Archives for November 2017

5 Simple Ways To Boost Marketing ROI 2X, 5X, Or Even 10X

Channel synergy is an amazing thing. And when you intentionally cook up some good chemistry between paid, earned, and owned marketing channels, you can multiply your results exponentially.

I recently completed extensive research on marketing synergies. (Full disclosure: I consult with TUNE as a mobile economist.)

Here are five stories from marketing experts who synergized paid, earned, and owned channels and achieved outsized results.

Social commerce: 680% boost

Sandra Rand has worked in organic and paid marketing for 12 years, and currently plies her trade for Massachusetts-based agency OrionCKB.

Mixing organic and paid social in the right proportions has helped her massively increase social commerce.

“One client saw a branding video — one that was not product-focused or with a strong call to action to buy — really get traction on Facebook organically,” Rand says. “It resonated because it hit people at an emotional level and sold them into the importance of the company’s mission. Once we put some paid social budget behind it, it took off and sales followed.”

Sales followed, yes, but ad costs went down, and return on ad spend jumped as well:

“This approach, using a video intended for organic as an ad, reduced cost-per-action by 3.6% and increased return on ad spend by 24%. With the increased level of volume, we were also able to increase the number of purchases driven by Facebook 680%!”

Organic social boosts brand …. and sales: 50%

We know that social proof matters. It’s an indicator of success, of authenticity, of longevity, and of influence. In short, it builds brand.

“If there were two Facebook pages selling the same exact product, yet one page had 15 likes and the other page had 15,000 likes, which page would you buy from?” asks Tucker Ferwerda of Zero to Hero. “We have found that the more followers that we have, the more engagement we have, and the more optimized we can make our social media channels, the more our organic and paid reach compliment each other.”

The question is, however: By how much?

“Organic traffic, especially when it’s hyperactive, completes the marketing efforts. Our Instagram accounts that are above 10,000 followers work better and get better conversions than the pages just starting out by at least 50%,” Ferwerda says. The longer someone follows, the more valuable they tend to be, he adds:  “That’s because they are followers, have been around the block longer, and have trusted our brands. Organic traffic converts better!”

Organic social boosts paid and earned web traffic: 1000%

Doing better at organic social can lead to an opportunity to improve paid as well. Perhaps not always as much as TeliApp, a digital marketing firm in New Jersey, managed to achieve for a manufacturing client, however.

Not shockingly, it involves being human and not a sales machine on social.

“For two different clients of ours, one an insurance franchisee and another a home goods manufacturer and distributor, we noticed that posting about current events that are related to their products works better than merely posting about the product itself,” Joshua Weiss, TeliApp’s CEO, says. “The supporting data was overwhelming, and so we modified both their respective organic and paid search campaigns. For one client, we increased their Facebook page following by nearly 1,900%, and their corresponding website traffic by over 1,000% over the same three-day period.”

There are clearly multiple synergies working here.

Better organic social led to better owned media: more fans and followers. Adding paid into the mix — with the learnings from organic social — improved both fans and followers and a mix of earned and paid traffic to an owned asset: the client’s website.

Organic relationship management boosts paid SEM/PPC: 25%

Online relationship management includes reviews of a company and its products, among other things. Focusing on reputation can not only boost your brand, but also improve your click-through rate on paid search ads.

“We did some ORM for a client in Boston who sells medical equipment,” Rahal of Little Dragon Media says. “This resulted in an overall score of 4.8 stars out of 5.”

That in itself is useful, and can lead to better reputation and better organic search placement, higher organic search click-through rates, and probably even better conversion rates when potential customers arrive at your website.

But it also had an impact on paid search:

“We were then able to add the reviews as an ‘ad extension’ on our Google Adwords ads, which improved click-through rate on our ads by over 25%,” Rahal says.

Organic SEO + paid SEM/Shopping ads boosts revenue: 800%

Marketers who don’t seek and exploit synergies between paid and organic marketing channels are missing out on pure gold.

Literally.

Alison Garrison, a senior director of marketing at Volusion, an ecommerce platform for SMBs, saw a long 12 months’ worth of organic search engine optimization hit pay dirt when she added Google Shopping ads.

