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The Best of Tech News: February 15th-21st

We have passed the middle of February and we are back with another tech news highlight. The past week has been especially turbulent in the regulatory tech world with the Facebook drama blowing out and regulators all over the world solidarizing with Australia and calling for finally curbing the “big bully’s” [Facebook’s] power. There has also been a debate about regulating cryptocurrencies in an attempt to limit the illegal use of them. Although that discussion has been circulating for years, it has resurfaced as BitPay settled its potential civil liability with a $506, 375. According to the U.S Treasury, the cryptocurrency payment processor was guilty of not detecting more than 2000 transactions that violated the U.S-imposed sanctions. As more companies release their Q4 2020 reports, we learn which tech players have had a particularly good year. This week, we found out that while Baidu is enjoying revenues that exceeded expectations due to cloud services and AI demand, one of Europe’s largest telecoms, Orange, has done significantly worse. And speaking of the telecom world, we also talk about the mega-investment that the government in India is planning to boost the local telecom and decrease China imports. What else is in the tech news? Cybersecurity troubles worldwide, another company joins the crypto rally and Novavax about the provide more than 1 billion vaccines to middle- and low-income countries.

Regulatory Tech News Of The Week: BitPay Settles Its Potential Civil Liability 

U.S and BitPay, one of the largest cryptocurrency payment processors, agreed that the latter will pay $507,375 in order to settle the potential civil liability for violations of the U.S sanctions on a series of countries such as Cuba or North Korea. Cryptocurrencies have been gaining huge popularity in countries under sanctions as the decentralized and anonymous coins have allowed people to get around the global financial system 

On Thursday, The U.S. Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) announced that in the period between 2013  and 2018, more than 2000 instances of transactions that were not stopped by BitPay but that violated the sanctions were detected.  

Although the digital currency payment processor has implemented sanctions compliance controls already in 2013, the series of breaches shows that the screening of information about the customers and their location was inadequate. 

“This action emphasizes that OFAC obligations apply to all U.S. persons, including those involved in providing digital currency services,” OFAC said in a statement that they released. 

The spokesperson of BitPay told Reuters that since the company was established, their “commitment to compliance has been continuous and unwavering,” 

The illegal use of cryptocurrencies has been a topic of a heated debate for a long time among regulators and only last month, the President of the European Central Bank, Christine Lagarde, as well as the U.S Treasury Secretary, Janet Yellen, have called for tighter controls. 

Global Regulators Say It Is Time To Get Tough On Facebook

The tech news industry worldwide has been non-stop reporting on the Facebook drama that started unfolding last week. The social media giant blocked all news content in Australia. A senior British lawmaker said that it is an attempt to bully a democracy and will give a further incentive to regulators across the globe to become stricter to big techs.  

“This action – this bully boy action – that they’ve undertaken in Australia will, I think, ignite a desire to go further amongst legislators around the world,” Julian Knight, chair of the British Parliament’s Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee, told Reuters.

“We represent people and I’m sorry but you can’t run a bulldozer over that – and if Facebook thinks it’ll do that it will face the same long-term ire as the likes of big oil and tobacco,” Knight added

The beginning of what turned itself into a global tech news scandal started out with a piece of legislation that is planned in Australia. The law would mean that Facebook and Google are required to pay news outlets whose links drive traffic to their platforms. 

As a result, Facebook blocked a large portion of pages in Australia because as they said, the draft of the law did not clearly define news content. After their actions, a number of lawmakers and publishers have spoken out about the actions, referring to Facebook as a “schoolyard bully”. The social media giant has been harshly criticized and publishers have been clear that Facebook’s move comes as a big surprise. 

“So much for Facebook’s commitment to free speech,” said a spokesman for MailOnline, one of world’s most popular news websites. “We are astonished by this inflammatory move.”

Orange Has A Disappointing Performance In Spain And Considers Cooperation With Other European Telecoms 

Orange’s shares fell on Thursday after the reported fall in profit that outweighed the launch of its masts company TOTEM. Analysts called Orange’s fourth quartered “disappointing” and shares went down 4.5% in the Thursday morning trading. The stock has furtherly declined after the company announced that their Spanish market would likely not bring positive operating profits in 2021. 

The telecom giant said that they plan for TOTEM to regroup more than 25 000 tower sites in  the two biggest markets of Orange, France and Spain. When asked if the European telecom considers selling part of its entity or listing it, the CFO, Ramon Fernandez said that “All options are on the table”

Orange had a 2.3% fall in the Q4 of 2020, with its operating profit falling to 3.18 billion euros. The below-average performance was partly caused by the coronavirus pandemic and partly by the rivalry in the Spanish telecommunications market. While the company’s operations in France, Africa, and the Middle East were significantly better, the analysts say that it is not enough to balance out the very weak performance in Spain. 

