News roundup: Twitter v Trump continues, Apple goes in-house for Mac chips, and the EU charges Amazon

A roundup of this week’s tech news, including Trump’s continued Twitter beef, a brand new Arm-powered series of Macs, and Tesla’s foray into tequila.

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Twitter’s Trump fact-checking continues

Well what a crazy couple of weeks it has been in US politics. While things were fairly up in the air towards the end of last week, we have since crowned a winner of the 2020 presidential election in Democratic nominee Joe Biden. Of course, not everyone agrees on that point, as Donald Trump continues to claim that he won key states, and that Biden's win was only due to unsubstantiated claims of voter fraud.

As we covered last week, Trump took to Twitter to vent these frustrations and make such allegations, and Twitter continued to moderate him. The social media giant placed labels on a substantial number of the President’s tweets and retweets, flagging disputed claims and even providing alternative information. Indeed, Trump’s twitter feed in now filled with dozens of labels that challenge and doubt his claims of fraud, of which his administration has yet to provide substantial evidence for.

Overall, Twitter says it labelled 300,000 tweets around the election for content considered to be potentially misleading. This has sparked a debate around the role of Twitter (and all other social media tech giants) in regards to content moderation, particularly when it comes to politics, with many conservative voices arguing against such intervention and making claims of left-wing bias on social platforms. Adding further fuel to this fire was Twitter’s suspension of Steve Bannon late last week, who called for violence against the Dr Fauci and FBI Director Christopher Wray.

Many conservatives are evidently so peeved with Twitter they are flocking to a ring-wing friendly alternative. Reports surfaced this week that Parler, a so-called “free-speech” social network, almost doubled its active user count this week, growing from 4.5 million to more than 8 million. To be honest, it seems like dodgy territory considering how prolific fake news and baseless conspiracy theories are becoming on the web, but that’s just me.

Tech leaders congratulate Joe Biden

Speaking of the presidential election, big tech leaders wasted no time in congratulating democratic nominee Joe Biden on his victory, no doubt hoping to signal ease for their companies who have often been at odds with the current administration. Microsoft president Brad Smith was one of the first cabs off the rank here, penning a blog post congratulating Biden and Harris while calling for unity in the United States.

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos also sent his regards on Instagram, commenting the Biden/Harris victory signalled that, “unity, empathy and decency are not characteristics of a bygone era.” Of course, Bezos has had major run-ins with Donald Trump since he took the presidency, with Trump taking issue over Bezos’ ownership of the Washington Post, amongst other things.

Likewise, Bill Gates penned a forward-looking congratulatory Tweet, saying “I look forward to working with the new administration and leaders on both sides in Congress on getting the surging pandemic under control.” Others to send their regards through to Joe Biden include Cisco CEO Chuck Robbins, Box CEO Aaron Levie, and Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, as well as the Business Roundtable, whose members include the CEOs of Apple, Microsoft, and Salesforce.

Whether the forthcoming Biden administration will be an easier on big tech remains to be seen, though, as the sector has copped a lot of bipartisan criticism of late. In fact, one of Joe Biden’s senior aides attacked Facebook over its handling of conspiracy theories, calls to violence, and disinformation in the days following the election.

Apple finally unveils Arm-based Macs

After what has been years of ‘will they or won’t they’ Apple has finally taken the plunge and launched a series of Macs featuring their own in-house Arm-based chips. The move marks a substantial milestone for the company, which has been using Intel CPUs since it began its transition away from PowerPC in 2005.

Apple has spruiked the new SoC – dubbed the Apple M1 – as faster and much more power efficient than its intel chipsets. The M1 features an 8-core CPU and an 8-core GPU that Apple says will deliver 3.5x performance over “competing CPUs.” The M1 also includes a Thunderbolt controller, which was a major concern for those that feared Thunderbolt may have been on the chopping block for the Arm transition.

The M1 will be available on the 2020 MacBook Air, MacBook Pro 13, and the MacMini at launch, with these devices having been made available for pre-order immediately. Reviewers will, of course, be dying to get their hands on these devices to really test them out, as Apple’s event didn’t provide much in the way of benchmarks, so time will tell if their claims really do translate to reality.

It’s worth noting that Intel haven’t completely been ditched by Apple yet, with Cupertino rather opting for a phased approach, starting with their more entry-level machines. Still, it marks the beginning of the end for what has really been a solid partnership between the two firms.

Mergers and acquisitions

Huawei reportedly planning US$15 billion sale of its Honor mobile unit to a consortium of investors including the Shenzhen government, Adobe shells $1.5 billion for marketing workflow startup Workfront, DoJ files antitrust lawsuit over Visa’s acquisition of Plaid, Uber gets greenlight on Postmates deal, Spotify buys ad platform Megaphone for $235 million, Snap acquires Israeli AI voice agent startup Voca.ai, Palo Alto Networks acquires cybersec provider Expanse for $800 million, Email encryption provider Zix picks up cloud backup and recovery firm CloudAlly, Elliott Management reportedly snags stake in F5 networks,  Lightspeed buys POS rival ShopKeep in $440 million deal, and Hyundai reportedly in talks to acquire robotics firm Boston Dynamics.

