New ‘Dark Ads’ pro-Brexit Facebook campaign may have reached over 10M people, say researchers

A major new campaign of disinformation around Brexit, designed to stir up U.K. ‘Leave’ voters, and distributed via Facebook, may have reached over 10 million people in the U.K., according to new research. The source of the campaign is so far unknown, and will be embarrassing to Facebook, which only this week claimed it was […]

A major new campaign of disinformation around Brexit, designed to stir up U.K. ‘Leave’ voters, and distributed via Facebook, may have reached over 10 million people in the U.K., according to new research. The source of the campaign is so far unknown, and will be embarrassing to Facebook, which only this week claimed it was clamping down on “dark” political advertising on its platform.

Researchers for the U.K.-based digital agency 89up allege that Mainstream Network — which looks and reads like a “mainstream” news site but which has no contact details or reporter bylines — is serving hyper-targeted Facebook advertisements aimed at exhorting people in Leave-voting U.K. constituencies to tell their MP to “chuck Chequers.” Chequers is the name given to the U.K. Prime Ministers’s proposed deal with the EU regarding the U.K.’s departure from the EU next year.

89up says it estimates that Mainstream Network, which routinely puts out pro-Brexit “news,” could have spent more than £250,000 on pro-Brexit or anti-Chequers advertising on Facebook in less than a year. The agency calculates that with that level of advertising, the messaging would have been seen by 11 million people. TechCrunch has independently confirmed that Mainstream Network’s domain name was registered in November last year, and began publishing in February of this year.

In evidence given to Parliament’s Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee today, 89up says the website was running dozens of adverts targeted at Facebook users in specific constituencies, suggesting users “Click to tell your local MP to bin Chequers,” along with an image from the constituency, and an email function to drive people to send their MP an anti-Chequers message. This email function carbon-copied an info@mainstreamnetwork.co.uk email address. This would be a breach of the U.K.’s data protection rules, as the website is not listed as a data controller, says 89up.

The news comes a day after Facebook announced a new clampdown on political advertisement on its platform, and will put further pressure on the social media giant to look again at how it deals with the so-called “dark advertising” its Custom Audiences campaign tools are often accused of spreading.

89up claims Mainstream Network website could be in breach of new GDPR rules because, while collecting users’ data, it does not have a published privacy policy, or contain any contact information whatsoever on the site or the campaigns it runs on Facebook.

The agency says that once users are taken to the respective localized landing pages from ads, they are asked to email their MP. When a user does this, its default email client opens up an email and puts its own email in the BCC field (see below). It is possible, therefore, that the user’s email address is being stored and later used for marketing purposes by Mainstream Network.

TechCrunch has reached out to Mainstream Network for comment on Twitter and email. A WhoIs look-up revealed no information about the owner of the site.

TechCrunch’s own research into the domain reveals that the domain owner has made every possible attempt to remain anonymous. Even before GDPR came in, the domain owners had paid to hide its ownership on GoDaddy, where it is registered. The site is using standard GoDaddy shared hosting to blend in with 400+ websites using the same IP address.

Commenting, Damian Collins MP, the Chair of the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee of the U.K. House of Commons, said: “We do not know who is funding the Mainstream Network, or who is behind its operations, but we can see that they are directing a large scale advertising campaign on Facebook designed to get people to lobby their MP to oppose the Prime Ministers’s Brexit strategy. I have been sent a series of emails from constituents as a result of these adverts, in a deliberate attempt to alter the outcome of the Brexit negotiations.”

“The issue for parliamentarians is we have no idea who is targeting whom via political advertising on Facebook, who is paying for it, and what the purpose of that communication is. Facebook claimed this week that it was working to make political advertising on their platform more transparent, but once again we see potentially hundreds of thousands of pounds being spent to influence the political process and no one knows who is behind this.”

Mike Harris, CEO of 89up said: “A day after Facebook announced it will no longer be taking ‘dark ads’, we see once again evidence of the huge problem the platform is yet to face up to. Facebook has known since the EU referendum that highly targeted political advertising was being placed on its platform by anonymous groups, yet has failed to do anything about it. We have found evidence of yet another anonymous pro-Brexit campaign placing potentially a quarter of a million pounds worth of advertising, without anyone knowing or being able to find out who they are.”

