The European Union has switched on cross-border interoperability for a first batch of COVID-19 contacts tracing apps that use Bluetooth proximity to calculate the exposure risk of smartphone users after a pilot of the system last month.
National apps whose backends are now linked through the gateway service are Germany’s Corona-Warn-App, the Republic of Ireland’s COVID tracker, and Italy’s immuni app.
This means a user of one of those apps who travels to any of the other countries can expect their national app to send relevant exposure notifications in the same way it should if they had not travelled — without the need to download any additional software.
Collectively, the three national COVID-19 apps have been downloaded by around 30 million people which the EU said corresponds to two-thirds of such downloads in the region.
Image credit: EU Publications Office
Other national apps are expected to gain interoperability as they are added to the service in the coming weeks — with at least 18 more compatible national apps identified at this stage.
A second batch of national apps is expected to be added next week after a period of testing — namely: Czechia’s eRouška, Denmark’s smitte stop, Latvia’s Apturi COVID and Spain’s Radar Covid (although the latter still doesn’t have full coverage in Spain with the Catalonia region yet to integrate it with its regional healthcare system). Further compatible apps are slated to be added in November.
The gateway has been designed to work, in the first instance, with official coronavirus apps that have a decentralized architecture — meaning any that use a centalized architecture, such as France’s StopCovid app, aren’t currently compatible.
The UK’s collection of apps, meanwhile — for England & Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland — are unlikely to get plugged in, despite having a technically compatible app architecture, as the country is due to exit the trading bloc at the end of this year. (So interoperability would require a separate agreement between the UK and the EU.)
“About two third of EU Member States have developed compatible tracing and warning apps, and the gateway is open to all of them, once they are ready to connect. The connection will gradually take place during October and November, however apps can also connect at a later stage if national authorities wish so. An ‘onboarding protocol’ has been developed, setting out the necessary steps,” the Commission notes in an Q&A.
The cross-border system for the EU’s apps works via the use of a gateway server, developed and set up by T-Systems and SAP and operated from the Commission’s data centre in Luxembourg, which receives and passes on arbitrary identifiers between national apps.
“No other information than arbitrary keys, generated by the apps, will be handled by the gateway,” the EU notes in a press release. “The information is pseudonymised, encrypted, kept to the minimium, and only stored as long as necessary to trace back infections. It does not allow the identification of individual persons, nor to track location or movement of devices.”
Getting a cross-border system up and running so swiftly across a patchwork of national COVID-19 apps is an achievement for the EU, even as there are ongoing questions about the utility of Bluetooth-based coronavirus exposure notifications in the fight against the spread of the novel coronavirus — with much of Europe now experiencing a second wave of the pandemic.
However EU commissioners suggested today that such apps can be a useful complement to other measures, such as manual contact tracing.
Commenting in a statement, StellaKyriakides, EU commissioner for health and food safety, said: “Coronavirus tracing and warning apps can effectively complement other measures like increased testing and manual contact tracing. With cases on the rise again, they can play an important role to help us break the transmission chains. When working across borders these apps are even more powerful tools. Our gateway system going live today is an important step in our work, and I would call on citizens to make use of such apps, to help protecting each other.”
“Free movement is an integral part of the Single Market — the gateway is facilitating this while helping save lives,” added Thierry Breton, commissioner for the internal market.
Before the 2016 election, Vice Ventures founder and general partner Catharine Dockery was bullish about the future of recreational cannabis in the United States.
“We saw quite a bit more optimism around national legalization, with the feeling that a wave of states legalizing recreational use would be the final push needed” to see drug reform, she said. It was good news for Dockery, who was planning to launch a firm investing in categories like cannabis, CBD, psychedelics and sextech.
She announced a $25 million fund in June 2019, but the national policy landscape had shifted considerably.
“The vitriol and division around the election really haven’t left room for substantive discussions. I think this will eventually change, but don’t have high hopes for much policy debate until the election is complete, if at all,” she said. “In a time of uncertainty, we’re taking a small step back.”
Along with many VC firms, Vice Ventures has raised the bar regarding which startups it will fund, but several investors told TechCrunch they were split about how they’re making decisions in the closing days of the presidential campaign. After a booming summer, some said momentum is increasing, while others told us that expectations have never been higher for startups.
