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Aurora Releases Industry-First Tool to Gauge Safety of Self-Driving Systems

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By Reuters | Updated: 19 August 2021

Aurora, the Silicon Valley self-driving startup founded by former Tesla, Uber, and Google executives, has released what it says is the industry’s first tool for evaluating whether and when autonomous trucks and cars are safe to deploy on public roads without a human behind the wheel.

“We think this is the only way you can get to a safe, commercialisable product,” said co-founder and CEO Chris Urmson of Aurora’s new Safety Case Framework.

Aurora, working with partners PACCAR and Volvo Group, aims to put its self-driving system in commercial service in heavy-duty trucks in late 2023.

The release of the safety tool, which provides a methodology and metrics for gauging progress from development to deployment, comes days after the US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) opened an investigation of Tesla’s Autopilot driving assistance feature following a series of crashes involving Tesla models and emergency vehicles.

Urmson said the latest NHTSA investigation of Tesla “had no bearing” on Aurora’s decision to release its framework, which he described as a “structured approach” to testing and validating the safety of self-driving systems. It includes four levels of claims connected with the safe development, testing, and evaluation of Aurora’s self-driving systems, which require supporting evidence.

Urmson has had an ongoing dialogue with the US safety agency dating back to when he ran Google’s self-driving car programme, which since has been renamed Waymo.

Aurora also has had related discussions with such professional organisations as the Society of Automotive Engineers and the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers to “look at different standards and approaches to safety.”

The five-year-old Bay Area company is slated to go public later this year, at a pro-forma market capitalization of $13 billion (roughly Rs. 96,670 crores), after raising more than $2.2 billion (roughly Rs. 16,360 crores).

Aurora’s early investors included Amazon, Hyundai, BMW, Shell, and SoftBank. Fund managers Fidelity, Baillie Gifford, and T. Rowe Price are backing Aurora’s SPAC-backed reverse merger, which is slated to close in the fourth quarter.

© Thomson Reuters 2021

Internet

SolarWinds Hackers Said to Have Stolen Sensitive US Data on Russia Sanctions, Intelligence Probes

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By Reuters | Updated: 8 October 2021

The suspected Russian hackers who used SolarWinds and Microsoft software to burrow into US federal agencies emerged with information about counter-intelligence investigations, policy on sanctioning Russian individuals and the country’s response to COVID-19, people involved in the investigation told Reuters.

The hacks were widely publicised after their discovery late last year, and American officials have blamed Russia’s SVR foreign intelligence service, which denies the activity. But little has been disclosed about the spies’ aims and successes.

The reluctance of some publicly traded companies to explain their exposure has prompted a broad Securities and Exchange Commission inquiry.

The campaign alarmed officials with its stealth and careful staging. The hackers burrowed into the code production process at SolarWinds, which makes widely used software for managing networks.

The group also took advantage of weaknesses in Microsoft’s methods for identifying users in Office 365, breaching some targets that used Microsoft software but not SolarWinds.

It has been previously reported that the hackers breached unclassified Justice Department networks and read emails at the departments of treasury, commerce and homeland security. Nine federal agencies were breached. The hackers also stole digital certificates used to convince computers that software is authorised to run on them and source code from Microsoft and other tech companies.

One of the people involved said that the exposure of counter-intelligence matters being pursued against Russia was the worst of the losses.

A spokesperson for the Justice Department did not respond to a request for comment.

A White House official said that President Joe Biden has issued orders improving federal agency security, among other things requiring more multifactor-authentication and more monitoring of workplace devices.

In an annual threat-review paper released on Thursday, Microsoft said the Russian spies were ultimately looking for government material on sanctions and other Russia-related policies, along with US methods for catching Russian hackers.

Cristin Goodwin, general manager of Microsoft’s Digital Security Unit, said the company drew its conclusions from the types of customers and accounts it saw being targeted. In such cases, she told Reuters, “You can infer the operational aims from that.”

Others who worked on the government’s investigation went further, saying they could see the terms that the Russians used in their searches of US digital files, including “sanctions.”

Chris Krebs, the former head of US cyber-defense agency CISA and now an adviser to SolarWinds and other companies, said the combined descriptions of the attackers’ goals were logical.

“If I’m a threat actor in an environment, I’ve got a clear set of objectives. First, I want to get valuable intelligence on government decision-making. Sanctions policy makes a ton of sense,” Krebs said.

The second thing is to learn how the target responds to attacks, or “counter-incident response,” he said: “I want to know what they know about me so I can improve my tradecraft and avoid detection.”

© Thomson Reuters 2021

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Cryptocurrency

Crypto Exchange Binance Has Ireland in Plans for ‘Decentralised’ Regional Headquarters

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By Reuters | Updated: 8 October 2021

Major cryptocurrency exchange Binance sees Ireland as part of its plans to establish a number of headquarters across the world, its CEO told Reuters on Thursday.

Regulators across the world have in recent months scrutinised Binance, the world’s largest exchange by trading volumes. Some have banned the platform from certain activities, while others have warned consumers that it was unlicensed to operate.

