News roundup: Twitter ditches Trump, Intel gets a new CEO, and Parler gets binned

A round up of this week's technology news including a permanent Twitter ban for Donald Trump, more chip consolidation, and a new line-up of Samsung phones.


Trump’s social media woes continue

Following on from last week’s social media bans on US president Donald Trump as a result of the riots in Washington D.C. , one of the biggest stories this week has been Twitter’s decision to permanently ban the outgoing commander in-chief. The social media company had previously suspended the president for 12 hours before allowing him back, but then decided to drag him off again in a more permanent fashion.

Addressing the decision, Twitter said, “After close review of recent Tweets from the @realDonaldTrump account and the context around them we have permanently suspended the account due to the risk of further incitement of violence.

"In the context of horrific events this week, we made it clear on Wednesday that additional violations of the Twitter Rules would potentially result in this very course of action."

Later this week, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey said banning Trump was the right thing to do, although he has expressed concern over the "extraordinary and untenable circumstances" surrounding the suspensions, while taking some responsibility for failing to foster “healthy conversation”. In a Twitter thread, he said he feels no pride in instituting the ban, describing it as having set “a precedent I feel is dangerous” in regards to “the power an individual or corporation has over part of the global public conversation.”

Following Twitter’s decision, YouTube also decided it would suspend Trump’s channel on the platform, preventing it from uploading new videos or live-streaming content for a minimum of seven days. The Google-owned platform says the channel had broken its rules over the incitement of violence, although it didn’t go as far as to hide the whole feed.

US shifts focus on investment bans, Xiaomi pays for it

The Trump administration has had a change in heart in regards to its bans on US investment in Chinese companies, shifting its focus away from Alibaba, Tencent, and Baidu while highlighting smartphone giant Xiaomi as its newest target.

According to a report from the Wall Street Journal on Wednesday, the US is now expected to scrap its plans to issue investment bans on Chinese technology juggernauts Alibaba, Tencent, and Baidu. WSJ says the decision came after the government weighed the firm’s alleged ties to China against the potential economic fallout of banning them, presumedly deciding the latter would be too intense to go forward with the bans. Indeed, the three companies have a combined market capitalisation of $1.4 trillion, so their economic value may well have proven to be the deciding factor.

However, the gain of those three firms has seemingly proven to be the loss of Xiaomi, as the US announced that the world’s third largest smartphone manufacturer would be added to the investment blacklist, alleging ties to the Chinese military. The move means that US investors will now be banned from buying shares or related securities associated with the company, while mandating they also divest or sell out of any existing holdings.

Xiaomi has denied any ties to the Chinese military, issuing a statement arguing, it “is not owned, controlled or affiliated with the Chinese military, and is not a ‘Communist Chinese Military Company’ defined under the NDAA.”

Intel appoints a new CEO

Intel has announced a major change at the top of its ranks, announcing its current CEO Bob Swan will be stepping down, effective as of February 15. An appointment considered by IDG Connect's Martin Veitch way back in 2013, Swan will be replaced by Pat Gelsinger, who will leave his post as VMware’s chief executive to return to the company where he previously spent 30 years.

In a statement, Gelsinger said it was a privilege to return to the company in a leadership capacity, remarking, “I am thrilled to re-join and lead Intel forward at this important time for the company, our industry and our nation.” Intel describes Gelsinger as a “proven technology leader with a distinguished track record of innovation, talent development, and a deep knowledge of Intel.” The firm says he will prove a vital part of its transformation from “a CPU to a multi-architecture company.”

Indeed, Gelsinger joins Intel at an important period for California-based chip giant, as it battles production issues and loses market share to competitors such as AMD.

Security roundup

  • Email security company Mimecast has issued a statement confirming that hackers had hijacked its products to spy on customers. The company says Microsoft brought the attack to the company’s attention, alerting them that “a sophisticated threat actor” had compromised a certificate used to guard connections between Mimecast products and MS’s cloud services. It says around 10% or 36,000 customers were impacted, with some evidence a small number were specifically targeted.
  • The largest dark web marketplace in the world known as DarkMarket has been taken offline as part of an international police operation involving Europol, the UK’s National Crime Agency, and US officials. The network facilitated over 320,000 transactions, with over 2,400 sellers and almost 500,000 users all conducting their dodgy dealings on the platform. An Australian citizen, believe to be the operator of DarkMarket, has also been arrested in relation to the police operation.
  • The European Union’s medical agency has admitted that hackers are leaking coronavirus vaccine-related information on the internet, following last month’s cyber-attack on the institution. The European Medicines Agency says the previously disclosed attack resulted in the theft of vaccine data, with an investigation revealing it had since made its way onto the internet. It has assured that the breach has not impacted the rollout of vaccines in the region, or the regulatory work it’s doing in association with that.
  • A bug in the neighbours application from Amazon’s video doorbell company Ring has resulted in the exposure of precise location data of its users. The app – designed as a neighbourhood watch-like platform to alert nearby residents to crime and public safety issues – featured a flaw that leaked the location data of users posting to it, including those reporting crimes. The development comes the same week that Ring announced it would be beginning the rollout of end-to-end encryption for some of its devices.

SolarWinds data up for sale online

In yet another update to the massive SolarWinds hacking campaign, a website has popped up online that claims to possess stolen data (including source code) of many of the attack’s associated victims. The site – called SolarLeaks – claims it has stolen data from the likes of Microsoft, Cisco, FireEye, and SolarWinds themselves.

The site has put a $600,000 price tag on partial source code of Windows and various MS repositories, with proof of the code shared online through a file hosting service. Cisco-related source code and an internal bug tracker for multiple products has also surfaced on the site for $500,000, while SolarWinds source code including Orion and a customer portal dump is up for $250,000.

