Wikipedia blames malicious DDOS attack after site goes down across Europe, Middle East – gpgmail


Wikipedia was forced offline in several countries Friday after a cyber attack hit the global encyclopedia.

Users across Europe and parts of the Middle East experienced outages shortly before 7pm, BST, according to downdetector.com.

Wikimedia’s German Twitter account posted: “The Wikimedia server…is currently being paralysed by a massive and very broad DDOS [distributed denial of service] attack.”

The site issued the following statement:

Today, Wikipedia was hit with a malicious attack that has taken it offline in several countries for intermittent periods. The attack is ongoing and our Site Reliability Engineering team is working hard to stop it and restore access to the site.

As one of the world’s most popular sites, Wikipedia sometimes attracts “bad faith” actors. Along with the rest of the web, we operate in an increasingly sophisticated and complex environment where threats are continuously evolving. Because of this, the Wikimedia communities and Wikimedia Foundation have created dedicated systems and staff to regularly monitor and address risks. If a problem occurs, we learn, we improve, and we prepare to be better for next time.

We condemn these sorts of attacks. They’re not just about taking Wikipedia offline. Takedown attacks threaten everyone’s fundamental rights to freely access and share information. We in the Wikimedia movement and Foundation are committed to protecting these rights for everyone.

Right now, we’re continuing to work to restore access wherever you might be reading Wikipedia in the world. We’ll keep you posted.”

The site was reported to be down in large parts of the UK as well as Poland, France, Germany and Italy.


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SoftBank-backed Getaround is raising $200M at a $1.5B+ valuation – gpgmail


Getaround, a used car marketplace and winner of gpgmail Disrupt New York Battlefield 2011, will enter the unicorn club with a roughly $200 million equity financing.

The deal values Getaround, founded in 2009, at $1.7 billion, according to an estimate provided by PitchBook. Getaround declined to comment, citing internal policy on “funding speculation.”

“Getaround and our investors work closely together on our growth strategy, and we’ll definitely plan to share more when we’re ready,” a spokesperson said in response to gpgmail’s inquiry Thursday morning.

The news follows the company’s $300 million acquisition of Drivy, a Paris-headquartered car-sharing startup that operates in 170 European cities.

Getaround closed a Series D funding of $300 million last year, a round led by SoftBank with participation from Toyota Motor Corporation. Existing investors in the business, which allows its some 200,000 members to rent and unlock vehicles from their mobile phones at $5 per hour, include Menlo Ventures and SOSV.

Assuming an upcoming $200 million infusion, Getaround has raised more than $600 million in equity funding to date.

Whether SoftBank has participated in Getaround’s latest financing is unknown. The business is an active investor in the carsharing market, with investments in Chinese ride-hailing business Didi Chuxing, Uber and autonomous driving company Cruise. We’ve reached out to SoftBank for comment.

In conversation with gpgmail last year, Getaround co-founder Sam Zaid emphasized SoftBank’s capabilities as a mobility investor: “What we really liked about [SoftBank] was they take a really long view on things,” he said. “So they were very good about thinking about the future of mobility, and we have a common kind of vision of every car becoming a shared car.”

Getaround was expected to expand into international markets with its previous fundraise. Indeed, the company has moved into France, Germany, Spain, Austria, Belgium and the U.K. where it operates under the brand “Drivy by Getaround,” and in Norway under the “Nabobil” brand.

The business initially launched its car-sharing service in 2011, relying on gig workers, who can list their car on the Getaround marketplace for $500 to $1,000 a month in payments, depending on how often their car is rented.

Since Getaround entered the market, however, a number of competitors have entered the space with similar business models. Turo and Maven, for example, have both emerged to facilitate car rental with backing from top venture capital funds.


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Porsche unveils the $150,900 Taycan Turbo electric sedan – gpgmail


Porsche has poured more than $1 billion into the development of its first all-electric vehicle, a sleek four-door specimen that marks the beginning of a new chapter for the German automaker and its biggest bet in more than a generation.

On Wednesday, in three simultaneous events in Canada, China and Germany, Porsche finally introduced the world to the vehicle that has been more than four years in the making. gpgmail was on hand for the reveal in Canada, a splashy event, held in a building erected just for the occasion on the edge of Niagara Falls. It was here that Porsche showed off not one, but two flavors of the Taycan.

