Digital influencers and the dollars that follow them

Sunny Dhillon Contributor Sunny Dhillon is a partner at Signia Venture Partners. More posts by this contributor Security tokens will be coming soon to an exchange near you Amazon’s next conquest will be apparel Animated characters are as old as human storytelling itself, dating back thousands of years to cave drawings that depict animals in […]

Animated characters are as old as human storytelling itself, dating back thousands of years to cave drawings that depict animals in motion. It was really in the last century, however—a period bookended by the first animated short film in 1908 and Pixar’s success with computer animation with Toy Story from 1995 onwards—that animation leapt forward. Fundamentally, this period of great innovation sought to make it easier to create an animated story for an audience to passively consume in a curated medium, such as a feature-length film.

Our current century could be set for even greater advances in the art and science of bringing characters to life. Digital influencers—virtual or animated humans that live natively on social media—will be central to that undertaking. Digital influencers don’t merely represent the penetration of cartoon characters into yet another medium, much as they sprang from newspaper strips to TV and the multiplex. Rather, digital humans on social media represent the first instance in which fictional entities act in the same plane of communication as you and I—regular people—do. Imagine if stories about Mickey Mouse were told over a telephone or in personalized letters to fans. That’s the kind of jump we’re talking about.

Social media is a new storytelling medium, much as film was a century ago. As with film then, we have yet to transmit virtual characters to this new medium in a sticky way.

Which isn’t to say that there aren’t digital characters living their lives on social channels right now. The pioneers have arrived: Lil’ Miquela, Astro, Bermuda, and Shudu are prominent examples. But they have are still only notable for their novelty, not yet their ubiquity. They represent the output of old animation techniques applied to a new medium. This Techcrunch article did a great job describing the current digital influencer landscape.

So why haven’t animated characters taken off on social media platforms?  It’s largely an issue of scale—it’s expensive and time-consuming to create animated characters and to depict their adventures.  One 2017 estimate stated that a 60-90 second animation took about 6 weeks.  An episode of animated TV takes between 13 months to produce, typically with large teams in South Korea doing much of the animation legwork. That pace simply doesn’t work in a medium that calls for new original content multiple times a day.

Yet the technical piece of the puzzle is falling into place, which is primarily what I want to talk about today. Traditionally, virtual characters were created by a team of experts—not scalable—in the following way:

  • Create a 3D model
  • Texture the model and add additional materials
  • Rig the 3D model skeleton
  • Animate the 3D model
  • Introduce character into desired scene

 

Today, there are generally three different types of virtual avatar:  realistic high-resolution CGI avatars, stylized CGI avatars, and manipulated video avatars. Each has its strengths and pitfalls, and the fast-approaching world of scaled digital influencers will likely incorporate aspects of all three.

The digital influencers mentioned above are all high-resolution CGI avatars. It’s unsurprising that this tech has breathed life into the most prominent digital influencers so far—this type of avatar offers the most creative latitude and photorealism. You can create an original character and have her carry out varied activities.

The process for their creation borrows most from the old-school CGI pipeline described above, though accelerated through the use of tools like Daz3D for animation, Moka Studio for rigging, and Rokoko for motion capture. It’s old wine in new bottles. Naturally, it shares the same bottlenecks as the old-school CGI pipeline: creating characters in this way consumes a lot of time and expertise.

Though researchers like Ari Shapiro at the University of Southern California Institute for Creative Technologies are currently working on ways to automate the creation of high-resolution CGI avatars, that bottleneck remains for obstacle for digital influencers entering the mainstream.

Stylized CGI avatars, on the other hand, have entered the mainstream. If you have an iPhone or use Snapchat, chances are you have one. Apple, Samsung, Pinscreen, Loom.ai, Embody Digital, Genies, and Expressive.ai are just some of the companies playing in this space. These avatars, while likely to spread ubiquitously a la Bitmoji before them, are limited in scope.

While they extend the ability to create an animated character to anyone who uses an associated app, that creation and personalization is circumscribed: the avatar’s range is limited for the purposes of what we’re discussing in this article. It’s not so much a technology for creating new digital humans as it is a tool for injecting a visual shorthand for someone into the digital world. You’ll use it to embellish your Snapchat game, but storytellers will be unlikely to use these avatars to create a spiritual successor to Mickey Mouse and Buzz Lightyear (though they will be a big advertising / brand partnership opportunity nonetheless).