“After kicking off a Shopping feeds campaign, the SEO work that had been going for about a year gained significant traction, and traffic from organic search increased 325% overall and more than 400% from mobile alone year-over-year,” she says.

But revenue absolutely jumped through the roof as well … including organic search revenue.

“Revenue from organic search increased by 240% during that period,” Garrison says. “Shopping feeds ads were key to success here — overall traffic increased by more than 2,500%, mobile traffic increased by more than 10,000%, revenue increased by more than 800%, mobile revenue increased by more than 80,000% — not a typo.”

Clearly, her client was starting from a small base of web and mobile revenue. Still, the results are impressive.

Channel synergy works

Intention channel synergy building is a smart strategic move for marketers that lowers costs, improves result, and generates lasting value in owned and earned from transient bursts of paid media.

My full report, with many more examples and a deep explanation of how and why channel synergies function, is available here.
 

The Shocking Exits of Matt Lauer, Charlie Rose, Garrison Keillor, and Others Give MeToo Even More Urgency in the Workplace

Have you been seeing the hashtag #MeToo on your social media feeds lately? The second half of 2017 has seen an avalanche of sexual misconduct accusations and revelations of high-powered, public figures — in most every case perpetrated by males in the workplace. In response, women began posting on Twitter and Facebook with the hashtag #MeToo to express that they had also encountered a personal instance of sexual assault or harassment at work, no matter which industry they came from.

Soon, the hashtag took over social media platforms as woman after woman stepped forward to offer their own poignant, personal experiences, ultimately solidifying the idea that sexual harassment and outright assault is still rampant in the workplace. The movement also revealed that a number of notable male figures in a variety of industries — from film and media, to government, to Silicon Valley darlings — were culprits of sexual assault, or inappropriate sexual behavior in the workplace.

Just yesterday, longtime NBC host Matt Lauer was fired for “inappropriate sexual conduct” in the workplace, following a complaint from a colleague. NBC News Chairman Andy Lack stated that he had read the detailed claim and had reason to believe that Lauer’s actions were not an isolated incident.

And Lauer wasn’t the only one paying the price for a crackdown of sexual assault in the workplace yesterday. Garrison Keillor, the former host and creator of famed radio show “A Prairie Home Companion” has also been fired over a complaint of “inappropriate relations” with a previous coworker. Minnesota Public Radio was informed of these allegations last month and has only recently taken that action.

In addition to the two men mentioned, Charlie Rose was accused of making crude sexual advances toward women who worked on his show (CBS suspended him) and John Lasseter, Pixar’s co-founder and Chief Creative Officer, recently announced that he too would be taking a six-month leave due to colleagues feeling “disrespected” and “uncomfortable.”

All in all, the #MeToo movement has triggered a wave of important and poignant attention to the issue of sexual assault in the workplace. And companies — and the men and women who lead them — must act swiftly when these accusations and claims arise. If they don’t, not only are they are tacitly supporting a culture that disrespects women, but they are putting their organizations in legal jeopardy. Neither of those outcomes is a recipe for business success.

Promising New Cancer Immunotherapies Have Arrived—But Not For Everyone

In 1891, a New York doctor named William B. Coley injected a mixture of beef broth and Streptococcus bacteria into the arm of a 40-year-old Italian man with an inoperable neck tumor. The patient got terribly sick—developing a fever, chills, and vomiting. But a month later, his cancer had shrunk drastically. Coley would go on to repeat the procedure in more than a thousand patients, with wildly varying degrees of success, before the US Food and Drug Administration shut him down.

Coley’s experiments were the first forays into a field of cancer research known today as immunotherapy. Since his first experiments, the oncology world has mostly moved on to radiation and chemo treatments. But for more than a century, immunotherapy—which encompasses a range of treatments designed to supercharge or reprogram a patient’s immune system to kill cancer cells—has persisted, mostly around the margins of medicine. In the last few years, though, an explosion of tantalizing clinical results have reinvigorated the field and plunged investors and pharma execs into a spending spree.

