tools give restaurants unique insights into their customer base, allows them to provide in-app offers to customers and improves their efficiency when preparing meals. A photo of Andy Robinson (Chief Commercial Officer, Cultivate), Dan Winn (VP of Engineering, Deliveroo) and Paul Wilson (Managing Director, Cultivate) is available here.
Former British Prime Minister Theresa May once said “if you believe you are a citizen of the world, you are a citizen of nowhere”. And while that sentiment would be considered risible by just about anybody who works in today’s outward-looking technology industry, if you are a digital worker of the world, you may well be a worker of no insurance. That’s the problem that , a startup out of Norway and a recent graduate of Y Combinator, . “People used to be limited to working locally. Now the internet and recent technologies have made it possible to hire and work for companies globally, allowing people to live wherever in the world they choose to, free from the physical restraints of an office location,” says co-founder and CEO Sondre Rasch. “Unfortunately, social safety nets like health insurance are national and only available in one’s home country. Millions are left to figure this out on their own with the majority going uninsured. To solve this problem, we are building the first global social safety net: a welfare state on the internet”. Launched last year, SafetyWing first product is focussed on medical travel insurance, with the promise to provide medical cover for anybody who works outside of their home country. The cover is flexible, too, sold as a 28 day rolling subscription that can be paused at any time. Cover starts at $37 every 4 weeks. “Our typical customer is a digital nomad,” explains Rasch, “an entrepreneur, freelancer or remote worker in a startup, early 30s, who has moved from the U.S. and spends 3 months at a time in their favorite low cost countries with good infrastructure. Thailand, Indonesia, Colombia, Eastern Europe and Mexico are typical examples”. On direct competitors, Rasch says there isn’t really anyone else currently building a “social safety net” for digital nomads, although WorldNomads also offers similar travel insurance. “The main difference is that we are made for digital nomads and remote workers specifically,” he claims. “Our product is quite simple in that we offer a subscription-like service that you can buy while you live abroad, and keep it forever”. Meanwhile, to support its mission of providing a safety net for digital nomads and to develop further products, the 2017-founded company, whose other co-founders are Sarah Sandnes (CTO) and Hans Kjellby (COO), has raised $3.5 million in seed funding. Leading the round is Nordic and Baltic-focussed VC , with participation from Credit Ease Fintech Fund and DG Incubation. SafetyWing’s previous backers include YC and .
, the London-based educational software maker,that thousands of school and university accounts, mostly in the United States, were affected by a data breach. The company added that it has notified affected users already and that the vulnerability has been fixed. The that the data breach happened in November 2018 and Pearson was notified by the Federal Bureau of Investigation in March. The perpetrator is still unknown. According to unauthorized access was gained to 13,000 school and university accounts on AIMSweb, the company’s student monitoring and assessment platform. The data exposed included first and last names and, in some cases, date of birth and email addresses. Each account could potentially include information about thousands of students. Pearson added that it has no evidence that any of the exposed information was misused. It will offer free credit monitoring services to affected users as a “precautionary measure.” News of Pearson’s data breach comes the same week that Capital One that exposed sensitive information for about 100 million people in the U.S. and 6 million in Canada.
Fintech startup is launching its stock trading feature today. It’s a Robinhood-like feature that lets you buy and sell shares without any commission. For now, the feature is limited to some Revolut customers with a Metal card. While Robinhood has completely changed the stock trading retail market in the U.S., buying shares hasn’t changed much in Europe. Revolut wants to make it easier to invest on the stock market. After topping up your Revolut account, you can buy and hold shares directly from the Revolut app. For now, the feature is limited to 300 U.S.-listed stocks on NASDAQ and NYSE. The company says that it plans to expand to U.K. and European stocks as well as Exchange Traded Funds. There’s no minimum limit on transactions, which means that you can buy fractional shares for $1 for instance. You can see real-time prices in the Revolut app. When it comes to fees, Revolut doesn’t charge any fee indeed, but with some caveats. The feature is currently limited to Revolut Metal customers for now. It currently costs £12.99 per month or €13.99 per month to become a Metal customer. As long as you make less than 100 trades per month, you don’t pay anything other than your monthly subscription. Any trade above that limit costs £1 per trade and an annual custody fee of 0.01%. Eventually, Revolut will roll out stock trading to other subscription tiers. Revolut Premium will get 8 commission-free trades per month and basic Revolut users will get 3 commission-free trades per month. Behind the scene, Revolut has partnered with for this feature. This is a nice addition for existing Revolut users. You don’t have to open a separate account with another company and Metal customers in particular get a lot of free trades.