Behold, the Porsche Taycan Turbo S and Porsche Taycan Turbo, two electric machines with the styling, power and performance one would expect from the German automaker. Oh, and range between 250 and 280 miles, depending on the variant.

Both of these Taycans fall into the more expensive, more powerful category of its upcoming portfolio with base prices of $185,000 and $150,900, respectively.

All three Porsche Taycan events were staged near renewable energy installments — hydropower at Niagara Falls in Canada, solar in Neuhardenberg near Berlin and a wind farm on Pingtan Island, less than a mile from the Chinese city of Fuzhou — a physical symbol of Porsche’s move to electrification. 

“The Taycan stands for the change necessary for Porsche to remain Porsche,” Detlev Von Platen, Porsche AG board member of sales and marketing said during the presentation.

And it’s not stopping at the Taycan. By 2025, half of all Porsche vehicles will be electrified, according to Von Platen.

Porsche Taycan reveal

Less powerful variants (and therefore less expensive) of these all-wheel drive vehicles will follow this year, and the first derivative to be added will be the Taycan Cross Turismo at the end of 2020.

The Taycan may represent a new direction for the automaker, but there’s still no mistaking this electric vehicle for a Porsche. The Taycan has a big and low stance with a body line that still looks and feels like a Porsche. Bigger than a 911 and smaller than a Panamera, the body of the Taycan is wide and flat with contoured wings and a sporty roof that slopes down to the sharply emphasized and classic Porsche rear.

Inside is the good stuff. Both the Porsche Taycan Turbo S and Porsche Taycan Turbo are outfitted with two electric motors, one on the front axle and one on the rear axle, a two-speed transmission installed on the rear axle, and an 800-volt architecture — the same technology that helped the company’s 919 Hybrid win the 24 Hours of Le Mans three times in a row.

The interior of the Taycan, which was revealed last month, includes a sleek all-digital dashboard clearly inspired by the 1963 Porsche 911.

Now to the power.  The flagship Turbo S version of the Taycan can generate up to 750 horsepower (560 kW) of power in combination with “launch control” and overboost features that translate into accelerating from zero to 60 miles per hour in 2.8 seconds. The Taycan Turbo can produce up to 670 horsepower (500 kW), allowing it to go from a standstill to 60 mph in 3 seconds. Both vehicles have a top track speed of 161 mph.

The Taycan is ready for the race track,” Stefan Weckbach, vice president of the Taycan and Porsche Battery Electric Vehicle Product Line said during the event Wednesday.

And then there’s the 800 volt system, double the more commonly used 400 volt architecture found in other electric vehicles. The 800-volt system allows the Taycan to charge from 5% to 80% in 22.5 minutes with a maximum charging power of up to 270 kw. The vehicle’s 800-volt system will allow the Taycan to add 62 miles of charge in a snappy 5 minutes, Weckbach said.

The overall capacity of the 800V high voltage battery is 93.4 kWh. Porsche is throwing in three years of free charging at hundreds of Electrify America public stations that will blanket the U.S. in the coming months.

The EPA range estimate for North American market is pending for both vehicles. Under Europe’s WLTP estimates, the Turbo S can travel 256 miles on a single charge, while the Turbo has a range of 280 miles.


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Mental health websites in Europe found sharing user data for ads – gpgmail


Research by a privacy rights advocacy group has found popular mental health websites in the EU are sharing users’ sensitive personal data with advertisers.

Europeans going online to seek support with mental health issues are having sensitive health data tracked and passed to third parties, according to Privacy International’s findings — including depression websites passing answers and results of mental health check tests direct to third parties for ad targeting purposes.

The charity used the open source Webxray tool to analyze the data gathering habits of 136 popular mental health web pages in France, Germany and the UK, as well as looking at a small sub-set of online depression tests (the top three Google search results for the phrase per country).

It has compiled its findings into a report called Your mental health for sale.

“Our findings show that many mental health websites don’t take the privacy of their visitors as seriously as they should,” Privacy International writes. “This research also shows that some mental health websites treat the personal data of their visitors as a commodity, while failing to meet their obligations under European data protection and privacy laws.”

Under Europe’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), there are strict rules governing the processing of health data — which is classified as special category personal data.

