Millions of Venmo transactions scraped in warning over privacy settings

A computer science student has scraped seven million Venmo transactions to prove that users’ public activity can still be easily obtained, a year after a privacy researcher downloaded hundreds of millions of Venmo transactions in a similar feat.

Dan Salmon said he scraped the transactions during a cumulative six months to raise awareness and warn users to set their Venmo payments to private.

The peer-to-peer mobile payments service faced criticism last year after Hang Do Thi Duc, a former Mozilla fellow, downloaded 207 million transactions. The scraping effort was possible because Venmo payments between users are public by default. The scrapable data inspired several new projects — including a bot that tweeted out every time someone bought drugs.

A year on, Salmon showed little has changed and that it’s still easy to download millions of transactions through the company’s developer API without obtaining user permission or needing the app.

Using that data, anyone can look at an entire user’s public transaction history, who they shared money with, when, and in some cases for what reason — including illicit goods and substances.

“There’s truly no reason to have this API open to unauthenticated requests,” he told TechCrunch. “The API only exists to provide like a scrolling feed of public transactions for the home page of the app, but if that’s your goal then you should require a token with each request to verify that the user is logged in.”

He published the scraped data on his GitHub page.

Venmo has done little to curb the privacy issue for its 40 million users since the scraping effort blew up a year ago. Venmo reacted by changing its privacy guide and, and later updated its app to remove a warning when users went to change their default privacy settings from public to private.

How to change your Venmo privacy settings.

Instead, Venmo has focused its effort on making the data more difficult to scrape rather than focusing on the underlying privacy issues.

When Dan Gorelick first sounded the alarm on Venmo’s public data in 2016, few limits on the API meant anyone could scrape data in bulk and at speed. Other researchers like Johnny Xmas have since said that Venmo restricted its API to limit what historical data can be collected. But Venmo’s most recent limits still allowed Salmon to spit out 40 transactions per minute. That amounts to about 57,600 scraped transactions each day, he said.

Last year, PayPal — which owns Venmo — settled with the Federal Trade Commission over privacy and security violations. The company was criticized for misleading users over its privacy settings. The FTC said users weren’t properly informed that some transactions would be shared publicly, and that Venmo misrepresented the app’s security by saying it was “bank-grade,” which the FTC disputed.

Juliet Niczewicz, a spokesperson for PayPal, did not return a request for comment.

After Equifax breach, US watchdog says agencies aren’t properly verifying identities

A federal watchdog says the government should stop relying on the credit agencies to verify the identifies of those using government services.

In a report out this week, the the Government Accountability Office said several government departments still rely on the credit agencies — Equifax, Experian and TransUnion — to check if a person is who they say they are before they can access their services online.

Agencies like the U.S. Postal Service, the Social Security Administration, Veterans Affairs, and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services ask several questions of a new user and match their answers to information held in an individual’s credit file. The logic is that these credit files have information only the person signing up for services can know.

But following the Equifax breach in 2017 those answers are no longer safe, the watchdog said.

The Equifax breach resulted in the theft of 148 million consumers. Much of the consumer financial data had been collected without the explicit permission of those whose data it held. An investigation later found the breach was “entirely preventable” had the credit agency employed basic security measures.

“The risk that an attacker could obtain and use an individual’s personal information to answer knowledge-based verification questions and impersonate that individual led the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) to issue guidance in 2017 that effectively prohibits agencies from using knowledge-based verification for sensitive applications,” wrote the watchdog.

In response, the named agencies said the cost of new verification systems are too high and may exclude certain demographics from the population.

Only Veterans Affairs implemented a new system but still relies on knowledge-based verification in some cases.

The other downside is that if you have no credit, you simply don’t show up in these systems. You need a credit card or some kind of loan in order to “appear” in the eyes of credit agencies. That’s a major problem for the millions who have no credit file, like foreign nationals working in the U.S. on a visa. In 2015, some 26 million people were estimated to be “credit invisible.”

“Nevertheless, until these agencies take steps to eliminate their use of knowledge-based verification, the individuals they serve will remain at increased risk of identity fraud,” wrote the watchdog.

Week-in-Review: E3’s forever franchises and Elon Musk’s submersible Tesla

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

Last week, I railed on Google’s new Stadia game streaming platform. The injection of competition into the tired PlayStation/Xbox gaming rivalry is certainly welcome, but Google is making such a concerted play into a tight niche that it’s hard to imagine them following through. I got some great emails and DMs with a lot of good back-and-forth, most notably pointing out that I didn’t give Google credit for some of the details they did give on multi-player, I also got some less helpful responses, but hey, I guess I’m the one that asked for the feedback.

On that note, check out my comparison of Stadia with Microsoft’s new xCloud service that they revealed this week.


Alright, onto new things. Actually, let’s dig into my week at the E3 gaming expo. I swear this isn’t only a gaming newsletter, but let’s talk forever franchises…

I spent the past few days on the show floor of the conference checking out what the latest and greatest gaming trends were, what I saw looked pretty familiar though.

Entrenched franchises are a special kind of force in the gaming industry.

Walking around it was wild how so many of these studios are coasting off of 20 or 30-year-old characters and storylines. Sega had a massive booth this year showing off some reskinned Sonic the Hedgehog shit. Watching the Square Enix keynote was a special kind of hell, I admittedly do not have a very religious connection to the studio, but their announcements were all related to reboots, rehashes or remasters. Nintendo, which I dearly love, dug into the success of Breath of the Wild by promising a direct sequel for the title, something that’s a bit unusual for the Zelda series, Jesus, even Animal Crossing is nearly a 20-year franchise at this point! Every large booth dragged gamers’ attention to something derivative.

This obviously isn’t some sort of breaking news, but as the years stretch on from the gaming industry’s conception, it’s fascinating to see how the founding franchises are keeping their shine.

What’s fascinating is how this impacts the boom and bust life cycles of game studios and massive publishers. While larger movie studios need to constantly be vetting new tentpole franchises, once game studios find a hit they join this club of mainstays where the marks of success become more dependent on creative execution rather than creativity itself. This can make life pretty profitable for studios like Rovio that strike gold and can spend a decade milking their former glory and fading out, but it’s still fascinating.

It also makes the introduction of new IP such a nerve-racking, high stakes process. You look at someone like Hideo Kojima and the buzz Sony has been trying to build around Death Stranding and you just realize how insanely complex it is to craft a hit with nothing but marketing and talking head hype. Word of mouth and network effects build these franchises over time, but there’s so much invested beforehand and for new IP, it’s hard to guarantee a winner.

