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Telenor Partners With Google Cloud to Digitalise Its Global Operations

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By Reuters | Updated: 15 November 2021

Telenor and Alphabet’s Google Cloud have formed a partnership to digitalise the Norwegian telecom company’s global operations and are exploring ways to jointly offer services to customers, the two companies said on Monday.

The firms will not only use Google Cloud’s services to boost Telenor’s own IT and network, but also collaborate to provide Telenor’s customers with digital tools, their respective chief executives told Reuters.

Oslo-based Telenor serves 172 million customers with roughly half its revenue generated in Asia and half in the Nordics.

The digitalisation project will mean a big transformation for Telenor, but is also part of its ambition to find new revenue streams, Telenor’s CEO Sigve Brekke said.

“I think the future for telcos is to move beyond connectivity, and to create value on top of connecting customers,” he said.

With networks increasingly reliant on software, Telenor needs to build a cloud-based business, and Google’s abilities in providing data management knowledge, machine learning and artificial intelligence make it a good fit, Brekke added.

“To digitalise our operation is to make it smoother,” Brekke said. “You can predict outages before they happen… when you’re displacing some of your backend processes, you can smooth out customer experiences and make them better.”

Digitalising the core operations of a telecommunications company as large as Telenor is new to Google Cloud and so are the joint customer offerings, said Thomas Kurian, CEO at Google Cloud.

Among the first services the two envisage providing jointly is a platform to help small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) transform to digital operations.

“This not just about optimising data centres and moving data centres to the cloud,” Kurian said.

“The work that we’re doing with SMEs…we are not just offering as a technology supplier, but building a joint offering to a customer segment.”

© Thomson Reuters 2021

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Computers

US Federal Trade Commission Sues to Block Nvidia-Arm Deal

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By Reuters | Updated: 3 December 2021

The US Federal Trade Commission on Thursday sued to block US chip company Nvidia’s more than $80 billion (roughly Rs. 5,99,760 crore) planned acquisition of British chip technology provider Arm, adding to already significant global regulatory challenges of the deal.

The FTC said the proposed deal would give one of the largest chip companies control over computing technology and designs that competitors rely on to develop their own competing chips.

The deal has been widely expected to fall apart after facing opposition in the chip industry. British regulators said last month they would launch an in-depth probe of the deal, and it is also under scrutiny in the European Union.

Arm licenses its chip architecture and blueprints to major chipmakers Apple, Qualcomm, and Samsung, underpinning the global smartphone ecosystem. Arm was sold to Japan’s SoftBank in 2016.

Nvidia said it would “work to demonstrate that this transaction will benefit the industry and promote competition.”

Arm declined to comment.

The stock-heavy deal has more than doubled in value since it was announced in September 2020 as Nvidia shares have risen on the performance of its data centre business. Nvidia will owe only a $1.25 billion (roughly Rs. 9,370 crore) breakup fee if the deal does not close, and its shares closed up 2.2 percent at $321.26 (roughly Rs. 24,090) on Thursday.

“Nobody thinks the deal is going to close,” said Stacy Rasgon, an analyst with Bernstein. “The data centre story has been really playing out. The software narrative has become a bigger piece of the story. I would love to see this deal, but I don’t think they need it.”

Before Nvidia’s offer, SoftBank had planned to file for an initial public offering for Arm. While Arm’s revenue is growing briskly, rising 56.3 percent to $1.46 billion (roughly Rs. 10,945 crore) in the six months ended September 30, it is unclear whether Arm, in an IPO, would fetch anything close to the $80 billion (roughly Rs. 5,99,760 crore) in value offered by Nvidia.

That would be a new blow for the Japanese conglomerate whose Vision Fund assets sank by $10 billion (roughly Rs. 74,970 crore) last month, driven by plummeting valuations for investments in Chinese e-commerce firm Alibaba and ride-hailing service Didi Global.

The FTC, which is made up of two Republicans and two Democrats, voted 4-0 to approve the challenge to the planned merger.

‘Higher prices and less choice’

The FTC alleged “the proposed merger would give Nvidia the ability and incentive to use its control of this technology to undermine its competitors, reducing competition and ultimately resulting in reduced product quality, reduced innovation, higher prices, and less choice, harming the millions of Americans who benefit from Arm-based products.”

The FTC added the combined firm “would have the means and incentive to stifle innovative next-generation technologies, including those used to run datacentres and driver-assistance systems in cars.”

Some semiconductor firms such as MediaTek and Broadcom have voiced support for the deal. But other firms such as Qualcomm have opposed it over concerns that Nvidia would have a first look at key technologies that they depend on and could then have better insights into their future products.

Qualcomm did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Nvidia’s chief executive, Jensen Huang, made a biting comment at an industry dinner last month, saying that Qualcomm Chief Executive Cristiano Amon, who recently took the helm of an industry trade group, had proven to be a master advocate in the battle over Arm. Qualcomm had its own extensive battles with global regulators, including the FTC, which Qualcomm prevailed over after the regulator brought an antitrust lawsuit against it.

