Valentinos Tzekas, is a 20 year-old student born in Larissa, but already a serial entrepreneur. After an early success with the social network ‘’Near’’ he has developed an algorithm to fight fake news…
TDP: What is considered truth according to FightHoax.com?
Valentinos Tzekas: True for our algorithm is what independent, non-for-profit news sources like Associated Press have fact-checked and already covered. Also, we are considering truth, what independent fact-checking organizations like Politifact, Snopes and others have fact-checked.
TDP: How does FightHoax work?
VT: First of all, FightHoax analyses the history and reputation of the website which hosts a given news article: Is the website known for posting a lot of fake news like abcnews.com.co, is the website known for posting consecutively trusted articles like the Associated Press or something more in the middle like Fox News or Daily Mail? Then, FightHoax analyses the author of the article and his history. Is it a well known with a reputable past in respected news outlets, is it someone who is a university teacher or someone with no active past in the news industry?
At last and more importantly, the article is analyzed. From the language used to the facts stated, we compare every tiny aspect of the article with more trusted articles on the same topic. FightHoax reads and understands the article like a human. At the same time, we scan the whole web, like a database, in seconds. Do the other articles on the same event, have important differences? Has the article enough information for us to compare? Is the language quality good? Is the syntactic similarity high but not the semantic one?
These are the 3 main pillars of FightHoax’s algorithm. After having analyzed hundreds and hundreds of articles, each variable has almost the perfect mathematical weight.
TDP: What is your vision for FightHoax after the beta period? Who you aim to be the ultimate users?
VT: My long-term vision is to help the everyday people. As I said before: “Right now, if you think about it, politicians and journalists have the “power of truth”. My mission is to give normal people the power of truth—make them more powerful without the need of having journalistic skills.”
TDP: How big is the threat of fake news? Do you believe European governments are exaggerating the risks?
VT: Fact checking articles are exploding, people got misguided in both US and French elections, Macedonian teenager quit college to focus on writing false news so he can earn more than both of his parents, 42% of people said that they don’t trust news on Facebook because “it hasn’t done a good job of curbing fake news.” Germany approved a plan to fine social media companies up to 50 million Euros, every single day, if they fail to remove fake news posts. Yet, Facebook and Google are trying to solve the mass misinformation issue with just one more report button. I do believe that the very next months, we are going to be hit by the next wave of misinformation. We have to be prepared.
TDP: Do you think there is a risk that government efforts to tackle fake news be could come in contradiction with the respect of freedom of expression on the internet? And, more importantly, do you think that it is possible to counter the phenomenon through legislation?
VT: I do believe that we need a human level solution. Legislations and high tech are not going to fix the problem. We need media literacy platforms and initiatives.
This is why, we are trying to tackle the fake news problem on a human level by exposing every angle of any news story, in seconds. We do not need truth-or-not machines. Critical thinking and quality news consumption skills is a must skill-set for every 2.0 citizen.
TDP: What kind of challenges do you think that a young entrepreneur in Greece faces compared to other EU peers?
VT: I think that in Greece we have lost our hope. We have become miserable and this is much worse than being poor. When I was 18, I shared some of my thoughts with Forbes. You can read them, here. I still believe and support the same as a serial entrepreneur acting in Greece. Sooner or later, I will move my business and my life, abroad.
Photo credits by: Bank Phrom
How a law to reign in large platforms will end up costing large platforms least of all.
Policy making is, by nature, one step behind technology because it tends to focus on (and is lobbied by) today’s companies. When lawmakers, however, by virtue of universally applicable and EU-wide laws, try to come after a hand full of big players, society and smaller startups suffer. With the Copyright Directive, the EU risks shooting itself in the foot. Worse even, it is launching a torpedo at its own vision of becoming a startup continent. Here is the gist of it:
The proposal to filter online content fundamentally misses its aim. By targeting a few big video platforms, it will ultimately uplift and fence their market share. The scope of the proposal is flawed. While intending to govern only licensed content, it targets all types of content and all platforms regardless of licenses or copyright.
Filtering itself is technically ineffective and will cause more damage than good on the internet. Seemingly easy on text through hashing but disproportionately expensive for anything more complex or even impossible. The suggested filtering technology will raise the cost of launching a startup in Europe and drive talent away.
First-buried-then-leaked evidence suggest it will not solve the problem anyway. For all of us it will result in lower quality, less variety and content online, as the law favours those who delete content.
Let’s take this in turns. To start, the proposal aims to address a grievance by rightsholders, namely the fact that certain large platforms don’t pay as much as the content industry is wishing for. While it’s one thing whether we want laws in favour of individual industries, this proposal will actually not do anything to abate this discord.
