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Popular Android phones can be tricked into snooping on their owners

Raghav Jain

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Security researchers have found several popular Android phones can be tricked into snooping on their owners by exploiting a weakness that gives accessories access to the phone’s underlying baseband software.

Attackers can use that access to trick vulnerable phones into giving up their unique identifiers, such as their IMEI and IMSI numbers, downgrade a target’s connection in order to intercept phone calls, forward calls to another phone or block all phone calls and internet access altogether.

The research, shared exclusively with TechCrunch, affects at least 10 popular Android devices, including Google’s Pixel 2, Huawei’s Nexus 6P and Samsung’s Galaxy S8+.

The vulnerabilities are found in the interface used to communicate with the baseband firmware, the software that allows the phone’s modem to communicate with the cell network, such as making phone calls or connecting to the internet. Given its importance, the baseband is typically off-limits from the rest of the device, including its apps, and often come with command blacklisting to prevent non-critical commands from running. But the researchers found that many Android phones inadvertently allow Bluetooth and USB accessories — like headphones and headsets — access to the baseband. By exploiting a vulnerable accessory, an attacker can run commands on a connected Android phone.

“The impact of these attacks ranges from sensitive user information exposure to complete service disruption,” said Syed Rafiul Hussain and Imtiaz Karim, two co-authors of the research, in an email to TechCrunch.

Hussain and his colleagues Imtiaz Karim, Fabrizio Cicala and Elisa Bertino at Purdue University and Omar Chowdhury at the University of Iowa are set to present their findings next month.

“The impact of these attacks ranges from sensitive user information exposure to complete service disruption.”
Syed Rafiul Hussain, Imtiaz Karim

Baseband firmware accepts special commands, known as AT commands, which control the device’s cellular functions. These commands can be used to tell the modem which phone number to call. But the researchers found that these commands can be manipulated. The researchers developed a tool, dubbed ATFuzzer, which tries to find potentially problematic AT commands.

In their testing, the researchers discovered 14 commands that could be used to trick the vulnerable Android phones into leaking sensitive device data, and manipulating phone calls.

But not all devices are vulnerable to the same commands or can be manipulated in the same way. The researchers found, for example, that certain commands could trick a Galaxy S8+ phone into leaking its IMEI number, redirect phone calls to another phone and downgrade their cellular connection — all of which can be used to snoop and listen in on phone calls, such as with specialist cellular snooping hardware known as “stingrays.” Other devices were not vulnerable to call manipulation but were susceptible to commands that could be used to block internet connectivity and phone calls.

The vulnerabilities are not difficult to exploit, but require all of the right conditions to be met.

“The attacks can be easily carried out by an adversary with cheap Bluetooth connectors or by setting up a malicious USB charging station,” said Hussain and Karim. In other words, it’s possible to manipulate a phone if an accessory is accessible over the internet — such as a computer. Or, if a phone is connected to a Bluetooth device, an attacker has to be in close proximity. (Bluetooth attacks are not difficult, given vulnerabilities in how some devices implement Bluetooth has left some devices more vulnerable to attacks than others.)

“If your smartphone is connected with a headphone or any other Bluetooth device, the attacker can first exploit the inherent vulnerabilities of the Bluetooth connection and then inject those malformed AT commands,” the researchers said..

Samsung recognized the vulnerabilities in some of its devices and is rolling out patches. Huawei did not comment at the time of writing. Google said: “The issues reported are either in compliance with the Bluetooth specification or do not reproduce on Pixel devices with up to date security patches.”

Hussain said that iPhones were not affected by the vulnerabilities.

This research becomes the latest to examine vulnerabilities in baseband firmware. Over the years there have been several papers examining various phones and devices with baseband vulnerabilities. Although these reports are rare, security researchers have long warned that intelligence agencies and hackers alike could be using these flaws to launch silent attacks.

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Chris Cox’s motivational speeches were at the heart of Facebook’s new employee orientation. But after 14 years at the social network, the chief product officer left in March amidst an executive shake-up and Facebook’s new plan to prioritize privacy by moving to encrypt its messaging apps. No details on his next projects were revealed.

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Now the 37-year-old leader will be putting his inspirational demeanor and keen strategy sense to work to protect the environment and improve the government. Today at Wired25 conference, Cox finally shared more about his work advising political technology developer for progressives Acronym, and climate change-tracking satellite startup Planet Labs. He also explained more about the circumstances of his departure from the social network’s C-suite.

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SAN FRANCISCO, CALIFORNIA – NOVEMBER 08: Chris Cox speaks onstage at the WIRED25 Summit 2019 – Day 1 at Commonwealth Club on November 08, 2019 in San Francisco, California. (Photo by Phillip Faraone/Getty Images for WIRED)

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Leaving Facebook

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On how he felt leaving Facebook, Cox said, “part of the reason I was okay leaving was that afteru00a02016 I’d spent a couple years building out a bunch of the teams that I felt were most important to sort of take the lessons that we learned through some of 2016 and start to put in place institutions that can help the company, be more responsible and be a better communicator on some of the key issues.”

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LIVE: Chris Cox, Former Chief Product Officer, Facebook, in conversation with WIRED's Lauren Goode

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LIVE: We're live with Chris Cox, former Chief Product Officer, Facebook, from our #WIRED25 summit in conversation with WIRED senior writer Lauren Goode.

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Posted by WIRED on Friday, November 8, 2019

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As for what specifically drove him to leave, Cox explained that, “It wasn’t something where I felt I wanted to spend another 13 years on social media. Mark and I saw things a little bit differently . . . I think we are still investigatingu00a0as an industry, how do you balance protecting the privacy of people’s information and continuingu00a0to keep people safe,” Cox said.

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On whether moving toward encryption was part of that, he said he thinks encryption is “great: and that “It offers an enormous amount of protection,” but noted “it certainly makes some of those things more complicated” on the privacy versus safety balance. He complemented Facebook’s efforts to build ways of catching bad actors even if they’re shielded by encryption. That includes digital literacy initiatives in Brazil and India ahead of elections, and offering forwarding systems for sending questionable information to fact checkers. “I think there are pros and cons with these systems and I’m not a hard-liner on any one of them,” Cox said, and noted that what Facebook is building is “resonant with what people want.”

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Cox was asked about the major debate about whether Facebook should allow political advertising. “We think political advertising can be good and helpful. It often favors up and comers versus incumbents.” Still, on fact-checking, he said, “I’m a big fan,” even though Facebook isn’t applying that to political ads. He did note that “I think the company should investigate and is investigating micro targeting . . . if there’s hundreds of variants being run of the creative thenu00a0it’s tricky to get your arms around what’s being said.” He also advocated for more context in the user interface distinguishing political ads.u00a0

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Chris Cox speaks at Wired25

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Cox’s next projects

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Since leaving Facebook, Cox has joined the advisory board of a group called Acronym, which is helping to build out the campaign and messaging technology stack for progressive candidates. “This is an area where my perception is that the progressives have been behind on the ability to develop and use as a team infrastructure that helps you have a good voter file, how to develop messaging —u00a0just basic politics in 2019.”

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Wired’s Lauren Goode asked if he was aligning himself with progressives, taking a political stance, and whether he could do that while still at Facebook. “Absolutely not,” Cox responded.And why is that I think when you’re in a veryu00a0senior role at a platform, you have a duty to be much more neutral in your politics.”

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He then came out with a bold statement enabled by his independence. “I think Trump should not be our president. The other thing I care a lot about right now is climate change and he’s not going to help us there.”