If consent is being used as the legal basis to gather this type of data the standard that must be obtained from the user is “explicit” consent.

In practice that might mean a pop-up before you take a depression test which asks whether you’d like to share your mental health with a laundry list of advertisers so they can use it to sell you stuff when you’re feeling low — also offering a clear ‘hell no’ penalty-free choice not to consent (but still get to take the test).

Safe to say, such unvarnished consent screens are as rare as hen’s teeth on the modern Internet.

But, in Europe, beefed up privacy laws are now being used to challenge the ‘data industrial complex’s systemic abuses and help individuals enforce their rights against a behavior-tracking adtech industry that regulators have warned is out of control.

Among Privacy International’s key findings are that —

  • 76.04% of the mental health web pages contained third-party trackers for marketing purposes
  • Google trackers are almost impossible to avoid, with 87.8% of the web pages in France having a Google tracker, 84.09% in Germany and 92.16% in the UK
  •  Facebook is the second most common third-party tracker after Google, with 48.78% of all French web pages analysed sharing data with Facebook; 22.73% for Germany; and 49.02 % for the UK.
  • Amazon Marketing Services were also used by many of the mental health web pages analysed (24.39% of analyzed web pages in France; 13.64 % in Germany; and 11.76% in the UK)
  • Depression-related web pages used a large number of third-party tracking cookies which were placed before users were able to express (or deny) consent. On average, PI found the mental health web pages placed 44.49 cookies in France; 7.82 for Germany; and 12.24 for the UK

European law around consent as a legal basis for processing (general) personal data — including for dropping tracking cookies — requires it to be informed, specific and freely given. This means websites that wish to gather user data must clearly state what data they intend to collect for what purpose, and do so before doing it, providing visitors with a free choice to accept or decline the tracking.

Dropping tracking cookies without even asking clearly falls foul of that legal standard. And very far foul when you consider the personal data being handled by these mental health websites is highly sensitive special category health data.

It is exceedingly difficult for people to seek mental health information and for example take a depression test without countless of third parties watching,” said Privacy International technologist Eliot Bendinelli in a statement. “All website providers have a responsibility to protect the privacy of their users and comply with existing laws, but this is particularly the case for websites that share unusually granular or sensitive data with third parties. Such is the case for mental health websites.”

Additionally, the group’s analysis found some of the trackers embedded on mental health websites are used to enable a programmatic advertising practice known as Real Time Bidding (RTB). 

This is important because RTB is subject to multiple complaints under GDPR.

These complaints argue that the systematic, high velocity trading of personal data is, by nature, inherently insecure — with no way for people’s information to be secured after it’s shared with hundreds or even thousands of entities involved in the programmatic chain, because there’s no way to control it once it’s been passed. And, therefore, that RTB fails to comply with the GDPR’s requirement that personal data be processed securely.

Complaints are being considered by regulators across multiple Member States. But this summer the UK’s data watchdog, the ICO, essentially signalled it is in agreement with the crux of the argument — putting the adtech industry on watch in an update report in which it warns that behavioral advertising is out of control and instructs the industry it must reform.

However the regulator also said it would give players “an appropriate period of time to adjust their practices”, rather than wade in with a decision and banhammers to enforce the law now.

The ICO’s decision to opt for an implied threat of future enforcement to push for reform of non-compliant adtech practices, rather than taking immediate action to end privacy breaches, drew criticism from privacy campaigners.

And it does look problematic now, given Privacy International’s findings suggest sensitive mental health data is being sucked up into bid requests and put about at insecure scale — where it could pose a serious risk to individuals’ rights and freedoms.

Privacy International says it found “numerous” mental health websites including trackers from known data brokers and AdTech companies — some of which engage in programmatic advertising. It also found some depression test websites (namely: netdoktor.de, passeportsante.net and doctissimo.fr, out of those it looked at) are using programmatic advertising with RTB.

“The findings of this study are part of a broader, much more systemic problem: The ways in which companies exploit people’s data to target ads with ever more precision is fundamentally broken,” adds Bendinelli. “We’re hopeful that the UK regulator is currently probing the AdTech industry and the many ways it uses special category data in ways that are neither transparent nor fair and often lack a clear legal basis.”

We’ve reached out to the ICO with questions.

