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One Irish multinational is in the top five giants buying up AI companies

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Irish consultancy Accenture stands among US tech giants such as Apple and Google in the race to acquire AI companies.

According to GlobalData’s deals database, five companies dominate when it comes to AI business acquisitions.

Four of these companies are US tech giants, with Apple leading the pack and Google, Microsoft and Facebook following behind.

The other company in the top five is Accenture, the Irish multinational providing consultancy and professional services to businesses worldwide.

Apple’s Siri shopping spree

Tracking mergers and acquisitions from 2016 to 2020, Apple comes out on top with 25 acquisitions of AI companies in the four-year period.

“Apple has been ramping up its acquisition of AI companies, with several deals aimed at improving Siri or creating new features on its iPhones,” said GlobalData senior analyst Nicklas Nilsson.

Nilsson said that Apple’s AI shopping spree is an effort to catch up with Google’s voice assistant and Amazon’s Alexa technology. “Siri was first on the market, but it consistently ranks below the two in terms of ‘smartness’, which is partly why Apple is far behind in smart speaker sales,” he said.

“Machine learning start-up Inductiv was acquired to improve Siri’s data, Irish voice-tech start-up Voysis was bought to improve Siri’s understanding of natural language, and PullString should make Siri easier for iOS developers to use.”

Apple has also made strategic moves to maintain its dominant position as a smartwatch maker.

“The acquisition of Xnor.ai last year was made to improve its on-edge processing capabilities, which has become important as it eliminates the need for data to be sent to the cloud, thereby improving data privacy,” said Nilsson.

Accenture’s AI buys

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Accenture slides in at second place with 17 AI-centric acquisitions in the four-year period, sweeping up a broad set of applications for this technology.

The acquisition of Munich-based ESR Labs was announced in March 2020 to expand Accenture’s capabilities in automotive software. Also in 2020, the Irish firm completed the acquisition of Atlanta company N3 to combine its technology with the Accenture SynOps platform and enhance data-led insights for salespeople.

The acquisition of Chicago consultancy Clarity Insights announced in December 2019 added 350 employees to Accenture’s Applied Intelligence business in North America. This strategic acquisition was focused on enterprise-scale AI, analytics and automation solutions.

A chart showing the AI companies acquired by Apple, Accenture, Google, Facebook and Microsoft in 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019 and 2020.

Image: GlobalData

2017 was a big year with six AI acquisitions from Accenture, including UK company Genfour, which became part of the acquiring firm’s centre of excellence for intelligent automation.

Accenture’s appetite for acquisitions shows no sign of abating in 2021, though AI hasn’t been a specific area of focus. Among many deals already announced in the first quarter of the year is the acquisition of leadership and talent consultancy company Cirrus, while Germany’s Fable+ and California’s Imaginea were acquired to boost Accenture’s cloud offerings.

AI talent also in demand

Following Accenture in the top five are Google, Microsoft and Facebook. “The US is the leader in AI, and the dominance of US tech giants in the list of top acquirers also indicate that these companies have some defined AI objectives,” said Nilsson.

Between them, Apple, Google, Microsoft and Facebook undertook 60 acquisitions in the AI tech space from 2016 to 2020.

“AI has remained a key focus area for tech giants and growing competition to dominate the space has resulted in an acquisition spree among these companies,” added GlobalData analyst Aurojyoti Bose.

Bose also said that job analytics data from GlobalData reveals that these top five acquirers are also on a talent-hiring spree, collectively posting more than 14,000 jobs in AI during 2020 alone.

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‘I was just really scared’: Apple AirTags lead to stalking complaints | Technology

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In early January, Brooks Nader, a 26-year-old Sports Illustrated swimsuit model, was walking home alone from a night out in New York when she received a disturbing iPhone notification telling her she was carrying an “unknown accessory”.

“This item has been moving with you for a while,” the alert read. “The owner can see its location.”

That’s when she knew “something wasn’t right”, Nader told the NBC news program Today. Nader discovered that somebody had slipped an Apple AirTag into her coat pocket while she was sitting in a restaurant earlier. Unbeknown to her, the device tracked her location for four hours before Apple’s abuse prevention system triggered the notification to her phone.

AirTags are wireless, quarter-sized Bluetooth devices that retail for $29 each. Apple launched the product in April 2021 as tracking tools that users can pair with the company’s Find My app to help locate lost belongings, like backpacks or car keys.

Yet AirTags have proven easy to abuse – police in New York, Maryland, Idaho, Colorado, Georgia, Michigan, Texas and elsewhere both within the US and internationally, have reported instances of AirTags being used to stalk individuals, as well as to target cars for theft.

Last week, the New Jersey Regional Operations & Intelligence Center issued a warning to police that AirTags posed an “inherent threat to law enforcement, as criminals could use them to identify officers’ sensitive locations” and personal routines.

AirTags have abuse-mitigation features, including pop-ups like the one Nader received, and an alarm that beeps at 60 decibels (a conversational volume) after the AirTag has been away from its owner anywhere between eight to 24 hours.

