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Archivo del Autor: Belen De Leon

Google search adds activity cards to make browsing your history easier – CNET

Pick up where you left off or avoid going over the same results.
Source: CNET

Emeritus, which develops online courses with universities, raises $40M

The funding streak for educational startups in Asia continues into 2019 after Emeritus, a U.S-Indian company that partners with universities to offer digital courses, landed a $40 million Series C round led by Sequoia India.

The deal includes participation from existing investor Bertelsmann India Investments, and it takes Emeritus — founded in 2010 as offline management program company Eruditus — to around $50 million from investors to date. It also follows notable rounds in December for India-based education companies Byju’s ($540 million) and Toppr ($35 million).

Emeritus is the online branch of Eruditus. It was founded in 2014 as a response to the growth in digital learning. Specifically, it took the core elements of the Eruditus — which include helping educational institutions design new curriculums — and applied it to the online space to develop certificate courses and online degrees.

The company has offices in Boston — where it works to develop curriculum content — as well as Dubai, Mexico, Mumbai and Singapore. In total, it has some 350 employees while its partners include MIT, Columbia, Tuck at Dartmouth, Wharton, UC Berkeley and London Business School.

Today, Emeritus accounts for most of the business’s growth potential and it is really the focus of this investment, co-founder and director Ashwin Damera told TechCrunch in an interview.

“We’re helping working professionals who can’t otherwise come to these schools to access high-quality educational content online,” Damera said. “It’s very different from a MOOC [such as Coursera or Udemy], we are a SPOC — small, private, online course.”

For one thing, all Emeritus courses are run in collaboration with universities, they tend to attract older students — since they are masters level — and their completion rates are around 90 percent, according to Damera. Students on a course, he said, are broken down into sections of around 100 and then smaller working groups of around six, much like traditional offline courses.

Emeritus said it will enroll 30,000 students from 80 countries during this current financial year. That’s a figure that Damera wants to grow ten-fold over the next five years.

The company’s strategy to reach that lofty goal revolves around widening its reach to new audiences. A key part of that focus is to expand its existing English and Spanish content libraries, and develop content in Portuguese and Mandarin for the first time. Interestingly, in the case of China, Emeritus is open to a potential acquisition or a joint venture to get a local business up and running.

Right now, Damera said that just 70 percent of students are based overseas. In addition to accommodating additional international languages, he said that global push will mean the company will develop its tech stack to enable a greater more mobile-based content for students.

But, beyond those perhaps obvious areas, Emeritus is examining the potential to offer newer products and courses at more affordable prices. In particular, Damera believes there is a “huge opportunity” to apply itself to bachelor degree education although he plans to expand its master degrees first.

Source: TechCrunch

Advisor to Europe’s top court favors regional limit to ‘right to be forgotten’

Google will be cheered by the view of an influential advisor to Europe’s top court vis-a-vis the territorial scope of the so-called ‘Right to be Forgotten’.

Since a 2014 Court of Justice decision, search engines operating in Europe have been required to accept and review requests from private citizens to delist outdated or irrelevant search results associated with their name, balancing decisions against any public right to know.

Google has been carrying out these delistings on regional European subdomains, rather than globally. But in 2016 the French data protection agency, CNIL, fined it for failing to delist results globally — arguing that regional delistings were not strong enough to comply with the law.

Google filed an appeal against the CNIL’s order for global delisting and a French court later decided to refer questions vis-a-vis the scope of the rtbf to the Court of Justice of the EU.

The CJEU heard the case last fall, with Google arguing that global delistings would damage free speech, and enable authoritarian regimes to get stuff they don’t like scrubbed off the Internet.

On the flip side those who advocate for global delistings argue without them there’s a trivial workaround to the rtbf.

Although the intent of the rtbf ruling was never to remove information from the Internet but rather to allow old and erroneous data to sediment (rather than be artificially kept in public view by algorithms). And given most web users don’t look past the first page (or even the first few) search results regional delistings seems a fair enough balance — at least as things stand.

That balanced view is also now the published opinion of an influential advisor to Europe’s top court.

