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Microsoft today announced a slew of new products, but at the core of the release is a major change to how the company is marketing its tools and services to consumers.

Office 365, which has long been the brand for the company’s subscription service for its productivity tools like Word, Excel and Outlook, is going away. On April 21, it’ll be replaced by new Microsoft 365 plans, including new personal and family plans (for up to six people) at $6.99 and $9.99 respectively. That’s the same price as the existing Office 365 Personal and Home plans.

“We are basically evolving our subscription from — in our minds — a set of tools to solutions that help you manage across your work and life,” Yusuf Mehdi, Microsoft’s CVP of Modern Life, Search and Devices, told me ahead of today’s announcement.

Microsoft is making similar branding changes to its business plans for Office 365. They are a bit more convoluted, with Office 365 Business Premium now called Microsoft 365 Business Standard and Microsoft 365 Business now becoming Microsoft 365 Business Premium, but for the most part, this is about branding while prices stay the same.

These new Microsoft 365 Personal and Family plans will include access to Outlook and the Office desktop apps for Windows and macOS, 1 terabyte of OneDrive storage per person (including unlimited access to the more secure OneDrive Personal Vault service) and 50 gigabytes of Outlook.com email storage, Skype call recording and 60 minutes of Skype landline and mobile phone calls.

And since this is now Microsoft 365 and not Office 365, you can also get Windows 10 technical support with the subscription, as well as additional security features to protect you from phishing and malware attacks.

More than 37 million people currently have personal Office 365 subscriptions and chances are these lower prices will bring more users to the platform in the long run. As Mehdi stressed, Microsoft’s free offerings aren’t going away.

But with today’s release, Microsoft isn’t just changing the branding and launching these new plans, it’s also highlighting quite a few new capabilities in its various applications that are either launching today or in the coming months.

Microsoft Teams gets a personal edition

The highlight of this launch, especially given the current situation around COVID-19, is likely the announcement of Teams for consumers. Teams is already one of Microsoft’s fastest growing products for businesses with 44 million people using it. But in its efforts to help people bridge their work and personal lives, it will now launch a new Teams edition for consumers, as well.

Just like you can switch between work and personal accounts in Outlook, you will soon be able to do the same in Teams. The personal teams view will look a little bit different, with shared calendars for the family, access to OneDrive vaults, photo sharing, etc., but it sits on the same codebase as the business version. You’ll also be able to do video calls and shared to-do lists.

Microsoft Teams is coming to consumers — but Skype is here to stay

Better writing through AI

About a year ago, Microsoft announced that Word Online would get a new AI-powered editor that would help you write better. You can think of it as a smarter grammar checker that can fix all of your standard grammar mistakes but can also help you avoid overly complex sentences and bias in your word choices.

This editor is now the Microsoft Editor, and the company is expanding it well beyond Word. The new AI-powered service is now available in 20 languages in Word and Outlook.com — and maybe most importantly, it’ll be available as a Microsoft Edge and Google Chrome plug-in, too.

Free users will get basic spelling and grammar features, while Microsoft 365 subscribers will get a number of more advanced features like the ability to ask the editor to suggest a rewrite of a mangled sentence, a plagiarism checker, style analysis to see if your writing is unclear or too formal and access to an inclusive language critique to help you avoid unintentional bias.

If you’ve used Grammarly in the past, then a lot of this will sound familiar. Both services now offer a similar set of capabilities, but Microsoft may have an edge with its ability to rewrite sentences.

Better presentations through technology

In a similar vein, Microsoft also launched a presentation coach for PowerPoint as a limited test last September. This AI-driven feature helps you avoid filler words and other presentation no-nos.

This feature first launched in the online version of PowerPoint, with a basic set of features. Now, Microsoft 365 subscribers will get two new advanced features, too, that can help you avoid a monotone pitch that puts your audience to sleep and avoid grammar mistakes in your spoken sentences.

Currently, these are still available as a free preview to all but will become Microsoft 365-only features soon.

PowerPoint is also getting an updated Designer to help you create better presentations. It can now easily turn text into a timeline, for example, and when you add an image, it can present you with a set of potential slide layouts.

Microsoft 365 subscribers now also get access to over 8,000 images and 175 looping videos from Getty Images, as well as 300 new fonts and 2,800 new icons.

Excel + Plaid

For you spreadsheet jockeys out there, Microsoft also has some good news, especially if you want to use Excel to manage your personal budgets.

In partnership with Plaid, you can now link your bank accounts to Excel and import all of your expenses into your spreadsheets. With that, you can then categorize your spend and build your own personal Mint. This feature, dubbed “Money in Excel,” will launch in the U.S. in the coming months.

In addition, Excel is getting a lot more cloud- and AI-driven data types that now cover over 100 topics, including nutrition, movies, places, chemistry and — because why not — Pokémon. Like some of the previous features, this is an extension of the work Microsoft did on Excel in the last few years, starting with the ability to pull in stock market and geographical data.

And just like with the previous set of features, you’ll need a Microsoft 365 subscription to get access to these additional data types. Otherwise, you’ll remain restricted to the stock market and geography data types, which will become available to Office Insiders in the spring and then Personal and Family subscribers in the U.S. in the coming months.

Outlook gets more personal

Even though you may want to forget about Outlook and ignore your inbox for a while, Microsoft doesn’t. In Outlook on the web, you can now link your personal and work calendars to ensure you don’t end up with a work meeting in the middle of a personal appointment, because Chris from marketing really needs another sync meeting during your gym time even though a short email would suffice.

Outlook for Android can now summarize and read your emails aloud for you, too. This feature will roll out in the coming months.

Family Safety

While most of the new features here focus on existing applications, Microsoft is also launching one completely new app: Microsoft Family Safety. This app is coming to Microsoft 365 subscribers on iOS and Android and will bring together a set of tools that can help families manage their online activities and track the location of family members.

The app lets families manage the screen time of their kids (and maybe parents, too) across Windows, Android and Xbox, for example. Parents can also set content filters that only allow kids to download age-appropriate apps. But it also allows parents to track their kids in the real world through location tracking and even driving reports. This, as Mehdi stressed, is a feature that kids can turn off, but they’ll probably have to explain themselves to their parents then. Indeed, he stressed that a lot of what the app does is give parents a chance to have a dialog with their kids. What makes the service unique is that it works across platforms, with iOS support coming in the future.

This app is launching as a limited preview now and will be available in the coming months (I think you can spot a trend here).

Partner benefits

Mehdi noted that Microsoft is also partnering with companies like Adobe, Bark, Blinkist, Creative Live, Experian, Headspace and TeamSnap to provide Microsoft 365 subscribers with additional benefits like limited-time access to their products and services. Subscribers will get three months of free access to Adobe’s Creative Cloud Photography plan, for example.

At the core of today’s updates, though, is a mission to bring a lot of the productivity tools that people know from their work life to their personal life, too, with the personal edition of Teams being the core example.

“We’re very much excited to bring this type of value — not increase the price of Office 365 — take a big step forward, and then move to this,” Mehdi said. “We think now more than ever, it is valuable for people to have the subscription service for their life that helps them make the most of their time, protects their family, lets them develop and grow. And our goal or aspiration is: Can we give you the most valuable subscription for your life? I know people value their video subscriptions and music subscriptions. Our aspiration is to provide the most valuable subscription for your life via Microsoft 365 Personal and Family.”

Read more: https://techcrunch.com/2020/03/30/office-365-becomes-microsoft-365-and-gets-new-personal-and-family-plans/

Excitement for The Europas Awards for European Tech Startups is heating up. Here is the first wave of speakers and judges — with more coming!

The Awards — which have been running for over 10 years — will be held on 25 June 2020 in London, U.K. on the front lawn of the Geffrye Museum in Hoxton, London — creating a fantastic and fun garden-party atmosphere in the heart of London’s tech startup scene.

TechCrunch is once more the exclusive media sponsor of the awards and conference, alongside The Pathfounder.

The application form to enter is here.

We’re scouting for the top late-stage seed and Series A startups in 22 categories.

You can nominate a startup, accelerator or venture investor that you think deserves to be recognized for their achievements in the last 12 months.

CLOSING DATE FOR APPLICATIONS: 25 March 2020

For the 2020 awards, we’ve overhauled the categories to a set that we believe better reflects the range of innovation, diversity and ambition we see in the European startups being built and launched today. This year we are particularly looking at startups that are able to address the SDGs/Globals Boals.

The Europas Awards
The Europas Awards results are based on voting by experts, experienced founders, hand-picked investors and the industry itself.

But the key to it is that there are no “off-limits areas” at The Europas, so attendees can mingle easily with VIPs.

