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UK watchdog eyeing PM Boris Johnson’s Facebook ads data grab

The online campaigning activities of the UK’s new prime minister, Boris Johnson, have already caught the eye of the country’s data protection watchdog. Responding to concerns about the scope of data processing set out in the Conservative Party’s Privacy Policy being flagged to it by a Twitter user, the Information Commissioner’s Office replied that: “This […]
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UK watchdog eyeing PM Boris Johnson’s Facebook ads data grab – TechCrunch

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UK watchdog eyeing PM Boris Johnson’s Facebook ads data grab

The online campaigning activities of the UK’s new prime minister, Boris Johnson, have already caught the eye of the country’s data protection watchdog.

Responding to concerns about the scope of data processing set out in the Conservative Party’s Privacy Policy being flagged to it by a Twitter user, the Information Commissioner’s Office replied that: “This is something we are aware of and we are making enquiries.”

The Privacy Policy is currently being attached to an online call to action that ask Brits to tell the party what the most “important issue” to them and their family is, alongside submitting their personal data.

Anyone sending their contact details to the party is also asked to pick from a pre-populated list of 18 issues the three most important to them. The list runs the gamut from the National Health Service to brexit, terrorism, the environment, housing, racism and animal welfare, to name a few. The online form also asks responders to select from a list how they voted at the last General Election — to help make the results “representative”. A final question asks which party they would vote for if a General Election were called today.

Speculation is rife in the UK right now that Johnson, who only became PM two weeks ago, is already preparing for a general election. His minority government has been reduced to a majority of just one MP after the party lost a by-election to the Liberal Democrats last week, even as an October 31 brexit-related deadline fast approaches.

People who submit their personal data to the Conservative’s online survey are also asked to share it with friends with “strong views about the issues”, via social sharing buttons for Facebook and Twitter or email.

“By clicking Submit, I agree to the Conservative Party using the information I provide to keep me updated via email, online advertisements and direct mail about the Party’s campaigns and opportunities to get involved,” runs a note under the initial ‘submit — and see more’ button, which also links to the Privacy Policy “for more information”.

If you click through to the Privacy Policy will find a laundry list of examples of types of data the party says it may collect about you — including what it describes as “opinions on topical issues”; “family connections”; “IP address, cookies and other technical information that you may share when you interact with our website”; and “commercially available data – such as consumer, lifestyle, household and behavioural data”.

“We may also collect special categories of information such as: Political Opinions; Voting intentions; Racial or ethnic origin; Religious views,” it further notes, and it goes on to claim its legal basis for processing this type of sensitive data is for supporting and promoting “democratic engagement and our legitimate interest to understand the electorate and identify Conservative supporters”.

Third party sources for acquiring data to feed its political campaigning activity listed in the policy include “social media platforms, where you have made the information public, or you have made the information available in a social media forum run by the Party” and “commercial organisations”, as well as “publicly accessible sources or other public records”.

“We collect data with the intention of using it primarily for political activities,” the policy adds, without specifying examples of what else people’s data might be used for.

It goes on to state that harvested personal data will be combined with other sources of data (including commercially available data) to profile voters — and “make a prediction about your lifestyle and habits”.

This processing will in turn be used to determine whether or not to send a voter campaign materials and, if so, to tailor the messages contained within it. 

In a nutshell this is describing social media microtargeting, such as Facebook ads, but for political purposes; a still unregulated practice that the UK’s information commissioner warned a year ago risks undermining trust in democracy.

Last year Elizabeth Denham went so far as to call for an ‘ethical pause’ in the use of microtargeting tools for political campaigning purposes. But, a quick glance at Facebook’s Ad Library Archive — which it launched in response to concerns about the lack of transparency around political ads on its platform, saying it will imprints of ads sent by political parties for up to seven years — the polar opposite has happened.

Since last year’s warning about democratic processes being undermined by big data mining social media platforms, the ICO has also warned that behavioral ad targeting does not comply with European privacy law. (Though it said it will give the industry time to amend its practices rather than step in to protect people’s rights right now.)

Denham has also been calling for a code of conduct to ensure voters understand how and why they’re being targeted with customized political messages, telling a parliamentary committee enquiry investigating online disinformation early last year that the use of such tools “may have got ahead of where the law is” — and that the chain of entities involved in passing around voters’ data for the purposes of profiling is “much too opaque”.

“I think it might be time for a code of conduct so that everybody is on a level playing field and knows what the rules are,” she said in March 2018, adding that the use of analytics and algorithms to make decisions about the microtargeting of voters “might not have transparency and the law behind them.”

The DCMS later urged government to fast-track changes to electoral law to reflect the use of powerful new voter targeting technologies — including calling for a total ban on microtargeting political ads at so-called ‘lookalike’ audiences online.

The government, then led by Theresa May, gave little heed to the committee’s recommendations.

And from the moment he arrived in Number 10 Downing Street last month, after winning a leadership vote of the Conservative Party’s membership, new prime minister Johnson began running scores of Facebook ads to test voter opinion.

Sky News reported that the Conservative Party ran 280 ads on Facebook platforms on the PM’s first full day in office. At the time of writing the party is still ploughing money into Facebook ads, per Facebook’s Ad Library Archive — shelling out £25,270 in the past seven days alone to run 2,464 ads, per Facebook’s Ad Library Report, which makes it by far the biggest UK advertiser by spend for the period.

Screenshot 2019 08 05 at 16.45.48

The Tories’ latest crop of Facebook ads contain another call to action — this time regarding a Johnson pledge to put 20,000 more police officers on the streets. Any Facebook users who clicks the embedded link is redirected to a Conservative Party webpage described as a ‘New police locator’, which informs them: “We’re recruiting 20,000 new police officers, starting right now. Want to see more police in your area? Put your postcode in to let Boris know.”

But anyone who inputs their personal data into this online form will also be letting the Conservatives know a lot more about them than just that they want more police on their local beat. In small print the website notes that those clicking submit are also agreeing to the party processing their data for its full suite of campaign purposes — as contained in the expansive terms of its Privacy Policy mentioned above.

So, basically, it’s another data grab…

Screenshot 2019 08 05 at 16.51.12

Political microtargeting was of course core to the online modus operandi of the disgraced political data firm, Cambridge Analytica, which infamously paid an app developer to harvest the personal data of millions of Facebook users back in 2014 without their knowledge or consent — in that case using a quiz app wrapper and Facebook’s lack of any enforcement of its platform terms to grab data on millions of voters.

Cambridge Analytica paid data scientists to turn this cache of social media signals into psychological profiles which they matched to public voter register lists — to try to identify the most persuadable voters in key US swing states and bombard them with political messaging on behalf of their client, Donald Trump.

Much like the Conservative Party is doing, Cambridge Analytica sourced data from commercial partners — in its case claiming to have licensed millions of data points from data broker giants such as Acxiom, Experian, Infogroup. (The Conservatives’ privacy policy does not specify which brokers it pays to acquire voter data.)

Aside from data, what’s key to this type of digital political campaigning is the ability, afforded by Facebook’s ad platform, for advertisers to target messages at what are referred to as ‘lookalike audience’ — and do so cheaply and at vast scale. Essentially, Facebook provides its own pervasive surveillance of the 2.2BN+ users on its platforms as a commercial service, letting advertisers pay to identify and target other people with a similar social media usage profile to those whose contact details they already hold, by uploading their details to Facebook.

This means a political party can data-mine its own supporter base to identify the messages that resonant best with different groups within that base, and then flip all that profiling around — using Facebook to dart ads at people who may never in their life have clicked ‘Submit — and see more‘ on a Tory webpage but who happen to share a similar social media profile to others in the party’s target database.

