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Give users genuine control over ad targeting, MEPs urged

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Give users genuine control over ad targeting, MEPs urged

Over 30 civil society organizations, pro-privacy tech businesses and European startups are making a last ditch pitch to try to convince EU lawmakers to put stricter limits on surveillance advertising as a major vote looms on an update to the bloc’s digital rules.

The European Parliament will vote shortly to confirm its negotiating position on the Digital Services Act (DSA) — and the 30 signatories to the joint statement on “surveillance-based advertising” are urging MEPs to back amendments to the DSA to tighten the rules on how people’s data can be used for targeting ads.

In a nutshell they argue that inferred personal data (aka what a platform can learn/guess about you by snooping on your digital activity) should be out of bounds for ad targeting — and that advertisers should only be able to use information that has been consciously provided to them for targeting their marketing by the individuals in question.

An example of how that could work might be that a platform periodically asking a user to select a few categories of goods/interests for which they’re happy to receive marketing offers — such as, say, beauty products, hiking/outdoors gear, holidays, or culture/art.

They would then only be able to use such signals for ad targeting, making it contextual, rather than creepy.

This is not so very radical a suggestion.

Regulators in the region have in fact been warning that tracking based ads are on borrowed time for years, given systemic breaches of EU privacy laws. Though actual regulator enforcement against adtech has been harder to spot.

Most recently the outgoing UK data protection commissioner urged the industry to reform — and move away from the current paradigm of tracking and profiling — saying the future must be about providing Internet users with a genuine choice over how they are targeted with marketing messages.

The signatories to the statement calling for parliamentarians to get behind this kind of ad targeting reform argue it would have major benefits — preventing problems associated with the covert surveillance of web users which can lead to abusive ads that manipulate and exploit.

The theories of harm around microtargeted ads have been much discussed in recent years — with risks of behavioral targeting being linked to discrimination, exploitation of vulnerable people/groups, and democracy-denting election interference, to name a few.

Surveillance advertising’s problem is that it can’t be publicly accountability because it lacks genuine transparency.

Yet there are other ways to target ads that don’t require creepy snooping and behavioral profiling.

“We are convinced that targeted digital ads can be delivered effectively and with respect for users’ choice and privacy (i.e. without covert surveillance practices), provided that exclusively data specifically provided by users for that purpose is processed, in a transparent and accountable manner,” the signatories write.

The statement dubs the use of “inferred data, which reveals users’ vulnerabilities and, by definition, is collected or generated without their awareness and control” as “a particularly problematic practice in digital advertising”, arguing: “It is time to end this practice as it causes significant harm on an individual and societal level, as evidenced by extensive academic research and recent revelations including the Facebook Files and the whistleblower Frances Haugen’s testimony or Mozilla’s YouTube Regrets study.”

“It is in the best interest of companies engaging in digital advertising to respect users’ choice, autonomy, and expressed (not inferred) preferences,” they go on, pointing to survey results which found that 75% of social media users in France and Germany are not comfortable when their behavioural data is used to target them with advertising.

“While small and medium-sized businesses legitimately use online advertising to reach their clients, they do not need to rely on intrusive surveillance as a means to that end,” they further argue.

The statement suggests that the main beneficiaries of current adtech’s ‘surveillance free-for-all’ — and the pervasive, covert massive tracking of Internet users — are likely to be US tech giants.

While progressive European startups — which have been trying for years to scale alternative, privacy respecting approaches for ad targeting — are being competitively disadvantaged by the rights-violating data abuses of US giants.

“The only actors who benefit from exploitation of users’ vulnerabilities and cross-site tracking are US-based large online platforms, with an interest to preserve their dominant position in the digital advertising market,” the statement argues, calling for “regulatory incentives” so that “progressive” privacy-focused startups can scale their rights-respecting services and make them more accessible for small brands.

“Putting an end to the most invasive practices will strengthen small European brands and GDPR [General Data Protection Regulation] compliant digital services, as well as local media as it would promote fair competition in digital advertising and reinstate the power of quality.”

