Category Archives: Tech

Smart Socks Get Up Close And Personal With Your Feet

Yet another way to track your run.

BuzzFeed

Runners who want to track their every step can strap on an ever-growing array of smart apparel, including wristbands, bras, shorts, shirts, hats, headbands, insoles, and necklaces. Now the lowly body part doing the actual work has a wearable of its own: socks.

These socks, available from Sensoria Fitness on Tuesday, contain sensors designed to monitor how far, how fast, and even how well you run. Sensoria, which has been working on the socks for four years, is betting that wearable tech will become fully integrated into the clothes that consumers already own.

“Why not inject sensing technology into whatever we wear, instead of forcing someone to wear something else that is not part of their wardrobe?” Davide Vigano, Sensoria co-founder and CEO, argued to BuzzFeed News.

Vigano's philosophy is shared by some analysts who are bearish on the fitness-tracking wristbands made by companies such as FitBit and Jawbone. Sales will drop to 19 million units in 2016, down from 30 million in 2013, the market research firm Gartner predicts. Smart clothing, on the other hand, could grow from 10,000 units sold in 2013 to 26 million in 2016.

Sensoria Fitness / Via sensoriafitness.com

In Sensoria's socks, three sensors built into the heel and toe areas collect information about the wearer's form, distance, pace, descent, ascent, altitude, foot contact time, steps, and cadence. A lightweight Bluetooth-enabled anklet then wirelessly sends real-time updates to the user's smartphone app. It can coach a runner, for example, to stop striking her heel, which puts her at risk of injury. It can also notify joggers when their shoes have racked up hundreds of miles and might need to be replaced.

One advantage Sensoria's socks have over some other smart apparel is that they can be thrown straight into the wash (although the socks grow less “smart” after 60 washes, Vigano said). The initial $199 purchase includes two pairs of smart socks, one Bluetooth anklet, and one anklet charger; subsequent socks cost $49 for two pairs. That's on par with what people might pay for a FitBit.

These socks won't be the last kind of wearable technology for runners, but Vigano said they are both the most universally wearable and individually personal. “The human foot has never been served with technology in the way we think about it,” he said.


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A Crowdfunding Platform Wants to Do Venture Capital, Too

The experimental arrangement creates a structure more often seen on Wall Street than in Silicon Valley, with a single company having to manage potentially conflicting interests.

Seed Equity Ventures

An experimental new strategy for startups to raise money is gaining adherents in Silicon Valley.

A handful of technology dealmakers have adopted a twist on equity crowdfunding — in which a large group of investors back a startup through a private fundraising round — by introducing funds that offer exposure to a range of startups instead of just one at a time.

The latest company to take this step is Seed Equity Ventures, a broker in Salt Lake City, that operates a crowdfunding platform for startups. It is expected to announce today that it is seeking to raise $10 million for a venture capital fund. The new fund, Seed Equity Capital Partners, which will charge management fees and cut of profits, will invest in tech startups alongside other investors using the Seed Equity Ventures crowdfunding platform.

The arrangement creates at least the appearance of a conflict of interest. Seed Equity Ventures, a registered broker that was launched last year by Todd Crosland, earns fees from startups based on the amount of money it helps them raise. The new Capital Partners fund, which includes $1 million of Crosland's own money, will be participating in those same funding rounds and should try to get the best deal possible for its investors. That could, in theory, mean sending less in fees to the broker. Or, it could mean trying to maximize the broker's fees at investors' expense.

But Crosland, who previously founded Interbank FX, an online currency broker, said he would be able to keep the two parts of his business separate. He added that having a venture capital fund would more closely align his interests with those of the investors on the broker platform.

“It's really an arm's length transaction,” Crosland told BuzzFeed News. Startups, he added, “will have a set of expectations as far as valuation and terms for a deal. And then we'll negotiate with that company for what we feel are the best terms for both ourselves and our investors.”