We also asked the Internet Advertising Bureau Europe what steps it is taking to encourage reform of RTB to bring the system into compliance with EU privacy law. At the time of writing the industry association had not responded.

The IAB recently released a new version of what it refers to as a “transparency and consent management framework” intended for websites to embed to collect consent from visitors to processing their data including for ad targeting purposes — legally, the IAB contends.

However critics argue this is just another dose of business as usual ‘compliance theatre’ from the adtech industry — with users offered only phoney choices as there’s no real control over how their personal data gets used or where it ends up.

Earlier this year Google’s lead privacy regulator in Europe, the Irish DPC, opened a formal investigation into the company’s processing of personal data in the context of its online Ad Exchange — also as a result of a RTB complaint filed in Ireland.

The DPC said it will look at each stage of an ad transaction to establish whether the ad exchange is processing personal data in compliance with GDPR — including looking at the lawful basis for processing; the principles of transparency and data minimisation; and its data retention practices.

The outcome of that investigation remains to be seen. (Fresh fuel has just today been poured on with the complainant submitting new evidence of their personal data being shared in a way they allege infringes the GDPR.)

Increased regulatory attention on adtech practices is certainly highlighting plenty of legally questionable and ethically dubious stuff — like embedded tracking infrastructure that’s taking liberal notes on people’s mental health condition for ad targeting purposes. And it’s clear that EU regulators have a lot more work to do to deliver on the promise of GDPR.




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Rwanda to phase out gas motorcycle-taxis for e-motos – gpgmail


The government of Rwanda will soon issue national policy-guidelines to eliminate gas motorcycles in its taxi sector in favor of e-motos.

The country’s president Paul Kagame previewed the plan last week. “We will find a way to replace the ones you have now. We urge taxi-moto operators to help us when the phase-out process comes,” he said speaking at a youth forum.

The Director General for the Rwanda Utilities Regulatory Authority Patrick Nyirishema confirmed Kagame’s comments were ahead of a national e-mobility plan in the works for the East African nation.

“The president’s announcement is exactly the policy direction we’re in…it’s about converting to electric motos…The policy is prepared, it’s yet to be passed..and is going through the approval process,” Nyirishema told gpgmail on a call from Kigali.

Motorcycle taxis in Rwanda are a common mode of transit, with estimates of 20 to 30 thousand operating in the capital of Kigali. The country has come a long way since the 1990s, becoming a test-bed for drone-delivery and prioritizing initiatives to become an African tech hub.

Rwanda motorcycle taxisNyirishema explained that converting to e-motorcycles is part of a national strategy to move Rwanda’s entire mobility space to electric. The country will start with public transit operators, such as moto-taxis, and move to buses and automobiles.

“Once the policy is out, we’ll no longer permit any motorcycle that is not electric to be added to a fleet,”  Nyirishema said, adding that the country’s regulators will need to create an appropriate transition period and program for taxi operators to move to e-motos.

The news comes as Africa’s motorcycle taxi markets — worth an estimated $4 billion — have seen a flurry of tech investment and expansion. Uber and Bolt got into the motorcycle taxi business in Africa in 2018.

Norwegian (and Chinese backed) browser service Opera’s recent $50 million backed West Africa product expansion included linking its new payment app to ORide, a motorcycle ride-hail venture it launched in Nigeria.

Nigerian motorcycle taxi and delivery startup MAX.ng raised a $7 million Series A round with participation from Yamaha. The company is using the funding to pilot e-motorcycles in Africa powered by renewable energy.

Another local moto-taxi ventureUganda’s SafeBoda—received outside capital in a Series B round co-led by the venture arms of Germany’s Allianz and Indonesia’s Go-Jek. 

The Director General for  Rwanda’s Utilities Regulatory Authority Patrick Nyirishema prepared to confirm partners for the country’s e-moto conversion.

One startup that says it will be involved is Ampersand, a Kigali based venture that has already begun to pilot EVs and charging systems in Rwanda.

The company has worked with a feasibility study for implementing electric vehicles across Rwanda since last year, according to CEO Josh Whale. “We’ve also got a grant from the government…and it’s been tied in really well with the feasibility study,” he told gpgmail.

Copy of Bike Rebero Ampersand eveningAmpersand has shaped its own e-motorcycle model, building the batteries and fitting them into new motorcycle chassis imported from Asia. To keep the taxi-moto riders consistently moving—vs. delayed while recharging—the startup has developed a battery swapping system and station.