Though he didn’t have the molecular tools to understand why it worked, Coley’s forced infections put the body’s immune system into overdrive, allowing it to take out cancer cells along the way. While the FDA doesn’t have a formal definition for more modern immunotherapies, in the last few years it has approved at least eight drugs that fit the bill, unleashing a flood of money to finance new clinical trials. (Patients had better come with floods of money too—prices can now routinely top six figures.)

But while the drugs are dramatically improving the odds of survival for some patients, much of the basic science is still poorly understood. And a growing number of researchers worry that the sprint to the clinic offers cancer patients more hype than hope.

When immunotherapy works, it really works. But not for every kind of cancer, and not for every patient—not even, it turns out, for the majority of them. “The reality is immunotherapy is incredibly valuable for the people who can actually benefit from it, but there are far more people out there who don’t benefit at all,” says Vinay Prasad, an Oregon Health and Science University oncologist.

Prasad has come to be regarded as a professional cancer care critic, thanks to his bellicose Twitter style and John Arnold Foundation-backed crusade against medical practices he says are based on belief, not scientific evidence. Using national cancer statistics and FDA approval records, Prasad recently estimated the portion of all patients dying from all types of cancer in America this year who might actually benefit from immunotherapy. The results were disappointing: not even 10 percent.

Now, that’s probably a bit of an understatement. Prasad was only looking at the most widely used class of immunotherapy drugs in a field that is rapidly expanding. Called checkpoint inhibitors, they work by disrupting the immune system’s natural mechanism for reining in T cells, blood-borne sentinels that bind and kill diseased cells throughout the body. The immune cells are turned off most of the time, thanks to proteins that latch on to a handful of receptors on their surface. But scientists designed antibodies to bind to those same receptors, knocking out the regulatory protein and keeping the cells permanently switched to attack mode.

The first checkpoint inhibitors just turned T cells on. But some of the newer ones can work more selectively, using the same principle to jam a signal that tumors use to evade T cells. So far, checkpoint inhibitors have shown near-miraculous results for a few rare, previously incurable cancers like Hodgkin’s lymphoma, renal cell carcinoma, and non-small cell lung cancer. The drugs are only approved to treat those conditions, leaving about two-thirds of terminal cancer patients without an approved immunotherapy option.

But Prasad says that isn’t stopping physicians from prescribing the drugs anyway.

“Hype has encouraged rampant off-label use of checkpoint inhibitors as a last-ditch effort,” he says—even for patients with tumors that show no evidence they’ll respond to the drugs. The antibodies are available off the shelf, but at a list price near $150,000 per year, it’s an investment Prasad says doctors shouldn’t encourage lightly. Especially when there’s no reliable way of predicting who will respond and who won’t. “This thwarts one of the goals of cancer care,” says Prasad. “When you run out of helpful responses, how do you help a patient navigate what it means to die well?”

Merck and Bristol-Myers Squibb have dominated this first wave of immunotherapy, selling almost $9 billion worth of checkpoint inhibitors since they went on sale in 2015. Roche, AstraZeneca, Novartis, Eli Lilly, Abbvie, and Regeneron have all since jumped in the game, spending billions on acquiring biotech startups and beefing up in-house pipelines. And 800 clinical trials involving a checkpoint inhibitor are currently underway in the US, compared with about 200 in 2015. “This is not sustainable,” Genentech VP of cancer immunology Ira Mellman told the audience at last year’s annual meeting of the Society for Immunotherapy of Cancer. With so many trials, he said, the industry was throwing every checkpoint inhibitor combination at the wall just to see what would stick.

After more than a decade stretching out the promise of checkpoint inhibitors, patients—and businesses—were ready for something new. And this year, they got it: CAR T cell therapy. The immunotherapy involves extracting a patient’s T cells and genetically rewiring them so they can more efficiently home in on tumors in the body—training a foot soldier as an assassin that can slip behind enemy lines.

In September, the FDA cleared the first CAR-T therapy—a treatment for children with advanced leukemia, developed by Novartis—which made history as the first-ever gene therapy approved for market. A month later the agency approved another live cell treatment, developed by Kite Pharma, for a form of adult lymphoma. In trials for the lymphoma drug, 50 percent of patients saw their cancer disappear completely, and stay gone.

