Monthly Archives: November 2018
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Facebook is still reeling from the revelation that it hired an opposition research firm with close ties to the Republican party, but its relationship with Definers Public Affairs isn’t the company’s only recent contract work with deeply GOP-linked strategy firms.
According to sources familiar with the project, Facebook also contracted with Targeted Victory, described as “the GOP’s go-to technology consultant firm.” Targeted Victory worked with Facebook on the company’s Community Boost roadshow, a tour of U.S. cities meant to stimulate small business interest in Facebook as a business and ad platform. The ongoing Community Boost initiative, announced in late 2017, kicked off earlier this year with stops in cities like and Topeka, Kansas and Albuquerque, New Mexico.
Facebook also worked with Targeted Victory on the company’s ad transparency efforts. Over the last year, Facebook has attempted to ward off regulation from Congress over ad disclosure, even putting forth some self-regulatory efforts to appease legislators. Specifically, it has dedicated considerable lobbying resources to slow any progress from the Honest Ads Act, a piece of legislature that would force the company to make retain copies of election ads, disclose spending and more. Targeted Victory, a digital strategy and marketing firm, is not a registered lobbyist for Facebook on any work relating to ad transparency.
On his company biography page, Targeted Victory founder and CEO Zac Moffatt describes his experience helping companies “enhance their brand and get their message out in the current political and media environment,” mentioning Facebook, FedEx and Gillette as corporate clients. The bio page appears to be one of the only public mentions of his work with Facebook and the company was not mentioned alongside Gillette and FedEx on his Linkedin page.
TechCrunch reached out to Facebook to ask if it also contracted with equivalent left-leaning groups or other political firms it was willing to disclose. The company declined to comment on its political contract work and on the nature of its work with Targeted Victory.
In July and September of this year, Facebook hosted members of Targeted Victory for panels on election integrity and ad transparency, as well as best practices for election season. It’s unclear if Facebook disclosed its financial relationship to the company at the time.
In March of 2017, a blog post by Targeted Victory mentioned that a new investment would “strengthen [Targeted Victory’s] already unmatched relationships with top teams at Facebook, Google, Twitter and Snapchat” indicating that the company had an established rapport with Facebook and other major tech companies at the time. TechCrunch contacted Targeted Victory about the nature of its work for this story but did not receive a reply.
Like Definers, Targeted Victory was founded by digital team members from Mitt Romney’s 2012 presidential campaign who formed their own companies in the election’s aftermath. As TechCrunch previously reported, Facebook’s communications team has a number of ties to Romney’s campaign and the company’s contract work with Definers arose out of those connections. Though the depth of Facebook’s work with Targeted Victory is not yet known, TechCrunch will continue to report what it learns.
Prior to Targeted Victory, Moffatt served as the digital director on the Romney campaign, founding his company after the campaign dissolved. Before working on the campaign, Moffatt worked for the Republican National Committee.
While the extent of Targeted Victory’s work with Facebook is not clear, Moffatt’s firm provides a range of potentially relevant services. On its website, Targeted Victory advertises “public affairs, advertising, media planning, fundraising and reputation management.” The company also offers services in online political advertising and voter targeting as dual areas of expertise.
Moffatt’s opposition of regulation efforts targeting online political advertising is well known. In an interview with Axios last year, Moffatt criticized congressional interest in regulating political ads. “No government regulator, and very few members of the media, understand how these mediums are being leveraged by campaigns,” Moffatt said, dismissing potential regulation for tech platforms as “a knee-jerk reaction.”
Late last year, Moffatt suggested that Facebook’s efforts to self regulate could boost the social giant’s profits. Specifically, that Facebook’s decision to ask political groups to publish the ads they buy could generate even more interest in ad buys as firms see what their rivals are up to and ratchet up their spending.
Facebook’s visible political money
The world’s largest social network might be regarded as a just another liberal Silicon Valley stronghold by critics on the right, but Facebook’s financial disclosures and contract work tell a fairly different story. Facebook’s lobbying and federal political contributions in recent years depict a company with financial heft doled out to both the left and the right. Facebook’s federal lobbyists and political donations are registered in searchable public databases, but, as with any company, that data only reveals the surface layer of political relationships.
