Xiaomi reports 3.1% revenue growth in Q2 despite restricted production in India

Xiaomi reported a revenue of $7.77 billion for the quarter that ended in June this year, up 3.1% since the same period last year and up 7.7% over the previous quarter as the Chinese smartphone maker sees recovery in most of its overseas markets.

The company, which appointed Alain Lam (former APAC senior executive from Credit Suisse) as its new CFO this week, said its profit in the second quarter stood at $650 million, up 129.8% year-on-year and 108% compared to Q1 2020.

Its smartphone sales, which still account for the bulk of its revenue, has recovered in most of its international markets. Excluding India, the average daily number of overseas smartphone activations reached 120% of the pre-pandemic level recorded in January 2020, it said.

India, its biggest market outside of China, is a different story. New Delhi ordered a nationwide lockdown in late March that resulted in closing of most shops across the nation. Package delivery of “non-essential” items ordered online were also restricted for weeks.

Even as India, where Xiaomi has been the top smartphone vendor for the last 12 quarters, has eased lockdown restrictions in the months since, daily number of smartphone activations were still at 72% (compared to January 2020) as of last month, Xiaomi said in its quarterly earnings presentation today.

Xiaomi said local production yields are to be blamed. “As the production capacity had not yet returned to the normal level, our sales were still limited by the production constraints,” it said.

The company has found a silver lining in Europe. In the second quarter of 2020, according to research firm Canalys, Xiaomi’s smartphone shipments grew by 64.9% year-on-year in Europe, achieving a total market share of 16.8%.

In Western Europe, Xiaomi’s smartphone shipments grew 115.9% year-on-year, accounting for a 12.4% market share. Similarly, according to Canalys, Xiaomi commanded the top smartphone vendor position in Spain, second in France, and 4th in Germany and Italy.

The company said shipment of its premium smartphones — those that sell at retail price of €300 ($350) or more — grew 99.2% year-on-year in international markets. “Driven by the higher proportion of sales from mid- to high-end smartphones, the average selling price of the company’s smartphones increased by 11.8% YoY and 7.5% QoQ,” it added.

The smartphone giant, which has been attempting to grow its advertisement business, said there were 343.5 million MIUI users as of June 30 this year, up 23.3% year-over-year. MIUI is Xiaomi’s custom Android operating system that runs on the vast majority of its smartphones. (Xiaomi has also launched a handful of smartphones with pure Android version.)

As the company’s smartphone install base grows, its advertising revenue is also surging. In the second quarter of 2020, its advertising revenue increased by 23.2% year-on-year to $450 million, it said.

Lana has launched in Latin America to be the one-stop shop for gig workers’ financial needs

Lana, a new startup based in Madrid, is looking to be the next big thing in Latin American fintech.

Founded by serial entrepreneur Pablo Muniz, whose last business was backed by one of Spain’s largest financial services institutions, BBVA, Lana is looking to be the all-in-one financial services provider for Latin America’s gig economy workers.

Muniz’s last company, Denizen, was designed to provide expats in foreign and domestic markets with the financial services they would need as they began their new lives in a different country. While the target customer for Lana may not be the same middle to upper-middle-class international traveler that he had previously hoped to serve, the challenges gig economy workers face in Latin America are much the same.

Muniz actually had two revelations from his work at Denizen. The first — he would never try to launch a fintech company in conjunction with a big bank. And the second was that fintechs or neobanks that focus on a very niche segment will be successful — so long as they can find the right niche.

The biggest niche that Muniz saw that was underserved was actually in the gig economy space in Latin America. “I knew several people who worked at gig economy companies and I knew that their businesses were booming and the industry was growing,” he said. “[But] I was concerned about the inequalities.”

Workers in gig economy marketplaces in Latin America often don’t have bank accounts and are paid through the apps on which they list their services in siloed wallets that are exclusive to that particular app. What Lana is hoping to do is become the wallet of wallets for all of the different companies on which laborers list their services. Frequently, drivers will work for Uber or Cabify and deliver food for Rappi. Those workers have wallets for each service.

(Photo by Cris Faga/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images)

Lana wants to unify all of those disparate wallets into a single account that would operate like a payment account. These accounts can be opened at local merchant shops and, once opened, workers will have access to a debit card that they can use at other locations.

