Proxy raises $13.6M to unlock anything with Bluetooth identity – TechCrunch
You know how kings used to have trumpeters heralding their arrival wherever they went? Proxy wants to do that with Bluetooth. The startup lets you instantly unlock office doors and reserve meeting rooms using Bluetooth Low Energy signal. You never even have to pull out your phone or open an app. But Proxy is gearing up to build an entire Bluetooth identity layer for the world that could invisibly hover around its users. That could allow devices around the workplace and beyond to instantly recognize your credentials and preferences to sign you into teleconferences, pay for public transit or ask the barista for your usual.
Today, Proxy emerges from stealth after piloting its keyless, badgeless office entry tech with 50 companies. It’s raised a $13.6 million Series A round led by Kleiner Perkins to turn your phone into your skeleton key. “The door is a forcing function to solve all the hard problems — everything from safety to reliability to the experience to privacy,” says Proxy co-founder and CEO Denis Mars. “If you’re gonna do this, it’s gonna have to work right, and especially if you’re going to do this in the workplace with enterprises where there’s no room to fix it.”
But rather than creepily trying to capitalize on your data, Proxy believes you should own and control it. Each interaction is powered by an encrypted one-time token so you’re not just beaming your unprotected information out into the universe. “I’ve been really worried about how the internet world spills over to the physical world. Cookies are everywhere with no control. What’s the future going to be like? Are we going to be tracked everywhere or is there a better way?” He figured the best path to the destiny he wanted was to build it himself.
Mars and his co-founder Simon Ratner, both Australian, have been best buddies for 10 years. Ratner co-founded a video annotation startup called Omnisio that was acquired by YouTube, while Mars co-founded teleconferencing company Bitplay, which was bought by Jive Software. Ratner ended up joining Jive where the pair began plotting a new startup. “We asked ourselves what we wanted to do with the next 10 or 20 years of our lives. We both had kids and it changed our perspective. What’s meaningful that’s worth working on for a long time?”
They decided to fix a real problem while also addressing their privacy concerns. As he experimented with Internet of Things devices, Mars found every fridge and light bulb wanted you to download an app, set up a profile, enter your password and then hit a button to make something happen. He became convinced this couldn’t scale and we’d need a hands-free way to tell computers who we are. The idea for Proxy emerged. Mars wanted to know, “Can we create this universal signal that anything can pick up?”
Most offices already have infrastructure for badge-based RFID entry. The problem is that employees often forget their badges, waste time fumbling to scan them and don’t get additional value from the system elsewhere.
So rather than re-invent the wheel, Proxy integrates with existing access control systems at offices. It just replaces your cards with an app authorized to constantly emit a Bluetooth Low Energy signal with an encrypted identifier of your identity. The signal is picked up by readers that fit onto the existing fixtures. Employees can then just walk up to a door with their phone within about six feet of the sensor and the door pops open. Meanwhile, their bosses can define who can go where using the same software as before, but the user still owns their credentials.
“Data is valuable, but how does the end user benefit? How do we change all that value being stuck with these big tech companies and instead give it to the user?” Mars asks. “We need to make privacy a thing that’s not exploited.”
Mars believes now’s the time for Proxy because phone battery life is finally getting good enough that people aren’t constantly worried about running out of juice. Proxy’s Bluetooth Low Energy signal doesn’t suck up much, and geofencing can wake up the app in case it shuts down while on a long stint away from the office. Proxy has even considered putting inductive charging into its sensors so you could top up until your phone turns back on and you can unlock the door.
Opening office doors isn’t super exciting, though. What comes next is. Proxy is polishing its features that auto-reserve conference rooms when you walk inside, that sign you into your teleconferencing system when you approach the screen and that personalize workstations when you arrive. It’s also working on better office guest check-in to eliminate the annoying iPad sign-in process in the lobby. Next, Mars is eyeing “Your car, your home, all your devices. All these things are going to ask ‘can I sense you and do something useful for you?’ ”
After demoing at Y Combinator, thousands of companies reached out to Proxy, from hotel chains to corporate conglomerates to theme parks. Proxy charges for its hardware, plus a monthly subscription fee per reader. Employees are eager to ditch their keycards, so Proxy sees 90 percent adoption across all its deployments. Customers only churn if something breaks, and it hasn’t lost a customer in two years, Mars claims.