Over the last three years, Facebook’s registered lobbying expenditures were mostly spent on large, uncontroversial bipartisan firms, a few smaller groups with specific partisan ties and a smattering of other issue-specific specialists. For example, Facebook brought on a Democratic former Senate chief of staff for lobbying related to “data security, online privacy, and elections integrity” and a firm called Capitol Tax Partners to lobby around tax reform.
Historically, Facebook’s donations to Democratic candidates outweigh those to Republicans, though the numbers approached parity in the 2012 and 2014 election cycles. On the other hand, Facebook’s PAC, established in 2011, favored Republican candidates in three of the last four national election cycles, tipping Democratic by a margin of 1% in 2018. In 2016 Facebook’s PAC gave 44% of contributions to Democrats and 55% to Republican candidates.
At Facebook, Vice President of Global Public Policy Joel Kaplan “oversees all corporate political activity, including lobbying activities and political contributions.” A prominent Republican, Kaplan also oversees Facebook’s state level contributions, collected here, with the help of members of the company’s Public Policy, Legal and Communications departments. Kaplan made headlines in September when he sat in support of Brett Kavanaugh, the Supreme Court nominee accused of sexual violence and later confirmed. Following the confirmation, Kaplan and his wife hosted a party for Kavanaugh.
Making amends with conservatives
It’s not clear when Facebook’s relationship with Targeted Victory began and whether Facebook has ramped up relationships with conservative consultants in recent years or held them steady.
In May 2016, Moffatt attended a high profile meeting with Mark Zuckerberg, Sheryl Sandberg and 15 other prominent conservatives. Facebook ostensibly organized the meeting to mend fences with Republicans who were criticizing the social giant for a perceived bias against conservatives.
“I know many conservatives don’t trust that our platform surfaces content without a political bias,” Mark Zuckerberg said in a Facebook post following the meeting. “I wanted to hear their concerns personally and have an open conversation about how we can build trust.”
After the meeting, Moffatt remarked that anyone who didn’t see Facebook’s bias against conservative voices, part of a broader perceived trend in left-leaning Silicon Valley, “is completely missing the larger picture.”
In spite of the Facebook’s apparent financial ties to some of the GOP’s most closely held strategic groups, its Republican-helmed D.C. office and its contributions to candidates on both the left and right, criticisms that Facebook operates with a left-leaning bias remain a familiar chorus.
For his part, Moffatt was cautiously optimistic following the 2016 meeting with Sandberg and Zuckerberg, noting that “he would actually commend Facebook for being the only one of the major tech groups in Silicon Valley that’s willing to have conversations like this.”
At the very beginning, there were 13 startups. After three days of incredibly fierce competition, we now have a winner.
Startups participating in the Startup Battlefield have all been hand-picked to participate in our highly competitive startup competition. They all presented in front of multiple groups of VCs and tech leaders serving as judges for a chance to win $ 50,000 and the coveted Disrupt Cup.
These startups made their way to the finale to demo in front of our final panel of judges, which included: Sophia Bendz (Atomico), Niko Bonatsos (General Catalyst), Luciana Luxiandru (Accel), Ida Tin (Clue), Matt Turck (FirstMark Capital) and Matthew Panzarino (TechCrunch).
And now, meet the Startup Battlefield winner of TechCrunch Disrupt Berlin 2018.
Legacy is tackling an interesting problem: the reduction of sperm motility as we age. By freezing men’s sperm, this Swiss-based company promises to keep our boys safe and potent as we get older, a consideration that many find vital as we marry and have kids later.
Runner-Up: Imago AI
Imago AI is applying AI to help feed the world’s growing population by increasing crop yields and reducing food waste. To accomplish this, it’s using computer vision and machine learning technology to fully automate the laborious task of measuring crop output and quality.
Read more about Imago AI in our separate post.
Augmented reality is a very buzzy space, but the fundamental technologies underpinning it are pushing boundaries across a lot of other verticals. Machine learning, object recognition and visual mapping tech are the pillars of plenty of new ventures, enabling there to be companies that thrive in the overlap.
