Uber Eats beefs up its grocery delivery offer as COVID-19 lockdowns continue

Uber Eats has beefed up grocery delivery options in three markets hard hit by the coronavirus.

Uber’s food delivery division said today it’s inked a partnership with supermarket giant Carrefour in France to provide Parisians with 30 minute home delivery on a range of grocery products, including everyday foods, toiletries and cleaning products.

The service is starting with 15 stores in the city, with Uber Eats saying it plans to scale it out rapidly nationwide “in the coming weeks”.

In Spain it’s partnered with the Galp service station brand to offer a grocery delivery service that consists of basic foods, over the counter medicines, beverages and cleaning products in 15 cities across the following 8 provinces: Badajoz, Barcelona, Cádiz, Córdoba, Madrid, Málaga, Palma de Mallorca and Valencia.

Uber Eats said there will be an initial 25 Galp convenience stores participating. The service will not only be offered via the Uber Eats app but also by phone for those without access to a smartphone or Internet.

The third market it’s inked deals in is Brazil, where Uber said it’s partnering with a range of pharmacies, convenience stores and pet shops in Sao Paulo to offer home delivery on basic supplies.

“Over the counter medicines will be available from the Pague Menos chain of pharmacies, grocery products from Shell Select convenience stores and pet supplies from Cobasi — one of the largest pet shop chains in the country,” it said. “The new services will be available on the Uber Eats app, with plans to launch in other Brazil states and cities in the coming weeks.”

The grocery tie-ups are not Uber Eats’ first such deals. The company had already inked partnerships with a supermarket in Australia (Coles) and the Costcutter brand in the UK, where around 600 independent convenience stores are offered via its app.

Uber Eats also lets independent convenience stores in countries around the world self listed on its app. However the latest tie-ups put more branded meat on the bone of its grocery offer in Europe and LatAm — with the Carrefour tie-up in France marking its first partnership with a major supermarket in Europe.

It’s worth noting Spain’s food delivery rival, Glovo, has an existing grocery-delivery partnership with the French supermarket giant in markets including its home country — which likely explains why Uber Eats has opted for a different partner in Spain.

Asked whether it’s looking to further expand grocery deliveries in other markets hit by the public health emergency Uber Eats told us it’s exploring opportunities to partner with more supermarkets, convenience stores and other retailers around the world.

As part of its response to the threat posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, the company has switched all deliveries to contactless by default — with orders left at the door or as instructed by a user.

It also told us it’s providing drivers and delivery people with access to hand sanitiser, gloves and disinfectant wipes, as soon as they become available. And said it’s dispensing guidance to users of its apps on hygiene best practice and limiting the spread of the virus.

Uber Eats has previously said it will provide 14 days of financial support for drivers and delivery people who get diagnosed with COVID-19 or are personally placed in quarantine by a public health authority due to their risk of spreading the virus, with the amount based on their average earnings over the last six months or less.

The policy is due for review on April 6.

With lower bandwidth, Disney+ opens streaming service in UK, Ireland, 5 other European countries, France to come online April 7

Disney+, the streaming service from the Walt Disney Company, has been rapidly ramping up in the last several weeks. But while some of that expansion has seen some hiccups, other regions are basically on track. Today, as expected, Disney announced that it is officially launching in the UK, Ireland, Germany, Italy, Spain, Austria, and Switzerland; it also reconfirmed the delayed debut in France will be coming online on April 7.

Seven is the operative number here, it seems: it’s the largest multi-country launch so far for the service.

“Launching in seven markets simultaneously marks a new milestone for Disney+,“ said Kevin Mayer, Chairman of Walt Disney Direct-to-Consumer & International, in a statement. “As the streaming home for Disney, Marvel, Pixar, Star Wars, and National Geographic, Disney+ delivers high-quality, optimistic storytelling that fans expect from our brands, now available broadly, conveniently, and permanently on Disney+. We humbly hope that this service can bring some much-needed moments of respite for families during these difficult times.”

