All posts in “Data”

Progressive advocacy groups call on the FTC to ‘make Facebook safe for democracy’

A team of progressive advocacy groups, including MoveOn and Demand Progress, are asking the Federal Trade Commission to “make Facebook safe for democracy.” According to Axios, the campaign, called Freedom From Facebook, is set to launch a six-figure ad campaign on Monday that will run on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, among other platforms.

The other advocacy groups behind the campaign are Citizens Against Monopoly, Content Creators Coalition, Jewish Voice for Peace, Mpower Change, Open Markets Institute and SumOfUs. Together they are calling on the FTC to “break up Facebook’s monopoly” by forcing it to spin-off Instagram, WhatsApp and Messenger into separate, competing companies. They also want the FTC to require interoperability so users can communicate across competing social networks and strengthen privacy regulations.

Freedom From Facebook’s site also includes an online petition and privacy guide that links to FB Purity and the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s Privacy Badger, browser extensions that help users streamline their Facebook ad preferences and block online trackers, respectively.

The FTC recently gained a new chairman after President Donald Trump’s pick for the position Joseph Simons was sworn in early this month, along with four new commissioners also nominated by Trump. Simons is an antitrust lawyer who has represented large tech firms like Microsoft and Sony. The FTC is currently investigating whether or not Facebook’s involvement with Cambridge Analytica violated a previous legal agreement it had with the commission, but many people are wondering if it and other federal agencies are capable of regulating tech companies, especially after many lawmakers seemed confused about how social media works during Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s congressional hearing last month.

Despite its data privacy and regulatory issues, Facebook is still doing well from a financial perspective. Its first-quarter earnings report showed strong user growth and revenue above Wall Street’s expectations.

TechCrunch has contacted Freedom From Facebook and Facebook for comment.

Meet Alchemist Accelerator’s latest demo day cohort

An IoT-enabled lab for cannabis farmers, a system for catching drones mid-flight and the Internet of Cows are a few of the 17 startups exhibiting today at Alchemist Accelerator’s 18th demo day. The event, which will be streamed live here, focuses on big data and AI startups with an enterprise bent.

The startups are showing their stuff at Juniper’s Aspiration Dome in Sunnyvale, California at 3pm today, but you can catch the whole event online if you want to see just what computers and cows have in common. Here are the startups pitching onstage.

Tarsier – Tarsier has built AI computer vision to detect drones. The founders discovered the need while getting their MBAs at Stanford, after one had completed a PhD in aeronautics. Drones are proliferating. And getting into places they shouldn’t — prisons, R&D centers, public spaces. Securing these spaces today requires antiquated military gear that’s clunky and expensive. Tarsier is all software. And cheap, allowing them to serve markets the others can’t touch.

Lightbox – Retail 3D is sexy — think virtual try-ons, VR immersion, ARKit stores. But creating these experiences means creating 3D models of thousands of products. Today, artists slog through this process, outputting a few models per day. Lightbox wants to eliminate the humans. This duo of recent UPenn and Stanford Computer Science grads claim their approach to 3D scanning is pixel perfect without needing artists. They have booked $40,000 to date and want to digitize all of the world’s products.

Vorga – Cannabis is big business — more than $7 billion in revenue today and growing fast. The crop’s quality — and a farmer’s income — is highly sensitive to a few chemicals in it. Farmers today test the chemical composition of their crops through outsourced labs. Vorga’s bringing the lab in-house to the cannabis farmer via their IoT platform. The CEO has a PhD in chemical physics, and formerly helped the Department of Defense keep weapons of mass destruction out of the hands of terrorists. She’s now helping cannabis farmers get high… revenue.

Neulogic – Neulogic is founded by a duo of Computer Science PhDs that led key parts of Walmart.com product search. They now want to solve two major problems facing the online apparel industry: the need to provide curated inspiration to shoppers and the need to offset rising customer acquisition costs by selling more per order. Their solution combines AI with a fashion knowledge graph to generate outfits on demand.

Intensivate – Life used to be simple. Enterprises would use servers primarily for function-driven applications like billing. Today, servers are all about big data, analytics and insight. Intensivate thinks servers need a new chip upgrade to reflect that change. They are building a new CPU they claim gets 12x the performance for the same cost. Hardware plays like this are hard to pull off, but this might be the team to do it. It includes the former co-founder and CEO of CPU startup QED, which was acquired for $2.3 billion, and a PhD in parallel computation who was on the design team for the Alpha CPU from DEC.

Integry – SaaS companies put a lot of effort into building out integrations. Integry provides app creators their own integrations marketplace with pre-boarded partners so they can have apps working with theirs from the get go. The vision is to enable app creators to mimic their own Slack app directory without spending the years or the millions. Because these integrations sit inside their app, Integry claims setup rates are significantly better and churn is reduced by as much as 40 percent.

