July 18, 2018
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Google builds its own subsea cable from the US to France

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Google, like all major internet companies, often participates in building new subsea cables because it wants to own the connectivity between its data centers around the world. Those cables are typically built and owned by a consortium of companies (and sometimes shared by competitors). Now, however, Google is building its own cable that will span from Virginia Beach in the U.S. to the Atlantic coast of France.

This marks Google’s fourth private cable. Its first two efforts spanned significantly shorter distances, though its ‘Curie’ cable connects Los Angeles and Chile. Over the course of the last few years, Google has also made significant investments in consortium-driven cables that span the Atlantic and the Pacific, and quite a few of these will go online in 2019.

The new so-called ‘Dunant’ cable (named after the first Nobel Peace Prize winner and founder of the Red Cross) will likely go online in 2020. And while it will land in France, it will actually connect Google’s North Virginia region directly to its Belgium region.

TE SubCom is the contractor for the project, which will be an almost 4000-miles long four-fiber pair system.

As Google notes, owning the cable means that it can lay it exactly where it needs it to be to connect its data centers, without having to take the needs of other consortium partners into account. Owning the cable also means that Google owns all the bandwidth for the lifetime of the cable (usually 15 to 25 years).


News Source = techcrunch.com

3D printed guns are now legal… What’s next?

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On Tuesday, July 10, the DOJ announced a landmark settlement with Austin-based Defense Distributed, a controversial startup led by a young, charismatic anarchist whom Wired once named one of the 15 most dangerous people in the world.

Hyper-loquacious and media-savvy, Cody Wilson is fond of telling any reporter who’ll listen that Defense Distributed’s main product, a gun fabricator called the Ghost Gunner, represents the endgame for gun control, not just in the US but everywhere in the world. With nothing but the Ghost Gunner, an internet connection, and some raw materials, anyone, anywhere can make an unmarked, untraceable gun in their home or garage. Even if Wilson is wrong that the gun control wars are effectively over (and I believe he is), Tuesday’s ruling has fundamentally changed them.

At about the time the settlement announcement was going out over the wires, I was pulling into the parking lot of LMT Defense in Milan, IL.

LMT Defense, formerly known as Lewis Machine & Tool, is as much the opposite of Defense Distributed as its quiet, publicity-shy founder, Karl Lewis, is the opposite of Cody Wilson. But LMT Defense’s story can be usefully placed alongside that of Defense Distributed, because together they can reveal much about the past, present, and future of the tools and technologies that we humans use for the age-old practice of making war.

The legacy machine

Karl Lewis got started in gunmaking back in the 1970’s at Springfield Armory in Geneseo, IL, just a few exits up I-80 from the current LMT Defense headquarters. Lewis, who has a high school education but who now knows as much about the engineering behind firearms manufacturing as almost anyone alive, was working on the Springfield Armory shop floor when he hit upon a better way to make a critical and failure-prone part of the AR-15, the bolt. He first took his idea to Springfield Armory management, but they took a pass, so he rented out a small corner in a local auto repair ship in Milan, bought some equipment, and began making the bolts, himself.

Lewis worked in his rented space on nights and weekends, bringing the newly fabricated bolts home for heat treatment in his kitchen oven. Not long after he made his first batch, he landed a small contract with the US military to supply some of the bolts for the M4 carbine. On the back of this initial success with M4 bolts, Lewis Machine & Tool expanded its offerings to include complete guns. Over the course of the next three decades, LMT grew into one of the world’s top makers of AR-15-pattern rifles for the world’s militaries, and it’s now in a very small club of gunmakers, alongside a few old-world arms powerhouses like Germany’s Heckler & Koch and Belgium’s FN Herstal, that supplies rifles to US SOCOM’s most elite units.

The offices of LMT Defense, in Milan, Ill. (Image courtesy Jon Stokes)

LMT’s gun business is built on high-profile relationships, hard-to-win government contracts, and deep, almost monk-like know-how. The company lives or dies by the skill of its machinists and by the stuff of process engineering — tolerances and measurements and paper trails. Political connections are also key, as the largest weapons contracts require congressional approval and months of waiting for political winds to blow in this or that direction, as countries to fall in and out of favor with each other, and paperwork that was delayed due to a political spat over some unrelated point of trade or security finally gets put through so that funds can be transfered and production can begin.

Selling these guns is as old-school a process as making them is. Success in LMT’s world isn’t about media buys and PR hits, but about dinners in foreign capitals, range sessions with the world’s top special forces units, booths at trade shows most of us have never heard of, and secret delegations of high-ranking officials to a machine shop in a small town surrounded by corn fields on the western border of Illinois.