It’s an argument that should — in theory — play well with Europeans elected representatives in the parliament.

However in recent years US tech giants — led by Google and Facebook — have been pouring millions into lobbying efforts in Brussels in a bid to steer lawmakers away from policies that could damage their surveillance-based business models. So this is in no way a fair fight.

Key among the tech giant lobbying claims has been the suggestion that tougher rules on targeting will hit Europe’s small businesses. Indeed, Facebook (now Meta) has gone so far as to claim that banning surveillance ads would decimate the bloc’s economy.

But of course they would say that, wouldn’t they…

 

The 17 civil society organizations signing the joint statement are: the Panoptykon Foundation, Access Now, Alliance4Europe, Amnesty International, Article 19, Bits of Freedom, Civil Liberties Union for Europe (Liberties), Defend Democracy, Fair Vote, Global Witness, Irish Council for Civil Liberties, #jesuisla, The Norwegian Consumer Council, Ranking Digital Rights (RDR), The Signals Network, SumOfUs and Uplift.

While the 14 business representatives backing the call for a ban on use of inferred data for ad targeting are:

Disconnect, Casey Oppenheim, co-founder and CEO
DuckDuckGo, Gabriel Weinberg, CEO and Founder
Ecosia, Christian Kroll, CEO
Fastmail, Bron Gondwana, CEO and Nicola Nye, chief of staff
Kobler, Erik Bugge, CEO
Mailfence, Patrick De Schutter, co-Founder and MD
Mojeek, Colin Hayhurst, CEO
Opt Out Advertising, Tom van Bentheim, CEO
Piwik PRO, Maciej Zawadzinski, CEO
Quodari, Paul Pennarts, CEO
Startmail, Robert Beens, CEO
Startpage, Robert Beens, CEO
Strossle, Ha kon Tillier, CEO
Tutanota, Matthias Pfau, CEO

An earlier push by a number of MEPs towards the end of last year to get an outright ban on surveillance-based ad targeting included in the DSA did not prevail.

Although a parliamentary committee did back tightening restrictions on tracking-based advertising in another draft package of EU legislation that will apply to the most powerful Internet gatekeepers (so plenty of US giants), aka the Digital Markets Act (DMA) — by beefing up consent requirements for ad targeting and adding a complete prohibition on behavioral targeting of minors.

But the 31 signatories to today’s statement argue that the IMCO tweaks do not go far enough against the data industrial surveillance complex, writing: “We urge Members of the European Parliament to support plenary amendments to Article 24 of the DSA which go beyond the existing IMCO compromise and rule out surveillance practices in digital advertising — such as the use of inferred data — while supporting users’ genuine choice.”

Karolina Iwańska, a lawyer and policy analyst for the Panoptykon Foundation, also told us: “Unfortunately the compromise around ads in the IMCO committee is very weak and largely maintaining status quo” — adding that: “Big tech’s ‘SME’ lobbying was very successful.”

“We believe that a true compromise between a full ban on the use of personal data (unrealistic at this point) and status quo (everything allowed if consent is collected) is possible — but has sadly been ignored in the parliament,” she added, saying the anti-surveillance campaigners are now hoping to convince MEPs to back reform of personalized ads by limiting targeting to expressed preferences — which they believe will give Internet users “genuine control”.

The effort will need to work fast if it’s to achieve its aim.

Per Iwańska, the campaigners have drafted an amendment — but have yet to get backing from MEPs to submit it so that the parliament as a whole would be able to vote on it at the plenary. Clearly it’ll be crunch time for this push over the next few days.

Under the EU’s co-legislative process the Commission proposes legislation and that’s then followed by a process of wider negotiations between Member States and the European Parliament on the policy detail — with the chance for upcoming EU rules to be reworked and reshaped before they’re finally adopted.

Both the DSA and the DMA were proposed at the end of 2020 by the European Commission, with the DSA aimed at updating the bloc’s ecommerce rules and dialling up accountability on digital businesses by widening requirements to define areas of additional responsibility around content.

While the DMA targets the competition- and consumer-crushing market power of Internet giants, with a set of ex ante rules aimed at preventing abusive practices.

