TPH raises a Seed round to ride the vintage clothing wave

A report by US reseller ThredUP estimates that second-hand fashion will soon overtake “fast fashion”, with an expected market worth of $41 billion USD by 2022. According to the site, in 2017 resale equated to six percent of the fashion market, with fast fashion at nine percent. By 2027 however, it’s projected to sit at 11 percent for resale and 10 percent for fast fashion. Why? Because there is a huge glut of clothes in the market, that’s why. You people are just not buying all the clothes that are being made. The trend is starting to affect big retailers. H&M has $4.3 billion worth of unsold clothing.

This is not only an environmental disaster, it’s also a huge turn-off for millenials who are cutting against the waste in the fashion industry and also looking for unique looks that go against the manufactured ‘trends’ in fast fashion.

The biggest sites in this resale space include Vestiaire and Vinted, among others. But mostly they concentrate on person-to-person sales. A new startup hopes to bring small second-hand shops into the space and has now raised a seed round to power its vision.

TPH.co connects local vintage shops with vintage fashion lovers. Vintage shops subscribe to the platform to load op their garments. TPH stands for The Pasta Haters, the idea being that people want to find original pieces, instead of bland ‘pasta fashion’.

It’s now raised $250,000 from London-based Seedcamp, Wave Ventures, STING and The Nordic Web Ventures. TPH says it has been gaining traction not just among fashion-loving customers but among stores as well.

The site is the brainchild of Lisa Gautier, who was previously with Outfittery (Curated shopping for men) and FYNDIQ (Bargain superstore) and was recently joined by cofounder Maki Kobayashi. Gautier says: “At TPH.co we’re reshaping the way you consume fashion, keeping your closet unique and environmentally friendly. The fact that we attracted investors from four different countries perfectly reflects and supports the international ambition and opportunity for TPH.”

Seedcamp’s Carlos Eduardo Espinal, comments, “We were hugely impressed from the moment we met Lisa by the global market potential for TPH, the promising early traction the business has experienced to date, and the social impact of the business.”

Anton Backman from Wave Ventures says: “Cool, trendy and ecological, not to mention global from day one. TPH and Lisa are tapping a huge underserved niche of vintage lovers that is growing year by year.”

Alan raises $28.3 million for its health insurance of the future

French startup Alan closed a $28.3 million Series A round a few months ago. Index Ventures is leading the round, Xavier Niel is participating as well as existing investors CNP Assurances, Partech and Portag3 Ventures LP.

Alan wants to make health insurance as simple as subscribing to a software-as-a-service product. It starts with clear pricing and transparent reimbursement policies. For instance, you can cover a 30-year-old employee for €55 per month.

The price will be exactly the same for all types of companies. The only thing that changes is that you’ll pay a bit less for younger employees and more for older employees. Each employee can choose to cover their significant other for the same price, and their kids for an extra €40 per month.

And then, Alan is following the startup playbook. The overall user experience is much nicer than the interface of a traditional health insurance.

You get a modern dashboard where you can control and view all your health expenses, a mobile app and good customer support. You can also add life insurance from CNP Assurances from the same interface.

This simple promise seems to be working quite well as Alan now covers 7,000 employees across 850 companies. As you can see, the startup has been focusing on small companies as it’s easier to make them switch.

Alan co-founder and CEO Jean-Charles Samuelian also told me that small companies are underserved by big insurance companies. There’s no reason you should pay more because you work for a small company.

With today’s funding round, Alan wants to offer the same product at scale. The company plans to grow from 22 employees right now to 80 employees by December 2018.

“The goal is to reach €100 million in annual recurring revenue as quickly as possible,” Samuelian told me. The startup currently generates between €5 and €6 million in annual recurring revenue.

Eventually, Alan wants to expand beyond France and address other European markets. While the U.S. seems like a big market, it’s already quite crowded. Samuelian thinks there will be a bigger opportunity by building a European company. It’ll take quite a bit of time as regulation is different in each European country.

Recently, Alan has been focused on building a solid infrastructure, optimizing processes and automating tasks. In many ways, Samuelian still thinks about Alan as a tech company. “We want to build the Apple or Google of Europe,” he said.

Alan can beat competitors on price and flexibility by building a tech product that actually works — that’s how you can serve 7,000 people with a lean team.

Disclosure: I share a personal connection with an executive at CNP Assurances.