Pricing is £5.99/€6.99 per month, or £59.99/€69.99 for an annual subscription. Belgium, the Nordics, and Portugal, will follow in summer 2020.

The service being rolled out will feature 26 Disney+ Originals plus an “extensive collection” of titles (some 500 films, 26 exclusive original movies and series and thousands of TV episodes to start with) from Disney, Pixar, Marvel, Star Wars, National Geographic, and other content producers owned by the entertainment giant, in what has been one of the boldest moves yet from a content company to go head-to-head with OTT streaming services like Netflix, Amazon and Apple.

The expansion of Disney+ has been caught a bit in the crossfire of world events. The new service is launching at what has become an unprecedented time for streaming: because of the coronavirus pandemic, a lot of of the world is being told to stay home.

That means huge demand for new services to entertain and distract people who are now sheltering in place. But it has also been putting a huge strain on broadband networks, and to be a responsible streamer (and to make sure quality is not too impacted), Disney confirmed (as it previously said it would) it would be launching the service with “lower overall bandwidth utilization by at least 25%.

Titles in the mix debuting today include “The Mandalorian” live-action Star Wars series; a live-action “Lady and the Tramp,” “High School Musical: The Musical: The Series,”; “The World According to Jeff Goldblum” docuseries from National Geographic; “Marvel’s Hero Project,” which celebrates extraordinary kids making a difference in their communities; “Encore!,” executive produced by the multi-talented Kristen Bell; “The Imagineering Story” a 6-part documentary from Emmy and Academy Award-nominated filmmaker Leslie Iwerks and animated short film collections “SparkShorts” and “Forky Asks A Question” from Pixar Animation Studios.

Some 600 episodes of “The Simpsons” is also included (with the latest season 31 coming later this year).

With entire households now being told to stay together and stay inside, we’re seeing a huge amount of pressure being put on to broadband networks and a true test of the multiscreen approach that streaming services have been building over the years. In this case, you can use all the usuals: mobile phones, streaming media players, smart TVs and gaming consoles to watch the Disney+ service (including Amazon devices, Apple devices, Google devices, LG Smart TVs with webOS, Microsoft’s Xbox Ones, Roku, Samsung Smart TVs and Sony / Sony Interactive Entertainment, with the ability to use four concurrent streams per subscription, or up to 10 devices with unlimited downloads. As you would expect, there is also the ability to set up parental controls and individual profiles.

Carriers with paid-TV services that are also on board so far include Deutsche Telekom, O2 in the UK, Telefonica in Spain, TIM in Italy and Canal+ in France when the country comes online. No BT in the UK, which is too bad for me (sniff). Sky and NOW TV are also on board.

UK is advising against all travel to the US amid the coronavirus pandemic

The U.K. government is advising citizens and residents against all travel to the U.S. in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

In a brief statement, the U.K. Foreign Office said it is “advising against all but essential travel to the USA,” a day after the U.S. government expanded its list of countries whose nationals are effectively banned from entering the U.S. to include the United Kingdom and Ireland.

The announcement by the U.K. authorities follows a move by the Trump administration to impose restrictions on foreign travelers entering the U.S. in an effort to help stem the number of infections of the coronavirus strain, COVID-19, which last week was declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization.

The Trump administration initially initially spared the U.K. and Ireland from its 30-day European travel ban, which included France, Spain, and Italy — all of which this week saw massive increases in the number of citizens infected with the virus. But a day later, the U.K. and Ireland was also added to the list, with an effective ban on all U.K. and Irish travelers entering the U.S. beginning Monday night.

The Foreign Office said the restrictions go into effect immediately as of Sunday.

U.S. citizens — including dual citizens — and lawful permanent residents are exempt from the ban, but may be asked to self-isolate upon arrival for 14 days out of caution.

A Foreign Office spokesperson told TechCrunch by phone that despite one report, U.S. travelers will not be banned from entering the U.K. in response to the coronavirus outbreak.

