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Tech News Reporter

Insight Venture Partners closes on its largest fund with $6.3 billion

Insight Venture Partners that it has raised $6.3 billion for its latest (and largest ever) fund as technology investors continue to amass increasingly large war chests. In the wake of SoftBank’s massive $100 billion Vision Fund , investors in technology companies have said that capital has become weaponized as a way to create a competitive moat around a startup’s business — ostensibly giving it so much money that investors become de facto kingmakers for the companies they back. rather than simply enablers for success. That redefinition of the investors’ role — in a way trying to circumvent competition in a market by fiat — has led funds to follow Softbank’s lead and try to raise increasingly large funds. That’s why there’s Sequoia juiced its fund to a whopping $8 billion ( and has already closed on $6 billion for it ). However, Deven Parekh says Insight Venture Partners isn’t simply following the herd with its latest raise. The firm is staying true to its mission of investing in companies, and continuing to commit the same amount of capital it always has, Parekh says. “Our fund size has gone up and our portfolio size has gone up,” says Parekh. “The competitive dynamics is not the driver here as much as the types of companies we invest in.” Still, the pace of investment has been pretty blistering. It was only three years ago that the company closed its ninth fund with $5 billion in capital commitments.

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Facebook and Instagram change to crack down on underage children

Facebook and Instagram will more proactively lock the accounts of users its moderators suspect are below the age of 13. Its former policy was to only investigate accounts if they were reported specifically for being potentially underage. But Facebook confirmed to TechCrunch that an ‘operational’ change to its policy for reviewers made this week will see them lock the accounts of any underage user they come across, even if they were reported for something else, such as objectionable content, or are otherwise discovered by reviewers. Facebook will require the users to provide proof that they’re over 13 such a government issued photo ID to regain access. The problem stems from Facebook not requiring any proof of age upon signup. Facebook Messenger Kids is purposefully aimed at users under age 13 A tougher stance here could reduce Facebook and Instagram’s user counts and advertising revenue. The apps’ formerly more hands-off approach allowed them to hook young users so by the time they turned 13, they had already invested in building a social graph and history of content that tethers them to the Facebook corporation. While Facebook has lost cache with the youth over time and as their parents joined, Instagram is still wildly popular with them and likely counts many tweens or even younger children as users. The change comes in response to an undercover documentary report by the UK’s Channel 4 and Firecrest Films that saw a journalist become a Facebook content reviewer through a third-party firm called CPL Resources in Dublin, Ireland. A reviewer there claims they were instructed to ignore users who appeared under 13, saying “We have to have an admission that the person is underage. If not, we just like pretend that we are blind and that we don’t know what underage looks like.” The report also outlined how far-right political groups are subject to different threshholds for deletion than other Pages or accounts if they post hateful content in violation of Facebook’s policies. In response, Facebook published a blog post on July 16th claiming that that high-profile Pages and registered political groups may receive a second layer of review from Facebook employees. But in an update on July 17th, Facebook noted that “Since the program, we have been working to update the guidance for reviewers to put a hold on any account they encounter if they have a strong indication it is underage, even if the report was for something else.” Now a Facebook spokesperson confirms to TechCrunch that this is a change to how reviewers are trained to enforce its age policy for both Facebook and Instagram.

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Ofo shuts down many international markets to focus on profitability

Chinese bike-sharing company Ofo is entering a new phase. After a period of aggressive growth, the company is looking back at its international markets and focusing on the most promising ones. A couple of weeks ago, the company issued a press release highlighting some of the priorities outside of China. As part of this move, Ofo co-founder and CEO Dai Wei is going to be directly in charge of international markets. “It’s a new strategical phase on the international front,” Ofo France General Manager and Head of EMEA Laurent Kennel told me. “The company wants to focus on the most mature and promising markets.” So it means that Ofo will stop altogether in some countries, such as Australia, Austria, Czech Republic, Germany, India and Israel. At the same time, there are some markets that work quite well. In particular, the press release highlights Singapore, the U.S., the U.K., France and Italy. But even if you look at a more granular level, Ofo is going to focus on some specific cities in particular going forward. As Quartz and Forbes highlighted, Ofo hasn’t been a massive success in smaller American cities. “In the U.S., some markets work better than others, and they’re going to focus on that,” Kennel said. Instead of operating in dozens of American cities, the company is going to scale back and focus on the most important ones. In France, Ofo has only been available in Paris for instance.

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Lifebit raises $3M to scale-up AI-powered analysis of DNA data

Making sense of DNA data is a two-step process, namely the biochemical-sequencing of the DNA and the analyzing and extracting insights from the sequenced DNA data. As of today in 2018, the first part of this process is now almost fully automated requiring minimal human intervention. Even sequencing costs have dropped below $1,000 and soon they will reach $100, according to the industry. The second part of the process, however, is a long way from being automated because it’s very complex, time-consuming and requires highly specialized experts to analyze the data. Now a startup plans to address this problem. London-based Lifebit is building a cloud-based cognitive system that can reason about DNA data in the same way humans do. This offers researchers and R&D professionals, with limited-to-no computational and data analysis training, and their corresponding organisations (ie. pharmaceutical companies), a highly scalable, modular and reproducible system that automates the analysis processes, learns from the data and provides actionable insights. It’s now closed a $3m (£2.25m) Seed funding round led by Pentech and Connect Ventures, with participation from Beacon Capital and Tiny VC (AngelList). The company is simultaneously announcing the launch of its first product, Deploit, what it claims is the world’s first AI-powered genomic data analysis platform, and, says the company, is already being trialled by major pharmaceutical and biotech companies. The main “competitor” for Lifebit is the DIY process of analysing and getting actionable insights out of genomics and biodata. Organisations, both in industry and research, build custom software and hardware solutions to be able to analyse the huge volumes of genomic and biodata at scale. This leads to a large waste of resources since custom software and hardware is expensive and hard to scale and maintain. A few platforms have been created like DNAnexus and SevenBridges.