“He’s the perfect person to advocate for our industry,” Huang said from a stage as Amon sat in the audience. “I was trying to figure out, how is it possible that Cristiano knew every single regulator on the planet, and by the time I got there to tell them about my story on Arm, he was already there advocating against it?” Huang said, to stunned laughter from the crowd.

The FTC said it has cooperated closely with staff of the competition agencies in the European Union, United Kingdom, Japan, and South Korea.

© Thomson Reuters 2021

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Internet

Google Delays Mandatory Return to Office Beyond January 10

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By Reuters | Updated: 3 December 2021

Alphabet’s Google said on Thursday it is indefinitely pushing back its January return-to-office plan globally amid growing concerns over the Omicron variant of the coronavirus and some resistance to company-mandated vaccinations.

Google in August had said it would expect workers to come in about three days a week from January 10 at the earliest, ending its voluntary work-from-home policy.

On Thursday, Google executives told employees that the company would put off the deadline beyond that date. Insider first reported the news.

Google said the update was in line with its earlier guidance that a return to workplaces would begin no earlier than January 10 and depend on local conditions.

Nearly 40 percent of US employees have come into an office in recent weeks, Google said, with higher percentages in other parts of the world.

But CNBC reported last week that hundreds of employees have protested the company’s vaccination mandate for those working on US government contracts.

Google was one of the first companies to ask its employees to work from home during the pandemic. It has about 85 offices across nearly 60 countries.

Europe has so far recorded 79 cases of the Omicron variant, first detected in southern Africa last month, the European Union’s public health agency said earlier on Thursday.

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Apps

Microsoft Office’s New UI Now Rolling Out for Everyone

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By ANI | Updated: 3 December 2021

American tech conglomerate Microsoft has started to roll out a new Office UI for its users this week. The visual update was originally announced earlier this year and went into testing over the summer.

Now it’s starting to roll out to all Office 365 and Office 2021 users, according to The Verge. This new Office UI is designed to match the visual changes in Windows 11, and it includes a more rounded look to the Office ribbon bar, with some subtle tweaks to the buttons throughout Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and Outlook.

It’s a relatively simple refresh, and Office will now match the dark or light theme that you set inside Windows. The new-look can be toggled on or off using the Coming Soon megaphone icon in the top right-hand corner of Word, Excel, PowerPoint, or OneNote.

It should be available for all Windows 11 users right now, and Microsoft says 50 percent of current channel subscribers will have the visual update enabled automatically.

Most of the design changes are subtle, but Microsoft has teased more dramatic changes to its Office UI, which included moving toward more of a command bar instead of the traditional ribbon interface.

As per The Verge, it’s still expected to see these changes appear in the Web and mobile versions of Office first, and Microsoft did say last year that its bigger Office UI changes could take a year or two to roll out.

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Social Networking

Facebook Owner Meta Launches New Platform, Safety Hub to Protect Women in India

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By Press Trust of India | Updated: 3 December 2021

Meta (formerly Facebook) on Thursday announced a slew of steps to protect woman users on its platform, including the launch of StopNCII.org in India that aims to combat the spread of non-consensual intimate images (NCII).

Meta has also launched the Women’s Safety Hub, which will be available in Hindi and 11 other Indian languages, that will enable more women users in India to access information about tools and resources that can help them make the most of their social media experience, while staying safe online.

This initiative by Meta will ensure women do not face a language barrier in accessing information Karuna Nain, director (global safety policy) at Meta Platforms, told reporters here.

“Safety is an integral part of Meta’s commitment to building and offering a safe online experience across the platforms and over the years the company has introduced several industry leading initiatives to protect users online.

“Furthering our effort to bolster the safety of users, we are bringing in a number of initiatives to ensure online safety of women on our platforms,” she added.

StopNCII.org is a platform that aims to combat the spread of non-consensual intimate images (NCII).

“It gives victims control. People can come to this platform proactively, hash their intimate videos and images, share their hashes back with the platform and participating companies,” Nain said.

She explained that the platform doesn’t receive any photos and videos, and instead what they get is the hash or unique digital fingerprint/unique identifier that tells the company that this is a known piece of content that is violating. “We can proactively keep a lookout for that content on our platforms and once it”s uploaded, our review team check what”s really going on and take appropriate action if it violates our policies,” she added.

In partnership with UK Revenge Porn Helpline, StopNCII.org builds on Meta’s NCII Pilot, an emergency programme that allows potential victims to proactively hash their intimate images so they can”t be proliferated on its platforms.

The first-of-its-kind platform, has partnered with global organisations to support the victims of NCII. In India, the platform has partnered with organisations such as Social Media Matters, Centre for Social Research, and Red Dot Foundation.

Nain added that the company is hopeful that this becomes an industrywide initiative, so that victims can just come to this one central place to get help and support and not have to go to each and every tech platform, one by one to get help and support.

