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Following a record year, Illinois startups kick off 2019 on a strong foot – TechCrunch

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Illinois’s startup market in 2018 was very strong, and it’s not slowing down as we settle into 2019. There’s already almost $100 million in new VC funding announced, so let’s take a quick look at the state of venture in the Land of Lincoln (with a specific focus on Chicago).

In the chart below, we’ve plotted venture capital deal and dollar volume for Illinois as a whole. Reported funding data in Crunchbase shows a general upward trend in dollar volume, culminating in nearly $2 billion worth of VC deals in 2018; however, deal volume has declined since peaking in 2014.1

Chicago accounts for 97 percent of the dollar volume and 90.7 percent of total deal volume in the state. We included the rest of Illinois to avoid adjudicating which towns should be included in the greater Chicago area.

In addition to all the investment in 2018, a number of venture-backed companies from Chicago exited last year. Here’s a selection of the bigger deals from the year:

Crain’s Chicago Business reports that 2018 was the best year for venture-backed startup acquisitions in Chicago “in recent memory.” Crunchbase News has previously shown that the Midwest (which is anchored by Chicago) may have fewer startup exits, but the exits that do happen often result in better multiples on invested capital (calculated by dividing the amount of money a company was sold for by the amount of funding it raised from investors).

2018 was a strong year for Chicago startups, and 2019 is shaping up to bring more of the same. Just a couple weeks into the new year, a number of companies have already announced big funding rounds.

Here’s a quick roundup of some of the more notable deals struck so far this year:

  • On Thursday, commercial real estate search firm Truss raised $15 million in additional financing, extending the Deerfield, IL-based company’s Series A round. The deal was led by Boston-based General Catalyst. The deal brings Truss’s total equity and debt funding to more than $24 million.
  • Learning management system company BenchPrep announced $20 million in a Series C round co-led by Chicago-based Jump Capital and Bay Area-based Owl Ventures, LP. Part of that capital reportedly comes in the form of debt. The SEC filing for the round, dated December 2018, discloses that $14.53 million was raised in an equity offering, of which $2,999,999 was used to buy shares from “certain executive officers” at the company.
  • Delivery service Bringg raised $25 million in Series C funding, which was led by Next47. Other investors in the deal include The Coca-Cola Company, Salesforce Ventures and Aleph. Bringg’s customers include Walmart and McDonald’s. The company has raised at least $52 million in known venture funding to date.

Besides these, a number of seed deals have been announced. These include relatively large rounds raised by 3D modeling technology company ThreeKit, upstart futures exchange Small Exchange and 24/7 telemedicine service First Stop Health.

Globally, and in North America, venture deal and dollar volume hit new records in 2018. However, it’s unclear what 2019 will bring. What’s true at a macro level is also true at the metro level. Don’t discount the City of the Big Shoulders, though.

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Facebook really wants you to read articles before sharing them

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It’s a common Internet habit: reading an article’s headline and then sharing the work without reading it. There are multiple reasons someone may do this, not the least of which is making assumptions about what the article presents based on its titles. Facebook is taking steps to address this habit, which can be problematic at times, by rolling out a new prompt.

The problem with sharing articles based on nothing more than the title is the risk of spreading misinformation, coming to conclusions that aren’t supported by the article, and lacking key details needed to discuss the matter. Actually reading the article provides context that may give the person sharing it a more informed perspective about the topic.

Facebook has announced that in order to encourage users to read articles before sharing them, it will now show them a prompt if they attempt to share a news article link they haven’t opened. The prompt includes the option to open the article first or to continue with sharing it.

Facebook notes in its prompt, “Sharing articles without reading them may mean missing key facts.” The prompt is described as a test at this time; it’s unclear how widely it is available. As with any test, it is possible it may change in the future or, perhaps, be removed.

This isn’t the first time we’ve seen this kind of feature appear on a social media platform. Last summer, Twitter introduced a similar prompt that encouraged its readers to read an article before sharing it. The feature first arrived on Android before rolling out in October 2020 on iOS.

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Amazon fake reviews scam revealed in data breach with massive potential

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By now, most of us probably suspect that fake reviews on internet shopping sites are a real thing. Whether being offering so-called “free product trials” after buying something or encountering a review that makes the product a little too good to be true, it’s easy to assume that fake reviews are a thing that happens. Today, however, a new security breach is giving us a better idea of just how widespread this might be.

Earlier this year, the folks over at SafetyDetectives discovered an open ElasticSearch database that contained what they call a “treasure trove” of messages between Amazon vendors and Amazon customers regarding fake reviews. The vendors in question typically offered free products in exchange for positive reviews, and in all, SafetyDetectives says that as many as 200,000 people are implicated by the data breach.

More than 13 million records comprising 7GB of data was revealed by this ElasticSearch server, which was closed and secured several days after SafetyDetectives discovered it in early March. SafetyDetectives says that it was unable to identify the owner of that server, making it impossible to alert them that the server was sitting wide open. It’s clear, however, that the server contained communications between several different vendors and customers – not just a single vendor.

Information that was leaked includes email addresses along with WhatsApp and Telegram phone numbers belonging to vendors. Customer data that was leaked includes 75,000 Amazon profile and account links of those who were selling reviews, PayPal email addresses, email addresses, and “Fan names” that could include the first names and surnames of users.

Instead of communicating through Amazon, vendors and the people selling reviews would often communicate through other messaging apps. Review sellers, it seems, were often instructed to purchase the product from Amazon and wait a few days before publishing a positive review of it, often with instructions from the vendor regarding what to say and how to make the review seem credible. After that, they were promised a refund on the purchase price of item – which was often carried out through PayPal to avoid using Amazon’s systems – and were allowed to keep the item in exchange for their positive review.

Obviously, this has some pretty big implications for vendors and Amazon users who were participating in fake reviews, as accounts for both could be terminated and fines could be levied depending on where in the world these vendors and reviewers are based. If you have a moment, be sure to read through SafetyDetectives’ full report on this data breach, because there’s a lot of good information there – including tips on how to spot fake reviews on Amazon.

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Sony WF-1000XM4 earbuds leak with AirPods implications

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Sony WF-1000XM4 earbuds leaked this week with features that look to compete with AirPods on several fronts. Most compelling is the wireless earbuds ability to charge wirelessly, using the case they come in and a new Sony Android smartphone as a charging pad. These earbuds will likely roll with Hi-Res audio support and 6 hours* of battery life.

These earbuds were leaked via internal company document posted by The Walkman Blog. It is hypothesized there that the case and the earbuds indicate the ability to charge wirelessly, complete with Xperia smartphone battery sharing action.

*Early retail packaging suggests that the earbuds will have 9 hours of battery life AND that the battery case will supply 9 hours MORE battery life. This is after the battery case is charged fully. Packaging also confirmed Bluetooth connectivity and IPX4 water resistance.

These earbuds will very likely work with noise canceling technology and voice assistant abilities. This would require connectivity with a compatible smartphone. It would seem that there are spaces for two different microphones, indicating there’ll be both noise cancellation tech and voice assistant support.

These earbuds show simple replaceable comfort earbud tips for users to switch at their leisure. The buds look like they’ll have one SONY logo in gold while the rest of the device is black, save a gold metal accent piece. This accent piece MAY be the part that confirms noise cancellation abilities.

It’s likely these earbuds will be released in June of 2021. At that time, they’ll likely be paired with a new Sony Xperia smartphone with wireless charging support and battery sharing support. This being the first time Sony Xperia phones recorded a profit in many seasons, it might be the best possible time to take a crack at a wider audience, complete with earbuds and smartphones that can capture the audience that’s tired of Apple and Samsung.

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