I have got a new doorbell. It’s brilliant. It should be; it cost £89. It’s a Ring video doorbell; you’ll have seen them around. There are others available, made by other companies, with other four-letter names such as Nest and Arlo. When someone rings my doorbell, I’m alerted on my smartphone. I can see who is there, and speak to them.
My phone is ringing! C major first inversion chord, arpeggiated, repeated, for the musically trained – you’ll recognise it if you’ve heard it. It’s a delivery. Amazon, as it happens; Amazon acquired Ring in 2018, reportedly for more than $1bn.
“Hi, Amazon guy, I’m not in… I mean, I’m upstairs.” I’m not, but I don’t want him – or anyone else – to know that. “Could you leave it behind the bins, please?”
Visitors don’t even have to ring the bell. I can set it to alert me when there is motion up to nine metres away from the door. Or I can just open the app on my phone and get a live feed of the street. “A lot happens at your front door,” says Ring in its marketing spiel.
Something happened at Luke Exelby’s front door. Luke, a lorry driver, was at home in Dunstable, Bedfordshire, watching telly in bed with his wife at about one in the morning (he works nights and keeps unconventional hours). A notification on his phone went off, alerting him that there was something moving at the front door.
“I looked at it, and I saw a man was trying to get into our porch,” he tells me. Was he scared? “I’m quite a big bloke – I know that sounds a bit knobbish,” he laughs. “And to be honest he looked really old.” So Luke went downstairs. But by the time he got there, the man had scarpered.
In the morning Luke contacted the police, who sent round a forensics team. They told him there had been a couple of burglaries in the neighbourhood. Luke, who is signed up to a Ring Protect plan (from £2.50 a month), which allows him to save footage captured by his doorbell, shared his with the police. “Because we got a picture of the person’s face, and exactly where he put his hands on the door, they had his fingerprints. They could link his face and his fingerprints to the burglaries around the corner. They caught him straight away.”
Look on YouTube and you can find hours of footage captured by video doorbell cameras: attempted burglaries, package thefts, as well as some more bizarre episodes – weirdos, doorbell-lickers, even bears poking about (that was in California). A friend of a friend has a clip of a man having a poo on his neighbour’s doorstep. In the eight years since the Ring doorbell was invented (originally as Doorbot in 2013; its founder Jamie Siminoff appeared on Shark Tank, the American version of Dragons’ Den), it has evolved from a doorbell that replicates the “caller ID” on your phone into a self-installed global CCTV network. The millions of cameras around the world have not only provided the internet with a new genre of viral video, but fuelled the message boards of Neighbourhood Watch-style apps and groups.
Perhaps, most notably, it has even become a crime-solving tool: the last footage of Sarah Everard alive, before she was abducted while walking home in south London, was captured on a video doorbell. What seemed like a practical bit of kit has evolved far beyond its original scope. What next?
The police are certainly pleased about it. Det Supt Andy Smith of Suffolk constabulary first became aware of the benefits of this technology back in 2017. “One of Suffolk’s most prolific burglars was caught attempting to break into a residential property,” he tells me. “The occupier was away, but her doorbell system activated on her phone and she could see the individual trying to get in through the front door.”
She called the police, and they picked him up a couple of days later. The doorbell footage was instrumental, first in the police being alerted and, Smith says, “it actually recorded with some clarity the offence taking place. It was unequivocal evidence, very good facial capture.” The man pleaded guilty, and got a custodial sentence.
It inspired a collaboration: Ring gave Suffolk constabulary a number of doorbells to hand out in areas of higher crime. Smith says they have seen tangible results, and the scheme has been useful in tackling not just burglary, but also domestic violence, antisocial behaviour, car crime. He describes it as “a massive benefit in terms of fighting crime. I would encourage any member of the public to think about this or similar technology.” Ring have since handed out free or discounted doorbells to several other police forces, including Leicestershire, Humberside and Hertfordshire. In Wiltshire, residents with video doorbells are being asked to register on a police database.