Josh Feldberg, 89up researcher, said: “We have no idea who is funding this campaign. Only Facebook do. For all we know this could be funded by thousands of pounds of foreign money. This case just goes to show that despite Facebook’s claims they’re fighting fake news, anonymous groups are still out there trying to manipulate MPs and public opinion using the platform. It is possible there has been unlawful data collection. Facebook must tell the public who is behind this group.”

TechCrunch has reached out to both Facebook and Mainstream Network for comment prior to publication and will update this post if either respond to the allegations.

Microsoft’s $7.5BN GitHub buy gets green-lit by EU regulators

Microsoft’s planned acquisition of Git-based code sharing and collaboration service, GitHub, has been given an unconditional greenlight from European Union regulators. The software giant announced its intention to bag GitHub back in June, saying it would shell out $7.5 billion in stock to do so. At the time it also pledged: “GitHub will retain its […]

Microsoft’s planned acquisition of Git-based code sharing and collaboration service, GitHub, has been given an unconditional greenlight from European Union regulators.

The software giant announced its intention to bag GitHub back in June, saying it would shell out $7.5 billion in stock to do so. At the time it also pledged: “GitHub will retain its developer-first ethos and will operate independently to provide an open platform for all developers in all industries.”

The European Commission approved the plan today, saying its assessment had concluded there would be no adverse impact on competition in the relevant markets, owing to the combined entity continuing to face “significant competition”.

In particular, it said it looked at whether Microsoft would have the ability and incentive to further integrate its own devops tools and cloud services with GitHub while limiting integration with third party tools and services.

The Commission decided Microsoft would have no incentive to undermine the GitHub’s openness — saying any attempt to do so would reduce its value for developers, who the Commission judged as willing and able to switch to other platforms.

Microsoft has previously said it expects the acquisition to close before the end of the year.

Facebook hires former UK Lib Dem leader, Nick Clegg, as global policy chief

Facebook has confirmed it has hired the former leader of the UK’s third largest political party — Nick Clegg of the political middle ground Liberal Democrats — to head up global policy and comms. The news was reported earlier by the Financial Times. Facebook hires Nick Clegg, the former UK deputy prime minister, to head […]

Facebook has confirmed it has hired the former leader of the UK’s third largest political party — Nick Clegg of the political middle ground Liberal Democrats — to head up global policy and comms.

The news was reported earlier by the Financial Times.

Facebook confirmed to TechCrunch that Clegg’s title will be VP, global affairs and communications, and that he starts on Monday — and will be moving with his family to California in the New Year.

Former global policy and communications chief, Elliot Schrage, who has been in post for a decade is staying on as an advisor, according to Facebook, and in a post announcing Clegg’s hire COO Sheryl Sandberg thanked Schrage for his “leadership, tenacity, and wise counsel ‑- in good times and bad”.

Facebook told us that Sandberg and founder Mark Zuckerberg were both deeply involved in the hiring process, beginning discussions with Clegg over the summer — as fallout from the Cambridge Analytica data misuse scandal continued to rain down around it — and emphasizing they have already spent a lot of time with him.

Facebook also made a point of noting that Clegg is the most senior European politician to ever take up a senior executive leadership role in Silicon Valley. 

The hire certainly looks like big tech waking up to the fact it needs a far better relationship with European lawmakers.

In a post on Facebook announcing his new job, Clegg says as much, writing: “Having spoken at length to Mark and Sheryl over the last few months, I have been struck by their recognition that the company is on a journey which brings new responsibilities not only to the users of Facebook’s apps but to society at large. I hope I will be able to play a role in helping to navigate that journey.”

“Facebook, WhatsApp, Messenger, Oculus and Instagram are at the heart of so many people’s everyday lives – but also at the heart of some of the most complex and difficult questions we face as a society: the privacy of the individual; the integrity of our democratic process; the tensions between local cultures and the global internet; the balance between free speech and prohibited content; the power and concerns around artificial intelligence; and the wellbeing of our children,” he adds.

“I believe that Facebook must continue to play a role in finding answers to those questions – not by acting alone in Silicon Valley, but by working with people, organizations, governments and regulators around the world to ensure that technology is a force for good.”

In her note about Clegg’s hire, Sandberg lauds Cleggs as “a thoughtful and gifted leader who… understands deeply the responsibilities we have to people who use our service around the world” — before also discussing the big challenges ahead.

