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Apple to Roll Out Child Abuse Photo-Check System on Country-by-Country Basis; WhatsApp Chief Criticises Move

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By Reuters | Updated: 7 August 2021

Apple will roll out a system for checking photos for child abuse imagery on a country-by-country basis, depending on local laws, the company said on Friday.

A day earlier, Apple said it would implement a system that screens photos for such images before they are uploaded from iPhones in the United States to its iCloud storage.

Child safety groups praised Apple as it joined Facebook, Microsoft. Alphabet’s Google in taking such measures.

But Apple’s photo check on the iPhone itself raised concerns that the company is probing into users’ devices in ways that could be exploited by governments. Many other technology companies check photos after they are uploaded to servers.

In a media briefing on Friday, Apple said it would make plans to expand the service based on the laws of each country where it operates.

The company said nuances in its system, such as “safety vouchers” passed from the iPhone to Apple’s servers that do not contain useful data, will protect Apple from government pressure to identify material other than child abuse images.

Apple has a human review process that acts as a backstop against government abuse, it added. The company will not pass reports from its photo checking system to law enforcement if the review finds no child abuse imagery.

Regulators are increasingly demanding that tech companies do more to take down illegal content. For the past few years, law enforcement and politicians have wielded the scourge of child abuse material to decry strong encryption, in the way they had previously cited the need to curb terrorism.

A few resulting laws, including in Britain, could be used to force tech companies to act against their users in secret.

While Apple’s strategy may deflect government meddling by showing its initiative or complying with anticipated directives in Europe, many security experts said the privacy champion was making a big mistake by showing its willingness to reach into customer phones.

“It may have deflected US regulators’ attention for this one topic, but it will attract regulators internationally to do the same thing with terrorist and extremist content,” said Riana Pfefferkorn, a research scholar at the Stanford Internet Observatory.

Politically influential copyright holders in Hollywood and elsewhere could even argue that their digital rights should be enforced in such a way, she said.

Facebook’s WhatsApp, the world’s largest fully encrypted messaging service, is also under pressure from governments that want to see what people are saying, and it fears that will now increase. WhatsApp chief Will Cathcart tweeted a barrage of criticism Friday against Apple for the new architecture.

“We’ve had personal computers for decades, and there has never been a mandate to scan the private content of all desktops, laptops or phones globally for unlawful content,” he wrote. “It’s not how technology built in free countries works.”

Apple’s experts argued that they were not really going into people’s phones because data sent on its devices must clear multiple hurdles. For example, banned material is flagged by watchdog groups, and the identifiers are bundled into Apple’s operating systems worldwide, making them harder to manipulate.

Some experts said they had one reason to hope Apple had not truly changed direction in a fundamental way.

As Reuters reported last year, the company had been working to make iCloud backups end-to-end encrypted, meaning the company could not turn over readable versions of them to law enforcement. It dropped the project after the FBI objected.

Apple may be setting the stage to turn on the encryption later this year, using this week’s measures to head off anticipated criticism of that change, said Stanford Observatory founder Alex Stamos.

Apple declined to comment on future product plans.

© Thomson Reuters 2021

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Apple to Require Employee Proof of COVID-19 Booster: Report

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By Reuters | Updated: 17 January 2022

Apple will require retail and corporate employees to provide proof of a COVID-19 booster shot, The Verge reported on Saturday, citing an internal email.

Starting January 24, unvaccinated employees or those who haven’t submitted proof of vaccination will need negative COVID-19 tests to enter Apple workplaces, the report said. The Verge said it was not immediately clear if the testing requirement applies to both corporate and retail employees.

“Due to waning efficacy of the primary series of COVID-19 vaccines and the emergence of highly transmissible variants such as Omicron, a booster shot is now part of staying up to date with your COVID-19 vaccination to protect against severe disease,” the memo read, according to The Verge.

Apple did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
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Many companies in the US have been strengthening their COVID-19 rules, mandating vaccination and delaying back-to-office plans as the Omicron variant increases infections across the country.

This week, Facebook parent Meta Platforms mandated COVID-19 booster shots for all workers returning to offices. It also delayed US office reopenings to March 28, from an earlier plan of January 31.

Alphabet’s Google on Friday said it was temporarily mandating weekly COVID-19 tests for people entering its US offices.