Smith tells me about a couple of other incidents where a video doorbell camera has helped secure a conviction. A 45-year-old man from Lowestoft was caught on camera and subsequently jailed for attempted burglary. And a 40-year-old man, also from Lowestoft (is Lowestoft is the crime capital of Britain?) was convicted of the same offence with Ring’s help.
Smith says his force is using doorbell footage more and more often. “It features heavily in terms of house-to-house inquiries. If we have a major crime, then we will scope a particular area out.” This is happening in high-profile cases, too – police appealing to the public to check the footage on their doorbell cameras, or their car dashcams, to help their investigations.
In January this year, Corey Rice, 19, pleaded guilty at Sheffield Crown Court to wounding, attempted robbery and possession of a blade. While trying to steal a gold bracelet, he stabbed its owner twice on his own doorstep in Rotherham. The man’s girlfriend managed to get him into the house, covered in blood and struggling to breathe. He was taken to hospital where his chest was drained and his lung re-expanded. He survived. The incident was captured on their Ring doorbell.
Prosecutor Conor Quinn thinks the footage, which was presented to Rice’s legal team, played a big part in Rice’s decision to plead guilty. “Without it he may well have had a trial,” Quinn tells me. And who knows how that would have gone, “where you’ve got one person’s word against another. The footage was instrumental in supporting the complainant’s version of the incident.” Had Rice pleaded not guilty, Quinn says he would have played the footage in court. Rice was sentenced to seven years in prison.
I am already feeling more secure since I got my new doorbell. It’s as though I’m always at home (forget the fact that, thanks to the pandemic, I basically am always at home). Phone alert, ding ding ding. Here we go again. Not a ring at the bell this time, just motion near the door. And it’s only my girlfriend, coming home. Wonder why, at this time. I’ll ask her. “Hey!”
She jumps. “Fuck off, creepy talking doorbell spy,” she says, and goes inside, slamming the door, before I get the chance to ask her. I love my girlfriend, she’s such a luddite when it comes to new technology. Apologies for her language. Actually, why is she home, I wonder? I’m sure she said she was going to be out all day today. Maybe I’ll just keep it on live view for a while, then give her another little surprise when she comes out again.
It’s fun, watching out from my own front door, when I’m not there. There goes the bus – driver not wearing a mask, maybe I’ll report him? And that black cat, on the scrounge for food… Oh, and now doing a poo, not on the doorstep, like the horrible man on my friend’s friend’s neighbour’s, but in our raised bed, right on the radishes. And Paul over the road, off to work. Late start today, Paul.
Who are these two, at my door, ringing the bell? Jehovah’s Witnesses, perhaps? I’m not sure I like the look of them, to be honest – it’s probably just because I’ve never seen them before. I could save the footage and share it with my neighbours. Have you seen these two, do you know who they are, or what they’re up to? Posts like these are rife on neighbourhood sites such as Nextdoor, or on local WhatsApp or Facebook groups, increasingly popular since we all started spending so much time at home.
In the US, Ring has an app of its own, called Neighbors, which lets people share, view and comment on crime and security information in their communities. It’s not available in the UK at the moment, and Ring won’t say whether it’s going to be. But the company has filed a patent for creating a “suspicious persons” database, using images taken by the doorbells. The machines currently don’t have facial recognition capabilities, unlike some rival products such as Google Nest.
More than 2,000 US police and fire departments have partnered with Ring. This allows them to contact users in a particular area and ask them to provide footage from the app to help with an investigation. In 2020, requests for footage were made relating to 22,335 incidents. Some police departments have offered discounted or free Ring doorbells in exchange for a promise to register them with law enforcement and submit requested footage.
But, in contrast to the experience of Suffolk constabulary’s Smith, US media reports have disputed Ring’s crime-busting effectiveness. In spite of some high-profile cases where a doorbell captured footage of a crime (the kidnapping of an eight-year-old girl in Fort Worth, for example), an investigation by NBC News found that there was little evidence of Ring leading to arrests or reducing crime overall. Rather, police were spending a lot of time reviewing footage of raccoons.