DeepMind, the Google-owned UK AI research firm, has published a research letter in the journal Nature in which it discusses the performance of a deep learning model for continuously predicting the future likelihood of a patient developing a life-threatening condition called acute kidney injury (AKI). The company says its model is able to accurately predict that a patient will develop AKI “within a clinically actionable window” up to 48 hours in advance. In a blog post trumpeting the research, DeepMind couches it as a breakthrough — saying the paper demonstrates artificial intelligence can predict “one of the leading causes of avoidable patient harm” up to two days before it happens. “This is our team’s biggest healthcare research breakthrough to date,” it adds, “demonstrating the ability to not only spot deterioration more effectively, but actually predict it before it happens.” Even a surface read of the paper raises some major caveats, though. Not least that the data used to train the model skews overwhelmingly male: 93.6%. This is because DeepMind’s AI was trained using patient data provided by the US Department of Veteran Affairs (VA). The research paper states that females comprised just 6.38% of patients in the training dataset. “Model performance was lower for this demographic,” it notes, without saying how much lower. A summary of dataset statistics also included in the paper indicates that 18.9% of patients were black, although there is no breakout for the proportion of black women in the training dataset. (Logic suggests it’s likely to be less than 6.38%.) No other ethnicities are broken out. Asked about the model’s performance capabilities across genders and different ethnicities, a DeepMind spokeswoman told us: “In women, it predicted 44.8% of all AKI early, in men 56%, for those patients where gender was known. The model performance was higher on African American patients — 60.4% of AKIs detected early compared to 54.1% for all other ethnicities in aggregate.” “This research is just the first step,” she confirmed. “For the model to be applicable to a general population, future research is needed, using a more representative sample of the general population in the data that the model is derived from. “The data set is representative of the VA population, and we acknowledge that this sample is not representative of the US population. As with all deep learning models it would need further, representative data from other sources before being used more widely. “Our next step would be to work closely with [the VA] to safely validate the model through retrospective and prospective observational studies, before hopefully exploring how we might conduct a prospective interventional study to understand how the prediction might impact care outcomes in a clinical setting.” “To do this kind of work, we need the right kind of data,” she added. “The VA uses the same EHR [electronic health records] system (widely recognized as one of the most comprehensive EHRs) in all its hospitals and sites, which means the dataset is also very comprehensive, clean, and well-structured.” So what DeepMind’s ‘breakthrough’ research paper neatly underlines is the reflective relationship between AI outputs and training inputs. In a healthcare setting, where instructive outputs could be the difference between life and death, it’s not the technology that’s king; it’s access to representative datasets that’s key — that’s where the real value lies. This suggests there’s huge opportunity for countries with taxpayer-funded public healthcare systems to structure and unlock the value contained in medical data they hold on their populations to develop their own publicly owned healthcare AIs. Indeed, that was one of the recommendations of a 2017 industrial strategy review of the UK’s life sciences sector. Oxford University’s Sir John Bell, who led the review, summed it up in comments to the newspaper, when he said: “Most of the value is the data. The worst thing we could do is give it away for free.” Streams app evaluation DeepMind has also been working with healthcare data in the UK. Reducing the time it takes for clinicians to identify when a patient develops AKI has been the focus of an app development project it’s been involved with since 2015 — co-developing an alert and clinical task management app with doctors working for the country’s National Health Service (NHS). That app, called Streams, which makes use of an NHS algorithm for detecting AKI, has been deployed in several NHS hospitals. And, also today, DeepMind and its app development partner NHS trust are releasing an evaluation of Streams’ performance, led by University College London. The results of the evaluation have been published in two papers, in the Nature Digital Medicine and the Journal of Medical Internet Research. In its blog DeepMind claims the evaluations show the app “improved the quality of care for patients by speeding up detection and preventing missed cases”, further claiming clinicians ”were able to respond to urgent AKI cases in 14 minutes or less” — and suggesting that using existing systems “might otherwise have taken many hours”. It also