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Tesla Said to Face US Criminal Probe Into Self-Driving Claims Following Multiple Crashes

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By Reuters | Updated: 27 October 2022

Officials conducting their inquiry could ultimately pursue criminal charges, seek civil sanctions or close the probe without taking any action, they said.

The Justice Department’s Autopilot probe is far from recommending any action partly because it is competing with two other DOJ investigations involving Tesla, one of the sources said. Investigators still have much work to do and no decision on charges is imminent, this source said.

The Justice Department may also face challenges in building its case, said the sources, because of Tesla’s warnings about overreliance on Autopilot.

For instance, after telling the investor call last week that Teslas would soon travel without customers touching controls, Musk added that the vehicles still needed someone in the driver’s seat. “Like we’re not saying that that’s quite ready to have no one behind the wheel,” he said.

The Tesla website also cautions that, before enabling Autopilot, the driver first needs to agree to “keep your hands on the steering wheel at all times” and to always “maintain control and responsibility for your vehicle.”

Barbara McQuade, a former US attorney in Detroit who prosecuted automotive companies and employees in fraud cases and is not involved in the current probe, said investigators likely would need to uncover evidence such as emails or other internal communications showing that Tesla and Musk made misleading statements about Autopilot’s capabilities on purpose.

Several probes

The criminal Autopilot investigation adds to the other probes and legal issues involving Musk, who became locked in a court battle earlier this year after abandoning a $44 billion (roughly Rs. 3,62,100 crore) takeover of social media giant Twitter, only to reverse course and proclaim excitement for the looming acquisition.

In August 2021, the US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration opened an investigation into a series of crashes, one of them fatal, involving Teslas equipped with Autopilot slamming into parked emergency vehicles.

NHTSA officials in June intensified their probe, which covers 830,000 Teslas with Autopilot, identifying 16 crashes involving the company’s electric cars and stationary first-responder and road maintenance vehicles. The move is a step that regulators must take before requesting a recall. The agency had no immediate comment.

In July this year, the California Department of Motor Vehicles accused Tesla of falsely advertising its Autopilot and Full Self-Driving capability as providing autonomous vehicle control. Tesla filed paperwork with the agency seeking a hearing on the allegations and indicated it intends to defend against them. The DMV said in a statement it is currently in the discovery stage of the proceeding and declined further comment.

Apps

WhatsApp Bans Over 23 Lakh Accounts in India in October, ‘Proactively’ Barred 8.1 Lakh Users

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By ANI | Updated: 1 December 2022

Instant messaging and voice-over-IP service WhatsApp on Wednesday said the firm banned over 23 lakh accounts in the month of October, according to a spokesperson of WhatsApp. In another statement, it said as many as 811,000 of these 23 lakh accounts were proactively banned, before any reports from users.

A WhatsApp spokesperson in a statement said, “WhatsApp is an industry leader in preventing abuse, among end-to-end encrypted messaging services. Over the years, we have consistently invested in Artificial Intelligence and other state-of-the-art technology, data scientists and experts, and in processes, in order to keep our users safe on our platform.”

The spokesperson said, “In accordance with the IT Rules 2021, we’ve published our report for the month of October 2022. This user-safety report contains details of the user complaints received and the corresponding action taken by WhatsApp, as well as WhatsApp’s own preventive actions to combat abuse on our platform.”

As captured in the latest monthly report, WhatsApp banned over 23 lakh million accounts in the month of October, according to the spokesperson.

In a statement released by the firm, 26,85,000 WhatsApp accounts were banned from the instant messaging service between September 1 and 30 this year. As many as 872,000 of these accounts were proactively banned, before any reports from users.

According to the firm’s statement, in addition to responding to and taking action on user complaints through the grievance channel, WhatsApp also deployed tools and resources to prevent harmful behaviour on the platform. It said, “We are particularly focused on prevention because we believe it is much better to stop harmful activity from happening in the first place than to detect it after harm has occurred.”

It said the abuse detection operates at three stages of an account’s lifestyle: At registration, during messaging, and in response to negative feedback, which we receive in the form of user reports and blocks.

The statement from WhatsApp said a team of analysts augments these systems to evaluate edge cases and help improve our effectiveness over time.

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Internet

Medibank Data Breach: Hackers Upload More Customer Data, Say ‘Case Closed’ on World Cybersecurity Day

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By Reuters | Updated: 1 December 2022

Medibank, Australia’s biggest health insurer, said on Thursday hackers had released more of its stolen medical records, as the media reported that the complete set of data on millions of customers was now public.

The Office of the Australian Information Commission (OAIC), the country’s privacy regulator, has also begun investigating how the company handles personal information, Medibank said in a statement.

The latest release on the dark web follows progressive uploads, including records of customers’ mental health and alcohol use, that began after Medibank said on November 7 it would not pay a ransom.

“The raw data we have analysed today so far is incomplete and hard to understand,” chief executive David Koczkar said. “While there are media reports of this being a signal of ‘case closed’, our work is not over.”