Kite’s ascendance in particular is a stunning indicator of how much money CAR-T therapy has attracted, and how fast. The company staged a $128 million IPO in 2014—when it had only a single late-phase clinical trial to its name—and sold to Gilead Science in August for $11.9 billion. For some context, consider that when Pfizer bought cancer drugmaker Medivation for $14 billion last year—one of the biggest pharma deals of 2016—the company already had an FDA-approved blockbuster tumor-fighter on the market with $2 billion in annual sales, plus two late-stage candidates in the pipeline.

While Kite and Novartis were the only companies to actually launch products in 2017, more than 40 other pharma firms and startups are currently building pipelines. Chief rival Juno Therapeutics went public with a massive $265 million initial offering—the largest biotech IPO of 2014—before forming a $1 billion partnership with Celgene in 2015. In the last few years, at least half a dozen other companies have made similar up-front deals worth hundreds of millions.

These treatments will make up just a tiny slice of the $107 billion cancer drug market. Only about 600 people a year, for example, could benefit from Novartis’ flagship CAR-T therapy. But the company set the price for a full course of treatment at a whopping $475,000. So despite the small clientele, the potential payoff is huge—and the technology is attracting a lot of investor interest. “CAR-T venture financing is still a small piece of total venture funding in oncology, but given that these therapies are curative for a majority of patients that have received them in clinical trials, the investment would appear to be justified,” says Mandy Jackson, a managing editor for research firm Informa Pharma Intelligence.

CAR-T, with its combination of gene and cell therapies, may be the most radical anticancer treatment ever to arrive in clinics. But the bleeding edge of biology can be a dangerous place for patients.

Sometimes, the modified T cells go overboard, excreting huge quantities of molecules called cytokines that lead to severe fevers, low blood pressure, and difficulty breathing. In some patients it gets even worse. Sometimes the blood-brain barrier inexplicably breaks down—and the T cells and their cytokines get inside patients’ skulls. Last year, Juno pulled the plug on its lead clinical trial after five leukemia patients died from massive brain swelling. Other patients have died in CAR-T trials at the National Cancer Institute and the University of Pennsylvania.

Scientists don’t fully understand why some CAR-T patients experience cytokine storms and neurotoxicity and others come out cured. “It’s kind of like the equivalent of getting on a Wright Brother’s airplane as opposed to walking on a 747 today,” says Wendell Lim, a biophysical chemist and director of the UC San Francisco Center for Systems and Synthetic Biology. To go from bumping along at a few hundred feet to cruise control at Mach 0.85 will mean equipping T cells with cancer-sensing receptors that are more specific than the current offerings.

Take the two FDA-approved CAR-T cell therapies, he says. They both treat blood cancers in which immune responders called B cells become malignant and spread throughout the body. Doctors reprogram patients’ T cells to seek out a B cell receptor called CD-19. When they find it, they latch on and shoot it full of toxins. Thing is, the reprogrammed T cells can’t really tell the difference between cancerous B cells and normal ones. The therapy just takes them all out. Now, you can live without B cells if you receive antibody injections to compensate—so the treatment works out fine most of the time.

But solid tumors are trickier—they’re made up of a mix of cells with different genetic profiles. Scientists have to figure out which tumor cells matter to the growth of the cancer and which ones don’t. Then they have to design T cells with antigens that can target just those ones and nothing else. An ideal signature would involve two to three antigens that your assassin T cells can use to pinpoint the target with a bullet instead of a grenade.

Last year Lim launched a startup called Cell Design Labs to try to do just that, as well as creating a molecular on-off-switch to make treatments more controlled. Only if researchers can gain this type of precise command, says Lim, will CAR-T treatments become as safe and predictable as commercial airline flight.

The field has matured considerably since Coley first shot his dying patient full of a dangerous bacteria, crossed his fingers, and hoped for the best. Sure, the guy lived, even making a miraculous full recovery. But many after him didn’t. And that “fingers crossed” approach still lingers over immunotherapy today.

All these years later, the immune system remains a fickle ally in the war on cancer. Keeping the good guys from going double-agent is going to take a lot more science. But at least the revolution will be well-financed.

