News roundup: UK probes Nvidia-Arm deal, Zoom's new $100 million app development fund, and the EU clamps down on AI

A roundup of this week's technology news, including the UK government's probe into the Nvidia-Arm deal, Zoom's new $100 million app development fund, British digital currency plans, and the EU's move to clamp down on AI technology.


UK government to probe Nvidia-Arm deal

The UK government has announced it will investigate US semiconductor giant Nvidia's $40 billion acquisition of Cambridge-based chipmaker Arm.

Using powers provided by the 2002 Enterprise Act, digital secretary Oliver Dowden has served a public intervention notice in order to probe the Nvidia and Arm deal for national security ramifications.

As part of the investigation, Dowden has asked the Competition and Markets Authority to compile a report outlining the potential competition and security implications posed by the planned deal. The CMA must submit its report by midnight on July 30th.

Dowden said on Monday: "We want to support our thriving UK tech industry and welcome foreign investment, but it is appropriate that we properly consider the national security implications of a transaction like this."

Zoom unveils $100 million app development fund

Video conferencing platform Zoom has launched a $100 million app development fund after experiencing a year of record growth and revenue.

On Monday, the US tech giant said the Zoom Apps Fund will allow it to "stimulate the growth" of its apps, integrations, developer, and hardware ecosystem. 

The fund will provide developers with investments ranging from $250,000 to $2.5 million to help them develop solutions that transform the way in which Zoom users meet, communicate and collaborate.

Zoom explained that the fund is aimed at developer partners offering "viable products and early market traction that will provide valuable and engaging experiences" to its customers.

Eric S. Yuan, founder and CEO of Zoom, said: "I founded Zoom in 2011, nearly ten years ago. Without the support of early investors, Zoom would not be what it is today.

"What I've learned over the past year is that we need to keep meetings productive and fun. My hope is that the Zoom Apps Fund will help our customers meet happier and collaborate even more seamlessly, and at the same time help entrepreneurs build new businesses as our platform evolves."

The UK mulls over digital currency

The UK is exploring plans to develop its own digital currency as the price of cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin continue to grow rapidly.

This week, British chancellor Rishi Sunak announced the formation of a new task force that will consider the possibility of a UK central bank currency (CBDC).

The task force, which brings together experts from the Treasury and Bank of England, will work closely with key stakeholders to investigate the "benefits, risks and practicalities" of a British CBDC.

It'll be led by co-chairs Jon Cunliffe, deputy governor of the Bank of England, and Katharine Braddick, director general of financial services at HM Treasury.

"A CBDC would be a new form of money that would exist alongside cash and bank deposits, rather than replacing them; the Government recognises that cash remains important to millions of people across the UK, and has committed to legislating to protect access to cash," according to government documents.

EU clamps down on artificial intelligence

The European Union will ban any form of artificial intelligence it deems to be "unacceptable" according to new proposals reported by the BBC.

Through new rules, the EU will clamp down on AI technologies that pose a "clear threat to the safety, livelihoods and rights of people".

"This includes AI systems or applications that manipulate human behaviour to circumvent users' free will (e.g. toys using voice assistance encouraging dangerous behaviour of minors) and systems that allow 'social scoring' by governments," explained the EU.

The EU claims that the use of AI in areas such as critical infrastructure; educational and vocational training; product safety components; employment, workers management and access to self-employment; essential private and public services; law enforcement; migration, asylum and border control management; as well as the administration of justice and democratic processes would be classed as high-risk.

Businesses that violate these new rules could be slapped with fines amounting to 6% of their international revenues, which could mean large enterprises potentially paying billions in fines.

Margrethe Vestager, executive vice-president of the European Commission for A Europe Fit for the Digital Age, said: "On Artificial Intelligence, trust is a must, not a nice to have. With these landmark rules, the EU is spearheading the development of new global norms to make sure AI can be trusted.

"By setting the standards, we can pave the way to ethical technology worldwide and ensure that the EU remains competitive along the way. Future-proof and innovation-friendly, our rules will intervene where strictly needed: when the safety and fundamental rights of EU citizens are at stake."

Security roundup

  • Facebook faces a lawsuit in Europe after the personal information of 533 million users was breached, as reported by IT Pro. Digital Rights Ireland, a digital rights group, will sue the US social media giant over the breach in a move that could lead to millions of European citizens receiving monetary compensation. On its website, the organisation writes: "If you live in the European Union or European Economic Area, you can seek monetary damages from Facebook. The GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) gives you the right to monetary compensation where your data protection rights have been breached."
  • Cryptocurrency mining botnet Prometei is exploiting the same Microsoft Exchange security flaws as those leveraged by threat actor Hafinium, according to new research from Cybereason Nocturnus. It claims that these botnets are not only profiting financially from the theft of bitcoin, but are also compromising networks to deploy malware and harvest user credentials.
  • MI5 has warned that nation-states are creating fake profiles on professional social networking site LinkedIn to target people working in a range of key sectors - including government agencies - and convince them to share secrets. According to a report by the BBC, it's thought that around 10,000 British citizens have been contacted by such profiles in the last five years. Dominic Fortescue, chief security officer at the UK Government, told the BBC: "Since the start of the pandemic, many of us have been working remotely and having to spend more time at home on our personal devices. As a result, staff have become more vulnerable to malicious approaches from hostile security services and criminal organisations on social media."
  • Infamous cybercriminal group REvil claims to be in the possession of secret Apple product designs after launching a ransomware attack on one of its key suppliers, as reported by Bloomberg. The group took to the dark web to announce it had compromised the network of Quanta Computer, a Taiwanese tech firm that manufactures laptops for Apple, and gained access to the blueprints of an unreleased Macbook. It's demanding a staggering ransom of $50 million.

