Forrester Finds That Despite The Tablet Invasion Of The Workplace, Workers Would Prefer A Keyboard, Too
Tablets! They’re everywhere you look, and fast replacing PCs, which are suffering dwindling sales. But just because tablets are rising in popularity doesn’t mean enterprise IT departments should go all-in on touch based interfaces. A new Forrester report suggests that people want keyboards with their tablets, however, which makes sense because no matter what anyone says typing on a software keyboard can’t possibly beat using a full-sized notebook QWERTY, in any of all possible universes.
Forrester’s survey of over 1,000 information workers across the U.S. and Europe found that 62 percent of them who either currently or would like to use a tablet at work also want a wireless keyboard, or keyboard dock attachment to use with them. 35 percent want a convertible laptop device, and another 34 percent say they’d like to use tablets where needed and then just switch back to a standard computer when doing plenty of typing.
That’s potentially good news for the non-Apple tablet market, since OEMs like Asus and Xplore (which just ranked third in a tablet vendor survey aimed at business by ABI research) that make tablet devices with alternate form factors and keyboard attachments. But before Microsoft reads too much into this in terms of seeing it as a bright spot for Surface tablets, it needs to go look at the sales and performance of those devices, and Windows RT in particular, and realize that no. Just no.
This is probably better news for makers of tablet-specific keyboard accessories – there’s likely a huge market to be had just selling into enterprise and business settings to help outfit current iPad deployments with the keyboards workers crave. Also, there’s room for a true category-bridging device to make waves yet.
Bitcoin startup Lamassu Bitcoin Ventures, the makers of a Bitcoin ATM which promises to eat your paper (fiat) money and spit Bitcoins into your digital wallet in return, have funded their initial production run of 15 units a few hours after kicking off pre-orders (via their website) — taking the bulk of payments in Bitcoin, fittingly.
Presumably that means they’ve booked $60,000-$75,000 in sales revenue for the initial production run — based on the $4,000-$5,000 per machine price-tag they talked about at the Bitcoin London conference last month. Lamassu is not, however, confirming how much revenue they’ve generated at this point.
What’s the point of a Bitcoin ATM? The aim is to lower the barrier of entry to the digital cryptocurrency — which still very much ‘reeks of geeks’ (and investors) at this still early stage in its development – by letting people swap banknotes for Bitcoin in person. Of course there are myriad ways to do fiat-to-Bitcoin currency exchanges online but the Bitcoin ATM doesn’t require the user to sign up to an online exchange service in order to get some Bitcoin. (Albeit, users of the ATM do need to have their own Bitcoin wallet to store their exchanged BTCs).
The Bitcoin ATM accepts paper currency only but there’s no minimum limit (yes, you can exchange $1 to get around 0.009 Bitcoin, at current exchange rates, if you really want). It only accepts cash, so no debit/credit card payments — a deliberate choice by its creators to keep their costs and complexity capped by not having to deal with banks.
They argue it also makes things simpler for purchasers of the ATM itself, being as they don’t have to gain bank approval to get the machine up and running. However they do warn that buyers still need to make sure they comply with any pertinent financial regulations in their own country (Bitcoin regulations can’t even charitably be called ‘a work in progress’ yet, and the Bitcoin policy confusion varies from country to country).
The startup says it has had more than 150 inquires about the machine ahead of production. Some of the countries that have put in pre-orders are Canada, Australia, New Zealand, U.S., Slovakia, Finland and Denmark, according to co-founder Zach Harvey.
While it’s funding the initial run from pre-orders and its own investment, Harvey said Lamassu may look to raise external funding in future. ”Investment is something we’re considering seriously for the next step of mass adoption,” he tells TechCrunch.
Lamassu expects to ship the first 15 units to buyers next month.
Here’s the pitch Harvey gave about the ATM at the Bitcoin London conference last month:
AOL CEO Tim Armstrong (disclaimer: AOL owns TechCrunch) held another conference call for Patch employees today, and after what was likely the worst week to be working at the hyper-local news venture following the previous all-hands call, he confirmed that around 40 percent of the 1,000 total Patch workers will be let go starting today, according to Jim Romenesko. Around 80 percent of the Patch sites were in good or workable condition, he said, with another 20 percent set to “close or consolidate,” Poynter’s Andrew Beaujon reports.
The 400 employees lay-off number is in keeping with the “between 200 and 550″ we’d heard in a previous report from sources within AOL, but the specific breakdown of Patch sites considered successful and in trouble is new. Armstrong reportedly said that 60 percent of Patch sites had “real traction,” while another 20 percent had “significant traction” (likely code for promising but need work), and a final 20 percent must either close or consolidate. Those are probably the 400 Patch sites we heard would be affected by the changes previously, though at last count there were probably around 900 Patch sites total, so perhaps those sites are spread across the latter two categories.
Emails sent out today to affected Patchers will likely be used to provide information about midday meetings where the lay-offs will likely take place, so we could still hear more about the personnel changes. We’ve reached out to AOL and sources close to the company and will update this story with more info as it becomes available.