British shipping firm Clarkson reports cyber attack

(Reuters) – British shipping services provider Clarkson Plc said it was subject to a cyber security incident and warned that the person or persons behind the incident may release some data on Wednesday.

“As soon as it was discovered, Clarkson took immediate steps to respond to and manage the incident,” the company said.

“Our initial investigations have shown the unauthorized access was gained via a single and isolated user account which has now been disabled,” Clarkson said.

The London-headquartered company said it had been working with the police on the incident.

Reporting by Rahul B in Bengaluru; Editing by Maju Samuel

Our Standards:The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

Micron: Big Money Is Flowing In

[unable to retrieve full-text content]

Global crypto-currency crackdown sparks search for safe havens

NEW YORK (Reuters) – When U.S. entrepreneur Bharath Rao looked around for the best place to raise money for his crypto-currency derivatives trading business, the United States did not make his list. Instead he chose the East African island nation Seychelles to sell the trading platform’s tokens.

FILE PHOTO: Bitcoin (virtual currency) coins placed on Dollar banknotes, next to computer keyboard, are seen in this illustration picture, November 6, 2017. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration/File Photo

Rao, a San Diego-based technology veteran who has worked for major Wall Street banks, is not alone.

Confronted with national regulators’ intensifying scrutiny of digital currency fund-raising, known as initial coin offerings, many entrepreneurs are moving businesses to locations more welcoming to crypto-currencies and known for low taxes.

Dozens of start-ups have flocked to Singapore, Switzerland, Eastern Europe and the Caribbean this year, according to interviews with entrepreneurs and company registration data made available to Reuters.

Like bitcoin, the best-known crypto-currency created in 2009, the coins use encryption and a blockchain transaction database enabling fast and anonymous transfer of funds without centralized payment systems.

The numbers compiled by crypto-currency research firm Smith + Crown show how national regulators’ attempts to curb coin sales may just shift business elsewhere.

The United States leads with 34 digital currency start-up registrations so far this year, but that reflects Silicon Valley’s role as a technology hub and the depth of U.S. financial markets rather than a welcoming regulatory climate.

Singapore registered 21 entities, up from one in 2016, followed by 19 in Switzerland, up from three last year, according to Smith + Crown. Central Europe saw 14 companies registered this year, compared with one in 2016 and the Caribbean hosted 10, up from two last year.

“The data affirms our sense that Switzerland and Singapore remain go-to locations, but the U.S. could remain for companies raising large amounts of money,” said Matt Chwierut, Smith + Crown’s research director.

SWISS ADVANTAGE

Switzerland does not have specific rules on digital coin sales, but some parts of an offer may fall under existing regulations, the Swiss Financial Market Supervisory Authority (FINMA) said in September.

So far, four of the five largest token sales, raising a total of over $600 million, were carried out by firms registered in Zug, a low-tax region south of Zurich known as the “crypto-valley” of the world.

In contrast, China and South Korea banned digital coin sales this year and regulators in the United States, Malaysia, Dubai, United Kingdom and Germany warned investors that current scant oversight exposed them to risks of fraud, hacking or theft.

Soaring registrations in “friendly” jurisdictions show how hard it is for national watchdogs to regulate digital coin sales. It is a challenge regulators begin to recognize.

“We are talking to other regulators, and we know that there are a lot of bilateral discussions taking place,” the Dubai Financial Services Authority said in an email to Reuters.

The U.S. Securities Exchange Commission declined to comment about the migration of coin issuers to remote jurisdictions.

The United Kingdom’s Financial Conduct Authority and Securities Commission Malaysia reiterated their stance that digital coin sales are high-risk, speculative investments and that retail investors should be aware of that.

A spokesman for Germany’s Federal Financial Supervisory Authority (BaFin) told Reuters “hopping” within the European Union would be “largely futile” since the EU supervisory authority has adopted the same stance as BaFin on the issue.

The Dubai regulator pointed out that seeking out friendly jurisdictions was not unusual, but regulators still needed to warn about the inherent risks in digital coin sales.

