3 lessons from Roblox’s growth to gaming dominance

Our recently published EC-1 on Roblox recounts the origin story and growth prospects of the company. But there’s one more piece to the story: what Roblox’s impact will be on gaming and the broader startup industry, if the company manages to multiply its current 90 million users.

roblox maus 1

Sources: TechCrunch, VentureBeat, Roblox

We’ve distilled three key ideas out of the EC-1 — lessons that may apply not only to game developers and gaming entrepreneurs, but also to the broader startup industry.

Lesson 1: UGC is a missed opportunity in games

Roblox has shown that user-generated content (UGC) is a missed opportunity for much of the game industry. The company aspires, in a way, to be the YouTube of games. And it is succeeding, with 2 million experiences to date.

The game industry generally has two problems with UGC. One is the games themselves: AAA games today are too complex, and lack the flexibility and simplicity needed for robust UGC. Roblox shows that a simpler look and feel is a valid alternative to today’s super-sized, beautiful AAA games. (Minecraft proved much the same.)

The other problem is the greater complexity of making games than, say, videos or music. Roblox solved this problem by building its own game engine, which is designed solely to output Roblox-style experiences.

But increasingly, engines like Unity are capable of accomplishing similar feats: games are getting easier to build. It’s now possible that savvy entrepreneurs could build a platform like Roblox, without building an entire game engine.

Lesson 2: New opportunities in gaming are still coming

The game industry is infamously cyclical. New platforms emerge, become promising, then grow overcrowded and competitive. Usually, this cycle relates to hardware (the iPhone, virtual reality helmets, game consoles like the Nintendo Switch) or massive changes in consumer behavior (the emergence of Facebook, the early growth of the internet). But Roblox, a pure software play, shows that exceptions could exist.

It’s still early days. Roblox reported that it paid out $30 million to game developers in 2017, doubling to $60 million in 2018. Since Roblox keeps 65 percent of revenue from its games, that means it made around $230 million total in 2018. Its top 10 developers made about $2.5 million each. Seven of its games have also entered a “billion plays” club:

Adopt Me, a newer game, hit 440,000 concurrent users in June, a new record for the platform.

When a new platform appears, it’s usually found by amateur developers first. That’s certainly the case with Roblox: its successes are being created almost exclusively by first-time game developers in their teens and twenties. At some point, professional developers are likely to conclude they can do at least as well. The current market is particularly exciting because many games are fairly simple and lightweight — recent breakout hits like Camping 2 and Weight Lifting Simulator 3 are significantly smaller than comparable games on other platforms.

For entrepreneurs interested in creating new platforms or portals Roblox’s success as a combined game engine and self-contained platform also shows that opportunities still exist — if you have the patience to wait for them to mature.

Lesson 3: Patience can create amazing growth cycles

It took Roblox 15 years to grow to its current point. But most of that growth is recent: as seen in the chart above, Roblox experienced 10x growth in about 3 years, from 9 million users in February 2016 to 90 million in April 2019.

So what went into the decade or so during which Roblox was a much smaller platform? As we tell it in the origin story: a great deal of work, and very little paid acquisition.

In its early years, Roblox did buy users, to seed a user base while it worked on an impossibly large vision that included a game engine, platform, social features, a creator community, and its own games. But after a few years, it stopped buying users.

All of its growth since has been organic. That’s from two main sources: word of mouth, and YouTube users who watch one of the many Roblox streamers. Of course, any company can try to do the same. But Roblox had the patience to build a unique product — one which took years of work to even reach partial completion.

The key to it all was long-term adherence to a long-term goal: the creation of a new category, which it calls “human coexperience”. Today, Roblox still can’t be called part of a new category; it’s a game platform. But with more years of work, it may eventually get there.

For more on the Roblox story, see Part 1: The Origin Story, and Part 2: The Business Plan.