Update: Beaujon reports (and we’ve confirmed separately) that an 11 AM ET call occurred at which a number of employees were let go, with a final termination date of August 23, one week from today.
Jetstar's Former Head Of Strategy Joins Adioso As The Intuitive Flight Search Engine Preps Its First Localized Product Launch
Adioso, the flight search engine for flexible travelers, has hired former Jetstar head of strategy Azim Barodawala as its CEO. The Melbourne-based startup is getting ready to raise new capital as it prepares the global rollout of its first localized product.
Founders Tom Howard and Fenn Bailey say that Barodawala’s guidance will help Adioso cement relationships within the airline industry.
“We really try to understand problems from both a consumer and airline point of view, but, not being airline people, we can only make the best guess. We can develop things in accordance with economic principles and what we want to make out of the commercial realities, but I thought that since we are not natives of the airline industry, there would always be limits to how we do things,” says Howard.
“It’s refreshing to have Azim on the team to identify the primary airline needs we should focus on and start some of those conversations.”
Barodawala’s understanding of the airline industry will be valuable as the startup prepares the global rollout of its new localized product in October. Adioso isn’t ready to reveal too many specifics about the product, which will first launch in Australia, but says that it will be tailored for customers in different cities and be much faster than current flight search platforms. Adioso’s localized product will make it faster for consumers to find information about fares to the most popular destinations from their area, with search response times under a second.
As its localized product gains traction, Barodawala will guide Adioso as the company establishes partnerships with airlines, tourism boards and other organizations in the travel industry.
“There are regional differences. How we talk to airlines in Australia is different from how we talk to carriers in the U.S. Asia is completely different as well,” says Barodawala.
When we first profiled Adioso back in 2010, the company faced the same problem as much of the travel industry: it had to rely on data powered by products that were first developed in the 1960s and 1970s. There was no complete, real-time database of fares and availability.
As a result, Adioso’s team had to build its own search technology so users could enter queries like “New York City To London In December For 10 to 15 days.” That meant destinations were limited, Howard explains.
“You mentioned the coverage we had on TechCrunch. The most striking feedback in the comments, the biggest objection, was that our destination coverage was so poor. That was totally valid. That was a given due to the industry constraints on the availability of data at that time.”
He adds: “The reason all travel agency and airline Web sites work the same way is that they were built to fit in with the way the tech works. Sabre is the biggest product along with Amadeus and one or two other companies that control the distribution of flight data. Everything is constrained in this idea that if you do a search for flight prices, you have to know where to go and your departure and return dates, plus or minus three days.”
Now Adioso has access to more flexible search infrastructure that didn’t exist when it was founded and its taking advantage of those resources. Over the past six months, Adioso has seen a 127% increase in the gross value of leads referred to airlines and online travel agencies, which is now at just under $6 million a month. Initial consumer revenue started flow to Adioso in the past three months.
Since online travel agencies are charged per user query by the databases that fuel their flight search engines, Adioso has to roll out its localized search product gradually in order to break even. Its founders say a slow and deliberate approach, however, will have the benefit of allowing them to build stronger user communities in each city by offering events and other promotions. As Adioso localizes, it will be able to use its data to help travel verticals reach new customers.
“We’ve been trying to expand the concept of travel search products beyond being specifically about travel,” says Howard. “They can see how to get their travel products in front of people and where their interests might be. For example, they may be traveling to see their favorite football team or go surfing. We’ll allow them build something more engaging and exciting. We can partner with surfing Web sites, sports leagues, promoters of music festivals because of the tech we built.”
Toward the end of June, 3D printing companies Stratasys and MakerBot confirmed what TechCrunch had already uncovered, the former would be acquiring the latter for $403 million (or 4.7 million shares) in exchange for 100 percent of MakerBot’s outstanding capital stock.
Stratasys has long been a dominant force in 3D printing, long before we were buying 3D printers for our homes. The company specializes in factory-level printing and prototype printing for designers and manufacturers.
But as is made crystal clear with the entry of companies like MakerBot, FormLabs, and other consumer-facing 3D printing companies, there is most certainly a demand for at-home 3D printing.
MakerBot was one of the first companies to offer an affordable 3D printer for your home, selling more than 22,000 MakerBots since 2009. That said, the merger truly signifies one of the first time a 3D printing firm will be offering both enterprise and consumer-facing products simultaneously.
“We are excited for the future,” said MakerBot founder Bre Pettus in the press release. “Full steam ahead!”
On the one hand, Stratasys is obviously aggressively entering the consumer space, but this acquisition is also a huge resource to MakerBot. Since 2009, the company was working in its own factory in Brooklyn off of $10 million in venture funding.
Having Stratasys’ 25+ years of experience and resources will surely accelerate innovation and growth at MakerBot.
What’s weird about reporting on the potential introduction of smartphone watches is that they actually aren’t anything new – every few years it seems some OEM comes up with a wrist-mounted phone that makes for an interesting demo but doesn’t go anywhere, like the LG GD910, for instance, the talk of CES 2009. Samsung readying a smartphone watch for a September 4 unveiling, as Bloomberg reports, then seems a bit like déjà vu.
