Berlin’s Mayd gets ~$34M Series A injection for fast pharmacy delivery

Berlin-based Mayd, a startup that’s building an on-demand medicine delivery platform in Europe, has fast followed a chunky seed raise last fall — with a €30 million (~$34M) Series A funding round led by US investor Lightspeed Venture Partners.

Previous investors Target Global, 468 Capital and Earlybird Venture Capital also chipped into the Series A.

The round brings Mayd’s total raised to date, since the business was founded at the beginning of 2021, to €43M.

This early funding velocity looks akin to the pace investor cash has been flying into European on-demand grocery delivery platforms since the pandemic supercharged app-based delivery.

Grocery delivery startups have gone on to pull in some very beefy B and C raises in recent years, such as the almost $1BN Series C for Berlin’s Gorillas in October. So it’ll be interesting to see whether investors feel moved to plough similarly heady sums into more specialist on-demand startups, as founders work to slice and dice opportunities around app-based ordering and speedy local delivery. (See also, for example, the $20M Series A raise earlier this month for another German ‘instant delivery’ startup which is focused on premium, branded goods.)

For now, though, Mayd is keeping schtum on its valuation.

Demand for medicines and/or non-prescription products sold in pharmacies — all of which Mayd’s platform is being designed to deliver at speed — is fairly universal, if not quite up there with the daily human need to eat. So investors are likely attracted by the prospect of solid demand — assuming execution is strong.

That said, grocery as a category isn’t purely food; there are overlapping products vs what you can find in a pharmacy — so there is some direct inventory competition here, even as prescription medicines (which will be coming to Mayd) are a specialist type of order that isn’t typically possible via an ‘instant grocery’ delivery.

Plus, the convenience of in-app ordering and to-the-door delivery for meds may offer more of a pull vs general food delivery — given pharmacy shoppers are disproportionately likely to be feeling unwell or caring for someone who’s sick so may be especially keen to avoid leaving home to make an essential purchase.

Mayd’s delivery pledge in the cities where it operates is to get the order to your door within 30 minutes — for orders made between the hours of 8am and midnight (next day delivery thereafter).

It’s scaled out quickly from its first city, Berlin, also launching into Hamburg, Munich, Frankfurt am Main, Cologne and Düsseldorf. Across this footprint it currently offers access to 2,000+ prescription-free medicines and other pharmacy products, ahead of changes to the e-prescription system due this month which will enable it to also take orders for prescription drugs in Germany.

This pace of expansion means the startup has already grown to 100+ employees, as well as 350+ delivery riders — who it says are “permanently employed” (this means “directly contracted” with Mayd, i.e. not employed via subcontractors).

The Series A funds will be used to further step on the growth gas — with Mayd eyeing expanding into two more European markets over the new few months and scores more cities.

“We will use the new funds to invest in the company’s expansion in Germany and Europe, hiring key positions with a focus on technology, as well as in the further ramp up operations,” it tells TechCrunch. “Until the end of Q2 we plan to launch in two other markets in Europe and currently are looking at our best options.”

The startup says typical customers for its pharmacy order delivery service so far skew more female than male, and tend to fall into the 35-45 age range — having a focus on “convenience first”. (Aka: “Our customer base is urban, digital and appreciates our 24/7 service a lot.”)

Mayd also says its shoppers are ringing up bigger basket sizes than for online groceries.

But, well, medicines and ailment potions tend to be relatively expensive vs general groceries so that’s not too surprising. It is important to making the unit economics stack up for the speedy delivery though.

“Highly in demand are ailments against the common cold, OTC products for acute health problems like dry eyes. Beyond that everything for the needs of Mother & Child is popular amongst our customers,” it adds. 

Mayd says it takes a commission on sales of non-prescription pharmacy products but does not charge for delivery.

For e-prescription orders it has said the model will either entail a delivery fee or listing fee.

Asked about the looming launch of e-prescriptions in Germany, Mayd claims it will be “the first company on the market to integrate the instant delivery service into our system”, adding: “This way we will be able to fully cover all needs in the area of health. Customers will have the chance to order their prescription medicines in an instant, in a convenient and time-saving way.”

