Committed to privacy, Snips founder wants to take on Alexa and Google, with blockchain

Committed to privacy, Snips founder wants to take on Alexa and Google, with blockchain
Earlier this year we saw the headlines of how the users of popular voice assistants like Alexa and Siri and continue to face issues when their private data is compromised, or even sent to random people. In May it was reported that Amazon’s Alexa recorded a private conversation and sent it to a random contact. Amazon insists its Echo devices aren’t always recording, but it did confirm the audio was sent.
The story could be a harbinger of things to come when voice becomes more and more ubiquitous. After all, Amazon announced the launch of Alexa for Hospitality, its Alexa system for hotels, in June. News stories like this simply reinforce the idea that voice control is seeping into our daily lives.
The French startup Snips thinks it might have an answer to the issue of security and data privacy. Its built its software to run 100% on-device, independently from the cloud. As a result, user data is processed on the device itself, acting as a potentially stronger guarantor of privacy. Unlike centralized assistants like Alexa and Google, Snips knows nothing about its users.
Its approach is convincing investors. To date, Snips has raised €22 million in funding from investors like Korelya Capital, MAIF Avenir, BPI France and Eniac Ventures. Created in 2013 by 3 PhDs, and now employing more than 60 people in Paris and New York, Snips offers its voice assistant technology as a white-labelled solution for enterprise device manufacturers.
It’s tested its theories about voice by releasing the result of a consumer poll. The survey of 410 people found that 66% of respondents said they would be apprehensive of using a voice assistant in a hotel room, because of concerns over privacy, 90% said they would like to control the ways corporations use their data, even if it meant sacrificing convenience.
“Сonsumers are increasingly aware of the privacy concerns with voice assistants that rely on cloud storage — and that these concerns will actually impact their usage,” says Dr Rand Hindi, co-founder and CEO at Snips. “However, emerging technologies like blockchain are helping us to create safer and fairer alternatives for voice assistants.”
Indeed, blockchain is very much part of Snip’s future. As Hindi told TechCrunch in May, the company will release a new set of consumer devices independent of its enterprise business. The idea is to create a consumer business that will prompt further enterprise development. At the same time, they will issue a cryptographic token via an ICO to incentivize developers to improve the Snips platform, as an alternative to using data from consumers. The theory goes that this will put it at odds with the approach used by Google and Amazon, who are constantly criticised for invading our private lives merely to improve their platforms.
As a result Hindi believes that as voice-controlled devices become an increasingly common sight in public spaces, there could be a significant shift in public opinion about how their privacy is being protected.
In an interview conducted last month with TechCrunch, Hindi told me the company’s plans for its new consumer product are well advanced, and will be designed from the beginning to be improved over time using a combination of decentralized machine learning and cryptography.
By using blockchain technology to share data, they will be able to train the network “without ever anybody sending unencrypted data anywhere,” he told me.
And ‘training the network” is where it gets interesting. By issuing a cryptographic token for developers to use, Hindi says they will incentivize devs to work on their platform and process data in a decentralized fashion. They are starting from a good place. He claims they already have 14,000 developers on the platform who will be further incentivized by a token economy.
“Otherwise people have no incentive to process that data in a decentralized fashion, right?” he says.
“We got into blockchain because we’re trying to find a way to get people to participate in decentralized machine learning. We’ve been wanting to get into consumer [devices] for a couple of years but didn’t really figure out the end goal because we had always had this missing element which was: how do you keep making it better over time.”
“This is the main argument for Google and Amazon to pretend that you need to send your data to them, to make the service better. If we can fix this [by using blockchain] then we can offer a real alternative to Alexa that guarantees Privacy by Design,” he says.
“We now have over 14000 developers building for us and that’s really completely organic growth, zero marketing, purely word of mouth, which is really nice because it shows that there’s a very big demand for decentralized voice assistance, effectively.”
It could be a high-risk strategy. Launching a voice-controlled device is one thing. Layering it with applications produced by developed supposedly incentivized by tokens, especially when crypto prices have crashed, is quite another.
It does definitely feel like a moonshot idea, however, and we’ll really only know if Snips can live up to such lofty ideals after the launch.

