With the Paris Call, Macron wants to limit cyberattacks

French President Emmanuel Macron gave a speech at the Internet Governance Forum at UNESCO in Paris. While the IGF has been around for a while, it hasn’t been as active as some would have hoped.

That’s why the French government is issuing the Paris Call, a short three-page document on cybersecurity. President Macron hopes to foster the IGF and create a subgroup of countries (and companies) that can agree on cybersecurity issues.

“First, internet works and is here. And even though news bulletins are riddled with cyber incidents, we blindly trust tech tools,” Macron said.

And yet, according to him, if the global community can’t agree on appropriate regulation, there’s a risk for the integrity of democratic processes. He thinks that there are currently two sides. Authoritarian governments already filter internet requests to restrict the web to a subset of the internet, while democratic countries let anyone browse a (mostly) unfiltered web.

“Today’s cyberattacks can compromise health services. And if we don’t know for sure that the system is secure at all times, the system is going to fragment into multiple spaces.”

In other words, cyberattacks could lead democratic countries to imitate China and block many web services in order to protect the network.

“That’s why I came today to suggest a new collegiate method. This forum should produce more than debates and talks. It should become something new to support concrete decisions,” Macron said.

He’s suggesting that the IGF should report to the Secretary-General of the United Nations directly. And he’s also supporting the Paris Call, an agreement between countries, companies and NGOs.

Hundreds of organizations have already signed the Paris Call, such as most European countries, Microsoft, Cisco, Samsung, Siemens, Facebook, Google, the ICANN, the Internet Society, etc. But China and the U.S. have yet to sign the Paris Call.

You can read the full text of the Paris Call here. Members of the Paris Call mostly agree to prevent cyberattacks of all sorts — it’s a peace offer.

When it comes to content, Macron didn’t want to say that he was against the web. He mentioned that the web enabled the Democratic Spring, greater mobilization against climate change and women’s rights. But he also said that extremists are now leveraging the web for hate speech.

“Giant platforms could become not just gateways but also gatekeepers,” Macron said.

There have been efforts in the past when it comes to removing terrorist content and hate speech. But Macron now thinks that it should go further.

That’s why Facebook and the French government are going to cooperate to look at Facebook’s efforts when it comes to moderation:

Finally, Macron used this opportunity to talk once again about France’s digital efforts. The French government has been working hard on a new way to tax tech giants in Europe so that tech giants are taxed more fairly. Macron framed it as a way to protect smaller companies from unfair competition. But negotiations are stuck for now.

Macron also defended a third way when it comes to artificial intelligence investments and innovation.

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BlaBlaCar to acquire Ouibus and offer bus service

French startup BlaBlaCar is announcing plans to acquire Ouibus, the bus division of France’s national railway company SNCF. For the first time, BlaBlaCar is moving beyond carpooling and plans to offer both long-distance carpooling rides and bus rides.

BlaBlaCar already ran a test with Ouibus for the past six months on popular corridors. It looks like both companies are happy with this test, as SNCF is willing to let BlaBlaCar run Ouibus from now on.

As part of this deal, BlaBlaCar is announcing a new $114 million investment (€101 million) from SNCF and existing BlaBlaCar investors. I’d guess that this isn’t just cash but probably cash and shares as part of the move with SNCF. Yes, you read that correctly, SNCF is now an investor in BlaBlaCar.

Ouibus has transported more than 12 million passengers over the past few years in France and Europe. Many thought that buses would hurt BlaBlaCar over the long run. By offering buses on BlaBlaCar directly, the company can capitalize on its brand and huge community to counter that trend. BlaBlaCar is now a marketplace for road travel.

BlaBlaCar is taking a risk, as Ouibus has been relentlessly losing money. Just like other bus companies, Ouibus relies heavily on contractors, which means that BlaBlaCar could quickly adjust the offering. It’ll also depend on product integrations on BlaBlaCar, OUI.sncf and other platforms.

BlaBlaCar currently has 65 million users in 22 countries and is about to reach profitability. And you can expect to find ridesharing offers on OUI.sncf in the coming months.

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Framer, the interactive design platform, scores $24M Series B led by Atomico

Framer, the Amsterdam-based startup behind interactive design platform Framer X, has raised $24 million in Series B investment. The round is led by European VC firm Atomico, with participation from Accel, and AngelList. The startup says it will use the new capital to continue building out its platform for designers and product teams. It brings the total raised to date by Framer to $33 million.