Ironically, this proposal makes it even more likely that small platforms and innovative startups pick up the tab, as they don’t have the market power and legal teams to go through thousands of licensing agreements. To be clear: Startup founders fully respect creation and its remuneration. But this law is drafted in entire disregard of Europe’s startups and its citizens’ fundamental rights.
Besides fundamentally missing the target, the proposal is carpet bombing the entire digital world. Regardless of whether one uses licensed content or not, everyone will now have to enact a costly regulatory prescription. Content can range from images over text, audio visual content, objects to code.
While policy makers probably would have liked the idea of squeezing one online video platform into the business model of another, their proposal made startup founders across Europe worry about their future. Github, for example, is an open source code-sharing platform that helps developers to stay on top of trends.
It too, would be within the scope of this law. Another example are crowdfunding platforms that, by design, host content uploaded by users. Is this where copyright infringement happens? Again, the scope of this law overreaches its aim and creates more problem than solutions.
Content industries may be yelling about a problem but it is lawmakers’ duty to find a proportionate solution for everyone in our society. In this case, technology can’t offer what politics wants. Several examples underline this: Shapeways, a 3D printing marketplace, hosts more than 300,000 pieces of copyrightable content per month but processed fewer than 1,000 copyright notices in 2016. Which were based on the description, not products themselves and in most cases unsubstantiated.
Earlier examples of crowdfunding platforms, code-sharing platforms or e-commerce are no different. Because content recognition does not yet exist in an affordable and efficient way these startups can either break the law or break ties with Europe and move where common sense governs. Anyways, they are stuck between a rock and a hard place.
With audio files, a comparatively easily recognisable content, state of the art fingerprinting techniques resulted in error rates of 1-2%. Sounds acceptable? In comparison, spam filters for emails get dismissed as unsuitable with error rates of 0.1%. These cases illustrate: Filtering is ineffective with some types of content, and non-existent for others.
Even if filtering were to work properly across all formats, it would price many innovative ideas out of the European market. Studies have underlined this. Unlike an assessment by the European Commission suggested, filtering does not cost 900 Euro per month, but easily between 10.000 and 50.000. If the average initial funding of a startup was 150k, you can ask yourself whether you want to launch that company or just run your idea through a bad filter for three month.
Kickstarter, a crowdfunding platform, hosted 366.622 projects since its inception. In 2015 it received copyright infringement notices targeting a mere 215 projects, only one third of which were valid complaints.
If article 13 of the proposed copyright directive became reality, the removal of 100 out of over 366.622 projects would easily cost 500.000€ annually. Why? Because some policy makers think a straightforward notice-and-takedown procedure is not enough. What was it again about proportionality in law?
When filtering is prescribed with complex and expensive rules, companies will be inclined to remove content rather than run the risk of getting sued. And who are platforms do decide if that video or drawing is a copyright infringement or parody, or maybe an entirely new work?
While so far a well founded notice triggers removal, in future the benefit of the doubt will be with an armada of copyright trolls chasing anyone hosting content. The result will be less variety and content available online. This ranges from creative content of any kind to critical thought Here is a proposal that will lead to less investment, less startups and less free speech. Right before half of the world’s population will be able to benefit from a free internet, the most developed continent will go partly dark.
There are a myriad of startups like Kickstarter and Shapeways or Github. And even more young and talented Europeans are planning the next generation of content platforms today.
The collateral damage of such out-of-touch legislation is not only a shot in the foot of Europe’s ambition to become a startup continent, but also a contribution to a generation of entrepreneurs seeking success elsewhere. Europe will be stuck with companies that are already big enough to comply or those who never want to be that big.
Startups are not one single industry but innovate across all sectors. They are the most mobile companies we’ve ever seen and are successful because they approach problems differently. Regulators are still catching up to this reality.
While there is no simple answer to copyright, building walls will have unintended effects while missing the actual aim. Exempting startups, as suggested before will not crack the nut because startups aren’t SMEs. What then?
Picture Credits: Frankieleon
Filippos Zakopoulos the Executive Director of the Found.ation, discusses the evolution of the start-ups ecosystem in Greece and the Balkan region and how the European Union is supporting and enabling further growth.
The Digital Post: How the Found.ation operates to help tech startups build?
Filippos Zakopoulos: Found.ation has been a key player in the startup scene since 2011. Starting as a co-working space and then acting as an incubator, it has provided a great number of startups with valuable advice and access to a big network of key players of the startup ecosystem, such as mentors and investors. Also, having some of Greece’s largest companies as its clients, Found.ation has contributed in organizing acceleration programs, innovation competitions and hackathons, thus contributing in creating more opportunities for Greek startups, as well as startups from the greater Balkan region.