FILE PHOTO: A bitcoin sign is seen during Riga Comm 2017, a business technology and innovation fair in Riga, Latvia November 9, 2017. REUTERS/Ints Kalnins/File Photo

Financial regulators from South Korea and China were not immediately available for comment.

In the United States, the SEC’s July 25 ruling that digital coins should be regulated as securities had a short-lived chilling effect on the crypto-currency market. Short-lived, because many U.S. startups thought they could avoid such scrutiny by selling “utility tokens,” which gave buyers access to products or services rather than a stake in the company.

Still, concerns that regulators’ views might evolve, have made potential U.S. coin issuers consider sales overseas.

“Our lawyers certainly think regulations on utility tokens could change. So for safety, the ICO should be done outside the U.S.,” said Arran Stewart, co-founder of U.S.-based Job.com, an online employment platform which plans a token offering in the Cayman Islands in February.

In fact, out of 15 start-ups interviewed by Reuters only one, Airfox, sold digital tokens in the United States, raising $15 million last month. Others have either carried out a coin sale overseas or are planning one.

Rao, who started Leverj, a decentralized crypto-currency futures trading platform, said he picked Seychelles for fund-raising because of its openness to crypto-currencies.

“It has not issued anything negative on crypto,” Rao said.

GONE IN MINUTES

Digital coin sales soared to about $3.6 billion by mid-November, compared with just over $100 million in the whole of 2016, according to Autonomous NEXT, which tracks technology in the financial services industry.

Typically, issuers publish a “white paper” describing their business plan and the news of new coin sales spread via online forums and websites tracking new offers. Investors pay for them with bitcoins or ether – two most widely accepted crypto-currencies – via a company’s website.

The ease with which start-ups can raise millions of dollars with little scrutiny in as little as minutes, has alarmed regulators, but without unified approach they hold little sway over that new funding market.

“It’s very difficult for governments to work together in any organized fashion,” said Lewis Cohen, a partner at Hogan Lovells in New York, which has a team of lawyers specializing in blockchain.

“Different jurisdictions will look at token sales through different lenses and it would be very difficult to get on a completely harmonized place.”

Nimble and lightly-regulated crypto-currency companies can straddle borders with ease.

For example, BANKEX, which aims to convert illiquid assets into tokens to be traded on its crypto-currency platform, is registered in Delaware and plans a coin offering in the Cayman Islands this month, said the company’s CEO Igor Khmel.

Hogan Lovell’s Cohen said that while it would be foolish to shut token sales down, they should be regulated, or self-regulated.

“We may need to have some guard rails,” he said.

“I don’t think it’s really fair for legitimate platforms that are trying to create new and innovative business models to be thrown in with other less scrupulous parties who may see token sales as a way of making a fast buck.”

(For a graphic on blockchain the key, click here)

(For a graphic on ICO jurisdictions, click here)

Reporting by Gertrude Chavez-Dreyfuss; Additional reporting by Angela Moon in New York and Heekyong Yang in Seoul; Editing by Tomasz Janowski

Our Standards:The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

Burger King Just Did Something Amazing Purely To Help McDonald's (Or Did It?)

Absurdly Driven looks at the world of business with a skeptical eye and a firmly rooted tongue in cheek. 

It was a day like any other.

Customers streamed into Burger King and asked for a Whopper.

Except this wasn’t a day like any other, because Burger King’s staff told their customers that, on this particular day, they weren’t selling Whoppers.

Some customers were angry. Some even used extremely flame-grilled words. 

What on earth was going on?

[embedded content]

This was November 10 in Argentina. McDonald’s had designated this day as McHappy Day. 

On McHappy Day, all the money made from selling Big Macs was given to kids suffering from cancer.

So in every one of the 107 Burger Kings in Argentina, staff were instructed not to sell Whoppers and to direct customers to their nearest McDonald’s in order to buy a Big Mac.

It felt so public-spirited and many were seemingly impressed.

Burger King was, though, walking an extremely thin line here.

By making a video of its apparent good-heartedness, it was clearly trying to pat itself on the commercial back.

In the video, you might notice one Burger King employee make a disparaging comment about McDonald’s: “The place where they don’t flame-grill their burgers.”

