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Zeotap raises $18.5M for a customer ID platform it says was built with privacy in mind

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As the online world slowly moves to a more privacy-focused environment free of cookies, startups building alternative ways to help businesses manage customer identity and build marketing around that are getting attention. Zeotap, a customer identity platform built around a company’s own (first-party) data that combines this with other data sources to create more complete pictures of users and what they do, is today announcing that it has raised a further $18.5 million.

This is an extension of a Series C round for the firm coming from a single investor, SignalFire, from its Breakout Fund, reserved for growth-stage investments. Founded in Berlin with operations now out of New York, Bengaluru in India and the UK, Zeotap has now raised $60.5 million for the round, with other investors including the likes of SingTel (via Innov8), Here (the mapping company), Iris Capital, the European Investment Bank, and a number of others participating.

Zeotap is not disclosing its valuation, but PitchBook notes it was close to $158 million post-money in the first close.

Zeotap started life initially as a platform aimed at mobile usage, specifically helping carriers broker deals with third parties that wanted their customer data. Over the years this has widened and evolved to a bigger opportunity not just to exchange data, but a place to draw it all together to build more useful customer profiles.

Projjol Banerjea, founder and CPO of Zeotap, said in an interview that the opportunity Zeotap is targeting has become especially urgent this year, in the wake of the global health pandemic.

“You have two companies right now,” he said. “Those that are using the current market as an opportunity to reassess marketing and drive efficiencies, and double down on streamlining their business. And those that are more resilient and seeing the current time as an opportunity to scale. Whichever category you fall in, customer data is important.”

The company is currently active in 14 markets, he said, with products aimed at publishers, brands, and data partners. Zeotap’s platform essentially covers a few key areas. First, a customer data platform based around an organization’s first party data about its own customers, which provides a unified customer view for an organization based on what it already has. “This is much harder to do than you’d expect,” Banerjea said. “Managing consent is top of mind here, while making the most of first-party assets.”

Second comes ID resolution. Zeotap claims that it hosts the largest marketing identity graph in the world, with a “network of identifiers that can locate a customer across different channels.” This can include offline phone numbers, email and home addresses, alongside browsing activity. “We can provide a bridge to the digital world for offline names,” he said, adding that Zeotap works with some 112 providers to pool data into a single, unified customer view.

These then come together in Zeotap’s universal ID+ product, which he said is “fully consent based and tokenized, with no data leakage.” This essentially is sold to clients whose marketers can then help their efforts “transit across the ecosystem without any exposure for the customer but also for any of our partners.”

A lot of the regulations that have emerged, and the reasons cookies are being depreciated, are to provide better protection for consumers, to give them better transparency around how and where their data is being used. Approaches like Zeotap’s may not completely eradicate that bigger issue — and some might argue that for the foreseeable future advertising and marketing will remain a cornerstone of how the web works — so much as create a system that makes marketing, and the big data profiling that underpins it, more secure, Banerjea explained.

“ID+ is designed for us to be able to connect the dots without exposure,” he said.

Zeotap essentially has two types of competitors at the moment, he said. Larger marketing clouds that have grown by acquisition, where a number of activities sit in silos but under one bigger umbrella; and those that have grown big businesses around the managing of customer identity, such as Liveramp (the company formerly known as Acxiom) and The Trade Desk.

But in an $87 billion industry, and at a time when having an online strategy is a do-or-die imperative, there is perhaps room for another.

“COVID-19 has catalyzed a transformation in the marketing mix as brands invest in their data and learnings to redirect traditional TV budgets to more effective channels,” said Chris Scoggins, venture partner at SignalFire, in a statement. “Our investment in Zeotap is testament to our belief in the company’s leadership, vision, and its rapidly evolving customer intelligence platform (CIP) with a built-in identity solution for the future of marketing named ID+ .”

Lyron Foster is a Hawaii based African American Musician, Author, Actor, Blogger, Filmmaker, Philanthropist and Multinational Serial Tech Entrepreneur.

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AutoX becomes China’s first to remove safety drivers from robotaxis

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Residents of Shenzhen will see truly driverless cars on the road starting Thursday. AutoX, a four-year-old startup backed by Alibaba, MediaTek and Shanghai Motors, is deploying a fleet of 25 unmanned vehicles in downtown Shenzhen, marking the first time any autonomous driving car in China tests without safety drivers or remote operators on public roads.

The cars, meant as robotaxis, are not yet open to the public, an AutoX spokesperson told TechCrunch.

The milestone came just five months after AutoX landed a permit from California to start driverless tests, following in the footsteps of Waymo and Nuro.

It also indicates that China wants to bring its smart driving industry on par with the U.S. Cities from Shenzhen to Shanghai are competing to attract autonomous driving upstarts by clearing regulatory hurdles, touting subsidies and putting up 5G infrastructure.

As a result, each city ends up with its own poster child in the space: AutoX and Deeproute.ai in Shenzhen, Pony.ai and WeRide in Guangzhou, Momenta in Suzhou, Baidu’s Apollo fleet in Beijing, to name a few. The autonomous driving companies, in turn, work closely with traditional carmakers to make their vehicles smarter and more suitable for future transportation.