Looking ahead, the startup says it expects to pass 100,000 customers over the course of this year as it expands out from (currently) six cities — soon to be seven, as it dials up service in Stuttgart next week — to more than 50 cities across its operational footprint in the first half of 2022.


Germany’s SoSafe raises $73M Series B led by Highland to address human error in cyber

As we’ve learned in the last few years, ‘human error’-led cyber security breaches are the ones companies often find it hardest to guard against. Surveys suggest some 85% of attacks can be traced back to the human factor. Thus startups built to alleviate this gap — such as the UK’s Cybsafe which raises $7-9m last year — are proliferating. Addressing human behavior is clearly one of the hottest new areas for cyber.

The latest to scale up in this space is SoSafe. The Cologne-based cybersecurity awareness and testing platform has now raised a $73 million Series B funding round led by growth-capital fund Highland Europe.

Existing investors Acton Capital and Global Founders Capital were joined by SAP Hybris founder and Celonis Advisory Board member Carsten Thoma together with La Famiglia as well as Adjust founder Christian Henschel as participants.

SoSafe competes with platforms like Knowbe4 (that went public in 2021) and Cofense which has raised $58M to date.

SoSafe says it takes a user-centered approach to cyber security, using insights from behavioral science to nudge users in the right, and safer, direction, using gamified methods to teach end-users what to look out for in a cyber-attack.

It now has over 1,500 customers including Aldi, Ceconomy AG, Taylor Wessing, Vattenfall and Valtech.

Dr. Niklas Hellemann, co-founder and managing director of SoSafe, said: “Challenging the existing paradigms in security awareness and human risk management, we have seen tremendous adoption of our platform and extraordinary growth.”

Lead investor Highland Europe has previously backed security companies such as Malwarebytes, Cobalt, and ActiveFence.

Gajan Rajanathan, partner at Highland Europe, said: “SoSafe’s founders have built a trusted cybersecurity awareness and testing platform, underpinned by behavioral analytics and human risk scoring that sustainably protects the most important threat surface in cybersecurity – human security breaches. They have rapidly emerged as one of the leading software scale-ups, experiencing incredible momentum in a short period of time.”

Berlin’s Yababa snags $15.5M to scale a multicultural grocery delivery biz across Europe

Berlin-based Yababa only started its same-day grocery delivery business this summer, selling products geared towards the tastes of the capital’s sizeable Turkish and Arabic communities shortly afterwards, but in a few short months it’s closed a $15.5 million seed round of funding to fuel planned rapid expansion — both within Germany and across Europe.

“Paris, Amsterdan, Brussels, London,” says co-founder Ralph Hage, reeling off the list of likely first-candidate cities for its service outside Germany.

Inside Germany, he says Cologne will be next after Berlin — where it currently delivers to Mitte, Prenzlauer Berg, Friedrichshain, Kreuzberg, Moabit, Wedding, Neukölln, Charlottenburg, Wilmersdorf, Tiergarten, Tempelhof-Schöneberg and Lichtenberg — either by the end of this year or early next. It also wants the service to be live in seven German cities in 2022.

Expanding Yababa’s product mix to address a wider mix of multicultural communities is also on the cards. But, for now, the most popular item being ordered in the German capital is Arabic bread, followed by meat, fruit and vegetables, per the startup.

While it’s starting with a focus on Turkish and Arabic foods, it nonetheless sells a wide range of groceries — from fresh lemons to luncheon meats, through frozen pizza and cleaning products, to name a few of its current ~1.5k SKUs. And a much more expansive inventory is on the way.

Yababa’s seed round is led by Creandum and Project A, with existing investor FoodLabs also participating along with a number of business angels.

While quick-commerce (or instant grocery) has been growing like a weed across Europe in recent months — driven by the shock of the pandemic switch Europeans’ food buying habits away from in-person trips to stores to (socially distant) app-based shopping; which is, in turn, exciting regional investors who are salivating at the prospect of disrupting traditional bricks-and-mortar supermarkets, hence funds falling over themselves to pour big bucks into speed-focused digital platforms like Turkey’s Getir, Spain’s Glovo, Germany’s Gorillas and the US-owned GoPuff (to name a few); the convenience play is starting to give way to more interesting market slices — catering to specific communities’ grocery needs and niches.

