Facial Recognition

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Cybersecurity startup SpiderSilk raises $2.25M to help prevent data breaches

Dubai-based cybersecurity startup SpiderSilk has raised $2.25 million in a pre-Series A round, led by venture firms Global Ventures and STV.

In the past two years, SpiderSilk has discovered some of the biggest data breaches: Blind, the allegedly anonymous social network that exposed private complaints by Silicon Valley employees; a lab leaked highly sensitive Samsung source code; an inadvertently public code repository revealed apps, code, and apartment building camera footage belonging to controversial facial recognition startup Clearview AI; and a massive spill of unencrypted customer card numbers at now-defunct MoviePass may have been the final nail in the already-beleaguered subscription service’s casket.

Much of those discoveries were found from the company’s proprietary internet scanner, SpiderSilk co-founder and chief security officer Mossab Hussein told TechCrunch.

Any company would want their data locked down, but mistakes happen and misconfigurations can leave sensitive internal corporate data accessible from the internet. SpiderSilk helps its customers understand their attack surface by looking for things that are exposed but shouldn’t be.

The cybersecurity startup uses its scanner to map out a company’s assets and attack surfaces to detect vulnerabilities and data exposures, and it also simulates cyberattacks to help customers understand where vulnerabilities are in their defenses.

“The attack surface management and threat detection platform we built scans the open internet on a continuous basis in order to attribute all publicly accessible assets back to organizations that could be affected by them, either directly or indirectly,” SpiderSilk’s co-founder and chief executive Rami El Malak told TechCrunch. “As a result, the platform regularly uncovers exploits and highlights how no organization is immune from infrastructure visibility blind-spots.”

El Malak said the funding will help to build out its security, engineering and data science teams, as well as its marketing and sales. He said the company is expanding its presence to North America with sales and engineering teams.

It’s the company’s second round of funding, after a seed round of $500,000 in November 2019, also led by Global Ventures and several angel investors.

“The SpiderSilk team are outstanding partners, solving a critical problem in the ever-complex world of cybersecurity, and protecting companies online from the increasing threats of malicious activity,” said Basil Moftah, general partner at Global Ventures.

Massachusetts governor won’t sign police reform bill with facial recognition ban

Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker has returned a police reform bill back to the state legislature, asking lawmakers to strike out several provisions — including one for a statewide ban on police and public authorities using facial recognition technology, the first of its kind in the United States.

The bill, which also banned police from using rubber bullets and tear gas, was passed on December 1 by both the state’s House and Senate after senior lawmakers overcame months of deadlock to reach a consensus. Lawmakers brought the bill to the state legislature in the wake of the killing of George Floyd, an unarmed Black man who was killed by a white Minneapolis police officer, later charged with his murder.

Baker said in a letter to lawmakers that he objected to the ban, saying the use of facial recognition helped to convict several criminals, including a child sex offender and a double murderer.

In an interview with The Boston Globe, Baker said that he’s “not going to sign something that is going to ban facial recognition.”

Under the bill, police and public agencies across the state would be prohibited from using facial recognition, with a single exception to run facial recognition searches against the state’s driver license database with a warrant. The state would be required to publish annual transparency figures on the number of searches made by officers going forward.

The Massachusetts House voted to pass by 92-67, and the Senate voted 28-12 — neither of which were veto-proof majorities.

The Boston Globe said that Baker did not outright say he would veto the bill. After the legislature hands a revised (or the same) version of the bill back to the governor, it’s up to Baker to sign it, veto it or — under Massachusetts law, he could allow it to become law without his signature by waiting 10 days.

“Unchecked police use of surveillance technology also harms everyone’s rights to anonymity, privacy, and free speech. We urge the legislature to reject Governor Baker’s amendment and to ensure passage of commonsense regulations of government use of face surveillance,” said Carol Rose, executive director of the ACLU of Massachusetts.

A spokesperson for Baker’s office did not immediately return a request for comment.

Human Capital: Uber Eats hit with claims of ‘reverse racism’

With less than one week left until the election, DoorDash made a late contribution of $3.75 million to try to ensure California’s gig worker ballot measure Prop 22 passes. Meanwhile, Coinbase is looking for a head of diversity and inclusion and Uber was hit with claims of reverse racism.

All that and more in this week’s edition of Human Capital, a weekly newsletter where we unpack all-things labor and D&I. To receive this in your inbox every Friday at 1 p.m. PT, be sure to sign up here.

Let’s jump in.

Employees at surveillance startup Verkada reportedly used tech to harass co-workers

Oof. Just when we thought we were safe from surveillance, we’ve found yet another reason not to trust people with facial recognition tech. Just to be clear, the first part of that was sarcasm. Anyway, Vice reported earlier this week that some Verkada employees used the startup’s tech to take photos of their female colleagues and then made sexually explicit jokes.

