News roundup: Apple to pay $300 million for patent infringement, Twitter forced to rethink redesign, US government to probe Tesla and more

A round-up of the week’s technology news, including Apple’s $300 million patent infringement settlement, Twitter’s redesign dilemma, a US government investigation into Tesla and more.


Apple to pay $300 million for infringing wireless patents 

A US jury has determined that Apple should pay $300 million after an East Texas-based federal court ruled that Apple had infringed a range of Optis-owned wireless standard-essential patents, Reuters reports

This isn’t the first time that Apple has appeared in court accused of infringing Optis wireless patents. In 2020, a court awarded Optis, PanOptis Patent Management and Unwired Planet $506 million in royalties after it concluded Apple violated their LTE patents.

But US district judge Rodney Gilstrap forced a retrial in the case over concerns that the jury in the original case didn’t determine if the $506 million settlement was based on fair, reasonable, and non-discriminatory (FRAND) terms. 

In an emailed statement, an Apple spokesperson said: “We thank the jury for their time but are disappointed by the verdict and plan to appeal.

"Optis makes no products and its sole business is to sue companies using patents they accumulate. We will continue to defend against their attempts to extract unreasonable payments."

Twitter tweaks redesign following user complaints

Twitter has been forced to tweak its redesigned platform because some users experienced discomfort and headaches, as reported by the BBC.

The redesign included high-contrast colours and a new Twitter-designed font called Chirp, but these changes were met with criticism from many users.

In one tweet identified by the BBC, a user complained that the site’s “smaller and denser” font caused eye strain when reading. Meanwhile, another user warned that people with visual and processing impairments may find it “impossible” to read the new font. 

Responding to these concerns, Twitter’s accessibility team explained that it was “making contrast changes on all buttons to make them easier on the eyes because you told us the new look is uncomfortable for people with sensory sensitivities”.

As well as making contrast changes, Twitter’s accessibility account tweeted that “we've identified issues with the Chirp font for Windows users and are actively working on a fix”.

US government announces investigation into Tesla cars

US government officials are to investigate Tesla’s autonomous driving system, Autopilot, over fears it struggles to identify stationary emergency response vehicles. 

As reported by Fortune, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) opened an investigation after discovering eleven instances of Tesla vehicles crashing when emergency response vehicles were also at the scene. 

In official documents, the NHTSA explained that the vast majority of these accidents happened at night and involved emergency response scenes with first responder vehicle lights, flares, an illuminated arrow board and road cones. Each Tesla vehicle used either Autopilot or Traffic Aware Cruise Control in the run-up to the incidents. 

As part of its investigation, the NHTSA will probe 765,000 Tesla cars released between 2014 and 2021. They include the Tesla Model Y, Model X, Model S and Model 3.

“The investigation will assess the technologies and methods used to monitor, assist, and enforce the driver's engagement with the dynamic driving task during Autopilot operation,” said NHTSA.

“The investigation will additionally assess the OEDR by vehicles when engaged in Autopilot mode, and ODD in which the Autopilot mode is functional. The investigation will also include examination of the contributing circumstances for the confirmed crashes listed below and other similar crashes.”

Google and Facebook team up on subsea internet cable

Google and Facebook are teaming up to build a new undersea cable aimed at improving internet connectivity across the Asia-Pacific, as reported by CNET.

The Apricot undersea cable will link Japan, Taiwan, Guam, the Philippines, Indonesia and Singapore. It’s set to launch in 2024 and will span 12,000 kilometers.

Undersea cables play an important part in the modern world, transporting internet data from country to country. In fact, it’s believed that 98% of global internet traffic travels via undersea cables. 

Apricot is the latest subsea cable unveiled by Google this year - in March, it announced the Echo undersea cable, which will connect the US, Singapore, Guam and Indonesia. 

Bikash Koley, VP and head of global networking at Google, explained in a blog post: “The Echo and Apricot cables are complementary submarine systems that will offer benefits with multiple paths in and out of Asia, including unique routes through southern Asia, ensuring a significantly higher degree of resilience for Google Cloud and digital services. 

“Together they’ll provide businesses and startups in Asia with lower latency, more bandwidth, and increased resilience in their connectivity between Southeast Asia, North Asia and the United States.”

Think tank calls for “right to disconnect” law 

Independent think tank Autonomy has warned about an “epidemic of hidden overtime” as more people work from home during the coronavirus pandemic, as reported by IT Pro.

Autonomy has proposed new “right to disconnect” legislation that would mean employees can ignore work-based emails and phone calls outside of working hours.

It claims that this could be implemented “quickly and easily” if the government makes two changes to the Employment Rights Act 1996.

The first would be the creation of a “right to disconnect” law, while the second would be a law that enables workers to hold employers accountable in an employment tribunal should they ignore this rule. 

Will Stronge, director of research at Autonomy, said: “The Covid pandemic has accelerated the need to create much clearer boundaries between work-life and home-life.

“By enshrining a right to disconnect in British law, workers will be able to take back some control of their lives. British workers put in longer full-time hours than most of Europe and action is needed at the level of government to address these fundamentally unsustainable working conditions.”

