BRCK acquires ISPs EveryLayer and Surf to boost Africa’s public Wi-Fi

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Kenyan communications hardware company BRCK has acquired the assets of Nairobi based internet provider Surf and its U.S. parent EveryLayer in a purchase deal of an undisclosed amount announced Friday.

Based in Nairobi, Surf is a hotspot service provider aimed at offering affordable internet to lower income segments. BRCK is a five year old venture that pairs its rugged WiFi routers to internet service packages designed to bring people online in frontier and emerging markets.

With the acquisition, BRCK gains the assets of San Francisco based EveryLayer and its Surf subsidiary, including 1200 hotspots and 200,000 active customers across 22 cities in Kenya, according to BRCK CEO and founder Erik Hersman. EveryLayer CEO Mark Summer confirmed these details with TechCrunch.

Backed by $10 million from investors including Steve Case’s  href=”https://www.crunchbase.com/organization/revolution” [...]  read more

Facebook may take extra steps to remove anti-vaccine misinformation

Schiff noted that Facebook is surfacing and recommending messages that may pose a threat to public health. For instance, the Guardian recently reported that Facebook was accepting and promoting ads from anti-vax groups. “Repetition of information, even if false, can often be mistaken for accuracy,” he wrote. “The algorithms which power these services are not designed to distinguish quality information from misinformation.”

Facebook said that it’s “exploring additional measures to best combat the problem,” including “reducing or removing this type of content from recommendations, including ‘Groups You Should Join,’ and demoting it in search results, while also ensuring that higher quality and more authoritative information is available.”

 [...]  read more

When do you go native?

The hardest decision in app development is often the very first one

Jon Evans

Jim Steyer runs the powerful nonprofit Common Sense Media; now he’s using his influence to battle big tech

California Governor Gavin Newsom earlier today proposed a so-called digital dividend that would let consumers share in the profits generated by California-based tech companies that have been “collecting, curating and monetizing” their users’ personal data. Newsom added that he has asked his administration to develop a proposal for a “new data dividend for Californians, because we recognize that data has value, and it belongs to you.”

It’s an idea that tech companies will surely argue against if it begins to take shape beyond a talking point, but it has at least one early proponent: Jim Steyer, the founder and CEO of the hugely popular, 15-year-old nonprofit organization Common Sense Media. In fact, says Steyer, the idea is his, and Common Sense, which also has powerful advocacy and educational arms, is working on related legislation right now.

Steyer’s involvement in the background might surprise some of the 125 million people who visit the site each year for advice on [...]  read more

Facebook urged to offer an API for political ad transparency research

Facebook has been called upon to provide good faith researchers with an API to enable them to study how political ads are spreading and being amplified on its platform.

A coalition of European academics, technologists and human and digital rights groups, led by Mozilla, has signed an open letter to the company demanding far greater transparency about how Facebook’s platform distributes and amplifies political ads ahead of elections to the European parliament which will take place in May.

We’ve reached out to Facebook for a reaction to the open letter.

The company had already announced it will launch some of its self-styled ‘election security’ measures in the EU before then — specifically an authorization and transparency system for political ads.

Last month its new global comms guy — former European [...]  read more

Is Europe closing in on an antitrust fix for surveillance technologists?

The German Federal Cartel Office’s decision to order Facebook to change how it processes users’ personal data this week is a sign the antitrust tide could at last be turning against platform power.

One European Commission source we spoke to, who was commenting in a personal capacity, described it as “clearly pioneering” and “a big deal”, even without Facebook being fined a dime.

The FCO’s decision instead bans the social network from linking user data across different platforms it owns, unless it gains people’s consent (nor can it make use of its services contingent on such consent). Facebook is also prohibited from gathering and linking data on users from third party websites, such as via its tracking pixels and social plugins.

The order is not yet in force, and Facebook is appealing, but should it come into force the social network faces being de facto shrunk by having its platforms siloed at the data level.

To comply with the order Facebook would have to ask users to [...]  read more

Facebook picks up retail computer vision outfit GrokStyle

If you’ve ever seen a lamp or chair that you liked and wished you could just take a picture and find it online, well, GrokStyle let you do that — and now the company has been snatched up by Facebook to augment its own growing computer vision department.

GrokStyle started as a paper — as AI companies often do these days — at 2015’s SIGGRAPH. A National Science Foundation grant got the ball rolling on the actual company, and in 2017 founders Kavita Bala and Sean Bell raised $2 million to grow it.

The basic idea is simple: matching a piece of furniture (or a light fixture, or any of a variety of product types) in an image to visually similar ones in stock at stores. Of course, sometimes the simplest ideas are the most difficult to execute. But Bala and Bell made it work, and it was impressive enough in action that Ikea on first sight demanded it be in the next release of its app. I saw it in action and it’s pretty impressive.

Facebook’s acquisition of the company (no terms disclosed) [...]  read more

How to prepare for an investment apocalypse

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Unlike 2000 and 2008, everyone in the startup world is expecting a crash to come at any moment, but few are taking concrete steps to prepare for it.

If you’re running a venture-backed startup, you should probably get on that. First, go read RIP Good Times from Sequoia to get a sense for how bad it can get, quickly. Then take a look at the checklist below. You don’t need to build a bomb shelter, yet, but adopting a bit of the prepper mentality now will pay dividends down the road.

Don’t wait, prepare

The first step in preparing for a coming downturn is making a plan for how you’d get to a point of sustainability. Many startups have been lulled into a false sense of confidence that profit is something they can figure out “later.” Keep in mind, it has to be done eventually and it’s easier to do when the broader economy isn’t crashing around you. There are two complicating factors to keep in mind.

You’ll have to do it with less revenue

In a downturn, business customers skip investing in capital equipment and new software. Likewise, [...]  read more

German antitrust office limits Facebook’s data-gathering

A lengthy antitrust probe into how Facebook gathers data on users has resulted in Germany’s competition watchdog banning the social network giant from combining data on users across its own suite of social platforms without their consent.

The investigation of Facebook data-gathering practices began in March 2016.

The decision by Germany’s Federal Cartel Office, announced today, also prohibits Facebook from gathering data on users from third party websites — such as via tracking pixels and social plug-ins — without their consent.

Although the decision does not yet have legal force and Facebook has said it’s appealing. The BBC reports that the company has a month to challenge the decision before it comes into force in Germany.

In both cases — i.e. Facebook collecting and linking user data from its own suite of services; and from third party websites — the Bundeskartellamt asserts that consent to data processing must be voluntary, so cannot be made a precondition of using Facebook’s [...]  read more

Facebook: No, we don’t limit your News Feed to 26 people

Ramya Sethuraman, Facebook’s product manager for ranking, said:

“The idea that News Feed only shows you posts from a set number of friends is a myth. The goal of News Feed is to show you the posts that matter to you so that you have an enjoyable experience. If we somehow blocked you from seeing content from everyone but a small set of your friends, odds are you wouldn’t return.”

That said, Facebook admits that there’s a grain of truth in that old copypasta (see below), which includes a plea to leave a comment on the post. Its algorithm determines the content you’d like to see on your News Feed based on nature and level of interaction, after all.

Live videos are more likely to show up at the top of your feed than recorded ones, for instance, and you’re more likely to come across status updates from people you regularly Like or engage with on the comments section. Meanwhile, you’d usually have to scroll down quite a bit to see posts from friends [...]  read more