claims a reduction in the cost of care to the NHS — from £11,772 to £9,761 for a hospital admission for a patient with AKI. Though it’s worth emphasizing that under its current contracts with NHS trusts DeepMind provides the Streams service for free. So any cost reduction claims also come with some major caveats. Simply put: We don’t know the future costs of data-driven, digitally delivered healthcare services — because the business models haven’t been defined yet. (Although DeepMind has previously suggested .) “According to the evaluation, the app has improved the experience of clinicians responsible for treating AKI, saving them time which would previously have been spent trawling through paper, pager alerts and multiple desktop systems,” DeepMind also writes now of Streams. However, again, the discussion contained in the evaluation papers contains rather more caveats than DeepMind’s PR does — flagging a large list of counter considerations, such as training costs and the risks of information overload (and over-alerting) making it more difficult to triage and manage care needs, as well as concluding that more studies are needed to determine wider clinical impacts of the app’s use. Here’s the conclusion to one of the papers, entitled A Qualitative Evaluation of User Experiences of a Digitally Enabled Care Pathway in Secondary Care: Digital technologies allow early detection of adverse events and of patients at risk of deterioration, with the potential to improve outcomes. They may also increase the efficiency of health care professionals’ working practices. However, when planning and implementing digital information innovations in health care, the following factors should also be considered: the provision of clinical training to effectively manage early detection, resources to cope with additional workload, support to manage perceived information overload, and the optimization of algorithms to minimize unnecessary alerts. A second paper, looking at Streams’ impact on clinical outcomes and associated healthcare costs, concludes that “digitally enabled clinical intervention to detect and treat AKI in hospitalized patients reduced health care costs and possibly reduced cardiac arrest rates”. “Its impact on other clinical outcomes and identification of the active components of the pathway requires clarification through evaluation across multiple sites,” it adds. To be clear, the current Streams app for managing AKI alerts does not include AI as a predictive tool. The evaluations being published today are of clinicians using the app as a vehicle for task management and push notification-style alerts powered by an NHS algorithm. But the Streams app is a vehicle that DeepMind and its parent company Google want to use to drive AI-powered diagnosis and prediction onto hospital wards. Hence DeepMind also working with US datasets to try to develop a predictive AI model for AKI. (It backed away from an early attempt to use Streams patient data to train AI, after realizing it would need to gain additional clearances from UK regulators.) Every doctor now carries a smartphone. So an app is clearly the path of least resistance for transforming a service that’s been run on paper on pagers for longer than Google’s existed. The wider intent behind DeepMind’s app collaboration with London’s Royal Free NHS Trust was stated early on — to build “powerful general-purpose learning algorithms”, an ambition expressed in a between the pair that has since been cancelled following a major data governance scandal. The background to the scandal — which we covered extensively in and — is that the medical records of around 1.6 million Royal Free NHS Trust patients were quietly passed to DeepMind during the development phase of Streams. Without, as it subsequently turned out, a valid legal basis for the data-sharing. Patients had not been asked for their consent to their sensitive medical data being shared with the Google-owned company. The regulator concluded they would not have had a reasonable expectation of their medical data ending up there. The trust was ordered to — though not the original data-sharing arrangement that had caused the controversy in the first place. It was not ordered to remove DeepMind’s access to the data. Nor were NHS patients whose data passed through Streams during the app evaluation phase asked for their consent to participate in the UCL/DeepMind/Royal Free study; a note on ‘ethical approval’ in the evaluation papers says UCL judged it fell under the remit of a service evaluation (rather than research) — hence “no participant consent was required”. It’s an unfortunate echo of the foundational consent failure attached to Streams, to say the very least. Despite all this, the Royal Free and DeepMind have continue to press on with their data-sharing app collaboration. Indeed, DeepMind is pressing on the accelerator — with its push to go beyond the NHS’ AKI algorithm. Commenting in a statement included in DeepMind’s PR, Dr Chris Streather, Royal Free London’s chief medical officer and deputy chief executive, enthuses: “The findings of the Streams evaluation are incredibly encouraging and we are