Founded by ex-Facebookers Koen Bok and Jorn van Dijk, Framer has set out to ride (and power) a trend that is seeing every company having to become a digital business and often a product-first company, as consumers become accustomed to high quality apps and other desirable digital experiences. This means that better tools are required to prototype news apps or features, and therefore help shorten the feedback loop and speed up the development process overall.

To that end, Framer X is described as a “fully integrated design, prototyping and developer handoff tool” that makes it easy to create app designs and prototypes that are as visually polished as a production app. Designs created in Framer X are powered by the React framework, and the platform enables a lot of off-the-shelf interactivity, rather than prototypes simply being static wireframes or designs with limited transitions or hotspots. You can also export front-end code for use in your production apps, should you so desire.

However, as explained during a video presentation by Bok and Dijk, what potentially sets Framer X apart from other competing app design and prototyping tools is that you can also import production components and assets into the software for re-use so that designers aren’t continually re-inventing the wheel. Via the “Framer X Store,” these React-based components can also come from and be shared by the wider developer community. Examples include video players (such as YouTube), live maps and data generators, to UI kits and interactive design systems.

This means that Framer is attempting to be a platform play in the true sense of the word, while in turn the Framer X Store is a clever way of creating network effects. Tech brands that have their own developer ecosystems (and are in part “API businesses”) can make components and visual assets available in the store to further lower the barriers for third-party app developers who want to build integrations.

Related to this, the company is announcing the beta launch of a private design store for teams on Framer X. The Team Store enables members of teams at the same company to collaborate and share brand assets, design components, and more, so as to allow for internal interactive design systems to also live within the Framer platform.

Cue a statement from Atomico Partner Hiro Tamura, who led on behalf of the London-based venture capital firm: “The world’s best digital products, like Google, Facebook, Dropbox, Twitter and Snap, are designed and built by teams. Those teams are already using Framer X. We are excited about partnering with Koen, Jorn and the Framer team to help make that level of digital product excellence and innovation accessible to any company in any traditional industry, from financial services to retail and beyond.”

Meanwhile, the Framer founding back story is worth noting. Bok and Dijk previously founded app and design studio Sofa, which they sold to Facebook in 2011. As part of the deal they relocated to Facebook’s headquarters in the U.S., and worked on various products, reporting directly to Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg. However, seeing an opportunity to help more companies transition to becoming digital-first and product-led, the pair left to found Framer in 2014.

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London’s transport regulator looks to startups to help fix urban mobility

London’s transport regulator, TfL has announced a partnership with Bosch for its forthcoming co-working space in Shoreditch.

The civic tech project is intended to run for 18 months as a pilot — though Bosch’s ‘Connectory’ co-working facility won’t open until the end of January. A company spokeswoman confirmed the partnership is nonetheless up and running now.

The aim of the collaborative project is to share data and expertise, including by tapping into London’s startup ecosystem, to land on new ideas for tackling urban mobility issues — from traffic jams to awful air quality.

Transport issues are especially pressing for the city as London’s population is forecast to reach a staggering 10.8 million by 2041 — which would mean around six million additional trips being generated per day.

Specific issues TfL is looking for help with include developing more efficient, greener and safer vehicles; reducing congestion; and encouraging more people to walk, cycle and take public transport across London, it said today.

TfL will be providing technical knowledge and “a wide range” of datasets throughout the pilot to allow participating companies to test ideas and “understand patterns in more detail than has previously been possible”, it added.

The data will be based on its existing Unified API and open data platform, which it notes is already underpinning nearly 700 apps used by approaching half (42 per cent) of Londoners.

Startups selected for the collaboration will be provided with dedicated space within Bosch’s Connectory, alongside TfL staff who will also be based there during the pilot.

Commenting in a statement, Arun Srinivasan, executive VP and head of mobility solutions at Bosch UK said: “We believe that the collaboration between Bosch and TfL will enable us to accelerate the development of technologies, products and services that have a positive impact on city life.”

Startups will be selected by Bosch, according to a TfL spokesman. We’ve asked for more details on selection criteria.

Update: A Bosch spokeswomen told us: “There will be a number of programmes running for start ups in the Connectory. These programmes will be around specific mobility challenges and many will have open calls for start ups to enter. We also welcome direct approaches by small business/start ups who want to be part of the Connectory community feel they have something to offer that will help solve London’s transport challenges. Get in touch!”

She said there is no fixed number of startup planned to be selected for the pilot, saying they will have rolling cohorts “designed around specific London mobility challenges” — launching this process in the New Year.

