A security mishap left Remine wide open to hackers

Security is all too often focused on keeping hackers out and breaches at bay. But in the case of Remine, a real estate intelligence startup, it left its doors wide open for anyone to run rampant.

Remine is a little-known but major player in the real estate analytics and intelligence market. It works by collecting and mining vast amounts of real estate data — from public listings to privately obtained data from brokers and real estate agents from across the United States. The company, which last year raised $30 million in its Series A to help expand its real estate data and intelligence platform, claims it has data “on 150 million properties across all 50 states.”

But that data was only a few clicks away from being easily accessible, thanks to a misconfigured system.

The misconfiguration was found in Remine’s development environment, which although protected by a password, let anyone outside the company register an account to log in.

Thinking it was a secure space, Remine’s developers shared private keys, secrets and other passwords, which if exploited by a malicious hacker would have allowed access to the company’s Amazon Web Services storage servers, databases and also the company’s private Slack workspace.

Mossab Hussein, a security researcher at Dubai-based cybersecurity firm SpiderSilk, found the exposed system and reported the findings to TechCruch so we could inform the company of the security lapse.

The exposed private keys, he said, allowed for full access to the company’s storage servers, containing more than a decade’s worth of documents — including title deeds, rent agreements and addresses of customers or sellers, he said.

One of the documents seen by TechCrunch showed personal information, including names, home addresses and other personally identifiable information belonging to a rental tenant.

After TechCrunch reached out, Remine co-founder and chief operating officer Jonathan Spinetto confirmed the security lapse and that its private keys and secrets have been replaced. Spinetto also said it has notified customers with a letter, seen by TechCrunch. And, the company has retained cybersecurity firm Crypsis to handle the investigation, and that the company will “assess and comply” with applicable data breach notification laws based on the findings of the investigation.

Remine escaped bruised rather than breached, a lesson to all companies, large and small, that even the smallest bug can be enough to wreak havoc.

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Source: Tech Crunch

Facebook’s latest ‘transparency’ tool doesn’t offer much — so we went digging

Just under a month ago Facebook switched on global availability of a tool which affords users a glimpse into the murky world of tracking that its business relies upon to profile users of the wider web for ad targeting purposes.

Facebook is not going boldly into transparent daylight — but rather offering what privacy rights advocacy group Privacy International has dubbed “a tiny sticking plaster on a much wider problem”.

The problem it’s referring to is the lack of active and informed consent for mass surveillance of Internet users via background tracking technologies embedded into apps and websites, including as people browse outside Facebook’s own content garden.

The dominant social platform is also only offering this feature in the wake of the 2018 Cambridge Analytica data misuse scandal, when Mark Zuckerberg faced awkward questions in Congress about the extent of Facebook’s general web tracking. Since then policymakers around the world have dialled up scrutiny of how its business operates — and realized there’s a troubling lack of transparency in and around adtech generally and Facebook specifically

Facebook’s tracking pixels and social plugins — aka the share/like buttons that pepper the mainstream web — have created a vast tracking infrastructure which silently informs the tech giant of Internet users’ activity, even when a person hasn’t interacted with any Facebook-branded buttons.

Facebook claims this is just ‘how the web works’. And other tech giants are similarly engaged in tracking Internet users (notably Google). But as a platform with 2.2BN+ users Facebook has got a march on the lion’s share of rivals when it comes to harvesting people’s data and building out a global database of person profiles.

It’s also positioned as a dominant player in an adtech ecosystem which means it’s the one being fed with intel by data brokers and publishers who deploy tracking tech to try to survive in such a skewed system.

Meanwhile the opacity of online tracking means the average Internet user is none the wiser that Facebook can be following what they’re browsing all over the Internet. Questions of consent loom very large indeed.

Facebook is also able to track people’s usage of third party apps if a person chooses a Facebook login option which the company encourages developers to implement in their apps — again the carrot being to be able to offer a lower friction choice vs requiring users create yet another login credential.

The price for this ‘convenience’ is data and user privacy as the Facebook login gives the tech giant a window into third part app usage.

The company has also used a VPN app it bought and badged as a security tool to glean data on third party app usage — though it’s recently stepped back from the Onavo app after a public backlash (though that did not stop it running a similar tracking program targeted at teens).

Background tracking is how Facebook’s creepy ads function (it prefers to call such behaviorally targeted ads ‘relevant’) — and how they have functioned for years

Yet it’s only in recent months that it’s offered users a glimpse into this network of online informers — by providing limited information about the entities that are passing tracking data to Facebook, as well as some limited controls.

From ‘Clear History’ to “Off-Facebook Activity”

Originally briefed in May 2018, at the crux of the Cambridge Analytica scandal, as a ‘Clear History’ option this has since been renamed ‘Off-Facebook Activity’ — a label so bloodless and devoid of ‘call to action’ that the average Facebook user, should they stumble upon it buried deep in unlovely settings menus, would more likely move along than feel moved to carry out a privacy purge.

(For the record you can access the setting here — but you do need to be logged into Facebook to do so.)

The other problem is that Facebook’s tool doesn’t actually let you purge your browsing history, it just delinks it from being associated with your Facebook ID. There is no option to actually clear your browsing history via its button. Another reason for the name switch. So, no, Facebook hasn’t built a clear history ‘button’.

“While we welcome the effort to offer more transparency to users by showing the companies from which Facebook is receiving personal data, the tool offers little way for users to take any action,” said Privacy International this week, criticizing Facebook for “not telling you everything”.

As the saying goes, a little knowledge can be a dangerous thing. So a little transparency implies — well — anything but clarity. And Privacy International sums up the Off-Facebook Activity tool with an apt oxymoron — describing it as “a new window to the opacity”.

“This tool illustrates just how impossible it is for users to prevent external data from being shared with Facebook,” it writes, warning with emphasis: “Without meaningful information about what data is collected and shared, and what are the ways for the user to opt-out from such collection, Off-Facebook activity is just another incomplete glimpse into Facebook’s opaque practices when it comes to tracking users and consolidating their profiles.”

It points out, for instance, that the information provided here is limited to a “simple name” — thereby preventing the user from “exercising their right to seek more information about how this data was collected”, which EU users at least are entitled to.

“As users we are entitled to know the name/contact details of companies that claim to have interacted with us. If the only thing we see, for example, is the random name of an artist we’ve never heard before (true story), how are we supposed to know whether it is their record label, agent, marketing company or even them personally targeting us with ads?” it adds.

Another criticism is Facebook is only providing limited information about each data transfer — with Privacy International noting some events are marked “under a cryptic CUSTOM” label; and that Facebook provides “no information regarding how the data was collected by the advertiser (Facebook SDK, tracking pixel, like button…) and on what device, leaving users in the dark regarding the circumstances under which this data collection took place”.

“Does Facebook really display everything they process/store about those events in the log/export?” queries privacy researcher Wolfie Christl, who tracks the adtech industry’s tracking techniques. “They have to, because otherwise they don’t fulfil their SAR [Subject Access Request] obligations [under EU law].”

Christl notes Facebook makes users jump through an additional “download” hoop in order to view data on tracked events — and even then, as Privacy International points out, it gives up only a limited view of what has actually been tracked…

“For example, why doesn’t Facebook list the specific sites/URLs visited? Do they infer data from the domains e.g. categories? If yes, why is this not in the logs?” Christl asks.

