The Download: UK fines Facebook over Cambridge Analytica scandal

This is The Download, a weekday recap of the top technology headlines.

UK watchdog gives Facebook preliminary $664,000 fine for enabling Cambridge Analytica breach

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The UK’s Information Commissioner’s Office announced a preliminary $664,000 fine for Facebook after finding that the company failed to protect user data and wasn’t transparent about how the user data was gotten by others. The fine, which was the largest amount allowed, comes after revelations that as many as 87 million Facebook users had their data improperly shared with Cambridge Analytica, a digital consultancy firm with ties to the Trump campaign.

“We are at a crossroads. Trust and confidence in the integrity of our democratic processes risk being disrupted because the average voter has little idea of what is going on behind the scenes. People cannot have control over their own data if they don’t know or understand how it is being used.”

Elizabeth Denham; UK Information Commissioner, in a statement

Facebook will address the proposed penalty before the watchdog makes a final ruling.

“As we have said before, we should have done more to investigate claims about Cambridge Analytica and take action in 2015. We have been working closely with the ICO in their investigation of Cambridge Analytica, just as we have with authorities in the US and other countries. We’re reviewing the report and will respond to the ICO soon.”

Erin Egan; Facebook chief privacy officer, in a statement

Uber human resources head Liane Hornsey resigns after racial discrimination allegations probe

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Uber Chief People Officer Liane Hornsey has resigned after a third-party firm investigated allegations that she routinely dismissed internal racial discrimination complaints.

Hornsey joined the company a month before former engineer Susan Fowler penned a blog post on the rampant sexual harassment and sexism she endured at Uber.

Uber Chief Legal Officer Tony West ordered a probe into the way she handles discrimination reports after a group of whistleblowers threatened to go public with their complaints if the company doesn’t take action. The group, which told Reuters that they’re Uber employees of color, also accused Hornsey of using discriminatory language against the company’s global head of diversity and inclusion Bernard Coleman. They claimed that she threatened former executive Bozoma Saint John, who joined the company from Apple Music also with the intention of fixing its internal cultural issues.

In an email sent to her team, Hornsey said her resignation might come “a little out of the blue” for some people, but she’s apparently “been thinking about [it] for a while.”

“By now you’ll have seen the news that I’ve decided to leave Uber. I know this comes a little out of the blue for some of you, but I have been thinking about this for a while. I couldn’t leave without first thanking each and every one of you for your incredible professionalism and dedication to our work. You’ve had an enormously positive impact on the direction of the company.

“I am so proud of all that we have accomplished, but mostly our shared ethic of doing what’s right for our employees. I leave knowing that the company is in great hands and that together our team has lived up to our cultural norm of doing the right thing. In the interim, I am handing over the reins to Pranesh who is simply amazing and who will be a wonderful leader to you all.”

Liane Hornsey, former Uber chief people officer

Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi also sent a company-wise email about her resignation, calling her “incredibly talented, creative, and hard-working.”

Uber didn’t disclose the probe’s results, and West told the whistleblowers that it has no intentions to.

“Serious allegations alone, even when they turn out to be unsubstantiated, can damage a person’s career and reputation, implicating important due process, privacy and moral concerns. [W]e should keep in mind that the simple fact that we may not observe disciplinary action doesn’t mean serious measures haven’t been imposed, if and where appropriate.”

Tony West; Uber chief legal officer, in an email to the whistleblowers, according to Bloomberg

Court filing: former Apple employee Xiaolang Zhang has been charged by FBI with alleged theft of trade secrets related to company’s autonomous car efforts

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Apple Park in Cupertino, Calif. (Image: Apple)

Xiaolang Zhang, an Apple engineer that worked on Apple’s autonomous car project form December 2015 through May 2018, allegedly stole trade secrets for a Chinese car startup backed by Alibaba according to charges filed by the FBI.

Zhang has been charged in federal court with stealing trade secrets, and faces 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine, and was arrested trying to leave the country over the weekend.

“Apple takes confidentiality and the protection of our intellectual property very seriously. We’re working with authorities on this matter and will do everything possible to make sure this individual and any other individuals involved are held accountable for their actions.”

An Apple spokesperson, in a statement to The Verge

Zhang designed and tested circuit boards as part of the compute team of Apple’s autonomous car project, according to the federal complaint that was filed this week in California’s Northern District. In it, the company says that Zhang returned from a month-long paternity leave at the end of April and informed his supervisor at Apple that he was resigning so he could spend time with his ailing mother in China. Zhang also shared in that meeting that he planned to work for Chinese electric car startup Xiaopeng Motors.