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That led to Cox discussing that he’s also been working to advise San Francisco startup Planet Labs, which is using satellite imagery to track climate change. “The vision was to build these small, about shoebox-size satellites with solar panel panel wings and have a fleet of them in space, which is real-time imaging the Earth.”

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With that data, Cox explained you can track wildfires, deforestation, coal power plants, methane gas and more. Then, “You can start to contribute to having a health system, where you are basically imaging the Earth every hour, and then you’re creating some public data set with tools that plug into decision makers, banks, insurance companies, policymakers, investors, journalists, students…”

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Asked about big tech’s responsibility for addressing climate change, Cox said “I think at the very least it’s making a commitment to being carbon-negative.”

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Acronym and Planet Labs’ work intertwines, as Cox believes climate data proves the need for someone new in the Oval Office. While Cox didn’t discuss it onstage, Wired listed him as part of Shasta Group, which is Cox’s own vehicle for contributing to these projects. Still, he’s not ready to launch a full-fledged company of his own in politics and climate. “I’m still so youngu00a0at this field that I don’t have enough confidence in my own mental model of the world.”

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Cox concluded that by harnessing big company’s employees and having team leaders put more attention on climate change, “I do think tech can lead.”u00a0

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Chris Cox’s motivational speeches were at the heart of Facebook’s new employee orientation. But after 14 years at the social network, the chief product officer left in March amidst an executive shake-up and Facebook’s new plan to prioritize privacy by moving to encrypt its messaging apps. No details on his next projects were revealed. Now […]

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Josh Constine is a technology journalist who specializes in deep analysis of social products. He is currently an Editor-At-Large for TechCrunch and is available for speaking engagements.

nn

Previously, Constine was the Lead Writer of Inside Facebook through its acquisition by WebMediaBrands, covering everything about the social network.

nn

Constine graduated from Stanford University in 2009 with a Master’s degree in Cybersociology, examining the influence of technology on social interaction. He researched the impact of privacy controls on the socialization of children, meme popularity cycles, and what influences the click through rate of links posted to Twitter.

nn

Constine also received a Bachelor of Arts degree with honors from Stanford University in 2007, with a concentration in Social Psychology & Interpersonal Processes.

nn

Josh Constine is an experienced public speaker, and has moderated over 120 on-stage interviews in 15 countries with leaders including Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, whistleblower Edward Snowden (via on-stage video conference), and U.S. Senator Cory Booker. He is available to moderate panels and fireside chats, deliver keynotes, and judge hackathon and pitch competitions.

nn

Constine has been quoted by The Wall Street Journal, CNN Money, The Atlantic, BBC World Magazine, Slate, and more, plus has been featured on television on Good Morning, America, The Today Show, China Central Television, and Fox News. Constine is ranked as the #1 most cited tech journalist on prestigious news aggregator Techmeme.

nn

[Disclosures: Josh Constine temporarily advised a college friend’s social location-sharing startup codenamed ‘Signal’ that was based in San Francisco before dissolving in 2015. This advising role was cleared with AOL and TechCrunch’s editors and has concluded. Constine’s fiancu00e9e Andee Gardiner co-founded startup accelerator Founders Embassy. Constine’s cousin Darren Lachtman is the founder of influencer advertising startup Niche that was acquired by Twitter, and he’s since left and founded teen content studio Brat. Constine does not write about Founders Embassy or Brat. Constine has personal acquaintances stemming from college housing circa 2007 with founders at Skybox Imaging (now Terra Bella), Hustle, Snapchat, and Robinhood, but does not maintain close social ties with them nor does that influence his writing. Constine occasionally does paid speaking engagements at conferences, but only those funded by companies he does not cover. Constine owns a small position in Ethereum and Bitcoin cryptocurrencies, does not day-trade, and discloses his positions directly in articles where appropriate. Constine does not do consulting, angel investing, or public stock trading beyond public stock invesments by his parents’ estate that he has no role in managing or advising.]

“,”cbAvatar”:”https://crunchbase-production-res.cloudinary.com/image/upload/v1415412437/xje35licfau9iewxnf44.png”,”twitter”:”joshconstine”,”_links”:”self”:[“href”:”https://techcrunch.com/wp-json/tc/v1/users/1603003″],”collection”:[“href”:”https://techcrunch.com/wp-json/tc/v1/users”]],”author”:[“id”:1603003,”name”:”Josh Constine”,”url”:””,”description”:””,”link”:”https://techcrunch.com/author/josh-constine/”,”slug”:”josh-constine”,”avatar_urls”:”24″:”https://secure.gravatar.com/avatar/fd3b857e7f0024396cdbd36c4c102a5d?s=24&d=identicon&r=g”,”48″:”https://secure.gravatar.com/avatar/fd3b857e7f0024396cdbd36c4c102a5d?s=48&d=identicon&r=g”,”96″:”https://secure.gravatar.com/avatar/fd3b857e7f0024396cdbd36c4c102a5d?s=96&d=identicon&r=g”,”links”:”homepage”:”http://www.JoshConstine.com”,”facebook”:”http://www.facebook.com/JoshConstine”,”twitter”:”https://twitter.com/joshconstine”,”linkedin”:”https://www.linkedin.com/in/joshconstine/”,”crunchbase”:”https://www.crunchbase.com/person/josh-constine”,”position”:”Editor-At-Large”,”cbDescription”:”

Josh Constine is a technology journalist who specializes in deep analysis of social products. He is currently an Editor-At-Large for TechCrunch and is available for speaking engagements.

nn

Previously, Constine was the Lead Writer of Inside Facebook through its acquisition by WebMediaBrands, covering everything about the social network.

nn

Constine graduated from Stanford University in 2009 with a Master’s degree in Cybersociology, examining the influence of technology on social interaction. He researched the impact of privacy controls on the socialization of children, meme popularity cycles, and what influences the click through rate of links posted to Twitter.

nn

Constine also received a Bachelor of Arts degree with honors from Stanford University in 2007, with a concentration in Social Psychology & Interpersonal Processes.

nn

Josh Constine is an experienced public speaker, and has moderated over 120 on-stage interviews in 15 countries with leaders including Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, whistleblower Edward Snowden (via on-stage video conference), and U.S. Senator Cory Booker. He is available to moderate panels and fireside chats, deliver keynotes, and judge hackathon and pitch competitions.

nn

Constine has been quoted by The Wall Street Journal, CNN Money, The Atlantic, BBC World Magazine, Slate, and more, plus has been featured on television on Good Morning, America, The Today Show, China Central Television, and Fox News. Constine is ranked as the #1 most cited tech journalist on prestigious news aggregator Techmeme.

nn

[Disclosures: Josh Constine temporarily advised a college friend’s social location-sharing startup codenamed ‘Signal’ that was based in San Francisco before dissolving in 2015. This advising role was cleared with AOL and TechCrunch’s editors and has concluded. Constine’s fiancu00e9e Andee Gardiner co-founded startup accelerator Founders Embassy. Constine’s cousin Darren Lachtman is the founder of influencer advertising startup Niche that was acquired by Twitter, and he’s since left and founded teen content studio Brat. Constine does not write about Founders Embassy or Brat. Constine has personal acquaintances stemming from college housing circa 2007 with founders at Skybox Imaging (now Terra Bella), Hustle, Snapchat, and Robinhood, but does not maintain close social ties with them nor does that influence his writing. Constine occasionally does paid speaking engagements at conferences, but only those funded by companies he does not cover. Constine owns a small position in Ethereum and Bitcoin cryptocurrencies, does not day-trade, and discloses his positions directly in articles where appropriate. Constine does not do consulting, angel investing, or public stock trading beyond public stock invesments by his parents’ estate that he has no role in managing or advising.]