Conserve the Sound is an archive of noises from old tape players, projectors and other dying tech

All of us grew up around tech different from what we have today, and many of us look back on those devices with fondness. But can you recall the exact sound your first Casio keyboard made, or the cadence of a rotary phone’s clicks? Conserve the Sound aims to, well, conserve the sound of gadgets like these so that future generations will know what it sounded like to put a cartridge in the NES.

It’s actually quite an old project at this point, having been funded first in 2013, but its collection has grown to a considerable size. The money came from German art institution Film & Medienstiftung NRW; the site was created (and is maintained) by creative house Chunderksen.

The whole thing is suitably minimal, much like an actual museum: You find objects either by browsing randomly or by finding a corresponding tag, and are presented with some straightforward imagery and a player loaded with the carefully captured sound of the device being operated.

Though the items themselves are banal, listening to these sounds of a bygone age is strangely addictive. They trigger memories or curiosity — was my Nintendo that squeaky? Didn’t my rotary phone click more? What kind was it anyway? I wonder if they have my old boombox… oh! A View-Master!

The collection has grown over the years and continues to grow; it now includes interviews with experts in various subjects on the importance of saving these sounds. You can even submit your own, if you like. “We welcome suggestions in general, sound suggestions, stories, anecdotes and of course collaborations,” write the creators.

I for one would love to revisit all the different modems and sounds I grew up using: 2400, 9600, 14.4, 28.8, all the way up to 56.6. Not exactly pleasant noises, admittedly, but I anticipate they will bring back a flood of memories, Proust-style, of BBSes, hours-long download times and pirated screen savers.

Massterly aims to be the first full-service autonomous marine shipping company

Logistics may not be the most exciting application of autonomous vehicles, but it’s definitely one of the most important. And the marine shipping industry — one of the oldest industries in the world, you can imagine — is ready for it. Or at least two major Norwegian shipping companies are: they’re building an autonomous shipping venture called Massterly from the ground up.

“Massterly” isn’t just a pun on mass; “Maritime Autonomous Surface Ship” is the term Wilhelmson and Kongsberg coined to describe the self-captaining boats that will ply the seas of tomorrow.

These companies, with “a combined 360 years of experience” as their video put it, are trying to get the jump on the next phase of shipping, starting with creating the world’s first fully electric and autonomous container ship, the Yara Birkeland. It’s a modest vessel by shipping terms — 250 feet long and capable of carrying 120 containers according to the concept — but will be capable of loading, navigating, and unloading without a crew

(One assumes there will be some people on board or nearby to intervene if anything goes wrong, of course. Why else would there be railings up front?)

Each has major radar and lidar units, visible light and IR cameras, satellite connectivity, and so on.

Control centers will be on land, where the ships will be administered much like air traffic, and ships can be taken over for manual intervention if necessary.

At first there will be limited trials, naturally: the Yara Birkeland will stay within 12 nautical miles of the Norwegian coast, shuttling between Larvik, Brevik, and Herøya. It’ll only be going 6 knots — so don’t expect it to make any overnight deliveries.

“As a world-leading maritime nation, Norway has taken a position at the forefront in developing autonomous ships,” said Wilhelmson group CEO Thomas Wilhelmson in a press release. “We take the next step on this journey by establishing infrastructure and services to design and operate vessels, as well as advanced logistics solutions associated with maritime autonomous operations. Massterly will reduce costs at all levels and be applicable to all companies that have a transport need.”

The Yara Birkeland is expected to be seaworthy by 2020, though Massterly should be operating as a company by the end of the year.

Facebook, AggregateIQ now being jointly probed by Canada, B.C. data watchdogs

Privacy watchdogs in Canada and British Columbia are combining existing investigations into Facebook and AggregateIQ. The latter being a Victoria-based ad targeting tech company that has been linked to Cambridge Analytica, the political consultancy at the center of the Facebook data misuse storm.

CA whistleblower Chris Wylie — who last month gave public testimony revealing how millions of Facebook users’ data was passed to his former employer for political ad targeting — has described AggregateIQ as the Canadian arm of CA’s parent entity, SCL. (Although AggregateIQ has denied any affiliation with CA or SCL, claiming on its website “it is and has always been 100% Canadian owned and operated”.)

