Brexit-related concerns remain key for UK tech, says UK gov report

Two out of the top three challenges facing tech companies in the UK’s top two tech clusters are related to Brexit, according to a UK government-backed report, and for much of the rest of the country.

That at least is the only possible conclusion from the release today of Tech Nation 2018, the UK’s annual state of the nation’ report on the country’s tech sector. This year’s survey interviewed 3,428 people members of the UK tech community, including founders and workers in tech companies, but has been heavily spun to de-emphasise the effects of Brexit on the UK tech industry.

The report stated that the top three challenges in London and Cambridge (which contains the world-renowned ‘Silicon Fen’ tech cluster) were:

London:
1. Access to talent (which will be affected by immigration rules before and after Brexit)
2. Cost of living
3. Brexit

Cambridge’s were:
1. Cost of living
2. Access to talent (again, affected by Brexit)
3. Brexit

Outside of London, once again, two out of the top three main concerns would be affected by how immigration will play out before and after Brexit.

In the rest of the country, access to talent was cited as the most common challenge – affecting 83% of the UK’s regional tech clusters. Access a funding was a top 3 challenge in 49% of clusters and bad transport links were also cited.

Funding is clearly also Brexit-related, given that funding from the European Investment Fund has collapsed since the Brexit vote.

The European Investment Bank has slashed deals with UK VCs and private equity groups by more than two-thirds, with no equivalent funding from the UK government in sight.

The massive cut pushed the UK out of the top spot at the main recipient of EU venture funding, which is the single largest source of early-stage capital in Europe. France and Germany have now overtaken the UK as the main recipients of capital from the European Investment Bank. UK VCs have expressed concern that the loss of EIF funding will have a “significant” impact on funds.

However, you probably won’t get that impression from the way the report is being pitched to the media at a lavish launch in the centre of London today. Instead, the report is filled with heady statistics about the UK’s booming tech industry.

The report also makes absolutely no mention of the effect of the UK leaving the EU’s Digital Single Market.

Despite dampening down the effect of Brexit on the UK tech industry, the report oddly highlights that tech companies must continue to draw talent from outside the UK, even as the UK government continues to argue about what kind of Brexit it wants and has been embroiled with the Windrush immigration scandal.

The Tech Nation survey found London tech startups have the fourth most international workforce in the world, behind Singapore, Berlin and Chicago, with 54% of workers born outside the UK.

In other words, with over half of London tech workers born outside the UK, Brexit and its impact of the future immigration status of much-needed tech talent will continue to overshadow the entire issue.

The report also found that more black, Asian and ethnic minority workers are employed in London’s tech scene than across the UK in general (15% v 10%).

It will hardly be of any succour them then that a recent report by the United Nations ‘special rapporteur’ on racism found that Brexit has contributed to an environment of increased racial discrimination and intolerance. Other UK-based reports say there’s been a sharp rise in reported hate crimes since the EU referendum.

And over 1,000 young Eastern Europeans who took part in study by researchers from the universities of Strathclyde, Plymouth and Durham, found increasing levels of racism and xenophobia in their neighbourhoods since the Brexit Referendum.

Hardly the welcoming environment Britain needs to fill the many jobs in tech right now.

The rest of the Tech Nation report outlines how the UK’s large tech industry, which has benefitted from the access to talent afforded by EU membership, continues to grow. However, the report can hardly claim independence from government since it was launched and backed by HMG’s Digital Secretary Matt Hancock.

The report’s further claims, which are not independently verified, include:

  • The UK was in the top three countries in the world for total capital invested in digital tech companies in 2017, behind the US and China.
  • UK tech companies have more foreign customers than companies in Silicon Valley. In London, 33% of tech company customers are based outside the UK, compared to 30% in Silicon Valley and 7% in Beijing.
  • Digital tech companies in London are “the most connected in Europe”, second only to Silicon Valley for international connections. Twenty-five per cent of entrepreneurs across the world report having a significant relationship with two or more entrepreneurs in London, compared to 33% for Silicon Valley.
  • London tech startups have the fourth most international workforce in the world, behind Singapore, Berlin and Chicago, with 54% of workers born outside the UK.
  • Tech communities across the UK are “highly optimistic” about the growth prospects for digital tech companies in their local area, both in terms of scale and number of businesses
  • Tech is expanding 2.6x faster than the rest of the UK economy
  • Turnover of digital tech companies grew by 4.5% between 2016-17 compared to UK GDP which grew by 1.7% over the same period
  • Digital tech sector worth nearly £184bn to UK economy, up from £170bn in 2016

Zuckerberg will meet with European parliament in private next week

Who says privacy is dead? Facebook’s founder Mark Zuckerberg has agreed to take European parliamentarians’ questions about how his platform impacts the privacy of hundreds of millions of European citizens — but only behind closed doors. Where no one except a handful of carefully chosen MEPs will bear witness to what’s said.