Why does Toy Story fade after a few films but a singular piece of gaming IP can suck hundreds of hours out of a gamer’s life over several releases? I’d imagine being able to hold a role in the progression of a character fosters a closer bond with the user, gameplay can be dozens of hours long but more often than not the storyline is pretty straight-forward leading you to fill in the blanks, which can be powerful. Games are fundamentally more than just stories.

But then, as I walked around and watched gameplay and cinematic trailers, I was left with the takeaway that so much of the dialogue in some of these games is garbage. When are the writers behind the “golden age of TV” going to trickle down into crafting some of these single-player campaigns? But then are more rich and rewarding storylines going to cause these franchises to have shorter shelf lives because we’ll get to know the characters too well? I don’t really know, if you work in the games industry I’d love to pick your brain.

Send me feedback
on Twitter @lucasmtny or email
[email protected]

On to the rest of the week’s news.

(Photo by Steve Jennings/Getty Images for TechCrunch)

Trends of the week

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

  • Salesforce buys Tableau
    Marc Benioff is known to signal Salesforce’s future via its M&A, so the company’s largest acquisition to date is probably worth taking a closer look at. Read why Salesforce is spending $15.7 billion on Seattle-based Tableau.
  • Samsung gets ready to re-release its Foldy phone
    The Galaxy Fold has had a pretty raucous life in the press and it hasn’t even successfully been released yet. Read more about its coming launch.
  • Musk’s Tesla submarine
    It wouldn’t be a Tesla shareholder meeting if some bizarre headlines didn’t surface. Apparently Musk claims that the company has vehicle designs for a submersible Tesla based on the aquatic car from the James Bond movie. Musk said it’s technically possible to make a functioning version, but added, “I think the market for this would be small — small, but enthusiastic.” Read more here.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg leaving The Merrion Hotel in Dublin

GAFA Gaffes

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

  1. YouTube CEO serves up an “apology”:
    [YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki addresses hate speech controversy]
  2. Deepf**ked:
    [Facebook will not remove deepfakes of Mark Zuckerberg and others from Instagram]

Extra Crunch

Our premium subscription service had another week of interesting deep dives. TechCrunch’s Sarah Buhr chatted with some venture capitalists that are investing in female fertility startups and tried to get to the bottom of what signals they search for.

What top VCs look for in a women’s fertility startup

“…Longer term, women’s health has a special interest: a new understanding of women’s reproductive health will generate novel insights into other domains, including longevity…”

Here are some of our other top reads this week for premium subscribers. This week TechCrunch writers talked a bit the future of car ownership, and whether people raising venture capital should even bother dealing with associates at the firms…

Want to read some of this stuff, but haven’t signed up? We’ve got a deal going where you can sign up for $2 and get two months of Extra Crunch.

Shyp is preparing for a comeback under new management

Fifteen months after shutting down, Shyp is getting ready to launch again. The startup tweeted today that “We are back! We’re hard at work to rebuild an unparalleled shipping experience. Before we begin operations again, we’d love to hear your feedback in this quick survey. We look forward to working with you and can’t wait to change the future of shipping!”

Most of the survey questions focus on online shopping returns, asking how easy or difficult it was to package the product for return, print the prepaid label, purchase postage or ship the product. The last question offers a hint about what direction the rebooted Shyp might take, asking “When returning a product, how likely would you be to use a service that picked up and shipped the product instead of having to ship it yourself?”

Shyp’s website doesn’t say when it will be back or what services it will offer, but it does mention that Shyp restarted in January 2019 under new management and backed by angel investors “with plans to disrupt the industry with what it does best: cutting-edge technology and a superior customer experience.”

Once one of the hottest on-demand startups, Shyp shut down in March 2018 after missing targets to expand to cities outside of San Francisco. When it first launched in 2014, Shyp initially offered on-demand service for almost anything customers wanted shipped, charging $5 plus postage to pick up, package and bring the item to a shipping company. Eventually it introduced a pricing tier in 2016 as it tried to find new approaches to its business model, before closing down two years later.

If the new Shyp does focus on making online returns easier, it will be bringing back one of its most popular services. The company expanded into online returns in 2015 after noticing that many customers used the app to return products they had purchased online.

TechCrunch has emailed Shyp for more information.

Getting remote work working, A16Z in LatAm, transferring H-1Bs, and Uber Air taxis

How to make remote work work

TechCrunch columnist Jon Evans has an Extra Crunch-exclusive look on what it takes to get remote work working within an organization. Evans, who has been the remote CTO of technology consulting firm HappyFunCorp for many years, finds that “you need decisive confidence, clear direction, iterative targets, independent responsibilities, asynchronous communications, and cheerful chatter” to build out a harmonious remote work culture.

Decisive confidence. Suppose Vivek in Delhi, Diego in Rio, and Miles in Berlin are all on a project. (An example I’m drawing from my real life.) It’s late your time. You have to make a decision about the direction of their work. If you sleep on it, you’re writing off multiple developer-days of productivity.

Sometimes they have enough responsibilities to have other things to work on. (More on that below.) Sometimes you don’t have to make the decision because they have enough responsibility to do so themselves. (More on that below.) But sometimes you have to make the business-level decision based on scant information. In cases like this, remember the military maxim: “Any decision is better than no decision.”

How to negotiate term sheets with strategic investors

Over the last few years, we’ve seen the rise of hundreds of strategic investors, typically large corporates with venture wings with the mission to invest in the next wave of startups targeting their existing business lines. While many of these funds are structured at least symbolically as traditional venture capital firms, their specific concerns during deal negotiation can be quite different.

Equity transcribed: Silicon Valley’s founder fetish infantilizes public companies

Welcome back to this week’s transcribed edition of Equity.

This was a big week of news that the Equity duo had to cover. Kate was at the Code Conference, Fortnite maker, Epic Games bought Houseparty, and a bit more on the Bird-Scoot deal.

Then came talk of the CrowdStrike IPO, which gave way to a heated discussion about dual-class shares.

Alex Wilhelm: I think it’s honest. I think giving the public one vote per share, and giving yourself 10 so you retain greater than 50% of voting is a sop. I think it’s ridiculous. Just fly under your own flag. If you don’t want to share any control, then don’t. If you want to have a company with a functional governance, that adheres to historical norms for how this stuff works, then have votes. This 10 versus 1 thing is a fracking farce, because I can’t swear on this show, so you can fill that in yourself. If you want to look at a historical example of a company that didn’t have this setup, it was Amazon, which historically thinks far ahead, and has done fantastically well. It’s public company growing from a, I believe, under nine-figure revenue. The idea you can’t do it is trash. The idea that it always works is wrong. To me, it’s dishonest. If you’re going to sell shares, go public, and float, share the voting power with your shareholders. Don’t treat them like children, and you like a god. You’re not.

