All posts in “Europe”

CommerceDNA wins the TechCrunch Hackathon at VivaTech

It’s been a long night at VivaTech. The building hosted a very special competition — the very first TechCrunch Hackathon in Paris.

Hundreds of engineers and designers got together to come up with something cool, something neat, something awesome. The only condition was that they only had 24 hours to work on their projects. Some of them were participating in our event for the first time, while others were regulars. Some of them slept on the floor in a corner, while others drank too much Red Bull.

We could all feel the excitement in the air when the 64 teams took the stage to present a one-minute demo to impress fellow coders and our judges. But only one team could take home the grand prize and €5,000. So, without further ado, meet the TechCrunch Hackathon winner.

Winner: CommerceDNA

Runner-Up #1: AID

Runner-Up #2: EV Range Meter


Judges

Nicolas Bacca, CTO, Ledger
Nicolas worked on card systems for 5 years at Oberthur, a leader in embedded digital security, ultimately as R&D Solution Architect. He left Oberthur to launch his company, Ubinity, which was developing smartcard operating systems.

He finally co-founded BT Chip to develop an open standard, secure element based hardware wallet which eventually became the first version of the Ledger wallet.

Charles Gorintin, co-founder & CTO, Alan
Charles Gorintin is a French data science and engineering leader. He is a cofounder and CTO of Alan. Alan’s mission is to make it easy for people to be in great health.

Prior to co-founding Alan, Charles Gorintin was a data science leader at fast-growing social networks, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, where he worked on anti-fraud, growth, and social psychology.

Gorintin holds a Master’s degree in Mathematics and Computer Science from Ecole des Ponts ParisTech, a Master’s degree in Machine Learning from ENS Paris-Saclay, and a Masters of Financial Engineering from UC Berkeley – Haas School of Business.

Samantha Jérusalmy, Partner, Elaia Partners
Samantha joined Elaia Partners in 2008. She began her career as a consultant at Eurogroup, a consulting firm specialized in organisation and strategy, within the Bank and Finance division. She then joined Clipperton Finance, a corporate finance firm dedicated to high-tech growth companies, before moving to Elaia Partners in 2008. She became an Investment Manager in 2011 then a Partner in 2014.

Laure Némée, CTO, Leetchi
Laure has spent her career in software development in various startups since 2000 after an engineer’s degree in computer science. She joined Leetchi at the very beginning in 2010 and has been Leetchi Group CTO since. She now works mainly on MANGOPAY, the payment service for sharing economy sites that was created by Leetchi.

Benjamin Netter, CTO, Lendix
Benjamin is the CTO of Lendix, the leading SME lending platform in continental Europe. Learning to code at 8, he has been since then experimenting ways to rethink fashion, travel or finance using technology. In 2009, in parallel with his studies at EPITECH, he created one of the first French applications on Facebook (Questions entre amis), which was used by more than half a million users. In 2011, he won the Foursquare Global Hackathon by reinventing the travel guide with Tripovore. In 2014, he launched Somewhere, an Instagram travel experiment acclaimed by the press. He is today reinventing with Lendix the way European companies get faster and simpler financing.


And finally here were our hackmasters that guided our hackers to success:

Emily Atkinson, Software Engineer / MD, DevelopHer UK
Emily is a Software Engineer at Condé Nast Britain, and co-founder & Managing Director of women in tech network DevelopHer UK. Her technical role involves back-end services, infrastructure ops and tooling, site reliability and back-end product. Entering tech as an MSc Computer Science grad, she spent six years at online print startup MOO – working across the platform, including mobile web and product. As an advocate for diversity and inclusion in STEM & digital in 2016 Atkinson launched DevelopHer, a volunteer-run non-profit community aimed at increasing diversity in tech by empowering members to develop their career and skills through events, workshops, networking and mentoring.

Romain Dillet, Senior Writer, TechCrunch
Romain attended EMLYON Business School, a leading French business school specialized in entrepreneurship. He covers many things from mobile apps with great design to fashion, Apple, AI and complex tech achievements. He also speaks at major tech conferences. He likes pop culture more than anything in the world.

