Notorious National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden wants to move to the land of sunny beaches and micro-bikinis. In an open letter in the Brazilian newspaper Floha de Sao Paulo, Snowden argues that “permanent political asylum” would enable him to help the Brazilian government investigate unwanted spying from foreign governments.
“If a mother in Porto Alegre calls her son to wish him luck on his university exam, NSA can keep that call log for five years or more,” he wrote. “They even keep track of who is having an affair or looking at pornography, in case they need to damage their target’s reputation.”
Right now, Snowden has agreed to stop all whistleblower activities in exchange for the warm political embrace of the Russian government. He’s kept mostly silent since his move there last summer.
Either because he feels the Russians can no longer protect him or he feels compelled to continue his globetrotting fight against the U.S. intelligence apparatus, Snowden is officially seeking asylum in Latin America.
“Many Brazilian senators agree, and have asked for my assistance with their investigations of suspected crimes against Brazilian citizens,” he writes. “I have expressed my willingness to assist wherever appropriate and lawful, but unfortunately the United States government has worked very hard to limit my ability to do so — going so far as to force down the Presidential Plane of Evo Morales to prevent me from traveling to Latin America! Until a country grants permanent political asylum, the US government will continue to interfere with my ability to speak.”
No indication yet from Brazilian authorities whether he’ll get to continue his crusade surrounded by soccer balls and super models, but you can read the whole letter below:
Six months ago, I stepped out from the shadows of the United States Government’s National Security Agency to stand in front of a journalist’s camera. I shared with the world evidence proving some governments are building a world-wide surveillance system to secretly track how we live, who we talk to, and what we say. I went in front of that camera with open eyes, knowing that the decision would cost me family and my home, and would risk my life. I was motivated by a belief that the citizens of the world deserve to understand the system in which they live.
My greatest fear was that no one would listen to my warning. Never have I been so glad to have been so wrong. The reaction in certain countries has been particularly inspiring to me, and Brazil is certainly one of those.
At the NSA, I witnessed with growing alarm the surveillance of whole populations without any suspicion of wrongdoing, and it threatens to become the greatest human rights challenge of our time. The NSA and other spying agencies tell us that for our own “safety”—for Dilma’s “safety,” for Petrobras’ “safety”—they have revoked our right to privacy and broken into our lives. And they did it without asking the public in any country, even their own.
Today, if you carry a cell phone in Sao Paolo, the NSA can and does keep track of your location: they do this 5 billion times a day to people around the world. When someone in Florianopolis visits a website, the NSA keeps a record of when it happened and what you did there. If a mother in Porto Alegre calls her son to wish him luck on his university exam, NSA can keep that call log for five years or more. They even keep track of who is having an affair or looking at pornography, in case they need to damage their target’s reputation.
American Senators tell us that Brazil should not worry, because this is not “surveillance,” it’s “data collection.” They say it is done to keep you safe. They’re wrong. There is a huge difference between legal programs, legitimate spying, legitimate law enforcement — where individuals are targeted based on a reasonable, individualized suspicion — and these programs of dragnet mass surveillance that put entire populations under an all-seeing eye and save copies forever. These programs were never about terrorism: they’re about economic spying, social control, and diplomatic manipulation. They’re about power.
Many Brazilian senators agree, and have asked for my assistance with their investigations of suspected crimes against Brazilian citizens. I have expressed my willingness to assist wherever appropriate and lawful, but unfortunately the United States government has worked very hard to limit my ability to do so — going so far as to force down the Presidential Plane of Evo Morales to prevent me from traveling to Latin America! Until a country grants permanent political asylum, the US government will continue to interfere with my ability to speak.
Six months ago, I revealed that the NSA wanted to listen to the whole world. Now, the whole world is listening back, and speaking out, too. And the NSA doesn’t like what it’s hearing. The culture of indiscriminate worldwide surveillance, exposed to public debates and real investigations on every continent, is collapsing. Only three weeks ago, Brazil led the United Nations Human Rights Committee to recognize for the first time in history that privacy does not stop where the digital network starts, and that the mass surveillance of innocents is a violation of human rights.