“Our company is on a critical journey. The challenges we face are serious and clear and now more than ever we need new perspectives to help us though this time of change. The opportunities are clear too. Every day people use our apps to connect with family and friends and make a difference in their communities. If we can honor the trust they put in us and live up to our responsibilities, we can help more people use technology to do good,” she writes. “That’s what motivates our teams and from all my conversations with Nick, it’s clear that he believes in this as well. His experience and ability to work through complex issues will be invaluable in the years to come.”

One former Facebook policy staffer we spokes to for an insider perspective on Clegg’s hire, couched it as a sign Facebook is finally taking Europe seriously — i.e. as a regulatory force with the ability to bring big tech to rule.

“When I started at fb there were two people in a Regus office doing EU policy,” the person told us, speaking on condition of anonymity. “Now they have an army, and they’re still hiring.”

In Europe, the region’s new data protection framework, GDPR, which came into force at the end of May, has put privacy and security at the top of the tech agenda. And more regulations are coming — with the EU’s data protection supervisor warning today that GDPR is not enough.

“The Facebook/Cambridge Analytica revelations are still under investigation in Europe and America, but they are only the tip of the iceberg, a sign of a much wider problem and a symptom of many more problems still unnoticed,” writes Giovanni Buttarelli in a blog entitled: The urgent case for a new ePrivacy law.

“They didn’t take it seriously and they’re catching up now. I think it also just sends a strong signal that they’re not a U.S. centric company,” the former Facebooker added of the company’s attitude to EU policy, dating the dawning realization that a new approach was needed to around 2016.

Which was also the year that domestic election interference came home to roost for Zuckerberg, after Kremlin meddling in the US presidential elections.

So no more ‘pretty crazy ideas’ from Zuckerberg where politics is concerned — Nick Clegg instead.

For Brits, though, this is actually a pretty crazy idea, given Clegg is the awkwardly familiar face of middle ground, middler performance politics.

And, more importantly, the sacrificial lamb of political compromise, after his party got punished for its turn in coalition government with David Cameron’s Brexit triggering Conservatives.

Our ex-Facebooker source said they’d heard rumors linking the former Labour MP, David Miliband, and the Conservatives’ former chancellor, George Osborne, to the global policy position too.

Whatever the truth of those rumors, in the event Facebook went with Clegg’s third way — which of course meshes perfectly with the company’s desire to be a platform for all views; be that conservative, liberal and Holocaust denier too.

In Clegg it will have found a true believer that compromise can trump partisan tribalism.

Though Facebook’s business will probably test the limits of even Clegg’s famous powers of accommodation.

The current state of the Lib Dem political animal — a party with now just a handful of MPs left in the UK parliament — does also hold a cautionary message for Facebook’s mission to be all things to all men.

A target some less machiavellian types might judge ‘mission impossible’.

Add to that, given Facebook’s now dire need to win back user trust — i.e. in the wake of a string of data scandals, such as the Cambridge Analytica affair (and indeed ongoing attempts by unknown forces to use its platform for voter manipulation) — Clegg is rather an odd choice of hire, given he’s the man who led a political party that fatally burnt the trust of its core supporters who punished it with near political oblivion at the ballet box.

Still, at least Clegg knows how to say sorry in a way that be turned into a hip and shareable meme …

Funderbeam CEO to talk about disrupting startup funding at Disrupt Berlin

Startup funding hasn’t changed much in the past decade. Funderbeam is an interesting company trying to turn everything upside down using a marketplace approach, a modern syndication system and a blockchain-based platform. I’m excited to announce that Funderbeam founder and CEO Kaidi Ruusalepp will come to TechCrunch Disrupt Berlin. The first boom of venture capital […]

Startup funding hasn’t changed much in the past decade. Funderbeam is an interesting company trying to turn everything upside down using a marketplace approach, a modern syndication system and a blockchain-based platform. I’m excited to announce that Funderbeam founder and CEO Kaidi Ruusalepp will come to TechCrunch Disrupt Berlin.

The first boom of venture capital of the 1980s changed everything in the tech industry. Countless of tech startups managed to get funding, grow and make money down the road. Without venture capital firms, some of the biggest tech firms out there just wouldn’t be around.

Arguably, convertible notes and accelerators turned startups into a mainstream phenomenon. It became much easier to get seed funding and some sort of mentorship.

But it hasn’t changed much since then. Funderbeam has some ambitious goals as the company wants to change everything by adding more transparency and liquidity into private funding.

