Posts Tagged ‘safety’

What To Look Out For In Software Development NDAs

The demand for technical talent, and the ease with which information can be shared, has increased entrepreneurs’ reliance on business relationships with outsiders. It has never been easier for an entrepreneur to find, meet, communicate and eventually enter into some sort of business relationship with an individual or company that is otherwise not associated with the business.

ndas and software development

Moreover, sky-high valuations and fairytale overnight success stories have fueled the notion that even a basic idea can be worth millions, if not billions, in a relatively short time. In light of these factors, you might presume that Non-Disclosure Agreements (NDAs) have been widely accepted in the tech world as a means to protect sensitive and potentially valuable information from theft and abuse. Not so fast.

Before jumping into the debate, though, it helps to have a quick understanding of what an NDA is, what one looks like and, eventually, what to look out for if you’re asked to sign one as a freelance software developer.

What Is A Non-Disclosure Agreement?

An NDA is exactly what its name implies — a legal agreement between two or more parties that (i) defines certain confidential information that will be disclosed and (ii) imposes a legal obligation on the receiving party to keep that information confidential. NDAs are most commonly used when a business relationship between two companies or individuals requires the sharing of confidential information.

For example:

Company A, a local retailer, has hired ABC IT Co. to build an online inventory and order management system. To build the system, Company A must provide ABC IT Co. with a list of Company A’s suppliers and certain pricing information. Before disclosing its supplier list and pricing information, Company A asks ABC IT Co. to sign an NDA forbidding ABC IT Co. from disclosing or using Company A’s confidential information.

If a party to an NDA breaches the agreement, by disclosing or using confidential information for example, the other party to the NDA may sue the breaching party for monetary damages (compensation for lost profits or business), injunctive relief (a court order requiring the breaching party to refrain from taking some action) or specific performance (a court order requiring that the breaching party take some specified action).

So What Do Software Development NDAs Look Like?

NDAs are negotiated legal agreements that can be as simple or as complex as the parties desire. An NDA can be a one page fill-in-the-blank form or a lengthy document drafted from scratch to reflect the unique circumstances of the parties’ relationship, the different negotiating leverage of each party, and the nature of the information that will be disclosed.

what ndas look like

Although there is no such thing as a one-size-fits-all software NDA, for purposes of this overview, and to understand generally how NDAs work, it’s important to appreciate the three “main-event” provisions that are common to all NDAs.

(a) The Definition of Confidential Information:

The definition of “Confidential Information” will set forth the type of disclosed information that is subject to the limitations on use and disclosure and, importantly, the type of disclosed information that is not subject to such limitations.

(b) The Term of the Recipient’s Obligations

The term of an NDA sets forth the time limit on the parties’ obligations. The term of an NDA may be measured in days, weeks, months or years depending on the circumstances of the relationship and the nature of the disclosed information.

(c) The Limitation on Use and Disclosure:

This provision will describe what a recipient party may do and what a recipient party may not do with disclosed information that falls within the definition of Confidential Information. This provision will almost certainly forbid disclosure of Confidential Information, but may also limit the use of Confidential Information and, in some cases, require that the recipient take certain affirmative steps to protect the confidentiality of Confidential Information.

The NDA Debate: Should You Ask For An NDA? Should You Sign One?

Although NDAs have been around for as long as there has been information worth protecting, the high-tech startup boom has thrust their use into the limelight and sparked a debate as to their value. As an industry that is highly dependent on data and constantly evolving technology, one would think that the high-tech startup world would embrace the use of software development NDAs. To understand why that isn’t the case, and to better gauge whether you should ask for an NDA or sign one presented to you, consider the following:

NDAs Are Often Unilateral

NDAs are unilateral when the business relationship requires that only one party disclose confidential information (rather than a mutual exchange of information by each party).

A startup seeks to hire an engineer to build its mobile app and has asked the engineer to sign an NDA. The startup will disclose information to the engineer, but the relationship does not require the engineer to provide confidential information to the startup. The NDA will be unilateral and will impose legal obligations, and potential liability, on the engineer only.

Because only one party is exchanging confidential information, only one party (the recipient party) has a legal obligation to comply with and, as such, only the recipient party is subject to potential liability. What an entrepreneur might view as a means by which to protect an idea, an NDA recipient might view as a one-sided contract.