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Trump just noticed Europe’s $5BN antitrust fine for Google

In other news bears shit in the woods. In today’s second day Trump news: President ‘The Donald’ has seized, belatedly, on the European Commission’s announcement yesterday  that it had found Google guilty of three types of illegal antitrust behavior with its Android OS since 2011 and was fining the company $5 billion; a record breaking penalty the Commission’s antitrust chief Margrethe Vestager said reflects the length and gravity of the company’s competition infringements. Trump is not! at all! convinced! though! “I told you so!” he has tweeted triumphantly just now. “The European Union just slapped a Five Billion Dollar fine on one of our great companies, Google . They truly have taken advantage of the U.S., but not for long!” I told you so! The European Union just slapped a Five Billion Dollar fine on one of our great companies, Google. They truly have taken advantage of the U.S., but not for long! — Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 19, 2018 Also not so very long ago, Trump was the one grumbling about tech giants. Though Amazon is his most frequent target in tech, while Google has been spared the usual tweet lashings. Albeit, on the average day he may not necessarily be able to tell one tech giant from another. Vestager can though, and she cited Amazon as one of the companies that had suffered as a direct result of contractual conditions Google imposed on device makers using its Android OS — squeezing the ecommerce giant’s potential to build a competing Android ecosystem, with its Fire OS. Presumably, for Trump, Amazon is not ‘one of our great companies’ though. At least it’s only Google that gets his full Twitter attention — and a special Trumpian MAGA badge of honor call-out as “one of our great companies” — in the tweet. Presumably, he hasn’t had this  pointed out to him yet  though. So, uh, awkward. Safe to say, Trump is seizing on Google’s antitrust penalty as a stick to beat the EU, set against a backdrop of Trump already having slapped a series of tariffs on EU goods and Trump recently threatening the EU with tariffs on cars — in what is fast looking like a full blown trade war

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Uber partners with Cargo to help drivers make money by selling stuff to riders

Uber has teamed up with Cargo, a startup that makes it easy for ride-share drivers to sell goods to their passengers. Cargo works by giving drivers free boxes, filled with goods like gum, phone chargers and snacks, to sell to passengers from the center of the car console. Cargo, which has partnered with brands like Kellogg’s, Starbucks and Mars Wrigley Confectionary, provides these boxes to drivers for free. The only requirement is that drivers must have at least a 4.7 rating and be relatively active on the platform, Cargo founder and CEO Jeff Cripe told TechCrunch. Each Cargo box comes with both free samples and items for purchase. Drivers earn at least $1 per order, even if what the rider gets is free. Starting today, Uber drivers in San Francisco and Los Angeles can pick up Cargo boxes at one of Uber’s driver support locations, called Greenlight Hubs. While this is an exclusive business partnership, Cargo will continue to let drivers sell its goods even if they don’t drive for Uber.  Since launching in 2017, about 7,000 drivers have made more than $1 million. On an annual basis, drivers can earn between $1,500 – $3,000 in additional income. This seems like a great deal for drivers and also a way for Uber to attract and retain drivers. As it stands today, customers request and pay for goods via Cargo’s mobile site, but down the road, Uber envisions integrating Cargo’s functionality into its app. To date, Cargo has raised $7.3 million in funding.

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IBM Watson Health and the VA extends partnership in cancer research

IBM Watson Health and the Department of Veteran Affairs (VA) announced today their continued partnership to use Watson’s artificial intelligence to support Veterans suffering from late stage cancer. While perhaps better known as a Jeopardy!  winner than an oncologist, Watson joined the VA’s Precision Oncology program in 2016 following the Obama administration’s introduction of the  National Cancer Moonshot Initiative  to promote cancer research in the country. Together, Watson and VA oncologists analyze tumor samples submitted by patients and look for mutations in the cancer’s genome. With that information, they can better target specific drugs and treatments to fight the cancer. Since their partnership began, Watson and the VA have worked with over 2,700 veterans, and the announcement today will enable VA oncologists to use Watson’s genomics technology through at least 2019. “It is incredibly challenging to read, understand and stay up-to-date with the breadth and depth of medical literature and link them to relevant mutations for personalized cancer treatments,” said Dr.  Kyu Rhee , chief health officer for IBM Watson Health, in a statement. “…AI can play an important role in helping to scale precision oncology, as demonstrated in our work with VA, the largest integrated health system in the U.S.” Before the initial partnership in 2016, IBM trained Watson for two years in the oncology departments of over 20 cancer institutes and early results found it made decisions that matched a team of scientists and clinicians. While two years hardly awards the AI a degree in medicine, Watson does eclipse human professionals in one aspect: consuming data. Which is particularly important when you consider that the veteran population alone accounts for 3.5 percent of the nation’s cancer patients. ( According to the National Cancer Institute,  an estimated 1,735,350 new cases of cancer will be diagnosed in 2018). In many ways, providing care and treatment for these patients is a numbers game, and one that Watson just might be able to help with.

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