Trilogue negotiations on the DSA are due to start soon — once the parliament confirms its position in next week’s plenary vote. And — ultimately — there will need to be another plenary vote in the parliament on the final text. So campaigners against surveillance advertising may have other points in the process to try to push strategic amendments.

One thing is clear: The lobbying will continue throughout this year.

Any restrictions on ad targeting in the EU will still also have to wait for the legislation to be adopted and come into force — with EU lawmakers set to apply a grace period for digital businesses to come into compliance. So any rule changes won’t bite for many months more at least.

While the DMA — which appears to be moving pretty speedily through the co-legislative process — could get up and running relatively quickly, perhaps in 2023, the DSA looks likely to take longer before it comes into force; perhaps not until 2024.

In the meanwhile, the tracking and targeting continues…

Source: Tech

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Paack pulls in a $225M Series D led by SoftBank to scale its E-commerce delivery platform

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By now, many of us are familiar with the warehouse robots which populate those vast spaces occupied by the likes of Amazon and others. In particular, Amazon was very much a pioneer of the technology. But it’s 2021 now, and allying warehouse robots with a software logistics platform is no longer the monopoly of one company.

One late-stage startup which has been ‘making hay’ with the whole idea is Paack, an e-commerce delivery platform which a sophisticated software platform that integrates with the robotics which are essential to modern-day logistics operations.

It’s now raised €200m ($225m) in a Series D funding round led by SoftBank Vision Fund 2. The capital will be used for product development and European expansion.

New participants for this round also include Infravia Capital Partners, First Bridge Ventures, and Endeavor Catalyst. Returning investors include Unbound, Kibo Ventures, Big Sur Ventures, RPS Ventures, Fuse Partners, Rider Global, Castel Capital, and Iñaki Berenguer.

This funding round comes after the creation of a profitable position in its home market of Spain, but Paack claims it’s on track to achieve similar across its European operations, Such as in the UK, France, and Portugal.

Founded by Fernando Benito, Xavier Rosales and Suraj Shirvankar, Paack now says it’s delivering several million orders per month from 150 international clients, processing 10,000 parcels per hour, per site. Some 17 of them are amongst the largest e-commerce retailers in Spain.

The startup’s systems integrate with e-commerce sites. This means consumers are able to customize their delivery schedule at checkout, says the company.

Benito, CEO and Co-founder, said: “Demand for convenient, timely, and more sustainable methods of delivery is going to explode over the next few years and Paack is providing the solution. We use technology to provide consumers with control and choice over their deliveries, and reduce the carbon footprint of our distribution.” 

Max Ohrstrand, Investment Director at SoftBank Investment Advisers said: “As the e-commerce sector continues to flourish and same-day delivery is increasingly the norm for consumers, we believe Paack is well-positioned to become the category leader both in terms of its technology and commitment to sustainability.”

According to research from the World Economic Forum (WEF), the last-mile delivery business is expected to grow 78% by 2030, causing a rise in CO2 emissions of nearly one-third.

As a result, Paack claim it aims to deliver all parcels at carbon net-zero by measuring its environmental impact, using electric last-mile delivery vehicles. It is now seeking certification with The Carbon Trust and United Nations.

In an interview Benito told me: “We have a very clear short term vision which is to lead sustainable e-commerce delivers in Europe… through technology via what we think is perhaps the most advanced tech delivery platform for last-mile delivery. Our CTO was the CTO and co-founder of Google Cloud, for instance.”

“We are developing everything from warehouse automation, time windows, routing integrations etc. in order to achieve the best delivery experience.”

Paack says it is able to work with more than one robotics partner, but presently it is using robots from Chinese firm GEEK.

The company hopes it can compete with the likes of DHL, Instabox, and La Poste in Europe, which are large incumbents.

Source: Tech

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Infermedica raises $30M to expand its AI-based medical guidance platform

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Infermedica, a Poland-founded digital health company that offers AI-powered solutions for symptom analysis and patient triage, has raised $30 million in Series B funding. The round was led by One Peak and included participation from previous investors Karma Ventures, European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, Heal Capital and Inovo Venture Partners. The new capital means the startup has raised $45 million in total to date.