The status quo of keycards, competitors like Openpath and long-standing incumbents all typically only handle doors, while Proxy wants to build an omni-device identity system. Now Proxy has the cash to challenge them, thanks to the $13.6 million from Kleiner, Y Combinator, Coatue Management and strategic investor WeWork. In fact, Proxy now counts WeWork’s headquarters and Dropbox as clients. “With Proxy, we can give our employees, contractors and visitors a seamless smartphone-enabled access experience they love, while actually bolstering security,” says Christopher Bauer, Dropbox’s physical security systems architect.
The cash will help answer the question of “How do we turn this into a protocol so we don’t have to build the other side for everyone?,” Mars explains. Proxy will build out SDKs that can be integrated into any device, like a smoke detector that could recognize which people are in the vicinity and report that to first responders. Mars thinks hotel rooms that learn your climate, wake-up call and housekeeping preferences would be a no-brainer. Amazon Go-style autonomous retail could also benefit from the tech.
When asked what keeps him up at night, Mars concludes that “the biggest thing that scares me is that this requires us to be the most trustworthy company on the planet. There is no ‘move fast, break things’ here. It’s ‘move fast, do it right, don’t screw it up.’ “
Apple TV+ announces new series ‘The Savant’ based on true story of a woman who infiltrates online hate groups
Apple TV+ is getting a new limited series, the company announced yesterday, that is based on a deep-cover investigator who infiltrates online hate groups to prevent violent attacks and mass shootings.
“The Savant” will have eight episodes and stars Jessica Chastain. The show is inspired by the true story published in 2019 by Cosmopolitan writer Andrea Stanley, who will consult on the Apple TV+ series.
A release date has yet to be announced.
Stanley’s article, “Is It Possible to Stop a Mass Shooting Before It Happens?” is one that will send chills down your spine. But that’s probably a familiar feeling by now. Many of us are already aware of the mass influx of hate speech on the internet.
“The chase of getting the bad guy? Oh, man, that feels good,” K, the anonymous investigator with the alias “The Savant,” told Stanley.
The nickname stems from K’s keen ability to track hateful men online and determine if/when they’ll go from trolling misogynists, white supremacists or other extremists hiding behind computer screens to violent, frightening murderers.
According to the article, K has reported tons of violent men to the FBI, such as Michael Finton, a 29-year-old who posted disturbing videos of Islamic extremists on Myspace and would later attempt to bomb the Paul Findley Federal Building in Springfield, Illinois.
Besides her profession, not much else is known about K, except that she joined the Marine Corps after graduating from high school, has a degree in justice and public safety and studied rapists and murderers when she worked for a state-run agency that reinvestigates capital-murder cases. K eventually applied for a job with the ADL (Anti-Defamation League) to monitor online hate groups.
Apple didn’t share in its press release how similar the series will be to the Cosmopolitan story.
“The storyline and character details are being kept under wraps,” the company wrote in the announcement.
Online hate, misinformation and harassment have circulated the internet for quite some time. In 2018, the ADL found that 37% of Americans were subjected to extreme hate online.
And while the January 6 United States Capitol attack in 2021 urged tech companies like Twitter, Instagram and Facebook to incite policies to identify and remove harmful content, reports continue to come out about major social media platforms failing to curb online hate.
Lately, Twitter CEO Elon Musk has been under fire after restoring problematic accounts, including Neo-Nazi Andrew Anglin (@WorldWarWang), and his overall leniency toward toxic internet culture.
Earlier this month, YouTube updated its profanity rules, which are more relaxed about the use of strong language. The platform also unsuspended Trump’s YouTube channel.
Google gets antitrust attention in Spain over news licensing
Google can add another antitrust investigation to its stack. This one has been opened by Spain’s competition authority, the CNMC, which said today it’s concerned about possible anti-competitive practices related to the licensing of news content by local publishers.
In a press release it said it is investigating “a series of practices that could involve an abuse of Google’s dominant position vis-à-vis the publishers of press publications and news agencies established in Spain” [NB: We’ve translated the text from Spanish with machine translation].
“In particular, these practices would consist the possible imposition of unfair commercial conditions on the publishers of press publications and news agencies established in Spain for the exploitation of their content protected by intellectual property rights,” it also wrote. “On the other hand, the investigated behaviors would also include practices that would constitute acts of unfair competition that could distort free competition and affect the public interest.”
The competition authority said it is acting following a complaint by the Spanish Center for Reprographic Rights (aka, Centro Español de Derechos Reprográficos or CEDRO).
We’ve reached out to all concerned.
News licensing is an area where Google has faced severe sanction in Europe already. Back in July 2021, France’s antitrust authority fined the tech giant over half a billion dollars for breaching an order to negotiate copyright fees with news publishers for reuse of their content. That followed the EU a copyright reform, agreed back in 2019, that extended IP to snippets of news content — requiring platforms like Google to negotiate with publishers.
