Comcast outbids Fox in $40B battle for Sky

Comcast has outbid Twenty-First Century Fox for the UK’s Sky, a final step in what’s been a years-long takeover battle between the two media conglomerates.

Comcast’s final offer gives Sky a roughly $39 billion price tag.

The acquisition of Sky, which has 23 million subscribers in the UK, Ireland, Germany, Austria and Italy, will give Comcast a much stronger foothold in the international market and much-needed ammo to compete with Amazon and Netflix in the streaming wars.

Both companies upped their offers for Sky at the settlement auction Saturday, with Comcast offering £17.28 per Sky ordinary share and Fox offering £15.67 per share. Comcast initially priced Sky’s shares at £14.75 apiece. Fox’s original offer was £14 per share.

Both companies will reveal their revised bids on Monday. Sky’s board will make its official recommendation by October 11.

Sky operates several brands including Sky News, Sky Sports and Sky Cinema.

Equifax slapped with UK’s maximum penalty over 2017 data breach

Credit rating giant Equifax has been issued with the maximum possible penalty by the UK’s data protection agency for last year’s massive data breach.

Albeit, the fine is only £500,000 because the loss of customer data occurred when the UK’s prior privacy regime was in force — rather than the tough new data protection law, brought in via the EU’s GDPR, which allows for maximum penalties of as much as 4% of a company’s global turnover for the most serious data failures.

So, again, Equifax has managed to dodge worse consequences over the 2017 breach, despite the hack resulting from its own internal process failings after it failed to patch a server that was known to be vulnerable for months — thereby giving hackers a soft-spot to attack and swipe data on 147 million consumers.

Personal information that was lost or compromised in the 2017 Equifax breach included names and dates of birth, addresses, passwords, driving licence and financial details.

The UK data protection regulator is involved because up to 15 million UK citizens’ data was also breached in the attack. And while the hack compromised Equifax’s US systems, the UK citizens’ data was being processed in the US.

The UK’s Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) said today that the UK arm of Equifax failed to take adequate steps to ensure its US parents was protecting this data.

Reporting the result of its investigation, the ICO said Equifax contravened five out of eight data protection principles of the Data Protection Act 1998 — including, failure to secure personal data; poor retention practices; and lack of legal basis for international transfers of UK citizens’ data.

“Equifax Ltd has received the highest fine possible under the 1998 legislation because of the number of victims, the type of data at risk and because it has no excuse for failing to adhere to its own policies and controls as well as the law,” said information commissioner Elizabeth Denham in a statement. “We are determined to look after UK citizens’ information wherever it is held.”

“The loss of personal information, particularly where there is the potential for financial fraud, is not only upsetting to customers, it undermines consumer trust in digital commerce. This is compounded when the company is a global firm whose business relies on personal data,” she added.

The regulator’s investigation, carried out in parallel with the UK’s financial regulator, the Financial Conduct Authority, revealed multiple failures at the credit reference agency.

The ICO says it found that measures that should have been in place to manage personal information were “inadequate and ineffective”, and there were also “significant problems” with data retention, IT system patching, and audit procedures.

It flags the fact that the US Department of Homeland Security had warned Equifax Inc about a critical vulnerability as far back as March 2017, noting that “sufficient steps to address the vulnerability were not taken meaning a consumer facing portal was not appropriately patched”.

“Many of the people affected would not have been aware the company held their data; learning about the cyber attack would have been unexpected and is likely to have caused particular distress,” added Denham, emphasizing the reasons for the ICO to issue the maximum possible penalty for the breach.

The ICO also recently issued Facebook with the same level of fine for allowing user data on up to 87 million Facebook users to be scraped by a third party app which used it to try to build voter targeting models, selling this as a service to a political consultancy involved in US elections.

“Multinational data companies like Equifax must understand what personal data they hold and take robust steps to protect it,” she continued. “Their boards need to ensure that internal controls and systems work effectively to meet legal requirements and customers’ expectations. Equifax Ltd showed a serious disregard for their customers and the personal information entrusted to them, and that led to today’s fine.”