“This new ‘urban mobility’ lab is the first of its kind with a primary focus on urban mobility, and will provide the forum for private sector partners, academia and public sector to work together to tackle a range of problems facing Londoners in years to come,” the pair added in a press release today.

“By facilitating closer collaboration, TfL and Bosch hope to support start-ups to develop a range of smart products and help them identify ways to bring them to market more quickly through open procurement.”

The entire co-working facility is focused on urban mobility — but will also be open to other interested companies and startups to rent or bag a space (i.e. via Bosch’s scouting programs where it does take equity), not just to the startups selected for the TfL pilot.

Bosch’s network of Connectory co-innovation spaces also links out to cities internationally, including Chicago and Stuttgart, further expanding potential knowledge-sharing opportunities.

Commenting in a statement, the mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, said: “This initiative will foster closer working between London’s tech sector and other leading tech cities. If we are to use data and smart technology to help solve the biggest problems our city faces, it’s crucial we take a more collaborative approach. I see London’s future as a global ‘test-bed city’ for civic innovation, where the best ideas are developed, amplified and scaled.”

Depending on the outcome of the pilot, TfL said the Greater London Authority may seek similar collaborative approaches to support other aspects of its work — including housing, environment and policing, aligning with the mayor of London’s strategic priorities.

“I’ve been clear I want London to become the world’s smartest city and this is a further step towards realising that ambition,” Khan added.

This report was updated with additional detail about startup selection; and to correct that the lab will focus exclusively on urban mobility — but is also open to interested companies to rent space, as well as to startups Bosch selects to take a stake in  

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SAP agrees to buy Qualtrics for $8B in cash, just before the survey software company’s IPO

Ryan Smith of Qualtrics speaks onstage during TechCrunch Disrupt SF 2015

Enterprise software giant SAP announced today that it has agreed to acquire Qualtrics for $8 billion in cash, just before the survey and research software company was set to go public. The deal is expected to be completed in the first half of 2019. Qualtrics last round of venture capital funding in 2016 raised $180 million at a $2.5 billion valuation.

This is the second-largest ever acquisition of a SaaS company, after Oracle’s purchase of Netsuite for $9.3 billion in 2016.

In a conference call, SAP CEO Bill McDermott said Qualtrics’ IPO was already oversubscribed and that the two companies began discussions a few months ago. SAP claims its software touches 77 percent of the world’s transaction revenue, while Qualtrics’ products include survey software that enables its 9,000 enterprise users to gauge things like customer sentiment and employee engagement.

McDermott compared the potential impact of combining SAP’s operational data with Qualtrics’ customer and user data to Facebook’s acquisition of Instagram. “The legacy players who carried their ‘90s technology into the 21st century just got clobbered. We have made existing participants in the market extinct,” he said. (SAP’s competitors include Oracle, Salesforce.com, Microsoft, and IBM.)

SAP, whose global headquarters is in Walldorf, Germany, said it has secured financing of €7 billion (about $7.93 billion) to cover acquisition-related costs and the purchase price, which will include unvested employee bonuses and cash on the balance sheet at close.

Ryan Smith, who co-founded Qualtrics in 2002, will continue to serve as its CEO. After the acquisition is finalized, the company will become part of SAP’s Cloud Business Group, but retain its dual headquarters in Provo, Utah and Seattle, as well as its own branding and personnel.

According to Crunchbase, the company raised a total of $400 million in VC funding from investors including Accel, Sequoia, and Insight Ventures. It had intended to sell 20.5 million shares in its debut for $18 to $21, which could have potentially grossed up to about $495 million. This would have put its valuation between $3.9 billion to $4.5 billion, according to CrunchBase’s Alex Wilhelm.

This year, Qualtrics’ revenue grew 8.5 percent from $97.1 million in the second-quarter to $105.4 million in the third-quarter, according to its IPO filing. It reported third-quarter GAAP net income of $4.9 million. That represented an increase from the $975,000 it reported in the previous quarter, as well as its net profit in the same period a year ago of $4.7 million. Qualtrics grew its operating cash flow to $52.5 million in the first nine months of 2018, compared to $36.1 million during the same period in 2017.

In today’s announcement, Qualtrics said it expects its full-year 2018 revenue to exceed $400 million and forecasts a forward growth rate of more than 40 percent, not counting the potential synergies of its acquisition by SAP.

Qualtrics’ main competitors include SurveyMonkey, which went public in September.