Kate Clark: Alex is getting really worked up, but I totally agree with you. That’s why I want to-

Wilhelm: I’m not worked up, I’m angry.

Clark: That’s why I wanted to talk about it though, because I think it’s important. I think what you just said is a perfect summary of why it’s messed up. The only thing I think that will really change this, is to see whether these dual-class stocks, versus single-class stocks, perform differently on the market. As far as I know, they’re not, which means that people don’t care. Or, people don’t know, I don’t know. If a company isn’t going to lose any money doing it … If they’re not going to have any consequences whatsoever, they’re not going to be up against any negative feedback from shareholders, then of course, they’re going to keep doing it. Like I said, it’s not really talked about very much.

Want more Extra Crunch? Need to read this entire transcript? Then become a member. You can learn more and try it for free. 

Meet TezLab, the Fitbit for Tesla vehicles

Some of the best real-time insights into Tesla and its global fleet of electric vehicles — outside the confines of its Silicon Valley headquarters — might be through the lens of TezLab, a tiny upstart in Brooklyn.

Now, a little more than two years after its founding, TezLab is on the verge of hitting what its founders believe is a tipping point of users, a milestone that could finally trigger a path to monetization. And it’s adding lots of new features to help accelerate that plan.

For the non-Tesla owner, the name TezLab is likely a foreign one. In certain circles though, namely Tesla owners obsessed with understanding how their electric vehicle performs, TezLab is a familiar friend.

Tezlab is a free app that’s like a Fitbit for a Tesla vehicle. Tesla owners who download the app can track their efficiency, total trip miles and use it to control certain functions of the vehicle, such as locking and unlocking the doors and heating and air conditioning. There’s even a gamification piece that lets users earn badges for hitting milestones or completing tasks.

The company has started to add new features as part of a longer term plan aimed at monetization.

One of these features, which crowdsources data like Waze to give insights and ratings on Tesla Supercharger stations, is rolling out now. The video below shows how this supercharger feature will function.

The Waze for supercharger feature is considered “phase one” of the company’s plans to broaden its crowdsourcing and social community.

Origin story

The six-person team behind TezLab was born out of HappyFunCorp, a software engineering shop that builds apps for mobile, web, wearables and Internet of Things devices for clients that include Amazon, Facebook and Twitter, as well as an array of startups.

HFC’s engineers, including co-founders Ben Schippers and William Schenk, were attracted to Tesla largely because of its techcentric approach and one important detail: the Tesla API endpoints are accessible to outsiders.

The Tesla API is technically private. But it exists, allowing Tesla’s own first-party app to communicate with the cars to do things like read battery charge status and lock doors. When reverse-engineered, it’s possible for a third-party app to communicate directly with the API. (Tesla CEO Elon Musk has talked recently about opening up the API to third-party developers)

“Essentially, the plumbing is already built to connect to the server,” Schippers told TechCrunch recently. “This was the catalyst for us.”

A Tesla vehicle buying trend was triggered at HFC. Schippers, Schenk and a number of other software engineers and staffers at HFC bought, and still own, Tesla vehicles like the Model 3. The company’s HFC fund provided the initial $350,000 to build the first version of TezLab.

Repository of data

TezLab hasn’t captured anywhere near every Tesla owner. But Schippers believes they’re getting close to reaching a critical mass of users. More than 200 owners are downloading the app each week, and that rate is accelerating, he said.

TezLab has 16,000 total installs on the Apple App Store and Google Play, according to Sensor Tower . The figures are all unique, new installs. The firm doesn’t count re-installs or downloads to multiple devices belonging to the same user. However, that total install number is likely closer to 18,000 because many are listed under TestFlight, an online service used to test apps.

In comparison, Tesla delivered 245,506 vehicles globally in 2018. TezLab doesn’t expect every Tesla owner to download the app. Instead, Schippers is initially aiming for 10% of owners — a target he believes is within reach — and eventually higher.

Even at its current numbers, TezLab has become a massive repository of Tesla data. The company is storing between 850,000 to 1 million events a day, and that volume is growing. That translates to more than 1 GB of data a day, according to Schippers.

“We now have enough data in our system to start making large assumptions of what the fleet is doing and why,” said Schippers, who is CEO of HappyFunCorp and head of product at TezLab.

tezlab

The data is aggregated and anonymous and isn’t shared publicly. And there are no plans to sell that data.

“I think we can create something really meaningful, without getting into the business of selling data,” Schippers told TechCrunch.

Of course, what Schippers and others at TezLab have built could, theoretically, end overnight if Tesla were to change access.

Tesla could do to us what Facebook did to Zynga, and we don’t want that,” Schippers said.

Tesla declined to comment on this topic.

What TezLab does provide publicly on its website are insights based on that crunched data. For instance, anyone visiting the site can get a breakdown of model ownership, the average trip length and average time between plugging in.

As the company adds more features to the app, an understanding of how people use their Tesla vehicles should deepen.

In the background, of course, TezLab knows more than what it shows on its website. It can quickly spot phantom drain issues, if the Tesla API goes offline or chart spikes in charging use. For instance, Tezlab was able to determine that visits to Tesla Supercharger stations were 84% higher on Memorial Day than on an average day in 2019.

The Strava model

Capturing and storing that data is at the core of TezLab’s plan to make money. The app will remain free even as more features are added.

The company plans to follow the business model of the social fitness network Strava,  which is charge for storage, not features. That data could become a lot more valuable to owners as new features are added. TezLab is looking at tracking Autopilot miles and is looking into doing “interesting stuff with Sentry mode,” the security feature now live in Tesla vehicles.

This summer, the app will introduce clubs that Schippers hopes will build up the community. The feature will let Tesla owners join a specific club, say in Norway, Brooklyn or San Francisco. It will be designed so owners can easily find and converse with other owners. And Schippers added, only people who own Tesla are allowed in.

TezLab’s staff puts itself squarely in the “protector of the realm” category when it comes to Tesla. In the end, all of this is to help Tesla succeed, said Schippers.

“We look at what Fitbit did for walking and exercise and motivation,” he said. “And we’ll bring that to the space of electric vehicles.”

Original Content podcast: ‘Black Mirror’ returns with one of its strongest seasons

Less than six months after releasing the disappointing interactive experiment “Bandersnatch,” Netflix’s science fiction anthology series “Black Mirror” is back with three traditionally-structured episodes.

