May
30
2019
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Foursquare buys Placed from Snap Inc. on the heels of $150M in new funding

Foursquare just made its first acquisition. The location tech company has acquired Placed from Snap Inc. on the heels of a fresh $150 million investment led by The Raine Group. The terms of the deal were not disclosed. Placed founder and CEO David Shim will become president of Foursquare.

Placed is the biggest competitor to Foursquare’s Attribution product, which allows brands to track the physical impact (foot traffic to store) of a digital campaign or ad. Up until now, Placed and Attribution by Foursquare combined have measured more than $3 billion in ad-to-store visits.

Placed launched in 2011 and raised $13.4 million (according to Crunchbase) before being acquired by Snap Inc. in 2017.

As part of the deal with Foursquare, the company’s Attribution product will henceforth be known as Placed powered by Foursquare. The acquisition also means that Placed powered by Foursquare will have more than 450 measureable media partners, including Twitter, Snap, Pandora and Waze. Moreover, more than 50% of the Fortune 100 are partnered with Placed or Foursquare.

It’s also worth noting that this latest investment of $150 million is the biggest financing round for Foursquare ever, and comes following a $33 million Series F last year.

Here’s what Foursquare CEO Jeff Glueck had to say about the financing in a prepared statement:

This is one of the largest investments ever in the location tech space. The investment will fund our acquisition and also capitalize us for our increased R&D and expansion plans, allowing us to focus on our mission to build the world’s most trusted, independent location technology platform.

That last bit, about an independent location technology platform, is important here. Foursquare is 10 years old and has transformed from a consumer-facing location check-in app — a game, really — into a location analytics and development platform.

Indeed, when Glueck paints his vision for the company, he lists five key areas of focus:

  1. Developer Tools to build smarter apps and customer engagement, using geo-context;
  2. Analytics, including consumer insights for planning;
  3. Audiences, so businesses can reach the right consumer segments for their message;
  4. Attribution, to test and learn which messages, segments and channels work best;
  5. Consumer, where through our own apps and Foursquare Labs’ R&D efforts we showcase what’s possible and inspire developers via our innovations around contextual location.

You’ll notice that its consumer apps, Foursquare and Swarm, are at the bottom of the list. But that’s because Foursquare’s real technological and strategic advantage isn’t in building the best social platform. In fact, Glueck said that more than 90% of the company’s revenue came from the enterprise side of the business. Foursquare’s advantage is in the accuracy of its technology, as afforded by the decade of data that has come from Foursquare, Swarm and the users who have expressly verified their location.

The Pilgrim SDK fits into that top item on the list: developer tools. The Pilgrim SDK allows developers to embed location-smart experiences and notifications into their apps and services. But it also expands Foursquare’s access to data from beyond its own apps to the greater ecosystem, yielding the data it needs to power analytics tools for brands and publishers.

With this acquisition, Placed will be able to leverage Foursquare’s existing map of 105 million places of interest across 190 countries, as well as tap into the measured U.S. audience of more than 100 million monthly devices:

Foursquare and Placed share a similar philosophy of building against a truth set of real consumer responses. Getting real people to confirm the name of their location is the only way to know if your technology is accurate or not. Placed has leveraged over 135 million survey responses in its first-party Placed survey apps, all from consumers opted-in to its rewards app. Foursquare expands the truth set for machine learning exponentially by adding in our over 13 billion consumer confirmations.

The hope is that Foursquare is accurate enough to become the de facto location analytics and services company for measuring ad spend. With enough scale, that may allow the company to break into the walled gardens where most of that ad spend is going: Facebook and Google.

Of course, to win as the “world’s most trusted, independent location technology platform,” consumers have to trust the platform. After all, one’s location may be the most sensitive piece of data about them. Foursquare has taken steps to be clear about what its technology is capable of. In fact, at SXSW this year, Foursquare offered a limited run of a product called Hypertrending, which was essentially an anonymized view of real-time location data showing activity in the Austin area.

Here’s what executive chairman and co-founder Dennis Crowley had to say at the time:

We feel the general trend with internet and technology companies these days has been to keep giving users a more and more personalized (albeit opaquely personalized) view of the world, while the companies that create these feeds keep the broad “God View” to themselves. Hypertrending is one example of how we can take Foursquare’s aggregate view of the world and make it available to the users who make it what it is. This is what we mean when we talk about “transparency” – we want to be honest, in public, about what our technology can do, how it works, and the specific design decisions we made in creating it.

With regards to today’s acquisition of Placed, Jeff Glueck had this to say:

Both companies also share a commitment to privacy and consumers being in control. Our Foursquare credo of “data as a privilege” only deepens as our company expands. We believe location should only be shared when consumers can see real value and visible benefits driven by location. We remain dedicated to elevating the industry through respect for transparency, user control, and instituting layers of privacy safeguards.

This new financing brings Foursquare’s total funding to $390.4 million.

May
14
2019
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CEO Howard Lerman on building a public company and the future of Yext

It’s just over two years since Yext debuted on the New York Stock Exchange, and to mark the occasion, I sat down with co-founder and CEO Howard Lerman for an interview.

As Lerman noted, Yext — which allows businesses to manage their profiles and information across a wide variety of online services — actually presented onstage at the TechCrunch 50 conference back in 2009. Now, it boasts a market capitalization of nearly $2.3 billion, and it just revealed plans to take over a nine-floor building in New York’s Chelsea neighborhood, turning it into Yext’s global headquarters.

