All posts in “Data”

People.io data rewards app gets Telefónica co-branding push


London based People.io has taken its first steps outside the UK, expanding its data sharing rewards platform into Germany — where it’s launched a co-branded version of the app with carrier o2 (called o2 Get), targeting the latter’s ~24 million customers.

The People.io app is also available to download via the App Store and Google Play, and o2 parent company Telefónica Germany will also be pushing the apps across its full market footprint of 44M customers. The telco link follows People.ioIn going through the telco’s Wayra Germany accelerator last year. They say they’re the first Wayra-backed startup to launch a co-branded product with Telefónica.

“By co-branding with o2 we benefit from a respected and well known consumer brand which… gives us a fast track to scale; meaning we can focus on creating a great product experience that delivers on our vision to give people ownership of their data,” says co-founder Nicholas Oliver.

“Our decision to launch in Germany was driven by their strong, consumer-centric data privacy laws. This meant we were focussed on building a product that could meet even the most stringent data privacy laws with a view to further market expansion.”

Oliver says the team is expecting to get around 250,000 downloads in the next 6 months in Germany; increasing to just under 1 million by the end of the first year.

The startup is apparently working with around a dozen telcos across 35 markets at this point — although it remains to be seen how many of those conversations will turn into fully fledged co-branded app efforts.

In o2 Germany’s case, People.io’s philosophy around user data ownership clearly meshes with a Telefónica strategic push to give data back to users aimed at fostering customer loyalty.

We first covered People.io back in January 2016, when it had just launched a beta version in Shoreditch, giving locals the chance to share personal data in exchange for building up credits to redeem against digital services like streaming music. It’s since scaled out to be UK wide.

The core idea is to flip the notion that Internet users have to ‘pay’ to use ‘free’ products by having their personal data covertly and persistently harvested by these services. Instead, the platform aims to give people an incentive to share data willingly with it, for targeted ad purposes, rewarding them for sharing data with credits to redeem against different services (and by not sharing their data directly with others).

The People.io app is broadly aimed at 18 to 25 year olds for now, offering a familiar Tinder-style swipe interface for them to respond to questions about their likes and dislikes to start inputting personal data into the platform. They can also choose to connect other data sources, such as their email account, in order to share more info — with increased rewards for sharing more.

Advertisers are able to target marketing messages at People.io users via the platform, but the startup says users’ data is never shared directly with third parties. And the further pledge is that users can delete their account at any point — which immediately and permanently erases all their data.

Oliver describes the platform as “a firewall for people”, and reckons Europe’s incoming General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) will have a serious impact on how the ad tech industry operates  regionally, because it gives consumers greater control over how their data is used. The GDPR is due to come into force in May 2018, and includes tough penalties for compliance failures, changing the risks associated with collecting and processing EU citizens’ personal data.

While People.io’s initial product pays data sharers for viewing targeted ads — typically redeemed against gift cards for Amazon, Starbucks and iTunes, according to Oliver, with an option to donate credits earned as cash to charity currently also in testing — its wider vision is around expanding into paid services of its own; utilizing users’ data to offer them the ability to pay to enhance other digital services they use, without having to lose control of their information.

“This might apply to health and fitness, connected home or even productivity apps and experiences,” he explains. “Our advertising feature(s) are really just phase one of a far bigger product vision. It provides us with a familiar consumer experience that allows us to develop the initial relationship with the user. From here, we can then educate them on the value associated to their data and demonstrate why taking ownership of it can benefit them; both financially and through enhanced digital experiences.

“A brief example could be with a Spotify playlist. Having a playlist that dynamically changes your upcoming tracks based on your current context (at work, at home, going running, trying to relax) or mood (stressed, energetic, feel like partying). With People.io — we’d just tell Spotify ‘Nic’s at work’ or ‘Nic is about to go running’ — without sharing any of the data behind that insight. So that means Spotify can do what it does best, without ever needing access to your digital life.”

“When you consider the future of Conversational interfaces, like Amazon Echo, or chat bots; this type of functionality will become increasingly relevant,” he adds.

At this still early stage, People.io has around 35,000 accounts activated since exiting beta in the UK, with around two-thirds of those characterized as ‘monthly actives’.

On average, Oliver says users engage with the app between two to three times a week. While the platform gets around half a million user interactions per month at this point.

He says the startup is currently raising investment to support “continued momentum and growth into other key markets”. Investors to date include Nick Robertson, founder of ASOS; Thomas Höegh, founder of Lovefilm; and Founders’ Factory, the accelerator founded by Brent Hoberman and backed by Guardian Media Group.

European markets are a priority, thanks to the pro-privacy regulatory environment, but Oliver says the team is hoping to expand into the first non-EU market by the end of the year. “The US is certainly a market that we’re keeping an eye on,” he adds.

