The MIT Media Lab controversy and getting back to ‘radical courage’, with Media Lab student Arwa Mboya – gpgmail


People win prestigious prizes in tech all the time, but there is something different about The Bold Prize. Unless you’ve been living under a literal or proverbial rock, you’ve probably heard something about the late Jeffrey Epstein, a notorious child molester and human trafficker who also happened to be a billionaire philanthropist and managed to become a ubiquitous figure in certain elite science and tech circles.

And if you’re involved in tech, the rock you’ve been living under would have had to be fully insulated from the internet to avoid reading about Epstein’s connections with MIT’s Media Lab, a leading destination for the world’s most brilliant technological minds, also known as “the future factory.” 

This past week, conversations around the Media Lab were hotter than the fuel rods at Fukushima, as The New Yorker’s Ronan Farrow, perhaps the most feared and famous investigative journalist in America today, blasted out what for some were new revelations that Bill Gates, among others, had given millions of dollars to the Media Lab at Jeffrey (no fucking relation, thank you very much!) Epstein’s behest. Hours after Farrow’s piece was published, Joi Ito, the legendary but now embattled Media Lab director, resigned.

But well before before Farrow weighed in or Ito stepped away, students, faculty, and other leaders at MIT and far beyond were already on full alert about this story, thanks in large part to Arwa Michelle Mboya, a graduate student at the Media Lab, from Kenya by way of college at Yale, where she studied economics and filmmaking and learned to create virtual reality. Mboya, 25, was among the first public voices (arguably the very first) to forcefully and thoughtfully call on Ito to step down from his position.

Imagine: you’re heading into the second year of your first graduate degree, and you find yourself taking on a man who, when Barack Obama took over Wired magazine for an issue as guest editor, was one of just a couple of people the then sitting President of the United States asked to personally interview. And imagine that man was the director of your graduate program, and the reason you decided to study in it in the first place.

Imagine the pressure involved, the courage required. And imagine, soon thereafter, being completely vindicated and celebrated for your actions. 

Arwa Mboya. Image via MIT Media Lab

That is precisely the journey that Arwa Mboya has been on these past few weeks, including when human rights technologist Sabrina Hersi Issa decided to crowd-fund the Bold Prize to honor Mboya’s courage, which has now brought in over $10,000 to support her ongoing work (full disclosure: I am among the over 120 contributors to the prize).

Mboya’s advocacy was never about Joi Ito personally. If you get to know her through the interview below, in fact, you’ll see she doesn’t wish him ill.

As she wrote in MIT’s The Tech nine days before Farrow’s essay and ten before Ito’s resignation, “This is not an MIT issue, and this is not a Joi Ito issue. This is an international issue where a global network of powerful individuals have used their influence to secure their privilege at the expense of women’s bodies and lives. The MIT Media Lab was nicknamed “The Future Factory” on CBS’s 60 Minutes. We are supposed to reflect the future, not just of technology but of society. When I call for Ito’s resignation, I’m fighting for the future of women.”

From the moment I read it, I thought this was a beautiful and truly bold statement by a student leader who is an inspiring example of the extraordinary caliber of student that the Media Lab draws.

But in getting to know her a bit since reading it, I’ve learned that her message is also about even more. It’s about the fact that the women and men who called for a new direction in light of Jeffrey Epstein’s abuses and other leaders’ complicity did so in pursuit of their own inspiring dreams for a better world.

Arwa, as you’ll see below, spoke out at MIT because of her passion to use tech to inspire radical imagination among potentially millions of African youth. As she discusses both the Media Lab and her broader vision, I believe she’s already beginning to provide that inspiration. 

Greg Epstein: You have had a few of the most dramatic weeks of any student I’ve met in 15 years as a chaplain at two universities. How are you doing right now?

Arwa Mboya: I’m actually pretty good. I’m not saying that for the sake of saying. I have a great support network. I’m in a lab where everyone is amazing. I’m very tired, I’ll say that. I’ve been traveling a lot and dealing with this while still trying to focus on writing a thesis. If anything, it’s more like overwhelmed and exhausted as opposed to not doing well in and of itself.