“The investigations will examine whether the organizations [Aggregate IQ and Facebook] are in compliance with Canada’s Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act(PIPEDA) and BC’s Personal Information Protection Act (PIPA),” said Canada’s watchdog in a statement about the now joint investigation.

“The Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner for BC opened its investigation into AggregateIQ late last year. Last month, the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada launched an investigation into allegations about unauthorized access and use of Facebook user profiles.

“The two offices decided to jointly investigate these matters as Facebook and AggregateIQ are subject to both PIPEDA and PIPA.”

The statement does not go into any new detail about the investigations as it notes they are ongoing.

The OPCC’s Facebook investigation, which was launched on March 20, followed a complaint against the company. Facebook has since confirmed that more than 620k Canadian users had their data scraped and passed to CA — the majority of whom would not have consented or even known their information was being shared in this way.

Meanwhile AggregateIQ’s role in the UK’s 2016 Brexit referendum vote has been the subject of increasing scrutiny in the country, following a lengthy investigation by the Observer of London looking at links between the various entities involved and how money was spent by different groups campaigning for the UK to leave the European Union.

The company received £3.5M from leave campaign groups in the run up to the 2016 referendum, and has been described by leave campaigners as instrumental in securing their win.

AggregateIQ is now among 30 companies being investigated by the UK’s data watchdog, the ICO, as part of an ongoing (and now almost year-long) investigation into the use of data analytics for political purposes. Facebook and Cambridge Analytica are also part of that probe.

Giving an update on the investigation yesterday, the ICO said it looking at “how data was collected from a third party app on Facebook and shared with Cambridge Analytica”.

The watchdog secured a warrant to enter and search the London offices of CA last month.

The UK’s Electoral Commission is also investigation Brexit campaign spending — and has previously asked Facebook, Twitter and Google to provide information about ad spending linked to Russia.

Earlier this month Facebook revealed it had removed 70 Facebook accounts, 138 Facebook Pages, and 65 Instagram accounts run by the Russian government-connected troll farm the Internet Research Agency.

The company did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the now joint Canadian and British Columbian data probe.

Facebook is also facing shareholder lawsuits and a probe by the FTC into the data misuse scandal, among others.

Facebook, AggregateIQ now being jointly probed by Canada, B.C. data watchdogs

Privacy watchdogs in Canada and British Columbia are combining existing investigations into Facebook and AggregateIQ. The latter being a Victoria-based ad targeting tech company that has been linked to Cambridge Analytica, the political consultancy at the center of the Facebook data misuse storm.

CA whistleblower Chris Wylie — who last month gave public testimony revealing how millions of Facebook users’ data was passed to his former employer for political ad targeting — has described AggregateIQ as the Canadian arm of CA’s parent entity, SCL. (Although AggregateIQ has denied any affiliation with CA or SCL, claiming on its website “it is and has always been 100% Canadian owned and operated”.)

“The investigations will examine whether the organizations [Aggregate IQ and Facebook] are in compliance with Canada’s Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act(PIPEDA) and BC’s Personal Information Protection Act (PIPA),” said Canada’s watchdog in a statement about the now joint investigation.

“The Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner for BC opened its investigation into AggregateIQ late last year. Last month, the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada launched an investigation into allegations about unauthorized access and use of Facebook user profiles.

“The two offices decided to jointly investigate these matters as Facebook and AggregateIQ are subject to both PIPEDA and PIPA.”

The statement does not go into any new detail about the investigations as it notes they are ongoing.

The OPCC’s Facebook investigation, which was launched on March 20, followed a complaint against the company. Facebook has since confirmed that more than 620k Canadian users had their data scraped and passed to CA — the majority of whom would not have consented or even known their information was being shared in this way.

Meanwhile AggregateIQ’s role in the UK’s 2016 Brexit referendum vote has been the subject of increasing scrutiny in the country, following a lengthy investigation by the Observer of London looking at links between the various entities involved and how money was spent by different groups campaigning for the UK to leave the European Union.

The company received £3.5M from leave campaign groups in the run up to the 2016 referendum, and has been described by leave campaigners as instrumental in securing their win.

AggregateIQ is now among 30 companies being investigated by the UK’s data watchdog, the ICO, as part of an ongoing (and now almost year-long) investigation into the use of data analytics for political purposes. Facebook and Cambridge Analytica are also part of that probe.

Giving an update on the investigation yesterday, the ICO said it looking at “how data was collected from a third party app on Facebook and shared with Cambridge Analytica”.