Ring says it doesn’t have any formal partnerships with police forces in the UK. “Police forces do not have access to Ring customers’ devices, recorded videos or live streams,” a spokesperson told me. “Police in the UK only have access to customers’ video recordings if a customer chooses to download and share them. Customers are in total control of the information they choose to share.”
They wouldn’t tell me how many Ring doorbells they’ve sold in the UK or in the world, but in various official communications they have referred to “millions”. In my road, roughly a quarter of doorbells are now video doorbells. In Luke Exelby’s street in Dunstable, it’s about half, he says.
Not everyone is thrilled about this. Silkie Carlo of civil liberties organisation Big Brother Watch has concerns about who else might be watching. She points towards reporting by The Intercept in 2019 which found Ring customer video feeds had been accessible, unencrypted, to the company’s Ukraine-based research and development team.
Carlo says it’s about data collection. “That’s the purpose of these devices; we’re really just on the precipice of this as an issue.” You buy the device, sign up to the plan, “then you’re in this data-sharing, cloud storage relationship with them, paying monthly fees. Their ability to be in your home, in your domestic environment, is hugely profitable, probably more so than the product.”
Mariano delli Santi, legal and policy officer at digital campaigning organisation Open Rights Group, says it’s part of a fundamental shift in the very nature of the internet. “The internet didn’t used to be a place where people were surveilled. Do you remember a cartoon of a dog surfing the internet, which says: on the internet, nobody knows you’re a dog? That’s what it used to be like.”
His example of how far it has come from that, and everyone (and his dog, presumably) knowing you’re a dog? “The United States surveillance programmes that were covered extensively by your newspaper.” He’s talking about the NSA files, as revealed by Edward Snowden in 2013. “The government realised that corporations had a huge pool of data about what people were conducting online. And they could just access that with data access requests.”
He’s not saying the same is going on with footage from video doorbells, only that it could. And that a network of cameras provided by the same company can be – and has been – abused. “It was abused, for example, during Black Lives Matter protests [in California in 2020]: police authorities in the US sent requests to owners of Ring doorbells to identify the people who were protesting.”
This kind of technology can promote racial profiling. In the US in 2019, Vice looked at more than 100 videos posted on the Neighbors app over a two‑month period, and found that the majority of people reported as “suspicious” were people of colour. In the same year, US Democratic senator Edward Markey wrote to Amazon chief executive Jeff Bezos raising concerns that collaborations between Ring and law enforcement could disproportionately affect minorities. He said sharing footage with police “could easily create a surveillance network that places dangerous burdens on people of colour” and fuel “racial anxieties”. More than 30 civil rights organisations wrote an open letter calling on US government officials to end Amazon Ring’s police partnerships.
Chris Gilliard, an expert in privacy and surveillance, as well as a professor of English at Macomb Community College, near Detroit, wasn’t surprised by the Vice reporting. “The problem with these technologies is that they exacerbate and allow people to amplify their existing prejudices,” he tells me on the phone from Michigan. “So if Ring didn’t exist, or Neighbors didn’t exist, and a racist person saw a black guy riding his bike down the street and they thought, ‘Oh, that guy doesn’t live in our neighbourhood,’ they had limited options of what they could do. They couldn’t take to a platform and broadcast it to dozens or hundreds of people.”
Ring has come under fire for a number of security breaches, with hackers able to access systems remotely. In 2019 an investigation by tech website Gizmodo found it could pinpoint the locations of tens of thousands of Ring users using data from posts on the Neighbors app. In January last year, four Ring employees were sacked for accessing customer video feeds in a manner that “exceeded what was necessary for their job functions”.
Ring says protecting customers’ privacy, security and control over their devices and personal information is paramount to them. In 2020, they launched an in-app dashboard that allows users to change privacy and security settings. They have also introduced a second layer of verification to help prevent unauthorised users gaining access to a Ring account, and will soon be rolling out end-to-end encryption to UK customers. Ring says that none of its employees have unrestricted access to customer data and all personal information is treated as highly confidential.