Video manipulation—you probably know it as deepfakes—is another piece of tech that is speeding virtual or fictional characters into the mainstream. As the name implies, however, it’s more about warping reality to create something new. Anyone who has seen Nicolas Cage’s striking features dropped onto Amy Adams’ body in a Superman film will understand what I’m talking about.

Open source packages like this one allow almost anyone to create a deepfake (with some technical knowhow—your grandma probably hasn’t replaced her time-honored Bingo sessions with some casual deepfaking). It’s principally used by hobbyists, though recently we’ve seen startups like Synthesia crop up with business use cases. You can use deepfake tech for mimicry, but we haven’t yet seen it used for creating original characters. It shares some of the democratizing aspects of stylized CGI avatars, and there are likely many creative applications for the tech that simply haven’t been realized yet.

While none of these technology stacks on their own currently enable digital humans at scale, when combined they may make up the wardrobe that takes us into Narnia. Video manipulation, for example, could be used to scale realistic high-res characters like Lil’ Miquela through accelerating the creation of new stories and tableaux for her to inhabit. Nearly all of the most famous animated characters have been stylized, and I wouldn’t bet against social media’s Snow White being stylized too. What is clear is that the technology to create digital influencers at scale is nearing a tipping point. When we hit that tipping point, these creations will transform entertainment and storytelling.

Digital influencers and the dollars that follow them

Sunny Dhillon Contributor Sunny Dhillon is a partner at Signia Venture Partners. More posts by this contributor Security tokens will be coming soon to an exchange near you Amazon’s next conquest will be apparel Animated characters are as old as human storytelling itself, dating back thousands of years to cave drawings that depict animals in […]

Animated characters are as old as human storytelling itself, dating back thousands of years to cave drawings that depict animals in motion. It was really in the last century, however—a period bookended by the first animated short film in 1908 and Pixar’s success with computer animation with Toy Story from 1995 onwards—that animation leapt forward. Fundamentally, this period of great innovation sought to make it easier to create an animated story for an audience to passively consume in a curated medium, such as a feature-length film.

Our current century could be set for even greater advances in the art and science of bringing characters to life. Digital influencers—virtual or animated humans that live natively on social media—will be central to that undertaking. Digital influencers don’t merely represent the penetration of cartoon characters into yet another medium, much as they sprang from newspaper strips to TV and the multiplex. Rather, digital humans on social media represent the first instance in which fictional entities act in the same plane of communication as you and I—regular people—do. Imagine if stories about Mickey Mouse were told over a telephone or in personalized letters to fans. That’s the kind of jump we’re talking about.

Social media is a new storytelling medium, much as film was a century ago. As with film then, we have yet to transmit virtual characters to this new medium in a sticky way.

Which isn’t to say that there aren’t digital characters living their lives on social channels right now. The pioneers have arrived: Lil’ Miquela, Astro, Bermuda, and Shudu are prominent examples. But they have are still only notable for their novelty, not yet their ubiquity. They represent the output of old animation techniques applied to a new medium. This Techcrunch article did a great job describing the current digital influencer landscape.

So why haven’t animated characters taken off on social media platforms?  It’s largely an issue of scale—it’s expensive and time-consuming to create animated characters and to depict their adventures.  One 2017 estimate stated that a 60-90 second animation took about 6 weeks.  An episode of animated TV takes between 13 months to produce, typically with large teams in South Korea doing much of the animation legwork. That pace simply doesn’t work in a medium that calls for new original content multiple times a day.

Yet the technical piece of the puzzle is falling into place, which is primarily what I want to talk about today. Traditionally, virtual characters were created by a team of experts—not scalable—in the following way:

  • Create a 3D model
  • Texture the model and add additional materials
  • Rig the 3D model skeleton
  • Animate the 3D model
  • Introduce character into desired scene

 

Today, there are generally three different types of virtual avatar:  realistic high-resolution CGI avatars, stylized CGI avatars, and manipulated video avatars. Each has its strengths and pitfalls, and the fast-approaching world of scaled digital influencers will likely incorporate aspects of all three.