We reached out to Facebook with a number of questions, including why it doesn’t provide more detail by default. It responded with this statement attributed to spokesperson:

We offer a variety of tools to help people access their Facebook information, and we’ve designed these tools to comply with relevant laws, including GDPR. We disagree with this [Privacy International] article’s claims and would welcome the chance to discuss them with Privacy International.

Facebook also said it’s continuing to develop which information it surfaces through the Off-Facebook Activity tool — and said it welcomes feedback on this.

We also asked it about the legal bases it uses to process people’s information that’s been obtained via its tracking pixels and social plug-ins. It did not provide a response to those questions.

Six names, many questions…

When the company launched the Off-Facebook Activity tool a snap poll of available TechCrunch colleagues showed very diverse results for our respective tallies (which also may not show the most recent activity, per other Facebook caveats) — ranging from one colleague who had an eye-watering 1,117 entities (likely down to doing a lot of app testing); to several with several/a few hundred apiece; to a couple in the middle tens.

In my case I had just six. But from my point of view — as an EU citizen with a suite of rights related to privacy and data protection; and as someone who aims to practice good online privacy hygiene, including having a very locked down approach to using Facebook (never using its mobile app for instance) — it was still six too many. I wanted to find out how these entities had circumvented my attempts not to be tracked.

And in the case of the first one in the list who on earth it was…

Turns out cloudfront is an Amazon Web Services Content Delivery Network subdomain. But I had to go searching online myself to figure out that the owner of that particular domain is (now) a company called Nativo.

Facebook’s list provided only very bare bones information. I also clicked to delink the first entity, since it immediately looked so weird, and found that by doing that Facebook wiped all the entries — which meant I was unable to retain access to what little additional info it had provided about the respective data transfers.

Undeterred I set out to contact each of the six companies directly with questions — asking what data of mine they had transferred to Facebook and what legal basis they thought they had for processing my information.

(On a practical level six names looked like a sample size I could at least try to follow up manually — but remember I was the TechCrunch exception; imagine trying to request data from 1,117 companies, or 450 or even 57, which were the lengths of lists of some of my colleagues.)

This process took about a month and a lot of back and forth/chasing up. It likely only yielded as much info as it did because I was asking as a journalist; an average Internet user may have had a tougher time getting attention on their questions — though, under EU law, citizens have a right to request a copy of personal data held on them.

Eventually, I was able to obtain confirmation that tracking pixels and Facebook share buttons had been involved in my data being passed to Facebook in certain instances. Even so I remain in the dark on many things. Such as exactly what personal data Facebook received.

In one case I was told by a listed company that it doesn’t know itself what data was shared — only Facebook knows because it’s implemented the company’s “proprietary code”. (Insert your own ‘WTAF’ there.)

The legal side of these transfers also remains highly opaque. From my point of view I would not intentionally consent to any of this tracking — but in some instances the entities involved claim that (my) consent was (somehow) obtained (or implied).

In other cases they said they are relying on a legal basis in EU law that’s referred to as ‘legitimate interests’. However this requires a balancing test to be carried out to ensure a business use does not have a disproportionate impact on individual rights.

I wasn’t able to ascertain whether such tests had ever been carried out.

Meanwhile, since Facebook is also making use of the tracking information from its pixels and social plug ins (and seemingly more granular use, since some entities claimed they only get aggregate not individual data), Christl suggests it’s unlikely such a balancing test would be easy to pass for that tiny little ‘platform giant’ reason.

Notably he points out Facebook’s Business Tool terms state that it makes use of so called “event data” to “personalize features and content and to improve and secure the Facebook products” — including for “ads and recommendations”; for R&D purposes; and “to maintain the integrity of and to improve the Facebook Company Products”.

In a section of its legal terms covering the use of its pixels and SDKs Facebook also puts the onus on the entities implementing its tracking technologies to gain consent from users prior to doing so in relevant jurisdictions that “require informed consent” for tracking cookies and similar — giving the example of the EU.

“You must ensure, in a verifiable manner, that an end user provides the necessary consent before you use Facebook Business Tools to enable us to store and access cookies or other information on the end user’s device,” Facebook writes, pointing users of its tools to its Cookie Consent Guide for Sites and Apps for “suggestions on implementing consent mechanisms”.

Christl flags the contradiction between Facebook claiming users of its tracking tech needing to gain prior consent vs claims I was given by some of these entities that they don’t because they’re relying on ‘legitimate interests’.

“Using LI as a legal basis is even controversial if you use a data analytics company that reliably processes personal data strictly on behalf of you,” he argues. “I guess, industry lawyers try to argue for a broader applicability of LI, but in the case of FB business tools I don’t believe that the balancing test (a businesses legitimate interests vs. the impact on the rights and freedoms of data subjects) will work in favor of LI.”

Those entities relying on legitimate interests as a legal base for tracking would still need to offer a mechanism where users can object to the processing — and I couldn’t immediately see such a mechanism in the cases in question.

One thing is crystal clear: Facebook itself does not provide a mechanism for users to object to its processing of tracking data nor opt out of targeted ads. That remains a long-standing complaint against its business in the EU which data protection regulators are still investigating.

One more thing: Non-Facebook users continue to have no way of learning what data of theirs is being tracked and transferred to Facebook. Only Facebook users have access to the Off-Facebook Activity tool, for example. Non-users can’t even access a list.

Facebook has defended its practice of tracking non-users around the Internet as necessary for unspecified ‘security purposes’. It’s an inherently disproportionate argument of course. The practice also remains under legal challenge in the EU.

Tracking the trackers

SimpleReach (aka d8rk54i4mohrb.cloudfront.net)

What is it? A California-based analytics platform (now owned by Nativo) used by publishers and content marketers to measure how well their content/native ads performs on social media. The product began life in the early noughties as a simple tool for publishers to recommend similar content at the bottom of articles before the startup pivoted — aiming to become ‘the PageRank of social’ — offering analytics tools for publishers to track engagement around content in real-time across the social web (plugging into platform APIs). It also built statistical models to predict which pieces of content will be the most social and where, generating a proprietary per article score. SimpleReach was acquired by Nativo last year to complement analytics tools the latter already offered for tracking content on the publisher/brand’s own site.

Why did it appear in your Off-Facebook Activity list? Given it’s a b2b product it does not have a visible consumer brand of its own. And, to my knowledge, I have never visited its own website prior to investigating why it appeared in my Off-Facebook Activity list. Clearly, though, I must have visited a site (or sites) that are using its tracking/analytics tools. Of course an Internet user has no obvious way to know this — unless they’re actively using tools to monitor which trackers are tracking them.

In a further quirk, neither the SimpleReach (nor Nativo) brand names appeared in my Off-Facebook Activity list. Rather a domain name was listed — d8rk54i4mohrb.cloudfront.net — which looked at first glance weird/alarming.

I found this is owned by SimpleReach by using a tracker analytics service.

Once I knew the name I was able to connect the entry to Nativo — via news reports of the acquisition — which led me to an entity I could direct questions to.  

What happened when you asked them about this? There was a bit of back and forth and then they sent a detailed response to my questions in which they claim they do not share any data with Facebook — “or perform ‘off site activity’ as described on Facebook’s activity tool”.