Timeline of The Europas Awards deadlines:

Submissions now open!
25 March 2020 – Submissions close
14 April – Public voting begins
25 April – Public voting ends
8 June – Shortlist Announced
25 June – Awards evening, winners announced

Amazing networking

We’re also shaking up the awards dinner itself. There are more opportunities to network. Our awards ceremony this year will be in the setting of a garden/lawn party, where you’ll be able to meet and mingle more easily, with free-flowing drinks and a wide selection of street food (including vegetarian/vegan). The ceremony itself will last less than 45 minutes, with the rest of the time dedicated to networking. If you’d like to talk about sponsoring or exhibiting, please contact Claire Dobson on claire@thepathfounder.com

Instead of thousands and thousands of people, think of a great summer event with the most interesting and useful people in the industry, including key investors and leading entrepreneurs.

The Europas Awards have been going for the last 10 years, and we’re the only independent and editorially driven event to recognise the European tech startup scene. The winners have been featured in Reuters, Bloomberg, VentureBeat, Forbes, Tech.eu, The Memo, Smart Company, CNET, many others — and of course, TechCrunch.

• No secret VIP rooms, which means you get to interact with the speakers

• Key founders and investors attending

• Journalists from major tech titles, newspapers and business broadcasters

The Pathfounder Afternoon Workshops
In the afternoon prior to the awards we will be holding a special, premium content event, The Pathfounder, designed be a “fast download” into the London tech scene for European founders looking to raise money or re-locate to London. Sessions include “How to Craft Your Story”; “Term Sheets”; “Building a Shareholding Structure”; Investor Panel; Meet the Press; and a session from former Europas winners. Followed by the awards and after-party!

The Europas “Diversity Pass”
We’d like to encourage more diversity in tech! That’s why we’ve set aside a block of free tickets to ensure that pre-seed female and BAME founders are represented at The Europas. This limited tranche of free tickets ensures that we include more women and people of colour who are specifically “pre-seed” or “seed-stage” tech startup founders. If you are a women/BAME founder, apply here for a chance to be considered for one of the limited free diversity passes to the event.

Meet some of our first speakers and judges:


Anne Boden
CEO
Starling Bank
Anne Boden is founder and CEO of Starling Bank, a fast-growing U.K. digital bank targeting millions of users who live their lives on their phones. After a distinguished career in senior leadership at some of the world’s best-known financial heavyweights, she set out to build her own mobile bank from scratch in 2014. Today, Starling has opened more than one million current accounts for individuals and small businesses and raised hundreds of millions of pounds in backing. Anne was awarded an MBE for services to financial technology in 2018.


Nate Lanxon (Speaker)
Editor and Tech Correspondent
Bloomberg
Nate is an editor and tech correspondent for Bloomberg, based in London. For over a decade, he has particularly focused on the consumer technology sector, and the trends shaping the global industry. Previous to this, he was senior editor at Bloomberg Media and was head of digital editorial for Bloomberg.com in Europe, the Middle East and Africa. Nate has held numerous roles across the most respected titles in tech, including stints as editor of WIRED.co.uk, editor-in-chief of Ars Technica UK and senior editor at CBS-owned CNET. Nate launched his professional career as a journalist by founding a small tech and gaming website called Tech’s Message, which is now the name of his weekly technology podcast hosted at natelanxon.com.


Tania Boler
CEO and founder
Elvie
/> Tania is an internationally recognized women’s health expert and has held leadership positions for various global NGOs and the United Nations. Passionate about challenging taboo women’s issues, Tania founded Elvie in 2013, partnering with Alexander Asseily to create a global hub of connected health and lifestyle products for women.


Kieran O’Neill
CEO and co-founder
Thread
Thread makes it easy for guys to dress well. They combine expert stylists with powerful AI to recommend the perfect clothes for each person. Thread is used by more than 1 million men in the U.K., and has raised $35 million from top investors, including Balderton Capital, the founders of DeepMind and the billionaire former owner of Warner Music. Prior to Thread, Kieran founded one of the first video sharing websites at age 15 and sold it for $1.25 million at age 19. He was then CEO and co-founder of Playfire, the largest social network for gamers, which he grew to 1.5 million customers before being acquired in 2012. He’s a member of the Forbes, Drapers and Financial Times 30 Under 30 lists.


Clare Jones
Chief Commercial Officer
what3words
Clare is the chief commercial officer of what3words; prior to this, her background was in the development and growth of social enterprises and in impact investment. Clare was featured in the 2019 Forbes 30 under 30 list for technology and is involved with London companies tackling social/environmental challenges. Clare also volunteers with the Streetlink project, doing health outreach work with vulnerable women in South London.


Luca Bocchio
Principal
Accel
Luca Bocchio joined Accel in 2018 and focuses on consumer internet, fintech and software businesses. Luca led Accel’s investment in Luko, Bryter and Brumbrum. Luca also helped lead Accel’s investment and ongoing work in Sennder. Prior to Accel, Luca was with H14, where he invested in global early and growth-stage opportunities, such as Deliveroo, GetYourGuide, Flixbus, SumUp and SecretEscapes. Luca previously advised technology, industrial and consumer companies on strategy with Bain & Co. in Europe and Asia. Luca is from Italy and graduated from LIUC University.


Bernhard Niesner
CEO and c-founder
busuu
/> Bernhard co-founded busuu in 2008 following an MBA project and has since led the company to become the world’s largest community for language learning, with more than 90 million users across the globe. Before starting busuu, Bernhard worked as a consultant at Roland Berger Strategy Consultants. He graduated summa cum laude in International Business from the Vienna University of Economics and Business and holds an MBA with honours from IE Business School. Bernhard is an active mentor and business angel in the startup community and an advisor to the Austrian Government on education affairs. Bernhard recently received the EY Entrepreneur of the Year 2018 UK Awards in the Disruptor category.


Chris Morton
CEO and founder
Lyst
Chris is the founder and CEO of Lyst, the world’s biggest fashion search platform used by 104 million shoppers each year. Including over 6 million products from brands including Burberry, Fendi, Gucci, Prada and Saint Laurent, Lyst offers shoppers convenience and unparalleled choice in one place. Launched in London in 2010, Lyst’s investors include LVMH, 14W, Balderton and Accel Partners. Prior to founding Lyst, Chris was an investor at Benchmark Capital and Balderton Capital in London, focusing on the early-stage consumer internet space. He holds an MA in physics and philosophy from Cambridge University.


Husayn Kassai
CEO and co-founder
Onfido
/> Husayn Kassai is the Onfido CEO and co-founder. Onfido helps businesses digitally onboard users by verifying any government ID and comparing it with the person’s facial biometrics. Founded in 2012, Onfido has grown to a team of 300 across SF, NYC and London; received over $100 million in funding from Salesforce, Microsoft and others; and works with over 1,500 fintech, banking and marketplace clients globally. Husayn is a WEF Tech Pioneer; a Forbes Contributor; and Forbes’ “30 Under 30”. He has a BA in economics and management from Keble College, Oxford.

Read more: https://techcrunch.com/2020/02/26/meet-the-first-wave-of-speakers-enter-your-startup-for-the-europas-awards-25-june/

TikTok, the fast-growing user-generated video app from China’s ByteDance, has been building a new music streaming service to compete against the likes of Spotify, Apple Music and Amazon Music. And today it’s announcing a deal that helps pave the way for a global launch of it. It has inked a licensing deal with Merlin, the global agency that represents tens of thousands of independent music labels and hundreds of thousands of artists, for music from those labels to be used legally on the TikTok platform anywhere that the app is available.

The news is significant because this is the first major music licensing deal announced by TikTok as part of its wider efforts in the music industry. Notably, it’s not the first: I’ve confirmed TikTok has actually secured other major labels but has been restricted from going public on the details.

The Merlin deal is therefore a template of what TikTok is likely signing with others: it includes both its mainstay short-form videos — where music plays a key role (the app, before it was acquired by ByteDance, was even called “Musically”) — as well as new music streaming services.

Specifically, a source close to TikTok has confirmed to TechCrunch that the licensing deal covers its upcoming music subscription service Resso.

Resso was long-rumoured and eventually spotted in the wild at the end of last year when ByteDance tested the app in India and Indonesia. ByteDance owns the Resso trademark, so it’s a good bet that it will make its way to other markets soon. (Possibly with features that differentiate this later entrant from others in the market? Recall ByteDance acquired an AI-based music startup called Jukedeck last year.)