Once Zhang told his supervisor about his intentions and after “feeling that he had been evasive” according to the filing, a member of Apple’s New Product Security Division joined the meeting and had Zhang turn in his two work phones and his laptop. After the meeting, Apple reviewed Zhang’s past network activity and performed a forensic analysis on his work devices and “activities on the Apple campus,” including swipe badge access and closed circuit TV footage.

The company’s security team found that Zhang’s network activity “increased exponentially compared to the prior two years of his employment” in the days before his attempted resignation, with the bulk of the activity being “bulk searches and targeted downloaded copious pages of information” from confidential databases he had access to. According to the complaint, the CCTV footage that Apple reviewed showed that Zhang left the company’s autonomous vehicle lab on April 28 (during his leave period) carrying a “computer keyboard, some cables, and a large box.”

Apple security teams confronted Zhang with this information in a follow-up meeting on May 1, and the company says he admitted to taking data and removing items, including circuit boards and a Linux server, from the autonomous vehicle lab. He told Apple that he was pursuing a job at Xiaopeng and that he airdropped data to his wife’s laptop. After consenting to a search of that laptop, Apple found approximately 40GB of data, 60 percent of which its forensic teams said was “highly problematic.”

According to the complaint, Zhang was “voluntarily terminated from Apple” on May 5. Afterwards, Zhang claimed to work for Xiaopeng although it’s unclear if he did.

Apple alerted the FBI of its findings in May, and the agency obtained a search warrant for Zhang’s home. The FBI searched his home on June 27, according to the filing, and he admitted to the same things he told Apple when the FBI interviewed him that same day.

On July 7, the FBI learned that Zhang bought a round trip ticket from San Jose, California to Beijing. Federal agents arrested Zhang after passing through a security checkpoint at San Jose International Airport.

Magic Leap signs AT&T as sole US wireless vendor, receives undisclosed investment; AT&T CEO John Donovan gains observer rights

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Magic Leap, the startup responsible for the Magic Leap One augmented reality platform, has selected AT&T as its exclusive wireless distributor for US consumers ahead of the device’s initial release this year. AT&T is also investing an undisclosed amount in Magic Leap, with AT&T CEO John Donovan gaining observer rights on Magic Leap’s board.

Donovan hinted that the partnership will leverage AT&T’s upcoming 5G network.

“AT&T is excited to pair our pioneering technologies, unmatched network, content platform, and vast customer ecosystem with Magic Leap’s efforts to build the next generation of computing. We’re designing and offering the future of entertainment and connectivity, and this exclusive arrangement – in combination with our 5G leadership position – will open up new opportunities and experiences.

John Donovan, AT&T CEO

AT&T’s deal is a vote of confidence in Magic Leap’s provider, with the telecom company leveraging “Magic Leap’s focus on transformational technology and products” with its own network and stores “to usher in a new kind of contextually aware, intelligent, human-computer interactivity.”

“We’ve joined with AT&T because we believe in a combined vision of expanding high-speed networks, edge computing, and deep integration with creative content. Coupling the strength of the evolving AT&T network with Magic Leap’s spatial computing platform can transform computing experiences for people.”

Rony Abovitz, Magic Leap CEO

DOJ settles with 3D printable gun inventor Cody Wilson, five years after take down order

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Cody Wilson, the gunmaker and free speech advocate at the center of a multi-year legal battle over the ability to distribute computer models of gun parts and replicate them in 3D printers, has won his battle against government authorities that sought to prevent the practice. Wilson now intends to expand his operations and provide printable gun blueprints to all who desire them.

In the settlement, the US government agrees to exempt “the technical data that is the subject of the Action” from legal restriction. The modified rules should appear soon in the Federal Register. This means that a 3D model that can be used to print the components of a working firearm is legal to own and legal to distribute – you just can’t sell it.

Wilson’s original vision is DEFCAD, a repository of gun models on the web.

“I currently have no national legal barriers to continue or expand DEFCAD. The legal victory is the formal beginning to the era of downloadable guns. Guns are as downloadable as music. There will be streaming services for semi-automatics.”

Cody Wilson, DEFCAD creator

Sonos rolling out AirPlay 2 support to newest speakers

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Any app on your iOS device can now be streamed directly to Sonos’ Beam, One, Playbase, and the second generation Play:5 speakers with AirPlay 2.

Siri is also on board with extensive voice control support. You can ask what room or devices you want songs to play on, along with asking Siri to play songs on Apple Music.