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A tale of two scooter cities

The kids in Madrid’s El Retiro Park are loving their new on-demand joyriding toys. Lime launched its scooters in the Spanish capital this summer.

Spending a weekend in the city center last month the craze was impossible to miss. Scooters parked in clusters vying for pay-to-play time. Sometimes lined up tidily. All too often not.

The bright Lime rides really stood out, though it’s not the only brand in town. Scooter startups have been quick to hop on the international expansion bandwagon as they gun for growth.

Grandly proportioned El Retiro clearly makes a great spot for taking a scooter for a spin. Test rides beget joyrides, and so the kids were hopping on. Sometimes two to one.

The boulevard linking the Prado with the Reina Sofia was another popular route to scoot.

While a busy central bar district was a hot ride-ditching spot later on. Lines of scooters were vying for space with the vintage street bollards.

The appeal was obvious: Bowl up to the bar and drink! No worries about parking or how to get your ride home afterwards. But for Saturday night revellers there was suddenly a new piece of street furniture to lurch around, with slouching handlebars sticking up all over the place. Anyone trying to navigate the pavement in a wheelchair wouldn’t have had much fun.

In another of Spain’s big tourist cities the scooter story is a little different: Catalan capital Barcelona hasn’t had an invasion of on-demand scooter startups yet but scooters have crept in. In recent years locals have tapped in of their own accord — buying not renting.

Rides are a front-of-store sight in electronics shops, big and small — costing a few hundred euros. Even for a flashy Italian design…

Electronic scooters

Take a short walk in one of the more hipster barrios and chances are you’ll pass someone who’s bought into the craze for nipping around on two wheels. There’s lots of non-electric scooters too but e-scooters do seem to have carved out a growing niche for themselves with a certain type of Barcelona native.

Again, you can see the logic: Well-dressed professionals can zip around narrow streets that aren’t always great for finding a place to (safely) lock up a bike.

There’s actually a pretty wide variety of wheeled e-rides in play for locals with the guts to get on them. Some with seats and/or handles, others with almost nothing. (The hands-in-pockets hipsters on self-balancing unicycles are quite the sight.)

In both of these Spanish cities it’s clear people are falling for — and, well, sometimes off — the micro-mobility trend.

But the difference between the on-demand scooters being toyed with in Madrid vs Barcelona’s locally owned two wheelers is a level of purpose and intent.

The Lime rides in Madrid’s center seemed mostly a tourist novelty. At least for now, having only had a couple of months to bed in.

Whereas the organic growth of scooters in Barcelona barrios is about people who live there feeling a need.

Even the unicycling hipsters seem to be actually on their way somewhere.

Hop on

What does this mean for scooter startups? It’s another example of how technology’s utility and wider societal impacts can vary when you parachute a new thing into a market and hope people jump on board vs growth being organic and more gradual because it’s led by real-world demand.

And it’s essential to think about impacts where scooters and micro-mobility is concerned because all this stuff must piggyback on shared public spaces. No one has the luxury of being able to avoid what’s buzzing up and down their street.

That’s why lots of on-demand scooters have ended up trashed and vandalized — as residents make their feelings known (having not been asked about the alien invaders in the first place).

In Europe there’s a further twist because the spaces scooter startups are seeking to colonize are already well served with all sorts of public transport options. So there’s a clear and present danger that these new kids on the block won’t displace anything. And will just mean more traffic and extra congestion — as happened with ride-hailing.

In Madrid, the first tranche of on-demand scooters seems to be generating pretty superficial and additive use. Offering a novel alternative to walking between sights or bars on a trip to-do list. Just possibly they’re replacing a short taxi or metro hop.

In the park, they were being used 100% for fun. Perhaps takings are down at the boating lake.

Barcelona has plenty of electro-powered joyriding down at the beach front in summer — where shops rent all sorts of wheels to tourists by the hour. But away from the beach locals don’t seem to be wasting scooter charge riding in circles.

They’re stepping out for regular trips like commuting to and from work. In other words, scooters are useful.

Given all this activity and engagement micro-mobility does seem to offer genuine transformative potential in dense urban environments. At least where the climate doesn’t punish for most of the year.

This is why investors are so hot on scooters. But the additive nature of micro-mobility underlines a pressing need for the technology to be properly steered if cities, residents and societies are to get the best benefits.

Scooters could certainly replace some moped trips. Even some local car journeys. So they could play an important role in reducing pollution and noise by taking trips away from petrol- and diesel-powered vehicles.

Because they offer a convenient, low-barrier-to-entry alternative with populist pull.