Facebook users currently have no way of blocking being targeted by political advertisers on Facebook, nor indeed no way to generally switch off microtargeted ads which use personal data to select marketing messages.

That’s the core ethical concern in play when Denham talks about the vital need for voters in a democracy to have transparency and control over what’s done with their personal data. “Without a high level of transparency – and therefore trust amongst citizens that their data is being used appropriately – we are at risk of developing a system of voter surveillance by default,” she warned last year.

However the Conservative Party’s privacy policy sidesteps any concerns about its use of microtargeting, with the breeze claim that: “We have determined that this kind of automation and profiling does not create legal or significant effects for you. Nor does it affect the legal rights that you have over your data.”

The software the party is using for online campaigning appears to be NationBuilder: A campaign management software developed in the US a decade ago — which has also been used by the Trump campaign and by both sides of the 2016 Brexit referendum campaign (to name a few of its many clients).

Its privacy policy shares the same format and much of the same language as one used by the Scottish National Party’s yes campaign during Scotland’s independence reference, for instance. (The SNP was an early user of NationBuilder to link social media campaigning to a new web platform in 2011, before going on to secure a majority in the Scottish parliament.)

So the Conservatives are by no means the only UK political entity to be dipping their hands in the cookie jar of social media data. Although they are the governing party right now.

Indeed, a report by the ICO last fall essentially called out all UK political parties for misusing people’s data.

Issues “of particular concern” the regulator raised in that report were:

  • the purchasing of marketing lists and lifestyle information from data brokers without sufficient due diligence around those brokers and the degree to which the data has been properly gathered and consented to;
  • a lack of fair processing information;
  • the use of third-party data analytics companies with insufficient checks that those companies have obtained correct consents for use of data for that purpose;
  • assuming ethnicity and/or age and combining this with electoral data sets they hold, raising concerns about data accuracy;
  • the provision of contact lists of members to social media companies without appropriate fair processing information and collation of social media with membership lists without adequate privacy assessments

The ICO issued formal warnings to 11 political parties at that time, including warning the Conservative Party about its use of people’s data.

The regulator also said it would commence audits of all 11 parties starting in January. It’s not clear how far along it’s got with that process. We’ve reached out to it with questions. Update: An ICO spokesperson told us: “We have finished an audit of the Conservative Party’s data protection practices and we are currently reviewing the findings.”

Last year the Conservative Party quietly discontinued use of a different digital campaign tool for activists, which it had licensed from a US-based add developer called uCampaign. That tool had also been used in US by Republican campaigns including Trump’s.

As we reported last year the Conservative Campaigner app, which was intended for use by party activists, linked to the developer’s own privacy policy — which included clauses granting uCampaign very liberal rights to share app users’ data, with “other organizations, groups, causes, campaigns, political organizations, and our clients that we believe have similar viewpoints, principles or objectives as us”.

Any users of the app who uploaded their phone’s address book were also handing their friends’ data straight to uCampaign to also do as it wished. A few months late, after the Conservative Campaigner app vanished from apps stores, a note was put up online claiming the company was no longer supporting clients in Europe.

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Apple Card is getting its first group of public test users today. A limited amount of customers that signed up to be notified about the release of Apple Card are getting the ability to apply for the card in their Wallet app today u2014 as well as the option to order their physical Apple Card.

n

Iu2019ve been using the card for a few days on my own device, making purchases and payments and playing around with features like Apple Cash rewards and transaction categorization.

n

A full rollout of Apple Card will come later in August. It requires iOS 12.4 and up to operate.

n

The application process was simple for me. Portions of the information you need are pre-filled from your existing AppleID account, making for less manual entry. I had an answer in under a minute and was ready to make my first purchase instantly. I used it both online and in person with contactless terminals.

n

Itu2026works.

n

The card on the screen has a clever mechanism that gives you a sort of live heat map of your spending categories. The color of the card will shift and blend according to the kinds of things you buy. Spend a lot at restaurants and the card will take on an orange hue. Shop for entertainment related items and the card shifts into a mix of orange and pink. Itu2019s a clever take on the chart based spending category features many other credit cards have built into their websites.

n

IMG 0676

n

As many have pointed out, if youu2019re the kind of person that maximizes your points on current cards towards super specific rewards, like travel miles, the rewards system of Apple Card will not feel all that impressive. This is by design. Appleu2019s aim on this initial offering was to provide the most representational and easy to understand reward metric, rather than to provide top of category points returns.

n

But it also means that this may not be the card for you if you’re a big travel points maximizer.

n

I am a points person, and I carry several cards with differing rewards returns and point values depending on what Iu2019m trying to accomplish. Leveraging these cards has allowed me to secure upgrades to higher classes, first class flights for family members and more due to how much I travel. Getting to this point, though, required a crash course in points values, programs and a tight grip on what cards to use when. Shout out to TPG.

n

IMG 0677

n

You will not be able to leverage Appleu2019s card in this way as a frequent traveler. Instead, Apple decided on a (by comparison) transparent rewards methodology: cash back based on a percentage of your purchases in 3 categories.

n

Those categories are 3% on all purchases from Apple Stores, the App Store and Apple subscriptions, 2% daily cash on any Apple Pay purchase and 1% with the physical card either online or offline.

n

The cash rewards are delivered daily, and made available to you very quickly on your Apple Cash card balance. Usually in less than a day. You can then do an instant transfer to your bank for a maximum $10 fee or a 1-3 day transfer for free. This cashout is faster than just about any other cash back program out there and certainly way faster cash reward tallying than anyone else. And Apple makes no effort to funnel you into a pure statement credit version of cash back, like many other cards do. The cash becomes cash pretty instantly.

n

I could easily see the bar Apple sets here u2014 daily rewards tallies and instant cashouts u2014 becoming industry standard.

n

The card interface itself is multiples better to use than most card apps, with the new Amex apps probably coming the closest. But even those arenu2019t system level, requiring no additional usernames and passwords. Apple Card has a distinct advantage there, one that Apple Iu2019m sure hopes to use to the fullest. This is highlighted by the fact that the Apple Card application option is present on the screen any time you add a new credit card or debit card to Apple Pay now. Top of mind.

n

The spending categories and clear transaction names (with logos in many cases) are a very welcome addition to a credit card interface. The vast majority of time with even the best credit card dashboards you are presented with super crappy list of junk that includes a transaction identifier and a mangled vendor ID that could or could not map directly to the name of the actual merchant you purchased from. It makes deciphering what a specific transaction was for way harder then it should be. Apple Card parses these by vendor name, website name and then whatever it can parse on its own before it defaults back to the raw identifier. Way easier.

n

IMG 0681

n

A note, during the setup process the card will ask you if you want it to be your payment default for everything Apple and will automatically attach to your Apple stuff like App Store and subscription payments. So keep an eye out for that and make a call. You will get 3% cash back on any apps you buy, of course, even if theyu2019re third party.

n

The payments interface is also unique in that Apple is pushing very hard to help you not pay interest. It makes recommendations on how to pay chunks of your balance over time before you incur interest. It places 1-3 markers on the circle-shaped interface that show you how much you need to pay off minimum, minimum with no interest and in full. These markers are personalized a bit and can vary depending on balance, due date and payment history.

n

I really dug hard on how Apple Card data was being handled the last time I wrote about the service, so you should read that for more info. Goldman Sachs is the partner for the card but it absolutely cannot use the data it gathers on transactions via Apple Card for market maps, as chunks of anonymized data it can offer partners about spending habits or any of the typical marketing uses credit card processors get up to. Mastercard and Goldman Sachs can only use the data for operations uses. Credit reporting, remittance, etc.