The so-called Galaxy Gear from Samsung would be an Android-powered smartwatch that sounds like it can operate independently of a connected smartphone device to make calls, browse the web, send and receive emails and more. The Gear won’t use Samsung’s fledgling flexible display technology, however, as that’s not quite ready for prime time, and is still in the crowdsourced contest phase of development.
Samsung will introduce Gear on September 4, a couple of days ahead of the IFA consumer gadgets show, alongside the Galaxy Note 3, Samsung’s next giant tablet/phone mashup monstrosity. Bloomberg doesn’t say much more about the Galaxy Gear or what it will look like, but we’ve already seen some hints in previous trademark and patent filings from Samsung.
So besides the fact that Samsung and LG are very different companies, what’s changed between 2009 and now that makes the Galaxy Gear a more potentially interesting product than the LG GD910? Well, Android for one. LG’s phone was essentially a dumb phone that you wore on your wrist. Samsung’s Gear should have some tricks up its sleeve thanks to Google’s smartphone OS.
Of course, working with Android on a non-standard screen size brings its own issues. The open-source OS is highly customizable, as Nvidia’s SHIELD project proves, but that device is much more similar to a phone than what a smart watch would presumably resemble. Will Gear have access to Play Store apps? How will those apps behave? Will Samsung be applying a heavily customized skin on top and supplying its own limited stock of apps? The last seems most likely, as even with a super high resolution display, Android apps operating on a smaller screen would have tiny visual elements and touch hit points.
Note also that this specifically isn’t a device that requires a smartphone to operate if Bloomberg’s sources are correct, but a “wristwatch-like smartphone,” so it’ll be interesting to see what kind of integration between smartphone and smartwatch Samsung builds in. I’m betting there has to be some kind of connection, since that’s another advantage that modern devices have that weren’t necessarily available to the GD910 and other similar devices.
If this really is a full-fledged smartphone, however, it will likely be priced with one, especially if it boasts decent specs. That could make its initial appeal limited, but maybe for Samsung being first to market (especially ahead of Apple, which is said to be developing its own smartwatch) in this space that everyone’s watching was the top priority.
Gramble World, A Mobile Social Gaming & Charity-Giving Network, Raises $2M More To Close Out $5M Seed
Netherlands-based startup Gramble World, which operates a mobile social gaming and entertainment network which lets gamers nominate charities to receive a cut of their in-game payments and ad views, has closed another $2 million in seed funding, the third and final tranche, closing out its seed at $5 million.
It said it plans to invest the funds in continuing to build out its technology, and for sales, marketing and user/developer retention.
Gramble’s “foundation investor” is private charity donor and charity-focused European Postcode Lotteries operator Novamedia — which it describes as a “key strategic partner”. Also backing the startup is Singapore-based Angaros Group, plus six high-net-worth business angels whose names aren’t being disclosed at this time.
Gramble, which was founded in May 2012, is aiming to be a sort of ‘social good’ glue by keeping gamers hooked on playing the games in its app network because of the warm feeling they get knowing they’re helping their favourite charities, not just killing time. That gives game developers an incentive to get involved being as players using Gramble World games have an incentive to keep playing — rather than wander off in search of the next gaming fad. Or that’s the theory.
The startup launched its network in closed beta back in December, followed in April by an open beta and a second version of its HTML5 web app. A hybrid native-web Android app arrived in July (it says an iOS app is due next month).
Since launch Gramble has accrued more than 22 million unique users — and says it’s currently seeing more than four million monthly active users across its network. That doesn’t necessarily mean it’s getting four million monthly active gamers. The figure refers to people accessing the Gramble network, which also includes social features like messaging — hence it describing itself as a “mobile social entertainment network”.
Gramble says its main competitors are the likes of “GREE, PlayPhone, HeyZap, (the late OpenFeint) Openkit, Scoreloop and Papaya”. It also — to my eye — looks like there’s some overlap with mobile messaging/social/entertainment platforms like Line and KakaoTalk — which also often combine messaging and gaming. Albeit, Gramble obviously puts more emphasis on charity-giving to differentiate its offering.
CEO and co-founder Adam Palmer says Gramble’s focus is “much more on building communities” in and around gaming, rather than on one-to-one and group messaging.
“The focus is not just on charity giving, sure for our charities yes but when in games it’s more around player actions that trigger a discussion for example: You just hit number 1 on the leaderboard can trigger a discussion for players in the game and network to see, we also show a screen grab of the win if necessary that also starts a discussion with gamers,” he tells TechCrunch.
“Other differences are players can start a post/discussion in the game if they are stuck on a level of they just want to shout out and say hi. If they decide to follow each other then they can of course have a 1 on 1 chat, bringing a mild similarity to the likes of Line, KakoTalk, WeChat etc.”
“In the future, sure there could be some similarities as we grow and add more functionality but for now, it is all about making it open and connecting an entire gaming community in game/app together. We’ve had lots of input from our developer community and built something that they want and need,” he adds.