The tide has turned, and we can finally see a future where we can enjoy security without sacrificing our privacy. Our rights cannot be limited by a secret organization, and American officials should never decide the freedoms of Brazilian citizens. Even the defenders of mass surveillance, those who may not be persuaded that our surveillance technologies have dangerously outpaced democratic controls, now agree that in democracies, surveillance of the public must be debated by the public.
My act of conscience began with a statement: “I don’t want to live in a world where everything that I say, everything I do, everyone I talk to, every expression of creativity or love or friendship is recorded. That’s not something I’m willing to support, it’s not something I’m willing to build, and it’s not something I’m willing to live under.”
Days later, I was told my government had made me stateless and wanted to imprison me. The price for my speech was my passport, but I would pay it again: I will not be the one to ignore criminality for the sake of political comfort. I would rather be without a state than without a voice.
If Brazil hears only one thing from me, let it be this: when all of us band together against injustices and in defense of privacy and basic human rights, we can defend ourselves from even the most powerful systems.
Article courtesy of TechCrunch
Who says that the Beltway always lags behind Silicon Valley? In The Center Holds: Obama and his Enemies, his best-selling book about Barack Obama’s 2012 Presidential campaign, veteran political journalist Jonathan Alter writes about “penetrating” The Cave – Obama’s top secret digital command center. Run by the campaign’s Chief Analytics Officer, the 30 year-old whiz Dan Wagner, The Cave was staffed with an eclectic group of number crunching geniuses including a bio-physicist and three professional poker players.
What The Cave achieved, Alter told me, is “marriage of technology and shoe leather,” thereby making 2012 the first real “big data election” (the Republicans, of course, didn’t get it). And it was Dan Wagner’s highly sophisticated big data operation, Alter insists, that separated the Obama and Romney campaigns. Indeed, the Cave was such a remarkable success, Alter says, that Silicon Valley has much to learn from its implementation. Eric Schmidt’s close relationship with Wagner is well known. Less well known, Alter says, is the need now for all companies to invest in a Cave of big data experts who can enable their businesses to “connect better”. It’s the new way of reaching customers, he says.
So does your company have a Cave yet?
Article courtesy of TechCrunch
CrowdOptic, a startup with technology for identifying where people are pointing their smartphone cameras, has raised another $1 million in funding.
When I’ve spoken to the team in the past, they’ve emphasized the ways this could be used to create new types of social interactions — if people are attending a live event and pointing their cameras at the same thing, they can start chatting and sharing content. However, the company’s website highlights a number of use cases, including “focus-aware” advertising, analytics, news reporting, social TV (live attendees can provide content to people watching at home), and security.
CEO and co-founder Jon Fisher said that customers include Australia- and New Zealand-based ticketing company Ticketek (CrowdOptic built the company’s Friend Spotter app for finding your Facebook friends in a stadium, which you can see in the screenshot above) and Fora.tv (which used CrowdOptic to share authenticated, eyewitness content from the presidential debates).
The new funding comes from CrowdOptic’s existing investors, including Silicon Valley Bank, tech legend Ray Lane, and Fisher himself. Fisher also said that CrowdOptic recently celebrated its second quarter of profitability. The company has now raised a total of $3.5 million.
By the way, Fisher was previously CEO of Bharosa, NetClerk, and AutoReach, but he isn’t the only team member with an impressive résumé — COO Jim Kovach has worked at other startups, he has a medical degree and a law degree, and he was a linebacker for the New Orleans Saints and San Francisco 49ers.
Article courtesy of TechCrunch
Chute, a startup that offers tools for collecting and displaying photos, has raised $7 million in Series A Funding.
The company allows publishers and other businesses to pull relevant photos from social networks or collect them directly from users, then display those images on their own websites and in real-world locations. It’s also experimenting with other photo collection methods, like allowing NBC News reporters to post photos of the presidential inauguration directly from a Chute mobile reporting app.