n

And Apple itself neither collects nor views anything about where you shopped, what you bought or how much you paid.

n

And, as advertised, there are no fees with Apple Card.

n

One thing I do hope that Apple Card adds is an ability to see and filter out recurring payments and subscriptions. This fits with the fiscal responsibility theme itu2019s shooting for with the payments interface and itu2019s sorely lacking in most first party apps.

n

Some nice design touches beyond the transaction maps, the color grading that mirrors purchases and the far more readable interface is a pleasant metallic sheen that is activated on device tilt.

n

My physical card isnu2019t here yet so I canu2019t really evaluate that part of it. But it is relatively unique in that it is nearly featureless, with no printed number, expiration, signature or security codes on its surface.

n

n

The titanium Apple Card comes in a package with an NFC chip that allows you to simply tap your phone to the envelope to begin the process of activating your card. No phone numbers to call and, heavens forbid, no 1-800 stickers on the surface of the card.

n

I can say that this is probably the first experience most people will ever have with a virtual credit card number. The physical card has a u2018hard codedu2019 number that cannot be changed. You never need to know it because itu2019s only used in in-person transactions. If it ever gets compromised, you can request a new card and freeze the old one in the app.

n

For online purchases that do not support Apple Pay, you have a virtual card number in the Wallet app. You enter that number just as you would any other card number and itu2019s automatically added to your Safari auto-fill settings when you sign up for Apple Card.

n

The advantage to this, of course, is that if itu2019s ever compromised, you can hit a button to request an entirely new number right from within the app. Notably, this is not a u2018per transactionu2019 number u2014 itu2019s a semi-permanent virtual number. You keep it around until you have an issue. But when you do have a problem, youu2019ve got a new number instantly, which is far superior to having to wait for a new physical card just to continue making online purchases.

n

Some banks like Bank of America and Citibank already offer virtual options for online purchases, and third party services like Privacy.com also exist. But this is the beginning of the mainstreaming of VCCs. And itu2019s a good thing.

n”,”protected”:false},”excerpt”:{“rendered”:”

Apple Card is getting its first group of public test users today. A limited amount of customers that signed up to be notified about the release of Apple Card are getting the ability to apply for the card in their Wallet app today u2014 as well as the option to order their physical Apple Card. […]

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Matthew Panzarino has been a retail jockey, founded a professional photography business and a news blog covering the Apple ecosystem. He has served as News Editor and Managing Editor at The Next Web and is now Editor-In-Chief at TechCrunch.

nn

He has made a name for himself in the tech media world as a writer and editor, relentlessly covering Apple and Twitter, in addition to a broad range of startups in the fields of robotics, computer vision, AI, fashion, VR, AR and more. Owns shares in ETFs.nContact Matthew at matthew@techcrunch.comnPGP Key: https://keybase.io/panzer

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Ever since I began using this website, I earn anywhere from $30 – $50 every half hour, and the beauty of this is that it really is easy to implement. My neighbor Amy Wife, in West Palm Beach, repaid her husband’s $96OOO house loan using this same system, in less than eight months! More info over HERE https://westmot.tumblr.com/

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nn

He has made a name for himself in the tech media world as a writer and editor, relentlessly covering Apple and Twitter, in addition to a broad range of startups in the fields of robotics, computer vision, AI, fashion, VR, AR and more. Owns shares in ETFs.nContact Matthew at matthew@techcrunch.comnPGP Key: https://keybase.io/panzer

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looks to raise $1 billion in private debt offering”},”content”:{“rendered”:”

Snap, the parent company of Snapchat, is looking to add some cash to its coffers via a new proposed private offering of $1 billion in convertible senior notes, with a due date for maturation of August 1, 2026. The debt offering will be used to cover the cost of general operating expenditures involved in running the business, Snap says, but also potentially to “acquire complementary businesses, products, services or technologies,” as well as possibly for future stock repurchase plans, though no such plans exist currently.

n

Raising debt to fund operations and acquisitions is not unusual for a publicly traded company u2013 Netflix does this regularly to pick up more money to fund its increasingly expensive production budget for content, for instance. So far, the market seems to be reacting negatively to the news of Snap’s decision to seek this chunk of debt funding, however, as it’s down in pre-market trading.

n

Snap has generally been on a positive path in terms of its relationship with stockholders, however u2013 its stock price rose on the back of a strong quarterly earnings report at the end of July, closing above its IPO price for the first time. It’s now dipped south of that mark again, but it’s still much-improved on a year-to-date timeline measure.

n”,”protected”:false},”excerpt”:{“rendered”:”

Snap, the parent company of Snapchat, is looking to add some cash to its coffers via a new proposed private offering of $1 billion in convertible senior notes, with a due date for maturation of August 1, 2026. The debt offering will be used to cover the cost of general operating expenditures involved in running […]

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Darrell Etherington is a Writer at TechCrunch, focused on science, space and health tech startups. Darrell used to work for Apple and Shopify in their respective PR departments, but he does not currently hold any stock in either company.

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Since I began working with this site, I earn anywhere from $30 – $50 every half hour, and the most unbelievable thing about this is that it is simple to replicate. My neighbor Amy Wife, in West Palm Beach, repaid her husband’s $96,OOO home loan doing this, in less than eight months! for details proceed here https://westmot.tumblr.com/

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NEW YORK, NY – MARCH 2: Signage for Snap Inc., parent company of Snapchat, adorns the front of the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE), March 2, 2017 in New York City. Snap Inc. priced its initial public offering at $17 a share on Wednesday and Snap shares will start trading on the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) on Thursday. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

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steps to reduce churn for high-volume subscription companies”},”content”:{“rendered”:”n

n

Your customers donu2019t really want to cancel. At least, not all of them. Between 15 and 30 percent of customers leave for reasons that are within your control. Tapping into these customers at the right moment for the right reason, and giving them a path to stay is the key to reducing churn for subscription companies.u00a0

n

These six steps outline how to intercept customers who show intent to cancel, and use their feedback to take action, build better experiences and ultimately retain subscribers:

n

    n

  1. Survey every customer at the point of cancel
  2. n

  3. Define a reason-based classification system for churn
  4. n

  5. Connect churn data to a central source of truth
  6. n

  7. Segment customers by actionability
  8. n

  9. Deliver personalized, reason-based offers
  10. n

  11. Test and evolve using saved revenue as your KPI
  12. n

n

n

Step 1. Survey every customer at the point of cancelu00a0

n

The subscription industry has many ways of collecting customer feedback. Net Promoter Scores (NPS) and in-product surveys are table stakes for most companies. You need a regular pulse on customer sentiment, but polling customers while theyu2019re still customers isnu2019t enough.

n

Cancellation is a critical moment in the customer lifecycle rivaled only by the moment of purchase, and yet it remains a blind spot for most companies.

n

When customers cancel, theyu2019re sending a message with their walletsu2014to effectively reduce churn, you need to know why. Surveying customers at the point of cancel is an untapped opportunity because:

n

“,”protected”:false},”excerpt”:{“rendered”:”

Your customers donu2019t really want to cancel. At least, not all of them. Between 15 and 30 percent of customers leave for reasons that are within your control. Tapping into these customers…

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Image via Getty Images / PeterSnow

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the ‘anti-bro startup,’ is creating a safe space for teenage girls online”},”content”:{“rendered”:”

When we go online to communicate, hang out or play, we’re typically logging on to platforms conceived of and built by men.

