News roundup: Facebook’s looming D-Day, another Huawei scandal, and a fiery end to SpaceX’s Mars-bound rocket

A round up of this week's technology news including a huge antitrust battle for Facebook, a trio of exciting tech IPOs, and a new COVID-tracking app for California.

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FireEye targeted in state-sponsored cyber attack

Cyber security giant FireEye announced it had been targeted in a serious cyber attack on Tuesday, with the firm confirming it was likely that a state-sponsored hacking group were the perpetrators. The company says hackers made off with a set of pen test tools developed and used by cyber experts to simulate real attackers and test the security of its customers.

While this immediately rang alarm bells with many experts (as such a leak has led to things like WannaCry in the past), the tools appear to be incremental improvements to publicly known techniques, lowering the associated risk. It is rumoured that Russian state-backed group APT29 (Cozy Bear) are behind the attacks, according to a report from the Washington Post.  

Mergers and acquisitions

Softbank reportedly sells robotics firm Boston Dynamics to Hyundai, Cisco picks up live audience polling platform Slido and customer interaction platform IMImobile, Cybersec firm NortonLifeLock (previously Symantec) acquires Avira for $360 million, New Relic acquires Kuberntetes observability platform Pixie Labs, Google Cloud quietly buys data warehouse management firm Dataform, 3D printing pioneer Stratasys picks up industry startup Origin for $100 million, AT&T sells anime streaming service Crunchyroll to Sony, British telco BT sells two business units in Italy to Telecom Italia, and Uber sells off its Elevate ‘air taxi’ division to Joby Aviation and its self-driving car business to Aurora.

IPOs aplenty

IPOs are always an exciting time, not only for the organisations themselves, but also for the diehards among us to nihilistically see whether an IPO will be a roaring success, or a massive failure. This week we had a few prominent tech-related IPOs to watch in this regard, and for all appearances it seems they were hugely successful.

One of the more prolific IPOs - and one that we’ve been anticipating for a while - was that of Airbnb. The company made its NASDAQ debut on Thursday, with its share price more than doubling after hitting the public market. This made for an overall valuation of the company of close to an insane US$100 billion, as investors clamoured for the highly lucrative new issue. This has followed what has been a fairly strenuous 2020 on the short-term property rental company as travel screamed to a halt. Although it now finds itself at a valuation even twice that of major hotel chain Marriott.

Food-delivery platform DoorDash also made a stock market debut this week, with its $72 billion market cap quickly earning it the title of ‘most ridiculous’ IPO of 2020. Giving it that label was market research firm New Constructs, who last year awarded the ‘most ridiculous’ title to WeWork for its infamously botched IPO of 2019. Why so ridiculous? Well the analyst says it's a ridiculous cap for a company that lacks profitability and has massive competition in its market, while also positioning the IPO as being a product of ‘pandemic pull-forward.’

Last cab off the rank is the artificial intelligence software and app company, which is spearheaded by billionaire and ex-Oracle executive Tom Siebel. Once again, C3’s IPO was a big success, with stock soaring more than 140% in the firm’s initial minutes trading on Wednesday, with a market cap of $10 billion.

FCC moves against China Telecom in the US

The Federal Communications Commission has begun the process of revoking China Telecom’s authorisation to operate locally in the US. Current FCC chairman Ajit Pai says the several US government agencies had recommended the revocation, noting national security concerns around China Telecom’s compliance with Chinese requests for information.

The FCC also rejected a petition from Huawei asking for the agency to reconsider its decision designating the Chinese tech giant as a national security threat. It also moved to finalise rules that require carriers with ZTE or Huawei equipment to “rip and replace” the kit, creating a reimbursement program to subsidize smaller carriers to carry out the replacements.

The FCC’s announcements come the same week as China announced it would pull hundreds of applications from its mobile app stores, including that of US-based digital travel giant TripAdvisor, as part of a “clean up” effort. The apps - which were mostly locally based in China - were pulled from Chinese marketplaces on the grounds that they were considered “illegal” by the Chinese government.

California becomes largest US state to employ contact tracing app

The US state of California has finally begun employing a coronavirus contact tracing application for its citizens, based on Apple and Google’s jointly-developed technology. While the tech has been utilised in many countries and states around the world, it only just experienced its home-town debut as of Thursday this week.

The app is called CA notify and can either be downloaded as an application on Android, or simply turned on as a feature in iOS. It marks the 18th US state to employ a coronavirus contact tracing application (plus Washington D.C.), with states like New York, Colorado, Nevada, Michigan, and Delaware all having already employed such an application.

‘Successful’ SpaceX launch ends in fiery crash landing

Elon Musk’s aerospace venture SpaceX launched its massive steel ‘Starship SN8’ rocket into the skies this week, marking a preliminary test launch for a type of rocket technology Musk expects to be taking people to Mars in the not so distant future. While the launch was lauded by the company as a success, with the rocket flying directly upward for over 5 minutes and successfully flipping itself around to land, unfortunately it didn’t quite nail the landing.

The ship landed with a huge, fiery explosion that honestly looked like something out of Independence Day. While it’s probably not the greatest look for a vessel designed to one day carry people into space, Musk still rejoiced at its success. In a Tweet, Musk said, "Fuel header tank pressure was low during landing burn, causing touchdown velocity to be high & RUD, but we got all the data we needed!"

To be fair, he only gave it a 1 in 3 chance of survival in the first place and SpaceX’s modus operandi is to embrace crash landings as a means to rapidly learn from the data it produces, as opposed to NASA’s slower, more methodical approach. All I can say with certainty, though, is that it does make for a fairly entertaining piece of video.

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