The larger vision, said co-founder Ranvir Gujral, is to build “a complete visual platform.” He said that whenever a company publishes visual content, Chute should be involved in some way: “That doesn’t have to mean we publish everything — it just means that we know about it.”
The first step in making that happen, Gujral said, is “growing our marketshare and awareness,” and indeed that’s one of the company’s main goals with the new funding. At the same time, he acknowledged that there’s work to be done on the product side too.
Chute is also making a product announcement today, unveiling Chute Ads, which allow companies to incorporate photos, whether from the brand itself or provided by users, into banner ads. This helps brands tie together their “paid, owned, and earned media,” Gujrat said.
“As a brand, if I’m putting time into creating great content and posting it to my Instagram and Pinterest, I want to put it into my own ad units instead of a static SWF file,” Gujrat said. “We want to kill the static SWF file.”
The first publisher to offer Chute Ads, which are scheduled to go live in June, is Condé Nast Traveler. In a press release, Craig Kostelic, Head of Digital Global Sales for Condé Nast Travel Network, argues that the ads “give advertisers the ability to also be publishers,” and that since they pull content in real-time, “audiences will never see the same ad twice.”
Article courtesy of TechCrunch
I find statistics absolutely delicious. Pew research released fresh stats on what slice of Americans are addicted to all of the various social networks as of December 2012. There are a few big business and cultural implications.
Pinterest has practically caught up with Twitter, with 15 percent and 16 percent of adult U.S. Internet users on each network, respectively. Pinterest, which launched in 2009, has experienced explosive growth, especially with a white, female and affluent user base. Women are five times more likely to use Pinterest (5 percent vs. 25 percent) and almost twice as likely to be white and college-educated. It’s become a magnet for hip urbanites searching for the hottest wedding gowns and apartment decor. Twitter, however, gets a lot more attention, since neither presidential campaigns nor Middle Eastern activists are leveraging style catalogs to rearrange their countries’ political leadership.
There is no longer a minority gap in social media use. The surveyed groups (whites, Hispanics, and African-Americans) hover around 68 percent of total adults. Almost twice as many African-Americans (26 percent) use Twitter as whites (14 percent). The disproportionate African-American use of Twitter has fascinated culture commentators and scholars. One study found that African-Americans in celebrity news strongly predicted their Twitter use. Former web editor of the The Onion, Baratunde Thurston, hypothesized that “there’s a long oral dissing tradition in black communities,” explaining, “Twitter works very naturally with that call-and-response tradition — it’s so short, so economical, and you get an instant signal validating the quality of your contribution.”
Ironically, not using social media may be an elite thing. Those with a college degree are slightly less likely than those with some college to use social networks (69 percent vs. 65 percent). While the difference isn’t statistically significant, at least one study verified the trend among educated users to ditch Facebook for moral, political or cultural reasons. “Many Facebook refusers actually revel in their difference from the mainstream, seeing it as a mark of distinction, superior taste, and identification with an elite social stratum,” said New York University Professor Laura Portwood-Stacer.
Hipsters find it too mainstream and others find their privacy policies troublesome. In other words, not using social media is likely a product of more education, not a lack of access.
The full totals for each social network. Sixty-seven percent of online adults say they use Facebook, 15 percent of online adults say they use Pinterest, 13 percent of online adults say they use Instagram, 6 percent of online adults say they use Tumblr, 16 percent of online adults say they use Twitter (and 20 percent of online adults say they use LinkedIn as of August 2012). Below is a full table summarizing the results of the survey:
Article courtesy of TechCrunch
Chute is a Y Combinator-backed startup that helps publishers and brands incorporate photos and other media (sometimes submitted directly by users, sometimes aggregated from social networking sites) onto their own websites. Now it’s offering similar functionality for real-world locations, thanks to a new feature called Chute Live.
For example, according to co-founder Ranvir Gujral, the Cosmopolitan Hotel has launched a “Pop Up Wedding Chapel” along the Las Vegas Strip, and it’s encouraging people to post photos of themselves on Twitter or Instagram using the #PopUpChapel hashtag. (The photos can be of real or fake weddings, but c’mon, it’s Vegas — do it for real.) Chute then pulls in the photos and displays them on screens throughout the chapel, including a “massive” one facing the Strip.