They also suggested that their domain had appeared as a result of their tracking code being implemented on a website I had visited which had also implemented Facebook’s own trackers.

“Our technology allows our Data Controllers to insert other tracking pixels or tags, using us as a tag manager that delivers code to the page. It is possible that one of our customers added a Facebook pixel to an article you visited using our technology. This could lead Facebook to attribute this pixel to our domain, though our domain was merely a ‘carrier’ of the code,” they told me.

In terms of the data they collect, they said this: “The only Personal Data that is collected by the SimpleReach Analytics tag is your IP Address and a randomly generated id.  Both of these values are processed, anonymized, and aggregated in the SimpleReach platform and not made available to anyone other than our sub-processors that are bound to process such data only on our behalf. Such values are permanently deleted from our system after 3 months. These values are used to give our customers a general idea of the number of users that visited the articles tracked.”

So, again, they suggested the reason why their domain appeared in my Off-Facebook Activity list is a combination of Nativo/SimpleReach’s tracking technologies being implemented on a site where Facebook’s retargeting pixel is also embedded — which then resulted in data about my online activity being shared with Facebook (which Facebook then attributes as coming from SimpleReach’s domain).

Commenting on this, Christl agreed it sounds as if publishers “somehow attach Facebook pixel events to SimpleReach’s cloudfront domain”.

“SimpleReach probably doesn’t get data from this. But the question is 1) is SimpleReach perhaps actually responsible (if it happens in the context of their domain); 2) The Off-Facebook activity is a mess (if it contains events related to domains whose owners are not web or app publishers).”

Nativo offered to determine whether they hold any personal information associated with the unique identifier they have assigned to my browser if I could send them this ID. However I was unable to locate such an ID (see below).

In terms of legal base to process my information the company told me: “We have the right to process data in accordance with provisions set forth in the various Data Processor agreements we have in place with Data Controllers.”

Nativo also suggested that the Offsite Activity in question might have predated its purchase of the SimpleReach technology — which occurred on March 20, 2019 — saying any activity prior to this would mean my query would need to be addressed directly with SimpleReach, Inc. which Nativo did not acquire. (However in this case the activity registered on the list was dated later than that.)

Here’s what they said on all that in full:

Thank you for submitting your data access request.  We understand that you are a resident of the European Union and are submitting this request pursuant to Article 15(1) of the GDPR.  Article 15(1) requires “data controllers” to respond to individuals’ requests for information about the processing of their personal data.  Although Article 15(1) does not apply to Nativo because we are not a data controller with respect to your data, we have provided information below that will help us in determining the appropriate Data Controllers, which you can contact directly.

First, for details about our role in processing personal data in connection with our SimpleReach product, please see the SimpleReach Privacy Policy.  As the policy explains in more detail, we provide marketing analytics services to other businesses – our customers.  To take advantage of our services, our customers install our technology on their websites, which enables us to collect certain information regarding individuals’ visits to our customers’ websites. We analyze the personal information that we obtain only at the direction of our customer, and only on that customer’s behalf.

SimpleReach is an analytics tracker tool (Similar to Google Analytics) implemented by our customers to inform them of the performance of their content published around the web.  “d8rk54i4mohrb.cloudfront.net” is the domain name of the servers that collect these metrics.  We do not share data with Facebook or perform “off site activity” as described on Facebook’s activity tool.  Our technology allows our Data Controllers to insert other tracking pixels or tags, using us as a tag manager that delivers code to the page.  It is possible that one of our customers added a Facebook pixel to an article you visited using our technology.  This could lead Facebook to attribute this pixel to our domain, though our domain was merely a “carrier” of the code.

The SimpleReach tool is implemented on articles posted by our customers and partners of our customers.  It is possible you visited a URL that has contained our tracking code.  It is also possible that the Offsite Activity you are referencing is activity by SimpleReach, Inc. before Nativo purchased the SimpleReach technology. Nativo, Inc. purchased certain technology from SimpleReach, Inc. on March 20, 2019, but we did not purchase the SimpleReach, Inc. entity itself, which remains a separate entity unaffiliated with Nativo, Inc. Accordingly, any activity that occurred before March 20, 2019 pre-dates Nativo’s use of the SimpleReach technology and should be addressed directly with SimpleReach, Inc. If, for example, TechCrunch was a publisher partner of SimpleReach, Inc. and had SimpleReach tracking code implemented on TechCrunch articles or across the TechCrunch website prior to March 20, 2019, any resulting data collection would have been conducted by SimpleReach, Inc., not by Nativo, Inc.

As mentioned above, our tracking script collects and sends information to our servers based on the articles it is implemented on. The only Personal Data that is collected by the SimpleReach Analytics tag is your IP Address and a randomly generated id.  Both of these values are processed, anonymized, and aggregated in the SimpleReach platform and not made available to anyone other than our sub-processors that are bound to process such data only on our behalf. Such values are permanently deleted from our system after 3 months.  These values are used to give our customers a general idea of the number of users that visited the articles tracked.

We do not, nor have we ever, shared ANY information with Facebook with regards to the information we collect from the SimpleReach Analytics tag, be it Personal Data or otherwise. However, as mentioned above, it is possible that one of our customers added a Facebook retargeting pixel to an article you visited using our technology. If that is the case, we would not have received any information collected from such pixel or have knowledge of whether, and to what extent, the customer shared information with Facebook. Without more information, we are unable to determine the specific customer (if any) on behalf of which we may have processed your personal information. However, if you send us the unique identifier we have assigned to your browser… we can determine whether we have any personal information associated with such browser on behalf of a customer controller, and, if we have, we can forward your request on to the controller to respond directly to your request.

As a Data Processor we have the right to process data in accordance with provisions set forth in the various Data Processor agreements we have in place with Data Controllers.  This type of agreement is designed to protect Data Subjects and ensure that Data Processors are held to the same standards that both the GDPR and the Data Controller have put forth.  This is the same type of agreement used by all other analytics tracking tools (as well as many other types of tools) such as Google Analytics, Adobe Analytics, Chartbeat, and many others.

I also asked Nativo to confirm whether Insider.com (see below) is a customer of Nativo/SimpleReach.

The company told me it could not disclose this “due to confidentiality restrictions” and would only reveal the identity of customers if “required by applicable law”.

Again, it said that if I provided the “unique identifier” assigned to my browser it would be “happy to pull a list of personal information the SimpleReach/Nativo systems currently have stored for your unique identifier (if any), including the appropriate Data Controllers”. (“If we have any personal data collected from you on behalf of Insider.com, it would come up in the list of DataControllers,” it suggested.)

I checked multiple browsers that I use on multiple devices but was unable to locate an ID attached to a SimpleReach cookie. So I also asked whether this might appear attached to any other cookie.

Their response:

Because our data is either pseudonymized or anonymized, and we do not record of any other pieces of Personal Data about you, it will not be possible for us to locate this data without the cookie value.  The SimpleReach user cookie is, and has always been, in the “__srui” cookie under the “.simplereach.com” domain or any of its sub-domains. If you are unable to locate a SimpleReach user cookie by this name on your browser, it may be because you are using a different device or because you have cleared your cookies (in which case we would no longer have the ability to map any personal data we have previously collected from you to your browser or device). We do have other cookies (under the domains postrelease.com, admin.nativo.com, and cloud.nativo.com) but those cookies would not be related to the appearance of SimpleReach in the list of Off Site Activity on your Facebook account, per your original inquiry.

