Boston Tech Watch: Epstein, MIT Media Lab, Carbon Black, JRNI & More

A slower news week for Boston technology news, but not without its fireworks. Among them: Researchers are not taking the news well that MIT Media Lab director Joi Ito had extensive financial arrangements with Jeffrey Epstein, the convict and alleged child sex trafficker who committed suicide earlier this month awaiting trial. Read on for more.

—Palo Alto company VMware announced its plans to buy Carbon Black, a Waltham, MA-based cybersecurity firm, in a deal valuing the company at $2.1 billion. VMware also said it would be purchasing Pivotal Software in a deal valuing the company at $2.8 million.

—Two researchers at MIT’s Media Lab have left in the wake of revelations that the center’s director Joi Ito had deep financial connections with financier and convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein. Ito, in a letter released by MIT last week, apologized for his affiliation with Epstein, who donated money to the Media Lab as well as invested in several of Ito’s venture funds. Media scholar Ethan Zuckerman wrote in a post that he spoke with Ito about court documents that accuse Media Lab member Marvin Minsky of involvement with Epstein’s sex crimes, when Ito told him of the extent of his relationship with Epstein, who died last month of an apparent suicide in a New York jail. Zuckerman decided he could not stay at the Media Lab.

“My logic was simple: the work my group does focuses on social justice and on the inclusion of marginalized individuals and points of view,” he wrote. “It’s hard to do that work with a straight face in a place that violated its own values so clearly in working with Epstein and in disguising that relationship.”

Researcher Nathan Mathias also decided he’d leave the lab as a result of the revelations.

“Although I was a student at the Lab during the time that Joi cultivated a business and funding relationship with Epstein, I was not aware of any of this,” Mathias wrote. “I am profoundly disappointed in the decisions that Joi made, and that the Lab somehow allowed to happen. The Media Lab has confirmed to me that none of Epstein’s money ever reached me or CivilServant, which is some small relief.”

MIT president L. Rafael Reif yesterday released the university’s accounting of its relationship with Epstein: $800,000 donated over two decades by foundations controlled by Epstein. All the funds went to the Media Lab or Professor Seth Lloyd.

Reif said accepting the funds was a “mistake of judgement.”

“MIT offers faculty great freedom in conducting and building support for their research; that freedom is and always will be a precious value of our community,” Reif wrote. “Yet it is important to understand that faculty are not “on their own”; their decisions about gifts are always subject to longstanding Institute processes and principles. To my great regret, despite following the processes that have served MIT well for many years, in this instance we made a mistake of judgment.”

—Beth Israel healthtech guru John Halamka sat down with Xconomy’s Jeff Bauter Engel, and Halamka looked into his crystal ball about where digital health is heading. Come for the detail about his mushroom-foraging telemedicine practice, and stay for the prediction about whether AI will replace your doctor.

—Boston startup PredictiveHR has acquired Pennsylvania-based Method3, a recruitment process outsourcing and IT staffing services company. Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed. PredictiveHR says its software compiles human resources data into a single database and uses artificial intelligence tools to develop predictive personnel analytics. The company says it will continue to build out a global recruitment solutions center in Harrisburg, PA.

—JRNI, a Boston marketing tech startup formerly known as BookingBug, added $6 million to its Series C, pushing to total raised in the funding round to $19.4 million. PeakSpan Capital led the extended investment into JRNI, a customer engagement platform, with Downing Ventures and Somerston Group also participating. JRNI has raised a total of $23.2 million. The company opened a Manchester, NH, office in May to headquarter its US development operations.

—Autonomous marine startup Sea Machines Robotics says it successfully demonstrated its system aboard a skimmer boat participating in an oil-spill operation in Portland, ME. The demo was part of a cooperative agreement between the US Department of Transportation’s Marine Administration. Sea Machines has partnered with search-and-rescue boating companies and last December the company raised a $10 million Series A led by Accomplice and Eniac Ventures.

Brian Dowling is a Senior Editor at Xconomy, based in Boston. You can reach him at bdowling [at] xconomy.com. Follow @be_d

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