Not being too high speed also means, in and of themselves, they’re fairly safe.

If you’re just barrio hopping or can map most of your social life across a few city blocks there’s no doubting their convenience. Novelty is not the only lure.

Hop off

Though, equally, the local-level journeys that scooters are best suited for could just as easily be completed on foot, by bike or via public transit options like a metro.

And Barcelona’s congested streets don’t look any less packed with petrol engines — yet.

Which means scooters are both an opportunity and a risk.

If policymakers get the regulations right, a smart city could leverage their fun factor to nudge commuters away from more powerful but less environmentally friendly vehicles — with, potentially, some very major gains up for grabs.

Subsidized scooters coupled with a framework of congestion zones that levy fees on petrol/diesel engines is one simple example.

A clever policy could open the possibility of excluding cars almost entirely from city centers — so that streets could be reclaimed for new leisure and retail opportunities that don’t demand masses of parking space on tap.

Pollution is a chronic problem in almost all large cities in the world. So reshaping city centers to be more people-centric and less toxic to human health by displacing cars would be an incredible win for micro-mobility.

Even as the hop on, hop off ease of scooters offers a suggestive glimpse of what’s possible if we dare to rethink urban architecture to put people rather than four-wheeled vehicles first.

Yet get the policy wrong and scooters could end up — at very best — a frivolous irrelevance. A joyride that disrupts going nowhere. Yet another nuisance on already choked streets. An optional extra that feels disposable and gets rudely discarded because no one feels invested.

In this scenario the technology is not socially transformative. It’s more likely an antisocial nuisance. And a pointless drain on resources because it’s doing no more than disrupting walking.

Scooter startups have already run into some of these issues. And that’s not surprising given how fast they’ve been trying to grow. Their early expansionist playbook does also risk looking like Uber all over again.

Yet Uber could have pioneered micro-mobility itself. But being ‘laser focused on growth’ seemingly gave the company tunnel vision. Only now, under a new CEO, it’s all change. Now Uber wants to be a one-stop platform for all sorts of transport options.

But how many years did it waste missing the disruptive potential of micro-mobility coming down the road because it was too busy trying to fit more cars into cities — and ignoring how residents felt about that?

An obsession with growth at all costs may well be a side effect of major VC dollars flooding in. But for startups it really does pay to stay self-aware, perhaps especially when you’re rolling in money. Else you might find your investors funding your biggest blind spot — if you end up missing the next even more transformative disruption.

The really clever trick to pull off is not ‘scale fast or die trying’; it’s smart growth that’s predicated upon applying innovative technologies in ways that bring whole communities along with them. That’s true transformation.

For scooters that means not just dumping them on cities without any thought beyond creaming a profit off of anything that moves. But getting residents and communities engaged with the direction of travel. Partnering with people and policymakers on the right incentives to steer innovation onto its best track.

Move people around cities, yes, and shift them out of their cars.

There’s little doubt that Uber’s old ‘growth at any cost’ playbook was hugely wasteful and damaging (not least to the company’s own reputation). And now it’s having to retrofit a more inclusive approach at the same time as unpicking an ‘environmentally insensitive’ legacy that original playbook really doesn’t look so smart.

Scooter startups are still young and have made some of their own mistakes trying to chase early scale. But there are reasons to be cheerful about this new crop of mobility startups too.

Signs they see value and opportunities in being pro-actively engaged with the environments they’re operating in. Having also learnt some hard early lessons about the need to be very sensitive to shared spaces.

Bird announced a program this summer offering discounted rides to people on low incomes, for example. Lime has a similar program.

These are small but interesting steps. Here’s hoping we’re going to see a lot more.

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Bubble lets you create web applications with no coding experience

Meet Bubble a bootstrapped startup that has been building a powerful service that lets you create a web application even if you don’t know how to code. Many small and big companies rely on Bubble for their website.

I have to say I was quite skeptical when I first heard about Bubble. Many startups have already tried to make coding as easy as playing with Lego bricks. But it’s always frustratingly limited.

Bubble is more powerful than your average website building service. It recreates all the major pillars of web programming in a visual interface.

It starts with a design tab. You start with a blank canvas and you can create web pages by dragging and dropping visual elements on the screen. You can put elements wherever you want, resize maps, text boxes, images and more. You can click on the preview button to see the development version of your time whenever your want.

In the second tab, you can create the logic behind your site. It works a bit like Automator on the Mac. You add blocks to create a chronological action. You can set some conditions within each block.

