All posts in “Google”

AlphaSense, a search engine for analysis and business intel, raises $50M led by Innovation Endeavors

Google and its flagship search portal opened the door to the possibilities of how to build a business empire on the back of organising and navigating the world’s information, as found on the internet. Now, a startup that’s built a search engine tailored to the needs of enterprises and their own quests for information has raised a round of funding to see if it can do the same for the B2B world.

AlphaSense, which provides a way for companies to quickly amass market intelligence around specific trends, industries and more to help them make business decisions, has closed a $50 million round of funding, a Series B that it’s planning to use to continue enhancing its product and expanding to more verticals.

Today, the company today counts some 1,000 clients on its books, with a heavy emphasis on investment banks and related financial services companies. That’s in part because of how the company got its start: Finnish co-founder and CEO Jaakko (Jack) Kokko he had been an analyst at Morgan Stanley in a past life and understood the labor and time pain points of doing market research, and decided to build a platform to help shorted a good part of the information gathering process.

“My experience as an analyst on Wall Street showed me just how fragmented information really was,” he said in an interview, citing as one example how complex sites like those of the FDA are not easy to navigate to look for new information an updates — the kind of thing that a computer would be much more adept at monitoring and flagging. “Even with the best tools and services, it still was really hard to manually get the work done, in part because of market volatility and the many factors that cause it. We can now do that with orders of magnitude more efficiency. Firms can now gather information in minutes that would have taken an hour. AlphaSense does the work of the best single analyst, or even a team of them.”

(Indeed, the “alpha” of AlphaSense appears to be a reference to finance: it’s a term that refers to the ability of a trader or portfolio manager to beat the typical market return.)

The lead investor in this round is very notable and says something about the company’s ambitions. It’s Innovation Endeavors, the VC firm backed by Eric Schmidt, who had been the CEO of none other than Google (the pace-setter and pioneer of the search-as-business model) for a decade, and then stayed on as chairman and ultimately board member of Google and then Alphabet (its later holding company) until just last June.

Schmidt presided over Google at what you could argue was its most important time, gaining speed and scale and transitioning from an academic idea into full-fledged, huge public business whose flagship product has now entered the lexicon as a verb and (through search and other services like Android and YouTube) is a mainstay of how the vast majority of the world uses the web today. As such he is good at spotting opportunities and gaps in the market, and while enterprise-based needs will never be as prominent as those of mass-market consumers, they can be just as lucrative.

“Information is the currency of business today, but data is overwhelming and fragmented, making it difficult for business professionals to find the right insights to drive key business decisions,” he said in a statement. “We were impressed by the way AlphaSense solves this with its AI and search technology, allowing businesses to proceed with the confidence that they have the right information driving their strategy.”

This brings the total raised by AlphaSense to $90 million, with other investors in this round including Soros Fund Management LLC and other unnamed existing investors. Previous backers had included Tom Glocer (the former Reuters CEO who himself is working on his own fintech startup, a security firm called BlueVoyant), the MassChallenge incubator, Tribeca Venture Partners and others. Kokko said AlphaSense is not disclosing its valuation at this point. (I’m guessing though that it’s definitely on the up.)

There have been others that have worked to try to tackle the idea of providing more targeted, and business focused search portals, from the likes of Wolfram Alpha (another alpha!) through to Lexis Nexis and others like Bloomberg’s terminals, FactSet, Business Quant and many more.

One interesting aspect of AlphaSense is how it’s both focused on pulling in requests as well as set up to push information to its users based on previous search parameters. Currently these are set up to only provide information, but over time, there is a clear opportunity to build services to let the engines take on some of the actions based on that information, such as adjusting asking prices for sales and other transactions.

“There are all kinds of things we could do,” said Kokko. “This is a massive untapped opportunity. But we’re not taking the human out of the loop, ever. Humans are the right ones to be making final decisions, and we’re just about helping them make those faster.”

Google exec claims controversial Dragonfly search engine is ‘terminated’

Dragonfly, it seems, is officially dead. Probably. 

The controversial Chinese search engine previously in development by Google that raised privacy, censorship, and human rights concerns is finally, officially, no more — at least according to Karan Bhatia, Google’s vice president of global government affairs and public policy.

In a July 16 congressional hearing, Bhatia assured Senator Josh Hawley that the project is over. 

“Is [Project Dragonfly] active right now?” asked Hawley. 

“It’s not, Senator,” replied Bhatia. “We have terminated that.” 

This unequivocal response is a departure from previous couched statements by Google executives regarding Dragonfly’s status. For example, in December, chief executive Sundar Pichai told Congress that “right now there are no plans for us to launch a search product in China.” 

The “right now” part of that statement did a lot of heavy lifting, leaving open the possibility that work on the project would resume. 

We reached out to Google in an attempt to confirm that Dragonfly will not be revived at any point in the future, and a spokesperson pointed us to a pervious statement. 

“As we’ve said for many months, we have no plans to launch Search in China and there is no work being undertaken on such a project,” read the statement. “Team members have moved to new projects.”