Gilliard, in Michigan, sees a sinister corporate plan. “A thing like Ring belongs on the entire spectrum of Amazon’s move towards surveillance and control – not only of workers, but also of consumers, and of space in general,” he says. “The intent is to create a massive web of surveillance in an attempt to try to shape the way people live their lives. It’s an attempt to replace a real sense of community with a notion of community that’s mediated by Amazon.”
Big Brother Watch’s Carlo has further concerns about what this kind of tech is doing to us. Is Silicon Valley enabling a generation of digital curtain-twitchers? “It effectively changes the nature of the world we live in,” she says. “The fact that when you walk down a street, your presence is being logged.”
Meet David from London – he’d rather not share his surname. He and his wife got a Ring doorbell after they moved into their new house, when their toddler was a baby. They were getting a lot of deliveries, and often weren’t in to receive them. “It’s very useful to be able to say: ‘Can you put it behind the bin,’” he says.
Plus they live in an area where there is some crime and antisocial behaviour. “It does make us feel a bit more secure.” Then there was an incident, a postman ringing the bell when neither of them was at home. “You can see him muttering something, I couldn’t quite make it out, but something like ‘for fuck’s sake’ or ‘fucking typical’. It was quite aggressive.”
David, who is signed up to the Ring Protect Plan, tweeted Royal Mail, attaching the footage. They said it wasn’t clear what the postman had said; as far as he knows, no action was taken. How would David have felt if the postie had been fired, I wonder, for swearing in frustration at work – something everyone has done – when he thought he was alone? Without the Ring doorbell, the incident wouldn’t have been an incident; David would never have known, and just come home to a note on the doormat. “It did make me think about that complaining culture and whether we are snooping,” he admits.
David says that his street’s WhatsApp group does sometimes share footage of people they think look suspicious, particularly after, say, someone’s car has been broken into. This, says Carlo, is a dangerous path to go down. “Neighbourhood citizen policing – we’re talking about a personal-tech-based surveillance state. I don’t think we’re there now, but in five, six, seven years we could create that kind of environment.”
David talks to his toddler on the doorbell, who calls it the ding-dong. Sometimes he uses it to check that their cleaner isn’t cutting hours; their previous cleaner was consistently leaving 20 minutes early. Babysitters, too. “I think it’s useful to have in the back of your mind that you know when people are coming or going.”
It is turning us all into spies, then.Carlo thinks so. “New technology lends itself to that. If you think, even 10 years ago, the lengths someone would have to go to, to get this kind of covert CCTV, with motion sensors, in the home. Now it’s the default, in a way.”
She thinks it is selling fear, because fear is almost as profitable as data – and that there are further dangers, even within the domestic environment. “You are recording the details of your life, and you can see how, when there is conflict, that could easily become part of the picture. Imagine what that would mean in the context of an abusive or controlling relationship: ‘You say you got back at 12 last night, but actually it was 12.30, or 1am.’ Or, ‘Why were you with that person?’”
Interesting that earlier, Det Supt Smith – who, incidentally, is fully aware of the civil liberties issues – was talking about how this technology is useful in fighting domestic violence; and now Carlo is talking about how it could also form part of the picture of domestic abuse or coercive control. Both right, I’m sure. Then there’s Luke Exelby, who says one of the reasons he got a Ring doorbell in the first place was to check up – in a worried dad way – on his four teenage daughters while he’s off working nights. “I keep telling them: text me when you get home. They never do, though. The notifications let me know when they get home. My kids know I’m not trying to spy on them.”
Ding ding ding, phone alert! It’s my girlfriend, leaving the house. She looks over at the doorbell, at me; she knows. Then she comes a bit closer, with a look that says don’t you bloody dare. Think I’ll leave it this time.