Orbital Insight closes $50M Series C led by Sequoia


This morning, Orbital Insight, a geospatial analytics startup, announced it had completed raising a $50 million Series C round of financing from Sequoia. The fresh capital brings the company’s total fundraising to $78.7 million.

Orbital Insight generates analytics for businesses using satellite imagery and other data. A product of deep learning and more readily available satellite imagery, the geospatial analytics space as a whole has drawn a lot of attention for the role it has played in the hedge fund industry.

With images of retailer parking lots, companies like Orbital Insight have proven their ability to extrapolate accurate revenue predictions for businesses by counting cars as a proxy in advance of official earnings reports. But as data and technology commoditize, startups have been racing to service new markets and simplify their offerings to avoid becoming clunky consultancies.

“Neural networks are very generalizable,” said Bill Coughran, a partner at Sequoia Capital. “Some adaptation is needed depending on the use case, but it’s the same basic underlying tech.”

With the news of today’s Series C, Orbital Insight has grown to become one of the most capitalized startups in the geospatial analytics space. Some of its competitors, Descartes Labs and Spaceknow, have raised $8.28 million and $5.2 million, respectively.

“The company is seeing strong uptake commercially and with the government,” added Coughran. “We felt this was a good time to hire for engineering and sales.”

New investors Envision Ventures, Balyasny Asset Management, Geodesic Capital, ITOCHU Corporation and Intellectus Partners joined Sequoia in today’s round. And, of course, earlier investors GV, Lux Capital and CME Ventures maintained their involvement with participation.

The diverse collection of investors hints heavily at ambitions of international expansion. Geodesic Capital is regularly involved in helping startups access Asian markets and ITOCHU itself is a Japanese firm.

Featured Image: Orbital Insight

Your headphones aren’t spying on you, but your apps are. Here’s why.

Lawyers in the US are claiming that headphone and speaker company Bose, is secretly collecting information about what users listen to when they use its bluetooth wireless headphones.

Edelson, the lawyers acting on behalf of customer Kyle Zak of Illinois, claim that information about what Zak has been listening to through his Bose headphones was being collected without his knowledge or explicit consent every time he used a Bose companion mobile app called Bose Connect

The app allows customers to interact with the headphones, updating software and also managing which device is connected at any time with the headphones. If the headphones are being used to listen to something, details about what is being played will show up in the Connect App.

This information is then collected by Bose and sent to third parties, including companies like Segment, who facilitate the collection of data from web and mobile applications and make it available for further analysis.

The lawyers are contending that Bose’s actions amount to illegal wire tapping and that the information being collected could reveal a great deal of personal information about customers. Allegedly, Kyle Zak would not have bought Bose headphones if he had known that this information would be collected and he further claims that he never gave his consent for this information to be collected.

Bose has denied the allegations and pointed to the privacy policy in the Connect App that is explicit about the fact that it collects de-identified data for Bose’s use only and does not sell identified data for any purpose including “behavioral advertising”. Bose also points out that what a customer listens to on the headphones is only visible to Bose if the customer is using the Connect App and has it open and running.

Given the app’s limited functionality, it is really unclear why anyone would use the Connect App for this purpose on a continuous basis.

Most software uses tracking

The majority of apps installed on a phone will be collecting data about its usage and sending it back, de-identified, for analysis. This data may well be aggregated without giving any detail about any individual user. So, it would not be possible for example to say whether people who use an app every day are more likely to use particular features. Of course, some companies do collect this level of detail.

So what is this tracking data used for?

Developers use this information to track a range of things including statistics about usage of the app. Companies usually track how many daily and monthly active users they have and how many users stop using the app after opening for the first time.

Developers are also interested to find out if the app experiences problems, like crashes for example. They are also interested in what features of the app do customers use, what sequence did they use them and for how long.

A range of companies, including Apple and Google provide means of collecting anonymous statistics from users. The data is sent back to a server and made available for analysis. This type of tracking is very different from the tracking that is done for advertising purposes. In this case, information is collected that is identifiable and used to personalise ads to be delivered either directly through the app, or through other services.

Hidden privacy statements are not enough

Privacy statements for apps, websites and other software should make it clear, and before the user starts using the app, what information the software is collecting, who it will be shared with, and for what purposes. Most software however, does not do this. Companies simply skip showing a user the privacy statement and make reference to the fact that the statement can be accessed somewhere on a website or in the app, at a later time.

Another problem with a great number of privacy policies, is that they are written in legal language and do not make explicit what information is being collected and for what purpose.