What did you learn from their inclusion in the Off-Facebook Activity list? There appeared to be a correlation between this domain and a publisher, Insider.com, which also appeared in my Off-Facebook Activity list — as both logged events bear the same date; plus Insider.com is a publisher so would fall into the right customer category for using Nativo’s tool.

Given those correlations I was able to guess Insider.com is a customer of Nativo. (I confirmed this when I spoke to Insider.com) — so Facebook’s tool is able to leak relational inferences related to the tracking industry by surfacing/mapping business connections that might not have been otherwise evident.

Insider.com

What is it? A New York based business media company which owns brands such as Business Insider and Markets Insider

Why did it appear in your Off-Facebook Activity list? I imagine I clicked on a technology article that appeared in my Facebook News Feed or elsewhere but when I was logged into Facebook

What happened when you asked them about this? After about a week of radio silence an employee in Insider’com’s legal department got in touch to say they could discuss the issue on background.

This person told me the information in the Off-Facebook Activity tool came from the Facebook share button which is embedded on all articles it runs on its media websites. They confirmed that the share button can share data with Facebook regardless of whether the site visitor interacts with the button or not.

In my case I certainly would not have interacted with the Facebook share button. Nonetheless data was passed, simply by merit of loading the article page itself.

Insider.com said the Facebook share button widget is integrated into its sites using a standard set-up that Facebook intends publishers to use. If the share button is clicked information related to that action would be shared with Facebook and would also be received by Insider.com (though, in this scenario, it said it doesn’t get any personalized information — but rather gets aggregate data).

Facebook can also automatically collect other information when a user visits a webpage which incorporates its social plug-ins.

Asked whether Insider.com knows what information Facebook receives via this passive route the company told me it does not — noting the plug-in runs proprietary Facebook code. 

Asked how it’s collecting consent from users for their data to be shared passively with Facebook, Insider.com said its Privacy Policy stipulates users consent to sharing their information with Facebook and other social media sites. It also said it uses the legal ground known as legitimate interests to provide functionality and derive analytics on articles.

In the active case (of a user clicking to share an article) Insider.com said it interprets the user’s action as consent.

Insider.com confirmed it uses SimpleReach/Nativo analytics tools, meaning site visitor data is also being passed to Nativo when a user lands on an article. It said consent for this data-sharing is included within its consent management platform (it uses a CMP made by Forcepoint) which asks site visitors to specify their cookie choices.

Here site visitors can choose for their data not to be shared for analytics purposes (which Insider.com said would prevent data being passed).

I usually apply all cookie consent opt outs, where available, so I’m a little surprised Nativo/SimpleReach was passed my data from an Insider.com webpage. Either I failed to click the opt out one time or failed to respond to the cookie notice and data was passed by default.

It’s also possible I did opt out but data was passed anyway — as there has been research which has found a proportion of cookie notifications ignore choices and pass data anyway (unintentionally or otherwise).

Follow up questions I sent to Insider.com after we talked:

1) Can you confirm whether Insider has performed a legitimate interests assessment?
2) Does Insider have a site mechanism where users can object to the passive data transfer to Facebook from the share buttons?

Insider.com did not respond to my additional questions.

What did you learn from their inclusion in the Off-Facebook Activity list? That Insider.com is a customer of Nativo/SimpleReach.

Rei.com

What is it? A California-based ecommerce website selling outdoor gear

Why did it appear in your Off-Facebook Activity list? I don’t recall ever visiting their site prior to looking into why it appeared in the list so I’m really not sure

What happened when you asked them about this? After saying it would investigate it followed up with a statement, rather than detailed responses to my questions, in which it claims it does not hold any personal data associated with — presumably — my TechCrunch email, since it did not ask me what data to check against.

It also appeared to be claiming that it uses Facebook tracking pixels/tags on its website, without explicitly saying as much, writing that: “Facebook may collect information about your interactions with our websites and mobile apps and reflect that information to you through their Off-Facebook Activity tool.”

It claims it has no access to this information — which it says is “pseudonymous to us” but suggested that if I have a Facebook account Facebook could link any browsing on Rei’s site to my Facebook’s identity and therefore track my activity.

The company also pointed me to a Facebook Help Center post where the company names some of the activities that might have resulted in Rei’s website sending activity data on me to Facebook (which it could then link to my Facebook ID) — although Facebook’s list is not exhaustive (included are: “viewing content”, “searching for an item”, “adding an item to a shopping cart” and “making a donation” among other activities the company tracks by having its code embedded on third parties’ sites).

Here’s Rei’s statement in full:

Thank you for your patience as we looked into your questions.  We have checked our systems and determined that REI does not maintain any personal data associated with you based on the information you provided.  Note, however, that Facebook may collect information about your interactions with our websites and mobile apps and reflect that information to you through their Off-Facebook Activity tool. The information that Facebook collects in this manner is pseudonymous to us — meaning we cannot identify you using the information and we do not maintain the information in a manner that is linked to your name or other identifying information. However, if you have a Facebook account, Facebook may be able to match this activity to your Facebook account via a unique identifier unavailable to REI. (Funnily enough, while researching this I found TechCrunch in MY list of Off-Facebook activity!)

For a complete list of activities that could have resulted in REI sharing pseudonymous information about you with Facebook, this Facebook Help Center article may be useful.  For a detailed description of the ways in which we may collect and share customer information, the purposes for which we may process your data, and rights available to EEA residents, please refer to our Privacy Policy.  For information about how REI uses cookies, please refer to our Cookie Policy.

As a follow up question I asked Rei to tell me which Facebook tools it uses, pointing out that: “Given that, just because you aren’t (as I understand it) directly using my data yourself that does not mean you are not responsible for my data being transferred to Facebook.”

The company did not respond to that point.

I also previously asked Rei.com to confirm whether it has any data sharing arrangements with the publisher of Rock & Ice magazine (see below). And, if so, to confirm the processes involved in data being shared. Again, I got no response to that.

What did you learn from their inclusion in the Off-Facebook Activity list? Given that Rei.com appeared alongside Rock & Ice on the list — both displaying the same date and just one activity apiece — I surmised they have some kind of data-sharing arrangement. They are also both outdoors brands so there would be obvious commercial ‘synergies’ to underpin such an arrangement.

That said, neither would confirm a business relationship to me. But Facebook’s list heavily implies there is some background data-sharing going on

Rock & Ice magazine 

What is it? A climbing magazine produced by a California-based publisher, Big Stone Publishing

Why did it appear in your Off-Facebook Activity list? I imagine I clicked on a link to a climbing-related article in my Facebook feed or else visited Rock & Ice’s website while I was logged into Facebook in the same browser session

What happened when you asked them about this? After ignoring my initial email query I subsequently received a brief response from the publisher after I followed up — which read:

The Rock and Ice website is opt in, where you have to agree to terms of use to access the website. I don’t know what private data you are saying Rock and Ice shared, so I can’t speak to that. The site terms are here. As stated in the terms you can opt out.

Following up, I asked about the provision in the Rock & Ice website’s cookie notice which states: “By continuing to use our site, you agree to our cookies” — asking whether it’s passing data without waiting for the user to signal their consent.