Equifax has responded with disappointment to the ICO’s decision. In a statement responding to the ICO’s ruling, a company spokesperson said: “We have received the Monetary Penalty Notice from the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) on Wednesday afternoon and are considering the detailed points made. Equifax has cooperated fully with the ICO throughout its investigation, and we are disappointed in the findings and the penalty.

“As the ICO makes clear in its report, Equifax has successfully implemented a broad range of measures to prevent the recurrence of such criminal incidents and it acknowledges the strengthened procedures which are now in effect. The criminal cyberattack against our US parent company last year was a pivotal moment for our company. We apologise again to any consumers who were put at risk.

“Data security and combatting criminal digital activity is an ongoing battle for all organisations that requires continued innovation and attention. We have acted and continue to act to make things right for consumers. They will always be our priority.”

The company points to a number of changes it says it has made in response to the incident to strengthen its policies and processes, and also highlights ongoing investments in infrastructure and corporate governance procedures, including hiring additional IT staff, which are intended to improve the resilience of its systems to hack attacks.

However it does concede that the breach itself was the result of internal process failings, given that a file containing historical consumer information which should have been deleted was not.

And the key point here is that the ICO’s decision is based on scrutinising exactly what happened that led to the breach occurring.

How a company has acted since a security crisis will be taken into consideration, as part of the overall picture, but having shut the barn door after the horse has bolted is only going to get so much credit vs the reasons for the barn door not being properly secured in the first place. And that’s as it should be given the point of data protection legislation is to encourage companies to prioritize security, not overlook it.

In the Equifax decision the ICO writes: “The Commissioner has also taken into account her underlying objective in imposing a monetary penalty notice, namely to promote compliance with the DPA [data protection act]. She considers that, given the nature, seriousness and potential consequences of the contravention arising in this case, that objective would not be adequately served by an unduly lenient penalty.”

Kry expands its telehealth service to France — under new brand, Livi

Swedish telehealth startup Kry, which bagged a $66M Series B in June for market expansion, is executing on that plan — announcing today it will launch into the French market on September 15.

This will be the fourth market for the 2014 founded European startup, after its home market of Sweden, along with Norway and Spain. When we spoke to Kry in June it also said it was eyeing a UK launch, and it says now the country is “coming up next” on its launch map.

Kry’s boast for its service is it lets patients ‘see’ a healthcare professional within 15 minutes — i.e. via a remote video consultation on their smartphone or tablet. It recruits doctors locally, in each market where it operates.

The French launch introduces a new brand name for the service, which will be called Livi in the market.

Livi will also be Kry’s brand for all markets outside the Nordics (derived from the Swedish word for ‘life’ — which is ‘liv’).

European state-funded healthcare services vary by country but in France Kry says the government is implementing a national system for public reimbursement of digital healthcare consultations via video — “in light of unequal access, increasing costs and over-usage of emergency services”.

So it’s evidently aiming for Livi to tap into that public money pot.

“I am very excited about bringing our service to French patients,” said Kry CEO and co-founder Johannes Schildt in a statement. “Our vision is great healthcare for everyone, regardless of who you are or where you live. Using digitalization we will fast forward the future of healthcare, making it patient focused, proactive and economically sustainable. The fact that France is opening up for digital healthcare on a national level should be an inspiration to the rest of Europe.”

Over in the UK, the new minister responsible for health, Matt Hancock — who was previously in charge of digital matters — has made increasing the National Health Service’s use of technology one of his key priorities, announcing yesterday a further £200M to plough into upgrading NHS IT systems.

Which will also, presumably, be music to health app makers’ ears.

Kry says its telehealth service has now generated more than half a million patient meetings, across its existing markets, saying it grew 740% in 2017 — which it claims makes it the largest digital healthcare provider in Europe.

In its home market of Sweden it also says it accounts for more than 3% of all primary care doctor visits.

While in March this year it added an online psychology service to its offering, and says it’s now the largest provider of cognitive behavioral therapy treatments in Sweden.

Investors in the digital health business include Index Ventures, Accel, Creandum, and Project A.

British Airways Website and Mobile App Suffer Huge Customer Data Breach

British Airways says it is investigating the theft of customer data from its website and mobile app over a two-week period, during which 380,000 payment cards were exposed (via The Guardian).