Source: Gadgets – techcrunch

Coinbase acquires Distributed Systems to build ‘Login with Coinbase’

Coinbase acquires Distributed Systems to build ‘Login with Coinbase’

Coinbase wants to be Facebook Connect for crypto. The blockchain giant plans to develop “Login with Coinbase” or a similar identity platform for decentralized app developers to make it much easier for users to sign up and connect their crypto wallets. To fuel that platform, today Coinbase announced it has acquired Distributed Systems, a startup founded in 2015 that was building an identity standard for dApps called the Clear Protocol.

The five-person Distributed Systems team and its technology will join Coinbase. Three of the team members will work with Coinbase’s Toshi decentralized mobile browser team, while CEO Nikhil Srinivasan and his co-founder Alex Kern are forming the new decentralized identity team that will work on the Login with Coinbase product. They’ll be building it atop the “know your customer” anti-money laundering data Coinbase has on its 20 million customers. Srinivasan tells me the goal is to figure out “How can we allow that really rich identity data to enable a new class of applications?”

Distributed Systems had raised a $1.7 million seed round last year led by Floodgate and was considering raising a $4 million to $8 million round this summer. But Srinivasan says, “No one really understood what we’re building,” and it wanted a partner with KYC data. It began talking to Coinbase Ventures about an investment, but after they saw Distributed Systems’ progress and vision, “they quickly tried to move to find a way to acquire us.”

Distributed Systems began to hold acquisition talks with multiple major players in the blockchain space, and the CEO tells me it was deciding between going to “Facebook, or Robinhood, or Binance, or Coinbase,” having been in formal talks with at least one of the first three. Of Coinbase the CEO said, they “were able to convince us they were making big bets, weaving identity across their products.” The financial terms of the deal weren’t disclosed.

Coinbase’s plan to roll out the Login with Coinbase-style platform is an SDK that others apps could integrate, though that won’t necessarily be the feature’s name. That mimics the way Facebook colonized the web with its SDK and login buttons that splashed its brand in front of tons of new and existing users. This turned Facebook into a fundamental identity utility beyond its social network.

Developers eager to improve conversions on their signup flow could turn to Coinbase instead of requiring users to set up whole new accounts and deal with crypto-specific headaches of complicated keys and procedures for connecting their wallet to make payments. One prominent dApp developer told me yesterday that forcing users to set up the MetaMask browser extension for identity was the part of their signup flow where they’re losing the most people.

This morning Coinbase CEO Brian Armstrong confirmed these plans to work on an identity SDK. When Coinbase investor Garry Tan of Initialized Capital wrote that “The main issue preventing dApp adoption is lack of native SDK so you can just download a mobile app and a clean fiat to crypto in one clean UX. Still have to download a browser plugin and transfer Eth to Metamask for now Too much friction,” Armstrong replied “On it :)”

In effect, Coinbase and Distributed Systems could build a safer version of identity than we get offline. As soon as you give your Social Security number to someone or it gets stolen, it can be used anywhere without your consent, and that leads to identity theft. Coinbase wants to build a vision of identity where you can connect to decentralized apps while retaining control. “Decentralized identity will let you prove that you own an identity, or that you have a relationship with the Social Security Administration, without making a copy of that identity,” writes Coinbase’s PM for identity B. Byrne, who’ll oversee Srinivasan’s new decentralized identity team. “If you stretch your imagination a little further, you can imagine this applying to your photos, social media posts, and maybe one day your passport too.”

Considering Distributed Systems and Coinbase are following the Facebook playbook, they may soon have competition from the social network. It’s spun up its own blockchain team and an identity and single sign-on platform for dApps is one of the products I think Facebook is most likely to build. But given Coinbase’s strong reputation in the blockchain industry and its massive head start in terms of registered crypto users, today’s acquisition well position it to be how we connect our offline identity with the rising decentralized economy.