The Lana service also has a bill pay feature that it’s rolling out to users, in the first evolution of the product into a marketplace for financial services that would appeal to gig workers, Muniz said.

“We want to become that account in which they receive funds,” he said. “We are still iterating the value proposition to gig economy companies.”

Working with companies like Cabify, and other, undisclosed companies, Lana has plans to roll out in Mexico, Chile, Peru and, eventually, Colombia and Argentina.

Eventually, Lana hopes to move beyond basic banking services like deposits and payments and into credit services. Already hundreds of customers are using the company’s service through the distribution partnership with Cabify, which ran the initial pilot to determine the viability of the company’s offering.

“The idea of creating Lana was initially tested as an internal project at Cabify,” Muniz wrote in an email. “Soon Cabify and some potential investors saw that Lana could have a greater impact as an independent company, being able to serve gig economy workers from any industry and decided to start over a new entrepreneurial project.”

Through those connections with Cabify, Lana was able to bring in other investors like the Silicon Valley-based investment firm Base 10.

“One of the things we’ve been interested in is in inclusion generally and in fintech specifically,” said Adeyemi Ajao, the firm’s co-founder. “We had gotten very close to investing in a couple of fintech companies in Latin America and that is because the opportunity is huge. There are several million people going from unbanked to banked in the region.”

Along with a few other investors, Base 10 put in $12.5 million to finance Lana as it looks to expand. It’s a market that has few real competitors. Nubank, Latin America’s biggest fintech company, is offering credit services across the continent, but most of their end users already have an established financial history.

“Most of their end users are not unbanked,” said Ajao. “With Lana it is truly gig workers… They can start by being a wallet of wallets and then give customers products that help them finance their cars or their scooters.”

The ultimate idea is to get workers paid faster and provide a window into their financial history that can give them more opportunities at other gig economy companies, said Ajao. “The vision would be that someone can plug in their financial information for services. If they’re working for Rappi and have never been an Uber driver and they want to be an Uber driver, Lana can use their financial history with Rappi to offer a loan on a car,” he said.

That financial history is completely inaccessible to a traditional bank, and those established financial services don’t care about the history built in wallets that they can’t control or track. “Today if you’ve been a gig worker and you go to a bank, that’s worth nothing,” said Ajao.

Google is building a new private subsea cable between Europe and the U.S.

Google today announced its plans to build a new subsea cable with landing points in New York in the U.S. and Bude, UK and Bilbao, Spain in Europe. The new cable, named after the pioneering computer scientist Grace Hopper, will join Google’s various other private subsea cables like Curie between the U.S. and South America, Dunant between the U.S. and France, and Equiano between Europe and Africa.

The new cable is scheduled to go online in 2022 and will be built by SubCom, which Google also contracted for work on its Dunant and Curie cables.

Image Credits: Google

Google plans to launch a new Google Cloud region in Madrid in the near future, so it’s maybe no surprise that it is also looking at how it can best connect the region to its global network. The new cable marks Google’s first cable to Spain and its first private subsea cable route to the UK.

The cable will feature 16 fiber pairs, which is a pretty standard number, but as the Google team stresses, it will be the first to use a new switching architecture the company developed in cooperation with SubCom. This new system is meant to provide increased reliability and to enable the company to better move traffic around outages.

Grace Hopper will be Google’s fourth wholly-owned cable. In addition to these private cables, the company is also a member of a number of consortiums that jointly operate cables around the world. In total, Google has now announced investments in 15 subsea cables, though it is also reportedly part of the upcoming Blue-Raman Cable that will run between India and Italy via Israel. The company has yet to confirm its participation in this project, though.

K Fund’s Jaime Novoa discusses early-stage firm’s focus on Spanish startups

Earlier this month, Spanish early-stage venture capital firm K Fund officially launched its second fund, which sits at €70 million, up from €50 million the first time around.

Targeting Spanish startups with an international outlook, the seed-stage firm plans to invest from €200,000 to €2 million, writing first checks in 25-30 companies. Meanwhile, a portion of the fund will also be set aside for follow-on funding for the most promising of its portfolio.