Workplace, Facebook’s service for business teams, is raising its prices for the first time since launch

Three years into its life with 2 million paying users signed up, Workplace — Facebook’s platform for businesses and and other organizations to build internal communities and communications — is about to make a significant business shift of its own. Come September 2, Workplace is changing its pricing tiers, how it charges its users, and the services that it provides customers.

Up to now, Facebook has taken a very simple approach to how it charges for Workplace, unique not just because of it being a paid service (unlike Facebook itself, which is free), but for how it modelled its pricing on the basic building block of Facebook-the-consumer product: a basic version was free, with an enhanced premium edition costing a flat $3 per active user, per month.

In September, that will change. The standard (basic) tier is getting rebranded as Workplace Essential, and will still be free to use. Meanwhile, the premium tier is being renamed Workplace Advanced and getting charged $4 per person, per month. And Facebook is introducing a new tier, Workplace Enterprise, which will be charged at $8 per person, per month, and will come with a new set of services specifically around guaranteed, quicker support and first-look access at new features. (Those who are already customers have the option of being grandfathered for a year, the company said, before switching to a new plan.)

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Those are not the only changes. Two other notable shifts are getting introduced with these new tiers. First, these prices will be for all users, regardless of whether they are active in the month.

And second, they are specifically prices for people who access Workplace as general “knowledge workers” — marked by having email addresses and specific job functions. Frontline workers — for example cashiers or baristas or others mostly on their feet all day helping customers — will be an add-on at $1.50 per person per month, also regardless of whether they are active or not.

For now, the rest of the features in the different tiers are remaining the same:

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The changes at Workplace come amid a number of other developments among workforce collaboration and communication platforms.

First and foremost, Slack has how gone public, subjecting it and its ups and downs to a lot more public scrutiny, but also putting it on the map as a business of some standing, helping it make a bigger move into brokering more deals with the larger enterprises that Workplace has been winning over. The latter’s customers include the likes of Walmart, the worlds biggest employer; as well as Nestle, Vodafone, GSK, Telefonica, AstraZeneca and Delta Airlines, and Facebook says that there are more than 150 companies signed up with more than 10,000 employees each.

Teams, meanwhile, has now passed Slack in user numbers, and in a way is a more direct competitor: it has positioned itself (like Workplace) as a tool for both knowledge and frontline workers, helping with actual back-office collaboration, as well as a way to broadcast communications to a wider group of employees.

Julien Codorniou, the VP of Workplace, said that the changes in pricing tiers was not a reaction to competition, but rather a reaction to customers. Although the pricing for Workplace was an interesting twist on how enterprises tend to procure IT, it turned out to be too novel by half: it turned out that most actually like the predictability of paying the same amount for a service upfront, rather than having the pricing change each month depending on usage.

“Today, customers’ bills change every month, for example when a coworker goes on vacation or whatever,” he said. “It’s a nightmare for the accounting department, who needs to know how much to pay two years out.”

He added that this doesn’t mean you can’t change how much you pay: you could change the pricing each month if necessary.

So far,  no one has made the shift to the new tiers, so it will be interesting to see how and if they have much of an impact. I do know that from retail theory, customers in stores are more likely to select a middle-priced product if they are given an option of something cheap and something expensive at either end, and so this could be an interesting way to drive more users to Workplace’s paid tier.

What is more clear is that this is also a way for Facebook to raise its prices for the first time since the service launched, and lays the groundwork for more differentiation between different kinds of offerings.

 

Patreon raises $60M Series D, targets international growth and more customization

Patreon, the San Francisco-based platform that helps over 100,000 online content creators manage paid membership communities for their most dedicated fans, has raised $60 million in Series D funding.

Glade Brook Capital, a late-stage fund based in Greenwich, Connecticut, led this round with participation from prior investors like Index Ventures, CRV, Thrive Capital, Initialized, and DFJ Growth. This totals $165 million in funding that Patreon has raised since its founding in 2013.

