Let’s start the new week looking at the tech news highlights from the last seven days. The cybersecurity world is still shaken after the massive ransomware attack that targeted the Miami-based Keseya and impacted hundreds of businesses worldwide. This week, an additional ransomware attack targeted a Swiss Consumer Outlet and its sister company, a financial brokerage. There have also been a couple of important regulatory stories. Google is facing another lawsuit by 37 US states regardings the tech giant’s Google Play policies and Senator Warren is openly criticizing cryptocurrencies in a letter to SEC. That is not the only news important for all crypto followers. A poll has revealed the brutal truth about Salvadorans’ opinion on making bitcoin the legal tender in the small Central American nation. Meanwhile, Square will create a hardware wallet for bitcoin, Chinese bitcoin mining machine makers are switching their efforts to AI chips, London fintech funding is soaring post-Brexit, BIS calls for worldwide CBDC cooperation as China leads the race, and IBM launches a serverless framework that will automate AI model development.
Another massive lawsuit is coming Google’s way, as the tech giant is being sued by 37 US states over its Google Play policies. According to the lawsuit, Google used “monopolistic leverage” to create significant profits from purchases made on Android’s app store. The lawsuit also claims that Google bought off its competitors. In 2020, Google’s gross revenue from Google Play was $36.8bn
“Google Play is not fair play,” Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes said in a statement.”It must stop using its monopolistic power and hyper-dominant market position to unlawfully leverage billions of added dollars from smaller companies, competitors, and consumers beyond what should be paid.”
Google has commented on a lawsuit in a blog post by the senior head of public policy, Wilson White. White has referred to the legal action as “strange” and wrote, “We understand that scrutiny is appropriate, and we’re committed to engaging with regulators. But Android and Google Play provide openness and choice that other platforms simply don’t.”
On Wednesday, the Swiss online consumer outlet Comparis har been targeted in a ransomware attack that resulted in blocking some of the information technology systems of the company and its sister company Credaris that operates as a financial brokerage.
“As far as we know, most databases do not seem to be affected by the incident. Unfortunately, first detailed analyses suggest that the perpetrators had access to certain customer-relevant data of sister company Credaris, whose systems are partly operated in the same server environment,” it said.
There is no information as of yet as to whether the Comparis ransomware was linked to the large Kaseya ransomware that impacted hundreds of businesses globally. However, Comparis did not pay any ransom according to the spokesperson of the company.
One of the most discussed topics in the tech world has been the decision of El Salvador’s President Nayib Bukele that made bitcoin the legal tender. However, according to the poll that was released at the end of last week, over 70% of Salvadorans are hesitant about the idea.
Last month, Bukele’s idea was approved by Congress, giving bitcoin the official currency status in the Central American nation. So far, El Salvador is the only country that has decided on such widespread adoption of bitcoin. One of the main reasons behind it, according to Bukele, is facilitating a large number of remittance payments. The official currency besides bitcoin remains the U.S. dollar that has been used by El Salvador for years.
However, the poll that surveyed over 1000 Salvadorans showed that 54% viewed the adoption of bitcoin as “not at all correct” with an additional 24% believing it is “only a little correct”. Just under 20% of the respondents were enthusiastic about making the world’s most known crypto a legal tender. Moreover, according to the survey, almost half of the surveyed individuals knew “nothing” about bitcoin and almost two-thirds responded they are not open to being paid in cryptocurrency.
“This is a risky bet on digital transformation,” said Oscar Picardo, head of Disruptiva’s institute of science, technology, and innovation when presenting the survey results.
On Thursday, Square announced it would be making a hardware wallet for bitcoin. Bitcoin wallets can be stored both offline or online. With a non-custodial wallet, sole control of the private keys lies with the owner as opposed to them being controlled by another party in case of custodial wallets.
Square’s news does not come as a surprise as the CEO of the company, Jack Dorsey (who also holds the role as Twitter’s CEO) had said back in June that Square was considering that move. Moreover, Dorsey has always been very open about his interest in bitcoin, with his Twitter bio only stating “#bitcoin” and Dorsey previously saying he would be working on Bitcoin if it wasn’t for Square and Twitter.
The announcement about the hardware wallet was made by the hardware lead at Square, Jesse Dorogusker. “We have decided to build a hardware wallet and service to make bitcoin custody more mainstream,” Dorogusker said in a tweet. “We’ll continue to ask and answer questions in the open. This community’s response to our thread about this project has been awesome – encouraging, generous, collaborative, & inspiring.”
The wallet will not be the first crypto product of Square that already has Square’s Cash App where users can buy and sell bitcoin. We don’t have many details about the product yet, apart from the fact that it will be available globally and Square is currently in the process of assembling a team led by Max Guise, Square’s Hardware Security Lead. Dorsey said Square will “build the product out in the open from software to hardware design, and in collaboration with the community”.
The U.S. Democrat Senator, Elizabeth Warren, warned of cryptocurrencies and the risks they pose to consumers and financial markets. Warren, who chairs the Senate Banking Committee’s Subcommittee on Economic Policy, referred to the crypto market as “highly opaque and volatile” and strongly criticized the lack of regulations in the emerging sector.
Warren has voiced her concerns in a letter to Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) Chair Gary Gensler on Wednesday, in an effort that could help lay the groundwork for legislation to regulate the fast-growing market. Warren said she needed answers from Gensler by the end of July on how SEC wants to proceed in terms of protecting consumers.