Moreover, the sight of Burger King’s King character going to McDonald’s to buy a Big Mac smacked of, well, marketing.

Clever marketing, you might think. But marketing, all the same.

Burger King could have simply made a donation of its own to the good cause. It might have decided to give all the profits from Whopper sales to the same charities as McDonald’s.

Instead, some might conclude that it piggybacked more overtly on McDonald’s day.

This isn’t the first time that Burger King has tried to engage with its larger rival.

A couple of years ago in New Zealand, Burger King suggested that it and McDonald’s share a Peace Day and jointly create a McWhopper.

At first, McDonald’s wasn’t moved. And then, it still wasn’t moved, but created its own campaign to help refugees. 

Who benefited most? Well, Burger King enjoyed worldwide publicity.

It also won a lot of awards from the advertising industry for its idea.

Some good deeds are just that. Others, well, there’s a gray area.

Especially when there’s marketing involved.

U.S. prosecutors' letter spurred orders in self-driving car lawsuit

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) – The judge overseeing a lawsuit between Uber Technologies Inc [UBER.UL] and Alphabet Inc’s (GOOGL.O) Waymo self-driving car unit issued a series of orders this week, prompted by information shared with him by the U.S. Department of Justice.

FILE PHOTO: The Uber logo is seen on a screen in Singapore August 4, 2017. REUTERS/Thomas White/File Picture

U.S. District Judge William Alsup in San Francisco disclosed on Wednesday that he had received a letter from Justice Department attorneys about the case, which is set for trial in December. The judge did not reveal the letter’s contents.

However, Alsup issued two subsequent orders, including one on Saturday, that discussed some details. He ordered Uber to make three witnesses, including a former Uber security analyst and a company attorney, available to testify on Tuesday at a final pretrial hearing. Trial is scheduled to begin on Dec. 4.

It is unusual for the Justice Department to share information with a judge days before a civil case is set to begin.

Earlier this year Alsup, who is hearing the civil action brought by Waymo, asked federal prosecutors to investigate whether criminal theft of trade secrets had occurred. That probe is being handled by the intellectual property unit of the Northern California U.S. Attorney’s office, sources familiar with the situation said. No charges have been filed.

Representatives for Waymo, Uber and the Justice Department declined to comment. The former Uber security analyst could not be reached for comment.

FILE PHOTO: The Waymo logo is displayed during the North American International Auto Show in Detroit, Michigan, U.S., January 8, 2017. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid/File Picture

Waymo sued Uber in February, claiming that former Waymo executive Anthony Levandowski downloaded more than 14,000 confidential files before leaving to set up a self-driving truck company, called Otto, which Uber acquired soon after.

Uber denied using any of Waymo’s trade secrets. Levandowski has declined to answer questions about the allegations, citing constitutional protections against self-incrimination.

Since the case began, Uber said its personnel have spent thousands of hours scouring its servers and other communications devices but have not found Waymo trade secrets.

In an order on Friday, Alsup referred to a former Uber security analyst in connection with the letter from the U.S. Attorney’s office and to certain “devices” the former employee said were maintained by Uber.

Alsup asked Uber to disclose whether it had searched those devices for relevant evidence in the case.

Reuters is part of a media coalition seeking to maintain public access to the trial.

Reporting by Dan Levine; Editing by Sue Horton and Marguerita Choy

Our Standards:The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

Canadian charged in Yahoo hacking case to plead guilty in U.S.

(Reuters) – A Canadian accused by the United States of helping Russian intelligence agents break into email accounts as part of a massive 2014 breach of Yahoo accounts is expected to plead guilty next week, according to court records.

A photo illustration shows a Yahoo logo on a smartphone in front of a displayed cyber code and keyboard on December 15, 2016. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration

Karim Baratov, who earlier this year waived his right to fight a U.S. request for his extradition from Canada, is scheduled to appear in federal court in San Francisco on Tuesday for the plea hearing, according to a court calendar seen on Friday.

Baratov, a 22-year-old Canadian citizen born in Kazakhstan, was arrested in Canada in March at the request of U.S. prosecutors. He later waived his right to fight a request for his extradition to the United States.