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Mark Zuckerberg famously created Facebook in his Harvard dorm room. Evan Spiegel and his frat brother Bobby Murphy devised a plan for the ephemeral messaging app Snapchat while the pair were still students at Stanford. Working out of a co-working space, Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger built Instagram and yes, they also went to Stanford.

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Seldom have social tools created by women climbed the ladder to mainstream success. Instead, women and girls have battled the lion’s share of digital harassment on popular social platforms — most of which failed early-on to incorporate security features tailored to minority user’s needs — and struggled to find a protected corner of the internet.

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Squad, an app that allows you to video chat and share your phone screen with a friend in real-time, has tapped into a demographic clamoring for a safe space to gather online. Without any marketing, the startup has collected 450,000 registered users in eight months, 70% of which are teenage girls. So far this year, users have clocked in 1 million hours inside Squad calls.

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“Completely accidentally we’ve developed this global audience of users and it’s girls all over the world,” Squad co-founder and chief executive officer Esther Crawford tells TechCrunch. “In India, it’s girls. In Saudia Arabia, it’s girls. In the U.S., it’s girls. Even without us localizing it, girls all over the world are finding it.”

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Squad screens

Squad, the social screen sharing and group video chat app, has pulled together a $5 million investment led by First Round Capital.

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Learn from the best but get rid of the shit

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A remote team of six people led by Crawford, who’s a graduate of Oregon State University, Squad’s compelling founding story and organic growth helped them close a $5 million seed round led by First Round Capital general partner Hayley Barna, the only female partner at the historically all-male early-stage investment fund known for being the first institutional check in Uber.

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Betaworks, Alpha Bridge Ventures, Day One Ventures, Jane VC, Mighty Networks CEO Gina Bianchini, early Snapchat employee Sebastian Gil and Y Combinator, the startup accelerator program Squad completed in the winter of 2018, have also participated in the funding round.

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nttt “We want to be a place where girls can come and hang out,” -Squad co-founder and CEO Esther Crawford. ttttt

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Crawford describes Squad, which she’s built alongside her co-founder and chief technology officer Ethan Sutin, as the “anti-bro startup.” Not only because it’s led by a woman and boasts a cap table that’s 30% women and 30% people of color, but because she’s completely rewriting the consumer social startup playbook.

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“We are trying to learn from the best in what they did but get rid of the shit,” Crawford said, referring to Snap, WhatsApp, Twitch and others. Twitch, a live-streaming platform for gamers, has become a social gathering place for Gen Z, she explains, but like many other communities on the internet, it’s failed its female users.

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“Girls have been completely pushed off of Twitch,” she said. “The Twitch community didn’t want them there and they weren’t friendly to them. For boys, there are places you can go to consume content with other people, like Fortnite, but for girls there hasn’t been a place that’s really broken out. We want to be a place where girls can come and hang out.”

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What Crawford and the small team at Squad have realized is that you don’t have to sacrifice growth for user safety and comfort. From the beginning, Squad has made sure users could easily block and report inappropriate behaviors and users, a feature that was an afterthought on many other social tools. They also made users unsearchable unless another user knows their exact username. By prioritizing the security of its primarily female audience, Squad is betting girls will continue coming back to the app and telling their friends about it.

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“It’s possible to make girls feel safe and still have growth as a consumer product,” she said. “If people don’t feel safe on your app, they won’t stick around long-term.”

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A new playbook

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Squad quietly launched in January after pivoting away from building an information-sharing tool called Molly, which was backed with $1.5 million from BBG, Betaworks, CrunchFund and Halogen Ventures. Crawford’s now 14-year-old daughter unintentionally inspired the transition, when she proposed her mom create an app where she could peer into her best friend’s phones from afar.

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IMG 2588

This reporter and Squad CEO Esther Crawford discuss the startup’s growth via Squad video chat.

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Using Squad, people can browse memes, pore through DMs, plan a trip on Airbnb, peruse Tinder or a photo album with a friend via its video chat and screen share features. As Crawford describes it, it’s all the stuff you don’t want to post to Snap or Instagram but want to show your best friends. An app that may seem frivolous or non-essential seems to have quickly become a space online where girls can are opting to spend hours intimately engaged with their friends — without fear of stumbling into a troll.

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“People can use this digital tech to hang out together instead of it being so performative,” Crawford said.

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The downside of Squad’s screen sharing capabilities is a user can view another user’s Facebook friend’s profile, even if, say, they themselves were blocked from viewing that content. Most apps are available for viewing through screen share aside from premium video streaming apps like Netflix or Amazon Prime Video, so its entirely possible someone could use Squad solely for the purpose of viewing social content they are otherwise barred from seeing. In response to this possibility, Crawford says they are considering alerting users when their Squad chat’s been screen-shotted. To avoid additional privacy issues, Squad users can’t record or save anything from their calls or replay what happened on Squad.

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Like many early-stage startups, the company isn’t making any money yet because the app is free and without ads. As soon as next year, however, Squad plans to monetize the product with in-app purchasing, scraping another rule from the consumer social playbook that has long encouraged companies to expand their user base first before trying to profit off users at all. (See: The Snapchat Monetization Problem).

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Techno-optimism

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Crawford, a product marketing veteran, grew up in a cult in Oregon where girls were barred from wearing makeup and from watching television or listening to music. But because the internet was so early, the dangers of it were yet to be discovered and miraculously, she was allowed to go online. Quickly, she made connections with people all over the world thanks to everyone’s favorite messaging tool at the time, AOL Instant Messenger.

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The experience planted in her a deep love for the internet and a desire to share her life online. After developing a community through AIM, Crawford became one of the very first original content creators on YouTube and garnered millions of views on her videos. Without trying, she became an influencer, long before the term entered the zeitgeist.

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Squad Screensharing1

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She used her newfound digital prowess to launch one of the first social marketing agencies, where her clients included Weight Watchers and K-Mart, legacy brands that had no idea how to tap into her native digital communities. Ultimately, Crawford landed in the tech startup world, hopping from Series A startup to Series A startup, offering up her product marketing skills before her daughter’s idea prompted her to go into business on her own again.

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“I’m a techno-optimist and yet, so many of these tech companies we thought were going to connect people turned out to have accidentally made people more lonely,” she said. “With a different lense and approach, I thought there could be an app that built bridges.”

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Now with a new bout of funding, Squad can implement strategic marketing campaigns, continue adding integrations with complementary platforms (the startup has just announced a new integration with YouTube) and hire product designers. The next few years will be critical to Squad’s success as it looks to young people to give them a permanent spot on their home screen.

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For Crawford, what’s most important, aside from growing group of teenagers using Squad, is to make sure only good people see a big payday thanks to her great idea: “I am ready to do everything I can to make Squad successful and make sure our success has a positive downstream effect so that we have great people on our team that get rich off our success.”

n”,”protected”:false},”excerpt”:{“rendered”:”

Why CEO Esther Crawford is rewriting the playbook for social startups

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Kate Clark is a reporter at TechCrunch covering startups and venture capital. She’s interested in diversity & inclusion, consumer technology, mobility and more.

nn

She previously covered the venture capital ecosystem for PitchBook News.

nn

A Seattle native, she is a graduate of the University of Washington, where she studied journalism and international studies.

nn

Reach Kate via e-mail at kate.clark@techcrunch.com or on Twitter @KateClarkTweets.