Near the end of 2021, the company released a new Android app called Tracker Detect, which was designed to help people who own Androids discover suspicious AirTags near them – yet the app must be proactively downloaded and kept active to be effective, and is only compatible with Android 9 or higher.

The outcome of more anti-stalking mechanisms is that more people are realizing they are being stalked. On 14 January, police in Montgomery county, Maryland, responded to a call from a person who was stalked home from a movie theater after an AirTag was planted on their car. Around the same time, two California women called 911 after receiving a notification that their whereabouts were being tracked while out shopping. A 30 December report from the New York Times cites seven women who believe AirTags were used to surveil them. On social media, posts from mainly women sharing their own experiences of being tracked by AirTags have drawn attention to the issue, with one TikTok video from November 2021 receiving more than 31m views.

If you suspect you’re being tracked, the conventional wisdom is not to head home, but rather call – or go to – the police. However, law enforcement responses to incidences of AirTag stalking have thus far been inconsistent, and help is not always guaranteed.

When Arizona’s Kimberly Scroop went to local police after receiving an iPhone notification that she was being tracked in September last year, “they were not interested in taking a report, they didn’t take my name or phone number,” she says. “They said if I noticed someone following me, to call the police then.”

Scroop went home and made a TikTok video about her experience being tracked, thinking she should “make as much noise as possible, so there was some public record of it” online in case anything bad happened to her. “I was having a mini panic attack, just really scared,” she says in the post that has now been viewed more than 5.5m times.

In New York, Jackie’s Law – passed in 2014 to allow police to charge people using GPS tracking devices to stalk victims even if the victims have not pressed charges – contributed to police in West Seneca’s decision to subpoena Apple for information about a case involving an AirTag attached to a victim’s car bumper. Nonetheless, Nader claims she was unable to file a report after being tracked in Tribeca, New York City, as police told her no crime had been committed.

In an official statement, Apple says it will cooperate with police “to provide any available information” about unknown AirTags people discover on their person or property. “We take customer safety very seriously and are committed to AirTags’ privacy and security,” says a spokesperson.

Ultimately, their built-in anti-stalking mechanisms and the fact that they can be easily disabled when discovered render AirTags less dangerous than other forms of stalkerware. “If you really are nefarious and evil and you really want to find someone, there are things that are much better than an AirTag,” in the $100 to $300 range, says Jon Callas, director of technology projects at the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

Indeed, stalking affects an estimated 7.5 million people in the United States each year, and one in four victims report being stalked through some form of technology, according to the Stalking Prevention Awareness & Resource Center. And it’s on the rise: a 2021 international study by the security company Norton found the number of devices reporting stalkerware daily “increased markedly by 63% between September 2020 and May 2021” with the 30-day average increasing from 48,000 to 78,000 detections. There are thousands of different stalkerware variants, such as Cerberus, GPS tracking devices and Tile, a Bluetooth-enabled AirTag competitor that announced a partnership with Amazon last spring.

To Callas, the conversation around AirTags is drawing much-needed attention to the potential for technology to be misused; he hopes more people will consider the safety risks of tracking devices, regardless of how innocent they seem. “If you make a generalized technology that helps you find your lost keys, it can help you find anything,” he says, “and that includes people”.

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UK mulls making MSPs subject to mandatory security standards • The Register

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Small and medium-sized managed service providers (MSPs) could find themselves subject to the Network and Information Systems Regulations under government plans to tighten cybersecurity laws – and have got three months to object to the tax hikes that will follow.

Plans to amend the EU-derived Network and Information Systems Regulations (NIS) are more likely than ever to see SMEs brought into scope, as The Register reported last year when these plans were first floated.

NIS is the main law controlling security practices in the UK today. Currently a straight copy of the EU NIS Directive, one of the benefits of Brexit leapt upon by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) is the new ability to amend NIS’s reporting thresholds.

Bringing MSPs under NIS “would provide a baseline for expected cybersecurity provision and better protect the UK economy and critical national infrastructure from cyber security threats,” as UK.gov said in a consultation document issued on Wednesday. Its plans are for MSPs, currently not subject to NIS, to be brought into the fold. This includes defining what an MSP does, legally, and possibly ending NIS’ existing exemption on SMEs.

“The government recognises the strong need to minimise regulatory burden on small and micro-businesses particularly in a rapidly evolving industry such as this. However, recent incidents have highlighted the scale of risk that can be associated with managed service providers – regardless of their size,” said the consultation document.

In essence, if an “operator of essential services” or a critical national infrastructure business outsources something to your MSP, prepare for NIS compliance.

And the flip side: money

Enforcement of NIS is carried out by the ICO, which is getting a funding bonus if Parliament nods through the NIS amendments. Initially coming from general taxation, in time DCMS wants to “extend the existing cost recovery provisions to allow regulators (for example, Ofcom, Ofgem, and the ICO) to recover the entirety of reasonable implementation costs from the companies that they regulate.”