Described as business model- and sector-agnostic, K Fund currently has a mix of B2B and B2C companies in its portfolio across a wide variety of sectors, such as travel, fintech, insurtech and others. They include online travel agency Exoticca, HR software Factorial, insurtech startup Bdeo and Hubtype, a conversational messaging tech provider.

I caught up with K Fund’s Jaime Novoa to delve deeper into the firm’s investment remit, how the Spanish startup and tech ecosystem has developed over the last few years and to learn more about “K Founders,” the VC’s new pre-seed funding program.

TechCrunch: K Fund’s first fund was announced in late 2016 to back startups in Spain with an international outlook at seed and Series A. At €70 million, this second fund is €20 million larger but I gather the remit remains broadly the same. Can you be more specific with regards to cheque size, geography, sector and the types of startups you look for?

Jaime Novoa: We’re both agnostic in terms of business models and industries. Since our focus is, for the most part, Spain, we do not believe that the Spanish market is big enough to build a vertically focused fund, either in terms of business model or sector.

With our first fund we invested in 28 companies, with a slightly larger number of B2B SaaS companies than B2C ones, and across a wide variety of sectors. We do have a bit of exposure to travel and fintech/insurtech, but that’s because we’ve found several interesting companies in those spaces, not because we proactively said, “let’s invest in fintech/travel.”

In terms of check sizes, the core of the fund will be to make the same type of investments as in our first fund: first cheques from €200k to €2m and then sufficient capital for follow-on rounds. We’ll probably do a similar number of deals compared to the previous fund, but we want to have additional capital for follow-on purposes.

EU digs in on digital tax plan, after US quits talks

The European Commission has reiterated its commitment to pushing ahead with a regional plan for taxing digital services after the US quit talks aimed at finding agreement on reforming tax rules — ramping up the prospects of a trade war.

Yesterday talks between the EU and the US on a digital services tax broke down after U.S. treasury secretary, Steven Mnuchin, walked out — saying they’d failed to make any progress, per Reuters.

The EU has been eyeing levying a tax of between 2% and 6% on the local revenues of platform giants.

Today the European Commission dug in in response to the US move, with commissioner Paolo Gentiloni reiterating the need for “one digital tax” to adapt to what he dubbed “the reality of the new century” — and calling for “understanding” in the global negotiation.

However he also repeated the Commission’s warning that it will push ahead alone if necessary, saying that if the US’ decision to quit talks means achieving global consensus impossible it will put “a new European proposal on the table”.

Following the break down of talks, France also warned it will go ahead with a digital tax on tech giants this year — reversing an earlier suspension that had been intended to grease the negotiations.

The New York Times reports French finance minister, Bruno Le Maire, describing the US walk-out as “a provocation”, and complaining about the country “systematically threatening” allies with sanctions.

The issue of ‘fair taxes’ for platforms has been slow burning in Europe for years, with politicians grilling tech execs in public over how little they contribute to national coffers and even urging the public to boycott services like Amazon (with little success).

Updating the tax system to account for digital giants is also front and center for Ursula von der Leyen’s Commission — which is responding to the widespread regional public anger over how little tech giants pay in relation to the local revenue they generate.

European Commission president von der Leyen, who took up her mandate at the back end of last year, has said “urgent” reform of the tax system is needed — warning at the start of 2020 that the European Union would be prepared to go it alone on “a fair digital tax” if no global accord was reached by the end of this year.

At the same time, a number of European countries have been pushing ahead with their own proposals to tax big tech — including the UK, which started levying a 2% digital services tax on local revenue in April; and France, which has set out a plan to tax tech giants 3% of their local revenues.

This gives the Commission another clear reason to act, given its raison d’être is to reduce fragmentation of the EU’s Single Market.

Although it faces internal challenges on achieving agreement across Member States, given some smaller economies have used low national corporate tax rates to attract inward investment, including from tech giants.

The US, meanwhile, has not been sitting on its hands as European governments move ahead to set their own platform taxes. The Trump administration has been throwing its weight around — arguing US companies are being unfairly targeted by the taxes and warning that it could retaliate with up to 100% tariffs on countries that go ahead. Though it has yet to do so.