“Independent artists and labels are such a crucial part of music creation and consumption on TikTok,” said Ole Obermann, global head of music for TikTok, in a statement. “We’re excited to partner with Merlin to bring their family of labels to the TikTok community. The breadth and diversity of the catalogue presents our users with an even larger canvas from which to create, while giving independent artists the opportunity to connect with TikTok’s diverse community.”

Music is a fundamental part of the TikTok experience, and this deal covers everything that’s there today — videos created by TikTok users, sponsored videos created for marketing — as well as whatever is coming up around the corner.

A music streaming app, which TikTok has reportedly been gearing up to launch for some time, is one way that the company could help generate revenue. Despite being one of the most popular apps of 2019, monetisation has largely eluded the company up to now.

One reason why monetising may happen is because of the lack of deals at the other end of the chain. As of December, TikTok reportedly had yet to sign any deals with the “majors” — Sony Music, Warner Music and Universal Music. From what we understand, Merlin is the first big deal of its kind announced by the company, but others are already in place.

In any case, the company is ramping up its bigger music operation.

Obermann, who was hired away from Warner Music last year, in turn hired another former Warner colleague, Tracy Gardner, who now leads label licensing for the company. And just yesterday, the company opened an office in Los Angeles, the heart of the music industry.

The move to bring more licensed music usage to TikTok (and other ByteDance apps) is significant for other reasons, too.

On one hand, it’s about labels trying to evolve with the times, collecting revenues wherever audiences happen to be, whether that is in short-form user-generated video, in advertising that runs alongside that or in a new music service capitalising on the new vogue for streamed media.

“This partnership with TikTok is very significant for us,” said Jeremy Sirota, CEO, Merlin, in a statement. “We are seeing a new generation of music services and a new era of music-related consumption, much of it driven by the global demand for independent music. Merlin members are increasingly using TikTok for their marketing campaigns, and today’s partnership ensures that they and their artists can also build new and incremental revenue streams.”

Times are changing in the music industry. Sirota himself only joined Merlin earlier this month, after working on music efforts at Facebook for the last couple of years (and before that at Warner Music, like TikTok’s two key executives).

On the other hand, the deal is significant also because it underscores how TikTok is increasingly working to legitimise itself in the wider tech and media marketplace.

While ByteDance’s acquisition of TikTok continues to face regulatory scrutiny, the company has been working on ways to assert its independence from China’s control, which has included many clarifications about where its content is hosted (not China! it says) and even a search for a new U.S.-based CEO. On another front, more licensing deals should also help the company with the many legal and PR issues that have been hanging over it concerning how it pays out when music is used in its popular app.

Updated with clarification that Obermann works for TikTok, not ByteDance, and the news that there are other music deals in place that have yet to be announced.

Read more: https://techcrunch.com/2020/01/23/tiktok-inks-licensing-deal-with-merlin-to-use-music-from-independent-labels-in-videos-and-new-resso-streaming-service/

Sisense, an enterprise startup that has built a business analytics business out of the premise of making big data as accessible as possible to users — whether it be through graphics on mobile or desktop apps, or spoken through Alexa — is announcing a big round of funding today and a large jump in valuation to underscore its traction. The company has picked up $100 million in a growth round of funding that catapults Sisense’s valuation to over $1 billion, funding that it plans to use to continue building out its tech, as well as for sales, marketing and development efforts.

For context, this is a huge jump: The company was valued at only around $325 million in 2016 when it raised a Series E, according to PitchBook. (It did not disclose valuation in 2018, when it raised a venture round of $80 million.) It now has some 2,000 customers, including Tinder, Philips, Nasdaq and the Salvation Army.

This latest round is being led by the high-profile enterprise investor Insight Venture Partners, with Access Industries, Bessemer Venture Partners, Battery Ventures, DFJ Growth and others also participating. The Access investment was made via Claltech in Israel, where some details of the round leaked out as rumors in recent days. Insight is in the news today for another big deal: Wearing its private equity hat, the firm acquired Veeam for $5 billion. (And that speaks to a particular kind of trajectory for enterprise companies that the firm backs: Veeam had already been a part of Insight’s venture portfolio.)

Mature enterprise startups have proven their business cases are going to be an ongoing theme in this year’s fundraising stories, and Sisense is part of that theme, with annual recurring revenues of over $100 million speaking to its stability and current strength. The company has also made some key acquisitions to boost its business, such as the acquisition of Periscope Data last year (coincidentally, also for $100 million, I understand).

Its rise also speaks to a different kind of trend in the market: In the wider world of business intelligence, there is an increasing demand for more digestible data in order to better tap advances in data analytics to use it across organizations. This was also one of the big reasons why Salesforce gobbled up Tableau last year for a slightly higher price: $15.7 billion.

Sisense CEO Amir Orad explains why he raised $100M

Mature enterprise startups have proven their business cases are going to be an ongoing theme in this year’s fundraising stories, and Sisense is part of that theme, with annual recurring revenues of over $100 million speaking to its stability and current strength. The company has also made some key acquisitions to boost its business, such as the acquisition of Periscope Data last year (coincidentally, also for $100 million, I understand).

Sisense, bringing in both sleek end user products but also a strong theme of harnessing the latest developments in areas like machine learning and AI to crunch the data and order it in the first place, represents a smaller and more fleet of foot alternative for its customers. “We found a way to make accessing data extremely simple, mashing it together in a logical way and embedding it in every logical place,” explained CEO Amir Orad to us in 2018.

“We have enjoyed watching the Sisense momentum in the past 12 months, the traction from its customers as well as from industry leading analysts for the company’s cloud native platform and new AI capabilities. That coupled with seeing more traction and success with leading companies in our portfolio and outside, led us to want to continue and grow our relationship with the company and lead this funding round,” said Jeff Horing, managing director at Insight Venture Partners, in a statement.

To note, Access Industries is an interesting backer which might also potentially shape up to be strategic, given its ownership of Warner Music Group, Alibaba, Facebook, Square, Spotify, Deezer, Snap and Zalando.

“Given our investments in market leading companies across diverse industries, we realize the value in analytics and machine learning and we could not be more excited about Sisense’s trajectory and traction in the market,” added Claltech’s Daniel Shinar in a statement.

Read more: https://techcrunch.com/2020/01/09/sisense-nabs-another-100m-at-a-1b-valuation-for-its-big-data-business-analytics-solutions/

Most in tech would agree that following the launch of Alexa and Google Home devices, the “Voice Era” is here. Voice assistant usage is at 3.3 billion right now; by 2020, half of all searches are expected to be done via voice. And with younger generations growing up on voice (55% of teens use voice search daily now), there’s no turning back.

As we’ve reported, the voice-based ad market will grow to $19 billion in the U.S. by 2022, growing the market share from the $17 billion audio ad market and the $57 billion programmatic ad market.

That means that voice shopping is also set to explode, with the volume of voice-based spending growing twenty-fold over the next few years due to voice-based virtual assistant penetration, as well as the rapid consumer adoption of home-based smart speakers, the expansion of smart homes and the growing integration of virtual assistants into cars.

That, combined with the popularity of digital media — streaming music, podcasts, etc. — has created greenfield opportunities for better brand engagement through audio. But brands have struggled to catch up, and there have not been many ways to capitalise on this.

So a team of people who co-founded and worked at Zvuk, a leading music streaming service in Eastern Europe, quickly understood why there is not a single profitable music streaming company in the world: subscription rates are low and advertisers are not excited about audio ads, due to the measurement challenges and intrusive ad experience.

So, they decided to create SF-based company Instreamatic, a startup which allows people to talk at adverts they see and get an AI-driven voice response, just as you might talk to an Alexa device.

Thus, the AI powering Instreamatic’s voice-driven ads can interpret and anticipate the intent of a user’s words (and do so in the user’s natural language, so robotic “yes” and “no” responses aren’t needed). That means Instreamatic enables brands which advertise through digital audio channels (streaming music apps, podcasts, etc.) to now have interactive (and continuous) voice dialogues with consumers.

Yes, it means you can talk to an advert like it was an Alexa.

Instead of an audio ad playing to a listener as a one-way communication (like every TV and radio ad before it), brands can now reach and engage with consumers by having voice-interactive conversations. Brands using Instreamatic can also continue conversations with consumers across channels and audio publishers — so fresh ad content is tailored to the full history of each listener’s past engagements and responses.

An advantage of the platform is that people can use their voice to set their advertising preferences. So, when a person says “I don’t want to hear about it ever again,” brands can optimize their marketing strategy either by stopping all remarketing campaigns across all digital media channels targeted to that person, or by optimizing the communication strategy to offer something else instead of the product that was rejected. If the listener expressed interest or no interest, Instreamatic would know that and tailor future ads to match past engagement — providing a continuous dialogue with the user.