The civilian gun market, with all of its politics- and event-driven gyrations of supply and demand, is woven into this stable core of the global military small arms market the way vines weave through a trellis. Innovations in gunmaking flow in both directions, though nowadays they more often flow from the civilian market into the military and law enforcement markets than vice versa. For the most part, civilians buy guns that come off the same production lines that feed the government and law enforcement markets.

All of this is how small arms get made and sold in the present world, and anyone who lived through the heyday of IBM and Oracle, before the PC, the cloud, and the smartphone tore through and upended everything, will recognize every detail of the above picture, down to the clean-cut guys in polos with the company logo and fat purchase orders bearing signatures and stamps and big numbers.

The author with LMT Defense hardware.

Guns, drugs, and a million Karl Lewises

This is the part of the story where I build on the IBM PC analogy I hinted at above, and tell you that Defense Distributed’s Ghost Gunner, along with its inevitable clones and successors, will kill dinosaurs like LMT Defense the way the PC and the cloud laid waste to the mainframe and microcomputer businesses of yesteryear.

Except this isn’t what will happen.

Defense Distributed isn’t going to destroy gun control, and it’s certainly not going to decimate the gun industry. All of the legacy gun industry apparatus described above will still be there in the decades to come, mainly because governments will still buy their arms from established makers like LMT. But surrounding the government and civilian arms markets will be a brand new, homebrew, underground gun market where enthusiasts swap files on the dark web and test new firearms in their back yards.

The homebrew gun revolution won’t create a million untraceable guns so much as it’ll create a hundreds of thousands of Karl Lewises — solitary geniuses who had a good idea, prototyped it, began making it and selling it in small batches, and ended up supplying a global arms market with new technology and products.

In this respect, the future of guns looks a lot like the present of drugs. The dark web hasn’t hurt Big Pharma, much less destroyed it. Rather, it has expanded the reach of hobbyist drugmakers and small labs, and enabled a shadow world of pharmaceutical R&D that feeds transnational black and gray markets for everything from penis enlargement pills to synthetic opioids.

Gun control efforts in this new reality will initially focus more on ammunition. Background checks for ammo purchases will move to more states, as policy makers try to limit civilian access to weapons in a world where controlling the guns themselves is impossible.

Ammunition has long been the crack in the rampart that Wilson is building. Bullets and casings are easy to fabricate and will always be easy to obtain or manufacture in bulk, but powder and primers are another story. Gunpowder and primers are the explosive chemical components of modern ammo, and they are difficult and dangerous to make at home. So gun controllers will seize on this and attempt to pivot to “bullet control” in the near-term.

Ammunition control is unlikely to work, mainly because rounds of ammunition are fungible, and there are untold billions of rounds already in civilian hands.

In addition to controls on ammunition, some governments will also make an effort at trying to force the manufacturers of 3D printers and desktop milling machines (the Ghost Gunner is the latter) to refuse to print files for gun parts.

This will be impossible to enforce, for two reasons. First, it will be hard for these machines to reliably tell what’s a gun-related file and what isn’t, especially if distributors of these files keep changing them to defeat any sort of detection. But the bigger problem will be that open-source firmware will quickly become available for the most popular printing and milling machines, so that determined users can “jailbreak” them and use them however they like. This already happens with products like routers and even cars, so it will definitely happen with home fabrication machines should the need arise.

Ammo control and fabrication device restrictions having failed, governments will over the longer term employ a two-pronged approach that consists of possession permits and digital censorship.

Photo courtesy of Getty Images: Jeremy Saltzer / EyeEm

First, governments will look to gun control schemes that treat guns like controlled substances (i.e. drugs and alchohol). The focus will shift to vetting and permits for simple possession, much like the gun owner licensing scheme I outlined in Politico. We’ll give up on trying to trace guns and ammunition, and focus more on authorizing people to possess guns, and on catching and prosecuting unauthorized possession. You’ll get the firearm equivalent of a marijuana card from the state, and then it won’t matter if you bought your gun from an authorized dealer or made it yourself at home.

The second component of future gun control regimes will be online suppression, of the type that’s already taking place on most major tech platforms across the developed world. I don’t think DefCad.com is long for the open web, and it will ultimately have as hard a time staying online as extremist sites like stormfront.org.

Gun CAD files will join child porn and pirated movies on the list of content it’s nearly impossible to find on big tech platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, and YouTube. If you want to trade these files, you’ll find yourself on sites with really intrusive advertising, where you worry a lot about viruses. Or, you’ll end up on the dark web, where you may end up paying for a hot new gun design with a cryptocurrency. This may be an ancap dream, but won’t be mainstream or user-friendly in any respect.