In February, I published a 5-part series analyzing Patreon’s founding story, product evolution, business, competition, and overarching vision. The company has prioritized established creators who can generate $1,000+ per month in membership revenue as its core customer and is focused on being the underlying platform they use to manage relationships with superfans through a CRM, payment processing, and gating of exclusive access to content and discussion groups.

It makes money by taking a cut of each creator’s monthly revenue earned from their fans’ Patreon memberships.

Co-Founder & CEO Jack Conte shared news of the Series D via a blog post and tells me the new funds will contribute toward these priorities:

  1. Benefits functionality: integrating with more tech platforms using the Patreon API to ensure only paying members receive access to creators’ exclusive discussion groups on Discord or Discourse, receive special badges that mark them as a patron on Reddit, etc.
  2. Premium features: adding more features to the new Pro and Premium pricing tiers it launched in March which provide extra services and functionality to creators in exchange for a higher cut of their membership revenue (8% and 12%–plus payment processing fees–respectively, compared to 5% for the original Lite tier).
  3. Page customization: enabling creators to customize their Patreon pages more by changing colors, layout, and font to fit their own brand.
  4. Merchandising: expanding Patreon’s fulfillment of merchandise for creators who offer merch as a reward to their fans who subscribe to a given membership tier by adding international shipping options and more merch products to select for custom branding.
  5. International expansion: ensuring Patreon is available in more languages and can easily handle international payments, plus staffing new offices in Dublin (Ireland), Porto (Portugal), and other locations yet to be finalized.

When I asked Conte whether he plans to use this new funding to make more acquisitions — Patreon acquired the white-label membership management platform Memberful last summer — he responded that there are no deals currently in the pipeline but M&A is certainly on the table if they identify the right opportunity:

“It’s been a few years that we have been seeing the ‘Patreon for X’ trend of startups focused on a specific niche like podcasting. We’re looking at those companies and always open to joining forces if the mission is aligned and product is great.”

As it announced in January, Patreon expects to surpass $500 million in payments processed during 2019, passing the milestone of over $1 billion paid out to creators since founding. Roughly 40% of those payments are international and the overall monthly spend of fans who use Patreon is $12 on average.

 

Glade Brook Capital’s managing partner Paul Hudson, who originally founded the firm as a hedge fund, shared a statement with TechCrunch on why he invested in Patreon:

“Too many talented creators struggle to monetize their efforts in the digital era. Patreon is growing so fast because creators recognize the value in building recurring fan-based revenue streams and improving engagement with their most passionate fans.”

Conte also revealed that a handful of artists, including musician Serj Tankian and comedian Hannibal Buress, invested in Patreon as part of this new round. He hopes that the Pro and Premium tiers will draw more creators who don’t already use Patreon and support existing customers who need more advanced toolset given the size of their fanbase.

Watch 5,000 rockets attempt a world record simultaneous launch to celebrate Apollo 11

50 years ago today, at 9:32 AM ET, Apollo 11 took off from Kennedy Space Center in Florida aboard a Saturn V rocket. At 9:32 AM ET this morning in 2019, you can watch as the U.S. Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville, AL attempts a record of its own.

The Space & Rocket Center will play host to a launch of 5,000 model rockets all blasting off at once, in what will be an attempt at a Guinness world record for the most rockets launched at once. It’s a demonstration with sponsors including Boeing, Lockheed Martin and the United Launch Alliance, which all of course manage actual rocket launches with fair frequency.

Those model rockets may be small, but 5,000 of anything that’s propelled by controlled explosions into the sky is bound to be quite the show, so keep an eye on the stream above for the fireworks.

Grammarly goes beyond grammar

Grammarly, the popular grammar and spellcheck tool, is launching a major update to its browser extensions, web app and native desktop apps today. In its early days, Grammarly was all about the mechanics of writing correctly. With this update, the tool will go well beyond finding standard spelling, punctuation and grammar errors and add a number of new features that are meant to address issues that can hold your writing back.