Entrepreneurs Often Overstate the Need for an NDA

There are surely circumstances where NDAs make sense. Customer lists, pricing information, proprietary formulas and algorithms might have intrinsic value that is best protected by an NDA. Many argue, however, that some entrepreneurs are NDA trigger happy and think that every idea is worthy of legal protection. Ideas though, it is argued, are rarely new and, moreover, often have no value without execution.

NDAs should be asked for only when there is something worth protecting, and many argue that an idea alone does not warrant asking for an NDA. Finally, those most often asked to sign software NDAs – investors and engineers – rarely have any interest in stealing an idea when doing so would likely ruin any professional goodwill and reputation they’ve earned in their respective professional communities.

NDAs Indicate Mistrust

In a perfect world, business would be business and would never be personal. In reality, though, business is often about perception. What might be “just a contract” to an entrepreneur asking for a software development NDA, may be perceived as an indication of mistrust and a questioning of personal integrity by the person being asked to sign one. NDAs are most often requested at the outset of a business relationship, signaling mistrust and calling into question one’s professional integrity may start the relationship off on the wrong foot—even if that wasn’t the intention…perception is powerful.

This issue is less of a concern for business relationships where both parties will be disclosing confidential information and, thus, an NDA will be bilateral and both parties subject to legal obligation. Outside of strategic joint ventures, partnerships, mergers and similar arrangements, however, bilateral exchanges are rare and unilateral NDAs are much more common.

NDAs Can Limit An Information Recipient’s Ability To Earn A Living

As discussed earlier, an NDA defines a set of information that is to be considered “Confidential Information” and then specifies what a recipient may and may not do with that information during the term of the NDA. Whether an NDA is three pages or three-hundred pages, no contract can predict and plan for every possible circumstance and this limitation often works against the recipient of disclosed information.

What if, after signing an NDA, an engineer is asked to build a similar product or to execute a similar but technically different idea? Is using similar code on a different application a violation of the NDA’s non-use provision? What if the engineer learned new skills during the engagement? Can the engineer use those skills for another client? Can the engineer list the client on his or her resume?

There is a real concern that signing even one NDA, whether as an engineer, an investor or otherwise, can drastically shrink one’s pool of potential business. At worst, signing an NDA might foreclose a person’s ability to work on even slightly related projects. At best, signing an NDA complicates future business development efforts as every new opportunity requires a time consuming analysis of conflicts and liability under each and every NDA that the person may be subject to.

Enforcement Isn’t Cheap

The whole point of entering into an NDA is to have some legal remedy if the recipient party discloses confidential information in violation of the agreement. An NDA gives a disclosing party a basis to file a lawsuit seeking money damages and/or a court order against the breaching party. What many NDA proponents don’t fully appreciate, however, is the cost of enforcement.

Filing a lawsuit can be extremely costly and time consuming. A lawsuit for breach of contract will very likely require hiring a lawyer to gather evidence, assess possible legal claims, file the initial complaint and supporting documents, depose the allegedly breaching party and any witnesses and related parties, and argue the case before a judge. Lawsuits can take years, and lawyers typically charge by the hour. Before asking for an NDA, one should assess whether the information to be protected is more valuable than the potential cost of enforcement.

Though the above factors have contributed to a move away from NDAs in the startup world, NDAs are not without their value. Whether you should ask for an NDA before disclosing information, or agree to sign one if you’re on the receiving end of the equation, depends on the particular circumstances of the intended business relationship and each party’s motivation to enter into the relationship. The more valuable the relationship is to a party, the less leverage that party has to negotiate for or against the use of an NDA. The less valuable the relationship is to a party, the more leverage that party has to get its way or walk away. This push and pull is at the heart of all negotiations, the party with the better “Best Alternative to a Negotiated Agreement (BATNA)” has the upper hand.

If You Must Have An NDA…

So what if you’re an engineer and the opportunity to work on a particular project outweighs the risk of signing a software development NDA? What if you’re a startup and the intrinsic value of your information justifies the need for an NDA, despite the difficulty of finding an engineer that will sign one? If you have to sign an NDA, or if you must ask for one, what are some of the things to look out for and consider?

nda without reading

As is always the case, I strongly suggest seeking the guidance of a competent and licensed attorney.Contracts can get complex quickly and legal rights and obligations shouldn’t be left to “winging it.” As you’re finding an attorney, though, you can start by reviewing the some of the NDA’s main operative provisions. The following are a few preliminary things you might consider when presented with or requesting an NDA:

1. Definition of Confidential Information

Recall that this provision defines the type of disclosed information that is subject to the confidentiality obligations of the NDA and, as such, it should reflect the nature of the business relationship and that of the information to be disclosed.