The watchdog secured a warrant to enter and search the London offices of CA last month.

The UK’s Electoral Commission is also investigation Brexit campaign spending — and has previously asked Facebook, Twitter and Google to provide information about ad spending linked to Russia.

Earlier this month Facebook revealed it had removed 70 Facebook accounts, 138 Facebook Pages, and 65 Instagram accounts run by the Russian government-connected troll farm the Internet Research Agency.

The company did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the now joint Canadian and British Columbian data probe.

Facebook is also facing shareholder lawsuits and a probe by the FTC into the data misuse scandal, among others.

‘The end of my VC career’ — Stefan Glaenzer quits Passion Capital to clear way for third fund

Stefan Glaenzer, the prominent European VC and former chairman of Last.fm and founder of Ricardo.de, has quit his role as Partner at Passion Capital. He co-founded the London-based early-stage firm seven years ago with partners Eileen Burbidge and Robert Dighero.

The decision to resign, which the firm’s staff and Limited Partners were informed of last Thursday, is linked to Glaenzer’s arrest and subsequent conviction in 2012 when he pleaded guilty to sexually assaulting a woman on the London Underground Tube network. He claimed to be high on cannabis at the time and was given a suspended prison sentence and a fine, banned from using the Tube for 18 months, and placed on the U.K.’s sex offender registry.

Passion Capital is in the midst of fundraising and Glaenzer’s conviction has become an obstacle to some LPs backing a third fund. This contrasts with 2015 when the London VC firm successfully raised £45 million for fund two, including £17.5 million coming from the U.K. taxpayer via the British Business Bank. In 2012, following Glaenzer’s sexual assault conviction, existing LPs and Passion Capital partners also unanimously voted that he should remain in his role at the firm.

In an interview offered to TechCrunch — which at first I was hesitant to accept until it became clear there was a legitimate news angle — I sat down with Glaenzer to discuss the events that led to his resignation and put questions to him that have persisted over the years within the London investment and technology startup community and have become ever louder following high-profile cases of alleged sexual harassment in Silicon Valley and the wider #metoo movement.

They include why he wasn’t fired from his job at the time of the sexual assault conviction, why he didn’t resign earlier, and how Passion Capital and its investors dealt internally with the incident. I also wanted to understand what changed in 2018. The only red line was that he didn’t want to talk about how it impacted his private life and family.

German-born Glaenzer — a multimillionaire twice over through the sale of Ricardo.de to QXL in 2000 and Last.fm to CBS in 2007 — says Thursday 16th of November 2017 was the day he “instinctively knew” his VC career was over. He and Passion’s two other partners, Burbidge and Dighero, were meeting with an institutional investor who had been lined up as a cornerstone LP in fund three. Quite far along in the due diligence process and with the outcome looking positive, the conference room had been booked for 2.5 hours in preparation for an intense final round of negotiations. Thirty minutes in, however, the meeting was over. The operational team had passed the deal to the investment firm’s compliance department and Glaenzer had turned from key person to “headline risk”.

“It was clear, we banked on them as our cornerstone, everything was positive, and after four or five months they said no and we knew we needed to restart,” he says. “I knew that this chapter was over”.

What that “headline risk” is was never explicitly stated, says Glaenzer, who didn’t think to ask, but it seems almost certainly the reputational damage that could be inflicted on any investor associated with Passion Capital if Glaenzer remained involved and should his conviction resurface in the media. Optics matter more than ever in 2018.

That is precisely what happened two months prior to the investor meeting when Bloomberg news ran a story asking: ‘Will Britain Keep Investing in a Sex Offender’s Venture Fund?’. The article placed Glaenzer’s conviction in the context of a wider debate about the role LPs should play in policing bad behaviour by VCs, even if his conviction was for something that happened outside of work.

“In the end the institution made the right call,” says Glaenzer. “I think, luckily, in some societies we have made sure that compliance has a big function. Over the last ten years this has become more ingrained”.

But if it was the right call not to invest in Glaenzer in 2018, shouldn’t the same call have been made in either 2012 or later in 2015. He says the sentiment has changed a lot since then and that, more broadly, the ecosystem is “stunningly different” today.

“I think all participants agreed on the view there’s a difference between what happens in private and what happens in business.

“There wasn’t this thinking or discussion about it. It was just, with these conditions — they were concerned about drug use or another incident, and we clearly defined consequences for this — people accepted”.