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lung ‘breakthrough’ suggests lethal culprit in THC products could be vitamin E acetate”,”content”:”rendered”:”

Official word has come down from federal authorities on one potential cause of the mystery illness affecting vape users: Vitamin E acetate, a chemical found in some vaping products that has been demonstrated to linger in the lungs long afterwards. The finding has been called a “breakthrough” but is far from the last word on the situation.

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Sadly, the condition has already claimed the lives of at least 39 people, and more than 2,000 cases have been reported collectively from every state but Alaska. At present the only advice offered has been to stop vaping altogether.

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In a media teleconference, the heads of the investigation from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention explained the basis for pointing the finger at Vitamin E acetate. The substance was cited as a possible problem early on but only recent testing has established it as a bona fide suspect, the team explained.

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Samples taken from the lungs of 29 victims of the condition were sent in from 10 different states, and vitamin E acetate was found in all of them. “These findings provide direct evidence of vitamin E acetate as the primary site of injury within the lungs,” said Anne Schuchat, principal deputy director of the CDC .

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Although she agreed that this evidence is a “breakthrough,” she noted that it is at present merely a correlative finding u2014 more research is required to establish causation, namely the mechanism of harm, though other work has been done in that area.

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“Previous non-CDC research suggests that when vitamin E acetate is inhaled, it may interfere with normal lung function,” she said.

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“It’s important to note that these findings do not rule out other possible compounds or ingredients that may be causing these lung injuries,” she continued. “There may be more than one cause of the outbreak.”

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Equally important are the statistics involved with the sources of the substances in question. As mentioned earlier in the investigation, a huge proportion of those suffering from this condition were using THC products, and specifically ones acquired through unregulated channels like street dealers.

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The vitamin E acetate may have been added for the purpose of essentially cutting the product, Schuchat mentioned in response to a question on the call.

n

“That may be done for the illicit purpose, or the profit purpose, of diluting the materials, making it look nice and perhaps not having to use as much THC or other active ingredients,” she said.

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Other potentially dangerous chemicals have been identified in vape products when heated and aerosolized, including many that even the creators might not have predicted.

n

Knowing a potential culprit doesn’t get at the heart of the problem, which would be that this chemical (perhaps among others) has already built up over months or years in the lungs of frequent vape users. Treatment is a parallel line of research, but knowing at least one substance responsible should be helpful.

n

The CDC’s previous advice still stands, the officials noted: They advise avoiding vaping altogether, as there are very few controls at present over which ingredients are allowed in vape products, and what must be declared on the packaging, or indeed whether those declarations are in any way accurate.

n”,”protected”:false,”excerpt”:”rendered”:”

Official word has come down from federal authorities on one potential cause of the mystery illness affecting vape users: Vitamin E acetate, a chemical found in some vaping products that has been demonstrated to linger in the lungs long afterwards. The finding has been called a “breakthrough” but is far from the last word on […]

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Devin Coldewey is a Seattle-based writer and photographer. He first wrote for TechCrunch in 2007. He has also written for MSNBC.com, NBC News, DPReview, The Economist/GE’s Look Ahead, and others.

nn

His personal website is coldewey.cc.

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nn

His personal website is coldewey.cc.

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A vape pen exuding vapor.

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Every startup is a story and every startup’s success depends — on some level — on how well they can either tell that story or get that story told.

n

The best stories are the ones that create an instant brand. One that sparks a relationship or a moment of inspiration with customers and consumers alike. Those are the stories that transform industries and re-contextualize how businesses think of themselves and their competition.

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On the Extra Crunch Stage at Disrupt Berlin three of the finest practitioners of the dark arts of branding, public relations, marketing and communications will share their tips and tricks on how to get coverage for a company and how to use that coverage to get at the strategic objectives that companies need to fulfill as they grow.

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These alchemists of allusive include Collette Ballou, the founder of the eponymous Ballou PR; Katy Turner, the managing director of Multiple; and longtime public relations pro, Joanna Kirk.

n

Ballou began her career in European public relations in the aftermath of the dot-com collapse in the U.S. in 2001. Both an investor and an entrepreneur, Ballou has worked with startups and investment firms including 83 North, Accel Partners, Box, Criteo, Eventbrite, Facebook, GoEuro (now Omio), Lakestar, Pinterest, Stack Overflow, Stripe, TransferWise, Twilio, Waze, WhatsApp and Zendesk. She also is an investor in venture funds, including Cavalry Ventures and Connect Ventures.

n

Before founding Multiple, Turner worked in several different roles across the tech industry in the U.K. and Europe. She began her career at Orange (in a time when it was actually cool to work for a mobile operator, she says). That role led to positions at Eden Ventures, Videoplaza and as the chief marketing officer at Tech City UK. In addition to her work at Multiple, Turner also serves as a mentor for Seedcamp and Techstars and sits on the investment committee for the University of Bristol’s Enterprise Fund.

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Kirk has led multiple public relations initiatives at nonprofits like Techfugees, is a co-founder of the startup events organization Startup Sesame and previously handled marketing and communications for Le Web, MIP and Midem.

n

As the number of global startup companies competing for customers and public attention continues to rise, having a compelling story and an electrifying brand is becoming ever more important to be a signal among all the noise. Hear how to raise a startup’s voice above the fray with these amazing speakers at Disrupt Berlin.

n

Tickets to Disrupt Berlin are available here.

n

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Every startup is a story and every startup’s success depends — on some level — on how well they can either tell that story or get that story told. The best stories are the ones that create an instant brand. One that sparks a relationship or a moment of inspiration with customers and consumers alike. […]

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Earning more dollars from home easily just by working 0nline j0b from home. Makes every month extra $20k or more from this easy h0me j0b. Last month i have made $22759 from this just in my spare time. Every person can now get this and start earning 0nline from the instructions given to this web page.. visit This Site ———->>> http://www.Buzz-Work.com

n”,”link”:”https://techcrunch.com/2019/10/22/learn-how-to-win-customers-and-influence-consumers-at-disrupt-berlin/#comment-677110″,”type”:”comment”,”author_avatar_urls”:”24″:”https://secure.gravatar.com/avatar/9501dc94fa113cf78b67098bd3622179?s=24&d=identicon&r=g”,”48″:”https://secure.gravatar.com/avatar/9501dc94fa113cf78b67098bd3622179?s=48&d=identicon&r=g”,”96″:”https://secure.gravatar.com/avatar/9501dc94fa113cf78b67098bd3622179?s=96&d=identicon&r=g”,”_links”:”self”:[“href”:”https://techcrunch.com/wp-json/wp/v2/comments/677110″],”collection”:[“href”:”https://techcrunch.com/wp-json/wp/v2/comments”],”up”:[“embeddable”:true,”post_type”:”post”,”href”:”https://techcrunch.com/wp-json/wp/v2/posts/1900747″],”id”:677097,”parent”:0,”author”:0,”author_name”:”Rashaverick Overlord”,”author_url”:””,”date”:”2019-10-22T14:42:22″,”content”:”rendered”:”

Will this be as poorly attended as SF Disrupt and essentially a series of agendaed and scripted press conferences?