M&A roundup

Claranet, a global technology and managed services provider, has acquired Brazilian-based cloud firm Mandic in a bid to increase its presence in the South American nation. Thanks to the acquisition, Claranet now employs over 450 employees and supports over 5,000 corporate clients in Brazil. Charles Nasser, CEO of the Claranet Group, said: "Our expansion into Brazil in 2017 was a deliberate move to enter an IT market that is already developed, but at the same time offers high growth potential. We are treading the same path in Brazil that we have taken in Europe, reconciling organic growth with market consolidation to achieve a market-leading position."

Security analytics and automation company Rapid7 has purchased tech firm Velociraptor. It offers open-source technology in addition to a community covering areas such as digital forensics, incident response and endpoint monitoring. Rapid7 not only plans to expand the Velociraptor community, but also improve its own incident response solutions and expertise by leveraging Velociraptor's technology.  Richard Perkett, senior vice president of detection and response at Rapid7, said: "We strongly believe that partnership with the open source community is one of the most important ways to move the security industry forward and make the digital world a safer place for everyone. We look forward to bringing our expertise in growing and nurturing open-source communities to Velociraptor, while also enhancing our monitoring, digital forensics, and incident response capabilities for customers."

Financial services giant Mastercard this week announced it's to acquire e-commerce identity verification specialists Ekata in an $850 million deal. Through the acquisition, Mastercard hopes to enhance its identity verification capabilities. Ajay Bhalla, president of cyber and intelligence solutions at Mastercard, said: "The shift to a more digital world requires real solutions to secure every transaction and instil trust in every interaction. With the addition of Ekata, we will advance our identity capabilities and create a safer, seamless way for consumers to prove who they say they are in the new digital economy."

Antitrust watchdogs in the UK, Australia, and Germany have warned about the threats posed by mergers in highly competitive industries such as technology. In a joint statement, they described technology sectors as "examples of highly concentrated markets with features such as high barriers to entry due to network effects" and said this can "result in high market concentration, such that market power is easily created or entrenched, and is likely longlived". As tech giants continue to become more dominant and powerful, the watchdogs have called for the greater regulation of mergers. "Competition can only be maintained by ensuring anticompetitive mergers do not happen. This is even more so in a fast-developing digital world impacted by the Coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic," added the anticompetition bodies.

Amazon to open London-based hair salon

American e-commerce giant Amazon has entered a range of new sectors in recent times, from groceries to pharmacy. But the firm is now hedging its bets on the beauty industry.

According to a report by the BBC, Amazon is preparing to open a hair salon in Spitalfields in east London. One of the salon's headline features will be an augmented reality-based mirror that enables customers to see how different hairstyles and colours would suit them before going ahead with treatments.

In addition to a smart mirror, guests of the salon will also be able to read magazines on tablet PCs. And if customers spot a hair product they like in the salon, they'll be able to use QR code scanning to buy it on Amazon. The salon will provide customers with hair cuts, colouring and blow-drying.

John Boumphrey, UK manager at Amazon, told the BBC: "We have designed this salon for customers to come and experience some of the best technology, haircare products and stylists in the industry.

"We want this unique venue to bring us one step closer to customers and it will be a place where we can collaborate with the industry and test new technologies."

Facebook announces audio app

Facebook is looking to take on popular voice-based social networking app Clubhouse with a range of new audio features, as reported by the BBC.

Its headline audio feature, Live Audio Rooms, will enable Facebook users to conduct and take part in live conversations. Meanwhile, users will be able to use Soundbites for creating and sharing small audio clips, and will also have the ability to tune in to podcasts via Facebook.

Fidji Simo, head of the Facebook app, wrote in a blog post: "We've seen time and again just how much creative energy is liberated when you build powerful creation and editing tools, make them free and easy to use, and — with appropriate safety and privacy safeguards — put them out into the world.

"By bringing the magic to new audio formats, we're giving people a new way to say more of what they've always wanted to say, this whole time."

Apple announces new gadgets

Apple held its much-anticipated "Spring Loaded" special event on Tuesday. It showed off a purple iPhone 12, a Bluetooth tracker called AirTags, a more powerful Apple TV featuring the A12 Bionic processor and a new remote, a redesigned iMac available in a range of funky colours and powered by the Apple-developed M1 chip, and a brand new Apple iPad Pro that also packs an M1 chip under the hood. But sadly, the US tech giant didn't reveal third-generation AirPods or an iPad Mini, despite being highly anticipated.