Source: Mobile – Techcruch

Opera adds a crypto wallet to its mobile browser

Opera adds a crypto wallet to its mobile browser

The Opera Android browser will soon be able to hold your cryptocurrencies. The system, now in beta, lets you store crypto and ERC20 tokens in your browser, send and receive crypto on the fly, and secures your wallet with your phone’s biometric security or passcode.

You can sign up to try the beta here.

The feature, called Crypto Wallet, “makes Opera the first major browser to introduce a built-in crypto wallet” according to the company. The feature could allow for micropayments in the browser and paves the way for similar features in other browsers.

From the release:

We believe the web of today will be the interface to the decentralized web of tomorrow. This is why we have chosen to use our browser to bridge the gap. We think that with a built-in crypto wallet, the browser has the potential to renew and extend its important role as a tool to access information, make transactions online and manage users’ online identity in a way that gives them more control.

In addition to being able to send money from wallet to wallet and interact with Dapps, Opera now supports online payments with cryptocurrency where merchants support exists. Users that choose to pay for their order using cryptocurrency on Coinbase Commerce-enabled merchants will be presented with a payment request dialog, asking them for their signature. The payment will then be signed and transmitted directly from the browser.

While it’s still early days for this sort of technology it’s interesting to see a mainstream browser entering the space. Don’t hold your breath on seeing crypto in Safari or Edge but Chrome and other “open source” browsers could easily add these features given enough demand.

Source: Mobile – Techcruch

Safety app Watch Out acquires paywall startup BitWall

Safety app Watch Out acquires paywall startup BitWall

BitWall, a Bitcoin-focused startup promising to help online publishers make money, has been acquired.

Its new owner is Watch Out, the company behind an app that sends alerts about things like product and food recalls and weather-related emergencies. It’s not the most obvious acquirer, but the companies say BitWall can help Watch Out improve its data, payments and loyalty systems.

“We are excited to bring BitWall into the Watch Out! ecosystem,” said Watch Out CEO Michael Lucas in the acquisition announcement. “Our mission is to provide a secure consumer-protection platform while delivering hyper-targeted content when and where it matters most, whether that be a safety alert or a digital reward. BitWall and its team help us do that.”

Apparently there’s a TechCrunch connection to the story, too — BitWall co-founder and CEO Nic Meliones told me he first got connected to Watch Out at our Disrupt SF Hackathon in 2014, and he said the company has already been “a great partner” to BitWall.

I first wrote about the startup before the current craze around Bitcoin and cryptocurrency — all the way back in 2013. The idea was to give visitors different ways to access paywalled content, whether that’s making a small payment, promoting the article on Twitter or viewing an ad.

The company’s biggest win was probably a partnership with the Chicago Sun-Times in 2014, where the Sun-Times tested out a paywall that readers could bypass using Bitcoin or tweets. (The Sun-Times’ current paywall plans don’t appear to include BitWall.)

The financial terms of the deal were not disclosed. Meliones said the company’s paywall product will be shut down, with the technology diverted to a yet-to-be-announced product at WatchOut.

Bitwall’s investors include Boost VC, AngelPad, Tim Draper, the Boost Bitcoin Fund.

Source: Mobile – Techcruch

20 takeaways from Meeker’s 294-slide Internet Trends report

20 takeaways from Meeker’s 294-slide Internet Trends report

This is a must-read for understanding the tech industry. We’ve distilled famous investor Mary Meeker’s annual Internet Trends report down from its massive 294 slides of stats and charts to just the most important insights. Click or scroll through to learn what’s up with internet growth, screen addiction, e-commerce, Amazon versus Alibaba, tech investment and artificial intelligence.