The private meeting will take place on May 22 at 17.45CET in Brussels. After which the president of the European Parliament, Antonio Tajani, will hold a press conference to furnish the media with his version of events.

It’s just a shame that journalists are being blocked from being able to report on what actually goes on in the room.

And that members of the public won’t be able to form their own opinions about how Facebook’s founder responds to pressing questions about what Zuckerberg’s platform is doing to their privacy and their fundamental rights.

Because the doors are being closed to journalists and citizens.

Even the intended contents of the meeting is been glossed over in public — with the purpose of the chat being vaguely couched as “to clarify issues related to the use of personal data” in a statement by Tajani (below).

The impact of Facebook’s platform on “electoral processes in Europe” is the only discussion point that’s specifically flagged.

Given Zuckerberg has thrice denied requests from UK lawmakers to take questions about his platform in a public hearing we can only assume the company made the CEO’s appearance in front of EU parliamentarians conditional on the meeting being closed.

Zuckerberg did agree to public sessions with US lawmakers last month, following a major global privacy scandal related to user data and political ad targeting.

But evidently the company’s sense of accountability doesn’t travel very far. (Despite a set of ‘privacy principles’ that Facebook published with great fanfare at the start of the year — one of which reads: ‘We are accountable’. Albeit Facebook didn’t specify to who or what exactly Facebook feels accountable.)

We’ve reached out to Facebook to ask why Zuckerberg will not take European parliamentarians questions in a public hearing. And indeed whether Mark can find the time to hop on a train to London afterwards to testify before the DCMS committee’s enquiry into online disinformation — and will update this story with any response.

As Vera Jourova, the European commissioner for justice and consumers, put it in a tweet, it’s a pity the Facebook founder does not believe all Europeans deserve to know how their data is handled by his company. Just a select few, holding positions of elected office.

A pity or, well, a shame.

Safe to say, not all MEPs are happy with the arrangement…

But let’s at least be thankful that Zuckerberg has shown us, once again, how very much privacy matters — to him personally

Monzo, the U.K. challenger bank, finally rolls out Apple Pay

Monzo, the U.K. challenger bank, has finally added Apple Pay to its mobile-only current account. The just over three year-old fintech says it has been one of the most requested features for its banking app, with over 2,000 mentions of Apple Pay on Monzo’s forum, whilst its customer support team have been asked about the functionality more than 13,000 times. In other words, the rollout can’t come soon enough. Noteworthy, Monzo was able to add Google Pay all the way back in October 2017.

Meanwhile, many of its passionate and vocal users will be wondering what took Monzo so long (as an aside, rival challenger Starling was able to add Apple Pay in July 2017). The upstart bank, which usually makes a virtue of its community-driven approach and transparency hasn’t been able to say (or even fully acknowledge that the feature was coming), likely because Apple imposes strict rules on the ways its partners communicate working with the tech giant. And when you sign an NDA with Apple it’s not untypical for it to stipulate that you don’t talk about said NDA.

What we do know is that — similar to Apple’s iOS App Store when submitting an app — the Apple Pay approval process for a new bank partner is not for the faint-hearted. Industry insiders tell me that Google Pay has less hurdles to jump in comparison.

Now that the feature is live, Monzo is talking up the security and privacy aspect of using Apple Pay, noting that when you use a credit or debit card with Apple Pay, the actual card numbers are not stored on the device, nor on Apple servers. Instead, “a unique Device Account Number is assigned, encrypted and securely stored in the Secure Element on your device… [and] each transaction is authorised with a one-time unique dynamic security code”.

Of course, most people simply like Apple Pay for its convenience, letting you use your phone to pay rather than fumbling for a debit or credit card, and when shopping online not having to repeatedly enter card details.