Employees at Netflix halted work on Wednesday and staged a protest outside the company’s Los Gatos, California, headquarters to condemn the streaming platform’s handling of complaints against Dave Chappelle’s new special.
The actions – which hundreds participated in – are the latest in a string of highly visible organizing efforts in the tech sector, as workers increasingly take their grievances about company policies and decisions public.
“Three years ago, a worker walkout at a major tech company would have been unthinkable,” said Veena Dubal, a labor law professor at the University of California, Hastings. “White-collar workers across the world now understand their labor power, and their ability to change the unethical practices of their employer by withholding their labor.”
On Monday, the transgender employee resources group behind the walkout released a list of specific demands of Netflix, including more funding for trans creators, recruiting more diverse employees and flagging anti-trans content on the platform.
Tensions at Netflix started in early October, when Netflix leaders doubled down on their support for the comedian Dave Chappelle following criticism from viewers, the queer media watchdog Glaad as well as some employees that Chappelle’s new show contained jokes that were anti-trans.
As internal criticism grew, Netflix leaders continued to defend the special. Reed Hastings, the co-chief executive, reportedly said on an internal message board: “I do believe that our commitment to artistic expression and pleasing our members is the right long-term choice for Netflix, and that we are on the right side, but only time will tell.”
Ted Sarandos, the other co-CEO, claimed in an email obtained by Variety: “While some employees disagree, we have a strong belief that content on screen doesn’t directly translate to real-world harm.” He added: “Adults can watch violence, assault and abuse – or enjoy shocking standup comedy – without it causing them to harm others.”
The Sarandos memo in particular fueled the walkout, according to the Hollywood Reporter. “The memo was very disrespectful,” a staffer told the outlet on the condition of anonymity. “It didn’t invite a robust conversation about this hard topic, and that’s normally how things go.”
Meanwhile, Netflix temporarily suspended Terra Field, a trans employee, who had tweeted that Chappelle “attacks the trans community, and the very validity of transness” and tied such comments to real-world violence. The company said Field was suspended because she had attended a meeting she was not invited to, but it later conceded she had “no ill intent”.
Netflix fired another trans worker who had been involved in organizing the walkout on allegations of leaking internal documents to the press.
“We understand this employee may have been motivated by disappointment and hurt with Netflix, but maintaining a culture of trust and transparency is core to our company,” a Netflix spokesperson told the Guardian about that decision last week.
The employee on Tuesday identified themself as B Pagels-Minor in an interview with the New York Times and denied “leaking sensitive information to the press”.
Social media event pages for the walkout have advertised a rally outside the Netflix headquarters in Los Angeles featuring public figures and speakers.
Staffers participating in the virtual walkout have vowed to halt work and focus on efforts to support the trans community.
‘A wave of worker walkouts’
In this week alone, there are protests at Netflix, the grocery delivery platform Instacart and at Facebook by its content moderators. Uber drivers globally went on strike in 2019. Hundreds of Amazon workers walked out to protest against the company’s climate policies in 2019.
Walkouts have become an increasingly common tactic among tech employees. “We are seeing a wave of them,” said Jess Kutch, executive director of the Solidarity Fund, which raises money to support employees engaged in workplace organizing – including at Netflix.
Google employees were among the first to deploy the strategy on a large scale in 2018, when more than 20,000 workers around the world walked out over the news that the company had given a $90m severance package to an executive who was forced to step down over sexual misconduct allegations (which he has denied).
The incensed workers decried a culture of silence about sexual harassment and systemic racism and demanded Google make concrete changes to address such issues within the company. In particular, they targeted Google’s use of forced arbitration – a practice common in the tech industry in which workers settle legal disputes in a private forum, making it almost impossible for workers to sue their bosses in court and keep repeat offenders from being publicly recognized.
The November 2018 action changed the way workers in the tech industry organize, experts said. “Workers are observing their peers to see what is effective in moving decision makers, and replicating that in their own companies,” Kutch said.