The digital influencers mentioned above are all high-resolution CGI avatars. It’s unsurprising that this tech has breathed life into the most prominent digital influencers so far—this type of avatar offers the most creative latitude and photorealism. You can create an original character and have her carry out varied activities.

The process for their creation borrows most from the old-school CGI pipeline described above, though accelerated through the use of tools like Daz3D for animation, Moka Studio for rigging, and Rokoko for motion capture. It’s old wine in new bottles. Naturally, it shares the same bottlenecks as the old-school CGI pipeline: creating characters in this way consumes a lot of time and expertise.

Though researchers like Ari Shapiro at the University of Southern California Institute for Creative Technologies are currently working on ways to automate the creation of high-resolution CGI avatars, that bottleneck remains for obstacle for digital influencers entering the mainstream.

Stylized CGI avatars, on the other hand, have entered the mainstream. If you have an iPhone or use Snapchat, chances are you have one. Apple, Samsung, Pinscreen, Loom.ai, Embody Digital, Genies, and Expressive.ai are just some of the companies playing in this space. These avatars, while likely to spread ubiquitously a la Bitmoji before them, are limited in scope.

While they extend the ability to create an animated character to anyone who uses an associated app, that creation and personalization is circumscribed: the avatar’s range is limited for the purposes of what we’re discussing in this article. It’s not so much a technology for creating new digital humans as it is a tool for injecting a visual shorthand for someone into the digital world. You’ll use it to embellish your Snapchat game, but storytellers will be unlikely to use these avatars to create a spiritual successor to Mickey Mouse and Buzz Lightyear (though they will be a big advertising / brand partnership opportunity nonetheless).

Video manipulation—you probably know it as deepfakes—is another piece of tech that is speeding virtual or fictional characters into the mainstream. As the name implies, however, it’s more about warping reality to create something new. Anyone who has seen Nicolas Cage’s striking features dropped onto Amy Adams’ body in a Superman film will understand what I’m talking about.

Open source packages like this one allow almost anyone to create a deepfake (with some technical knowhow—your grandma probably hasn’t replaced her time-honored Bingo sessions with some casual deepfaking). It’s principally used by hobbyists, though recently we’ve seen startups like Synthesia crop up with business use cases. You can use deepfake tech for mimicry, but we haven’t yet seen it used for creating original characters. It shares some of the democratizing aspects of stylized CGI avatars, and there are likely many creative applications for the tech that simply haven’t been realized yet.

While none of these technology stacks on their own currently enable digital humans at scale, when combined they may make up the wardrobe that takes us into Narnia. Video manipulation, for example, could be used to scale realistic high-res characters like Lil’ Miquela through accelerating the creation of new stories and tableaux for her to inhabit. Nearly all of the most famous animated characters have been stylized, and I wouldn’t bet against social media’s Snow White being stylized too. What is clear is that the technology to create digital influencers at scale is nearing a tipping point. When we hit that tipping point, these creations will transform entertainment and storytelling.

Popsugar’s Twinning app is leaking everyone’s uploaded photos

I thought the worst thing about Popsugar’s Twinning tool was that it matched me with James Corden. Turns out, the hundreds of thousands of selfies uploaded to the tool can be downloaded by anyone who knows where to look. The popular photo matching tool taking the web by storm is fairly simple. “It analyzes a selfie […]

I thought the worst thing about Popsugar’s Twinning tool was that it matched me with James Corden.

Turns out, the hundreds of thousands of selfies uploaded to the tool can be downloaded by anyone who knows where to look.

The popular photo matching tool taking the web by storm is fairly simple. “It analyzes a selfie or uploaded photo, compares it to a massive database of celebrity photos to find matches, and finally gives you a ‘twinning percentage’ for your top five look-alikes,” according to Popsugar, which developed the tool. Then, you share those matched photos on Facebook and Twitter so everyone knows that you don’t look at all like one of the many Kardashians.

All of the uploaded photos are stored in a storage bucket hosted on Amazon Web Services. We know because the web address of the bucket is in the code on the Twinning tool’s website. Open that in your web browser, and you’re looking at a real-time stream of uploaded photos.

We verified the findings by uploading a dummy photo of a certain file size at a specific time. Then, we scraped a list of filenames uploaded during that time period from the bucket’s web address, downloaded them, and found our uploaded image by searching for that photo of a certain file size. (We didn’t download any more than necessary to preserve people’s privacy.)