Security roundup

  • Japanese video game-making giant Capcom has fallen prey to a ransomware attack, with hackers demanding an eye-boggling US$11 billion worth of bitcoin to keep their confidential information safe. The company previously confirmed that the attack took place on the 2nd of November and has been taking steps to restore processes since then, with police investigations currently taking place.
  • Speaking of ransomware, Compal – the world’s second largest laptop manufacturer – was hit with an nasty attack over the weekend, with 30% of its computer fleet being impacted. The DoppelPaymer ransomware gang is believed to be behind the campaign against the Taiwanese firm, which manufactures laptops for the likes of Apple, Acer, Lenovo, HP, Toshiba, and Dell. However, Compal executive Qingxiong Lu has denied reports of ransomware, while admitting that the company did suffer a security breach.
  • Security researchers have this week uncovered a new method of extracting sensitive data, including encryption keys, from Intel CPUs. The attack has been dubbed PLATYPUS and abuses a legitimate CPU power monitoring interface known as RAPL, using it as a side-channel to expose data.
  • IBM has joined forces with AMD in order to expand their security and AI offerings. In an effort to push confidential computing initiatives (i.e. essentially the effective encryption of data as it is being processed) in hybrid cloud environments, the two companies are working to extend open source software, open standards, and open system architectures. The project also supports accelerators across high-performance computing, and enterprise-focused capabilities such as virtualisation.

EU charges Amazon with antitrust abuses

After a year-long probe, the EU has charged Amazon with anti-trust offenses, specifically accusing the tech/retail giant of abusing its dominant position to prioritise its own services. The European Commission (EC) said Amazon has been using non-public data on third-party sellers on its marketplace to boost the sales of its own-label goods. The EC also launched a new probe into whether Amazon offers preferential treatment to seller that use its paid logistic services.

The ECs findings allege that Amazon accesses sensitive data – such as sales figures, page visits, or shipping info - from small to medium-sized businesses on its platform within Europe. The EC says the tech giant then uses this info to help boost the sales of its own products, or in choosing suppliers. Amazon now faces a potential fine of up to 10% of its global turnover if it was to be found guilty of breaching competition law, which could be upwards of US$19 billion.

Huawei reportedly shedding ‘Honor’ mobile business unit

Chinese tech giant Huawei is close to selling off its Honor mobile business unit to a number of Chinese investors, according to a report this week from Reuters. Huawei is reportedly considering the sale of Honor – which is the company’s budget smartphone brand – for the eye-watering sum of 100 billion yuan (US$15.2 billion).

The consortium of interested buyers, according to the report, is being led by handset distributor Digital China and even includes the government of Huawei’s hometown of Shenzhen. The move would mark a strategic move towards high-end handsets for Huawei, whose ability to produce and procure mobile chipsets having been heavily inhibited as a result of the US’s restrictions on the company.

In other Huawei-related news, the company was also dealt a rare win in Sweden this week, as regulators halted the country’s 5G spectrum auctions after a court suspended parts of its recent decision to exclude Huawei from the country's 5G rollout.

Ex-Microsoft employee cops 9-year prison sentence for stealing $10 million

Former Microsoft engineer, 26-year-old Volodymyr Kvashuk, has been sentenced to 9 years in prison for defrauding the tech giant out of more than $US10 million. A Seattle court handed down the sentence, finding Kvashuk guilty of 18 federal felonies as part of the scheme, while ordering a payment of over $8 million in conjunction with the jail time.

Kvashuk used his access to Microsoft’s online retail sales platform to siphon currency stored value, such as digital gift cards. He then sold this value online, using the proceeds to buy himself a 1.6 million Lakefront home and a $160,000 Tesla.

Microsoft releases .NET 5

Microsoft has officially taken the wraps of its .NET 5 software development platform, which it has now released following more than a year of development time. Launching on November 10, the latest iteration of the widely used platform emphasises a much larger degree of unification, while introducing the C# 9 and F# 5 programming languages.

Microsoft has described .NET 5 as the first release in the company’s unification journey, with the platform being built to enable a larger group of developers to migrate .NET Framework code and apps to .NET 5. It combines elements of the .NET Framework, .NET Core, and Mono to create a single platform for all modern .NET code.

6G satellites take orbit

If one were to consider the international fight to develop next-generation telecommunications technologies as akin the space race, it would appear that China took a massive step this week, after the country successfully launched a 6G satellite into space. The satellite was blasted into orbit in order to test new spectrum bands that will be used to power future networks.

While it’s true that 6G is very much still in the early, early stages of development and the satellite will contain very little actual 6G kit, it is widely expected that the addition of integrated intelligence and a new ‘terahertz’ spectrum will deliver hugely improved speeds, capacity, and latency for 6G networks.

This spectrum – which could help 6G hit speeds 100 times faster than 5G – will be the focus of these new satellites, which will test the performance in the medium of space.

Tesla tequila sells out in hours

You see it every year. A company will “advertise” a very quirky or out of character product or service on April 1st as a joke, only to gauge reaction and end up actually turning the product into a reality years, or even months, down the line. That’s exactly what Tesla has done now, making reference to a bottle of tequila dubbed “Teslaquilla” in a tweet by CEO Elon Musk in 2018.

Everyone may have laughed it off at the time and thought nothing of it, although that didn’t stop the company filing for an application with the US patent and trademark office for Teslaquilla later that year, only to legitimately bring it to market this week.  Low and behold, a lighting shaped bottle of Tesla Tequila (alas, not teslaquilla) hit availability this week and subsequently sold out immediately.

We must admit, the bottle is actually pretty impressive and considering the demand, it might have been a smart move by Tesla. Although it mostly serves as a marketing device, as its really not available anywhere at the time of writing, with bottles including empty ones) going on eBay for thousands.