n”,”link”:”https://techcrunch.com/2019/10/22/learn-how-to-win-customers-and-influence-consumers-at-disrupt-berlin/#comment-677097″,”type”:”comment”,”author_avatar_urls”:”24″:”https://secure.gravatar.com/avatar/b754eef8128d0724750c038787218fa9?s=24&d=identicon&r=g”,”48″:”https://secure.gravatar.com/avatar/b754eef8128d0724750c038787218fa9?s=48&d=identicon&r=g”,”96″:”https://secure.gravatar.com/avatar/b754eef8128d0724750c038787218fa9?s=96&d=identicon&r=g”,”_links”:”self”:[“href”:”https://techcrunch.com/wp-json/wp/v2/comments/677097″],”collection”:[“href”:”https://techcrunch.com/wp-json/wp/v2/comments”],”up”:[“embeddable”:true,”post_type”:”post”,”href”:”https://techcrunch.com/wp-json/wp/v2/posts/1900747″]]],”authors”:[“id”:59254947,”name”:”Jonathan Shieber”,”url”:””,”description”:””,”link”:”https://techcrunch.com/author/jonathan-shieber/”,”slug”:”jonathan-shieber”,”avatar_urls”:”24″:”https://secure.gravatar.com/avatar/a81fccb1686f7db1afd1c14a019b5bc1?s=24&d=identicon&r=g”,”48″:”https://secure.gravatar.com/avatar/a81fccb1686f7db1afd1c14a019b5bc1?s=48&d=identicon&r=g”,”96″:”https://secure.gravatar.com/avatar/a81fccb1686f7db1afd1c14a019b5bc1?s=96&d=identicon&r=g”,”links”:”twitter”:”https://twitter.com/jshieber”,”linkedin”:”https://www.linkedin.com/pub/jonathan-shieber/0/baa/b27″,”crunchbase”:”https://www.crunchbase.com/person/jonathan-shieber”,”position”:”Writer”,”cbDescription”:”

Jonathan is an editor at TechCrunch. Previously he worked as a senior reporter for Dow Jones & Co., covering venture capital and private equity investment from New York and Shanghai. He can be reached via email at [email protected]

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Jonathan is an editor at TechCrunch. Previously he worked as a senior reporter for Dow Jones & Co., covering venture capital and private equity investment from New York and Shanghai. He can be reached via email at [email protected]

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look at the top trends exciting NYC’s consumer VCs”,”content”:”rendered”:”

To learn more about the next wave of consumer startup investment outside Silicon Valley, Iu2019m speaking to leading B2C-focused investors in various hubs about the trends they’re excited about right now.u00a0

n

Recently, I shared the responses from several London-based investors; today, we spoke to eight of New Yorku2019s top consumer VCs:

n

    n

  • Rebecca Kaden, Partner at Union Square Ventures
  • n

  • David Tisch, Founding Partner at BoxGroup
  • n

  • Anu Duggal, Founding Partner at Female Founders Fund
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  • Craig Shapiro, Partner at Collaborative Fund
  • n

  • Jeremy Levine, Partner at Bessemer
  • n

  • Beth Ferreira, Partner at Firstmark Capital
  • n

  • Graham Brown, Partner at Lerer Hippeau Ventures
  • n

  • Eric Reiner, Partner at Sinai Ventures
  • n

  • Chris Paik, Partner at Pace Capital
  • n

n

Consumer health and banking startups were recurring areas of interest, and there’s a sense that apps and product brands which provide a deeper sense of community are an untapped opportunity.

n

Rebecca Kaden, Partner at Union Square Ventures

n

At USV, we are focused on opportunities that broaden access by leveraging technology to increase value and decrease cost in big buckets of consumer spend. In doing so, we are looking for ways to make products and services previously available to a select segment available to many more. In particular, we have been investing in areas of consumer health where the delivery mechanism not only makes the care more convenient but also more affordable and higher quality; products and platforms in financial services that change the traditional underlying model to drive financial health for a mass customer; and opportunities that create new access to education both for kids and lifelong learners.u00a0

n

Within each of these segments, I’ve been very interested in how new communities are forming inside products–users that come for a specific offering are forming allegiance and increasing engagement by interacting with other users. I think that is a trend we will only see accelerate.

n

David Tisch, Founding Partner at BoxGroup

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People are bored on their phones, not of their phones. I am most excited to meet founders working on consumer apps that bring happiness and fun to a mass consumer audience, as I continue to believe we are in the early days of mobile and the app store is not dead.

n

These apps may look like a game, they may be a game, or they may be a new feed, but TikTok, Twitch, HQ, Yolo and other Snap app kit apps, Tinder and others have shown consumers want new apps, the barrier for adoption and retention isu00a0 just very high. All apps and games have a half-life, creating something with a very long one is really hard, but the demand is sitting on the phone scrolling thorough feeds, waiting for some new fun. We are excited about apps that allow people to interact with others in different ways, in new worlds, using new hardware, or new interfaces.

n

n

Anu Duggal, Founding Partner at Female Founders Fund

n

With the rise of the sober curious movement, we invested in Kin Euphorics, offering consumers a sexy option to an alcoholic drink, creating a social experience around a non-alcoholic beverage that doesnu2019t exist in the market today. With beer sales decreasing five years in a row, brands like Heineken are offering alcohol-free alternatives catering to this growing audience.

n

With the decline of religion, we have seen the rise of what we call the u201crise of the alternate community.u201d Consumers are looking for ways to connect online and offline based on specific interests. Examples of this in our portfolio include The Wonder, a membership model for familyhood, Peanut, a social network for modern motherhood, and Co-Star, an astrology app.

“,”protected”:false,”excerpt”:”rendered”:”

To learn more about the next wave of consumer startup investment outside Silicon Valley, Iu2019m speaking to leading B2C-focused investors in various hubs about the trends they’re excited about right now.u00a0 Recently, I shared the responses from several London-based investors; today, we spoke to eight of New Yorku2019s top consumer VCs: Rebecca Kaden, Partner at […]

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NEW YORK, NEW YORK – OCTOBER 19: An aerial view of scenes around Manhattan from a Royal Navy helicopter on October 19, 2018 in New York City. (Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)

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look at the top trends exciting NYC’s consumer VCs”,”content”:”rendered”:”

To learn more about the next wave of consumer startup investment outside Silicon Valley, Iu2019m speaking to leading B2C-focused investors in various hubs about the trends they’re excited about right now.u00a0

n

Recently, I shared the responses from several London-based investors; today, we spoke to eight of New Yorku2019s top consumer VCs:

n

    n

  • Rebecca Kaden, Partner at Union Square Ventures
  • n

  • David Tisch, Founding Partner at BoxGroup
  • n

  • Anu Duggal, Founding Partner at Female Founders Fund
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  • Craig Shapiro, Partner at Collaborative Fund
  • n

  • Jeremy Levine, Partner at Bessemer
  • n

  • Beth Ferreira, Partner at Firstmark Capital
  • n

  • Graham Brown, Partner at Lerer Hippeau Ventures
  • n

  • Eric Reiner, Partner at Sinai Ventures
  • n

  • Chris Paik, Partner at Pace Capital
  • n

n

Consumer health and banking startups were recurring areas of interest, and there’s a sense that apps and product brands which provide a deeper sense of community are an untapped opportunity.

n

Rebecca Kaden, Partner at Union Square Ventures

n

At USV, we are focused on opportunities that broaden access by leveraging technology to increase value and decrease cost in big buckets of consumer spend. In doing so, we are looking for ways to make products and services previously available to a select segment available to many more. In particular, we have been investing in areas of consumer health where the delivery mechanism not only makes the care more convenient but also more affordable and higher quality; products and platforms in financial services that change the traditional underlying model to drive financial health for a mass customer; and opportunities that create new access to education both for kids and lifelong learners.u00a0

n

Within each of these segments, I’ve been very interested in how new communities are forming inside products–users that come for a specific offering are forming allegiance and increasing engagement by interacting with other users. I think that is a trend we will only see accelerate.