Another aspect of the Gramble World Palmer points to as a differentiating feature is that any in-game activity (such as discussions) is flagged up on an activity feed attached to each game — which he says gives gamers a way to figure out if they might want to play a particular game before starting, and thereby helps to foster a sense of community around gaming.
Gramble’s catalogue currently has more than 2,000 games signed up to integrate its SDK — it offers “simple SDKs” for Android and Adobe AIR, with Unity and iOS SDKs in the pipeline, which include tools for making games “more engagingly social”. The 2,000 figure breaks down to around 650/700 “active apps” on its network and a further 1,200 games signed up to use “parts or all of our software”, says Palmer. “We’re also seeing between 10,000 and 15,000 downloads per week coming from the current network as well,” he adds.
Its list of charity partners is far less extensive — with 13 “carefully selected” partners, including the likes of Send a Cow, Chernobyl Children International and Soles 4 Souls. Each of the charities in the network has a number of causes listed, so players can see exactly what their donations are going to fund, according to Palmer.
For now, he says it’s focused on acquiring and retaining developers and users, rather than monetisation — but Gramble is also generating revenue. And has generated “in the region of €20,000″ in charitable donations, even though Palmer stresses its charity-focused feature is “only in its very early stages”.
“We’re currently testing many features and tools to increase our charitable donation and have forecasted this to expand rapidly with the release of our new tech later this year,” he adds. “We will be working closely on as many trigger based actions that can create revenue for charity. But first we must ship quality technology to all our developers before we can focus on hitting our goal of improving lives.”
Gramble currently employs around 30 staff. It’s planning to open its first office outside the Netherlands in San Francisco in September.
In a new report released this morning, mobile analytics firm Flurry took a deep dive into the different types of people, or demographic segments, which skew more heavily toward iPhone or iPad. Some of the findings were somewhat obvious – that shoppers and business travelers skew toward iPhone, for example. But others were a little surprising – like the fact that the group that skews most toward iPad are pet owners. Who knew?
For startup founders and mobile app developers, a study like this is important in terms of understanding your customer base, and how they use their devices, especially if you’re targeting a group that fits into a couple of different personality types. Of course, today’s report is about teasing out the differences between iOS users, and the context in which they’re using an iPad or iPhone – it can’t tell you about the Android user base, or those on other platforms, like desktops, BlackBerry or Windows Phone. (Though Flurry says that’s still to come for Android, at least).
The chart below is interesting in terms of understanding which devices may be used by which personalities, and where that usage may be taking places.
The study was based on an analysis of a random sampling of 44,295 iOS users on Flurry’s network in May. The company currently measures activity on 397 million active iOS devices, which gives it a large enough footprint to draw its conclusions.
Though the chart shows many of these so-called “personas,” or personality types, it’s important to note that individual users may fit into one or more personas because they over-index on a variety of applications. In addition, their personas may not be the same on iPhone as they are on iPad. In other words, people are not just gamers or bookworms, they could be both.
The “Everyone” benchmark in the chart shows the general iOS population skews more to iPhone (72 percent share) than iPad (28 percent share).
Those who tend to be on the move, like the above-mentioned travelers and value shoppers, tend to skew toward iPhone, as do the single and “hip urban lifestylers” (by which Flurry means “hipsters”), also skew toward iPhone – in fact, the iPhone represents more than 90 percent of the iOS devices owned by those groups, says Flurry.
Meanwhile, it’s interesting also to see that the moms group’s iOS usage changes over time. New moms skew toward iPhone, then they later skew more toward iPad. Flurry theorizes that this is because newer moms don’t have as much free time for leisure activities like reading and gaming, which is probably true. (There may be a practical reason as well, as any mom could tell you: have you ever tried feeding the baby while using an iPad one-handed? Ha.)
Plus, as the children age, moms often tend to put educational apps and games on their iPads for their kids, according to another recent tablet usage study by Nielsen.
The groups that skew toward iPad include the pet owners, home design enthusiasts, and small business owners. Again, some of these findings seem like common sense, if you had been asked to guess, but it’s always good to have the hard data on hand to back up those conclusions.
Flurry also looked into the time spent in apps on the different devices. Overall, iPad owners spent 42 percent more time in apps than iPhone owners during the month. iPhone owners spent more time using navigation, health and fitness apps, while iPad owners, on average, spent more time in educational apps, and those in Reference and Newsstand sections.
iPads were more heavily used than iPhones at night, around 6 to 11 pm, while insomniacs will pull out their iPhone more than their iPad around 2 to 4 am.
Apple is apparently stepping up its China operations, according to a number of new job postings found on LInkedIn by the Wall Street Journal today. The company has listed nearly 300 openings on the professional social networking site, which include key senior positions related to environmental program management.
Apple has been dinged by environmental and labor watchdog groups for its supply partners’ transgressions in both areas, and it consistently responds saying it will look into and improve these issues. Apple is also looking to hire more retail presence, and increased retail operations has really helped push product line growth in the past, for devices like the iPhone and iPad especially.