TechCrunch reached out to Popsugar president Lisa Sugar and vice-president of engineering Mike Patnode, but did not hear back.

As data leaks go, this is definitely on the low-end. You might not care that their selfies were exposed and easily downloadable. (Many photos were already leaking out of Google’s search results — even before people shared their selfie matches on Twitter!) It’s not as if the site was leaking your passwords or your Social Security number. Most probably didn’t go in expecting any reasonable level of security or privacy to begin with.

But like any free app, quiz or some viral web tool, it’s worth reminding that you’re still putting your information out there — and you can’t always get it back. Worse, you almost never know how secure your data will be, or how it might end up being used — and abused — in the future.

This is Captain Buzzkill, signing off.

Metacert’ Cryptonite can catch phishing links in your email

Metacert, founded by Paul Walsh, originally began as a way to watch chat rooms for fake Ethereum scams. Walsh, who was an early experimenter in cryptocurrencies, grew frustrated when he saw hackers dumping fake links into chat rooms, resulting in users regularly losing cash to scammers. Now Walsh has expanded his software to email. A […]

Metacert, founded by Paul Walsh, originally began as a way to watch chat rooms for fake Ethereum scams. Walsh, who was an early experimenter in cryptocurrencies, grew frustrated when he saw hackers dumping fake links into chat rooms, resulting in users regularly losing cash to scammers.

Now Walsh has expanded his software to email. A new product built for email will show little green or red shields next to links, confirming that a link is what it appears to be. A fake link would appear red while a real PayPal link, say, would appear green. The plugin works with Apple’s Mail app on the iPhone and is called Cryptonite.

“The system utilizes the MetaCert Protocol infrastructure/registry,” said Walsh. “It contains 10 billion classified URLs. This is at the core of all of MetaCert’s products and services. It’s a single API that’s used to protect over 1 million crypto people on Telegram via a security bot and it’s the same API that powers the integration that turned off phishing for the crypto world in 2017. Even when links are shortened? MetaCert unfurls them until it finds the real destination site, and then checks the Protocol to see if it’s verified, unknown or classified as phishing. It does all this in less that 300ms.”

Walsh is also working on a system to scan for Fake News in the wild using a similar technology to his anti-phishing solution. The company is raising currently and is working on a utility token.

Walsh sees his first customers as enterprise and expects IT shops to implement the software to show employees which links are allowed, i.e. company or partner links, and which ones are bad.

“It’s likely we will approach this top down and bottom up, which is unusual for enterprise security solutions. But ours is an enterprise service that anyone can install on their phone in less than a minute,” he said. “SMEs isn’t typically a target market for email security companies but we believe we can address this massive market with a solution that’s not scary to setup and expensive to support. More research is required though, to see if our hypothesis is right.”

“With MetaCert’s security, training is reduced to a single sentence ‘if it doesn’t have a green shield, assume it’s not safe,” said Walsh.

Tool up for the midterms with this Facebook junk news aggregator

With the US midterms fast approaching purveyors of online disinformation are very busy indeed spreading their hyper-partisan junk on Facebook . Their goal: Skewing democratic outcomes by putting out misleading, deceptive or incorrect information that’s packaged as real news about politics, economics or culture — yet presented in a way that panders to prejudices and is […]

With the US midterms fast approaching purveyors of online disinformation are very busy indeed spreading their hyper-partisan junk on Facebook .

Their goal: Skewing democratic outcomes by putting out misleading, deceptive or incorrect information that’s packaged as real news about politics, economics or culture — yet presented in a way that panders to prejudices and is more likely to get virally spread on mainstream social media platforms where it has the chance to influence people’s views.

This has happened before; is still happening; and will keep on happening unless or until social media platforms get properly regulated.

In the meanwhile, what’s to be done? Arming yourselves and your friends with smart digital and news literacy tools to help shine a light on the kind of ridiculously over-inflated political nonsense that’s being passed around on all sides (albeit, not necessarily equally) seems like a good place to start.

Step forward, Oxford University’s Oxford Internet Institute (OII), which has just launched an aggregator tool which tracks what it terms “junk” political views being shared on Facebook — doing so in near real-time and offering various ways to visualize and explore the junk heap.