On Thursday, the media reported that a blog, believed by cyber experts to be used by the hackers, carried a new post: “Happy Cyber Security Day!!! Added folder full. Case closed.” It also included a file that had several compressed files amounting to more than 5 gigabytes.

Reuters has not verified the contents of the latest files uploaded on the dark web, part of the World Wide Web that is accessible only with special software.

Medibank did not immediately respond to a Reuters question about whether it believed all stolen data had now been released.

Australian Federal Police last month said Russia-based hackers were behind the Medibank cyberattack, which compromised the details of almost 10 million current and former customers. Medicare revealed the breach on October 13.

In an update on Thursday morning, Medibank said there were currently no signs that banking data had been stolen. Personal details accessed by hackers were not enough to enable financial fraud, it added.

Six zipped files placed in a folder called “full” and containing raw data believed to have been stolen had been uploaded, Medibank said in a statement.

Australia has been grappling with a recent rise in cyber attacks. At least eight companies, including telecoms company Optus, owned by Singapore Telecommunications, have reported breaches since September.

The OAIC, which is also investigating Optus over the breach, did not immediately respond to a Reuters request for comment on the Medibank investigation.

Technology experts have said Australia has become a target for hackers just as a skills shortage leaves an understaffed, overworked cybersecurity workforce ill-equipped to stop attacks.

© Thomson Reuters 2022

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Cryptocurrency

Kraken Crypto Exchange to Cut Global Workforce by 30 Percent Amid Crypto Winter

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By Reuters | Updated: 1 December 2022

Cryptocurrency exchange Kraken said on Wednesday it would cut its global workforce by 30 percent, or about 1,100 employees, citing tough market conditions that have crippled demand for digital assets this year. Higher interest rates and worries of an economic downturn have roiled cryptocurrencies as investors fled risky assets, with recent bankruptcies adding to the uncertainty.

“Since the start of this year, macroeconomic and geopolitical factors have weighed on financial markets,” the company said.

Kraken said it has seen a drop in trading volumes and fewer client sign-ups, adding that the layoffs will take total headcount to where it was 12 months ago.

Earlier this month, crypto exchange Coinbase slashed jobs in its recruiting and institutional onboarding teams.

Kraken, which earlier slowed hiring and pulled back marketing spending, said it was forced to cut jobs as it had exhausted other measures to bring expenses in line with current demand.

Meanwhile, the implosion of crypto exchange FTX, the highest-profile casualty of the year’s market turmoil, continues to ripple across the industry, with BlockFi filing for bankruptcy earlier this week.

The meltdown has dragged the price of the largest cryptocurrency, Bitcoin, to around a two-year low.

Global regulators have since been circling crypto firms with many seeking to set tough rules to govern the largely unregulated sector.

On Monday, the US Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control said that Kraken had agreed to pay a fine to settle civil liability related to apparent violations of sanctions on Iran.

As part of the settlement with OFAC, Kraken will pay about $362,000 (roughly Rs. 3 crore), and “invest an additional $100,000 (roughly Rs. 81,18,000) in certain sanctions compliance controls.”

According to the OFAC statement, Kraken’s platform processed 826 transactions for users located in Iran between roughly October 2015 to June 2019.

At the time, Kraken maintained controls intended to prevent users from initially opening an account while in a jurisdiction subject to sanctions, but did not implement IP address blocking based on geolocation across its platform, the statement added.

In October, the Treasury Department had also fined crypto exchange Bittrex Inc $29 million (roughly Rs. 235 crore) in fines for “apparent violations” of sanctions on certain countries and anti-money laundering law.

© Thomson Reuters 2022

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Science

Neuralink Expected to Begin Human Clinical Trials in Six Months, Elon Musk Says

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By Reuters | Updated: 1 December 2022

Elon Musk said on Wednesday a wireless device developed by his brain chip company Neuralink is expected to begin human clinical trials in six months.

The company is developing brain chip interfaces that it says could enable disabled patients to move and communicate again. Based in the San Francisco Bay Area and Austin, Texas, Neuralink has in recent years been conducting tests on animals as it seeks US regulatory approval to begin clinical trials in people.

“We want to be extremely careful and certain that it will work well before putting a device into a human but we’ve submitted I think most of our paperwork to the FDA and probably in about six months we should be able to upload Neuralink in a human,” Musk said during a much-awaited public update on the device.

The event was originally planned for October 31 but Musk postponed it just days before without giving a reason.

Neuralink’s last public presentation, more than a year ago, involved a monkey with a brain chip that played a computer game by thinking alone.

Musk is known for lofty goals such as colonizing Mars and saving humanity. His ambitions for Neuralink, which he launched in 2016, are of the same grand scale. He wants to develop a chip that would allow the brain to control complex electronic devices and eventually allow people with paralysis to regain motor function and treat brain diseases such as Parkinson’s, dementia and Alzheimer’s. He also talks about melding the brain with artificial intelligence.

Neuralink, however, is running behind schedule. Musk said in a 2019 presentation he was aiming to receive regulatory approval by the end of 2020. He then said at a conference in late 2021 that he hoped to start human trials this year.