Crosland is not the first financier to try to combine elements of venture capital with equity crowdfunding, a business that took off after the passage of the JOBS Act of 2012. That law made it legal for privately held startups to ask for capital in public, expanding the universe of potential investors beyond those who have contacts in the tech industry. (For now, only wealthy “accredited investors” are allowed to participate.)

Some equity crowdfunding pioneers argue that certain investors would rather own part of a diversified fund than individual stakes in startups. A fund, they say, can reduce the hassle of vetting companies and can increase the chances of betting on a winner.

Another crowdfunding firm, CircleUp, which launched in 2012, quietly introduced a fund at the beginning of this year that commits capital to startups alongside investors on the platform, according to Rory Eakin, the CircleUp co-founder. Compared with the Seed Equity fund, however, the CircleUp fund is more passive, automatically following other investors in certain deals and matching their commitments.

Perhaps the best known equity crowdfunding platform, AngelList, has since 2013 offered funds that allow investors to commit capital to startups alongside prominent angel investors. Unlike the other two, AngelList is not a broker, so it does not get paid by startups that raise money.

The new Seed Equity fund creates a structure more commonly seen on Wall Street than in Silicon Valley, in which a single company has to manage potentially conflicting interests. Crosland even drew a comparison to Goldman Sachs, which has lots of experience managing conflicts.

But onlookers worry about the implications for investors. “Everything about the crowdfunding industry suggests that conflicts of interest will be rampant and that the insiders will be playing fast and loose with investors' funds. This is but one case in point,” John C. Coffee Jr., a securities law professor at Columbia University, told BuzzFeed News in an email. Still, he said, “if appropriate disclosures are made, a conflict of interest does not make the transaction illegal.”

Crosland argued that getting a good deal for the investors on the platform would also benefit the startup selling the equity, by encouraging the investors to come back for more at a later date. His fund already has three startups in its portfolio, he said.

“We want the best deal for our investors,” Crosland said. “The better the investors do, when this company goes to raise the next round at a higher price, they'll feel that they were dealt with fairly. And then they'll be interested in investing in the series A or B round.”

The Justice Department Is Reviewing Its Secret Cell Phone Tracking Programs

Following requests for transparency from Congress and civil liberties groups, the Justice Department will asses its use of Stingray.

Mandel Ngan / Getty Images

The federal government's law enforcement agency has launched a review of its surreptitious use of cell phone surveillance devices, considered by some lawmakers and privacy advocates to be intrusive and unconstitutional.

Known as Stingrays or cell site simulators, these tracking devices work by imitating a cell phone tower and forcing nearby mobile phones to connect, offering law enforcement the phone's location and other unique identifying information. The FBI, U.S. Marshals Service, the Drug Enforcement Agency, and various local police departments use Stingrays to track criminal activity. But the rules surrounding their deployment — such as whether they require a warrant — have been inconsistently enforced.

“With regard to this particular technology, the Department of Justice is in the process of examining its policies to ensure they reflect the department's continuing commitment to conducting its vital missions while according appropriate respect for privacy and civil liberties,” Patrick Rodenbush, a spokesman for the Department of Justice, told BuzzFeed News.

News of the Justice Department's review was first reported by the Wall Street Journal, which also reports that senior officials have decided to be “more forthcoming about how and why the devices are used.”

Critics of the DOJ's Stingray surveillance programs, including the ACLU, the Electronic Privacy Information Center, and the Electronic Frontier Foundation, argue that Stingrays are an invasion of privacy that may facilitate or mask police abuse and violations of due process.

“We're not just worried about how invasive these devices can be but also that the government has been less than forthright with judges about how and when they use [Stingrays],” the EFF wrote in a blog post earlier this year.

The Justice Department's review comes after revelations exposing the secrecy surrounding the use of Stingrays. Last month, during a criminal trial in Baltimore, Detective Emmanuel Cabreja presented a nondisclosure agreement that revealed the FBI explicitly encourages prosecutors to drop charges in cases rather than share information with the court about cell site simulators.

