Left to right: Lexer founders Dave Whittle, Aaron Wallis, Chris Brewer
The massive shift to online shopping during the COVID-19 pandemic means retailers need to analyze customer data quickly in order to compete against rivals like Amazon. Lexer, a customer data platform headquartered in Melbourne, Australia, helps brands manage data by organizing it on one platform, making analysis easier for small to medium-sized brands. The company announced today that it has raised $25.5 million in Series B funding for expansion in Australia, the United States and Southeast Asia.
The round was led by Blackbird Ventures and King River Capital, with participation from returning investor January Capital, and brings Lexer’s total raised so far to $33 million. Blackbird Ventures co-founder and partner Rick Baker will join Lexer’s board.
The company was founded in 2010 by Aaron Wallis, Chris Brewer and Dave Whittle, and its clients include Quiksilver, DC Shoes, John Varvatos and Sur La Table. The new funding will be used to add 50 more people to Lexer’s team, with plans to double its headcount in Australia, the U.S. and Southeast Asia. Whittle, the company’s chief executive officer, told TechCrunch it will also add more features to provide retailers with enterprise-grade customer data, insight, marketing, sales and service capabilities.
Brands use Lexer to increase their incremental sales, which includes sales to both existing and new customers, by helping them understand things like shopping patterns among different groups of visitors, which customers are most likely to make future purchases and what marketing strategies results in the most sales.
Lexer’s best-known competitors include Segments, which was acquired by Twilio for $3.2 billion last year, and Adobe Analytics. Whittle said Lexer’s key differentiator is providing an end-to-end solution.
While brands often have to use multiple data and analytics software to understand data from different sources, Lexer’s goal is to make everything accessible in one platform. “Our customers don’t have to engage expensive and time-consuming third parties for strategy, implementation, customization and project management,” he said.
Before Lexer’s Series B, most of its growth came from single brands, or groups of mid-market retail brands. Now it’s focusing on working with all sizes of brands, Whittle added.
The pandemic has forced many brands to place a greater emphasis on digital engagement to increase their online sales and stand out from other e-commerce merchants.
“There are literally hundreds of tactics we have enabled our customers to deploy to help them adapt to the limitations and barriers COVID put in place. For example, we helped retailers migrate offline customers to shop on their e-commerce sites,” said Whittle. “Another way was that if stock was low due to supply constraints caused by COVID, we helped retailers target their high-value and loyal customers to ensure customers satisfaction.”
Facebook said it will begin restoring news sharing to Australian users’ feeds in “the coming days” after reaching an agreement with the country’s government. The social media giant made the drastic move of restricting news content in Australia last Wednesday after a dispute over a proposed media bargaining code that is expected to be voted into law soon. The code would have forced Facebook, and other major tech companies like Google, to make revenue-sharing agreements with publishers for content posted to their social media platforms.
Australian treasurer Josh Frydenberg said changes have been made to the code to “provide further clarity to digital platforms and news media businesses about the way the Code is intended to operate and strengthen the framework for ensuring news media businesses are fairly remunerated,” reported Seven News.
The amendments mean the code now includes a two-month mediation period to allow digital platforms like Facebook and publishers to agree on deals before they are forced to enter into arbitration. The Australian government will also consider commercial agreements tech platforms have already made with local publishers before deciding if the code applies to them, and give them one month’s notice before reaching a final decision.
William Easton, managing director of Facebook Australia and New Zealand, said in a statement that the company was “satisfied” with the changes, adding that they addressed Facebook’s “core concerns about allowing commercial deals that recognize the value our platform provides to publishers relative to the value we receive from them.”
Facebook’s restrictions last week meant Australian publishers were restricted from sharing or posting content from Facebook Pages, and users in Australia were unable to view or share Australian or international news content.
The Australian government announced in April 2020 it would adopt a mandatory code ordering Google, Facebook and other tech giants to pay local media for reusing their content, after an earlier attempt to create a voluntary code with the companies stalled.
Australian Facebook users will be forced to go elsewhere to read news after the company announced Wednesday that they will be restricting users in the country from sharing or viewing news links on the platform. The drastic move follows debate on proposed legislation from the Australian government that seeks to push internet platforms — with a particular focus on advertising giants Facebook and Google — to pay news publishers directly for access to share their content.
Pulling back entirely was a nuclear option for Facebook which had previously floated the possibility. In a blog post, the company sought to minimize the material impact of the decision to Facebook’s bottom line, while emphasizing what the move will cost users in Australia and around the globe. The company disclosed that just 4% of the content in Australian users’ feeds was news, though the platform did not break out other engagement metrics tied to news consumption.