(Glaenzer declined to specify what those conditions were as he says they were private matters, although one was that he undergo regular drug testing for two years).

He says that everybody legally involved in Passion Capital’s first fund voted that he should remain a Partner. “There was not a single against vote,” he says.

But why didn’t he just resign at the time of the incident?

“In 2002, when I was on my break doing nothing, I watched 62 out of the 64 games in the World Cup in Japan and South Korea. Germany had a terrible team, it was a disaster, other than [goalkeeper] Oli Kahn, who brought us into the final. And this man made a mistake in the 66th minute and we lost the game. And we or rather he didn’t win the trophy. He said after the game, ‘and continue’. You have to accept that you made a mistake and you have to take the consequences. Don’t run away. And that is my fundamental belief”.

I suggest that by remaining in his position he took very few consequences, and that in almost any other walk of life a person with less privilege would automatically lose their job after being convicted of sexual assault.

“I’m struggling to find a correlation between having done a private mistake, where we all agreed this was not business related, this was in no way using power or money,” says Glaenzer. “It was a personal mistake which I on the spot acknowledged and accepted and apologised [for]. And I said from day one to my partners and the CFE [now the BBB], it is not my decision, I want to carry on doing this, but I will of course accept any decision. If people have a different opinion, I do understand”.

Glaenzer is almost certain that Passion Capital would not have survived had he quit in 2012 and says that doing so would have let his partners and investors down. With two multimillion dollar exits behind him and regarded as a dot-com poster child back in Germany, he was indisputably the biggest draw for Passion Capital’s original LPs.

“Do you run away or do you accept… and continue what you promised to your partners and to your investors? I went to families, I went to people and said, you know what, this is what I want to do, there’s going to be money, we are aiming for [and] have our own expectations of what sort of return a small venture fund should deliver, and then run away? No. I can understand why people think differently, of course. But I personally, in my value system, I can not.”

That’s not to say there weren’t business consequences for Passion Capital and on Glaenzer’s ability to carry out his job, which he says he “100 percent” underestimated. “I was not even thinking about business consequences. It was more about the private…” he says.

The fund was suspended for five weeks after the incident, as per the LP agreement and so a decision about his future could be voted on. His conviction and details of the sexual assault were widely reported in the British media and he says the perception of him understandably changed amongst some people in the tech industry. This resulted in a halt to public appearances and networking and he says he initially saw a 70-80 percent reduction in unsolicited pitches. Passion also lost at least one deal due to Glaenzer’s conviction.

“With every deal there was this awkward situation,” he says. “We always disclosed this to our founders before we signed the deal, and that is, on many levels, a very awkward situation. For founders and [for] us”.

From the outside, at least, I say that it feels as though Passion Capital quickly underwent a re-branding post-incident that saw partner Burbidge replace Glaenzer as the more visible face of the VC firm, which otherwise has always made a virtue of its openness, pushing initiatives like its ‘Plain English Term Sheet’ and making its investment terms public.

“It was a 180 degree change,” says Glaenzer. A change, nonetheless, that he says would have happened over time anyway.

“We used our respective strengths. The respective strength of Eileen [Burbidge] has been [there] from day one, even though I was probably doing more of the visible media. She was organising every single thing; she should become the face of the company… It was very, very clear because she is way more talented than I will ever be. It was known”.

So what’s next for Glaenzer? He gives little away but says he has spent the last few months quietly working on a couple of MVPs, including one idea he has fallen in love with. “My fundamental goal is I don’t want to have my kids being solely educated from American media and digital platforms,” he says.

More than anything Glaenzer says he is ready to embrace change: admitting that he had become increasingly unhappy working in early-stage venture and now very clearly a burden on Passion, he doesn’t dispute that a simple version of this story is that the events of 2012 have finally caught up with him.

On several occasions during the interview Glaenzer quotes a passage from the poem “Steps” by the German poet Hermann Hesse, which he’s handwritten across several sheets of plain white paper, revealing each line one page at a time.

He says he used the same poem to explain his resignation to members of the Passion team last week and also when he quit Recardo.de in 2000.

“‘A magic dwells in each beginning, protecting us, telling us how to live’,” he reads. “It’s a fundamental belief that this magic is in new beginnings.”