Maniv Mobility General Partner Olaf Sakkers is coming to TC Sessions: Mobility

In case you haven’t heard, TC Sessions: Mobility is back for second year. This one-day event, which will be held May 14 in San Jose, promises to feature some of best and brightest engineers, policymakers, investors, entrepreneurs and innovators, all of whom are vying to be a part of this new age of transportation.

Attendees of TC Sessions: Mobility can expect interviews with founders, investors and inventors, demos of the latest tech, breakout sessions, dozens of startup exhibits and opportunities to network and recruit.

We have announced several speakers for the event, including Klaus Zellmer, the president and CEO of Porsche Cars North America, Waymo’s  href="https://techcrunch.com/2020/01/08/tc-sessions-mobility-2020-boris-sofman-of-waymo-and-nancy-sun-of-ike/">Boris Sofman, Ike Robotics co-founder and chief engineer Nancy Sun, Trucks VC general partner Reilly Brennan and Shin-pei Tsay, director of policy, cities and transportation at Uber.

And now we have another star to add to our TC Sessions: Mobility list. TechCrunch is excited to announce that Olaf Sakkers, general partner at Maniv Mobility will be joining us on stage this year. Sakkers is a founding partner at Maniv Mobility, a global fund investing in mobility.

Maniv started out with a focus on transportation and mobility-related startups in Israel, with a few in investments in the U.S. It expanded its mission to the global stage, a move buoyed by a $100 million fund that it closed last July with backing from 12 corporations, including the venture arms of Aptiv, BMW, Hyundai, Lear Corp., LG Electronics, the Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi Alliance, Shell and Valeo.

Maniv’s portfolio includes vehicle security company Owlcam, peer-to-peer car-sharing company Turo, teleoperations startup Phantom Auto, autonomous vehicle-focused chipmaker Hailo, shared electric moped company Revel, Spain-based car subscription startup Bipi and in-vehicle software management firm Aurora Labs.

Stay tuned to see who we’ll announce next.

And … $250 Early-Bird tickets are now on sale — save $100 on tickets before prices go up on April 9; book today.

Students, you can grab your tickets for just $50 here.

If you’re an early-stage, mobility startup, make sure you grab an exhibitor package to get your startup in front of today’s leading mobility leaders. Packages come with 4 tickets each and are just $2000. Book yours here.

Sony latest phone maker to pull out of MWC over coronavirus outbreak

Japanese electronics firm Sony is the latest phone maker to announce it’s withdrawing from the Mobile World Congress (MWC) tradeshow — citing concerns about the coronavirus outbreak.

“As we place the utmost importance on the safety and wellbeing of our customers, partners, media and employees, we have taken the difficult decision to withdraw from exhibiting and participating at MWC 2020 in Barcelona, Spain,” Sony wrote in a press release.

MWC is due to take place in Barcelona between February 24-27.

Sony said it will now run a press conference planned for the event remotely, via its official Xperia YouTube channel, at the scheduled time of 8:30am (CET) on February 24.

“Sony would like to thank everyone for their understanding and ongoing support during these challenging times,” it added.

In recent days a number of companies have announced they’re pulling out or scaling back their presence at the conference as a result of concerns about the spread of the virus — including Amazon, Ericsson, LG, NVIDIA and ZTE.

The World Health Organization dubbed the emergence and spread of the novel coronavirus a global emergency late last month.

At the time of writing the majority of infections and deaths from the virus remain in China, where the virus was first identified — in the town of Wuhan in the Hubei province.

Several Chinese tech companies, including ZTE and Xiaomi, have said they will make changes to their participation in MWC related to coronavirus concerns, such as placing limits on staff travelling from China or requiring they self isolate in the period before attending.

Yesterday the organizers of MWC, the GSMA, also announced stringent rules to try to safeguard attendees, including a ban on travellers from Hubei and a requirement that all travellers who have been in China must be able to prove they have been outside the country 14 days prior to the event.

Attendees will also be required to self-certify they have not been in contact with anyone affected, the GSMA said. Temperature screening will also be implemented at the event.

Last year the annual mobile tech conference drew almost 110,000 attendees, from 198 countries.