Advocate general Maciej Szpunar’s opinion, released today — ahead of the court making its own judgement on the matter — proposes that the regional rtbf should be limited in scope to local sub-domains, rather than being applied globally as the French data protection agency has been pushing for for several years.

In a press release summarizing the AG’s opinion, the court writes that Szpunar believes “a distinction must be made depending on the location from which the search is performed” and that “[h]e is therefore not in favour of giving the provisions of EU law such a broad interpretation that they would have effects beyond the borders of the 28 Member States”.

“[I]f worldwide de-referencing were permitted, the EU authorities would not be able to define and determine a right to receive information, let alone balance it against the other fundamental rights to data protection and to privacy,” it continues.

“This is all the more so since such a public interest in accessing information will necessarily vary from one third State to another depending on its geographic location. There would be a risk, if worldwide de-referencing were possible, that persons in third States would be prevented from accessing information and, in turn, that third States would prevent persons in the EU Member States from accessing information.”

That said, the AG is not ruling out the possibility that “in certain situations” a search engine operator may need to delist something “at the worldwide level”.

Rather, the court emphasizes, “he takes the view that the situation at issue in the present case does not justify this”.

So his current advice to the court is summarized as follows:

… the search engine operator is not required, when acceding to a request for de-referencing, to carry out that de-referencing on all the domain names of its search engine in such a way that the links in question no longer appear, irrespective of the location from which the search on the basis of the requesting party’s name is performed.

At the same time the AG emphasizes that — for valid requests — search engines must “take every measure available to it to ensure full and effective de-referencing within the EU, including by use of the ‘geo-blocking’ technique, in respect of an IP address deemed to be located in one of the Member States, irrespective of the domain name used by the internet user who performs the search”.

While the AG’s opinion is not binding on the CJEU the court tends to take a similar view so it’s a good indicator of where the final judgement will land, likely in three to six months’ time.

We reached out to Google for comment and a spokesperson emailed us the following statement, attributed to Peter Fleischer, its senior privacy counsel:

Public access to information, and the right to privacy, are important to people all around the world, as demonstrated by the number of global human rights, media and other organisations that have made their views known in this case. We’ve worked hard to ensure that the right to be forgotten is effective for Europeans, including using geolocation to ensure 99% effectiveness.

The search giant, which remains massively dominant in the European market, publishes a report detailing the proportion of requests it accepts and declines here, which shows both a steady growth in requests and that Google continues to grant only a minority of delisting requests.

Since the original 2014 rtbf decision, the EU has doubled down on the right — extending the principle by baking it into an updated data protection framework, the GDPR, which came into force in May last year and gives EU citizens rights to ask data controllers to rectify or delete their personal information.

Source: TechCrunch

The company behind YouCam Makeup app launches a new set of AR tools for beauty brands like Ulta

Released in 2014, the year before Snapchat put face filters on the road to ubiquity, Perfect Corp’s YouCam Makeup app gave many smartphone users their first taste of augmented selfies. At the beginning, it let users experiment with different makeup looks and portrait-editing tools. Since then, YouCam Makeup has expanded beyond selfies into e-commerce and retail with tools for over 200 beauty brands and retailers, including L’Oréal, Estée Lauder, Cosmopolitan, and Target (the big-box retailer’s online Virtual Try-on tool uses Perfect Corp.’s technology).

At CES this week, Perfect Corp announced a new roster of products under the brand name Beauty 3.0, including AI-based augmented reality tools that recommend foundation, makeup, and hair with a solid rate of accuracy and realism (I tested several of the new apps last month at Perfect Corp’s Taipei headquarters), even for finishes like glitter and metallics. It also recently signed a partnership with Ulta to bring its try-on technology to the retailer’s beauty stores and hair salons.

Launched in 2014 by CEO Alice Chang and owned by CyberLink, a digital media software developer, Perfect Corp says its apps have now been downloaded 700 million times and claims a total of 60 million monthly active users (in China, it also has a mini-program for WeChat). The company says its tools help retailers increase basket sizes and conversions, reduce the number of products returned, and give brands aggregated data about how consumers interact with makeup colors, like what shades they are most likely to try-on and how they combine different products.