Funderbeam combines multiple products into one. As a startup, you can use Funderbeam to raise your next funding round. Funderbeam acts as a marketplace so that angel investors can invest in your startup. As a business angel, you can invest in a syndicate.

The startup is also building a secondary market so that early investors in a company can sell shares to newer investors. And Funderbeam also compiles all its data on startups to create a database of financial information on startups.

Buy your ticket to Disrupt Berlin to listen to this discussion and many others. The conference will take place on November 29-30.

In addition to fireside chats and panels, like this one, new startups will participate in the Startup Battlefield Europe to win the highly coveted Battlefield cup.

Kaidi Ruusalepp

Founder & CEO, Funderbeam

Founder and CEO of Funderbeam, the global funding and trading platform of private companies built on blockchain. Funderbeam combines three stages of investor journey into one: startup analytics, investing, and trading on the secondary market. Powered by blockchain technology, the marketplace delivers capital to growth companies and on-demand liquidity to investors worldwide.

Member of Startup Europe Advisory Board at European Commission. Kaidi is a former CEO of Nasdaq Tallinn Stock Exchange and of the Central Securities Depository. Co-Founder of Estonian Service Industry Association. The first IT lawyer in Estonia, she co-author of the Estonian Digital Signatures Act of 2000 — landmark legislation that enables secure digital identities and, in turn, the country’s booming electronic economy.

Kaidi was named as an Entrepreneur of a Year in 2018 by the Playmakers Technology Award and as a Person of a Year in 2016 by the Estonian IT and Telecommunication Association. Co-author of #Foundership Playbook and mentor of various girls and women in tech initiatives.

Call for social media adtech to be probed by UK competition watchdog

A British Conservative politician, who has called repeatedly for Mark Zuckerberg to come to parliament to answer questions about how Facebook fences fake news — only to be repeatedly rebuffed — has made a public call for the UK’s competition regulator to look into social media giants’ adtech operations. Damian Collins, the chair of the […]

A British Conservative politician, who has called repeatedly for Mark Zuckerberg to come to parliament to answer questions about how Facebook fences fake news — only to be repeatedly rebuffed — has made a public call for the UK’s competition regulator to look into social media giants’ adtech operations.

Damian Collins, the chair of the DCMS committee which has spent months this year asking questions about how disinformation spreads online — culminating in a report, this summer, recommending the government impose a levy on social media to defend democracy — made the suggestion in a tweet that references a news article reporting on a U.S. class action lawsuit against Facebook.

Advertisers in the US lawsuit allege Facebook knowingly inflated video viewing stats and thus mislead them into spending more money on its ad platform than they otherwise would have.

But Facebook disputes the allegations, saying the lawsuit is “without merit”. It has also filed a motion to dismiss the claims of ad fraud.

Although, two years ago, it did ‘fess up to a ‘miscalculation’ around average video viewing times, saying it had mistakenly discounted all the people who dropped out of watching a video in the first 3 seconds in calculating averages — thereby bumping viewing averages up.

At about the same time, it also said it had discovered some other ad-related bugs and errors in its system that had led to the wrong numbers being reported across four products, including Instant Articles, video and Page Insights.

The advertisers in the class action lawsuit — which was filed back in 2016 — had originally claimed Facebook engaged in unfair business practices. After receiving tens of thousands of documents in relation to the case they amended their complaint to accuse the company of fraud, CBS reports.

In its statement denying the suit’s claims, Facebook also said: “Suggestions that we in any way tried to hide this issue from our partners are false. We told our customers about the error when we discovered it — and updated our help center to explain the issue.” 

The company declined to comment on Collins’ remarks about adtech industry practices today.

A spokeswoman for the UK’s Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) also declined to comment when asked whether it has any concerns related to practices in the adtech sector.

Given market sensitivity to regulatory action it’s normal for the CMA to not want to stoke any speculation around a particular company.

For the same reason it would not normally discuss any complaints it’s received until the point of actually launching any investigation.

However this is not the first time the CMA has been urged by concerned politicians to investigate the adtech sector.

This fall another UK committee, the Lords Select Committee on Communications, directly asked the body to investigate digital advertising.

And earlier this month the CMA’s CEO, Andrea Coscelli, told the committee it is indeed considering doing so, if only it can carve out the resources to do so — saying he was worried about “potential gaps” in the regulatory framework around competition and consumer issues.

