News roundup: Big tech firms challenged on online misinformation, Intel’s expansion plans & Salesforce’s move to tackle the digital skills gap

A roundup of this week’s technology news, including a US government inquiry into disinformation on big tech platforms, $20 billion expansion plans unveiled by Intel, a new online educational scheme launched by US cloud giant Salesforce, and more.

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Big tech bosses quizzed about disinformation

US lawmakers this week quizzed the CEOs of Facebook, Google and Twitter about the rise of disinformation on their respective platforms, as reported by the BBC.

At the start of the hearing, chair Mike Doyle asked Mark Zuckerberg, Sundar Pichai and Jack Dorsey whether they felt responsible for the January attack on the US Capitol. None of the three tech bosses responded with a simple “yes” or “no”.

A big topic of the hearing was the potential abolishment of Section 30, a legal clause that ensures websites aren’t legally liable for the content posted by their users. Mark Zuckerberg was in favour of minor reforms, writing: "We believe Congress should consider making platforms' intermediary liability protection for certain types of unlawful content conditional on companies' ability to meet best practice to combat the spread of this content."

The major theme of the hearing was the growing problem of online disinformation, particularly in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. Giving the CEOs a 24-hour deadline, Doyle urged each platform to remove 12 high-profile anti-vaccination protesters, explaining that they’re responsible for 65% of disinformation about the coronavirus vaccine.

Each of the CEOs spoke about how their respective companies have been tackling disinformation. Mark Zuckerberg said that Facebook has taken down over 12 million dubious posts related to the coronavirus pandemic. Sundar Pichai outlined YouTube’s efforts to clamp down on content that could’ve misled voters in the run-up to the 2020 US presidential election. Jack Dorsey explained that tackling misinformation should start with improving user trust through "enhancing transparency, ensuring procedural fairness, enabling algorithmic choice, and strengthening privacy".

Intel’s expansion plans

Intel has unveiled plans to construct two new semiconductor manufacturing plants in Arizona at a cost of $20 billion. These factories will form part of a major expansion drive being undertaken by the firm.

The US chipmaker said the Arizona-based factories, known as fabs, will generate 3,000 high-tech jobs in addition to 3,000 construction roles and 15,000 long-term roles based locally. It explained that the new factories will aid the “increasing requirements” of existing products and clients, but also offer “committed capacity for foundry customers”.

What’s more, the tech giant has launched a brand new business called Intel Foundry Services. Operating across the US and Europe, it will see Intel manufacture chips corresponding to designs provided by third-party tech companies.

“We are setting a course for a new era of innovation and product leadership at Intel,” said Intel CEO Pat Gelsinger in a statement. “Intel is the only company with the depth and breadth of software, silicon and platforms, packaging, and process with at-scale manufacturing customers can depend on for their next-generation innovations.”

He added: “IDM 2.0 is an elegant strategy that only Intel can deliver – and it’s a winning formula. We will use it to design the best products and manufacture them in the best way possible for every category we compete in.”

Europe will also benefit from Intel’s ambitious expansion drive, with the firm planning to establish 1,600 highly skilled tech jobs at its multi-billion dollar campus in the Irish town of Leixlip.

The new jobs will be based at Intel’s new chip factory, which is currently being built. Since 2019, Intel has plowed $7 billion of investment into its Irish operations. It already employs 5,000 people in Ireland.

Micheál Martin, the Taoiseach (prime minister) of the Republic of Ireland, commended Intel’s plans to expand its manufacturing operations in Ireland.

“Intel’s journey in Ireland has been an extraordinary one and these plans for the next phase of its development will enhance its reputation as a global leader in semiconductor innovation and manufacturing,” he said. “Already a substantial employer in Ireland, with some 5,000 employees, these further new jobs will be most welcome.”

Martin went on to explain that Intel’s expansion drive will aid Ireland’s economic recovery following the devastating effects of the coronavirus pandemic.

He said: “The government’s mission in the coming months and years is to get people back to work and rebuild our economy, while at the same time ensuring Ireland remains well placed to thrive in the new green and digital economy of the future, with high quality, sustainable jobs. Today’s announcement is very welcome for that reason. I wish Intel continued success with its operations here."

Salesforce wants to solve the digital skills shortage

Although the work of IT professionals has proven crucial during the coronavirus pandemic, the digital skills gap continues to be a problem.

There’s been a 40% decrease in young people in the UK studying GCSE IT subjects over the past five years (2015), according to a new report from the Learning & Work Institute, WorldSkills UK and Enginuity.

But the need for digital skills in the workplace is rapidly increasing, with 60% of companies expecting to see a greater reliance on advanced digital skills in the next five years. Worryingly, 76% of firms think the digital skills shortage will have a detrimental effect on their profits.

Salesforce has launched a free online educational initiative in a bid to close the growing digital skills shortage and prepare more young people for the modern workplace.

As reported by IT Pro, the US cloud software giant has teamed up with e-learning platform Classof2020 to run the ‘6 Weeks of Salesforce’ program.

The online program, set to take place over the next six weeks, will help upskill young people in areas such as business, marketing, data analytics, web development, finance, admin, using Salesforce CRM, and more.