“While further planning is underway, we will continue to monitor the situation and will adapt our plans according to developments and advice we receive. We are contending with a constantly evolving situation, that will require fast adaptability,” the GSMA also said.

Attendance at MWC has regularly broken 100,000 in recent years but 2020’s conference seems likely to mark a break with business as usual as companies face pressure to rethink their travel priorities.

Glovo exits the Middle East and drops two LatAm markets in latest food delivery crunch

The new year isn’t even a month old and the food delivery crunch is already taking big bites. Spain’s Glovo has today announced it’s exiting four markets — which it says is part of a goal of pushing for profitability by 2021.

Also today, Uber confirmed rumors late last year by announcing it’s offloading its Indian Eats business to local rival Zomato — which will see it take a 9.99% stake in the Indian startup.

In other recent news Latin America focused on-demand delivery app Rappi announced 6% staff layoffs.

On-demand food delivery apps may be great at filling the bellies of hungry consumers fast but startups in this space have yet to figure out how to deliver push-button convenience without haemorrhaging money at scale.

So the question even some investors are asking is how they can make their model profitable?

Middle East exit

The four markets Glovo is leaving are Turkey, Egypt, Uruguay and Puerto Rico.

The exits mean its app footprint is shrinking to 22 markets, still with a focus on South America, South West Europe, and Eastern Europe and Africa.

Interestingly, Glovo is here essentially saying goodbye to the Middle East — despite its recent late stage financing round being led by Abu Dhabi state investment company, Mubadala. (It told us last month that regional expansion was not part of Mubadala’s investment thesis.)

Commenting on the exits in a statement, Glovo co-founder and CEO, Oscar Pierre, said: “This has been a very tough decision to take but our strategy has always been to focus on markets where we can grow and establish ourselves among the top two delivery players while providing a first-class user experience and value for our Glovers, customers and partners.”

Last month Pierre told us the Middle East looks too competitive for Glovo to expand further.

In the event it’s opted for a full exit — given both Egypt and Turkey are being dropped (despite the latter being touted as one of Glovo’s fastest growing markets just over a year ago, at the time of its Series D).

“Leaving these four markets will help us to further strengthen our leadership position in South West and Eastern Europe, LatAm and other African markets, and reach our profitability targets by early 2021,” Pierre added.

Glovo said its app will continue to function in the four markets “for a few weeks” after today — adding that it’s offering “support and advice to couriers, customers and partners throughout this transition”.

“I want to place on record our thanks to all of our Glovers, customers and partners in the markets from which we’re withdrawing for their hard work, dedication, commitment and ongoing support,” Pierre added.

The exits sum to Glovo withdrawing from eight out of a total 306 cities.

It also said the eight cities collectively generated 1.7% of its gross sales in 2019 — so it’s signalling the move doesn’t amount to a major revenue hit.

The startup disclosed a $166M Series E raise last month — which pushed the business past a unicorn valuation. Pierre told us then that the new financing would be used to achieve profitability “as early as 2021”, foreshadowing today’s announcement of a clutch of market exits.

Glovo has said its goal is to become the leading or second delivery platform in all the markets where it operates — underlining the challenges of turning a profit in such a hyper competitive, thin margin space which also involves major logistical complexities with so many moving parts (and people) involved in each transaction.

As food delivery players reconfigure their regional footprints — via market exits and consolidation — better financed platforms will be hoping they’ll be left standing with a profitable business to shout about (and the chance to grow again by gobbling up less profitable rivals or else be consumed themselves). So something of a new race is on.

Back in November in an on-stage interview at TechCrunch Disrupt Berlin, Uber Eats and Glovo discussed the challenges of turning a profit — with Glovo co-founder Sacha Michaud telling us he expects further consolidation in the on-demand delivery space. (Though the pair claimed there had been no acquisition talks between Uber and Glovo.)

Michaud said then that Glovo is profitable on a per unit economics basis in “some countries” — but admitted it “varies a lot country by country”.