When other employees reported the incident to human resources, Verkada CEO Filip Kaliszan simply gave the offenders a choice of leaving the company or having their share of stock reduced. After the Vice story went out, however, Verkada fired the three employees in question.

Coinbase is looking for a head of D&I

Coinbase is on the hunt for a director of belonging, inclusion and diversity. It’s worth noting Coinbase previously had a head of D&I, Tariq Meyers, but he began focusing on an employee support task force role as a result of COVID-19 in April, according to his LinkedIn page. Meyers later left the company in August, which was before Coinbase CEO Brian Armstrong took a stance about not speaking out about social issues.

That stance led to 5% of Coinbase’s employees opting to take a severance package to leave the company. Two of those employees were Coinbase Global Head of Marketing, John Russ and Coinbase VP Dan Yoo.

“We believe that it’s possible to be 100% committed to an inclusive workplace that values diversity where everyone is safe and belongs (and as part of that, working to root out and eliminate any intolerance or bias that exists at the company), and simultaneously maintain laser focus on our mission,” the job posting states. “To this end, we have made a public stance that Coinbase won’t issue external statements on topics beyond the scope of our mission of building a more open financial system and expanding economic freedom, while also redoubling our commitment to making the company an amazing place to work for all employees, regardless of background.”

Precursor VC promotes Sydney Thomas to Principal

Image Credits: Precursor Ventures

Sydney Thomas, who started her career at Precursor Ventures as an intern, was promoted to Principal. That means she’s able to deploy capital to startups on behalf of the fund.

“This is a promotion that has been earned through hard work, aptitude and a clear demonstration that Sydney embodies all of the values we hold dear here at Precursor,” the firm wrote in a blog post. “She has already made a number of investments on behalf of the firm and will continue to do so going forward.”

Indian engineers allege caste bias in tech industry

The Washington Post’s Nitasha Tiku shed some light on caste-based discrimination in the tech ecosystem. Specifically, 30 female Indian engineers who are part of the Dalit caste and work for companies like Apple, Google, Microsoft and Cisco, say they have faced caste bias. As Tiku explains, those in the Dalit caste are part of the lowest rank castes within India’s social hierarchy.

PayPal puts money into Black and Latinx-led VC funds

PayPal is investing $50 million in a handful of early-stage funds led by Black and Latinx venture capitalists. The investment is part of PayPal’s $530 million commitment to support Black-owned businesses.

The funds receiving money include Chingona Ventures, Fearless Fund, Harlem Capital, Precursor Ventures, Slauson & Co, VamosVenturs, Zeal Capital Partners and another undisclosed fund.

Reddit elevates its VP of people and culture

Nellie Peshkov, formerly Reddit’s VP of People and Culture, is now Chief People Officer. Her appointment to the C-suite is part of the much-needed, growing trend of tech companies elevating employees focused on diversity and inclusion to the highest leadership ranks.

Uber Eats hit with claims of “reverse racism”

Uber said it has received more than 8,500 demands for arbitration as a result of it ditching delivery fees for Black-owned restaurants via Uber Eats.

Uber Eats made this change in June, following racial justice protests around the police killing of George Floyd, an unarmed Black man. Uber Eats said it wanted to make it easier for customers to support Black-owned businesses in the U.S. and Canada. To qualify, the restaurant must be a small or medium-sized business and, therefore, not part of a franchise. In contrast, delivery fees are still in place for other restaurants.

In one of these claims, viewed by TechCrunch, a customer says Uber Eats violates the Unruh civil Rights Act by “charging discriminatory delivery fees based on race (of the business owner).” That claim seeks $12,000 as well as a permanent injunction that would prevent Uber from continuing to offer free delivery from Black-owned restaurants.

Uber driver claims rating system is racially biased
Uber is no stranger to lawsuits, so this one shouldn’t come as a surprise. Uber is now facing a lawsuit regarding its customer ratings and how the company deactivates drivers whose ratings fall below a certain threshold. The suit alleges the system “constitues race discrimination, as it is widely recognized that customer evaluations of workers are frequently racially biased.”

In a statement to NPR, Uber called the suit “flimsy” and said “ridesharing has greatly reduced bias for both drivers and riders, who now have fairer, more equitable access to work and transportation than ever before.”

Yes on Prop 22 gets another $3.75 million influx of cash
DoorDash put in an additional $3.75 million into the Yes on 22 campaign, according to a late contribution filing. Proposition 22 is the California ballot measure that aims to keep gig workers classified as independent contractors.

The latest influx of cash brought Yes on 22’s total contributions north of $200 million. As of October 14, the campaign had raised $189 million. But thanks to a number of late contributions, the total put toward Yes on 22 comes out to about $202,955,106.38, or, $203 million.