See, for example, the ethnic product-focused London-based Oja — whose seed round we covered last month — or the local food producer platform Membo, an Estonian startup which has bagged funding from Y Combinator to spin up a marketplace model connecting shoppers with quality local producers, to name two.

Yababa suggests such developments are a sign of market “validation” — while also arguing there’s a massive opportunity to build a leading pan-European grocery-buying platform catering for underserved multicultural communities, given what’s still a relative lack of competition. (And, btw, ‘Yababa’ is a casual greeting you’re likely to hear if you go to an Arabic supermarket in person.)

Just in case you think ‘niche’ means a market that’s too small to be significant, in Germany itself Hage points out that over a fifth of the population have a migrant background (the majority being Middle Eastern). And there are plenty of other sizeable diasporas living in countries across Western Europe — communities Yababa is gearing up to scale and serve. 

“For our investors, our stakeholders, our customers today, we’re clearly filling a massive gap,” he tells TechCrunch. “From the investors side there’s a huge opportunity — we’re one of the first players in the market today. It’s been validated in the US with companies focusing on the Asian segment.”

“As we continue expanding throughout Europe — because we see the same issue in France, in Benelux, in the UK etc — we expand into other ethnic groups,” he adds. “This is how the business model will evolve.”

As on-demand grocery delivery startups become more novel/specialist, the need for blistering speed as a differentiator is naturally dialled back. Here, convenience comes from providing the sought for products (and quality) that’s simply harder for your customers to come by through more traditional retail (or less specialist) grocery buying channels.

This in turn means platforms like Yababa can manage with maybe just one centralized warehouse per city, rather than having to pepper a location with scores of mini dark stores — because the delivery promise is typically ‘next day’ (rather than within minutes).

This means the logistics element looks easier to streamline (and sustain) vs the likes of q-commerce platforms like Gorillas et al (meaning potentially burning less investor cash). Albeit, in Yababa’s case, it’s clearly in a rush to scale in order to steal a march on other multicultural-focused newcomers and doing that requires enough resource, hence the chunky seed raise.

A slower delivery model may also mean reduced risks in relation to delivery worker conditions — i.e. because you’re not mandating inhumanly fast turnaround times. And conditions for platform workers is an area of active legislative attention in Europe; and one where q-commerce platforms like Gorillas and Glovo continue to face a smorgasbord of challenges.

“We don’t focus on speed,” confirms Hage of the grocery delivery service itself. “Basically our USP does not revolve around how fast we deliver a product. Of course we think same day is very important and we think convenience to the customer is equally important but we want to offer a service that is affordable, rather than charging customers a few euros for delivery — because we think this creates a bit of friction around the market.”

“Our model is closer — I would say — to AmazonFresh and Picnic. Where we basically allow a customer to choose a delivery slot and decide the time of delivery — and we deliver within a two hour window today,” he goes on. “Over time this will potentially decrease — into [a more] faster [service] — or we’ll offer the ability for customers who want to get their products faster to pay a delivery fee. But for now the model is closer to AmazonFresh and Picnic.”

“All the customers that we’ve spoken with — all the customers that are buying from us today — value assortment and value the quality of the products over the speed of the delivery,” he adds.

“We do own our stores, basically — it’s a dark warehouse model — nonetheless it’s larger in size than the quick commerce warehouses because we will expand our SKUs today from 1.5k to 5k. And we don’t need as many warehouses in the city as the quick commerce player.”

Despite having the relative luxury of (pretty) relaxed delivery times (vs instant grocery/q-commerce), Yababa still aims to maintain control over the delivery experience. So, while it’s sourcing delivery staff via third party companies, it takes care of their training and Hage also says it aims to hire from the same communities it’s targeting in order to provide the best fit between deliverer and customer.

Yababa’s founding team, meanwhile, brings plenty of seasoned experience to the table via past roles in on-demand food and logistics businesses.

Hage, for example, has previously worked in management positions at food delivery firm Delivery Hero and digital insurer, Wefox — including co-founding NokNok, a 10min grocery delivery company operating in the Middle East.

He also notes that he has a migrant and Middle Eastern background himself, having been born in Beirut.