Spain and Southern Europe are the best markets for Glovo, he also told us, confirming it generates operating profit there. “Latin America will become operation profitable next year,” he predicted.

Glovo’s exit from Egypt actually marks the end of a second act in the market.

The startup first announced it was pulling the plug on Egypt in April 2019 — but returned last summer, at the behest of its investor Delivery Hero (a rival food delivery startup which has a stake in Glovo), according to Michaud’s explanation on stage.

However there was also an intervention by Egypt’s competition watchdog. And local press reported the watchdog had ordered Glovo to resume operations — accusing it and its investor of colluding to restrict competition in the market (Delivery Hero having previously acquired Egyptian food delivery rival, Otlob).

What the watchdog makes of today’s announcement of a final bow out could thus be an interesting wrinkle.

Asked about Egypt, a Glovo spokesperson told us: “Egypt has been a very complex market for us, we were sad to leave the first time and excited to return when we did so last summer. However, our strategy has always been to be among the top two delivery players in every market we enter and have a clear path to profitability. Unfortunately, in Egypt there is not a clear path to profitability.”

Whither profitability?

So what does a clear path to profitability in the on-demand delivery space look like?

Market maturity/density appears to be key, with Glovo only operating in one city apiece in the other two markets it’s leaving, Uruguay and Puerto Rico, for example — compared to hundreds across its best markets, Spain and Italy, where it says it’s operating out of the red.

This suggests that other markets in South America — where Glovo similarly has just a toe-hold, of a single or handful of cities, and less time on the ground, such as Honduras or Panama — could be vulnerable to further future exits as the company reconfigures to try to hit full profitability in just around a year’s time.

But there are likely lots of factors involved in making the unit economics stack up so it’s tricky to predict.

Food delivered on-demand makes up the majority of Glovo’s orders per market but its app also touts being able to deliver ‘anything’ — from groceries to pharmaceuticals to the house keys you left at home — which it claims as a differentiating factor vs rival food-delivery-only apps.

A degree of variety also looks to be a key ingredient in becoming a sustainable on-demand delivery business — as scale and cross selling appear to where the unit economics can work.

Groceries are certainly a growing focus for Glovo which has been investing in setting up networks of dark supermarkets to support fast delivery of convenience style groceries as well as ready-to-eat food — thereby expanding opportunities for cross-selling to its convenience-loving food junkies at the point of appetite-driven (but likely loss-making) lunch and dinner orders.

Last year Michaud told us that market “maturity” supports profitability. “At the end of the day the more orders we have the better the whole ecosystem works,” he said.

While Uber Eats’ general manager for Northern and Eastern Europe, Charity Safford, also pointed to “scale” as the secret sauce for still elusive profits.

“Where we start to see more and more trips happening this is definitely where we see the unit economics improving — so our job is really to figure out all of the use cases we can put into people’s hands to get that application used as much as possible,” she said.

It’s instructive that Uber is shifting towards a ‘superapp’ model — revealing its intent last year to fold previously separate lines of business, such as rides and Eats, into a single one-stop-shop app which it began rolling out last year. So it’s also able to deliver or serve an increasing number of things (and/or services).

The tech giant has also been testing subscription passes which combine access to a range of its offerings under one regular payment.

In some markets Glovo also has a ‘Prime’ monthly subscription, offering unlimited deliveries of anything its couriers can bike to your door, for a fixed monthly cost — which it launched back in 2018.

When it comes to the quest for on-demand profitability all roads seem to lead to trying to become the bit of Amazon’s business that Amazon hasn’t already built out and swiped.

Facebook acquires Madrid-based cloud gaming startup PlayGiga

Facebook has acquired PlayGiga, a Madrid-based cloud gaming startup. The company confirmed the deal to CNBC today, the week after Cinco Dias reported it was in talks to buy PlayGiga for about 70 million euros ($78 million).