Source: Mobile – Techcruch

Here’s Mary Meeker’s essential 2018 Internet Trends report

Here’s Mary Meeker’s essential 2018 Internet Trends report

Want to understand all the most important tech stats and trends? Legendary venture capitalist Mary Meeker has just released the 2018 version of her famous Internet Trends report. It covers everything from mobile to commerce to the competition between tech giants. Check out the full report below, and we’ll add some highlights soon. Then come back for our slide-by-slide analysis of the most important parts of the 294 page report.

  • Internet adoption: As of 2018, half the world population, or about 3.6 billion people, will be on the internet. That’s thanks in large part to cheaper Android phones and Wifi becoming more available, though individual services will have a tougher time adding new users as the web hits saturation.
  • Mobile usage: While smartphone shipments are flat and internet user growth is slowing, U.S. adults are spending more time online thanks to mobile, clocking 5.9 hours per day in 2017 versus 5.6 hours in 2016.
  • Mobile ads: People are shifting their time to mobile faster than ad dollars are following, creating a $7 billion mobile ad opportunity, though platforms are increasingly responsible for providing safe content to host those ads.
  • Crypto: Interest in cryptocurrency is exploding as Coinbase’s user count has nearly quadrupled since January 2017
  • Voice: Voice technology is at an inflection point due to speech recognition hitting 95% accuracy and the sales explosion for Amazon Echo which went from over 10 million to over 30 million sold in total by the end of 2017.
  • Daily usage – Revenue gains for services like Facebook are tightly coupled with daily user growth, showing how profitable it is to become a regular habit.
  • Tech investment: We’re at an all-time high for public and private investment in technology, while the top six public R&D + capex spenders are all technology companies.

Mary Meeker, analyst with Morgan Stanley, speaks during the Web 2.0 Summit in San Francisco, California, U.S., on Tuesday, Nov. 16, 2010. This year’s conference, which runs through Nov. 17, is titled “Points of Control: The Battle for the Network Economy.” Photographer: Tony Avelar/Bloomberg via Getty Images

  • Ecommerce vs Brick & Mortar: Ecommerce growth quickens as now 13% of all retail purchases happen online and parcel shipments are rising swiftly, signaling big opportunities for new shopping apps.
  • Amazon: More people start product searches on Amazon than search engines now, but Jeff Bezos still relies on other surfaces like Facebook and YouTube to inspire people to want things.
  • Subscription services: They’re seeing massive adoption, with Netflix up 25%, The New York Times up 43%, and Spotify up 48% year-over-year in 2017. A free tier accelerates conversion rates.
  • Education: Employees seek retraining and education from YouTube and online courses to keep up with new job requirements and pay off skyrocketing student loan debt.
  • Freelancing: Employees crave scheduling and work-from-home flexibility, and internet discovery of freelance work led it to grow 3X faster than total workforce growth. The on-demand workforce grew 23% in 2017 driven by Uber, Airbnb, Etsy, Upwork, and Doordash.
  • Transportation: People are buying fewer cars, keeping them longer, and shifting transportation spend to rideshare, which saw rides double in 2017.
  • Enterprise: Consumerization of the enterprise through better interfaces is spurring growth for companies like Dropbox and Slack.
  • China: Alibaba is expanding beyond China with strong gross merchandise volume, though Amazon still rules in revenue.
  • Privacy: China has a big opportunity as users there are much more willing to trade their personal data for product benefits than U.S. users, and China is claiming more spots on the top 20 internet company list while making big investments in AI.
  • Immigration: It is critical to a strong economy, as 56% of top U.S. companies were founded by a first- or second-generation immigrant.

Source: Mobile – Techcruch

Snips announces an ICO and its own voice assistant device

Snips announces an ICO and its own voice assistant device
French startup Snips has been working on voice assistant technology that respects your privacy. And the company is going to use its own voice assistant for a set of consumer devices. As part of this consumer push, the company is also announcing an initial coin offering.
Yes, it sounds a bit like Snips is playing a game of buzzword bingo. Anyone can currently download the open source Snips SDK and play with it with a Raspberry Pi, a microphone and a speaker. It’s private by design, you can even make it work without any internet connection. Companies can partner with Snips to embed a voice assistant in their own devices too.
But Snips is adding a B2C element to its business. This time, the company is going to compete directly with Amazon Echo and Google Home speakers. You’ll be able to buy the Snips AIR Base and Snips AIR Satellites.
The base will be a good old smart speaker, while satellites will be tiny portable speakers that you can put in all your rooms. The company plans to launch those devices in 18 months.