What’s “junk news” in this context? The OII says this type of political content can include “ideologically extreme, hyper-partisan, or conspiratorial news and information, as well as various forms of propaganda”.

This sort of stuff might elsewhere get badged ‘fake news’, although that label is problematical — and has itself been hijacked by known muck spreaders. (So ‘online disinformation’ tends to be the label of choice in academic and policy circles, these days.)

The OII is here using its own political propaganda content categorization — i.e. this term “junk news” — which is based on what it describes as “a grounded typology” derived through analyzing a large amount of political communications shared by US social media users.

Specifically it’s based on an analysis of 21.8 million tweets sent during the 2016 Presidential campaign period up til the 2018 State of the Union Address in the United States — applying what the Institute dubs “rigorous coding and content analysis techniques to define the new phenomenon”.

This involved labelling the source websites of shared links based on “a grounded typology that has been tested over several elections around the world in 2016-2018”, with a content source getting coded as a purveyor of junk news if it failed on 3 out of 5 of criteria of the typology.

(Examples of sources that are being judged junk via this method include the likes of Breitbart, Dailycaller and Dailywire to name just a few.)

Now to the tool itself:

The Visual Junk News Aggregator does what it says on the tin, aggregating popular junk news posts into a bipartisan thumbnail wall of over-inflated (or just out and out) BS.

Complete with a trigger warning for the risk of graphic images and language. Mousing over the thumbnails brings up any title and description that’s been scraped for the post in question, plus a date stamp and full Facebook reaction data.

Another tool — the Top 10 Junk News Aggregator — shows the most engaged with English language junk news stories posted to Facebook in the last 24 hours, in the context of the 2018 US midterm elections. (With engagement being based on total Facebook reactions per second of the post’s life.)

While the full aggregator tool supports keyword searches of the junk heap (by content and/or publisher), and also by time — allowing for sifting of junk posts published to public Facebook pages as recently as the last hour or up to a full month old.

Returned search results can be further sorted by time and reaction — across all eight types of possible Facebook reactions.

“The Junk News Aggregator is an interactive tool for exploring junk news stories posted on Facebook, particularly useful right now in the lead-up to the US midterms,” the Institute writes. “It is a  unique tool for systematically studying misinformation on Facebook in real time. It make visible the depth of the junk news problem, displaying the quantity and the content of junk news, as well as the levels of engagement with it.

“Junk news content can be sorted by time and by engagement numbers, as well as via keyword search (such as for a candidate, district, or specific issue). It also offers a visual overview and a top-10 snapshot of the day’s most engaged-with junk news.

“Our goal is to help shed light on the problem of junk news on social media, to make this issue more transparent, and to help improve the public’s media literacy. It also aims to help journalists, researchers, policy-makers, and social media platforms understand the impact of junk news on public life.”

It sent us a case study example to help demonstrate the “functionality and usefulness” of the tool (based on a search it conducted at 11:00am GMT, October 31, 2018).

For this example it used the search keyword “caravan”, selecting posts from the last day and filtering for the most shared posts — which served up several posts.

The most shared post was this one, below, from junk news source Chicks on the Right:

The Institute doesn’t make any comment on why it chose to track junk news on Facebook, specifically, vs other social media platforms (e.g. Twitter) — though there’s little doubt that Facebook’s platform remains the kingpin where skewing political views is concerned, given its massive user-base.

Meanwhile the company’s ongoing attempts to dampen the virality of democracy-denting junk shared on its platform continue — and continue to yield underwhelming results, given the size and gravity of the problem.

Also unconvincing: Facebook’s extremely recent attempts to install systems that verify the actual identity of political advertisers on its platform. Yet these self-imposed checks look to be off to a terrible start — as Facebook has just been shown hosting (and spreading) yet more fake information… ouch…

Putting your faith in Facebook to sort its shit out on the political front — and fast — looks about as sensible as trusting your pet turtle to a shark to babysit.

Much better to tool up and seek to stay on top of the junk heap yourself — at least until the world’s political representatives sort their shit out and get a proper handle on regulating social media.

In the meanwhile, don’t forget to vote.

Swiping right on virtual relationships

Sextech entrepreneur and advocate Bryony Cole is planning for a future when entire relationships exist in virtual reality.