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Kate Clark is a reporter at TechCrunch covering startups and venture capital. She’s interested in diversity & inclusion, consumer technology, mobility and more.

nn

She previously covered the venture capital ecosystem for PitchBook News.

nn

A Seattle native, she is a graduate of the University of Washington, where she studied journalism and international studies.

nn

Reach Kate via e-mail at kate.clark@techcrunch.com or on Twitter @KateClarkTweets.

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Squad team 002

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your seat to Disrupt Berlin now and pay later”},”content”:{“rendered”:”

Sonderangebot! That sounds like a super-cool robotics startup youu2019d find at Disrupt Berlin 2019, right? But itu2019s German for special offer u2014 and thatu2019s super cool, too. Our premier tech conference takes place on 11-12 December, and we want to make attending Disrupt Berlin as easy on the budget as possible. Hence, our buy-now-pay-later Sonderangebot!

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Itu2019s our super early-bird season and, depending on which Disrupt Berlin pass you buy, you can save up to u20ac600. But now you have the option to stretch your payments over four months and avoid an upfront layout of your hard-earned cash. Buy your passes here.

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Hereu2019s how our buy-now-pay-later installment plan works. Follow the normal process to purchase your pass. When it comes time to pay, select the payment plan option. You pay 25% of the pass price (plus fees) now and then pay off the remaining balance in three equal monthly payments.

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Note: Discounted student, government or nonprofit Innovator passes do not qualify for payment installments.

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Want to bring your whole team to Disrupt Berlin? Combine the buy-now-pay-later option with our group discounts for even more bottom-line comfort.

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Perhaps youu2019re keen to introduce your early-stage startup to 3,000+ attendees u2014 from more than 50 countries u2014 as they stream through our exhibit hall. Yes? Then scoop up a super early-bird Startup Alley Exhibitor Package for u20ac745 + VAT and yes, you can take advantage of the payment plan option.

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Whatever startup role describes you u2014 founder, investor, industry leader, developer or technologist u2014 you can lock in your pass price and experience all the excitement and action of Disrupt Berlin 2019. Dive into two full days of hands-on workshops, product demonstrations, top-notch speakers, moderated Q&A sessions and world-class networking.

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Weu2019ll announce more exciting news in the weeks ahead u2014 like how you can apply to compete in Startup Battlefield or earn a coveted spot as a TC Top Pick and exhibit in Startup Alley for free. Join our mailing list to stay in the loop.

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Weu2019re in the process of building our roster of Disrupt Berlin speakers, and TechCrunch editors want to hear your recommendations. Opportunities are limited, so submit your suggestions as soon as possible. The team reviews submissions on a rolling basis and when theyu2019ve reviewed yours, youu2019ll receive the editorial decision by email.

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Disrupt Berlin 2019u00a0takes place on 11-12 December, and you can give your budget breathing room with our buy-now-pay-later installment plan. Buy your passes, take advantage of this Sonderangebot, and weu2019ll see you in Berlin!

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Is your company interested in sponsoring or exhibiting at Disrupt Berlin 2019? Contact our sponsorship sales team byu00a0filling out this form.

n”,”protected”:false},”excerpt”:{“rendered”:”

Sonderangebot! That sounds like a super-cool robotics startup youu2019d find at Disrupt Berlin 2019, right? But itu2019s German for special offer u2014 and thatu2019s super cool, too. Our premier tech conference takes place on 11-12 December, and we want to make attending Disrupt Berlin as easy on the budget as possible. Hence, our buy-now-pay-later Sonderangebot! […]

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Leslie currently works as the Director of Events at TechCrunch and Engadget.

nn

Previously at TechCrunch, Leslie was Event Partnerships Manager, working on the TechCrunch Disrupt Hackathon and Conference as well as various Engadget events. Prior to that, she worked at Investors Title Insurance Company as a Marketing Manager, TechTarget as a Campaign Manager of National Accounts and Marketing Programs Manager.

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Leslie currently works as the Director of Events at TechCrunch and Engadget.

nn

Previously at TechCrunch, Leslie was Event Partnerships Manager, working on the TechCrunch Disrupt Hackathon and Conference as well as various Engadget events. Prior to that, she worked at Investors Title Insurance Company as a Marketing Manager, TechTarget as a Campaign Manager of National Accounts and Marketing Programs Manager.

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TC Disrupt Social FB10

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Before Tableau was the $15.7 billion key to Salesforce’s problems, it was a couple of founders arguing with a couple of venture capitalists over lunch about why its Series A valuation should be higher than $12 million pre-money.

n

Salesforce has generally been one to signify corporate strategy shifts through their acquisitions, so you can understand why the entire tech industry took notice when the cloud CRM giant announced its priciest acquisition ever last month.

n

The deal to acquire the Seattle-based data visualization powerhouse Tableau was substantial enough that Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff publicly announced it was turning Seattle into its second HQ. Tableau’s acquisition doesn’t just mean big things for Salesforce. With the deal taking place just days after Google announced it was paying $2.6 billion for Looker, the acquisition showcases just how intense the cloud wars are getting for the enterprise tech companies out to win it all.

n

The Exit is a new series at TechCrunch. Itu2019s an exit interview of sorts with a VC who was in the right place at the right time but made the right call on an investment that paid off. [Have feedback? Shoot me an email at lucas@techcrunch.com]

n

Scott Sandell, a general partner at NEA (New Enterprise Associates) who has now been at the firm for 25 years, was one of those investors arguing with two of Tableau’s co-founders, Chris Stolte and Christian Chabot. Desperate to close the 2004 deal over their lunch meeting, he went on to agree to the Tableau founders’ demands of a higher $20 million valuation, though Sandell tells me it still feels like he got a pretty good deal.

n

NEA went on to invest further in subsequent rounds and went on to hold over 38% of the company at the time of its IPO in 2013 according to public financial docs.

n

I had a long chat with Sandell, who also invested in Salesforce, about the importance of the Tableau deal, his rise from associate to general partner at NEA, who he sees as the biggest challenger to Salesforce, and why he thinks scooter companies are “the worst business in the known universe.”

n

The interview has been edited for length and clarity.u00a0

n


n

Lucas Matney: You’ve been at this investing thing for quite a while, but taking a trip down memory lane, how did you get into VC in the first place?u00a0

n

Scott Sandell: The way I got into venture capital is a little bit of a circuitous route. I had an opportunity to get into venture capital coming out of Stanford Business School in 1992, but it wasn’t quite the right fit. And so I had an interest, but I didn’t have the right opportunity.

n

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Before Tableau was the $15.7 billion key to Salesforce’s problems, it was a couple of founders arguing with a couple of venture capitalists over lunch about why its Series A valuation should be higher than $12 million pre-money. Salesforce has generally been one to signify corporate strategy shifts through their acquisitions, so you can understand […]

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Lucas Matney is a reporter at TechCrunch and has been covering emerging technologies and startups since 2015. He lives in San Francisco and can be reached via email at lucas@techcrunch.com

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Lucas Matney is a reporter at TechCrunch and has been covering emerging technologies and startups since 2015. He lives in San Francisco and can be reached via email at lucas@techcrunch.com

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SAN FRANCISCO, CA – SEPTEMBER 19: Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff delivers the keynote address during the Dreamforce 2012 conference at the Moscone Center on September 19, 2012 in San Francisco, California. A reported 90,000 people registered to attend the cloud computing industry conference Dreamforce 2012 that runs through September 21. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

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The AWS DeepRacer is an almost toylike 1/18th scale race car. It comes with all of the sensors and software tools to help developers build machine learning models to drive the car around a course u2014 or really do anything else they want it to do. The $399 DeepRacer launched at AWS’s massive re:Invent show in late 2018.