delighted that our partnership with DeepMind Health has improved the outcomes for patients. “Digital technology is the way forward for the NHS. In the same way as we can receive transport and weather alerts on our mobile devices, doctors and nurses should benefit from tools which put potentially life-saving information directly into their hands. “In the coming months, we will be introducing the app to clinicians at Barnet Hospital as well as exploring the potential to develop solutions for other life-threatening conditions like sepsis.” Scramble for NHS data The next phase of Google-DeepMind’s plan for Streams may hit more of a blocker, though. Last year DeepMind the app would be handed off to its parent — to form part of Google’s own digital health push. Thereby contradicting DeepMind’s own claims, during the unfolding scandal when it had said Google would not have access to people’s medical records. More like: ‘No access until Google owns all the data and IP’, then… As we said at the time, it was quite the trust shock. Since then the Streams app hand-off from DeepMind to Google appears to have been on pause. Last year the Royal Free Trust said it could not happen without its approval. Asked now whether it will be signing new contracts for Streams with Google a spokesperson told us: “At present, the Royal Free London’s contract with DeepMind remains unchanged. As with all contractual agreements with suppliers, any changes or future contracts will follow information governance and data protection regulations. The trust will continue to be the data controller at all times, which means it is responsible for all patient information.” The trust declined to answer additional questions — including whether it intends to deploy a version of Streams that includes predictive AI model at NHS hospitals; and whether or not patients will be given an opt out for their data being shared with Google. It’s not clear what its plans are. Although DeepMind’s and Google’s is clearly for Streams to be the conduit for predictive AIs to be pushed onto NHS wards. Its blog aggressively pushes the case for adding AI to Streams. To the point of talking down the latter in order to hype the former. The DeepMind Health sales pitch is evolving from ‘you need this app’ to ‘you need this AI’… With the follow on push to ‘give us your data’. “Critically, these early findings from the Royal Free suggest that, in order to improve patient outcomes even further, clinicians need to be able to intervene before AKI can be detected by the current NHS algorithm — which is why our research on AKI is so promising,” it writes. “These results comprise the building blocks for our long-term vision of preventative healthcare, helping doctors to intervene in a proactive, rather than reactive, manner. “Streams doesn’t use artificial intelligence at the moment, but the team now intends to find ways to safely integrate predictive AI models into Streams in order to provide clinicians with intelligent insights into patient deterioration.” In its blog DeepMind also makes a point of reiterating that Streams will be folded into Google — writing: “As we announced in November 2018, the Streams team, and colleagues working on translational research in healthcare, will be joining Google in order to make a positive impact on a global scale.” “The combined experience, infrastructure and expertise of DeepMind Health teams alongside Google’s will help us continue to develop mobile tools that can support more clinicians, address critical patient safety issues and could, we hope, save thousands of lives globally,” it adds, ending with its customary ‘hope’ that its technology will save lives — yet still without any hard data to prove all the big claims it makes for AI-powered predictive healthcare’s potential. As we’ve , for its predictive AI to deliver anything of value Google really needs access to data the NHS holds. Hence the big PR push. And the consent-overriding scramble for NHS data. Responding to DeepMind’s news, Sam Smith, coordinator at health data privacy advocacy group medConfidential told us: “The history of opportunists using doctors to take advantage of patients to further their own interests is as long as it is sordid. Some sagas drag on for years. Google has used their international reach to use data on the US military what they said they’d do in the UK, before it became clear they misled UK regulators and broken UK law.” In a blog post the group added: “In recent weeks, Google & YouTube, Facebook & Instagram, and other tech companies have come under increasing pressure to accept they have a duty of care to their users. Can Google DeepMind say how its project with the Royal Free respects the Duty of Confidence that every NHS body has to its patients? How does the VA patient data they did use correspond to the characteristics of patients the RFH sees? “Google DeepMind received the RFH data -– up to 10 years’ of hospital treatments -– of 1.6 million patients. We expect its press release to confirm how many of those 1.6 million people actually had their data displayed in the app, and whether they were used for testing alongside the US military data.”