Also, Bishakha Datta (executive editor of Point of View) and Jyoti Vadehra from Centre for Social Research are the first Indian members in Meta”s Global Women”s Safety Expert Advisors. The group comprises 12 other non-profit leaders, activists, and academic experts from different parts of the world and consults Meta in the development of new policies, products and programmes to better support women on its apps.

“We are confident that with our ever-growing safety measures, women will be able to enjoy a social experience which will enable them to learn, engage and grow without any challenges.

“India is an important market for us and bringing Bishakha and Jyoti onboard to our Women”s Safety Expert Advisory Group will go a long way in further enhancing our efforts to make our platforms safer for women in India,” Nain said.

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Social Networking

Facebook, Instagram Remove Chinese Accounts Over Fake ‘Swiss Biologist’ COVID-19 Origin Claims

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By Reuters | Updated: 2 December 2021

Facebook owner Meta Platforms said on Wednesday it had removed accounts used by an influence operation originating in China that promoted claims of a fake “Swiss biologist” saying the United States was interfering in the search for COVID-19’s origins.

Meta said in a report the social media campaign was “largely unsuccessful” and targeted English-speaking audiences in the United States and Britain and Chinese-speaking audiences in Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Tibet.

Claims by “Swiss biologist” Wilson Edwards were widely quoted by Chinese state media in July. In August, several Chinese newspapers removed comments and deleted articles quoting him after the Swiss embassy in Beijing said it had found no evidence of him as a Swiss citizen.

Meta said Facebook removed the Wilson Edwards account in August and has since removed 524 Facebook accounts, 20 Pages, four Groups and 86 Instagram accounts as part of its investigation. Such removals also take down content that these entities have posted.

“We…were able to link the activity to individuals in mainland China, including employees of a particular company in China, the Sichuan Silence Information Technology Company Limited, as well as some individuals associated with Chinese state infrastructure companies around the world,” Meta’s head of global threat disruption David Agranovich told Reuters.

Sichuan Silence Information Technology Co did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The Chinese foreign ministry and internet regulator Cyberspace Administration of China also did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Meta said it had not found any connection between Sichuan Silence Information Technology and the Chinese government.

Silence Information’s website describes itself as a network and information security company that provides network security services to China’s Ministry of Public Security activities and China’s CNCERT, the key coordination team for China’s cybersecurity emergency response.

On July 24, 10 hours after its creation, the “Wilson Edwards” Facebook account uploaded a post saying he had been informed the United States was seeking to discredit the qualifications of World Health Organization scientists working with China to probe the origins of COVID-19.

Meta said the account’s operators used virtual private network (VPN) infrastructure to conceal its origin and made efforts to give Edwards a rounded personality.

The persona’s original post was initially shared and liked by fake Facebook accounts, and later forwarded by authentic users, most of which belonged to employees of Chinese state infrastructure companies in over 20 countries, Meta said.

“This is the first time we have observed an operation that included a coordinated cluster of state employees to amplify itself in this way,” the report said. Meta said it did not find evidence that the network gained any traction among authentic communities.

China’s state-run media, from China Daily to TV news service CGTN, cited the July post widely as evidence that US President Joe Biden’s administration was politicising the WHO. The administration had said the joint WHO-China investigation lacked transparency.

The origin of the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes COVID-19 remains a mystery and a source of tension between China, the United States and other countries.

© Thomson Reuters 2021

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Technology

Tesla Headquarters Officially Moves From California to Texas

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By Associated Press | Updated: 2 December 2021

Tesla says it has officially moved its corporate headquarters from Silicon Valley to a large factory under construction outside of Austin, Texas.

The company made the announcement late Wednesday in a filing with US securities regulators. CEO Elon Musk had said at the company’s annual meeting in October that the move was coming.

The filing said the relocation from Palo Alto, California, to what Tesla calls a “Gigafactory” on Harold Green Road near Austin was done on Wednesday.

In US regulatory filings at the end of last year, Tesla said it had about 71,000 employees worldwide. Company news releases in 2020 said about 10,000 work at the Palo Alto headquarters and 10,000 are employed at its factory in Fremont, California.

It wasn’t clear if all of the headquarters employees would be required to move. A message was left Wednesday seeking comment from Tesla, which has disbanded its media relations department.

Wedbush analyst Daniel Ives said in October that he expects some of the 10,000 employees in Palo Alto won’t want to leave the Bay Area, but says a large number will, due to Austin’s lower cost of living. He said he thinks Tesla will give many the option of staying, but expects 40 percent to 50 percent to make the move.

“The tax incentives down the road, we believe, will be massive when you compare taxes versus California,” Ives said. “Getting employees is much cheaper and easier in Texas.”

CEO Elon Musk hinted at making a move ever since a spat with Alameda County, California, health officials over reopening the factory in Fremont last year at the start of the coronavirus pandemic.

Musk has said that he has moved his residence from California to Texas, where there is no state personal income tax.

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