(Relevant: In October Europe’s top court issued a ruling that active consent is necessary for tracking cookies, so you can’t drop cookies prior to a user giving consent for you to do so.)

The publisher responded:

You have to opt in and agree to the terms to use the website. You may opt out of cookies, which is covered in the terms. If you do not want the benefits of these advertising cookies, you may be able to opt-out by visiting: http://www.networkadvertising.org/optout_nonppii.asp.

If you don’t want any cookies, you can find extensions such as Ghostery or the browser itself to stop and refuse cookies. By doing so though some websites might not work properly.

I followed up again to point out that I’m not asking about the options to opt in or opt out but, rather, the behavior of the website if the visitor does not provide a consent response yet continues browsing — asking for confirmation Rock & Ice’s site interprets this state as consent and therefore sends data.

The publisher stopped responding at that point.

Earlier I had asked it to confirm whether its website shares visitor data with Rei.com? (As noted above, the two appeared with the same date on the list which suggests data may be being passed between them.) I did not get a respond to that question either.

What did you learn from their inclusion in the Off-Facebook Activity list? That the magazine appears to have a data-sharing arrangement with outdoor retailer Rei.com, given how the pair appeared at the same point in my list. However neither would confirm this when I asked

MatterHackers

What is it? A California-based retailer focused on 3D printing and digital manufacturing

Why did it appear in your Off-Facebook Activity list? I honestly have no idea. I have never to my knowledge visited their site prior to investigating why they should appear on my Off Site Activity list.

I remain pretty interested to know how/why they managed to track me. I can only surmise I clicked on some technology-related content in my Facebook feed, either intentionally or by accident.

What happened when you asked them about this? They first asked me for confirmation that they were on my list. After I had sent a screenshot, they followed up to say they would investigate. I pushed again after hearing nothing for several weeks. At this point they asked for additional information from the Off-Facebook Activity tool — namely more granular metrics, such as a time and date per event and some label information — to help with tracking down this particular data-exchange.

I had previously provided them with the date (as it appears in the screenshot) but it’s possible to download additional an additional level of information about data transfers which includes per event time/date-stamps and labels/tags, such as “VIEW_CONTENT” .

However, as noted above, I had previously selected and deleted one item off of my Off-Facebook Activity list, after which Facebook’s platform had immediately erased all entries and associated metrics. There was no obvious way I could recover access to that information.

“Without this information I would speculate that you viewed an article or product on our site — we publish a lot of ‘How To’ content related to 3D printing and other digital manufacturing technologies — this information could have then been captured by Facebook via Adroll for ad retargeting purposes,” a MatterHackers spokesman told me. “Operationally, we have no other data sharing mechanism with Facebook.”

Subsequently, the company confirmed it implements Facebook’s tracking pixel on every page of its website.

Of the pixel Facebook writes that it enables website owners to track “conversions” (i.e. website actions); create custom audiences which segment site visitors by criteria that Facebook can identify and match across its user-base, allowing for the site owner to target ads via Facebook’s platform at non-customers with a similar profile/criteria to existing customers that are browsing its site; and for creating dynamic ads where a template ad gets populated with product content based on tracking data for that particular visitor.

Regarding the legal base for the data sharing, MatterHackers had this to say: “MatterHackers is not an EU entity, nor do we conduct business in the EU and so have not undertaken GDPR compliance measures. CCPA [California’s Consumer Privacy Act] will likely apply to our business as of 2021 and we have begun the process of ensuring that our website will be in compliance with those regulations as of January 1st.”

I pointed out that GDPR is extraterritorial in scope — and can apply to non-EU based entities, such as if they’re monitoring individuals in the EU (as in this case).

Also likely relevant: A ruling last year by Europe’s top court found sites that embed third party plug-ins such as Facebook’s like button are jointly responsible for the initial data processing — and must either obtain informed consent from site visitors prior to data being transferred to Facebook, or be able to demonstrate a legitimate interest legal basis for processing this data.

Nonetheless it’s still not clear what legal base the company is relying on for implementing the tracking pixel and passing data on EU Facebook users.

When asked about this MatterHacker COO, Kevin Pope, told me:

While we appreciate the sentiment of GDPR, in this case the EU lacks the legal standing to pursue an enforcement action. I’m sure you can appreciate the potential negative consequences if any arbitrary country (or jurisdiction) were able to enforce legal penalties against any website simply for having visitors from that country. Techcrunch would have been fined to oblivion many times over by China or even Thailand (for covering the King in a negative light). In this way, the attempted overreach of the GDPR’s language sets a dangerous precedent.
To provide a little more detail – MatterHackers, at the time of your visit, wouldn’t have known that you were from the EU until we cross-referenced your session with  Facebook, who does know. At that point you would have been filtered from any advertising by us. MatterHackers makes money when our (U.S.) customers buy 3D printers or materials and then succeed at using them (hence the how-to articles), we don’t make any money selling advertising or data.
Given that Facebook does legally exist in the EU and does have direct revenues from EU advertisers, it’s entirely appropriate that Facebook should comply with EU regulations. As a global solution, I believe more privacy settings options should be available to its users. However, given Facebook’s business model, I wouldn’t expect anything other than continued deflection (note the careful wording on their tool) and avoidance from them on this issue.

What did you learn from their inclusion in the Off-Facebook Activity List? I found out that an ecommerce company I had never heard of had been tracking me

Wallapop

What is it? A Barcelona-based peer-to-peer marketplace app that lets people list secondhand stuff for sale and/or to search for things to buy in their proximity. Users can meet in person to carry out a transaction paying in cash or there can be an option to pay via the platform and have an item posted

Why did it appear in your Off-Facebook Activity list? This was the only digital activity that appeared in the list that was something I could explain — figuring out I must have used a Facebook sign-in option when using the Wallapop app to buy/sell. I wouldn’t normally use Facebook sign-in but for trust-based marketplaces there may be user benefits to leveraging network effects.

What happened when you asked them about this? After my query was booted around a bit a PR company that works with Wallapop responded asking to talk through what information I was trying to ascertain.

After we chatted they sent this response — attributed to sources from Wallapop:

Same as it happens with other apps, wallapop can appear on our users’ Facebook Off Site Activity page if they have interacted in any way with the platform while they were logged in their Facebook accounts. Some interaction examples include logging in via Facebook, visiting our website or having both apps opened and logged.

As other apps do, wallapop only shares activity events with Facebook to optimize users’ ad experience. This includes if a user is registered in wallapop, if they have uploaded an item or if they have started a conversation. Under no circumstance wallapop shares with Facebook our users’ personal data (including sex, name, email address or telephone number).

At wallapop, we are thoroughly committed with the security of our community and we do a safe treatment of the data they choose to share with us, in compliance with EU’s General Data Protection Regulation. Under no circumstance these data are shared with third parties without explicit authorization.

I followed up to ask for further details about these “activity events” — asking whether, for instance, Wallapop shares messaging content with Facebook as well as letting the social network know which items a user is chatting about.

“Under no circumstance the content of our users’ messages is shared with Facebook,” the spokesperson told me. “What is shared is limited to the fact that a conversation has been initiated with another user in relation to a specific item, this is, activity events. Under no circumstance we would share our users’ personal information either.”

Of course the point is Facebook is able to link all app activity with the user ID it already has — so every piece of activity data being shared is personal data.

