News roundup: the US takes on Google in huge lawsuit

Gavel on wooden block
Shutterstock

US launches landmark anti-trust case against Google

In what is being described as the most significant legal challenge to a major tech company in decades, the United States Department of Justice has filed a lawsuit against Google for anti-competitive practices. Specifically, the DoJ accuses the tech giant of abusing its power to maintain an illegal monopoly within the search and advertising industry, acting as a gatekeeper to the web through a set of business arrangements designed to shut out any competition.

In the suit, the DoJ alleged that the once “scrappy start-up with an innovative way to search the emerging internet” that Google was is long gone, with the company now using “pernicious” anti-competitive tactics to uphold its monopolistic dominance within the market. One of these tactics, according to the DoJ, is the preloading of its search app within Android smartphones, which can’t actually be deleted. The suit also points to Google’s practice of paying billions to “secure default status for its general search engine and, in many cases, to specifically prohibit Google’s counterparties from dealing with Google’s competitors.”

Google commented that the lawsuit is “deeply flawed” in a statement, arguing, “People use Google because they choose to – not because they’re forced to or because they can’t find alternatives… This lawsuit would do nothing to help consumers. To the contrary, it would artificially prop up lower-quality search alternatives, raise phone prices, and make it harder for people to get the search services they want to use.”

This latest development marks the continuation the US’s apparent sour mood toward its generally beloved tech giant darlings, with various investigations taking place, the release of an anti-trust report a couple of weeks ago, and a new set of FCC reforms last week. Things do really seem to be heating up in Silicon Valley.

 

Russian and Iranian hackers targeting US presidential election

While you may well be forgiven for thinking we’re back in 2016, fresh allegations have surfaced this week of Russian and Iranian interference in the big US presidential election between Donald Trump and Joe Biden. In a briefing on Wednesday, the FBI issued a warning that the two countries had obtained US voter registration data and were working to influence the election. The agency said Iran had used this information to send threatening, faked emails to voters, with more plans to influence the elections in the coming days.

However the US says Russia is a particular point of concern, as officials confirmed the following day that Russian hackers directly targeted the networks of dozens of state and local governments in the US in recent days, stealing data from at least two servers. The FBI and the department of Homeland security issued the further advisory on Thursday, which describes an onslaught of illicit activity by a Russian state-sponsored hacking group against various networks.

The news comes the same week that the US and the UK have accused Russia of planning a disruptive cyber-attack on Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic games, which are now scheduled for 2021. The joint intelligence report offers evidence that the country was prepared to disrupt the games, which has prohibited Russian athletes due to doping charges.

 

Dorsey and Zuckerberg cop subpoenas over NYP article

Following a bit of a snafu last week over Twitter and Facebook’s handling of a specific New York Post article, the US Senate Judiciary Committee has slapped the two founders of the social giants, Mark Zuckerberg and Jack Dorsey, with subpoenas. The billionaire tech founders will have to offer testimony for their apparent suppression of an article that made a series of accusations against Joe Biden’s son—suppression which has infuriated US conservatives who have levelled claims of bias towards the entities.

Twitter blocked the article and labelled it as “potentially unsafe,” which it said was because the article contained material retrieved as a result of hacking. Dorsey later acknowledged his company should have been clearer as to why the post was blocked. For its part, Facebook also limited the article's distribution on its platform, noting that this was a standard practice for controversial content, so fact checkers could take a look at it.

The two executives have been called to Washington to explain their content policies.

 

Mergers and acquisitions

South Korea’s SK Hynix buys Intel’s NAND memory and storage business in (USD) $9 billion deal, Juniper Networks acquires smart WAN start-up 128 Technology, Stripe picks up Nigeria-based payments firm Paystack, McAfee makes its return to Wallstreet after $740 million IPO, Chinese firms including Huawei reportedly raise concerns over Nvidia/ARM deal, Splunk buys two data observability firms Plumbr and Rigor, Telecommunication provider GTT Communications offloads infrastructure unit to I Squared Capital for (USD) $2.15 billion, and Australian security services firm CyberCX continues M&A spree with dual acquisition of Cloudten and Decipher Works.

 

Sweden bans Huawei from 5G

It appears that the US is really starting to gain traction when it comes to its anti-Huawei rhetoric and diplomatic pressure, as Sweden has become the latest country to ban the troubled Chinese tech giant. The country announced this week that it would not allow equipment from either Huawei or ZTE in its national 5G rollout, describing them as potential threats to national security.

Swedish telecoms regulator PTS said the decision followed advice from the country's armed forces and security service, which describe China as “one of the biggest threats against Sweden.” Another possible factor in the decision is the fact that Ericsson, one of Huawei’s major rivals, is based in Sweden, so it seems like an obvious solution to go with them for the majority of their 5G rollout. Nevertheless, the country follows in the footsteps of the UK, which issued similar bans earlier this year.

