Google has quietly added DuckDuckGo as a search engine option for Chrome users in ~60 markets

In an update to the chromium engine, which underpins Google’s popular Chrome browser, the search giant has quietly updated the lists of default search engines it offers per market — expanding the choice of search product users can pick from in markets around the world.

Most notably it’s expanded search engine lists to include pro-privacy rivals in more than 60 markets globally.

The changes, which appear to have been pushed out with the Chromium 73 stable release yesterday, come at a time when Google is facing rising privacy and antitrust scrutiny and accusations of market distorting behavior at home and abroad.

Many governments are now actively questioning how competition policy needs to be updated to rein in platform power and help smaller technology innovators get out from under the tech giant shadow.

But in a note about the changes to chromium’s default search engine lists on an Github instance, Google software engineer Orin Jaworski merely writes that the list of search engine references per country is being “completely replaced based on new usage statistics” from “recently collected data”.

The per country search engine choices appear to loosely line up with top four marketshare.

The greatest beneficiary of the update appears to be pro-privacy Google rival, DuckDuckGo, which is now being offered as an option in more than 60 markets, per the Github instance.

Previously DDG was not offered as an option at all.

Another pro-privacy search rivals, French search engine Qwant, has also been added as a new option — though only in its home market, France.

Whereas DDG has been added in Argentina, Austria, Australia, Belgium, Brunei, Bolivia, Brazil, Belize, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Croatia, Germany, Denmark, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Faroe Islands, Finland, Greece, Guatemala, Honduras, Hungary, Indonesia, Ireland, India, Iceland, Italy, Jamaica, Kuwait, Lebanon, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Monaco, Moldova, Macedonia, Mexico, Nicaragua, Netherlands, Norway, New Zealand, Panama, Peru, Philippines, Poland, Puerto Rico, Portugal, Paraguay, Romania, Serbia, Sweden, Slovenia, Slovakia, El Salvador, Trinidad and Tobago, South Africa, Switzerland, UK, Uruguay, US and Venezuela.

“We’re glad that Google has recognized the importance of offering consumers a private search option,” DuckDuckGo founder Gabe Weinberg told us when approached for comment about the change.

DDG has been growing steadily for years, and has also recently taken outside investment to scale its efforts to capitalize on growing international appetite for pro-privacy products.

Interestingly, the chromium Github instance is dated December 2018 — which appears to be around about the time when Google (finally) passed the Duck.com domain to DuckDuckGo, after holding onto the domain and pointing it to Google.com for years.

We asked Google for comment on the timing of its changes to search engine options in chromium. At the time of writing the search giant had not responded.

We’ve also reached out to Qwant for comment on being added as an option in its home market.

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EV batteries are born in Chilean evaporation ponds

Using Landsat data from the US Geological survey, NASA’s Laren Dauphin recently imaged the Salar de Atacama in Chile. The enclosed basin is the world’s largest source of lithium, producing 29 percent of the world’s reserves. Much of it will wind up in rechargeable batteries used by EVs, laptops and smartphones, but how it gets there is surprising — think salt production, not pit mines.

Salar de Atacama is a salt flat from an ancient sea bed that contains massive reserves of lithium brine beneath its surface (“salar” means “salt flat”). It’s cut off in the east by the Andes mountains, and to the west by another range called Cordillera de Demoyko. It’s the driest desert in the world and with the high altitude (1.4 miles above sea level) the relentless sun would damage your skin in just minutes.

Just to the east is the Lascar volcano, one of the most active in Chile and part of a highly active region called the Central Volcanic Zone. The salt brines are regularly replenished with melted snow from the mountains and incoming streams, and the lithium and other salts in the flats may have derived from the nearby volcanoes.

Lithium carbonate salts are mined in much the same way as edible fleur de sel that’s famously harvested in Guérande and elsewhere. Companies pump brine containing lithium to the surface, where it’s fed via canals to plastic-lined evaporation ponds.

