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March 24, 2019
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Nigeria’s Gloo.ng drops consumer e-commerce, pivots to e-procurement

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Nigerian startup Gloo.ng is dropping consumer online retail and pivoting to B2B e-procurement with Gloopro as its new name.

The Lagos based venture has called it quits on e-commerce grocery services, shifting to a product that supplies large and medium corporates with everything from desks to toilet paper.

Gloopro’s new platform will generate revenues on a monthly fee structure and a percentage on goods delivered, according to Gloopro CEO D. O. Olusanya.

Gloopro, which raised around $1 million in seed capital as Gloo.ng, is also in the process of raising its Series A round. The startup looks to expand outside of Nigeria on that raise, “before the end of next year,” Olusanya told TechCrunch.

Gloopro’s move away from B2C comes as several notable consumer digital sales startups have failed to launch in Nigeria—Africa’s most populous nation with the continent’s highest number of online shoppers, per a recent UNCTAD report.

The country is home to the continent’s first e-commerce startup unicorn, Jumia, and serves as an unofficial bellwether for e-commerce startup activity in Africa.

Gloo.ng’s shift to B2B electronic commerce was prompted by Nigeria’s 2016 economic slump and a customer request, according Olusanya.

“When the recession hit it affected all consumer e-commerce negatively. We saw it was going to take a longer time to get to sustainability and profitability,” he told TechCrunch.

Then an existing client, Unilever, requested an e-procurement solution in 2017. “We observed that the unit economics of that business was far better than consumer e-commerce,” said Olusanya.

Gloopro dubs itself as a “secure cloud based enterprise e-procurement and commerce platform…[for]…corporate purchasing,” per a company description.

“The old brand Gloo.ng, is going to be rested and shut down completely. The corporate name will be PayMente Limited with the brand name Gloopro,” Olusanya said.

From the Gloopro interface customers can order, pay for, and coordinate delivery of office supplies across multiple locations. The product also produces procurement analytics and allows companies to designate users and permissions.

 

Olusanya touts the product’s benefits at improving transparency and efficiency in the purchasing process.

“It makes procurement transparent and secure. A lot of companies in Nigeria still use paper invoices and there are some shenanigans,” he said.

Gloopro began offering the service in beta and building a customer base prior to winding down its Gloo.ng grocery service.

In addition to Unilever, Gloopro clients include Uber Nigeria, Cars45, and industrial equipment company LaFarge. Cars45 CEO Etop Ikpe and a spokesperson for Uber Nigeria confirmed their client status to TechCrunch.

Gloopro CEO D. O. Olusanya believes the company can compete with other global e-procurement providers, such as SAP Ariba and GT-Nexus by “leveraging our sourcing and last-mile delivery experience in Nigeria” and expertise working around local requirements in Africa.

Gloopro expects to hit $4 million in revenue by the end of the year and the company could reach $100 million over the course of its international expansion into countries like South Africa, Kenya, Morocco, Egypt, and the Ivory Coast, according to Olusanya. A seed investor briefed on Gloo.ng’s estimates confirmed the company’s revenue expectations with TechCrunch.

Gloo.ng’s pivot to Gloopro and e-procurement comes during an up and down period for B2C online retail in Nigeria, home of Africa’s largest economy.

Last year, e-commerce startup Konga.com, backed by roughly $100 million in VC, was sold in a distressed acquisition, at a loss to investors, including Naspers. In late 2018, Nigerian online sales platform DealDey shutdown.

On the possible upside, several outlets reported this year that Jumia—Africa’s largest e-commerce site and first unicorn headquartered in Nigeria—is pursuing an IPO. But that information is unconfirmed based on a February 8, Bloomberg story without named sources. Jumia has declined to comment.

 

 

News Source = techcrunch.com

New flaws in 4G, 5G allow attackers to intercept calls and track phone locations

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A group of academics have found three new security flaws in 4G and 5G, which they say can be used to intercept phone calls and track the locations of cell phone users.