On the latest installment of the Original Content podcast, we weigh in with our thoughts on the new season. We didn’t entirely agree on which episodes were strongest, but we agreed that there wasn’t a real misfire in the bunch.

Darrell and Jordan were most impressed the season opener, “Striking Vipers” — which uses a VR fighting game as a launching point for a thorny exploration of sexuality and friendship — while Anthony preferred “Smithereens,” in which the the driver with an Uber-style app takes a social media intern hostage. And we also had a good time with “Rachel, Jack and Ashley Too,” which stars as Miley Cyrus as a pop star who’s merchandised as a friendly AI assistant.

Not all of the new episodes end happily, but in general, the show’s penchant for bleakness seems to have lifted (or perhaps it was simply channeled into “Bandersnatch”), leaving room for more emotional complexity. If we had any complaints, they had more to do with the relatively abbreviated season length, and with our skepticism about some of the show’s near-future technology.

You can listen in the player below, subscribe using Apple Podcasts or find us in your podcast player of choice. If you like the show, please let us know by leaving a review on Apple. You can also send us feedback directly. (Or suggest shows and movies for us to review!)

And if you want to skip ahead, here’s how the episode breaks down:

0:00 Intro
1:33 “Black Mirror” spoiler-free review
31:00 Spoiler discussion

Startups Weekly: #CodeCon, the ‘techlash’ and ill-prepared CEOs

Hello and welcome back to Startups Weekly, a newsletter published every Saturday that dives into the week’s noteworthy venture capital deals, funds and trends. Before I dive into this week’s topic, let’s catch up a bit. Last week, I wrote about Peloton’s upcoming initial public offering. Before that, I noted the proliferation of billion-dollar companies. 

Remember, you can send me tips, suggestions and feedback to [email protected] or on Twitter @KateClarkTweets. If you don’t subscribe to Startups Weekly yet, you can do that here

Now I know this newsletter is supposed to be about startups, but we’re shifting our focus to Big Tech today. Bear with me.

I spent the better part of the week in Scottsdale, Ariz. where temperatures outside soared past 100 and temperatures inside were icy cold. Both because Recode + Vox cranked the AC to ungodly levels but also because every panel, it seemed, veered into a debate around the “techlash” and antitrust.

If you aren’t familiar, the Financial Times defines the techlash as “the growing public animosity toward large Silicon Valley platform technology companies.” Code Conference has in the past been an event that underscores innovation in tech. This year, amid growing tensions between tech’s business practices and the greater good, things felt a little different.

The conference began with Peter Kafka grilling YouTube’s CEO Susan Wojcicki. Unfortunately for her, CodeCon took place the week after an enormous controversy struck YouTube. You can read about that here. Wojcicki wasn’t up to the task of addressing the scandal, at least not honestly. She apologized to the LGBTQ community for YouTube’s actions but was unable to confront the larger issue at hand: YouTube has failed to take necessary action toward eliminating hate speech on its platform, much like other social media hubs.

From there, The Verge’s Casey Newton asked Instagram head Adam Mosseri and Facebook vice president of consumer hardware Andrew Bosworth point blank if Facebook should be broken up. Unsurprisingly, neither of the two men are fond of the idea.

“Personally, if we split [Facebook and Instagram] it might make my life easier but I think it’s a terrible idea,” Mosseri, who was named CEO of Instagram last fall, said. “If you split us up, it would just make it exponentially more difficult to keep people safe. There are more people working on safety and integrity issues at Facebook than all the people that work at Instagram.”

Bosworth, who manages VR projects at Facebook, had this to say: “You take Instagram and Facebook apart, you have the same attack surfaces. They now aren’t able to share and combine data … So this isn’t circular logic. This is an economy of scale.”

Wojcicki, when asked whether YouTube should separate from Google, had a less nuanced and frankly shockingly ill-prepared response:

There’s more where that came from, but this newsletter isn’t about big tech! It’s about startups! Here’s all the startup news you missed this week.

IPO Corner

CrowdStrike’s IPO went really well: After pricing its IPO at $34 per share Tuesday evening and raising $612 million in the process (a whole lot more than the planned $378 million), the company’s stock popped 90% Wednesday morning with an initial share price of $63.50. A bona fide success, CrowdStrike boasted an initial market cap of $11.4 billion, nearly four times that of its last private valuation, at market close Wednesday. I chatted with CrowdStrike CEO George Kurtz on listing day. You can read our full conversation here.

Fiverr climbs: The marketplace had a good first day on the NYSE. The company priced its IPO at $21 per share Wednesday night, raising around $111 million. It then started trading Thursday morning at $26 apiece, with shares climbing for most of the day and closing at $39.90 — up 90% from the IPO price. Again, not bad. Read TechCrunch’s Anthony Ha’s conversation with Fiverr CEO Micha Kaufman here.

Get ready for … Slack’s highly-anticipated direct listing next week (June 20). Catch up on direct listings here and learn more about Slack’s journey to the public markets here.

Bird confirmed its acquisition of Scoot

As is usually the case with these things, parties from both Bird and Scoot declined to tell us any details about the deal, so we went and found the details ourselves! First, The Wall Street Journal’s Katie Roof reported the (mostly stock) deal was valued at roughly $25 million. We confirmed with our sources that it was indeed less than $25 million and came after Scoot struggled to raise additional capital from venture capital investors.

Fortnite throws a Houseparty 

While we’re on the subject of M&A, Epic Games, the creator of Fortnite, acquired Houseparty, a video chatting mobile app, this week. The deal comes shortly after Epic Games raised a whopping $1.25 billion. Founded in 2015, Houseparty is a social network that delivers video chat across a number of different platforms, including iOS, Android and macOS. Like Fortnite, the offering tends to skew younger. Specifically, the app caters toward teen users, providing a more private and safer space than other, broader platforms.

Startup Capital

Symphony, a messaging app, gets $165M at a $1.4B valuation
BetterUp raises $103M to fast-track employee development
Neurobehavioral health company BlackThorn pulls in $76M from GV
Against Gravity, maker of the VR hit ‘Rec Room,’ nabs $24M
Simpo secures $4.5M seed round to help drive software adoption

~Extra Crunch~

If you’ve been unsure whether to sign up for TechCrunch’s awesome new subscription service, now is the time. Through next Friday, it’s only $2 a month for two months. Seems like a no-brainer. Sign up here. Here are some of my personal favorite EC pieces of the week:

Silicon Valley’s founder fetish infantilizes public companies

If you enjoy this newsletter, be sure to check out TechCrunch’s venture-focused podcast, Equity. In this week’s episode, available here, Crunchbase News editor-in-chief Alex Wilhelm and I debate dual-class stock, discuss my takeaways from #CodeCon and review the biggest rounds of the week. You can subscribe to Equity here or wherever else you listen to podcasts.