My interview with Lerman actually came before the announcement, though he managed to drop in a few veiled hints about the company making a big move in real estate.

More concretely, we talked about how Lerman’s management style has evolved from scrappy startup founder to a public company CEO — he described holding five-minute meetings with every Yext employee as “one of the best management techniques” he’s ever adopted.

Lerman also argued that as online misinformation has become a big issue, Yext has only become more important: “Our founding principle is that the ultimate authority on how many calories are in a Big Mac is McDonald’s. The ultimate authority on where Burger King is open is Burger King.”

Vowing that he will remain CEO of Yext for “as long as this board will have me,” Lerman ended our conversation with a passionate defense of the idea that “a company is the ultimate vehicle in America to effect good in the world.”

You can read a transcript of our conversation below, edited and condensed for clarity.

TechCrunch: To start with a really broad question, how do you think Yext is different now than it was two years ago?

Howard Lerman: One of the things that’s defined Yext over the years is our continuous willingness to reinvent ourselves. You started covering us in 2009 [at] TechCrunch 50, we were a launch company there.

And here we are now. One of the cool things about being public is: It’s a total gamechanger. It’s a gamechanger not just for access to capital, but it’s particularly important in global markets. And I’m not talking about capital markets, I’m talking about the markets in which we sell software. We have offices now from Berlin to Shanghai.

May
13
2019
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Mailchimp expands from email to full marketing platform, says it will make $700M in 2019

Mailchimp, a bootstrapped startup out of Atlanta, Ga., is known best as a popular tool for organizations to manage their customer-facing email activities — a profitable business that its CEO told TechCrunch has now grown to around 11 million active customers with a total audience of 4 billion (yes, 4 billion), and is on track for $700 million in revenue in 2019. (Note: Slack’s previous quarter was around $133 million, and it’s operating at a loss.)

To help hit that number, Mailchimp is taking the wraps off a significant update aimed at catapulting it into the next level of business services. Starting today, Mailchimp will start to offer a full marketing platform aimed at smaller organizations.

Going beyond the email services that it has been offering for 20 years — which alone has led to multiple acquisition offers (all rebuffed) as its valuation has crept up reportedly into the billions (depending on which multiple you use) — the new platform will feature a number of new products within it.

They include technology to record and track customer leads; the ability to purchase domains and build sites; ad retargeting on Facebook and Instagram; social media management. It will also offer business intelligence that leverages a new move into the artificial intelligence to provide recommendations to users on how and when to market to whom.

The latter of these will be particularly interesting considering the data that it has collected and will collect on 4 billion individuals and their responses to emails and other services that Mailchimp now offers.

As of Wednesday of this week, Mailchimp also plans a pretty significant shift of its pricing into four tiers of free, $9.99/month, $14.99/month or $299/month (up from the current pricing of free, $10/month, $199/month) — with those fees scaling depending on usage and features.

(Existing paid customers maintain current pricing structure and features for the time being and can move to the new packages at any time, the company said. New customers will sign up to the new pricing starting May 15.)

The expansion is part of a longer-term strategic play to widen Mailchimp’s scope by building more services for the typically underserved but collectively large small-business segment.

Even as multinationals like Amazon and other large companies continue to feel like they are eating up the mom-and-pop independent business model, SMBs continue to make up 48% of the GDP in the U.S.

And within the SMB sector, the opportunity has totally changed with the rise of the internet.

“What’s really key is the role digital apps, digital publishing and social media have played,” said Ben Chestnut, Mailchimp’s co-founder and CEO. “We can have a 10-employee company with a customer base bigger than 1 million. That’s a combination you couldn’t achieve before the growth of online.”

And within that, marketing is one of those areas that small businesses might not have invested in much traditionally but are increasingly turning to as so much transactional activity has moved to digital platforms — be it smartphones, computers, or just the tech that powers the TV you watch or music you listen to.

In March, we reported that Mailchimp quietly acquired a small Shopify competitor called LemonStand to start to build more e-commerce tools for its users. And the new marketing platform is the next step in that strategy.

“We still see a big need for small businesses to have something like this,” Chestnut said in an interview. Enterprises have a range of options when it comes to marketing tools, he added, “but small businesses don’t.” The mantra for many building tech for the SMB sector has traditionally been “dumbed down and cheap,” in his words. “We agreed that cheap was good, but not dumbed down. We want to empower them.”

The new services launch also comes at a time when an increasing number of companies are closing in on the small business opportunity, with e-commerce companies like Square, Shopify and PayPal also widening their portfolio of products. (These days, Square is a Mailchimp partner, Shopify is not.)

Marketing is something that Mailchimp had already been dabbling with over the last two years — indeed, customer-facing email services is essentially a form of marketing, too. Other launches have included a Postcards service, offering companies very simple landing pages online (about 10% of Mailchimp’s customers do not have their own web sites, Chestnut said), and a tool for companies to create Google, Facebook and Instagram ads.

Mailchimp itself has a big marketing presence already: it says that daily, more than 1.25 million e-commerce orders are generated through Mailchimp campaigns; over 450 million e-commerce orders were made through Mailchimp campaigns in 2018; and its customers have sold over $250 million in goods through multivariate + A/B campaigns run through Mailchimp.

There are clearly a lot of others vying to be the go-to platform for small businesses to do their business — “Google, Facebook, a lot of the big players see the magic and are moving to the space more and more,” Chestnut said — but Mailchimp’s unique selling point — or so it hopes — is that it’s the platform that has no vested interests in other business areas, and will therefore be as focused as the small businesses themselves are. That includes, for example, no upcharging regardless of the platform where you choose to run a campaign.