I also asked what legal base Wallapop relies on to share activity data with Facebook. They said the legal basis is “explicit consent given by users” at the point of signing up to use the app.

“Wallapop collects explicit consent from our users and at any time they can exercise their rights to their data, which include the modification of consent given in the first place,” they said.

“Users give their explicit consent by clicking in the corresponding box when they register in the app, where they also get the chance to opt out and not do it. If later on they want to change the consent they gave in first instance, they also have that option through the app. All the information is clearly available on our Privacy Policy, which is GDPR compliant.”

“At wallapop we take our community’s privacy and security very seriously and we follow recommendations from the Spanish Data Protection Agency,” it added

What did you learn from their inclusion in the Off-Facebook Activity list? Not much more than I would have already guessed — i.e. that using a Facebook sign-in option in a third party app grants the social media giant a high degree of visibility into your activity within another service.

In this case the Wallapop app registered the most activity events of all six of the listed apps, displaying 13 vs only one apiece for the others — so it gave a bit of a suggestive glimpse into the volume of third party app data that can be passed if you opt to open a Facebook login wormhole into a separate service.


Source: Tech Crunch

Vimeo’s new app helps small businesses create professional social videos

Vimeo signaled last year its plans to move further into the social video creation and editing space with its acquisition of short-form video editor Magisto. Today, the company is unveiling the results of its work in the months following the deal’s close with the debut of Vimeo Create. The new app includes a set of video creation tools aimed at small businesses and marketers looking to tell their stories using social video, but who lack the resources, time or budget to invest in video production at the scale they need to compete.

With Vimeo Create, available on both the desktop and as an app, businesses choose from pre-made, professionally designed video templates that can be customized to meet their needs. More advanced users could opt to start a new video from scratch, as an alternative.

The app includes a library of stock content to add to videos, including millions of HD video clips, photos and commercially licensed music tracks available for no extra fee, Vimeo says. Businesses also can customize their videos by selecting the colors, fonts, layouts, logos, text captions and calls-to-action they want to use.

The app then leverages AI-powered technology to turn the clips, photos, music and text into a high-quality social video in minutes.

Vimeo Create also simplifies the process of designing videos for different social platforms, where aspect ratios (e.g. square, vertical, horizontal) and format requirements vary. After the video is finalized, users are able to publish across the web — including to Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, Twitter and LinkedIn — as a part of the Vimeo Create workflow.

The move into social video creation is part of Vimeo’s larger strategy of becoming a one-stop shop for companies and individuals who publish videos online. The company has long since abandoned its plans to be a YouTube competitor, instead seeing the potential in the other side of the video market. Today, Vimeo makes money by offering tools and services to video creators both large and small. It has launched tools for uploading and live streaming across social sites and updated its mobile app to include more features previously available only to desktop users, among other things.

Vimeo’s decision to prioritize social video resulted from its own research. The company found that only 22% of small business owners felt they were using enough video. The businesses complained that issues around time, cost and complexity were keeping them from going further. Nearly all (96%) of small business owners said they would create more video if all those friction points were removed.

The service was built using parts of Magisto’s backend and its AI, but the overall app, feature set, content, user interface and integration into Vimeo’s tools were built from the ground up, the company says.

The company hopes Vimeo Create will help it to grow its subscription revenue, as the service is offered as a part of Vimeo’s Pro, Business and Premium membership plans, instead of as a standalone paid or freemium app.

“Video is the most impactful medium we have today for human expression at scale, and businesses
need an online video strategy to reach their customers. But the research is clear: small business owners
and entrepreneurs don’t have the tools, time or budgets to make videos at the volume and quality
needed to compete,” said Vimeo CEO Anjali Sud, in a statement about the launch. “Vimeo Create levels the playing field. It’s a radically simple tool that shortens the distance from idea to execution, so more businesses can have a successful video strategy.”

Vimeo isn’t alone in addressing the social video needs of small businesses. Last fall, Facetune maker Lightricks launched a full suite of apps for small businesses to use for their social media marketing campaigns. There also are dozens of tools for video editing on the market, including those from incumbents, like Adobe and Apple, as well as from others like Magisto, Canva, PicsArt and many more that offer features craved by small business owners like templates, easy editing tools, access to stock content and support for one-click multi-platform publishing, among other things.

Vimeo first launched Vimeo Create into beta back in January, but today it’s available to all across web, iOS and Android.


Source: Tech Crunch

Molekule hopes to clear the air with $58 million in Series C funding and Berkeley Lab’s seal of approval

Silicon Valley air purifier startup Molekule was born out of an idea Dr. Yogi Goswami had back in the ’90s using photo-voltaic technology to kill air pollutants. His son, a young boy at the time, suffered from severe allergies and Dr. Goswami wanted to build something those like him could use in their home to clear the air. But the sleekly designed Molekule took a bit of a blow last fall when Wirecutter called it “the worst air purifier we’ve ever tested.”

Molekule has since told TechCrunch comparing its PECO technology to the more common HEPA air filter technology is like comparing apples to oranges. “Up until now, everything has been air filtration, not real air purification,” co-founder and CEO of the company Jaya Rao told TechCrunch.

To disprove the naysayers, Molekule sent off its tech for testing at the Berkeley Lab, which concluded no measurable amount of VOC’s or ozone were emitted; Molekule effectively removed harmful chemicals in the air, like toluene, limonene, formaldehyde, as well as ozone, and that “no secondary byproducts were observed when the air cleaner was operated in the presence of a challenge VOC mixture.”

Compare that to Wirecutter’s own assessment that, “on its auto setting, which is its medium setting, the Molekule reduced 0.3-micron particulates by (in the best case) only 26.4 percent over the course of half an hour. Compare that with the 87.6 percent reduction the Coway Mighty achieved on its medium setting.” TechCrunch reached out to Wirecutter and was told it still stands by its findings and does not recommend consumers purchase a Molekule.

It should be noted Consumer Reports also tested the Molekule device and it, too, did not recommend a purchase as the unit was not “proficient at catching larger airborne particles.” However, Molekule demonstrated to other news outlets at its own facilities that the photochemical reaction in its units did break down contaminants and kill mold spores.

“To test PECO technology you actually need really sophisticated equipment,” Rao said. “Boiling it down to really simple factors is not enough because air is made up of many tiny but toxic things. These are air-borne chemicals nanometers in size, which Wirecutter admittedly did not test at all for.”

Wirecutter’s Tim Heffernan disputes Molekule’s claims of superiority in the category, however. “Now they are comparing apples to oranges,” he told TechCrunch. “The claims about destroying bacteria and viruses, for example, HEPA filters capture them and they capture them permanently.”

So how’s a consumer to know what’s right? First, take into account Molekule commissioned the Berkeley Lab for their independent testing and that Wirecutter and Consumer reports ran their own independent testing. However, it might boil down to understanding the premise of the technology. HEPA filters came out of the Manhattan Project in the 1940s, when scientists needed to develop a filter suitable for removing radioactive materials from the air. It works by capturing and filtering out harmful particles, viruses and mold. However, PECO, the technology in a Molekule unit, uses the science of light to kill mold and bacteria and break down harmful particulates in the air.