Facebook bans 3,000 accounts for spreading COVID-19 misinformation 

Facebook banned more than 3,000 accounts, pages and groups that spread COVID-19 and vaccine misinformation on its platform between the beginning of the pandemic and June 2021, as reported by Engadget. 

In addition, the US social media giant also deleted 20 million pieces of COVID-19 misinformation on Facebook and Instagram.

The firm also issued warnings on 190 million pieces of COVID-19 misinformation after its fact-checkers said they were “false, partly false, altered or missing context”.

“COVID-19 is still a major public health issue, and we are committed to helping people get authoritative information, including vaccine information,” explained Facebook in a media release. “We continue to remove harmful COVID-19 misinformation and prohibit ads that try to exploit the pandemic for financial gain.”

Security roundup

  • Hackers have stolen the records of 47.8 million current, former and prospective T-Mobile customers, as reported by IT Pro. The company confirmed on Tuesday that the account information of 7.8 million current post-paid customers had been breached, while records of more than 40 million former and prospective customers also appeared in compromised files.  
  • Virtual private networks were downloaded 616 million times in the first part of 2021, according to new research from Atlas VPN. Last year, VPN downloads totalled 277 million. VPNs are tools that allow people to browse the web anonymously and access geo-restricted web content. 
  • 83 million internet-connected devices have been affected by a critical risk vulnerability, according to new research from US cybersecurity firm Mandiant. The security flaw, which is named CVE-2021-28732 and has a  CVSS3.0 score of 9.6, affected devices that used the ThroughTek Kalay network and could allow cybercriminals to “listen to live audio, watch real-time video data and compromise device credentials for further attacks – including remote code execution – based on the exposed device’s functionality”. Devices included IoT cameras, smart baby monitors and digital video recorders. 
  • Most IT decision-makers are concerned that nation-state tools, techniques and procedures could be assessed by hackers on the dark web and leveraged in cyberattacks against their organisations, according to a new survey from HP Wolf Security. Worryingly, 58% of respondents think their organisation could one day be targeted directly in a nation-state attack. Meanwhile, 70% of IT leaders are worried about becoming “collateral damage” in a cyberwar. They have a range of concerns regarding nation-state cyber attacks, including sabotage of IT systems and data (49%), disruption to business operations (43%), theft of customer data (43%), impact on revenues (42%) and theft of sensitive company documents (42%).
  • BlackBerry for months hid the fact that its QNX real-time operating system could be breached by hackers due to a serious security flaw, according to a report by Politico. Older versions of the software, which are still used by 200 million cars in addition to hospital and factory equipment, were affected by a flaw dubbed BadAlloc. But two Politico sources, aware of talks between BlackBerry and American federal cybersecurity officials, claim that the firm at one point failed to acknowledge that the flaw affected its products and was reluctant to announce this news publicly. Yet different companies whose products were impacted by BadAlloc warned their customers of the flaw in May. 

M&A roundup

American technology firm Cisco has acquired Israel-based application monitoring firm Epsagon for $500 million, as reported by TechCrunch. In a blog post, Cisco chief strategy officer Liz Centoni said the acquisition will allow Cisco to expand and accelerate its full-stack observability roadmap. 

Paysafe, a London-headquartered specialised payments platform, is to acquire Latin American online payments platform SafetyPay in a $441 million all-cash deal. According to Paysafe, the deal will allow it to scale in the Latin American region, take advantage of the nascent open banking ecosystem and build on its acquisition of PagoEfectivo. 

German software giant SAP has confirmed it’s acquiring the intellectual property of SwoopTalent, a platform that automatically links different talent systems and data, in an undisclosed deal. SAP said it’ll embed SwoopTalent’s machine learning and data technology in its SuccessFactors solutions.

Conga, commercial and revenue operations transformation experts, has acquired contract management software firm Contract Wrangler for an undisclosed amount. Conga said the acquisition will boost its growth and expansion plans. 

American fintech firm Brex has acquired Weav, which offers a universal API for commerce platforms, in a $50 million deal. Brex claims that the deal will allow it to accelerate its international growth plans by “establishing an innovation hub in Israel”.

5G handsets will make up 50% of smartphone sales in 2025 

5G capable handsets will be responsible for generating half of smartphone sales revenue in 2025, according to new data from Juniper Research. It found that 5G smartphones sales will total $108 billion in 2021, before growing threefold to $337 billion by 2025. 

Juniper Research also predicts that the international prices of Android smartphones will be 65% less than iPhone prices in 2025, making them highly affordable for people living in emerging markets. As a result, Android handsets will dominate 5G markets in places like Latin America. 

But in advanced economies such as North America and Europe, Juniper Research forecasts that iPhones will account for 40% of international smartphone sales in 2025 due to their “enduring popularity”

While the 5G smartphone market is set to enjoy impressive growth in the years to come, Juniper Research questions whether this will last forever. It believes that new right-to-repair laws in North America and Europe, which could encourage more people to repair ageing handsets instead of buying newer models, may slow down 5G smartphone sales in the long-term. 

Adam Wears, who authored the research, said: “The effect of these laws will not be felt initially, as consumers adopt 5G smartphones to leverage the high speeds and reduced latency of 5G networks. Hardware vendors must use this opportunity to build out new device capabilities to encourage consumers to continue regularly upgrading and avoid churn to competitors.”