One motorcycle ride-hail startup that’s been testing an Ampersand e-moto is Cango. Founded in 2015, the company has app-based, on-demand taxi-moto fleets in Rwanda and Congo.

“We intend to be among the first to switch our fleet, as the [Ampersand] bikes are ready,” Cango co-founder Barrett Nash told gpgmail in a message from Kinshasa.

Ampersand CEO Josh Wale sees electricity changing the micro-economics of motorcycle taxi markets. He estimates taxi riders in Rwanda spend $2000 a year on fuel and oil-charges for their gas machines.

“Looking at it from a driver point of view, from day one they are paying less for the bike and the battery by going electric,” he said.

 

 

 


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Porsche Taycan sets fastest 4-door electric car record at Nürburgring Nordschleife – gpgmail


Porsche’s upcoming all-electric Taycan has set a narrow, yet notable record lap time at the famous Nürburgring Nordschleife test track in Germany.

The company said Monday the Porsche Taycan, which will debut Sept, 4., completed the 12.8-mile course in 7 minutes and 42 seconds. This is the fastest lap for a four-door electric vehicle. The record time was set in a pre-series Taycan driven by Lars Kern.

But it’s not the fastest lap for any electric vehicle. That honor goes to Volkswagen’s ID R electric race car, which completed the course in 6:05.336 minutes. The previous record was set in 2017 by Peter Dumbreck, who was driving a Nio electric vehicle.

Still, it’s a zippy time for any vehicle. Porsche has set out to show the speed and endurance of its first electric vehicle ahead of its debut. Porsche says its record run at Nürburgring-Nordschleife and an endurance test the Nardò high-speed track show the Taycan can both.

Earlier this year, Porsche tested the Taycan’s ability to do successive acceleration runs from zero to 62 miles per hour. A video shows 26 successive starts without losses in performance. The average acceleration figure from the timed runs was under 10 seconds, according to Porsche. The difference between the fastest and slowest acceleration runs was 0.8 seconds, the company said.

The German automaker also drove 2,128 miles at speeds between 128 and 133 mph within 24 hours, only stopping to charge the battery and change drivers, at the Nardò track in Italy.

At Nürburgring-Nordschleife, development engineers started driving a Taycan around in a simulator to test and evaluate its performance on a virtual race track. Porsche said one of the main goals was determining electric energy with thermal management, which form an important contribution to achieving the lap time.

Porsche is aiming to prove to its existing customers, many of whom have never driven or owned an electric vehicle, that the Taycan will meet the same performance standards as its gas-powered cars and SUVs. It also hopes to attract new customers to the Porsche brand.

It appears the company is on the right track, if the thousands of reservations for the Taycan convert into actual purchases.


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Mobile gaming is a $68.5 billion global business, and investors are buying in – gpgmail


By the end of 2019, the global gaming market is estimated to be worth $152 billion with 45% of that, $68.5 billion, coming directly from mobile games. With this tremendous growth (10.2% YoY to be precise) has come a flurry of investments and acquisitions, everyone wanting a cut of the pie. In fact, over the last 18 months, the global gaming industry has seen $9.6 billion in investments and if investments continue at this current pace, the amount of investment generated in 2018-19 will be higher than the 8 previous years combined.

What’s interesting is why everyone is talking about games and who in the market is responding to this and how.

The gaming phenomenon 

Today, mobile games account for 33% of all app downloads, 74% of consumer spend, and 10% of all time spent in-app. It’s predicted that in 2019, 2.4 billion people will play mobile games around the world – that’s almost one third of the global population. In fact, 50% of mobile app users play games, making this app category as popular as music apps like Spotify and Apple Music and second only to social media and communications apps in terms of time spent.

In the US, time spent on mobile devices has also officially outpaced that of television – with users spending 8 more minutes per day on their mobile devices. By 2021, this number is predicted to increase to over 30 minutes. Apps are the new primetime and games have grabbed the lion’s share.

Accessibility is the highest it’s ever been as barriers to entry are virtually non-existent. From casual games to the recent rise of the wildly popular hyper-casual genre of games which are quick to download, easy to play, and lend themselves to being played in short sessions throughout the day, games are played by almost every demographic stratum of society. Today, the average age of a mobile gamer is 36.3 (compared with 27.7 in 2014), the gender split is 51% female, 49% male, and one-third of all gamers are between the ages of 36-50. A far cry from the traditional stereotype of a ‘gamer’.

