New charges, arrest warrant sought for Samsung VP amid ongoing corruption probe

Why it matters to you

A South Korean political scandal has seen Samsung executives face accusations of corruption, and even arrest warrants

Samsung Group is embroiled in a political scandal that has dominated headlines in South Korea recently. It’s one of several major conglomerates accused of making donations to nonprofit foundations in exchange for political favors, which in Samsung’s case may have smoothed the path for a controversial merger that was approved in July 2015.

After prosecutors raided Samsung’s corporate offices in Seoul, South Korea, at the end of November 2016, company executives have repeatedly appeared before a parliamentary committee, while links to bribery and corruption are being investigated by a special prosecutorial team.

Eventually, Samsung head Lee Jae-yong was questioned, leading to the issuance of an arrest warrant that named him. While the arrest warrant was rejected by a court on January 19, Lee Jae-yong was brought in yet again for another round of questioning on February 13, and another arrest warrant was sought afterwards which includes new charges.

Here’s everything you need to know about the ongoing case.

More: Samsung acquires Harmon for $8 billion

What’s the background?

The accusations against Samsung and other South Korean companies, including Hyundai, SK Group, and Lotte Group, are related to the ongoing investigation into South Korea’s president Park Geun-hye, and her involvement in extorting money from major corporations.

Park has been accused of assisting in an extortion scheme with unofficial presidential aide Choi Soon-sil. More than 50 businesses were allegedly pressured to make donations potentially worth $69 million to sporting foundations backed by Choi, which were set up following the Samsung merger, then used for personal financial gain and in exchange guaranteeing deals.

The November 2016 raid of Samsung’s headquarters took place alongside another at the national pension fund, which according to a local report from the Yonhap News Agency, may have been pressured into supporting the controversial Samsung merger in 2015. The fund’s approval is regarded as vital to the merger’s success, and a surprising move at the time, due to allegations it benefited the Samsung Group’s controlling family more than the shareholders.

The head of South Korea’s National Pension Scheme, Moon Hyung-pyo, who was arrested in December 2016, has been indicted on charges of abuse of power and perjury. It wasn’t the first time Samsung had been raided in relation to the investigation into Park and Choi either. Another took place earlier in November.

Samsung says in its official statement, “It’s difficult to agree with the special prosecutor’s decision, because Samsung did not make contributions in order to receive favors,” and the company denies the allegations against itself and Lee Jae-yong. The recall and arrest warrant came just a month after South Korea voted to impeach president Park Geun-hye, who has called the accusations against her “groundless.” Choi Soon-sil also denies any wrongdoing.

‘His Dark Materials’ author tweets back at fans who can’t wait for his new books

Philip Pullman meets The Gruffalo Relaunch of the Waterstones Oxford store, Oxford, Britain.
Philip Pullman meets The Gruffalo Relaunch of the Waterstones Oxford store, Oxford, Britain.

Image: Geoffrey Swaine/REX/Shutterstock

The celebrated author of His Dark Materials has announced the publication of a new trilogy which will constitute an “equel” to the series of fantasy novels that sold more than 17.5 million copies worldwide. 

Philip Pullman said the follow-up will be called The Book of Dust, and the first instalment will come out on 17 October. 

Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Today Programme, Pullman said: “People say, ‘Is it prequel? Is it a sequel?’ Well, it is neither.”

“It’s an ‘equel’. It’s a different story which begins roughly 10 years before His Dark Materials and ends roughly 10 years after.”

In another interview, Pullman said that at the centre of The Book of Dust is “the struggle between a despotic and totalitarian organisation [the Magisterium], which wants to stifle speculation and inquiry, and those who believe thought and speech should be free”

The first book of the original trilogy, Northern Lights, was adapted for a 2007 film, The Golden Compass, starring Nicole Kidman, Daniel Craig and Dakota Blue Richards. 

In the new trilogy, Pullman will return to the story of brave Oxford girl Lyra Belacqua and will begin when the heroine is a baby and continue to when she is 20 years old. 

As news of The Book of Dust emerged, Pullman took to Twitter to respond to excited fans. It was pretty hilarious:

Someone even named their daughter Lyra after the main character in Pullman’s books: 

People thought 2017 was not going to be that bad after all, to which Pullman responded: 

Mobile ad startup Vungle says it’s hit a $300M revenue run rate

Adtech startups like to announce when they’ve hit $100 million in annualized revenue, but Vungle — which focuses on delivering in-app video ads — is doing a bit better than that. It says it’s now reached a $300 million revenue run rate.