There’s an episode in the latest season of the Hulu original series Casual, where the main character, Alex, tries his hand at dating in virtual reality. He quickly meets a woman and develops a big, adrenaline-inducing crush only to realize she’s a scammer out for his credit card information.

The season takes place around 2021 or 2022, when technological advances have made dating in VR both possible and socially acceptable. We’re not there yet, and we probably won’t be there as soon as the writers of the show think, but it’s time to imagine and plan for a future when entire relationships exist in and as a result of virtual reality.

Sextech entrepreneur and advocate Bryony Cole has built a career around the assumption that a full pivot to VR will happen in our lifetimes.

She’s the chief executive officer of Future of Sex, a podcast-turned-media company and sextech accelerator. Future of Sex has just released its inaugural report on virtual intimacy and plans to produce content on other topics at the intersection of technology and sex. 

Today, most people are more interested in Magic Leap’s new Angry Birds VR game than the ways in which VR can aid struggling relationships, but the report is full of interesting nuggets on how tech, like teledildonics (Internet-connected sex toys), is transforming intimacy.

There’s a whole class of startups named in the report embracing the notion that human experiences can be improved when powered by apps and devices. No, they aren’t advocating for you to bring your smartphone to the bedroom, but rather claiming that customizable tech can heighten the senses or create new avenues for exploration.

Kissenger, for example, has a mobile app that lets you exchange a kiss over the Internet. Fleshlight and Lovense sell Bluetooth-connected vibrators. And CamasutraVR streams virtual versions of real-life porn stars.

VR is the future of couples therapy

VR, Cole says, is a the forefront of the sextech industry’s transformation and if used correctly, can bolster relationships.

“It’s a new way for couples or thruples, or whatever relationship you’re in, to bond,” Cole told TechCrunch. “The ability to empathize with another person is enriched in this context, which is great, especially for understanding a lover.”

VR can facilitate more meaningful interactions for couples in long-distance relationships. If used right, it can fill the “intimacy gap,” or the space between a couple’s shared happiness and an individual’s personal happiness that, when too big, leads to many couple’s demise. 

As a safe space for experimentation, two people can explore fantasies, engage with educational content and even visit a couple’s therapist in VR. 

The release of the report is hot off the heels of Future of Sex’s fourth sextech hackathon. In New York, the company asked participants to create tech-enabled solutions to reinvent sex education for teenage boys, among other prompts. 

Women in sextech

Future of Sex partnered with porn site YouPorn to co-host the event and asked hackers to come up with ways to leverage YouPorn’s content, which includes VR porn, to improve the sex lives of viewers. VR porn is not a new phenomenon and while it can allow for more personal sexual experiences, researchers have warned that blurring the line between the real and the virtual could lead to ethical issues. How, for example, do you give consent in VR?

Women, who are often exploited for the purposes of sexual entertainment, need to be at the table while this content and other sextech are in development. Fortunately, Cole says, women are entering the sextech community in droves.

“[It’s] exploding at the moment and more and more women entrepreneurs are having a go at building a company,” she said. “It’s Important to highlight why women are getting involved in sextech especially in the current climate of #MeToo.”

On stage at TechCrunch Disrupt SF this year, Unbound, which makes fashion-forward vibrators and other sex toys for women, took home the second-place prize.

“Our dream at Unbound is for female sexual health to be viewed through the same lens as male sexuality — as a part of our overall health that deserves a conversation, platform, and shopping experience that doesn’t feel like a flaming pile of garbage,” Unbound founder Polly Rodriguez told TechCrunch’s John Biggs.

Rodriguez is a close friend of Cole’s — the community is still small — and she’s appeared on the Future of Sex podcast.

The podcast, hackathons and the 12-week accelerator program for sextech startups are part of Cole’s effort to expand the dialogue around VR & sextech, invite new voices into the movement and remove the stigma around having open and honest conversations about sex and intimacy.

“There has to be a way to invite more people into this conversation,” she said. “If we can normalize the conversation, we can raise the standards around talking about sex.”

