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Google Shows Faith in Work-From-Office With $1-Billion London Deal

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By Reuters | Updated: 14 January 2022 

Tech giant Google has spent $1 billion (roughly Rs. 7,410 crore) to buy a central London building where it is currently a tenant, showing its confidence in the future of the office as a place to work, the company said on Friday.

Google, which employs 6,400 people in Britain, plans a multi-million pound refurbishment of its offices within the Central Saint Giles development it is buying, close to Covent Garden in central London.

“We have been privileged to operate in the UK for nearly 20 years, and our purchase of the Central Saint Giles development reflects our continued commitment to the country’s growth and success,” said Ruth Porat, CFO of Google’s parent company Alphabet.

Google plans to refit the building so it is adapted for in-person teamwork and has meeting rooms for hybrid working, as well as creating more space for individuals.

The new refurbishment will also feature outdoor covered working spaces to enable work in the fresh air, the company said.

Google said it would eventually have capacity for 10,000 workers at its UK sites, including one being developed in the nearby King’s Cross area of London.

“This investment in jobs from Google is a big vote of confidence in the UK as a world-leading tech hub,” finance minister Rishi Sunak said in a statement.

Google said last month that it was delaying its return-to-office plan globally amid growing concerns over the Omicron variant of the coronavirus.

The Central Saint Giles building had been owned by a joint venture between Legal & General Investment Management Real Assets and Mitsubishi Estate London Limited.

© Thomson Reuters 2022

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Yemen Goes Offline, Loses Internet Connection After Saudi-Led Airstrikes

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By Associated Press | Updated: 21 January 2022

Yemen lost its connection to the Internet nationwide early Friday after Saudi-led airstrikes targeted the contested city of Hodeida, an advocacy group said, plunging the war-torn nation offline.

NetBlocks said the disruption began around 1am (3:30am IST) local and affected TeleYemen, the state-owned monopoly that controls Internet access in the country. TeleYemen is now run by the Houthi rebels who have held Yemen’s capital, Sanaa, since late 2014.

Yemen faces “a nation-scale collapse of Internet connectivity” after an airstrike on a telecommunications building, NetBlocks said.

The San Diego-based Center for Applied Internet Data Analysis and San Francisco-based Internet firm CloudFlare also noted a nationwide outage affecting Yemen beginning around the same time.

Over 12 hours later, the Internet remained down.

The Houthi’s Al-Masirah satellite news channel said the strike on the telecommunications building had killed and wounded people. It released chaotic footage of people digging through rubble for a body as gunshots could be heard. Aid workers assisted bloodied survivors.

Meanwhile, Al-Masirah said another early Friday airstrike on a prison in Yemen’s northern Saada province also killed and wounded people. There was no immediate independent confirmation of how many people were hurt in either attack.

The Saudi-led coalition battling the Houthi rebels acknowledged carrying out “accurate airstrikes to destroy the capabilities of the militia” around Hodeida’s port. It did not immediately acknowledge striking a telecommunication target as NetBlocks described, but instead called Hodeida a hub for piracy and Iranian arms smuggling to back the Houthis.

The undersea FALCON cable carries Internet into Yemen through the Hodeida port along the Red Sea for TeleYemen. The FALCON cable has another landing in Yemen’s far eastern port of Ghaydah as well, but the majority of Yemen’s population lives in its west along the Red Sea.

A cut to the FALCON cable in 2020 caused by a ship’s anchor also caused widespread Internet outages in Yemen. Land cables to Saudi Arabia have been cut since the start of Yemen’s civil war, while connections to two other undersea cables have yet to be made amid the conflict, TeleYemen previously said.

A Saudi-led coalition entered Yemen’s war in 2015 to back its ousted government. The war has turned into the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, with international criticism of Saudi airstrikes killing civilians and targeting the country’s infrastructure. The Houthis meanwhile have used child soldiers and indiscriminately laid landmines across the country.

The war reached into the United Arab Emirates, a Saudi ally, on Monday when the Houthis claimed a drone and missile attack on Abu Dhabi, killing three people and wounding six.

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Pegasus Spyware: Israel’s Attorney General Orders Probe of NSO Claims

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By Associated Press | Updated: 21 January 2022

Israel’s attorney general said Thursday he was launching an investigation into Israeli police’s use of phone surveillance technology following reports that investigators improperly tracked targets without authorisation.

In a four-page letter, Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit said he had not yet found evidence substantiating the claims in the Israeli business daily Calcalist, which said police monitored the leaders of a protest movement against then-Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, mayors, and other citizens without court approval. But Mandelblit said many questions remained unanswered, and that he was forming an investigative committee headed by a top deputy.

The specific cases mentioned by the newspaper “raise a very troubling picture,” he said, but don’t provide “sufficiently concrete information” to identify the cases of alleged misuse.