Kutch noted tech employees studied other protest movements to determine the most effective forms of action, learning, for example, to release specific demands tied to their walkouts. “There is a degree of depth, commitment and planning that was not present even just a few years ago,” she said.
Organizers have particularly taken aim at the tools tech companies had long used to keep dissent internal. Faced with employee pressure, companies such as Google, Airbnb, Facebook and eBay were compelled to end forced arbitration practices.
Employees have also fought companies’ use of non-disclosure agreements, or NDAs, which were initially meant to protect trade secrets, but later allowed companies to keep accusations of wrongdoing from becoming public.
Last month, California passed a law that makes it illegal for firms to prevent employees from speaking out about such issues through the use of NDAs.
Organizing gained another boost when the Black Lives Matter movement and protests laid bare some of the huge inequities in tech and revealed the power of protest to change them.
“Workers woke up at that moment to the fact that if employers are able to discriminate against any one part of the workforce, it hurts everyone,” said Anastasia Christman, senior policy analyst at the National Employment Law Project.
“There have been isolated examples of this kind of thing for years, but employees are increasingly using the leverage of their labor to stand up for diversity and equity,” she added.
The price of whistleblowing
For some employees, the price of speaking out has been steep. Leaked memos showed that in early 2020, Amazon discussed smearing a warehouse worker who spoke out against the company’s Covid-19 practices and was later fired. (Amazon said the employee was fired for putting other employees at risk of Covid-19.) In September 2021, Amazon reached a settlement with two other employees who said they had been fired over their climate activism within the company.
Other whistleblowers have narrated how their lives were upended by speaking out against major tech companies. The worker behind the walkouts at Google, Claire Stapleton, left the company after 12 years of working there, due to perceived retaliation for her role in organizing.
Netflix told the Guardian in an email that it “respect[s] the decision of any employee who chooses to walk out” and recognizes “we have much more work to do both within Netflix and in our content”.
“We value our trans colleagues and allies, and understand the deep hurt that’s been caused,” the spokesperson said.
In a public blogpost, Field outlined much of the vitriol she has sustained for speaking out about the special. She said she did not necessarily want the show removed from the platform, but wanted accountability from Netflix to its workers and viewers.
“We’ve spent years building out the company’s policies and benefits so that it would be a great place for trans people to work,” she wrote. “A place can’t be a great place to work if someone has to betray their community to do so.”
Netflix CEO Sarandos told the Hollywood Reporter on Tuesday that he handled the situation poorly, but that he remains supportive of Chappelle’s work. He said that his previous memos “lacked humanity”, and did not acknowledge that “a group of our employees were in pain”, but said that his stance “hadn’t changed”.
The price of a 2GB Raspberry Pi 4 single-board computer is going up $10, and its supply is expected to be capped at seven million devices this year due to the ongoing global chip shortage.
Demand for components is outstripping manufacturing capacity at the moment; pre-pandemic, assembly lines were being red-lined as cloud giants and others snapped up parts fresh out of the fabs, and the COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak really threw a spanner in the works, so to speak, exacerbating the situation.
Everything from cars to smartphones have felt the effects of supply constraints, and Raspberry Pis, too, it appears. Stock is especially tight for the Raspberry Pi Zero and the 2GB Raspberry Pi 4 models, we’re told. As the semiconductor crunch shows no signs of letting up, the Raspberry Pi project is going to bump up the price for one particular model.
The 2GB Raspberry Pi 4 will now once again set you back $45, an increase of $10 from its previous retail price. It used to be $45, then was brought down to $35 early last year when the 1GB model was discontinued. Now it’s back up again. This is the first time the project has hiked its prices, the trading arm of the Raspberry Pi Foundation said.
Don’t worry, however, the bump is said to be temporary and the module will eventually return to its original price of $35, company CEO Eben Upton announced on Wednesday.
The 4GB Raspberry Pi 4 and 8GB Raspberry Pi 4 versions will remain at $55 and $75, respectively. For those relying on a supply of $35 2GB boards, the project will bring back those 1GB Raspberry Pi 4 modules, priced $35.
