News roundup: Google to build new Silicon Valley tech campus, Facebook blocks anti-vax accounts, Huawei posts major revenue loss, and more

A round-up of this week’s tech news, including Huawei’s massive revenue loss, Google’s new Silicon Valley tech campus plans, Vodafone’s plans to reimpose European roaming charges for British customers, and more.


Google to build new Silicon Valley tech campus 

Google will expand its presence in Silicon Valley by building a new technology campus, according to a report by CNBC.

The US tech giant has purchased $389 million worth of land in north San Jose, California, over the past two years and wants to turn it into a high-tech R&D facility. Proposals filed by Google show that it’s looking to create a hardware operations centre and a publicly accessible technology campus. The planned tech campus will comprise five office buildings for 3500 employees with three industrial facilities next door primarily be used for Google’s hardware business. In addition to office and industrial buildings, the new campus will also sport a transit hub, a shuttle bus service for commuters who live in the Bay Area, a large car park, lockers, showers, changing facilities and more. 

These plans certainly make sense because Google recently announced that it’ll part ways with Qualcomm to manufacture its own smartphone processors.

Facebook takes down Russian anti-vaccine accounts

Facebook has deleted Russian accounts with connections to a marketing company that recruited social media personalities to promote Covid-19 anti-vaccine content, as reported by Reuters.

The US social media giant discovered a network of Russia-based accounts linked to an influencer marketing company called Fazze and banned them for breaking its foreign interference rules.

They primarily targeted Facebook users in India, Latin America and the USA by sharing misleading information and petitions, setting up fake accounts and paying influencers to promote disinformation to their fans. Facebook found that Fazze approached YouTube, Twitter and TikTok celebrities across the world, but the campaign was later brought to light by a French and a German influencer.

In total, Facebook deleted 65 Facebook profiles and 243 Instagram accounts. 

“This campaign came in two distinct waves, separated by five months of inactivity. First, in November and December 2020, the network posted memes and comments claiming that the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine would turn people into chimpanzees,” wrote Facebook in a report. “Five months later, in May 2021, it questioned the safety of the Pfizer vaccine by posting an allegedly hacked and leaked AstraZeneca document.”

Huawei experiences record revenue loss

Chinese tech giant Huawei has reported its largest ever revenue loss, with earnings for the first half of 2021 plummeting by 30%.

As reported by the BBC, the firm saw its revenues drop to Rmb320 billion (£35.5 billion) during this period. Meanwhile, Huawei’s consumer electronics arms saw its revenues decrease by 47%.

Another area of Huawei’s business that has been plagued by stalled growth is its telecoms equipment department. This likely comes down to countries boycotting Huawei-manufacturered telecoms technology over national security concerns.

But a Huawei spokesperson told Reuters that the slow deployment of 5G networks across China had contributed to lower sales in its telecoms equipment division. 

Huawei’s dwindling revenues largely come down to US trade restrictions and a semiconductor shortage that’s currently disrupting the manufacturing of consumer electronics right around the world.

While many departments across Huawei have seen their revenues fall over the past few months, its enterprise and cloud divisions experienced some growth this year.  

Twitter announces winner of image-cropping bias competition 

Software used by Twitter for cropping user images has been shown to favour slimmer, younger and lighter faces, as reported by the Guardian.

This is the finding of Bogdan Kulynych, a graduate student from Switzerland who recently won a Twitter competition that aimed to identify examples of bias in its image-cropping algorithm.

Kulynych, who will receive a cash prize of $3500 for winning the competition, proved that Twitter’s “Saliency” algorithm showed images containing slim, young and lighter-toned faces more than pictures with bigger, older and darker faces. 

He determined these results after using artificial intelligence software to generate faces with different features and testing them via Twitter’s image-cropping algorithm. 

Twitter awarded Kulynych with the first prize and said his findings showcase “how applying beauty filters could game the algorithm’s internal scoring model”. The firm added: “This shows how algorithmic models amplify real-world biases and societal expectations of beauty.”

He tweeted: “We should not forget that ‘algorithmic bias’ is only a part of a bigger picture. Addressing bias in general and in competitions like this should not end the conversation about the tech being harmful in other ways, or by design, or by fact of existing.”

Vodafone to bring back European roaming charges for many UK customers

Telecoms giant Vodafone has announced plans to bring back European roaming charges for many of its British customers, as reported by The Verge.

From January 6th, anyone who takes out or switches a contract with Vodafone will need to pay roaming charges if they travel to Europe. While costs will vary by plan, the vast majority of Vodafone customers will face a £2 daily charge if they plan on using their texts, calls and internet data while in a European country. 

However, these charges don’t apply to every Vodafone UK customer. Those who pay for the firm’s “Unlimited Data Xtra plan with 4 Xtra benefits” or “Limited Data Xtra plan with 4 Xtra benefits” subscriptions won’t be hit by roaming charges in Europe. Vodafone won’t impose roaming fees for British customers visiting the Republic of Ireland. 