Epstein: Looking at your writing — you’ve got a great Medium blog that you started long before MIT and maintained while you’ve been here — it struck me that in speaking your mind and heart about this Media Lab issue, you’ve done exactly what you set out to do when you came here. You set out to be brave, to live life, as the Helen Keller quote on your website says, as either a great adventure or nothing. 

Also, when you came to the Media Lab, you were the best-case scenario for anyone who works on publicizing this place. You spoke and wrote about the Lab as your absolute dream. When you were in Africa, or Australia, or at Yale, how did you come to see this as the best place in the world for you to express the creative and civic dreams that you had?

Mboya: That’s a good question — what drew me here? The Media Lab is amazing. I read Whiplash, which is Joi Ito’s book about the nine principles of the Media Lab, and it really resonated with me. It was a place for misfits. It was a place for people who are curious and who just want to explore and experiment and mix different fields, which is exactly what I’ve been doing before.

From high school, I was very narrow in my focus; at Yale I did Econ and film, so that had a little more edge. After I graduated I insisted on not taking a more conventional path many students from Yale take, so [I] moved back to Kenya and worked on many different projects, got into adventure sports, got into travel more.

Epstein: Your website is full of pictures of you flipping over, skydiving, gymnastics — things that require both strength and courage. 

Mboya: I’d always been an athlete, loved the outdoors.

I remember being in Vietnam; I’d never done a backflip. I was like, “Okay, I’m going to learn how to do this.” But it’s really scary jumping backwards; the fear. Is, you can’t see where you’re going. I remember telling myself, ” Okay, just jump over the fear. Just shut it off and do it. Your body will follow.” I did and I was like, “Oh, that was easy.” It’s not complicated. Most people could do it if they just said, “Okay, I’ll jump.”

It really stuck with me. A lot of decisions I’ve [since] made, that I’m scared of, I think, “Okay, just jump, and your body will follow.” The Media Lab was like that as well.

I really wanted to go there, I just didn’t think there was a place for me. It was like, I’m not techie enough, I’m not anything enough. Applying was, ’just jump,’ you never know what will happen.

image 4

Image from Arwa Mboya

Epstein: Back when you were applying, you wrote about experiencing what applicants to elite schools often call “imposter syndrome.” This is where I want to be, but will they want me?

Mboya: Exactly.




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Nintendo Files Multi-Million Dollar Lawsuit Against Another Large ROM Site


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Nintendo owns some of the most iconic intellectual property in games, and it’s taking a stand against ROM sites. After securing a win against two major ROM distributors, Nintendo has set its sights on another website called RomUniverse. Nintendo has filed a lawsuit against the owner of RomUniverse seeking millions of dollars in damages and demanding that the site shut down. 

According to the legal filing, RomUniverse is one of the largest unauthorized distributors of Nintendo games. It also seems to be a particularly brazen enterprise, featuring a Nintendo-themed background and paid memberships (a one-time $30 fee) that allow users to download as much content as they want. Without the membership, you can only download three items per week. RomUniverse also hosts movies and ebooks, and these are direct downloads. At least torrent sites have the advantage of not storing infringing files on their servers. 

Nintendo points to numerous examples of infringing content including ROMs for the current-gen Switch consoleSEEAMAZON_ET_135 See Amazon ET commerce and older systems like the 3DS, Game Boy Advance, Nintendo 64, and NES. Simply having ROM files isn’t illegal, but it’s something of a gray area. You’re probably in the clear if you make backups of games you already own. However, making those ROMs available for download is just asking for trouble, and Nintendo is famously strict about the use of its IP. 

The company’s lawsuit seeks $2 million in damages for trademark infringement across the site plus $150,000 per infringing file. That’s where the damages would really stack up. There are thousands of Nintendo ROMs on the site. Just the selection of Switch titles would push the damages into the tens of millions. In addition to damages, Nintendo demands that the website operator shut down the site and transfer ownership to Nintendo. 