But Apple’s presence in China has been declining, at least relative to other smartphone makers. It was down to 5 percent share in Q2 this year, earning it a seventh place overall ranking, after owning just under 10 percent of the market a year previous, the WSJ points out. And its revenue during its fiscal Q3 this year dropped 43 percent in China sequentially, and 14 percent year over year.
Part of the problems Apple faces in the country might also be attributable to issues that arose between Chinese state media agencies and the company earlier this year. As Forbes put it, for all intents and purposes it looked as though China was potentially “declaring war” on Apple, as Forbes put it in an article at the time.
It’s no secret that China prefers home-grown businesses to those who come in from the outside. The Chinese government is even collaborating with UK-based Canonical to build a version of Ubuntu that’s a native, China-first OS, which, while it employs foreign expertise, is ultimately about weaning its citizenry off of more popular and U.S.-controlled operating systems.
Apple setting down deeper roots and putting more investment on the ground in China makes a lot of sense if it wants to avoid being locked out by Beijing. Combine that with being closer to a very key customer base, as well as having more direct oversight when it comes to supply partners, and a hiring surge in China is the most natural thing in the world for the Mac maker.
Square Fined $507K In Florida For Operating A Mobile Payment Service Without A Money Transmitter License
A little more state-specific financial regulatory hot water for Square, the hot mobile commerce startup: it has been fined $507,000 by Florida’s Office of Financial Regulation for operating a payment service without a money transmission license. This looks like the second time that a U.S. state financial regulator has gone after the company, after Square was served with a cease and desist order in Illinois in March 2013, also for failing to obtain a license before opening up for operations.
According to the Florida payment order (embedded below), the $507,000 fine covers over two years of operation, from February 2010 to November 2012. “Specifically, the Office finds that Applicant’s existing payment processing services (including Square Register) and stored value/prepaid access card services required a license under Florida law,” the order reads.
Dated July 23 and first noticed by the South Florida Business Journal, the order also notes that Square applied for a license in November 2012. The regulators provided Square with a money transmission license after it paid its $507,000 fine via wire transfer, but the company “neither admits nor denies” any guilt in its settlement, the order says.
“We worked with Florida to resolve our application and receive our license to operate as a money transmitter in the state,” Square spokesman Aaron Zamost told the SFBJ. “We look forward to continuing to help merchants across Florida grow their business with Square.”
For a startup that has raised $341 million, including a $200 million round in September 2012 that included strategic investor Starbucks, $507,000 doesn’t sound like much, but it does show up how financial regulation is not always a straightforward game.
At the time of the Illinois C&D one observer pointed out that it wasn’t clear why Square fell under the jurisdiction of money transmitter licenses if it doesn’t hold funds itself.
The Florida case, meanwhile, highlights the perils of needing to adhere to state-specific laws that may not be harmonized with each other. “This really shows how complicated and unhelpful the regulation is in the U.S.,” Yann Ranchere, finance director at financial services specialist Anthemis. “Money transmitter licences [are issued] by state, with slight differences in each state.”
In the meantime, Square — which takes a 2.75% commission on card transactions swiped through its dongles — has been trying out new ways of building its business. These have included the launch of new hardware like Stand to complement its Square Register iPad app, as well as Square Market virtual stores for local businesses. On the other hand, it has pulled away from other forays, such as gift cards.
We have reached out to Square for further comment about Florida, to ask what the latest is with the case in Illinois, and to ask whether there are any other state-specific cases coming up. We’ll update this story as we learn more.View this document on Scribd
Restorando, a startup offering reservation tools to restaurants in Latin America, is announcing that it has raised $13.3 million in Series B funding.
The round was led by Flybridge Capital Partners, with participation from previous investors Emergence Capital Partners, Kaszek Ventures, Atomico and Storm Ventures. Flybridge’s Jon Karlen is joining Restorando’s board of directors.
“With thousands of restaurants and more than 2 million diners now using the platform, [Restorando] has quickly established itself as the dominant player in the market,” Karlen said in the funding press release.
CEO Frank Martin told me that Restorando was designed to bring the OpenTable reservation model to Latin America. (OpenTable itself is only available in a couple of Latin American countries.) It was founded in 2011 and is headquartered in Buenos Aires, and it offers free service for restaurant-goers that doesn’t require any hardware installation for the restaurants. Restorando says it’s now available in nine major cities in Brazil, Argentina, Chile and Colombia.
I asked how building this kind of business in Latin America differs from doing so in the U.S., and Martin said he was surprised by the importance of mobile, which is the source of 35 percent of Restorando’s reservations. More broadly, he said, “Every country is different — especially in Brazil. You have to take Brazil as a continent, and every city in Brazil has a different culture, different accents, different traditions.
“However, when it comes to technology,” he added, “the people follow mostly the same patterns, because it’s about convenience. It’s about being able to make a reservation or a transaction in 20 seconds, and when you get to the restaurant your reservation is there. The technology ends up shaping the culture in the same way.”
Restorando has now raised a total of $17 million.
Today the Washington Post reported documents demonstrating that the NSA breaks privacy laws “thousands of times” each year.