The findings are said to be the first time vulnerabilities have affected both 4G and the incoming 5G standard, which promises faster speeds and better security, particularly against law enforcement use of cell site simulators, known as “stingrays.” But the researchers say that their new attacks can defeat newer protections that were believed to make it more difficult to snoop on phone users.

“Any person with a little knowledge of cellular paging protocols can carry out this attack,” said Syed Rafiul Hussain, one of the co-authors of the paper, told TechCrunch in an email.

Hussain, along with Ninghui Li and Elisa Bertino at Purdue University, and Mitziu Echeverria and Omar Chowdhury at the University of Iowa are set to reveal their findings at the Network and Distributed System Security Symposium in San Diego on Tuesday.

“Any person with a little knowledge of cellular paging protocols can carry out this attack… such as phone call interception, location tracking, or targeted phishing attacks.” Syed Rafiul Hussain, Purdue University

The paper, seen by TechCrunch prior to the talk, details the attacks: the first is Torpedo, which exploits a weakness in the paging protocol that carriers use to notify a phone before a call or text message comes through. The researchers found that several phone calls placed and cancelled in a short period can trigger a paging message without alerting the target device to an incoming call, which an attacker can use to track a victim’s location. Knowing the victim’s paging occasion also lets an attacker hijack the paging channel and inject or deny paging messages, by spoofing messages like as Amber alerts or blocking messages altogether, the researchers say.

Torpedo opens the door to two other attacks: Piercer, which the researchers say allows an attacker to determine an international mobile subscriber identity (IMSI) on the 4G network; and the aptly named IMSI-Cracking attack, which can brute force an IMSI number in both 4G and 5G networks, where IMSI numbers are encrypted.

That puts even the newest 5G-capable devices at risk from stingrays, said Hussain, which law enforcement use to identify someone’s real-time location and log all the phones within its range. Some of the more advanced devices are believed to be able to intercept calls and text messages, he said.

According to Hussain, all four major U.S. operators — AT&T, Verizon (which owns TechCrunch), Sprint and T-Mobile — are affected by Torpedo, and the attacks can carried out with radio equipment costing as little as $200. One U.S. network, which he would not name, was also vulnerable to the Piercer attack.

The Torpedo attack — or “TRacking via Paging mEssage DistributiOn. (Image: supplied)

We contacted the big four cell giants, but none provided comment by the time of writing. If that changes, we’ll update.

Given two of the attacks exploit flaws in the 4G and 5G standards, almost all the cell networks outside the U.S. are vulnerable to these attacks, said Hussain.  Several networks in Europe and Asia are also vulnerable.

Given the nature of the attacks, he said, the researchers are not releasing the proof-of-concept code to exploit the flaws.

It’s the latest blow to cellular network security, which has faced intense scrutiny no more so than in the last year for flaws that have allowed the interception of calls and text messages. Vulnerabilities in Signaling System 7, used by cell networks to route calls and messages across networks, are under active exploitation by hackers. While 4G was meant to be more secure, research shows that it’s just as vulnerable as its 3G predecessor. And, 5G was meant to fix many of the intercepting capabilities but European data security authorities warned of similar flaws.

Hussain said the flaws were reported to the GSMA, an industry body that represents mobile operators. GSMA recognized the flaws, but a spokesperson was unable to provide comment when reached. It isn’t known when the flaws will be fixed.

Hussain said the Torpedo and IMSI-Cracking flaws would have to be first fixed by the GSMA, whereas a fix for Piercer depends solely on the carriers. Torpedo remains the priority as it precursors the other flaws, said Hussain.

The paper comes almost exactly a year after Hussain et al revealed ten separate weaknesses in 4G LTE that allowed eavesdropping on phone calls and text messages, and spoofing emergency alerts.

News Source = techcrunch.com

Alibaba’s Ant Financial buys UK currency exchange giant WorldFirst reportedly for around $700M

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Ant Financial, the financial services behemoth affiliated with Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba, has made its first big move into Europe. It’s acquired London-headquartered payments company WorldFirst in a deal that sources tell us is valued at around $700 million.