It has been just over a year since Nintendo filed a lawsuit against LoveROMS.com and LoveRETRO.co, both of which were owned Jacob Mathias. By late 2018, Mathias had agreed to a $12 million settlement with Nintendo. The sites temporarily went offline shortly after Nintendo filed suit, and later became apology pages. They are now completely offline. The fact that RomUniverse is still online and serving pirated games suggests the owner won’t be so quick to surrender. We could be looking at a more drawn-out case.

Now read:




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Lyft faces sexual assault lawsuit – gpgmail


Fourteen women today filed a lawsuit against Lyft alleging the company has not addressed complaints pertaining to sexual assault, including rape. The suit, filed today in the Superior Court of San Francisco, seeks special, general and punitive damages, among other types of relief.

In one case, a woman describes a Lyft driver who ended the ride more than one mile away from her house, locked the doors, told her, “I love you” and took her phone, the suit claims. It goes on to describe how he eventually pulled over the car so he could climb into the back seat, the suit alleges. That’s when he “grabbed her face to forcefully kiss her, at which time she slapped him, breaking a finger; then eventually driving her to a beach – where he raped her.”

Calling it a “sexual predator crisis,” the lawsuit claims Lyft has known of sexual assaults since 2015 and has had an “appallingly inadequate” response. Specifically, the lawsuit claims Lyft continues to let “culpable drivers who have complaints of rape and sexual assaults lodged against them” continue driving for Lyft.

The suit alleges Lyft also does not cooperate with the police when a driver sexual assaults a passenger nor does it require any sexual harassment training of its drivers. Additionally, Lyft allowed drivers accused of rape to continue driving for the service, the suit alleges.

To help address and ideally eliminate sexual assaults, the lawsuit recommends Lyft adopt a zero-tolerance policy for improper conduct, add a surveillance camera to the app that can record audio and video of all rides and require drivers to have it on at all times, adopt a policy for the mandatory reporting of sexual assault, as well as take other steps to increase safety.

Competitor Uber has also faced a number of sexual assault and abuse lawsuits. Between 2014 – 2018, CNN found 103 Uber drivers who had been accused of sexual assault or abuse of passengers.

Over the years, both companies have made steps to ramp up their respective safety procedures. In April, Uber launched a campus safety initiative while Lyft implemented continuous background checks and enhanced its identity verification process for drivers. Uber, however, implemented continuous background checks about a full year before Lyft. Unlike Uber, Lyft lacks an easy way for riders to call 911 within the app. In May 2018, Uber added an in-app 911 calling feature.

I’ve reached out to Lyft and will update this story if I hear back.


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Oracle files new appeal over Pentagon’s $10B JEDI cloud contract RFP process – gpgmail


You really have to give Oracle a lot of points for persistence, especially where the $10 billion JEDI cloud contract procurement process is concerned. For more than a year, the company has been complaining  across every legal and government channel it can think of. In spite of every attempt to find some issue with the process, it has failed every time. That did not stop it today from filing a fresh appeal of last month’s federal court decision that found against the company.

Oracle refuses to go quietly into that good night, not when there are $10 billion federal dollars on the line, and today the company announced it was appealing Federal Claims Court Senior Judge Eric Bruggink’s decision. This time they are going back to that old chestnut that the single-award nature of the JEDI procurement process is illegal.

“The Court of Federal Claims opinion in the JEDI bid protest describes the JEDI procurement as unlawful, notwithstanding dismissal of the protest solely on the legal technicality of Oracle’s purported lack of standing. Federal procurement laws specifically bar single award procurements such as JEDI absent satisfying specific, mandatory requirements, and the Court in its opinion clearly found DoD did not satisfy these requirements. The opinion also acknowledges that the procurement suffers from many significant conflicts of interest. These conflicts violate the law and undermine the public trust. As a threshold matter, we believe that the determination of no standing is wrong as a matter of law, and the very analysis in the opinion compels a determination that the procurement was unlawful on several grounds,” Oracle’s General Counsel Dorian Daley said in a statement.

In December, Oracle sued the government for $10 billion, at the time focusing mostly on a perceived conflict of interest involving a former Amazon employee named Deap Ubhi. He worked for Amazon prior to joining the DOD, where he worked on a committee of people writing the RFP requirements, and then returned to Amazon later. The DOD investigated this issue twice, and found no evidence he violated federal conflict of interest of laws.