According to critics, this nondisclosure agreement points to the great lengths federal law enforcement agencies are willing to go in order to keep cell phone surveillance programs secret, and thus, the need for review.

“Federal law enforcement's move toward using warrants for this invasive technology is long overdue, as is the promise of increased transparency,” Nathan Freed Wessler, an ACLU attorney, told BuzzFeed News. “However, the suggestion that the Department of Justice is slow-walking its release of basic and accurate information about Stingray use in order to shield constitutional violations in ongoing cases is disturbing,” he said.

The DOJ's review also follows pressure from members of Congress. “It seems clear to me that law enforcement and our intelligence agencies have blurred the line between the constitutional rights of Americans and the programs that they are executing.” Rep. Ted Lieu, a Democrat from California, and a member of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, told BuzzFeed News.

In a recent letter from the Oversight Committee, chair Jason Chaffetz, a Republican from Utah, also expressed concern with the Justice Department's lack of clear rules and uniformity surrounding Stingray.

The committee asked that the Justice Department turn over its policy guidelines on cell phone surveillance as well as a detailed inventory on the number of cell site simulators in use, their cost, and a list of alleged abuses by May 8.

“DOJ's announcement is welcome news and frankly long overdue,” Rep. Chaffetz told BuzzFeed News in a statement. “In this digital age it is vital that we strike the right balance between personal privacy and national security. The Oversight Committee will continue its bipartisan investigation into the use of these devices, and I look forward to working with DOJ in that process.”

Uber Discourages Drivers From Displaying In-Car Advertisements

A driver who asked Uber for permission to display ads through ride-hail ad startup Viewswagen was told vehicles with advertisements would not be kept on the system. An Uber spokesperson said this was not true, but the company does discourage drivers from working with companies like Viewswagen.

L.A. Foodie CC BY / Via Flickr: lafoodie

When James Bellefeuille lost his job in September 2013, he decided to turn his side job as an Uber driver into a full-time gig. And while at first he was able to make ends meet, Bellefeuille says he found it difficult to depend on the service as a primary source of income after Uber implemented a series of fare cuts.

Bellefeuille says his Uber experience led him to start his own company, Viewswagen, an in-car advertising system that lets ride-hail drivers show third-party video or display ads on a tablet in the backseat of the car. Drivers receive 60% of all ad revenue, which Bellefeuille estimates can add up to $3 to drivers' hourly income. (Standard video ads run for about 25 cents per impression, or per person who views it.) “I started Viewswagen in part because I know drivers were making so much less than they used to make,” Bellefeuille told BuzzFeed News.

But now the company, which Bellefeuille launched in February, is coming up against some pushback from Uber, which is encouraging drivers to avoid the systems. And in at least one case, an Uber rep told a driver that running in-car ads could lead to deactivation.

The driver (who asked not to be named) emailed Uber support to see if it was permissible for drivers to work with companies like Viewswagen. Uber support staffer Lars responded: “Uber unfortunately cannot keep vehicles with those types of advertisements on the system.”

Uber support staffer Lars tells a driver — who asked not to be named — that cars displaying advertisements will be deactivated.

BuzzFeed News

Uber spokesperson Kristin Carvell told BuzzFeed News that the support rep was wrong in stating that drivers who work with Viewswagen would be deactivated — but did note the company is discouraging drivers from running ads in their vehicles.

“It is Uber's goal to make the rider experience as smooth and comfortable as possible,” Carvell said. “We don't believe that in-ride advertising enhances the ride experience, and we discourage driver partners from working with third party in-ride advertisers such as Viewswagen. Also, it's important to note that Uber is not affiliated with any in-ride advertising company in any way, and we are not providing information about riders or drivers. That said, this Uber representative was mistaken, and these actions haven't resulted in driver partner deactivation.”

Pressed further on the deactivation issue, however, Carvell said: “It's not against our policy, but we reserve the right to assess situations on a case-by-case basis to ensure a positive rider experience.”