In the third tab, you can interact with your database. For instance, you can create a sign up page and store profile information in the database. At any time, you can import and export data.

There are hundreds of plugins that let you accept payments with Stripe, embed a TypeForm, use Intercom for customer support via chat, use Mixpanel, etc. You can also use your Bubble data outside of Bubble. For instance, you can build an iPhone app that relies on your Bubble database.

Many small companies started using Bubble, and it’s been working fine for some of them. For instance, Plato uses Bubble for all its back office. Qoins and Meetaway run on Bubble. Dividend Finance raised $365 million and uses Bubble.

The startup takes care of hosting your application for you. Every time you resize your instance as your application gets bigger, you pay more.

Even though the company never raised any money, it already generates $115,000 in monthly recurring revenue. Bubble is still a small startup, which can be scary for bigger customers. But the company wants to improve the product so that customers don’t see the limitations of Bubble. Now, the challenge is to grow faster than customers’ needs.

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Nested, the online estate agent that makes home sellers ‘chain-free’, raises further £120M

Nested, the London-based “data-driven” estate agency that provides a cash advance to help you buy a new home before you’ve sold your old one, has raised a further £120 million in funding. The new round is a mixture of equity and debt: £20 million and £100 million, respectively. Leading the equity round is Northzone, and Balderton Capital, while the debt finance comes from an unnamed institutional investor.

It is noteworthy that Balderton has only just invested in Nested several rounds into the company’s existence, considering that the London-based venture capital firm typically invests earlier at Series A. Balderton is also a backer of GoCardless, the payments company previously co-founded by Nested founder Matt Robinson. That said, Balderton General Partner Tim Bunting did invest in Nested in a personal capacity very early on.

Launched in late 2016, Nested competes with high-end estate agents by providing all of the services needed to sell your house, but with a key difference. In addition to handling valuation, marketing and sales, the startup will loan you up to 95 per cent of the market value of your property as a cash advance, that way you’re able to purchase a new home prior to your old one selling. Before Brexit and the uncertainty it has caused with regards to London house prices, that figure was up to 97 percent of the market value of the property, and I understand Nested hopes to return to that percentage once things settle down.

More broadly, the idea behind Nested is to eliminate much of the stress and uncertainty of selling and buying a home, including what your final budget will be, and also ensure that you’re never caught up in the dreaded property ‘chain’ and miss out on your desired home, or are kept in limbo indefinitely waiting for your property to sell. By becoming a cash buyer, it also puts you in the strongest possible position to negotiate on your onward purchase. Robinson says this typically sees savings of 2-4 percent.

In return, Nested charges a fee from 2-4 per cent (plus VAT) depending on how soon you want to receive the advance, and takes a loss if it fails to sell the property for an amount above its initial advance. The idea is to incentivise the startup to always try to get you the genuine market price or more.

TechCrunch’s Steve O’Hear giving Nested’s Matt Robinson (pictured right) a hard time at Startup Grind London earlier this year.

Asked how well that is working out so far, Robinson tells me historical valuation accuracy is on average within 1.5 percent of what the company predicted. Better still, Nested is running at 100 percent accuracy for 2018 and is confident enough to make this data public.

“The traditional agents don’t even track it and the online players do their best to obscure the fact that they sell only roughly 4/10th of properties they take on i.e. most customers pay them £1,000 up-front to not sell their house and are left out-of-pocket!” says the Nested founder.

To date, Nested has helped over 400 home-owners, and, aside from increasing volume, including helping property owners outside of London, the company says it plans to further expand its product offering. The bulk of these new products will continue to target sellers to “radically improve the selling experience”. However, I understand that since sellers are buyers, too, future services could also include using Nested’s data, tech and expertise to help with the buying process as well.

Adds Robinson in a statement: “We’re excited to receive the backing from some of Europe’s top VCs who share our vision for fixing the age-old problem of buying and selling homes. We are building an incredible team to offer an unassailable service with the most progressive technology in the property industry. This investment will allow us to continue solving the problems that prevent people from moving home with ease”.

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Children are being “datafied” before we’ve understood the risks, report warns

A report by England’s children’s commissioner has raised concerns about how kids’ data is being collected and shared across the board, in both the private and public sectors.

In the report, entitled Who knows what about me?, Anne Longfield urges society to “stop and think” about what big data means for children’s lives.

Big data practices could result in a data-disadvantaged generation whose life chances are shaped by their childhood data footprint, her report warns.

The long term impacts of profiling minors when these children become adults is simply not known, she writes.