And while the last three months of the year tend to be the biggest quarter for advertising, CEO Zain Jaffer noted that Vungle’s announcement is based on January’s (gross) revenue — in fact, he predicted that the startup will bring in more revenue during the first quarter of 2017 than in Q4 2016.

“I think we’re in that one sector of advertising technology that is continuing to explode,” Jaffer said.

Specifically, he said mobile advertisers are increasingly focused on performance. That doesn’t just mean clicks or even app installs — Jaffer said “the most profound shift” for Vungle has been getting access to post-install data, so it can measure whether its ads bring in users who actually open an app and spend money.

Competitor AppLovin recently sold a majority stake to a Chinese private equity firm for $1.4 billion, something Jaffer said “validates the space overall.”

“It’s time for analysts to wake up and realize what really drives mobile revenues,” he added. “People are so obsessed with this idea that TV dollars are moving to mobile, but it’s not just a format problem. There’s a business model problem here” — something that’s being solved as companies like Vungle can “literally prove what the user does.”

I also brought up Facebook and Google’s current dominance in online ad spending — are they just going to take bigger and bigger pieces of the pie? Jaffer responded that Vungle takes “all competition seriously,” but he argued that it’s differentiated by a focus on delivering “high-value users” to advertisers.

“If you’re that focused, I think you have the chance to be the industry leader,” he said.

Apparently Vungle has seen major growth in the Asia-Pacific region, with revenue up 400 percent since 2015. The company also says it’s now used in 40,000 mobile apps. And it just released a report on mobile ad trends.

Featured Image: Mix3r/Shutterstock

Twitter adds Periscope’s live videos to its Top Trends

Twitter’s recently launched “Explore” section will now feature live videos sourced from Periscope within its “Top Trends,” the company announced yesterday. The move will further integrate Twitter’s standalone live streaming app into its main platform, leaving even fewer reasons to keep a separate app dedicated to live streaming video around.

The company has been criticized for its slow progress in integrating Periscope’s live streaming capabilities into its own app following the acquisition of the up-and-coming live broadcasting tool back in early 2015. Instead of leveraging Periscope’s technology to immediately build out its own live streaming platform within Twitter, the company instead tried to operate Periscope as a separate entity – similar to how Facebook treated Instagram.

But unlike Instagram, Periscope was acquired pre-launch, so it didn’t have an existing community to build upon. It also faced intense competition from other tech giants, including Facebook and YouTube, as well as the then-newcomer startup Meerkat (which has since exited the live streaming race.)

Over the past several months, Twitter has been course correcting with regard to how it treats Periscope, however. In December, it launched the ability to live stream directly in Twitter itself, without having to open up the Periscope app. The streams started on Twitter would also be visible in Periscope, but the second app was no longer a requirement.

In addition, Twitter’s mobile redesign – which saw it replacing the “Moments” section with a broader “Explore” area for search and discovery of trends, Moments, video and more – has also put a greater emphasis on live video. Of course, this includes those live streams Twitter now hosts through its numerous media deals, like those with the NFL and other sports organizations, Dick Clark Productions for various red carpet events, media outlets for political and business news coverage, and more.

Now, it will tap into Periscope to promote the live streams from individual users as well.

These streams will be found in the “Top Trends” section within Explore, which is where you can browse the top hashtags and keyword searches that are currently blowing up on Twitter’s network. When live videos are taking place in one of those trending sections, they will be marked with a bright, red “LIVE” label for easy spotting.

When you watch the video, you’ll have the same experience as in Periscope – with the ability to heart and comment on the video content, as well as retweet.

Whether or not live video is available won’t influence the selection of trends, apparently. As of the time of writing, none of the top trends are featuring live video. However, in the case of breaking news, it will be easier to “tune in” to the live content on Twitter, courtesy of this new feature.

Homemade food-sharing startup Josephine makes another attempt to legalize its business in CA

Josephine, the startup that lets people cook meals inside their homes and sell them to neighbors, is sponsoring a recently-introduced homemade food bill in California that aims to legalize the sales of prepared meals and other food from small-scale, home kitchen operations. Assemblymember Eduardo Garcia (D-Coachella) introduced the bill, AB 626, this week.

