UK Facebook users now have a tool to report scam ads

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

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

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

Flow of reporting mock up.png.rendition.992.992

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We’ve reached out to Google for a response.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

N26 announces N26 You, a revamped premium account

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ocean

Raisin picks up $28M backing from Goldman Sachs for its savings and investment marketplace

Raisin, the fintech startup that offers a pan-European marketplace for savings and investment products, has picked up additional funding. Goldman Sachs has invested $28 million (€25m), following the company’s $114 million in Series D in February.

The new capital will be used by Raisin to build out its U.S. presence ahead of a 2020 launch across the pond. The startup announced its U.S. plans in May, saying that it wanted to enable U.S. savers to more easily shop around for a better interest rate and remove the friction associated with switching savings and deposit accounts. The deposits market in the U.S. is said to be $12.7 trillion.

Raisin also plans to enter two new European markets by the end of this year. The Raisin marketplace currently has six country specific savings platforms: Germany, U.K., France, The Netherlands, Spain, and Austria, in addition to a generic site for 28 European countries.

Founded in 2012 by Dr. Tamaz Georgadze (CEO), Dr. Frank Freund (CFO) and Michael Stephan (COO), and launched the following year, Raisin says that to date it has brokered €14 billion for more than 185,000 customers across Europe.

The Raisin marketplace offers more than 480 savings products from 80 European partner banks via its “deposits-as-a-service”. The fintech also has distribution partnerships with N26, Commerzbank, 02 Banking of Telefónica Germany and Yolt among others, as it attempts to ride the marketplace banking trend.

Cue statement from Rana Yared, Managing Director, Goldman Sachs Principal Strategic Investments: “Raisin has developed a unique savings marketplace with a solid business model, impressive growth and a loyal customer base. We are excited to support the company’s outstanding management team in executing their vision”.

In addition to Goldman Sachs, Raisin’s backers include PayPal, Index Ventures, Ribbit Capital and Thrive Capital.

Curve, the ‘over-the-top’ banking platform, raises $55M at a $250M valuation

Curve, the London-based “over-the-top banking platform,” has raised $55 million in new funding. The startup lets you consolidate all of your bank cards into a single Curve card and app to make it easier to manage your spending and access other benefits.

Curve’s Series B round is led by Gauss Ventures, the U.S.-based fintech investor, alongside Creditease, IDC Ventures and previous backer Outward VC (formerly Investec’s INVC fund). A number of other early investors, including Santander InnoVentures, Breega, Seedcamp and Speedinvest also followed on.

The new round of funding values Curve at $250 million (or one-quarter unicorn, so to speak), and will be used by the company to continue adding more features to its platform and for further European expansion. The company claims 500,000 users and says it is on track to reach 1 million by the end of the year.

Curve is currently available in 31 countries across Europe, with around 30% of its customer base coming from outside the U.K. “We [have] identified a few countries where the organic pull is fantastic, and we are about to double down on them,” Curve founder and CEO Shachar Bialick tells me.

Like a plethora of fintech startups, Curve is building a platform that essentially turns your mobile phone into a financial control centre that re-bundles disparate financial products or functionality to offer a single app to help you manage “all things money.”

However, rather than building a new current account — as is the case with the challenger banks such as Monzo, Starling and Revolut — Curve’s “attack vector” is a card and app that lets you connect all of your other debit and credit cards (sans Amex) so you only ever have to carry a single card.

Once you’ve added your cards to Curve, you use the app to switch from which underlying debit or credit cards you wish the Curve Mastercard to spend, and can track and see a single and consolidated view of your spending regardless of which card was charged (and therefore which of your bank accounts the money was pulled from).

In other words, Curve isn’t asking to replace your existing bank accounts but is pitched as a cloud-based platform that runs “over-the-top” of existing banking and payments infrastructure. Historically, the over-the-top terminology has been used to describe the way video streaming services such as Netflix run “over-the-top” of existing broadband infrastructure.