On the digital tax reform issue the US has said it wants a multilateral agreement via the OECD on a global minimum. And a petite entente cordiale was reached between France and the US last summer when president Emmanuel Macron agreed the French tech tax would be scraped once the OECD came up with a global fix.

However with Trump’s negotiators pulling out of international tax talks with the EU the prospect of a global understanding on a very divisive issue looks further away than ever.

Though the UK said today it remains committed to a global solution, per Reuters which quotes a treasury spokesman.

Earlier this month the US also launched a formal investigation into new or proposed digital taxes in the EU, including the UK’s levy and the EU’s proposal, and plans set out by a number of other EU countries, claiming they “unfairly target” U.S. tech companies — lining up a pipeline of fresh attacks on reform plans.

EU states agree a tech spec for national coronavirus apps to work across borders

European Union countries and the Commission have agreed on a technical framework to enable regional coronavirus contacts tracing apps to work across national borders.

A number of European countries have launched contacts tracing apps at this point, with the aim of leveraging smartphone technologies in the fight against COVID-19, but none of these apps can yet work across national borders.

Last month, EU Member States agreed to a set of interoperability guidelines for tracing apps. Now they’ve settled on a technical spec for achieving cross-border working of apps. The approach has been detailed in a specification document published today by the eHealth Network.

The Commission has called the agreement on a tech spec an important step in the fight against COVID-19, while emphasizing tracing apps are only a supplement to manual contacts tracing methods.

Commenting in a statement, European commissioner for the Internal Market, Thierry Breton, said: “As we approach the travel season, it is important to ensure that Europeans can use the app from their own country wherever they are travelling in the EU. Contact tracing apps can be useful to limit the spread of coronavirus, especially as part of national strategies to lift confinement measures.”

The system will involve a Federation Gateway Service, run by the Commission, that will receive and pass on “relevant information” from national contact tracing apps and servers — in order to minimise the amount of data exchanged and reduce users’ data consumption, per a Commission press release.

From the tech spec:

The pattern preferred by the European eHealth Network is a single European Federation Gateway Service. Each national backend uploads the keys of newly infected citizens (‘diagnosis keys’) every couple of hours and downloads the diagnosis keys from the other countries participating in this scheme. That’s it. Data conversion and filtering is done in the national backends.

“The proximity information shared between apps will be exchanged in an encrypted way that prevents the identification of an individual person, in line with the strict EU guidelines on data protection for apps; no geolocation data will be used,” the Commission added.

The key caveat attached to the agreed interoperability system is that it currently only works to link up decentralized contacts tracing apps — such as the Corona-Warn-App launched today by Germany — or the national apps recently released in Italy, Latvia and Switzerland.

Centralized coronavirus contacts tracing apps — which do not store and process proximity data locally on the device but upload it to a central server for processing, such as France’s StopCovid app; the UK’s NHS COVID-19 app; or the currently suspended Norwegian Smittestopp app — will not immediately be able to plug into the interoperability architecture, as we explained in our report last month.

Apple and Google’s joint API for coronavirus exposure notifications also only supports decentralized tracing apps.

“This document presents the basic elements for interoperability for ‘COVID+ Keys driven solutions’ [i.e. decentralized tracing systems],” notes the eHealth Network. “It aims to keep data volumes to the minimum necessary for interoperability to ensure cost efficiency and trust between the participating Member States. This document is therefore addressed only to Member States implementing this type of protocol.”

The Commission has been calling for a common approach to the use of tech and data to fight COVID-19 for months. However national governments have not fallen uniformly into line — with, still, a mixture of decentralized and centralized approaches for tracing apps in play (although the former now comprise “the great majority of national approved apps”, per the Commission).

It’s also playing the diplomat — saying it “continues to support the work of Member States on extending interoperability also to centralised tracing apps”.

Although it has not provided any detail on how that might be achieved in a way that’s satisfactory for both app architecture camps, given associated privacy risks/security trade-offs of crossing opposing technical streams.

This means that citizens in European countries whose governments have chosen a centralized approach for coronavirus contacts tracing may find, on traveling elsewhere in the region, they will need to download another country’s national app to be able to receive and send coronavirus exposure notifications.