Phiar (pronounced fire) is building an augmented reality navigation app for drivers, but the same tech it’s built to help drivers easily pinpoint where they need to make their next turn also helps them build up rich mapping data that can give partners like autonomous car startups the high-quality data they so deeply need.
The SF-based company has just closed a $ 3 million seed deal led by Norwest Venture Partners and The Venture Reality Fund. Other investors include Anorak Ventures, Mayfield Fund, Zeno Ventures, Cross Culture Ventures, GFR Fund, Y Combinator, Innolinks Ventures and Half Court Ventures.
While phone and headset-based AR have received a lot of the broader media attention, the automotive industry is a central focus for a lot of augmented reality startups attracted by the proposition of a mobile environment that can showcase and integrate bulky tech. There certainly have been quite a few heads-up display startups looking to take advantage of a car’s windshield real estate, and prior to joining Y Combinator, Phiar was actually looking to build some of this hardware themselves before deciding on a more software-focused route for the company.
Unlike a lot of phone AR apps built on top of Apple or Google’s developer platforms, Phiar’s use case doesn’t quite work with the limitations of these systems, which understandably weren’t built with the idea a user would be moving at 60 miles per hour. As a result, the company has had to build tech to greater understand the geometry of a quickly updating world through a single camera while ensuring that it’s not just some ugly directional overlay, using techniques like real-time occlusion to ensure that the digital and physical worlds interact nicely.
While the startup’s big consumer-facing play is the free AR mobile app, Phiar is really just an augmented reality company on the surface; its real sell is what it can do with the data and insights gathered from an always-on dash camera. The same object recognition tech that will allow the app to seamlessly toss AR animations onto the scene in front of you is also analyzing that environment and uploading metadata to build up its mapping insights.
In addition, the app saves up to 30 minutes of footage from each ride, offering users the utility of a free dash cam in case they get in an accident and need video for an insurance claim, while providing some rich anonymized data for the company to build up high-quality mapping data it can sell to partners.
This kind of data is incredibly useful to companies building autonomous car tech, ridesharing companies and a lot of entities that are interested in access to quickly updating map data. The challenge for Phiar will be building up enough users so their map data is as rich as their partners will demand.
CEO Chen-Ping Yu says that the startup is in talks with partners in the automotive space to integrate their tech and is also working to bring what they’ve built to companies in the ridesharing space. Yu says the company plans to release their consumer app in mid-2019.
Red Hat is in the process of being acquired by IBM for a massive $ 34 billion, but that deal hasn’t closed yet and, in the meantime, Red Hat is still running independently and making its own acquisitions, too. As the company today announced, it has acquired Tel Aviv-based NooBaa, an early-stage startup that helps enterprises manage their data more easily and access their various data providers through a single API.
NooBaa’s technology makes it a good fit for Red Hat, which has recently emphasized its ability to help enterprise more effectively manage their hybrid and multicloud deployments. At its core, NooBaa is all about bringing together various data silos, which should make it a good fit in Red Hat’s portfolio. With OpenShift and the OpenShift Container Platform, as well as its Ceph Storage service, Red Hat already offers a range of hybrid cloud tools, after all.
“NooBaa’s technologies will augment our portfolio and strengthen our ability to meet the needs of developers in today’s hybrid and multicloud world,” writes Ranga Rangachari, the VP and general manager for storage and hyperconverged infrastructure at Red Hat, in today’s announcement. “We are thrilled to welcome a technical team of nine to the Red Hat family as we work together to further solidify Red Hat as a leading provider of open hybrid cloud technologies.”
While virtually all of Red Hat’s technology is open source, NooBaa’s code is not. The company says that it plans to open source NooBaa’s technology in due time, though the exact timeline has yet to be determined.
NooBaa was founded in 2013. The company has raised some venture funding from the likes of Jerusalem Venture Partners and OurCrowd, with a strategic investment from Akamai Capital thrown in for good measure. The company never disclosed the size of that round, though, and neither Red Hat nor NooBaa are disclosing the financial terms of the acquisition.
The top listing in Google’s organic search results draws 33 percent of traffic while the second spot garners 18 percent, a study by online ad network Chitika confirms.