Riminder raises $2.3 million for its AI recruitment service

French startup Riminder recently raised a $2.3 million funding round from various business angels, such as Xavier Niel, Jean-Baptiste Rudelle, Romain Niccoli, Franck Le Ouay, Dominique Vidal, Thibaud Elzière and Fred Potter. The company has been building a deep learning-powered tool to sort applications and resumes so you don’t have to. Riminder participated in TechCrunch’s Startup Battlefield.

Riminder won’t replace your HR department altogether, but it can help you save a ton of time when you’re a popular company. Let’s say you are looking for a mobile designer and you usually get hundreds or thousands of applications.

You can then integrate Riminder with your various channels to collect resumes from various sources. The startup then uses optical character recognition to turn PDFs, images, Word documents and more into text. Riminder then tries to understand all your job positions and turn raw text into useful data.

Finally, the service will rank the applications based on public data and internal data. The company has scraped the web to understand usual career paths.

Existing HR solutions can integrate with Riminder using an API. This way, you could potentially use the same HR platform, but with Riminder’s smart filtering features.

With this initial sorting, your HR team can more easily get straight to the point and interview the top candidates on the list.

While it’s hard to evaluate algorithm bias, Riminder thinks that leveraging artificial intelligence for recruitment can help surface unusual candidates. You could come from a different country and have a different profile, but maybe you have the perfect past experience for a particular job. Riminder isn’t going to overlook those applications.

With today’s funding round, the company is opening an office in San Francisco to get some clients in the U.S.

Snips announces an ICO and its own voice assistant device

French startup Snips has been working on voice assistant technology that respects your privacy. And the company is going to use its own voice assistant for a set of consumer devices. As part of this consumer push, the company is also announcing an initial coin offering.

Yes, it sounds a bit like Snips is playing a game of buzzword bingo. Anyone can currently download the open source Snips SDK and play with it with a Raspberry Pi, a microphone and a speaker. It’s private by design, you can even make it work without any internet connection. Companies can partner with Snips to embed a voice assistant in their own devices too.

But Snips is adding a B2C element to its business. This time, the company is going to compete directly with Amazon Echo and Google Home speakers. You’ll be able to buy the Snips AIR Base and Snips AIR Satellites.

The base will be a good old smart speaker, while satellites will be tiny portable speakers that you can put in all your rooms. The company plans to launch those devices in 18 months.

By default, Snips devices will come with basic skills to control your smart home devices, get the weather, control music, timers, alarms, calendars and reminders. Unlike the Amazon Echo or Google Home, voice commands won’t be sent to Google’s or Amazon’s servers.

Developers will be able to create skills and publish them on a marketplace. That marketplace will run on a new blockchain — the AIR blockchain.

And that’s where the ICO comes along. The marketplace will accept AIR tokens to buy more skills. You’ll also be able to generate training data for voice commands using AIR tokens. To be honest, I’m not sure why good old credit card transactions weren’t enough. But I guess that’s a good way to raise money.

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Facebook, Google face first GDPR complaints over “forced consent”

After two years coming down the pipe at tech giants, Europe’s new privacy framework, the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), is now being applied — and long time Facebook privacy critic, Max Schrems, has wasted no time in filing four complaints relating to (certain) companies’ ‘take it or leave it’ stance when it comes to consent.

The complaints have been filed on behalf of (unnamed) individual users — with one filed against Facebook; one against Facebook-owned Instagram; one against Facebook-owned WhatsApp; and one against Google’s Android.

Schrems argues that the companies are using a strategy of “forced consent” to continue processing the individuals’ personal data — when in fact the law requires that users be given a free choice unless a consent is strictly necessary for provision of the service. (And, well, Facebook claims its core product is social networking — rather than farming people’s personal data for ad targeting.)

“It’s simple: Anything strictly necessary for a service does not need consent boxes anymore. For everything else users must have a real choice to say ‘yes’ or ‘no’,” Schrems writes in a statement.

“Facebook has even blocked accounts of users who have not given consent,” he adds. “In the end users only had the choice to delete the account or hit the “agree”-button — that’s not a free choice, it more reminds of a North Korean election process.”