A report by The Information said Amazon has offered its US warehouse workers $40 (roughly Rs. 2,970) to get a booster shot.

© Thomson Reuters 2022

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TSMC to Boost Chip Spending in 2022, Sees Multi-Year Growth Ahead Due to Semiconductor Demand

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By Reuters | Updated: 13 January 2022

Taiwanese chip firm TSMC expects strong growth to accelerate in coming years due to booming semiconductor demand, as the tech giant on Thursday reported a record quarterly profit and said it plans to spend at least a third more than last year.

Soaring demand for semiconductors used in smartphones, laptops, and other gadgets during the COVID-19 pandemic has led to an acute chip crunch, forcing automakers and electronics manufacturers to cut production but keeping order books full at TSMC and other chipmakers.

Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing (TSMC), a major Apple supplier that also has customers such as Qualcomm, posted a 16.4 percent rise in fourth-quarter profit.

The company said it expects to lift capital spending to between $40 billion (roughly Rs. 2,95,700 crore) and $44 billion (roughly Rs. 3,25,210 crore) this year. Last year it spent $30 billion (roughly Rs. 2,21,760 crore).

TSMC announced in 2021 a $100 billion (roughly Rs. 7,390 crore) expansion plan over the next few years, as new technologies such as fifth-generation (5G) telecommunications technology and artificial intelligence applications also drive chip demand.

The company is entering “a period of higher structural growth”, Chief Executive C. C. Wei told an online earnings briefing.

TSMC, Asia’s most valuable listed firm and globally the largest contract chipmaker, expects capacity to remain tight this year and demand to be sustained in the long term, Wei said.

“With fully-loaded foundry capacity, TSMC’s near-term order outlook remains healthy,” analysts at Taipei-based Fubon Research wrote in a note in early January.

With what it calls a “multi-year industry megatrend” of strong chip demand boosted by new technologies, TSMC raised its compound annual growth rate targets for revenue over the next several years to 15 percent-20 percent from 10 percent-15 percent.

Wei shrugged off market concerns about chip oversupply in the coming years and said a substantial increase of “silicon content” in tech gadgets such as electric cars would help TSMC weather market corrections.

“Even if a correction were to occur, we believe it could be less volatile for TSMC due to our technology leadership position and the structural megatrend,” Wei said.

The company set a long-term target of “53 percent and higher” for its gross margins, up from a previous target of “50 percent and higher”.

TSMC forecast first-quarter revenue to be in the range of $16.6 billion (roughly Rs. 1,22,710 crore) to $17.2 billion (roughly Rs. 1,27,140 crore), compared with $12.92 billion (roughly Rs. 95,500 crore) in the same period a year earlier. For the year, it expects to grow in the mid -to-high 20 percent range in US dollar terms.

That was higher than the TWD 161.6 billion (roughly Rs. 43,270 crore) average of 22 analyst estimates compiled by Refinitiv.

TSMC shares have gained about 7 percent so far this year, giving it a market value of $618 billion (roughly Rs. 45,67,760 crore). The stock closed 0.15 percent higher on Thursday before the financial results were released, slightly underperforming the broader market which finished up 0.33 percent.

© Thomson Reuters 2022

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Pegasus Spyware Used to Hack Phones of Salvadoran Journalists Investigating Alleged State Corruption: Report

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By Reuters | Updated: 13 January 2022

The cell phones of nearly three dozen journalists and activists in El Salvador, several of whom were investigating alleged state corruption, have been hacked since mid-2020 and implanted with sophisticated spyware typically available only to governments and law enforcement, a Canadian research institute said it has found.

The alleged hacks, which came amid an increasingly hostile environment in El Salvador for media and rights organisations under populist President Nayib Bukele, were discovered late last year by The Citizen Lab, which studies spyware at the University of Toronto’s Munk School of Global Affairs. Human-rights group Amnesty International, which collaborated with Citizen Lab on the investigation, says it later confirmed a sample of Citizen Lab’s findings through its own technology arm.

Citizen Lab said it found evidence of incursions on the phones that occurred between July 2020 and November 2021. It said it could not identify who was responsible for deploying the Israeli-designed spyware. Known as Pegasus, the software has been purchased by state actors worldwide, some of whom have used the tool to surveil journalists.