“This provides a degree of choice: less memory at the same price; or the same memory at a higher price,” said Upton. 2GB for $45 or 1GB for $35. A choice, but not one people might expect.
“As many of you know,” he continued, “global supply chains are in a state of flux as we (hopefully) emerge from the shadow of the COVID-19 pandemic. In our own industry, semiconductors are in high demand, and in short supply: the upsurge of demand for electronic products for home working and entertainment during the pandemic has descended into panic buying, as companies try to secure the components that they need to build their products … At Raspberry Pi, we are not immune to this.”
The project is expected to make around seven million of its computer boards total this year, maintaining the same level of production as last year as the pandemic took hold of the world. This is unlikely to increase much next year either, Upton said. Judging from his explanation, this figure is lower than hoped: “Despite significantly increased demand, we’ll only end up making around seven million units in 2021.”
Pis containing 40nm chips will feel the chip crunch the hardest over the next year, meaning there will be limited supplies of devices older than the current generation of Raspberry Pi 4, Raspberry Pi 400, or Compute Module 4.
“In allocating our limited stocks of 40nm silicon, we will prioritise Compute Module 3, Compute Module 3+, and Raspberry Pi 3B, and deprioritise Raspberry Pi 3B+ … Our guidance to industrial and embedded users of Raspberry Pi 3B+ who wish to optimise availability in 2022 is to begin migrating your designs to the 1GB variant of Raspberry Pi 4,” Upton said.
The biz expects to be able to make enough systems using 28nm silicon – namely the Raspberry Pi 4 and Compute Module 4 – over the next 12 months to hold their price… bar the aforementioned 2GB model.
“These changes in pricing are not here to stay. As global supply chain issues moderate, we’ll keep revisiting this issue, and we want to get pricing back to where it was as fast as we can,” Upton concluded. ®
UK headquartered Swoop was one of three finance companies to have received funding from RBS, which has previously given the start-up £5m in 2019.
Irish start-up Swoop Finance has received £2.5m from a fund established by banking giant RBS.
In 2019, it was awarded £5m by the banking firm, which accepted a £45bn bailout from the UK government at the height of the financial crisis in 2018. The bailout programme came with the condition that RBS would set up a £775m fund to boost competition in the region’s finance sector.
Swoop is one of three companies to have benefitted from that fund, with the others being UK finance companies Codat and Cashplus. The three start-ups will receive a combined £12.5m in grants from RBS.
Codat and Cashplus will both receive £5m from the fund.
Swoop was founded in 2017 by former KPMG chartered accountant and corporate financier Andrea Reynolds along with Ciarán Burke. Reynolds spoke at Silicon Republic’s Future Human event last year about the process of launching Swoop. She said she founded it after she spotted a gap in the market for a virtual “finance buddy” aimed at SMEs seeking financial advisers and lenders.
Today, Swoop is headquartered in the UK and it employs around 60 people. It recently launched in Canada, adding to its existing locations in Dublin, London and Sydney.
The fintech’s backers include Enterprise Ireland and Velocity. It has raised around €1.6m so far. Speaking last year, Reynolds said the pandemic’s digitisation of the finance industry – and most other industries – had benefitted the company.
She added that the ongoing changes in the industry would hopefully “democratise finance” and “open up opportunities” to companies seeking funding no matter where they are located.
“The future is that you won’t need to know who the lender is,” Reynolds said.
“All decisions will be made through your data and you’ll get those decisions instantly. So you could have a lender in Barcelona lending to a business in Ballyjamesduff, for example. It won’t matter where you are. It’s what your profile is and does it match to their algorithm.
“This means it’ll open up opportunities. It’ll democratise finance further because businesses, regardless of where they’re located, will not be disadvantaged. Everybody will have this at their fingertips,” she added.
Reynolds said she had seen “a 30pc increase in businesses moving online” during the Covid-19 pandemic.