Perfect Corp recently began working on 3D models, so users can see how a virtual makeup or hairstyle will look on them from different angles as they move their heads (for example, hair color, even ombré styles, look realistic even if you flip your hair). Four years on the market and a global user base have enabled YouCam to train its algorithms for a wide range of face shapes and skintones—an important advantage as consumers demand and expect more diversity from beauty brands.

Chang says one thing that sets Perfect Corp’s makeup try-on app is its ability to adjust different colors so users have a more accurate idea of how it will appear on their skin, instead of simply applying the same color to everyone (Chang describes that as “sticker effect”). Most of the company’s technology is developed in-house by Perfect Corp and CyberLink. YouCam Makeup app grew out of CyberLink’s video technology, including 3D high-definition video, face recognition, and augmented reality, created for desktop software called Media Show. Limited to PCs, Media Show did not become successful, but as smartphones (and selfies) began to gain traction and run on increasingly powerful processors, Chang decided to use its tech in YouCam Makeup.

“We are not a beauty company,” she says “But we know how to use technology to help beauty consumers solve their pain points.”

Source: TechCrunch

CES 2019: Brezze wants to make it easy to charge your phones – CNET

This startup aims to make a business out of renting out power banks to charge your phone.
Source: CNET

TransferWise applying for Brussels license in bid to navigate a ‘no deal’ Brexit

TransferWise, the London-headquartered international money transfer company, is applying for a new licence in Brussels, in a bid to navigate a possible “no deal” Brexit as the U.K. prepares to leave membership of the European Union on March 29 this year.

One of the definite plusses of EU membership, and something that has undoubtedly benefited U.K. fintech startups, is so-called “passporting” of financial services. This sees a certain level of financial regulatory harmony across the EU and means that companies authorised in any EU (or EEA) state can offer their services freely in any other, and with minimal additional authorisation.

Furthermore, these “passports” are the foundation of the EU single market for financial services. Therefore, if the U.K. leaves the single market, which a no deal Brexit and other likely forms of Brexit will result in, then fintech companies in the U.K. that trade in the EU/EEA or have plans to do so, will need to obtain new licenses from an EU/EAA country.

In TransferWise’s case, the plan is to open a small, additional satellite office in Brussels, with the company applying to the Belgium regulator, The National Bank of Belgium, for a “Payment Institutions Licence”.

And, in a sense, this isn’t such a big deal for a large company like TransferWise: the money transfer service already has 9 offices, employs 1,400 people globally, with 230 posted to its HQ in London.

However, for much smaller startups, the loss of passporting could be prohibitively expensive to mitigate, depending on what stage of growth a company is at and how much runway it still has left. For new companies, it makes setting up shop in London’s fintech much less attractive, as regulatory authorisation will need to be duplicated for EU trading.

Meanwhile, it’s notable that TransferWise has chosen to apply to be regulated in Belgium, and not somewhere like Ireland (as, for example Starling Bank has done), or Lithuania (as Revolut has done). It could be argued that both are easier options. Lithuania especially touts itself as the fintech regulator with the lowest barriers and lightest touch.

Cue quote from TransferWise co-founder and CEO Kristo Käärmann: “Brussels is at the heart of all EU affairs, so establishing an office in the city makes great sense for us. The National Bank of Belgium impressed us with its understanding of the payments sector and openness to innovation, while at the same time being a strong and trusted regulator. We’re keen to build a similarly productive relationship with the NBB to the one we already have with the UK’s FCA”.

Source: TechCrunch

Digital Trends Top Tech of CES 2019 Award Winners

5G. A.I. Voice assistants. Metaverse. Yes, metaverse. CES 2019 slathered on the buzzwords thick and heavy, but beneath the breathless hype and bluster, there were amazing products to back it up, too. Except metaverse. C’mon Nissan, you just made that up. We saw laptops thin enough to disappear in a backpack, TVs that magically unroll […]

The post Digital Trends Top Tech of CES 2019 Award Winners appeared first on Digital Trends.