“Children are being “datafied” – not just via social media, but in many aspects of their lives,” says Longfield.

“For children growing up today, and the generations that follow them, the impact of profiling will be even greater – simply because there is more data available about them.”

By the time a child is 13 their parents will have posted an average of 1,300 photos and videos of them on social media, according to the report. After which this data mountain “explodes” as children themselves start engaging on the platforms — posting to social media 26 times per day, on average, and amassing a total of nearly 70,000 posts by age 18.

“We need to stop and think about what this means for children’s lives now and how it may impact on their future lives as adults,” warns Longfield. “We simply do not know what the consequences of all this information about our children will be. In the light of this uncertainty, should we be happy to continue forever collecting and sharing children’s data?

“Children and parents need to be much more aware of what they share and consider the consequences. Companies that make apps, toys and other products used by children need to stop filling them with trackers, and put their terms and conditions in language that children understand. And crucially, the Government needs to monitor the situation and refine data protection legislation if needed, so that children are genuinely protected – especially as technology develops,” she adds.

The report looks at what types of data is being collected on kids; where and by whom; and how it might be used in the short and long term — both for the benefit of children but also considering potential risks.

On the benefits side, the report cites a variety of still fairly experimental ideas that might make positive use of children’s data — such as for targeted inspections of services for kids to focus on areas where data suggests there are problems; NLP technology to speed up analysis of large data-sets (such as the NSPCC’s national case review repository) to find common themes and understand “how to prevent harm and promote positive outcomes”; predictive analytics using data from children and adults to more cost-effectively flag “potential child safeguarding risks to social workers”; and digitizing children’s Personal Child Health Record to make the current paper-based record more widely accessible to professionals working with children.

But while Longfield describes the increasing availability of data as offering “enormous advantages”, she is also very clear on major risks unfolding — be it to safety and well-being; child development and social dynamics; identity theft and fraud; and the longer term impact on children’s opportunity and life chances.

“In effect [children] are the “canary in the coal mine for wider society, encountering the risks before many adults become aware of them or are able to develop strategies to mitigate them,” she warns. “It is crucial that we are mindful of the risks and mitigate them.”

Transparency is lacking

One clear takeaway from the report is there is still a lack of transparency about how children’s data is being collected and processed — which in itself acts as a barrier to better understanding the risks.

“If we better understood what happens to children’s data after it is given – who collects it, who it is shared with and how it is aggregated – then we would have a better understanding of what the likely implications might be in the future, but this transparency is lacking,” Longfield writes — noting that this is true despite ‘transparency’ being the first key principle set out in the EU’s tough new privacy framework, GDPR.

The updated data protection framework did beef up protections for children’s personal data in Europe — introducing a new provision setting a 16-year-old age limit on kids’ ability to consent to their data being processed when it came into force on May 25, for example. (Although EU Member States can choose to write a lower age limit into their laws, with a hard cap set at 13.)

And mainstream social media apps, such as Facebook and Snapchat, responded by tweaking their T&Cs and/or products in the region. (Although some of the parental consent systems that were introduced to claim compliance with GDPR appear trivially easy for kids to bypass, as we’ve pointed out before.)

But, as Longfield points out, Article 5 of the GDPR states that data must be “processed lawfully, fairly and in a transparent manner in relation to individuals”.

Yet when it comes to children’s data the children’s commissioner says transparency is simply not there.

She also sees limitations with GDPR, from a children’s data protection perspective — pointing out that, for example, it does not prohibit the profiling of children entirely (stating only that it “should not be the norm”).

While another provision, Article 22 — which states that children have the right not to be subject to decisions based solely on automated processing (including profiling) if they have legal or similarly significant effects on them — also appears to be circumventable.

“They do not apply to decision-making where humans play some role, however minimal that role is,” she warns, which suggests another workaround for companies to exploit children’s data.

“Determining whether an automated decision-making process will have “similarly significant effects” is difficult to gauge given that we do not yet understand the full implications of these processes – and perhaps even more difficult to judge in the case of children,” Longfield also argues.

“There is still much uncertainty around how Article 22 will work in respect of children,” she adds. “The key area of concern will be in respect of any limitations in relation to advertising products and services and associated data protection practices.”

Recommendations

The report makes a series of recommendations for policymakers, with Longfield calling for schools to “teach children about how their data is collected and used, and what they can do to take control of their data footprints”.

