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Walmart Canada rolls out nationwide grocery delivery through Instacart

Walmart Canada rolls out nationwide grocery delivery through Instacart

August 15, 2019

Walmart’s relationship with Instacart deepened today with an expansion of their partnership across Canada for grocery delivery. Walmart Canada had previously run a 17-store pilot program with Instacart, starting last September, in both the Greater Toronto area and Winnipeg. With the expansion, Walmart Canada will offer same-day grocery delivery from nearly 200 Walmart stores nationwide.

Canadian Walmart shoppers can now shop online via Instacart’s website or mobile app, select their city and store, then add items to a grocery cart, check out and choose their delivery window. The delivery can arrive in as fast as one hour, or it can be scheduled as much as five days in advance.

The service is currently live in cities and communities throughout British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario, Newfoundland and Labrador, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island, the retailer says.

Walmart Canada isn’t the only Walmart arm to have a relationship with the same-day delivery service. Last year, Walmart’s Sam’s Club also began working with Instacart to offer same-day delivery from its warehouse stores in parts of the U.S. That partnership expanded last fall, and recently began to power Sam’s Club’s new alcohol delivery service, as well.

Walmart in the U.S. also offers an online grocery service, but has chosen to work with other delivery providers, including Point Pickup, Skipcart, AxleHire, Roadie and Postmates, after ending relationships with Uber, Lyft and Deliv. According to reports, Walmart didn’t want to work with Instacart in the U.S. because it only wants to use the provider for last-mile deliveries — and Instacart wanted to list Walmart inventory in its app.

In Canada, however, that arrangement seems to be working out.

With the expansion, Instacart delivery is now available to more than 70% of Canadian households, up from 60% in January of this …

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US legislator, David Cicilline, joins international push to interrogate platform power

US legislator, David Cicilline, joins international push to interrogate platform power

August 15, 2019

US legislator David Cicilline will be joining the next meeting of the International Grand Committee on Disinformation and ‘Fake News’, it has been announced. The meeting will be held in Dublin on November 7.

Chair of the committee, the Irish Fine Gael politician Hildegarde Naughton, announced Cicilline’s inclusion today.

The congressman — who is chairman of the US House Judiciary Committee’s Antitrust, Commercial, and Administrative Law Subcommittee — will attend as an “ex officio member” which will allow him to question witnesses, she added.

Exactly who the witnesses in front of the grand committee will be is tbc. But the inclusion of a US legislator in the ranks of a non-US committee that’s been seeking answers about reining in online disinformation will certainly make any invitations that get extended to senior executives at US-based tech giants much harder to ignore.

Naughton points out that the addition of American legislators also means the International Grand Committee represents ~730 million citizens — and “their right to online privacy and security”.

“The Dublin meeting will be really significant in that it will be the first time that US legislators will participate,” she said in a statement. “As all the major social media/tech giants were founded and are headquartered in the United States it is very welcome that Congressman Cicilline has agreed to participate. His own Committee is presently conducting investigations into Facebook, Google, Amazon and Apple and so his attendance will greatly enhance our deliberations.”

“Greater regulation of social media and tech giants is fast becoming a priority for many countries throughout the world,” she added. “The International Grand Committee is a gathering of international parliamentarians who have a particular responsibility in this area. We will coordinate actions to tackle online election interference, ‘fake news’, and harmful online communications, amongst other …

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Competition among alternative protein players gets hot as companies beef up with new deals

Competition among alternative protein players gets hot as companies beef up with new deals

August 11, 2019

The competition for control of the burgeoning market for burger replacements (and other alternatives to animal proteins) continues to heat up.

Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods the two leading contenders for top purveyor of plant-based patties (and other formulations) have spent most of the typically sleepy summer months jockeying for the position as top supplier to a food industry suddenly ravenous for alternatives to traditional meat product.s

As soon as the first Impossible Whoppers came off the flame broilers at Burger King, Beyond Meat was announcing a new fast food chain supply deal of its own with Subway.

Through that agreement the publicly traded provider of plant-based products will be grinding up meatless meatballs for Subway’s new vegetarian option to the classic meatball sub.