By default, Snips devices will come with basic skills to control your smart home devices, get the weather, control music, timers, alarms, calendars and reminders. Unlike the Amazon Echo or Google Home, voice commands won’t be sent to Google’s or Amazon’s servers.
Developers will be able to create skills and publish them on a marketplace. That marketplace will run on a new blockchain — the AIR blockchain.
And that’s where the ICO comes along. The marketplace will accept AIR tokens to buy more skills. You’ll also be able to generate training data for voice commands using AIR tokens. To be honest, I’m not sure why good old credit card transactions weren’t enough. But I guess that’s a good way to raise money.

Source: Gadgets – techcrunch

Meet the speakers at The Europas, and get your ticket free (July 3, London)

Meet the speakers at The Europas, and get your ticket free (July 3, London)
Excited to announce that this year’s The Europas Unconference & Awards is shaping up! Our half day Unconference kicks off on 3 July, 2018 at The Brewery in the heart of London’s “Tech City” area, followed by our startup awards dinner and fantastic party and celebration of European startups!
The event is run in partnership with TechCrunch, the official media partner. Attendees, nominees and winners will get deep discounts to TechCrunch Disrupt in Berlin, later this year.
The Europas Awards are based on voting by expert judges and the industry itself. But key to the daytime is all the speakers and invited guests. There’s no “off-limits speaker room” at The Europas, so attendees can mingle easily with VIPs and speakers.
What exactly is an Unconference? We’re dispensing with the lectures and going straight to the deep-dives, where you’ll get a front row seat with Europe’s leading investors, founders and thought leaders to discuss and debate the most urgent issues, challenges and opportunities. Up close and personal! And, crucially, a few feet away from handing over a business card. The Unconference is focused into zones including AI, Fintech, Mobility, Startups, Society, and Enterprise and Crypto / Blockchain.
We’ve confirmed 10 new speakers including:

Eileen Burbidge, Passion Capital

Carlos Eduardo Espinal, Seedcamp

Richard Muirhead, Fabric Ventures

Sitar Teli, Connect Ventures

Nancy Fechnay, Blockchain Technologist + Angel

George McDonaugh, KR1

Candice Lo, Blossom Capital

Scott Sage, Crane Venture Partners

Andrei Brasoveanu, Accel

Tina Baker, Jag Shaw Baker
How To Get Your Ticket For FREE
We’d love for you to ask your friends to join us at The Europas – and we’ve got a special way to thank you for sharing.
Your friend will enjoy a 15% discount off the price of their ticket with your code, and you’ll get 15% off the price of YOUR ticket.
That’s right, we will refund you 15% off the cost of your ticket automatically when your friend purchases a Europas ticket.
So you can grab tickets here.
Vote for your Favourite Startups
Public Voting is still humming along. Please remember to vote for your favourite startups!
Awards by category:
Hottest Media/Entertainment Startup
Hottest E-commerce/Retail Startup
Hottest Education Startup
Hottest Startup Accelerator
Hottest Marketing/AdTech Startup
Hottest Games Startup
Hottest Mobile Startup
Hottest FinTech Startup
Hottest Enterprise, SaaS or B2B Startup
Hottest Hardware Startup
Hottest Platform Economy / Marketplace
Hottest Health Startup
Hottest Cyber Security Startup
Hottest Travel Startup
Hottest Internet of Things Startup
Hottest Technology Innovation
Hottest FashionTech Startup
Hottest Tech For Good
Hottest A.I. Startup
Fastest Rising Startup Of The Year
Hottest GreenTech Startup of The Year
Hottest Startup Founders
Hottest CEO of the Year
Best Angel/Seed Investor of the Year
Hottest VC Investor of the Year
Hottest Blockchain/Crypto Startup Founder(s)
Hottest Blockchain Protocol Project
Hottest Blockchain DApp
Hottest Corporate Blockchain Project
Hottest Blockchain Investor
Hottest Blockchain ICO (Europe)
Hottest Financial Crypto Project
Hottest Blockchain for Good Project
Hottest Blockchain Identity Project
Hall Of Fame Award – Awarded to a long-term player in Europe
The Europas Grand Prix Award (to be decided from winners)
The Awards celebrates the most forward thinking and innovative tech & blockchain startups across over some 30+ categories.
Startups can apply for an award or be nominated by anyone, including our judges. It is free to enter or be nominated.
What is The Europas?
Instead of thousands and thousands of people, think of a great summer event with 1,000 of the most interesting and useful people in the industry, including key investors and leading entrepreneurs.