Cattle Care – AI video analytics applied to cows! Cattle Care wants to increase dairy farmers’ revenue by more than $1 million per year and make cows healthier at the same time. The product identifies cows in the barn by their unique black and white patterns. Algorithms collect parameters such as walking distance, interactions with other cows, feeding patterns and other variables to detect diseases early. Then the system sends alerts to farm employees when they need to take action, and confirms the problem has been solved afterwards.

VadR – VR/AR is grappling with a lack of engaging content. VadR thinks the cause is a broken feedback loop of analytics to the creators. This trio of IIT-Delhi engineers has built machine learning algorithms that get smarter over time and deliver actionable insights on how to modify content to increase engagement.

Tika – This duo of ex-Googlers wants to help engineering managers manage their teams better. Managers use Tika as an AI-powered assistant over Slack to facilitate personalized conversations with engineering teams. The goal is to quickly uncover and resolve employee engagement issues, and prevent talent churn.

GridRaster – GridRaster wants to bring AR/VR to mobile devices. The problem? AR/VR is compute-intensive. Latency, bandwidth and poor load balancing kill AR/VR on mobile networks. The solution? For this trio of systems engineers from Broadcom, Qualcomm and Texas Instruments, it’s about starting with enterprise use cases and building edge clouds to offload the work. They have 12 patents.

AitoeLabs – Despite the buzz around AI video analytics for security, AitoeLabs claims solutions today are plagued with hundreds of thousands of false alarms, requiring lots of human involvement. The engineering trio founding team combines a secret sauce of contextual data with their own deep models to solve this problem. They claim a 6x reduction in human monitoring needs with their tech. They’re at $240,000 ARR with $1 million of LOIs.

Ubiquios – Companies building wireless IoT devices waste more than $1.8 billion because of inadequate embedded software options making products late to market and exposing them to security and interoperability issues. The Ubiquios wireless stack wants to simplify the development of wireless IoT devices. The company claims their stack results in up to 90 percent lower cost and up to 50 percent faster time to market. Qualcomm is a partner.

4me, Inc. – 4me helps companies organize and track their IT outsourcing projects. They have 16 employees, 92 customers and generate several million in revenue annually. Storm Ventures led a $1.65 million investment into the company.

TorchFi – You know the pop-up screen you see when you log into a Wi-Fi hotspot? TorchFi thinks it’s a digital gold mine in the waiting. Their goal is to convert that into a sales channel for hotspot owners. Their first product is a digital menu that transforms the login screen into a food ordering screen for hotels and restaurants. Cisco has selected them as one of 20 apps to be distributed on their Meraki hotspots.

Cogitai – This team of 16 PhDs wants to usher in a more powerful type of AI called continual learning. The founders are the fathers of the field — and include professors in computer science from UT Austin and U Michigan. Unlike what we commonly think of as AI, Cogitai’s AI is built to acquire new skills and knowledge from experience, much like a child does. They have closed $2 million in bookings this year, and have $5 million in funding.

LoadTap – On-demand trucking apps are in vogue. LoadTap explicitly calls out that it is not one. This team, which includes an Apple software architect and founder with a family background in trucking, is an enterprise SaaS-only solution for shippers who prefer to work with their pre-vetted trucking companies in a closed loop. LoadTap automates matching between the shippers and trucking companies using AI and predictive analytics. They’re at $90,000 ARR and growing revenue 50 percent month over month.

Ondaka – Ondaka has built a VR-like 3D platform to render industrial information visually, starting with the oil and gas industry. For these industrial customers, the platform provides a better way to understand real-time IoT data, operational and job site safety issues and how reliable their systems are. The product launched two months ago, they have closed three customers already and are projecting ARR in the six figures. They have raised $350,000 in funding.

Twitter sold data to a Cambridge Analytica-linked researcher — but it’s not as bad as it sounds

Image: chandan khanna/AFP/Getty Images

Facebook isn’t the only social network you need to worry about when it comes to protecting your personal data.

Twitter confirmed on Saturday to The Telegraph that it sold data access to the academic who also obtained millions of Facebook users’ information without their direct consent, then sold that data to political consulting firm Cambridge Analytica

The researcher, Aleksandr Kogan, has been derided in recent weeks for creating a personality quiz on Facebook that was used to harvest data from millions of users and their friends.

Now, Twitter has revealed that the academic’s commercial enterprise, Global Science Research (GSR), also purchased one-time API access to a random sample of public tweets between December 2014 and April 2015. Although the revelation does not have nearly the same scope as the Cambridge Analytica’s recent Facebook scandal, it does show how prevalent the practice of data-sharing can be.

A Twitter spokesperson told Mashable on Monday that the data collected by GSR was already public and said “based on the recent reports, we conducted our own internal review and did not find any access to private data about people who use Twitter.”

It’s also important to mention that it’s a fairly common practice for Twitter to sell API access to large organizations for surveying opinions around different news events, topics, and ideas. 

In a strange twist, a Cambridge Analytica spokesperson told The Telegraph that the company has used Twitter for political advertising in the past, but that it had never “undertaken a project with GSR focusing on Twitter data and Cambridge Analytica has never received Twitter data from GSR.” In essence, the company would like to distance itself from this new report.