(That price would also line up with multiple reports from December claiming the two were in talks for an acquisition of around £550 million, or $717 million at current exchange rates.)

This isn’t your average multi-hundred million dollar acquisition. The deal was confirmed by WorldFirst in a note to customers while Alibaba, which curiously didn’t put out an official press release, acknowledged the acquisition to us through a spokesperson.

Yet despite a relatively under-the-radar outing, the deal has potentially significant consequences. It not only underscores the strong market connections between China and Europe, but also the margin (and thus strategic) pressures that many smaller remittance companies are under in the wake of larger companies like Amazon building its own money-moving services, as well as competition from local players in Asia.

One of a number of globally active money remittance services, 15-year-old WorldFirst lets businesses and consumers move money between countries at prices that are lower than regular banks.

The company claims to have transferred over £70 billion ($90 billion) for customers since 2004, with more than one million transfers made each year. WorldFirst is a player in the competitive remittance market, in which migrant workers send money home to family, who can make transfers online or in person at WorldFirst outlets.

Ant Financial is best known for its Alipay service, which is China’s dominant mobile payment app with over 550 million registered users. Alibaba owns one-third of Ant, which is valued at as much as $150 billion, and it has been pushing to expand its empire outside of China and beyond Asia Pacific, too.

“Alipay and WorldFirst’s capabilities and international footprints are highly complementary,” WorldFirst co-founder and chief executive Jonathan Quin wrote in an internal memo obtained by TechCrunch.

According to Quin, WorldFirst will retain its brand and become a wholly-owned subsidiary of Ant Financial. Many merchants in the UK already accept Alipay, which has expanded to cater for Chinese tourists spending money overseas.

“The tie-up will add WorldFirst’s international online payments and virtual account products to Alipay’s range of technology solutions,” an Ant Financial spokesperson told TechCrunch without disclosing the size of the buyout.

WorldFirst has been financed by private equity investors and, as a private company, it keeps its financial details closely held, but in August 2018 it noted that it had transferred more than $95 billion for some 160,000 customers — businesses and individuals included. A source told us its GMV was around $10 billion a year.

But sources noted that it was under pressure of its own that would have made securing a deal with Ant even more of a priority.

“That whole sector of payments from the West to China sellers for e-commerce is under massive margin pressure from Amazon going direct with its own service, plus new China based entrants PingPong, LianLian and Airwallex,” one executive very close to the remittance space told us. “WorldFirst had recently seen low to declining growth because of this.” Another source said that it had been shopping itself around.

(The Amazon reference is related to Amazon PayCode, a new service it has built with Western Union to let people in markets where Amazon has not launched a local site to pay for goods in local currencies on its platform. The deal was first announced in October last year, and has seen the two companies offering payment alternatives in places like Thailand and Kenya to remove the need to transfer payments in other ways, via Alipay or whatever transfer service a seller or buyer might use.)

The acquisition gives Ant Financial a massive international boost, and for the first time a presence in Europe, but it comes amid some stumbles for the company in its other attempts to expand internationally.

Notably, the company agreed to acquire Nasdaq-listed MoneyGram for $1.2 billion in 2017 after it won a bidding war for the global payment company. Ultimately, however, the deal was blocked by the U.S. government. Bruised by the episode, which set its plans back by a year, Ant went on to raise an enormous $14 billion funding round last summer during which time it presumably kicked off the search for a MoneyGram alternative.

While WorldFirst is based out of the UK, the company last year made a key move to expand its US operations when it was announced in August that it would acquire the retail money transfer business of San Francisco-based startup Wyre, which had built the network on blockchain technology but was selling it to focus on the other side of its business, providing currency exchange APIs to larger B2B customers.

It looked like all systems go for WorldFirst to move deeper in the US after that. But then, the company abruptly announced on February 20 that it planned to close the U.S-based business. The move may have been made to prevent a repeat of that scuppered MoneyGram acquisition.