Mandelblit’s letter came a few hours after Israel’s police chief said he had ordered an extensive investigation into the newspaper’s claims. In a report this week, Calcalist said police had used the NSO Group’s Pegasus hacking software to surveil some of Netanyahu’s political opponents, as well as a raft of other alleged misuses of the technology.
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The police have dismissed the report as inaccurate and said they only operate according to the law. But the publication drew an outcry from lawmakers and prompted multiple investigations by various Israeli authorities into the allegations.

The NSO Group does not identify its clients and says it has no knowledge of who is targeted. The company says its products are intended to be used against criminals and terrorists, and that it does not control how its clients use the software. Israel, which regulates the company, has not said whether its own security forces use the spyware.

The Israeli spyware company has faced mounting scrutiny over its Pegasus software, which has been linked to snooping on human rights activists, journalists and politicians across the globe. In November, the US Commerce Department blacklisted NSO, barring the company from using certain US technologies, saying its tools had been used to “conduct transnational repression.”

In announcing his investigation, Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai said that immediately following the report’s publication, police launched “a thorough internal investigation” that has yet to find any instances of unlawful surveillance. He called on the paper to provide “concrete details that will allow us to inspect the alleged incidents.”

Tuesday’s Calcalist article didn’t name any of the people whose phones were allegedly hacked, nor did it cite any current or former sources in the police, government or NSO. The report referred to eight alleged examples of the police’s secretive signal intelligence unit employing Pegasus to surveil Israeli citizens, including hacking phones of protesters, mayors, a murder suspect and opponents of the Jerusalem Pride Parade, all without a court order or a judge’s oversight.

Shabtai said that “if it turns out that there were specific instances in which regulations were violated, the police under my command will work to improve and correct,” pledging full transparency. At the same time, he defended the police’s lawful use of such technologies to combat crime.

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Google Appeals EUR 2.4-Billion Shopping Fine at Top EU Court

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By Agence France-Presse | Updated: 21 January 2022

Google on Thursday appealed an EU court decision to uphold the bloc’s EUR 2.4 billion (roughly Rs. 20,255 crore) fine for abusing its search engine dominance.

The tech giant said it would go to the European Court of Justice, the EU’s highest court, after the General Court confirmed in November a decision by the European Commission in 2017.

At the time, the fine was the European Union’s biggest ever. But it was later exceeded by a EUR 4.3 billion (roughly Rs. 36,290 crore) fine against Google over its Android smartphone operating system.

“After careful consideration, we have decided to appeal the General Court’s decision because we feel there are areas that require legal clarification from the European Court of Justice,” a short statement by the company said.

The case centres on Google’s shopping service and is one of three against the search engine giant currently moving through the EU’s drawn-out appeals system.

The new appeal could take up to two years to reach an outcome, stretching the case out to well more than a decade after the commission launched its investigation in 2010.

The court confirmation on Google Shopping was a win for the EU’s anti-trust supremo Margrethe Vestager, who burst onto the scene in Brussels by scrapping her predecessor’s more conciliatory approach to the US Internet giant.

Vestager had lost in the same court in a different major case, , Apple and Ireland, in which her teams had ordered the iPhone maker to repay EUR 13 billion (roughly Rs. 1,09,710 crore) plus interest to the Irish taxpayer. The EU has appealed that ruling.

The fine for Google came after seven years of investigation launched by complaints from other price-comparison services that saw traffic plummet against Google Shopping.

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Big Tech: Bills Targeting Google, Facebook, More Firms to Go Before US Senate Panel

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By Reuters | Updated: 20 January 2022 

The US Senate Judiciary Committee is set to decide Thursday whether the full Senate should vote on two bills aimed at reining in tech giants like Alphabet’s Google and Meta’s Facebook.

Lawmakers are expected to consider an amended version of a bill introduced by Senators Amy Klobuchar, a Democrat, and Chuck Grassley, a Republican, that would bar tech platforms like Amazon from giving preference to their own businesses on their websites.

The amended version would expand the definition of the companies covered by the bill to include firms like the popular video app TikTok, according to sources familiar with the matter.

China’s Tencent, which owns messaging app WeChat, would also be covered by the bill, according to one source.

Two sources familiar with the matter said it was unclear that the Klobuchar-Grassley measure had the votes needed to send the measure to the Senate floor for final passage. The sources asked not to be named because they were not authorised to speak about the matter on the record.

A second bill, led by US Senators Richard Blumenthal and Marsha Blackburn, is also on the schedule. The Open App Markets Act would bar big app stores, like Apple, from requiring app providers to use their payment system and prohibit them from punishing apps that offer different prices through another app store or payment system.

This bill is on the schedule for the first time Thursday, which means that it is likely to be put off at least a week.