“From 22:58 BST August 21 2018 until 21:45 BST September 5 2018 inclusive, the personal and financial details of customers making bookings on our website and app were compromised,” the airline revealed in a statement on its website.

According to BA, travel and passport information was not accessed during the data breach, but concerned customers are being advised to get in touch with their card issuers in the first instance. The company said all customers affected by the breach had been contacted on Thursday night.

“British Airways is communicating with affected customers and we advise any customers who believe they may have been affected by this incident to contact their banks or credit card providers and follow their recommended advice.”

The airline said it was informed of the hacking by a third party, which is why it was able to continue undetected for two weeks, but the company insists that the breach has been resolved and its website and mobile app are now working normally.

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Funding Circle, a P2P SME lending platform, steps towards an IPO

UK founded startup Funding Circle, a p2p lending platform which focuses on the underserved small business market, has announced a “potential intention” to float on the London Stock Exchange.

In a press release today, announcing the publication of a Registration Document for a possible future IPO, Funding Circle says that should it proceed with floating on the stock market it would be looking to raise around £300 million (~$387M). According to the document the business is being valued at up to £1.65BN (~$2.1BN).

Heartland A/S, the private holding company of Danish billionaire businessman, Anders Holch Povlsen, has 

Funding Circle has raised more than $373M to date since being founded back in 2010. The founders had the idea to help small businesses obtain loans after the retrenching of traditional financing sources after the 2008 financial crash.

The global lending platform now connects investors in the U.K., U.S., Germany and the Netherlands with small businesses wanting to borrow money for growth. More than 80,000 retail investors, banks, asset management companies, insurance companies, government-backed entities and funds have lent more than £5BN to over 50,000 businesses globally since the platform’s launch in 2010.

In a statement on the IPO announcement, Samir Desai, CEO and co-founder, said: “At Funding Circle our mission is to build a better financial world. Today’s announcement is the start of the next stage in our exciting and transformational journey. Over the last eight years, we have worked hard to build a platform that is number one in every market we operate in.

“By combining cutting-edge technology with our own proprietary credit models and sophisticated data analytics, we deliver a better deal for small businesses and investors around the world. I am very proud of the team and culture we have created at Funding Circle, both of which have been integral to our success to date”.

A year and half ago Desai told us that while the business had “no current plans to IPO” that was the longer term aim. “We’ve always said that we’d like Funding Circle to be a listed business, in line with the things that we care about deeply like transparency and being a tech platform versus being a lender ourselves,” he said then.

Should it now go ahead with floating the business, Funding Circle says it will use the proceeds to enhance its balance sheet position — which it says would help grow trust in the business with investors, borrowers and regulators, as well as support it pursuing growth over profitability in the medium term.

It also says going public would give it strategic flexibility and let it take advantage of opportunities “either in current markets or new geographies”.

The registration document describes Funding Circle as a high growth business, revealing it had revenue in the year ended 31 December 2017 of £94.5M compared to £50.9M in the year ended 31 December 2016.

It also highlights an improving financial profile, flagging up strong growth in revenue — with 78% CAGR from 2015 to 2017 (excluding property loans), primarily driven by an increase in loan originations from £607M in 2015 to £1,631M in 2017 (both excluding property loans).

Funding Circle exited the property loans business in 2016, tightening its focus on small business financing.

According to the registration document, repeat business is growing, with approximately 40% of Funding Circle’s revenue generated from existing customers in 2017 (again excluding property loans).

It also says that attractive unit economics are driving expanded margins, with the margin per loan in 2017 rising from approximately 20% for the first loan, to ~57% for repeat loans in the UK. And it adds that the path to superior margins is driven by operational leverage.

The business is targeting in excess of 40% revenue growth in the medium term and longer term, and adjusted EBITDA margins of 35% or above.

Commenting on Funding Circle’s announcement in a statement, Neil Rimer, partner at Index Ventures and a Funding Circle board member, said: Just as banks have become more reluctant lenders, Funding Circle has become an indispensable source of financing for small businesses in the UK, the US and in continental Europe; directly supporting the growth of the most critical engines of the economy.