We’ve reached out to all the companies involved for comment and will update this story with any response. Update: Facebook has now sent the following statement, attributed to its chief privacy officer, Erin Egan: “We have prepared for the past 18 months to ensure we meet the requirements of the GDPR. We have made our policies clearer, our privacy settings easier to find and introduced better tools for people to access, download, and delete their information. Our work to improve people’s privacy doesn’t stop on May 25th. For example, we’re building Clear History: a way for everyone to see the websites and apps that send us information when you use them, clear this information from your account, and turn off our ability to store it associated with your account going forward.”

Schrems most recently founded a not-for-profit digital rights organization to focus on strategic litigation around the bloc’s updated privacy framework, and the complaints have been filed via this crowdfunded NGO — which is called noyb (aka ‘none of your business’).

As we pointed out in our GDPR explainer, the provision in the regulation allowing for collective enforcement of individuals’ data rights in an important one, with the potential to strengthen the implementation of the law by enabling non-profit organizations such as noyb to file complaints on behalf of individuals — thereby helping to redress the imbalance between corporate giants and consumer rights.

That said, the GDPR’s collective redress provision is a component that Member States can choose to derogate from, which helps explain why the first four complaints have been filed with data protection agencies in Austria, Belgium, France and Hamburg in Germany — regions that also have data protection agencies with a strong record defending privacy rights.

Given that the Facebook companies involved in these complaints have their European headquarters in Ireland it’s likely the Irish data protection agency will get involved too. And it’s fair to say that, within Europe, Ireland does not have a strong reputation for defending data protection rights.

But the GDPR allows for DPAs in different jurisdictions to work together in instances where they have joint concerns and where a service crosses borders — so noyb’s action looks intended to test this element of the new framework too.

Under the penalty structure of GDPR, major violations of the law can attract fines as large as 4% of a company’s global revenue which, in the case of Facebook or Google, implies they could be on the hook for more than a billion euros apiece — if they are deemed to have violated the law, as the complaints argue.

That said, given how freshly fixed in place the rules are, some EU regulators may well tread softly on the enforcement front — at least in the first instances, to give companies some benefit of the doubt and/or a chance to make amends to come into compliance if they are deemed to be falling short of the new standards.

However, in instances where companies themselves appear to be attempting to deform the law with a willfully self-serving interpretation of the rules, regulators may feel they need to act swiftly to nip any disingenuousness in the bud.

“We probably will not immediately have billions of penalty payments, but the corporations have intentionally violated the GDPR, so we expect a corresponding penalty under GDPR,” writes Schrems.

Only yesterday, for example, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg — speaking in an on stage interview at the VivaTech conference in Paris — claimed his company hasn’t had to make any radical changes to comply with GDPR, and further claimed that a “vast majority” of Facebook users are willingly opting in to targeted advertising via its new consent flow.

“We’ve been rolling out the GDPR flows for a number of weeks now in order to make sure that we were doing this in a good way and that we could take into account everyone’s feedback before the May 25 deadline. And one of the things that I’ve found interesting is that the vast majority of people choose to opt in to make it so that we can use the data from other apps and websites that they’re using to make ads better. Because the reality is if you’re willing to see ads in a service you want them to be relevant and good ads,” said Zuckerberg.

He did not mention that the dominant social network does not offer people a free choice on accepting or declining targeted advertising. The new consent flow Facebook revealed ahead of GDPR only offers the ‘choice’ of quitting Facebook entirely if a person does not want to accept targeting advertising. Which, well, isn’t much of a choice given how powerful the network is. (Additionally, it’s worth pointing out that Facebook continues tracking non-users — so even deleting a Facebook account does not guarantee that Facebook will stop processing your personal data.)

Asked about how Facebook’s business model will be affected by the new rules, Zuckerberg essentially claimed nothing significant will change — “because giving people control of how their data is used has been a core principle of Facebook since the beginning”.

“The GDPR adds some new controls and then there’s some areas that we need to comply with but overall it isn’t such a massive departure from how we’ve approached this in the past,” he claimed. “I mean I don’t want to downplay it — there are strong new rules that we’ve needed to put a bunch of work into into making sure that we complied with — but as a whole the philosophy behind this is not completely different from how we’ve approached things.

“In order to be able to give people the tools to connect in all the ways they want and build committee a lot of philosophy that is encoded in a regulation like GDPR is really how we’ve thought about all this stuff for a long time. So I don’t want to understate the areas where there are new rules that we’ve had to go and implement but I also don’t want to make it seem like this is a massive departure in how we’ve thought about this stuff.”