If you’re a disclosing party, you’ll likely ask for a broad definition of Confidential Information to cover everything that might be disclosed to the receiving party during the course of the relationship. If you’re a receiving party, however, you might resist this request and seek instead to narrow the definition to include only specifically designated information such as, for example, written information that is marked “Confidential.” Regardless of where the negotiations come out, the parties should think carefully about striking the right balance between a definition of Confidential Information that is too broad (and thus extremely restrictive to the recipient party), on the one hand, and, on the other hand, too narrow (thus minimizing the protective effect to the disclosing party).

Though it’s important to determine the information that is to be held in confidence, it is equally important to “carve-out” certain information that is not subject to the confidentiality provisions. Common examples of such carve-outs include information that is or becomes publicly available and information that is lawfully known before entry into the business relationship.

2. Term of Confidentiality

The term of an NDA should reflect the nature of the parties’ business relationship and the nature of the information to be disclosed. If the relationship is limited to a one-year engagement, it might not make sense for the term of the NDA to extend too far after termination of the relationship. Similarly, certain types of information become less valuable or sensitive over time. Financial statements, for example, may be particularly valuable at and immediately after the time they are prepared, but probably don’t accurately reflect a company’s financial health months or years after their preparation. If information is of a type that decreases in value or sensitivity over time, a long term is likely not necessary.

3. Disclosure to Representatives

As discussed throughout this article, NDAs are typically signed by a single disclosing party and a single recipient party. The problem, though, is that a recipient party may not always work alone and, rather, may from time to time need to disclose information protected by an NDA to such recipient party’s colleagues, employees or representatives in order to carry out the terms of the business relationship.

David Developer has signed an NDA with BigCo to create a mobile app for BigCo.

During the project, David needs to enlist the help of his colleague, Peter Programmer, to write some code in a language that David is less familiar with. Peter has not signed an NDA, can David disclose information to Peter so that Peter can assist with the project?

Rather than go through the hassle of signing a new NDA for each new person to whom information needs to be disclosed during the course of a project, or trying to predict ahead of time every person to whom information may need to be disclosed, the parties to an NDA may include a representatives provision addressing permitted disclosures to certain defined persons.

The representatives provision is straightforward from a drafting perspective and is simply a definition of “Representatives” that specifies the persons or classes of persons to whom confidential information may be disclosed. A recipient party will likely want the definition to be broad and inclusive of any person with whom the recipient party may collaborate. The disclosing party, of course, will likely want to keep the definition of Representatives as narrow as possible to permit the project to move forward, on the one hand, while maintaining the protections of the software development NDA, on the other. Finally, the disclosing party will very likely wish to include a clause providing that, prior to any disclosure of confidential information to a Representative, the recipient party inform such Representative of the confidential nature of the information and of the terms of the NDA. A representatives clause may look something like the following:

During the Term of this Agreement, the Recipient Party will not disclose the Confidential Information to any person other than the Representatives, provided that, prior to any such disclosure to a Representative, the Recipient Party informs such Representative of the confidential nature of the information and the terms of this Agreement. “Representatives” shall include the employees, independent contractors, partners, agents and other third parties that are or may be engaged by the Recipient Party for purposes of the Project.

4. Non-Disclosure v. Non-Use

This is a big one. As mentioned earlier, NDAs will almost always include a prohibition on disclosure of Confidential Information. Some software NDAs, however, will also prohibit or limit use of Confidential Information. For example:

The Recipient Party agrees that, during the Term of this Agreement, the Recipient Party will not (i) disclose the Confidential Information to any person other than its Representatives and (ii) will not use the Confidential Information for any purpose other than for those purposes directly related to the Project.

Depending on the term of the NDA and the type of information disclosed, restriction on use may not be an issue. If the term is particularly long, however, or the definition of Confidential Information particularly broad, the “use prohibition” may be extraordinarily restrictive on the recipient party. For example, consider the following definition of Confidential Information:

“Confidential Information” includes (i) all information furnished by the Disclosing Party to the Recipient Party, whether furnished before or after the date of this Agreement, whether oral or written, and regardless of the manner in which it was furnished, and (ii) all analyses, compilations, forecasts, studies, interpretations, documents, code and similar work product prepared by the Recipient Party or its Representatives in connection with the Project.