“It is a prime example of a new breed of financial services companies, who by making their products more transparent and more convenient, have democratised access to valuable services and increased economic activity.

Rimer added: “Funding Circle has a broad impact on the growing businesses it funds, the employees they hire, the communities they operate, their customers and the countries they operate in. This is an important milestone that will allow the company to support tens of thousands of additional small businesses: something everyone should celebrate.”

Index is Funding Circle’s largest shareholder and has been a backer of the business since its Series A funding round in 2011 — when it became the 2010 founded UK startup’s first institutional investor. It’s just posted a blog post to coincide with Funding Circle’s announcement — taking an inside look at the company mission and ethos.

Index also has several other fintech investments in its portfolio, including the likes of Adyen, iZettle, Revolut and Robinhood. Though the VC firm did not take an investment in UK-based payday loans firm Wonga, which collapsed into administration last week.

TechCrunch’s Steve O’Hear contributed to this report

Panasonic to move its European HQ out of the UK because Brexit

Chalk up yet another Brexit deficit: Japanese electronics firm Panasonic will be moving its European headquarters from the UK to Amsterdam in October because it’s worried about the tax implications if it stays, the Nikkei Asian Review reports.

The company is concerned it could face tax liabilities if the UK shifts its corporate tax regime as a result of Brexit.

Laurent Abadie, CEO of Panasonic Europe, told the publication Japan could treat the U.K. as a tax haven if the country lowers its corporate rate — as the government has indeed suggested it will to try to make itself a more attractive destination for businesses once it’s outside the European Union’s trading bloc.

In November 2016 the UK Prime Minister announced a review of the country’s corporate tax rate — saying the government could move to substantially cut the rate below the current 20%.

Prior to that, former chancellor George Osborne pledged to cut the rate to below 15%.

At the same time as announcing the rate review, the PM unveiled a package of business-focused measures — intended to try to quell fears around Brexit. Although a rate cut evidently isn’t friendly to every business.

In the case of Panasonic, it’s concerned that if the U.K. gets designated a tax-haven by Japan it could be saddled with back taxes back home. So moving to stay regionally headquartered within the European Union removes that risk.

Abadie also told the Nikkei Asian Review that moving its regional HQ to continental Europe will help it avoid any barriers to the flow of people and goods thrown up by Brexit.

The shape of any deal — or even whether there will be a deal between the UK and the EU, post-Brexit — still remains to be seen just a few months before the UK is scheduled to exit the EU, in March 2019. So businesses are having to make key decisions based on possible or potential outcomes.

Meanwhile the UK’s regulatory influence in the region continues to be diminished…

Kencko wants to help you eat more fruit and vegetables

People don’t eat enough fruit and vegetables, that’s despite an embarrassment of options today that include fast grocery delivery and takeout services with a focus on health.

A study from the U.S-based Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released last November found that just one in ten adults in America “meet the federal fruit or vegetable recommendations” each day. The bar isn’t that high. The recommendation is just 1.5-2 cups of fruit and two to three cups of vegetables per day, but failing to meet it can put people at risk of chronic diseases, the CDC said.

The problem is universal the world over, but perhaps most acute in the U.S, where finding healthy food is easier than ever. Amazon’s same-day grocery deliveries, make-it-at-home services like Blue Apron and various healthy takeout services have helped some people, but no doubt there’s much more to be done for standards to be raised across the nation and beyond.

That’s where one early-stage startup, Kencko, is aiming to make a difference by making fruit and vegetable more accessible. Its thesis is that wholly organic diets are daunting to most, but packaging the good parts in new ways can make it easier for anyone to be more healthy.

The company’s first offering is a fruit drink that can be made in minutes using just a sachet, water and its mixer bottle.

Kencko currently offers five different organic fruit and vegetable mixes

Just add water

Unlike other ‘instant’ mixer options, Kencko uses freeze-drying to turn fruit and vegetable mixes into powder without compromising on health. That process — which is similar to how NASA develops food for astronauts — retains minerals, protein, vitamins and all the other good stuff typically lost in healthy drinks, the startup said. The fruit and vegetables used are organic and sourced from across the world — that’s broken down into more details on the Kencko website — while the mixes don’t contain sugar or other additives.