Its competitor is AdsWizz, which allows users to shake their phones when they are interested in an ad. This effectively allows users to “click” when the audio ad is playing in the background. One of their recent case studies reported that shaking provided 3.95% interaction rates.

By contrast, Instreamatic’s voice dialogue marketing platform allows people to talk to audio advertising, skipping irrelevant ads and engaging in interesting ones. Their recent case study claimed a much higher 13.2% voice engagement rate this way.

The business model is thus: when advertisers buy voice dialogue ads on its ad exchange, it takes a commission from that ad spend. Publishers, brands and ad tech companies can license the technology and Instreamatic charges them a licensing fee based on usage.

Instreamatic has now partnered with Gaana, India’s largest music and content streaming service, to integrate Instreamatic into Gaana’s platform. It has also partnered with Triton Digital, a service provider to the audio streaming and podcast industry.

This follows similar deals with Pandora, Jacapps, Airkast and SurferNETWORK.

All these partnerships means the company can now reach 120 million monthly active users in the United States, 30 million in Europe and 150 million in Asia.

The company is headquartered in San Francisco and London, with a development team in Moscow, and features Stas Tushinskiy as CEO and co-founder. Tushinskiy created the digital audio advertising market in Russia prior to relocating to the U.S. with Instreamatic. International Business Development head and co-founder Simon Dunlop previously founded Bookmate, a subscription-based reading and audiobook platform, DITelegraph Moscow Tech Hub and Zvuk.

Read more: https://techcrunch.com/2019/12/19/instreamatic-signs-deals-to-allow-people-to-talk-to-adverts-on-streaming-services-like-an-alexa/

The contract between the UK’s National Health Service (NHS) and ecommerce giant Amazon — for a health information licensing partnership involving its Alexa voice AI — has been released following a Freedom of Information request.

The government announced the partnership this summer. But the date on the contract, which was published on the gov.uk contracts finder site months after the FOI was filed, shows the open-ended arrangement to funnel nipped-and-tucked health info from the NHS’ website to Alexa users in audio form was inked back in December 2018.

The contract is between the UK government and Amazon US (Amazon Digital Services, Delaware) — rather than Amazon UK. Although the company confirmed to us that NHS content will only be served to UK Alexa users. 

Nor is it a standard NHS Choices content syndication contract. A spokeswoman for the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) confirmed the legal agreement uses an Amazon contract template. She told us the department had worked jointly with Amazon to adapt the template to fit the intended use — i.e. access to publicly funded healthcare information from the NHS’ website.

The NHS does make the same information freely available on its website, of course. As well as via API — to some 1,500 organizations. But Amazon is not just any organization; It’s a powerful US platform giant with a massive ecommerce business.

The contract reflects that power imbalance; not being a standard NHS content syndication agreement — but rather DHSC tweaking Amazon’s standard terms.

“It was drawn up between both Amazon UK and the Department for Health and Social Care,” a department spokeswoman told us. “Given that Amazon is in the business of holding standard agreements with content providers they provided the template that was used as the starting point for the discussions but it was drawn up in negotiation with the Department for Health and Social Care, and obviously it was altered to apply to UK law rather than US law.”

In July, when the government officially announced the Alexa-NHS partnership, its PR provided a few sample queries of how Amazon’s voice AI might respond to what it dubbed “NHS-verified” information — such as: “Alexa, how do I treat a migraine?”; “Alexa, what are the symptoms of flu?”; “Alexa, what are the symptoms of chickenpox?”.

But of course as anyone who’s ever googled a health symptom could tell you, the types of stuff people are actually likely to ask Alexa — once they realize they can treat it as an NHS-verified info-dispensing robot, and go down the symptom-querying rabbit hole — is likely to range very far beyond the common cold.

At the official launch of what the government couched as a ‘collaboration’ with Amazon, it explained its decision to allow NHS content to be freely piped through Alexa by suggesting that voice technology has “the potential to reduce the pressure on the NHS and GPs by providing information for common illnesses”.

Its PR cited an unattributed claim that “by 2020, half of all searches are expected to be made through voice-assisted technology”.

This prediction is frequently attributed to ComScore, a media measurement firm that was last month charged with fraud by the SEC. However it actually appears to originate with computer scientist Andrew Ng, from when he was chief scientist at Chinese tech giant Baidu.

Econsultancy noted last year that Mary Meeker included Ng’s claim on a slide in her 2016 Internet Trends report — which is likely how the prediction got so widely amplified.

But on Meeker’s slide you can see that the prediction is in fact “images or speech”, not voice alone…

Screenshot

So it turns out the UK government incorrectly cited a tech giant prediction to push a claim that “voice search has been increasing rapidly” — in turn its justification for funnelling NHS users towards Amazon.

“We want to empower every patient to take better control of their healthcare and technology like this is a great example of how people can access reliable, world-leading NHS advice from the comfort of their home, reducing the pressure on our hardworking GPs and pharmacists,” said health secretary Matt Hancock in a July statement.

Since landing at the health department, the app-loving former digital minister has been pushing a tech-first agenda for transforming the NHS — promising to plug in “healthtech” apps and services, and touting “preventative, predictive and personalised care”. He’s also announced an AI lab housed within a new unit that’s intended to oversee the digitization of the NHS.

Compared with all that, plugging the NHS’ website into Alexa probably seems like an easy ‘on-message’ win. But immediately the collaboration was announced concerns were raised that the government is recklessly mixing the streams of critical (and sensitive) national healthcare infrastructure with the rapacious data-appetite of a foreign tech giant, with both an advertising and ecommerce business, plus major ambitions of its own in the healthcare space.

On the latter front, just yesterday news broke of Amazon’s second health-related acquisition: Health Navigator, a startup with an API platform for integrating with health services, such as telemedicine and medical call centers, which offers natural language processing tools for documenting health complaints and care recommendations.

Last year Amazon also picked up online pharmacy PillPack — for just under $1BN. While just last month it launched a pilot of a healthcare service offering to its own employees in and around Seattle, called Amazon Care which looks intended to be a road-test for addressing the broader U.S. market down the line. So the company’s commercial designs on healthcare are becoming increasingly clear.

Returning to the UK, in response to early critical feedback on the Alexa-NHS arrangement, the IT delivery arm of the service, NHS Digital, published a blog post going into more detail about the arrangement — following what it couched as “interesting discussion about the challenges for the NHS of working with large commercial organisations like Amazon”.

A core critical “discussion” point is the question of what Amazon will do with people’s medical voice query data, given the partnership is clearly encouraging people to get used to asking Alexa for health advice.

“We have stuck to the fundamental principle of not agreeing a way of working with Amazon that we would not be willing to consider with any single partner – large or small. We have been careful about data, commercialisation, privacy and liability, and we have spent months working with knowledgeable colleagues to get it right,” NHS Digital claimed in July.

In another section of the blog post, responding to questions about what Amazon will do with the data and “what about privacy”, it further asserted there would be no health profiling of customers — writing:

We have worked with the Amazon team to ensure that we can be totally confident that Amazon is not sharing any of this information with third parties. Amazon has been very clear that it is not selling products or making product recommendations based on this health information, nor is it building a health profile on customers. All information is treated with high confidentiality. Amazon restrict access through multi-factor authentication, services are all encrypted, and regular audits run on their control environment to protect it.

Yet it turns out the contract DHSC signed with Amazon is just a content licensing agreement. There are no terms contained in it concerning what can or can’t be done with the medical voice query data Alexa is collecting with the help of “NHS-verified” information.

Per the contract terms, Amazon is required to attribute content to the NHS when Alexa responds to a query with information from the service’s website. (Though the company says Alexa also makes use of medical content from the Mayo Clinic and Wikipedia.) So, from the user’s point of view, they will at times feel like they’re talking to an NHS-branded service (i.e. when they hear Alexa serving them information attributed to the NHS’ website.).

But without any legally binding confidentiality clauses around what can be done with their medical voice queries it’s not clear how NHS Digital can confidently assert that Amazon isn’t creating health profiles. The situation seems to sum to, er, trust Amazon. (NHS Digital wouldn’t comment; saying it’s only responsible for delivery not policy setting, and referring us to the DHSC.)

Asked what it does with medical voice query data generated as a result of the NHS collaboration an Amazon spokesperson told us: “We do not build customer health profiles based on interactions with nhs.uk content or use such requests for marketing purposes.”

But the spokesperson could not point to any legally binding contract clauses in the licensing agreement that restrict what Amazon can do with people’s medical queries.