• No secret VIP rooms, which means you get to interact with the Speakers
• Key Founders and investors speaking; featured attendees invited to just network
• Expert speeches, discussions, and Q&A directly from the main stage
• Intimate “breakout” sessions with key players on vertical topics
• The opportunity to meet almost everyone in those small groups, super-charging your networking
• Journalists from major tech titles, newspapers and business broadcasters
• A parallel Founders-only track geared towards fund-raising and hyper-networking

• A stunning awards dinner and party which honors both the hottest startups and the leading lights in the European startup scene
• All on one day to maximise your time in London. And it’s PROBABLY sunny!

That’s just the beginning. There’s more to come…

Interested in sponsoring the Europas or hosting a table at the awards? Or purchasing a table for 10 or 12 guest or a half table for 5 guests? Get in touch with:
Petra Johansson
[email protected]
Phone: +44 (0) 20 3239 9325

Source: Gadgets – techcrunch

Drink-a-day startup Hooch raises $5M as it plans blockchain initiative

Drink-a-day startup Hooch raises M as it plans blockchain initiative

Right on the heels of launching its concierge service Hooch Black, Hooch announced today that it has raised $5 million in seed funding.

The company’s basic subscription of $9.99 gets you one free drink per day from a variety of partner bars and restaurants. Hooch Black (which you have to apply for, and which costs $295 per year) adds hotel deals, concierge service and other perks on top.

Even though Hooch had already raised $2.75 million in two pre-seed rounds, co-founder and CEO Lin Dai said it was more important to bring on strategic investors than it was to raise a lot of money: “We feel like the most important thing for our business is really the relationships.”

After all, he said the hospitality industry is controlled by “a few key companies,” so success is determined by working with those companies — it’s not a situation where someone can just beat you by outspending you.

The funding was led by Revelis Capital Group and Blue Scorpion Investments, with participation from Access Industries Holdings, Warner Music Group (Dai said that Hooch will be working with Warner Music on content, events and promotions), FJ Labs, Diesel CEO Stefano Rosso, former Comcast CTO Sree Kotay and others.

At the same time, the company is expanding its advisory board to include Bob Hurst (previously vice chairman of Goldman Sachs), Bonin Bough (former chief media and ecommerce officer at Mondelez) and Teymour Farman-Farmaian (previously CMO and CRO at Spotify and now managing director of Bitcoin wallet company Xapo).

Dai also said Hooch is preparing to launch its blockchain initiative this summer. What does blockchain have to do with free drinks? Well, Dai didn’t go into detail, but he suggested that by launching its own cryptocurrency token, Hooch could work with partners to create a “decentralized model for consumer rewards.”

Looking ahead, Dai said that Hooch might raise a “proper” Series A in 12 to 18 months, though he expects to reach profitability before then.

“At that point, we will have already built the moat around us with exclusive deals with all the top hospitality and experiential players,” he said. “That would be the appropriate time for us, if needed, to go back to a traditional round of funding.”

Source: Mobile – Techcruch