“We are Switzerland,” Chestnut said.

Given that Mailchimp took 20 years to grow into marketing from email, it’s not clear what the wait will be for future expansions, and into which areas those might go. Surprisingly, one product that Mailchimp does not want to touch for now is CRM. “No plans for CRM services,” Chestnut said. “We are focused on consumer brands. We think about small organizations, with fewer than 100 employees.”

May
02
2019
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Takeaways from F8 and Facebook’s next phase

Extra Crunch offers members the opportunity to tune into conference calls led and moderated by the TechCrunch writers you read every day. This week, TechCrunch’s Josh Constine and Frederic Lardinois discuss major announcements that came out of Facebook’s F8 conference and dig into how Facebook is trying to redefine itself for the future.

Though touted as a developer-focused conference, Facebook spent much of F8 discussing privacy upgrades, how the company is improving its social impact, and a series of new initiatives on the consumer and enterprise side. Josh and Frederic discuss which announcements seem to make the most strategic sense, and which may create attractive (or unattractive) opportunities for new startups and investment.

“This F8 was aspirational for Facebook. Instead of being about what Facebook is, and accelerating the growth of it, this F8 was about Facebook, and what Facebook wants to be in the future.

That’s not the newsfeed, that’s not pages, that’s not profiles. That’s marketplace, that’s Watch, that’s Groups. With that change, Facebook is finally going to start to decouple itself from the products that have dragged down its brand over the last few years through a series of nonstop scandals.”

(Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Josh and Frederic dive deeper into Facebook’s plans around its redesign, Messenger, Dating, Marketplace, WhatsApp, VR, smart home hardware and more. The two also dig into the biggest news, or lack thereof, on the developer side, including Facebook’s Ax and BoTorch initiatives.

For access to the full transcription and the call audio, and for the opportunity to participate in future conference calls, become a member of Extra Crunch. Learn more and try it for free. 

Mar
27
2019
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Before breaking up with Shopify, Mailchimp quietly acqui-hired LemonStand, a Shopify competitor

Here’s an interesting twist on the story from last week about the break-up between Shopify and Mailchimp, after the two said they were at odds over how customer data was shared between the two companies. It turns out that before it parted ways with Shopify, Mailchimp had quietly made an acquisition of LemonStand, one of the e-commerce platform’s smaller competitors, to bring more integrated e-commerce features into its platform.

After news broke of the rift between Mailchimp and Shopify, rumors started to circulate among people in the world of e-commerce about Mailchimp buying Vancouver-based LemonStand, which had announced on March 5 that it was shutting down its service in 90 days, on June 5, without much of an explanation why.

We were tipped off on those rumors, so we contacted Ross Paul, LemonStand’s VP of growth and an investor in the startup, who suggested we contact Mailchimp. (Paul now lists Mailchimp as his employer on his LinkedIn profile.) Mailchimp confirmed the deal, describing it as an acqui-hire, with the team now woking on light e-commerce functionality.

“Mailchimp acqui-hired the team behind LemonStand at the end of February,” Mailchimp said in a statement provided to TechCrunch. It did not provide any financial terms for the deal.

Mailchimp — which is privately held and based in Atlanta — said it made the acquisition to provide more features to its customers, specifically those in e-commerce.

“Mailchimp helps small businesses grow, and our e-commerce customers have been asking us to add more functionality to our platform to help them market more effectively,” the company said in a statement. “The LemonStand team is helping us build out our e-commerce light functionality.”

But Mailchimp is clear to say that its acqui-hire was not related to ending its relationship with Shopify.

“Our decision to discontinue our partnership with Shopify last week is unrelated to LemonStand,” Mailchimp said. “Shopify knew we were working on e-commerce features long before we hired the LemonStand team. In fact, we launched Shoppable Landing Pages last fall in partnership with Square, and Shopify chose not to partner with us on the launch.”

But even if the LemonStand deal is not related to its rift with Shopify, the acquisition of one and the breakup with the other both point to the same thing: the growing role of Mailchimp’s e-commerce business.

The company — which provides email marketing and other marketing services to business — has been slowly building a revenue stream in e-commerce by integrating a number of features into its platform to let its customers, for example, sell items as part of the marketing process. These are less about building full check-out experiences or commerce backends, but for offering, say, one-off sale items as part of a particular promotion or campaign.

Last year, when Mailchimp launched those new shoppable landing pages with Square, it said that 50 percent of its revenues were now coming from e-commerce, with its customers selling more than $22 billion worth of products in the first half of 2018. Mailchimp made some $600 million in revenue in 2018, which — if its 50 percent e-commerce figure remained consistent — meant that it made $300 million last year just from e-commerce-related services.

The Square partnership is instructive in light of this acquisition. While Mailchimp is indeed building some native e-commerce features for its platform, it will continue to work with third parties (if not Shopify, the biggest of them all) to provide other functionality.

“We believe small businesses are best served when they can choose which technology they use to run their businesses, which is why we integrate with more than 150 different apps and platforms including e-commerce platforms,” Mailchimp said in its statement to TechCrunch.

“We’re not trying to become an e-commerce platform or compete directly with companies like Shopify,” it added, “and we think that adding e-commerce features in Mailchimp will help our e-commerce partners. Companies will be able to start their businesses with Mailchimp and have a seamless experience, and eventually use Mailchimp along with one of our e-commerce partners.”