Consider this the conclusion of what was the last-ditch argument put forth to defend the NSA: Yes, they have the capability to abrogate your Constitutional rights, but there is no evidence of abuse! Wrong. We now have proof that the NSA both wittingly and unwittingly breaks that law on average of 7.6 times per day, using leaked 2012 numbers.
That’s a nontrivial number of infractions.
Let’s tease our way through the path to today. The story broke that the NSA collected metadata on phone records of Americans. This proved James Clapper, Director of National Intelligence, a liar to more than the American people, but also to its Congress.
Leaker Edward Snowden then said that, with a mere email address, he could access the content of that account. He was mocked by Rep. Mike Rogers, who said that Snowden “was lying. [...] It’s impossible for him to do what he was saying he could do.”
The President said that no abuse was ongoing:
What you’re hearing about is the prospect that these could be abused. Now part of the reason they’re not abused is because they’re — these checks are in place, and those abuses would be against the law and would be against the orders of the FISC.
Well, that’s not true either. The Post’s report is utterly damning. A few excerpts for flavor:
They [infractions that broke the law] range from significant violations of law to typographical errors that resulted in unintended interception of U.S. e-mails and telephone calls. [...] In one instance, the NSA decided that it need not report the unintended surveillance of Americans. [...]
Despite the quadrupling of the NSA’s oversight staff after a series of significant violations in 2009, the rate of infractions increased throughout 2011 and early 2012. [...]
James R. Clapper Jr., the director of national intelligence, has acknowledged that the court found the NSA in breach of the Fourth Amendment, which prohibits unreasonable searches and seizures, but the Obama administration has fought a Freedom of Information lawsuit that seeks the opinion.
Generally, the NSA reveals nothing in public about its errors and infractions.
It gets worse. The Post spoke to members of the government close to the situation who stated that the above figures only count infractions recorded at the NSA’s headquarters, and other Washington facilities. So, the tally and examples do not take into account the abuses of the private data of United States citizens by other parts of the NSA.
In short, the above is therefore but foretaste to the real feast of abuse that is ongoing, day in, and day out.
Another point: The Post’s documents directly corroborate the story that the NSA is directly tapping the fiber cables of the Internet. Calling it the “one of the most serious violations,” the Post states that the National Security Agency “diverted large volumes of international data passing through fiber-optic cables in the United States” to its data centers. The data was then up for analysis. We knew this was happening, but it’s nice to have yet another confirmation of the information.
At every turn the NSA has lied and obfuscated. It has dodged, and later been forced to correct the record. Again, and again.
There has been a steady drumbeat of bullshit from those unconcerned with privacy. What was once perhaps dismissed as speculation and intrigue is now confirmed. The Post clutches this:
In a statement in response to questions for this article, the NSA said it attempts to identify problems “at the earliest possible moment, implement mitigation measures wherever possible, and drive the numbers down.” The government was made aware of The Post’s intention to publish the documents that accompany this article online.
So, the Post in short showed the government proof that it had been lying, and was given a statement that essentially read “yes, but.”
Well I won’t “yes, but” my right to privacy and the Fourth Amendment. I thank the damn stars that at a minimum – for now, unless you are Lavabit – most of us still enjoy our First Amendment rights to shout that the government shouldn’t take apart other parts of the Bill of Rights.
One final caveat to all of this. There exists an argument that for our well-being, the government must at all costs protect the safety of its citizens. Under this argument, physical security is the first, and primary goal of government.
Bullshit. The first goal of the government must be to protect the rights of its citizenry. This fact is simple to prove: The United States is more than willing to expend the lives of its youth and the treasure of its coffers to stand up for the fundamental rights of the American individual. Therefore, rights matter more than physical security. I find it odd that I have to say this out loud.
So we should stand by that, and realize that the price that we pay for the right to privacy is that the government simply will not have as much data as it otherwise might. I am willing to live slightly less physically safe to be far, far more free. And I suspect the same of you.
Top Image Credit: Cristian Ramírez
Being a startup means believing in your dreams, and Southeast Asia needs dreamers, say incubators.
500 Startups, for one, is keen to sell hope to the growing communities of startups in Southeast Asia, and is willing to back that up with real money.
When I spoke with its founder, Dave McClure, in Jakarta a couple of months ago, he said the accelerator’s plan for the region starts with “throwing some money” at startups, simply to get the ball rolling.
“It has to start with the ability to write some checks. It gets people off the ground. That’s the problem with other investors—they’re not willing to throw money away,” he said with a laugh.
“But really, a better way to spend a million bucks is to invest in 20 companies at 50 grand each. We’d probably emerge with three wins out of that.
“That isn’t even the main success of it though; the process of investing in 20 companies gives people the chance to believe in themselves, and creates an ecosystem where people believe in something,” he said.
McClure is on a march to conquer the world. 500 Startups has dedicated about 20 percent of its capital to international companies, and this year set up shop in China and Southeast Asia. This follows last year’s expanded coverage to include India, Japan and Latin America.
His interests in revving up the startup community, of course will mean that 500 Startups’ relatively early presence in these markets will allow it to enjoy the first fruit.