In the El Salvador attack, the heavy focus on editors, reporters, and activists working inside that single Central American country points to a local customer with a particular interest in their activities, said Scott-Railton, a senior researcher at Citizen Lab.

“I can’t think of a case where near-exclusive Pegasus targeting in one country didn’t wind up being a user in that country,” Scott-Railton said.

Citizen Lab released a report on its findings on Wednesday.

In a statement to Reuters, Bukele’s communications office said the government of El Salvador was not a client of NSO Group Technologies, the company that developed Pegasus. It said the administration is investigating the alleged hacking and had information that some top administration officials also might have had their phones infiltrated.

“We have indications that we, government officials, are also victims of attacks,” the statement said.

Pegasus allows users to steal encrypted messages, photos, contacts, documents, and other sensitive information from infected phones without users’ knowledge. It can also turn handsets into eavesdropping devices by silently activating their cameras and microphones, according to product manuals reviewed by Reuters.

NSO, which has long kept its client list confidential, declined to comment on whether El Salvador was a Pegasus customer. The company said in a statement that it sells its products only to “vetted and legitimate” intelligence and law enforcement agencies to fight crime and that it is not involved in surveillance operations. NSO said it has a “zero-tolerance” policy for misuse of its spyware for activities such as monitoring dissidents, activists and journalists and that it has terminated contracts of some customers who have done so.

Citizen Lab researchers said they began a forensic analysis of the El Salvador phones in September after being contacted by two journalists there who suspected their devices might be compromised.

Researchers said they ultimately found evidence that spyware had been planted on a total of 37 devices belonging to three human-rights groups, six news publications and an independent journalist.

Hardest hit was the online news site El Faro. Citizen Lab researchers said they found telltale tracks of spyware infections on the cell phones of 22 reporters, editors and administrative personnel – more than two-thirds of the company’s staff – and evidence that data had been stolen from many of those devices, including a few that had several gigabytes of material extracted.

El Faro was under constant surveillance during at least 17 months, between June 29, 2020 and November 23, 2021, with the phone of Editor-in-Chief Oscar Martinez infiltrated at least 42 times, Citizen Lab claimed.

“It is hard for me to think or conclude something other than the government of El Salvador” was behind the alleged hacks, Martinez said. “It’s evident that there is a radical interest in understanding what El Faro is doing.”

During the time of the purported infiltrations with Pegasus, El Faro reported extensively on scandals involving Bukele’s government, including allegations that he was negotiating a financial deal with El Salvador’s violent street gangs to reduce the homicide rate to boost popular support for the president’s New Ideas party.

Bukele, who spars frequently with the press, publicly condemned El Faro’s reporting on those purported talks as “ridiculous” and “false information” in a September 3, 2020 Twitter post.

Phone snooping isn’t new to El Salvador, according to Citizen Lab. It alleged in a 2020 report that El Salvador was among at least 25 countries using a bulk surveillance technology made by an Israeli company called Circles. The Circles technology differs from Pegasus in that it vacuums up data from the global phone network instead of planting spyware on specific devices. The report claimed the Circles system had been in operation in El Salvador since 2017.

Circles could not immediately be reached for comment.

Sofia Medina, Bukele’s communications secretary, noted that his administration was not in power in 2017 and claimed, without providing evidence, that the alleged Pegasus attacks appeared to be a continuation of surveillance launched by an unknown “powerful group.”

Citizen Lab’s latest investigation in El Salvador was conducted as a collaboration with digital-rights group Access Now, with investigative assistance from human-rights groups Frontline Defenders, SocialTIC and Fundacion Acceso.

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Apple Supplier Foxconn Said to Resume Operations at Plant After Workers’ Protests Over Mass-Food Poisoning

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By Press Trust of India | Updated: 12 January 2022

After a brief hiatus, iPhone supplier Foxconn on Wednesday reopened its manufacturing facility near here as the company decided to resume operations, government sources said. The factory, located on the city outskirts of Chennai in Tamil Nadu was opened after remaining shut for over three weeks following workers’ protests on the back of a mass-food poisoning incident at the offsite dormitory facility.

Private buses were seen ferrying employees wearing face masks, inside the Sriperumbudur campus, about 40kms from here. “About 200 employees are joining today. We were told the plant will be operating in two shifts initially and later be scaled up,” a government source told PTI.