We also asked the company to confirm whether medical voice queries that return NHS content are being processed in the US. Amazon’s spokeswoman responded without a direct answer — saying only that queries are processed in the “cloud”. (“When you speak to Alexa, a recording of what you asked Alexa is sent to Amazon’s Cloud where we process your request and other information to respond to you.”)

“This collaboration only provides content already available on the NHS.UK website, and absolutely no personal data is being shared by NHS to Amazon or vice versa,” Amazon also told us, eliding the key point that it’s not NHS data being shared with Amazon but NHS users, reassured by the presence of a trusted public brand, being encouraged to feed Alexa sensitive personal data by asking about their ailments and health concerns.

Bizarrely, the Department of Health and Social Care went further. Its spokeswoman claimed in an email that “there will be no data shared, collected or processed by Amazon and this is just an alternative way of providing readily available information from NHS.UK.”

When we spoke to DHSC on the phone prior to this, to raise the issue of medical voice query data generated via the partnership and fed to Amazon — also asking where in the contract are clauses to protect people’s data — the spokeswoman said she would have to get back to us. All of which suggests the government has a very vague idea (to put it generously) of how cloud-powered voice AIs function.

Presumably no one at DHSC bothered to read the information on Amazon’s own Alexa privacy page — although the department spokeswomen was at least aware this page existed (because she knew Amazon had pointed us to what she called its “privacy notice”, which she said “sets out how customers are in control of their data and utterances”).

If you do read the page you’ll find Amazon offers some broad-brush explanation there which tells you that after an Alexa device has been woken by its wake word, the AI will “begin recording and sending your request to Amazon’s secure cloud”.

Ergo data is collected and processed. And indeed stored on Amazon’s servers. So, yes, data is ‘shared’. Not ‘NHS data’, but UK citizens’ personal data.

Amazon’s European Privacy Notice meanwhile, sets out a laundry list of purposes for user data — from improving its services, to generating recommendations and personalization, to advertising. While on its Alexa Terms of Use page it writes: “To provide the Alexa service, personalize it, and improve our services, Amazon processes and retains your Alexa Interactions, such as your voice inputs, music playlists and your Alexa to-do and shopping lists, in the cloud.” [emphasis ours]

The DHSC sees the matter very differently, though.

With no contractual binds covering health-related queries UK users of Alexa are being encouraged to whisper into Amazon’s robotic ears — data that’s naturally linked to Alexa and Amazon account IDs — the government is accepting the tech giant’s standard data processing terms for a commercial, consumer product which is deeply integrated into its increasingly sprawling business empire.

Terms such as indefinite retention of audio recordings. Unless users pro-actively request that they are deleted. And even then Amazon admitted this summer it doesn’t always delete the text transcripts of recordings. So even if you keep deleting all your audio snippets, traces of medical queries may well remain on Amazon’s servers.

On this, Amazon’s spokeswoman told us that voice recordings and related transcripts are deleted when Alexa customers select to delete their recordings — pointing to the Alexa and Alexa Device FAQ where the company writes: “We will delete the voice recordings and the text transcripts of your request that you selected from Amazon’s Cloud”. Although in the same FAQ Amazon also notes: “We may still retain other records of your Alexa interactions, including records of actions Alexa took in response to your request.” So it sounds like some metadata around medical queries may remain, even post-deletion.

Earlier this year it also emerged the company employs contractors around the world to listen in to Alexa recordings as part of internal efforts to improve the performance of the AI.

A number of tech giants recently admitted to the presence of such ‘speech grading’ programs, as they’re sometimes called — though none had been up front and transparent about the fact their shiny AIs needed an army of external human eavesdroppers to pull off a show of faux intelligence.

It’s been journalists highlighting the privacy risks for users of AI assistants; and media exposure leading to public pressure on tech giants to force changes to concealed internal processes that have, by default, treated people’s information as an owned commodity that exists to serve and reserve their own corporate interests.

Data protection? Only if you interpret the term as meaning your personal data is theirs to capture and that they’ll aggressively defend the IP they generate from it.

So, in other words, actual humans — both employed by Amazon directly and not — may be listening to the medical stuff you’re telling Alexa. Unless the user finds and activates a recently added ‘no human review’ option buried in the Alexa app settings.

Many of these ‘speech grading’ arrangements remain under regulatory scrutiny in Europe. Amazon’s lead data protection regulator in Europe confirmed in August it’s in discussions with it over concerns related to its manual reviews of Alexa recordings. So UK citizens — whose taxes fund the NHS — might be forgiven for expecting more care from their own government around such a ‘collaboration’.

Rather than a wholesale swallowing of tech giant T&Cs in exchange for free access to the NHS brand and  “NHS-verified” information which helps Amazon burnish Alexa’s utility and credibility, allowing it to gather valuable insights for its commercial healthcare ambitions.

To date there has been no recognition from DHSC the government has a duty of care towards NHS users as regards potential risks its content partnership might generate as Alexa harvests their voice queries via a commercial conduit that only affords users very partial controls over what happens to their personal data.

Nor is DHSC considering the value being generously gifted by the state to Amazon — in exchange for a vague supposition that a few citizens might go to the doctor a bit less if a robot tells them what flu symptoms look like.

“The NHS logo is supposed to mean something,” says Sam Smith, coordinator at patient data privacy advocacy group, MedConfidential — one of the organizations that makes use of the NHS’ free APIs for health content (but which he points out did not write its own contract for the government to sign).

“When DHSC signed Amazon’s template contract to put the NHS logo on anything Amazon chooses to do, it left patients to fend for themselves against the business model of Amazon in America.”

In a related development this week, Europe’s data protection supervisor has warned of serious data protection concerns related to standard contracts EU institutions have inked with another tech giant, Microsoft, to use its software and services.

The watchdog recently created a strategic forum that’s intended to bring together the region’s public administrations to work on drawing up standard contracts with fairer terms for the public sector — to shrink the risk of institutions feeling outgunned and pressured into accepting T&Cs written by the same few powerful tech providers.

Such an effort is sorely needed — though it comes too late to hand-hold the UK government into striking more patient-sensitive terms with Amazon US.

This article was updated with a correction to a reference to the Alexa privacy policy. We originally referenced content from the privacy policy of another Amazon-owned Internet marketing company that’s also called Alexa. This is in fact a different service to Amazon’s Alexa voice assistant. We also updated the report to include additional responses from Amazon 

Read more: https://techcrunch.com/2019/10/24/alexa-where-are-the-legal-limits-on-what-amazon-can-do-with-my-health-data/

The Europas Awards for European Tech Startups came around again last week (Thursday 27th June), and once again proved that Europe’s enormous diversity in startups continues to shine through on the world stage.

Once again TechCrunch was the exclusive media sponsor of the awards, alongside new “tech, culture & society” event creator The Pathfounder. Attendees, nominees and winners were given discounts to TechCrunch Disrupt in Berlin, later this year.

The awards cover 20 categories, including new additions such as cover AgTech / FoodTech, SpaceTech, GovTech and Mobility Tech.

After an intense round of public voting and judges’ deliberations, the awards were held in the ‘Summer Festival’ atmosphere of the lawns of the iconic Geffrey Museum in London’s ‘Silicon Roundabout Area’ of Shoreditch and featured street trucks, lawn games, music and a fantastic after-party!

The judges came from the creme-de-la-creme of the European tech scene and their picks for the winners were combined with the results of a week of online voting.

Photos from The Europas Awards are now on Flickr where you can download them. They are also on Facebook here. The Live stream hosted by Hermione Way starts here, the panel sessions are here and The Europas Awards ceremony starts here.

You can sign up to get news of next year’s awards and similar events here.

The sponsors this year where:
Bizzabo
World Datanomic Forum
Currency.com
Target Global
Bayer G4A
CommsCo
Isotoma
iHorizon
FieldHouse Associates
Rocketmakers
Burlington PR
Home Grown

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So without further-a-do here are the winners and finalists for The Europas Awards 2019!

The Europas Awards — Hottest AgTech / FoodTech Startup
WINNER:
Small Robot Company: Building small robots to transform farming
Presented by Gemma Evans, HealthHackers

FINALISTS:
Agricool: grows and produces fruits and vegetables inside shipping containers
Allplants: Delicious, plant-based meals, delivered.
Breedr: a productivity and marketing platform transforming the livestock supply-chain
iFarm: Data-driven urban farming technology
Ynsect: Designs, constructs and operates giant vertical farm of beetles (Molitors) to produce high grade proteins.