“A month ago, this Committee asked us to look at digital advertising. That is something we are actively considering, subject to Brexit in the next few weeks, because it has a big resource implication for us,” said Coscelli on October 9. “It is certainly something where we are interested in getting involved. If we did, we would work closely with Ofcom and give serious thought to the regulatory framework in that context.”

The CMA has also generally been ramping up its activity on the digital market front, recently spinning up a new data unit and appointing a chief data and digital insights officer, Stefan Hunt, hired in from the Financial Conduct Authority — to help it “develop and deliver an effective data and digital insight strategy… to better understand the impact that data, machine learning and other algorithms have on markets and people”.

So it sounds like a case of ‘watch this regulatory space’ for more action at the very least.

Elsewhere in Europe competition regulators have also been paying closer attention to the adtech industry in recent years — examining a variety of practices by adtech giants, Facebook and Google, and coming away with a range of antitrust-related concerns.

In preliminary findings at the end of last year, for example, Germany’s Federal Cartel Office accused Facebook of using its size to strong-arm users into handing over data.

While, earlier this year, the French Competition Authority suggested it was planning to investigate Facebook and Google‘s dominance of the adtech market, publishing a report in which it identified a raft of problematic behaviors — and pointed out that the two companies act as both publishers and technical intermediaries for advertisers, thereby gaining a competitive advantage.

Italian regulators have also been probing competition concerns related to big data for more than a year.

As we’ve reported before, the European Commission is also actively eyeing digital platforms’ market power — and looking to reshape competition policy to take account of how tech giants are able to draw on network effects and leverage their position from one market to another.

And when you’re talking about platform power, you are also — in the current era — talking about adtech.

There’s no doubt closer scrutiny of the digital advertising sector is coming. And with a brighter spotlight, tighter accountability screws applied to its practices.

Privacy reviews of adtech platforms have already raised plenty of ethical questions, in addition to flagging actual violations of the law.

This summer the UK’s data protection watchdog also called for an ethical pause of the use of social media ads for political purposes, writing that: “It is important that there is greater and genuine transparency about the use of such techniques to ensure that people have control over their own data and that the law is upheld.”

So while it remains to be seen what any competition investigations of the adtech sector will conclude, political momentum is building to increase transparency and ensure accountability — which makes regulation more likely.

Banksy’s rigged art frame was supposed to shred the whole thing

In the connected future will anyone truly own any thing? Banksy’s artworld shocker performance piece, earlier this month, when a canvas of his went under the hammer at Sothebys in London, suggests not. Immediately the Girl with Balloon canvas sold — for a cool ~$1.1M (£860,000) — it proceeded to self-destruct, via a shredder built into […]

In the connected future will anyone truly own any thing? Banksy’s artworld shocker performance piece, earlier this month, when a canvas of his went under the hammer at Sothebys in London, suggests not.

Immediately the Girl with Balloon canvas sold — for a cool ~$1.1M (£860,000) — it proceeded to self-destruct, via a shredder built into the frame, leaving a roomful of designer glasses paired with a lot of shock and awe, before facial muscles twisted afresh as new calculations kicked in.

As we reported at the time, the anonymous artist had spent years planning this particular prank. Yet the stunt immediately inflated the value of the canvas — some suggested by as much as 50% — despite the work itself being half shredded, with just a heart-shaped balloon left in clear view.

The damaged canvas even instantly got a new title: Love Is in the Bin.

Thereby undermining what might otherwise be interpreted as a grand Banksy gesture critiquing the acquisitive, money-loving bent of the art world. After all, street art is his big thing.

However it turns out that the shredder malfunctioned. And had in fact been intended to send the whole canvas into the bin the second after it sold.

Or, at least, so the prankster says — via a ‘director’s cut’ video posted to his YouTube channel yesterday (and given the title: ‘Shred the love’, which is presumably what he wanted the resulting frame-sans-canvas to be called).

“In rehearsals it worked every time…” runs a caption towards the end of the video, before footage of a complete shredding is shown…

The video also appears shows how the canvas was triggered to get to work cutting.

After the hammer goes down the video cuts to a close-up shot of a pair of man’s hands pressing a button on a box with a blinking red LED — presumably sending a wireless signal to shreddy to get to work…

The suggestion, also from the video (which appears to show close up shots of some of the reactions of people in the room watching the shredding taking place in real time), is that the man — possibly Banksy himself — attended the auction in person and waited for the exact moment to manually trigger the self-destruct mechanism.