Feb
13
2019
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Fiverr acquires ClearVoice to double down on content marketing

Fiverr is acquiring ClearVoice, a company that helps customers like Intuit and Carfax find professionals to write promotional content.

The two companies seem like a natural fit, as they both operate marketplaces for freelancers. Fiverr covers a much broader swath of freelance work, but CEO Micha Kaufman (pictured above) said the marketplace’s professional writing category grew 220 percent between the fourth quarters of 2017 and 2018, and he predicted that the need for content marketing will only increase.

“The types of channels that brands and companies need to be involved in and engaging in conversation with their audience are just growing,” Kaufman said. “I think any brand today that wants to be relevant needs to create a lot of engaging, interesting, creative content in their space, and I think that that creates a high demand for good content writers.”

Kaufman also noted that this is Fiverr’s third acquisition in two years, and he said he’s a “big believer … in the consolidation of vertical businesses into horizontal businesses such as ours — the fact that we cover over 200 categories gives us a tremendous amount of power to serve customers across many different types of needs.”

So what does the acquisition bring to the table that Fiverr wasn’t offering already? Kaufman said the ClearVoice team has “a lot of know how, both in technology side and the actual content side,” which will allow Fiverr to “cater to customers of all sizes and all needs.”

ClearVoice editorial calendar

ClearVoice editorial calendar

More specifically, he said most of Fiverr’s content marketing customers are small businesses, while ClearVoice is able to work with large enterprises, especially with its collaboration and workflow tools that allow those enterprises to create content at “high velocity.”

Founded in 2014 by Jay Swansson and Joe Griffin (who still serve as co-CEOs), ClearVoice has raised a total of $3.1 million in funding from investors, including PC Ventures, Desert Angels, Peak Ventures and Service Provider Capital, according to Crunchbase.

Fiverr is not disclosing the financial terms of the acquisition. The company says ClearVoice will continue to operate as an independent subsidiary.

“We are thrilled to be joining a company that is changing how people and companies work together in the modern era,” Swansson said in a statement. “This new chapter is a chance for us to use Fiverr’s depth and knowledge to globally scale our business and advance our mission of creating a platform that allows for worldwide creative collaboration.”

Jan
26
2019
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Has the fight over privacy changed at all in 2019?

Few issues divide the tech community quite like privacy. Much of Silicon Valley’s wealth has been built on data-driven advertising platforms, and yet, there remain constant concerns about the invasiveness of those platforms.

Such concerns have intensified in just the last few weeks as France’s privacy regulator placed a record fine on Google under Europe’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) rules which the company now plans to appeal. Yet with global platform usage and service sales continuing to tick up, we asked a panel of eight privacy experts: “Has anything fundamentally changed around privacy in tech in 2019? What is the state of privacy and has the outlook changed?” 

This week’s participants include:

TechCrunch is experimenting with new content forms. Consider this a recurring venue for debate, where leading experts – with a diverse range of vantage points and opinions – provide us with thoughts on some of the biggest issues currently in tech, startups and venture. If you have any feedback, please reach out: Arman.Tabatabai@techcrunch.com.


Thoughts & Responses:


Albert Gidari

Albert Gidari is the Consulting Director of Privacy at the Stanford Center for Internet and Society. He was a partner for over 20 years at Perkins Coie LLP, achieving a top-ranking in privacy law by Chambers, before retiring to consult with CIS on its privacy program. He negotiated the first-ever “privacy by design” consent decree with the Federal Trade Commission. A recognized expert on electronic surveillance law, he brought the first public lawsuit before the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, seeking the right of providers to disclose the volume of national security demands received and the number of affected user accounts, ultimately resulting in greater public disclosure of such requests.

There is no doubt that the privacy environment changed in 2018 with the passage of California’s Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA), implementation of the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), and new privacy laws enacted around the globe.

“While privacy regulation seeks to make tech companies betters stewards of the data they collect and their practices more transparent, in the end, it is a deception to think that users will have more “privacy.””

For one thing, large tech companies have grown huge privacy compliance organizations to meet their new regulatory obligations. For another, the major platforms now are lobbying for passage of a federal privacy law in the U.S. This is not surprising after a year of privacy miscues, breaches and negative privacy news. But does all of this mean a fundamental change is in store for privacy? I think not.

The fundamental model sustaining the Internet is based upon the exchange of user data for free service. As long as advertising dollars drive the growth of the Internet, regulation simply will tinker around the edges, setting sideboards to dictate the terms of the exchange. The tech companies may be more accountable for how they handle data and to whom they disclose it, but the fact is that data will continue to be collected from all manner of people, places and things.

Indeed, if the past year has shown anything it is that two rules are fundamental: (1) everything that can be connected to the Internet will be connected; and (2) everything that can be collected, will be collected, analyzed, used and monetized. It is inexorable.

While privacy regulation seeks to make tech companies betters stewards of the data they collect and their practices more transparent, in the end, it is a deception to think that users will have more “privacy.” No one even knows what “more privacy” means. If it means that users will have more control over the data they share, that is laudable but not achievable in a world where people have no idea how many times or with whom they have shared their information already. Can you name all the places over your lifetime where you provided your SSN and other identifying information? And given that the largest data collector (and likely least secure) is government, what does control really mean?