The Europas Awards — Hottest CleanTech Startup
WINNER:
Solar Foods: Produces an entirely new kind of nutrient-rich protein using only air and electricity as the main resources
Presented by Laurence Kemball Cook, Pavegen CEO

FINALISTS:
Asperitas: a clean-tech company focused on greening the datacentre industry
Naefos: A fintech-IoT platform for enterprises to access off-grid households
Bulb: affordable renewable energy for homes and businesses
Orbital Systems: a Swedish clean-tech company that develops a water recycling technology to be used in domestic appliances
VoltStorage: Solar power storage for your home

The Europas Awards — Hottest CyberTech Startup
WINNER:
Panaseer: A continuous controls monitoring platform
Presented by Pratik Sampat, iHorizon

FINALISTS:
UK Barac: Using AI and behavioural analytics to detect malware hidden within encrypted traffic without the need for decryption
Cymulate: Breach and attack simulation
UK Immersive Labs: A fully interactive, on-demand, and gamified cyber skills platform
Passbase: a digital identity platform to streamline the identity verification process and enable identity ownership and reuse across different services
PixelPin: a secure authentication system using pictures instead of passwords
uBirch: Securing IoT data using blockchain

The Europas Awards — Hottest EdTech Startup
WINNER:
Perlego: Textbook subscription service

FINALISTS:
Busuu: Online community for language learning
Get My Grades: online learning platform for English, Maths and Science
MyPocketSkill: Connecting teens to pocket money earning jobs
Pigzbe: Crypto-friendly, digital wallet for 6+
PitchMe: Skills-based talent marketplace
Robo Wunderkind: developing modular and programmable robots to teach children robotics and coding
Lirica: Learn languages with the power of music

The Europas Awards — Hottest FashTech Startup
WINNER:
Metail: virtual fitting room service for fashion retailers that allows customers to create a 3D model of themselves and try on clothes

FINALISTS:
Bump: making commerce social
Euveka: develops connected smart-mannequins, using custom software, to assist fashion, sports and medical professionals in the prototyping and sale of individual garments
Heuritech: anticipating brand and product desirability through the eyes of millions of fashion influencers and consumers
HUUB: a logistics and tech platform for Fashion brands
Little Black Door: intelligent inventory platform that captures the value of your wardrobe and opens it up to a premium managed marketplace
Finda: Professional model booking platform

The Europas Awards — Hottest FinTech Startup
WINNER:
Auquan: data science platform for financial services
Presented by Malin Holmberg, Target Global VC

FINALISTS:
Curve: a platform allowing consolidation of all bank cards into a single smart card and app
Cytora: Using AI to enable insurers to underwrite more efficiently
Divido: a retail finance platform that allows companies to offer instant customer finance
Holvi: digital banking for freelancers and entrepreneurs
Monese: an online banking platform that offers quick current account opening for all EU residents
Moonfare: a technology-enabled platform allowing individuals to invest in top-tier private equity funds
Nuggets: Login, pay and verify ID without ever sharing or storing your data with anyone
PremFina: White label software to manage insurance policies
Yobota: cloud-based platform allows financial services to design and deploy financial products

The Europas Awards — Hottest GovTech, CivTech, PubTech, RegTech
WINNER:
New Vector: decentralised, secure communication for governments, businesses and individuals
Presented by Eloise Todd, Anti-Brexit Campaigner

FINALISTS:
Adzuna: digital service that connects jobseekers with employers online and through job centres around the UK
Apolitical Apolitical is a global policy insights platform and network helping governments and companies advance their work and business
Clause Match: end-to-end solution for fully automating regulatory compliance
Luminance: document analysis software to secure big data systems
novoville – novoville is a Citizen Engagement Platform, that bridges the gap between local governments and their citizens
Safened: Digital KYC Solution
SafeTeam: NHS community lone worker app

The Europas Awards — Hottest HealthTech Startup
WINNER:
BIOS, creating the open standard hardware and software interface between the human nervous system and AI
Presented by Rafiq Hasan, Bayer Health

FINALISTS:
Ada Health: an AI-powered health platform
eQuoo: evidence based mental health game for young adults
Lumeon: providing care pathway management solutions to the healthcare industry
Natural Cycles: a digital contraceptive app
Pregenerate: “cartilage-on-a- chip” to accelerate drug development for arthritis
Siilo: secure messenger app for medical teams
Straight Teeth Direct: Direct to consumer teledentistry platform that connects users to online dentists globally enabling low cost at home teeth straightening

The Europas Awards — Hottest MadTech (MarTech or AdTech) Startup
WINNERS:
Ometria: a customer insight and marketing automation platform
Videesha Bockle, signals Venture Capital

FINALISTS:
Codec: AI-powered audience intelligence for brands
MeasureMatch: find, book, pay & rate independent consultants or consultancies to accelerate marketing, commerce & customer experience capabilities
PlanSnap: a social planning platform that gets friends together
StreetBees: Connecting brands with real people on the ground to gather real time insights
Uberall: location marketing cloud
Vidsy: helps brands create original mobile video ads at scale
Waive: an intelligent trend spotting platform

The Europas Awards — Hottest Mobility Travel Tech Startup
WINNER:
Voi Scooters: owns, operates, and manages electric scooters for urban commuters
Joelle Hadfield, HelloFresh

FINALISTS:
Culture Trip: inspiring people to explore the world’s culture and creativity
daytrip: platform connecting independent travelers with local drivers
Dott: scooter startup
minicabit: an online minicab and taxi price comparison and booking service
Snap Travel: on-demand coach service
Trafi: Mobility solutions for connected cities
Wejo: unlocks the value in car data to help create smarter, safer, better and greener journeys for drivers globally

The Europas Awards — Hottest PropTech Startup
WINNER:
NPlan: machine learning – based risk analysis for construction projects
Simon Calver, BFG

FINALISTS:
Casavo: market maker within the residential real estate market
Good Monday: a digital office management system
Habito: digital mortgage broker
Home Made: property tech rental agent
Hubble: online marketplace for office space
Mews Systems: property management software for hospitality operations
Planner 5D: 3D home design tool using AI, VR & AR to create floorplans and interior design
Reposit: tenancy deposit alternative
Urban Jungle: A fully digital insurer, for a new generation of customers

The Europas Awards — Hottest Retail / ECommerce Tech Startup
WINNER:
NearSt: building the world’s source of real-time local inventory
Presented by Audrey Soussan, Ventech

FINALISTS:
Festicket: marketplace to discover and book music festival tickets, accommodation, transfers and extras
Keep Warranty: app that saves the warranties and purchase slips of your appliances
Picnic: online supermarket, that delivers groceries for the lowest price to people’s home
Pimcore: digital experience platform to manage product information
Spryker Systems: a commerce technology company
store2be: Online marketplace for short-term retail and promotion space
Trouva: curated marketplace for bricks and mortar independent shops

The Europas Awards — Hottest B2B / SaaS Startup
WINNER:
Infobip: Full-stack Communications Platform as a Service (CPaaS)
Sally MacDonald, Partner, CommsCo

FINALISTS:
Chattermill: Using deep learning to help organizations make sense of their customer experience
Dixa: conversational customer engagement software that connects brands with customers through real-time communication
Meero: On demand photography service combined with image processing artificial intelligence
Paddle: platform for all software companies to run and grow their business
Peakon: a platform for measuring and improving employee engagement
ProoV: a PoC platform that enables businesses to test new technologies
SeedLegals: platform for all the legals startups need to grow and get funded
TravelPerk: business travel booking & management platform for companies
Unbabel: a ‘translation-as-a-service’ platform, powered by AI and a worldwide community of translators

The Europas Awards — Hottest SpaceTech Startup
WINNER:
Open Cosmos: Simple and affordable space missions
Presented by Dr Barbara Ghinelli, Harwell

FINALISTS:
Aerial & Maritime: A Danish nanosatellite-based solution for monitoring aircrafts and maritime vessels
Aerospacelab: Develops a constellation of micro-satellites for earth observation and imagery
aXenic: Design, development and production of optical modulators for communications and sensing
Global Surface Intelligence: Environmental data service
Hawa Dawa: Combines proprietary IoT smart sensor data with other sources of data (including satellite data) to give highly accurate data on air quality
Monolith: Machine Learning Platform that helps engineers to predict the outcome of unknown, new tests or simulations by reusing historical data
Trik: Enterprise drone 3D mapping software for structural inspection
Unseenlabs – Unseenlabs designs and develops a spectrum surveillance payload
Xonaspace: Uses an XPS and LEO satellite constellation for extremely precise GPS systems

The Europas Awards — Hottest Tech for Good Startup
WINNER:
Beam: help a homeless person for the long-term by funding their employment training
Paula Schwarz, World Datanomic Forum