There are certainly lots of low power, short range radio technologies that could have been used for such a trigger scenario. Although the artwork itself was apparently gifted to its previous owner by Banksy all the way back in 2006. So the built-in shredder, batteries and radio seemingly had to sit waiting for their one-time public use for 12 years. Unless, well, Banksy snuck into the friend’s house to swap out batteries periodically.

Whatever the exact workings of the mechanism underpinning the stunt, the act is of course the point.

It’s almost as if Banksy is trying to warn us that technology is eroding ownership, concentrating power and shifting agents of control.

Emma, the money management app, rolls out cryptocurrency support

Emma, the U.K. money management app (or self-described “financial advocate”), is launching a cryptocurrency feature by integrating with a plethora of exchanges so that you can easily track your cryptocurrency balances. The idea is that a modern PFM type app should support cryptocurrency if it wants to provide insights into a user’s whole financial life, […]

Emma, the U.K. money management app (or self-described “financial advocate”), is launching a cryptocurrency feature by integrating with a plethora of exchanges so that you can easily track your cryptocurrency balances. The idea is that a modern PFM type app should support cryptocurrency if it wants to provide insights into a user’s whole financial life, not just fiat currency sitting in traditional banks or on credit cards.

At launch, the supported cryptocurrency exchanges are Coinbase, Bittrex, Binance, Bitstamp, Kraken, Bitfinex and individual Bitcoin and Ethereum addresses. However, for now the functionality is “read-only,” meaning you can’t make transactions within Emma or buy more cryptocurrency. For that, you’ll still need to visit the individual exchanges, at least for the time being.

“We see cryptocurrency as the next emerging asset class,” Emma co-founder and CEO Edoardo Moreni tells me. “At this point, there are more than 3 million people who have bought Crypto in the U.K. It’s pretty evident that we need to start accepting this as any other type of financial product, in the same way we treat current accounts and credit cards. If Emma is able to help people control and manage a current account, she should be able to do the same for any type of financial product or service”.

On the issue of read-only access, Moreni explains that Emma’s founding goal has always been to build the best financial tracker in the market, hence why the startup hasn’t yet developed any “write-access” features for any of the bank accounts it connects to (or the newly added cryptocurrency exchanges). However, now that Emma’s read only mission is “solid and almost complete,” this will soon change.

“We are going to release several write features in both spaces, traditional and crypto,” says Moreni. “Open Banking will be extremely useful for the former. In terms of the latter, we are already talking with a few providers to introduce write transactions and also the ability to save in cryptocurrency, based on behavioural rules and risk appetite. We see this as a huge opportunity and if we are those who help people understand and invest in crypto for the first time, it fits with our core mission”.

That mission, says the Emma founder, isn’t just to design a really useful aggregator, but to use the aggregated data to help Emma users better manage their money and in the longer term improve their financial well-being.

“We see aggregation as the internet 25 years ago,” he says, “a massive playground which we can use to build technology that has an impact on people’s lives. Our main focus is financial improvement. There is no technology out there that helps you getting out of an overdraft, teaches where and how to save or makes you invest for the first time. We believe this is what Emma is all about.

“We are not trying to be the default interface for a generation or the mission control centre of our finances. We want to build a technology that helps people improve. At the end of the day, that is where the real value is and this is what we are pursuing. This is not and will never be the job of banks, whose goal is to build great financial products, which Emma can interact with”.

To that end, Emma’s list of current features includes:

  • Manage all your money in one place (current & savings accounts, credit cards and now crypto)
  • Sync budgets to payday (“this is the most requested feature in the U.K.,” says Moreni)
  • Find and track recurring payments – as well as predicting future payments and notifying when prices go up and down
  • Notify you before you go into overdraft
  • Detect hidden bank fees, such as markup on foreign transactions
  • Spending insights broken down by category or vendor
  • Smart alerts for various transactions
  • Real time currency converter

Meanwhile, Emma raised a seed round of £500,000 in July 2018 led by Kima Ventures, one of the first investors in Transferwise, and Aglaé Ventures, the early stage program of Groupe Arnault.