As for what comes after that, this is the same question as the question of what comes next for politically disfavored speech online. The gun control wars have now become a subset of the online free speech wars, so whatever happens with online speech in places like the US, UK, or China will happen with guns.

News Source = techcrunch.com

Department of Justice indicts 12 Russian intelligence officers for Clinton email hacks

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Just days before President Trump is set to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin, the Department of Justice has leveled new charges against 12 Russian intelligence officers who allegedly hacked the Democratic National Committee and the presidential campaign of Hillary Clinton .

The charges, released by Rod J. Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general who’s leading the investigation into Russian election tampering because of the recusal of Attorney General Jeff Sessions from the investigation.

In January of last year, the intelligence community issued a joint statement affirming that Russia had indeed tampered with the U.S. presidential elections in 2016.

Now the investigation is beginning to release indictments. Three former campaign aides for the president’s campaign have already plead guilty, and the president himself is under investigation by Special Investigator Robert Mueller for potential obstruction of justice.

According to the indictment the Russians used spearphishing attacks to gain access to the network of the Democratic National Committee and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

Rosenstein also said that Russia’s military intelligence service was also behind the leaks that distributed the information online under the aliases Guccifer 2.0 and DCLeaks.

Read the full indictment below.


News Source = techcrunch.com

MallforAfrica and DHL launch MarketPlace Africa global e-commerce site

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MallforAfrica and DHL are giving African merchants a global stage. This week the online retailer and delivery giant launch MarketPlaceAfrica.com: an e-commerce site for select African artisans to sell wares to buyers in any of DHL’s 220 delivery countries.

The site will prioritize fashion items—clothing, bags, jewelry, footwear, and personal care—and crafts, such as pictures and carvings. MallforAfrica is vetting sellers for MarketPlace Africa online and through the Africa Made Product Standards association (AMPS), to verify made in Africa status and merchandise quality.

“We’re starting off in Nigeria and then we’ll open in Kenya, Rwanda and the rest of Africa, utilizing DHL’s massive network,” MallforAfrica CEO Chris Folayan told TechCrunch about where the goods will be sourced. “People all around the world can buy from African artisans online, that’s the goal,” said Folayan.

Current listed designer products include handbags from Chinwe Ezenwa and Tash women’s outfits by Tasha Goodwin.

In addition to DHL for shipping, MarketPlace Africa will utilize MallforAfrica’s e-commerce infrastructure. The startup was founded in 2011 to solve challenges global consumer goods companies face when entering Africa.

MallforAfrica’s payment and delivery system serves as a digital broker and logistics manager for U.S. retailers, who partner with MFA to sell their goods online to African consumers.

The venture has backing from UK private equity firm Helios Investment Partners and alliances with companies such as consumer electronics chain Best Buy and department store Macy’s.

In 2016 MallforAfrica partnered with eBay to launch the eBay Powered by MallforAfrica platform allowing U.S. vendors to sell in Africa. In 2017 eBay opened its U.S. platform to select sales from African vendors through MallforAfrica’s website.

Africa’s e-commerce space—expected to exceed $75 billion in revenue by 2025—has been one of the continent’s most active, with a number of well-funded startups focused on mastering mega-market Nigeria before expanding outward.

E-commerce minted the continent’s first unicorn in 2016, when Rocket Internet backed Jumia achieved a $1BN valuation after a $326M funding round that included Goldman Sachs.

Africa’s digital retail race produced one of the continent’s notable tech exits when Ringier acquired Nigerian startup DealDey in 2016.

E-commerce shops in Africa have also struggled to reach profitability—though after years of losses Jumia’s apparently getting closer. And digital retail on the continent has seen some big fails, namely the folding of South Africa’s Khalahari.com in 2015 and the distressed acquisition of Konga.com earlier this year.

MallforAfrica CEO Chris Folayan said his company does not release financial performance figures, but noted it now ships to 17 countries, averages a ton a day of goods shipped to Africa, and plans to grow by 3-4 times this year over 2017.

With MarketPlace Africa, Folayan sees an opportunity to open the sales channels both ways. “Our MallforAfrica platform is really about helping people in Africa buy products from places like the U.S., this is the return ticket for Africa’s products,” he said.

News Source = techcrunch.com

A new $124 million for Brazil’s Movile proves that investors still see promise in Latin American tech

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Brazil’s macroeconomic picture may be gloomy, but technology investors still see hope in the nation’s burgeoning technology sector — and a recent $124 million financing for the mobile conglomerate Movile is the latest proof that that the pace of investment isn’t slowing down.

