News roundup: Foxconn and TSMC join forces to donate 10m covid vaccines to Taiwan, Google is fined €500m, and Microsoft rewards staff with $1500 bonus

A round-up of this week’s technology news, including Foxconn and TSMC’s £252 million deal to donate 10m covid vaccines to Taiwan, Google’s €500m French antitrust fine, Microsoft’s $1500 pandemic bonus for all staff, and more.


Foxconn and TSMC to donate 10m covid vaccines to Taiwan

Tech manufacturing giants Foxconn and TSMC have joined forces to donate 10 million coronavirus vaccine doses to Taiwan, as reported by CityAM.

Foxconn, which is well-known for producing Apple devices, and semiconductor firm TSMC have signed a £252 million deal that will see each firm purchase 5 million doses of the BioNTech coronavirus vaccine for Taiwan.

Foxconn and TSMC will donate the covid-19 vaccines to the Taiwanese government, which will then be responsible for circulating the vaccines across its population.

In the past few months, the Taiwanese government claims that it attempted to acquire doses straight from Germany-based BioNTech, but claims the Chinese government intervened and stopped a deal from taking place. China refutes these claims.

Google slapped with €500m fine

Google must pay a €500m fine after France’s antitrust regulator determined that the firm had failed to participate appropriately in copyright discussions with French news organisations, as reported by the Guardian.

French news companies have accused the US tech giant of failing to show “good faith” in talks about how it can fairly compensate them for online news content.

The tech firm now has just two months to propose how it can pay news producers for using their content. French regulators could fine Google up to €900,000 per day should it fail to comply with the ruling.

Google said in a statement: “We have acted in good faith throughout the entire process. The fine ignores our efforts to reach an agreement, and the reality of how news works on our platforms.”

The news comes as Alphabet, the parent company of Google, prepares to appeal against a  €4.34 billion antitrust fine issued by the EU in 2018. According to a report by Reuters, Google will attempt to get the hefty fine quashed at a five-day legal proceeding that will take place in September.

EU regulators issued the mega fine in 2018 after ruling that Google leveraged the dominant market position of Android, its mobile operating system, to put competitors at an unfair disadvantage.

Microsoft staff get a $1500 pandemic bonus

Microsoft is rewarding the hard work of its non-executive employees throughout the pandemic with a bonus of $1500.

It explained to the BBC that the bonus is in recognition of everything its employees have done “during a uniquely challenging year”. The US tech giant went on to say it is “proud to recognise our employees with a one-time monetary gift."

As reported by The Verge, Microsoft will present the pandemic bonus to both full-time and part-time staff members who were working at the firm before March 31st 2021.  However, Microsoft employees who work as a vice-president or in a different executive role will miss out on the bonus.

Like many other large tech companies, Microsoft has thrived during the pandemic as people spend more time on their devices for working, studying and staying entertained at home. In fact, it saw $14.8 billion of profits at the start of 2021.

Over the past year, other US tech giants, including Google, Amazon and Facebook, have also provided their staff with bonuses to support and thank them for their services during the pandemic.

Elon Musk hates being Tesla CEO

American tech tycoon Elon Musk this week admitted that he doesn’t enjoy running electric car company Tesla.

As reported by Sky News, Musk stated during a court appearance earlier in the week that he “rather hates” his role as CEO of Tesla: "I rather hate it and I would much prefer to spend my time on design and engineering.”

The court case will determine whether the world’s second-richest man coerced the Tesla board of directors into greenlighting a $2.6bn acquisition of SolarCity, a solar energy firm founded by two of Musk’s cousins.

Musk denies these claims, arguing that he achieved no financial benefits through the multi-billion dollar deal and simply prevented SolarCity from becoming bankrupt.

He said during the hearing: “Since it was a stock-for-stock transaction and I owned almost exactly the same percentage of both there was no financial gain.”

If the court sides with the Tesla board and finds Musk guilty of wrongdoing, he could be ordered to pay a $2.6 billion settlement. This would allow Tesla to recoup the costs of the SolarCity acquisition.

EU delays digital tax

The European Union has announced it’ll delay a bloc-wide digital tax aimed at ensuring US tech giants like Amazon and Google pay their fair share of tax, as reported by Euronews.

By pausing plans for a European digital tax, the EU hopes to focus its efforts on working with the US and other countries to finalise the international tax reforms that were first discussed at the G7 summit last month.