Source: Digital trends

CES 2019: Argon Transform makes any bike helmet smart without a fuss – CNET

The two-piece attachment will make your bike rides safer thanks to its front and rear cameras.
Source: CNET

Crypto mining giant Bitmain is reportedly getting a new CEO as its IPO plan stalls

Bitmain, the Chinese crypto miner maker, looks like it has reached an interesting point in its pathway to going public. There’s been little heard since the company filed to go public in Hong Kong in September, but now it appears that a new CEO has been hired and its two founders are leaving.

That’s according to a report from SCMP which — citing two sources — said Wang Haichao, Bitmain’s director of product engineering, has assumed CEO duties following a transition that began in December. Founders Wu Jihan (pictured above) and Zhan Ketuan will be co-chairs with Wang described as the “potential successor.”

The publication said that it isn’t clear when a new CEO will be named, or indeed whether an outside appointment will be made.

Bitmain declined to comment on the report when asked by TechCrunch.

The company, which is said to have been valued as high as $15 billion, certainly appears to have stalled with its IPO following the filing of an application on September 26. That document opened up a treasure trove of financial information regarding the company, which is estimated to supply around three-quarters of the world’s crypto mining machines.

Indeed, Bitmain’s IPO filing showed heady growth in revenue. The company grossed more than $2.5 billion in revenue in 2017, a near-10X leap on the $278 million it claimed for 2016, while sales in the first six months of last year surpassed $2.8 billion.

However, there were no figures for Q3 2018 and, since September, the price of Bitcoin and other cryptocurrency has plummeted further still, therein reducing the appeal of buying a mining machine and likely impacting Bitmain’s sales.

Bitmain saw impressive revenue growth as the crypto market grew, but it isn’t clear how the business weathered the price slump that affected the market in 2017

We reported that the company likely made a loss of around $400 million in that Q3 quarter. Things are likely to have been trickier still in Q4, as crypto prices dropped so low that mining companies in China were reported to be selling off machines because the cost of power to mine was lower than the reward for doing so.

Bitmain has diversified into non-mining services, to its credit, but its efforts to grow Bitcoin Cash — a controversial fork of Bitcoin — have been controversial and likely loss-making, to boot.

The price of Bitcoin Cash is currently $162 at the timing of writing, that’s down significantly from around $2,500 one year ago. That doesn’t bode well for Bitmain’s investment into the cryptocurrency, and it likely explains why the company has made layoffs, like others in the crypto space.

What a difference four months can make. The challenge for the company’s (apparent) new CEO is certainly a daunting one.

But Bitmain’s struggle isn’t unprecedented. Just this week, its closest rival — Canaan — was linked with a U.S. IPO. The company had planned to go public in Hong Kong last year but it allowed its application to expire as crypto market prices went south.

There’s plenty to watch out for in the mining space in 2019!

Editorial note: The author owns a small amount of cryptocurrency. Enough to gain an understanding, not enough to change a life.

Source: TechCrunch

Banking startup N26 raises $300 million at $2.7 billion valuation

Fintech startup N26 is raising a Series D round of $300 million. Following this new funding round, the company is now valued at $2.7 billion. Insight Venture Partners is leading the round with Singapore’s sovereign wealth fund GIC and a few existing investors also participating.

N26 is building a retail bank from scratch. The company lets you open a bank account and get a card in just a few minutes. You can then control everything from your phone or computer. And it’s a much better user experience compared to traditional banks.

This round comes as a surprise as the startup announced a $160 million funding round ten months ago. I talked with N26 co-founder and CEO Valentin Stalf about this, and there are several reasons why raising money made sense.

First, N26 is a very different company now compared to early 2018. The user base has tripled and people are using their N26 accounts more and more. Around a third of N26’s customers are paying every month for a premium account.

The startup’s valuation has exploded as well. “The previous valuation was below $1 billion,” Stalf told me. In other words, N26 is in great shape and it made sense to grab more money before expanding to new markets around the world.