Chute Live customers could also build their own applications to allow event attendees to submit their photos. Gujral said that in addition to the Cosmo, Chute Live is also being used by the House of Blues, the Palms Hotel, and the NBA for this weekend’s All-Star game.
It’s a busy few weeks for the startup. It recently announced a mobile reporting platform too, creating an app for NBC News reporters (for starters) to post photos from the presidential inauguration directly to the NBC site.
I spoke to Ryan Osborn who leads the digital media efforts at NBC, and he said the company’s partnership with Chute (which is broader than just covering the inauguration — in fact, NBC used Chute to project photos on Rockefeller Plaza on election night) is still in the experimentation phase: “I think we’re going to continue to learn from Chute and continue to figure out the solution.” Still, he had high praise for the Chute team, particularly their “drive to succeed” and the speed with which it can take an NBC idea and turn it into a product.
As Chute continues to roll out new functionality, the company is starting to give a broader sense of its ambitions. Back when it raised funding from Salesforce.com and others, we called Chute “Twilio for media content” and when I met with Gujral a few weeks ago, he outlined a similarly broad vision for the future.
“Wherever there’s image content being used I think we will be the conduit for it,” he said. “Wherever visual content exists, we will control it. Our large, audacious founder claim is that if you’re not Google, Facebook or Netflix, one day your media infrastructure will live on Chute.”
Article courtesy of TechCrunch
A new report from Thomson Reuters and the National Venture Capital Association released today finds that U.S. VC firms raised $20.6 billion from 182 funds in 2012, representing a 10 percent increase in dollar commitments when compared with 2011, which saw 18.7 billion raised from 187 funds. This is the most capital that VC firms have raised since 2008, which saw $25.6 billion raised, but from a larger number of funds – 215 in total.
(See chart below for more details on historical trends).
In the fourth quarter of 2012, VC funds raised $3.3 billion, a 35 percent decrease by dollar commitments and a 25 percent decrease by number of funds versus Q3 2011, when 56 funds raised $5.1 billion.
In this most recent quarter, the top five VC funds accounted for 55 percent of the total fundraising, the same as the quarter prior.
According to Mark Heesen, president of NVCA, capital is concentrating on two distinct ends of the VC spectrum, and this is where firms are also raising follow-on funds. “The venture capital fundraising environment has settled into a ‘new normal’ which is characterized by a barbell structure of larger funds which are stage and industry agnostic on one end, and smaller, early-stage, industry or region-specific funds on the other,” he noted in a statement, explaining the current landscape.
There were 127 follow-on funds and 55 new funds raised in 2012, at a ratio of 2.3 to 1 of follow-on to new funds. In Q4, 25 follow-on funds and 17 new funds were raised, a ratio of 1.5 to 1.
The largest new fund this quarter was Raleigh, NC-based Novaquest Pharma Opportunities Fund III, L.P. with $244.1 million raised. Sequoia Capital Global Growth Fund, L.P. raised the most in Q4 with $700 million. Trailing was Portola Valley, Calif.-based Venture Lending & Leasing VII LLC, which raised $373.1 million.
IPO Dollars Also Up
The year-end analysis also found that venture-backed IPO activity raised $1.4 billion from eight offerings valued at $1.4 billion in Q4 2012, a slight decline in volume from Q3, but a 23 percent increase in dollars. Five of the eight were IT-related companies, and seven of the eight were U.S.-based companies. The only exception was China-based online game community YY, Inc.
The largest IPO for Q4 was Workday, which develops HR enterprise solutions. It raised $733 million and began trading on the NASDAQ on Oct. 11. Five companies listed on the NASDAQ in Q4, and three on NYSE. Seven of the eight are currently trading above their offering price.
For the year, VC-based IPOs raised $21.5 billion from 49 listings, representing the strongest IPO period since 2000 in terms of dollars, according to the NVCA, and this was, in large part, thanks to Facebook. Thirty companies listed on the NASDAQ in 2012, and 18 on NYSE. Thirty are now trading above their offer price.