n

At the time, it seemed like a bit of a gimmick, but AWS has put a lot of its weight behind it and is currently running a DeepRacer league at its various events around the world. At these events, developers can pit their models against each other and learn more about building a specific kind of machine learning model in the process.

n

Why bother, though? It’s not like DeepRacer cars are likely to add to AWS’s bottom line anytime soon. DeepRacer, however, is part of a line of hardware products from AWS that started with DeepLens, a smart camera for developers.

n

“It really comes from the same place,” AWS general manager for Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning marketing Ryan Gavin told me. “When you think about the stimulus for something like DeepLens, it was really about how do we put machine learning into the hands of every developer and data scientist. That’s our mission and we’re very consistent about that.”

n

“,”protected”:false},”excerpt”:{“rendered”:”

The AWS DeepRacer is an almost toylike 1/18th scale race car. It comes with all of the sensors and software tools to help developers build machine learning models to drive the car around a course u2014 or really do anything else they want it to do. The $399 DeepRacer launched at AWS’s massive re:Invent show […]

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Before he joined TechCrunch in 2012, he founded SiliconFilter and wrote for ReadWriteWeb (now ReadWrite). Frederic covers enterprise, cloud, developer tools, Google, Microsoft, gadgets, transportation and anything else he finds interesting. He owns just over a 50th of a bitcoin.

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Before he joined TechCrunch in 2012, he founded SiliconFilter and wrote for ReadWriteWeb (now ReadWrite). Frederic covers enterprise, cloud, developer tools, Google, Microsoft, gadgets, transportation and anything else he finds interesting. He owns just over a 50th of a bitcoin.

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BURBANK, CALIFORNIA – JUNE 22: The AWS DeepRacer demo at AT&T SHAPE at Warner Bros. Studios on June 22, 2019 in Burbank, California. (Photo by Phillip Faraone/Getty Images for AT&T)

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dreaded 10x, or, how to handle exceptional employees”},”content”:{“rendered”:”

The “10x engineer.” Shudder. Wince. I have rarely seen my Twitter feed unite against an idea so loudly, or in such harmony.

n

I refer of course to the thread last month by Accel India’s Shekhar Kirani, explaining “If you have a 10x engineer as part of your first few engineers, you increase the odds of your startup success significantly” and then going on to address, in his opinion, “How do you spot a 10x engineer?”

n

The resulting scorn was tsunami-like. The very concept of a 10x engineer seems so… five years ago. Since then, the Valley has largely come to the collective conclusion that 1) there is no such thing as a 10x engineer 2) even if there were, you wouldn’t want to hire one, because they play so poorly with others.

n

The anti-10x squad raises many important and valid u2014 frankly, obvious and inarguable u2014 points. Go down that Twitter thread and you’ll find that 10x engineers are identified as: people who eschew meetings, work alone, rarely look at documentation, don’t write much themselves, are poor mentors, and view process, meetings, or training as reasons to abandon their employer. In short, they are unbelievably terrible team members.

n

Is software a field like the arts, or sports, in which exceptional performers can exist? Sure. Absolutely. Software is Extremistan, not Mediocristan, as Nassim Taleb puts it.

n

“,”protected”:false},”excerpt”:{“rendered”:”

The “10x engineer.” Shudder. Wince. I have rarely seen my Twitter feed unite against an idea so loudly, or in such harmony. I refer of course to the thread last month by Accel India’s Shekhar Kirani, explaining “If you have a 10x engineer as part of your first few engineers, you increase the odds of […]

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happened to the sharing economy?”},”content”:{“rendered”:”

A few years ago, Silicon Valley couldnu2019t stop using a trendy buzzword u2014 the sharing economy. The good old top-down economic model with a clear separation between service providers and clients was falling apart. And huge tech companies disrupted entire industries, from Airbnb to Taskrabbit, Uber, Etsy and Getaround.

n

When you retrospectively look at the sharing economy boom of the early 2010s, many of the principles that defined that generation of startups have slowly disappeared. Instead of a huge societal shift, the sharing economy is slowly fading away.

n

What is the sharing economy?

n

In the past, if you wanted to buy a good or a service, you would ask a company or a professional to provide it.

n

Youu2019d buy something from a company in particular because you knew it would be the exact thing you need. Thatu2019s why plenty of companies spent huge amounts of money to build a brand and a reputation. If you just bought a car, chances are youu2019ll see thousands of ads for cars before you buy your next car.

n

And thatu2019s also why distribution channels have been key, especially in commoditized markets with low brand differentiation. For instance, when you buy a new printer, chances are you just head to an electronics store or type u201cprinteru201d on your favorite e-commerce website. If HP doesnu2019t have a distribution deal with those stores, youu2019ll just buy an Epson printer.

n

If your neighbor wants a new printer in a couple of years, you might recommend the same printer, but you may have forgotten where you bought it. Thereu2019s little differentiation between distribution channels in that case.

n

The marketplace model

n

The sharing economy happened because a group of entrepreneurs wanted to invent new distribution channels. Sure, some traditional distribution channels secured exclusive rights to sell specific products.

n

But those startups made a radical change. They wanted to work on a completely new inventory of goods or services.

n

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A few years ago, Silicon Valley couldnu2019t stop using a trendy buzzword u2014 the sharing economy. The good old top-down economic model with a clear separation between service providers and clients was falling apart. And huge tech companies disrupted entire industries, from Airbnb to Taskrabbit, Uber, Etsy and Getaround. When you retrospectively look at the […]

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Romain Dillet is a Senior Writer at TechCrunch.

nn

Originally from France, Romain attended EMLYON Business School, a leading French business school specialized in entrepreneurship. He covers many things from mobile apps with great design to privacy, security, fintech, Apple, AI and complex tech achievements. He also speaks at major tech conferences. He likes pop culture more than anything in the world.

nn

He now lives in Paris when he’s not on the road. He used to live in New York and loved it.

nn

He owns small amounts of various cryptocurrencies.

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Romain Dillet is a Senior Writer at TechCrunch.

nn

Originally from France, Romain attended EMLYON Business School, a leading French business school specialized in entrepreneurship. He covers many things from mobile apps with great design to privacy, security, fintech, Apple, AI and complex tech achievements. He also speaks at major tech conferences. He likes pop culture more than anything in the world.

nn

He now lives in Paris when he’s not on the road. He used to live in New York and loved it.

nn

He owns small amounts of various cryptocurrencies.

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top VCs view the new future of micromobility”},”content”:{“rendered”:”

Earlier this month, TechCrunch held its annual Mobility Sessions event, where leading mobility-focused auto companies, startups, executives and thought leaders joined us to discuss all things autonomous vehicle technology, micromobility and electric vehicles.

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Extra Crunch is offering members access to full transcripts key panels and conversations from the event, including our panel on micromobility where TechCrunch VC reporter Kate Clark was joined by investors Sarah Smith of Bain Capital Ventures, Michael Granoff of Maniv Mobility, and Ted Serbinski of TechStars Detroit.

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The panelists walk through their mobility investment theses and how they’ve changed over the last few years. The group also compares the business models of scooters, e-bikes, e-motorcycles, rideshare and more, while discussing Uber and Lyft’s role in tomorrow’s mobility ecosystem.

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Sarah Smith: It was very clear last summer, that there was essentially a near-vertical demand curve developing with consumer adoption of scooters. E-bikes had been around, but scooters, for Lime just to give you perspective, had only hit the road in February. So by the time we were really looking at things, they only had really six months of data. But we could look at the traction and the adoption, and really just what this was doing for consumers.

n

At the time, consumers had learned through Uber and Lyft and others that you can just grab your cell phone and press a button, and that equates to transportation. And then we see through the sharing economy like Airbnb, people don’t necessarily expect to own every single asset that they use throughout the day. So there’s this confluence of a lot of different consumer trends that suggested that this wasn’t just a fad. This wasn’t something that was going to go away.