WorldFirst is closing its business in the U.S. in a move widely seen as a precursor to its acquisition by Ant Financial

Outside of the U.S. and China, Ant Financial has aggressively expanded its presence in Asia through a series of investment deals that have seen it put $200 million into Kakao Pay in Korea, and find similar deals in Southeast Asia. The overall strategy appears to be to replicate the success of Alipay in China, where it offers mobile payments and digital financial services that cover loans, banking and wealth management.

In a show of its global ambition, Alipay just this week announced a deal to bring its payment option to U.S. Walgreens stores. A previous partnership with point-of-sale company First Data added Alipay to four million retail partners Stateside, and the company has similar deals in Europe and parts of Asia.

News Source = techcrunch.com

Africa Roundup: Zimbabwe’s net blackout, Partech’s $143M fund, Andela’s $100M raise, Flutterwave’s pivot

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A high court in Zimbabwe ended the government’s restrictions on internet and social media last month.

After days of intermittent blackouts at the order of the country’s Minister of State for National Security, ISPs restored connectivity per a January 21 judicial order.

Similar to net shutdowns around the continent, politics and protests were the catalyst. Shortly after the government announced a dramatic increase in fuel prices on January 12, Zimbabwe’s Congress of Trade Unions called for a national strike.

Web and app blackouts in the southern African country followed demonstrations that broke out in several cities. A government crackdown ensued, with deaths reported.

On January 15, Zimbabwe’s largest mobile carrier, Econet Wireless, confirmed that it had complied with a directive from the Minister of State for National Security to shutdown internet.

Net access was restored, taken down again, then restored, but social media sites remained blocked through January 21.

Throughout the restrictions, many of Zimbabwe’s citizens and techies resorted to VPNs and workarounds to access net and social media, as reported in this TechCrunch feature.

Global internet rights group Access Now sprung to action, attaching its #KeepItOn hashtag to calls for the country’s government to reopen cyberspace soon after digital interference began.

The cyber-affair adds Zimbabwe to a growing list of African countries — including Cameroon, Congo and Ethiopia — whose governments have restricted internet expression in recent years.

It also provides another case study for techies and ISPs regaining their cyber rights. Internet and social media are back up in Zimbabwe — at least for now.

Further attempts to restrict net and app access in Zimbabwe will likely revive what’s become a somewhat ironic cycle for cyber shutdowns. When governments cut off internet and social media access, citizens still find ways to use internet and social media to stop them.

Partech doubled its Africa VC fund to $143 million and opened a Nairobi office to complement its Dakar practice.

The Partech Africa Fund plans to make 20 to 25 investments across roughly 10 countries over the next several years, according to general partner Tidjane Deme. The fund has added Ceasar Nyagha as investment officer for the Kenya office to expand its East Africa reach.

Partech Africa will primarily target Series A and B investments and some pre-series rounds at higher dollar amounts. “We will consider seed-funding — what we call seed-plus — tickets in the $500,000 range,” Deme told TechCrunch for this story on the new fund. Partech is open to all sectors “with a strong appetite for people who are tapping into Africa’s informal economies,” he said.

Partech Africa joined several Africa-focused funds over the last few years to mark a surge in VC for the continent’s startups. Partech announced its first raise of $70 million in early 2018 next to TLcom Capital’s $40 million, and TPG Growth’s $2 billion.

Africa-focused VC firms, including those locally run and managed, have grown to 51 globally, according to recent Crunchbase research.

Andela, the company that connects Africa’s top software developers with technology companies from the U.S. and around the world, raised $100 million in a new round of funding.

The new financing from Generation Investment Management (an investment fund co-founded by former VP Al Gore) puts the valuation of the company at somewhere between $600 million and $700 million—based on data available from PitchBook on the company’s valuation.

The company now has more than 200 customers paying for access to the roughly 1,100 developers Andela has trained and manages.

With the new cash in hand, Andela says it will double in size, hiring another thousand developers, and invest in new product development and its own engineering and data resources. More on Andela’s recent raise and focus here at TechCrunch.

Fintech startup Flutterwave announced a new consumer payment product for Africa called GetBarter, in partnership with Visa.