The court ultimately agreed with the DOD’s finding last month, ruling that Oracle had failed to provide evidence of a conflict, or that it had impact on the procurement process. Judge Bruggink wrote at the time:

We conclude as well that the contracting officer’s findings that an organizational conflict of interest does not exist and that individual conflicts of interest did not impact the procurement, were not arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion, or otherwise not in accordance with law. Plaintiff’s motion for judgment on the administrative record is therefore denied.

The company started complaining and cajoling even before the JEDI RFP process started. The Washington Post reported that Oracle’s Safra Catz met with the president in April, 2018 to complain that the process was unfairly stacked in favor of Amazon, which happens to be the cloud market share leader by a significant margin, with more than double that of its next closest rival, Microsoft.

Later, the company filed an appeal with the Government Accountability Office, which found no issue with the RFP process. The DOD, which has insisted all along there was no conflict in the process, also did in an internal investigation and found no wrong-doing.

The president got involved last month when he ordered the Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper look into the idea that, once again, the process has favored Amazon. That investigation is on-going. The DOD did name two finalists, Amazon and Microsoft in April, but has yet to name the winner as the protests, court cases and investigations continue.

The controversy in part involves the nature of the contract itself. It is potentially a decade-long undertaking to build the cloud infrastructure for the DOD, involves the award of a single vendor (although there are several opt-out clauses throughout the term of the contract) and it involves $10 billion and the potential for much more government work. That every tech company is salivating for that contract is hardly surprising, but Oracle alone continues to protest at every turn.

The winner was supposed to be announced this month, but with the Pentagon investigation in progress, and another court case underway, it could be some time before we hear who the winner is.


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Facebook really doesn’t want you to read these emails – gpgmail


Oh hey y’all, it’s Friday! It’s August! Which means it’s a great day for Facebook to drop a little news it would prefer you don’t notice. News that you won’t find a link to on the homepage of Facebook’s Newsroom — which is replete with colorfully illustrated items it does want you to read (like the puffed up claim that “Now You Can See and Control the Data That Apps and Websites Share With Facebook”.)

The blog post Facebook would really prefer you didn’t notice is tucked away in a News sub-section of this website — where it’s been confusingly entitled: Document Holds the Potential for Confusion. And has an unenticing grey image of a document icon to further put you off — just in case you happened to stumble on it after all. It’s almost as if Facebook is saying ‘definitely don’t click here‘…

So what is Facebook trying to bury in the horse latitudes of summer?

An internal email chain, starting September 2015, which shows a glimpse of what Facebook’s own staff knew about the activity of Cambridge Analytica prior to The Guardian‘s December 2015 scoop — when the newspaper broke the story that the controversial (and now defunct) data analytics firm, then working for Ted Cruz’s presidential campaign, had harvested data on millions of Facebook users without their knowledge and/or consent, and was using psychological insights gleaned from the data to target voters.

Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg’s official timeline of events about what he knew when vis-a-via the Cambridge Analytica story has always been that his knowledge of the matter dates to December 2015 — when the Guardian published its story.

But the email thread Facebook is now releasing shows internal concerns being raised almost two months earlier.

This chimes with previous (more partial) releases of internal correspondence pertaining to Cambridge Analytica  — which have also come out as a result of legal actions (and which we’ve reported on previously here and here).

If you click to download the latest release, which Facebook suggests it ‘agreed’ with the District of Columbia Attorney General to “jointly make public”, you’ll find a redacted thread of emails in which Facebook staffers raise a number of platform policy violation concerns related to the “political partner space”, writing September 29, 2915, that “many companies seem to be on the edge- possibly over”.

Cambridge Analytica is first identified by name — when it’s described by a Facebook employee as “a sketchy (to say the least) data modelling company that has penetrated our market deeply” — on September 22, 2015, per this email thread. It is one of many companies the staffer writes are suspected of scraping user data — but is also described as “the largest and most aggressive on the conservative side”.