“For Curve to succeed in its mission of bringing banking to the cloud, we need [to continue] to build the product; tiny experiences that together create a whole new offering,” Bialick continues. “Our money is everywhere and the job of connecting it all together to one seamless experience requires many resources, and especially many talented people. The latest Series B will enable Curve to re-bundle more of your money: experiences such as Curve Send (peer-to-peer payments), and Curve Credit (post transaction installments for any payment, anywhere).”

Curve Cash in App 1Alongside Curve’s all-your-cards-in-one functionality, the Curve app lets you lock your Curve card at a touch of a button, provides instant spend notifications, “zero FX fees” when spending abroad or in a foreign currency and the ability to switch payment sources retroactively. The latter is dubbed “Go Back in Time” and means if you make a purchase via Curve that gets charged to a card other than the one you intended, you have two weeks to change your mind.

More recently, Curve has re-vamped its cashback feature in a bid to draw in more customers for the premium versions of the Curve card. With the new Curve Cash programme, customers get 1% instant cash back on top of any existing rewards cards that they have plugged into the app, potentially earning customers double rewards on purchases. You simply pick from the list of retailers supported for cashback — you are allowed to choose between three and six retailers, depending on which Curve plan you are on — and then get 1% cashback for any purchases made at those stores.

Bialick claims that Curve’s over-the-top model is also producing higher engagement than many challenger banks, with customers spending on average £1,500 per month through the Curve platform. (As an imperfect reference point, challenger bank Monzo says that around 30% of its users top up their account by £1,000 or more per month). I’m also told that 15% of Curve’s users have added a challenger bank card to their Curve account, which also makes for an intriguing and even more nuanced comparison.

And whilst Curve is arguably trying to define a new market category — at least here in the West — and therefore isn’t the easiest of products to explain, Bialick says that existing Curve customers are the startup’s biggest advocates.

“There isn’t just one thing that pulls customers to Curve, there are as many pulls as [there are] the number of ‘money jobs’ one has. All your cards in one, fee-free spending abroad, ‘Go Back In Time,’ to name a few, all attract and retain our customer base. Indeed, awareness and brand building is key, especially amongst all the noise, but that’s where our customers are proving invaluable, telling their friends about Curve, which drives most of our adoption with 2,000 plus new accounts per day.”

To win in this new category of banking, Bialick says the company needs to steadfastly stick to its mission to reduce the number of steps it takes to carry out everyday money-related tasks. “The winners will be the companies… [that] create the most seamless experience, removing as much friction between the customer and their money.”

Computing pioneer and LGBT icon Alan Turing will grace the £50 note in 2021

Alan Turing, one of the pioneering figures in modern computing, and also a tragic one in LGBT history, will soon appear on the U.K.’s £50 note. He was selected from a shortlist of scientists and bright minds so distinguished that it must have made the decision rather difficult.

The nomination process for who would appear on the new note was open to the public, with the limitation this time that those nominated were British scientists of some form or another. Hundreds of thousands of votes and nearly a thousand names were submitted, and ultimately the list was winnowed down to the following dozen (well, 14, with two pairs; descriptions taken from the Bank of England’s summary):

  • Mary Anning (1799-1847) – a self-taught palaeontologist known around the world for the fossil discoveries she made in her hometown of Lyme Regis.
  • Paul Adrien Maurice Dirac (1902-1984) – whose research revolutionised our understanding of the universe’s smallest matter.
  • Rosalind Franklin (1920-1958) – who drove the discovery of DNA’s structure, a critical breakthrough in our understanding of the biology of life.
  • Stephen Hawking (1942-2018) – who made outstanding contributions to our understanding of gravity, space and time.
  • William (1738-1822) and Caroline Herschel (1750-1848) – a brother and sister astronomy team devoted to uncovering the secrets of the universe.
  • Dorothy Crowfoot Hodgkin (1910-1994) – whose research using x-ray crystallography delivered ground-breaking discoveries which shaped modern science and helped save lives.
  • Ada Lovelace (1815-1852) and Charles Babbage (1791-1871) – visionaries who imagined the computer age.
  • James Clerk Maxwell (1831-1879) – who made discoveries which laid the foundations for technological innovations which have transformed our way of life.
  • Srinivasa Ramanujan (1887-1920) – whose incredible talent for numbers helped transform modern mathematics.
  • Ernest Rutherford (1871-1937) – who uncovered the properties of radiation, revealed the secrets of the atom and laid the foundations for nuclear physics.
  • Frederick Sanger (1918-2013) – whose pioneering research laid the foundations for our understanding of genetics.
  • Alan Turing (1912-1954) – whose work on early computers, code-breaking achievements and visionary ideas about machine intelligence made him one of the most influential thinkers of the 20th century