Even decentralized national apps aren’t able to exchange relevant data yet, though. The interoperability architecture’s gateway interface still needs to be deployed — and national apps launched and/or updated before all the relevant pieces can start talking. So there’s a way to go before any digital contacts tracing is working smoothly across European borders.

Meanwhile, some EU countries have already started to reopen their borders to other European countries — ahead of a wider reopening planned for the summer.

This week, for example, a few thousand German holidaymakers were allowed to travel to Spain’s Balearic Islands as part of a trial aimed at restarting tourism. So EU citizens are already flowing across borders before national apps are in a position to securely exchange data on exposure risk.

Uber Eats exits seven markets, transfers one as part of competitive retooling

Uber Eats is pulling out of a clutch of markets — shuttering its on-demand food offering in the Czech Republic, Egypt, Honduras, Romania, Saudi Arabia, Uruguay and Ukraine.

It’s also transferring its Uber Eats business operations in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) to Careem, its wholly owned ride-hailing subsidiary that’s mostly focused on the Middle East.

“Consumers and restaurants using the Uber Eats app in the UAE will be transitioned to the Careem platform in the coming weeks, after which the Uber Eats app will no longer be available,” it writes in a regulatory filing detailing the operational shifts.

“These decisions were made as part of the Company’s ongoing strategy to be in first or second position in all Eats markets by leaning into investment in some countries while exiting others,” the filing adds.

An Uber spokesman said the changes are not related to the coronavirus pandemic but rather related to an ongoing “strategy of record” for the company to hold a first or second position in all Eats markets — which means it’s leaning into investment in some countries while exiting others.

Earlier this year, for example, Uber pulled the plug on its Eats offer in India — selling to local rival Zomato. Zomato and Swiggy hold the top two slots in the market. (As part of that deal Uber took a 9.99% stake in Zomato.)

Uber Eats rival, Glovo, also announced a series of exits at the start of this year — as part of its own competitive reconfiguration in a drive to cut losses and shoot for profitability. It too says its goal is to be the first or second platform in all markets where it operates.

The category is facing major questions about profitability — with now the added challenge of the coronavirus crisis. (Related: Another player in the space, Uk-based Deliveroo, confirmed a major round of layoffs last week.) tl;dr, on-demand unit economics don’t stack up unless you can command large enough marketshare so it looks like the competitive pack is thinning as it becomes clearer who’s winning where.

In a statement on the latest round of Eats exits, Uber said: “We have made the decision to discontinue Uber Eats in Czech Republic, Egypt, Honduras, Romania, Saudi Arabia, Ukraine, and Uruguay, and to wind down the Eats app and transition operations to Careem in U.A.E. This continues our strategy of focusing our energy and resources on our top Eats markets around the world.”

The discontinued and transferred markets represented 1% of Eats’ Gross Bookings and 4% of Eats Adjusted EBITDA losses in Q1 2020, per Uber’s filing. 

“Consistent with our stated strategy, we will look to reinvest these savings in priority markets where we expect a better return on investment,” the filing adds. 

The Uber Eats spokesman told us that the exits do not sum to any change to the ‘more than 6,000 cities’ figure for the unit’s market footprint — which Uber reported earlier this year.

Asked which markets the company considers to be priorities going forward the spokesman did not respond. It’s also not clear whether or not Uber sought buyers for the shuttered units.

Per Uber’s filing, Eats operations will be fully discontinue in the Czech Republic, Egypt, Honduras, Romania, Saudi Arabia, Uruguay and Ukraine by June 4, 2020.

Uber Rides operations are not affected, it adds.

A source familiar with Uber also said the changes will allow the company to focus resources on new business lines — such as grocery and delivery.

The coronavirus pandemic has disrupted the on-demand food delivery business as usual in many markets — with convenience-loving customers locked down at home so likely to be cooking more, and large numbers of restaurants closed (at least temporarily), putting a dent in the provider side of these platforms too.

At the same time there is a demand upside story in the groceries category. And last month Uber announced a tie-up with a major French supermarket, Carrefour, to expand its delivery offering nationwide. It also inked other grocery-related partnerships in Spain and Brazil.

Grocery delivery has been seeing a massive uptick as consumers look for ways to replenish their food cupboards while limiting infection risk.