All this is not to say that privacy regulation is futile. But it is to recognize that nothing proposed today will result in a fundamental shift in privacy policy or provide a panacea of consumer protection. Better privacy hygiene and more accountability on the part of tech companies is a good thing, but it doesn’t solve the privacy paradox that those same users who want more privacy broadly share their information with others who are less trustworthy on social media (ask Jeff Bezos), or that the government hoovers up data at rate that makes tech companies look like pikers (visit a smart city near you).

Many years ago, I used to practice environmental law. I watched companies strive to comply with new laws intended to control pollution by creating compliance infrastructures and teams aimed at preventing, detecting and deterring violations. Today, I see the same thing at the large tech companies – hundreds of employees have been hired to do “privacy” compliance. The language is the same too: cradle to grave privacy documentation of data flows for a product or service; audits and assessments of privacy practices; data mapping; sustainable privacy practices. In short, privacy has become corporatized and industrialized.

True, we have cleaner air and cleaner water as a result of environmental law, but we also have made it lawful and built businesses around acceptable levels of pollution. Companies still lawfully dump arsenic in the water and belch volatile organic compounds in the air. And we still get environmental catastrophes. So don’t expect today’s “Clean Privacy Law” to eliminate data breaches or profiling or abuses.

The privacy world is complicated and few people truly understand the number and variety of companies involved in data collection and processing, and none of them are in Congress. The power to fundamentally change the privacy equation is in the hands of the people who use the technology (or choose not to) and in the hands of those who design it, and maybe that’s where it should be.


Gabriel Weinberg

Gabriel Weinberg is the Founder and CEO of privacy-focused search engine DuckDuckGo.

Coming into 2019, interest in privacy solutions is truly mainstream. There are signs of this everywhere (media, politics, books, etc.) and also in DuckDuckGo’s growth, which has never been faster. With solid majorities now seeking out private alternatives and other ways to be tracked less online, we expect governments to continue to step up their regulatory scrutiny and for privacy companies like DuckDuckGo to continue to help more people take back their privacy.

“Consumers don’t necessarily feel they have anything to hide – but they just don’t want corporations to profit off their personal information, or be manipulated, or unfairly treated through misuse of that information.”

We’re also seeing companies take action beyond mere regulatory compliance, reflecting this new majority will of the people and its tangible effect on the market. Just this month we’ve seen Apple’s Tim Cook call for stronger privacy regulation and the New York Times report strong ad revenue in Europe after stopping the use of ad exchanges and behavioral targeting.

At its core, this groundswell is driven by the negative effects that stem from the surveillance business model. The percentage of people who have noticed ads following them around the Internet, or who have had their data exposed in a breach, or who have had a family member or friend experience some kind of credit card fraud or identity theft issue, reached a boiling point in 2018. On top of that, people learned of the extent to which the big platforms like Google and Facebook that collect the most data are used to propagate misinformation, discrimination, and polarization. Consumers don’t necessarily feel they have anything to hide – but they just don’t want corporations to profit off their personal information, or be manipulated, or unfairly treated through misuse of that information. Fortunately, there are alternatives to the surveillance business model and more companies are setting a new standard of trust online by showcasing alternative models.


Melika Carroll

Melika Carroll is Senior Vice President, Global Government Affairs at Internet Association, which represents over 45 of the world’s leading internet companies, including Google, Facebook, Amazon, Twitter, Uber, Airbnb and others.

We support a modern, national privacy law that provides people meaningful control over the data they provide to companies so they can make the most informed choices about how that data is used, seen, and shared.

“Any national privacy framework should provide the same protections for people’s data across industries, regardless of whether it is gathered offline or online.”

Internet companies believe all Americans should have the ability to access, correct, delete, and download the data they provide to companies.

Americans will benefit most from a federal approach to privacy – as opposed to a patchwork of state laws – that protects their privacy regardless of where they live. If someone in New York is video chatting with their grandmother in Florida, they should both benefit from the same privacy protections.

It’s also important to consider that all companies – both online and offline – use and collect data. Any national privacy framework should provide the same protections for people’s data across industries, regardless of whether it is gathered offline or online.

Two other important pieces of any federal privacy law include user expectations and the context in which data is shared with third parties. Expectations may vary based on a person’s relationship with a company, the service they expect to receive, and the sensitivity of the data they’re sharing. For example, you expect a car rental company to be able to track the location of the rented vehicle that doesn’t get returned. You don’t expect the car rental company to track your real-time location and sell that data to the highest bidder. Additionally, the same piece of data can have different sensitivities depending on the context in which it’s used or shared. For example, your name on a business card may not be as sensitive as your name on the sign in sheet at an addiction support group meeting.

This is a unique time in Washington as there is bipartisan support in both chambers of Congress as well as in the administration for a federal privacy law. Our industry is committed to working with policymakers and other stakeholders to find an American approach to privacy that protects individuals’ privacy and allows companies to innovate and develop products people love.


Johnny Ryan

Dr. Johnny Ryan FRHistS is Chief Policy & Industry Relations Officer at Brave. His previous roles include Head of Ecosystem at PageFair, and Chief Innovation Officer of The Irish Times. He has a PhD from the University of Cambridge, and is a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society.

Tech companies will probably have to adapt to two privacy trends.

“As lawmakers and regulators in Europe and in the United States start to think of “purpose specification” as a tool for anti-trust enforcement, tech giants should beware.”

First, the GDPR is emerging as a de facto international standard.

In the coming years, the application of GDPR-like laws for commercial use of consumers’ personal data in the EU, Britain (post-EU), Japan, India, Brazil, South Korea, Malaysia, Argentina, and China will bring more than half of global GDP under a similar standard.