Civil, the blockchain journalism startup, has partnered with one of the oldest names in media

Civil, the two-year-old crypto startup that wants to save the journalism industry by leveraging the blockchain and cryptoeconomics, has partnered with the 172-year-old Associated Press to help the wire service stop bad actors from stealing its content. Civil, using its blockchain-enabled licensing mechanism, which is still in development, will help the AP track where its […]

Civil, the two-year-old crypto startup that wants to save the journalism industry by leveraging the blockchain and cryptoeconomics, has partnered with the 172-year-old Associated Press to help the wire service stop bad actors from stealing its content.

Civil, using its blockchain-enabled licensing mechanism, which is still in development, will help the AP track where its content is going and whether it’s licensed correctly. In exchange, the AP has granted the newsrooms in Civil’s network licenses to its content. Civil, which has raised $5 million from the blockchain venture studio ConsenSys, plans to make the licensing tool available to all the newsrooms in its ecosystem once it’s up and running.

Matthew Iles, the founder and CEO of Civil, told TechCrunch he wants the company to become the new economy for journalism, uprooting the long-standing ad-based revenue model and providing journalists ownership of their content. Beyond that, he wants to reinstate trust and credibility in the journalism industry, which, in an era of  “fake news,” has taken a hard hit to its reputation.

“We have a problem now of not even just dealing with literal fake news, but dealing with the social aspects of people not really knowing what to trust anymore because people are throwing around allegations,” Iles told TechCrunch. “We think [Civil] is going to create far better signals for consumers to really know if a news organization is trusting and credible, despite whatever powerful people might be saying.”

The AP-Civil deal has benefits for both sides. For Civil, they’ll get the opportunity to learn the ropes of the licensing business from the premier news wire service, and the AP will get a lesson in blockchain tech, with a goal of determining what kind of impact, if any, the blockchain can really have on journalism. Additionally, as part of the deal, the AP will be proud new owners of Civil’s cryptocurrency, CVL, which will begin selling via its upcoming initial coin offering on September 18.

If all goes well, the AP will rake in more revenue as a result of the partnership and Civil will have a nice use case of its blockchain-enabled licensing tool to show off.

Iles added that Civil has plans to announce a more partnerships in the coming weeks. Just last month, the company announced a deal with Splice, a media company based in Singapore, that has the pair investing $1 million in 100 media projects in Asia over the next three years.

“This project was founded on the idea that the digital media business is and was on a dangerous path,” Iles said. “I was motivated to look at the ways media platforms were constructed. Could we redesign a media platform from the ground up? I thought about it in conventional ways at first, but one of the things I ran into was a strong desire to make this platform decentralized. I had no idea how to do that until I found blockchain technology.”

Civil is among a new generation of blockchain journalism startups that includes Nwzer, Userfeeds, Factmata and Po.et, which was founded by Jarrod Dicker, a former vice president at The Washington Post.

Anonymous vows to take down Q

A cheerful video released by YourAnonNews suggests that the murky hacker collective called Anonymous is now after the murky deep state collective called Q. Q, to the uninitiated, is a 4Chan poster who claims to be connected deep inside the US government. Q claims to have high level clearance and posts in furtherance of the […]

A cheerful video released by YourAnonNews suggests that the murky hacker collective called Anonymous is now after the murky deep state collective called Q.

Q, to the uninitiated, is a 4Chan poster who claims to be connected deep inside the US government. Q claims to have high level clearance and posts in furtherance of the conspiracy theory that the government has been running massive pedophile ring and that Trump and Robert Mueller are working like Scooby Doo and Shaggy to bring it down. Sites like QAnon.pub are archives of Q’s cryptic and often ridiculous claims.

Support for the conspiracy most recently surfaced at multiple Trump rallies and the sayings – including the faintly ominous “Where We Go One, We Go All” – are appearing everywhere from placards to Roseanne Barr’s Twitter.

Anonymous, best known for attacking Scientology with its Project Chanology operation, is well-equipped to unmask and ridicule Q. When Q began, said Anonymous, they found their antics to be a bit of clever trolling. Then, when Q followers began threatening lives Anonymous decided they were dangerous.

“We were all like ‘Check this troll out.’ He has them convinced that he’s on the inside and they’re eating it up,” Anonymous said in their atypically comical video. After a bit of ribbing, however, Anonymous said they found much to dislike. “None of us are happy with your bullshit,” they wrote. “We gonna wreck you. We are Anonymous.”