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Thinkful confirms data breach days after Cheggs $80M acquisition

Thinkful, an online education site for developers, has confirmed a data breach, just days after it confirmed it would be acquired.

“We recently discovered that an unauthorized party may have gained access to certain Thinkful company credentials so, out of an abundance of caution, we are notifying all of our users,” said Erin Rosenblatt, the company’s vice-president of operations, in an email to users.

“As soon as we discovered this unauthorized access, we promptly changed the credentials, took additional steps to enhance the security measures we have in place, and initiated a full investigation,” the executive said.

At the time of writing, there has been no public acknowledgement of the breach beyond the email to users.

Thinkful, based in Brooklyn, New York, provides education and training for developers and programmers. The company claims the vast majority of its graduates get jobs in their field of study within a half-year of finishing their program. Earlier this month, education tech giant Chegg bought Thinkful for $80 million in cash.

But the company would not say when the breach happened — or if Chegg knew of the data breach prior to the acquisition announcement.

A spokesperson for Chegg did not respond to a request for comment. Thinkful spokesperson Catherine Zuppe did not respond to several emails of questions about the breach.

The email to users said the stolen credentials could not have granted the hacker access to certain information, such as government-issued IDs and Social Security numbers, or financial information. But although the company said it’s seen “no evidence” of any unauthorized access to user’s account data, it did not rule out any improper access to user data.

Thinkful said it is requiring all users to change their passwords.

We also asked Thinkful what security measures it has employed since the credentials breach, such as employing two-factor authentication, but did not hear back.

Just months earlier, Chegg confirmed a data breach, which forced the online technology giant to reset the passwords of its 40 million users.

At least Thinkful is now in good company.

Hold on to your hard hats: New York’s $475m Shed throws open its doors

The escalators need fixing and theres no bar but the show must go on, as stars from Ben Whishaw to Steve McQueen open NYCs first major new arts venue for decades

Ben Whishaw is on stage, stripped to his underwear. Prosthetic scars cover his shoulders and back. He puts a large pad over each buttock as he cross-dresses as Marilyn Monroe. Later, the soprano Rene Fleming warbles the line Theyre fracking the fuck out of the world!, which raises a big laugh from the audience.

Others watching, however, seem less taken with Norma Jeane Baker of Troy, a half-spoken, half-sung play written specially for Whishaw by the poet Anne Carson. The first person walks out of this preview performance about 30 minutes in; over the next hour around another 10 leave, the clomping of their shoes on an uncarpeted floor making them impossible to ignore. More storm to the exits at the end, ostentatiously not clapping, as Fleming and a surprised-looking Whishaw take their bows to the rest of the 500-strong audience.

Its Saturday night at the Shed. The first major multi-arts institution to open in New York for decades, it is intended to bring culture to Hudson Yards, the controversial $25bn development of luxury flats and shops on Manhattans midwest side. Its CEO and artistic director is Alex Poots, formerly boss of the Manchester international festival, whose challenging remit is to show only new work, not revivals, with a brief to mash together different artistic disciplines established artists with new ones, pop culture with high art. So will it be welcomed by New Yorks culture-soaked residents, artistic community and the tourists queuing for the Instagram bait of the Vessel next door?

As the worlds media files into the press conference last Wednesday, its clear things are not going entirely to plan. There are workers in hard hats busy hammering together seating platforms, some escalators dont work, and the main space under a huge shell that slides back and forth on huge wheels is horribly echoey. Its a distinctly rough-and-ready start for a building that cost $475m.

Immersive,
Immersive, spectacular performance: performers from the cast of Dragon Spring Phoenix Rise rehearse at The Shed. Photograph: Mark Lennihan/AP
At 5pm two days later, however, the echo at least is largely gone which is just as well, since the Shed will open to the public in three hours with a musical extravaganza Soundtrack of America, created by artist and film-maker Steve McQueen. We were tweaking from 10pm to 7am, says Poots. The building works were taking for ever.

Were speaking in one of the two gallery spaces. There are enormous artworks by Gerhard Richter on the walls, part of a collaboration with the composers Steve Reich and Arvo Prt. Right on cue, a woman in a high-vis vest comes over to investigate a socket at Pootss feet. We put this exhibition up in the midst of full-on building construction, she says. It was interesting.