For Southeast Asia’s startup scene, which he says trails behind that of Western markets and other emerging markets like Mexico, that first step needs to start with more money being up for grabs.
He highlighted Startup Chile as an example. In 2010, the Chilean government set up an incubator program that offered startups $40,000, office space and industry support in exchange for them moving to Santiago for six months to build their companies. The program has launched its seventh intake, and according to reports, 37 percent of the applicants in this latest round were local, up from 10 percent in the first round.“We’re in the movie business—we’re selling dreams.” – Dave McClure
This boost to the local ecosystem cost its government about $10 million a year, spread out over 200 companies. “That’s cheap, for changing the brand of your entire country,” said McClure.
“In Silicon Valley, there’s such a strong belief system that it’s possible to be the next Yahoo, YouTube, Google. People don’t question that belief, and that cycle is self-sustaining.
“People in Asia, on the other hand, need cheerleaders. That’s what incubators should be doing here. We’re in the movie business—we’re selling dreams,” he said.
Reza Behnam, AdzCentral founder and CEO said, of his experience raising funding as an Asian startup, that many investors in the region still shy away from technology investments. “Tech venture investments are relatively new here. There seems to be a lot of expertise in Singapore for more traditional, mature types of companies. This cycle needs to mature in order for investors to feel more open to the higher initial risk,” he said.
Hugh Mason, co-founder and CEO at incubator JFDI Asia said the ecosystem in the region is at the point of maturity where startups are keen, but need to be taught the basics of getting organized and pitching their ideas.
“I believe you can probe, sense and respond to how the market responds to your idea, and there’s a process by which you can teach people to be entrepreneurs,” he said.
“It’s not about the MBA-style business plans, it’s about being able to tell a plausible story around your idea, backed up by evidence. But once a business reaches Series A, it needs to change its culture to fit into the kind of standardized box that a venture capitalist expects,” said Mason.
Eventually, as more successful entrepreneurs return to the community, startups shouldn’t need to go through Entrepreneur 101 anymore. “Right now, it’s harder to find investment-ready startups here. There is a lot of tacit knowledge in the air in places like Silicon Valley about how to make businesses work, and all that is teachable if we can get the right clusters of people together in a community,” he said.
JFDI just closed applications for its second program for 2013, and 317 startups applied to it. The incubator has accelerated 20 startups in the last year-and-a-half, with eight closing funding, raising $3.2 million between them.
Coinbase has added SMS commands to their already user-friendly Bitcoin wallet and purchasing systems. The system, which uses simple commands (qr $100 will make a QR code for a $100 request to your account) and a trusted phone to make things a bit easier on BTC lovers.
Another example, “request 1.5 email@example.com sold him a bucket of steam,” allows you to request 1.5 BTC from a certain user with a note in the request. You can read more about the commands on Coinbase’s blog.
To use the system you must first register your phone with the Coinbase server and then text your commands to 1-650-316-5555.
Bitcoin is hard to use on mobile. There are a few solutions but nothing as simple as, say, a PayPal transaction. That’s why these basic commands are so important: they allow you to securely transfer BTC between users using little more than SMS messages. This means you can interact with your Bitcoin even without a data plan.
Love it or hate it, Bitcoin seems like it’s here to stay. It’s cool that Coinbase is thinking about the problem of BTC transactions so creatively.
According to documents obtained by The Washington Post, the National Security Agency broke its own privacy rules thousands of times per year. Many of the violations seem like unintentional infractions, such as a typo while searching telephone area codes, which results in a swath of phone records that shouldn’t have otherwise been scanned. It is unclear whether any of the wrongly obtained information was used for illegal or illicit purposes.
While White House officials admitted the validity of the Post’s records, the story itself doesn’t reveal any harms that came from the violations. “We’re a human-run agency operating in a complex environment with a number of different regulatory regimes, so at times we find ourselves on the wrong side of the line,” said a senior NSA official, speaking with the White House’s permission.
The more concerning aspects of the report is that the court charged with NSA oversight, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, seems to have loose control over the spy agency. “In another case, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, which has authority over some NSA operations, did not learn about a new collection method until it had been in operation for many months. The court ruled it unconstitutional,” explains The Post.
In a separate front page story, U.S. District Judge Reggie Walton told the Post,”The FISC does not have the capacity to investigate issues of noncompliance, and in that respect the FISC is in the same position as any other court when it comes to enforcing [government] compliance with its orders.”
President Obama has promised transparency reforms, but it is unclear whether the new reports to Congress for the yet-to-be formed independent review group will also report on the NSA self-audited privacy violations.
Can too much information drive you crazy? I’m about to find out. As we struggle to adapt to the mobile age, digital detoxes have become a trend. But I wanted to see what true toxicity feels like. So I’ve begun what I’m calling a Digital Retox, where I’ll be using high-tech devices during my every waking minute for a week straight.
The inspiration came from tales of detoxes like Baratunde Thurston’s 25-day #Unplug and Paul Miller’s year without Internet. They described their impetus for taking a break as a creeping feeling that constant connection was making them burned out, unproductive and emotionally vacant. Baratunde found peace and Miller found isolation in their detoxes, but neither seemed to consider swinging the other way — waterboarding themselves with full technological immersion.