Spain transposed the EU reform into its national law in November 2021, paving the way for a return of Google News to the country.
Google’s news aggregation service had closed in Spain in 2014 after the country passed a law that aimed to force Google to pay a collective licensing fee for the news snippets. The EU copyright reform replaced the prior fee regime with a requirement to negotiate with individual publishers — and Google News duly reopened in Spain in June 2022.
At the same time, the company also announced it would launch its News Showcase product in the country. Google’s News Showcase product was spun up by the tech giant in fall 2020 as lawmakers in Europe and elsewhere were zeroing in on making it pay for news content reuse — creating a licensing vehicle it could use in the looming, inexorable negotiations with publishers.
It’s not immediately clear whether the Spanish probe will focus on Google’s News Showcase licensing arrangements or on copyright fees talks — or both.
While it remains to be seen what Spain’s investigation of Google’s news licensing practices will finally determine — the authority has up to 18 months to conduct the probe — it said its preliminary information-gathering phase found “indications of possible infringement”.
Germany’s antitrust authority, meanwhile, has already pushed back over Mountain View’s practices in this area after starting to scrutinize its news-related fine print in summer 2021. The regulatory attention on Google from the German FCO — which is currently armed with beefier powers to tackle Big Tech than other European countries (thanks to a 2021 update to competition law squarely targeted at digital giants) — has led to Google offering a series of concessions over how it operates News Showcase locally, including an offer not to include the showcasing of licensed content in general search results (which is one trigger for antitrust concerns).
The News Showcase product provides the prospect of raised visibility for participating publishers, since the offer is for Google to feature participants’ content to users across a number of touchpoints. However that could create a disadvantage for publishers who don’t pay Google (i.e. if it leads to their content being less visible in Google’s general Internet search, given its continued dominance of the Internet search and content discovery market).
Google has also sought to co-mingle negotiations with publishers over News Showcase with what are, under the pan-EU reform, legally required talks over copyright fees — something France’s watchdog slapped down in its hefty enforcement in mid 2021.
Disney cuts metaverse division as part of broader restructuring
Walt Disney Co. has eliminated its metaverse division as part of staff cuts that promise to reduce head count by around 7,000 across the company over the next two months, reports The Wall Street Journal.
CEO Bob Iger said Monday that those layoffs would begin this week. Disney’s next-generation storytelling and consumer experiences unit, the small division that was developing metaverse strategies, looks like it’s one of the first to go.
The metaverse division is headed by Mike White, who was promoted to the role from SVP of consumer experiences and platforms in February 2022 and charged with getting Disney deeper into the web3 space. The unit aimed to find ways to tell more interactive stories in immersive formats using Disney’s extensive library of intellectual property, according to WSJ. Aside from the Disney we all know and love, that extensive library includes Pixar, Marvel and all of the Star Wars movies and shows.
All 50 or so members of the team have lost their jobs, sources told WSJ. White will remain at the company, but it’s not clear in what capacity.
The company could not be reached for comment.
Disney’s former CEO, Bob Chapek, brought White on last year with the goal of creating “an entirely new paradigm for how audiences experience and engage with our stories,” according to an internal memo. Chapek also described the metaverse as “the next great storytelling frontier” and a “perfect place to pursue our strategic pillars of storytelling excellence, innovation and audience focus.”
The hiring of White and the creation of the new metaverse unit came a few months after Facebook rebranded to Meta in an attempt to identify with the futuristic technology into which CEO Mark Zuckerberg had been pouring billions of dollars.
Iger took over for Chapek in November and, despite recent developments, seems to be bullish on the metaverse. He invested in and joined the board of Genies Inc. last year, a startup that lets users create online avatars for use in metaverse applications.
The metaverse is still many years from going mainstream, which has frustrated many big tech companies that invested large sums on new entertainment formats. Despite Meta’s billions spent on the Oculus headset and building out the metaverse, there has been low user demand and general confusion among users about how to use the new technology for anything but gaming.
Last month, Disney said it would make $5.5 billion in cuts and cut 7,000 jobs as part of a broader restructuring. Like many other large conglomerates, Disney is feeling the pressure to bring costs down, and that often means cutting out expensive moonshot projects that aren’t bringing in any near-term revenue.
It’s not yet clear if Disney will continue to work on metaverse applications via other teams, since it’s a long-term bet. Zuckerberg has repeatedly asked investors to trust him, be patient and play the long game.
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