Whether this emerging standard helps or harms United States firms will be determined by whether the United States enacts and actively enforces robust federal privacy laws. Unless there is a federal GDPR-like law in the United States, there may be a degree of friction and the potential of isolation for United States companies.

However, there is an opportunity in this trend. The United States can assume the global lead by doing two things. First, enact a federal law that borrows from the GDPR, including a comprehensive definition of “personal data”, and robust “purpose specification”. Second, invest in world-leading regulation that pursues test cases, and defines practical standards. Cutting edge enforcement of common principles-based standards is de facto leadership.

Second, privacy and antitrust law are moving closer to each other, and might squeeze big tech companies very tightly indeed.

Big tech companies “cross-use” user data from one part of their business to prop up others. The result is that a company can leverage all the personal information accumulated from its users in one line of business, and for one purpose, to dominate other lines of business too.

This is likely to have anti-competitive effects. Rather than competing on the merits, the company can enjoy the unfair advantage of massive network effects even though it may be starting from scratch in a new line of business. This stifles competition and hurts innovation and consumer choice.

Antitrust authorities in other jurisdictions have addressed this. In 2015, the Belgian National Lottery was fined for re-using personal information acquired through its monopoly for a different, and incompatible, line of business.

As lawmakers and regulators in Europe and in the United States start to think of “purpose specification” as a tool for anti-trust enforcement, tech giants should beware.


John Miller

John Miller is the VP for Global Policy and Law at the Information Technology Industry Council (ITI), a D.C. based advocate group for the high tech sector.  Miller leads ITI’s work on cybersecurity, privacy, surveillance, and other technology and digital policy issues.

Data has long been the lifeblood of innovation. And protecting that data remains a priority for individuals, companies and governments alike. However, as times change and innovation progresses at a rapid rate, it’s clear the laws protecting consumers’ data and privacy must evolve as well.

“Data has long been the lifeblood of innovation. And protecting that data remains a priority for individuals, companies and governments alike.”

As the global regulatory landscape shifts, there is now widespread agreement among business, government, and consumers that we must modernize our privacy laws, and create an approach to protecting consumer privacy that works in today’s data-driven reality, while still delivering the innovations consumers and businesses demand.

More and more, lawmakers and stakeholders acknowledge that an effective privacy regime provides meaningful privacy protections for consumers regardless of where they live. Approaches, like the framework ITI released last fall, must offer an interoperable solution that can serve as a model for governments worldwide, providing an alternative to a patchwork of laws that could create confusion and uncertainty over what protections individuals have.

Companies are also increasingly aware of the critical role they play in protecting privacy. Looking ahead, the tech industry will continue to develop mechanisms to hold us accountable, including recommendations that any privacy law mandate companies identify, monitor, and document uses of known personal data, while ensuring the existence of meaningful enforcement mechanisms.


Nuala O’Connor

Nuala O’Connor is president and CEO of the Center for Democracy & Technology, a global nonprofit committed to the advancement of digital human rights and civil liberties, including privacy, freedom of expression, and human agency. O’Connor has served in a number of presidentially appointed positions, including as the first statutorily mandated chief privacy officer in U.S. federal government when she served at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. O’Connor has held senior corporate leadership positions on privacy, data, and customer trust at Amazon, General Electric, and DoubleClick. She has practiced at several global law firms including Sidley Austin and Venable. She is an advocate for the use of data and internet-enabled technologies to improve equity and amplify marginalized voices.

For too long, Americans’ digital privacy has varied widely, depending on the technologies and services we use, the companies that provide those services, and our capacity to navigate confusing notices and settings.

“Americans deserve comprehensive protections for personal information – protections that can’t be signed, or check-boxed, away.”

We are burdened with trying to make informed choices that align with our personal privacy preferences on hundreds of devices and thousands of apps, and reading and parsing as many different policies and settings. No individual has the time nor capacity to manage their privacy in this way, nor is it a good use of time in our increasingly busy lives. These notices and choices and checkboxes have become privacy theater, but not privacy reality.

In 2019, the legal landscape for data privacy is changing, and so is the public perception of how companies handle data. As more information comes to light about the effects of companies’ data practices and myriad stewardship missteps, Americans are surprised and shocked about what they’re learning. They’re increasingly paying attention, and questioning why they are still overburdened and unprotected. And with intensifying scrutiny by the media, as well as state and local lawmakers, companies are recognizing the need for a clear and nationally consistent set of rules.

Personal privacy is the cornerstone of the digital future people want. Americans deserve comprehensive protections for personal information – protections that can’t be signed, or check-boxed, away. The Center for Democracy & Technology wants to help craft those legal principles to solidify Americans’ digital privacy rights for the first time.


Chris Baker

Chris Baker is Senior Vice President and General Manager of EMEA at Box.

Last year saw data privacy hit the headlines as businesses and consumers alike were forced to navigate the implementation of GDPR. But it’s far from over.

“…customers will have trust in a business when they are given more control over how their data is used and processed”

2019 will be the year that the rest of the world catches up to the legislative example set by Europe, as similar data regulations come to the forefront. Organizations must ensure they are compliant with regional data privacy regulations, and more GDPR-like policies will start to have an impact. This can present a headache when it comes to data management, especially if you’re operating internationally. However, customers will have trust in a business when they are given more control over how their data is used and processed, and customers can rest assured knowing that no matter where they are in the world, businesses must meet the highest bar possible when it comes to data security.