Volvo suspends production at Sweden plant due to semiconductor shortage 

Volvo Cars has suspended manufacturing at its Sweden-based plant as a result of the global semiconductor shortage, as reported by Reuters.

This week, the carmaker said it would temporarily pause production at its Gothenburg manufacturing plant “due to a material shortage linked with the semiconductor issue”.

However, the firm reassured stakeholders that “production will restart as soon as possible”. It expects this to happen “at the latest before next week”.

The global semiconductor shortage, caused by supply chain challenges and increased demand for electronics during the coronavirus pandemic, has affected car manufacturers, technology companies and many other businesses. 

Security roundup

  • A new study by Unit 42 found that average ransomware payments have grown by 82% in the past year and reached $570,000 in 2021, as reported by IT Pro. It also found that the biggest ransomware demand was $30 million in 2020, up from $15 million in 2019. Meanwhile, the average ransom for victims of the Maze ransomware was $4.8 million in 2020. 
  • Apple is facing criticism over its new software that can detect whether someone is storing child sexual abuse material (CSAM) on their phone, as reported by the BBC. The new technology scans photos being uploaded to iCloud to find potential cases of CSAM. But critics of the system believe that authoritarian governments could leverage the technology to target political opponents and oppressed groups. Over 5,000 individuals and organisations added their signatures to a public letter criticising Apple’s new CSAM detection software. The firm said: "We have faced demands to build and deploy government-mandated changes that degrade the privacy of users before, and have steadfastly refused those demands. We will continue to refuse them in the future.”
  • Cybersecurity researchers from Zimperium have discovered an Android trojan that affected 10,000 people across 144 countries, as reported by ZDNet. The malware, dubbed FlyTrap, has been active since March and has been circulated via social media hijacking, third-party app stores and sideloaded applications. Victims of the malware saw their Facebook accounts hacked, giving cybercriminals access to sensitive information like Facebook ID, email accounts, location, internet protocol addresses, and more. 
  • Five UK-based technology startups will assist the National Cyber Security Centre in tackling the country’s biggest cyber threats, as reported by IT Pro. PORGiESOFT, Exalens, Enclave, Meterian and Rebellion Defence will take part in the NCSC for Startups programme. Led by innovation centre Plexal and the NCSC, the initiative will provide each startup with expert support, technical and commercial opportunities, as well the ability to showcase their products nationally.
  • Cybercriminals this week stole $600 million from Poly Networks, a company that provides cryptocurrency transfers, in one of the biggest crypto heists to ever take place. After disclosing the heist on Tuesday, Poly Networks warned the perpetrator that it would involve the police if the money wasn’t returned. But the hacker behind the heist has since returned substantial sums of the stolen money and claims they only hacked Poly Networks “for fun”. 

M&A roundup

Indian digital solutions company Robosoft Technologies is to be acquired by Japan IT services provider TechnoPro in a $108 million deal, as reported by TechCrunch. Robosoft will continue to operate under its existing management team.

Cloud-driven networking company Extreme Networks has announced it’s acquiring Ipanematech SAS, which is the recently launched SD-WAN business of Infovista. Extreme Networks said the acquisition will allow it to grow its ExtremeCloud portfolio while offering a range of new cloud-managed SD-WAN and security products. 

Nextech AR, a Canadian augmented reality and communications firm, has confirmed it’s acquiring British 3D mapping company ARWAY for $1 million. According to Nextech AR, the acquisition of ARWAY will provide it with a spatial mapping platform for building metaverses. 

US antivirus software maker NortonLifeLock is merging with British cybersecurity company Avast in a bid to “create a new, industry-leading consumer Cyber Safety business”. The deal is valued at $8.1 billion. 

Unity, which has developed a platform that allows users to create and operate real-time 3D content, is planning to acquire high-performance remote desktop and streaming technology company Parsec in a $320 million cash transaction. 

Samsung unveils five-nanometer smartwatch processor 

Samsung claims to have developed the world’s first five-nanometer processor for smartwatches and other wearable devices, as reported by Engadget.

The chip, called Exynos W920, sports an LTE modem and was developed via a five-nanometer extreme ultra-violet (EUV) process.

According to the South Korean tech giant, its new smartwatch processor will provide “powerful yet efficient performance demanded by next-generation wearable devices”. 

It claims that the Exynos W920, which boasts two Arm Cortex-A55 cores and a single Arm Mali-G68 GPU, offers a 20% boost in CPU performance and a ten-time increase in graphics performance compared to Samsung’s previous wearable chip.

Harry Cho, vice president of System LSI marketing at Samsung Electronics, says: “Wearables like smartwatches are no longer just a cool gadget to have. They’re now a growing part of our lifestyles to keep you fit, safe and alert.

“With the Exynos W920, future wearables will be able to run applications with visually appealing user interfaces and more responsive user experiences while keeping you connected on the go with fast LTE.”