In their post, Facebook sought to drive a distinction between how news content was shared on Facebook by users while content is algorithmically curated by Google inside their search product. “Google Search is inextricably intertwined with news and publishers do not voluntarily provide their content,” William Easton, Facebook’s managing director for the region, wrote. “On the other hand, publishers willingly choose to post news on Facebook, as it allows them to sell more subscriptions, grow their audiences and increase advertising revenue.”
Google has already begun working with publishers to drive lump sum payments so that they continue to surface news content in the country, striking a deal Wednesday with Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp, despite their own earlier threats to shut down in Australia. Facebook’s action has ramifications for global users outside Australia who will be unable to share links on the platform to news publications based in the country.
This legislation is an aggressive example of regional legislation having the potential to drive global change for how internet platforms continue to operate. It’s clear that plenty of other countries are watching this saga play out. Facebook taking a hard line approach while Google seeks to strike private deals to stay active showcases different approaches from very different platforms being forced to reckon with how they operate in the future.
DesignCrowd announced today it has raised $10 million AUD (about $7.6 billion USD) in pre-IPO funding. The capital will be used on hiring and product development, with the goal of accelerating the growth of BrandCrowd, its DIY platform.
The new funding comes as DesignCrowd gets ready for a potential initial public offering on the Australian Securities Exchange. The round’s investors include Perennial Value Management, Alium Capital, Ellerston Capital, Regal Funds Managemetn and CVC, along with returning backers Starfish Ventures and AirTree Ventures. DesignCrowd has now raised more than $22 million AUD in total.
Founded in 2007 and based in Sydney, Australia, DesignCrowd built its reputation as a design crowdsourcing platform, allowing users to get proposals from designers around the world. BrandCrowd was launched to complement DesignCrowd’s crowdsourcing/marketplace model, expanding its potential user base and differentiating it from other sites people use to find designers, like 99designs and Fiverr.
While there are other DIY logo makers aimed at entrepreneurs and small brands, including tools from Design Hill, Canva and Tailor Brands, BrandCrowd had an advantage from the start because it already has access to more than 800,000 designers through DesignCrowd, allowing the company to find the best logo designers from around the world for its library, said co-founder and chief executive officer Alec Lynch. BrandCrowd prefers to buy designs upfront before publishing them, since all logos are exclusive to the platform (users can pay an extra fee to remove logos from its library).
BrandCrowd customers pay a one-off fee to download a logo and can sign up for monthly or annual subscriptions. Many use both platforms, Lynch said.
“For example, if a small business wants to start by getting a custom logo design from a designer on DesignCrowd, we then allow them to use that logo in our DIY design tools on BrandCrowd to make everything else they might need, from business card designs to Instagram posts and email signature,” said Lynch. “They can even make modifications to their logo on BrandCrowd using our logo editor tool.”
DesignCrowd’s net revenues in 2020 grew 54% year-over-year, due primarily to BrandCrowd. The company says BrandCrowd saw over five million sign-ups over the past 12 months, with more than half of its revenue from the United States.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, the company experienced some headwinds in March and April 2020, Lynch said, but then global demand for online design rebounded and began increasing.
“Our hypothesis is that the pandemic led to more people starting new businesses in the second half of 2020 and more people needing design for those businesses, which was helpful for us,” he added. “In addition to this small ‘boom’ in small businesses starting, we think the pandemic has probably accelerated an existing trend of businesses sourcing design online rather than offline.”
Google has threatened to close its search engine in Australia — as it dials up its lobbying against draft legislation that is intended to force it to pay news publishers for reuse of their content.
Facebook would also be subject to the law. And has previously said it would ban news from being shared on its products owing if the law was brought in, as well as claiming it’s reduced its investment in the country as a result of the legislative threat.
“The principle of unrestricted linking between websites is fundamental to Search. Coupled with the unmanageable financial and operational risk if this version of the Code were to become law it would give us no real choice but to stop making Google Search available in Australia,” Google warned today.
Last August the tech giant took another pot-shot at the proposal, warning that the quality of its products in the country could suffer and might stop being free if the government proceeded with a push to make the tech giants share ad revenue with media businesses.
Since last summer Google appears to have changed lobbying tack — apparently giving up its attempt to derail the law entirely in favor of trying to reshape it to minimize the financial impact.