The growth of Airbnb and other big travel startups has given a fillip to the wider travel industry, and today several smaller startups in the short-term property sector are announcing that they have merged to tackle the opportunity with more scale. The UK’s BnbBuddy and The London Residents Club, along with both Hintown from Italy and RentExperience from Portugal — all companies that help manage properties that are listed on platforms like Airbnb — have combined to form a new startup called . Going into the merger, all four were profitable, having all been boostrapped from day one. But Michael Allen, the MD of the BnbBuddy, said that now the combined entity is using its scale and raising outside funding to grow the business. Altido is looking to raise a Series A in the tens of millions of dollars. It is not disclosing its valuation currently although the fact that it already has an international presence and profitability have helped it in this area, Allen said. The combined company will have about 1,700 properties under management in 21 European destinations, which it will be using as the anchor for an aggressive push both on existing markets as well as other parts of Europe and beyond. There is a long way to go: as a point of comparison, when — which provides services to manage rentals of private homes on Airbnb and other services — in March, the number of properties managed on its platform had reached 100,000 across 70 countries. Other competitors will include the platforms themselves where these properties are getting listed: as Airbnb inches to an IPO, it’s adding ever more services and features to its platform to diversify its revenue streams and also bring in more revenues per customer. (As we’ve said before, that could also make Altido and others like it acquisition targets.) The growth of Altido’s individual businesses up to now has been on the back of the massive growth surge we’ve seen around platforms — marketplaces, to be more precise — that help people easily list and rent out travel accommodation in private homes as an alternative to hotels; and would-be visitors to find, book and pay for these in an efficient and reliable way, alongside a wider growth of self-catering accommodations that exist as alternative to traditional hotels. The wider market for “homesharing”, as the first of these categories is sometimes called, has become massive — with Airbnb, the outsized startup leading the charge, now valued at $35 billion — and it now accounts for some 20 percent of the supply of rooms globally by Altido’s estimate. Some property owners are happy to play host and run and manage their own listings on these platforms — which include the likes of Airbnb, Homeaway and VRBO, and many others — but a big part of the scaling of these services has come by way of third-party management companies that handle different aspects of those listings, from cleaning before and after guests and stocking kitchens and bathrooms with consumables; to managing the relationship with the visitors; to managing the listings themselves. Altido provides an end-to-end service for those who do not want to play host, alongside a business where it also helps maintain and manage service apartments and aparthotels and guesthouses. Today the companies that make up Altido rely on third-party platforms to disseminate all those listings, but longer-term, the plan will be to build out more services to offer listings directly as well, alongside more technology to help hosts and other management companies optimise pricing and details around the properties themselves to make them more attractive. “We see tech as a big enabler,” Goncalo Ribeiro, the founder of RentExperience, said in an interview. He said that his company already has proprietary algorithms that it uses to help calculate property risk factors, which it already uses and will roll out across the whole of the merged company, and the different operations have already been building technology to help onboard properties more efficiently. Areas that it hopes to address include “regulation risk, potential growth rates, historic market data, marketing calculations and more. Any decision we take we want to be proven by data.”