Starting with the U.S., 2019 will see larger corporations opt-in to GDPR to support global business practices. At the same time, local data regulators will lift large sections of the EU legislative framework and implement these rules in their own countries. 2018 was the year of GDPR in Europe, and 2019 be the year of GDPR globally.


Christopher Wolf

Christopher Wolf is the Founder and Chair of the Future of Privacy Forum think tank, and is senior counsel at Hogan Lovells focusing on internet law, privacy and data protection policy.

With the EU GDPR in effect since last May (setting a standard other nations are emulating),

“Regardless of the outcome of the debate over a new federal privacy law, the issue of the privacy and protection of personal data is unlikely to recede.”

with the adoption of a highly-regulatory and broadly-applicable state privacy law in California last Summer (and similar laws adopted or proposed in other states), and with intense focus on the data collection and sharing practices of large tech companies, the time may have come where Congress will adopt a comprehensive federal privacy law. Complicating the adoption of a federal law will be the issue of preemption of state laws and what to do with the highly-developed sectoral laws like HIPPA and Gramm-Leach-Bliley. Also to be determined is the expansion of FTC regulatory powers. Regardless of the outcome of the debate over a new federal privacy law, the issue of the privacy and protection of personal data is unlikely to recede.

Nov
13
2018
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Sojern raises another $120M led by TCV to expand its travel marketing platform

Travel continues to be one of the biggest verticals online, projected to be worth over $1 trillion by 2022, and today a startup that helps travel-related businesses connect the dots between their products and would-be customers is raising a large round of funding to capitalise on that.

Sojern, a company that works with businesses in the travel industry — hotels, airlines, tourist agencies, booking portals and others — to build and run campaigns to find and market their services to people as they are planning travel, is today announcing that it has raised another $120 million in funding at a valuation of over $300 million.

Sojern started out life in 2007 putting ads on boarding passes, but today its reach covers a much wider terrain in the search for relevant and interested “eyeballs”. Typical media it targets marketing to today includes native advertising; display, mobile and video ads; and social media. But in an interview, CEO Mark Rabe said that the plan for the funding will be to expand to more “emerging” platforms, like connected TV (where it’s already active).

“Our plan is to continue expanding solutions for existing clients as well as accelerate into developing markets like local tourism and attractions,” he said. “Overall we want to keep proving our performance as a late-stage, high-growth company with expanding profit margins and cash flow.”

The round, a Series D, is being led by TCV (Technology Crossover Ventures), a key and potentially very strategic investor since TCV has a long history of backing large travel and marketing startups, including Airbnb, Expedia, HomeAway, TripAdvisor, SiteMinder, ExactTarget, Act-On and Ariba, some of which already work with Sojern, and some who well might work with it in the future.

Other investors are not being disclosed, but Sojern has previously had backing from Norwest Venture Partners, Trident, Treeptop and other VCs; and also has a list of strategic partners, with some holding equity stakes in the business, including American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, United Airlines and US Airways.

(As we’ve pointed out before, the relationship it has with some of these stems back to the founding of the company, and part of what airlines, for example, receive is a cut on the advertising revenues that appear on their boarding passes.)

Prior to this latest round, Sojern had raised some $42.5 million. Rabe said that the company is not disclosing its valuation with this round, but as a guide, he noted that the company has been profitable for the last 13 quarters and it crossed a $100 million run rate in 2017. Also of note: Sojern’s last valuation was $158 million after raising a round in 2013, according to PitchBook, so — at a very conservative estimate — its valuation post-money is around $280 million. (But my guess is that it is higher considering Sojern’s growth and profitability, and a source has confirmed that it is definitely above $300 million.)

“We’re going after a total addressable market that we believe is at least $100 billion,” he said, citing a combination of the dollars travel brands are spending in digital and programmatic advertising worth roughly $20 billion and what they’re paying to online intermediaries in the distribution markets worth $80 billion. “So far we’ve driven over $13 billion in bookings for our clients, and we aren’t slowing down anytime soon,” he added.

The company competes not just with other companies big in advertising like Google (which itself has made a very big play to do more specifically in the travel search vertical) but also other companies working in the big data-fuelled analytics space as it interests with the world of travel marketing, such as Adara.

Rabe believes Sojern is unique in the space. “We don’t see anyone out there delivering direct bookings in travel at this scale, and doing it successfully across the industry from the biggest enterprise brands all the way down to independent properties and local tourism providers,” he said.

“When we think about the competitive set, we’re looking at companies with proven business models demonstrating that they can deliver strong results at scale and retain clients over the long term. And what’s become clear is that today’s independent adtech and martech companies have to differentiate to provide value. Because Sojern has been focused on travel from the very beginning, we understand the challenges and complexities of the industry and offer more specialized solutions than a generalist player ever could.”

The predicament that it is addressing remains a messy one: from every segment of the market — from luxury down to budget travellers — we as consumers are spoiled for choice these days when it comes to thinking not just of where and how we might want to travel, but also how to find the best deals and options that match what we want to do. On the side of suppliers, they are all scrambling to connect with their would-be customers before someone else does.

Sojern says that its wider database and reach covers some 350 million travellers, making it one of the more accurate platforms to identifying and connecting with those users.

Interestingly, this could potentially one day get applied to more than just travel, but maybe not for Sojern.