Brazil was already the hottest spot for technology investment throughout Latin America — with Sao Paulo drawing in the majority of the record-breaking $1 billion in financing that the region’s startups attracted in 2017. And with this latest funding for Movile, led by Naspers, that trend looks likely to continue.

Indeed, Naspers investments in Movile (supplemented by co-investors like Innova, which participated in the most recent round) have been one of the driving forces sustaining the Brazilian startup community. In all, the South African technology media and investment conglomerate has invested $375 million into Movile over the course of several rounds that likely value the company at close to $1 billion.

Another Brazilian tech company, the financial services giant Nubank, has raised around $528 million (according to Crunchbase) and is valued at roughly $2 billion, putting it squarely in the “unicorn club”, as the Latin American Venture Capital Association noted, earlier this year.

Both chief executive Fabricio Bloisi and a spokesperson from Naspers declined to comment on Movile’s valuation. “My dream is not to become a unicorn my dream is to become much bigger than that,” Bloisi said in an interview.

Nubank and Movile are the two most recent privately held independent companies to achieve or approach unicorn status in Brazil, but they’re not alone in reaching or approaching the billion dollar threshold in Latin America. MercadoLibre was an early runaway success for the region (hailing from Argentina) and the ride hailing service 99Taxis was acquired by the Chinese ride-hailing behemoth Didi for a roughly $1 billion dollar valuation last year.

All of this points to an appetite for Latin American tech that Movile is hoping it can seize upon with its new $124 million in financing.

The company is looking to expand its food delivery business iFood, its payment company, Zoop, and its ticketing platform, Sympla.

Both Movile and Naspers look to Chinese companies as their model and inspiration for growth, with Bloisi saying that he’s eyeing the eventual public offering for Meituan — the Chinese online retailer as the company to emulate in the market these days.

“The Chinese companies are doing extremely well and Movile is very similar to a Chinese company,” says Bloisi. And the company’s buy and build strategy certainly mirrors that of a tech business in the world’s largest emerging market economy moreso than it does a typical U.S. startup.

That extends to Movile’s investment in the tech ecosystem in its native Brazil and the broader Latin American region. Already the company boasts 150 million users per month across its application ecosystem. Through on-click payment services provided by Zoop, Movile offers a WePay and WeChat like experience for buyers in Latin America, Bloisi said.

It’s a playbook that the company’s backers have run before — with WeChat. Naspers came to prominence and untold riches by being an early backer of Tencent who’s WeChat and WePay applications have become the backbone of mobile commerce in China.

Now it’s looking to replicate that with Movile in Brazil and beyond. Like its Chinese counterparts, Movile is more than just one of the largest startup companies in the Brazilian ecosystem… it’s also a big investor. Indeed, subsidiaries like iFood began as small investments the company made in promising businesses.

It was with its last $82 million round of financing from Naspers and other co-investors that Movile backed Mercadoni, a Colombian grocery business, and its payment services play in Brazil — Zoop (which is one of the company’s main areas of interest going forward).

For Bloisi, that future outlook seems pretty bright. “Our confidence is extremely high,” he says of the recent financing. “For me it’s an indicator that things are growing. There was a hot moment in Latin America in 2010-2012. Then there was a recession, now while Movile is raising more there are also many more players,” who are coming to market with convincing offerings for investors. 

Movile itself isn’t afraid to let its checkbook do the talking for it when it comes to confidence in the market for online retail and commerce in Brazil. Bloisi estimates that his company has made nearly 35 transactions over the past few years, and will continue to invest heavily in the sector.

“Many of our business are growing at over 100% per year,” Bloisi said.

Investors like Martin Tschopp the chief executive of Naspers can’t complain about that kind of growth across multiple business units.

As the executive said in a satement:

“Naspers has been a long-term partner of Movile because of its ability to build transformative mobile businesses in Latin America and beyond. Movile has great expertise in identifying high-potential companies in consumer segments with opportunity for massive growth, including food delivery with iFood, which is why we continue to support the company.”

That sentiment, an optimism about the future of technology enabled businesses in Brazil and the broader Latin American region has captured investors’ imagination from billionaire backed offices like the Russian investment firm DST and large multinational U.S.-based players like Goldman Sachs.

As HIllel Moerman, head of Goldman’s private capital investment group told The Financial Times, “The [venture capital] ecosystem is still nascent compared to the US and other international markets — therefore there is a large opportunity for start-ups.”

Beyond the relative maturity of the venture community, there are macroeconomic forces at play that continue to make the Brazilian market attractive.

“Brazil has a large market, a pretty tech savvy population with attractive demographics and decent engineering and computing talent. You have all the right ingredients for an ecosystem to develop,” Tom Stafford, an investor with DST Global, told the British paper in an interview.


News Source = techcrunch.com

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