“If anything, the pace is increasing,” said Alexa Von Tobel of Inspired Capital. Traditionally, she said founders scale back on fundraising efforts close to the winter holidays because investors’ vacation mentality is kicking in. This year, “I think we’ll continue to see founders taking advantage of the ample flow of capital right now and shore up resources so they can enter 2021 on strong footing,” she said.
While that may be good news for founders, Von Tobel said Inspired Capital is not giving too much weight to the election internally.
“We think of ourselves as patient capital, focused on looking for the best companies no matter the timing,” she said. “While we know the election will create noise and have an impact on businesses long-term, it does not have a place in our process right now.”
Inspired Capital invests more broadly in the early-stage environment, which plays a part in its ability to invest through crises and turbulence. It seems that firms that have more niche investment theses have been more likely to change their pace ahead of the election.
Ultimately, Webb says, the limiting factor on the road that morning wasn’t the car—its 5.9-L twin-turbo V8 was still good for at least another 20 mph, SSC engineers estimate—but the conditions. “We didn’t have six lanes on a test track to play with,” says Webb, who competes in multiple race series, including Le Mans and the World Endurance Championship, in addition to being a test and stunt driver. “This is two lanes, and if you get pushed over one lane you only have 6 inches before it’s game over. So it was me deciding to back out of the run. In ideal conditions, we could have gone faster.”
The effort is the culmination of a 10-year development process for the $1.6 million Tuatara, which succeeds the company’s SSC Ultimate Aero. That car had set the record in 2007 for fastest production car, with a speed of 256.18 mph. SSC
After a steady stream of successful product launches and Kickstarter campaigns, Peak Design is back with a new one – Mobile by Peak Design. The startup that created a rich ecosystem of photography and packing gear is tackling mobile devices next, and has devices a clever interconnect system that seems to have anticipated Apple’s new MagSafe magnetic phone accessory scheme – but that’s designed for all smartphones and mobile devices.
Similar to Peak Design’s Capture, Anchor and mounting plate system, Mobile by Peak Design offers a way to connect smartphones to all kinds of accessories, including tripods, car mounts, charging stands, bike handlebars and much more. The system is entered around what Peak calls its “SlimLink” connector, which is a clever combo magnetic and physical mounting receiver that you can attach to your phone either with dedicated cases, or a universal sticky-backed accessory. SlimLink then works with both soft-lock and hard-lock accessories, which use either magnets alone (soft) or magnets combined with physical catchments (hard) for varying degrees of stable connection with a line of mounts.
Peak Design is launching on Kickstarter with a crowdfunding campaign, but the product is already designed and produced to a high level of quality. It sent out media samples of a range of products in the Mobile lineup, including a SlimLink universal phone mount, a handlebar mount, the folding tripod, two magnetic/stick-backed universal mounting pads, and an in-car dashboard mount.
I’ve been using these for the past couple of weeks and have found them to be incredibly versatile and convenient. Peak also supplied an iPhone 11 Pro case, but since I’m using an iPhone 11 Pro Max, I just affixed the 3M-backed universal plate directly to my phone using the included sizing and alignment guide. The attachment is incredibly secure, and doesn’t add very much thickness to your phone at all (it basically provides just enough clearance that the iPhone 11 Pro’s camera bump barely clears table surfaces).
The magnetic connection between it and the ‘soft-lock’ mounts is strong enough that I’m never worried about them coming loose – I’ve used the general purpose magnetic mounts on my fridge often, and the phone hasn’t moved. The bike mount, with its additional physical prongs, is rock solid while actually biking around, and the arm on the mount puts the phone is a great position for acting as a navigation device while biking around, in both portrait and landscape orientations.
Peak has really outdone itself with the design of this system, but that is maybe most true when it comes to the tripod. The clever, three-legged folding design is tiny – smaller overall footprint than a credit card, though a bit thicker – and it’s amazing to be able to carry this everywhere in a pocket and have a stable platform for taking time-lapse photos. You can adjust its stability using the included Allen key, too.
The car mount has an adhesive backing for sticking to your dashboard, and fits in the recessed SlimLink slot on the phone mount/case without physically catching. It’s stable and secure in testing, and best of all, Peak has made the adjustable ball that lets you orient your phone just the right amount of stiff that you can move it but it doesn’t require any additional tightening. My one complaint thus far with the universal mount has been that it isn’t compatible with my Nomad Base Station Pro charger, though Peak says it’s testing the accessory with wireless chargers and will advise as to compatibility in future. The Peak Everyday phone case, meanwhile, is compatible with many Qi chargers.