“While demand for cryptocurrencies and the use of cryptocurrency exchanges have sky-rocketed, the lack of common-sense regulations has left ordinary investors at the mercy of manipulators and fraudsters,” Warren said in a statement.”These regulatory gaps endanger consumers and investors and undermine the safety of our financial markets. The SEC must use its full authority to address these risks, and Congress must also step up to close these regulatory gaps.”
Warren asked Gensler to sketch out the ways in which crypto exchanges can threaten SEC’s mission that is ensuring markets are operating in a “fair, orderly, and efficient manner,”.
“The lack of regulation to provide basic investor protections is unsustainable,” she added.
Despite large concerns about London’s future as a financial hub post-Brexit, the newly released data shows that fintech companies have never raised as much funding during the first six months of the year as they did in 2021. $5.3 billion has been invested into London fintech startups in the first half of the year, as compared to $2.1 billion in the same period in 2020, according to the research from Dealroom and agency London & Partners found. The London-based fintechs in total amounted to more than a third of Europe’s fintech funding during that period of time. Globally, London is ranked second, being surpassed only by San Francisco.
“Today’s investment figures are a vote of confidence for the UK fintech sector,” Anne Boden, CEO of neobank Starling, said. Starling was one of the fintechs in London that received substantial funding, raising $444.88 million.
While the growth is definitely a good sign, the concerns connected to Brexit remain, particularly when it comes to acquiring talent and licenses.
“The loss of passporting after Brexit means that licensing and international expansion is no longer easiest in London,” said Charles Delingpole, CEO of startup ComplyAdvantage. “London, therefore, has to move to a higher value-added model focused on a global rather than European hub role.”
Several manufacturers making Bitcoin mining machines in China are now desperate to adjust to the massive nationwide crackdown against crypto mining businesses. Many machine makers are now ramping up their efforts to manufacture AI chips instead. To illustrate, one of the major Chinese Bitcoin mining machine manufacturers, Canaan, announced at the 2021 World Artificial Intelligence Conference in Shanghai it would be launching its RISC-V-based AI chip, Kendryte K510.
“The Kendryte K510 chip is the result of two years of work by our R&D team to further innovative and optimize our core chip architecture. With upgraded machine vision and improved programming flexibility, the Kendryte K510 can better address the demands of mid to high-end application scenarios,” Zhang Nangeng, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Canaan, said. “Looking ahead, we expect this chip to be a highly attractive choice for developers as it enables them to deliver more intelligent product experiences to their users.”
There are other examples of companies following in Canaan’s footsteps, such as Bitmain Technologies Ltd that is the biggest crypto mining machine manufacturer in China. The company’s representatives were also at the World Artificial Intelligence Conference where it was clear the company is now focusing on application-specific integrated circuit chips and cloud computing.
Last week, IBM announced the launch of its new serverless framework, CodeFlare. The goal of the new platform is to decrease the time it takes developers to prepare AI models for deployments. CodeFlare will automate the training, processing, and scaling of models. That way, the engineers will be able to spend more time on data insights. The framework was built on top of Ray, the University of California, Berkeley RISE Lab’s open-source distributed computing system for AI apps.
“CodeFlare takes the notion of simplified machine learning … one step further, going beyond isolated steps to seamlessly integrate end-to-end pipelines with a data scientist friendly interface — like Python, not containers,” Priya Nagpurkar, director of the hybrid cloud platform at IBM Research, told VentureBeat.“CodeFlare differentiates itself by making it simpler to integrate and scale full pipelines with a unified runtime and programming interface.”
CodeFlare can be compared to Amazon SageMaker Pipelines in some aspects, as both support automation and flow organization of ML pipelines from a cloud environment.
“The motivation behind the framework is the emergence of converged workflows, combining AI and machine learning, data analytics, and modeling, and the increasing complexity in integrating modalities beyond individual steps,” Nagpurkar said. “We saw an opportunity to significantly optimize pipelines under a common runtime, where data dependencies and execution control can be efficiently managed and optimized.”
According to IBM, CodeFlare will allow for a huge amount of time saved. Currently, analyzing and optimizing 100 000 training pipelines takes four hours and with the help of CodeFlare, it will take merely 15 minutes.
“Enabling a unified experience to scale pipelines from a laptop to a small cluster to the cloud is a major focus for CodeFlare,” Nagpurkar said. “We see CodeFlare as one of the key next steps in the evolution of our hybrid cloud platform. In terms of value to users, it is important to highlight that by significantly improving efficiency, CodeFlare enables not only cost and time savings, but it also creates the opportunity to tackle new use cases that were previously simply impractical due to size, scale, or complexity.”
The Bank for International Settlements (BIS), which is an umbrella group for central banks around the globe, said that the countries should start cooperating on the central bank digital currencies (CBDCs). In a report prepared together with IMF and the World Bank, BIS pointed out that CBDCs will make cheaper and faster cross-border transactions much easier. In its report, the global body for central banks said central banks worldwide should strive to achieve “interoperability” between their individual CBDC projects. Creating common standards and international payment infrastructures were just a couple of ways the report suggested central banks should go forward.
“I think that each central bank, each country should have its own sovereign currency,” Agustín Carstens, general manager of the Bank for International Settlements, or BIS, told CNBC. “Given that pretty much all central banks are thinking about this, it’s a unique opportunity for the different central bank digital currencies to be interoperable,” Carstens said.
He added global central banks should ensure their systems are “congruent with each other” and that “transactions in different currencies can be done in a seamless way.”
“What we need to do is take advantage of the fact that pretty much everybody is starting from a clean slate, so that we can incorporate from the origin the interconnectedness between the different systems,” he said.
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