After that, it’s a fight to see who secures enough traffic, and of course, in this sort of scenario you need all the help you can get.
Being penalized by Google and experiencing a drop in SEO rankings is one of the worst things that can happen to a website. Now, fluctuations are par for the course, especially considering the rapidly evolving Google algorithms.
When your search rankings take a huge tumble, you need to adopt a proactive approach before your site gets lost organic search obscurity. And this “approach” involves fixing the seven cardinal SEO mistakes listed below:
Avoid keyword stuffing
Use the same keywords repeatedly? You might want to stop! Of course, if it is necessary for your content to make sense, then you’ve got no other choice. But if you seek to optimize your copy in this manner, then you’re in for a rude awakening.
Not only does it discourage visitors from reading or interacting with your content but it signals the search engines that you’re attempting to outsmart their algorithms. And that is not something Google takes lightly.
The above comic strip reimagines keyword stuffing as part of a normal conversation. See how many times the man uses “lunch,” “fine,” “talking funny,” and “mean” in the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and 4th panels, respectively. If it’s THIS irritating in regular dialog, imagine how your readers would feel reading content like this.
Use an online tool like Live Keyword Analysis or Addme.com to calculate the keyword density. Remove excess keywords to keep your density around 1.5 percent. Mention your keywords in the title, the description, your opening paragraph, and once or twice in the body of your content. Make sure it all sounds natural. That should do the trick and help you regain some of your lost SEO rankings.
Check your website speed
Almost half of the online users expect a web page to load within 2 seconds or less, and they abandon your website if it does not load in 3 seconds, revealed a survey by Akamai and Gomez.com. So, ensure quick load times for your website by leveraging browser caching, optimizing images, minifying codes, and activating resource compression. A
chieve all this by using a free tool like PageSpeed Insights from Google to determine the current speed of your website. Also, look at the actionable recommendations offered by the tool to increase your load times.
Never buy links
Give your website enough time to become successful. Creating good content is hard work but it pays off in the end. Resort to shortcuts and you get penalized.
One of these no-no shortcuts involves buying backlinks, especially from unreliable sources. As soon as Google finds out, they cut your rankings significantly. 22 percent of web admins still buy links without disclosure, according to a survey.
So, the next time you spot an SEO ad promising hundreds of links along with a first page ranking for a ridiculously low price, ignore it. Links from social networking accounts and spammy, untrustworthy sites hurt your website. A few of these companies claim to protect you by creating a “link pyramid” or “link wheel” that point to an intermediary page.
The truth is, these might work for some time, but as Google continues to evolve and deal more strictly with spam content, they will learn about this practice and shut you down.
Become mobile friendly
With Google prioritizing a mobile-first approach, make sure your website is mobile friendly. According to Google, 85 percent of all websites in mobile search results now adhere to the mobile-friendly label. Become a part of the trend and enjoy a smooth flow of traffic.
Otherwise, if your site is not responsive and people are unable to view you on tablets and smartphones, then not only will your rankings suffer, but your customer inquiries and conversions will too. That’s because users will leave your website and visit one that actually fits this requirement.
Get rid of ads
Recent changes made to AdSense rules by Google indicate that stricter rules are going to be put in place for sites “with more advertising than publisher-provided content.” So, if you’ve been indulging in this practice, get ready to bid your SEO rankings goodbye.
Ads prompt users to leave your website and impacts your experience metrics. Once your user experience metrics become critically low, it is usually a sign to Google that your website holds no value for your visitors. They will demote you over time.
Plus, ads have led to the rise of ad blocking. In fact, a report by Adobe and PageFair concluded that the approximate loss of worldwide Internet revenue because of blocked advertising in 2015 was $ 21.8 billion. So, unless you want to be penalized without any payoff, all you need to do is get rid of the ads and your site will be fine.
Handle technical issues immediately
Technical problems like network outages, poor hosting, slow connectivity, and server downtime can affect your site rankings.
If Google constantly abandons attempted crawls on your site, in due time, your SEO rankings will go down. Of course, short server outages don’t matter, but if it becomes a regular occurrence, then you need to look for a new host.