When pressed for a more concrete statement addressing Bhatia’s comment, the spokesperson merely reiterated the same above quote. 

Notably, The Independent reported in March that Google employees suspected work on Dragonfly was ongoing, despite the company’s statements to the contrary. Specifically, Google employees allegedly noticed work was still being done on code “linked” to Dragonfly, and that “Google continues to maintain a budget for the Dragonfly [project].”

Google denied the report at the time. 

Assuming Bhatia’s statement today is accurate, the company may have in fact finally listened to its critics. Time will tell.

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Google WiFi system is $30 off for a 3-pack during Prime Day

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Seamless coverage for your whole home.
Seamless coverage for your whole home.

Image: google 

TL;DR: The dead-zone-dropping Google WiFi system will replace that old router of yours, and you can get a set of three for $229 during Prime Day, saving you $30.  


Not having working internet where you live is a painful experience. Home is supposed to be a happy place, not one where you shout obscenities because Netflix just won’t stop buffering no matter how many times you turn your WiFi router off and on again. We think it’s time for you to get rid of that old piece of junk — and don’t worry, we have the perfect replacement for you. 

The Google WiFi system will quell your connectivity woes with its seamless coverage, and you can get a set of three WiFi points for $229 during Amazon Prime Day (that’s $30 off). 

The Google WiFi system completely replaces your old router — that’s right, you can throw that thing right in the trash. It’s compatible with major internet service providers, including Comcast, Time Warner, and Verizon Fios, among others, so you won’t have to go and set up a whole new account with some company you’ve never even heard of. 

Google WiFi system is $30 off for a 3-pack during Prime Day

Image: google/mashable photo composite

Each WiFi point in the Google system can alleviate dead zones in areas up to 1,500 square feet, meaning three of them can provide coverage for a home up to 4,500 square feet. The system’s Network Assist technology always prioritizes the clearest internet channel and fastest band for your devices in an effort to keep your connection smooth and speedy. It’s all brought together by an intuitive companion app that makes setup simple, and maintenance even simpler. 

Say goodbye to buffering and hello to the Google WiFi system — pick up a three-pack during Prime Day and score $30 off of your final price

Facebook snags former Vine GM to run product for its new experimental app division, NPE Team

Is Facebook preparing to launch a serious competitor to TikTok? If so, the company just picked up some key talent to make that happen. Last week, Facebook announced plans for a new division, called the NPE Team, which will build experimental consumer-focused apps where it will try different ideas and features, then see how people react. Now, Facebook has picked up former Vine GM Jason Toff to join the NPE team as a Product Management Director.

Toff’s experience also includes time spent at Google, most notably as a Product Lead for YouTube before exiting to Vine in 2014. At the short-form video app maker, Toff worked as Head of Product for a year, then became Vine’s General Manager.

Vine, of course, was later snatched up by Twitter — and there, Toff moved up to Director of Product Management before boomeranging back to Google, where his initial focus was on AR and VR projects.

Most recently, Toff worked as a Partner at Google’s Area 120, Google’s in-house incubator where employees work on experimental projects.

That’s not all that different from what Facebook appears to have in store with its own NPE Team ambitions. Similar to Area 120 or Microsoft Garage, for example, the NPE Team plans to deliver apps that will “change very rapidly” in response to consumer feedback. It will also be quick to close down experiments that aren’t useful to people in fairly short order.

That’s not how Facebook itself operates. Its more experimental apps have had longer runs, as the company used them to gain feedback to inform its larger projects. For example, its photo-sharing app Moments ran from 2015 through early 2019, and its TrueCaller-like app Hello for emerging markets ran for several years, despite fairly limited adoption.

Facebook has also tried and failed with a number of other offshoots over the past decade, like Facebook Paper, Notify, a Snapchat clone called Lifestage, and others, as well as those it picked up through acquisitions, then later shut down like tbh or Moves. It also previously ran an internal incubator of sorts called Facebook Creative Labs, which birthed now-failed projects like Slingshot, Riff, and Rooms.

Many of these efforts were fairly high-profile at launch, which made their eventual shut down more problematic for Facebook’s image. With NPE Team — as with Area 120 or Microsoft Garage — there’s a layer of separation between the test apps and the larger company. Many of the apps that the NPE Team puts out will bomb, and that’s the point — it wants to get the failures out of the way faster so others can find success.

While Toff can’t yet say what he’ll be working on at Facebook, there’s a lot of speculation that NPE Team will try to come up with some sort of answer to TikTok, the Beijing-based short-form video app that sucked up Musical.ly in 2018 and now is a Gen Z social networking hit with some 500 million-plus monthly users. Toff’s background with Vine could certainly be helpful if that were the case.

Facebook, of course, already tried to get a TikTok clone off the ground with Lasso, but the experiment didn’t take off and the app lead, Brady Voss, left Facebook soon after its launch. It

Toff says he’s hiring for NPE Team, including both UX designers and engineers.