PlayGiga was founded in 2013 and received Series A funding from Adara Ventures, according to Crunchbase. In May, CEO Javier Polo wrote on MCV Develop that the startup has been working with telcos to create streaming game technology for 5G, which will help tech companies to reach more mobile gamers. It also developed a gaming-as-a-service platform, using Intel’s Visual Cloud platform, that will enable telcos and communication service providers to offer streaming games to their customers.

The acquisition of PlayGiga follows Facebook’s announcement last month that it has agreed to buy Beat Games, developer of popular virtual reality title Beat Saber.

Facebook is building out its gaming business, which it claims now has more than 700 million monthly users, as it diversifies its revenue sources beyond online advertising. Earlier this year, the company added its Gaming hub to Facebook’s main navigation menu after originally launching it as a standalone app. The hub includes the livestreaming service it launched last year to compete with Twitch, Instant Games and posts from gaming-related pages.

The company also began selling Oculus Quest and Rift headsets earlier this year, after acquiring Oculus for $2 billion in 2014, and recently launched Facebook Horizon, a VR universe.

A network of ‘camgirl’ sites exposed millions of users and sex workers

A number of popular “camgirl” sites have exposed millions of sex workers and users after the company running the sites left the back-end database unprotected.

The sites, run by Barcelona-based VTS Media, include amateur.tv, webcampornoxxx.net, and placercams.com. Most of the sites’ users are based in Spain and Europe, but we found evidence of users across the world, including the United States.

According to Alexa traffic rankings, amateur.tv is one of the most popular in Spain.

The database, containing months-worth of daily logs of the site activities, was left without a password for weeks. Those logs included detailed records of when users logged in — including usernames and sometimes their user-agents and IP addresses, which can be used to identify users. The logs also included users’ private chat messages with other users, as well as promotional emails they were receiving from the various sites. The logs even included failed login attempts, storing usernames and passwords in plaintext. We did not test the credentials as doing so would be unlawful.

The exposed data also revealed which videos users were watching and renting, exposing kinks and private sexual preferences.

In all, the logs were detailed enough to see which users were logging in, from where, and often their email addresses or other identifiable information — which in some cases we could match to real-world identities.

Not only were users affected, the “camgirls” — who broadcast sexual content to viewers — also had some of their account information exposed.

The database was shut off last week, allowing us to publish our findings.

The “camgirl” site, which exposed millions of users’ and sex workers’ account data by failing to protect a backend database with a password. (Image: TechCrunch)

Researchers at Condition:Black, a cybersecurity and internet freedom firm, discovered the exposed database.

“This was a serious failure from a technical and compliance perspective,” said John Wethington, founder of Condition:Black. “After reviewing the sites’ data privacy policy and terms and conditions, it’s clear that users likely had no idea that their activities being monitored to this level of detail.”

“Users should always take into consideration the implications of their data leaking but especially where the implications could be life altering,” he said.

Data exposures — where companies inadvertently leave their own systems open for anyone to access — have become increasingly common in recent years. Dating sites are among those with some of the most sensitive data. Earlier this year, a group dating site 3Fun exposed over a million users’ data, allowing researchers to view users’ real-time locations without permission. These security lapses can be extremely damaging to their users, exposing private sexual encounters and preferences known only to the users themselves. The fallout following the 2016 hack of affair-focused site Ashley Madison resulted in families breaking up and several reports of suicides connected to the breach.

An email to VTS Media bounced over the weekend and could not be reached for comment.

Given both the company and its servers are located in Europe, the exposure of sexual preferences would fall under the “special categories” of GDPR rules, which require more protections. Companies can be fined up to 4% of their annual turnover for GDPR violations.

A spokesperson for the Spanish data protection authority (AEPD) did not respond to a request for comment outside business hours.


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Github removes Tsunami Democràtic’s APK after a takedown order from Spain

Microsoft-owned Github has removed the APK of an app for organizing political protests in the autonomous community of Catalonia — acting on a takedown request from Spain’s military police (aka the Guardia Civil).

As we reported earlier this month supporters of independence for Catalonia have regrouped under a new banner — calling itself Tsunami Democràtic — with the aim of rebooting the political movement and campaigning for self-determination by mobilizing street protests and peaceful civil disobedience.