Yababa co-founder Ralph Hage pictured in Berlin

Yababa co-founder Ralph Hage (Image Credits: Yababa)

Yababa’s other co-founders are also seasoned in logistics: There’s Hadi Zaklouta (also ex-Delivery Hero); Javier Gimenez (previously at e-scooter startup, Tier Mobility); and Kamel Semakieh (whose career history includes co-founding a delivery logistics platform in Lebanon).

“One of the most important things today is that no one has time to learn,” says Hage when asked what experiences the founding team is bringing with them from their prior workplaces. “You need to have people on your team that already have context. People that have done this before in the areas where they are focused today.

“So if you look at the founding team today it’s people that I’ve known and I’ve worked with in the past. So I understand exactly what their skills are, their skill-sets, how they operate and we can work very closely today — we have an element of trust and we solve problems really well together.”

With Europe’s online grocery space positively sizzlingly with investor cash and frenzied competition (not to mention a lot of consolidation), there is the question of whether Yababa is building a business for the long term — with the aim of an eventual IPO — or hoping for a quick exit to one of the convenience-focused food app giants who will likely be casting around for fresh segments to bolt on as/when the convenience growth slows?

After all, on-demand hot meals platform Delivery Hero already took a slice of Gorillas — leading its Series C round last month.

“Look, if there’s anything we know about this market — whether it’s food or groceries — is that it will lead to consolidation,” says Hage. “It’s been consolidated over the years, and this is one of the things that I did for Delivery Hero in the Middle East — I did M&A integrations for them as part of my role — and this is something that I definitely understand. And it’s part of how I position the business. But my goal in building this company is not to sell it in a year.

“This is not — from a business perspective — the most profitable or strategic decision for either our stakeholders or us as a team. A lot of hard work to build a business today and we want a brand that becomes a household name and lasts over the next 10 years.

“Whoever invests in us or whoever is interested in acquiring us — I think this is only a vote a confidence and is something that we appreciate and admire if we get to that stage. But we’re not building a company with a goal of selling it in a year. And this is not the reason why our investors wants to work with us.”

The meaty size of the seed raise is a measure of Yababa’s ambition to scale first — and scale fast, per Hage.

“There’s a few things we want to achieve with the next round. Expansion is one of them. With the fresh capital we plan to basically go beyond Germany fairly quickly — we strongly believe there is a landgrab opportunity in this business today and we want to make sure we are well positioned in the cities that make sense for us, based on where our customers and the communities we want to target are,” he says.

“We will build a network of warehouses. We want to broaden our assortment. And make sure that we not only serve the customers with products that they know and find in Germany today — but also more exciting products that they know from home that are not available in Germany. So we want to focus on making sure that we’re bringing more and more relevant products over time — identify gaps in the offering and figure out where to get them from. Because this is one of the most compelling and important part of what we do — is offering people products that they really want and they miss from home.

“And obviously scale our supply chain — from a technical perspective, operational perspective — and continue growing the team. We want to hire some of the best people in Europe today and we’re building a fantastic culture so far. And something that’s important for us to do is to make sure that we continue to have this culture of excellence that we’ve started with.”

While Yababa is obviously differentiating via the mix of products it stocks, Hage says it will also be doing more to distinguish its app experience from more vanilla/Western food shopping services — such as by localizing language content.

“There’s a few different phases for the app itself,” he says. “Today we operate similar to other food delivery or grocery delivery apps — so the experience is quite familiar. Nonetheless the plan is to localize the experience so we’re now in the process of translating to the local languages of the audiences that we’re serving. And I think this is an extremely important element in what we’re trying to build — not only on the app itself but customer service and drivers as well.”

More differentiating flavor will be incoming for the app experience too — but Hage is keeping Yababa’s plans on that front under wraps for now, saying only: “Over time we’ll build more exciting features that customers would love.”

“From a personal level I have a big connection to the product that I’m building today,” he adds. “I personally come from the Middle East — I was born in Beirut during a very difficult time, I left home super early — started working at a very young age and ever since have been moving countries over and over again. Lived in many different places and have been chasing this idea of home. So for me food has been the closest thing that I have to home — and I’ve always wanted to build a product where I can show how special [is] the food and the groceries and the different variety of cuisines in the region where I come from to the Western market. So matching those two ideas together basically, today we have Yababa.”

