Hacker Puts 23TB Database Claimed to Contain Personal Data of Millions of Chinese Citizens for Sale
By Agence France-Presse | Updated: 5 July 2022
A hacker claiming to have stolen personal data from hundreds of millions of Chinese citizens is now selling the information online. A sample of 750,000 entries posted online by the hacker showed citizens’ names, mobile phone numbers, national ID numbers, addresses, birthdays, and police reports they had filed. AFP and cybersecurity experts have verified some of the citizen data in the sample as authentic, but the scope of the entire database is hard to determine.
Advertised on a forum late last month but only picked up by cybersecurity experts this week, the 23TB database — which the hacker claims contains the records of a billion Chinese citizens — is being sold for 10 Bitcoins (approximately Rs. 16,00,000).
“It looks like it’s from multiple sources. Some are facial recognition systems, others appear to be census data,” said Robert Potter, co-founder of cybersecurity firm Internet 2.0.
“There is no verification of the total number of records and I’m sceptical of the one billion citizens number,” he added.
China maintains an extensive nationwide surveillance infrastructure that siphons massive amounts of data from its citizens, ostensibly for security purposes.
Growing public awareness of data privacy has led to stronger data protection laws targeting individuals and private firms in recent years, although there is little citizens can do to stop the state from collecting their data.
Some of the leaked data appeared to be from express delivery user records, while other entries contained summaries of incidents reported to police in Shanghai over a span of more than a decade, with the most recent from 2019.
The incident reports ranged from traffic accidents and petty theft to rape and domestic violence.
Heads will roll
At least four people out of over a dozen contacted by AFP confirmed their personal details, such as names and addresses, as listed in the database.
“So that’s why so many people have been adding my WeChat over the past few days. Should I report this to the police?” said one woman surnamed Hao.
“I’m really confused about why my personal data has been leaked,” said another woman surnamed Liu.
In replies to the original post, users speculated that the data may have been hacked from an Alibaba Cloud server where it was apparently being stored by the Shanghai police.
Potter, the cybersecurity analyst, confirmed that the files were hacked from Alibaba Cloud, which did not respond to an AFP request for comment.
If confirmed, the breach would be one of the largest in history and a major violation of the recently approved Chinese data protection laws.
“Heads will roll over this one,” tweeted Kendra Schaefer, tech partner at research consultancy Trivium China.
China’s cybersecurity administration did not respond to a fax requesting comment.
Twitter’s Head of Trust and Safety Ella Irwin Says She Has Resigned
By Reuters | Updated: 2 June 2023
Twitter’s head of trust and safety, Ella Irwin, told Reuters on Thursday that she has resigned from the social media company, which has faced criticism for lax protections against harmful content since billionaire Elon Musk acquired it in October.
Irwin, who joined Twitter in June 2022, took over as head of the trust and safety team in November when previous head Yoel Roth resigned. She oversaw content moderation.
An email to Twitter returned an automated reply with a poop emoji. Irwin declined further comment and Musk did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Irwin’s departure comes as the platform has struggled to retain advertisers, with brands wary of appearing next to unsuitable content.
Musk announced earlier this month that he hired Linda Yaccarino, former NBCUniversal advertising chief, to become Twitter’s new CEO.
Since Musk’s acquisition, Twitter has cut costs dramatically and laid off thousands of employees, including many who had worked on efforts to prevent harmful and illegal content, protect election integrity, and surface accurate information on the site.
Musk has promoted a feature called Community Notes, which lets users add context to tweets, as a way to combat misleading information on Twitter.
The company is also facing increasing scrutiny from regulators over its moderation efforts. Twitter withdrew from a voluntary agreement with the European Union to tackle disinformation while saying it was committed to complying with upcoming internet rules in the EU.
EU industry chief Thierry Breton warned Twitter last week that it would not be able to avoid legal obligations in the EU after quitting the voluntary agreement.
© Thomson Reuters 2023
Judge Dismisses Cambridge Analytica Privacy Lawsuit Against Facebook Parent Meta
By Reuters | Updated: 2 June 2023
A 2018 privacy lawsuit brought by Washington, DC, against Facebook owner Meta Platforms, was dismissed on Thursday by a Superior Court judge, who ruled the firm did not mislead consumers over the Cambridge Analytica scandal.
The lawsuit alleged a violation of the district’s consumer protection law.
The social media firm drew global scrutiny in 2018 after disclosing that a third-party personality quiz distributed on Facebook gathered profile information on 87 million users worldwide and sold the data to British political consulting firm Cambridge Analytica.
“While the district may disagree with Facebook’s approach to the situation, there is no legal basis that required Facebook to act differently,” Judge Maurice Ross of the Superior Court for the District of Columbia said in his ruling.
The judge said Facebook’s policies had disclosed how third parties may get user data and the social media platform also gave instructions on how to limit sharing of data.