SMEs across the whole British economy are already familiar with this kind of “cost recovery” activity through stealth taxes such as the ICO’s data protection registration fee.

Andy Kays, chief exec of a managed detection and response firm in London called Socura, agreed that “further market intervention is required to help raise the bar to protect the UK economy.”

“However,” he added, “I do believe that interventions like Cyber Essentials, GDPR and NIS have raised the profile of cyber and data security in the UK, and have improved understanding and investment where they are applicable among businesses.”

Jake Moore, global cybersecurity advisor with Slovakian infosec firm ESET, also agreed, saying in a statement: “Essential services are desperately in need of better protection so these new laws will help direct businesses into a more secure offering with the help and direction required. Laws often may seem like they do not go far enough but digital crime is fast paced and the goal posts constantly move making such plans difficult to project or even become out of date by the time they land.”

The consultation closes on 22 April. As well as questions about money, DCMS is also asking about whether the regs should be extended to SMEs and how detailed they ought to be. Have your say via theses 66 pre-formatted questions. ®

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7 early-stage start-ups NDRC is accelerating in 2022

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The first cohort of the NDRC accelerator by Dogpatch Labs has four female co-founded start-ups and two international ones.

After taking over the NDRC accelerator from the Government in 2020, Dogpatch Labs gave it a makeover and launched its first cohort of 11 early-stage start-ups last year.

This year, they are running two accelerators with two separate cohorts and increasing the total number of participating start-ups from 11 to 14. The first cohort, H1, has a total of seven start-ups – four of which have female co-founders.

Announced yesterday (19 January), the first cohort also has two regional start-ups and two international start-ups co-founded by Irish CEOs who graduated from top international talent accelerators Antler and Entrepreneur First.

Here we list NDRC’s first cohort of seven early-stage start-ups in 2022 representing the next generation of Ireland’s start-up ecosystem who are gearing up for Demo Day on 7 April.

Image: Dogpatch Labs

Filter

This start-up helps patients with breathing difficulties such as asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) to monitor their health. A device called Filter can be used by patients in conjunction with an AI-powered digital health coach called Kos to track their respiratory health and get alerts when something’s wrong.

Filter was founded in 2020 by Andrew Gallagher and Stephen Keenan, both University College Dublin alums. Gallagher, who is the chief technology officer, is an engineer by profession, while Keenan has a background in both law and computer science.

GreyScout

GreyScout offers a business tool for companies that want to protect their brand against intellectual property (IP) infringements and counterfeits. The start-up’s product scans across online domains including marketplaces, search engines, websites, social media channels and web forums to identify and remove policy violations and unauthorised content, alerting clients in real time.

On a mission to ‘democratise IP protection’, GreyScout was founded in 2019 by chief executive John Killian and chief technology officer Chris McCauley.

Herd

This start-up has built a novel social platform for sports fans to discuss live matches with friends and make predictions on the outcome. In a game-like interface, users have to compete against each other in guessing next moves of sports payers and the winning side – enriching the virtual live entertainment experience.

Herd was co-founded by Jack Cantillon, who is the chief executive, and Robert Minford, who is the chief technology officer. A qualified lawyer in New York, Ireland and the UK, Cantillon was featured in Sports for Business 30 Under 30 in 2020.

Jama AI

Jama is a start-up that uses natural language processing to help B2B sales reps with communication intelligence and analytics. The platform is a one-stop-shop for all the messaging channels used by sales reps, such as WhatsApp, WeChat and Line, to make customer relationship management simpler and win more deals.

It was co-founded by Kerry-based Aisling Hayes, who is the chief executive of Jama with prior experience in founding and running start-ups in Ireland. Jama graduated from the global accelerator by Antler, an early-stage VC firm based in Singapore.

Öogo

This Dublin-founded start-up connects people who need childcare with those who are looking to provide it. Childcare providers called Minders who can be booked to offer a wide range of services including online tutoring, baby-sitting and maternity nursing.

With changes in the nature of work for many parents because of remote and hybrid work, Öogo hopes to act as a Tinder for childcare, making it simple. It was founded in 2019 by Kate Clark, who worked in sales in New York for five years before starting the business.

Squid

Squid aims to promote customer loyalty towards businesses by incentivising buy from them through loyalty cards. By partnering with Squid, brands can ask their customers to download the Squid app and get rewards for purchases. And additional business portal helps brands get customer insights and track customer loyalty.

The start-up also helps businesses get discovered on their app through a marketplace where they can advertise special offer and sell vouchers to their community. Squid was co-founded by Katie Farrell and Matthew Coffey

Upskill Marketplace

This online platform helps the HR and learning & development teams of businesses to connect with soft skills trainers and professional coaches. It aims to make the process of finding trainers simpler through its online portal that has all details, including pricing, listed upfront. Trainers with Upskill go through a selection process before listing, and user reviews help businesses determine who to book.

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