Zuckerberg faced a range of tough questions on these points from the EU parliament earlier this week. But he avoided answering them in any meaningful detail.

So EU regulators are essentially facing a first test of their mettle — i.e. whether they are willing to step up and defend the line of the law against big tech’s attempts to reshape it in their business model’s image.

Privacy laws are nothing new in Europe but robust enforcement of them would certainly be a breath of fresh air. And now at least, thanks to GDPR, there’s a penalties structure in place to provide incentives as well as teeth, and spin up a market around strategic litigation — with Schrems and noyb in the vanguard.

Schrems also makes the point that small startups and local companies are less likely to be able to use the kind of strong-arm ‘take it or leave it’ tactics on users that big tech is able to use to extract consent on account of the reach and power of their platforms — arguing there’s a competition concern that GDPR should also help to redress.

“The fight against forced consent ensures that the corporations cannot force users to consent,” he writes. “This is especially important so that monopolies have no advantage over small businesses.”

Image credit: noyb.eu

Dot lets you invest in property without the hassle of a traditional mortgage

Dot, a new U.K. startup de-cloaking today, aims to make it easy to invest in property without the hassle of taking out a traditional ‘buy to let’ mortgage. The company is founded by Gray Stern, who previously co-founded London-based Buy to Let mortgage lender Landbay, and so knows at least a thing or two about investing in property. Namely, that it doesn’t need to be as arduous as it currently is.

In fact, Dot’s headline draw is that it makes property ownership a one-click affair via the “Dot Button” it wants to embed on property listings sites, including estate agents and property developers. Under the hood of the offering is what the startup describes as a “point-of-sale finance and management solution” that can be wrapped around any property that meets Dot’s lending criteria.

If you want to purchase the property as an investment, you simply click the button, pay the required deposit, and Dot will acquire and manage the property on your behalf, advancing 70 percent of the purchase price in the form of its pre-approved or “instant mortgage”. In addition, the property is furnished and Dot takes out buildings, contents and rent guarantee insurance. After those expenses, you receive monthly rent from the property, minus management fees and interest paid on your Dot mortgage.

Technically, once the property is purchased it is moved into a passive investment structure: an SPV known as a “Dot Container”. This structure holds the asset on your behalf (you effectively become the SPV’s beneficial owner/shareholder).

When you’re ready to sell, in theory a Dot Container can move from owner to owner without conveyancing, and can be refinanced without requiring new mortgage documents (via Dot Platform, Dot’s mortgage marketplace). Alternatively, the property can be put on the open market. Either way, as the SPV’s sole shareholder, you benefit from any increase in the valuation of the property, less the remaining balance of the mortgage.

“Dot enables anyone with a 30 percent deposit to become a professional property investor instantly, with none of the hassle of being a landlord,” explains Stern. “We do this by providing U.K. and U.S. estate agents and property developers with a pre-approved finance and management solution — a Dot Container — that can hold any suitable property. The agent can then offer Dot as a payment option (via the embedded Dot Button), turning their previously static listings into turnkey investments that anyone, anywhere can buy online on a fully financed and managed basis.

“Every Dot Container comes complete with a pre-approved mortgage, insurance, legal/conveyancing, tax compliance and reporting, lettings and management, furnishings and everything else required to turn that property into a compliant, well-managed and good-looking rental home. Dot takes care of the entire end-to-end process… and because we are lending a large portion of the total cost we have a vested interest in managing your property well”.

Stern says that Dot differs from property crowd-investing type platforms, such as Property Partner or Bricklane, which typically let you buy shares in a portion of a property or a property portfolio and aren’t coupled with a financing option.

“Dot’s solution is for sole investors or couples looking to build property portfolios that they control, we do not offer fractional ownership,” he adds. “Our clients own the asset and while they give Dot management rights, they can also remove Dot at any time, sell at any time, refinance their loans at any time. Dot’s challenge is to make our offer sufficiently compelling that they won’t want to”.

Meanwhile, Dot has raised $1.5 million in a pre-seed round from Stage Dot O, an L.A.-based venture-build firm run by Roofstock co-founder Devin Wade and ex hedge fund manager Mike Self.