Screenshot 2019 08 23 at 16.34.15

On September 30, 2015, a Facebook staffer responds to this, asking for App IDs and app names for the apps engaging in scraping user data — before writing: “My hunch is that these apps’ data-scraping is likely non-compliant”.

“It would be very difficult to engage in data-scraping activity as you described while still being compliant with FPPs [Facebook Platform Policies],” this person adds.

Cambridge Analytica gets another direct mention (“the Cambridge app”) on the same day. A different Facebook staffer then chips in with a view that “it’s very likely these companies are not in violation of any of our terms” — before asking for “concrete examples” and warning against calling them to ask questions unless “red flags” have been confirmed.

On October 13, a Facebook employee chips back into the thread with the view that “there are likely a few data policy violations here”.

The email thread goes on to discuss concerns related to additional political partners and agencies using Facebook’s platform at that point, including ForAmerica, Creative Response Concepts, NationBuilder and Strategic Media 21. Which perhaps explains Facebook’s lack of focus on CA — if potentially “sketchy” political activity was apparently widespread.

On December 11 another Facebook staffer writes to ask for an expedited review of Cambridge Analytica — saying it’s “unfortunately… now a PR issue”, i.e. as a result of the Guardian publishing its article.

The same day a Facebook employee emails to say Cambridge Analytica “is hi pri at this point”, adding: “We need to sort this out ASAP” — a month and a half after the initial concern was raised.

Also on December 11 a staffer writes that they had not heard of GSR, the Cambridge-based developer CA hired to extract Facebook user data, before the Guardian article named it. But other Facebook staffers chip in to reveal personal knowledge of the psychographic profiling techniques deployed by Cambridge Analytica and GSR’s Dr Aleksandr Kogan, with one writing that Kogan was their postdoc supervisor at Cambridge University.

Another says they are friends with Michal Kosinsky, the lead author of a personality modelling paper that underpins the technique used by CA to try to manipulate voters — which they described as “solid science”.

A different staffer also flags the possibility that Facebook has worked with Kogan — ironically enough “on research on the Protect & Care team” — citing the “Wait, What thread” and another email, neither of which appear to have been released by Facebook in this ‘Exhibit 1’ bundle.

So we can only speculate on whether Facebook’s decision — around September 2015 — to hire Kogan’s GSR co-founder, Joseph Chancellor, appears as a discussion item in the ‘Wait, What’ thread…

Putting its own spin on the release of these internal emails in a blog post, Facebook sticks to its prior line that “unconfirmed reports of scraping” and “policy violations by Aleksandr Kogan” are two separate issues, writing:

We believe this document has the potential to confuse two different events surrounding our knowledge of Cambridge Analytica. There is no substantively new information in this document and the issues have been previously reported. As we have said many times, including last week to a British parliamentary committee, these are two distinct issues. One involved unconfirmed reports of scraping — accessing or collecting public data from our products using automated means — and the other involved policy violations by Aleksandr Kogan, an app developer who sold user data to Cambridge Analytica. This document proves the issues are separate; conflating them has the potential to mislead people.

It has previously also referred to the internal concerns raised about CA as “rumors”.

“Facebook was not aware that Kogan sold data to Cambridge Analytica until December 2015. That is a fact that we have testified to under oath, that we have described to our core regulators, and that we stand by today,” it adds now.

It also claims that after an engineer responded to concerns that CA was scraping data and looked into it they were not able to find any such evidence. “Even if such a report had been confirmed, such incidents would not naturally indicate the scale of the misconduct that Kogan had engaged in,” Facebook adds.

The company has sought to dismiss the privacy litigation brought against it by the District of Columbia which is related to the Cambridge Analytica scandal — but has been unsuccessful in derailing the case thus far.

The DC complaint alleges that Facebook allowed third-party developers to access consumers’ personal data, including information on their online behavior, in order to offer apps on its platform, and that it failed to effectively oversee and enforce its platform policies by not taking reasonable steps to protect consumer data and privacy. It also alleges Facebook failed to inform users of the CA breach.

Facebook has also failed to block another similar lawsuit that’s been filed in Washington, DC by Attorney General Karl Racine — which has alleged lax oversight and misleading privacy standards.