Where is the EU going on tech and competition policy?

Huge technology policy questions are looming for whoever takes the top jobs at the European Union in the coming months. Decisions that could radically reshape tech business models, reconfigure the competitive landscape and change the relationship between Internet users and the content and services they consume.

In short, the entire future of the tech industry — and potentially not just in Europe but worldwide — is at stake.

The incoming European Commission will be faced with a lengthy list of pressing questions. How will they reboot competition law for the digital era? Should they rush in swinging a break-up hammer at monopolistic tech giants or take a scalpel to the competition-crushing problem of networked dominance by slicing up their data flows?

They will have to defend fundamental rights that call for privacy by design and data minimization against AI’s rapacious demand for data and the predictive powers of pattern-spotting algorithms.

They will have to evaluate how to make sure platforms play fair — and ensure that the initial embrace of sellers or service providers doesn’t evolve into crushing abuse. They will have to fashion rules that can wrap around digital giants, rather than getting bent out of shape by ‘winner takes all’ business models.

The power of tech giants to influence entire nations is now writ large in EU domestic politics. Europe knows it needs to hammer out an agreement on reforming digital taxation, with rising citizen anger over tax inequalities. The question is how to do it when certain states with low corporate tax rates have been colonised by tech giants which definitely don’t want tax reform to happen.

There’s also the tricky business of arbitrating between Europe’s traditional creative industries and the predominantly US sharing platforms that have gotten fat off of the back of others’ content — a battle so fraught it’s already yielded an EU copyright reform as polarising as Brexit.

How, too, to level the playing field between Internet giants and traditional telcos?

That requires winning agreement on an update to ePrivacy rules that’s been stalled for months. Because, again, new rules are urgently needed — to wrap around digital comms and address digital marketing’s weed-like sprawl, an outgrowth that’s spawned an entire shadowy industry of trackers, data brokers and people profilers which can be linked to many a data scandal and has driven EU consumers into the arms of ad blockers. How to find a way through all the competing interests to bring order to the unregulated mess that is modern adtech?

Then there’s hate speech and online disinformation. What’s to be done to shrink the democratic risks of political manipulation without trampling freedom of expression? And how can Europe best equip its citizens for the next waves of deepfaked information warfare while also getting platforms to accountably clean up their act?

Europe needs to shape a strategy to support AI too. It wants to do this in a way that reflects and bakes in European values. But how to ensure ethical guardrails to make AI development sensitive and “human-centric” don’t just end up kneecapping homegrown technologists versus whatever’s coming out of China?

Speaking of China, then of course there’s 5G. The Commission has to chart a delicate course between member states’ national security priorities and the fragmentation threat to its flagship digital single market policy if EU nations respond differently to Huawei. The whole project risks collapsing into mutual mistrust — which would reverse the intended gains to Europe’s digital economy.

On the legal front, an ongoing clash of priorities between US surveillance practices and EU fundamental rights also looks like trouble brewing.

A flagship EU-US data transfer mechanism launched by the Commission in 2016 is now facing serious legal questions. Does the next Commission have with a plan B to keep critical business data flowing for the thousands of companies signed up to its Privacy Shield framework if it gets struck down by a judge’s pen?

This is not a theoretical threat; the predecessor arrangement that had stood for fifteen years was invalidated in 2015, after a legal challenge which drew on NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden’s revelations of US mass surveillance programs. Trump’s ‘America First’ policy agenda clearly risks exacerbating this clash.

The US president is also of course continuing to rain down trade uncertainties that are rocking the stability of East-West technology supply chains. How should Europe respond to the wreaking ball potential of Trump’s trade war? What support can it offer its own tech industry to manage a level of uncertainty that makes brexit look like a picnic?

And, as the Internet splinters into increasingly localized flavors, how will Europe prepare and position itself?

The techie to-do list crossing the next Commission’s desk is packed with highly charged, pressing and politically fraught problems.

Over the past year the EU has dined out on making a name for itself on the world stage with a shiny new set of digital privacy rules — aka, the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) — at a time when US policymakers are just waking up to the rude incursions of homegrown data-mining tech giants. But attention now needs to be paid to ensuring it actually delivers what was promised or else the global spotlight will be pointing at policy failure.

So yet another task for the next Commission will be applying the right level of strategic pressure to make sure the regulation’s wheels are turning.

National data protection agencies are where GDPR enforcement will fly or fail. Te highest profile cases that will really test their mettle are of course attached to tech giants — including Facebook and Google. The latter’s handling of personal data for behavioral advertising is now under scrutiny in Ireland.

The Irish DPC also has more than ten open investigations into Facebook-owned businesses, covering a range of issues — from probes of specific security breaches to whether it is lawfully gaining consent to process the data of users of its platform being as it offers no opt-out from behavioural ads.

If Ireland fails to defend European values and rights against the commercial incursions of some of the world’s most powerful companies it would represent EU policy failure at the highest level.

It could also invite revolt from less conflicted parts of Europe. A dispute resolution mechanism is baked into GDPR, which allows the European Data Protection Board to step in if disagreement between DPAs om cross-border cases threatens to derail decisions. While this does look intended as a tool of last resort, the market denting power of tech giants is piling the pressure on — with record numbers of such complaints awaiting judgement.

Either way, battles are brewing. And the biggest fight looks to be for the future shape of the commercial Internet.

Ad-funded business models that have been allowed to grow like weeds are under regulatory scrutiny like never before — thanks, in large part, to European interventions. So too are the tech giants that have profited so handsomely by being able to use data how they like.

At the same time a new generation of privacy-conscious startups is thinking differently and doing what it can to gain footholds in markets where platform giants suck most of the oxygen out of the room.

Strong decisions by the next Commission to defend European rights and reboot digital markets with fairness and competition at the center have the potential to transform the digital economy so that there are far more winners, not just a few taking all.

The question is whether Europe’s leaders will rise to the challenge.

Who’s in the running to be the next EC president?

The center right’s preferred candidate — and therefore the technical favorite for the EU’s top job — is German conservative, Manfred Weber.

Manfred Weber. Photo by David Speier/NurPhoto via Getty Images

In Commission president candidate debates he has billed himself as offering “stability” for the European project, via a “pro-compromise approach” — and talked about strengthening “the innovation field” as the key to building a stronger EU economy, saying he also wants to upgrade the EU-US trade relationship to bolster Europe’s prospects.