Some of the best intellectual company conceivable, to be quite honest. Each of these people was enormously influential in their respective field, although as usual some didn’t get the credit they deserved while living.

Turing was of course an example of this. His work on codebreaking during World War II (alongside his many colleagues at Bletchley Park and beyond, naturally) contributed hugely to the Allied war effort by allowing them to secretly read Axis communications thought to be rendered unreadable by the ingenious Enigma system.

Part of that work, and Turing’s papers on general computing theory written at the time, laid the foundation for many of the concepts that underpin computational systems today. The modern computer is a collaboration among many people in many countries over several decades, but Turing was among the vanguard in theory and execution.

Unfortunately, not only was much of his work required to be kept secret for decades afterwards, limiting the knowledge of his accomplishments to a select few, but after the war he was later persecuted by the British government for being a gay man.

Charged with indecent acts, he was subjected to mandatory chemical “treatment” for his sexuality: humiliating and unjust compensation for a man who saved thousands, perhaps millions, of lives and helped create the defining technology of the 20th century in the process. He was found dead in his apartment, having apparently committed suicide, on June 7, 1954.

He was officially pardoned in 2014 after years of consideration and outcry, especially following both the increasing visibility and action of LGBTQIA figures in the present/, and a resurgence of interest in Turing and his collaborators’ contributions to the history of computing and the war effort.

Even with such an extraordinary story, it must have been difficult to pick Turing out from the crowd of luminaries nominated alongside him. You can check out some of the people and thought behind the decision in this video put out by the Bank of England:

The note itself isn’t finalized, but it will resemble the top image. It uses the most famous image of Turing, and will feature notes from his papers and notebooks, a picture of the Automatic Computing Engine (an early digital computer), a quote and signature, and more. Should be a handsome little bill. You’ll see it in circulation starting in 2021.

Computing pioneer and LGBT icon Alan Turing will grace the £50 note in 2021

Alan Turing, one of the pioneering figures in modern computing, and also a tragic one in LGBT history, will soon appear on the U.K.’s £50 note. He was selected from a shortlist of scientists and bright minds so distinguished that it must have made the decision rather difficult.

The nomination process for who would appear on the new note was open to the public, with the limitation this time that those nominated were British scientists of some form or another. Hundreds of thousands of votes and nearly a thousand names were submitted, and ultimately the list was winnowed down to the following dozen (well, 14, with two pairs; descriptions taken from the Bank of England’s summary):

  • Mary Anning (1799-1847) – a self-taught palaeontologist known around the world for the fossil discoveries she made in her hometown of Lyme Regis.
  • Paul Adrien Maurice Dirac (1902-1984) – whose research revolutionised our understanding of the universe’s smallest matter.
  • Rosalind Franklin (1920-1958) – who drove the discovery of DNA’s structure, a critical breakthrough in our understanding of the biology of life.
  • Stephen Hawking (1942-2018) – who made outstanding contributions to our understanding of gravity, space and time.
  • William (1738-1822) and Caroline Herschel (1750-1848) – a brother and sister astronomy team devoted to uncovering the secrets of the universe.
  • Dorothy Crowfoot Hodgkin (1910-1994) – whose research using x-ray crystallography delivered ground-breaking discoveries which shaped modern science and helped save lives.
  • Ada Lovelace (1815-1852) and Charles Babbage (1791-1871) – visionaries who imagined the computer age.
  • James Clerk Maxwell (1831-1879) – who made discoveries which laid the foundations for technological innovations which have transformed our way of life.
  • Srinivasa Ramanujan (1887-1920) – whose incredible talent for numbers helped transform modern mathematics.
  • Ernest Rutherford (1871-1937) – who uncovered the properties of radiation, revealed the secrets of the atom and laid the foundations for nuclear physics.
  • Frederick Sanger (1918-2013) – whose pioneering research laid the foundations for our understanding of genetics.
  • Alan Turing (1912-1954) – whose work on early computers, code-breaking achievements and visionary ideas about machine intelligence made him one of the most influential thinkers of the 20th century