Andrew Mancilla, Baratov’s lawyer, declined to comment. A spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in San Francisco did not respond to a request for comment.

The U.S. Justice Department announced charges in March against Baratov and three other men, including two officers in Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB), for their roles in the 2014 theft of 500 million Yahoo accounts.

Verizon Communications Inc (VZ.N), the largest U.S. wireless operator, acquired most of Yahoo Inc’s assets in June.

Prosecutors said that the FSB officers, Dmitry Dokuchaev and Igor Sushchin, directed and paid hackers to obtain information and used Alexsey Belan, who is among the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation’s most-wanted cyber criminals, to breach Yahoo.

When the FSB officers learned that a target had a non-Yahoo webmail account, including through information obtained from the Yahoo hack, they worked with Baratov, who was who paid to break into at least 80 email accounts, prosecutors said.

The individuals associated with the accounts they sought to access included Russian officials, the chief executive of a metals company and a prominent banker, according to the indictment.

At least 50 of the accounts Baratov targeted were hosted by Google, the indictment said.

Tuesday’s proceedings before U.S. District Judge Vince Chhabria are scheduled as a “change of plea” hearing.

Baratov, the only person arrested to date in the case, previously in August pleaded not guilty to conspiring to commit computer fraud, conspiring to commit access device fraud, conspiring to commit wire fraud and aggravated identity theft.

Reporting by Nate Raymond in Boston; Editing by Tom Brown

Our Standards:The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

The impacts on storage and compliance from Blockchain, robots and IoT

At Web Summit in Lisbon, key issues for storage and compliance included the internet of things (IoT), Blockchain, biometrics and always-available health data.

In this podcast, Computer Weekly storage editor Antony Adshead talks with the CEO of Vigitrust, Mathieu Gorge, about the implications for storage and compliance of always-available healthcare data, biometric security methods and the data generated, Blockchain, and human-robot interaction in internet of things deployments.

Antony Adshead: What is Web Summit, why is it important, and what key themes emerged with regard to storage and compliance?

Mathieu Gorge: The Web Summit has been held every year for the past 10 years. It grew from 400 people to more than 59,000 people this year, and is currently held in Lisbon. The founder is Paddy Cosgrave, who started it in Dublin, but it got so big it needed a new home.

Web Summit is organised in different tracks. There are tracks for startups, for scaling companies and for enterprises. It’s a mix of 24 different summits; some focus on software as a service (SaaS), some on compliance and others on next-generation IT, which is primarily the IoT and robots at the moment.

It allows people to get a feel for everything web-based, and any type of new solutions that are coming out. It also has a number of keynote speakers that come in from large organisations, but also innovative startups. It’s always excellent to learn and it’s very good for networking.

Adshead: Could you expand on key themes that emerged with regard to storage and compliance?

Gorge: If I look very briefly at four key things, the first one is startups. There is always a number of them that pitch every day at Web Summit.

There was a trend around solutions to do with health data; how we build solutions that allow consumers to have a full overview of their health status in such a way that it’s available and securely stored on the cloud, and that they can get access to that information anywhere and anytime so they can get treatment anywhere in the world. There were a number of innovative solutions there that were showcased.

The second was security and compliance; new ideas on how we can provide strong authentication and identity management. There was a lot of focus on biometrics, looking at your eyes, fingerprints and a mix of different things.

These are not necessarily groundbreaking, but there was an emphasis that wasn’t there last year. It was coupled with the question of how we store those credentials from a security perspective. Is it stored on the go, in vaults or in dynamic storage? Again, there are a number of startups in that domain.

Focusing on Blockchain

Third is Blockchain. There were a number of keynotes around Blockchains; some around what an initial coin offering is, how it works, why it is good for startups and the industry, and what it allows you to do. It was interesting to see heavy hitters like Tim Draper speaking on the main stage.

Finally, there was the concept of the IoT, focusing on the advent of the first robots coming out in the market and how those devices become intelligent through AI. From a storage and compliance perspective, they accumulate information about humans and our interaction with robots. One of the key questions asked how we make sure this is done in a correct and secure way; as well as how we make sure it is done in compliance with the new EU GDPR, because it’s going to be very hard to track everything.