But Weber has a lack of executive experience and suffers from something of a charisma vacuum at a time when a big personality might well be required to sit in the chair and ‘sell’ the next Commission to a more fragmented European Parliament.

The kaleidoscope twist of European parliamentary politics may also have undermined Weber’s frontrunner chances by allowing critics to argue against him on the grounds that his party, the EPP, failed to grow its share of the votes. So it may be that another European People’s Party candidate comes through in the end. One who offers a finer-grained political compromise.

The EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier, looks to have potential — and is being tipped by some of the current political chatter — having played a high profile role in recent European politics, calmly handling the chaotic mess produced by the UK’s 2016 referendum vote to leave the EU.

More importantly, perhaps, Barnier is French. One of the EU’s powerful national leaders — France’s president, Emmanuel Macron — has been seeking to assert authority over the parliament by indicating he won’t be bound by a system of preferred candidates put forward by its political blocs.

That’s bad news for Weber, but it could lift Barnier out of the wider field if Macron prevails in stamping France’s mark on the Commission presidency.

Michel Barnier. Photo by Thierry Monasse/Getty Images

Although plenty of other establishment names are still being bandied around for the top job — including chair and MD of the International Monetary Fund, Christine Lagarde (also French); and Dutch PM, Mark Rutte, to name just two.

It’s certainly hard to imagine a more symbolically safe pair of hands for the EU to choose for its top job right now than Barnier: The man tasked with holding the EU together in the face of the threat posed by Brexit.

Brexit risks not just the UK’s stability but could very well scatter wider seeds of destruction if it erodes and destroys the cohesion required to keep the European project together. So Barnier’s proven ability to glue the 27 remaining Member States on a common negotiating path could be seen by EU leaders as having strategic appeal.

What his presidency might mean for wider EU policy is less clear, though, given his focus on Brexit has kept him out of the fray — and away from participating in public debates with some of the proposed candidates.

The center left’s pick for president, Dutch politician Frans Timmermans, would need to prevail against the dominant EPP bloc to succeed in getting the nomination. Which likely means persuading a strengthened liberal contingent to throw its backing behind a ‘progressive alliance’ of socialists and liberals.

While possible, it looks to be a challenge.

Frans Timmermans. Photo by Pier Marco Tacca/Getty Images

Timmermans has made a public pitch as a change candidate, saying Europe needs more social justice and sustainable social policies — including putting taxing tech giants front and center of his talking points, and dubbing it “unacceptable” that some companies have gotten so big they can “arm twist” entire Member States to vanquish taxes.

Climate policy is another stated focus. He has called for stepped up efforts to enable a European-wide viable carbon tax plus quicker transformation of the energy sector as well as suggesting new ideas in agriculture — such as switching to more sustainable food production.

He has also said he wants to see a corporate tax rate floor across the EU, and called for every state to implement a minimum wage. An articulate and at times impassioned speaker, Timmermans posses at least some of the charisma Weber lacks — even while he faces plenty of political hurdles.

An outside bet — who has betted against big tech… 

For those who like an outside bet, the more fragmented European Parliament vote may have buoyed the chances of liberal candidate for Commission president, Margrethe Vestager — who could emerge as a compromise alternative since the liberals grew their presence in parliament (and her own party in Denmark did well in national elections).

Margrethe Vestager. Photo by Thierry Monasse/Getty Images

Although she is just one of a full slate of candidates fielded by the liberals, which also includes another prominent EU politician, MEP Guy Verhofstadt — who has also made his ire over big tech’s rights incursions felt when he heckled the Facebook founder last year, when Zuckerberg addressed some MEPs and failed to answer most of their questions.

Few can compete with Vestager’s profile on that front though.

The EC’s current competition commissioner has gained fame on both sides of the Atlantic for going after big tech, including issuing three high profile antitrust decisions against Google, such as a $5 billion fine for Android as well as action on EU illegal state aid that saw the Commission order Apple to pay $15 billion in back taxes to the Irish state, covering a decade of unpaid taxes. On her order, Amazon also got hit with a large illegal tax benefits bill, and may yet face antitrust action.

As a result of holding a key office and how forcefully she has spent her time as antitrust chief, she remains one of the most high-profile European commissioners.

Asked about what she would offer as Commission president she has said “you have to be forceful to serve people well.” Naturally, she is pro-regulation — a sentiment that chimes well with rising public concern over unfettered and even feckless Internet giants. But while demonstrably forceful, she is also thoughtful and methodical, and can’t be accused of jumping on the bandwagon of populist positions.

She’s also shown her steel in office, issuing competition decisions that have angered powerful heads of EU states — which might therefore have been politically disadvantageous to her prospects of further advancement in the Commission.

Towards the end of her time as commissioner, she instigated a review of competition policy to respond to the challenges posed by digital markets, signaling a reform agenda. She has also talked publicly about regulating data flows as a more intelligent route to regulate big tech versus swinging the hammer to break companies up.

A Commission headed by Vestager would surely have a strong appetite for stamping its mark on digital regulation. At very least it would drive discussion, even if winning consensus on pan-EU digital reforms may be more difficult to achieve (especially on a highly divisive issue like tax reform).

In public debates of Commission presidency candidates, Vestager has said that increasing diversity and managing climate change would be priorities if she took the top job, emphasizing too the need for an inclusive transition to a sustainable economy.

Given her high personal profile, it seems at least reasonable that should she miss out on the top job she will end up with another major post, such as vice president. It would also, of course, signal progressive change if European institutions were to appoint a woman to one of the top jobs for the very first time.

It’s also not inconceivable that she could be reappointed as competition commissioner, given how she has owned the office.

Either way, Vestager’s influence on competition policy looks very unlikely to fade — not least because similar ideas are catching fire across the Atlantic.

At this stage, though, all is still in play where the Commission presidency is concerned.

More clarity may emerge after the next meeting of EU leaders, on June 20 and 21, when the Council will convene to discuss nominations — and adopt a first draft of their strategic agenda for the next five years.

What’s on the EU Council’s strategic agenda?

An outline of discussion topics for this agenda last month included, among myriad talking points, Europe’s migration challenge; tackling online disinformation, bolstering cybersecurity and addressing hybrid security threats; deepening and strengthening the single market and developing an industrial strategy, as well as investing in skills and education, promoting innovation and research.

Ensuring fair competition was also on the list.

A section on “building a greener, fairer and more inclusive future” suggested accelerating the energy transition and investing in “mobility of the future” among its listed points.

While a section entitled “embracing the digital transition” cited developing AI, promoting “access, sharing and use of data,” and ensuring connectivity as key talking points.