Peak says these designs are subject to change, and of course, MagSafe was a surprise to the company just as it was to the rest of the world. Peak still plans to create iPhone 12 cases for the range, and says that all of its soft-locking accessories will also work with both Apple MagSafe phones, as well as MagSafe cases. Apple MagSafe accessories, like the wallet, will also likewise attach to MagSafe phones.
This could’ve been one of those moments where Apple announces something that renders a competing product obsolete before it even gets to market, but Peak’s Mobile system design actually makes them complimentary – and provides very similar benefits to phones and devices that otherwise would’ve have been able to take advantage of what MagSafe offers.
The Kickstarter campaign launches today, and Peak believes it will be able to ship the Mobile system cases and accessories starting in Spring 2021.
Hello and welcome back to Equity, TechCrunch’s venture capital-focused podcast where we unpack the numbers behind the headlines.
This is Equity Monday, our weekly kickoff that tracks the latest big news, chats about the coming week, digs into some recent funding rounds and mulls over a larger theme or narrative from the private markets. You can follow the show on Twitter here and myself here — and don’t forget to check out last Friday’s episode.
- American equities are set to rise, which is good news for the startup-VC world as it means that the current up-cycle will continue. But the good public market is not landing evenly, as Europe sees its VC-backed IPO tally lag the rest of the world.
- The biggest recent news stories in tech and venture were Alibaba’s enormous Sun Art deal that echoes the Amazon-Whole Foods deal at first blush, and SpaceX’s latest success. The quiet weekend could herald the return of a slower, holiday news cycle as we close in on November.
On the funding front, we found three super cool startups:
AiFi raised $14.5 million in a round that Crunchbase News covered. Autonomous, checkout-free stores? Count us in.
Lawmatics raised a $2.5 million Seed round. The startup does vertical SaaS (CRM, marketing) for lawyers. That just sounds lucrative.
- And then there was Chiper, which put together a $12 million round to help build out its ecommerce service in Latin America. Investors Monashees, Kaszek Ventures, and WIND Ventures put the money up.
And to close we took a look at some Q3 2020 data from CBInsights and Crunchbase News.
That’s all we got. The show is back in just a few days. Hugs!
Equity drops every Monday at 7:00 a.m. PT and Thursday afternoon as fast as we can get it out, so subscribe to us on Apple Podcasts, Overcast, Spotify and all the casts.
Following the updates to Instagram and Messenger that delivered cross-app communication and other features, Facebook today announced its Messenger API has also been updated to allow businesses to manage their communications across Instagram, in addition to Messenger.
Before today, businesses could only respond to customer inquiries through the Instagram app and through Facebook’s unified business inbox. This could work for some smaller businesses, but for larger brands with a high volume of messages, it could be difficult to be efficient this way.
The update means businesses will be able to now also integrate Instagram messaging into the applications and workflows they’re already using in-house to manage their Facebook conversations. Specifically, they’ll be able to use rich media — like photos, URL links and more — and work with developers to integrate the API with their product and customer databases to provide the same experience on Instagram as they do today on Messenger.
For example, a business with a CRM system integration would be able to view the customer loyalty information and take that into account when they respond.
Businesses using the API can also manage their Instagram presence, including their Profile, Shops and Stories, Facebook says.
The change comes at a time when Instagram is pushing Shopping as a core activity on Instagram, and follows the launch of Instagram shops and visual changes to the app to highlight shopping features.
According to Facebook, daily conversations between people and businesses on Messenger and Instagram combined grew over 40% over the last year.
With the launch of the new API, Facebook is also introducing new features on Instagram that will allow businesses to respond immediately to common questions using automation, while still offering to connect customers to live support, if needed. An alpha test with partner Clarabridge on this feature indicated that client brands improved response rates on Instagram by up to 55% by managing DMs through its platform.
The updated Messenger API is launching into beta testing with businesses like Adidas, Amaro, Glossier, H&M, MagazineLuiza, Michael Kors, Nars, Sephora and TechStyle Fashion Group, among other consumer brands. The beta is also open to a limited number of developer partners. Today, other businesses and developers can join a waitlist to request access to the API post-beta.
Cross-app communication, a key part of the recent Instagram and Messenger update, is not available in the API at launch, however. For now, the messages will appear a brand’s Messenger or Instagram tab depending on where their customers are messaging from. However, Facebook confirmed it plans to “eventually” bring cross-app communication to businesses and developers in a later update.