To do this, the tool will now also highlight sentences and phrases that are potentially unclear, for example. It’ll also help you find the right tone for your text and choose the right words to keep your text varied and engaging. There’s nothing worse than having to read the same words over and over again when switching up a few words could make your text more varied and engaging, after all.

Grammarly 4Categories

As some of these suggestions depend on what you’re trying to achieve with a given document, Grammarly now also allows you to provide more information about whether you’re trying to write a professional document or a travel blog, for example.

In its products, Grammarly will highlight these issues under new clarity, engagement and delivery sections (on top of the existing correctness tab). Inside the editor, the tool will now use four different colors to underline words and phrases that its algorithms believe could be improved. “The more Grammarly knows about what you want to accomplish with a piece of writing, the better it can tailor its suggestions to suit your needs,” the team explains in today’s announcement. “For example, when you specify the audience you’re writing for, Grammarly will adjust its suggestions to help you focus your writing for that type of reader.”

Grammarly 4Categories applied

Somewhat unsurprisingly, most of these advanced features will only be available to paying Grammarly Premium users (starting at $30/month for the monthly plan, though the company offers significant discounts for annual subscriptions and regularly offers free users discount subscriptions, too). Some of the clarity suggestions around clarity and conciseness will be available to free users, though. Everyhing else? You’ll have to pay.

 

Flybits nabs $35M to build consumer recommendation engines for the financial sector

Financial service companies like banks have seen some of their business cannibalised over the years with the rise of digital-based alternatives — often in the form of apps — that provide lower fees, faster responsiveness, and more flexibility to consumers. Today, Toronto-based startup called Flybits is announcing $35 million in funding for a platform that it believes can offer these banks a way of continuing to capture their users’ attention, and to help them pivot into the next generation of services, financial or otherwise.

Today, a typical end product for a customer of Flybits’ services will use insights to upsell a customer by offering financial services, for example a bank providing an offer of a specific kind of loan or credit card that you are more likely to take; or to offer a loyalty program or rewards for usage. But the longer-term goal, said CEO and co-founder Hossein Rahnama, is to help its customers take on a bigger role as repositories that can be used for more than just money, and used beyond the walls of the bank.

“We don’t think banks will go away as some do, but we think that they could have a role not just as money vaults, but as data vaults: a place where you can deposit data, which you trust,” he said in an interview. Indeed, some of the funding will be used to put into action some of the AI and machine learning patents the startup has amassed, with the building of a “data” marketplace for banks, fintechs, and other data providers to partner and build more services together.

The Series C comes from an interesting group of investors that includes both strategic backers using Flybits’ services, as well as backers of the more non-strategic, financial kind. Led by Point72 Ventures (hedge fund supremo Steve Cohen’s VC fund), the list also includes Mastercard, Citi Ventures, and Reinventure (the fund backed by Australia’s Westpac Banking Corporation), Portag3 Ventures, TD Bank and Information Venture Partners. Valuation is not being disclosed, and prior to this the company had raised around $15 million.

Much like another marketing tech company, Near — which today announced $100 million in funding — the premise that underpins Flybits’ technology is that there is a lot of disparate data out there that, if it’s treated correctly, can uncover a lot more insights about consumer behavior, and that by and large many companies are missing this opportunity because they haven’t found the right way of merging the data to unlock insights.

While Near is applying this to location-based data and a range of different verticals, Flybits’ primary target has been banks and the data that they and other financial services providers already posses.

Many smaller startups in the world of financial services have stolen a march on bigger incumbents by building personalization into their products from the ground up. (Indeed, some like Step, aimed at teens, are so personalised that they will actually change their service mix as their customer base grows up and needs new products.) This is something that incumbents might have been more readily able to do in the old days, when people knew their bank managers and tellers and made daily trips into branches to transact. In the digital age they have fallen behind and are now catching up.

Flybits’ investors have spotted that and this in part is why they are banking on technologies like this to help bigger companies catch up, not just in financial services (although with banking alone estimated to be a €6.9 trillion industry, this is clearly a good start).