With these demographic, geographic, and consumption sea-changes in the mobile ecosystem and entertainment landscape, it’s no surprise that the game space is getting increased attention and investment, not just from within the industry, but more recently from traditional financial markets and even governments. Let’s look at how the markets have responded to the rise of gaming.

Image courtesy of David Maung/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Games on Games 

The first substantial investments in mobile gaming came from those who already had a stake in the industry. Tencent invested $90M in Pocket Gems and$126M in Glu Mobile (for a 14.6% stake), gaming powerhouse Supercell invested $5M in mobile game studio Redemption Games, Boom Fantasy raised $2M from ESPN and the MLB and Gamelynx raised $1.2M from several investors – one of which was Riot Games. Most recently, Ubisoft acquired a 70% stake in Green Panda Games to bolster its foot in the hyper-casual gaming market.

Additionally, bigger gaming studios began to acquire smaller ones. Zynga bought Gram Games, Ubisoft acquired Ketchapp, Niantic purchased Seismic Games, and Tencent bought Supercell (as well as a 40% stake in Epic Games). And the list goes on.

Wall Street wakes up

Beyond the flurry of investments and acquisitions from within the game industry, games are also generating huge amounts of revenue. Since launch, Pokemon Go has generated $2.3B in revenue and Fortnite has amassed some 250M players. This is catching the attention of more traditional financial institutions, like private equity firms and VCs, who are now looking at a variety of investment options in gaming – not just of gaming studios, but all those who had a stake in or support the industry.

In May 2018, hyper-casual mobile gaming studio Voodoo announced a $200M investment from Goldman Sachs’ private equity investment arm. For the first time ever, a mobile gaming studio attracted the attention of a venerable old financial institution. The explosion of the hyper-casual genre and the scale its titles are capable of achieving, together with the intensely iterative, data-driven business model afforded by the low production costs of games like this, were catching the attention of investors outside of the gaming world, looking for the next big growth opportunity.

The trend continued. In July 2018, private equity firm KKR bought a $400M minority stake in AppLovin and now, exactly one year later Blackstone announced their plan to acquire mobile ad-network Vungle for a reported $750M. Not only is money going into gaming studios, but investments are being made into companies whose technology supports the mobile gaming space. Traditional investors are finally taking notice of the mobile gaming ecosystem as a whole and the explosive growth it has produced in recent years. This year alone mobile games are expected to generate $55B in revenue so this new wave of investment interest should really come as no surprise.

A woman holds up her cell phone as she plays the Pokemon Go game in Lafayette Park in front of the White House in Washington, DC, July 12, 2016. (Photo: JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)

Government intervention

Most recently, governments are realizing the potential and reach of the gaming industry and making their own investment moves. We’re seeing governments establish funds that support local gaming businesses – providing incentives for gaming studios to develop and retain their creatives, technology, and employees locally – as well as programs that aim to attract foreign talent.

As uncertainty looms in England surrounding Brexit, France has jumped on the opportunity with “Join the Game”. They’re painting France as an international hub that is already home to many successful gaming studios, and they’re offering tax breaks and plenty of funding options – for everything from R&D to the production of community events. Their website even has an entire page dedicated to “getting settled in France”, in English, with a step-by-step guide on how game developers should prepare for their arrival.

The UK Department for International Trade used this year’s Game Developers Conference as a backdrop for the promotion of their games fund – calling the UK “one of the most flourishing game developing ecosystems in the world.” The UK Games Fund allows for both local and foreign-owned gaming companies with a presence in the UK to apply for tax breaks. And ever since France announced their fund, more and more people have begun encouraging the British government to expand their program saying that the UK gaming ecosystem should be “retained and enhanced”. But, not only does the government take gaming seriously, the Queen does as well. In 2008, David Darling the CEO of hyper-casual game studio Kwalee was made a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) for his services to the games industry. CBE is the third-highest honor the Queen can bestow on a British citizen.