N26 is currently live in 24 European markets and has 2.3 million customers. The company plans to expand to the U.S. in the coming months as well as other markets around the world. Customers currently hold €1 billion in N26 accounts overall. And the company has processed €20 billion in transaction volume since its creation.

I interviewed Valentin Stalf about today’s funding round. This interview has been slightly edited for brevity and clarity.

TechCrunch: Your list of investors is becoming more and more global. Does it mean that, in addition to the U.S., we can expect other countries and other regions as well?

Valentin Stalf: Absolutely. Our goal now for the next couple of years is to transform N26 from being a European company to being a global company. We started in Germany and Austria as you know. We’re now in 24 markets including the U.K. where we’re offering our product in a different currency.

And now the next step will be the U.S. in 2019. We would like to bring N26 to four to six new markets outside of the U.S. and Europe in the next couple of years. But this year is really about the U.S. and then by the end of the year one more market or a couple of markets probably. But we see the opportunity to take the business global. And that’s also what everybody who invested in this round signed up for.

TC: It’s the first time you’re sharing the valuation, which is quite high. Does it mean that the financials of the company are looking good? Are you making money and from what?

Stalf: Two things led to the success of this funding round. One is tremendous growth. We’ve more than tripled the number of customers in the last year. Globally, I think we’re the fastest growing mobile bank on the market now. It’s one driver of the valuation — the future potential that there are many more customers searching for a banking alternative.

We’ve also worked on the profitability of our company. We’re definitely today the most advanced player on the market in terms of profitability per customer. Obviously, we’ll be consuming cash in 2019 — that’s why we raised a round to invest in new markets. But if you look at our company on a per-customer basis, we’re profitable on a per-customer basis. And I think it’s very important.

Where is the revenue coming from today? We’re very much focused on the daily usage of our product. So one is really from card transactions and the interchange fee. Second is our subscription model. Depending on the market, up to 32 to 35 percent are choosing one of the premium products that we’re offering — it’s a really important revenue driver. And then you have the daily usage of financial products, such as overdraft, savings and consumer credit and these things that we have on the German market, the French market. We’re bringing that now to the U.K. and other markets.

TC: On the product front, are there other products that you’re going to roll out or are you more focused on launching the entire lineup of products across all your markets?

Stalf: I think we want to internationalize existing products to new markets and bring our financial products that we have to more of the markets that we’re in.

But I think the strong focus that we have in order to internationalize is really to innovate more on the product. We’ve launched Spaces before Christmas — I would say version one. The big update that is coming out in the next two months is really about sharing a space, creating a shared account either long term with your partner or short term with friends.

We’ll add much more functionality to Spaces. We’ll be adding virtual cards that you can add per account. We’ll be adding different account numbers.

TC: Let’s go back to the funding round. You’ve raised $160 million a year ago — it’s quite quick. If I read that correctly, does it mean that you’re thinking that competition is fierce or that you should get a war chest in case there’s an economic downturn?

Stalf: I wouldn’t call it an economic downturn, but if you look at the equity market, obviously valuations have been challenged over the last couple of weeks. And I think we were lucky in terms of when we raised funding. I think it was good timing.

Independent of that, we’ve never raised because of any timing thing or so. Our company managed to do incredibly well in the last year in terms of profitability and growth. And we’ve had a lot of people approaching us, we’re always in contact with different investors. I always think the best time to raise is when you don’t need to raise. GIC and Insight are the best investors we could have thought of.

TC: Let’s talk about the future. Now, that you’ve got a ton of funding in your bank account. How do you see N26 in a couple of years as a product, as a company and as a brand?

Stalf: I think we have the opportunity to really build a business with a hundred million customers globally. I truly believe in this. And that means that we’ll have to build the brand that you need for such as business. It’s going to be a big focus.

If you look more at our company, we have now 700 employees in three locations around the world — Berlin, Barcelona and New York. We will open a couple of offices throughout the next year in Europe and maybe somewhere else in the world. So it’s really awesome to transform our company to be more global — we already have 50 different nationalities.

Source: TechCrunch