Regardless of whether you want an air purifier that captures particulates or breaks them down, Molekule has continued to move forward. The company has since launched a mini unit meant for smaller rooms and started to grow business verticals outside of the direct-to-consumer model, forging partnerships with hotels and hospitals.

It also just announced a raise of $58 million in Series C funding, bringing just over $91 million to its coffers. Rao tells TechCrunch the raise was unexpected, but came out of chats with Samantha Wang from RPS Ventures, which led the round.

“We feel confident in Molekule’s PECO technology, and have taken an extensive look at the science behind it. It is not only backed by decades of academic research, it has also gone through the peer-reviewed process numerous times, and has been tested and validated by third-party scientists and laboratories across the country,” Wang told TechCrunch.

Other participation in the round included Founder’s Circle Capital and Inventec Appliances Corp (IAC). Existing investors Foundry Group, Crosslink Capital, Uncork Capital and TransLink Capital also participated in the financing.

Molekule also tells TechCrunch it has seen a healthy growth trajectory in the past year, despite the negative press. According to the company, Molekule has seen a 3x increase in year over year filter subscription revenue since launch, and its repeat customer growth sits at about 200%.

It’s a well-designed, though pricier air purification machine with an interesting future in the commercial space, particularly in hospitals, schools, commercial manufacturing and hotels, as Wang points out.

As long as the tech truly makes the air better.


Source: Tech Crunch

Relativity Space CEO Tim Ellis talks 3D-printed rockets at TC Sessions: Space in LA

The launch industry is undergoing a number of major changes, among them the shift from traditional manufacturing to 3D printing — which Relativity Space is spearheading. The company plans to build 95% of its rocket using the world’s biggest 3D printers, and could launch as early as next year. Co-founder and CEO Tim Ellis will be on hand at TC Sessions: Space in Los Angeles on June 25 to talk all about it.

Relativity has been on our radar for a couple of years now, and to be honest we were all a bit skeptical when the proposition of 3D-printing a rocket was revealed. After all, additive manufacturing is known for its speed, not the strength or detail of its products. But our recent visit to the company’s bustling headquarters near LAX was an eye-opening one.

The challenges of this approach to rocketry are substantial, but the team has gone into it with their eyes open, and the results are hard to argue with. Less mass, more strength, faster turnaround — and any drawbacks have been quantified and mitigated over countless tests and analyses.

Although the resulting components are in a way mechanically simpler than hand-assembled alternatives, the process of creating them is by no means simple itself. Ellis has been there for everything from the first wonky prints during their Y Combinator days to the latest high-precision, large-format ones going through live testing. He’ll be onstage at TC Sessions: Space on June 25, sharing insights on the startup journey, technical details and plans for the company’s future.

You can get early-bird tickets right now, and save $150 before prices go up on May 22 — and you can even bring a fifth person for free if you bring a group of four from your company. Special discounts for current members of the government/military/nonprofit and students are also available directly on the website. And if you are an early-stage space startup looking to get exposure to decision makers, you can even exhibit for the day for just $2,000.

This event will also feature a space startup pitch-off featuring five early-stage founders selected by TechCrunch editors. Applications open today; apply here.

Is your company interested in partnering at TC Sessions: Space 2020? Click here to talk with us about available opportunities.

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Source: Tech Crunch

How to make a deal with a VC at a tech conference

Are the schmooze sessions, after-parties and secret dinners with investors that take place during tech conferences mere distractions, or are these events an opportunity for founders to close a deal?

Which parties should you attend? How do you get in? And above all, what outcome are you working toward?

Some events are small, while others are shows of pomp, power and pizzazz.For me, this is a time to bring value to my portfolio,” says Sid Trivedi, partner at Foundation Capital. Foundation’s RSA 2020 event is a small gathering of 50 people who fall into one of three categories: buyers from Global 2000 companies, channel partners or portfolio CEOs.

“In particular, I am focused on helping seed-stage companies because they rarely get access to such a buyer universe,” Trivedi says. At the other end of the spectrum, some events will have several hundred attendees, which raises the odds of getting lost in a crowd.

“If the event has a well-curated attendee list, it makes it worthwhile for both sides. Often, I can scan the room in 15 minutes and know if I want to stay here,” said Ariel Tseitlin, a partner at Scale Venture Partners. Some conference events are hosted by top-tier investors and partnership-heavy corporate VCs, while others are driven by consulting groups that share market trends and research content. As one founder bemoaned, “why can’t we just have a Tinder for VC-CEO match-making?”

Bypassing the firewall

If you don’t have an invitation, I don’t advise just showing up at the door; these are well-guarded events. Gate-crashing is a good strategy for a 19-year-old (who has the maturity of a 12-year-old), but not for the rest of us. Some founders use a simple tactic: get an existing portfolio CEO to take you in as their guest. Most VCs love it when they get such an introduction; it’s a great start and much better than sending a cold email or a LinkedIn to the lead partner.


Source: Tech Crunch

New Netflix feature reveals the top 10 most popular programs on its service

Netflix is adding a new feature that will rank the 10 most popular programs on its service in your country, the company announced today. Its top 10 Overall list will display the most popular programs from across all Netflix content, including both movies and shows. In addition, separate top 10 lists for just movies and shows will be available when you switch over to either the Movies or TV show tab in the app.

These lists will be updated daily, says Netflix, and are intended to help users find out what titles everyone is watching. Before, Netflix had rows featuring both popular and trending content — but these didn’t rank content in order.

The shows and films making the list will also receive a special “top 10” badge wherever they appear on Netflix. That means if you’re searching for something to watch or browsing through your recommendations, it will be easier to see if a top 10 program is among your search results or personalized suggestions.

Netflix says this is the first time it’s ever rolled out a top 10 ranking system. But the company has been experimenting with the top 10 feature before today in markets including the U.K. and Mexico. Users responded well to those additions, which is why the company decided to roll out its top 10 lists worldwide, the company says.

The Top 10 list will appear on your Netflix homescreen, but the list’s actual position will vary based on how relevant the shows and films are to you. For example, if you only watched documentaries and horror, a top 10 list filled with teen rom-com’s and comedies may not appear as high on the screen for you as it would for others.

The list itself is also designed in a way that makes it stand out from the other rows of recommendations. Instead of just displaying image thumbnails of the titles, it includes big numerals to show how those titles are ranking.

“When you watch a great movie or TV show, you share it with family and friends, or talk about it at work, so other people can enjoy it too. We hope these top 10 lists will help create more of these shared moments, while also helping all of us find something to watch more quickly and easily,” explained Netflix in a statement about the launch.

The feature arrives at a time when Netflix is feeling the pressure from increased streaming competition. User growth in the U.S. has been falling short, at the same time that rights holders pull back their content for their own rival streaming services, like NBCU’s Peacock and AT&T/WarnerMedia’s HBO Max, for example. Netflix is producing more originals than ever, but many of these are now of middling quality or are cheaper-to-produce reality programs. It hasn’t yet won a series race at the Emmy’s and its big bet on Scorsese’s “The Irishman” was one of the bigger snubs from this year’s Oscars.

The company has never been fully transparent about viewership metrics. It only releases numbers when a show or film breaks a milestone of some sort — like “The Witcher” and the 76 million households who “chose to watch” the series (meaning they watched for at least 2 minutes, indicating an intentional choice). The company also dismisses third-party estimates, like those from Nielsen, as undercounting its true viewer numbers.