One of the proposals is a global minimum corporate tax rate of 15% that will ensure firms meet their tax obligations on a global level. G20 finance ministers approved the measures at the weekend.

A spokesperson for the European Commission confirmed the move on Monday, saying:  "Successfully concluding this process will require a final effort, a final push by all parties, and the Commission is committed to focusing on that effort. For this reason, we have decided to put on hold our work on a proposal for a digital levy."

Security roundup

  • Small and medium-sized enterprises have been lucrative targets for cybercriminals throughout the coronavirus pandemic, according to new research from Atlas VPN. It found that 41% of Europe-based SMEs experienced phishing attacks during this period, while 40% have been impacted by web-based cyber attacks. Other common cyber threats faced by SMEs include general malware (39%), malicious insiders (19%) and denial of service attacks (12%).
  • The vast majority of organisations (84%) have been hit by phishing and ransomware-type attacks over the past year, according to a new survey from Trend Micro. But despite increased threat, 50% of respondents admitted that they’re not effective at handling phishing and ransomware incidents.
  • Following a technical preview for its US users in January, Ring, the smart home device maker owned by Amazon, has announced it’s deploying video end-to-end encryption for users of its connected doorbells around the world.
  • Iranian hackers pretended to be British academics working at the University of London’s School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) as part of a phishing attack that attempted to harvest credentials from experts with potential intelligence of importance to the Iranian Government, according to an investigation by cybersecurity firm Proofpoint. The hackers, who work for an advanced persistent threat group labeled by Proofpoint as TA453, targeted experts in Middle Eastern affairs such as think tank employees, journalists and senior professors by sending emails containing a registration link to a fake online conference. To make it look genuine, the hackers breached the legitimate website of the SOAS radio station and used it for providing custom credential harvesting pages. Dubbed SpoofedScholars, the campaign has been active since January 2021.
  • New research from Positive Technologies shows that cyber attacks have grown by 17% since the first quarter of 2021, with most (77%) being targeted attacks. Meanwhile, cyber attacks targeting individuals represented just 12% of incidents. Positive Technologies claims that hackers are increasingly targeting governments, industrial companies, scientific organisations and educational institutions with the aim of stealing personal data, credentials and commercial secrets.

M&A roundup

US tech giant Microsoft has announced it’s set to acquire cybersecurity company RiskIQ in a deal thought to be valued at $500 million, according to a report by Bloomberg. The acquisition will enable Microsoft to boost its product portfolio with a range of security offerings from RiskIQ.

ZoomInfo, which provides go-to-market software, data and intelligence, has acquired conversation intelligence specialists for $575 million in a bid to expand its platform with more actionable insights.

Internet chat service Discord is to acquire Sentropy Technologies, which develops artificial intelligence-driven software for identifying and removing online abuse.

Industrial technology giant Fortive is to purchase ServiceChannel, which offers facility management software, in a $1.2 billion cash transaction. The deal, expected to close by the third quarter, will enable Fortive to expand its portfolio of facility and asset lifecycle workflow products.

Motorola Solutions, a specialist in mission-critical communications and analytics, has announced plans to acquire cloud-based mobile access control provider Openpath Security. Motorola Solutions said the deal is expected to conclude by the end of July, but has not disclosed terms.

Sir Richard Branson blasts off to space

Sir Richard Branson, the billionaire founder of the Virgin Group, has successfully blasted off to space aboard his very own space plane.

As reported by the BBC, the 70-year-old British tech entrepreneur made the journey to the edge of space in a Virgin Galactic space plane that had been in development for 17 years.

In the VSS Unity, Branson and his crew ascended above the US state of New Mexico, reaching an altitude of 85km at the flight’s peak, and returning to earth an hour later.

Reflecting on the journey, Branson called it an “experience of a lifetime”. He said in a statement during a press conference: "I have dreamt of this moment since I was a kid, but honestly nothing can prepare you for the view of Earth from space.”

Branson hopes to pioneer space tourism with the VSS Unity space plane. Operated by Virgin Galactic, it provides capacity for six passengers and two pilots. So far, around 600 people have paid up to $250,000 to reserve a seat on future trips aboard Branson’s space plane.

Tech billionaires like Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos also have ambitions to cultivate space tourism through their respective companies, SpaceX and Blue Origin. But unlike Branson, they have yet to travel to space on one of their spacecraft. This may change, however, as Bezos has a space flight planned on July 20.