n

David Tisch, Founding Partner at BoxGroup

n

People are bored on their phones, not of their phones. I am most excited to meet founders working on consumer apps that bring happiness and fun to a mass consumer audience, as I continue to believe we are in the early days of mobile and the app store is not dead.

n

These apps may look like a game, they may be a game, or they may be a new feed, but TikTok, Twitch, HQ, Yolo and other Snap app kit apps, Tinder and others have shown consumers want new apps, the barrier for adoption and retention isu00a0 just very high. All apps and games have a half-life, creating something with a very long one is really hard, but the demand is sitting on the phone scrolling thorough feeds, waiting for some new fun. We are excited about apps that allow people to interact with others in different ways, in new worlds, using new hardware, or new interfaces.

n

n

Anu Duggal, Founding Partner at Female Founders Fund

n

With the rise of the sober curious movement, we invested in Kin Euphorics, offering consumers a sexy option to an alcoholic drink, creating a social experience around a non-alcoholic beverage that doesnu2019t exist in the market today. With beer sales decreasing five years in a row, brands like Heineken are offering alcohol-free alternatives catering to this growing audience.

n

With the decline of religion, we have seen the rise of what we call the u201crise of the alternate community.u201d Consumers are looking for ways to connect online and offline based on specific interests. Examples of this in our portfolio include The Wonder, a membership model for familyhood, Peanut, a social network for modern motherhood, and Co-Star, an astrology app.

“,”protected”:false,”excerpt”:”rendered”:”

To learn more about the next wave of consumer startup investment outside Silicon Valley, Iu2019m speaking to leading B2C-focused investors in various hubs about the trends they’re excited about right now.u00a0 Recently, I shared the responses from several London-based investors; today, we spoke to eight of New Yorku2019s top consumer VCs: Rebecca Kaden, Partner at […]

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NEW YORK, NEW YORK – OCTOBER 19: An aerial view of scenes around Manhattan from a Royal Navy helicopter on October 19, 2018 in New York City. (Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)

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Indonesian capital will impact nation’s startup ecosystem”,”content”:”rendered”:”

Recently reelected, Indonesian President Joko Widodou00a0announced a desire to move the nation’s capital from Jakarta to the East Kalimantan region, citing environmental concerns, the most exigent of these being the fact that Jakarta is literally sinking due to the uncontrolled extraction of groundwater. Widodo said he wished to separate Indonesiau2019s government from its business and economic hub in Jakarta.

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However, what would a move from Jakarta do to Indonesiau2019s burgeoning startup economy?

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Shifting administrative governmental hubs

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According to Widodo, studies have determined that the best site for the proposed new capital is between North Penajam Paser and Kutai Kertanegara, both located in East Kalimantan. The basis of this selection is due to studies highlighting the regionu2019s relative protection from natural disasters, especially when compared to other regions. This would definitely be a benefit for the governmental heart of Indonesia, ensuring continuous administrative functions in a disaster-prone region. Other governments have separated administrative centers from their economic hubs with varying degrees of success, with some examples being Brazilu2019s creation of Brasu00edlia, as well as Koreau2019s projected move from Seoul to Sejong.

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What is most interesting to note from prior examples is that these newer branched-out cities are non-surprisingly, heavily government-centric. In Brasu00edlia, roles tied to the government make up nearly 40% of all jobs, while in Sejong, a lack of facilities like public transit and commercial mall space cause many to commute into Sejong for government work, instead of permanently settling in the area. Given the semi-undeveloped nature of East Kalimantan, these anecdotes are quite troubling if the government is actually moving to North Penajam Paser or Kutai Kertanegara.

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These facts raise the question of economic impacts of such governmental moves. In fact, one may even opine that while these moves do allow for governmental growth, ultimately, they may hurt the country economically due to a divestment between both government and economic hubs. In this specific instance, it is most important to analyze the impact of such a move on Indonesiau2019s startup economy, as the nation is one the worldu2019s leaders in startup growth.

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Indonesiau2019s startup economy

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Indonesia has emerged as a startup hub within Southeast Asia in recent years, with its population of over 260 million marking it as the worldu2019s fourth-most populous country. Additionally, Indonesiau2019s mobile-first population has enabled the full embrace of the internet era, with 95% of all internet users in Indonesia connected to the web via a mobile device.

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Similarly, startup growth has boomed in the island archipelago, with several Indonesian-based unicorns disrupting local, regional, and global economies. Softbank-backed ecommerce giant Tokopedia is currently in talksu00a0for a pre-IPO funding round, while emerging super-app Gojek controls significant portions of the ride-sharing industry in Asia, simultaneously expanding intou00a0separate industriesu00a0to include digital payments, food delivery, and evenu00a0video-streaming. Additionally, online travel portal Traveloka (in which Expedia has a minority stake) has recentlyu00a0entered the financial services space, furthering its impact within Asia. These specific examples of high-growth startups demonstrate a population hungry for innovation, further driving the developing startup economy.

“,”protected”:false,”excerpt”:”rendered”:”

A move to East Kalimantan would allow for further development in the startup industry, with a focus on ecommerce and sustainability-focused enterprises.

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Hugh Harsono writes about emerging technologies and economics in developing Asia nations. He is currently a US Army officer, and previously worked in finance for Monsanto. Hugh holds a BA in Economics from the University of California, Berkeley.

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Vehicles commute next to a construction site of the LRT (light rapid transit) in Jakarta on October 31, 2019. (Photo by BAY ISMOYO / AFP) (Photo by BAY ISMOYO/AFP via Getty Images)

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Academy is scaling up a coding program for ‘the heartland’”,”content”:”rendered”:”

The crowded landscape of programs teaching non-technical people to become software developers has been a proving ground for a new model of education financing: income share agreements (ISAs). With an ISA, students avoid paying tuition upfront or taking out private loans, instead paying a percentage of their income for a time after graduation after they’re earning a minimum income.

n

The model aligns education providers with students’ career outcomes, and one startup is staking a claim to be the leader in the space; Kenzie Academy, a year-long program with a physical campus in Indianapolis u2014 and a student body that’s 66 percent online u2014 announced a partnership with Community Investment Management (CIM) earlier this week that provides $100 million in debt to cover the operating costs associated with students who defer payment through ISAs.

n

Kenzie co-founder and CEO Chok Ooi says that core to Kenzie’s mission is the goal that its graduates “can stay in the heartland and attract more jobs so that someone coming out of the Midwest no longer has to move to Silicon Valley or New York to have a successful career in tech.” This $100 million is one of the largest commitments yet to financing ISAs and Kenzie is using it to recruit a more diverse population of students who may not be able to afford tuition or qualify for student loans otherwise.

n

I interviewed Ooi to understand how Kenzie differentiates itself from competitors, how it has iterated its model to improve retention and job placement and how he expects the ISA market to evolve over the next couple years. Here’s the transcript of our conversation, edited for length and clarity:

n

Eric Peckham: The landscape of software developer training programs is crowded. Where did you see an opportunity to do something different, and how do you position Kenzie relative to others in the market?

n

Chok Ooi: My co-founder came from Galvanize, so we observed firsthand the proliferation of tech and coding boot camps. These are typically short-term, three-to-five month programs and they tend to do well serving people with college degrees. I would say that they are disrupting the masters’ program space. We saw a major gap in programs that serve a much larger demographic of people who are much earlier in their development. People who never went to college, or did a little bit of college and dropped out, or just never had a professional work experience. A three-month training is insufficient to get them to a point where they could land a technical job and be successful.

n

We saw an opportunity to bring high-quality tech education to the American heartland that is 12 months in length. For about two-thirds of our students, this is their first post-secondary credential training.

n

We are giving them not just the technical skills, but elements from a traditional four-year college as well, like critical thinking, problem-solving and communication skills.

n

Compared to those other bootcamps or training programs, is Kenzie targeting different job outcomes for its graduates?

n

We did a survey of our students that asked them to name the top five tech companies they desired to work for. None of the Silicon Valley companies made the list other than Salesforce. Indianapolis is the second largest Salesforce office outside of San Francisco. The rest of the companies our students named were companies like DMI and Zylo that people in Silicon Valley don’t hear about but are doing very well in the Midwest. Their friends work there. They’re a fabric of the community. If we really want to create job opportunities for the rest of America, we cannot adopt the Silicon Valley mindset.

n

Kenzie Academy co-Founder and CEO Chok Ooi.