Some of the best intellectual company conceivable, to be quite honest. Each of these people was enormously influential in their respective field, although as usual some didn’t get the credit they deserved while living.

Turing was of course an example of this. His work on codebreaking during World War II (alongside his many colleagues at Bletchley Park and beyond, naturally) contributed hugely to the Allied war effort by allowing them to secretly read Axis communications thought to be rendered unreadable by the ingenious Enigma system.

Part of that work, and Turing’s papers on general computing theory written at the time, laid the foundation for many of the concepts that underpin computational systems today. The modern computer is a collaboration among many people in many countries over several decades, but Turing was among the vanguard in theory and execution.

Unfortunately, not only was much of his work required to be kept secret for decades afterwards, limiting the knowledge of his accomplishments to a select few, but after the war he was later persecuted by the British government for being a gay man.

Charged with indecent acts, he was subjected to mandatory chemical “treatment” for his sexuality: humiliating and unjust compensation for a man who saved thousands, perhaps millions, of lives and helped create the defining technology of the 20th century in the process. He was found dead in his apartment, having apparently committed suicide, on June 7, 1954.

He was officially pardoned in 2014 after years of consideration and outcry, especially following both the increasing visibility and action of LGBTQIA figures in the present/, and a resurgence of interest in Turing and his collaborators’ contributions to the history of computing and the war effort.

Even with such an extraordinary story, it must have been difficult to pick Turing out from the crowd of luminaries nominated alongside him. You can check out some of the people and thought behind the decision in this video put out by the Bank of England:

The note itself isn’t finalized, but it will resemble the top image. It uses the most famous image of Turing, and will feature notes from his papers and notebooks, a picture of the Automatic Computing Engine (an early digital computer), a quote and signature, and more. Should be a handsome little bill. You’ll see it in circulation starting in 2021.

No technical reason to exclude Huawei as 5G supplier, says UK committee

A UK parliamentary committee has concluded there are no technical grounds for excluding Chinese network kit vendor Huawei from the country’s 5G networks.

In a letter from the chair of the Science & Technology Committee to the UK’s digital minister Jeremy Wright, the committee says: “We have found no evidence from our work to suggest that the complete exclusion of Huawei from the UK’s telecommunications networks would, from a technical point of view, constitute a proportionate response to the potential security threat posed by foreign suppliers.”

Though the committee does go on to recommend the government mandate the exclusion of Huawei from the core of 5G networks, noting that UK mobile network operators have “mostly” done so already — but on a voluntary basis.

If it places a formal requirement on operators not to use Huawei for core supply the committee urges the government to provide “clear criteria” for the exclusion so that it could be applied to other suppliers in future.

Reached for a response to the recommendations, a government spokesperson told us: “The security and resilience of the UK’s telecoms networks is of paramount importance. We have robust procedures in place to manage risks to national security and are committed to the highest possible security standards.”

The spokesperson for the Department for Digital, Media, Culture and Sport added: “The Telecoms Supply Chain Review will be announced in due course. We have been clear throughout the process that all network operators will need to comply with the Government’s decision.”

In recent years the US administration has been putting pressure on allies around the world to entirely exclude Huawei from 5G networks — claiming the Chinese company poses a national security risk.

Australia announced it was banning Huawei and another Chinese vendor ZTE from providing kit for its 5G networks last year. Though in Europe there has not been a rush to follow the US lead and slam the door on Chinese tech giants.