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Oracle directors give blessing to shareholder lawsuit against Larry Ellison and Safra Catz – gpgmail


Three years after closing a $9.3 billion deal to acquire Netsuite, several Oracle board members have written an extraordinary letter to the Delaware Court, approving a shareholder lawsuit against company executives Larry Ellison and Safra Catz over the 2016 deal. Reuters broke this story.

According Reuters’ Alison Frankel, three board members including former U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, sent a letter on August 15th to Sam Glasscock III, Vice Chancellory for the Court of the Chancellor in Georgetown, Delaware, approving the suit as members of a special Board of Directors entity known as the Special Litigation Committee.

The lawsuit is what is called in legal parlance, a derivative suit. According to the site Justia, this type of suit is filed in cases like this. “Since shareholders are generally allowed to file a lawsuit in the event that a corporation has refused to file one on its own behalf, many derivative suits are brought against a particular officer or director of the corporation for breach of contract or breach of fiduciary duty,” the Justia site explained.

The letter went onto say there was an attempt to settle this suit, which was originally launched in 2017, through negotiation outside of court, but when that attempt failed, the directors wrote this letter to the court stating that the suit should be allowed to proceed.

As Frankel wrote in her article, the lawsuit, which was originally filed by Firemen’s fund could be worth billions:

One of the lead lawyers for the Firemen’s fund, Joel Friedlander of Friedlander & Gorris, said at a hearing in June that shareholders believe the breach-of-duty claims against Oracle and NetSuite executives are worth billions of dollars. So in last week’s letter, Oracle’s board effectively unleashed plaintiffs’ lawyers to seek ten-figure damages against its own members, Frankel wrote

It’s worth pointing out, as we reported at the time of the Netsuite acquisition, that Larry Ellison was involved in setting up Netsuite in the late 1990s and was a major shareholder at the time of the deal.

Oracle was struggling to find its cloud footing in 2016, and it was believed that by buying an established SaaS player like Netsuite, it could begin to build out its cloud business much faster than trying to develop something like it internally. A June Synergy Research SaaS marketshare report, while admitting the market was fragmented, still showed Oracle was far behind the pack in spite of that deal three years ago.

SaaS Q119 1

While there have been bigger deals in tech M&A history, including Salesforce’s acquisition of Tableau for $15.7 billion earlier this year, it’s still stands with some of the largest.

We reached out to Oracle regarding this story, but it declined to comment.

 

 


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In a 130-page court filing, Kik claims the SEC’s lawsuit “twists” the facts about its online token – gpgmail


CEO Ted Livingston of Kik

Kik Interactive has hit back at the Securities and Exchange Commission lawsuit that claims a $100 million token sale was illegal. The company, which owns Kik Messenger, filed a 130-page response today in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, alleging that the SEC is “twisting” the facts about its token, called Kin, and asking for an early trial date and dismissal of the complaint.

One of the key issues in the case is if Kin was just an in-app token used to buy games, digital products and other services in Kik Messenger, or if it was meant to be an investment opportunity, as the SEC alleges.

Kik’s general counsel Eileen Lyon said in a press statement that “since Kin is not itself a security, the SEC must show that it was sold in a way that violates the securities laws. The SEC had access to over 50,000 documents and took testimony from nearly 20 witnesses prior to filing its Complaint, yet it is unable to make the case that Kik’s token sale violated the securities laws without bending the facts to distort the record.”

The SEC alleges that the token sale, announced in 2017, came at a time when the company had predicted that it would run out of money after Kik Messenger had been losing money for years, and that it then used proceeds from that sale to build an online marketplace for the app.

In the filing, Kik’s legal team denied that charge, claiming that the SEC’s allegations about its financial condition “is solely designed for misdirection, thereby prejudicing Kik and portraying it in a negative light” and that Kik began working on a cryptocurrency-based model after exploring monetization options that would help it compete against larger techc companies.

They added that “Kik’s Board and Executive Team alike believed that Kin was a bold idea that could solve the monetization challenges faced by all developers (not just Kik) in the existing advertising-based economy, by changing the way people buy and sell digital products and services.”