Looking more specifically into the acceleration and incubation pillar, a number of the companies that have taken part in Found.ation’s programs have raised 6M Euro in funding from local and international VCs. This corresponds to 15% of all VC-backed technology companies in Greece during 2013-2016.
Moreover, Found.ation acts as the local touchpoint for many international institutional investors, VCs and accelerators. Found.ation events have hosted so far Seedcamp, TheFamily, T-Ventures, Hub:raum, Axel Springer Plug&Play, Eleven, Launchub, Kompass Digital, Mojo Capital, 212 Ventures and the European Investment Fund, among others. Since 2015, Found.ation signed an exclusive agreement with the European open innovation organization EIT Digital, under the Arise Europe Program, with the objective of strengthening the Greek startup ecosystem, through the implementation of common, well-structured initiatives. The aim of the collaboration is to foster the ecosystem, support startups, give them faster access to the wider European market and hook them up with potential investors.
TDP: What are the plans for the forthcoming future?
FZ: Found.ation originally established in 2011 as one of the first co-working spaces in SE Europe, but has evolved also as a digital transformation consultant for corporations and a tech education hub. Our team strongly believes in the interaction between established corporations and startups. One of the key roles of Found.ation is to highlight these opportunities for cooperation between these two polar opposites and we already work with companies and organizations such as COSMOTE (Greece’s top telecommunication provider), Eurobank (one of the country’s largest banks) and the Municipality of Athens to make this happen. But startups are not the only ones to benefit from this kind of cooperation. Incumbents need to transform in order to stay agile and competitive and Found.ation helps them design innovative digital strategies, by teaching them how to adopt a more entrepreneurial mindset.
TDP: How do you see the European startups ecosystem evolving?
ZP: Europe is still far from becoming a new Silicon Valley, but on a more local level there are a lot of cities emerging as mature hubs, providing fertile soil for entrepreneurial bloom, like Amsterdam, Paris and Stockholm, among established spots like Berlin and London. The rest of the European countries are following their lead –Hungary and Estonia are emerging nods–, although they have yet a lot of distance to cover. Even in Southern and Eastern Europe, where the financial situation poses a significant barrier for prosperity, one can see optimistic signs of progress.
TDP: Is the European Union doing enough? What further actions should be taken in your view?
ZP: The first step towards solving a problem is identifying it. Europe has understood that it needs to take action and help local startup ecosystems in order for them to help boost their countries’ economies. A good example in this direction is the launch of EquiFund in Greece, part of the Commission’s Investment Plan for Europe. The new €260m Fund-of-Funds program, managed by the European Investment Fund, aims to boost entrepreneurship, by attracting private funding to all investment stages of the local equity market. But unlocking the equity potential in the market is only one part of the equation. The next step is to create policies that will enhance survivability and strengthen the ecosystem, such as tax and regulatory incentives. These measures need to be applied in local as well as pan-European level.
One of the most remarkable crowd-fuding stories of the last years comes from Sweden. The Digital Post talks with Minut co-founder Marcus Ljungblad about how his project Point made a splash on Kickstarter.
The Digital Post: Behind “Point“ there is an outstanding crowd-funding story. Tell us more.
Marcus Ljungblad: Although we founders, Nils Mattisson, Martin Lööf, Fredrik Ahlberg and I are all from Sweden, we actually started out in Shenzhen, China. By the time we arrived in China we had put together a working prototype of a connected fire alarm. But no first prototype survives contact with user testing.
On the ground in Shenzhen, we were able to utilise the enormous eco-system to rapidly prototype and test different ideas—those who survived ultimately lead to Point. We knew we were on to something when, during a customer interview, the customer asked to buy one of the products then and there.
At that time we didn’t even know if it could be mass produced, let alone had we given Point its name. Fast-forward a couple of weeks and we launched on Kickstarter.
Over the next 30 days we raised almost 5x our goal and had received customers from every continent all across the world.
After the crowdfunding campaign ended we headed back directly to Shenzhen to get to establish the supply-chains we needed and to get Point to production. Today we are shipping our first batch, which is all sold out, to more than 2000 customers and we are a week from producing the second batch.
The Digital Post: What is Point about? How does it work?
ML: As apartment owners ourselves we felt there is a disconnect between us and our homes when we weren’t there. How can I know everything is OK at home when I’m away? Point is camera-free option to stay informed about the important things when you are away.