Josephine is sponsoring this bill in part because the startup decided to pause its Oakland operations last May after some of its cooks received cease and desist letters for the illegal sale of food from their homes. Under Cottage Food Law, it’s illegal in California to sell homemade food unless they are “non-potentially hazardous foods” — foods that are unlikely to grow bacteria at room temperature — like baked goods (cookies, biscuits, pastries), candy, dried fruit, popcorn and dried pasta. So, there are also wider implications and benefits for street food vendors and small-scale caterers if this bill passes.

“Now, I think there’s even a broader political impetus around protecting vulnerable communities,” Josephine Co-CEO Matthew Jorgensen told TechCrunch. “And given that there is a threat of criminal sanctions for preparing and selling food from a home kitchen, which could be punishable by misdemeanor, there is a lot of willingness to clarify the law.”

This is the second time Josephine has sponsored a bill (the first was AB-2593, which was ultimately pulled due to opposition from the California Conference of Directors of Environmental Health in 2016), but the company hopes for a different outcome this time around. That’s because it has worked with its opposition, the CCDEH, as well as a group of cooks, legal experts, and food and labor justice organizations.

“[The CCDEH] have agreed to continue collaborations,” Jorgensen said. “They’ve essentially laid out a number of considerations that if met substantively would allow them to not oppose the bill this year, which is a huge about face when it comes to just regulatory culture change.”

Last year, the bill Josephine sponsored looked to exclude homemade food sales from the food code, and likening the operations of Josephine’s cooks to those of a community potluck so that, “below a certain scale, these sort of operations wouldn’t be subject to commercial permitting requirements,” Jorgensen said. But regulators still wanted to be involved in specifying requirements around those types of operations, so the bill was scrapped. This current bill, which has the support of the CCDEH, proposes an entirely new permit that requires some specifications around training and sanitation for homemade food sales.

If the bill passes, Josephine would be able to legally resume operations in Oakland and throughout California. The soonest Josephine would be able to kick back up operations in California, Jorgensen said, would be January 2018.

Given that its biggest opponent co-drafted the bill, Josephine is pretty optimistic that the bill will be successful. And if it does indeed pass, Jorgensen thinks it would strengthen Josephine’s case in other cities in which it operates and is looking to operate.

“For us, we see it as our first proof point that we can thoughtfully and collaboratively craft legislation that addresses the needs of these cooks, and is respectful and sensible from a public health perspective,” Jorgensen said. “I think that a lot of our conversations in other cities and states — it’s been helpful to be able to refer to the fact that we’re actively drafting and engaged in this sort of collaborative effort in California because California, in a lot of ways, is considered to be a leader when it comes to public health standards, as well as food systems work, so I think if we’re able to pass the law here, it’s really going to be a great proof point that this can be done and done safely.”

Featured Image: Josephine

Honda partners with new DRIVE smart mobility startup hub in Tel Aviv

Honda is extending its courtship of startups through its Xcelerator program with a new partnership announced Wednesday with DRIVE, a new startup hub in Tel Aviv, Israel that focuses specifically on smart mobility tech, including transportation and automotive solutions. The partnership will see Honda’s Silicon Valley Lab work directly with the DRIVE center, offering “expertise, funding and rapid prototyping opportunities” to some of the facility’s companies, with the understanding that in future these could “evolve into additional business relationships.”

Honda isn’t the only partner on board for the new DRIVE center initiative – also joining as sponsors are Hertz Rent a Car and Volvo, among others. The launch of the facility by Mayer Group comes at a perfect moment in time in terms of capitalizing on the growing interest in the tech sector around not only automotive innovation, but also urban transit and automated transportation in general.

Honda has been keen to work with the startup community, and has used those partnerships to drive actual product development. In a tie-up with startup VocalZoom, Honda debuted a concept demo at CES this year that use optical sensors to offer better voice recognition – these sensors watch a speaker’s face to supplement data gathered by microphones.

Partnering with, and fostering promising startups is a smart strategy, and one that Honda’s global head of R&D activities Yoshiyuki Matsumoto told me at CES in January is part of the company’s overall approach to finding the best solution to any problem, whether that be through internal sourcing, external partnership or acquisition.