What this means is that, for as long as the NDA is in effect, the Recipient Party cannot disclose or use anyinformation that the Disclosing Party made available to the Recipient Party or any information prepared in connection with the particular Project. Without any carve-outs or qualifications, these clauses could be incredibly limiting.

An engineer signs an NDA which includes the two provisions set out above. During the course of the Project, the engineer learns a new way of putting together common strings of code. The new method could be considered work product that was prepared in connection with the Project and, as such, the engineer may be prohibited from using the method in future projects during the term of the NDA.

Before hearing Startup A’s pitch, an investor signs an NDA which includes provisions similar to those set out above. During the pitch, Startup A reveals its most recent financial statements and its strategy for growth. The investor does not invest. A few months later, the investor is approached by a similar startup, Startup B, and asked to attend a pitch. The investor may be precluded from investing in Startup B as doing so might involve use of information learned during Startup A’s pitch, even if only remembered by the investor.

The above examples are admittedly extreme, but are used to stress the point that the combination of a broad definition of Confidential Information, an unnecessarily long term, and restrictions on use can be paralyzing. Additionally, these are by no means the only red-flags that can sneak into an NDA and what might be a red-flag for one NDA may be perfectly tolerable for a different business relationship.

understanding ndas

So What Do I Do…Specifically?

Though you might now have a better understanding of what an NDA is, what a software development NDA might look like, and why many in the tech world are reluctant to sign them, you might still be wondering what, specifically, you should do when on the receiving end of an NDA. There is no substitute for the advice of a competent attorney, but, with an understanding of the concepts discussed in this article, you can approach the first read of an NDA armed with some knowledge as to what is most important to watch for:

  • Is this a bilateral or unilateral NDA? Will both parties be disclosing information? If so, are the parties subject to identical limitations and requirements?
  • How broad, or narrow, is the definition of Confidential Information?
  • How long are the obligations in effect? Does the term of the NDA match the nature of the business relationship and the information to be disclosed?
  • Am I only prohibited from disclosing the Confidential Information, or disclosing and using the Confidential Information?
  • Am I permitted to disclose the information to my employees and colleagues who may assist with the project?
  • Is this relationship valuable enough to assume a legal obligation that can be enforced in a court?

Finally, the above considerations, and this write-up generally, are not solely for the benefit of those who may be asked to sign an NDA. Certainly, a recipient party should consider very carefully an NDA’s provisions before signing, but a party considering asking for an NDA, too, would be wise to consider these factors.

NDAs, like most contracts, have the most value, and are therefore most likely to be signed, when both parties are comfortable with the balance of risks managed by the NDA and the benefit to be realized by the underlying contractual relationship. By considering the perspective of the recipient party, a party asking for an NDA may be better able to tailor the scope of an NDA to match the business relationship and present to the recipient party a fair and balanced agreement.

Though the information in this write-up should give you a good starting point, there is a lot to consider when asking for or presented with an NDA. A competent attorney can work with both parties to draft an NDA that is protective to the disclosing party, without being overly restrictive to the recipient party, and help move the parties towards a mutually beneficial business relationship.

If you want to learn more about legal issues faced by startups and developers, I suggest you check outStartup Law Hacks as well.

Disclaimer: the contents of this article were written and are made available solely as general information and for educational purposes and not to provide specific legal advice of any kind or to establish an attorney-client relationship. This article should not be used as a substitute for competent legal advice from an attorney licensed in your jurisdiction. This article has been written by Bret Stancil in his individual capacity and the views and opinions expressed herein are his own.

Source: Toptal

Rethinking Authentication And Biometric Security, The Toptal Way

Toptal is a vast network of tech talent and we currently boast the biggest distributed workforce in the industry. This is a source of pride for many Toptalers, especially our hard-working dev team. Why? Because we make it appear so easy and seamless, and we do it every single day. While a traditional tech company is bound to have a vast infrastructure (loads of office space, servers, standardized equipment, abundant physical and cyber security resources, and so on), we don’t.