“Personalization is mission-critical for all D2C businesses in the digital age. Flybits’ integrated platform allows financial services firms to offer contextualized experiences, driving product awareness and adding significant value to the lives of their customers,” said Ramneek Gupta, Managing Director and Co-Head of Venture Investing at Citi Ventures, in a statement. “We look forward to partnering with Flybits in its next phase of growth as it continues to set the bar for hyper-personalized customer experiences.”

Indeed, it’s not just banks that are working on upselling, or that have large repositories of data that are not used as well as they could be.

“Mastercard and Flybits share a vision on using data driven insights to enrich consumers’ experiences.” said Francis Hondal, President, Loyalty & Engagement at Mastercard, in a statement. “Our ultimate goal is to develop products and services that engage consumers in a highly contextual manner. Through this collaboration with Flybits, we’ll be able to offer rich, personalized experiences for them throughout their journeys.”

Near raises $100M for an AI that merges online and offline behavior to build consumer profiles

One of the holy grails in the world of advertising and marketing has been finding a way to accurately capture and understand what consumers are doing throughout the day, regardless of whether it’s a digital or offline activity. That goal has become even more elusive in recent years, with the surge of regulations around privacy and data protection that limit what kind of information can be collected and used. Now, a startup believes it’s cracked the code, and it’s raised a large round of funding that underscores its success so far and what it believes is untapped future demand.

Near, which has built an interactive, cloud-based AI platform called AllSpark that works across 44 countries to create anonymised, location-based profiles of users — 1.6 billion each month at present — based on a trove of information that it sources and then merges from phones, data partners, carriers and its customers, but which it claims was built “with privacy by design”, has raised $100 million.

The company believes that this Series C — from a single backer, Great Pacific Capital out of London — is one of the biggest rounds ever to be raised in this particular area of marketing technology. That’s not to say that others haven’t also been attracting investor attention (as one example, a direct competitor, Factual, raised $42 million last September).

Near is not disclosing its valuation, but founder and CEO Anil Mathews said in an interview that the company has been growing at a rate of 100% year-on-year and described it as “healthy” with its customer list including News Corp, MetLife, Mastercard and WeWork.

Near (not to be confused with the blockchain startup that raised $12 million last week; yes sometimes startups have the same name…) has to date raised $134 million, with other backers including Sequoia, JP Morgan, Cisco and Telstra (Canaan Partners had been an investor too but sold its stake in a secondary deal).

The problem that Near is tackling is not a new one. The wider swing that we’ve seen in consumer behavior to digital platforms and using connected devices has created an opportunity for (and demand from) companies to better track who is using their products and services, and also to proactively figure out who would be the best audiences to target for future business.

But there have been two catches to that pull: how best to capture activity when it’s not specifically digital (for example, going into a physical store), and how best to capture activity in a way that doesn’t encroach on customers’ privacy and right to be anonymous if they so choose — with the latter becoming more than just a principle in many jurisdictions, but fully-fledged rule of law.

Near’s approach is not entirely novel. Like many others that currently exist or preceded Near, the startup uses a collection of data points sourced from a variety of providers — in Near’s case, the list can include your mobile carrier, data providers that work with dozens or hundreds of apps to source activity, app providers directly, retailers and WiFi operators.

The similarities end there, however, said Mathews. He says Near has a (patented) technique based on machine learning algorithms and other inferential AI technology, which it uses to accurately merge all of these details together to create individual profiles, all without ever attaching a name or real identifiers of any kind to that profile.

“If you ask me, that’s actually the hardest problem we’ve solved,” he said. “There is no other company out there that works with all this data to unify it into individual identities.”

Using mobile device IDs, he said Near can “with a high degree of confidence” connect specific profiles with transactions. “But it’s the fact that we can perform the data fusion in a compliant way, marrying that data in a world where privacy and data safety matter,” that makes the company unique, Mathews added.

