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Microsoft is pulling out of an investment in an Israeli facial recognition technology developer as part of a broader policy shift to halt any minority investments in facial recognition startups, the company announced late last week.

The decision to withdraw its investment from AnyVision, an Israeli company developing facial recognition software, came as a result of an investigation into reports that AnyVision’s technology was being used by the Israeli government to surveil residents in the West Bank.

The investigation, conducted by former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and his team at Covington & Burling, confirmed that AnyVision’s technology was used to monitor border crossings between the West Bank and Israel, but did not “power a mass surveillance program in the West Bank.”

Microsoft’s venture capital arm, M12 Ventures, backed AnyVision as part of the company’s $ 74 million financing round which closed in June 2019. Investors who continue to back the company include DFJ Growth and OG Technology Partners, LightSpeed Venture Partners, Robert Bosch GmbH, Qualcomm Ventures, and Eldridge Industries.

Microsoft first staked out its position on how the company would approach facial recognition technologies in 2018, when President Brad Smith issued a statement calling on government to come up with clear regulations around facial recognition in the U.S.

Smith’s calls for more regulation and oversight became more strident by the end of the year, when Microsoft issued a statement on its approach to facial recognition.

Smith wrote:

We and other tech companies need to start creating safeguards to address facial recognition technology. We believe this technology can serve our customers in important and broad ways, and increasingly we’re not just encouraged, but inspired by many of the facial recognition applications our customers are deploying. But more than with many other technologies, this technology needs to be developed and used carefully. After substantial discussion and review, we have decided to adopt six principles to manage these issues at Microsoft. We are sharing these principles now, with a commitment and plans to implement them by the end of the first quarter in 2019.

The principles that Microsoft laid out included privileging: fairness, transparency, accountability, non-discrimination, notice and consent, and lawful surveillance.

Critics took the company to task for its investment in AnyVision, saying that the decision to back a company working with the Israeli government on wide-scale surveillance ran counter to the principles it had set out for itself.

Now, after determining that controlling how facial recognition technologies are deployed by its minority investments is too difficult, the company is suspending its outside investments in the technology.

“For Microsoft, the audit process reinforced the challenges of being a minority investor in a company that sells sensitive technology, since such investments do not generally allow for the level of oversight or control that Microsoft exercises over the use of its own technology,” the company wrote in a statement on its M12 Ventures website. “Microsoft’s focus has shifted to commercial relationships that afford Microsoft greater oversight and control over the use of sensitive technologies.”

 

 


TechCrunch

MaC Ventures, the new Los Angeles-based investment firm formed from the merger of Cross Culture Ventures and M Ventures, has quietly started deploying capital from its fund.

One of the firm’s first disclosed investments is Edge Delta, which announced a $ 3 million seed round earlier this week.

The Seattle-based company, which has a tool to predict and identify faulty code and potential security issues in software designed for mobile environments, reflects the new continuing focus on companies that reflect the changing cultural environments throughout the commercial, cultural and technological worlds.

And if anyone knows anything about downtime and application failures, it would be the two co-founders who have held positions at Microsoft, Twitter and Sumo Logic. That’s the background Ozan Unlu, a Microsoft and Sumo Logic alum, and Fatih Yildiz, who spent years at Twitter and Microsoft, will leverage as they pitch their services. 

“We have reached the inflection point for centralized security analytics, SIEM products like Splunk are struggling to scale and a lack of mature SaaS offerings mean that if customers want to keep up with growth in their environments, innovation is required,” said Will Peteroy, founder and chief executive of ICEBRG (acquired in 2018) and chief technology officer for Security at Gigamon, in a statement.

That innovation is something that M Ventures and Cross Culture have tried to identify according to previous statements from both founders. And the merger between both firms was likely about growth and scale. Both firms have co-invested on a number of deals and both share the same emphasis on cultural shifts that create new opportunities.

Shared portfolio companies between the two firms include Blavity, BlocPower and Mayvenn, and each reflect a different aspect of the firms’ commitment to the transformations impacting culture and community in the twenty-first century.

BlocPower is focused on urban resiliency and health in the face of new challenges to the power grid; Blavity has become the online community for black creativity and news; and Mayvenn is leveraging the economics of community to create new entrepreneurs and enable new businesses.

For Adrian Fenty and Marlon Nichols — the two managing general partners of the new fund — and general partners Charles King and Michael Palank and partner Alyson DeNardo, MaC Ventures is a logical next step in their progression in the venture business.

Fenty, the former mayor of Washington, DC and an early special advisor to Andreessen Horowitz seven years ago, has long been interested in the intersection of technology and governance and said that politics was a great introduction to the venture world in an interview with TechCrunch when he joined Andreessen:

“As a mayor you have a lot of districts you work with, and every day is different,” Fenty said, noting that the same could be said for VCs who work with different startups. However, the pace will likely be a bit quicker in this space than it is in the political realm. “I believe that change should happen fast and in big ways, and that’s the tech industry,” he said. “Some of these entrepreneurs and CEOs, their energy and ability to come up with new ideas is infectious.”