Cue Monzo’s Tom Blomfield waxing lyrical in a company statement about Apple’s design and UX. “Apple is famous for building beautiful products with simple, intuitive interfaces. Their design thinking has long been a source of inspiration for us. Monzo’s mission has alway been to make sure everyone can use and manage their money effortlessly, and with Apple Pay we are one step closer to achieving that,” says the challenger bank’s co-founder and CEO.

Bossa Studios launches Worlds Adrift, the first game built on Improbable’s SpatialOS

Bossa Studios, the London gaming startup backed by Atomico and behind popular titles ‘Surgeon Simulator’ and ‘I am Bread’, is embarking on its biggest and most ambitious project yet.

Described as a “Community-Crafted MMO,” where players have literally co-built the game’s environment and will continue to do so, Worlds Adrift sees its wider public outing today via the Steam Early Access program.

The new game, which has been three years in the making and was born out of a Bossa Studios “game jam,” akin to the kinds of internal ‘hackathons’ many startups routinely hold, is attempting to pull off a number of firsts.

For starters (and probably most noteworthy to TechCrunch readers), it is the debut game to be built on top of Improbable’s SpacialOS, the cloud-based platform for creating games and other virtual environments that need to go beyond the limitations of traditional server architectures.

Improbable raised a whopping $502 million last May from Softbank and existing investors at a $1 billion-plus valuation, and so — inadvertently, at least — likely has quite a lot riding on Worlds Adrift.

For the Bossa Studios team, the stakes are even higher. Improbable’s tech isn’t exactly proven and, in comparison, Bossa Studios is a smaller and much less well-funded startup attempting to punch way above its weight, even if the team has a lot of gaming industry pedigree.

In a video call with two of its founders, Roberta Lucca and Henrique Olifiers, they were visibly excited by the launch but conceded a large amount of pre-launch nerves. When the Worlds Adrift concept was first conceived during that soon-to-be infamous game jam several years ago, it was indefinitely put on hold due to being far too ambitious per the size of the company.

A chance meeting with Improbable some time later — where I’m told the two young companies were introduced somewhat serendipitously through having the same PR agency — it became clear that it might just be possible. In the coming weeks and months, Bossa Studios will find out if that bet, which meant redirecting all of the startup’s resources into by far its largest undertaking, has likely paid off.

The other first, explained Lucca and Olifiers, is the sheer open-ended, community-driven and ‘persistent’ scale of the game. Tapping into the ‘makers’ trend, early testers of Worlds Adrift have shaped the game itself via Bossa’s Island Creator tool. This has seen 10,000 designs submitted, and Worlds Adrift is launching with 300 ‘floating islands,’ nearly all of which have been created by the community rather than Bossa Studios staff.

Related to this and enabled by the scalable nature of SpacialOS, every aspect of Worlds Adrift is ‘persistent,’ meaning that an object’s current physical status persists in realtime, relative to how or when it was last interacted with, either by a player or the game’s own persistent physics. If, for example, a ship is blown up and its pieces scattered across the ground, it will remain that way indefinitely unless another player, object or the environment it resides in disturbs it.

In addition, the employment of SpacialOS means that players don’t need to be segregated into cohorts based on region and/or distance to a specific set of servers and instead can all play in the same world and at the same time.

“Every player globally will be able to interact with each other and every action by every player will have a lasting impact and be visible to every other player inside the game forever,” is how Bossa Studios explains it.

At scale, opened-ended, and with player versus player gameplay increasing exponentially as the Worlds Adrift launch ramps up, even its makers aren’t sure how these dynamics will play out.

“Offering an entirely user-generated environment, with a completely unscripted style of play, the sheer scale of its scope, and beauty of its design, is an invitation to experiment. Bound only by the laws of physics, the sky truly is the limit,” reads the game’s blurb.

On that note, I wasn’t able to play the game — yet — namely because it runs on Windows and I only have access to a Mac. However, Bossa have kindly invited me to their next game jam and to spend some time up close with Worlds Adrift and its makers. If I’m to join in on the jam, I’m ready to pitch my idea for an adventure game starring a guy in a wheelchair wearing a hat who has to navigate a dystopian future rife with inaccessibility, bureaucracy and government cuts, all the while holding down a job as a tech journalist-cum-private investigator. I think it could be a hit.