Put your city on the TC map — TechCrunch’s European Cities Survey 2021

TechCrunch is embarking on a major new project to survey European founders and investors in cities outside the larger European capitals.

Over the next few weeks, we will ask entrepreneurs in these cities to talk about their ecosystems, in their own words.

This is your chance to put your city on the Techcrunch Map!

This is the follow-up to the huge survey of investors (see also below) we’ve done over the last 6 or more months, largely in capital cities.

These formed part of a broader series of surveys we’re doing regularly for ExtraCrunch, our subscription service which unpacks key issues for startups and investors.

In the first wave of surveys (as you can see below) the cities we wrote about were largely capitals.

This time, we will be surveying founders and investors in Europe’s other cities to capture how European hubs are growing, from the perspective of the people on the ground.

We’d like to know how your city’s startup scene is evolving, how the tech sector is being impacted by COVID-19, and generally how your city will evolve.

We leave submissions mostly un-edited, and generally looking for at least one or two paragraphs in answers to the questions.

So if you are tech startup founder or investor in one of these cities please fill out our survey form here.

Austria: Graz, Linz
Belgium: Antwerp
Croatia: Zagreb, Osjek
Czech Republic: Brno, Ostrava, Plzen
England: Bristol, Cambridge, Oxford, Manchester
Estonia: Tartu
France: Toulouse, Lyon, Lille
Germany: Hamburg, Munich, Cologne, Bielefeld, Frankfurt
Greece: Thessaloniki
Ireland: Cork
Israel: Jerusalem
Italy: Trieste, Bologna, Turin, Florence, Milan
Netherlands: Delft, Eindhoven, Rotterdam, Utrecht
Northern Ireland: Belfast, Derry
Poland: Gdańsk, Wroclaw, Krakow, Poznan
Portugal: Porto, Braga
Romania: Cluj, Lasi, Timisoara, Oradea, Brasov
Scotland: Edinburgh, Glasgow
Spain: Valencia
Sweden: Malmo
Switzerland: Geneva, Lausanne

Thank you for participating. If you have questions you can email and/or reply on Twitter to @mikebutcher

Here are the cities that previously participated in The Great TechCrunch Survey of Europe’s VCs:











Madrid & Barcelona/Spain (Part 1 & Part 2)



Prague/Czech Republic

Rome, Milan/Italy


Tel Aviv/Israel


Warsaw/Poland (Part 1 & Part 2)


Spin scooters head to Europe, starting with Germany

Spin has launched its scooter sharing business to Germany, the first step in the U.S. company’s plans to expand to Europe.

The company, which was acquired by Ford in 2018 for about $100 million, has launched in Cologne and plans to open up in German cities Dortmund and Essen in the coming weeks. Spin said it’s also expanding its footprint in the U.S., starting with Atlanta. Other U.S. cities will follow, Spin said without providing more details. 

Spin’s Europe expansion is part of a trend that was emerging in the beginning of the year before COVID-19 upended the economy. In early 2020, it looked like Europe would become a summertime battleground for e-scooter companies. European and U.S.-based companies, including Lime, Bird, Circ, Swedish startup Voi and German startup Tier, were vying for market share. Voi was in about 40 cities in Europe and Tier had expanded to roughly 56. Amsterdam-based Dott was also in the mix. Spin announced in February plans to expand to Europe.

COVID-19 spread throughout Europe and then North America soon after, putting the brakes on micromobility. The pandemic prompted a number of scooter and bike share companies to pause operations or even pull out of cities altogether.

E-scooter startups are now coming back to Europe, where adoption rates and unit economics have been rosier than in some U.S cities.

Spin is starting with Germany in part because a recent survey conducted by the company and YouGov suggests e-scooters are poised to become a favored mode of transit in the country. Nearly 50% of those surveyed in Germany indicated they are already using or planning to use a solo transportation option for commuting to and from work and for taking trips within their immediate vicinity, Spin said.

“We are seeing heavier adoption of micromobility all around the world especially as the need for people to commute in less crowded conditions increases,” CEO and co-founder Derrick Ko said in a statement.

Spin said it plans to expand beyond Germany. The company has applied for permits in Lyon and Paris in France and submitted a proposal for rental e-scooter pilot in several U.K. cities, including Birmingham, Liverpool, London and Manchester.