Its latest bit of lobbying is focused on trying to eject the most harmful elements (as it sees it) of the draft legislation — while also pushing its News Showcase program, which it hastily spun up last year, as an alternative model for payments to publishers that it would prefer becomes the vehicle for remittances under the Code.
The draft legislation for Australia’s digital news Code which is currently before the parliament includes a controversial requirement that tech giants, Google and Facebook, pay publishers for linking to their content — not merely for displaying snippets of text.
Yet Google has warned Australia that making it pay for “links and snippets” would break how the Internet works.
In a statement to the Senate Economics Committee today, its VP for Australia and New Zealand, Mel Silva, said: “This provision in the Code would set an untenable precedent for our business, and the digital economy. It’s not compatible with how search engines work, or how the internet works, and this is not just Google’s view — it has been cited in many of the submissions received by this Inquiry.
“The principle of unrestricted linking between websites is fundamental to Search. Coupled with the unmanageable financial and operational risk if this version of the Code were to become law it would give us no real choice but to stop making Google Search available in Australia.”
Google is certainly not alone in crying foul over a proposal to require payments for links.
Sir Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the world wide web, has warned that the draft legislation “risks breaching a fundamental principle of the web by requiring payment for linking between certain content online”, among other alarmed submissions to the committee.
In written testimony he goes on:
“Before search engines were effective on the web, following links from one page to another was the only way of finding material. Search engines make that process far more effective, but they can only do so by using the link structure of the web as their principal input. So links are fundamental to the web.
“As I understand it, the proposed code seeks to require selected digital platforms to have to negotiate and possibly pay to make links to news content from a particular group of news providers.
“Requiring a charge for a link on the web blocks an important aspect of the value of web content. To my knowledge, there is no current example of legally requiring payments for links to other content. The ability to link freely — meaning without limitations regarding the content of the linked site and without monetary fees — is fundamental to how the web operates, how it has flourished till present, and how it will continue to grow in decades to come.”
However it’s notable that Berners-Lee’s submission does not mention snippets. Not once. It’s all about links.
In the EU, the tech giant is subject to an already reformed copyright directive that extended a neighbouring right for news content to cover reuse of snippets of text. Although the directive does not cover links or “very short extracts”.
In France, Google says it’s only paying for content “beyond links and very short extracts”. But it hasn’t said anything about snippets in that context.
French publishers argue the EU law clearly does cover the not-so-short text snippets that Google typically shows in its News aggregator — pointing out that the directive states the exception should not be interpreted in a way that impacts the effectiveness of neighboring rights. So Google looks like it would have a big French fight on its hands if it tried to deny payments for snippets.
But there’s still everything to play for in Australia. Hence, down under, Google is trying to conflate what are really two separate and distinct issues (payment for links vs payment for snippets) — in the hopes of reducing the financial impact vs what’s already baked into EU law. (Although it’s only been actively enforced in France so far, which is ahead of other EU countries in transposing the directive into national law).
In Australia, Google is also heavily pushing for the Code to “designate News Showcase” (aka the program it launched once the legal writing was on the wall about paying publishers) — lobbying for that to be the vehicle whereby it can reach “commercial agreements to pay Australian news publishers for value”.
Of course a commercial negotiation process is preferable (and familiar) to the tech giant vs being bound by the Code’s proposed “final offer arbitration model” — which Google attacks as having “biased criteria”, and claims subjects it to “unmanageable financial and operational risk”.
“If this is replaced with standard commercial arbitration based on comparable deals, this would incentivise good faith negotiations and ensure we’re held accountable by robust dispute resolution,” Silva also argues.
A third provision the tech giant is really keen gets removed from the current draft requires it to give publishers notification ahead of changes to its algorithms which could affect how their content is discovered.
“The algorithm notification provision could be adjusted to require only reasonable notice about significant actionable changes to Google’s algorithm, to make sure publishers are able to respond to changes that affect them,” it suggests on that.
It’s certainly interesting to consider how, over a few years, Google’s position has moved from ‘we’ll never pay for news’ — pre- any relevant legislation — to ‘please let us pay for licensing news through our proprietary licensing program’ once the EU had passed a directive now being very actively enforced in France (with the help of competition law) and also with Australia moving toward inking a similar law.
Turns out legislation can be a real tech giant mind-changer.
Of course the idea of making anyone pay to link to content online is obviously a terrible idea — and should be dropped.
But if that bit of the draft is a negotiating tactic by Australians lawmakers to get Google to accept that it will have to pay publishers something then it appears to be winning one.