Loon & Wing graduate into full companies under Alphabet corporate umbrella

Google parent company Alphabet’s internet-delivering balloon service Loon and drone delivery project Wing have graduated from the X moonshot incubator to become fully fledged subsidiaries of Alphabet.

According to Alphabet, Loon will maintain its mission of working with carriers worldwide to deliver internet to underserved areas. Wing will also continue building out its network of delivery drones along with its air-traffic control system.

Alastair Westgarth will serve as Loon’s CEO while James Ryan Burgess will fill the same role at Wing.

According to Alphabet, the next steps for each company are best done outside the X Lab’s “prototyping-focused environment” and in the real world. Meanwhile, the X Lab now has more resources to focus on new moonshots along with existing ones like Google Glass and its numerous robotics projects.

Opera testing built-in crypto wallet in Android browser, available in private beta

Opera is testing Opera Crypto, a browser-based cryptocurrency wallet for smartphones in a private beta for the Opera browser for Android.

“Having a Crypto Wallet in the browser brings the cash experience to the world of online payments. Paying with the Crypto Wallet is like sending digital cash straight from your phone, and we’ve just made it easier.”

Charles Hamel; Opera Crypto product lead, in a press release

The feature supports tokens along with popular crypto-collectibles like CryptoKitties.

According to Opera, the problem with most cryptocurrency wallets is that they aren’t very user-friendly. Most require users to install browser extensions or generate lengthy, complicated passphrases. To compare, Opera Crypto doesn’t need an extension or a separate app, and it secures the wallet’s contents with Android’s system lock.

“This opens up new possibilities for merchants and content creators alike.”

Charles Hamel

Sending and receiving cryptocurrency can be done by tapping a QR code-generating button. Because of an integration with digital currency exchange Coinbase, users can pay for goods in supported online stores (like the Opera Crypto Store) directly from Crypto Wallet.

“Having a Crypto Wallet in the browser brings the cash experience to the world of online payments. Paying with the Crypto Wallet is like sending digital cash straight from your phone, and we’ve just made it easier. This opens up new possibilities for merchants and content creators alike.”

Charles Hamel

There’s also a shortcut to a showcase of decentralized apps leveraging the Ethereum network, like racing game Crypto Racing League and cryptocurrency-branded merchandise market CryptoGoods.

Pony.ai raises $102 million to deploy self-driving cars in Beijing

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Autonomous car startup Pony.ai has raised $102 million from lead investors ClearVue Partners and Fidelity International’s investment arm Eight Roads, putting it closer to a billion-dollar valuation. It also secured a permit from the Chinese government to test autonomous vehicles in Beijing, becoming one of the first companies to have that distinction.

Other new investors participating in Pony.ai’s latest funding round include Green Pine Capital Partners, China Merchants Capital, Redpoint Ventures China, and Delong Capital, along with existing investors Sequoia Capital China, Morningside Ventures, DCM Ventures, and Hongtai Capital. The company has raised $214 million to date.

According to CEO James Peng, Pony.ai will use the cash to support existing and new partnerships, grow its team, and “accelerate expansion into low and medium volume [vehicle] deployment.”

“We are very honored to welcome our new investors to the team and to continue partnering closely with our existing investors. I truly believe the next major challenge for autonomous cars will be small- and medium-scale deployment – this is an absolutely critical step to validating the system’s overall stability and reliability. We are grateful for the new and continued support in helping us to achieve this future.”

James Peng, Pony.ai CEO

In other news…

  • VR content studio Penrose Studios has closed a $10 million Series A funding round led by TransLink Capital. Marc Benioff, Will.i.am, Korea Telecom, and Co-Made also participated in the round with returning investment from Sway Ventures, 8VC, and Suffolk Equity.
  • India’s Telecommunications Commission has approved new net neutrality-like protections that bans ISPs from performing actions involving “blocking, degrading, slowing down, or granting preferential speeds or treatment to any content.”
  • Activision Blizzard has inked a deal with Disney to broadcast the Overwatch League playoffs on ESPN and Disney XD, marking the first time live e-sports will air on ESPN in primetime as well as ever on ABC.
  • Epic Games has unveiled a Summer Skirmish series for Fortnite that will hand out $8 million in prizes across eight weeks of competition, starting with a $250,000 Duos bout this weekend.
  • Martin Tripp, a former Tesla employee that was fired and then sued by the electric vehicle maker, has filed a formal whistleblower tip to the US’ Securities and Exchange Commission alleging that the company misled investors and put its customers at risk.
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