FINALISTS:
eWaterpay: Using mobile technology for the accountable collection of user fees to pay for the maintenance of water supply systems forever
Idka: a platform for private groups and organizations, where they can connect, communicate, share and store anything – while their privacy remains intact
OmoLab: develops tools that make easier for people with dyslexia to read
SafetoNet: an app that protects children online by using AI to detect harmful content, whilst respecting children’s privacy
Tick. Done.: a micro-video platform for instant knowledge sharing
Winnow: digital tools to help chefs run more profitable, sustainable kitchen

The Europas Awards — Hottest Blockchain Project
WINNER:
Argent: a smart wallet for cryptocurrencies and blockchain applications

FINALISTS:
Aeternity: a scalable blockchain platform that enables high-speed transacting, purely-functional smart contracts
AZTEC Protocol: building privacy technology for public blockchain infrastructures
Colendi: decentralized credit scoring protocol and microcredit platform with blockchain and machine learning technologies
Edge ESports: blockchain-based platform for professional gamers
FilmChain: blockchain enabled platform that collects data, verifies revenues and executes stakeholder payment splits for film, TV etc
Orbs: a blockchain Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) for large scale consumer applications
Veratrak: a shared workspace for collaborating with your supply chain partners

The Europas Awards — Hottest Blockchain Investor
WINNER:
Outlier Ventures: invests and partners with tokenised communities that will create the new decentralised economy
Presented by Kaisa Ruusalepp, Funderbeam

FINALISTS:
BlueYard Capital
Catagonia Capital
Earlybird Venture Capital
Fabric Ventures: A venture capital firm that invests in scalable decentralized networks
FinLab
KR1: crypto token Investment company supporting early stage decentralised and open source blockchain projects
Mosaic Ventures

The Europas Awards — Hottest A/A+ Investors
WINNER:
Atomico
Presented by Madhuban Kumar, Metafused

FINALISTS:
Accel
Anthemis Group
Balderton Capital
DN Capital
EQT Ventures
Index Ventures
Northzone
Project A Ventures
Ventech Capital

The Europas Awards — Hottest Early-Stage / Accelerator Investors
WINNER:
Founders Factory
Presented by Jenny Judova, TechHub

FINALISTS:
Seedcamp
Forward Partners
Generation S
Entrepreneur First
Techstars London
The Family
7percent Ventures
Backed VC
Firstminute Capital
LocalGlobe
Episode 1 Ventures

The Europas Awards — Hall of Fame
This category recognises a person who has gone above and beyond the call of duty to enhance the tech ecoosystem not just for themselves but for others.
WINNER:
Brent Hoberman of Founders Factory, Founders Forum, Firstminute Capital, Lastminute.com and many other initiatives for startups and entrepreneurs

Read more: https://techcrunch.com/2019/07/01/the-winners-of-the-europas-awards-2019-display-europes-continuing-diversity-and-ambition/

Tencent, one of Asia’s most valuable companies with a current market cap of around $460 billion, has introduced a new motto after co-founder and CEO Pony Ma said this week he wanted “tech for good” to be part of the company’s vision and mission in the future.

The company has not yet officialized the new corporate philosophy and it’s unclear how the “don’t be evil”-like slogan will manifest in Tencent’s business strategy. Nor do we know if it will replace the old mission, which is still emblazoned on its website:

Tencent’s mission is to “improve the quality of life through internet value-added services”. Guided by its “user oriented” business philosophy, Tencent achieves its mission via the delivery of integrated internet solutions to over 1 billion netizens.

Episodes of recent events can probably provide some hints as to what the new slogan might entail. The old mission, which focuses on the individual user rather than the wider society, has led Tencent to supremacy in video games and social media; the company is the operator behind the billion-user messenger WeChat and several top-grossing video games. But these segments of businesses are under growing pressure as China’s changing regulatory environment and industry rivals create challenges for the 21-year-old behemoth.

A months-long gaming freeze last year put a squeeze on Tencent’s gaming revenues, wiping billions of dollars from its market cap. Rising short-video app Douyin, which is TikTok’s local version, threatens Tencent’s dominance in the social and content realms.

To stay competitive, the company underwent a sweeping re-organization last October to place more focus on enterprise businesses, such as cloud computing and other digital infrastructure for industries ranging from finance, healthcare and education to government services.

Tencent shakeup puts the focus on enterprise

The new focus to upgrade entrenched industries not only opens up more revenue streams; these sectors also provide the testing ground for Tencent to put its “tech for good” mission into practice.

As Ma pledged at the government-run industry conference Digital China Summit on Monday, Tencent believes “technology can bring benefits to the human race; humans should make good use of technology and refrain from its evil use; and technology should strive to solve the problems it brings to society.”

Ma pointed to three key areas where technology can generate positive changes: traditional industries, where Tencent could provide big data capabilities to beef up efficiency in production; government units, where Tencent could leverage its apps to digitize a slew of civil services such as applying for visas and renewing drivers’ licenses; and society, which is a broad and arguably vague definition but has seen efforts like tracing missing children using Tencent’s face recognition solutions.

“Looking at parallels across the globe, Google proposed ‘do no evil’ as its code of conduct ahead of its initial public offering 20 years ago. I think this kind of elevated mission is evidence of the amount of influence a company has accumulated,” Zhong Xin, a former Qualcomm engineer who founded the artificial intelligence-powered medical imaging startup 12 Sigma, said to TechCrunch.

“Technology is a double-edged sword. A company needs a guiding principle to determine its proper use, so I believe the purported mission to do good with technology is inevitable,” added Xin.

From the government’s standpoint, a corporate motto that focuses on doing good is clearly music to the ears. Tencent’s new code of conduct comes as China’s tech darlings face mounting public and government criticisms for their adverse impact on society, a movement mirroring Silicon Valley’s tech backlash. The charges range from video games’ role in causing bad eyesight among children, which put Tencent in the crosshairs; to clickbait content running rampant on ByteDance’s popular news app, Toutiao.

Silicon Valley’s year of reckoning

” ‘Doing good’ should be an inherent value to all technology companies, including venture investors,” Wang Jing, partner at venture capital firm Sky9 Capital, suggested to TechCrunch. “When companies have to single out ‘doing good’ on a special occasion, it may be that something has already gone wrong.”

Many tech heavyweights in question have responded to backlashes by imposing stricter policies over their products. Tencent, for example, launched an underage-protection mode for all its gaming titles that would allow parents to monitor children’s play time. Toutiao, too, has hired thousands of auditors to root out content deemed inappropriate by the authority.

This is not the first time Tencent has weighed in on its own ethics. The phrase ‘tech for good’ was first unveiled by Tencent co-founder and former CTO Tony Zhang in early 2018, but it has probably garnered more attention among the executives after an essay titled “Tencent has no dream” sparked heated debate in the Chinese tech circle. Penned by a veteran journalist, the article argued that Tencent was fixated on seeking investment-worthy products rather than inventing its own.

“People argued that Tencent has no dream. By bringing up the slogan ‘tech for good,’ Tencent seems to be proclaiming to the public that it does have a dream,” Derek Shen, who is chairman at shared housing startup Danke and formerly headed LinkedIn China, told TechCrunch. “And its dream is big, which is to do good things to people’s lives.”

Read more: https://techcrunch.com/2019/05/07/tencent-motto-tech-for-good/

New machine learning technologies, user interfaces and automated content creation techniques are going to expand the personalization of storytelling beyond algorithmically generated news feeds and content recommendation.

The next wave will be software-generated narratives that are tailored to the tastes and sentiments of a consumer.

Concretely, it means that your digital footprint, personal preferences and context unlock alternative features in the content itself, be it a news article, live video or a hit series on your streaming service.

The title contains different experiences for different people.

Netflix is experimenting with different episode orders for ‘Love, Death & Robots’

From smart recommendations to smarter content

When you use Youtube, Facebook, Google, Amazon, Twitter, Netflix or Spotify, algorithms select what gets recommended to you. The current mainstream services and their user interfaces and recommendation engines have been optimized to serve you content you might be interested in.

Your data, other people’s data, content-related data and machine learning methods are used to match people and content, thus improving the relevance of content recommendations and efficiency of content distribution.

However, so far the content experience itself has mostly been similar to everyone. If the same news article, live video or TV series episode gets recommended to you and me, we both read and watch the same thing, experiencing the same content.

That’s about to change. Soon we’ll be seeing new forms of smart content, in which user interface, machine learning technologies and content itself are combined in a seamless manner to create a personalized content experience.

What is smart content?