Rubicon Project, Factual and Blis are other providers that are building similar technology, he noted, but Near is the first to extend the offering far (so to speak): none others have the same global reach, making it a popular partner for multinationals researching for campaigns and product development.

Marketing research is one of the main features of AllSpark, the company’s flagship platform, where non-technical people can ask questions in natural language — example, show me how many women shop at Whole Foods in San Francisco — and you can get a data-based response, which you can then tweak with more tailored questions about the profile of a user, or use a dragging graphic tool on an interactive map to modify the geography, and so on.

Mathews notes that the “real” numbers that come up from such questions — in the case of the above query, it’s 71,904 women, by the way — are based on the figures of who is actually connected to the Near network. The ratios vary by city and country, but typically, he said that in the Bay Area, it’s capturing around 45% of any live audience (meaning, the actual number of female visitors is probably more like 150,000).

From there, you can save a query to return to it, or even use the Near platform to connect through to other services to craft and launch marketing campaigns. Notably, some features — such the ability for a client to upload or use cookie data into the platform to use it to build profiles — are not available in all markets, part of how Near keeps itself on the right side of company’s own data compliance policies as well as data protection rules in different markets.

Those kinds of integrations is likely one area that will start to get developed even more with this round of funding, to keep Near’s technology from being too siloed and removed from how marketers and researchers typically work.

Companies like Facebook, Google, and Amazon have made a huge business out of figuring out how to identify and target audiences and specific users with products and services, by way of advertising and more. I asked, and Mathews said, that he doesn’t see them as threats in this area simply because it would open a can of worms for them.

“They would get into a big privacy issue if they tried,” he said. “Companies like Google and Facebook have done [frankly] an amazing job at identifying audiences, but they are not designed for privacy. We started with privacy by design.”

Indeed, it was Near’s position as one of the “outliers” by emphasizing data protection and anonymity that Mathews said helped it get over the line with investors. “It’s a very tough funding environment for the industry we’re in, but we found interest because of our approach to privacy. That really helped us.”

Ketan Patel, CEO, GPC, echoed that sentiment. “Near provides insights into human behavior by analyzing where people are, and combining that with a multitude of data points to predict and influence behaviour,” he said in a statement. “Given it does this across the globe in a privacy protected manner, it is well-positioned to create an exciting new space that delivers value to both people, and those that wish to build relationships with them.”

UK DeepTech VC IQ Capital launches new $125M growth fund, closes third VC fund at $175M

IQ Capital, a UK-based deep tech fund which has invested in startups such as Paragraf, Senseye and Funderbeam, has launched a new $125 million ‘Growth Opportunities Fund’ and closed its third venture fund, IQ Capital Fund III, at $175 million. This brings the total new capital to be invested to over $300 million. National Grid Partners have joined British Patient Capital and a number of other global institutions, as an investor in IQ Capital Fund III.

The move is part of a wider shift in VC investing across Europe towards so-called deep tech (AI, BioTech, Blockchain etc).For instance, Adara Ventures, a spanish VC firm recently closed its third fund with commitments in excess of €65 million to back European early-stage deep tech startups.

IQ says the $125 million fund will provide later-stage capital to the best-performing companies in their existing portfolio. The first to benefit from this is Privitar, a startup in data privacy engineering which IQ Capital funded from seed stage, as part of its $40 million Series B funding round announced last month.

Alongside the launch of the new fund, IQ Capital has reached the final closing for its third venture fund at $175 million, which focuses on investing into companies at Seed and Series A stage. In the last year, IQ Capital has invested in 12 companies, including Causalens, Concirrus, and Iotic. Previous Fund II startups include Thought Machine, Fluidic Analytics, Paragraf, and Speechmatics.