While other types of deliveries — from pharmaceuticals to personal protective equipment — also potentially offer growth opportunities for on-demand logistics businesses, which is how many major food delivery platforms prefer to describe themselves.

KlearNow raises $16 million to bring customs clearance industry into the digital age

Customs is the sieve of international supply chains. And yet despite its critical role, clearing customs for freight brokers can be a slow and opaque process reliant on manual data entry and prone to errors.

Silicon Valley-based KlearNow has developed a platform that aims to bring customs clearance into the digital age. Now, with $16 million new funding, KlearNow aims to expand its geographic reach and improve its product to cover increasingly complex export-import verticals and time-sensitive shipments.

The company has certification to handle any import into the U.S., no matter what the commodity is. KlearNow is close to getting certified in Canada and the U.K., and plans to expand to Netherlands, Belgium, Spain and Germany. KlearNow has about two dozen customers.

The Series A funding round was led by GreatPoint Ventures, with additional participation from Autotech Ventures, Argean Capital and Monta Vista Capital . Ashok Krishnamurthi, managing partner at GreatPoint Ventures, will join KlearNow’s board. Daniel Hoffer from Autotech Ventures is joining as a board observer.

“This is a significant opportunity to transform an archaic industry that is key to global commerce,” Krishnamurthi said in a statement.

The freight ecosystem is filled with different players from the factories and port authorities to the ship liners and the last-mile delivery companies. Each of them have their own systems.

“There’s no one system that you can transmit the data to,” KlearNow founder and CEO Sam Tyagi said in a recent interview. “So everybody dumps technology down to a PDF or a PNG or some sort of format that everybody can read. The broker gets those documents, and then they print it out — so now they become non-digital.”

If you go to any customs brokers office they look like the old doctor’s office where all those folders are there with nicely arranged, really organized but very manual process,” he added. From here, Tyagi said, a broker will read off from those printed documents and type the information into another system that is communicated to Customs and Border Patrol’s system.

“It is very manual, it’s very small, and they work in a siloed system,” Tyagi said. “There is no visibility for the customer, or the importer, and it’s very costly because of the manual intervention.”

KlearNow developed a digital customs clearance platform that aims to be agnostic. This allows importers, customs brokers and freight forwarders to integrate with local customs authorities and conduct business on a single digital platform remotely and in real time. The platform automates this process to eliminate errors and reduces the time to clear customs. KlearNow says it can slash customs clearance times from hours to minutes.

The startup is also betting that its platform will find new customers in this remote work era that was caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Custom brokers, who might normally travel into central offices and manage physical paperwork, are now faced with completing that task from home.

“Remote work is impossible for these people,” because they often need to access large-format printers, Tyagi said. 

The company said its digital platform can funnel new clients, like these newly remote workers, directly to brokers for global customs clearance.

Tyagi said the company has also added new capabilities in response to COVID-19, such as expediting their FDA module to clear much-needed medical supplies, and is temporarily offering free clearance for nonprofit organizations that are importing masks, hand sanitizers and ventilators.

Deliveroo cuts ~15% of staff as coronavirus challenges food delivery

Is it feast or famine for food delivery startups during the coronavirus pandemic? The UK’s Deliveroo has confirmed it’s axing more than 350 staff — or around 15% of its global headcount.

Late yesterday the Telegraph reported that the London-based startup will be cutting 367 staff and furloughing a further 50 out of a total headcount of more than 2,500.

A Deliveroo spokesman blamed the cuts on the coronavirus crisis, saying the public health emergency has put pressure on the business to reduce long-term costs.

He did not confirm which types of roles are being eliminated nor the markets where the axe is falling.

“The extraordinary global health crisis we are living through has impacted nearly all businesses. As a result, like so many others, Deliveroo has had to examine how to overcome the challenges we all face, as well as ensure we are in the strongest position possible following the crisis,” the spokesman said in a statement.

“This requires us to look at how we operate in order to reduce long-term costs, which sadly means some roles are at risk of redundancy and others will be put on furlough. This has been extremely difficult for everyone at the company, and our absolute priority is to make sure those who are impacted are fully supported.”