Bancor takes on Crypto exchanges with wallet that converts across tokens

With the number for cryptocurrencies passing 1,000, and the craze continuing, things are getting pretty wild out there to say the least. And these cryopto asssets can vary from the tokens issued by some no-name startup all the way up to Ether and the venerable Bitcoin. The trouble is, converting those coins into other currencies which you might actually use, or perhaps into the more fiat-friendly Bitcoin and Ether, has been hard. Users have to use exchanges to convert their cryptocurrencies via exchanges where prices can fluctuate wildly. Since cryptocurrency is the main “application” for blockchain technologies right now, that would mean wallets where they are held effectively becoming a new type of ‘browser’.

This is the thinking behind the launch today of Bancor’s wallet. Bancor was already an open-source protocol for automated token conversions, and had raised approximately $153 million in in ICO last year. It’s new wallet will offer built-in conversion between 75 cryptocurrencies, with more being added each day. This means users will not need to send their cryptocurrencies to exchanges if they wish to acquire other forms of crypto-assets and can instead convert cryptocurrencies directly inside the Bancor Wallet. The wallet is not a native smartphone app, but is optimised for mobile use.

Problems at the major crypto exchanges have been mounting, putting many off joining the crypto world. So it’s likely that many Crypto holders will be tempted by the relative stability of in-wallet conversion, even if they can’t play the arbitrage game so easily.

Instead of converting the currencies by matching buyers and sellers as an exchange does, Bancor’s in-wallet conversions are made against smart contracts. In theory, this gives users transparent and efficient pricing without the spreads and fees associated with exchanges. Users are always in control of their keys and Bancor neither holds nor has access to users funds.

In addition, the Bancor Wallet allows users to purchase tokens with any major credit or debit card and instantly convert them to any token in the Bancor Network, including heavily-traded coins like Ether and EOS.

Galia Benartzi, co-founder of Bancor said in statement: “In the new Internet of value, where anyone can create a currency, digital wallets are becoming the browsers which allow users to navigate the emerging world of decentralized apps. To be useful, users need seamless and secure interfaces to blockchain-based products as well as on-demand conversion between the tokens that power them.

“Money is changing, and digital wallets must be as dynamic as the currencies they hold. Imagine if your coffee shop loyalty points were accepted at any cash register in the world, or your airline miles could buy cellular minutes with the click of a button… Bancor’s new wallet aims to deliver on that promise by offering continuous access to crypto tokens and instant convertibility between virtual assets, unlocking enormous purchasing power for consumers,” she added.

Bancor Wallet users can open accounts using an email address, Telegram, WeChat, or Facebook Messenger .

The Bancor Wallet will only likely to get uptake if it can continue to add integration with tokens and maintain a live status and instant conversions. If it can do that then it may well attract users away from many buggy and controversial exchanges.

Skyscanner adds train travel booking, starting in UK

UK-based travel search engine Skyscanner has expanding its offering with a train ticket booking feature that lets users of iOS app book UK train journeys. The feature is slated as coming to UK Android users shortly.

The company’s travel booking platform already offers flight, hotel and car hire. The ability to search and book rail tickets (without booking fees) is intended to capture more of UK travelers’ spending — given how many destinations aren’t served by a nearby airport.

Train travel can also of course be a preferential option for some trips and travelers.

 

While Skyscanner’s new rail feature is currently UK domestic only, a spokeswoman told us it expects to roll out to further international markets “in due course” — thereby beefing up its competitive edge against the likes of multimodal travel planners, such as GoEuro

Skyscanner says the data behind its new rail feature is powered by Trip.com, Ctrip’s new international travel booking service, which will also provide 24-hour customer service.

The Chinese online travel giant acquired Skyscanner back in 2016 for $1.74BN, though Skyscanner remains operationally independent.

In a statement, Bryan Dove, Skyscanner’s CTO, said: “Being part of the Ctrip group allows us to take advantage of elements of Ctrip’s technology and experience and bring that value to Skyscanner’s travellers.

“The launch of our train booking product is one such example. Our focus has always been on making travel as easy as possible and our new train feature will do just that, with the benefit of no booking fees.” 

Another chapter on Facebook’s privacy woes is being written in Latin America

The abuse of Facebook’s platform for political purposes is a problem that doesn’t stop at the U.S border. Governments around the world are continuing to wrestle with the implications of Cambridge Analytica’s acquisition of Facebook user data from the heart of Europe to the capitals of Latin America’s most populous nations. 