Max Bautin, Co-Founder and Partner at IQ Capital, said a statement: “The partners, Ed Stacey, Kerry Baldwin, and I, have been investing in deep-tech for over 20 years, and during this time we’ve seen investment in the sector grow from tens of millions p.a. to $1.75 billion deployed across Europe in 2018 alone. Half of this capital was invested into UK start-ups, reinforcing the UK as a leader in Europe, with well-established technology ecosystems formed in Cambridge, Bristol, Oxford, and London.

“IQ Capital has grown its funds under management over 10x in the last five years, following exits to Google, Apple, and Facebook, and a double-dragon to Oracle. The investment team has tripled in size over the same period with recent joiners Rick Hao, Daniel Carew and Marek Chalupnik. IQ Capital is now firmly established as the leading deep tech investor in the UK.”

Lisa Lambert, Founder and President of National Grid Partners said: “IQ Capital… is positioned as the go-to deep-tech fund in the EU, and the team has a proven ability to connect with founders through all stages, from seed to exit.”

UK Facebook users now have a tool to report scam ads

Facebook has launched a tool for UK users to report ads they suspect of being scams.

The feature can be accessed by clicking the three dots in the top right corner of each ad on Facebook, then selecting ‘Report ad’, then ‘Misleading or scam ad’ and finally: ‘Send a detailed scam report’.

So if you want to think of it as a reporting ‘button’ it’s a button that actually requires four presses to function as intended…

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Once a scam ad report has been filed, the feature will alert a dedicated internal ops team at Facebook that is tasked with handling reports — so will be reviewing reports and removing violating ads.

The new consumer safety feature follows a defamation lawsuit filed in April last year by consumer advice personality, Martin Lewis, who had become exasperated by the volume of scam ads misappropriating his image on social media to try to trick users into parting with their savings.

Earlier this year Lewis announced he was withdrawing his lawsuit after Facebook agreed to beef up its response to the problem by saying it would add the scam ad reporting feature — which is exclusive to the UK for now — and establish a local team to monitor ad trends for dubious activity.

Facebook also agreed to donate £3M worth of support in cash and Facebook ad credits to UK consumer advice charity, Citizens Advice, to fund the setting up of a Citizens Advice Scams Action (Casa) service — which has also launched today.

This service will provide specialist one-on-one help to those worried they’re being scammed or who have already lost money as a result of fake ads. It will also undertaken scam prevention work, including by raising awareness of online scams in the UK.

Writing in a blog post today on the money saving advice website he founded, Lewis confirms both the Facebook scam ad report tool and Casa have launched — the former some three months tardier than Facebook had suggested at their joint press conference in January.

As regards Casa, UK Internet users who think they have been, or are being, scammed online — either by ads or other methods — can now call the service on 0300 330 3003 for one-on-one help, or access http://www.citizensadvice.org.uk/scamsaction for more info or a web chat.

Face to face appointments will also be available in England, Wales and Scotland at local Citizens Advice bureaus. Lewis writes that the service is expected to help at least 20,000 people in the first year.

“These initiatives, which are available from today, are crucial, as scam ads can have devastating consequences,” he adds, noting that his own complaints to Facebook vis-a-vis scam ads bearing his image led to more than 1,000 ads being taken down.

“The adverts, placed by criminals, often use fake celebrity images or endorsements to dupe people into investing in fake ‘get rich quick’ schemes, buying diet pills and more.

“They can lead to many people being conned out of their cash – in the case below a man in his 80s lost almost £50,000 – and have a serious impact on people’s mental health and self-esteem.”

We’ve reached out to Facebook with questions, including whether it has plans to extend the scam ads reporting tool to other markets.

In a statement provided to Lewis, Steve Hatch, Facebook’s vice president for northern Europe, said: “Scam ads are an industry-wide problem caused by criminals and have no place on Facebook. Through our work with Martin Lewis, we’re taking a market leading position and our new reporting tool and dedicated team are important steps to stop the misuse of our platform.

“Prevention is also key. Our £3 million donation to Citizens Advice will not only help those who have been impacted by scammers, but raise awareness of how to avoid scams too. At a global level we’ve tripled the size of our safety and security team to 30,000 people and continue to invest heavily in removing bad content from our platform.”