Reich
In Reich Richter Prt, two immersive live performances one conceived by Steve Reich and Gerhard Richter, the other by Richter and Arvo Prt explore the shared sensory language of visual art and music. Photograph: Stephanie Berger
Poots is a seasoned impresario, who knows the show must go on. At Manchester, he staged Chinese operas by Damon Albarn, a Kraftwerk gig in a velodrome and a collaboration between the immersive theatre company Punchdrunk and film-maker Adam Curtis, which ended with a man wielding a chainsaw chasing theatregoers out of the building.

Its his ambitious ideas, proven ability to pull them off, and enviable contacts book that have landed the 51-year-old Scot this gig. Poots will have the whole building to play with two performance spaces, plus the galleries. MIF was biennial; the Shed needs filling constantly.

The first season includes a collaboration between Bjrk and the theatre director Lucrecia Martel called Cornucopia; and Dragon Spring Phoenix Rise, directed by Chen Shi-Zheng with choreography by Akram Khan, written by the team behind Kung Fu Panda. Set in Flushing, Queens, at the other end of the 7 subway line from the Shed, it as an airborne show, says Chen, one that will make the most of the main spaces six-storey-high ceiling. I dont want to do a proscenium theatre show, which you can do everywhere in Manhattan. I want to do an immersive, spectacular performance.

The
The Shed, which is next to Thomas Heatherwicks Vessel (right) in the Hudson Yards development of New York. Photograph: Kena Betancur/AFP/Getty Images
Tickets are cheap by New York standards and Poots says there will be $10 ones available for each show and not just in the nosebleed seats. Theres also a full-time community arts programme, including a free display of work this summer by 52 emerging artists chosen via an open call and funded by the Shed. But, while the Shed is a public building, its still situated in one of the most despised private urban developments of recent times. Lets not kid ourselves, says Poots. We live in a world of unregulated capitalism. Theres a lot of money in this area. I said, If everyone is asked to invest in a centre for all arts that encourages audiences who may feel like the arts isnt for them then Im down with the neighbourhood.

So far the Shed has raised an astonishing $500m. As is traditional in the US, where public funding for the arts is minimal and institutions rely on philanthropy, the names of the biggest donors are prominently displayed in the foyer. These include companies such as Coach and Google, who have neighbouring offices and stores. Weve got [wealth] right there in our face, says Poots, and as long as they keep being generous, this kind of ecology is a transformer for arts. Call the Shed the Robin Hood, but lets see if it works.

Certainly, he says, artists havent been put off by the surroundings. Even Boots Riley, the communist director of Sorry to Bother You, is doing an event. I showed him round here a year and a half ago and I could tell he was checking me out, because why would he come here? And then, when I shared with him some of the people we were working with, it was quite encouraging because here were artists looking beyond the prejudice of where we are, and realising this is an opportunity to do good work.

Weve
Weve got wealth right there in our face … Alex Poots photographed in February at the entrance to the Shed. Photograph: Christopher Lane/The Observer
Big ideas, however, will count for little unless the work stands up. The first to be shown to journalists is the collaborations between Richter, Reich and Prt. A 14-piece orchestra plays a specially composed Reich work at one end of the gallery, while at the other is a film made by Richter. Based on his book Patterns, it depicts lines of colour building up into an abstract picture, and then degenerating back into lines.

Reich is at the private view, a fast-talking 82-year-old in a baseball cap who says the work was an interesting exercise in scoring a soundtrack, but one hes not keen to repeat. The film was done before I began, the legend of minimalism says, so I timecoded the whole thing which Ive never done, and honestly I dont think Id do it again. I am the master of time, and for somebody else to give me time that I have to be a slave to is something that I learn something from, but my original instinct was right.

I
I dont think Id do it again … an audience at the private view checks out Reich Richter. Photograph: Stephanie Berger./Stephanie Berger
The other art commission, by Trisha Donnelly, is an installation in a darkened room. What appears to be an entire tree has been chopped up and placed on low trolleys, some of the stumps wrapped in packing material. A sound system, also on a trolley, plays the Habanera from Carmen at punishing volume on a constant loop. What it all means must be decided for oneself there is no explanatory wall text but it certainly stakes a claim for the Sheds avant garde credentials.