And while Google’s threat to close down its search engine might sound ‘full on’, as Silva suggests, when you consider how many alternative search engines exist it’s hardly the threat it once was.
Zipmex, a digital assets exchange headquartered in Singapore, announced today it has raised $6 million in funding led by Jump Capital. The startup, which plans to become a digital assets bank, says the round exceeded its initial target of $4 million. Along with earlier funding, it brings the total Zipmex has raised so far to $10.9 million.
The exchange is regulated in Singapore, Australia and Indonesia, and licensed in Thailand. It focuses on investors new to cryptocurrency with educational features, as well as high net-worth individuals, and says it has transacted over $600 million in gross transaction volume since launching at the end of 2019.
The funding will be used on hiring and to add more product offerings. In addition to its cryptocurrency exchange, Zipmex’s services also include ZipUp, its interest-bearing accounts, and its own ERC-20 token ZMT.
Zipmex’s goal is to become the largest digital exchange in the Asia Pacific, where interest in cryptocurrency investing and blockchain technology is increasing quickly. For example, DBG Group Holdings, Southeast Asia’s largest lender, recently launched a crypto exchange, though it is currently open only to professional investors.
But Zipmex is also up against a roster of competitors, including regional exchanges like BitKub in Thailand and Swyftx in Australia, as well as players like Luno, Coinbase and Binance which are targeting growth in the Asia Pacific region.
Zipmex chief executive officer Marcus Lim said the company’s ambition to become a digital assets bank sets it apart from other exchanges. “We currently offer customers to invest and earn interest on their digital assets,” he told TechCrunch. “In the future, we are planning to roll out payments and lending and the investment into securitized tokens.”
Other cryptocurrency startups that Jump Capital, an American venture capital firm, has invested in include BitGo and TradingView. Its parent company, trading firm Jump Trading, powers Robinhood’s crypto trades.
Online video platform Biteable, a startup that makes it easier to create polished and professional videos using templates and a library of images and animations, has raised $7 million in Series A funding led by Cloud Apps Capital Partners. The service today competes with products from Vimeo, Canva, Adobe and others, but focuses on creating video assets that have more staying power than temporary social videos.
These sort of videos are in more demand than ever, as the pandemic has prompted increased use of video communications — particularly among smaller businesses — which has also helped Biteable to grow, the company says.
“[The pandemic] accelerated the move toward video that was already happening,” notes Biteable CEO Brent Chudoba, who joined the company at the end of last year. “It helped, obviously, things like Zoom and products like Loom. We saw a benefit, as well. I think, actually, we’ll see an even bigger benefit over time as companies are now used to working and sharing messages remotely, and having to get more creative in how they distribute information,” he says.
The startup itself was originally co-founded in 2015 in Hobart, Australia by CTO Tommy Fotak, Simon Westlake, and James MacGregor. Fotak’s background was in software development, while Westlake had experience in animation and studio production. MacGregor, who has a software, product and marketing background and previously worked at BigCommerce, is Biteable’s Chief Product Officer.
The team had initially been working on freelance projects for people who needed advertising and explainer videos, which led them to realize the opportunity in the video creation market. They believed there was demand for a video builder product that simplified a lot of the decisions that needed to be made when making a video. That is, they wanted to do for video creation what Squarespace, Wix and others have done for website creation.
Chudoba more recently joined the company as a result of Biteable wanting to bring in a CEO with more experience growing freemium software productivity businesses. Prior to Biteable, Chudoba worked in private equity, was an early SurveyMonkey employee (CRO), and also spent time at PicMonkey (COO), Thrive Global (COO and CFO) and Calendly (Head of Business Operations).
While Chudoba admits Biteable is not without its competition, he views that as a positive thing. It means there’s opportunity in the market and it gives Biteable a chance to differentiate itself from others.
On that front, Biteable’s customers tell him the product offers a good balance between the amount of time and skill set they have and the quality of the results.
“They can produce results that they are very proud of and that exceed what they thought they could do with — not necessarily low effort — but without having the training, skills and design background,” says Chudoba.
Above: A Biteable explainer video built with Biteable
The customers also appreciate the sizable content library, which includes a combination of stock photography, stock video footage, and hundreds of animations and scenes. Biteable licenses content from Unsplash and Storyblocks, while its animation library and templates are built in-house by its own professional design team. This allows the company to release hundreds of scenes per month, to keep the library content refreshed and current.