While Bellefeuille told BuzzFeed News that he was relieved to hear that drivers his company works with won't automatically be deactivated, he argues the drivers should be free to perform their jobs as they see fit, given their status as 1099 contractors.

“Uber supposedly supports entrepreneurship,” he said. “The whole Viewswagen model is based on the fact that drivers are independent contractors and have the freedom to work how they please. Those messages are basically saying, 'Hey, we want drivers to be employees.'”

As BuzzFeed News reported, a number of drivers are suing Uber for misclassifying them as independent contractors, arguing that the company attempts to dictate how to perform a job — which, the IRS states, is one of the markers of an employer-employee relationship.

As the plaintiff's argument against Uber's motion for summary judgment reads, “While these 'best practices' are couched as 'suggestions,' a driver's failure to comply with them can lead to their termination.”

Though Carvell said Uber won't deactivate drivers for using this service unless it interferes with a positive rider experience, it's unclear exactly what that interference entails.

Bellefeuille said he will be watching closely but feels better about signing drivers up for Viewswagen. “We're empowering drivers to make a little more money doing what they already do,” he said. “Now I can tell drivers they can do it without getting deactivated. But we'll see what happens.”


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Goldman’s Newest Business: Online Lending To The Little Guy

The investment bank looks to get into the booming online lending business, with a new unit that will target small businesses and consumers.

Goldman Sachs chairman and CEO Lloyd Blankfein.

Nicholas Kamm / Getty Images

To get a loan from Goldman Sachs, you have to be a big trader, investor, company, or very wealthy individual. But that could change: The investment bank said in a memo today it has hired Harit Talwar, a former Discover executive, to head up a small-business and consumer lending unit.

Goldman has an FDIC-insured bank, Goldman Sachs Bank USA, with $73 billion in deposits across the company, and no branches. The bank largely works with corporate and private wealth management clients.

“The firm has identified digitally led banking services to consumers and small businesses as an area of opportunity for GS Bank,” the memo from CEO Lloyd Blankfein and the firm's president, Gary Cohn, said. “The traditional means by which financial services are delivered to consumers and small businesses is being fundamentally re-shaped by advances in technology, maturity of digital channels, use of data and analytics, and a focus on customer experience.”

Startups that lend to small businesses and individuals like Prosper, OnDeck, and Lending Club have raised hundreds of millions of dollars from private and public investors. While many of these companies originate the loans through another bank and then sell them off to investors, Goldman would do the loans from their bank's balance sheet.

Talwar's hiring and the new business was first reported by Bloomberg News.

A report published by the bank's equity research staff in March said that $1.6 billion in banking industry profits was at risk of being taken away by upstart nonbank lenders like Kabbage and OnDeck. The researchers said $178 billion in loans were “at risk” of leaving the banking system due to competition from these new lenders.

For personal lending, Goldman estimated that $209 billion of loans could leave the bank system along with $4.6 billion in profits.

Goldman's potential new line of business is only just getting started with the hiring of Talwar, and likely will not be getting started soon, a person with knowledge of the program said. And while Goldman has a bank, it does not have many of the legacy costs — like the real estate and staffing associated with branches — that many traditional banks do.

“We see an opportunity to leverage our competencies in technology and risk management to capture this opportunity at accretive returns and without the burdens of legacy costs and fixed infrastructure,” Cohn and Blankfein said in the memo.

The move comes as Goldman has shrunk the size of its balance sheet and sold off some businesses and investments, including its metal warehousing business and a majority stake of its reinsurance business.

LINK: How Online Lenders Could Take Billions Of Profit Away From Big Banks

Periscope Pirates Of The Future Are Here And They Want To Talk

Live-streaming services provide a new way to get content for free. But maybe that’s not the only reason so many people were watching.

Isaac Brekken / AP

On Saturday night, Periscope had a moment. The live-streaming app from Twitter went behind the scenes of the Mayweather–Pacquiao with HBO, but that's not why people were talking about it. It was the widespread proliferation of bootleg Periscope and Meerkat streams, where the world came together for one big fight party hosted on tiny smartphone screens.