“I get asked this question a lot,” Rabe said when I asked him about expanding to other areas. “But what people don’t often realize is that the travel and tourism industry is actually the largest industry in the world. Conservatively we believe our immediate total addressable market is $100 billion, and on top of that the overall industry is growing with digital continuing to pull share from offline transaction channels like phone and traditional travel agencies.”

That focus is also what attracted TCV, it seems.

“We have been watching Sojern’s rapid rise in the travel technology space for several years, and we were impressed with Sojern’s leadership position in the space and its unique, scalable model for influencing travelers worldwide,” said Woody Marshall of TCV in a statement.

“Sojern’s ability to both conceptualize a better marketing experience for travel organizations and their steady execution over the past decade, as well as their innovative business strategy, strong executive team, and inspiring company culture made them a natural fit for us.” Marshall is joining the board with this round.

Just as the market for travel services continues to boom, so do those startups that are best placed to meet that demand, collectively hundreds of millions of dollars in the last five years. Among the range of travel startups focusing specifically on helping connect intent to travel with ideas of where you can spend your money, other notable rounds have included TripActions raising $154 million earlier this month, CultureTrip raising $80 million earlier this year, and Airbnb raising $1 billion last year.

Updated with updated revenue figures and customer / investor names

Sep
24
2018
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Microsoft hopes enterprises will want to use Cortana

In a world dominated by Alexa and the Google Assistant, Cortana suffers the fate of a perfectly good alternative that nobody uses and everybody forgets about. But Microsoft wouldn’t be Microsoft if it just gave up on its investment in this space, so it’s now launching the Cortana Skills Kit for Enterprise to see if that’s a niche where Cortana can succeed.

This new kit is an end-to-end solution for enterprises that want to build their own skills and agents. Of course, they could have done this before using the existing developer tools. This kit isn’t all that different from those, after all. Microsoft notes that it is designed for deployment inside an organization and represents a new platform for them to build these experiences.

The Skills Kit platform is based on the Microsoft Bot Framework and the Azure Cognitive Services Language Understanding feature.

Overall, this is probably not a bad bet on Microsoft’s part. I can see how some enterprises would want to build their own skills for their employees and customers to access internal data, for example, or to complete routine tasks.

For now, this tool is only available in private preview. No word on when we can expect a wider launch.

more Microsoft Ignite 2018 coverage

Aug
01
2018
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WhatsApp finally earns money by charging businesses for slow replies

Today WhatsApp launches its first revenue-generating enterprise product and the only way it currently makes money directly from its app. The WhatsApp Business API is launching to let businesses respond to messages from users for free for up to 24 hours, but will charge them a fixed rate by country per message sent after that.

Businesses will still only be able to message people who contacted them first, but the API will help them programatically send shipping confirmations, appointment reminders or event tickets. Clients also can use it to manually respond to customer service inquiries through their own tool or apps like Zendesk, MessageBird or Twilio. And small businesses that are one of the 3 million users of the WhatsApp For Business app can still use it to send late replies one-by-one for free.

After getting acquired by Facebook for $19 billion in 2014, it’s finally time for the 1.5 billion-user WhatsApp to pull its weight and contribute some revenue. If Facebook can pitch the WhatsApp Business API as a cheaper alternative to customer service call centers, the convenience of asynchronous chat could compel users to message companies instead of phoning.

Only charging for slow replies after 24 hours since a user’s last message is a genius way to create a growth feedback loop. If users get quick answers via WhatsApp, they’ll prefer it to other channels. Once businesses and their customers get addicted to it, WhatsApp could eventually charge for all replies or any that exceed a volume threshold, or cut down the free window. Meanwhile, businesses might be too optimistic about their response times and end up paying more often than they expect, especially when messages come in on weekends or holidays.

WhatsApp first announced it would eventually charge for enterprise service last September when it launched its free WhatsApp For Business app that now has 3 million users and remains free for all replies, even late ones.

Importantly, WhatsApp stresses that all messaging between users and businesses, even through the API, will be end-to-end encrypted. That contrasts with The Washington Post’s report that Facebook pushing to weaken encryption for WhatsApp For Business messages is partly what drove former CEO Jan Koum to quit WhatsApp and Facebook’s board in April. His co-founder, Brian Acton, had ditched Facebook back in September and donated $50 million to the foundation of encrypted messaging app Signal.

Today WhatsApp is also formally launching its new display ads product worldwide. But don’t worry, they won’t be crammed into your chat inbox like with Facebook Messenger. Instead, businesses will be able to buy ads on Facebook’s News Feed that launch WhatsApp conversations with them… thereby allowing them to use the new Business API to reply. TechCrunch scooped that this was coming last September, when code in Facebook’s ad manager revealed the click-to-WhatsApp ads option and the company confirmed the ads were in testing. Facebook launched similar click-to-Messenger ads back in 2015.

Finally, WhatsApp also tells TechCrunch it’s planning to run ads in its 450 million daily user Snapchat Stories clone called Status. “WhatsApp does not currently run ads in Status though this represents a future goal for us, starting in 2019. We will move slowly and carefully and provide more details before we place any Ads in Status,” a spokesperson told us. Given WhatsApp Status is more than twice the size of Snapchat, it could earn a ton on ads between Stories, especially if it’s willing to make some unskippable.

Together, the ads and API will replace the $1 per year subscription fee WhatsApp used to charge in some countries but dropped in 2016. With Facebook’s own revenue decelerating, triggering a 20 percent, $120 billion market cap drop in its share price, it needs to show it has new ways to make money — now more than ever.

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