Prop 22 hit the most-funded California ballot measure long ago, but it’s now surpassed the $200 million mark.

TechCrunch Sessions: Justice is back

I am pleased to announce TechCrunch Sessions: Justice is officially happening again! Save the date for March 3, 2021.

We’ll explore inclusive hiring, access to funding for Black, Latinx and Indigenous people, and workplace tools to foster inclusion and belonging. We’ll also examine the experiences of gig workers and formerly incarcerated people who are often left out of Silicon Valley’s wealth cycle. Rounding out the program will be a discussion about the role of venture capital in creating a more inclusive tech ecosystem. We’ll discuss all of that and more at TC Sessions: Justice.

Apple punishes facial recognition company Clearview AI for ignoring developer rules

Apple punishes facial recognition company Clearview AI for ignoring developer rules

Clearview AI’s week keeps getting worse. 

Apple has suspended the controversial facial recognition company’s iOS developer account following a report from Buzzfeed News that Clearview AI was in violation of Apple’s Enterprise Developer Program rules.

As a result, Apple has disabled Clearview AI’s iOS app, giving the company 14 days to respond to Apple’s claim. 

Specifically, Apple’s rules state that companies “may not use, distribute or otherwise make Your Internal Use Applications available to any third parties in any way.” 

Buzzfeed’s report found that Clearview AI was doing exactly that by “encouraging” its clients to download the iOS app in violation of that rule.  Read more…

More about Apple, Ios, Facial Recognition, Clearview Ai, and Tech

Taylor Swift used facial recognition at a concert to detect stalkers

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While facial recognition is increasingly being used by authorities to keep track of wrongdoers, entertainers have employed the tech as well – to keep track of stalkers.

As per Rolling Stone, at Taylor Swift’s Rose Bowl concert in May, a kiosk was set up where it was playing clips of the pop star’s rehearsal.

Little did concertgoers know was that a camera was hiding behind the kiosk’s screen, where a facial recognition camera was snapping photos and transferring them to a Nashville-based “command post.”

The images were then checked with a database of the singer’s known list of stalkers, which numbers in the hundreds. Read more…

More about Tech, Celebrities, Taylor Swift, Facial Recognition, and Tech

Facial recognition startup Kairos founder continues to fight attempted takeover

There’s some turmoil brewing over at Miami-based facial recognition startup Kairos . Late last month, New World Angels President and Kairos board chairperson Steve O’Hara sent a letter to Kairos founder Brian Brackeen notifying him of his termination from the role of chief executive officer. The termination letter cited willful misconduct as the cause for Brackeen’s termination. Specifically, O’Hara said Brackeen misled shareholders and potential investors, misappropriated corporate funds, did not report to the board of directors and created a divisive atmosphere.

Kairos is trying to tackle the society-wide problem of discrimination in artificial intelligence. While that’s not the company’s explicit mission — it’s to provide authentication tools to businesses — algorithmic bias has long been a topic the company, especially Brackeen, has addressed.

Brackeen’s purported termination was followed by a lawsuit, on behalf of Kairos, against Brackeen, alleging theft, a breach of fiduciary duties — among other things. Brackeen, in an open letter sent a couple of days ago to shareholders — and one he shared with TechCrunch — about the “poorly constructed coup,” denies the allegations and details his side of the story. He hopes that the lawsuit will be dismissed and that he will officially be reinstated as CEO, he told TechCrunch. As it stands today, Melissa Doval who became CFO of Kairos in July, is acting as interim CEO.

“The Kairos team is amazing and resilient and has blown me away with their commitment to the brand,” Doval told TechCrunch. “I’m humbled by how everybody has just kind of stuck around in light of everything that has transpired.”

The lawsuit, filed on October 10 in Miami-Dade and spearheaded by Kairos COO Mary Wolff, alleges Brackeen “used his position as CEO and founder to further his own agenda of gaining personal notoriety, press, and a reputation in the global technology community” to the detriment of Kairos. The lawsuit describes how Brackeen spent less than 30 percent of his time in the company’s headquarters, “even though the Company was struggling financially.”

Other allegations detail how Brackeen used the company credit card to pay for personal expenses and had the company pay for a car he bought for his then-girlfriend. Kairos alleges Brackeen owes the company at least $60,000.

In his open letter, Brackeen says, “Steve, Melissa and Mary, as cause for my termination and their lawsuit against me, have accused me of stealing 60k from Kairos, comprised of non-work related travel, non-work related expenses, a laptop, and a beach club membership,” Brackeen wrote in a letter to shareholders. “Let’s talk about this. While I immediately found these accusations absurd, I had to consider that, to people on the outside of  ‘startup founder’ life— their claims could appear to be salacious, if not illegal.”