Facebook faces fresh criticism over ad targeting of sensitive interests

Is Facebook trampling over laws that regulate the processing of sensitive categories of personal data by failing to ask people for their explicit consent before it makes sensitive inferences about their sex life, religion or political beliefs? Or is the company merely treading uncomfortably and unethically close to the line of the law?

An investigation by the Guardian and the Danish Broadcasting Corporation has found that Facebook’s platform allows advertisers to target users based on interests related to political beliefs, sexuality and religion — all categories that are marked out as sensitive information under current European data protection law.

And indeed under the incoming GDPR, which will apply across the bloc from May 25.

The joint investigation found Facebook’s platform had made sensitive inferences about users — allowing advertisers to target people based on inferred interests including communism, social democrats, Hinduism and Christianity. All of which would be classed as sensitive personal data under EU rules.

And while the platform offers some constraints on how advertisers can target people against sensitive interests — not allowing advertisers to exclude users based on a specific sensitive interest, for example (Facebook having previously run into trouble in the US for enabling discrimination via ethnic affinity-based targeting) — such controls are beside the point if you take the view that Facebook is legally required to ask for a user’s explicit consent to processing this kind of sensitive data up front, before making any inferences about a person.

Indeed, it’s very unlikely that any ad platform can put people into buckets with sensitive labels like ‘interested in social democrat issues’ or ‘likes communist pages’ or ‘attends gay events’ without asking them to let it do so first.

And Facebook is not asking first.

Facebook argues otherwise, of course — claiming that the information it gathers about people’s affinities/interests, even when they entail sensitive categories of information such as sexuality and religion, is not personal data.

In a response statement to the media investigation, a Facebook spokesperson told us:

Like other Internet companies, Facebook shows ads based on topics we think people might be interested in, but without using sensitive personal data. This means that someone could have an ad interest listed as ‘Gay Pride’ because they have liked a Pride associated Page or clicked a Pride ad, but it does not reflect any personal characteristics such as gender or sexuality. People are able to manage their Ad Preferences tool, which clearly explains how advertising works on Facebook and provides a way to tell us if you want to see ads based on specific interests or not. When interests are removed, we show people the list of removed interests so that they have a record they can access, but these interests are no longer used for ads. Our advertising complies with relevant EU law and, like other companies, we are preparing for the GDPR to ensure we are compliant when it comes into force.

Expect Facebook’s argument to be tested in the courts — likely in the very near future.

As we’ve said before, the GDPR lawsuits are coming for the company, thanks to beefed up enforcement of EU privacy rules, with the regulation providing for fines as large as 4% of a company’s global turnover.

Facebook is not the only online people profiler, of course, but it’s a prime target for strategic litigation both because of its massive size and reach (and the resulting power over web users flowing from a dominant position in an attention-dominating category), but also on account of its nose-thumbing attitude to compliance with EU regulations thus far.

The company has faced a number of challenges and sanctions under existing EU privacy law — though for its operations outside the US it typically refuses to recognize any legal jurisdiction except corporate-friendly Ireland, where its international HQ is based.

And, from what we’ve seen so far, Facebook’s response to GDPR ‘compliance’ is no new leaf. Rather it looks like privacy-hostile business as usual; a continued attempt to leverage its size and power to force a self-serving interpretation of the law — bending rules to fit its existing business processes, rather than reconfiguring those processes to comply with the law.

The GDPR is one of the reasons why Facebook’s ad microtargeting empire is facing greater scrutiny now, with just weeks to go before civil society organizations are able to take advantage of fresh opportunities for strategic litigation allowed by the regulation.

“I’m a big fan of the GDPR. I really believe that it gives us — as the court in Strasbourg would say — effective and practical remedies,” law professor Mireille Hildebrandt tells us. “If we go and do it, of course. So we need a lot of public litigation, a lot of court cases to make the GDPR work but… I think there are more people moving into this.

“The GDPR created a market for these sort of law firms — and I think that’s excellent.”

But it’s not the only reason. Another reason why Facebook’s handling of personal data is attracting attention is the result of tenacious press investigations into how one controversial political consultancy, Cambridge Analytica, was able to gain such freewheeling access to Facebook users’ data — as a result of Facebook’s lax platform policies around data access — for, in that instance, political ad targeting purposes.