Kenzie Academy co-founder and CEO Chok Ooi.

n

So how do you evaluate technical aptitude and critical thinking in the admissions process? What’s that process look like, and how has it evolved over the last couple of years? What have you learned in order to make that more effective?

n

Prior to founding Kenzie, I started a company nine years ago called AglityIO. The model for AgilityIO was similar to companies like Andela. We were trying to solve the talent crunch in the Bay Area by recruiting and training people with the raw talent in Vietnam. Today, that company works with Google, Uber, NerdWallet, Meetup.com and 150 other tech companies. So Iu2019ve experience in developing processes to identify raw talent in this context.

n

As people are doing the online assessments, we collect data points of how long it takes for them to solve the problem, what their different decision points are and things like that. Then as they get enrolled in Kenzie, we continue to collect attendance data, grades, and then placement data and use that to look at success and failure cases. We constantly refine our assessment.

n

Are you seeing any particular pattern or cluster in the applications youu2019re receiving or the candidates youu2019re accepting in terms of prior field of employment or aspect of their background?

“,”protected”:false,”excerpt”:”rendered”:”

The crowded landscape of programs teaching non-technical people to become software developers has been a proving ground for a new model of education financing: income share agreements (ISAs). With an ISA, students avoid paying tuition upfront or taking out private loans, instead paying a percentage of their income for a time after graduation after they’re […]

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Eric Peckham is TechCrunch’s Media Columnist. He focuses on analysis of interactive media, non-interactive media, content creation platforms, communications tools, and education. Separate from TechCrunch, he writes the popular Monetizing Media newsletter.

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Photos: Kenzie Academy

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Microsoft is trying to become more innovative”,”content”:”rendered”:”

Microsoft Research is a globally distributed playground for people interested in solving fundamental science problems.

n

These projects often focus on machine learning and artificial intelligence, and since Microsoft is on a mission to infuse all of its products with more AI smarts, it’s no surprise that it’s also seeking ways to integrate Microsoft Research’s innovations into the rest of the company.

n

Across the board, the company is trying to find ways to become more innovative, especially around its work in AI, and it’s putting processes in place to do so. Microsoft is unusually open about this process, too, and actually made it somewhat of a focus this week at Ignite, a yearly conference that typically focuses more on technical IT management topics.

n

At Ignite,u00a0Microsoft will for the first time present these projects externally at a dedicated keynote. That feels similar to what Google used to do with its ATAP group at its I/O events and is obviously meant to showcase the cutting-edge innovation that happens inside of Microsoft (outside of making Excel smarter).

n

To manage its AI innovation efforts, Microsoft created the Microsoft AI group led by VP Mitra Azizirad, who’s tasked with establishing thought leadership in this space internally and externally, and helping the company itself innovate faster (Microsoft’s AI for Good projects also fall under this group’s purview). I sat down with Azizirad to get a better idea of what her team is doing and how she approaches getting companies to innovate around AI and bring research projects out of the lab.

n

“We began to put together a narrative for the company of what it really means to be in an AI-driven world and what we look at from a differentiated perspective,” Azizirad said. “What we’ve done in this area is something that has resonated and landed well. And now we’re including AI, but we’re expanding beyond it to other paradigm shifts like human-machine interaction, future of computing and digital responsibility, as more than just a set of principles and practices but an area of innovation in and of itself.”

n

Currently, Microsoft is doing a very good job at talking and thinking about horizon one opportunities, as well as horizon three projects that are still years out, she said. “Horizon two, we need to get better at, and that’s what we’re doing.”

n

It’s worth stressing that Microsoft AI, which launched about two years ago, marks the first time there’s a business, marketing and product management team associated with Microsoft Research, so the team does get a lot of insights into upcoming technologies. Just in the last couple of years, Microsoft has published more than 6,000 research papers on AI, some of which clearly have a future in the company’s products.

“,”protected”:false,”excerpt”:”rendered”:”

Microsoft Research is a globally distributed playground for people interested in solving fundamental science problems. These projects often focus on machine learning and artificial intelligence, and since Microsoft is on a mission to infuse all of its products with more AI smarts, it’s no surprise that it’s also seeking ways to integrate Microsoft Research’s innovations […]

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Before he joined TechCrunch in 2012, he founded SiliconFilter and wrote for ReadWriteWeb (now ReadWrite). Frederic covers enterprise, cloud, developer tools, Google, Microsoft, gadgets, transportation and anything else he finds interesting. He owns just over a 50th of a bitcoin.

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Before he joined TechCrunch in 2012, he founded SiliconFilter and wrote for ReadWriteWeb (now ReadWrite). Frederic covers enterprise, cloud, developer tools, Google, Microsoft, gadgets, transportation and anything else he finds interesting. He owns just over a 50th of a bitcoin.

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Microsoft logo at Ignite 2019

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from China and India can accelerate the green card process”,”content”:”rendered”:”

Securing a green card can feel overwhelming for people in Silicon Valley who were born in India and China. But with the right help and guidance from a skilled immigration attorney, the process can be simpler, smoother and more successful.

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Limits written into existing immigration laws on both the number of green cards issued each year, as well as the number of green cards available based on country of origin, leave some waiting half a century or more for a green card, with people from India and China facing the longest wait times for employment-based green cards.

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In this fiscal year, which ended on October 31, 226,000 family-sponsored green cards and 141,918 employment-based green cards were available. And the per-country cap, which is the maximum number of green cards available to individuals born in a particular country, was 25,754.u00a0

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Although these U.S. laws pose an extra challenge for people born in countries with the highest demand for green cards, if you were born in India or China, there are some things you can do to mitigate this wait.

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Differentiate yourself

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The EB-1 green card is considered the u201cfirst preferenceu201d for those who’ll receive offers for employment-based green cards. It offers three unique and accelerated sub-paths:u00a0

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  • EB-1A green card for individuals of extraordinary abilityu00a0
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  • EB-1B green card for outstanding researchers and professors
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  • EB-1C green card for multinational managers and executives
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The EB-1A green card for extraordinary ability does not require an employer sponsor or even a job offer, which means itu2019s one of the few self-petition green cards. To demonstrate eligibility,u00a0you must be able to show you have extraordinary ability in the sciences, arts, education, business, or athletics and that you and your work have received national or international acclaim.u00a0

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Individuals who apply for the EB-1A do not need to obtain labor certification (as required of employers). That means the process is simpler and can be much faster than typical employment-based green cards. Also, an individual applicant may have more flexibility to change jobs than if an employer applied on their behalf.

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The EB-1B green card for outstanding researchers and professors requires an employer to sponsor you. Candidates for the EB-1B green card must demonstrate great achievements in their academic field.u00a0

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And finally, the EB-1C green card for multinational managers and executives enables an employer to bring an executive or manager who has been working abroad over to the U.S. to live and work. The EB-1C candidate must have worked outside the U.S. for the employer for at least one year.