Kencko customers make their drink by mixing the sachet with water and shaking for one minute. Each sachet is 20g and, when combined with water, that gets you a 160g serving. That’s around two daily portions, and it  has a 180-day shelf live so it can keep. There are six different combinations, each one is a mixture of six fruit and vegetables.

Unlike others that pair with water, Kencko actually includes fruit pieces and seeds — I tested a batch. That’s pretty unique, although it is worth noting that some of the more berry fruit heavy combinations mix less efficiently than the plant-based ones, at least from my experience. As someone who lives in a city where fresh fruit and vegetables are easily found — thank you, Bangkok — I’m not the target customer. But I can readily recall living the busy 9-6 office life in London a decade ago, and back then I’d have been curious enough to at least take Kencko for a spin in my quest to be a little healthier.

Kencko is also affordable when compared to most health food options, which tend to be positioned as premium.

Packs are priced at $29.90 for ten sachets, $74.50 for 30 and $123.50 for 60. The startup offers a ‘Lifetime Founding Member’ package that gives 30 percent off those prices for an initial charge. That’s $32 for those wanting 10 servinggs, $79.90 for 30 and $129 for 60.

Two of my Kencko mixes

More than pressed juice

Kencko — which means health in Japanese — is the brainchild of Tomás Froes, a former tech worker who got into veganism after being diagnosed with acute gastritis.

Froes, who is from Portugal and once ran an artisanal hot dog brand in China, was told that his ailment was treatable but that it would require a cocktail of pills for the rest of his life. Seeking an alternative, he threw himself into the world of alternative health and, after settling on a 90 percent fruit and vegetable diet, found that his condition had cleared without medicine.

Keen to help others enjoy the benefits of his journey, he began talking to nutritionists and experts whilst trying to figure out possible business options. In an interview with TechCrunch, Froes said he settled on a new take on the existing ‘health drink’ space that he maintains is inadequate in a number of ways.

“The end goal is to help consumers reach the recommendation of five servings/portions of fruit a day,” he explained. “That would be impossible to do if we excluded the seeds and bits of fruits like cold-pressed juice companies do. They press the juice out of the fruits, leaving the most nutritional part from pulp and the seeds out.”

“We blast freeze fruit and vegetables at -40 degrees which allows us to maintain the same nutritional properties as fresh fruit for longer periods. We then use a slow heat process of 60 degrees to evaporate only take the water-based parts without damaging nutrition,” Froes added.

Added that, Froes said, Kencko helps cut down on the use of plastic by using the same mixer, return customers only require new sachets.

As proof of Kencko’s versatility, he brought his mixer and sachets along to the vegan cafe we met at earlier this year when I visited London, putting me to shame for buying the cold pressed option — which was no doubt more expensive, to boot.

Kencko is based in New York but with a processing facility in Lisbon, Portugal. It is heavily focused on the U.S. market where it offers delivery in 24-48 hours, but it also covers the UK and Canada. There are plans to increase support, particularly in Asia.

Kencko’s Apple Watch app is in beta with selected users

Building a health food brand

Kencko was formed in 2017 and, after landing undisclosed seed funding, it launched its product in March of this year. Already it has seen progress; the startup recently entered the TechStars accelerator program in London as one of a batch of ten companies.

“I’m excited to work with Tomas and the Kencko team,” Eamonn Carey, who leads TechStars in London, told TechCrunch. “I first read about them on ProductHunt and bought into their mission straight away. Once I tasted the product for the first time, I was sold — both as a subscriber and an investor.”

Froes told TechCrunch that drinks are just the first phase of what Kencko hopes to offer consumers. He explained that he wants to move into other types of food and consumables in the future to help give people more options to get their daily portion of fruit and vegetables.

Up next could be Apple-based snacks. Foes shared — quite literally — a new batch of snack that’s currently in development and is made from the fruit. He believes it could be marketed a healthier option than crisps and other nibbles people turn to between meals. Further down the pipeline, he said, will be other kinds of food that maintain the 100 percent organic approach.

Beyond food, Kencko wants to build a close bond with its customers. It is developing iOS and Apple Watch apps that help its users to track their fruit and vegetable consumption, and more generally make their diet and routine healthier.