In South America, several chapters are still being written into the public record of Facebook’s privacy privations. Some Latin American democracies are also beginning to investigate whether the data harvesting techniques associated with Cambridge Analytica (CA) were used in their electoral processes.

Facebook, Cambridge Analytica and South America: a recap

Brazil

The Brazilian Public Prosecutor’s Office started an investigation to clarify if Cambridge Analytica (CA) had illegal access to Facebook’s private information from millions of Brazillians through their subsidiary, a Sao Paulo-based consulting group named A Ponte Estratégia Planejamento e Pesquisa LTDA.

The investigation came as a result of Cambridge Analytica Chief Data Officer Dr Alex Tayler and Managing Director Mark Turnbull saying to an undercover journalist that the company was now targeting Brazil, among other countries. The Brazilian case is a big deal for Facebook because it is its third-largest market and has an election coming in seven months.

Argentina

Cambridge Analytica’s parent company, SCL Group, has an office in Buenos Aires which address matches with the office of an Argentinian agricultural enterprise called Blacksoil, according to the news outlet, Clarin. The article pointed out that Alexander Nix, former CA’s CEO, was friend of the owner of the company, Lucas Talamoni Grether with whom he had conducted business before.

The Argentinian National Electoral Chamber (CNE), which is in charge of overseeing the elections and auditing campaign contributions and expenses, initiated an “internal investigation” following the scandal revealed by British TV Channel 4. Political parties are accusing one another of using CA services in the 2017 midterm election but there is no hard evidence either supporting or refuting the allegations.

Mexico and Colombia

Mexico, the fifth largest market for Facebook, is also involved in the Cambridge Analytica debacle. In the same video that CA executives mention targeting Brazil, they admit having operated in Mexico using an app called Pig.Gi. Mexico’s general election are due on July 1st. The same app was used to access data from Colombian users, according to the tech site Hipertextual.

Nevertheless, Pig.Gi’s founder and CEO, Joel Phillips, admitted signing a deal with the data company but says the information never got to their hands and there is no evidence that the company had any access to personal data from Mexicans or Colombians, according to the same article.

Apart from being named by Alexander Nix in the video leak which blew up the scandal, there isn’t much empirical evidence of Cambridge Analytica actually tampering with South American electoral processes. However ineffectual Cambridge Analytica’s efforts have been, Facebook is still on the hook when it comes to “fake news” and misinformation in the region.

Misinformed emerging democracies

During the Argentinian electoral process in 2017 hundreds of fake articles were distributed through Facebook. A fact-checking site called Chequeado compiled some of the misinformation that was distributed on the platform.

Among them there were reports accusing the leader of a Teacher’s Union of not being a teacher; of the Buenos Aires Province Governor raising her own salary by 100% and even a claim that the US Government recorded Macri’s Administration as being the most corrupt in the world.

There were some sites created for the sole purpose of spreading Fake News on Facebook and these pieces went viral over and over again.

On the other hand, Brazil has steadily become a fake news heaven. The political instability that reigns in the country has made it easier for fake news to spread within fanatic circles. The Monitor Do Debate Politico No Meio Digital, an organization that follows the trail of political news in Social Networks, told El Pais that there are lots of sites which are not officially developing a systematic campaign of fake news prior to the October elections but have begun spreading fake reports in the social ecosystem.

This scheme is repeating itself throughout Latin American countries — and with the same characteristics. It’s not necessarily systemic, but it is growing. The difference remains in the plausibility of the pieces which were spread in the region.

Although there were no conspiracy theories that compared candidates to a reptile, in South America stories did aim to enhance what people already thought of political figures.

According to Luciano Galup, a social media strategist for political campaigns in the region, fake news are most effective in polarized societies. A study made by Oxford University in the US, showed that extremists tend to distribute more fake information than moderates within parties. And polarization is a major characteristic of the Latin American region’s political scenario. This makes Latin America the perfect victim for people trying to tamper with elections by presenting propaganda as actual news.

If we add that up with the lack of control from governments and Facebook attempts to solve the issue, we have a ticking time bomb. The only positive, Galup says, is that services like the ones on offer from Cambridge Analytica are prohibitively expensive for most political parties in Latin America.

In this case, the only thing saving elections in the region from outside corrupting influences may be the greed of those same corrupting influences.