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This Cato Institute analysis estimates individuals born in China and India face waiting eight and nine years, respectively, for an EB-1 green card.u00a0Despite the small and growing backlog for EB-1 green cards for individuals born in China and India, it still remains one of the quicker options.
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Invest in a project that creates jobs

“,”protected”:false,”excerpt”:”rendered”:”

Securing a green card can feel overwhelming for people in Silicon Valley who were born in India and China. But with the right help and guidance from a skilled immigration attorney, the process can be simpler, smoother and more successful.

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21 January 2019, Brandenburg, Jacobsdorf: The speedometer of a car indicates the speed of 120 kilometers per hour. Photo: Patrick Pleul/dpa-Zentralbild/ZB (Photo by Patrick Pleul/picture alliance via Getty Images)

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Security researchers have found several popular Android phones can be tricked into snooping on their owners by exploiting a weakness that gives accessories access to the phone’s underlying baseband software.

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Attackers can use that access to trick vulnerable phones into giving up their unique identifiers, such as their IMEI and IMSI numbers, downgrade a target’s connection in order to intercept phone calls, forward calls to another phone or block all phone calls and internet access altogether.

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The research, shared exclusively with TechCrunch, affects at least 10 popular Android devices, including Google’s Pixel 2, Huawei’s Nexus 6P and Samsung’s Galaxy S8+.

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The vulnerabilities are found in the interface used to communicate with the baseband firmware, the software that allows the phone’s modem to communicate with the cell network, such as making phone calls or connecting to the internet. Given its importance, the baseband is typically off-limits from the rest of the device, including its apps, and often come with command blacklisting to prevent non-critical commands from running. But the researchers found that many Android phones inadvertently allow Bluetooth and USB accessories u2014 like headphones and headsets u2014 access to the baseband. By exploiting a vulnerable accessory, an attacker can run commands on a connected Android phone.

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“The impact of these attacks ranges from sensitive user information exposure to complete service disruption,” said Syed Rafiul Hussain and Imtiaz Karim, two co-authors of the research, in an email to TechCrunch.

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Hussain and his colleagues Imtiaz Karim, Fabrizio Cicala and Elisa Bertino at Purdue University and Omar Chowdhury at the University of Iowa are set to present their findings next month.

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“The impact of these attacks ranges from sensitive user information exposure to complete service disruption.”
nSyed Rafiul Hussain, Imtiaz Karim

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Baseband firmware accepts special commands, known as AT commands, which control the deviceu2019s cellular functions. These commands can be used to tell the modem which phone number to call. But the researchers found that these commands can be manipulated. The researchers developed a tool, dubbed ATFuzzer, which tries to find potentially problematic AT commands.

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In their testing, the researchers discovered 14 commands that could be used to trick the vulnerable Android phones into leaking sensitive device data, and manipulating phone calls.

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But not all devices are vulnerable to the same commands or can be manipulated in the same way. The researchers found, for example, that certain commands could trick a Galaxy S8+ phone into leaking its IMEI number, redirect phone calls to another phone and downgrade their cellular connection u2014 all of which can be used to snoop and listen in on phone calls, such as with specialist cellular snooping hardware known as “stingrays.” Other devices were not vulnerable to call manipulation but were susceptible to commands that could be used to block internet connectivity and phone calls.

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The vulnerabilities are not difficult to exploit, but require all of the right conditions to be met.

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“The attacks can be easily carried out by an adversary with cheap Bluetooth connectors or by setting up a malicious USB charging station,” said Hussain and Karim. In other words, it’s possible to manipulate a phone if an accessory is accessible over the internet u2014 such as a computer. Or, if a phone is connected to a Bluetooth device, an attacker has to be in close proximity. (Bluetooth attacks are not difficult, given vulnerabilities in how some devices implement Bluetooth has left some devices more vulnerable to attacks than others.)

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“If your smartphone is connected with a headphone or any other Bluetooth device, the attacker can first exploit the inherent vulnerabilities of the Bluetooth connection and then inject those malformed AT commands,” the researchers said..

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Samsung recognized the vulnerabilities in some of its devices and is rolling out patches. Huawei did not comment at the time of writing. Google said: “The issues reported are either in compliance with the Bluetooth specification or do not reproduce on Pixel devices with up to date security patches.”

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Hussain said that iPhones were not affected by the vulnerabilities.

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This research becomes the latest to examine vulnerabilities in baseband firmware. Over the years there have been several papers examining various phones and devices with baseband vulnerabilities. Although these reports are rare, security researchers have long warned that intelligence agencies and hackers alike could be using these flaws to launch silent attacks.

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n”,”protected”:false,”excerpt”:”rendered”:”

Security researchers have found several popular Android phones can be tricked into snooping on their owners by exploiting a weakness that gives accessories access to the phone’s underlying baseband software. Attackers can use that access to trick vulnerable phones into giving up their unique identifiers, such as their IMEI and IMSI numbers, downgrade a target’s […]

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Zack Whittaker is the security editor at TechCrunch. You can send tips securely via Signal and WhatsApp to +1 646-755-8849, and his PGP fingerprint for email is: 4D0E 92F2 E36A EC51 DAAE 5D97 CB8C 15FA EB6C EEA5.

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He can also be reached by email: [email protected]

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Zack Whittaker is the security editor at TechCrunch. You can send tips securely via Signal and WhatsApp to +1 646-755-8849, and his PGP fingerprint for email is: 4D0E 92F2 E36A EC51 DAAE 5D97 CB8C 15FA EB6C EEA5.

nn

He can also be reached by email: [email protected]

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Tech Passionate and Heavy Geek! Into Blogging world since 2014 and never looked back since then :) I am also a YouTube Video Producer and a Aspiring Entrepreneur. Founder, MyDroidDoes

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Android

Spotify’s podcasting app Anchor now helps you make trailers

Raghav Jain

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Spotify’s simple podcasting suite, Anchor, is today introducing a new feature designed to help creators promote their podcast: trailers. On the Anchor app for iOS and Android, podcasters will now be able to create a dedicated trailer for their podcast that combines an introduction and some background music, then turns it into an animated video that can be shared across social media and the wider web.

The trailer will also be made available within the podcast’s RSS feed, where it’s marked with the “trailer” episode type.

Anchor had already offered a way for users to mark episodes of their podcast as a trailer within the app, but the new feature makes it simpler to create a trailer through a more integrated experience.

For example, when you push the button to record, you have one minute to introduce your podcast — and a warning will flash when that minute is about to be up. When you’re satisfied with the recording, you can then browse through Anchor free library of background music, which is organized by mood — like adventurous, calm, dramatic, cheerful, energetic, funky, chill, etc. Or you can opt to go without music, if you prefer.

And if you already have a voice recording saved elsewhere, you can import it into Anchor to use as your trailer.

There are other options today for creating podcast trailers, like those from services like Wavve, Headliner, or Audiogram, for example. But Anchor’s goal is to be the one-stop-shop for everything a new podcaster needs to get started, and that includes promotional tools like this.

However, many professional podcasters still view Anchor as a sort of entry-level product and turn to more advanced audio editing suites to craft their shows. But over time, these extra, handy features could help Anchor to earn a place in podcaster’s workflow, even if it’s not their end-to-end solution.

Podcasting has become an important vertical for Anchor’s parent company Spotify, which led to it acquiring both Anchor and Gimlet earlier this year for $340 million. And its investments in podcasts, which have also included the acquisition of podcast network Parcast, have been starting to pay off.

The company reported in July its podcast audience had doubled in size since last year. In October, it said the number of podcast listeners on its service grew 40% from the prior quarter, and it now had 500,000 titles hosted on its platform.