The fight itself was a perfect inflection point for live-streaming social video. Periscope and Meerkat offered an experience everyone was talking about, yet that cost nearly $100, for free. It felt like a cheat code. What's more, it offered you a way to talk about the fight, to participate in it, with other people in real time. It was another triumph of the second screen, another indication that our smartphones are actually the first screen, and the TV is the second. We don't just want to listen to commentary; we want to be a part of it. We don't just want to watch anymore; we want to participate.

While much is being made of the piracy issue here — and there is a piracy issue here — Saturday's fight represented something else too. It was a rare scenario: a pay-per-view spectacle that appealed to a wide casual audience. This fight was a big enough deal that lots of people wanted to talk about it, even if they weren't willing to pay $100 to see it.

Last night's Periscoping (and Meerkatting) felt fresh and interesting — rules were being invented on the fly, people were figuring out a new medium in real time. And the most promising part of it wasn't the feeling of getting something for free, it was the opportunity to engage with other people in a new way. While the streams of purloined pixels received the most attention, there were plenty of people just talking. Selfies of talking heads describing, commenting on, and reacting to the fight. It was pretty clear, watching these streams, that this behavior isn't going to be limited to pay-per-view. If people are doing it for the interaction, they will Periscope all kinds of live events on network TV, not just paywalled, one-time spectacles.


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#Talkpay Topped Twitter — But How Many People Tweeted Their Salaries?

About 1,300 people published salaries, according to a BuzzFeed News data analysis of Twitter data. #Talkpay may be starting a conversation, but it’s a nascent one.

Flickr / visitmanchester / Via Flickr: visitmanchester

Friday was May 1 — International Workers Day — and to celebrate the occasion, Laura Voswinkel, a Pittsburgh-based programmer, came up with a hashtag. Intended to start a public conversation around worker's rights and salary inequality in the American labor market, #talkpay encouraged anyone with a job and a salary to post both to Twitter along with the hashtag.

But while the hashtag became a trending topic on Twitter, most of the tweets using the hashtag were simply taking part in the discussion, and did not reveal actual salaries. By searching #talkpay tweets for bits of text that looked like salary information, BuzzFeed News estimates, very roughly, that around 1,950 of the #talkpay tweets contained a number that appears to be a salary figure. (That amounts to 20% of the 9,600 #talkpay tweets BuzzFeed collected through noon Pacific Time on Saturday, May 2.)

Those tweets were sent by around 1,300 individuals, some of whom tweeted their salary information more than once, or multiple salaries over time, or the anonymous salary information of others. Because the data comes from self-reported tweets, there's no way to verify the accuracy of this information.

Voswinkel hoped that mass salary disclosures would “break the taboo surrounding salaries, so that people would become more comfortable with discussing pay and engaging in a collective action.” Her goal was to trigger a national movement, and create a venue for solidarity by encouraging white collar workers to join in a dialogue that low-wage workers in the fast-food industry and Fight for Fifteen protesters are already having.

Many #talkpay tweets focused on the awkwardness of disclosing private compensation information, other individuals said they feared the possible consequences of doing so.


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25 Things You Didn’t Know You Could In Safari

Browse the web like a bo$$.

Alice Mongkongllite / BuzzFeed

Create a theater-like experience while watching videos with Turn Off the Lights.

Create a theater-like experience while watching videos with Turn Off the Lights.

With the Safari Keyword Search extension, you can look up different websites (like Google, Amazon, and Wikipedia) for information right from the address bar.

With the Safari Keyword Search extension, you can look up different websites (like Google, Amazon, and Wikipedia) for information right from the address bar.