In April leaked information from a UK Cabinet meeting suggested the government had settled on a policy of granting Huawei access as a supplier for some non-core parts of domestic 5G networks, while requiring they be excluded from supplying components for use in network cores.

On this somewhat fuzzy issue of delineating core vs non-core elements of 5G networks, the committee writes that it “heard unanimously and clearly” from witnesses that there will still be a distinction between the two in the next-gen networks.

It also cites testimony by the technical director of the UK’s National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC), Dr Ian Levy, who told it “geography matters in 5G”, and pointed out Australia and the UK have very different “laydowns” — meaning “we may have exactly the same technical understanding, but come to very different conclusions”.

In a response statement to the committee’s letter, Huawei SVP Victor Zhang welcomed the committee’s “key conclusion” before going on to take a thinly veiled swiped at the US — writing: “We are reassured that the UK, unlike others, is taking an evidence based approach to network security. Huawei complies with the laws and regulations in all the markets where we operate.”

The committee’s assessment is not all comfortable reading for Huawei, though, with the letter also flagging the damning conclusions of the most recent Huawei Oversight Board report which found “serious and systematic defects” in its software engineering and cyber security competence — and urging the government to monitor Huawei’s response to the raised security concerns, and to “be prepared to act to restrict the use of Huawei equipment if progress is unsatisfactory”.

Huawei has previously pledged to spend $2BN addressing security shortcomings related to its UK business — a figure it was forced to qualify as an “initial budget” after that same Oversight Board report.

“It is clear that Huawei must improve the standard of its cybersecurity,” the committee warns.

It also suggests the government consults on whether telecoms regulator Ofcom needs stronger powers to be able to force network suppliers to clean up their security act, writing that: “While it is reassuring to hear that network operators share this point of view and are ready to use commercial pressure to encourage this, there is currently limited regulatory power to enforce this.”

Another committee recommendation is for the NCSC to be consulted on whether similar security evaluation mechanisms should be established for other 5G vendors — such as Ericsson and Nokia: Two European based kit vendors which, unlike Huawei, are expected to be supplying core 5G.

“It is worth noting that an assurance system comparable to the Huawei Cyber Security Evaluation Centre does not exist for other vendors. The shortcomings in Huawei’s cyber security reported by the Centre cannot therefore be directly compared to the cyber security of other vendors,” it notes.

On the issue of 5G security generally the committee dubs this “critical”, adding that “all steps must be taken to ensure that the risks are as low as reasonably possible”.

Where “essential services” that make use of 5G networks are concerned, the committee says witnesses were clear such services must be able to continue to operate safely even if the network connection is disrupted. Government must ensure measures are put in place to safeguard operation in the event of cyber attacks, floods, power cuts and other comparable events, it adds. 

While the committee concludes there is no technical reason to limit Huawei’s access to UK 5G, the letter does make a point of highlighting other considerations, most notably human rights abuses, emphasizing its conclusion does not factor them in at all — and pointing out: “There may well be geopolitical or ethical grounds… to enact a ban on Huawei’s equipment”.

It adds that Huawei’s global cyber security and privacy officer, John Suffolk, confirmed that a third party had supplied Huawei services to Xinjiang’s Public Security Bureau, despite Huawei forbidding its own employees from misusing IT and comms tech to carry out surveillance of users.

The committee suggests Huawei technology may therefore be being used to “permit the appalling treatment of Muslims in Western China”.

Cambridge Uni graphene spin-out bags $16M to get its first product to market

Cambridge, UK based graphene startup, Paragraf, has closed a £12.8 million (~$16M) Series A round of funding led by early stage VC  Parkwalk. Also investing this round: IQ Capital Partners, Amadeus Capital Partners and Cambridge Enterprise, the commercialisation arm of the University of Cambridge, plus several unnamed angel investors. 

The funding will be used to bring the 2015-founded Cambridge University spin out’s first graphene-based electronics products to market — transitioning the startup into a commercial, revenue-generating phase.