The SEC also alleges that the sale of digital tokens to U.S. investors was illegal because Kik did not register their offer as required by United States law, even though it claims that Kik marketed Kin as an investment opportunity whose value would increase. In its response, Kik denied that it offered or sold securities, or violated federal securities laws.

In the company’s press statement, Kik CEO Ted Livingston said “The SEC tries to paint a picture that the Kin project was an act of desperation rather than the bold move that it was to win the game, and one that Kakao, Line, Telegram and Facebook have all now followed.”


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The SEC wants disgraced VC Mike Rothenberg to cough up more than $30 million – gpgmail


Nearly three years ago, gpgmail reported on suspected fraud committed by Mike Rothenberg, a self-described “millennial venture capitalist” who’d made a name for himself not only by eponymously branding his venture firm but for spending lavishly to woo startup founders, including on Napa Valley wine tours, at luxury boxes at Golden State Warriors games and most famously, hosting an annual “founder field day” at the San Francisco Giants’s baseball stadium that later inspired a scene in the HBO show “Silicon Valley.”

The Securities & Exchange Commission had initially reached out to Rothenberg in June of 2016 and by last August, Rothenberg had been formally charged for misappropriating up to $7 million on his investors’ capital. He settled with the agency without making an admission of guilt, and, as part of the settlement, he stepped down from what was left of the firm and agreed to be barred from the brokerage and investment advisory business with a right to reapply after five years.

Now, comes the money part. Following a forensic audit conducted in partnership with the accounting firm Deloitte, the SEC is seeking $18.8 million in disgorgement penalties from Rothenberg, and an additional $9 million civil penalty. The SEC is also asking that Rothenberg be forced to pay pre-judgment interest of $3,663,323.47

How it arrived at that math: according to a new lawsuit filed on Wednesday, the SEC argues that Rothenberg raised a net amount of approximately $45.9 million across six venture funds from at least 200 investors, yet that he took “fees” on their capital that far exceeded what his firm was entitled to during the life of those funds, covering up these “misdeeds” by “modifying accounting entries to make his misappropriation look like investments, entering into undisclosed transactions to paper over diverted money, and shuffling investments from one [f]und to another to conceal prior diversions.”

Ultimately, it says, Deloitte’s examination demonstrated that Rothenberg misappropriated $18.8 million that rightfully belong to Rothenberg Ventures, $3.8 million of which was transferred to Rothenberg personally; $8.8 million of which was used to fund other entities under his control (including a car racing team and a virtual reality studio); and $5.7 of which was used to pay the firm’s expenses “over and above” the management and administrative fees it was entitled to per its management agreements.

We reached out to Rothenberg this morning. He has not yet responded to our request to discuss the development.

It sounds from the filing like there’s not much wiggle room to fight it. According to the SEC’s suit, the “Rothenberg Judgment” agreed upon last summer left monetary relief to be decided by a court’s judgment, one that “provides that Rothenberg accepts the facts alleged in the complaint as true, and does not contest his liability for the violations alleged, for the purposes of this motion and at any hearing on this motion.”

In the meantime, the lawsuit contains interesting nuggets, including an alleged maneuver in which Rothenberg raised $1.3 million to invest in the game engine company Unity but never actually bought shares in the company, instead diverting the capital to other entities. (He eventually paid back $1 million to one investor who repeatedly asked for the money back, but not the other $300,000.)

Rothenberg also sold a stake in the stock-trading firm Robinhood for $5.4 million, says the SEC, but rather than funnel any proceeds to investors, he again directed the money elsewhere, including, evidently, to pay for a luxury suite during Golden State Warriors games for which he shelled out $136,000.

In a move that one Rothenberg investor finds particularly galling, the SEC claims that Rothenberg then turned around and rented that box through an online marketplace that enables people to buy and sell suites at various sports and entertainment venues, receiving at least $56,000 from the practice.

In an apparent effort to keep up appearances, Rothenberg also gave $30,000 to the Stanford University Athletics Department (he attended Stanford as an undergrad) and spent thousands of dollars on ballet tickets last year and early this year, says the SEC’s filing.