The UK startup operates in 13 markets globally, mostly split between Europe and the Middle East and Asia.

Last year it saw a big jump in revenue for full-year 2018, after expanding into new markets, but its losses also widened — and that was before COVID-19 snowballed into a pandemic.

The highly infectious virus has derailed business as usual for all sorts of companies but, at first glance, meal delivery startups may have seemed positioned to benefit from nationwide quarantines that have people locked down at home.

However, with many restaurants shuttering at least temporarily and home-bound customers concerned about economic uncertainty so likely to rein in discretionary spending grocery delivery looks to be emerging as the bigger winner.

A lot more people spending a lot more time at home appears to be a recipe for cooking more, rather than ordering lots of take out. Certainly in the short term. While the urban density and convenience-led demand that powered on-demand food delivery growth in the years prior to the coronavirus pandemic remains severely disrupted by the pandemic and its tricky requirement for social distancing.

Earlier this month CNBC reported on plummeting demand in the UK leaving delivery couriers struggling to earn enough money to live on.

How all this shakes out will depend on many factors, including how governments structure the lifting of lockdowns (in Spain, for example, the government has said it will let restaurants reopen for takeaway only, initially, which could help generate demand).

But the kind of mass appetite for fast food at the push of a button — which has led to years of frenzied competition in the on demand space — may be a longer term casualty of the pandemic.

Germany’s COVID-19 contacts tracing app to link to labs for test result notification

A German research institute that’s involved in developing a COVID-19 contacts tracing app with the backing of the national government has released some new details about the work, which suggests the app is being designed as more of a “one-stop shop” to manage coronavirus impacts at an individual level, rather than having a sole function of alerting users to potential infection risk.

Work on the German app began at the start of March, per the Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft institute, with initial funding from the Federal Ministry of Education and Research and the Federal Ministry of Health funding a feasibility study.

In a PDF published today, the research organization reveals the government-backed app will include functionality for health authorities to directly notify users about a COVID-19 test result if they’ve opted in to get results this way.

It says the system must ensure only people who test positive for the virus make their measurement data available to avoid incorrect data being input. For the purposes of “this validation process,” it envisages “a digital connection to the existing diagnostic laboratories is implemented in the technical implementation.”

“App users can thus voluntarily activate this notification function and thus be informed more quickly and directly about their test results,” it writes in the press release (which we’ve translated from German with Google Translate) — arguing that such direct digital notification of tests results will mean that no “valuable time” is lost to curb the spread of the virus.

Governments across Europe are scrambling to get Bluetooth-powered contacts tracing apps off the ground, with apps also in the works from a number of other countries, including the U.K. and France, despite ongoing questions over the efficacy of digital contacts tracing versus such an infectious virus.

The great hope is that digital tools will offer a route out of economically crippling population lockdowns by providing a way to automate at least some contacts tracing — based on widespread smartphone penetration and the use of Bluetooth-powered device proximity as a proxy for coronavirus exposure.

Preventing a new wave of infections as lockdown restrictions are lifted is the near-term goal. Although — in line with Europe’s rights frameworks — use of contacts tracing apps looks set to be voluntary across most of the region, with governments wary about being seen to impose “health surveillance” on citizens, as has essentially happened in China.

However if contacts tracing apps end up larded with features that are deep linking into national health systems, that raises questions about how optional their use will really be.

An earlier proposal by a German consortium of medical device manufacturers, laboratories, clinics, clinical data management systems and blockchain solution providers — proposing a blockchain-based Digital Corona Health Certificate, which was touted as being able to generate “verifiable, certified test results that can be fed into any tracing app” to cut down on false positives — claimed to have backing from the City of Cologne’s public health department, as one example of potential function creep.

In March, Der Spiegel also reported on a large-scale study being coordinated by the Helmholtz Center for Infection Research in Braunschweig, to examine antibody levels to try to determine immunity across the population. Germany’s Robert Koch Institute (RKI) was reportedly involved in that study — and has been a key operator in the national contacts tracing push.

Both RKI and the Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft institute are also involved in parallel German-led pan-EU standardization efforts for COVID-19 contacts tracing apps (called PEPP-PT) that’s been the leading voice for apps to centralize proximity data with governments/health authorities, rather than storing it on users’ device and performing risk processing locally.