All of which eventually blew up into a major global privacy storm, this March, though criticism of Facebook’s privacy-hostile platform policies dates back more than a decade at this stage.

The Cambridge Analytica scandal at least brought Facebook CEO and founder Mark Zuckerberg in front of US lawmakers, facing questions about the extent of the personal information it gathers; what controls it offers users over their data; and how he thinks Internet companies should be regulated, to name a few. (Pro tip for politicians: You don’t need to ask companies how they’d like to be regulated.)

The Facebook founder has also finally agreed to meet EU lawmakers — though UK lawmakers’ calls have been ignored.

Zuckerberg should expect to be questioned very closely in Brussels about how his platform is impacting European’s fundamental rights.

Sensitive personal data needs explicit consent

Facebook infers affinities linked to individual users by collecting and processing interest signals their web activity generates, such as likes on Facebook Pages or what people look at when they’re browsing outside Facebook — off-site intel it gathers via an extensive network of social plug-ins and tracking pixels embedded on third party websites. (According to information released by Facebook to the UK parliament this week, during just one week of April this year its Like button appeared on 8.4M websites; the Share button appeared on 931,000 websites; and its tracking Pixels were running on 2.2M websites.)

But here’s the thing: Both the current and the incoming EU legal framework for data protection sets the bar for consent to processing so-called special category data equally high — at “explicit” consent.

What that means in practice is Facebook needs to seek and secure separate consents from users (such as via a dedicated pop-up) for collecting and processing this type of sensitive data.

The alternative is for it to rely on another special condition for processing this type of sensitive data. However the other conditions are pretty tightly drawn — relating to things like the public interest; or the vital interests of a data subject; or for purposes of “preventive or occupational medicine”.

None of which would appear to apply if, as Facebook is, you’re processing people’s sensitive personal information just to target them with ads.

Ahead of GDPR, Facebook has started asking users who have chosen to display political opinions and/or sexuality information on their profiles to explicitly consent to that data being public.

Though even there its actions are problematic, as it offers users a take it or leave it style ‘choice’ — saying they either remove the info entirely or leave it and therefore agree that Facebook can use it to target them with ads.

Yet EU law also requires that consent be freely given. It cannot be conditional on the provision of a service.

So Facebook’s bundling of service provisions and consent will also likely face legal challenges, as we’ve written before.

“They’ve tangled the use of their network for socialising with the profiling of users for advertising. Those are separate purposes. You can’t tangle them like they are doing in the GDPR,” says Michael Veale, a technology policy researcher at University College London, emphasizing that GDPR allows for a third option that Facebook isn’t offering users: Allowing them to keep sensitive data on their profile but that data not be used for targeted advertising.

“Facebook, I believe, is quite afraid of this third option,” he continues. “It goes back to the Congressional hearing: Zuckerberg said a lot that you can choose which of your friends every post can be shared with, through a little in-line button. But there’s no option there that says ‘do not share this with Facebook for the purposes of analysis’.”

Returning to how the company synthesizes sensitive personal affinities from Facebook users’ Likes and wider web browsing activity, Veale argues that EU law also does not recognize the kind of distinction Facebook is seeking to draw — i.e. between inferred affinities and personal data — and thus to try to redraw the law in its favor.

“Facebook say that the data is not correct, or self-declared, and therefore these provisions do not apply. Data does not have to be correct or accurate to be personal data under European law, and trigger the protections. Indeed, that’s why there is a ‘right to rectification’ — because incorrect data is not the exception but the norm,” he tells us.

“At the crux of Facebook’s challenge is that they are inferring what is arguably “special category” data (Article 9, GDPR) from non-special category data. In European law, this data includes race, sexuality, data about health, biometric data for the purposes of identification, and political opinions. One of the first things to note is that European law does not govern collection and use as distinct activities: Both are considered processing.

“The pan-European group of data protection regulators have recently confirmed in guidance that when you infer special category data, it is as if you collected it. For this to be lawful, you need a special reason, which for most companies is restricted to separate, explicit consent. This will be often different than the lawful basis for processing the personal data you used for inference, which might well be ‘legitimate interests’, which didn’t require consent. That’s ruled out if you’re processing one of these special categories.”