It is not only the companies that treat privacy as an afterthought. Customers also struggle with understanding the basics of their rights to privacy and what a privacy statement actually does. In 2014, Pew Research found that 52% of Americans surveyed wrongly believed that simply having a privacy policy at all meant that companies kept confidential all the information they collected on users.

In another survey, only 20% of users who read any part of a privacy policy felt they fully understood what they had read.

Ironically enough, the website of legal firm Edelson does not feature a clear link to its privacy policy. Its privacy statement is buried in a “Disclaimer” which helpfully says: “PLEASE READ THE FOLLOWING TERMS OF SERVICES & LEGAL NOTICES (“THIS AGREEMENT”) CAREFULLY BEFORE USING THE EDELSON.COM WEBSITE”. Somewhat hard to do if you have to visit the site to get to it.

Privacy should be treated as a fundamental driver of design in software. This situation has been changing, especially as companies have focused on protecting customers’ privacy, not from the companies themselves, but from law enforcement agencies, secret services and the government in general. 

Perhaps also, the threat of legal action by companies like Edelson, will prove another incentive to do the right thing.

WATCH: This college student spent his summer undercover in a Chinese iPhone factory

This article originally published at The Conversation
here

The future is being able to monitor the heart rate of your favorite NFL player

Defensive back Marcus Maye runs through a drill during Florida's NFL Pro Day in Gainesville, Florida.
Defensive back Marcus Maye runs through a drill during Florida’s NFL Pro Day in Gainesville, Florida.

Image: AP/REX/Shutterstock

In the perhaps not-so-distant future, NFL players will be able to monetize intimate data about their body. 

The NFL Players Association recently closed a deal with Whoop, a wearable tech company that makes wristbands that track heart rate, sleep quality, and more. 

Whoop will now hand out wristbands to NFL players who will own the data produced by their wearables and can sell that information to, as Bloomberg wrote, a network that could then broadcast the heart rate of that player throughout a particular game. 

Players don’t have to sell their data, and they don’t even have to wear the wristbands. But if they do both, it could provide some pretty fascinating insights.

Does that one quarterback look out of shape? Well, now you can look up his data. Is that injured player ready to return to the field? Check his profile to find out. 

Bloomberg reports that the NFLPA and Whoop will examine the data to learn more about how NFL players recover during the season, in hopes of better protecting players from injury. In exchange, Whoop gets to sell wristbands designed by NFL players, and of course now has the endorsement of a player organization in the most popular sports league in the United States. 

The effects of this type of data availability, while unknown, are somewhat creepy to contemplate. Whoop has worked with college athletes and not given those athletes control of the data on them, allowing coaches to know whether the student-athletes are, for example, getting “enough” rest on Friday and Saturday nights. 

NFL athletes seem to have significantly more control—but, if wearing these wristbands becomes widespread, we’ll see how much pressure is put on athletes to conform. 

WATCH: This inflatable wristband could save your life in deep waters

Immuta adds accountability and control for project-based data science


Fresh off $8 million in Series A financing, Immuta is releasing the second version of its data science governance platform. With the democratization of machine learning comes new risks for businesses that have too many workers manipulating data sets and models without oversight.  The Immuta platform helps companies maintain an understanding of how digital assets are applied and shared across a company.

Immuta’s fully Dockerized platform is something of a “Google Docs” for data scientists. To ensure privacy compliance and proper implementation, managers can effectively track changes and set permissions and sharing settings — in addition to more complex auditing features. The version being launched today adds the concept of “Projects” to the platform. This enables data management at the granularity of a specific task that brings together multiple people and data sources.

  1. My Projects

    The main projects page

  2. Project Page

    A single project

  3. Project Page – Selecting a Purpose

    Selecting a purpose for a given project

Mathew Carroll, CEO of Immuta, explained to me in an interview that the goal of Immuta is to provide transparency and accountability. The startup is targeting customers in the middle of the road in their machine learning adoption. This only really excludes companies that live under a rock and companies that have their own internal full-stack machine learning infrastructure, like Facebook or Google.

Founded in 2014, the College Park, Maryland-based startup has grown to 24 employees. Some of its early customers in the private sector include General Electric, Capital One, and Orange. Immuta also services public sector clients including the U.S. Government.

It’s a particularly hot time for data governance startups given recent developments with the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). As time goes on, data will continue to become less and less of a free for all and companies will be expected to ensure data is only put to use for specified purposes. Businesses have an explicit legal interest in ensuring data compliance — something Immuta is more than willing to support.

Users of Immuta can now also take advantage of a virtual Hadoop Distributed File System (HDFS) Layer for distributed batch processing without sacrificing control. Future versions of Immuta will take into account the ever-changing policy and regulatory landscape and offer new features for further automating data governance.

Featured Image: Erik Von Weber/Getty Images