Tamil Nadu Industries Minister Thangam Thennarasu said the government was happy as the facility resumed operations following the issue getting resolved.

“Based on the suggestions provided by the government for the welfare of the employees, the management agreed to implement them, particularly to enhance the amenities provided to the women workforce”, he said.

The management assured that it would implement all the suggestions following the direct involvement of Chief Minister M K Stalin in the matter, he told reporters at the Secretariat here.

“I am happy to note that the facility is resuming operations today. The facility will continue to take up all necessary steps to ramp up production without any hurdles (hereafter)”, he said.

On January 10, Foxconn said it has implemented a range of corrective actions and would start bringing back team members gradually at the factory.

The facility was put on ‘probation’ by Apple following the protests by workers and an assessment revealed substandard living conditions at the dormitories and dining halls of the employees.

The unit has more than 15,000 people working on production of Apple products.

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Foxconn India iPhone Plant That Shuttered After Mass Food Poisoning Said to Reopen on January 12

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By Reuters | Updated: 10 January 2022

Apple supplier Foxconn will reopen its shuttered iPhone manufacturing facility in southern India on January 12, government officials and a legislator in the region where the plant is located told Reuters.

The Foxconn plant, located in the state of Tamil Nadu, was closed on December 18 following protests over 250 of its workers being treated for food poisoning.

Apple has since placed the factory on probation after discovering that some dormitories and dining rooms did not meet required standards.

Foxconn and Apple did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

An Apple spokesperson had said that the company had dispatched independent auditors to assess conditions at the dormitories “following recent concerns about food safety and accommodation conditions at Foxconn Sriperumbudur.”

“We found that some of the remote dormitory accommodations and dining rooms being used for employees do not meet our requirements and we are working with the supplier to ensure a comprehensive set of corrective actions are rapidly implemented.”

Foxconn had said it was restructuring its local management team to ensure it can achieve and maintain the standards needed, and was taking immediate steps to improve facilities. All employees would continue to be paid while it makes necessary improvements to restart operations.

© Thomson Reuters 2021

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Apple CEO Tim Cook Earned Over 1,400 Times the Company’s Average Worker in 2021

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By Reuters | Updated: 8 January 2022

Apple boss Tim Cook’s pay in 2021 was 1,447 times that of the average employee at the tech giant, a filing on Thursday showed, fueled by stock awards that helped him earn a total of nearly $100 million (roughly Rs. 742.31 crore).

In 2021, the median pay for employees was $68,254 (roughly Rs. 50.66 lakh), Apple said, adding it had selected a new median employee for comparison due to changes in hiring and compensation.

The median pay in 2020 was $57,783 (roughly Rs. 42.89 lakh) and the pay ratio was 256 times Cook’s salary.

The iPhone maker has benefited from strong demand over the past two years as consumers working from home splurged on upgrades. Apple’s revenue rose more than 30 percent to $365.82 billion (roughly Rs. 27,15,521 crore) for its fiscal 2021 and its shares briefly crossed $3 trillion (roughly Rs. 2,22,69,270 crore) in market capitalization this year.

Cook, whose salary remained at $3 million (roughly Rs. 22.26 crore), received $82.3 million (roughly Rs. 610.92 crore) in stock awards, $12 million (roughly Rs. 89.07 crores) for hitting Apple’s targets and $1.4 million (roughly Rs. 10.39 crore) for air travel, 401(k) plan, insurance premiums and others.

In total, he earned $98.7 million (roughly Rs. 732.65 crores), compared with $14.8 million (roughly Rs. 109.86 crores) in 2020.

Cook took the helm in August 2011 after the company’s co-founder Steve Jobs stepped down months before his demise. The stock has surged over 1,000 percent since Cook took charge.

In September, Cook received 333,987 restricted stock units, in his first stock grant since 2011 as part of a long-term equity plan. He will be eligible to receive additional units in 2023.

Cook told Fortune magazine in 2015 that he plans to donate his wealth to charity.

CEOs in the United States were paid 351 times more than the typical worker in 2020, a report by the Economic Policy Institute showed, while the compensation of top CEOs grew roughly 60 faster than the stock market from 1978 to 2020, eclipsing the slow 18 percent growth in a typical worker’s annual pay.

© Thomson Reuters 2021

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