Did my fire alarm go off? Has there been unexpected noise? Or, if I rent out my home, how do I know that no one is smoking inside or staying quiet during late hours? Point uses a range of sensors and combines a lot environment data to inform users when something is amiss.
Everything is computed on Point, so no sensitive information ever leaves your home. It’s dead-simple to install and is designed to blend-in into any home.
The Digital Post: What should be improved in Europe to help young startups?
ML: Make it easier to offer shares and options to the earliest employees in the company. It is not only the founders who contribute to a company’s success, your first hires and are equally important and you want to reward them accordingly. While starting out, however, it is often expensive to compensate on salary only.
Shares and options offers a way to reward your employees if the company does well. A reward they are rightly entitled to! We’d love to see governments in Europe make it easier for startup founders to share their success with their employees.
The Digital Post: Can Europe match the success of Silicon Valley and Shenzen? What should be the ingredients?
ML: The aim should not be to compete with Silicon Valley or Shenzhen, these are unique ecosystems and they are extremely good at what they do already. Rather, Europe as a whole, should spend its energy doing what it does best: nurturing companies that start global from day one.
Sweden is an important market for us. Users are connected and it has an tech friendly culture. But it is too small on it’s own. If we want to truly affect users relationships with their homes we need to look beyond Sweden.The EU should continue to focus on lowering the barriers to entry to other European markets.
Soon every new company will be ready to take on the much larger, and much much more diverse, global market. And it can do so faster than it’s American and Chinese counterparts. Europe is small, diverse and open, we should use that to our advantage to compete—not to become another Silicon Valley or Shenzhen.
Photos Credit: Iwan Gabovitchhttps
We have great minds in Europe, highly-qualified young people, good infrastructure, financial resources, strong industries. And yet not a single world tech champion has emerged in Europe in the last 30 years. A specific StartUp initiative within the Digital Single Market Strategy is the right way to address these concerns.
European StartUps expect the European Commission and policy-makers in Brussels (and across the EU) to deliver an ambitious and clear signal that the Digital Single Market Strategy will address their needs and expectations. And this for one single and clear objective: be able to grow and scale in Europe.
However, this cannot happen by magic, nor by chance.
We have great minds in Europe, highly-qualified young people, good infrastructure and financial resources. I see this everyday in our activities with the European Young Innovators Forum in our more than 16 hubs across Europe.
Yet, our best people are leaving – or willing to – to StartUp ecosystems that are more welcoming to their ambitions. We have a world-leader automotive industry, yet the automated cars are coming from Google or Apple.
We have strong industries but not a single world tech champion has emerged in Europe in the last 30 years. I believe that a specific StartUp initiative within the Digital Single Market Strategy is the right way to address these concerns.
The European StartUps Initiative would see a set of measures addressed specifically to support highly innovative small companies and create the conditions for the emergence of a strong pan-european tech scene.
Such an initiative would send an unequivocal message to the emerging –and everyday stronger – European ecosystem, but not only. It will also be a signal to foreign investors that something is changing in Europe and there are more opportunities and potential deals to be concluded in this continent. The story-telling is as important as the content.
Moreover, such an initiative would not only be symbolic but would have an concrete effect: unlock startups growth and scale capabilities. How do we achieve this?
One key measure –and highly symbolic – would be the creation of a European Statute for the highly-innovative small companies.It’s nice when European leaders and policy-makers talk about regulatory simplification. It would be even better if they actually do it.
One statute, that would enable European StartUps to operate in the Digital Single Market without any obstacle and burden would be a great step and would definitely attract investment for young entrepreneurs and innovators.
Investors want simplicity and certainty. Such a statute would also facilitate the emergence of a true European Venture-Capital Market where capital flows more easily to different startups ecosystems.
Finally, copyright. We need to adapt it to the Digital Single Market. It’s a shame that Spotify had to leave Europe due to regulatory issues to be able to grow and scale.
A StartUp initiative would not be successful if we do not work on the ecosystems and people’s skills. It goes together. One supports the other. Making the European startup ecosystem stronger means supporting the diversity of actors who act as the enablers and builders.
It is through them that young entrepreneurs and innovators could access better mentoring and training opportunities, improve their digital skills and be connected to other innovators and entrepreneurs in Europe and the world.
On February 18th, the European Young Innovators Forum organized a European StartUp showcase at the Global Innovation Summit in the Silicon Valley as part of its Disrupt Europe Year activities.
I can tell you that American investors were seduced by the bright European minds and ideas. And you just need to visit the Silicon Valley to discover that there are more Europeans entrepreneurs than any other nationality. It’s great time that Europe seize the opportunity, the innovation train is leaving, and we shouldn’t be the losers of the digital boom.