Identify the problem first. This might not be easy, but it becomes quite obvious if your site goes down every 10 minutes. Or, use an online tool like Downforeveryoneorjustme to check whether your page is up or down. Determine if the problem lies with your host and not your Internet plan. You will find plenty of decent web hosting options, like Liquidweb.
Maintain the quality of your guest posts
Guest blogging can be a great tool for SEO and lead generation. Unfortunately, as of 2015, only 6 percent of bloggers published original content as guest posts. That’s a dismal number when you consider what an amazing way it is to give your website an edge against the competition.
Use scraping tools like the one from Guestpost.com to conduct automatic scrapes of every website that accepts guest posts related to your keywords. However, when it comes to your own website, make sure you accept only high-quality guest posts.
Feature fresh writers on your site and post original and relevant content that appeals to your audience. Also, make sure you maintain a balance between content produced from the site and content offered to your page in lieu of an author bio and a link.
If you want to survive the virtual world and stay relevant, then you need to focus on raising your SEO rankings. Follow the steps given above to help you fix bad SEO and regain your rankings.
The post 7 things that hurt your SEO rankings and how to fix them appeared first on Search Engine Watch.
A true apology consists of a sincere acknowledgement of wrong-doing, a show of empathic remorse for why you wronged and the harm it caused and a promise of restitution by improving ones actions to make things right. Without the follow-through, saying sorry isn’t an apology, it’s a hollow ploy for forgiveness.
That’s the kind of “sorry” we’re getting from tech giants — an attempt to quell bad PR and placate the afflicted, often without the systemic change necessary to prevent repeated problems. Sometimes it’s delivered in a blog post. Sometimes it’s in an executive apology tour of media interviews. But rarely is it in the form of change to the underlying structures of a business that caused the issue.
Unfortunately, tech company business models often conflict with the way we wish they would act. We want more privacy, but they thrive on targeting and personalization data. We want control of our attention, but they subsist on stealing as much of it as possible with distraction while showing us ads. We want safe, ethically built devices that don’t spy on us, but they make their margins by manufacturing them wherever’s cheap with questionable standards of labor and oversight. We want groundbreaking technologies to be responsibly applied, but juicy government contracts and the allure of China’s enormous population compromise their morals. And we want to stick to what we need and what’s best for us, but they monetize our craving for the latest status symbol or content through planned obsolescence and locking us into their platforms.
The result is that even if their leaders earnestly wanted to impart meaningful change to provide restitution for their wrongs, their hands are tied by entrenched business models and the short-term focus of the quarterly earnings cycle. They apologize and go right back to problematic behavior. The Washington Post recently chronicled a dozen times Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has apologized, yet the social network keeps experiencing fiasco after fiasco. Tech giants won’t improve enough on their own.
Addiction to utility
The threat of us abandoning ship should theoretically hold the captains in line. But tech giants have evolved into fundamental utilities that many have a hard time imagining living without. How would you connect with friends? Find what you needed? Get work done? Spend your time? What hardware or software would you cuddle up with in the moments you feel lonely? We live our lives through tech, have become addicted to its utility and fear the withdrawal.
If there were principled alternatives to switch to, perhaps we could hold the giants accountable. But the scalability, network effects and aggregation of supply by distributors has led to near monopolies in these core utilities. The second-place solution is often distant. What’s the next best social network that serves as an identity and login platform that isn’t owned by Facebook? The next best premium mobile and PC maker behind Apple? The next best mobile operating system for the developing world beyond Google’s Android? The next best e-commerce hub that’s not Amazon? The next best search engine? Photo feed? Web hosting service? Global chat app? Spreadsheet?
One of the few tech backlashes that led to real flight was #DeleteUber. Workplace discrimination, shady business protocols, exploitative pricing and more combined to spur the movement to ditch the ride-hailing app. But what was different here is that U.S. Uber users did have a principled alternative to switch to without much hassle: Lyft. The result was that “Lyft benefitted tremendously from Uber’s troubles in 2018” eMarketer’s forecasting director Shelleen Shum told the USA Today in May. Uber missed eMarketer’s projections while Lyft exceeded them, narrowing the gap between the car services. And meanwhile, Uber’s CEO stepped down as it tried to overhaul its internal policies.