Spin continued operating in some U.S. cities where it was allowed and provided free rides for healthcare workers during the pandemic. The company has resumed operations in 14 cities this month. It is now operating in 25 U.S. cities.

“Spin scooters are being used now more than ever as a utility rather than for leisurely activities,” president and co-founder Euwyn Poon said in a statement. “As public transit is cutting services, Spin is stepping in to help.”

Since April, new daily active users have increased an average 34% week over week, according to Poon. Trip duration has also increased 44%, reaching a peak of 24 minutes per trip, in May, Poon added.


Germany’s COVID-19 contacts tracing app to link to labs for test result notification

A German research institute that’s involved in developing a COVID-19 contacts tracing app with the backing of the national government has released some new details about the work which suggests the app is being designed as more of a ‘one-stop shop’ to manage coronavirus impacts at an individual level, rather than having a sole function of alerting users to potential infection risk.

Work on the German app began at the start of March, per the Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft institute, with initial funding from the Federal Ministry of Education and Research and the Federal Ministry of Health funding a feasibility study.

In a PDF published today, the research organization reveals the government-backed app will include functionality for health authorities to directly notify users about a COVID-19 test result if they’ve opted in to get results this way.

It says the system must ensure only people who test positive for the virus make their measurement data available to avoid incorrect data being inputed. For the purposes of “this validation process”, it envisages “a digital connection to the existing diagnostic laboratories is implemented in the technical implementation”.

“App users can thus voluntarily activate this notification function and thus be informed more quickly and directly about their test results,” it writes in the press release (which we’ve translated from German with Google Translate) — arguing that such direct digital notification of tests results will mean that no “valuable time” is lost to curb the spread of the virus.

Governments across Europe are scrambling to get Bluetooth-powered contacts tracing apps off the ground, with apps also in the works from a number of other countries, including the UK and France, despite ongoing questions over the efficacy of digital contacts tracing vs such an infectious virus.

The great hope is that digital tools will offer a route out of economically crippling population lockdowns by providing a way to automate at least some contacts tracing — based on widespread smartphone penetration and the use of Bluetooth-powered device proximity as a proxy for coronavirus exposure.

Preventing a new wave of infections as lockdown restrictions are lifted is the near-term goal. Although — in line with Europe’s rights frameworks — use of contacts tracing apps looks set to be voluntary across most of the region, with governments wary about being seen to impose ‘health surveillance’ on citizens, as has essentially happened in China.

However if contacts tracing apps end up larded with features that are deep linking into national health systems that raises questions about how optional their use will really be.

An earlier proposal by a German consortium of medical device manufacturers, laboratories, clinics, clinical data management systems and blockchain solution providers — proposing a blockchain-based Digital Corona Health Certificate, which was touted as being able to generate “verifiable, certified test results that can be fed into any tracing app” to cut down on false positives — claimed to have backing from the City of Cologne’s public health department, as one example of potential function creep.

In March, Der Spiegel also reported on a large-scale study being coordinated by the Helmholtz Center for Infection Research in Braunschweig, to examine antibody levels to try to determine immunity across the population. Germany’s Robert Koch Institute (RKI) was reportedly involved in that study — and has been a key operator in the national contacts tracing push.

Both RKI and the Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft institute are also involved in parallel German-led pan-EU standardization effort for COVID-19 contacts tracing apps (called PEPP-PT) that’s been the leading voice for apps to centralize proximity data with governments/health authorities, rather than storing it on users’ device and performing risk processing locally.

As we reported earlier, PEPP-PT and its government backers appear to be squaring up for a battle with Apple over iOS restrictions on Bluetooth.

PEPP-PT bases its claim of being a “privacy-preserving” standard on not backing protocols or apps that use location data or mobile phone numbers — with only arbitrary (but pseudonymized) proximity IDs shared for the purpose of tracking close encounters between devices and potential coronavirus infections.

It has claimed it’s agnostic between centralization of proximity data vs decentralization, though so far the only protocol it’s publicly committed to is a centralized one.

Yet, at the same time, regional privacy experts, the EU parliament and even the European Commission have urged national governments to practice data minimization and decentralized when it comes to COVID-19 contacts tracing in order to boost citizen trust by shrinking associated privacy risks.