Regardless of what happens next, one small victor in the SEC’s detailed findings is Silicon Valley Bank, a sprawling enterprise that has aggressively courted the tech industry since its 1983 founding. Last year, at the same time that Rothenberg was agreeing to be barred from the industry, he made a continued show of his innocence by filing suit against SVB to “vindicate the interests of its funds and investors,” the firm said in a statement at the time.

The implication was that SVB was at fault for some of Rothenberg’s woes because it had not properly wired money to the correct accounts, but the SEC says that SVB was defrauded, providing Rothenberg a $4 million line of credit after being presented with fabricated documents.

A loser — other than Rothenberg and the many people who now feel cheated by him — is Harvard Business School. The reason: it used Rothenberg Ventures as a case study for students after Rothenberg graduated from the program. As we’ve reported previously, that case study — funded by HBS before any hint of trouble at the firm had surfaced  — was co-authored by two professors who had a “significant financial interest in Rothenberg Ventures,” as stated prominently in a curriculum footnote.

Presumably, those ties gave confidence to at least some of the investors in Silicon Valley and elsewhere who later provided Rothenberg with money to invest on their behalf.

You can read the SEC’s 20-page motion for disgorgement and penalties below, along with the 48-page report assembled by Deloitte’s forensic accounting partner Gerry Fujimoto.

SEC vs. Mike Rothenberg by gpgmail on Scribd

Forensic report re Mike Rothenberg/Rothenberg Ventures by gpgmail on Scribd

Additional reporting by gpgmail’s Sarah Perez.

Above: Rothenberg Ventures during better days.


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UK High Court rejects human rights challenge to bulk snooping powers – gpgmail


Civil liberties campaign group Liberty has lost its latest challenge to controversial U.K. surveillance powers that allow state agencies to intercept and retain data in bulk.

The challenge fixed on the presence of so-called “bulk” powers in the 2016 Investigatory Powers Act (IPA): A controversial capability that allows intelligence agencies to legally collect and retain large amounts of data, instead of having to operate via targeted intercepts.

The law even allows for state agents to hack into devices en masse, without per-device grounds for individual suspicion.

Liberty, which was supported in the legal action by the National Union of Journalists, argued that bulk powers are incompatible with European human rights law on the grounds that the IPA contains insufficient safeguards against abuse of these powers.

Two months ago it published examples of what it described as shocking failures by U.K. state agencies — such as not observing the timely destruction of material; and data being discovered to have been copied and stored in “ungoverned spaces” without the necessary controls — which it said showed MI5 had failed to comply with safeguards requirements since the IPA came into effect.

However the judges disagreed that the examples of serious flaws in spy agency MI5’s “handling procedures” — which the documents also show triggering intervention by the Investigatory Powers Commissioner — sum to a conclusion that the Act itself is incompatible with human rights law.

Rejecting the argument in their July 29 ruling, they found that oversight mechanisms the government baked into the legislation (such as the creation of the office of the Investigatory Powers Commissioner to conduct independent oversight of spy agencies’ use of the powers) provide sufficient checks on the risk of abuse, dubbing the regime as “a suite of inter-locking safeguards.”

Liberty expressed disappointment with the ruling — and has said it will appeal.

In a statement the group told the BBC: “This disappointing judgment allows the government to continue to spy on every one of us, violating our rights to privacy and free expression.

“We will challenge this judgment in the courts, and keep fighting for a targeted surveillance regime that respects our rights. These bulk surveillance powers allow the state to Hoover up the messages, calls and web history of hordes of ordinary people who are not suspected of any wrongdoing.”

This is just one of several challenges brought against the IPA.

A separate challenge to bulk collection was lodged by Liberty, Big Brother Watch and others with the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR).

A hearing took place two years ago and the court subsequently found that the U.K.’s historical regime of bulk interception had violated human rights law. However, it did not rule against bulk surveillance powers in principle — which the U.K. judges note in their judgement, writing that consequently: “There is no requirement for there to be reasonable grounds for suspicion in the case of any individual.”

Earlier this year Liberty et al were granted leave to appeal their case to the ECHR’s highest court. That case is still pending before the Grand Chamber.


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