Rene
Rene Fleming and Ben Whishaw in Norma Jeane Baker of Troy, which inspired walkouts on one preview performance. Photograph: courtesy the Shed
If Donnelly and Norma Jeane Baker of Troy which conflates Monroe and Helen of Troy for the era of fake news and #MeToo represent the highest of high culture , Soundtrack of America, which aims to show the richness of black music history, is surprising for the opposite reason. The first of five shows starts with a stunning coup de theatre as a marching band and an army band both comprised of young African American musicians in full regalia play and move in formation through the audience. After they give a black power salute, the show then essentially turns into a gig directed by McQueen, with musical direction by Quincy Jones, who on the opening night describes himself as a bald-headed, bow-legged be-bopper.

Riskily, the five lead performers each night are largely unknown, representing the latest flowering of black music tradition, which has been sketched out by academic adviser and black music expert Maureen Mahon. Which is why its a little startling that the first night culminates in a Whitney Houston medley by Shela. Taking in such bangers as I Have Nothing and I Will Always Love You, its undeniably entertaining especially with McQueen frugging nearby in cropped trousers and yellow trainers and spectacularly sung, but also skirts surprisingly close to X Factor territory.

The following day I install myself in the Sheds foyer (which has opened without a bar or cafe, making the performances alcohol-free zones) and call Braxton Cook, a young jazz musician whos playing on night two. McQueen, Cook says, is a genius mind. I wanted to do a song by John Coltrane, my main inspiration, and an original tune I wrote for Trayvon Martin. Steve [suggested] pushing the whole thing together into one performance and thinking about it more conceptually.

The
The Shed at Hudson Yards in New York. Photograph: Mark Lennihan/AP
Cook particularly appreciated one of the Sheds founding principles collaboration between established artists and emerging ones. Its really inspiring to have someone at Steves level giving you that pat on the back, he says. Its hard to carve out your space and you need all the help you can get. If Im ever in a position like Steve McQueen or Quincy to do something like this, I would love to do that because people need it.

So will Cook, who lives and hangs out in Harlem, be a likely regular at the Shed? Absolutely, he says. Theyve really beefed up that area of town, I want to spend a lot more time there. Bjrks coming. In Harlem, we didnt have a hub like that, so this could be something special that our generation really needs.

Earlier, I had asked Poots how he thought success would be measured. I think the quality of the work, he replied. Risk taking, the breadth of what we present. Did we state that we were going to be very broad but actually end up not being that broad? Have we been a force for good? Did we make it welcoming and inviting to a wide range of audiences? How much did we help local artists?

In the midst of the Hudson Yards glitz, New Yorks next generation of artists are depending on him.

Forget Watson, the Red Hat acquisition may be the thing that saves IBM

With its latest $34 billion acquisition of Red Hat, IBM may have found something more elementary than “Watson” to save its flagging business.

Though the acquisition of Red Hat  is by no means a guaranteed victory for the Armonk, N.Y.-based computing company that has had more downs than ups over the five years, it seems to be a better bet for “Big Blue” than an artificial intelligence program that was always more hype than reality.

IBM to buy Red Hat for $34B in cash and debt, taking a bigger leap into hybrid cloud

Indeed, commentators are already noting that this may be a case where IBM finally hangs up the Watson hat and returns to the enterprise software and services business that has always been its core competency (albeit one that has been weighted far more heavily on consulting services — to the detriment of the company’s business).

Watson, the business division focused on artificial intelligence whose public claims were always more marketing than actually market-driven, has not performed as well as IBM had hoped and investors were losing their patience.

Critics — including analysts at the investment bank Jefferies (as early as one year ago) — were skeptical of Watson’s ability to deliver IBM from its business woes.

As we wrote at the time:

Jefferies pulls from an audit of a partnership between IBM Watson and MD Anderson as a case study for IBM’s broader problems scaling Watson. MD Anderson cut its ties with IBM after wasting $60 million on a Watson project that was ultimately deemed, “not ready for human investigational or clinical use.”