In response, CEO Changpeng Zhao said in July he wanted to improve relations with regulators, and would break with its “decentralised” structure and establish regional headquarters.

Last month, Binance registered three firms in Ireland, corporate registry documents show.

“Historically, we claim that we don’t have headquarters. We are actually just in the process of establishing a few headquarters in different parts of the world,” Changpeng Zhao said in an interview.

Asked if Ireland featured in Binance’s plans to establish headquarters in a particular country, Zhao replied: “Yes it does.” He declined to give further details of the plans for the country.

“When we first started we wanted to embrace the decentralised principles, no headquarters, work all around the world, no borders,” he said. “It’s very clear now to run a centralised exchange, you need a centralised, legal entity structure behind it.”

Trading volumes at Binance soared between July and September, suggesting a recent crackdown by regulators across the globe has had little impact on the platform’s business.

Binance’s corporate structure is opaque. Its holdings company is registered in the Cayman Islands, according to British court documents and Malaysia’s securities watchdog.

© Thomson Reuters 2021

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Technology

Tesla Headquarters to Move From California to Texas

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By Reuters | Updated: 8 October 2021

Tesla Chief Executive Elon Musk said on Thursday the electric carmaker plans to move its headquarters from Silicon Valley’s Palo Alto, California to Austin, Texas, where it is building a massive car and battery manufacturing complex.

Tesla joins Oracle, HP, and Toyota Motor in moving US headquarters to Texas from California, which has relatively high taxes and living costs. While Silicon Valley also is a hive of development of new ideas and companies, Texas is known for cheaper labour and less stringent regulation.

“I’m excited to announce that we’re moving our headquarters to Austin, Texas,” Musk told the company’s annual meeting, held in the Texas car factory.

“This is not a matter of, sort of, Tesla leaving California,” he said, saying it plans to increase output from its main California factory and Nevada factory by 50 percent.

The Fremont, California factory nonetheless is “jammed” and it is tough for people to afford houses in California, he said.

Billionaire Musk himself moved to the Lone Star State from California in December to focus on the electric-car maker’s new plant in the state and his SpaceX rocket company, which has a launch site in the southern tip of Texas.

Musk had a rocky relationship at times with California, threatening to move Tesla headquarters and future programmes to Texas during a row over the closure of Tesla’s factory in Fremont, California due to COVID-19, for instance.

At the meeting he showed off a design of what looked like a cowboy-style belt buckle emblazoned with “Don’t Mess With T” – the T in the style of the Tesla logo. The phrase is based on a venerable and popular Texas anti-littering campaign – Don’t Mess with Texas.

Director term cut

Despite some criticism from activist shareholders and a proxy advisory service, shareholders followed board guidance on several key proposals, including reelection of Kimball Musk, Elon’s brother, and James Murdoch as board directors.

But they voted in favour of a stockholder proposal to reduce director terms from three years to one year and a proposal regarding additional reporting on diversity and inclusion efforts.

“It’s unfortunate that the shareholders did not agree to remove Murdoch and Musk’s brother. But I think they know the pressure is on them,” Stephen Diamond, a professor at Santa Clara University School of Law, said.

“They’ve got a lot more work to do on governance. Just changing the term is just an artifact of a larger governance issue,” William Klepper, a professor at Columbia Business School, said.

Advisory firm Institutional Shareholder Services (ISS) had recommended that Tesla investors not re-elect the two directors because of concerns about excessive compensation packages to non-executive board members.

Shareholders also voted against a stockholder proposal asking for a study into the impact of Tesla’s use of arbitration on workplace harassment and discrimination.

The proposal, opposed by the board, was thrown into the spotlight after a Black former contract worker on

Monday won a $137 million (roughly Rs. 1,030 crores) jury award against Tesla over workplace racism.

© Thomson Reuters 2021

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Mobiles

Samsung’s Posts Best Quarterly Profit in 3 Years Amid Rising Chip Prices

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By Reuters | Updated: 8 October 2021

Samsung Electronics on Friday flagged a 28 percent jump in its third-quarter operating profit to the highest in three years, driven by rising memory chip prices and display sales for new flagship smartphone launches. The preliminary result was up 26 percent from the second quarter, although just below forecasts, while the market reaction was further muted as analysts pencilled in a flat or slightly lower result this quarter on an expected fall in memory chip prices.

The world’s largest memory chip and smartphone maker estimated its July-September profit at KRW 15.8 trillion (roughly Rs. 99,190 crores), below a Refinitiv SmartEstimate of KRW 16.1 trillion (roughly Rs. 1,01,080 crores). It is the highest quarterly profit since the third quarter of 2018.

“The mobile business’ operating margin might have been lower than the market expected,” said Park Sung-soon, analyst at Cape Investment & Securities. “We will have to see marketing costs and what the mix of products Samsung sold was like.”