Elsewhere the document talked about defending European people’s rights and freedoms, and indeed projecting European values on the rest of the world. But with so many power games still to play out, the shape of Europe’s future tech and competition policy remains just that: A draft, with priorities hard to predict.

“It’s most unlikely that there’s going to be any reversal of major policies,” suggests Dr. Alistair Jones, an expert on EU political policy at De Montfort University. “What we are likely to see — and this is pure conjecture — is assuming Brexit goes ahead (and that’s still an if) then what we’ll probably see is a Commission being a little bit more tentative on the integration process and wanting to go forward more gradually on integration to keep everyone on board.

“So things like the digital market will proceed, slowly and carefully. I don’t see a huge lunge forward in greater integration on any aspects. I think it’s going to be very tentative, very much small steps.”

Online disinformation is an issue where the EU does have serious concerns. The Commission has been paying close attention to how platforms are responding to increased pressure, via a (for now) voluntary code of practice — setting up a monthly monitoring requirement for them to deliver progress reports, and issuing sharp rebukes that progress hasn’t been good enough.

But a pan-Europe regulatory response to online muck spreading is complicated by whether it’s an EU or national competence.

“The problem is it probably lies with the national governments and they are loath to want to give greater responsibility to the EU in this area because they have their own ways of doing things,” says Jones.

The Germans, for example, haven’t been shy about passing a law to punitively punish platforms if they fail to swiftly remove hate speech, while the UK remains focused on devising a framework to control a broader range of online harms.

Where online content rules are concerned, Europe’s cultural differences suggest that this sort of policy patchwork will remain the norm.

Image via Getty Images / AdrianHancu

Similarly, Jones believes core decisions on regulating 5G will remain at a Member State level — with the Commission likely only moving to set a future floor for trans-national EU minimum standards, rather than seeking to impose hefty security restrictions on procurement decisions.

“As it moves forward, I can see the Commission — as it’s done in the past — taking over a broad brush big picture regulatory role,” he says. “So who can be involved in the delivery of 5G, which businesses are involved, things like that. I can see as it is rolled out the Commission and the EU collectively wanting a degree of consistency, and that links to single market rules, it links to competition rules, it links to commercial policy rules. Some of that’s already in place but at the same time there may be a need for greater policing that further down the line.”

One issue that does generally cut across the political spectrum is digital taxation, though achieving agreement on that front may be hampered by a political requirement for the EU to be more sensitive to concerns about increased integration — and not be seen blindly pushing on the accelerator.

Again, says Jones, Brexit complicates matters. He suggests a more broad-brush approach may win out in the near term, such as the Commission looking at the operation of the entire single market — “and how that can be done more effectively and efficiently” — rather than trying to tackle head-on national resistance if the EU pushes to get input on Member States’ tax systems.

“It’s something that may bubble along just below the surface,” he posits of digital tax reform. “Maybe in five years times, after the next elections, [there could be a] big package to possibly change the whole taxation system of the EU. And it may be that it gives the EU some input into national taxation policies but that is going to be resisted by some countries.”

Some Member States have voiced loud concern about digital tax inequality. Including France and the UK, which are pursuing their own flavors of reform. Though without a pan-EU approach there’s no real chance of addressing the problem.

Getting political agreement on that will be difficult, with smaller states having lucratively leveraged a low tax economy to pull in the tech giants. So the Commission may remain caught in the middle. 

“We often assume that the Commission sets the policies. The Commission don’t. The Commission tries to mold the agenda but it’s up to the Council’s ministers and also the European Parliament to take that forward,” says Jones. “So if we have a Commission that’s willing to say — ‘hey, digital economy, the EU needs to have greater involvement in all of this’. The national governments have got to buy in. And if they don’t buy in it doesn’t matter how good the commissioner is, it doesn’t matter how farseeing they are, they’re not going to get anywhere. So there’s got to be this ability to get buy-in from the Member States.”

That said, individual commissioners can be key to driving a particular reform agenda. So the personalities and expertise involved can make a big difference — if it helps them win the support of member states.

“There probably is going to be more appetite for big tech regulation but the problem they’ve got at the Commission is that at times, collectively, their head is stuck in the sand and they are loath to go forward on a number of issues,” says Jones. “It may be up to individual commissioners who have got that individual get up and go, that individual vigor, that knowledge of the area they are in charge of — it may be the individual commissioners who may actually drive things forward.”

“It may be there’s a commissioner in the digital economy who’s going to grow into the role, if they’re not already there,” he adds. “But what they will need is the support of the individual member states.”

Image via Getty Images / KatarzynaBialasiewicz

After the Commission president, the competition commissioner role stands out as a critical appointment, given its high degree of autonomy and power. Whoever lands the brief will certainly be one to watch, not least for how they respond to growing political appetite over the Atlantic to crack the back of tech giants’ platform power.

A future date to look out for on that front is when the nominee for the EU antitrust brief gets questioned by the European Parliament — both to see how they respond but also what kind of questions they face. That will offer a flavor of the new parliament’s priorities for regulating competition.

A parliament signalling it wants more action to rein in big tech could act as fuel for the next commissioner, says Jones.

The EU’s next antitrust chief will also have on their desk the review Vestager instigated of digital markets — so it will be up to them to make a call on how to take that work forward. A decisive commissioner could have a major impact on digital markets and business models. So it’s a critical appointment.

But again we’re still a long way off knowing who the person will be. Not least because individual commissioner appointments can depend upon how big a personality the Commission president is.

“If you’ve got a big personality who can drive things through with the support of the European Parliament they can get the national nominees into the places that they want,” says Jones.

“This is the problem that the president has — they do not know who the individual nominees are going to be from which Member States. So until they know who the nominees are from which Member State and then what portfolios they may be appropriate for — what portfolios they want to give them — it’s all up in the air.”

How is the next Commission president decided? 

Multiple candidates remain in the running to take over from Jean-Claude Juncker as Commission president come November 1. Though even that timeline is not 100% certain. If, for example, MEPs take a dislike to a Council pick for president they can reject the whole Commission, delaying the entire process.

The process for deciding the next Commission president involves a nomination, by a qualified majority, from the European Council that’s required to factor in the result of the most recent European elections.

Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) then vote on the choice — with an absolute majority required for the Council’s nomination to prevail.

While the Commission’s top job is influential, as regards shaping pan-EU policy — with the president responsible for setting political direction and chairing their cabinet of commissioners atop the various policy areas — the office shouldn’t be thought of as the equivalent of the president of the United States. But is a key strategic role. Collectively, the Commission executes on a pan-EU legislative program. It’s responsible for drafting the budget and is the only EU institution that can propose legislation.