When we covered Paragraf’s $3.9M seed raise just over a year ago CEO and co-founder Dr Simon Thomas told us it was looking to raise a Series A ahead of Q3 2019 so the business looks to be right on track at this stage.

During the seed phase Paragraf says it was able to deliver a manufacturing facility, graphene layer production and first device prototypes “significantly” ahead of plan.

It’s now switching focus to products — with strategic volume device production partners, and commercialisation of its first device: A super-high sensitivity magnetic field detector which it says operates over temperature, field and power ranges “that no other device can currently achieve”.

Commenting in a statement, Thomas added: “I am extremely proud of the young team at Paragraf who have collectively delivered the early strategy milestones with great skill. This next phase will allow Paragraf to make these truly game-changing technologies a reality. Paragraf is continually seeking like-minded collaborative development, production and commercial partners to accelerate the delivery of the many exciting electronics technology opportunities graphene has to offer.”

In terms of the touted benefits of graphene, the atom-layer-thick 2D material has long been exciting scientists as a potential replacement for silicon in computer chips — thanks to a raft of key properties including high conductivity, strength and flexibility and thermal integrity. Researchers suggest it could deliver a performance speed increase of up to 1000x, while reducing energy use by up to 50x.

But while excitement about how graphene could transform electronics has been plentiful in the more than a decade since it was discovered, those seeking to commercialize the wonder material have found it challenging to manufacture at commercial grade and scale.

This is where Paragraf aims to come in — claiming to be the first company to deliver IP-protected graphene technology using what it bills as “standard, mass production scale manufacturing approaches”.

It also says its first sensor products have demonstrated “order of magnitude operational improvements over today’s incumbents”.

Such claims of course remain to be tested in the wild but Paragraf isn’t dialling down the hype vis-a-vis the transformative potential of baking graphene into next-gen electronics.

“Achieving large-scale, graphene-based production technology will enable next generation electronics, including vastly increased computing speeds, significantly improved medical diagnostics and higher efficiency renewable energy generation as well as currently unachievable products such as instant charging batteries and very low power, flexible electronics,” it writes.

A year ago Thomas told us Paragraf expected high-tech applications of graphene in consumer technologies to appear in the general market within the next 2-3 years — a timeline that should now have shrunk to just a year or two out.

Yandex-Uber JV MLU acquires regional rival Vezet for shares and $71.5M in cash

On-demand transportation giant Uber made its name in part by aggressively entering new markets on a path of organic growth, but in recent times, it has shown itself more amenable to the concept of expansion through acquisition. Today, MLU, Uber’s ride-sharing and food delivery JV with Yandex (by way of Yandex .taxi) covering cities in Russia and surrounding regions, announced that it has acquired Vezet, a smaller rival that operates in 123 markets in the same region, for a price that’s estimated to be in the region of $204 million.

Alongside that MLU said that it would be investing an further 8 billion rubles ($127 million) in the Russian regions over the next three years, with half towards safety and security — including driver training — and half for “supporting regional drivers and taxi fleet companies.” (The latter could be in the form of special incentives to continue encouraging them to drive with MLU over others, and other loyalty programs.)

Current shareholders of Vezet “will receive new shares in MLU, representing up to 3.6% of the issued share capital of the company at closing, together with up to $71.5 million in cash,” based on Vezet meeting certain performance and integration targets, the companies said. Part of that integration will involve moving all of Vezet onto a single platform with MLU.

To be clear, the companies did not disclose the approximate valuation of the deal based on these percentages, but as a marker, when Uber last valued MLU ahead of its public listing, it put the figure at $3.68 billion. That would put shares of 3.6% at just under $132.5 million, valuing the Vezet transaction in total at around $204 million. (This is assuming that the valuation of MLU, prior to this acquisition, has not changed in the last three months.)

The deal will also slightly reduce Uber’s stake in the JV: MLU notes that following the completion of the acquisition, Yandex NV will own 56.2% of MLU, and Uber will own 35.0%, with 5.3% held by employees (part of the equity incentive plan).