This is why we need regulation that promotes competition by preventing massive mergers and giving users the right to interoperable data portability so they can easily switch away from companies that treat them poorly
But in the absence of viable alternatives to the giants, leaving these mainstays is inconvenient. After all, they’re the ones that made us practically allergic to friction. Even after massive scandals, data breaches, toxic cultures and unfair practices, we largely stick with them to avoid the uncertainty of life without them. Even Facebook added 1 million monthly users in the U.S. and Canada last quarter despite seemingly every possible source of unrest. Tech users are not voting with their feet. We’ve proven we can harbor ill will toward the giants while begrudgingly buying and using their products. Our leverage to improve their behavior is vastly weakened by our loyalty.
Regulators have failed to adequately step up either. This year’s congressional hearings about Facebook and social media often devolved into inane and uninformed questioning, like how does Facebook earn money if its doesn’t charge? “Senator, we run ads,” Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said with a smirk. Other times, politicians were so intent on scoring partisan points by grandstanding or advancing conspiracy theories about bias that they were unable to make any real progress. A recent survey commissioned by Axios found that “In the past year, there has been a 15-point spike in the number of people who fear the federal government won’t do enough to regulate big tech companies — with 55% now sharing this concern.”
When regulators do step in, their attempts can backfire. GDPR was supposed to help tamp down on the dominance of Google and Facebook by limiting how they could collect user data and making them more transparent. But the high cost of compliance simply hindered smaller players or drove them out of the market while the giants had ample cash to spend on jumping through government hoops. Google actually gained ad tech market share and Facebook saw the littlest loss while smaller adtech firms lost 20 or 30 percent of their business.
Even the Honest Ads act, which was designed to bring political campaign transparency to internet platforms following election interference in 2016, has yet to be passed, despite support from Facebook and Twitter. There’s hasn’t been meaningful discussion of blocking social networks from acquiring their competitors in the future, let alone actually breaking Instagram and WhatsApp off of Facebook. Governments like the U.K. that just forcibly seized documents related to Facebook’s machinations surrounding the Cambridge Analytica debacle provide some indication of willpower. But clumsy regulation could deepen the moats of the incumbents, and prevent disruptors from gaining a foothold. We can’t depend on regulators to sufficiently protect us from tech giants right now.
Our hope on the inside
The best bet for change will come from the rank and file of these monolithic companies. With the war for talent raging, rock-star employees able to have huge impact on products and compensation costs to keep them around rising, tech giants are vulnerable to the opinions of their own staff. It’s simply too expensive and disjointing to have to recruit new high-skilled workers to replace those who flee.
Google declined to renew a contract with the government after 4,000 employees petitioned and a few resigned over Project Maven’s artificial intelligence being used to target lethal drone strikes. Change can even flow across company lines. Many tech giants, including Facebook and Airbnb, have removed their forced arbitration rules for harassment disputes after Google did the same in response to 20,000 of its employees walking out in protest.
Facebook is desperately pushing an internal communications campaign to reassure staffers it’s improving in the wake of damning press reports from The New York Times and others. TechCrunch published an internal memo from Facebook’s outgoing VP of Communications Elliot Schrage, in which he took the blame for recent issues, encouraged employees to avoid finger-pointing, and COO Sheryl Sandberg tried to reassure employees that “I know this has been a distraction at a time when you’re all working hard to close out the year — and I am sorry.” These internal apologies could come with much more contrition and real change than those paraded for the public.
And so after years of us relying on these tech workers to build the product we use every day, we must now rely that will save us from them. It’s a weighty responsibility to move their talents where the impact is positive, or commit to standing up against the business imperatives of their employers. We as the public and media must in turn celebrate when they do what’s right for society, even when it reduces value for shareholders. If apps abuse us or unduly rob us of our attention, we need to stay off of them.
And we must accept that shaping the future for the collective good may be inconvenient for the individual. There’s an opportunity here not just to complain or wish, but to build a social movement that holds tech giants accountable for delivering the change they’ve promised over and over.
For more on this topic:
Inside Mission Support at Lockheed Martin, which led spacecraft operations for NASA’s InSight lander, tensions ran high as the robot prepared to touch down on martian soil.
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