Unlike some of the other products on the market, Biteable’s sweet spot isn’t on “quick hit” social videos, like Instagram Stories, for example. Instead, it focuses on assets that companies use and reuse — like video explainers for a business, online marketing and ads, videos that appear on product pages, and more. Its videos also tend to be between 30 seconds and 3 and half minutes.
Already, Biteable has found individuals from companies like Amazon, Microsoft, Google, Disney, Salesforce, BBC, Shopify and Samsung have used its service, though it doesn’t have any official contracts with these larger businesses.
Above: A Biteable recruiting video template
Today, the startup generates revenue via a freemium business model that includes multiple subscription plans.
A free plan for individual users offers access to the suite of tools for video creation, including the 1.8 million pictures, clips, and animations within the Biteable library. However, free videos are watermarked with Biteable’s branding. A $19 per month plan for single users removes the watermark and allows you to add your own, and offers HD 1080p resolution and other features, like commercial usage rights. Professionals pay $49 per month for shared editing and projects and use by unlimited team members, and more. Custom pricing plans are also available.
Combined, Biteable’s free and paid users total over 6 million. They create around 100,000 unique videos per month, and that number had roughly doubled over the course of 2020.
Image Credits: Biteable
The new $7 million round, announced today, was led by new investor Cloud Apps Capital Partners. Existing investor Tank Stream Ventures also returned for the round and was joined by both new and existing angel investors. In total, Biteable has raised over $9 million (USD) to date.
With the additional funds, Biteable aims to hire and continue to develop the product.
Another shift attributed to the pandemic is that people have warmed up to remote work. Biteable had already been a remote-first operation whose team of 46 is geographically distributed across Australia, the U.S., Canada, and Western Europe. Now, Biteable no longer has to convince people that remote work is the future — and this helps with recruiting talent, too.
Chudoba believes Biteable can grow to become a larger company over time.
“Video is a platform concept and so I think you can build a really big standalone company,” Chudoba says. “We’re a freemium model so that’s a low customer acquisition cost. It’s a high value service and it can be very sticky when you get teams involved,” he notes.
“The power of online video has been incredible, and the events of 2020 have accelerated adoption trends that would have otherwise taken five or more years to evolve,” notes Matt Holleran, General Partner at Cloud Apps Capital Partners, in a statement about his firm’s investment. “As a firm, we look for great businesses in high growth industries with excellent teams that we can help reach the next level. In Biteable, we see all three of those elements and are incredibly excited to partner with Brent and the Biteable team on this next chapter of growth,” he says.
Yet more trouble brewing for Facebook: Australia’s Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) is suing the tech giant over its use, in 2016 and 2017, of the Onavo VPN app to spy on users for commercial purposes.
The ACCC’s case accuses Facebook of false, misleading or deceptive conduct toward thousands of Australian consumers, after it had promoted the Onavo Protect app — saying it would keep users personal activity data private, protected and secret and not use it for any other purpose, when it was being used to gather data to help Facebook’s business.
“Through Onavo Protect, Facebook was collecting and using the very detailed and valuable personal activity data of thousands of Australian consumers for its own commercial purposes, which we believe is completely contrary to the promise of protection, secrecy and privacy that was central to Facebook’s promotion of this app,” said ACCC chair Rod Sims in a statement.
“Consumers often use VPN services because they care about their online privacy, and that is what this Facebook product claimed to offer. In fact, Onavo Protect channelled significant volumes of their personal activity data straight back to Facebook.”
“We believe that the conduct deprived Australian consumers of the opportunity to make an informed choice about the collection and use of their personal activity data by Facebook and Onavo,” Sims added.
The ACCC alleges that between February 1, 2016 to October 2017, Facebook and its subsidiaries Facebook Israel Ltd and Onavo, Inc. misled Australian consumers by misrepresenting the function of the free-to-download Onavo Protect app.
The regulator says it’s seeking declarations and pecuniary penalties.
Reached for comment on the suit, a Facebook spokeswoman said: “When people downloaded Onavo Protect, we were always clear about the information we collect and how it is used.”
“We’ve cooperated with the ACCC’s investigation into this matter to date. We will review the recent filing by the ACCC and will continue to defend our position in response to this recent filing,” she added.
Facebook announced last year that it would shut the Onavo Protect app — after a backlash over how it had used the VPN app which it acquired back in 2013 to snoop on users.
Internal Facebook documents from a legal discovery process — made public in 2018 by the UK parliament after it seized them as part of an enquiry into online disinformation — show the tech giant using Onavo charts as a source of commercial intelligence to understand which third party apps its users were downloading and engaging with.