, the “micro-mobility” startup that operates an e-scooter service on the streets of a growing number of European cities, has unveiled a range of new scooters and a first e-bike more suited to rentals. The company is also revealing plans to expand to another 150 cities and towns, having ratcheted up 2 million rides in eight months since launching. Voi currently operates in 18 cities in nine European countries — including Stockholm, Madrid, Copenhagen, Paris, Lyon and Lisbon — and with will open up in Germany, Belgium, Poland and Italy this summer. In a call, Voi CEO and co-founder Fredrik Hjelm told me the new hardware rollouts are part of the Swedish company’s plans to become a broader micro-mobility play with a range of travel options that meet the demands of people living in urban areas and the sustainability concerns of city and town authorities. The new e-scooters have been designed and engineered in-house using data collected and other learnings from riders during Voi’s relatively short lifespan. Voi’s main new model, dubbed “Voiager 2,” is said to be designed for maximum durability as well as future recycling (should and when it full apart or be superseded). The body is cast in one single piece of 5mm high-grade aluminium, coupled with performance enhancements thanks to a custom electric powertrain and 10″ wheels. There’s also a kickstand to prevent the e-scooter from falling over when parked (a common sight in some cities) and a three-wheel version particularly suitable for slippery conditions. The Voiager 2’s display features “Advanced Rider Assistance System (ARAS) functions,” such as navigation support, alerts and notifications. The idea, explained Hjelm, is to avoid riders having to juggle looking at their mobile phone or to continuously stop to navigate. The Internet of Things (IoT) Telematics unit is integrated into the body of the scooter. Hjelm says the Voiager 2 is Voi’s first scooter based on the Voi modular scooter architecture (VOI MSA), which allows for easy service, repair and upgrades. There’s also a swappable battery to reduce scooter downtime, as well as reduce the environmental impact and cost of charging scooters. Overall, the design is not just intended to improve the e-scooter experience for consumers and city authorities but should go someway to addressing concerns around the questionable unit economics of micro-mobility services. See also: In a bid to launch at speed and test the market, companies have used off-the-shelf consumer-grade e-scooters that aren’t durable enough to withstand the battering they receive through shared commercial use and being left outside in varied weather conditions. They’re also not designed with rental logistics in mind and even something as simple as a hot swappable battery can reduce the cost of running an e-scooter service since more scooters remain in motion, potentially increasing revenue per scooter. There’s also a reduction in the cost of collecting dead batteries for re-charging as they are de-coupled from the scooter itself. Voi Cargo A second model, the new “Voiager 1” has been designed for the German market. This month the German government will green light e-scooters for use on its roads. Hjelm thinks Germany will quickly become one of the world’s biggest e-scooter markets and its new rugged scooter features brakes and indicator lights that meet strict German regulations, which the Voi CEO believes are likely to be adopted elsewhere. Voi is also unveiling the Voi Bike and Voi Cargo. The former is an e-bike that has been adapted for sharing and meets European e-bike regulations. It can travel at 25km/h fully assisted and is suitable for longer distances than e-scooters. Voi Cargo is a three-wheel electric cargo bike that caters specifically to riders who have to carry bulky loads, such as groceries or children. The bike has a large box on the front which features three-point seatbelts. Meanwhile, Voi isn’t the only European e-scooter startup developing its own hardware. Flash — the stealthy mobility startup has talked up its own hardware product plans, while Berlin’s is also developing a proprietary model of electric scooters specifically designed for the sharing market. Other competitors in Europe include and Taxify’s . Silicon Valley’s Bird and Lime also operate in Europe.
, the Poland-founded healthcare booking platform that now processes 1.5 million bookings every month globally, has closed €80 million in Series E financing. The round is led by One Peak Partners and Goldman Sachs Private Capital, with existing investors Piton Capital and ENERN Investments also participating, and brings total raised to date to around €130 million. Founded in 2012, as it stands to day DocPlanner’s offering has two pillars: a consumer-facing marketplace and reviews site, and cloud software for private healthcare providers, including individual doctors, dentists and other healthcare professionals. The marketplace operates in 15 countries and lists more than 2 million healthcare professionals. It has also garnered 2.4 million patient reviews. The DocPlanner SaaS is designed to enable doctors and clinics to optimise their “patient flow,” reduce no-shows, and digitize the administrative side of their practices. The premise is that digitisation can reduce a provider’s non-patient facing workload and ultimately improve healthcare outcomes for patients. Meanwhile, DocPlanner says the Series E will be deployed to help it continue penetrating core markets in Europe and Latin America with its SaaS-based marketplace offering. The company will also continue invest in R&D to offer additional software to doctors and clinics. It currently has 1,000 employees globally across offices in across offices in Warsaw, Barcelona, Istanbul, Rome, Mexico City and Curitiba. A large recruitment drive is also underway, with over 100 openings. Once again, DocPlanner is talking up the possibility of further acquisitions, too. The company says it is on the lookout for young, innovative cloud-based software companies to help accelerate growth. Previous acquisitions include buying competitors in Turkey and Spain, in 2014 and 2016, respectively.