Health insurance startup Alan covers meditation app subscription

French startup Alan wants to be a bit better than your good old health insurance. That’s why the company is trying something new and now covers part of your Petit Bambou subscription. Petit Bambou is a popular meditation app. It’s a sort of Headspace, but with French content. You download an app, put your earphones, […]

French startup Alan wants to be a bit better than your good old health insurance. That’s why the company is trying something new and now covers part of your Petit Bambou subscription.

Petit Bambou is a popular meditation app. It’s a sort of Headspace, but with French content. You download an app, put your earphones, close your eyes and follow the instructions. Meditating ten or twenty minutes every day should help you feel better after a while.

The basic course is free and you need to pay a subscription to access more content. It costs €7 per month or €60 per year.

In France, health insurance companies usually cover your bills when the national healthcare system already pays for part of the bill.

For instance, if you get X-Rays for your arm, the national healthcare system will pay for part of the bill, and your health insurance will cover the rest. Usually, if something is not covered by the national healthcare system, your insurance company won’t cover it either.

But Alan wants to differentiate its offering and add more stuff. The Petit Bambou offering is just a test for now. You can get €25 back if you subscribe for six months or a year. It only works once. But Alan is thinking about turning it into a recurring offer if people like the feature.

N26 faces criticism regarding its identification processes

Fintech startup N26 is growing quite rapidly. Building a startup is hard, but building a startup that manages your bank account is even harder given the increased scrutiny. German weekly magazine Wirtschaftswoche published an article that questioned N26’s identification processes. According to Wirtschaftswoche, it’s quite easy to create an account with a fake ID document. […]

Fintech startup N26 is growing quite rapidly. Building a startup is hard, but building a startup that manages your bank account is even harder given the increased scrutiny. German weekly magazine Wirtschaftswoche published an article that questioned N26’s identification processes. According to Wirtschaftswoche, it’s quite easy to create an account with a fake ID document.

“One or two people got through with a fake ID document. And we detected that afterward. Unfortunately, we didn't detect it in real time,” co-founder and CEO Valentin Stalf told me. “Unfortunately, it can happen.”

But Stalf also insisted that it’s not a widespread problem and that all banks face the same issue. According to him, N26 complies with all regulations when it comes to onboarding.

Currently, N26 has three different procedures depending on the country and works with a third-party company called SafeNed for some of the verification procedures.

In many countries, you can initiate a video call with someone so that they can check your ID and compare it with your face. In Germany, you can also print a document, go to the post office with an ID document and make a post employee check that you are actually you.

In some countries, you can open an N26 account by uploading a photo of your ID document and a selfie. Other banks also take advantage of this procedure. For instance, it’s a common process in the U.K.

More generally, other banks also have to deal with fake ID documents. But security is never perfect. That’s why you can’t simply eradicate the issue. You can try to keep the fake ID rate as low as possible.

“Security is our top priority at N26, which is why secure identification processes and constant review of our security and monitoring mechanisms to prevent identity theft are of great importance to the company,” the company told me in a statement.

In other words, N26 monitors this fake ID rate. And N26 also has ongoing transaction monitoring for those who have already opened a bank account. The company tries to detect fraudulent activity as quickly as possible.

You might think that uploading a photo of your ID document leads to more fraudulent activity. But N26 has noticed that there’s a higher fraud rate for customers who go to the post office to check their ID document.

So fraud is nothing new in the banking industry. Nobody has eradicated fraud, and nobody will. In fact, many startups (such as DreamQuark) are working on improving fraud detection using machine learning and more sophisticated processes. But even artificial intelligence won’t solve this problem altogether.

All eyes are on N26 because it’s the hot new thing. But if you look at what’s happening, it’s a pretty boring story. “In one of the articles they said we used weaker method to grow faster. This is complete bullshit,” Stalf told me.

This story is a great example that it can be tough to manage your startup’s reputation. Building trust takes a long time. But it can go away much more quickly. That might be why N26 debunked the issue so intensely.

Here’s N26’s full statement:

Security is our top priority at N26, which is why secure identification processes and constant review of our security and monitoring mechanisms to prevent identity theft are of great importance to the company.

After the customer’s identity is verified, we carry out ongoing transaction monitoring along with numerous other security measures, in a bid to prevent criminal activity such as money laundering and terrorist financing.

We therefore take the findings put forward by Wirtschaftswoche very seriously, will analyse the facts and take appropriate measures if necessary.