The MD Anderson nightmare doesn’t stand on its own. I regularly hear from startup founders in the AI space that their own financial services and biotech clients have had similar experiences working with IBM.

The narrative isn’t the product of any single malfunction, but rather the result of overhyped marketing, deficiencies in operating with deep learning and GPUs and intensive data preparation demands.

Jefferies gives IBM Watson a Wall Street reality check

That’s not the only trouble IBM has had with Watson’s healthcare results. Earlier this year, the online medical journal Stat reported that Watson was giving clinicians recommendations for cancer treatments that were “unsafe and incorrect” — based on the training data it had received from the company’s own engineers and doctors at Sloan-Kettering who were working with the technology.

All of these woes were reflected in the company’s latest earnings call where it reported falling revenues primarily from the Cognitive Solutions business, which includes Watson’s artificial intelligence and supercomputing services. Though IBM chief financial officer pointed to “mid-to-high” single digit growth from Watson’s health business in the quarter, transaction processing software business fell by 8% and the company’s suite of hosted software services is basically an afterthought for business gravitating to Microsoft, Alphabet, and Amazon for cloud services.

To be sure, Watson is only one of the segments that IBM had been hoping to tap for its future growth; and while it was a huge investment area for the company, the company always had its eyes partly fixed on the cloud computing environment as it looked for areas of growth.

It’s this area of cloud computing where IBM hopes that Red Hat can help it gain ground.

“The acquisition of Red Hat is a game-changer. It changes everything about the cloud market,” said Ginni Rometty, IBM Chairman, President and Chief Executive Officer, in a statement announcing the acquisition. “IBM will become the world’s number-one hybrid cloud provider, offering companies the only open cloud solution that will unlock the full value of the cloud for their businesses.”

The acquisition also puts an incredible amount of marketing power behind Red Hat’s various open source services business — giving all of those IBM project managers and consultants new projects to pitch and maybe juicing open source software adoption a bit more aggressively in the enterprise.

As Red Hat chief executive Jim Whitehurst told TheStreet in September, “The big secular driver of Linux is that big data workloads run on Linux. AI workloads run on Linux. DevOps and those platforms, almost exclusively Linux,” he said. “So much of the net new workloads that are being built have an affinity for Linux.”

DLab is a new East Coast accelerator for crypto

SOSV, a 20-year-old fund with $500 million in assets under management, has been running accelerators for years. Their oldest one, HAX, is the premier hardware accelerator in San Francisco and Shenzhen, and they’ve recently launched a food accelerator in New York and a pair of biology accelerators. Now, however, they’ve just announced DLab, a crypto accelerator that is paired with Cardano to build out distributed apps and solutions.

It is led by Nick Plante, a programmer integral in drafting the JOBS Act and who co-founded Wefunder, a successful crowdfunding platform.

“We can only make this sort of commitment to ecosystems we feel are incredibly compelling; it takes a substantial amount of dedication, education, staffing, and of course the long-term financial commitment to support the space and the companies,” said Plante. “We invest in ecosystems that we identify as ‘macro trends’ like disruptive food, life sciences and synthetic biology, Chinese market entry, IoT and robotics… things that will fundamentally alter the way that we live in the next 100 years.”

“Decentralization is clearly a macro trend, in the macro sense. What’s happening with blockchain and digital ledger technologies has the potential to upend some of the most basic economic incentives that lie beneath the things we do every day; to affect the ways that humans collaborate, identify, trust, govern, and bring new ideas to life… it underlies all of it,” he said.

DLab supplies up to $200,000 in pre-seed funding as well as perks from the SOSV global network of accelerators. They are also offering fellowships in partnership with Cardano to work with projects that would further blockchain research.

“Through last year and the start of this year we kept watching the blockchain ecosystem do some amazing things — along with some criminal things. The surveys and reports about the fraud rates of ICOs and other unpleasantness kept underlining our concerns report after report. The potential for the big economic shifts I mentioned earlier were clearly here but there were so, so many problems; there was a real need for education, for curation, and for proper governance and incentive structures to be put in place,” said Plante.