However, although by dollars, IPOs were up, as Heesen noted earlier in January, the year was a disappointment when it comes to volumes.
“The promise of a more robust IPO market driven by a stronger, JOBs Act fueled pipeline never materialized as the market stalled in the third quarter after the Facebook IPO and again as we approached the Presidential election and fiscal cliff in Q4,” he said at the time. “That same uncertainty kept M&A volumes lower as well, as strategic buyers also stood on the sidelines and awaited decisions in Washington.”
In addition, in Q4, there were 95 VC-backed M&A deals, and the average disclosed deal value was $135.5 million, up 3 percent from Q4 2011. Acquisitions of VC-backed companies also totaled $21.5 billion for 2012, an 11 percent decline from 2011. The largest M&A deal in Q4 was Cisco Systems’ $1.2 billion purchase of Meraki, a San Francisco-based provider of wireless network deployment solutions.
“While the venture capital and startup communities were optimistic about a more robust IPO market in 2012, political, economic, and market conditions served as the backdrop for a series of fits and starts which hurt volume growth throughout the year for public offerings and acquisitions alike,” Heesen said. “Yet, while increased volumes remained elusive, the overall quality of exits this year was quite strong, and certainly sends a message that the market is receptive and open for business in 2013.”
Article courtesy of TechCrunch
Today, the New York City-based don’t-call-me-an-incubator incubator known as betaworks is launching its latest startup following its acquisition of Digg this past summer. Betaworks is primarily focused on media startups, especially those playing at the intersection between social media and publishing. Digg would be one, Branch being another, Rap Genius, which recently raised $15 million being a third.
And now today we have the launch of Swirl, an app that creates photo albums from social networks. Not sure that betaworks got the memo that the group photo-sharing market is a little over-saturated, but then again, they did just buy Digg.
What exactly does Swirl do? It essentially indexes every person (and cat) you follow on Twitter and Instagram, placing their tagged photos into sets, appropriately called Swirls. Users create a photo set on Swirl every time they use the same hashtag on Twitter or Instagram with their friends. The startup’s website is currently showing public photos (here are photos from #Sandy, for example) but obviously once you sign into the app, it takes it to the next level and begins filtering from your friends’ swirls.
Swirl advisor and former Aviary COO Paul Murphy tells us that there are multiple group photo sharing apps out there, each taking a slightly different approach to the problem. One app may require users to create a set and invite friends to join, while others algorithmically guess how photos are related and auto-create sets of photos for you. Swirl, on the other hand, creates a photo set from a shared hashtag among your friends.
Murphy says that Swirl has seen some intriguing photo sets created in beta thanks to Sandy and the presidential election. But beta users are also using it to tag everyday events, with Swirl creating a group album from those events, so that you can see all the hilarities from my daily life as a blogger in #ripsaysthingsontheinternet, for example.
But the reason that social software developer and Swirl founder Summer Bedard thinks the app has potential? Because, as it stands, there’s no frictionless way to view and share a collection of social photos without asking users to change some part of their everyday behavior, like posting the photo in the app instead of using Twitter or Instagram. With Swirl, the idea is that you can just keep doing what you do, using the categories you’ve already established to tag tweets and instagrams that actually mean something.
Right now, Swirl is iPhone-only, but web and Android versions are on the way.
Article courtesy of TechCrunch
Last month, we told you about a new service called Circa, which set out to redefine the way that you consume news on your iOS device. The app itself is beautifully designed and was based off of an idea that Ben Huh had and then shared with Matt Galligan. Galligan took the idea and ran with it.
Right now, Circa finds itself uniquely positioned in the news cycle for Hurricane Sandy and the upcoming Presidential election in a way that no other service is. Basically, this is the moment that you’re either going to fall in love with Circa, or figure out that it’s not for you.
I sat down with Galligan in our studio today to discuss how things have been going, where things will head in the future and how his service handles the avalanche of news to parse for its users with a human editorial staff.
Article courtesy of TechCrunch