If apps are voluntary citizens’ trust must be earned not assumed, is the key argument. Without substantial uptake the utility of digital contacts tracing seems doubtful.

Apple and Google have also come down on the decentralized side of this debate — outting a joint effort last week for an API and later opt-in system-wide contacts tracing. The first version of their API is slated to be in developers’ hands next week.

Meanwhile, a coalition of nearly 300 academics signed an open letter at the start of this week warning that centralized systems risked surveillance creep — voicing support for decentralized protocols, such as DP-3T: Another contact tracing protocol that’s being developed by a separate European coalition which has been highly critical of PEPP-PT.

And while PEPP-PT claimed recently to have seven governments signed up to its approach, and 40 more in the pipeline, at least two of the claimed EU supporters (Switzerland and Spain) had actually said they will use a decentralized approach.

The coalition has also been losing support from a number of key research institutions which had initially backed its push for a “privacy-preserving” standard, as controversy around its intent and lack of transparency has grown.

Nonetheless the two biggest EU economies, Germany and France, appear to be digging in behind a push to centralize proximity data — putting Apple in their sights.

Bloomberg reported earlier this week that the French government is pressurizing Apple to remove Bluetooth restrictions for its COVID-19 contacts tracing app which also relies on a ‘trusted authority’ running a central server (we’ve covered the French ROBERT protocol in detail here).

It’s possible Germany and France are sticking to their centralized guns because of wider plans to pack more into these contacts tracing apps than simply Bluetooth-powered alerts — as suggested by the Fraunhofer document.

Access to data is another likely motivator.

“Only if research can access sufficiently valid data it is possible to create forecasts that are the basis for planning further steps against are the spread of the virus,” the institute goes on. (Though, as we’ve written before, the DP-3T decentralized protocol sets out a path for users to opt in to share proximity data for research purposes.)

Another strand that’s evident from the Fraunhofer PDF is sovereignty.

“Overall, the approach is based on the conviction that the state healthcare system must have sovereignty over which criteria, risk calculations, recommendations for action and feedback are in one such system,” it writes, adding: “In order to achieve the greatest possible usability on end devices on the market, technical cooperation with the targeted operating system providers, Google and Apple, is necessary.”

Apple and Google did not respond to requests for comment on whether they will be making any changes to their API as result of French and German pressure.

Fraunhofer further notes that “full compatibility” between the German app and the centralized one being developed by French research institutes Inria and Inserm was achieved in the “past few weeks” — underlining that the two nations are leading this particular contacts tracing push.

In related news this week, Europe’s Data Protection Board (EDPB) put out guidance for developers of contacts tracing apps which stressed an EU legal principle related to processing personal data that’s known as purpose limitation — warning that apps need to have purposes “specific enough to exclude further processing for purposes unrelated to the management of the COVID-19 health crisis (e.g., commercial or law enforcement purposes)”.

Which sounds a bit like the regulator drawing a line in the sand to warn states that might be tempted to turn contacts tracing apps into coronavirus immunity passports.

The EDPB also urged that “careful consideration” be given to data minimisation and data protection by design and by default — two other key legal principles baked into Europe’s General Data Protection Regulation, albeit with some flex during a public health emergency.

However the regulatory body took a pragmatic view on the centralization vs decentralization debate — saying both approaches are “viable” in a contacts tracing context, with the key caveat that “adequate security measures” must be in place.

Ford temporarily suspends production in North American factories

Ford said Wednesday it will temporarily suspend production at its North American factories through March 30 in response to COVID-19, the disease caused by coronavirus.

“We’re continuing to work closely with union leaders, especially the United Auto Workers, to find ways to help keep our workforce healthy and safe — even as we look at solutions for continuing to provide the vehicles customers really want and need,”  Kumar Galhotra, Ford’s president of North America said in a statement. “In these unprecedented times, we’re exploring unique and creative solutions to support our workforce, customers, dealers, suppliers and communities.”

Ford said it will work with UAW on “restart” plans as well as putting in place additional protocols and procedures for helping prevent the spread of the virus. One of the top priorities is to find ways to maximize social distancing among plant workers – both during work hours and at shift change, when large numbers of people typically gather at entry and exit points and maximizing cleaning times between shift changes, Ford said.

