News roundup: fallout continues after US probes big tech

A roundup of this week's tech news, including the fallout from the US's big tech probe, Twitter's Joe Biden-related snafu, and AR goggles for dogs.

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Big tech antitrust probe fallout continues

The fallout from the US government's huge antitrust report last week has continued to plague big tech companies in the country, as various entities voice their opinions and further ramifications start to take shape. The US House Judiciary Committee released the report last Tuesday, investigating the power of some of the country's largest technology companies and specifically how their behaviour seeks to gain further monopolisation of their respective fields.

The report outlined a lot of recommendations including limitations on dominant platforms operating in adjacent lines of business, requirements for interoperability and data portability, non-discrimination requirements, a ban on self-preferencing, and tighter controls on mergers. If administered, either in whole or even in part, these recommendations would have an astounding impact on the way the technology industry currently operates.

Of course, the tech companies themselves – including Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Google -  were quick to dismiss the claims of the report as largely malarkey, with Amazon branding the findings as "fringe notions", and "regulatory spit balling," while Facebook said its business represents an "American success story."

It's clear, though, that this issue isn't fading away any time soon for these companies. To top off the Democrat-led report, Trump administration official William Barr is soon poised to file a monopoly-abuse lawsuit against Google, putting bipartisan pressure on the search and advertising giant. Meanwhile, the chair of the antitrust subcommittee, David Cicilline, said that he expects to draft legislation acting upon the report's recommendations by the end of the year.

Not one to shy away from an anti-trust spat, reports surfaced this week that the European Union is also considering applying more pressure on US-based tech behemoths. According to the Financial Times,  EU regulators are cooking up a "hit list" of roughly 20 companies that will face stricter regulatory hurdles relating to market competition and operational activities. Ultimately, it hasn't been a great couple of weeks for the people of Silicon Valley.

Twitter labelled 'biased' after Biden article snafu

Fresh claims of Democrat-leaning bias have been levelled at Twitter this week, after the company blocked a controversial New York Post article investigating emails sent by a Ukrainian Energy company adviser to Joe Biden's son Hunter (thanking Hunter for facilitating a meeting with Joe). After the article's publication, Twitter blocked it on its platform for being "potentially unsafe".

While to conservatives, including US president Donald Trump, this was a blatant act of bias towards the Democratic cause, Twitter says it only blocked the article because it contained leaked private information, obtained as a result of hacking. Nevertheless, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey acknowledged that his company should have been more transparent, admitting that blocking the article without context was "unacceptable".

Facebook found itself in similar hot water, limiting the article's distribution in its news feed as part of what it calls a "standard process" to give third-party fact-checkers time to review the content.

Five Eyes governments call for encryption backdoors

In yet another chapter of government officials warring against encryption practices and principles, the Five Eyes intelligence alliance – which includes the US, UK, Australia, New Zealand, and Canada – alongside Japan and India, have issued a fresh call for tech companies to facilitate 'back-door' access to encrypted communications.

Echoing similar calls made in 2018 and 2019 respectively, the officials claim the insistence of tech companies to provide robust end-to-end encryption (E2EE) services has been of severe detriment to law enforcement and intelligence operations. 

Members of the Steering Committee of the Global Encryption Coalition, including the internet Society, have expressed their opposition to the calls, arguing, "There is no encryption backdoor that only the good guys can access, and the bad guys cannot."

Mergers and acquisitions

Twilio drops $3.2 Billion USD on acquisition of customer data infrastructure company Segment,  AMD reportedly in talks to buy chipmaking rival Xilinx, Celonis picks up Czech startup Integromat, Financial data firm YCharts acquired by private equity organisation LLR Partners, UK regulator flags review of O2/Virgin merger, Shareholders of Swiss telco operator Sunrise Communications agree to multi-billion dollar Liberty Global takeover offer, Softbank pick up a 9.7% stake in Norway-based educational gaming company Kahoot, Supply-chain software firm E2open will go public after merging with acquisition company CC Neuberger Principal Holdings, Iliad reportedly scores EU antitrust clearance for $3.5 billion takeover of Polish mobile group Play, and Yahoo announces it will shut down its "Groups" social platform.