Over to Germany, and the government has allocated 50M euros of its 2019 budget for the creation of a games fund. In Sweden, the Sweden Game Arena is a public-private partnership that helps students develop games using government-funded offices and equipment. It also links students and startups with established companies and investors. While these numbers dwarf the investment of more commercial or financial players, the sudden uptick in interest governments are paying to the game space indicate just how exciting and lucrative gaming has become.

Support is coming from all levels

The evolution of investment in the gaming space is indicative of the stratospheric growth, massive revenue, strong user engagement, and extensive demographic and geographic reach of mobile gaming. With the global games industry projected to be worth a quarter of a trillion dollars by 2023, it comes as no surprise that the diverse players globally have finally realized its true potential and have embraced the gaming ecosystem as a whole.


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Minecraft to get big lighting, shadow and color upgrades through Nvidia ray tracing – gpgmail


Minecraft is getting a free update that brings much-improved lighting and color to the game’s blocky graphics using real-time ray tracing running on Nvidia GeForce RTX graphics hardware. The new look is a dramatic change in the atmospherics of the game, and manages to be eerily realistic while retaining Minecraft’s pixelated charm.

The ray tracing tech will be available via a free update to the game on Windows 10 PCs, but it’ll only be accessible to players using an Nvidia GeForce RTX GPU, since that’s the only graphics hardware on the market that currently supports playing games with real-time ray tracing active.

It sounds like it’ll be an excellent addition to the experience for players who are equipped with the right hardware, however – including lighting effects not only from the sun, but also from in-game materials like glowstone and lava; both hard and soft shadows depending on transparency of material and angle of light refraction; and accurate reflections in surfaces that are supposed to be reflective (ie. gold blocks, for instance).

This is welcome news after Minecraft developer Mojang announced last week that it cancelled plans to release its Super Duper Graphics Pack, which was going to add a bunch of improved visuals to the game, because it wouldn’t work well across platforms. At the time, Mojang said it would be sharing news about graphics optimization for some platforms “very soon,” and it looks like this is what they had in mind.

Nvidia meanwhile is showing off a range of 2019 games with real-time ray tracing enabled at Gamescom 2019 in Cologne, Germany, including Dying Light 2, Cyperpunk 2077, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare and Watch Dogs: Legion.


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Launching out of YC, Blair is aiming to reshape the financing of college tuition – gpgmail


It’s generally agreed that Higher Education in the United States has gradually become more and more unaffordable. Students are dependent on external financial resources for which many of them do not even qualify. Students that are able to secure a loan, often have to take on debts they can’t really afford. And if they don’t eventually land a job with enough income, they are saddled with debt for a very long time.

Much of the problem is that most student loan companies are not concerned with the overall financial well-being of their students, who often feel stuck, trying to repay a loan they cannot afford, without a backup organization that will help them figure it all out. We can see that in the figures. The student loan debt in the US has just reached $1.6 trillion dollars and more than quadrupled in the last 15 years.

With the student debt crisis getting out of hand, the topic has become a semi-permanent issue in the news.

Launching next week is a new startup under the Ycombinator accelerator called Blair which aims to address this seemingly intractable problem.

Blair finances college students through what’s called “Income Share Agreements” (ISA). Students receive funding for their tuition or costs of living and in turn pay back a percentage of their income for a fixed period of time after they graduate. Repayments adjust to individual income circumstances and by deferring payments in times of low income we protect the downside of the students.

It thus provides students with an alternative to debt which is tailored to their individual circumstances to ensure affordability. Blair’s underwriting process is based on the future potential of a student and not their credit score or co-signer, which could be a deal-breaker in traditional settings. Blair’s competitors are traditional student lenders: Sallie Mae, Sofi, Earnest, Wells Fargo, Citizen Bank, other banks. ISA companies include Vemo Education, Leif, Almapact, Lumni and Defynance.

In contrast to traditional student loan companies, Blair relies on being more aligned with the financial incentives of students, the idea being that it supports students in improving their employability by placing them in internships early, giving them access to industry mentors and coaching them individually on their career prospects.

The founders came up with the idea from personal experience. Constantin, one of the co-founders, is on an ISA himself, as are a lot of the company’s friends. They stumbled across the problem of student debt over and over again while studying in the US and noticed a stark difference between their friends in the US and their friends in Germany. The main reason is that 40% of the students at their alma maters in Germany use Income Share Agreements to finance their studies. They plan to use their experience from Europe and make ISAs more widespread in the US.