She also presses the government to consider introducing an obligation on platforms that use “automated decision-making to be more transparent about the algorithms they use and the data fed into these algorithms” — where data collected from under 18s is used.

Which would essentially place additional requirements on all mainstream social media platforms to be far less opaque about the AI machinery they use to shape and distribute content on their platforms at vast scale. Given that few — if any — could claim not to have no under 18s using their platforms.

She also argues that companies targeting products at children have far more explaining to do, writing: 

Companies producing apps, toys and other products aimed at children should be more transparent about any trackers capturing information about children. In particular where a toy collects any video or audio generated by a child this should be made explicit in a prominent part of the packaging or its accompanying information. It should be clearly stated if any video or audio content is stored on the toy or elsewhere and whether or not it is transmitted over the internet. If it is transmitted, parents should also be told whether or not it will be encrypted during transmission or when stored, who might analyse or process it and for what purposes. Parents should ask if information is not given or unclear.

Another recommendation for companies is that terms and conditions should be written in a language children can understand.

(Albeit, as it stands, tech industry T&Cs can be hard enough for adults to scratch the surface of — let alone have enough hours in the day to actually read.)

Photo: SementsovaLesia/iStock

A recent U.S. study of kids apps, covered by BuzzFeed News, highlighted that mobile games aimed at kids can be highly manipulative, describing instances of apps making their cartoon characters cry if a child does not click on an in-app purchase, for example.

A key and contrasting problem with data processing is that it’s so murky; applied in the background so any harms are far less immediately visible because only the data processor truly knows what’s being done with people’s — and indeed children’s — information.

Yet concerns about exploitation of personal data are stepping up across the board. And essentially touch all sectors and segments of society now, even as risks where kids are concerned may look the most stark.

This summer the UK’s privacy watchdog called for an ethical pause on the use by political campaigns of online ad targeting tools, for example, citing a range of concerns that data practices have got ahead of what the public knows and would accept.

It also called for the government to come up with a Code of Practice for digital campaigning to ensure that long-standing democratic norms are not being undermined.

So the children’s commissioner’s appeal for a collective ‘stop and think’ where the use of data is concerned is just one of a growing number of raised voices policymakers are hearing.

One thing is clear: Calls to quantify what big data means for society — to ensure powerful data-mining technologies are being applied in ways that are ethical and fair for everyone — aren’t going anywhere.

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David Attenborough to voice Netflix’s nature conservation series, Our Planet

Netflix has persuaded everyone’s favorite naturalist, David Attenborough, to voice its forthcoming original nature documentary series, Our Planet, which is slated to put conservation squarely in the frame, not just offer glorious animal eye-candy.

It’s a timely moment to focus on conservation with climate change posing existential threats to global biodiversity — unless humans act to limit temperature rises.

Since the 1970s Attenborough has voiced and fronted myriad major BBC nature documentaries, including the recent critically acclaimed Blue Planet series.

Some of his output has been available to stream on Netflix. But now the on-demand video platform has signed the 92-year-old to voice an eight-part original nature series it’s been creating in collaboration with Silverback Films — whose director, Alastair Fothergill, was the creator of both Blue Planet and the also critically acclaimed Planet Earth documentary series — and conservation charity WWF .

Our Planet is due to premiere on Netflix on April 5 next year and is slated to showcase the planet’s “most precious species and fragile habitats”, making use of “the latest in 4k camera technology”.

Netflix said yesterday it is “delighted” that Attenborough will voice the series which will be made simultaneously available to its subscriber base, spanning more than 190 countries.

Filming for the series has been taking place in 50 countries across all continents of the world, with 600+ crew members capturing more than 3.5k filming days to bring the project together.

Speaking at WWF’s State of the Planet Address event in London yesterday, Attenborough said: “Our Planet will take viewers on a spectacular journey of discovery showcasing the beauty and fragility of our natural world. Today we have become the greatest threat to the health of our home but there’s still time for us to address the challenges we’ve created, if we act now. We need the world to pay attention. Our Planet brings together some of the world’s best filmmakers and conservationists and I’m delighted to help bring this important story to millions of people worldwide.“

“We hope it will inspire and delight hundreds of millions of people across the world so they can understand our planet, and the environmental threat it faces, as never before,” added Fothergill in another supporting statement. “By launching on Netflix at the same time all over the world, this series will enable people to connect to and understand the shared responsibility we all have. We are genuinely all in this together.”

Netflix’s says the partnership with WWF means the series will be part of a wider global project that’s intended to promote conservation awareness, including via online resources and educational programmes for schools.

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