The Wider Image: Water fight raises questions over Chile lithium mining

Water flowing in a canal in front of Lascar volcano in Salar de Atacama (Reuters/Ivan Alvarado)

Thanks to high evaporation rates and low levels of precipitation (around one inch per year) the water quickly disappears, leaving deposits of lithium, boron and other salts. It’s then collected and transported to the nearby port city of Antofagasta for processing. Much of it eventually finds its way to lithium-ion batteries manufactured by Panasonic, Tesla, Samsung, LG Chem and others.

The square blocks in the images are the evaporation ponds, with lighter colors indicating higher concentrations of lithium. They’re replenished by canals and pumps, shown as grid-like patterns around the ponds. Two of the world’s largest lithium miners — US-based Abermarle Corp and Chile’s SQM — operate just a few miles apart in the basin.

A combination of climatic and geographic factors make the Salar de Atacama lithium beds some of the most productive in the world, more so than nearby flats in Bolivia and Argentina. However, increasing production to meet the sharply rising demand for lithium has created local conflicts.

The mining companies have been accused of pumping more brine than the ecosystem can support, draining the underground aquifers that support indigenous communities and sparse trees and plants in the region. “When people ask me, ‘Is the water going to run out?’ I tell them, ‘The truth is, we don’t know,” hydro-geologist Mariana Cervetto told Reuters.

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GoTrendier raises $3.5 million to take on Spanish-language fashion marketplaces

Thanks to environmentally conscious young buyers, throwaway culture is dying not only in the U.S., but also in Latin America — and startups are poised to jump in with services to help people recycle used clothing.

GoTrendier, a peer-to-peer fashion marketplace operative in Mexico and Colombia, has raised $3.5 million USD to do just that. And investors are eyeing the startup as the digital fashion marketplace growth leader in Spanish-speaking countries. 

GoTrendier, founded by Belén Cabido, is a platform that lets users buy and sell secondhand clothing. Cabido tells me that the new capital will enable GoTrendier to expand deeper into Mexico and Colombia, and launch in a new country: Chile. 

GoTrendier enables users to buy and sell used items through the GoTrendier site and app. The platform categorizes users as either salespeople or buyers. Salespeople create their own stores by uploading photos of garments along with a description and sale price. Buyers browse the platform for deals and once a buyer bites, the seller is given a prepaid shipping label. 

Sound familiar? Businesses like Poshmark and GoTrendier have no actual inventory, which allows the companies to take on less of a risk by having smaller overhead costs. In turn, the company acts as more of a social community for fashion exchanges.

In order to make money, Poshmark takes a flat commission of $2.95 for sales under $15. For anything more than that, the seller keeps 80 percent of their sale and Poshmark takes a 20 percent commission. Poshmark also owes its success to the socially connected shopping experience it created and the audience building features available to sellers — as detailed in this Harvard Business School study. GoTrendier has a similar commission pricing strategy, taking 20 percent off plus an additional nine pesos (about 48 cents in U.S. currency) for all purchases. The service also takes advantage of social media and sharing features to help connect and engage its fashion-loving community. 

But these companies are also largely venture-backed. In the case of GoTrendier, the round gave shareholder entry to Ataria, a Peruvian fund that invests in early-stage tech companies with high earning potential. Existing investors Banco Sabadell and IGNIA reinforced their position, along with Barcelona-based investors Antai Venture Builder, Bonsai Venture Capital and Pedralbes Partners.

GoTrendier amassed a user base of 1.3 million buyers and sellers throughout its four years of existence. The service operates in Mexico and Colombia, and will use its newest capital to launch in Chile — another market Cabido says is experiencing high demand for a secondhand fashion buying and selling service.

Online marketplace companies are growing in Latin America as smartphone adoption and digital banking services multiply in the region. But international expansion has proven to be an issue. Enjoei, a similar fashion marketplace that owns the market share in Brazil, had a botched attempt at expanding to Argentina due to Portugese-Spanish language barriers and eventually determined that Brazil was a large enough market in which to build its business — thus carving out an opportunity for companies like GoTrendier that offer the same services to dominate the surrounding Spanish-speaking markets in Latin America.

Many have remarked that Latin America’s tech scene is filled with copycats — or companies that emulate the business models of American or European startups and bring the same service to their home market. In order to secure bigger foreign investment checks, founders from growing tech regions like Latin America certainly must invent proprietary technologies. Yet there’s still value — and capital — in so-called copycat businesses. Why? Because the users are there and in some cases it’s just easier to start up.