Also commenting in a statement, Gillian Guy, chief executive of Citizens Advice, added: “We know online scams affect thousands of people every year. We’re pleased the agreement between Martin Lewis and Facebook meant we could set up this dedicated service to give more help to people who have fallen victim to online scams.

“This project means we can not only support people who have been targeted, but also raise awareness of what to look out for to help prevent online scams happening in the first place. Citizens Advice Scams Action will work alongside the free and impartial help we already offer to anyone who needs advice — whoever they are, whatever their problem.”

While celebrating the launch of Casa, Lewis’ blog post points out that the initial funding “won’t last for ever” — and he calls on other big online ad players to “follow Facebook’s lead, and put their hands in their pockets”.

At the press conference in January Lewis was especially critical of Google for being less responsive to the issue and for not having easy ways for users to report scam ads running on its networks.

We’ve reached out to Google for a response.

In another recent change to its ads platform, Facebook is also now providing users with more information about why they are seeing an ad — if they click through the menu to the option ‘why I am seeing this ad?’.

The company had been criticized for displaying only extremely general targeting criteria — making the feature appear more like a smokescreen than a genuine step towards ad targeting transparency. But last week Facebook said it was now showing “more detailed targeting, including the interests or categories that matched you with a specific ad”.

It also said it will be “clearer where that information came from (e.g. the website you may have visited or Page you may have liked)”. 

Facebook also announced updates to the Ad Preferences menu to provide its users with more information about businesses and third parties that upload lists containing their personal data, such as their email address or phone number, to Facebook to target them with ads — though limiting the data to a 90-day snapshot.

“This section aims to help you understand the third parties and businesses who have uploaded and shared lists with your information,” it wrote of the changes. “In this section, you’ll see the business that initially uploaded a list, along with any advertiser who used that list to serve you an ad within the last 90 days.”

Despite this, Facebook still does not let users deny advertiser uploads of their personal data to Facebook via Facebook itself.

In order to do that a Facebook user would have to contact each and every advertiser individually.

N26 announces N26 You, a revamped premium account

Challenger bank N26 has unveiled a new premium plan called N26 You. This plan replaces N26 Black with the same benefits and a few tweaks.

N26 is keeping its three-tier system with a free basic bank account, a premium account (N26 You) and a super premium account (N26 Metal). With N26’s free plan, you can pay anywhere in the world without any foreign transaction fee, but there’s a 1.7% markup on ATM withdrawals in a foreign currency.

N26 You costs the same price as the previous premium plan N26 Black, €9.90 in the Eurozone and £4.90 in the U.K. In addition to a travel and purchase insurance package, you can withdraw money without any foreign transaction fee. €9.90 is roughly what you’d pay in fees if you withdraw the equivalent of €580 with a free N26 account.

You can also create up to 10 Spaces to organize your money with savings goals, separate sub-accounts and more — free accounts can only create two Spaces.

And of course, you get a better looking card. N26 is reusing its pastel color palette to give you more options. You can now choose between five different colors — Aqua, Rhubarb, Sand, Slate and Ocean. The card has a minimal design with a tiny N26 logo in the top left corner, a transparent line at the bottom of the card and a solid color background.

N26 also plans to add perks to the N26 You plan, such as discounts on Hotels.com, WeWork, GetYourGuide, Babbel, Blinkist and Bloom & Wild. Those perks were limited to N26 Metal customers in the past, so it’s going to be interesting to see how the lineup will work once those perks are added to N26 You. If you’re an existing N26 Black customer, you automatically become an N26 You customer.

Changing N26 Black to a premium plan with multiple card designs might seem like a small detail, but it potentially opens up a lot of possibilities. You’ll soon be able to order an additional card.

Eventually, you could imagine having a blue card associated with your main account and a yellow card associated with a shared Space sub-account for instance. At least, that’s what I hope the company will do.

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