Subway will roll out meatless meatballs in 685 of its franchise locations in the U.S. and Canada starting in September.

Not to be outdone, Impossible Foods came swinging back with some a new partnership with the institutional food prep giant Sodexo. At roughly 1,500 Sodexo locations food slingers at healthcare facilities and corporate and university cafeterias will unveil new options like Impossible Foods-based sausage muffin sandwiches, sausage gravy and biscuits, steakhouse burgers and creole burgers.

Image courtesy of Sodexo

“Sodexo is committed to providing customers with more plant-forward and sustainable options as part of their diet,” said Rob Morasco, senior director culinary development, Sodexo, in a statement. “We are excited to expand our menu to include the Impossible Burger’s flavorful blend, which will be featured in several new products this fall.”

Set against this meatless horserace for national food service dominance, other plant-based providers have launched to take the startup direct-to-consumer approach to satisfy vegetarian cravings for other types of food substitutes.

It was partially in response to this furor over the vegetarian …

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Learn how enterprise startups win big deals at TechCrunch’s Enterprise show on Sept. 5

Learn how enterprise startups win big deals at TechCrunch’s Enterprise show on Sept. 5

August 7, 2019

Big companies today may want to look and feel like startups, but when it comes to the way they approach buying new enterprise solutions, especially from new entrants, they still often act like traditional enterprise behemoths. But from the standpoint of a true startup, closing deals with just a few big customers is critical to success. At our much-anticipated inaugural TechCrunch Sessions: Enterprise event in San Francisco on September 5, Okta’s Monty Gray, SAP’s DJ Paoni, VMware’s Sanjay Poonen and Sapphire Venture’s Shruti Tournatory will discuss ways for startups to adapt their strategies to gain more enterprise customers (p.s. early-bird tickets end in 48 hours — book yours here).

This session is sponsored by SAP, the lead sponsor for the event.

Monty Gray is Okta’s senior vice president and head of Corporate Development. In this role, he is responsible for driving the company’s growth initiatives, including mergers and acquisitions. That role gives him a unique vantage point of the enterprise startup ecosystem, all from the perspective of an organization that went through the process of learning how to sell to enterprises itself. Prior to joining Okta, Gray served as the senior vice president of Corporate Development at SAP.

Sanjay Poonen joined VMware in August 2013, and is responsible for worldwide sales, services, alliances, marketing and communications. Prior to SAP, Poonen held executive roles at Symantec, VERITAS and Informatica, and he began his career as a software engineer at Microsoft, followed by Apple.

SAP’s DJ Paoni has been working in the enterprise technology industry for over two decades. As president of SAP North America, Paoni is responsible for the strategy, day-to-day operations and overall customer success in the United States and Canada.

These three industry executives will be joined onstage by Sapphire Venture’s Shruti Tournatory, who will …

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Hardware startup North’s big pivot bet on wearable computing and platform shifts

Hardware startup North’s big pivot bet on wearable computing and platform shifts

August 6, 2019

Waterloo, Canada-based hardware startup North is a rare bird when it comes to the tech sector: It began life as an entirely different kind of hardware startup as Thalmic Labs in 2012, and launched a major pivot and re-brand in 2018.

The shift included a new name, and an entirely new product focus. It launched its Focals smart glasses last year, and earlier in 2019 sold the tech behind its original product a gesture control armband called Myo, to CTRL-labs.

This kind of system-shocking directional change can cause whiplash at even far less ambitious software startups, but when I spoke to co-founder and CEO Stephen Lake about the change and the company’s new focus, he spoke of the about-face more as a natural evolution long in the making than a late-stage shift.

“It goes way back when we started Thalmic in 2012,” Lake said. “Actually, we were working on our Myo product, which was an input for heads-up displays, VR headsets, etc. We realized back then, when we were pairing it up with the early versions of [Google] Glass and a whole variety of other displays and smart glasses, that the glasses were so far from being the consumer product that we actually wanted to wear and use. And we said, ‘We think directionally this is going to exist, we think there’s this future where we can bring technology with us into the world end up being less distracted, more present, but still get those benefits we get from computing today.’ Instead of the future of staring at screens, or being cut off in like Ready Player One world in the future, actually bringing technology and make it a seamless part of our world.”