With the membership package and apps, it becomes clear that Kencko aspires to build a brand and not just sell a product online. That’s double the challenge (at least), and that makes the company one to watch.

Already it has found some success within tech circles such as TechStar’s Carey — people who aspire to eat and drink better but are pushed for time — but if Froes is to even begin to deliver on his mission then Kencko will need to go beyond the tech industry niche and attract mainstream consumers. For now though, the product is worth close inspection if you think your lifestyle is in need of a fruit boost.

Femtech hardware startup Elvie inks strategic partnership with UK’s NHS

Elvie, a femtech hardware startup whose first product is a sleek smart pelvic floor exerciser, has inked a strategic partnership with the UK’s National Health Service that will make the device available nationwide through the country’s free-at-the-point-of-use healthcare service so at no direct cost to the patient.

It’s a major win for the startup that was co-founded in 2013 by CEO Tania Boler and Jawbone founder, Alexander Asseily, with the aim of building smart technology that focuses on women’s issues — an overlooked and underserved category in the gadget space.

Boler’s background before starting Elvie (née Chiaro) including working for the U.N. on global sex education curriculums. But her interest in pelvic floor health, and the inspiration for starting Elvie, began after she had a baby herself and found there was more support for women in France than the U.K. when it came to taking care of their bodies after giving birth.

With the NHS partnership, which is the startup’s first national reimbursement partnership (and therefore, as a spokeswoman puts it, has “the potential to be transformative” for the still young company), Elvie is emphasizing the opportunity for its connected tech to help reduce symptoms of urinary incontinence, including those suffered by new mums or in cases of stress-related urinary incontinence.

The Elvie kegel trainer is designed to make pelvic floor exercising fun and easy for women, with real-time feedback delivered via an app that also gamifies the activity, guiding users through exercises intended to strengthen their pelvic floor and thus help reduce urinary incontinence symptoms. The device can also alert users when they are contracting incorrectly.

Elvie cites research suggesting the NHS spends £233M annually on incontinence, claiming also that around a third of women and up to 70% of expectant and new mums currently suffer from urinary incontinence. In 70 per cent of stress urinary incontinence cases it suggests symptoms can be reduced or eliminated via pelvic floor muscle training.

And while there’s no absolute need for any device to perform the necessary muscle contractions to strengthen the pelvic floor, the challenge the Elvie Trainer is intended to help with is it can be difficult for women to know they are performing the exercises correctly or effectively.

Elvie cites a 2004 study that suggests around a third of women can’t exercise their pelvic floor correctly with written or verbal instruction alone. Whereas it says that biofeedback devices (generally, rather than the Elvie Trainer specifically) have been proven to increase success rates of pelvic floor training programmes by 10% — which it says other studies have suggested can lower surgery rates by 50% and reduce treatment costs by £424 per patient head within the first year.

“Until now, biofeedback pelvic floor training devices have only been available through the NHS for at-home use on loan from the patient’s hospital, with patient allocation dependent upon demand. Elvie Trainer will be the first at-home biofeedback device available on the NHS for patients to keep, which will support long-term motivation,” it adds.

Commenting in a statement, Clare Pacey, a specialist women’s health physiotherapist at Kings College Hospital, said: “I am delighted that Elvie Trainer is now available via the NHS. Apart from the fact that it is a sleek, discreet and beautiful product, the app is simple to use and immediate visual feedback directly to your phone screen can be extremely rewarding and motivating. It helps to make pelvic floor rehabilitation fun, which is essential in order to be maintained.”

Elvie is not disclosing commercial details of the NHS partnership but a spokeswoman told us the main objective for this strategic partnership is to broaden access to Elvie Trainer, adding: “The wholesale pricing reflects that.”

Discussing the structure of the supply arrangement, she said Elvie is working with Eurosurgical as its delivery partner — a distributor she said has “decades of experience supplying products to the NHS”.

“The approach will vary by Trust, regarding whether a unit is ordered for a particular patient or whether a small stock will be held so a unit may be provided to a patient within the session in which the need is established. This process will be monitored and reviewed to determine the most efficient and economic distribution method for the NHS Supply Chain,” she added.