Data gleaned via Onavo revealed WhatsApp to be a competitive threat to Facebook’s Messenger app. Shortly after gaining this market insight Facebook shelled out $19BN to acquire the rival messaging app.
The tech giant is now facing a massive antitrust case on home soil, where earlier this month 46 states accused it of suppressing competition through monopolistic business practices — with the acquisitions of Instagram and WhatsApp cited as prominent examples.
The FTC and US lawmakers are calling for the unwinding of those mergers and the breaking up of Facebook’s social empire as a necessity.
This month the FCO also announced it’s investigating Facebook tying usage of its latest Oculus VR kit to having a Facebook account — after it said new Oculus users must have a Facebook account to use the kit. This summer Facebook also said it would end support for existing Oculus accounts by 2023.
Shippit, a Sydney, Australia-based e-commerce logistics platform, will expand in Southeast Asia after closing a $30 million AUD (about $22.2 million USD) Series B led by Tiger Global, with participation from Jason Lenga. Founded in 2014, Shippit’s technology automates tasks related to order fulfillment, including finding the best carrier for an order, tracking packages and handling returns.
The company’s Series B, which brings its total raised since 2017 to $41 million AUD, will be used to expand in Southeast Asia and double its total team by hiring 100 new people, including 50 software developers.
Shippit says it currently handles five million deliveries a month in Australia from thousands of retailers, including Sephora, Target, Big W and Temple & Webster. The company launched in Singapore in May, followed by Malaysia in August.
“Southeast Asia is predicted to be the world’s largest e-commerce market in the next five years, and the addressable market for us in Southeast Asia alone is already five times the size of Australia and twice the size of the U.S.,” co-founder and co-chief executive officer William On told TechCrunch.
Shippit is considering expansion into the Philippines and Indonesia, too, and expects its Southeast Asian business to grow 100% year-over-year for the next three years at minimum.
Shippit’s Australian operations have also seen a threefold incraese in delivery volumes over the past twelve months, On added.
The increase in online sales combined with instability in the supply and logistics chain during COVID-19 has highlighted the importance of software like Shippit. E-commerce in the Asia-Pacific was already growing quickly before the pandemic hit, with Forrester forecasting online retail sales in the region to grow from $1.5 trillion in 2019 to $2.5 trillion in 2024, at a compound annual growth rate of 11.3%.
Other startups in the same space include ShipStation, EasyShip and Shippo. Shippit’s competitive strategy is to make online fulfillment as simple as possible for merchants, On said, with features like allowing the integration of online shopping carts with its allocation engine, which automatically picks the best carrier option for an order.
Australia’s intelligence agencies have been caught “incidentally” collecting data from the country’s COVIDSafe contact tracing app during the first six months of its launch, a government watchdog has found.
The report, published Monday by the Australian government’s inspector general for the intelligence community, which oversees the government’s spy and eavesdropping agencies, said the app data was scooped up “in the course of the lawful collection of other data.”
But the watchdog said that there was “no evidence” that any agency “decrypted, accessed or used any COVID app data.”
Incidental collection is a common term used by spies to describe the data that was not deliberately targeted but collected as part of a wider collection effort. This kind of collection isn’t accidental, but more of a consequence of when spy agencies tap into fiber optic cables, for example, which carries an enormous firehose of data. An Australian government spokesperson told one outlet, which first reported the news, that incidental collection can also happen as a result of the “execution of warrants.”
The report did not say when the incidental collection stopped, but noted that the agencies were “taking active steps to ensure compliance” with the law, and that the data would be “deleted as soon as practicable,” without setting a firm date.
Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, countries — and states in places like the U.S. — have rushed to build contact tracing apps to help prevent the spread of the virus. But these apps vary wildly in terms of functionality and privacy.
Most have adopted the more privacy-friendly approach of using Bluetooth to trace people with the virus that you may have come into contact with. Many have chosen to implement the Apple-Google system, which hundreds of academics have backed. But others, like Israel and Pakistan, are using more privacy invasive techniques, like tracking location data, which governments can also use to monitor a person’s whereabouts. In Israel’s case, the tracking was so controversial that the courts shut it down.
Australia’s intelligence watchdog did not say specifically what data was collected by the spy agencies. The app uses Bluetooth and not location data, but the app requires the user to upload some personal information — like their name, age, postal code, and phone number — to allow the government’s health department to contact those who may have come into contact with an infected person.
Australia has seen more than 27,800 confirmed coronavirus cases and over 900 deaths since the start of the pandemic.