Featured Image: Honda

Google Arts and Culture now loaded with decades of awesome U.S. history

Lyndon B Johnson's dogs, Him & Her
Lyndon B Johnson’s dogs, Him & Her


This Presidents’ Day, you can take a step back in time and learn about our former Commanders-in-Chief thanks to a handy new feature from Google.

Google Arts and Culture has partnered with institutions, libraries and museums across the United States to deliver presidential media directly on our screens. Some of the displays are definitely catered to the history buffs, like an exhibit of significant events in the path toward American democracy. But other sections can be enjoyed by casual observers, like the gallery of presidential pets

Did you know that Theodore Roosevelt kept a lion cub, a bear, an antelope, a wallaby and a bobcat in the White House, alongside dogs and cats? Neither did we. 

Other gems that you can view include the Bush family’s favorite taco recipe, handwritten by Barbara Bush (hint: it contains Doritos) and also a walk through of Thomas Jefferson’s life from boyhood to manhood. There are 360-degree videos scattered throughout the exhibits, including the Air Force Pavilion at the Ronald Reagan Library. 

Speaking of 360 videos, the Google Arts and Culture app (available on iOS and Android) also lets you take virtual tours of sites like Mount Rushmore and the Lincoln Memorial, so you can feel free to nerd out from the comfort of your desk or couch. 

Whatever your views are on the political state of the country, checking out these displays might give you a dose of inspiration and perspective. At the very least, you can appreciate the cuteness of furry creatures who used to reside in the White House. 

Learner driver ‘platform’ MiDrive loses CEO after raising further £2M

MiDrive, a U.K. startup that helps you learn to drive with a driving test app and instructor marketplace, has lost Scott Taylor as CEO, after he departed the company last month. He’s been replaced by Asher Ismail, who previously joined miDrive as COO in May 2016.

Curiously, the move comes shortly after miDrive has raised £2 million in further funding. The ‘Series A2′ round is led by Initial Capital and actually closed late last year.

I also understand it is £1 million less than the startup was seeking to raise as recently as April 2016, according to a pitch deck being passed to potential investors at the time.

Confirming Taylor’s departure, Ismail said: “It was Scott’s decision to resign and pursue a new opportunity. He did a great job in leading the business in its early stages. We wish him all the best for the future”.

Taylor himself declined to go on record, aside from issuing TechCrunch the following statement: “I left miDrive as my wife accepted a great opportunity in the U.S. Moving to the U.S. has been a long-term goal for both of us. MiDrive has good momentum having just closed its Series A financing. I think they will continue to do well and I wish them every success in the future”.

I have no reason to doubt that Taylor — who in January made Forbes’ 30 Under 30 In Technology for Europe list — resigned from miDrive under his own volition. However, the timing of his departure does feel quite haphazard.

He officially stepped down as a company Director on 6th of January 2017, according to a regulatory filing, and as CEO on 7th of January, according to Ismail — just two days after Taylor emailed me pitching miDrive’s Series A2 funding news.

After answering my initial questions regarding the fund raise, I was met with Taylor’s Out of Office email reply until the 7th of February when I contacted Ismail instead, who informed me that he had taken over as CEO.

“The biggest thing to note is that miDrive has come a long way since 2014 but has come even further in the last six to eight months,” said Ismail, when I asked him what has changed since we last covered the company. “As with most startups which are a couple of years old, there comes a point where you have to push the business into the next stage and the company has to ‘grow up’ and kick on — I feel like this is what we’ve been doing since the middle of last year”.

miDrive accounts

MiDrive Companies House accounts filing made up to 31 March 2016

The middle of last year — or, specifically, May 2016 — is when Ismail was hired as COO, charged with commercialising and scaling miDrive, which until recently was generating little revenue and making a significant loss. The startup now claims “multiple revenue streams and a multi-million pound run rate”.

“I’ve spent a lot of my efforts streamlining the business, making sure we have more of a focus and a clear direction for the next three to five years,” Ismail says. “For us, we had to fundamentally shift away from being ‘just a directory’ to running as a platform with a clear purpose of helping to raise the expectations and standards of the industry”.

Those changes mean that where miDrive used to have users, who made use of its driving theory app and instructor directory, it now has customers. “We used to be focused on just matching, now we take ownership of the full learning experience… we operate as a platform for instructors and learners by taking payments and gamifying the entire learning experience”.