Basically, Lake positions the problem as a kind of classic ‘cart before the horse’ dilemma:

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Libra, Facebook’s global digital currency plan, is fuzzy on privacy, watchdogs warn

Libra, Facebook’s global digital currency plan, is fuzzy on privacy, watchdogs warn

August 5, 2019

Privacy commissioners from the Americas, Europe, Africa and Australasia have put their names to a joint statement raising concerns about a lack of clarity from Facebook over how data protection safeguards will be baked into its planned cryptocurrency project, Libra.

Facebook officially unveiled its big bet to build a global digital currency using blockchain technology in June, steered by a Libra Association with Facebook as a founding member. Other founding members include payment and tech giants such as Mastercard, PayPal, Uber, Lyft, eBay; VC firms including Andreessen Horowitz, Thrive Capital and Union Square Ventures; and not-for-profits such as Kiva and Mercy Corps.

At the same time, Facebook announced a new subsidiary of its own business, Calibra, which it said will create financial services for the Libra network, including offering a standalone wallet app that it expects to bake into its messaging apps, Messenger and WhatsApp, next year — raising concerns it could quickly gain a monopolistic hold over what’s being couched as an “open” digital currency network, given the dominance of the associated social platforms where it intends to seed its own wallet.

In its official blog post hyping Calibra, Facebook avoided any talk of how much market power it might wield via its ability to promote the wallet to its existing 2.2 billion+ global users, but it did touch on privacy — writing “we’ll also take steps to protect your privacy” by claiming it would not share “account information or financial data with Facebook or any third party without customer consent.”

Except for when it admitted it would; the same paragraph states there will be “limited cases” when it may share user data. These cases will “reflect our need to keep people safe, comply with the law and provide basic functionality to the people who use …

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Google’s Titan security keys come to Japan, Canada, France and the UK

Google’s Titan security keys come to Japan, Canada, France and the UK

July 31, 2019

Google today announced that its Titan Security Key kits are now available in Canada, France, Japan and the U.K. Until now, these keys, which come in a kit with a Bluetooth key and a standard USB-A dongle, were only available in the U.S.

The keys provide an extra layer of security on top of your regular login credentials. They provide a second authentication factor to keep your account safe and replace more low-tech two-factor authentication systems like authentication apps or SMS messages. When you use those methods, you still have to type the code into a form, after all. That’s all good and well until you end up on a well-designed phishing page. Then, somebody could easily intercept your code and quickly reuse it to breach your account — and getting a second factor over SMS isn’t exactly a great idea to begin with, but that’s a different story.

Authentication keys use a number of cryptographic techniques to ensure that you are on a legitimate site and aren’t being phished. All of this, of course, only works on sites that support hardware security keys, though that number continues to grow.

The launch of Google’s Titan keys came as a bit of a surprise, given that Google had long had a good relationship with Yubico and previously provided all of its employees with that company’s keys. The original batch of keys also featured a security bug in the Bluetooth key. That bug was hard to exploit, but nonetheless, Google offered free replacements to all Titan Key owners.

In the U.S., the Titan Key kit sells for $50. In Canada, it’ll go for $65 CAD. In France, it’ll be €55, while in the U.K. it’ll retail for £50 and in Japan for ¥6,000. Free delivery is included.

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AWS’ new text-to-speech engine sounds like a newscaster

AWS’ new text-to-speech engine sounds like a newscaster

July 30, 2019

Thanks to modern machine learning techniques, text-to-speech engines have made massive strides over the last few years. It used to be incredibly easy to know that it was a computer that was reading a text and not a human being. But that’s changing quickly. Amazon’s AWS cloud computing arm today launched a number of new neural text-to-speech models, as well as a new newscaster style that is meant to mimic the way… you guessed it… newscasters sound.