Founded in 2012, Infermedica aims to make it easier for doctors to pre-diagnose, triage and direct their patients to appropriate medical services. The company’s mission is to make primary care more accessible and affordable by introducing automation into healthcare. Infermedica has created a B2B platform for health systems, payers and providers that automates patient triage, the intake process and follow-up after a visit. Since its launch, Infermedica is being used in more than 30 countries in 19 languages and has completed more than 10 million health checks.

The company offers a preliminary diagnosis symptom checker, an AI-driven software that supports call operators making timely triage recommendations and an application programming interface that allows users to build customized diagnostic solutions from scratch. Like a plethora of competitors, such as Ada Health and Babylon, Infermedica combines the expertise of physicians with its own algorithms to offer symptom triage and patient advice.

In terms of the new funding, Infermedica CEO Piotr Orzechowski told TechCrunch in an email that the investment will be used to further develop the company’s Medical Guidance Platform and add new modules to cover the full primary care journey. Last year, Infermedica’s team grew by 80% to 180 specialists, including physicians, data scientists and engineers. Orzechowski says Infermedica has an ambitious plan to nearly double its team in the next 12 months.

Image Credits: Infermedica

“We will invest heavily into our people and our products, rolling out new modules of our platform as well as expanding our underlying AI capabilities in terms of disease coverage and accuracy,” Orzechowski said. “From the commercial perspective, our goal is to strengthen our position in the US and DACH and we will focus the majority of our sales and marketing efforts there.”

Regarding the future, Orzechowski said he’s a firm believer that there will be fully automated self-care bots in 5-10 years that will be available 24/7 to help providers find solutions to low acuity health concerns, such as a cold or UTI.

“According to WHO, by 2030 we might see a shortage of almost 10 million doctors, nurses and midwives globally,” Orzechowski said. “Having certain constraints on how fast we can train healthcare professionals, our long-term plan assumes that AI will become a core element of every modern healthcare system by navigating patients and automating mundane tasks, saving the precious time of clinical staff and supporting them with clinically accurate technology.”

Infermedica’s Series B round follows its $10 million Series A investment announced in August 2020. The round was led by the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) and digital health fund Heal Capital. Existing investors Karma Ventures, Inovo Venture Partners and Dreamit Ventures also participated in the round.

Source: Tech

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KKR invests $45M into GrowSari, a B2B platform for Filipino MSMEs

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A sari-sari store owner who uses GrowSari

GrowSari, the Manila-based startup that helps small shops grow and digitize, announced today that KKR will lead its Series C round with a $45 million investment. The funds will be used to enter new regions in the Philippines and expand its financial products. The Series C round is still ongoing and the startup says it is already oversubscribed, with the final composition currently being finalized. 

Before its Series C, GrowSari’s total raised was $30 million. TechCrunch last wrote about GrowSari in June 2021, when it announced its Series B. Since then, it has expanded the number of municipalities it serves from 100 to 220, and now has a customer base of 100,000 micro, small and mid-sized enterprise (MSME) store owners. 

Founded in 2016, GrowSari is a B2B platform that offers almost every kind of service that small- to medium-sized retailers, including neighborhood stores that carry daily necessities (called sari-saris), roadside and market shops and pharmacies, need.

For example, it has a wholesale marketplace with products from major fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) brands like Unilever, P&G and Nestle. It partners with over 200 providers, like telecoms, fintechs and subscription plans, so sari-saris can offer services like top-ups and bill payments to their customers. 

Sari-sari operators can also use GrowSari to launch e-commerce stores and access short-term working capital loans to buy inventory. The startup’s other financial products include digital wallets and cash-in services, and it is looking at adding remittance, insurance and loans in partnership with other providers. 

The new funding will be used to expand into the Visayas and Mindanao, the two other main geographical regions in the Philippines, with the goal of covering all 1.1 million “mom and pop” stores in the Philippines. 

Source: Tech

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