The European Council is the power behind this throne, feeding in whatever policy priorities can be agreed by a roomful of heads of government/state of the EU’s (currently) 28 members — in addition to playing kingmaker by nominating their choice for Commission president.

Image via Getty Images / Dado Daniela

There is also a president of the European Council, who works to seek consensus between Member States. This position is set to change shortly too, via election by Council members, albeit for an initial term that’s half as long as the Commission president.

Nominations for the various European commissioners typically involve large amounts of horse-trading and power playing for portfolios between the Member States.

The aim is for the Commission to contain representation across the bloc, factoring in regional differences in politics, nationality, north vs south, east vs west, diversity and so on. But it’s a political compromise, never a flawless mirror.

In practice, the selections of Commission nominees can be a surprising process in which little known figures can suddenly find themselves with the right combination of strategy, nationality and diplomacy to unlock the right support.

With so many balancing and compromise factors in play, the make-up of the next Commission is always complex and hard to predict, and arguably more so this time around, given wider shifts in the European political landscape — including ongoing ructions caused by the UK’s vote for Brexit — adding extra layers to the usual palimpsest.

A more fragmented European politics

Elections for the parliament were held last month and the vote returned a more fragmented hemicycle — weakening the traditional center-right and center-left blocs that have dominated for 40 years. Although they still remain the major political forces it’s the liberals, greens and nationalists that gained ground.

A more fragmented parliament suggests reaching consensus on both the shape of the next Commission and what legislation it will go on to propose could prove more difficult unless new political alliances can be forged. At this stage, it’s not clear what the new European parliament voting blocs will be.

There remains a risk that EU legislative processes could be stalled if compromise can’t be reached across a differently stripped spectrum of divergent political positions.

“We don’t really know what the groups are going to be in the European Parliament,” says Jones. “Those groupings are fluid. So if you look for example at the Brexit Party going in with the Europe of Freedom and Direct Democracy — when Britain leaves, that whole grouping disintegrates. Because they’d only have six countries represented. They’d need seven.

“If that’s the case it may be that some of those party groups may look elsewhere… We simply don’t know. So how the actual structures of the smaller parties are going to be — that is up in the air. Until that is resolved, the whole establishment of the Commission beyond the presidency is up in the air as well.”

“Everything’s up in the air at the minute,” he adds, noting just one certainty: That the two major parties still dominate, despite their vote shrinking.

“If they have organized things so that there’s an agreement that whichever party has the most seats their nominee for the presidency for the Commission would go forward,” Jones suggests. “If they stick with that, then the starting point of establishing the Commission presidency means that the EPP will keep their person in place.”

The full phalanx of Commission president and commissioner appointments has also got to be approved by the European Parliament, en masse — with MEPs getting a vote to either accept or reject.

“So what you’ve got therefore is a huge haggling process. And this is why when people say there’s a fragmented European parliament we don’t know what’s going to happen — they’re absolutely right. Until the groups are actually sorted in the European Parliament then we’ll get a better idea of the power structures, and then we’ll get a better idea in relation to with the presidency having been sorted how the rest of it will flow through.

“It could be — could be — really problematic in trying to get a Commission membership through if the smaller groups in the European Parliament work together to try to block appointees they could cause problems.”

So, again, much hangs on who will be the next Commission president, and how persuasive they prove across a more fragmented political landscape. As noted earlier, Barnier’s negotiating glue may look like a handy special power. Although, as a personality, he’s hardly overflowing in the force of character department — famed only for having an unnerving stare.

Image via Getty Images / robertiez

Jones takes the view that the policy agency of the next Commission isn’t likely to emerge until Brexit itself has happened — assuming, of course, that Brexit does actually go ahead. (And where Brexit is concerned there are still absolutely no guarantees at all.)

“When/if Britain leaves the entire power structure in the European Parliament could change. Because the Freedom and Direct Democracy Group could collapse with Brexit leaving that group [assuming the party follows the UKIP template and involves itself with the same group]. So everything is up in the air at the minute. That will get resolved, probably by if we’re lucky the middle of next month.

“Then you start on the commission appointments and it’s the summer — and some of the countries effectively shut down. So it may be that it’s September or possibly even early October that we’re going to see this entire process completed. That’s the nightmare scenario. So the EU basically flounders for the next three to four months.”

Meanwhile, if muscle-flexing Macron misses out on a French Commission presidency it’s conceivable he could push for the powerful antitrust portfolio as a consolation prize. Which perhaps lends some color to Facebook’s recent attempts to cozy up to the French government to work on ideas for Internet ‘co-regulation.’

Zuckerberg may be placing his own bets on the future shape of the Commission by seeking to make powerful French friends in the hopes of influencing pan-EU policy before the next commission has had chance to take shape.

But where EU politics is concerned, the phrase that’s been repeated ad nauseam of the Brexit negotiations applies here too in spades: ‘nothing is agreed until everything is agreed’.

This time around Europe’s political dial the risk of disagreement appears to be zooming alarmingly into view. So the real test of the European project will be whether it can weather disruption to its usual philosophy of onwards and upwards — its political push for ‘more Europe’ — when some of its people are voting for less.

If the EU can’t carry all its people along there will be little hope of driving any major policy agenda — which means key questions of technology and competition going unaddressed, generating legal uncertainty and compliance risk for business with knock-on economic effects.

Tech giants have the resources to manage political uncertainty — indeed, they’ve shown themselves adept at exploiting political vacuums and blindspots — so it will be startups and the next generation of entrepreneurs that get failed.

Consensus works until it doesn’t, as the UK’s Brexit schism illustrates. So there’s a clear cautionary tale for the EU powers that be — if they can but put their heads together and listen.

“The issue is going to be how the rest of the European countries work together. Because although [the UK is] a reluctant European, and we’re never very keen, one of the roles that we played was as a break on some of the more excessive integrationist ideas that might have arisen from the Commission that some of the other big countries such as France and Germany bought into,” says Jones when asked whether he thinks the European project can survive Brexit. “With that role going, assuming we leave, it does give the EU the opportunity for the EU to drive forward for greater integration — and it may be that we see the development of a two-speed Europe. If that happens the whole project will disintegrate. Of that I am convinced.”

“They need to be taking on the more reluctant members,” he adds. “So the Hungarys, the Polands, the Czech Republics… as well as the more integrationist countries, such as Belgium, such as Luxembourg, such as Germany and France. They’ve got to be taking everybody along together… Everybody’s been dragged along a bit reluctantly. They’re going to have to be a little bit more considerate if Brexit goes ahead because otherwise the project could disintegrate.”