As for Nichols, the introduction to venture capital came through work at Intel Capital before striking out with Troy Carter, a limited partner in the MaC Ventures fund, to form Cross Culture.

As the new firm finds its legs, it’s likely that some of the guiding principles that Nichols expressed when talking about Cross Culture will carry over to the new vehicle.

“This is the time to be here,” Nichols said in an interview earlier this year. “If you are going to invest in the companies of tomorrow you have to go where the world is moving to — and that’s black and brown, honestly.”


TechCrunch

After generally being the butt of the public market’s jokes since its IPO, Snap is having a killer 2019, with its stock price nearly tripling in value. The successes are perhaps giving the company a moment to pause and think more about generating future value.

Part of that equation is certainly the company’s Yellow accelerator that aims to invest in pre-seed startups that bring mobile users to shared experiences.

We covered Yellow’s inaugural batch back in September, now we’ve got the full rundown on Snap’s second class of bets.

Yellow’s latest accelerator class definitely showcases some similarities to their inaugural group, but you’ll notice more online-to-offline startups aiming to bring users into real-world scenarios and communities like a concert subscription service and workout service reviews. This contrasts a bit to the first class which seemed a bit more focused on camera-based startups that centered around selfies, AR and photos.

From an organizational standpoint, things haven’t shifted too much inside Yellow. The broader company has had a standout 2019, building back a healthy chunk of the market cap value it has lost since debuting publicly. One wonders whether this has enabled the company’s accelerator group to push its investment ambitions beyond Snap’s mobile app focus.

Mike Su, Snap’s director of Yellow, tells me that there haven’t been any top-down directives to shift investment strategies for the accelerator and that the prevalence of offline startups in the class is just more representative of the applicants.

“[The class] continues to be an extension of our values and our thesis,” Su tells me. “Snap has always been about people making connections inside and outside the app.”

Here is Yellow’s summer 2019 class of startups.

Active Spaces

ClassPass might toss you in a random workout and say good luck, but Active Spaces is looking to give you more info when searching for your exercising fix. The New York startup is scouring its way through the NYC reviewing gyms and studios one-at-a-time. It’s less about star ratings than it is about giving you a bird’s eye view of what’s there and what’s missing. It’s all really well-done and gives you a ton of info about what you’re in for, and you can book direct from the app.

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Cash Live

HQ Trivia might be falling on hard times but Cash Live is looking to take the daily mobile quiz show in a new direction by leaning on the laurels of gaming, some good ole fashioned casino titles. The Vancouver startup is planning to bring a live host to scheduled 15-minute poker, blackjack and bingo tournaments.

AFP PHOTO / ANGELA WEISS

Disko

Finding local concerts sucks and it’s a process that hasn’t found its startup solution yet. Disko is building a concert subscription service that helps users discover new events in their city with a flat rate $ 25 per month subscription service which will let users attend up to four concerts per month. The LA startup is starting off in its hometown but has ambitions to expand elsewhere soon.

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Dose of Society

We’re missing a lot of diversity in the voices and perspectives we see in the media we enjoy. Dose of Society is a London media startup looking to share “real stories from real people.” The group’s videos have had more than 18 million views since launching at the end of 2017.

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Frame

Snap still has vertical video startups firmly in its purview. Frame is a weekly newsmagazine built for mobile that’s trying to rethink how we get news delivered to us. The NY startup is looking beyond push notifications and is also supporting text updates and calendar updates so that its subscribers can make time to absorb its narrative vertical video  journalism.

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Loco Adventures

Pokémon GO brought people into physical spaces with its location-based gaming, but other startups are seeing the potential to even further localize AR experiences. Berlin-based Loco Adventures is building games that guide you through local areas with a chat message narrative style.

Muze

Muze sees the endless wave of comments on the web and wants to make things a bit noisier, the New York team is working on a way to bring audio commentary “to the always-on stream of internet video” and share it across the web.

ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images

Quirktastic, Inc.

The startup has the ambitious goal of building a community for “geeks, gamers and nerds” that’s less toxic to minority groups. The Durham, NC company wants to connect these people with each other and the events they want to check out. Quirktastic says they have 15,000 users since they launched in beta in March.

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SNKRHUD

The sneaker business is a hefty one, but SNKRHUD is betting that it still isn’t as big as it could be. It’s trying to focus on the dormant sneaker heads who are liking shoes on Instagram and searching through online stores but haven’t delved further into communities. The Brooklyn team wants to be the glue between existing platforms.

Photo: Thomas Barwick/Getty Images

Stop, Breathe & Think

There’s a lot in the world to get stressed and anxious about, Stop, Breathe & Think is aiming to build a digital wellness platform to help people feel better. The app lets people check-in with how they’re feeling and then the app is able to recommend short activities like meditation, breathing, yoga, acupressure, guided journaling, and more.


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