Meanwhile, miDrive’s founding story and list of backers is interesting. The company began life in 2013 as a spin-out of Holiday Extras when an employee, Matt Sutton, came up with the original driving instructor marketplace idea and presented it to his then boss Simon Hagger. The two developed the concept further, and Hagger pitched it to the Holiday Extras board for some seed funding and a small incubation team was set up to launch and test the concept.

Having done so, in early 2014 miDrive raised a £2 million Series A round (which saw Holiday Extras maintaining a majority ownership) and Scott Taylor was brought on as CEO that April. In late 2016, the company closed a further £2 million led by Initial.

I understand that both Sutton — who also left miDrive this January! — and Hagger remain minor shareholders. As does Taylor via shares he will have accrued in his role as CEO.

T-Mobile undercuts Verizon’s unlimited plan, throws in HD video for good measure

Why it matters to you

It’s always a good thing when mobile carriers compete, and a lower price for T-Mobile One definitely counts as a good thing.

After what felt like years of being the butt of jokes made by T-Mobile and Sprint, Verizon finally reintroduced an unlimited data plan in time for Valentine’s Day. Unfortunately for Big Red, T-Mobile tried to rain on its unlimited parade with changes to its One plan.

Starting this Friday, February 17, the One plan will include HD video streaming and 10GB of high-speed hot spot data. Previously, you needed to fork over either an extra $3 each day or $15 each month for streaming video higher than 480p resolution. T-Mobile told Ars Technica that HD video will need to be enabled once every 30 days, though the day passes will be phased out. As for the hot spot data, One capped customers at 512Kbps speeds and needed to either upgrade to the One Plus plan or pay $3 for 24-hour passes for higher speeds.

More: It’s finally back — Verizon again offers its unlimited plan to eager customers

What looks to win over some folks, however, is the $100 price tag for two lines under the One plan, which undercuts Verizon’s offering by $40. It is unknown whether the pricing change is permanent, though pricing is still the same $70 per month for one line. Previously, you needed to shell out $120 for two lines.

The changes will go into effect for new and existing customers, though the latter will need to activate these features either through the T-Mobile app or T-Mobile’s website.

Even though these changes are certainly welcome, since competition is what led to them, capping customers at 480p streaming video resolution and 512Kbps tethering speeds with the original One plan were seen as two controversial and asinine “features.” With the changes, T-Mobile positioned uncompressed video streaming as a promotional feature rather than something we should take for granted.

It will be interesting to see if Verizon responds, particularly since it has not even been two days since it announced its unlimited data plan.

See more at T-Mobile

London tourist attraction is getting dragged for sexist Valentine’s social media campaign

One of London’s most popular tourist attractions is being dragged on social media for their “sexist and tasteless” marketing campaign for Valentine’s Day. 

The London Dungeon, which recreates the city’s gory and macabre historical events in a gallows humour style, has apologised after posting a series of dark “jokes” on its official Facebook page. The posts seemed to praise femicide, incite fat-shaming and the killing of sex workers, and glorify women killers such as Jack the Ripper, Henry VIII and Sweeney Todd. 

Perhaps the most controversial post, later deleted, read: “What’s the difference between your job and a dead prostitute? Your job still sucks!”

Among the “top Valentine’s tips” was: “If you want to live another day, don’t say this tonight,” and a picture reading: “Wow, you should really wear makeup more often”. 

The fat-shaming ones read:

People reacted in the comments saying the campaign is “utter misogyny” and a “shameful apology of the violence against women”:

Others pointed to the fact that the London Dungeon is a very popular family attraction and school trips “are a big part of the revenue” : 

The attraction was also criticised on Twitter.

And the East End Women’s Museum called for a boycott:

The PR for London Dungeon, which is managed by Merlin Entertainment, told Mashable they are deleting all the posts after the backlash.

“We apologise that our social posts caused offence,” Chloe Couchman said. 

“Our ‘Dark Valentine’ campaign was a range of posts aimed to highlight the darker side of history and create debate and conversation.”

“As a brand we strive to entertain our guests so they can enjoy the London Dungeon experience – both in our attraction and on social media. However on this occasion we recognise that some of the topics many felt were inappropriate and therefore we apologise for any offence cause.”