According to investor Sergio Pérez of Sabadell Venture Capital, “The volume of the market for buying and selling second-hand clothes in the world was 360 million transactions in 2017 and is expected to reach 400 million in 2022.” A 2018 report from ThredUp also claimed that the size of the global secondhand market is set to hit $41 billion by 2022. The “throwaway” culture is disappearing thanks to environmentally conscious millennial buyers. As designer Stella McCartney famously said, “The future of fashion is circular – it will be restorative and regenerative by design and the clothes we love never end up as waste.” By buying on GoTrendier, the company claims its users have been able to save USD $12 million and have avoided more than 1,000 tons of CO2 emissions.

Founders building companies in Latin America aren’t necessarily as capital-hungry as Silicon Valley-based founders, (where a Series A can now equate to $68 million, apparently). Cabido tells me her company is able to fulfill operations and marketing needs with a lean staff of 30, noting that there’s a lot of natural demand for buying and selling used clothing in these regions, thus creating organic growth for her business. She wasn’t looking to raise capital, but investors had their eye on her. “[Investors] saw the tension of the marketplace, and we demonstrated that GoTrendier’s user base could be bigger and bigger,” she says. With sights set on new markets like Chile and Peru, Cabido decided to move forward and close the round.  

Poshmark, which benefits from indirect and same-side network effects, has raised $153 million to date from investors like Temasek Holdings, GGV and Menlo Ventures. Just like GoTrendier, Poshmark’s Series A was also a $3.5 million round.

Who’s to say that that amount of capital can’t boost a network effects growth model in Latin America too? The users are certainly waiting. 

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Investors are pouring money into Latin America’s logistics and shipping businesses

New technology companies are poised to transform the shipping and freight industry across Latin America.

Startups like Liftit, a Colombian provider of trucking services, and Nowports, a Mexican freight shipping startup, are angling to be the next Convoy and Flexport — at a time when shipping and logistics business in Latin America is booming thanks to increasing trade coming from China.

In the first half of 2018, Chinese foreign direct investment in Latin America increased to a whopping $15.3 billion at the same time it plummeted in the U.S. to $1.8 billion. And while much of that investment had historically gone to minerals and natural resource extraction or agriculture, China is also making infrastructure investments — just as it has in Africa.

“The most exciting sectors for innovation in shipping are in trucking, consumer/third-party shipping options, and in last-mile delivery,” writes the venture investor Nathan Lustig, a partner with the Chilean investment firm Magma Partners. “Startups in the logistics industry have their work cut out for them in Latin America, and these sectors are the most prominent battlegrounds for innovation so far.”

Some Latin American logistics companies — like the Brazilian trucking company CargoX — have gained the attention of investors like Goldman Sachs, The Blackstone Group, and Samsung Ventures thanks, in part, to being initially backed by Oscar Salazary, one of the minds that originally launched Uber. The company raised $60 million in its most recent round of funding, but has been on investors’ radar for years, thanks to its famous pedigree.

Now companies like Nowports are entering the fray. The company, which is graduating as part of the most recent crop of Y Combinator accelerated startups has set itself up to be the Flexport of Latin America.

Flexport became a billion-dollar business by applying technology to the outdated shipping industry, and NowPorts is angling to do much the same.

Alfonso de los Rios and Maximiliano Casal met at a program at Stanford University, but both come from Mexico originally. And Mexico is where the company is operating. De los Rios comes from a shipping family and is very familiar with the time-consuming, manual practices that now dominate the Latin American shipping industry.

“One out of every two containers is lost or delayed because of miscommunication,” says de los Rios. “One container can get 300 emails between the freight provider and the shipper. We reduce the mistakes to zero and processing documentation three times faster than a normal freight provider in Latin America.”

To familiarize himself with the market that he’d be developing a technology for, Casal worked in a freight forwarder in Kansas City that had been operating for more than 30 years.

NowPorts is operating from Monterrey and Mexico City and will soon be opening offices in Santiago, and Montevideo, Uruguay.

