Banjo Targets an F Sharp and Breaks a Polyweb String

May 10, 2020

Policeware vendor Banjo continues to make headlines. (This may be welcome news to NSO Group, another low profile firm which has been in the spotlight recently.)

The Banjo story is one of the features in the DarkCyber video news program which becomes available on Tuesday, May 12, 2020.

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Mr. Patton graduated from the University of North Carolina Greensboro. NASCAR helped him get a degree after his discharge from the US Navy. He served in an intelligence unit and participated in military activities in the Middle East. He allegedly races trucks.

There’s an update to the interesting revelations about the founder Damien Patton. Mr. Patton started a company sometime between 2011 and 2013 called Banjo. The original idea was a social media app. The function was to ingest Tweets and other content and display who was nearby. After some excitement about privacy, Mr. Patton pivoted and created a policeware company.

The angle was to use real time live video and content from social media sources like Twitter and Facebook to inform law enforcement about events. Unlike some of the policeware companies, Mr. Patton’s spin was that Banjo would be used to save lives and do good.

By 2016, Mr. Patton has wrapped up about $131 million in funding and bundled his past underneath the firm’s PR blitz. The “news” about Banjo and Patton played up a rags to riches story: From Mr. Patton’s homelessness to the US Navy, from a NASCAR grease pit to entrepreneurial clover.

Until… the story emerged about Mr. Patton’s activities in his youth. The allegations included the KKK, shooting up a religious facility, and rubbing elbows with interesting characters.

Where are we now?

Banjo CEO Steps Down as Fallout from the Revelations of Past Ties to KKK Continues” brings us up to date. The write up states:

Embattled event detection tech firm Banjo announced Friday that the company’s current CEO and founder, Damien Patton, has resigned and the company will transition to a new leadership team with current Chief Technology Officer Justin R. Lindsey taking over the top position.

And the investors?

One of the principal sources of funding for the company is SoftBank, a firm which has the distinction of investing substantial funds in WeWork.

Now the firm has a new president, probably some agitated investors, and the distinction of becoming the first policeware company to hurtle from obscurity to headlines in a matter of a couple of days.

One question: “What did Banjo do with the investment funds obtained from investors?” DarkCyber opines that the patent filings in the last four years indicate inventing and fencing in its real time services consumed time and effort.

Banjo has amassed a number of patents related to its real time analysis of content. One of the early employees (Yann Landrin-Schweitzer) and co inventor of Banjo’s foundational technology said adios after a short stint at the company. Despite the assertions that the company has hundreds of employees in offices in California and Utah, Banjo has kept a low, low profile since 2016. Paying customers have not be enshrined on the company’s Web site at www.banjo.co.

Net net: This is an interesting story, and it does little to build confidence in the vendors providing specialized services to law enforcement and intelligence agencies. At one time, companies like Banjo kept a low profile, tried to avoid problems, and served a tight lipped clientele. NSO Group broke with tradition. But NSO’s legal spat with Facebook has been shoved off state.

Now we have a NASCAR type booth featuring a banjo player. What does it cost to see the show? John Malloy at BlueRun paid a couple of million. But Masayoshi Son put an estimated $100 million to get a piece of the act.

Was it worth it?

The reviews are just starting to come in, and they are a little negative. This could be a new PR challenge for Jennifer Peck, the PR wizard who helped orchestrate the Damien Patton story.

Observations:

  1. Having skeletons in one’s closet related to the KKK and a drive by shoot up of a synagogue are not useful when selling to law enforcement and intelligence entities
  2. Losing contracts and having government officials in Utah scrambling to figure out if Banjo’s algorithms are biases poses a challenge to other policeware vendors. Algorithms are indeed biased, but figuring out where the bias creeps in and how it effects the outputs of a smart system is a tar ball. This is probably not a plus for other policeware vendors.
  3. Agitating SoftBank’s president Masayoshi Son is possibly an unwelcome side effect of this situation. The investment in Banjo is going to require time and probably more money to get the company back on track.

The DarkCyber video segment about Banjo becomes available at www.arnoldit.com/wordpress early Tuesday, May 12, 2020.

Stephen E Arnold, May 10, 2020

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