London-based high-tech company tackling online extremism

Vidhya Ramalingam, co-founder of Moonshot CVE. (AFP)
Updated 13 October 2019

London-based high-tech company tackling online extremism

  • Moonshot CVE employs 40 people working in 15 languages, including English, French and Arabic, on 76 projects in 28 countries, with clients ranging from governments to technology firms

LONDON: Vidhya Ramalingam believes it’s always possible to change, even for people deeply involved in the murky online world of extremism.

Her company Moonshot CVE has the ambitious aim of trying to get anyone tempted by violence back on the straight and narrow.

Over the last four years, the London-based startup has grown quietly but not anonymously, if a recent partnership deal with Facebook is anything to go by.

US national Ramalingam and the firm’s co-founder Ross Frenett previously worked as researchers into extremism and believe radical groups are often one step ahead when it comes to technology.

“There was a lot of recognition that terrorists were using the internet in creative ways, that they were reaching young audiences, that they were able to innovate,” she told AFP in an interview.

“Yet those of us that were trying to counter them simply were moving too slowly and had too many constraints to actually replicate those methods for counter-terrorism purposes.”

That led to the idea of a technology startup able to keep up with and fight against all forms of violent extremism to nationalists and even “incels.” But greater visibility has forced the company to take more security measures because of the sensitive nature of its work — and the potential for violence from the people it tracks.

The address of Moonshot CVE’s London offices is kept secret and most of its staff have no visible online presence.

Just to get into its premises in a nondescript building in the British capital, visitors have to pass through heavy armor-plated doors and a security check.

“We take precautions,” said Ramalingam. “We work on high-risk issues and we try and put as much into the public domain as possible.”

The startup’s name refers to the act of launching a rocket to the moon — and gives an indication of its stellar ambition. The CVE stands for countering violent extremism.

It employs 40 people working in 15 languages, including English, French and Arabic, on 76 projects in 28 countries, with clients ranging from governments to technology firms.

One project is a collaboration with the Canadian government against the far-right. Another works with the UN on online extremist content in Asia.

The company has also had a partnership for several years with Google, using online advertising to target people looking up violent extremism on the net.

The Facebook contract involves Moonshot analizing how effective the social network could be to “deradicalize” users looking up extremist content.


Natixis opens investment banking office in Saudi Arabia

Updated 31 May 2020

Natixis opens investment banking office in Saudi Arabia

  • Western financial institutions have been seeking opportunities in Saudi Arabia

DUBAI: French investment bank Natixis has opened a corporate and investment banking office in Saudi Arabia’s capital Riyadh and appointed former JPMorgan banker Reema Al-Asmari as its chief executive officer, the bank said on Sunday.
Western financial institutions have been seeking opportunities in Saudi Arabia since the government unveiled plans to privatize state assets and introduced reforms to attract foreign capital under its Vision 2030 program to reduce the economy’s dependence on oil.
“By establishing a local presence, Natixis aims to deepen its relationships with its existing clients, including corporates, sovereign wealth funds and financial institutions, and to serve new clients, including family offices,” Natixis said in a statement.
The bank’s office, located in Al Faisaliah Tower, will offer “tailor-made capital markets products and investment banking services.”
Al-Asmari, who joined Natixis last August as an adviser to the bank’s Dubai branch, will continue to report to Simon Eedle, Natixis Corporate & Investment Banking’s regional head for the Middle East.
Eedle said in a statement that the bank’s commitment to the Middle East dated back more than 20 years and he believed its areas of expertise were closely aligned with the needs of clients in the region. “This is very much the case for the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, notably in the context of Vision 2030,” he said, adding it was a “pivotal time” for the kingdom.