That led me to dream up the Digital Retox, and wonder what it would do to me. So here I am, the guinea pig in my own sci-fi experiment. A few questions I’m looking to answer are:
- Will non-stop connection make me happy? Sad? Stressed? Stimulated?
- What will happen to my in-person relationships if I’m constantly distracted?
- What will happen to my online relationships if I’m constantly glued to people’s every move?
- Will I become hyper-efficient or drown in digital procrastination?
- And will there be any last effects? Will I become Internet-addicted or -averse?
At the end of the week I’ll spend a few days writing up my thoughts, experiences, some stats. We’ll see if I come away loving technology, or sick at the sight of it like I’ve been Clockwork Orange’d. Then I’m doing a digital flip-flop — I’ll be embarking on full digital detox with no phone at all for the last week of August.
Here are the Digital Retox rules. I’ll be using an Internet-connected device every minute I’m not asleep from 9 a.m. August 14th to 9am August 21st. I didn’t post this yesterday when I started so I’d have a bit of a trial run. I wanted to make sure it was feasible and I wouldn’t need to immediately abort.
Sometimes my usage of technology will be constant, like when I’m on my laptop for hours straight working. Sometimes it will be interruptive, with me stopping to check my phone or other mobile device while I’m out. To remind me to stay connected, I’m using the Alarmed iOS app, which lets me set a reoccurring alarm that goes off every minute.
No activities are excluded. I’ll pause in-person conversations to check notifications, and listen to dictated blog posts like those on Fred Wilson’s A VC while in the shower. How can you help? Annoy me! No seriously. @ reply me on Twitter at @joshconstine or tweet with the hashtag #digitalretox and I’ll see it. You can also distract me on Facebook, Instagram and LinkedIn.
Some plans I’ve got for using my time include getting to some version of inbox zero, reorganizing my laptop, demo’ing a bunch of new apps, and writing a lot.The Crisis Of Fractured Attention
Ultimately, my goal is to find out if information overload is as detrimental as people think.
The fracturing of our attention may very well be the psychological crisis of our generation. From our days hunting in the wilderness to survive, we’ve evolved to respond to changes in light, sound, and movement. It just so happens that’s what our phones emit. But not when there’s a deer to spear or a tiger to run from. Just whenever someone likes our Instagrams, sends us an email, or wants to plan something for later.
None of these are truly urgent, yet we interrupt our flow to check them. That can halt conversations, agitate us when we’re trying to relax, and keep us from noticing the beauty of the world around us at that very moment. Some believe we need periods of either meditation or recreation to unwind big, abstract problems, and that can’t happen if our minds keep flitting about.
This isn’t to say digital connection is bad. Applying a moral judgement on technologies or the future is rarely productive. But if our evolutionary psychology causes us to be distracted by our devices against our will, we may need to learn to moderate our digital connections.
But this week, I’m going to binge. Most people say goodbye when they go on a detox. With my Digital Retox, I don’t have to. I’ll be right here, at the other end of the Internet from all of you, always. See you now.
And by that I mean…
A week after AOL (which owns TechCrunch) announced that it’s acquiring video ad company Adap.tv for $405 million, we drove down to the company’s office in San Mateo to speak to co-founders Amir Ashkenazi (the CEO) and Teg Grenager (the chief product officer).
Ashkenazi told me that there were “secret ingredients” leading to the company’s success — namely, its engineers. That’s because the company’s goal was to create an ad platform that directly connected buyers and sellers:
Take every engineering team of that size, they’ll tell you it’s impossible. ‘Really, you should decide whether you want to be a DSP or an exchange an SSP’ — but that model is broken, you cannot have five people between a buyer and a seller and have an effective and efficient advertising ecosystem. So we gave them this task and they didn’t know it’s impossible, so they just did it.
Grenager, meanwhile, offered more details about the technology and the need that it’s filling. Just as the move from network to cable TV led to fragmentation, the move to online video is making things even more complicated, he said:
Now as it goes from cable television to Internet-delivered video, we get to thousands or millions of different potential programs delivered on thousands of different sites and so on. When you think about it from a brand advertiser’s perspective, they have a need to plan and deliver and measure a campaign to a particular audience with particular performance goals across that fragmented landscape. And this creates not just a problem of the technology stack that’s required but actually a problem of data — of actually knowing where that audience is and making that data actionable.
By the way, these interviews were recorded before Adweek published a story quoting a number of anonymous ad buyers who complained about Adap.tv’s inventory, particularly “straight-up bogus ad impressions generated by bots.” Ashkenazi told Adweek, “We believe we are the leader in quality.”
When I asked about Adap.tv about this, Ashkenazi emailed to say that “voluntary cleanup efforts” in the past 12 months have reduced the number of ad opportunities that Adap.tv has access to from 8 billion to 4.8 billion: “It’s an ongoing battle for everyone in the industry, and we’ll keep leading the charge.”