Spotify can monetize podcasts in two ways, as with music — through ads and by pushing people into premium subscriptions. It now has 113 million paying customers and 248 million monthly actives. And once Spotify’s users are subscribed to a number of podcast shows, they’re more likely to stay with the service. In addition, podcasts don’t come with the licensing costs associated with record label deals, which Spotify also surely likes.

Anchor’s new trailers feature is live now on both iOS and Android .

 

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Ghost wants to retrofit your car so it can drive itself on highways in 2020

Raghav Jain

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A new autonomous vehicle company is on the streets — and unbeknownst to most, has been since 2017. Unlike the majority in this burgeoning industry, this new entrant isn’t trying to launch a robotaxi service or sell a self-driving system to suppliers and automakers. It’s not aiming for autonomous delivery, either.

Ghost Locomotion, which emerged Thursday from stealth with $63.7 million in investment from Keith Rabois at Founders Fund, Vinod Khosla at Khosla Ventures and Mike Speiser at Sutter Hill Ventures, is targeting your vehicle.

Ghost is developing a kit that will allow privately owned passenger vehicles to drive autonomously on highways. And the company says it will deliver in 2020. A price has not been set, but the company says it will be less than what Tesla charges for its Autopilot package that includes “full self-driving” or FSD. FSD currently costs $7,000.

This kit isn’t going to give a vehicle a superior advanced driving assistance system. The kit will let human drivers hand control of their vehicle over to a computer, allowing them to do other activities such as look at their phone or even doze off.

The idea might sound similar to what Comma.ai is working on, Tesla hopes to achieve or even the early business model of Cruise. Ghost CEO and co-founder John Hayes says what they’re doing is different.

A different approach

The biggest players in the industry — companies like Waymo, Cruise, Zoox and Argo AI — are trying to solve a really hard problem, which is driving in urban areas, Hayes told TechCrunch in a recent interview.

“It didn’t seem like anyone was actually trying to solve driving on the highways,” said Hayes, who previously founded Pure Storage in 2009. “At the time, we were told that this is so easy that surely the automakers will solve this any day now. And that really hasn’t happened.”

Hayes noted that automakers have continued to make progress in advanced driver assistance systems. The more advanced versions of these systems provide what the SAE describes as Level 2 automation, which means two primary control functions are automated. Tesla’s Autopilot system is a good example of this; when engaged, it automatically steers and has traffic-aware cruise control, which maintains the car’s speed in relation to surrounding traffic. But like all Level 2 systems, the driver is still in the loop.

Ghost wants to take the human out of the loop when they’re driving on highways.

“We’re taking, in some ways, a classic startup attitude to this, which is ‘what is the simplest product that we can perfect, that will put self driving in the hands of ordinary consumers?’ ” Hayes said. “And so we take people’s existing cars and we make them self-driving cars.”

The kit

Ghost is tackling that challenge with software and hardware.

The kit involves hardware like sensors and a computer that is installed in the trunk and connected to the controller area network (CAN) of the vehicle. The CAN bus is essentially the nervous system of the car and allows various parts to communicate with each other.

Vehicles must have a CAN bus and electronic steering to be able to use the kit.

The camera sensors are distributed throughout the vehicle. Cameras are integrated into what looks like a license plate holder at the back of the vehicle, as well as another set that are embedded behind the rearview mirror.

A third device with cameras is attached to the frame around the window of the door (see below).

Initially, this kit will be an aftermarket product; the company is starting with the 20 most popular car brands and will expand from there.

Ghost intends to set up retail spaces where a car owner can see the product and have it installed. But eventually, Hayes said, he believes the kit will become part of the vehicle itself, much like GPS or satellite radio has evolved.

While hardware is the most visible piece of Ghost, the company’s 75 employees have dedicated much of their time on the driving algorithm. It’s here, Hayes says, where Ghost stands apart.

How Ghost is building a driver

Ghost is not testing its self-driving system on public roads, an approach nearly every other AV company has taken. There are 63 companies in California that have received permits from the Department of Motor Vehicles to test autonomous vehicle technology (always with a human safety driver behind the wheel) on public roads.

Ghost’s entire approach is based on an axiom that the human driver is fundamentally correct. It begins by collecting mass amounts of video data from kits that are installed on the cars of high-mileage drivers. Ghost then uses models to figure out what’s going on in the scene and combines that with other data, including how the person is driving by measuring the actions they take.

It doesn’t take long or much data to model ordinary driving, actions like staying in a lane, braking and changing lanes on a highway. But that doesn’t “solve” self-driving on highways because the hard part is how to build a driver that can handle the odd occurrences, such as swerving, or correct for those bad behaviors.

Ghost’s system uses machine learning to find more interesting scenarios in the reams of data it collects and builds training models based on them.

The company’s kits are already installed on the cars of high-mileage drivers like Uber and Lyft drivers and commuters. Ghost has recruited dozens of drivers and plans to have its kits in hundreds of cars by the end of the year. By next year, Hayes says the kits will be in thousands of cars, all for the purpose of collecting data.

The background of the executive team, including co-founder and CTO Volkmar Uhlig, as well as the rest of their employees, provides some hints as to how they’re approaching the software and its integration with hardware.

Employees are data scientists and engineers, not roboticists. A dive into their resumes on LinkedIn and not one comes from another autonomous vehicle company, which is unusual in this era of talent poaching.

For instance, Uhlig, who started his career at IBM Watson Research, co-founded Adello and was the architect behind the company’s programmatic media trading platform. Before that, he built Teza Technologies, a high-frequency trading platform. While earning his PhD in computer science he was part of a team that architected the L4 Pistachio microkernel, which is commercially deployed in more than 3 billion mobile Apple and Android devices.

If Ghost is able to validate its system — which Hayes says is baked into its entire approach — privately owned self-driving cars could be on the highways by next year. While the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration could potentially step in, Ghost’s approach, like Tesla, hits a sweet spot of non-regulation. It’s a space, that Hayes notes, where the government has not yet chosen to regulate.

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Google will now pay up to $1.5 million for very specific Android exploits

Raghav Jain

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When Google first introduced its bug bounty program for Android, the biggest reward you could get for finding and reporting a potential exploit was $38,000.

The cap grew over time, as Android grew in popularity, more security researchers got on board and more vulnerabilities were unearthed. This morning, Google is bumping up its top reward to $1.5 million dollars.

They’re not going to pay out a million+ for just any bug, of course.

For this new reward category, Google is looking for “full chain remote code execution exploit with persistence which compromises the Titan M secure element on Pixel devices.” In other words, they’re looking for an exploit that, without the attacker having physical access to the device, can execute code even after a device is reset and breaks into the dedicated security chip built into the Pixels.

Reporting an exploit that fits that bill will get researchers up to $1 million. If they can do it on “specific developer preview versions” of Android, meanwhile, there’s a 50% bonus reward, bumping up the maximum prize up to $1.5 million.

Google first introduced the Titan M security chip with the Pixel 3. As Google outlines here, the chip’s job is essentially to supervise; it double-checks boot conditions, verifies firmware signatures, handles lock screen passcodes and tries to keep malicious apps from forcing your device to roll back to “older, potentially vulnerable” builds of Android. The same chip can be found in the Pixel 4 lineup.

Indeed, $1.5 million for a single exploit sounds like a lot… and it is. It’s roughly what Google paid out for all bug bounties in the last 12 months. The top reward this year, the company says, was $161,337 for a “1-click remote code execution exploit chain on the Pixel 3 device.” The average payout, meanwhile, was about $3,800 per finding. Given the potential severity of persistently busting through the security chip on what’s meant to be the flagship form of Android, though, a wild payout makes sense.

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