, the Danish fintech that offers a “business spending platform” that lets companies easily issue employees with cards and manage expenditure, has raised a hefty $56 million in Series B funding. Leading the round is Stripes, the New York-based growth fund, with participation from existing investors, Kinnevik, Creandum and Founders. I understand that the new funding values the company at a little under half a billion dollars and brings the total amount raised to $79 million. Founded in 2015 by ex-Tradeshift early employees Jeppe Rindom and Niccolo Perra, Pleo aims to transform business expense processes so that employees aren’t left out of pocket waiting to be reimbursed or have to jump through too many bureaucratic hoops trying to make company purchases. The platform consists of “smart” company cards paired with software and mobile apps to automatically match receipts and track company spending in real-time. The Pleo MasterCard is a prepaid card that can be charged up and handed out to employees, either physically or virtually. This is then coupled with Pleo’s backend system and apps. Features of the software includes the ability to categorise spending automatically and capture receipts associated with each transaction. Pleo also eliminates expense reports and automates bookkeeping tasks via integrating directly with various accounting software providers. Meanwhile, the prepaid element means no waiting to be reimbursed for expenses and less waiting for approval, which is traditionally a real pain-point for employees and companies alike. In a call, Pleo co-founder and CEO Jeppe Rindom tells me that the fast-growing startup is helping to create a whole new product category: Pleo is neither a business bank account or simply accounting or expenses management software. Instead, the company’s “business spending platform” has elements of both but is as much about enabling and embracing a change in company culture than simply better financial technology. “We are helping to export Nordic company culture,” he says, in reference to a more flat company hierarchy where employees are empowered to take more responsibility and have greater autonomy. The Pleo platform’s features and the transparency it affords means that more employees can be given company cards underpinned by micro-budgets and spending limits for the things they need to purchase in order to get on with the job. Likewise, Rindom says that forward thinking companies are also recognising that bestowing more trust with employees and less pain-points with regards to expense reimbursement is also a potential recruiting and retention tool. He says that while a company’s chief financial officer is typically the buyer of Pleo, the product itself is targeting employees, who remain its biggest advocate. To that end, more than 3,500 companies have switched to Pleo across the U.K., Denmark, Germany and Sweden. Its customers include Airsorted, The Tab, Lyst, Yoyo, Pizza Pilgrims and Roskilde Festival amongst others, with “hundreds” of businesses joining Pleo every month. Pleo says it will use the new funding to expand and more than triple its headcount, from 120 to 400 employees by the end of 2020. It also plans to accelerate product development with the aim to service “the entire purchase process” for SMEs across the whole of Europe. This will include adding credit, invoices, mobile payments, a vendor marketplace, VAT reclaims and more. “While we are competing with banks in this one area we are not aiming to become one,” adds Rindom in a statement. “We remain committed to providing the best product in the market for business spending. We haven’t touched the funds from our Series A round less than a year ago, yet we see enormous potential and demand for Pleo”.