We rely on off-the-shelf technology and services. Traditional companies struggle to cope with a small number of BYOD users, but here at Toptal, all our hardware is BYOD. The problem with our platform-agnostic approach and the reliance on a distributed network is self-evident: How can we ensure and maintain security?

It was never easy, but we like a good challenge, and like to stay one step ahead. That’s why we set about designing multiple authentication and onboarding procedures last year. We used the first quarter of 2016 for trials and pilots, and they were encouraging. As a result, we decided to announce the results of our trials and unveil our rollout plans.

By the end of the third quarter, all Toptalers will be acquainted with our new solutions, and if all goes well, they will start using them by the end of the year.

The Challenge

How do we make sure everyone logged onto our network is who they claim they are? Most of our team members have never met in real life, yet they collaborate on a daily basis. What if someone’s security has been compromised? Or, what if a disgruntled member decides to undermine the network?

We settled on a twofold approach to addressing these concerns:

  • Including a set of personal reliability tests to our screening process.
  • Introducing a new layer of biometric security.

What sort of tests will we institute? Our approach was inspired by the Personnel Reliability Program (PRP), created by the U.S. Department of Defense. The program is designed to identify personnel with the highest degree of reliability, taking into account their prior conduct, trustworthiness, behavior, and allegiance. PRP compliance will be evaluated continuously by our newly formed Internal Security Division (ISD), staffed by military intelligence veterans from Israel and Bosnia.

Security starts with personnel. If you can’t trust your people, all the tech in the world won’t make a difference.

Security starts with personnel. If you can’t trust your people, all the tech in the world won’t make a difference.

Platform access will be limited to individuals who meet stringent PRP criteria, however, failure to meet these standards will not be grounds for termination or demotion. It will merely reflect the individual’s lack of suitability for certain roles, restricting their access to confidential information.

To ensure continuous compliance, every Toptal member will be required to sign a new non-disclosure agreement and undergo evaluation. The agreement will include provisions covering the treatment of confidential information and outline a set of sanctions for individuals in violation of said agreement.

Since we are a distributed network, we will also rely on input from our members. Our existent monthly TopTeam reports will be expanded to include a personal reliability questionnaire. In other words, each network member will be able to report suspect coworkers or behavior via an anonymous evaluation form.

Lt. Col. David Finci, Head of Toptal’s Internal Security Division, explains the decision to include anonymous ‘tips’:

“Our goal is not to encourage dissent and create friction among team members, but we are convinced this is vital to ensuring personal reliability. We must allow network members to scrutinize the professional performance and personal integrity of their coworkers. Otherwise our ability to source actionable, time-sensitive information would be compromised.”

Network members with full PRP clearance will be issued security tokens and one-time pads to ensure encryption should the integrity of our network is compromised. They will also receive ID cards featuring a scannable QR code and/or barcode.

Biometric ID card

Use of these security measures will be mandatory, and loss or theft of ID cards will be taken seriously. Fortunately, these cards will be an interim solution and will be phased out as soon as our new security platform is deemed ready. We expect an early 2017 release.

Biometrics: Imperfect Marriage Of Convenience

We started experimenting with quasi-biometric security last year, quite by accident. After one Toptaler decided to tattoo our logo on their arm, we realized this approach could be employed for QR codes. Nobody wants to carry around yet another card in their wallet, and QR codes are relatively small and so they can be easily tattooed, or even engraved on fingernails.

No, of course we won’t ask developers to tattoo our logo or QR code. Not yet anyway, that’s Phase Two.

No, of course we won’t ask developers to tattoo our logo or QR code. Not yet anyway, that’s Phase Two.

You may be wondering whether or not we are serious, and the answer is obviously no. However, Graham’s tattoo gave us a good idea: Why not use biometric technology, backed by off-the-shelf tracking solutions?

We are already moving towards a passwordless future, and Toptal wants to be on the cutting edge. Why burden people with passwords, silly QR codes, two-factor authentication, or security tokens, if we can ensure superior security without any of them?

There have been attempts at this before, using personal technology such as smartphones and fingerprint scanners, but these techniques aren’t bulletproof. (In the case of smartphone fingerprint scanners, they can be beaten by a simple inkjet printer or knife.)

Smartphone fingerprint scanners can be beaten by an inkjet printer, or a frustrated Tim Roth with a meat clever.

Smartphone fingerprint scanners can be beaten by an inkjet printer, or a frustrated Tim Roth with a meat clever.