“Facebook did not materially mislead consumers as to their response to Cambridge Analytica,” the judge said on Thursday.
The District of Columbia attorney general’s office said it disagreed with the court’s decision and was considering options.
Meta did not respond immediately to a request for comment.
© Thomson Reuters 2023
Dell Beats Quarterly Estimates After Cost Cuts Despite 20 Percent Drop in Revenue
By Reuters | Updated: 2 June 2023
Better cost controls helped Dell Technologies beat estimates for first-quarter profit on Thursday, a positive sign for personal computer makers after months of cratering demand.
The results contrasted rivals HP and Lenovo Group, but a full recovery remains some ways off as Dell forecast current-quarter revenue below Wall Street targets and warned that IT spending would stay cautious.
Shares of the company were down 2 percent after the bell, reversing gains of 5 percent. The stock was briefly halted during regular trading hours when the company announced results earlier than scheduled.
“We maintained pricing discipline, reduced operating expenses, and our supply chain continued to perform well after normalizing ahead of competitors,” said Chuck Whitten, co-chief operating officer of Dell.
Total operating expenses fell 6 percent to $3.57 billion (roughly Rs. 28,826 crore) during the first quarter.
The company’s revenue dropped 20 percent to $20.92 billion (roughly Rs. 1,72,30,339 crore) but came in above analysts’ expectations of $20.27 billion (roughly Rs. 1,66,91,838 crore), according to Refinitiv data.
Demand for desktops and laptops slumped after a pandemic-driven rush for work-from-home equipment, leading to a pile-up in inventory amid an uncertain economic outlook.
Dell’s client solutions unit – home to its consumer and enterprise PC business – posted a 23 percent fall in sales, while the infrastructure solutions unit, which includes servers, storage devices, and networking hardware, saw an 18 percent decline.
Excluding items, Dell earned $1.31 (roughly Rs. 108) per share, compared with estimates of 86 cents.
The Texas-based company expects second-quarter revenue to be between $20.2 billion (roughly Rs. 166,31,892 crore) and $21.2 billion (roughly Rs. 1,74,55,126), below expectations of $21.2 billion (roughly Rs. 1,74,55,126) at the midpoint.
© Thomson Reuters 2023
Elon Musk Reclaims Position as World’s Richest Person After Bernard Arnault’s Louis Vuitton Shares Drop
By ANI | Updated: 1 June 2023
Elon Musk has yet again claimed his position as the world’s richest person after beating the CEO of the French luxury brand Louis Vuitton Bernard Arnault, according to Bloomberg Billionaires Index.
According to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index, as of Thursday, Musk’s net worth was about $192 billion (roughly Rs. 15,82,483 crore), with Arnault’s $187 billion (roughly Rs. 15,41,272 crore).
Index data showed behind Musk and Arnault are Jeff Bezos and Bill Gates at $144 billion (roughly Rs. 11,86,862 crore) and $125 billion (roughly Rs. 10,30,262 crore), respectively.
The index is a daily ranking of the world’s wealthiest people. Details about the calculations are provided in the net worth analysis on each billionaire’s profile page. The figures are updated at the close of every trading day in New York.
Tesla chief Musk is back on top of the list of wealthiest persons after shares of Arnault’s firm fell over 2 percent in the latest trade.
The rise in Musk’s wealth can also be partly attributed to the latest surge in Tesla stock prices. They rose about 89 percent so far in 2023, data showed.
Musk and Arnault have been neck-and-neck on the list of the richest people.
In December 2022, Bernard Arnault reportedly overtook the Tesla head when he was in the second spot for more than two months. Musk reclaimed again in late February.
Google Leads $36 Million Funding Round for Bengaluru-Based Satellite-Image Startup Pixxel
By Reuters | Updated: 1 June 2023
Alphabet’s Google is leading a $36 million (roughly Rs. 297 crore) funding round for Bengaluru-based Pixxel, a satellite-image startup, in the first major investment in the Indian space sector since the government launched its privatisation policy in April.
Pixxel, founded in 2019, is building a constellation of satellites that have the ability to identify mineral deposits or the productivity of crops by analysing the spectral signature of an image.
Miner Rio Tinto and Australian agritech company DataFarming are clients, Pixxel said.
The startup has raised more $71 million (roughly Rs. 585 crore) from investors including Accenture PLC. Pixxel did not specify how much Google had invested or the valuation it reflected.
Google in India did not immediately respond to questions about the investment.
Founder and Chief Executive Awais Ahmed said Pixxel would be “the most valued space tech company in India after this investment”.
That had been rocket and launch provider Skyroot Aerospace, valued at an estimated $163 million (roughly Rs. 1,343 crore), according to Tracxn, which tracks startups.