It marks yet another concerning development in the SolarWinds campaign, which has already become one of the most talked about hacks in recent years. SolarWinds themselves have also tapped former CISA director Chris Krebs and  former Facebook security executive Alex Stamos as crisis-response consultants in the wake of the attacks, as its fallout continues to worsen with time. 

Mergers and acquisitions

Google closes $2.1 billion acquisition of Fitbit, Qualcomm announces US$1.4 billion acquisition of Arm-based CPU startup NUVIA, Visa’s acquisition of Plaid is called off, Equifax buys fraud prevention firm Kount for $640 million, Cisco and Acacia strike new acquisition deal despite disputes earlier in the week, Snap buys location data startup StreetCred, Accenture announces acquisition of Brazilian MSSP Real Protect, US-based IT services provider Cognizant acquires Australian consultancy Servian, IBM buys a pair of managed service providers with acquisitions of Salesforce consultancy 7Summits and US-based consulting firm Taos, Roku acquires Quibi’s steaming catalogue, India’s largest online Edtech startup Byju reportedly makes $1 billion acquisition of blackstone-backed Aakash tutorials, Barcelona-based business-trip platform TravelPerk acquires US-based rival NexTravel, and Weber picks up smart oven firm June.

Parler binned

The controversial “free speech” social media platform Parler has found itself in a world of hurt this week, as many major tech companies blocked or walked away from the company. Google was the first to strike, as it removed the network’s app from its Play store, with Apple also pulling it from its App store shortly after. Google said the bans would be in place until Parler adds “robust” content moderation, which, well, I’m assuming it won’t do that.

Although the striking blow came from Amazon as its major hosting provider AWS decided to pull the pin on its services, effectively pulling the entire site offline. Parler responded by suing Amazon in the US Direct court in Seattle, alleging that the suspension violated antitrust law and breached a contractual agreement. Separately, Parler CEO John Matze told Reuters that the site may never recover from the suspension. 

The suspensions were all in relation to an uptick of violent content being uploaded to Parler, surrounding the D.C. riots. The platform has been favoured heavily by conservatives and extremists due to its relevant promises not to moderate content.

Qualcomm acquires NUVIA

There has been further consolidation in the semiconductor market this week as US chipmaking giant Qualcomm announced a $1.4 billion acquisition of ARM-based CPU startup Nuvia, a two-year old company run by former Apple chip executives that boasts a range of innovative server chip designs for data centres.

However, Qualcomm will also use Nuvia’s tech to bolster its mobile-grade chips, which it uses in everything from smartphones, laptops, automotive components, and IoT devices. Interestingly, while both companies use ARM tech, Qualcomm licenses its cores from ARM while Nuvia designs its own, marking one possible synergy between the two firms.

Dropbox makes substantial layoffs

Cloud storage vendor Dropbox made the troubling announcement this week that it will be axing 315 staff, making up about 11% of its global workforce. The cuts include the firm’s global chief operating officer Olivia Nottebohm, who will depart on the 5th of February.

Addressing staff, co-founder and CEO Drew Houston said it was the “toughest decision” that he had to make in the company’s 14-year existence.

“Last spring I made a commitment to all of you to preserve job security through 2020, and it was important to me that we honored that promise,” Houston said. “But looking ahead at 2021 and beyond, it’s clear that we need to make changes in order to create a healthy and thriving business for the future.”

He said that while the cuts were “painful” they were also necessary, remarking that the company was now on the right path in terms of remote working and leadership structure.

Tech giants look to make ‘COVID passports’

As vaccination efforts ramp up across the globe, a group of medical and technology companies have begun development of a COVID-19 vaccination passport, designed as a method of proving inoculation to public or private entities. The project has the backing of some major industry players, including Microsoft, Salesforce, and Oracle, as well as healthcare non-profit Mayo Clinic, operating under the moniker ‘the Vaccination Credential Initiative’ (VCI).

VCI says it wants to develop technology that allows people to obtain an encrypted digital copy of their immunization credentials, with the passport being stored in the digital wallet of their choice (such as Apple wallet or Google Pay). It says those without a smartphone could also receive paper printed with QR codes containing verifiable credentials.

Samsung launch their latest flagship phones on the last day of CES

There are a few headline-demanding events in the consumer devices calendar and as CES carried on in an all-digital form this week, it was almost overshadowed by an event hosted by a single vendor. Samsung brought forward the launch of its flagship Galaxy S series to this week (with the phones usually being announced in February), hosting its own, separate unpacked event during the last day of CES 2021.

While, to be fair, nothing could really trounce CES, which featured everything from rollable phones and TVs  to several consumer chip announcements, the launch of Samsung’s S21 lineup is always bound to garner a lot of attention. That continued this year, as the South Korean tech-giant unveiled three new devices in the Galaxy S family, the S21, S21 Plus, and the S21 Ultra.

One of the more immediately appealing aspects of the new lineup is that they are actually $200 cheaper than last year’s, coming in at $800 for the S21, $1000 for the S21 Plus, and $1200 for the Ultra (in the US). In terms of improvements and changes, the phones feature refinements to camera/ camera arrays, a new design language, and faster processors (upgrading to the Snapdragon 888 in the US and Samsung’s Exynos 2100 in other regions).

The two lower tier phones also feature flat screens, ditching the curved design the company has been using for years for its flagships. Meanwhile, the S21 Ultra will be the first to support the company’s S Pen stylus, raising grave concerns for the future of its Note series.

The three phones will be available as of January 29, with pre-orders starting from today, so if you’re a Samsung nut, well, you’ve probably already done that.