Rising memory chip prices and shipments, plus a jump in profitability at Samsung’s chip contract manufacturing business, likely raised the chip division’s operating profit by about 79 percent from a year earlier, analysts said.

Semiconductors accounted for about half of Samsung’s operating profit in the first half of the year.

Samsung shares pared early gains to be up 0.4 percent in afternoon trade. It is due to announce detailed earnings later this month.

The stock has fallen about 12 percent so far this year versus a 3 percent rise in the wider market, hurt by losses in September when US peer Micron said its memory chip shipments would slip in the near term.

Analysts said prices for memory chips are expected to tumble this quarter as demand for personal computers drops amid an expected easing in global lockdowns that have helped power sales, while smartphone shipments may also decline.

A bright spot next year is expected to be Samsung’s chip contract manufacturing business, which on Thursday announced plans to start producing cutting-edge, 3-nanometre chip designs in the first half of 2022, as it races against industry leader Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co to preempt advanced technology and win clients.

For Samsung’s mobile business, estimated sales of 2 million new foldable smartphones within a month showed demand for its foldable handsets captured more of the mass market than last year, analysts said.

However, this was likely offset by marketing costs and higher component costs due to the global chip shortage.

Samsung’s display unit likely saw solid results as key customer Apple ramped up orders before its late-September launch of the iPhone 13 series, analysts said.

Overall revenue likely rose about 9 percent from the same period a year earlier to a record KRW 73 trillion (roughly Rs. 4,58,230 crores), Samsung said in a filing.

© Thomson Reuters 2021

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Internet

Google, YouTube to Stop Serving Advertisements Next to Climate Change Misinformation

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By Agence France-Presse | Updated: 8 October 2021

Google on Thursday said it will no longer post advertisements next to misinformation about climate change on its search engine or on global video-sharing platform YouTube. The new policy for Google advertisers, publishers, and YouTube creators will prohibit the platforms from helping people make money from content that “contradicts well-established scientific consensus around the existence and causes of climate change.”

That includes online content referring to climate change as a hoax or a scam, or denying the world’s temperature is rising and that human activity is contributing to the problem, Google said in a post.

“Advertisers simply don’t want their advertisements to appear next to this content,” Google said.

“And publishers and creators don’t want advertisements promoting these claims to appear on their pages or videos.”

The Internet giant added that the policy change aligns with efforts by the company to promote sustainable practices and confront climate change.

“Google’s important decision to demonetise climate misinformation could turn the tide on the climate denial economy,” said NGO Avaaz campaign director Fadi Quran.

“For years, climate misinformers have confused public opinion and obstructed urgent political action on climate change, and YouTube has been one of their weapons of choice.”

Quran urged other online platforms to follow Google’s lead and stop funneling money to those peddling debunked denials of climate change.

Social networking colossus Facebook, which is Google’s biggest competitor in the digital advertising market, touts efforts to curb climate misinformation at its platform but has no such advertisement ban in place.

Social media platforms are regularly accused of promoting content that provokes strong emotional responses in order to keep users engaged so the platforms can make more money made from advertisements, even if the content can cause harm.

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Social Networking

Twitter to Sell Mobile Advertisement Unit MoPub for $1 Billion

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By Reuters | Updated: 7 October 2021

Twitter said it has agreed to sell mobile advertisement company MoPub to AppLovin for $1.05 billion (roughly Rs. 7,850 crores) in cash, as the microblogging platform looks to focus more on advertisements on its own app and website.

MoPub, which generated about $188 million (roughly Rs. 1,400 crores) in annual revenue for Twitter last year, allows companies to keep track of ad inventory in real time, similar to Google’s DoubleClick.

“The sale of MoPub positions us to concentrate more of our efforts on the massive potential for advertisements on our website and in our apps,” Twitter Chief Financial Officer Ned Segal said.

Twitter said on Wednesday it will focus on its core business by accelerating development of new products and features to achieve its goal of doubling its revenue in 2023 to $7.5 billion (roughly Rs. 56,090 crores).

The MoPub deal comes months after Apple updated its mobile operating system that powers iPhone handsets and iPad devices to make it hard for digital advertisers, including social media platforms and mobile game developers, to track users on Apple mobile devices.

The sale will allow Twitter to invest in “the core products that position it for long-term growth,” Twitter Chief Executive Officer Jack Dorsey said on Wednesday.

The social media company bought MoPub for nearly $350 million (roughly Rs. 2,620 crores) in 2013.

Twitter has made a series of deals for privately held tech firms this year, including podcast app Breaker and email newsletter startup Revue, as it looks to reach its 2023 revenue goal.

The sale to AppLovin was unanimously approved by Twitter’s board.

AppLovin, which recently went public in April, is a mobile gaming company with a portfolio that includes more than 200 free-to-play mobile games, such as Word Connect, Slap Kings, and Bingo Story.

The company’s shares were up 9 percent at $84 (roughly Rs. 6,280) in extended trading, while Twitter rose 2 percent to $62.57 (roughly Rs. 4,680).

© Thomson Reuters 2021

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