“The regulators even specifically give Facebook like inference as an example of inferring special category data, so there is little wiggle room here,” he adds, pointing to an example used by regulators of a study that combined Facebook Like data with “limited survey information” — and from which it was found that researchers could accurately predict a male user’s sexual orientation 88% of the time; a user’s ethnic origin 95% of the time; and whether a user was Christian or Muslim 82% of the time.

Which underlines why these rules exist — given the clear risk of breaches to human rights if big data platforms can just suck up sensitive personal data automatically, as a background process.

The overarching aim of GDPR is to give consumers greater control over their personal data not just to help people defend their rights but to foster greater trust in online services — and for that trust to be a mechanism for greasing the wheels of digital business. Which is pretty much the opposite approach to sucking up everything in the background and hoping your users don’t realize what you’re doing.

Veale also points out that under current EU law even an opinion on someone is their personal data… (per this Article 29 Working Party guidance, emphasis ours):

From the point of view of the nature of the information, the concept of personal data includes any sort of statements about a person. It covers “objective” information, such as the presence of a certain substance in one’s blood. It also includes “subjective” information, opinions or assessments. This latter sort of statements make up a considerable share of personal data processing in sectors such as banking, for the assessment of the reliability of borrowers (“Titius is a reliable borrower”), in insurance (“Titius is not expected to die soon”) or in employment (“Titius is a good worker and merits promotion”).

We put that specific point to Facebook — but at the time of writing we’re still waiting for a response. (Nor would Facebook provide a public response to several other questions we asked around what it’s doing here, preferring to limit its comment to the statement at the top of this post.)

Veale adds that the WP29 guidance has been upheld in recent CJEU cases such as Nowak — which he says emphasized that, for example, annotations on the side of an exam script are personal data.

He’s clear about what Facebook should be doing to comply with the law: “They should be asking for individuals’ explicit, separate consent for them to infer data including race, sexuality, health or political opinions. If people say no, they should be able to continue using Facebook as normal without these inferences being made on the back-end.”

“They need to tell individuals about what they are doing clearly and in plain language,” he adds. “Political opinions are just as protected here, and this is perhaps more interesting than race or sexuality.”

“They certainly should face legal challenges under the GDPR,” agrees Paul Bernal, senior lecturer in law at the University of East Anglia, who is also critical of how Facebook is processing sensitive personal information. “The affinity concept seems to be a pretty transparent attempt to avoid legal challenges, and one that ought to fail. The question is whether the regulators have the guts to make the point: It undermines a quite significant part of Facebook’s approach.”

“I think the reason they’re pushing this is that they think they’ll get away with it, partly because they think they’ve persuaded people that the problem is Cambridge Analytica, as rogues, rather than Facebook, as enablers and supporters. We need to be very clear about this: Cambridge Analytica are the symptom, Facebook is the disease,” he adds.

“I should also say, I think the distinction between ‘targeting’ being OK and ‘excluding’ not being OK is also mostly Facebook playing games, and trying to have their cake and eat it. It just invites gaming of the systems really.”

Facebook claims its core product is social media, rather than data-mining people to run a highly lucrative microtargeted advertising platform.

But if that’s true why then is it tangling its core social functions with its ad-targeting apparatus — and telling people they can’t have a social service unless they agree to interest-based advertising?

It could support a service with other types of advertising, which don’t depend on background surveillance that erodes users’ fundamental rights.  But it’s choosing not to offer that. All you can ‘choose’ is all or nothing. Not much of a choice.

Facebook telling people that if they want to opt out of its ad targeting they must delete their account is neither a route to obtain meaningful (and therefore lawful) consent — nor a very compelling approach to counter criticism that its real business is farming people.

The issues at stake here for Facebook, and for the shadowy background data-mining and brokering of the online ad targeting industry as a whole, are clearly far greater than any one data misuse scandal or any one category of sensitive data. But Facebook’s decision to retain people’s sensitive personal data for ad targeting without asking for consent up-front is a telling sign of something gone very wrong indeed.

If Facebook doesn’t feel confident asking its users whether what it’s doing with their personal data is okay or not, maybe it shouldn’t be doing it in the first place.

At very least it’s a failure of ethics. Even if the final judgement on Facebook’s self-serving interpretation of EU privacy rules will have to wait for the courts to decide.

OpenClassrooms raises another $60 million

French startup OpenClassrooms is raising $60 million from General Atlantic, with existing investors Citizen Capital, Alven and Bpifrance also participating.