The group has also been developing bespoke technology tools to coordinate protest action. It’s one of these tools, the Tsunami Democràtic app, which was being hosted as an APK on Github and has now been taken down.

The app registers supporters of independence by asking them to communicate their availability and resources for taking part in local protest actions across Catalonia. Users are also asked to register for protest actions and check-in when they get there — at which point the app asks them to abide by a promise of non-violence (see point 3 in this sample screengrab):

image1 2 1

Users of the app see only upcoming protests relevant to their location and availability — making it different to the one-to-many broadcasts that Tsunami Democràtic also puts out via its channel on the Telegram messaging app.

Essentially, it’s a decentalized tool for mobilizing smaller, localized protest actions vs the largest demos which continue to be organized via Telegram broadcasts (such as a mass blockade of Barcelona airport, earlier this month).

A source with knowledge of Tsunami Democràtic previously told us the sorts of protests intended to be coordinated via the app could include actions such as go-slows to disrupt traffic on local roads and fake shopping sprees in supermarkets, with protestors abandoning carts filled with products in the store.

In a section of Github’s site detailing government takedowns the request from the Spanish state to remove the Tsunami Democràtic app sits alongside folders containing historical takedown requests from China and Russia.

“There is an ongoing investigation being carried out by the National High Court where the movement Tsunami Democràtic has been confirmed as a criminal organization driving people to commit terrorist attacks. Tsunami Democràtic’s main goal is coordinating these riots and terrorist actions by using any possible mean,” Spain’s military police write in the letter sent to Github.

We’ve reached out to Microsoft for comment on Github’s decision to remove the app APK.

In a note about government takedowns on Github’s website it writes:

From time to time, GitHub receives requests from governments to remove content that has been declared unlawful in their local jurisdiction. Although we may not always agree with those laws, we may need to block content if we receive a valid request from a government official so that our users in that jurisdiction may continue to have access to GitHub to collaborate and build software.

“GitHub does not endorse or adopt any assertion contained in the following notices,” it adds in a further caveat on the page.

The trigger for the latest wave of street demonstrations in Catalonia were lengthy jail sentences handed down to a number of Catalan political and cultural leaders by Spain’s Supreme Court earlier this month.

These were people involved in organizing an illegal independence referendum two years ago. The majority of these Catalan leaders were convicted for sedition. None were found guilty of the more serious charge of rebellion — but sentences ran as long as 13 years nonetheless.

This month Spanish judges also reissued a European arrest warrant seeking to extradite the former leader of the Catalan government, Carles Puigdemont, from Brussels to Spain to face trial.  Last year a court in Germany refused his extradition to Spain on charges of rebellion or sedition — only allowing it on lesser grounds of misuse of public funds. A charge which Spain did not pursue.

Puigdemont fled Catalonia in the wake of the failed 2017 independence bid and has remained living in exile in Brussels. He has also since been elected as an MEP but has been unable to take up his seat in the EU parliament after the Spanish state moved to block him from being recognized as a parliamentarian.

Shortly after the latest wave of pro-independence demonstrations took off in Catalonia the Tsunami Democràtic movement’s website was taken offline — also as a result of a takedown request by the Spanish state.

The website remains offline at the time of writing.

While the Tsunami Democràtic app could be accused of encouraging disruption, the charge of “terrorism” is clearly overblown. Unless your definition of terrorism extends to harnessing the power of peaceful civil resistance to generate momentum for political change. 

And while there has been unrest on the streets of Barcelona and other Catalan towns and cities this month, with fires being lit and projectiles thrown at police, there are conflicting reports about what has triggered these clashes between police and protestors — including criticism of the police response as overly aggressive vs what has been, in the main, large but peaceful crowds of pro-democracy demonstrators.

The police response on the day of the 2017 referendum was also widely condemned as violently disproportionate, with scenes of riot gear clad police officers beating up people as they tried to cast a vote.