“Today’s action is the prudent thing to do. By taking a shutdown and working through next steps, we protect UAW members, their families and the community,” said Rory Gamble, president of the UAW. “We have time to review best practices when the plants reopen, and we prevent the possible spread of this pandemic. We commend Ford for working with us and taking this bold step.”

Ford also temporarily closed its Michigan Assembly Plant building Wednesday morning after an employee tested positive for the COVID-19. The company said it is thoroughly cleaning and disinfecting the building. The plant, like the others, will halt production through March 30.

Ford’s closures in North America follows a decision to shutter factories in Cologne and Saarlouis in Germany as well as its Craiova facility in Romania. Earlier this week, Ford asked all salaried employees — except those performing business critical roles that can’t be done off site —to work remotely until further notice.

On Sunday, the UAW along with GM, Ford and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles formed a coronavirus task force to work on ways to protect worker and lessen the spread of the disease.

Ford, Daimler to suspend production at European factories due to COVID-19

Ford said Tuesday it will temporarily shutdown vehicle and engine production at its factories in Europe in response to the spread of COVID-19, a disease caused by coronavirus.

The shut down will begin Thursday and is expected to continue for a number of weeks, Ford said without providing a specific timeline. Ford said it hopes the closure will only be required for a short period, but the duration depends on a number of factors, including the spread of the coronavirus, government restrictions, supplier constraints, and the return of customers to dealerships, many of which are now closed.

Ford’s manufacturing sites in Cologne and Saarlouis in Germany, and its Craiova facility in Romania will halt production beginning Thursday. The company’s assembly and engine facility in Valencia, Spain has been closed since Monday, after three workers were confirmed with coronavirus over the past weekend.

The automaker made the decision following the World Health Organization’s designation of Europe as the new epicenter of the coronavirus epidemic.

“While the impact of coronavirus at our facilities so far has been limited thankfully, its effects on our employees, dealers, suppliers and customers, as well as European society as a whole, is unprecedented,” said Stuart Rowley, president, Ford of Europe. “Due to the dramatic impact this ongoing crisis is having on the European market and the supplier industry — together with the recent actions by countries to restrict all but essential travel and personal contact — we are temporarily halting production at our main continental Europe manufacturing sites.”

Ford said it will continue to provide essential maintenance and service across Europe.

Other automakers are also shuttering factories in Europe, including Volkswagen and Daimler. Volkswagen CEO Herbert Diess announced plans to suspend production at factories in Spain, Portugal and Italy before the end of this week. VW’s native Germany and other European countries getting ready to follow suit.

Daimler Group announced Tuesday it will suspend the majority of its production in Europe, as well as work in selected administrative departments, for an initial period of two weeks.

The suspension applies to Daimler’s car, van and commercial vehicle plants in Europe and will start this week.

Minecraft to get big lighting, shadow and color upgrades through Nvidia ray tracing

Minecraft is getting a free update that brings much-improved lighting and color to the game’s blocky graphics using real-time ray tracing running on Nvidia GeForce RTX graphics hardware. The new look is a dramatic change in the atmospherics of the game, and manages to be eerily realistic while retaining Minecraft’s pixelated charm.

The ray tracing tech will be available via a free update to the game on Windows 10 PCs, but it’ll only be accessible to players using an Nvidia GeForce RTX GPU, since that’s the only graphics hardware on the market that currently supports playing games with real-time ray tracing active.

It sounds like it’ll be an excellent addition to the experience for players who are equipped with the right hardware, however – including lighting effects not only from the sun, but also from in-game materials like glowstone and lava; both hard and soft shadows depending on transparency of material and angle of light refraction; and accurate reflections in surfaces that are supposed to be reflective (ie. gold blocks, for instance).

This is welcome news after Minecraft developer Mojang announced last week that it cancelled plans to release its Super Duper Graphics Pack, which was going to add a bunch of improved visuals to the game, because it wouldn’t work well across platforms. At the time, Mojang said it would be sharing news about graphics optimization for some platforms “very soon,” and it looks like this is what they had in mind.

Nvidia meanwhile is showing off a range of 2019 games with real-time ray tracing enabled at Gamescom 2019 in Cologne, Germany, including Dying Light 2, Cyperpunk 2077, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare and Watch Dogs: Legion.

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