OpenClassrooms is the most popular massive open online course platform in France. But the startup has evolved beyond on-demand courses to provide full-fledged degrees. You can now get a degree certified by the French state by studying full time on OpenClassrooms.

Every month, 3 million users access OpenClassrooms. Many of them just want to learn something and maybe get a certification. But more and more people are following one of the 30 bachelor and master degrees. You can study many things from web and mobile development to data management and marketing.

But OpenClassrooms isn’t just leaving you with a big pile of courses to study. The company has created a community of mentors who will regularly check with you to see how you’re doing. There are 600 mentors working for OpenClassrooms.

These paths aren’t cheap as you’ll need to pay around €300 per month ($350). But it’s still cheaper and more flexible than attending a traditional engineering school right after the baccalauréat. For instance, if you want to work on the side and live in a cheap city, you can do that as you just need a computer and an internet connection.

The company will even guarantee that you’ll find a job after that. If you can’t find a job within six months, OpenClassrooms will pay you back for the degree.

And OpenClassrooms recently unveiled the next step. As OpenClassrooms students easily find a job after getting a degree, the startup started working with companies directly.

IT service company Capgemini is always looking for new people as there’s usually a high turnover in IT service companies. That’s why Capgemini is hiring trainees with OpenClassrooms.

Students learn a new skill and then work part time for Capgemini. OpenClassrooms charges Capgemini directly, students don’t have to pay for their studies and get a job instantly. It’s a win for everyone.

When I first learned about this program, I thought OpenClassrooms had finally found a highly profitable business model. Now, the company has signed deals with Orange and Google.org.

With today’s funding round, the team is going to double in size. “Within a year, OpenClassrooms will provide a hundred digital degrees, including a third of them in English,” co-founder and CEO Pierre Dubuc told me.

Many will focus on digital skills, such as data science, computer science and cybersecurity. But there will also be non-technical degrees around HR, management, accounting, marketing and communication. OpenClassrooms could end up becoming one of the biggest universities in the world.

Deliveroo employees are getting shares, riders are getting nothing

Food delivery startup Deliveroo is feeling generous today. The company is handing out equity to all full-time staff members. In other words, 2,000 employees are going to receive the equivalent of $13.5 million in Deliveroo shares.

“Our phenomenal growth and success has been made possible thanks to the hard work, commitment and passion of the people who make this company what it is,” co-founder and CEO Will Shu told Reuters. “And that deserves recognition which is why I want all employees to be owners in Deliveroo and to have a real stake in the company’s future as we expand and grow.”

This is a great way to prove that you care about your employees. And yet, there are a few caveats.

First, the company is currently worth over $2 billion. In total, Deliveroo is just handing out 0.675 percent of the company to its employees. I’m sure plenty of early employees already have equity.

But those who joined more recently aren’t likely to get rich over this — it represents a $6,750 equity bonus per employee on average. And shares usually vest after a certain amount of time.

Second, this is the perfect example of the gig economy. In addition to the usual benefits, full-time employees are getting rewarded once again. If you’re a self-employed rider, Deliveroo doesn’t want to thank you.

Arguably, Deliveroo still thinks that riders are disposable. They might be the ones who pick up food in restaurants and hand it to customers, but they will never be full-time employees.

Sure, Deliveroo and Uber Eats are now providing free accident insurance coverage, but it mostly covers hospital bills. Riders have been asking for better rights, and this insurance package is just a good way to ease the pressure.

Working with contractors at scale is the backbone of Uber, Deliveroo and many other on-demand startups. This way, startups don’t have to pay the minimum wage or expensive benefits. Startups can also terminate their relationships with their ‘partners’ without any consequence.

It’s a great way to pressure your contractors in working more for less money. And today’s move by Deliveroo is further proof that riders are just an afterthought.

Jeremy Corbyn mocks Theresa May over Brexit divisions in cabinet

Labour leader presses PM at question time for details of plan for customs deal with EU

Jeremy Corbyn has accused the government of being “in complete disarray” over its Brexit negotiations, using prime minister’s questions to warn that delays and uncertainty caused by cabinet divisions were risking jobs and investment.

Focusing on Brexit for a second consecutive week, the Labour leader lambasted Theresa May for being unable even to unite her ministers around a common plan, leaving her hopelessly exposed when it comes to talks with the EU.

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