“Speech quality is certainly important, but more can be done to make a synthetic voice sound even more realistic and engaging,” the company notes in today’s announcement. “What about style? For sure, human ears can tell the difference between a newscast, a sportscast, a university class and so on; indeed, most humans adopt the right style of speech for the right context, and this certainly helps in getting their message across.”

The new newscaster style is now available in two U.S. voices (Joanna and Matthew) and Amazon is already working with USA Today and Canada’s The Globe and Mail, among a number of other companies, to help them voice their texts.

Have a listen for yourself:


Amazon Polly Newscaster, as the new service is officially called, is the result of years of research on text-to-speech, which AWS is also now making available through its Neural Text-to-Speech engine. This new engine, which isn’t unlike similar neural engines like Google’s WaveNet and others, currently features 11 voices, three for U.K. English and eight for U.S. English.

You can hear a few more of these voices here.

In this age of fake news, having life-like robot voices that sound like real newscasters feels a bit problematic at first. For the most part, though, whether a robot or human reads the text doesn’t …

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Capital One’s breach was inevitable, because we did nothing after Equifax

Capital One’s breach was inevitable, because we did nothing after Equifax

July 30, 2019

Another day, another massive data breach.

This time it’s the financial giant and credit card issuer Capital One, which revealed on Monday a credit file breach affecting 100 million Americans and 6 million Canadians. Consumers and small businesses affected are those who obtained one of the company’s credit cards dating back to 2005.

That includes names, addresses, phone numbers, dates of birth, self-reported income and more credit card application data — including over 140,000 Social Security numbers in the U.S., and more than a million in Canada.

The FBI already has a suspect in custody. Seattle resident and software developer Paige A. Thompson, 33, was arrested and detained pending trial. She’s been accused of stealing data by breaching a web application firewall, which was supposed to protect it.

Sound familiar? It should. Just last week, credit rating giant Equifax settled for more than $575 million over a date breach it had — and hid from the public for several months — two years prior.

Why should we be surprised? Equifax faced zero fallout until its eventual fine. All talk, much bluster, but otherwise little action.

Equifax’s chief executive Richard Smith “retired” before he was fired, allowing him to keep his substantial pension packet. Lawmakers grilled the company but nothing happened. An investigation launched by the former head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the governmental body responsible for protecting consumers from fraud, declined to pursue the company. The FTC took its sweet time to issue its fine — which amounted to about 20% of the company’s annual revenue for 2018. For one of the most damaging breaches to the U.S. population since the breach of classified vetting files at the Office of Personnel Management in 2015, Equifax got off lightly.

Legislatively, nothing has changed. Equifax remains as …

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Peer-to-peer parking marketplace Rover tests monthly subscriptions

Peer-to-peer parking marketplace Rover tests monthly subscriptions

July 24, 2019

In today’s installment of “the future is 100% subscription-based,” Toronto-based startup Rover is testing out subscriptions for its parking marketplace. Rover lets users list their unused parking spots for on-demand rental by others on the service, giving them a passive way to earn some income while hopefully increasing the utilization rate of parking spaces at the same time.

Rover has offered the spots on their platform on a per-use, on-demand basis before now, but it’s going to pilot a monthly subscription starting this summer, with a planned test phase extending into early fall. The company says it’s going to try out a few different versions of a monthly sub, including potential perks like a percentage discount versus individual on-demand parking charges, advanced booking and premium customer service.

Pricing should be in the ballpark of between $5 and $15 Canadian depending on the features you’re willing to pay for, and this should inform eventual subscription price points for the startup’s services should they move beyond this pilot phase. Rover currently offers spots in Toronto, Montreal and Ottawa, with plans to expand to Canada’s west coast and eventually California in the future.

Uber recently debuted a subscription pilot that rolls in its ride-hailing, Eats, bikes and scooter rental services, and Rover cites this move as an example of the move to subscriptions generally in the on-demand space. Subscriptions are a great way for consumers to easily take care of known recurring costs, but the rise of this business model across a range of industries will definitely test the limits of consumer willingness to trade cost for convenience.

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