Brackeen goes on to say that none of the listed expenses — ranging from trips, meals, rides to iTunes purchases — were not “directly correlated to the business of selling Kairos to customers and investors, and growing Kairos to exit,” he wrote in the open letter. Though, he does note that there may be between $3,500 to $4,500 worth of charges that falls into a “grey area.”

“Conversely, I’ve personally invested, donated, or simply didn’t pay myself in order to make payroll for the rest of the team, to the tune of over $325,000 dollars,” he wrote. “That’s real money from my accounts.”

Regarding forcing Kairos to pay for his then-girlfriend’s car payments, Brackeen explains:

On my making Kairos ‘liable to make my girlfriend’s car payment’— in order to offset the cost of Uber rides to and from work, to meetings, the airport, etc, I determined it would be more cost effective to lease a car. Unfortunately, after having completely extended my personal credit to start and keep Kairos operating, it was necessary that the bank note on the car be obtained through her credit. The board approved the $700 per month per diem arrangement, which ended when I stopped driving the vehicle. Like their entire case— its not very sensational, when truthfully explained.

The company also claims Brackeen has interfered with the company and its affairs since his termination. Throughout his open letter, Brackeen refers to this as an “attempted termination” because, as advised by his lawyers, he has not been legally terminated. He also explains how, in the days leading up to his ouster, Brackeen was seeking to raise additional funding because in August, “we found ourselves in the position of running low on capital.” While he was presenting to potential investors in Singapore, Brackeen said that’s “when access to my email and documents was cut.”

He added, “I traveled to the other side of the world to work with my team on IP development and meet with the people who would commit to millions in investment— and was fired via voicemail the day after I returned.”

Despite the “termination” and lawsuit, O’Hara told TechCrunch via email that “in the interest of peaceful coexistence, we are open to reaching an agreement to allow Brian to remain part of the family as Founder, but not as CEO and with very limited responsibilities and no line authority.”

O’Hara also noted the company’s financials showed there was $44,000 in cash remaining at the end of September. He added, “Then reconcile it with the fact that Brian raised $6MM in 2018 and ask yourself, how does a company go through that kind of money in under 9 months.”

Within the next twelve days, there will be a shareholder vote to remove the board, as well as a vote to reinstate Brackeen as CEO, he told me. After that, Brackeen said he intends to countersue Doval, O’Hara and Wolff.

In addition to New World Angels, Kairos counts Kapor Capital, Backstage Capital and others as investors. At least one investor, Arlan Hamilton of Backstage Capital, has publicly come out in support of Brackeen.

I’m proud of @BrianBrackeen. I’m honored to be his friend. He has handled recent events with his company with grace and patience, and has every right to be screaming inside. I’ve got his back. And he & I only want the best for @LoveKairos.

Certain distractions will be fleeting.

— Arlan 👊🏾 (@ArlanWasHere) October 25, 2018

As previously mentioned, Brackeen has been pretty outspoken about the ethical concerns of facial recognition technologies. In the case of law enforcement, no matter how accurate and unbiased these algorithms are, facial recognition software has no business in law enforcement, Brackeen said at TechCrunch Disrupt in early September. That’s because of the potential for unlawful, excessive surveillance of citizens.

Given the government already has our passport photos and identification photos, “they could put a camera on Main Street and know every single person driving by,” Brackeen said.

And that’s a real possibility. In the last couple of months, Brackeen said Kairos turned down a government request from Homeland Security, seeking facial recognition software for people behind moving cars.

“For us, that’s completely unacceptable,” Brackeen said.

Whether that’s entirely unacceptable for Doval, the interim CEO of Kairos, is not clear. In an interview with TechCrunch, Doval said, “we’re committed to being a responsible and ethical vendor” and that “we’re going to continue to champion the elimination of algorithmic bias in artificial intelligence.” While that’s not a horrific thing to say, it’s much vaguer than saying, “No, we will not ever sell to law enforcement.”

Selling to law enforcement could be lucrative, but that comes with ethical risks and concerns. But if the company is struggling financially, maybe the pros could outweigh the cons.

Facebook’s facial recognition feature could help find missing persons

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Facebook’s new facial recognition features makes some people uneasy, but the tool could help find missing people.

Australian organisation Missing Persons Action Network (MPAN) has launched a campaign called Invisible Friends, asking people to add the profiles of missing people as friends on the social media platform.

Facebook’s new facial recognition tools will automatically tag people in photos, even if they’re in the background. Users will be notified, and asked if they want to be tagged in the photos. 

These profiles of missing people, like Zac Barnes who disappeared in 2016, are actually run by MPAN. That means the organisation will receive a notification if the person is tagged by Facebook’s facial recognition feature.  Read more…

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