The move speaks to the inevitable consolidation that has happened, and will continue to happen, in the ridesharing market. Vezet (which has a nice double-meaning in Russian: driving, and lucky — or maybe more accurately, things are going your way) itself is a combination of some smaller businesses, and today operates services under four brands: Vezet, Taxi Saturn, Fasten and Red Taxi.

It will also help MLU potentially remain in markets where it has had faced some potential issues in the past. In Kazan, for example, some had called on the government to ban MLU (specifically Yandex.taxi). That hadn’t come to pass, although the prospect of such legal actions might be diffused if it’s acquires a local operator that’s had a more harmonious rise in the market.

Vezet’s business model is built around providing a platform for individuals and existing fleets, which can use it to get routed to passengers looking for a ride from A to B. Like Uber and the many others in this business area, Vezet uses an app-based interface, but given its footprint and how it covers markets where smartphone penetration and usage are not as extensive as in mature markets, it also allows people to order rides through call centers. This deal will include all of Vezet’s assets.

While Uber originally forged an empire by entering markets on its own steam and building businesses from scratch (using tens of billions of dollars in VC funds to do it), in more recent years it’s formed regional joint ventures, including merging its operations in China with Didi and Southeast Asia with Grab alongside its Russia move with Yandex. It’s also started to acquire businesses to move into new markets, such as its recent deal to buy Careem for more than $3 billion to make a big splash in the Middle East.

The acquisition is expected to close at the end of the year, the companies said.

Hero Labs raises £2.5M for its ultrasonic device to monitor a property’s water use and prevent leaks

Hero Labs, a London-based startup that is developing “smart” technology to help prevent water leaks in U.K. properties, has raised £2.5 million in seed funding. The round is led by Earthworm Group, an environmental fund manager, with further support via a £300,000 EU innovation grant and a number of unnamed private investors.

The new capital will be used by Hero Labs to accelerate development of its first product: a smart device dubbed “Sonic” that uses ultrasonic technology to monitor water use within a property, including the early detection of water leaks.

Founded in 2018 by Krystian Zajac after he exited Neos, a smart home insurer that was acquired by Aviva, Hero Labs was born out of the realisation that a lot of smart home technology either wasn’t very smart or didn’t solve mass problems (Zajac had also previously ran a smart home company focusing on ultra high net-worth individuals that delivered bespoke designs for things like motorised swimming pool floors or home cinemas doubling up as panic rooms).

Coupled with this, the Hero Labs founder learned that water wastage was a very costly problem, both financially and environmentally, with water leaks being the number one culprit for property damage in the U.K. ahead of fires, gas explosions or break-ins combined. This sees water leaks cost the U.K. insurance industry £1 billion per year, apparently.

“My vision for the company is to solve real-life problems with truly smart technology,” Zajac tells me. “From working at Neos and alongside some of the world’s largest home insurers I understood the problems that impacted ordinary homeowners and their families on a day-to-day basis. Perhaps most surprisingly, I learnt that water leaks are far and way the biggest cause of damage to homes… I also wanted to do more for the environment in my next venture after learning that water leaks waste 3 billion litres of water a day in the U.K. alone”.

KZ Event

To that end, the Sonic device and service is described as a smart leak defence system. Aimed at anyone who wants to prevent water leaks in their property — including homeowners, landlords, facilities management, property developers and businesses — the ultrasonic device typically attaches to the piping below your sink and “listens” to the vibrations coming off the interconnected pipes.

Sonic then monitors the water flow using machine learning and its algorithms to identify usage and detect anomalies. This requires the technology to understand the difference between appliances, running taps and even flushing toilets so that it can build up a picture of normal water usage in the home and in turn identify if that pattern is broken. Crucially, if needed, Sonic can automatically shut off the water supply to prevent a water leak damaging the property or its possessions.

Will a full launch planned for later this year, Sonic is targeting consumers as well as small businesses initially. “We are [also] in discussions with insurers who might subsidise the product or give it away completely for free to certain more affluent customers to minimise the risk of water escape,” adds Zajac.