Week-in-Review: Google’s never-ending autonomous road trip

Hello, weekend readers. This is Week-in-Review, where I give a heavy amount of analysis and/or rambling thoughts on one story while scouring the rest of the hundreds of stories that emerged on TechCrunch this week to surface my favorites for your reading pleasure.

Last week, I talked about how Alexa wasn’t forgetting what you requested because that data was more valuable than one might think.


Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

The big story

In thinking about what to highlight in this week’s newsletter, I was tempted to talk about Zoom and Apple and Superhuman and the idea that secure communications can get screwed up when consent is bypassed, and I’m sure that’s something I’ll dig into down the road, but what intrigued me most this week was a single factoid from Google’s self-driving unit.

Waymo’s CTO told TechCrunch this week that the company has logged 10 billion miles of autonomous driving in simulation. That means that while you might have seen a physical Waymo vehicle driving past you, the real ground work has been laid in digital spaces that are governed by the laws of game engines.

The idea of simulation-training is hardly new; it’s how we’re building plenty of computer vision-navigated machines right now — hell, plenty of self-driving projects have been built leveraging systems like the traffic patterns in games like Grand Theft Auto. These billions of logged miles are just another type of training data, but they’re also a pretty clear presentation of where self-supervised learning systems could theoretically move, creating the boundaries for a model while letting the system adjust its own rules of operation.

“I think what makes it a good simulator, and what makes it powerful is two things,” Waymo’s CTO Dmitri Dolgov told us. “One [is] fidelity. And by fidelity, I mean, not how good it looks. It’s how well it behaves, and how representative it is of what you will encounter in the real world. And then second is scale.”

Robotics and AV efforts are going to rely more and more on learning the rules of how the laws of the universe operate, but those advances are going to be accompanied by other startups’ desires to build more high visual fidelity understanding of the world

There are plenty of pressures to create copies of Earth. Apple is building more detailed maps with sensor-laden vehicles, AR startups are actively 3D-mapping cities using crowd-sourced data and game engine companies like Unity and Epic Games are building engines that replicate nature’s laws in digital spaces.

This is all to say that we’re racing to recreate our spatial world digitally, but we might just be scratching the surface of the relationship between AI and 3D worlds.

Send me feedback
on Twitter @lucasmtny or email
lucas@techcrunch.com

On to the rest of the week’s news.

(Photo: by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Trends of the week

Here are a few big news items from big companies, with green links to all the sweet, sweet added context.

  • Trump must unblock his Twitter critics
    Twitter is a consumer product, so politicians using it might feel like it’s their own personal account, but when they use it for political announcements it becomes an official communications channel, and using features like blocking stifles national free speech. So says an NY-based appeals court this week of President Trump’s habit of blocking critics. It’s undoubtedly a ruling that’s going to have far-reaching implications for U.S. political figures that use social media. Read more here.
  • Nintendo switches up the Switch
    The Nintendo Switch arrived on the scene with the bizarre notoriety of being a handheld system that was also a home console, but it’s not enough for the Japanese game company to capture the hybrid market, it’s looking to revisit the success it had back in the peak Nintendo DS days. The company announced the Switch Lite this week, which strips away a number of features for the sake of making a smaller, simpler version of the Nintendo Switch that is handheld-only and sports a longer battery life. Read more here.
  • Google and Amazon bury the home-streaming hatchet
    At long last, one of the stranger passive aggressive fights in the smart home has come to a close. Amazon’s Prime Video is finally available on Google’s Chromecast and YouTube is now on Fire TV after a years-long turf war between the two platforms. Read more here.
  • AT&T maxes out its HBO ambitions
    When AT&T bought HBO, via its Time Warner acquisition, execs made clear that they had acquired a premium product and planned to shift its standing in the market. The company announced this week that it will be launching a new service called HBO Max next year that will bring in new content, including “Friends.” Read more here.

GAFA Gaffes

How did the top tech companies screw up this week? This clearly needs its own section, in order of badness:

  1. Apple nips a security nightmare in the bud:
    [Apple disables Walkie Talkie app due to vulnerability]
  2. Amazon warehouse workers plan strike:
    [Amazon warehouse workers in Minnesota plan to strike on Prime Day over labor practices]

wannacry hero 2 image

Extra Crunch

Our premium subscription service had another great week of deep dives. My colleague Zack Whittaker revisited the WannaCry ransomware that hit in 2017 with a lengthy profile and interviews with the researchers that stopped the malware dead in its tracks. After you dig into that profile, you can check out his Extra Crunch piece that digs further into how security execs and startups can learn from the saga.

“…There is a good chance that your networks are infected with WannaCry — even if your systems haven’t yet been encrypted. Hankins told TechCrunch that there were 60 million attempted “detonations” of the WannaCry ransomware in June alone. So long as there’s a connection between the infected device and the kill switch domain, affected computers will not be encrypted….”

Here are some of our other top reads this week for premium subscribers. This week, we talked a bit about the future of car ownership and “innovation banking.”

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