Besides, using smartphones for authentication opens up a Pandora’s box of other issues.

Bluetooth LE: Rendering Personal Security Bulletproof And Seamless

A lost phone is a recipe for disaster, and with all due respect for all the anti-theft and anti-loss technology out there, much of it doesn’t work well, or requires user input to do its magic. Besides, why rely solely on smartphones when we need to authenticate people on their office hardware?

A lost phone is called a lost phone for a reason, because the user is unaware that it’s lost to begin with. If you wake up and realize you lost your phone last night, it’s too late. That said, if you have a habit of waking up at strange places without your phone, or any recollection of the night before, you should also be on the lookout for kidney theft.

This is where it gets interesting. Security tokens and dongles work, but they’re a pain to carry around, and they have a habit of getting lost at the worst possible moment. That is why we planned for our ID cards to be a temporary measure, only active for 9 months or so. We intend to replace them with inexpensive, wearableBluetooth devices.

Yes, Toptalers will be required to carry them on their person at all times, but this won’t be a problem. Bluetooth LE is a killer technology, at least in terms of power consumption, and these devices can be secured with relative ease, providing a new layer of authentication (we can’t discuss the details due to NDA restrictions).

We initially tried a number of cheap fitness trackers and anti-loss tags to prove our approach was feasible. It worked, but these off-the-shelf devices were not ideally suited to our needs, so we set about designing our own, which proved to be surprisingly easy.

Enter The Toptal TopBand

We reached out to a number of reputable Chinese OEMs for consultation and technical input. We provided them with the specs, they provided us with their quote and a shipping date. Yes, it was that simple, and yes, we were pleasantly surprised.

We are currently in the process of going through several different Toptal TopBand designs and form factors, as well as working on the software side. These devices will not only interface with your phone and computer as wireless security tokens, they will also track your work and sleep habits.

Why? Because they can. They are based on hardware used in fitness trackers, so we didn’t need to reinvent the wheel and design the hardware from scratch. In fact, it would cost more to remove unnecessary features and sensors than to use off-the-shelf solutions.

Here are the specifications of our initial product:

  • Bluetooth 4.0 chip manufactured by Dialog
  • Accelerometer from ADI
  • 50mAh lithium polymer battery by Sony, 40-day battery life
  • Vibration assembly, three LED UI, notification speaker
  • Dimensions: 8mm x 15mm x 35mm (estimate)
  • Weight: 8g (estimate, without strap or clip-on)

We have not finalized the design yet, so the physical dimensions are just estimates. We are still in the process of deciding whether to use aluminium or polycarbonate for the housing, or a combination of both (we want it to look insanely cool). Either way, the device will be IP67 weather resistant, so you don’t even have to take it off when you hit the shower.

This is why we are convinced the device won’t be a nuisance. It’s tiny, you don’t have to charge it every other day, it can be carried as a standard fitness tracker on the wrist, keychain, and it can even fit in your wallet (as an added bonus, it can be used to alert users if they misplace their wallet or keys).

Of course, you could just pair it to your computer as wireless security device and forget about these features, but where’s the fun in that?

Here is what the TopBand brings to the table, allowing users to:

  • Secure their hardware by limiting access to our platform if the TopBand is not paired and in range of the device.
  • Locate misplaced phones, or vice versa (use a phone to find the TopBand).
  • Receive notifications, via vibration and audio alarms.
  • Collect physical activity data, which can be used to prevent burnout and keep track of your work habits (when used as a wearable).

The last point may prove controversial, but might be useful in some circumstances. For example, it will allow your team members to know whether or not you are awake and working, and it’s perfect for time tracking. Naturally, Toptal will not collect or use this data without prior consent. It’s there for your convenience; use it to improve your health and boost productivity.

Toptal Pet Project

While we were tinkering with the prototypes, a few Toptalers decided to create a potential spin-off, a pet project of sorts and when we say “pet project,” we literally mean pet project. A lot of our people are obsessed with their four-legged friends, so they went about devising ways of using our hardware in ways we did not expect: they turned the TopBand into a pet tracker.

The hardware was ready, so all it took was some tweaked code. We encouraged them to test the device on their pets; the data collected would prove valuable if only to ensure that unethical developers couldn’t cheat the system by mounting the TopBand on their cat and telling everyone they are at home, hard at work.