Both measures, and other bills aimed at Big Tech, have set off a firestorm of opposition from powerful business groups. The US Chamber of Commerce’s Chief Policy Officer Neil Bradley opposed the bill backed by Klobuchar and Grassley. “The companies that are being targeted are the very ones that had the scale and innovation to help us through the pandemic, whether that was enabling millions to work remotely, (or getting) essentials delivered to our front door,” he said.

The advocacy group Consumer Reports, said it would support the Klobuchar/Grassley bill to “reset the power asymmetry between Big Tech, consumers and small businesses.”

Both bills have a version introduced in the US House of Representatives.

© Thomson Reuters 2022

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Amazon to Open First-Ever Fashion Store Where Algorithms Suggest What to Try On

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By Reuters | Updated: 20 January 2022

Amazon’s recipe for the department store of the future includes algorithmic recommendations and what one corporate director called “a magic closet” in the fitting room.

The online retailer is making another push to grow its fashion business, announcing on Thursday it will open its first-ever apparel store this year, with a tech twist. “We wouldn’t do anything in physical retail unless we felt we could significantly improve the customer experience,” said Simoina Vasen, a managing director.

At 30,000 square feet (2,787 sq metres), the planned “Amazon Style” shop near Los Angeles is smaller than the typical department store. Model items are on the racks, and customers scan a code using Amazon’s mobile app to select the color and size they would like. To try on the clothes, which are stored in the back, shoppers enter a virtual queue for a fitting room that they unlock with their smartphone when it is ready.

Inside, the dressing room is “a personal space for you to continue shopping without ever having to leave,” Vasen said. Each has a touchscreen letting shoppers request more items that staff deliver to a secure, two-sided closet “within minutes,” she said.

“It’s like a magic closet with seemingly endless selection,” Vasen said.

The touchscreens suggest items to shoppers too. Amazon keeps a record of every good a customer scans so its algorithms personalize clothing recommendations. Shoppers can fill out a style survey as well. By the time they arrive in a fitting room, employees have already deposited customers’ requested items and others that Amazon has picked.

Shoppers can opt out with a concierge’s help, Amazon said.

Amazon has unveiled tech to help customers choose outfits before. The company has surpassed Walmart as the most-shopped clothing retailer in the United States, according to analyst research.

But it still has room to expand and compete with the likes of Macy’s and Nordstrom, which have opened smaller-format stores. Amazon’s lineup of physical grocery and convenience shops have yet to upend brick-and-mortar retail.

The company’s new store aims to attract a broad range of shoppers with hundreds of brands, Vasen said, declining to name examples.

It has hundreds of associates, and no cashier-less checkout like some Amazon stores, Vasen said. Still, using a biometric system known as Amazon One, customers can pay with a swipe of their palm.

© Thomson Reuters 2022

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OneWeb, Hughes Sign 6-Year Pact to Provide Satellite Broadband Services in India

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By Press Trust of India | Updated: 20 January 2022

Bharti Group-backed company OneWeb and satellite service provider Hughes Network Systems have signed a strategic six-year distribution agreement to provide satellite broadband services across India, a joint statement said on Thursday.

The services in India will be provided by Hughes and Bharti Airtel joint venture Hughes Communications India Private Ltd.

The agreement follows a memorandum of understanding signed by the companies in September 2021.

“This announcement marks a turning point for Digital India. Enterprise and government customers, including telecom service providers, banks, factories, schools, defence organisations, domestic airlines, and offshore vessel operators, are eagerly anticipating the arrival of new high performing Satcom services.

“We look forward to bringing them high-speed, low-latency services from HCIPL, using OneWeb capacity,” HCIPL president and managing director Partho Banerjee said.

OneWeb’s most recent satellite launch on 27 December 2021 brought its total in-orbit satellites to 394, over 60 percent of the planned 648 LEO satellite fleet.

It plans to commence global service by the end of 2022 as demand continues from telecommunications providers, aviation, and maritime markets, ISPs, and governments worldwide for its low-latency, high-speed connectivity services.

“OneWeb is delighted to partner with Hughes to offer high-speed, low-latency satellite broadband solutions. OneWeb’s constellation will cover the length and breadth of India, from Ladakh to Kanyakumari and from Gujarat to the Northeast and bring secure solutions to enterprises, governments, telcos, airline companies, and maritime customers.

“OneWeb will invest in setting up enabling infrastructure such as Gateways and PoPs (points of presence) in India to light up the services,” OneWeb CEO Neil Masterson said.

Hughes, through its parent company EchoStar, is a shareholder in OneWeb. It is also an ecosystem partner to OneWeb, developing gateway electronics – including for those in Gujarat and Tamil Nadu – and the core module that will power every user terminal for the system.

Hughes is also the prime contractor on an agreement with the US Air Force Research Lab to integrate and demonstrate managed LEO SATCOM using OneWeb capacity in the Arctic region, the statement said.

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