Local press in Catalonia has reported the European Commission response to Spain’s takedown of the Tsunami Democràtic website — saying the pan-EU body said Spain has a responsibility to find “the right balance between guaranteeing freedom of expression and upholding public order and ensuring security, as well as protecting [citizens] from illegal content”.

Asked what impact the Github takedown of the Tsunami Democràtic app’s APK will have on the app, a source with knowledge of the movement suggested very little — pointing out that the APK is now being hosted on Telegram.

Similarly, the content that was available on the movement’s website is being posted to its 380,000+ subscribers on Telegram — a messaging platform that’s itself been targeted for blocks by authoritarian states in various locations around the world. (Though not, so far, in Spain.)

Another protest support tool that’s been in the works in Catalonia — a live-map for crowdsourcing information about street protests which looks similar to the HKlive.maps app used by pro-democracy campaigners in Hong Kong — is still in testing but expected to launch soon, per the source.

Duffel raises $30M led by Index Ventures to disintermediate legacy travel platforms

Huge travel platforms that run airline booking systems like Sabre and Amadeus were invented eons ago and are so large and cumbersome that innovating with them is no easy feat. In the same way that challenger banks have come along to re-invent the banking software Starck, UK startup Duffel has done the same in the travel market, linking up airlines directly with travel agents with a 21st Century platform.

Today it’s announced a $30m Series B funding round from investors Index Ventures, and they were joined by existing investors Benchmark Capital and Blossom Capital . Its airline partners already include American Airlines, British Airways, Lufthansa Group, Aegean Airlines, Vueling, and Iberia.

Duffel will use the new funds to hire more engineers and increase its broader team. It is focusing on expanding in North America and Europe, with its first customers drawn from the US, UK, Canada, France, Germany and Spain.

Duffel enables travel agencies to plug in directly to airlines’ reservation systems via an API so that they can pull real-time flight offers, make bookings, access live seat availability, and buy extra services. This means new digital and mobile app-based travel agencies – Duffel’s target market – can bypass the long lead times and high costs associated with the legacy flight booking systems. They are then able to see live seat availability from some of the world’s biggest airlines, as well as additional offers on in-flight meals or luggage allocations.

Steve Domin, co-founder and CEO of Duffel, said: “A new breed of online agencies want to access reservation systems quickly and seamlessly. By reinventing the underwiring between online agents and airlines we can transform the world of travel booking and reduce barriers to entry for innovative new companies that are offering travelers a whole new way of creating a holiday or trip.”

In the same way that banking systems have been opened up by deregulation, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) created a new industry standard, known as New Distribution Capability (NDC), which transformed the way air products are retailed through the use of modern XML technology. The problem was, the legacy platforms didn’t take much interest. Duffel has obviously come along to take advantage of that.

Jan Hammer, partner at Index Ventures, said: “We are incredibly impressed by the Duffel team, who we have supported since the days of their seed funding. There is an opportunity here to transform the booking experience for travelers and ease many of the pain points in the industry. From the launch of budget airlines to sharing economy businesses like Airbnb, travel has changed and Duffel will provide the tools, built from the ground up, that make the next wave of innovation possible.”

Speaking to TechCrunch, Domin said: “Historically it’s been very hard to sell travel products to agencies. Integrations are hard. There is too much complexity. We are bundling it all into a very simple API and 2 hours later you can have it running on a site or a mobile app.”

“We are connecting directly to airlines’ reservation systems. If you go on a site that uses Duffel, we will forward – to the airline – the right search request, and the airline generates the offer in real-time.”

“Airlines were trying to modernize their booking systems with Amadeus and Sabre but they have not moved quickly on adapting to what the airlines wanted. When the IATA came up with its new XML platform, no-one wanted to use it. So we did.”

Is Duffel a threat to the legacy platforms? “Potentially,” he says, “but I don’t think they see it that way. They don’t see the benefit of engineering and developer experience. In a way, I hope we will be a threat but I don’t think we are right now.”

He said Duffel has future plans to expand to other products like trains and hotels.