Pet-specific functionality is still being tested, but the results are encouraging. For the time being, the devices monitor basic activity, check whether or not your pet is asleep, and vibrate if the your pet strays out of range. It sounds a bit more humane than those nasty electric shock collars, doesn’t it?

It may sound weird, but there is nothing to worry about. We are assured pets will love our Bluetooth implants. And so will our developers.

It may sound weird, but there is nothing to worry about. We are assured pets will love our Bluetooth implants. And so will our developers.

Since cats and dogs come in all shapes and sizes, the biggest problem is sensor calibration, which the team is working on. The device was tested on a few cats, including a morbidly obese Italian feline, and dogs ranging from Jack Russells’ to Akita Inus.

Beyond that, we cannot reveal many details, and here is why; our developers have turned their pet project into a serious endeavour. They approached a few potential investors and secured funding for a limited commercial rollout (also scheduled for 2017), but this is just the first step towards a full pet product line.

Our team is already working on the next generation pet tracker, based on proprietary hardware, with wireless charging and the ability to be used as a subdermal implant.

Sounds Geeky, But Your Pets Will Love It

Subdermal implants have a bad reputation, but most of it is unjustified and peddled by conspiracy cranks. If you ask any pet professional, they will tell you that animals larger than a rat don’t even notice them, and in fact, they tend to be safer and more comfortable than most smart collars. Microchipping is already a widely supported practice globally to minimize stray pet populations; this just takes it one step further.

Until now, subdermal implants were limited to rudimentary RFID functionality and this limited their appeal. This isn’t a swipe at RFID tech; a lot of legit companies are working on RFID implants, and Dangerous Things is one startup that stands out in terms of innovation.

However, Qi wireless charging assemblies are getting smaller and cheaper with each new generation. This, obviously, allows engineers to design feature-packed implants because they can afford to use more battery power for sensors and always-on Bluetooth connectivity.

Unfortunately, we are still not there, and the first prototypes won’t be ready until 2018 at the earliest. Our hardware partners also informed us they won’t be able to conduct animal trials in mainland China, due to the country’s strict and inflexible animal rights legislation.

See? Does that look like one happy pussycat or what?

See? Does that look like one happy pussycat or what?

Therefore, the devices will be tested in Cambodia. We were assured the research would be ethical, so there’s nothing to worry about. Our team is eager to try out the implants on their own pets, and they wouldn’t dream of doing anything that would put their furry bundles of joy at risk.

If It’s Good Enough For My Dog…

This is where we hit a minor snag. Thanks to Toptal’s gung-ho culture, two of our team members volunteered to have the implants tested on them, not just their pets. While it’s still too early for human trials, it goes to show that people might not mind using subdermal implants, provided they can trust the technology. Since these individuals played a pivotal role in the development of our TopBand, they are eager to prove the concept. We are told it sort of gets under your skin after a while.

We need human subjects to test wireless charging and a few other features, as attempts to train cats and dogs to sit in one place for hours are unlikely to work. We settled on an alternative approach for the pilot stage, whereby the animals could still move around and recharge their implants, but this involves strapping a big powerbank and Qi charger mat to the animals. As an interim solution, we plan to make good use of ‘cat condo’ cages and catnip to prove the concept over the course of a few hours.

Don’t worry, Big Brother won’t be watching you. Since we are a distributed network, everyone will be watching you!

Don’t worry, Big Brother won’t be watching you. Since we are a distributed network, everyone will be watching you!

Human trials are still a long way off, and they require more planning and regulatory oversight. While this approach works for new drugs, we don’t have the time or resources necessary for clinical trials. However, our volunteers agreed to sign a waiver and have the implants installed anyway. Since this could create legal issues in the EU or US, they managed to find a small, Brazilian plastic surgery clinic willing to do the job. The clinic also offered a generous discount on gynecomastia procedures.

Toptal is looking for more volunteers, and there is no doubt in my mind that we will find them. After all, Google managed to find thousands of people eager to pay $1,500 for a useless wearable, only to stop development months later, and they still called it a success! These brave Explorers didn’t even mind being called Glassholes by the interwebs.

As one Toptal volunteer put it:

“I’d rather have an implant the size of an avocado in my groin, than Google Glass on my face!”

Note: No cats were harmed in the making of this post.

This article was written by NERMIN HAJDARBEGOVIC, a Toptal editor.