For example, to Google Jared Leto, you'd just type “g Jared Leto.” To look up the potato famine on Wikipedia, you'd type “w potato famine.” More keyboard searches here.

nbc.com / Via reactiongifs.com


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Dave Goldberg, CEO Of SurveyMonkey And Husband Of Sheryl Sandberg, Dies At 45

According to a Facebook post by his brother that was shared by Mark Zuckerberg, the CEO died suddenly last night.

Sheryl Sandberg and David Goldberg in July 2014.

Scott Olson / Getty Images

According to a Facebook shared by Mark Zuckerberg on Saturday, SurveyMonkey chief executive Dave Goldberg died suddenly overnight, according to his brother. He was 45 years old.

Goldberg was also the husband of Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook's chief operating officer and author of Lean In.

Goldberg founded the music site LAUNCH Media, which was acquired by Yahoo! in 2001. He became the CEO of the survey site SurveyMonkey in 2009.

On Saturday, Zuckerberg shared a message from Dave's brother Robert announcing Goldberg's death:

It's with incredible shock and sadness that I'm letting our friends and family know that my amazing brother, Dave Goldberg, beloved husband of Sheryl Sandberg, father of two wonderful children, and son of Paula Goldberg, passed away suddenly last night.

In this time of sorrow, we mourn his passing and remember what an amazing husband, father, brother, son and friend he was. No words can express the depth of loss we feel, but we want his children to learn how much he meant to all of you.

In lieu of donations, we want to celebrate his life in a manner that respects the family's privacy as they cope with this tragic, life changing event: Sheryl, their children, and our family would be grateful if people would post their memories and pictures of Dave to his Facebook profile.

No cause of Goldberg's death was listed.

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Dave Goldberg, CEO Of SurveyMonkey And Husband Of Sheryl Sandberg, Has Died

The 47 year old entrepreneur died suddenly Friday night of undetermined causes.

Sheryl Sandberg and David Goldberg in July 2014.

Scott Olson / Getty Images

Dave Goldberg, CEO of SurveyMonkey and husband of Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg, died suddenly Friday night of undetermined causes. He was 47 years old.

“Dave's genius, courage and leadership were overshadowed only by his compassion, friendship and heart,” SurveyMonkey said in a statement. “His greatest love was for his family. Our sympathy goes out to them and to all who were touched by this extraordinary man. We are all heartbroken.”

Goldberg founded the music site LAUNCH Media, which was acquired by Yahoo! in 2001. In 2009 he was named CEO of survey questionnaire site SurveyMonkey.

Goldberg met Sandberg in 1996. The pair married in April 2004, and have two children together.

News of Goldberg's death was posted to Facebook by his brother Robert and subsequently shared by Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg. The post reads:

It's with incredible shock and sadness that I'm letting our friends and family know that my amazing brother, Dave Goldberg, beloved husband of Sheryl Sandberg, father of two wonderful children, and son of Paula Goldberg, passed away suddenly last night.

In this time of sorrow, we mourn his passing and remember what an amazing husband, father, brother, son and friend he was. No words can express the depth of loss we feel, but we want his children to learn how much he meant to all of you.

In lieu of donations, we want to celebrate his life in a manner that respects the family's privacy as they cope with this tragic, life changing event: Sheryl, their children, and our family would be grateful if people would post their memories and pictures of Dave to his Facebook profile.

A beloved entrepreneur, Goldberg's unexpected passing has drawn an outpouring of condolences from Silicon Valley luminaries like Twitter CEO Dick Costolo, LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner, and Salesforce.com CEO Marc Benioff.

Heartbreaking. One of the truly great people on the planet, Dave was of almost unimaginably remarkable character.https://t.co/cgUSFTxBHm

— dick costolo (@dickc) May 2, 2015

Devastated to hear about loss of @davegoldberg. One of kindest & most generous friends I've known. My heart goes out to Sheryl & his family

— Jeff Weiner (@jeffweiner) May 2, 2015

My friend @davegoldberg kindest, most generous, loving father, loyal husband, great ceo, & sweetest friend. May his memory be a blessing.

— Marc Benioff (@Benioff) May 2, 2015

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