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For access to the full transcription below and for the opportunity to read through additional event transcripts and recaps, become a member of Extra Crunch.u00a0Learn more and try it for free.u00a0

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Kate Clark: One of the first panels of the day, I think we should take a moment to define mobility. As VCs in this space, how do you define this always-evolving sector?

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Michael Granoff: Well, the way I like to put it is that there have been four eras in mobility. The first was walking and we did that for thousands of years. Then we harnessed animal power for thousands of years.

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And then there was a date u2014 and I saw Ken Washington from Ford here u2014 September 1st, 1908, which was when the Model T came out. And through the next 100 years, mobility is really defined as the personally owned and operated individual operated internal combustion engine car.

n

And what’s interesting is to go exactly 100 years later, September 2008, the financial crisis that affects the auto industry tremendously, but also a time where we had the first third-party apps, and you had Waze and you had Uber, and then you had Lime and Bird, and so forth. And really, I think what we’re in now is the age of digital mobility and I think that’s what defines what this day is about.

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Ted Serbinski: Yeah, I think just to add to that, I think mobility is the movement of people and goods. But that last part of digital mobility, I really look at the intersection of the physical and digital worlds. And it’s really that intersection, which is enabling all these new ways to move around.

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GettyImages 1129827591

Image via Getty Images / Jackie Niam

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Clark: So Ted you run TechStars Detroit, but it was once known as TechStars Mobility. So why did you decide to drop the mobility?

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Serbinski: So Iu2019m at a mobility conference, and we no longer call ourselves mobility. So five years ago, when we launched the mobility program at TechStars, we were working very closely with Ford’s group and at the time, five years ago, 2014, where it started with the connected car, auto and [people saying] u201cyou should use the word mobility.u201d

n

And I was like u201cWhat does that mean?u201d And so when we launched TechStars Mobility, we got all this stuff but we were like u201cthis isn’t what we’re looking for. What does this word mean?u201d And then Cruise gets acquired for a billion dollars. And everyone’s like u201cMobility! This is the next big gold rush! Mobility, mobility, mobility!u201d

n

And because I invest early-stage companies anywhere in the world, what started to happen last year is we’d be going after a company and theyu2019d say, u201cwell, we’re not interested in your program. We’re not mobility.u201d And I’d be scratching my head like, u201cNo, you are mobility. This is where the future is going. You’re this digital way of moving around. And no, we’re artificial intelligence, weu2019re robotics.u201d

n

And as we started talking to more and more entrepreneurs, and hundreds of startups around the world, it became pretty clear that the word mobility is actually becoming too limiting, depending on your vantage where you are in the world.

n

And so this year, we actually dropped the word mobility and we just call it TechStars Detroit, and itu2019s really just intersection of those physical and digital worlds. And so now we don’t have a word, but I think we found more mobility companies by dropping the word mobility.

n

“,”protected”:false},”excerpt”:{“rendered”:”

Earlier this month, TechCrunch held its annual Mobility Sessions event, where leading mobility-focused auto companies, startups, executives and thought leaders joined us to discuss all things autonomous vehicle technology, micromobility and electric vehicles. Extra Crunch is offering members access to full transcripts key panels and conversations from the event, including our panel on micromobility where […]

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The online campaigning activities of the UK’s new prime minister, Boris Johnson, have already caught the eye of the country’s data protection watchdog.

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Responding to concerns about the scope of data processing set out in the Conservative Party’s Privacy Policy being flagged to it by a Twitter user, the Information Commissioner’s Office replied that: “This is something we are aware of and we are making enquiries.”

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The Privacy Policy is currently being attached to an online call to action that ask Brits to tell the party what the most “important issue” to them and their family is, alongside submitting their personal data.

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Anyone sending their contact details to the party is also asked to pick from a pre-populated list of 18 issues the three most important to them. The list runs the gamut from the National Health Service to brexit, terrorism, the environment, housing, racism and animal welfare, to name a few. The online form also asks responders to select from a list how they voted at the last General Election — to help make the results “representative”. A final question asks which party they would vote for if a General Election were called today.

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Speculation is rife in the UK right now that Johnson, who only became PM two weeks ago, is already preparing for a general election. His minority government has been reduced to a majority of just one MP after the party lost a by-election to the Liberal Democrats last week, even as an October 31 brexit-related deadline fast approaches.

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People who submit their personal data to the Conservative’s online survey are also asked to share it with friends with “strong views about the issues”, via social sharing buttons for Facebook and Twitter or email.

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“By clicking Submit, I agree to the Conservative Party using the information I provide to keep me updated via email, online advertisements and direct mail about the Partyu2019s campaigns and opportunities to get involved,” runs a note under the initial ‘submit — and see more’ button, which also links to the Privacy Policy “for more information”.

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If you click through to the Privacy Policy will find a laundry list of examples of types of data the party says it may collect about you — including what it describes as “opinions on topical issues”; “family connections”; “IP address, cookies and other technical information that you may share when you interact with our website”; and “commercially available data u2013 such as consumer, lifestyle, household and behavioural data”.

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“We may also collect special categories of information such as: Political Opinions; Voting intentions; Racial or ethnic origin; Religious views,” it further notes, and it goes on to claim its legal basis for processing this type of sensitive data is for supporting and promoting “democratic engagement and our legitimate interest to understand the electorate and identify Conservative supporters”.

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Third party sources for acquiring data to feed its political campaigning activity listed in the policy include “social media platforms, where you have made the information public, or you have made the information available in a social media forum run by the Party” and “commercial organisations”, as well as “publicly accessible sources or other public records”.

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“We collect data with the intention of using it primarily for political activities,” the policy adds, without specifying examples of what else people’s data might be used for.

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It goes on to state that harvested personal data will be combined with other sources of data (including commercially available data) to profile voters — and “make a prediction about your lifestyle and habits”.

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This processing will in turn be used to determine whether or not to send a voter campaign materials and, if so, to tailor the messages contained within it.u00a0

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In a nutshell this is describing social media microtargeting, such as Facebook ads, but for political purposes; a still unregulated practice that the UK’s information commissioner warned a year ago risks undermining trust in democracy.

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Last year Elizabeth Denham went so far as to call for an ‘ethical pause’ in the use of microtargeting tools for political campaigning purposes. But, a quick glance at Facebook’s Ad Library Archive — which it launched in response to concerns about the lack of transparency around political ads on its platform, saying it will imprints of ads sent by political parties for up to seven years — the polar opposite has happened.

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Since last year’s warning about democratic processes being undermined by big data mining social media platforms, the ICO has also warned thatu00a0behavioral ad targeting does not comply with European privacy law. (Though it said it will give the industry time to amend its practices rather than step in to protect people’s rights right now.)

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Denham has also been calling for a code of conduct to ensure voters understand how and why they’re being targeted with customized political messages, telling a parliamentary committee enquiry investigating online disinformation early last year that the use of such tools “may have got ahead of where the law is” — and that the chain of entities involved in passing around voters’ data for the purposes of profiling is “much too opaque”.

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“I think it might be time for a code of conduct so that everybody is on a level playing field and knows what the rules are,” she said in March 2018, adding that the use of analytics and algorithms to make decisions about the microtargeting of voters “might not have transparency and the law behind them.u201d

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The DCMS later urged government to fast-track changes to electoral law to reflect the use of powerful new voter targeting technologies — including calling for a total ban on microtargeting political ads at so-called ‘lookalike’ audiences online.