The course will also be helpful for people looking to become a Salesforce consultant. In fact, Salesforce is hoping to generate 4.2 million jobs within its ecosystem over the next few years.

It’ll offer a range of weekly “A Day in the Life of” podcasts, which will see different Salesforce employees discuss their working days and share valuable advice. These podcasts are available to watch via the Classof2020 website.

Security roundup

  • Businesses are facing increased cybersecurity risks due to harmful actions currently being made by their remote workers, according to new research from US telecoms giant AT&T. It found that 54% of remote workers have routinely used work equipment for personal reasons, such as allowing relatives to access them. Meanwhile, 35% of employees have connected smart home products to work devices. These include voice assistants, smart speakers, fitness monitors, smart lights, and smart kitchen appliances.
  • Two-thirds of mobile apps were found to contain critical security flaws in a recent study of the 3,335 most popular Android applications conducted by the Synopsys Cybersecurity Research Center (CyRC). Security researchers discovered a range of sensitive data left exposed in the source code and configuration files of popular Android apps available in the Google Play Store, including AWS keys, Google Cloud tokens, and user credentials.
  • Acer was the target of a ransomware attack launched by infamous cybercrime group REvil, according to a report by BleepingComputer. The hackers are demanding that Acer pays a ransom of $50 million to prevent compromised data from being posted online. The group posted images of financial spreadsheets, bank balances and bank communications reportedly stolen from Acer.
  • Microsoft this week rolled out a bug bounty awards scheme for the desktop version of video conferencing platform Teams. Through the program, it’ll offer cash rewards ranging between $500 and $30,000 to people who identify cybersecurity vulnerabilities affecting Microsoft Teams for desktop.

M&A Roundup

US software firm VMWare has acquired cloud-native security firm Mesh7 in an undisclosed deal. Tom Gillis, SVP and GM of the networking and security business unit at VMware, explained in a blog post that the acquisition will allow the company to “bring visibility, discovery, and better security to APIs”.

Microsoft is currently taking part in negotiations to purchase instant messaging service Discord for around $10 billion, according to a report by Bloomberg. In December, Discord closed a $100 million funding round that valued it at $7 billion.

Professional services giant Cognizant has unveiled plans to acquire German automotive company ESG Mobility. Cognizant said the deal will allow it to expand its digital automotive engineering research and development capabilities. While Cognizant didn’t reveal the financial details of the deal, the firm expects it to be concluded by the second quarter of this year.

US tech giants top the list for the most artificial intelligence acquisitions over the last few years, according to new research from analyst firm GlobalData. It found that American tech companies Apple, Google, Microsoft, and Facebook acquired the most AI between 2016 and 2020. Accenture, an Ireland-based professional services firm, ranked fifth in the list. Aurojyoti Bose, lead business fundamentals analyst at GlobalData, said: “Apple, Google, Microsoft and Facebook collectively undertook 60 acquisitions in the AI tech space during 2016–2020 while Apple led the race with 25 acquisitions. AI has remained a key focus area for tech giants and growing competition to dominate the space has resulted in an acquisition spree among these companies.”

Mental health pandemic in IT

The number of IT professionals worried about their mental health has grown by 75% amid the coronavirus pandemic, according to a new study by technology.

Entitled the Harvey Nash Group Technology & Talent Study 2021, it found that 28% of global technology professionals currently have mental health concerns while they face increased workloads during the pandemic.

Although technology salaries have risen by 36%, IT professionals are having to perform more tasks due to the rise of remote working and people spending more time online. In fact, 55% of respondents have experienced bigger workloads over the past year. Meanwhile, 48% of IT workers have been impacted by pay freezes, and 16% of technology professionals have seen their pay reduced.

Bev White, chief executive of Harvey Nash Group, said: “Technology professionals have played a key role throughout the pandemic, supporting organisations in the massive push for home working and helping them adapt their business models in response to the crisis.

“But it’s been quite a journey. There have been long days, rising workloads and rapidly changing objectives. It’s no wonder that mental health is struggling.”

Dorsey’s first Tweet sells for $2.9 million

The 29-year-old man who bought Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey’s first tweet for an eye-watering $2.9 million has compared his recent purchase to Leonardo Di Vinci's iconic artwork, the Mona Lisa.

Sina Estavi, who lives in Malaysia, explained to the BBC that he sees the tweet is a lucrative investment opportunity. He said: "It's a piece of human history in the form of a digital asset. Who knows what will be the price of the first tweet of human history 50 years from now.”

Estavi, who runs a cryptocurrency company called Bridge Oracle, now officially owns the first tweet that Jack Dorsey published on Twitter. The tweet, posted in 2006, reads: "just setting up my twttr”. He purchased the tweet as a non-fungible token (NFT) - a digital asset given to the owner of a photo, video, artwork, or a similar item published online - and made the transaction with cryptocurrency Ether. The proceeds of the sale will go to the Give Directly Africa Response charity.

Estavi went on to tell the BBC: "I believe it's an emerging market and it's just the beginning. All forms of digital arts and creations such as music, photos, videos, tweets and blog posts can be traded in the form of an NFT.”