Neuralink has repeatedly missed internal deadlines to gain US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval to start human trials, current and former employees have said. Musk approached competitor Synchron earlier this year about a potential investment after he expressed frustration to Neuralink employees about their slow progress, Reuters reported in August.

Synchron crossed a major milestone in July by implanting its device in a patient in the United States for the first time. It received US regulatory clearance for human trials in 2021 and has completed studies in four people in Australia.

© Thomson Reuters 2022

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Social Networking

Elon Musk Meets Tim Cook, Says Apple Never Considered Removing Twitter From App Store

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By Reuters | Updated: 1 December 2022

Elon Musk on Wednesday tweeted that the misunderstanding about Twitter potentially being removed from Apple’s App Store was resolved following his meeting with the iPhone maker’s Chief Executive Tim Cook.

“Tim was clear that Apple never considered doing so,” the billionaire CEO of Twitter and Tesla said in a tweet.

Thanks @tim_cook for taking me around Apple’s beautiful HQ pic.twitter.com/xjo4g306gR— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) November 30, 2022

On Monday, Musk had accused Apple of threatening to block Twitter from its app store without saying why in a series of tweets that also said it had stopped advertising on the social media platform.

He had later tagged Cook’s Twitter account in another tweet, asking “what’s going on here?”

The world’s most valuable firm spent an estimated $131,600 (roughly Rs. 1,07,42,900) on Twitter ads between November 10 and November 16, down from $220,800 (roughly Rs. 1,80,23,385) between October 16 and October 22, the week before Musk closed the Twitter deal, according to ad measurement firm Pathmatics.

In the first quarter of 2022, Apple was the top advertiser on Twitter, spending $48 million (roughly Rs. 390 crore) and accounting for more than 4 percent of total revenue for the period, the Washington Post reported, citing an internal Twitter document.

Twitter and Apple did not immediately respond to requests for comment on Musk’s latest tweet. Apple has not responded publicly to Musk’s earlier tweets.

Among the list of grievances tweeted by Musk on Monday was the up to 30 percent fee Apple charges software developers for in-app purchases, with Musk posting a meme suggesting he was willing to “go to war” with Apple rather than paying the commission.

The self-described free speech absolutist, whose company has in the past few days reinstated several Twitter accounts including that of former US President Donald Trump, has blamed activist groups for pressuring advertisers.

Ben Bajarin, the head of consumer technologies at research firm Creative Strategies, previously stated that Musk may have been reading too much into a regular process Apple goes through in-app reviews.

“App review from Apple is not perfect by any means and a consistently frustrating process for developers but from what I hear it is a two-way conversation,” he said.

“Tim was clear that Apple never considered doing so,” the billionaire CEO of Twitter and Tesla said in a tweet.

On Monday, Musk had accused Apple of threatening to block Twitter from its app store without saying why in a series of tweets that also said it had stopped advertising on the social media platform.

He had later tagged Cook’s Twitter account in another tweet, asking “what’s going on here?”

Twitter and Apple did not immediately respond to requests for comment on Musk’s latest tweet. Apple has not responded publicly to Musk’s earlier tweets.

Among the list of grievances tweeted by Musk on Monday was the up to 30 percent fee Apple charges software developers for in-app purchases, with Musk posting a meme suggesting he was willing to “go to war” with Apple rather than paying the commission.

© Thomson Reuters 2022

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Cryptocurrency

Binance Marks Entry into Japanese Market With Acquisition of Sakura Exchange BitCoin

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By Agence France-Presse | Updated: 30 November 2022

The world’s largest cryptocurrency platform Binance on Wednesday announced its first licence in East Asia with the acquisition of Japan’s officially regulated Sakura Exchange BitCoin.

Binance has been in the spotlight since the dramatic collapse of rival platform FTX this month.

Changpeng Zhao, the Chinese-Canadian head of Binance, pledged last week to release an audit into his firm while rejecting claims he sparked the demise of FTX.

The terms of Binance’s 100-percent purchase of the Tokyo-based Sakura Exchange BitCoin were not disclosed in a joint statement on Wednesday.

But Binance said it “aims to support a responsible global environment for cryptocurrencies” by offering Japanese-regulated services.

“The Japanese market will play a key role in the future of cryptocurrency adoption,” Takeshi Chino, general manager of Binance Japan, said in a statement.

“We will actively work with regulators to develop our combined exchange in a compliant way for local users.”

Japan has worked to strengthen its regulation of virtual currencies following the collapse of the Tokyo-based MtGox Bitcoin exchange in 2014.

Binance was operating in Japan some years ago, but had to withdraw operations due to lack of relevant licences in 2018. Japan’s Financial Services Agency (FSA) had earlier insisted Binance to apply for an operational licence. Japan has, in recent years, emerged among the group of crypto friendly nations ready to harness the power of blockchain to finetune its financial sectors.

Other major players in the space, Crypto.com and FTX crypto exchanges are already functional in Japan. As of the end of 2021, the number of crypto asset accounts set up in Japan reached around 5.48 million, data by Statista claimed.

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