The news comes as Huawei took the veils off its latest “Mate 40” phone, which (while impressive), suffers serious supply setbacks as a result of US pressure and bans. Not only will the phone ship with an unlicenced (open source) version of Android sans any Google services, it may also suffer major hardware shortages with its key chip suppliers; a result of US bans on the company from using any American tech.

 

Security roundup

  • One of the pharmaceutical organisations known to be working on a COVID-19 vaccine has been targeted in a cyber-attack this week. India-based pharma firm Dr Reddy confirmed the attack, with a number of its international sites - including those in the UK, US, Russia, India, and Brazil – being affected by the attack. The company said it had isolated all of its data centre services in a containment effort, but refused to comment on whether the attack had an impact on production lines.
  • UK data protection regulators have issued a significantly reduced fine to the country’s flag carrier airline British Airways, over its huge 2018 data breach snafu. While initially, the UK’s Information Commissioners Office (ICO) planned on delivering message-sending £184 million penalty to the airline, the watchdog scaled the figure back to just £20 million, which is still the largest its ever doled out. The ICO said it reduced the fine considering the severe impact COVID-19 has had on BA, as well as the measures the company had implemented to address the applicable issues.
  • The US has officially filed criminal charges against six Russian intelligence officers for their alleged role in releasing the devastating NotPetya strain of ransomware as well as for the 2016 shutdown of power grids in Ukraine. The accused are members of the Russian GRU group, or Sandworm as cyber researchers have dubbed them, who are believed to be behind the attack. Prosecutors also say the six men were also responsible for disruptions to the 2017 French elections through “hack and leak” operations designed to discredit current president Emmanuel Macron.
  • Google revealed this week that it successfully mitigated the largest ever recorded Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attack, with a payload clocking in at 2.54 Tbps. The search giant said the attack occurred in 2017 and was a “culmination of a six-month campaign" targeting its server infrastructure, although it declined to outline which systems were targeted specifically.

 

Gartner outlines the big tech trends of 2021

Analyst firm Gartner has looked forward into the future to determine what it considers to be the next ‘big things’ in the world of IT. The institution has highlighted neuromorphic computing and DNA storage technologies as two big focus points, while detailing an expanded responsibility for CIOs to deliver digital-business outcomes.

The analyst firm says that as current tech reaches a tipping point, upcoming innovations and new technologies are poised to ‘reset everything’. This is where things like AI and computer vision speech recognition become hugely critical and subsequently pervasive.

The firm also says 30% of businesses will mandate DNA storage trials by 2024 to address overall storage inefficiencies, and has predicted that 75% of conversations at work will be recorded and analysed to enable the discovery of added organisational value. That last one is pretty darn concerning if you ask me.

PayPal gets crypto

Well as much as we all thought that crypto would be nothing but a fleeting, mostly-underground moment of tech history when bitcoin first hit the web in 2008, digital currencies seem to be inching closer and closer to becoming a mainstream mode of payment. This reality came even closer this week, as it was announced that PayPal will begin allowing cryptocurrencies – including Bitcoin, Bitcoin Cash, Litecoin, and Ethereum – to be used on its platform.

PayPal CEO Dan Schulman described the announcement as inevitable, saying crypto has “clear advantages in terms of financial inclusion and access; efficiency, speed and resilience of the payments system; and the ability for governments to disburse funds to citizens quickly."

The feature will rollout to US-based PayPal accounts in the coming weeks, although it will also come to “select international markets” in 2021.

Azure hits the final frontier

While Microsoft may have been inclined to describe its Azure cloud computing platform as ‘out of this world’ in the past, the company is taking this to a whole new level this week, after announcing a brand new venture called “Azure Space”. The dedicated business unit is made up of industry heavyweights and engineers focused on space-sector services including simulation of space missions, gathering and interpreting satellite data to provide insights, and providing global satellite networking capabilities through new/expanded partnerships.

One of the tech giant's partners here is Elon Musk-headed SpaceX, which will be providing access to its Starlink fleet of satellite-based broadband networks for MS’s Azure Modular Datacentre (MDC). This will basically be an on-demand container-based data centre unit that can be deployed in remote locations.

 

Nokia to build 4G network on the moon

In keeping with 2020’s complete and utter sense of unpredictability, especially when it comes to news headlines, Nokia has announced that it has been chosen by NASA to build the first cellular network… on the moon.

The Finnish telecommunications giant said it had been given the task of building a 4G communications system to be deployed on a lunar lander to the moon’s surface in late 2022. The move is part of the space agency’s Artemis moon-landing program, which aims to establish a human presence on the moon as somewhat of a tester for later missions to Mars.

Nokia equipment is set to include a base station, antennas and software, all of which will be designed to withstand harsh launches and lunar landings, as well as the extreme conditions of space.