Security roundup

  • Norway has blamed Russia for a cyber-attack on the email systems of the Norwegian parliament, which occurred a few months back in August. Norwegian Foreign Minister Ine Eriksen Soreide firmly pointed her finger at Russia in a statement this week, saying "Based on the information available to the government it is our assessment that Russia stood behind this activity", although she did not offer any evidence. Moscow have denied the claims, describing them as a "serious and wilful provocation." 
  • US bookselling giant Barnes & Noble have been hit with a serious cyber-attack that may have resulted in the illicit access of sensitive customer information. The outlet has been notifying customers this week, warning that its network was indeed breached and that their info may have been leaked. While the company has confirmed the attack occurred on October 10th, it has assured shoppers that no payment or financial information has been compromised.
  • German enterprise software slingers Software AG have fallen prey to a ransomware attack, confirming over the weekend that the perpetrators (likely the Clop RW group) were releasing stolen data. The company declined to pay the huge $23 million bounty associated with the attack, while adding that there was no indication that customer services – including of the cloud variety – had been impacted at this stage.
  • The Trickbot botnet suffered a major setback this week, as Microsoft led a multi-company charge against the major ransomware facilitators. The MS-led cohort – which also included ESET, NTT, Symantec, FS-ISAC, and Lumen Black Lotus Labs - obtained a court order in the US to take down key infrastructure used by Trickbot, inhibiting it from being used as a vector for major attacks. While the move was praised as a major cyber security victory, it wasn't long before reports of new, replacement Trickbot infrastructure emerged, sparking concerns that the botnet is far from finished.

Apple lifts curtain on new iPhones

The biggest event on the consumer tech calendar has come and gone as Apple officially took the wraps off its latest iPhone range. Apple fanatics have four devices to choose from this year, with the iPhone 12, 12 Mini, 12 Pro, and 12 Pro Max rounding out the 2020 line-up. While there wasn't a whole lot about the phones that hadn't already been leaked, the phones all sported a design language not dissimilar to the iPhone 5, and all come equipped with 5G.

In terms of other upgrades, the phones all have an upgraded A14 Bionic chipset, a new ceramic infused screen (for toughness), and MagSafe magnetic accessory capabilities. The 12 Pro models both also include heavily upgraded Cameras, 6GB of Ram (compared to the 12's 4GB)  and a LiDAR scanner to enhance photography and AR capabilities. Honestly though the reasons to upgrade to the Pro versions seem miniscule and with four options, things are getting more and more confusing in Apple land.

Facebook bans Holocaust denial posts

In what seems like it should have been a headline shortly after Facebook's conception, the social media giant has announced that it will ban Holocaust denial content for the first time. The company said that its newly crafted policy prohibits "any content that denies or distorts the Holocaust".

Mark Zuckerberg said that while the company had "struggled with the tension" between free speech and banning content, he insists that "this is the right balance." He had previously said that he didn't believe that it was Facebook's place to take Holocaust denial content down, but has evidently changed his position with Monday's policy update.

AMD launch new CPUs

AMD has unveiled its latest line-up of Ryzen processors, the 5000 series, which has been hotly anticipated in the Desktop PC sphere as a major leap forward for AMD. The chips are the first to sport the company's Zen 3 architecture.

While the chips continue to use AMD's 7nm process, they offer a 19% increase in instructions per cycle compared to last year's Zen-based 3000 series of processors and feature a completely redesigned chip layout.

US army showcases AR for dogs

AR technology has the capacity to bewilder even the most tech-savvy of wearers, although the US army has taken this concept to the next level, after it showcased a set of AR googles specifically designed for dogs. The goggles have been delivered by a company called Command Sight and are designed to help handlers to direct dogs in combat.

Ordinarily, the dogs - who can scout ahead for explosives or other hazards - are directed using hand signals and laser pointers. The goggles allow these instructions to be delivered more remotely, with the dogs seeing digital visual indicators they can be trained to follow.