So, is it time to #DeleteTwitter? 

Following Facebook’s kerfuffle with Cambridge Analytica, it’s easy to understand why you might be on-edge about your online privacy. That said, there’s reason to believe that the sale of your Twitter data isn’t a reason to panic. Twitter only grants customers access to data that users have already made public — so things like tweets and statements, not addresses or phone numbers. 

“Unlike many other services, Twitter is public by its nature,” a Twitter spokesperson told Mashable.People come to Twitter to speak publicly, and public Tweets are viewable and searchable by anyone.”

So all companies and developers can buy are samples of public tweets from specific accounts or certain keywords. Twitter doesn’t sell DMs, and  prohibits developers from inferring race, political affiliation, or other personal information from users’ tweets. Email addresses, phone numbers, and IP addresses aren’t public on Twitter (unless you chose to tweet them out in the relevant time frame), and Twitter uses have to opt into geo-location. 

Still, Twitter has ended Cambridge Analytica’s advertising. 

“Twitter has made the policy decision to off-board advertising from all accounts owned and operated by Cambridge Analytica,” a company spokesperson told Mashable. “This decision is based on our determination that Cambridge Analytica operates using a business model that inherently conflicts with acceptable Twitter Ads business practices.”

So we’re safe for now, but this should still serve as a reminder to us all: Be careful what you put online. Even on highly anonymous platforms like Twitter, you never know where your data could end up. 

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Twitter also sold data access to Cambridge Analytica researcher

Since it was revealed that Cambridge Analytica improperly accessed the personal data of millions of Facebook users, one question has lingered in the minds of the public: What other data did Dr. Aleksandr Kogan gain access to?

Twitter confirmed to The Telegraph on Saturday that GSR, Kogan’s own commercial enterprise, had purchased one-time API access to a random sample of public tweets from a five-month period between December 2014 and April 2015. Twitter told Bloomberg that, following an internal review, the company did not find any access to private data about people who use Twitter.

Twitter sells API access to large organizations or enterprises for the purposes of surveying sentiment or opinion during various events, or around certain topics or ideas.

Here’s what a Twitter spokesperson said to The Telegraph:

Twitter has also made the policy decision to off-board advertising from all accounts owned and operated by Cambridge Analytica. This decision is based on our determination that Cambridge Analytica operates using a business model that inherently conflicts with acceptable Twitter Ads business practices. Cambridge Analytica may remain an organic user on our platform, in accordance with the Twitter Rules.

Obviously, this doesn’t have the same scope as the data harvested about users on Facebook. Twitter’s data on users is far less personal. Location on the platform is opt-in and generic at that, and users are not forced to use their real name on the platform.

Still, it shows just how broad the Cambridge Analytica data collection was ahead of the 2016 election.

We reached out to Twitter and will update when we hear back.

Data scientist at centre of Cambridge Analytica scandal apologises for his role in it

The data scientist at the heart of the Cambridge Analytica scandal, Aleksandr Kogan, has apologised for his role in it.

Kogan spoke to 60 Minutes on Sunday, maintaining that at the time, he believed he was doing everything correctly, and that he wouldn’t have done anything to destroy his relationship with Facebook. 

But Kogan apologised for thinking that people knew they were giving away their data.

“Back then we thought it was fine. Right now my opinion has really been changed,” he told the program.  

“And it’s been changed in particular, because I think that core idea that we had — that everybody knows and nobody cares — was fundamentally flawed. And so if that idea is wrong, then what we did was not right and was not wise. And for that, I’m sincerely sorry.”

Facebook has since expressed remorse, taking out full-page ads to say sorry too back in April. Mark Zuckerberg also said sorry in Congress

Of course, things weren’t so contrite amid revelations of the scandal, when the social media giant said Kogan “lied” to them. He said Facebook allowed it to happen, because it “clearly has never cared” nor enforced its developer policy. 

Kogan’s app had a terms of service which allowed transfer or sale of user data, despite it being in conflict with Facebook policy.

“And they tell you that they can monitor it. And they can audit. And can let you know if you do anything wrong. I had a terms of service that was up there for a year and a half that said I could transfer and sell the data. Never heard a word [from Facebook],” he said.

“The belief in Silicon Valley and certainly our belief at that point was that the general public must be aware that their data is being sold and shared and used to advertise to them. And nobody cares.”

Kogan maintained he was being singled out by Facebook, even though he believes the problem is much bigger. He pointed to a former colleague, Joseph Chancellor, who now works for Facebook but said they “did everything together” for the Cambridge Analytica project and has escaped blame.

Facebook even worked with Kogan between 2013 and 2015, where he said he was brought in to teach staff about what he learnt from the data he collected from Cambridge Analytica.

Facebook confirmed to 60 Minutes that he did some “research and consulting” work with them, but wasn’t aware of Kogan’s Cambridge Analytica activities.

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