“Right now we have four customers and we are moving 60 containers per month and we have a pipeline that will be growing to a very big number in March,” says Casal.

In all, freight providers are getting paid nearly $40 billion per year to move freight into Latin America.

If Nowports is building a new kind of shipping business, then Liftit, which just raised the largest Series A of any company hailing from Colombia is looking to do the same with trucking.

The $14.3 million round was led by the International Finance Corp. and the Brazilian-based pan-Latin American investment firm Monashees.

Founded by serial entrepreneur Brian York, Liftit is looking to be the logistics provider for trucking in Latin America.

York, who was born in Bogota, but was raised by his adoptive parents in Boston, returned to Latin America after several years as a successful serial entrepreneur in the United States.

After several years of searching for his biological family and exploring his roots in between running startups, York decided to return to Colombia more permanently. He found his biological brother (who is working for Liftit as a truck driver) and launched the company with a $2 million seed round.

The opportunity for logistics startups is vast. As Lustig notes:

The challenge of automating and streamlining shipping logistics in Latin America is becoming more pressing as e-commerce and other B2C delivery businesses take hold. Not only are large corporations dealing with sending and receiving bulk cargo across the region, but individual consumers want more on-demand services that require better organization and logistics.

Latin America still lags behind in the development of its shipping industry. The World Bank reported that in 2014, no Latin American country was in the top 25% of the Logistic Performance Index global rankings. In 2016, this figure hardly changed; Panama is the top-ranked Latin American country for logistics and shipping, yet it comes in 40th on the LPI global rankings. Chile is next at 46th, with Mexico and Brazil ranking 54th and 55th, respectively.

It’s with this in mind that investors are willing to open their wallets for startups in these emerging markets. And aligning the infrastructure in the region with 21st century standards will create even more opportunities as startups can take advantage of the more modern delivery and distribution tools at their disposal.

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Employee Falls for Fake Job Interview Over Skype, Gives North Korean Hackers Access to Chile's ATM Network: Report

Photo: Getty Images

The one thing no one expects on a job interview is North Korean hackers picking up on the other line. But that’s apparently exactly what happened to a hapless employee at Redbanc, the company that handles Chile’s ATM network.

The bizarre story was reported in trendTIC, a Chilean tech site. A Redbanc employee found a job opening on LinkedIn for a developer position. After setting up a Skype interview, the employee was then asked to install a program called ApplicationPDF.exe on their computer, trendTIC reports. The program was reportedly explained to be part of the recruitment process and generated a standard application form. But it was not an application form, it was malware.

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Because the malware was then installed on a company computer, the hackers reportedly received important info about the employee’s work computer, including username, hardware and OS, and proxy settings. With all that info, the hackers would then be able to later deliver a second-stage payload to the infected computer.

As for the link to North Korea, an analysis by security firm Flashpoint indicates the malware utilized PowerRatankba, a malicious toolkit associated with Lazarus Group, a hacking organization with ties to Pyongyang. If you haven’t heard of these guys, you’ve definitely heard of the stuff they’ve been up to. Also known as Hidden Cobra, the Lazarus Group is linked with the Sony hack in 2014 and the WannaCry 2.0 virus, which infected 230,000 computers in 150 countries in 2017. They’re also known for targeting major banking and financial institutions and have reportedly absconded with $571 million in cryptocurrency since January 2017.

The hack reportedly took place at the end of December, but it was only made public after Chilean Senator Felipe Harboe took to Twitter last week to blast Redbanc for keeping the breach secret. Redbanc later acknowledged the breach occurred in a statement, but the company failed to mention any details.

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That said, there were some serious security 101 no-no’s committed by the Redbanc employee that we can all learn from. Mainly, it doesn’t matter how much you hate your current gig, you should be suspicious if a prospective employer asks you to download any program that asks for personal information. Also, for multiple common-sense reasons, maybe don’t do job interviews on your dedicated work computer. And while it’s hard these days not to take work home, for security reasons, you should definitely be more discerning about the programs you download onto a work-issued device. Sounds simple enough, but then again, it happened to this poor fellow.

[ZDNet]

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