Contrary to the statement in Wirtschaftswoche, the use of photo verification by N26 is legally compliant. N26 works with a regulated payment service provider, SafeNed, in this regard. SafeNed is a UK business which is authorised and regulated by the UK Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) with regards to the prevention of money laundering and terrorist financing. SafeNed verifies its customers using the Photo Ident process, which is compliant with UK law.

According to the German Money Laundering Act, N26 is allowed to use a third party regulated in the EU, in this case a payment service provider in the UK, for the verification of customers (Section 17 (1) GwG). The respective verification procedure is then determined by the law applicable to the third party (in the above example, therefore, by UK law). This understanding is also confirmed by BaFin in its interpretation and application notes on the German Money Laundering Act (p. 67 et seq.) for customers not resident in Germany.

Crypto Quantique unveils its ‘quantum driven secure chip’ for IoT devices

With Gartner estimating that there will be 150 billion connected devices by 2030 — many of them mission critical, such as powering major national infrastructure — the risk and realisation that these devices aren’t secured properly is leading some cyber security experts to predict that there is a large-scale disaster waiting to happen. And the […]

With Gartner estimating that there will be 150 billion connected devices by 2030 — many of them mission critical, such as powering major national infrastructure — the risk and realisation that these devices aren’t secured properly is leading some cyber security experts to predict that there is a large-scale disaster waiting to happen. And the problem is only getting worse. By some estimates, on average there are 127 new devices connected to the internet every second.

Enter: Crypto Quantique, a startup out of company builder Entrepreneur First that has been patiently toiling away for the last couple of years trying to solve the IoT security problem. Specifically, the company has developed what it claims is “the world’s first quantum driven secure chip (QDSC)” on silicon, which, when combined with cryptographic APIs, it says is capable of providing any connected device with a scalable and easy to implement “end-to-end” security solution.

Moreover, by employing advanced techniques in cryptography and quantum physics, its makers say the Crypto Quantique QDSC is unique to every device and entirely unclonable, which makes it almost impossible to hack. That’s quite a claim.

“There are security complexities in IoT, many stakeholders, including OEMs, manufacturers, integrators and designers are involved in developing and implementing the IoT,” Shahram Mossayebi, co-founder of Crypto Quantique, told me over email. “Each stakeholder is faced with different threat vectors and thus has different security requirements and produces devices based on very different architectures. Currently there is no clear approach to securing the IoT, which is also impacted by the lack of basic security tools that would allow stakeholders to build their own security solutions”.

To that end, he explained that security must start from the device, then travel through the network and finally reach the IoT device’s backend services. In other words, proper end-to-end security is required to protect IoT devices and infrastructure.

At the heart of this is “root of trust” — the ability for a device to authenticate itself and be a trusted member of a network — which, conversely, is also the weakest link. Data traveling throughout the network also needs strong encryption, of course. Finally, with IoT devices being in the billions, there’s an issue of cost: any secure solution can’t be prohibitively expensive to implement on a per device basis or be fragmented across multiple third-party providers.

“We have created a root-of-trust by harnessing quantum processes in semiconductors to generate unique, unclonable and tamper evident cryptographic keys,” says Mossayebi. “We call it quantum driven secure chip (QDSC) and it is the first ever of its kind in the world. Because of the uniqueness and way in which the keys are generated there is no requirement to store the keys on the device because the keys can be retrieved on demand. This eliminates secure storage requirements and leakage of sensitive information.

“In addition to building the QDSC, we also provide the cryptographic APIs and manage the end to end security to remove the multiple parties involved in the security chain and provide an all-in-one solution. This means there are no ‘open windows’ in connectivity when it comes to security. Once a QDSC is placed in a device it links directly to the owner system (i.e. public or private cloud) through CQ’s cryptographic APIs, where it is managed automatically and remotely while the device is in the field. This is the most advanced security product for the IoT, enabling new industrial revolutions such as Industry 4.0”.

As I said, big (and very interesting) claims, indeed.

On that note, Mossayebi says Crypto Quantique is aimed at any connected device that needs to stay secure, from traffic lights to a SCADA machine used in critical infrastructure. “Currently, we are working with leaders in different fields such as defence, aerospace, energy, industrial IoT manufacturers and enterprise hardware appliance manufacturers. The applications vary from securing satellites and drones to securing energy grids, sensors in critical infrastructure and data centres,” he says.