As we reported earlier, PEPP-PT and its government backers appear to be squaring up for a battle with Apple over iOS restrictions on Bluetooth.

PEPP-PT bases its claim of being a “privacy-preserving” standard on not backing protocols or apps that use location data or mobile phone numbers — with only arbitrary (but pseudonymized) proximity IDs shared for the purpose of tracking close encounters between devices and potential coronavirus infections.

It has claimed it’s agnostic between centralization of proximity data versus decentralization, though so far the only protocol it’s publicly committed to is a centralized one.

Yet, at the same time, regional privacy experts, the EU parliament and even the European Commission have urged national governments to practice data minimization and decentralized when it comes to COVID-19 contacts tracing in order to boost citizen trust by shrinking associated privacy risks.

If apps are voluntary, citizens’ trust must be earned not assumed, is the key argument. Without substantial uptake the utility of digital contacts tracing seems doubtful.

Apple and Google have also come down on the decentralized side of this debate — outting a joint effort last week for an API and later opt-in system-wide contacts tracing. The first version of their API is slated to be in developers’ hands next week.

Meanwhile, a coalition of nearly 300 academics signed an open letter at the start of this week warning that centralized systems risked surveillance creep — voicing support for decentralized protocols, such as DP-3T: Another contact tracing protocol that’s being developed by a separate European coalition which has been highly critical of PEPP-PT.

And while PEPP-PT claimed recently to have seven governments signed up to its approach, and 40 more in the pipeline, at least two of the claimed EU supporters (Switzerland and Spain) had actually said they will use a decentralized approach.

The coalition has also been losing support from a number of key research institutions which had initially backed its push for a “privacy-preserving” standard, as controversy around its intent and lack of transparency has grown.

Nonetheless, the two biggest EU economies, Germany and France, appear to be digging in behind a push to centralize proximity data — putting Apple in their sights.

Bloomberg reported earlier this week that the French government is pressurizing Apple to remove Bluetooth restrictions for its COVID-19 contacts tracing app which also relies on a “trusted authority” running a central server (we’ve covered the French ROBERT protocol in detail here).

It’s possible Germany and France are sticking to their centralized guns because of wider plans to pack more into these contacts tracing apps than simply Bluetooth-powered alerts — as suggested by the Fraunhofer document.

Access to data is another likely motivator.

“Only if research can access sufficiently valid data it is possible to create forecasts that are the basis for planning further steps against are the spread of the virus,” the institute goes on. (Though, as we’ve written before, the DP-3T decentralized protocol sets out a path for users to opt in to share proximity data for research purposes.)

Another strand that’s evident from the Fraunhofer PDF is sovereignty.

“Overall, the approach is based on the conviction that the state healthcare system must have sovereignty over which criteria, risk calculations, recommendations for action and feedback are in one such system,” it writes, adding: “In order to achieve the greatest possible usability on end devices on the market, technical cooperation with the targeted operating system providers, Google and Apple, is necessary.”

Apple and Google did not respond to requests for comment on whether they will be making any changes to their API as a result of French and German pressure.

Fraunhofer further notes that “full compatibility” between the German app and the centralized one being developed by French research institutes Inria and Inserm was achieved in the “past few weeks” — underlining that the two nations are leading this particular contacts tracing push.

In related news this week, Europe’s Data Protection Board (EDPB) put out guidance for developers of contacts tracing apps, which stressed an EU legal principle related to processing personal data that’s known as purpose limitation — warning that apps need to have purposes “specific enough to exclude further processing for purposes unrelated to the management of the COVID-19 health crisis (e.g., commercial or law enforcement purposes)”.

Which sounds a bit like the regulator drawing a line in the sand to warn states that might be tempted to turn contacts tracing apps into coronavirus immunity passports.

The EDPB also urged that “careful consideration” be given to data minimisation and data protection by design and by default — two other key legal principles baked into Europe’s General Data Protection Regulation, albeit with some flex during a public health emergency.

However the regulatory body took a pragmatic view on the centralization vs decentralization debate — saying both approaches are “viable” in a contacts tracing context, with the key caveat that “adequate security measures” must be in place.