Tech regulation in Europe will only get tougher

European governments have been bringing the hammer down on tech in recent months, slapping record fines and stiff regulations on the largest imports out of Silicon Valley. Despite pleas from the world’s leading companies and Europe’s eroding trust in government, European citizens’ staunch support for regulation of new technologies points to an operating environment that is only getting tougher.

According to a roughly 25-page report recently published by a research arm out of Spain’s IE University, European citizens remain skeptical of tech disruption and want to handle their operators with kid gloves, even at a cost to the economy.

The survey was led by the IE’s Center for the Governance of Change — an IE-hosted research institution focused on studying “the political, economic, and societal implications of the current technological revolution and advances solutions to overcome its unwanted effects.” The “European Tech Insights 2019” report surveyed roughly 2,600 adults from various demographics across seven countries (France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Spain, The Netherlands, and the UK) to gauge ground-level opinions on ongoing tech disruption and how government should deal with it.

The report does its fair share of fear-mongering and some of its major conclusions come across as a bit more “clickbaity” than insightful. However, the survey’s more nuanced data and line of questioning around specific forms of regulation offer detailed insight into how the regulatory backdrop and operating environment for European tech may ultimately evolve.

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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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Google Cloud’s speech APIs get cheaper and learn new languages

Google today announced an update to its Cloud Speech-to-Text and Text-to-Speech APIs that introduces a few new features that should be especially interesting to enterprise users, as well as improved language support and a price cut.

Most of these updates focus on the Speech-to-Text product, but Cloud Text-to-Speech is getting a major update with 31 new WaveNet and 24 new standard voices. The service now also supports seven new languages: Danish, Portuguese/Portugal, Russian, Polish, Slovakian, Ukrainian, and Norwegian Bokmål. These are all in beta right now and extend the list of supported languages to 21 total.

The service now also features the ability to optimize audio playback for specific devices. That sounds like a minor thing, but it allows you to tell a call center application for interactive voice responses and another application for use with a headset.

As for Cloud Speech-to-Text, this update focuses on making the service more usable in situations where developers have to support users on multiple channels — think a phone conference. For this, the company introduced multi-channel recognition as a beta last year and now, this feature is generally available.

Similarly, Google’s premium AI models for video and enhanced phones launched into beta last year with the promise of fewer transcription errors than Google’s other model which mostly focuses on short queries and voice commands. This model, too, is now generally available.

In addition to the new features, Google also decided to cut the price for using the Speech-to-Text service. The company decided to cut the prices of the standard and premium video model for transcribing videos for those who opt in to Google’s data logging program by 33 percent. By opting in, you allow Google to use your data to help train Google’s models. The company promises that only a limited number of employees will have access to the data and that it will solely use it to train and improve its products, but chances are not everybody is going to feel comfortable opting in to this, even if it means there’s a discount.

Thankfully, the regular premium video model is now also 25 percent cheaper without having to log in to Google’s data logging. Like before, the first 60 minutes are still free.

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PlayStation Now game streaming expands throughout Europe


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PlayStation Now still isn’t widely available around the world, but Sony aims to fix that. It’s expanding the game streaming service to Italy, Portugal and Spain in Europe in the near future, as well as Nordic countries like Denmark, Finland, Norway and Sweden. There’s no mention of a firm release date just yet. However, would-be players can register for a PS4 beta test due to start in early February.

Beta testers will have access to as many as 600 PS2, PS3 and PS4 games. The finished expansion will offer access to PlayStation games from PCs, and you’ll have the option of downloading at least some PS2 and PS4 titles to your console.

PS Now still isn’t a globe-spanning service with this latest addition, but it does show that Sony is committed to making it more than just a novelty. Not that it might have much choice. Microsoft hasn’t been shy about its intentions for launching an Xbox cloud service. If game streaming truly catches on, Sony will want to go toe-to-toe with its rival — and that means matching or beating Microsoft’s availability.

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Lisbon finally gets a substantial VC fund in the shape of Indico Capital Partners

Lisbon, characterized occasionally by some tech scene observers as ‘the warm Berlin’, has been threatening to generate more startups in the last few years, not least because it will now have the enormous Web Summit conference there for the next 10 years, and because it’s a cheap and great place to live. But the startups appearing have not quite been as numerous as many would like.

It’s therefore fantastic to see a new VC fund appearing in the city, set up by three experienced stalwarts of the scene.

Indico Capital Partners VC has now completed its first closing of €41M out of the €46M of commitments from investors from eight different countries. The fund will be aimed at Iberian early stage startups (that means Spain and Portugal), but of course those in particularly those based out of Portugal.

The fund says it will invest typically between €150,000 and €5M per portfolio company over their lifetime – pre-seed to series A, plus follow-on rounds. They say the first Indico investments have already been concluded and will be announced soon.

It’s far and away the first sizable, independent and private early-stage, tech-focused fund to be based in Lisbon and will focus on investments in B2B SaaS, Artificial Intelligence, Fintech and Cybersecurity to Marketplaces and B2C Platforms.

The fund comprises of three partners: Managing General Partner, Stephan Morais (former head of the leading corporate VC Caixa Capital), General Partner Ricardo Torgal (also former Caixa Capital senior investor) and Venture Partner Cristina Fonseca (co-founder and shareholder of Talkdesk).

Collectively the team has in the past invested in Farfetch, Unbabel, Codacy and many other success stories originating from Portugal over the past 6 years, in addition to Talkdesk itself.

The EIF (European Investment Fund), is the cornerstone investor of Indico, and has been joined by 20 other institutional and individual investors such as the IFD (Instituição Financeira de Desenvolvimento) through the Portugal Tech facility, Draper Esprit (a major global quoted VC fund based in the UK), pension funds, education and research institutions, wealth managers, high net worth individuals and many local and international tech entrepreneurs.

The fund is supported by InnovFin Equity, with the financial backing of the European Union under Horizon 2020 Financial Instruments and the European Funds for Strategic Investments (EFSI) set up under the Investment Plan for Europe.

Stephan Morais, Managing General Partner, said: “This is a milestone for the Portuguese ecosystem, we will keep on supporting the most promising Portuguese, and increasingly Iberian, early-stage tech startups, but now with an independent stable investment platform backed by a diversified global LP base.”

Ricardo Torgal, General Partner added that “VC is not hype, it’s about building a balanced portfolio and being there for the companies to help them grow to the next stage”.

Cristina Fonseca, Venture Partner, commented that “I have been backing many companies over the past few years as an angel investor and mentor, so it was an obvious decision to join the best investment team in the market with a solid track record. Early stage tech is where my heart is and this is a local nurturing activity before it becomes globally investable and scalable.”

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