The group is accepting applications now for a January cohort. The group invests in 150 startups per year, a heady number in these cash-poor times.

China Unveils Its Plan to Bring Nation’s Tech Giants Back Home
  • Pilot to allow some companies listed overseas to issue CDRs
  • Certain start-ups will be eligible for IPOs on the mainland

China took a major step toward seeing Alibaba Group Holding Ltd., Baidu Inc. and others list in its domestic market, announcing a trial program that would allow the technology giants to see their shares bought and sold in the world’s most populous country.

The State Council unveiled the plans on Friday, less than a month after the idea was first made public — a surprising move that underscores how keen authorities are to see foreign-listed Chinese companies come home. A pilot of so-called Chinese depositary receipts would apply to companies that went public overseas and have a market value of more than 200 billion yuan ($32 billion). The new system will allow firms to use corporate structures that aren’t permitted on the mainland, and monies raised can be moved offshore. Some private companies will also find it easier to come to market.

While China has been a breeding ground for some of the world’s fastest-growing and highest valued tech businesses, companies such as e-commerce giant Alibaba and search engine firm Baidu have headed offshore, leaving the local market reliant on state-run industries for large new listings. The country’s touchiness about stocks with high valuations or no track record of profits is a deterrent for tech firms, as is the ban on structures such as dual-class shares.

“There’s a strong desire to see local champions, these technology companies, come back onshore — and CDRs is one way of doing this,” said David Smith, Asia head of corporate governance at Aberdeen Standard Investments.

Read more: China Looks to Claw Back $1.4 Trillion in Lost Tech Listings

Regulators first mooted the prospect of a CDR program at last month’s meeting of China’s rubber-stamp national legislature. The State Council didn’t say in the statement when the trial program would start.

The news could have global implications. While the likes of Alibaba and Tencent Holdings Ltd. have headed to New York and Hong Kong, respectively, the prospect of at least a secondary listing in the world’s second-biggest equity market could significantly boost their valuations and set an example for other companies.

Hong Kong Exchanges & Clearing Ltd. stock suffered its worst month in more than a year in March, partly due to the increased threat from exchanges in Shanghai and Shenzhen.

Reconsidering Plans

“High-tech and other innovative enterprises may, in light of the new CDR regime and ongoing competition between onshore and offshore equity exchanges, be reconsidering their IPO plans,” said John Xu, a Shanghai-based at the law firm Linklaters LLP. For example, a dual listing in China and an offshore market may now be realistic, he said.

“With the new CDR market as an additional source of finance, it may no longer be necessary to unwind existing VIE structures, or restructure shares into the same class, for the purpose of an onshore listing,” said Xu.

Read more: China’s Foreign IPOs — a QuickTake on VIEs

Variable interest entity structures have been used by many of China’s tech entrepreneurs to set up their companies, but they’re forbidden in mainland markets. By waiving the ban on VIEs, as well as share classes that have different voting rights to give founders more control, CDRs may be establishing new norms, said Aberdeen’s Smith.

“If these VIE companies are available onshore, what does that mean for the structure?” he said. “While we won’t know for sure, it would seem to be one step closer to normalization, and this is something investors are watching closely.”

The plans released on Friday say that if VIE and dual-class structures are used, that information should feature prominently in company prospectuses. The securities regulators should consult with other agencies and handle applications from VIEs “prudently, based on varying circumstances.”

While no companies have said they will take part in the trial, the chiefs of several firms have previously expressed interest. Zhou Haibin, an analyst at Essence Securities, identified six foreign-listed companies that meet the plan’s thresholds: Alibaba, Baidu, JD.com Inc., NetEase Inc. — which are all in New York — and Hong Kong-listed China Mobile Ltd. and China Telecom Corp.

Private companies valued at more than 20 billion yuan and with revenue of 3 billion yuan or more in the past year will also be eligible for the program, the statement said, along with fast-growing unlisted companies that work in the field of advanced technology and have a leading advantage in their sector. In these cases, local rules — for example bans on weighted voted rights — will apply, though the statement suggested the CSRC has some flexibility to waive restrictions on VIEs.

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