The top 10 list doesn’t offer any hard metrics, but can at least help point to popular programming and other breakout successes Netflix may have in the future.

The top 10 lists are rolling out now to users worldwide, so you may not see your list just yet. The above photos only sample lists, not the current top 10 in a specific market, Netflix notes.


Source: Tech Crunch

With cinnamon, fruit and mint-flavored nicotine gum, is LA’s Lucy Goods the next Juul?

David Renteln, the Los Angeles-based co-founder of Soylent and the co-founder and chief executive of new nicotine gum manufacturer Lucy Goods, thinks there should be a better-tasting, less-medicinal offering for people looking to quit smoking.

That’s why he founded Lucy Goods, and that’s why investors, including RRE Ventures, Vice Ventures and FundRX joined previous investors YCombinator and Greycroft in backing the company with $10 million in new funding.

“We reformulated nicotine gum and the improvements that we made were to the taste, the texture and the nicotine release speed,” said Renteln.

These days, any startup that’s working on smoking cessation or working with tobacco products can’t avoid comparisons to Juul — the multi-billion-dollar startup that’s at the center of the surge in teen nicotine consumption.

“The Juul comparison is something that’s obviously top of people’s minds,” Renteln said. “It’s important to note that there’s a huge difference in nicotine products.”

Renteln points to statements from former Food and Drug Administration chief, Scott Gottlieb (who’s now a partner at the venture firm New Enterprise Associates), which drew a distinction between combustible tobacco products on one end and nicotine gums and patches on the other.

“Nicotine isn’t the principle agent of harm associated with these tobacco products,” said Rentlen. “It’s addictive but not inherently bad for you.”

Lucy Goods also doesn’t release its nicotine dosage in a concentrated burst like vapes, which are designed to replicate the head rush associated with smoking a cigarette, said Renteln.

“It is a stimulant and they will get a sensation, but it’s not as intense as taking a very deep drag of a cigarette,” Renteln said. 

The company’s website also doesn’t skew to young, lifestyle marketing images. Instead, there are testimonials from older, ex-smokers hawking the Lucy gum.

“I don’t want anyone underage using any nicotine product or any drug in general… [and] the flavors have been around for a long time.”

Joining Renteln in the quest to create a better nicotine gum is Samy Hamdouche, a former business development executive at several Southern California biotech startups and the previous vice president of research at Soylent. 

For both men, the idea is to get a new product to market that can help people quit smoking — without a social stigma — Renteln said.

“Smoking is the leading cause of preventable death in the United States claiming over 480,000 lives every year and costing the U.S. an estimated $300 billion in direct health costs and lost productivity. Lucy is committed to bringing innovative nicotine products to the market to eliminate tobacco related harm and we’re proud to be part of their journey,” said RRE investor, Jason Black in a statement.


Source: Tech Crunch

Katherine Johnson, legendary NASA mathematician and ‘hidden figure,’ dies at 101

Katherine Johnson, a mathematician who defied prejudice in the ’50s and ’60s to help NASA send the first men to the moon, has died at the age of 101. Only recently famous after the film “Hidden Figures” was made about her and her colleagues, she maintained until the end that she was “only doing her job.”

For those who don’t know Johnson’s story, it is probably best told by reading the book (by Margot Lee Shetterly) or watching the movie — which although it takes some license with the events and persons depicted, is a fascinating and revealing triple portrait of its three protagonists. NASA has also collected numerous historical accounts and anecdotes at a special memorial page.

Johnson and her colleagues struggled unceasingly against racism and sexism, being three women of color attempting to enter an industry which was, and even half a century later remains, dominated by white men. Although Johnson always said her colleagues at NASA were kind and professional, there were nevertheless systematic and deep-seated biases against her at every step of her journey.

After the film’s release and acclaim, she treated her sudden fame with bemusement, happy to be recognized but insistent that she had only been doing her job. Receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Obama in 2015 was certainly a welcome perk.

But Johnson may have been wary of an over-concentration of credit. She more than anyone would have been aware of the others in similar positions who, while they may not have been quite as instrumental or prominent in the moment — John Glenn famously asked before a flight that a mechanical computer’s calculations be checked by “the girl,” meaning Johnson — were nonetheless indispensable and quite as hidden.

These women, like Johnson’s colleagues Mary Jackson and Dorothy Vaughn, not only challenged the racist and sexist zeitgeist of the time, but very simply helped America achieve what is perhaps its most historically remarkable achievement — the Apollo program — but also to aid in the invention and definition of multiple industries.

Johnson was a remarkable mind and person whose achievements went for too long unnoticed. Had she not been brought into the attention of popular culture, her achievements would likely never have been known outside a few colleagues and historians — and we would all be the poorer for it. Who, and where, are today’s hidden figures, and would we recognize them if we saw them?


Source: Tech Crunch

Deviceplane wants to bring over-the-air updates to Linux edge devices

Deviceplane, a member of the Y Combinator Winter 2020 class is developing an open source toolset to manage, monitor and update Linux devices running at the edge,

“We solve the hard infrastructure problems that all these companies face including network conductivity, SSH access, orchestrating and deployment of remote updates, hosting, application monitoring and access and security controls. It’s 100% open source, available under an Apache License. You can either host it yourself or you can run on the hosted version,” company founder and CEO Josh Curl told TechCrunch.

He could see this working with a variety of hardware including robotics, consumer appliances, drones, autonomous vehicles and medical devices.

Curl, who has a background in software engineering, was drawn to this problem and found that most companies were going with home-grown solutions. He said once he studied the issue, he found that the set of infrastructure resources required to manage, monitor and update these devices didn’t change that much across industries.

The over-the-air updates are a big part of keeping these devices secure, a major concern with edge devices. “Security is challenging, and one of the core tenets of security is just the ability to update things. So if you as a company are hesitant to update because you’re afraid that things are going to break, or you don’t have a proper infrastructure to do those upgrades, that makes you more hesitant to do upgrades, and it slows down development velocity,” Curl said.

Customers can connect to the Deviceplane API via WiFi, cellular or ethernet. If you’re worried about someone tapping into that, Curl says the software assigns the device a unique identity that is difficult to spoof.

“Devices are assigned an identity in Deviceplane and this identity is what authorizes it to make API calls to Deviceplane. The access key for this identity is stored only on the device, which makes it impossible for someone else to spoof this device without physical access to it.

“Even if someone were able to spoof this identity, they would not be able to deploy malicious code to the spoofed device. Devices never have access to control what software they’re running — this is something that can be done only by the developer pushing out updates to devices,” Curl explained.

The company intends to offer both the hosted version and installed versions of the software as open source, something that he considers key. He hopes to make money supporting companies with more complex installations, but he believes that by offering the software as open source, it will drive developer interest and help build a community around the project.

As for joining YC, Curl said he has friends that had been through the program in the past, and had recommended he join as well. Curl sees being part of the cohort as a way to build his business. “We were excited to be tapping into the YC network — and then being able to tap into that network in the future. I think that YC has funded many companies in the past that can be DevicePlane customers, and that can accelerate going forward.”

Curl wasn’t ready to share download numbers just yet, but it’s still an early stage startup looking  to build the company. It’s using an open source model to drive interest, while helping solve a sticky problem.


Source: Tech Crunch