“We work with satellite data and Google does a lot of work around that with agriculture and environment,” Ahmed told Reuters. “They also have Google Earth … so a combination of that led to them seeing a benefit.”
Pixxel is among the many private companies looking for a fillip since India opened the space sector, encouraging startups to deliver broadband services like Starlink and to power applications like tracking supply chains.
The government announced its private-sector space policy framework in April.
The funding comes at a time when startups globally have struggled to raise funds. Space startups, in particular, have come under pressure after the bankruptcy of Richard Branson’s Virgin Orbit launch company.
Ahmed said the funding would be used to build out its satellite network. Pixxel is readying six satellites for launch next year to add to the three it has now and looking to hire more engineers for its analytics.
Ahmed has said he was inspired to launch a space startup from a visit Elon Musk’s SpaceX as part of a student competition to build a demonstration “hyperloop” transport pod.
He and co-founder Kshitij Khandelwal set out to build an AI model that could use satellite data to predict crop yields, detect illegal mining and track natural disasters.
They launched Pixxel when they concluded existing commercial satellite images did not provide enough detail. Pixxel’s satellites take in and analyse a wide spectrum of light instead of just assigning primary colours to each pixel, a technology known as hyperspectral imaging.
© Thomson Reuters 2023
European Union, US Working Towards Common Code of Conduct for AI Amid Growing Privacy, Civil Liberties Concerns
By Agence France-Presse | Updated: 1 June 2023
The European Union and the United States said Wednesday that they would soon release a voluntary code of conduct on artificial intelligence, hoping to develop common standards among democracies as China makes rapid gains.
Both political and technology industry leaders have been warning of the growing risks as AI takes off, with potentially wide-ranging effects on privacy and other civil liberties.
After talks with EU officials in Sweden, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken told reporters that Western partners felt the “fierce urgency” to act and would ask “like-minded countries” to join the voluntary code of conduct.
“There’s almost always a gap when new technologies emerge,” Blinken said, with “the time it takes for governments and institutions to figure out how to legislate or regulate”.
European Commission Vice President Margrethe Vestager added that a draft would be put forward “within weeks”.
“We think it’s really important that citizens can see that democracies can deliver,” she said.
She voiced hope “to do that in the broadest possible circle — with our friends in Canada, in the UK, in Japan, in India, bringing as many onboard as possible”.
Sam Altman, whose firm OpenAI created the popular ChatGPT bot, took part in the talks of the Trade and Technology Council between the EU and the United States, hosted this year in the northern Swedish city of Lulea.
The forum was set up in 2021 to try to ease trade frictions after the turbulent US presidency of Donald Trump but has since set its sights largely on artificial intelligence.
In a joint statement released by the White House and the European Commission, the two sides called AI a “transformative technology with great promise for our people, offering opportunities to increase prosperity and equity”.
“But in order to seize the opportunities it presents, we must mitigate its risks,” it said.
It added that experts from the two sides would work on “cooperation on AI standards and tools for trustworthy AI and risk management”.
They also discussed how to work together on sixth-generation mobile technology, an area in which Europeans have taken an early lead.
The EU has been moving forward on the world’s first regulations on AI, which would ban biometric surveillance and ensure human control of the technologies, though the rules would not enter into force before 2025 at the earliest.
China has also discussed regulations but Western powers fear that Beijing, with its growing prowess in the field and willingness to export to fellow authoritarian countries, could effectively set global standards.
While concerns have risen about China in the European Union, the bloc as a whole has yet to take as assertive a stance as the US has, with French President Emmanuel Macron recently leading a major business delegation to the world’s second-largest economy.
But Blinken played down differences between the US and European positions on China, saying that “None of us are looking for a Cold War”.
“On the contrary, we all benefit from trade and investment with China, but as opposed to de-coupling, we are focused on de-risking,” he said.
Rising wonder of AI
The United States has made no serious effort to rein in AI despite rising calls for regulation, including by some in the tech industry.
Technology leaders, including Altman, warned in a joint statement Tuesday that AI could put the world at risk without regulation.
“Mitigating the risk of extinction from AI should be a global priority alongside other societal-scale risks such as pandemics and nuclear war,” they wrote.
ChatGPT burst into the spotlight late last year as it demonstrated an ability to generate essays, poems and conversations through minimal input.
Hoping to demonstrate both the strengths and risks of AI, Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen on Wednesday delivered a speech to parliament partly written by ChatGPT.
“Even if it didn’t always hit the nail on the head, both in terms of the details of the government’s work programme and punctuation… it is both fascinating and terrifying what it is capable of,” she said.
The Computer and Communications Industry Association, which represents major technology firms, in a statement welcomed the “heightened, pointed transatlantic engagement” on AI at the meeting in Sweden.
But it reiterated its opposition to any EU fees or actions against foreign tech companies.
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