The app-based offering is aimed at facilitating personal and small merchant payments within and across African countries. Existing Visa  cardholders can send and receive funds at home or internationally on GetBarter.

The product also lets non-cardholders (those with accounts or mobile wallets on other platforms) create a virtual Visa card to link to the app.  A Visa spokesperson confirmed the product partnership.

GetBarter allows Flutterwave  — which has scaled as a payment gateway for big companies through its Rave product — to pivot to African consumers and traders.

The app also creates a network for clients on multiple financial platforms to make transfers across payment products and national borders, and to shop online.

“The target market is pretty much everyone who has a payment need in Africa. That includes the entire customer base of M-Pesa,  the entire bank customer base in Nigeria, mobile money and bank customers in Ghana — pretty much the entire continent,” Flutterwave CEO Olugbenga Agboola told TechCrunch in this exclusive.

Flutterwave and Visa will focus on building a GetBarter user base across mobile money and bank clients in Kenya, Ghana, and South Africa, with plans to grow across the continent and reach those off the financial grid.

Founded in 2016, Flutterwave has positioned itself as a global B2B payments solutions platform for companies in Africa to pay other companies on the continent and abroad. It allows clients to tap its APIs and work with Flutterwave developers to customize payments applications. Existing customers include Uber,  Facebook,  Booking.com and African e-commerce unicorn Jumia.com.

Flutterwave added operations in Uganda in June and raised a $10 million Series A round in October The company also plugged into ledger activity in 2018, becoming a payment processing partner to the Ripple and Stellar blockchain networks.

Headquartered in San Francisco, with its largest operations center in Nigeria, the startup plans to add operations centers in South Africa and Cameroon, which will also become new markets for GetBarter.

And sadly, Africa’s tech community mourned losses in January. A terrorist attack on Nairobi’s 14 Riverside complex claimed the lives of six employees of fintech startup Cellulant and I-Dev CEO Jason Spindler. Both organizations had been engaged with TechCrunch’s Africa work over the last 24 months. Condolences to  family, friends, and colleagues of those lost.

More Africa Related Stories @TechCrunch

African Tech Around The Net    

News Source = techcrunch.com

Apple disables group calling in FaceTime in response to eavesdropping bug

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Apple has disabled the group calling feature within its FaceTime calling service after it was found to house a nasty bug that allows eavesdropping.

Apple’s status page shows that group calling via FaceTime is “temporarily unavailable” — that’s likely a stop-gap move while the company works on a more permanent fix to the problem. We were unable to set up a group call when we tried, having earlier been able to do and replicate the issue.

All being well, this fix means that users don’t need to completely disable FaceTime due to the bug, but it is understandable if some people are hesitant to switch it on again.

The vulnerability was unearthed on Monday and it is activated when a user initiates a group call but adds themselves as a participant, as we explained in our earlier post:

The bug relies on what appears to be a nasty logic screwup in FaceTime’s group call system. While we’re opting to not outline the steps here, the bug seems to trick the recipient’s phone into thinking a group call is already ongoing. A few quick taps, and FaceTime immediately trips over itself and inexplicably fires up the recipient’s microphone without them actually accepting the call.

Weirder yet: if the recipient presses the volume down button or the power button to try to silence or dismiss the call, their camera turns on as well. Though the recipient’s phone display continues showing the incoming call screen, their microphone/camera are streaming.

Apple told us and other media that it plans to issue a more permanent solution in the coming days.

“We’re aware of this issue and we have identified a fix that will be released in a software update later this week,” a spokesperson said.

It’s interesting to note that the group calling feature actually took longer than planned to arrive in iOS follow a hiccup. It was added then removed from the beta version of iOS 12 in August while it took time to roll out to all users. The feature was absent when iOS 12 shipped to all in September and, instead, it arrived with the launch of iOS 12.1 in October. Apple never provided a reason for the delay.

The bug is an embarrassing incident for Apple, which has long emphasized its focus on privacy as a business and within its products. That included a recent banner at CES which triumphantly proclaimed: “What happens on your iPhone, stays on your iPhone.”

News Source = techcrunch.com

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