, the London-headquartered company that lets you book on-demand — now including massage, osteopathy, facial, and nail services — has raised $10 million in Series B funding. The round, which includes an earlier $4.5 million equity crowdfund, is led by Accelerated Digital Ventures (ADV). Two of previous backers, Passion Capital and Felix Capital, also followed on. In a call, Urban founder Jack Tang told me the fund raise will be used by the company to accelerate its goal of becoming a “one-stop shop” for on-demand wellness services, with new product categories planned, including fitness. Tang has also talked about adding digital only well-ness offerings, harnessing the skills of its practitioners where a face-to-face booking isn’t needed, in addition to a planned content push. This, he believes, will help Urban to launch in further cities and countries in the future but with lower user acquisition costs since its brand will already be known. The company currently operates in several U.K. cities along with Paris. Related to this Series B, Urban has already begun the process of recruiting a team of 30 engineers in Lithuania at its Vilnius office. The Lithuania team will work on all aspects of the platform, including the client-facing apps, the practitioner business software, Urban’s corporate offering and data science projects. A security failing that left Urban’s customer database exposed was (and subsequently plugged), and Tang says that much better systems have been put in place since to ensure nothing like that ever happens again. He also explained that by expanding the company’s engineering base, more people will be solely dedicated to security. Meanwhile, Tang says that the move into wellness services beyond massage has helped Urban to get near to profitability and significantly improve unit economics. The new services have been well received by Urban’s customer base, with 80 percent of new service revenue driven by existing customers. Therefore, the fundraise, he says, isn’t about plugging gaps in revenue but about doubling down on the company’s mission to empower “city-dwellers” to prioritise their wellbeing. With that said, Tang also cautioned that in the U.K. we are entering a “silent recession,” citing various macro economic data, including that related to consumer spending. Brexit, he thinks, is also a factor. Therefore, he says that it is important for Urban to remain in a strong position to weather any economic storm when discretionary spending will inevitably contract.
The UK’s data protection watchdog has issued the government department responsible for collecting taxes with a final , after an investigation found HMRC had collected biometric data from millions of citizens without obtaining proper consent. HMRC has 28 days from the May 9 notice to delete any Voice ID records where it did not obtain explicit consent to record and create a unique biometric voiceprint linked to the individual’s identity. The ID system was introduced in January 2017, with HMRC instructing callers to a helpline to record a phrase to use their voiceprint as a password. The system soon attracted criticism for failing to make it clear that people did not have to agree to their biometric data being recorded by the tax office. In total some seven million UK citizens have had voiceprints recorded via the system. HMRC will now have to delete the majority of these records (~five million voiceprints) — only retaining biometric data where it has fully informed consent to do so. The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) investigation into Voice ID was triggered by a complaint by privacy advocacy group Big Brother Watch — which more than 160,000 people opted out of the system after its campaign highlighted questions over how the data was being collected. Announcing the conclusion of its probe last week, the ICO it had found the tax office unlawfully processed people’s biometric data. “Innovative digital services help make our lives easier but it must not be at the expense of people’s fundamental right to privacy. Organisations must be transparent and fair and, when necessary, obtain consent from people about how their information will be used. When that doesn’t happen, the ICO will take action to protect the public,” said deputy commissioner, Steve Wood, in a statement. Blogging about its final enforcement notice, the regulator said today that it intends to carry out an audit to assess HMRC’s wider compliance with data protection rules. “With the adoption of new systems comes the responsibility to make sure that data protection obligations are fulfilled and customers’ privacy rights addressed alongside any organisational benefit. The public must be able to trust that their privacy is at the forefront of the decisions made about their personal data,” Woods offering guidance for using biometric data “in a fair, transparent and accountable way”. Under Europe’s General Data Protection Regulation () biometric data that’s used for identifying a person is classed as so-called “special category” data — meaning if a data controller is relying on consent as their legal basis for collecting this information the data subject must provide explicit consent. In the case of HMRC, the ICO found it had failed to give customers sufficient information about how their biometric data would be processed, and failed to give them the chance to give or withhold consent. It also collected voiceprints prior to publishing a Voice ID-specific privacy notice on its website. The ICO found it had not carried out an adequate data protection impact assessment prior to launching the system. In October 2018 HMRC tweaked the automated options it offered to callers to provide clearer information about the system and their options. That amended Voice ID system remains in operation. And in a HMRC’s chief executive, Jon Thompson, defended it — claiming it is “popular with our customers, is a more secure way of protecting customer data, and enables us to get callers through to an adviser faster”. As a result of the regulator’s investigation HMRC retrospectively contacted around a fifth of the seven million Brits whose data it had gathered to ask for consent. Of those it said more than 995,000 provided consent for the use of their biometric data and more than 260,000 withheld it.