Smart content means that content experience itself is affected by who is seeing, watching, reading or listening to content. The content itself changes based on who you are.

We are already seeing the first forerunners in this space. TikTok’s whole content experience is driven by very short videos, audiovisual content sequences if you will, ordered and woven together by algorithms. Every user sees a different, personalized, “whole” based on her viewing history and user profile.

At the same time, Netflix has recently started testing new forms of interactive content (TV series episodes, e.g. Black Mirror: Bandersnatch) in which user’s own choices affect directly the content experience, including dialogue and storyline. And more is on its way. With Love, Death & Robots series, Netflix is experimenting with episode order within a series, serving the episodes in different order for different users.

Netflix is pursuing more interactive content, including, maybe, a rom-com

Some earlier predecessors of interactive audio-visual content include sports event streaming, in which the user can decide which particular stream she follows and how she interacts with the live content, for example rewinding the stream and spotting the key moments based on her own interest.

Simultaneously, we’re seeing how machine learning technologies can be used to create photo-like images of imaginary people, creatures and places. Current systems can recreate and alter entire videos, for example by changing the style, scenery, lighting, environment or central character’s face. Additionally, AI solutions are able to generate music in different genres.

Now, imagine, that TikTok’s individual short videos would be automatically personalized by the effects chosen by an AI system, and thus the whole video would be customized for you. Or that the choices in the Netflix’s interactive content affecting the plot twists, dialogue and even soundtrack, were made automatically by algorithms based on your profile.

Personalized smart content is coming to news as well. Automated systems, using today’s state-of-the-art NLP technologies, can generate long pieces of concise, comprehensible and even inventive textual content at scale. At present, media houses use automated content creation systems, or “robot journalists”, to create news material varying from complete articles to audio-visual clips and visualizations. Through content atomization (breaking content into small modular chunks of information) and machine learning, content production can be increased massively to support smart content creation.

Say that a news article you read or listen to is about a specific political topic that is unfamiliar to you. When comparing the same article with your friend, your version of the story might use different concepts and offer a different angle than your friend’s who’s really deep into politics. A beginner’s smart content news experience would differ from the experience of a topic enthusiast.

Content itself will become a software-like fluid and personalized experience, where your digital footprint and preferences affect not just how the content is recommended and served to you, but what the content actually contains.

Automated storytelling?

How is it possible to create smart content that contains different experiences for different people?

Content needs to be thought and treated as an iterative and configurable process rather than a ready-made static whole that is finished when it has been published in the distribution pipeline.

Importantly, the core building blocks of the content experience change: smart content consists of atomized modular elements that can be modified, updated, remixed, replaced, omitted and activated based on varying rules. In addition, content modules that have been made in the past, can be reused if applicable. Content is designed and developed more like a software.

Currently a significant amount of human effort and computing resources are used to prepare content for machine-powered content distribution and recommendation systems, varying from smart news apps to on-demand streaming services. With smart content, the content creation and its preparation for publication and distribution channels wouldn’t be separate processes. Instead, metadata and other invisible features that describe and define the content are an integral part of the content creation process from the very beginning.

Turning Donald Glover into Jay Gatsby

With smart content, the narrative or image itself becomes an integral part of an iterative feedback loop, in which the user’s actions, emotions and other signals as well as the visible and invisible features of the content itself affect the whole content consumption cycle from the content creation and recommendation to the content experience. With smart content features, a news article or a movie activates different elements of the content for different people.

It’s very likely that smart content for entertainment purposes will have different features and functions than news media content. Moreover, people expect frictionless and effortless content experience and thus smart content experience differs from games. Smart content doesn’t necessarily require direct actions from the user. If the person wants, the content personalization happens proactively and automatically, without explicit user interaction.

Creating smart content requires both human curation and machine intelligence. Humans focus on things that require creativity and deep analysis while AI systems generate, assemble and iterate the content that becomes dynamic and adaptive just like software.

Sustainable smart content

Smart content has different configurations and representations for different users, user interfaces, devices, languages and environments. The same piece of content contains elements that can be accessed through voice user interface or presented in augmented reality applications. Or the whole content expands into a fully immersive virtual reality experience.

In the same way as with the personalized user interfaces and smart devices, smart content can be used for good and bad. It can be used to enlighten and empower, as well as to trick and mislead. Thus it’s critical, that human-centered approach and sustainable values are built in the very core of smart content creation. Personalization needs to be transparent and the user needs to be able to choose if she wants the content to be personalized or not. And of course, not all content will be smart in the same way, if at all.

If used in a sustainable manner, smart content can break filter bubbles and echo chambers as it can be used to make a wide variety of information more accessible for diverse audiences. Through personalization, challenging topics can be presented to people according to their abilities and preferences, regardless of their background or level of education. For example a beginner’s version of vaccination content or digital media literacy article uses gamification elements, and the more experienced user gets directly a thorough fact-packed account of the recent developments and research results.

Smart content is also aligned with the efforts against today’s information operations such as fake news and its different forms such as “deep fakes” (http://www.niemanlab.org/2018/11/how-the-wall-street-journal-is-preparing-its-journalists-to-detect-deepfakes). If the content is like software, a legit software runs on your devices and interfaces without a problem. On the other hand, even the machine-generated realistic-looking but suspicious content, like deep fake, can be detected and filtered out based on its signature and other machine readable qualities.


Smart content is the ultimate combination of user experience design, AI technologies and storytelling.

News media should be among the first to start experimenting with smart content. When the intelligent content starts eating the world, one should be creating ones own intelligent content.

The first players that master the smart content, will be among tomorrow’s reigning digital giants. And that’s one of the main reasons why today’s tech titans are going seriously into the content game. Smart content is coming.

Read more: https://techcrunch.com/2019/04/13/get-ready-for-a-new-era-of-personalized-entertainment/

Last year, Amazon announced a new initiative, Alexa for Business, designed to introduce its voice assistant technology and Echo devices into a corporate setting. Today, it’s giving the platform a big upgrade by opening it up to device makers who are building their own solutions that have Alexa built in.

The change came about based on feedback from the existing organizations where Alexa for Business is today being used, Amazon says. The company claims thousands of businesses have added an Amazon Echo alongside their existing office equipment since the program’s debut last year, including companies like Express Trucking, Fender and Propel Insurance, for example.

But it heard from businesses that they want to have Alexa built in to existing devices, to minimize the amount of technology they need to manage and monitor.

The update will allow device makers building with the Alexa Voice Service (AVS) SDK to now create products that can be registered with Alexa for Business, and managed as shared devices across the organization.

The device management capabilities include the ability to configure things like the room designation and location and monitor the device’s health, as well as manage which public and private skills are assigned to the shared devices.

A part of Alexa for Business is the ability for organizations to create their own internal — and practical — skills for a business setting, like voice search for employee directories, Salesforce data or company calendar information.

Amazon also recently launched its own feature for Alexa for Business users that offers the ability for staff to book conference rooms.

Amazon says it’s already working with several brands on integrating Alexa into their own devices, including Plantronics, iHome and BlackBerry. And it’s working with solution providers like Linkplay and Extron, it says. (Citrix has also begun to integrate with the “for Business” platform.)

“We’ve been using Alexa for Business since its launch by pairing Echo devices with existing Polycom equipment,” noted Laura Marx, VP of Alliance Marketing at Plantronics, in a statement about its plans to make equipment that works with Alexa. “Integrating those experiences directly into products like Polycom Trio will take our customer experience to the next level of convenience and ease of use,” she said.

Plantronics provided an early look at the Alexa experience earlier this year, and iHome has an existing device with Alexa built in – the iAVS16. However, it has not yet announced which product will be offered through Alexa for Business.

It’s still too soon to see how well any of Amazon’s business initiatives with Alexa pay off — after all, Echo devices today are often used for consumer-orientated purposes like playing music, getting news and information, setting kitchen timers and making shopping lists. But if Amazon is able to penetrate businesses with Echo speakers and other Alexa-powered business equipment, it could make inroads into a profitable voice market, beyond the smart home.

But not everyone believes Alexa in the workplace is a good idea. Hackers envision how the devices could be used for corporate espionage and hacks, and warn that companies with trade secrets shouldn’t have listening devices set around their offices.

Amazon, however, is plodding ahead. It has even integrated with Microsoft’s Cortana so Alexa can gain access to Cortana’s knowledge of productivity features like calendar management, day at a glance and customer email.

The Alexa for Business capabilities are provided as an extension to the AVS Device SDK, starting with version 1.10, available to download from GitHub.

Read more: https://techcrunch.com/2018/10/24/alexa-for-business-opens-up-to-third-party-device-makers/