Students apply for funding on the website, and within minutes and get a personal quote shortly after. If they accept the quote, they receive their funding within a couple of days which they can use to pay for their tuition or cost of living. Once Blair issues the funding, it crafts a holistic career plan for each individual student and starts supporting them in landing the internships and jobs they want. This includes, for example, optimizing their application documents, preparing them for interviews or connecting them to mentors in their target industry. For context, they batch students together in funds and let external investors invest in the funds.

It receives a cut of the student repayments and carried interest if a student fund performs better than the target return. Additionally, it partners with companies that hire talent through the platform.

Blair has raised the first fund for 50 students and disbursed money for the first ten. The rest of the students will receive their money within the next weeks. After YC’s Demo Day the company will deploy a larger fund that will support 200 additional students.

“Our underwriting model is unique since we have based it on data from concluded ISA funds in European countries,” says cofounder Mike Mahlkow.

“In the last two weeks, we received applications for funding totaling over 4 million dollars. Many of our students come from underprivileged backgrounds, often without any support network. Our goal is to build a human capital platform where individuals can access capital based on their future potential instead of their past and investors can participate in the upside potential of individuals in an ethical way” he adds.


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Deliveroo is exiting the German market – gpgmail


UK on-demand food delivery startup Deliveroo is pulling the plug on its service in Germany.

The startup expanded into the market more than four years ago. But in an email sent to users it writes that — “regrettably” — it will be exiting Germany on August 16.

“This was not an easy decision and one we have not taken lightly,” it adds, saying its focus will be on “growing our operations in other markets around the world”.

The company had already dialled back service in the market, shuttering services in a number of smaller German cities a year ago. At the time it said it would focus on Berlin, Munich, Cologne, Hamburg and Frankfurt.

A spokesperson for Deliveroo confirmed it’s complete exit from Germany, emailing gpgmail the following statement:

We want to thank all of the riders and restaurants who worked with Deliveroo in Germany, as well our wonderful customers. It has been an honour to serve so many people amazing food from Germany’s many great restaurants and to work with so many brilliant, hard-working riders. We are grateful to our extremely talented employees for their commitment to bringing fantastic foods to people’s homes, and they will be supported in this period. Deliveroo will continue to grow and invest in markets across the world, seeking to become the world’s definitive food company.

The spokesperson added that Deliveroo intends to refocus resources and investment to accelerate growth and expansion in other markets across Europe and APAC — without specifying exactly where it plans to focus.

Support for riders and affected employees will include unknown levels of compensation and goodwill packages, according to information provided by Deliveroo. Update: The company has now provided more detail of the compensation, saying riders who have been active in the past 12 weeks will receive the following goodwill payments:

  • A goodwill payment of 10 days’ pay, based on their average weekly earnings over the past 12 weeks

  • Another goodwill payment of 2 weeks’ pay, based on their average weekly earnings over the past 12 weeks

Any outstanding fees will also be paid to riders.

Employees who are being terminated will receive their statutory notice plus a further payment — either of two weeks’ pay for those who have been at the company for up to a year, or one month’s pay for each year of employment for those who have been at the company for more than a year.

Deliveroo has also said it does not rule out returning to Germany in future, albeit it expressed a similar sentiment when it downsized its service footprint in the market last year.

At the time of its launch into Germany, back in April 2015, we wrote that Deliveroo would face “stiff competition”, noting for example that Berlin was already host to a range of local food delivery startups.

Competition in the on-demand food delivery space in Europe has raged fiercely for years — with very little to distinguish one delivery app from another, aside from price. Switching service is always just an app tap away.  But with consolidation now starting to eat into the market the temperature is rising.

At the end of last year another Deliveroo rival, Delivery Hero, ceded its entire business in Germany to Netherlands-based Takeaway.com — selling the unit for €930M.

While, late last month, UK-based Just Eat and Takeaway.com announced they were in advanced talks to combine their businesses. Their boards reached agreement on terms last week — with the deal set to be put to their respective shareholders before the end of the year.

Most likely that mega-merger is concentrating minds at Deliveroo. Competing for customers with a platform giant valued at $10BN+ certainly does not sound like a cake walk.

gpgmail’s Steve O’Hear contributed to this report 


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