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The government, then led by Theresa May, gave little heed to the committee’s recommendations.

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And from the moment he arrived in Number 10 Downing Street last month, after winning a leadership vote of the Conservative Party’s membership, new prime minister Johnson began running scores of Facebook ads to test voter opinion.

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Sky News reported that the Conservative Party ran 280 ads on Facebook platforms on the PM’s first full day in office. At the time of writing the party is still ploughing money into Facebook ads, per Facebook’s Ad Library Archive — shelling out u00a325,270 in the past seven days alone to run 2,464 ads, per Facebook’s Ad Library Report, which makes it by far the biggest UK advertiser by spend for the period.

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Screenshot 2019 08 05 at 16.45.48

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The Tories’ latest crop of Facebook ads contain another call to action — this time regarding a Johnson pledge to put 20,000 more police officers on the streets. Any Facebook users who clicks the embedded link is redirected to a Conservative Party webpage described as a ‘New police locator’, which informs them: “We’re recruiting 20,000 new police officers, starting right now. Want to see more police in your area? Put your postcode in to let Boris know.”

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But anyone who inputs their personal data into this online form will also be letting the Conservatives know a lot more about them than just that they want more police on their local beat. In small print the website notes that those clicking submit are also agreeing to the party processing their data for its full suite of campaign purposes — as contained in the expansive terms of its Privacy Policy mentioned above.

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So, basically, it’s another data grab…

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Screenshot 2019 08 05 at 16.51.12

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Political microtargeting was of course core to the online modus operandi of the disgraced political data firm, Cambridge Analytica, which infamously paid an app developer to harvest the personal data of millions of Facebook users back in 2014 without their knowledge or consent — in that case using a quiz app wrapper and Facebook’s lack of any enforcement of its platform terms to grab data on millions of voters.

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Cambridge Analytica paid data scientists to turn this cache of social media signals into psychological profiles which they matched to public voter register lists — to try to identify the most persuadable voters in key US swing states and bombard them with political messaging on behalf of their client, Donald Trump.

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Much like the Conservative Party is doing, Cambridge Analytica sourced data from commercial partners — in its case claiming to have licensed millions of data points from data broker giants such as Acxiom, Experian, Infogroup. (The Conservatives’ privacy policy does not specify which brokers it pays to acquire voter data.)

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Aside from data, what’s key to this type of digital political campaigning is the ability, afforded by Facebook’s ad platform, for advertisers to target messages at what are referred to as ‘lookalike audience’ — and do so cheaply and at vast scale. Essentially, Facebook provides its own pervasive surveillance of the 2.2BN+ users on its platforms as a commercial service, letting advertisers pay to identify and target other people with a similar social media usage profile to those whose contact details they already hold, by uploading their details to Facebook.

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This means a political party can data-mine its own supporter base to identify the messages that resonant best with different groups within that base, and then flip all that profiling around — using Facebook to dart ads at people who may never in their life have clicked ‘Submit — and see more‘ on a Tory webpage but who happen to share a similar social media profile to others in the party’s target database.

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Facebook users currently have no way of blocking being targeted by political advertisers on Facebook, nor indeed no way to generally switch off microtargeted ads which use personal data to select marketing messages.

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That’s the core ethical concern in play when Denham talks about the vital need for voters in a democracy to have transparency and control over what’s done with their personal data. “Without a high level of transparency u2013 and therefore trust amongst citizens that their data is being used appropriately u2013 we are at risk of developing a system of voter surveillance by default,” she warned last year.

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However the Conservative Party’s privacy policy sidesteps any concerns about its use of microtargeting, with the breeze claim that: “We have determined that this kind of automation and profiling does not create legal or significant effects for you. Nor does it affect the legal rights that you have over your data.”

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The software the party is using for online campaigning appears to be NationBuilder: A campaign management software developed in the US a decade ago — which has also been used by the Trump campaign and by both sides of the 2016 Brexit referendum campaign (to name a few of its many clients).

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Its privacy policy shares the same format and much of the same language as one used by the Scottish National Party’s yes campaign during Scotland’s independence reference, for instance. (The SNP was an early user of NationBuilder to link social media campaigning to a new web platform in 2011, before going on to secure a majority in the Scottish parliament.)

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So the Conservatives are by no means the only UK political entity to be dipping their hands in the cookie jar of social media data. Although they are the governing party right now.

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Indeed, a report by the ICO last fall essentially called out all UK political parties for misusing people’s data.

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Issues “of particular concern” the regulator raised in that report were:

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  • the purchasing of marketing lists and lifestyle information from data brokers without sufficient due diligence around those brokers and the degree to which the data has been properly gathered and consented to;
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  • a lack of fair processing information;
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  • the use of third-party data analytics companies with insufficient checks that those companies have obtained correct consents for use of data for that purpose;
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  • assuming ethnicity and/or age and combining this with electoral data sets they hold, raising concerns about data accuracy;
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  • the provision of contact lists of members to social media companies without appropriate fair processing information and collation of social media with membership lists without adequate privacy assessments
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The ICO issued formal warnings to 11 political parties at that time, including warning the Conservative Party about its use of people’s data.

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The regulator also said it would commence audits of all 11 parties starting in January. It’s not clear how far along it’s got with that process. We’ve reached out to it with questions.u00a0Update:u00a0An ICO spokesperson told us: u201cWe have finished an audit of the Conservative Partyu2019s data protection practices and we are currently reviewing the findings.u201d

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Last year the Conservative Party quietly discontinued use of a different digital campaign tool for activists, which it had licensed from a US-based add developer called uCampaign. That tool had also been used in US by Republican campaigns including Trump’s.

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As we reported last year the Conservative Campaigner app, which was intended for use by party activists, linked to the developer’s own privacy policy — which included clauses granting uCampaign very liberal rights to share app users’ data, with “other organizations, groups, causes, campaigns, political organizations, and our clients that we believe have similar viewpoints, principles or objectives as us”.

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Any users of the app who uploaded their phone’s address book were also handing their friends’ data straight to uCampaign to also do as it wished. A few months late, after the Conservative Campaigner app vanished from apps stores, a note was put up online claiming the company was no longer supporting clients in Europe.

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The online campaigning activities of the UK’s new prime minister, Boris Johnson, have already caught the eye of the country’s data protection watchdog. Responding to concerns about the scope of data processing set out in the Conservative Party’s Privacy Policy being flagged to it by a Twitter user, the Information Commissioner’s Office replied that: “This […]

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Natasha is a senior reporter for TechCrunch, joining September 2012, based in Europe. She joined TC after a stint reviewing smartphones for CNET UK and, prior to that, more than five years covering business technology for silicon.com (now folded into TechRepublic), where she focused on mobile and wireless, telecoms & networking, and IT skills issues. She has also freelanced for organisations including The Guardian and the BBC. Natasha holds a First Class degree in English from Cambridge University, and an MA in journalism from Goldsmiths College, University of London.

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Natasha is a senior reporter for TechCrunch, joining September 2012, based in Europe. She joined TC after a stint reviewing smartphones for CNET UK and, prior to that, more than five years covering business technology for silicon.com (now folded into TechRepublic), where she focused on mobile and wireless, telecoms & networking, and IT skills issues. She has also freelanced for organisations including The Guardian and the BBC. Natasha holds a First Class degree in English from Cambridge University, and an MA in journalism from Goldsmiths College, University of London.

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Boris Facebook ads

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