“We have obtained support from the local government. Shenzhen is making a lot of rapid progress on legislation for self-driving cars,” said the AutoX representative.

The decision to remove drivers from the front and operators from a remote center appears a bold move in one of China’s most populated cities. AutoX equips its vehicles with its proprietary vehicle control unit called XCU, which it claims has faster processing speed and more computational capability to handle the complex road scenarios in China’s cities.

“[The XCU] provides multiple layers of redundancy to handle this kind of situation,” said AutoX when asked how its vehicles will respond should the machines ever go rogue.

The company also stressed the experience it learned from “millions of miles” driven in China’s densest city centers through its 100 robotaxis in the past few years. Its rivals are also aggressively accumulating mileage to train their self-driving algorithms while banking sizable investments to fund R&D and pilot tests. AutoX itself, for instance, has raised more than $160 million to date.

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Google faces complaint from NLRB alleging surveillance of employees and other labor violations

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The National Labor Relations Board today issued a complaint against Google after investigating the firing of several employees last November. The complaint alleges Google violated parts of the National Labor Relations Act by surveilling employees, and generally interfered with, restrained and coerced employees in the exercise of their rights guaranteed by Section 7 of the National Labor Relations Act.

The NLRB also alleges Google discouraged “its employees from forming, joining, assisting a union or engaging in other protected, concerted activities,” the complaint states.

“This complaint makes clear that workers have the right to speak to issues of ethical business and the composition of management,” Laurence Berland, one of the fired Google employees, said in a statement. “This is a significant finding at a time when we’re seeing the power of a handful of tech billionaires consolidate control over our lives and our society. Workers have the right to speak out about and organize, as the NLRB is affirming, but we also know that we should not, and cannot, cleave off ethical concerns about the role management wants to play in that society.”

Ex-Googlers Berland and Kathryn Spiers previously filed a federal complaint with the NLRB arguing Google fired them for organizing, which is a protected activity. They had organized around a variety of topics, including Google’s treatment of its temporary, vendor and contractor workers, Google’s alleged retaliation against employees who organized, the company’s work with Customs and Border Protection and more.

Additionally, in November 2019, Google put Rebecca Rivers and Berland on leave for allegedly violating company policies. At the time, Google said one had searched for and shared confidential documents that were not pertinent to their job, and one had looked at the individual calendars of some staffers. Following a protest in support of the two, Rivers, Berland, Duke and Waldman were fired.

“Google has always worked to support a culture of internal discussion, and we place immense trust in our employees,” a Google spokesperson said in a statement to TechCrunch. “Of course employees have protected labor rights that we strongly support, but we have always taken information security very seriously. We’re confident in our decision and legal position. Actions undertaken by the employees at issue were a serious violation of our policies and an unacceptable breach of a trusted responsibility.”

This comes shortly after the NLRB issued a formal complaint against Google contractor HCL, alleging the company repeatedly violated the rights of unionized workers. Moving forward, Berland and Spiers are hoping the NLRB prosecutes the case against Google and seeks reinstatement and damages for them. But the next step is for the complaint to head to the desk of an administrative judge.

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Neuroglee gets $2.3 million to develop digital therapeutics for neurodegenerative diseases

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There are now about 50 million people with dementia globally, a number the World Health Organization expects to triple by 2050. Alzheimer’s is the leading cause of dementia and caregivers are often overwhelmed, without enough support.

Neuroglee, a Singapore-based health tech startup, wants to help with a digital therapeutic platform created to treat patients in the early stages of the disease. Founded this year to focus on neurodegenerative diseases, Neuroglee announced today it has raised $2.3 million in pre-seed funding.

The round was led by Eisai Co., one of Japan’s largest pharmaceutical companies, and Kuldeep Singh Rajput, the founder and chief executive officer of predictive healthcare startup Biofourmis.

Neuroglee’s prescription digital therapy software for Alzheimer’s, called NG-001, is its main product. The company plans to start clinical trials next year. NG-001 is meant to complement medication and other treatments, and once it is prescribed by a clinician, patients can access its cognitive exercises and tasks through a tablet.

Neuroglee founder and CEO Aniket Singh Rajput (brother of Kuldeep) told TechCrunch that its first target markets for NG-001 are the United States and Singapore, followed by Japan. NG-001 needs to gain regulatory approval in each country, and it will start by seeking U.S. Food and Drug Administration clearance.

Once it launches, clinicians will have two ways to prescribe NG-001, through their healthcare provider platform or an electronic prescription tool. A platform called Neuroglee Connect will give clinicians, caregivers and patients access to support and features for reimbursement and coverage.

The software tracks patients’ progress, such as the speed of their fingers and the time it takes to complete an exercise, and delivers personalized treatment programs. It also has features to address the mental health of patients, including one that shows images that can bring up positive memories, which in turn can help alleviate depression and anxiety when used in tandem with other cognitive behavioral therapy techniques.

For caregivers and clinicians, NG-001 helps them track patient progress and their compliance with other treatments, like medications. This means that healthcare providers can work closely with patients even remotely, which is especially important during the COVID-19 pandemic.

 

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