The CEO, Stéphane Richard, said that Orange is open to partnerships in mobile infrastructure, not excluding cooperating with the European Vodafone and Deutsche Telekom. 

“Our plan isn’t to sell our towers to Cellnex or to American Tower,” Richard said at the press conference. “Our plan is to develop an alternative offer, created and managed by a (telecoms) operator and see if others down the road share our views.”

Richard added that there are no formal talks with Vodafone or Deutsche Telekom at this point of time. 

Baidu’s Tech News: Strong Performance Due To AI Demand 

While Orange is in trouble based on its performance in the last quarter of 2020, the Chinese Baidu beats the estimates. On Wednesday, the company released their quarterly revenue that was above the Wall Street forecasts. The experts claim that the results are caused by the increased demands for cloud services and AI platforms offered by Baidu. 

Recently, the company decided to diversify its revenue sources and get into the smart transport technology market. Last month, Baidu announced it will establish a smart electric vehicle company in cooperation with Geely. 

“Our partnership is based on the belief that end-to-end integration of hardware and software will provide the best experience for autonomous driving,” the CEO of Baidu, Robin Li, said.  

In the fourth quarter, Baidu’s revenue rose by 5%, reaching 30.26 billion yuan ($4.69 billion). The company said that the revenue for Q1 of 2021 will likely also beat the forecasts of 25.79 billion, ranging from 26 to 28.5 billion yuan. 

FinTech News: Companies Speak Out About Cryptocurrency

On Wednesday, the trading app Robinhood joined the series of companies that have taken a position regarding cryptocurrencies.

The online broker said it will allow its customers to deposit and withdrawing cryptocurrencies that are not limited to Bitcoin and include meme-based dogecoin. This will be Robinhood’s advancement when it comes to cryptocurrency. The startup has so far allowed its customers to buy, sell, and hold digital currencies. However, they could not transfer the assets to other wallets or withdraw them, as reported by Reuters.

Robinhood has also stated that it does not invest in Bitcoin or any other digital currency for their own benefit.

India Boosts Local Telecoms With A $1.68 Billion Plan

On Wednesday, the federal cabinet in India approved a plan worth 121.95 billion rupee ($1.68 billion) that will boost the performance of local telecoms. The aim is to promote local manufacturing and export of networking gear and telecoms. 

In the next five years, local telecoms will gain cash incentives that will vary between 4% and 7% of the sale increase of locally-made equipment. This move is another in a series of efforts of the India’s Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, to make India an electronics production hub and decrease imports. In 2020, a $6.65 billion plan to increase local smartphone manufacturing was launched. The country’s telecom minister has said on Wednesday that the smartphone plan was a success and that in the next five years, top mobile maker will assemble a number of devices with an estimated worth of $40 billion. 

“I would appeal to all telecoms’ equipment manufacturers, come on India is waiting for you with this scheme, we’ll give you all the help,” Ravi Shankar Prasad,  India’s telecoms minister said. 

As Reuters reported, some of the biggest manufacturers of Apple Inc, Foxconn, Wistron and Pegatron, plan to invest almost $900 million in India in the next five years. 

Countries To Increase Their Cybersecurity After A Series Of Cyber Attacks Targeting Institutions Connected To Tackling Covid-19 

On Thursday, the President of France, Emmanuel Macron, shared a plan to improve public institutions and private companies against cyberattacks. His announcement comes after two ransomware attacks at French hospitals and a spike of cyber assaults in France. Macron claimed that the attacks show “how the threat is very serious, sometimes vital.”

“We are learning about these new attacks, some coming from states as part of new conflicts between nations, others coming from mafias,” he said. 

Macron has also emphasized the need for global cooperation to increase cyber defense and protect the institutions from cybercriminals. The French government is about to spend 500 million euros on boosting the cyberdefense systems. In France alone, the ransomware attacks were 255% up in 2020, as compared to 2019. The reports show that the health care sector is the one targeted the most. 

France is not alone in the urgent need to increase its cyberdefense. We have recently reported about South Korea announcing that a large pharmaceutical company that is believed to be Pfizer was hacked, allegedly by North Korea. Several organizations and nation-states have been hiring the most skilled cybercriminals to conduct a variety of cyber-attacks that will help in accessing data connected to the vaccine or other ways to treat the Covid-19 virus. Pandemics have had devastating effects worldwide and nation-states attempt to gain a competitive advantage in finding an efficient cure, which would lead to immense prestige, as well as social, health, and economic benefits.

Although cybersecurity is getting better, so are the hackers. The leader of the global threat intelligence at IBM Security X-Force, Nick Rossman said, “We need to think about how big this attack surface is — it’s just going to get bigger and bigger.”

Novavax To Supply More Than 1 Billion Vaccines To Almost 200 Countries 

The vaccine developer Novavax announced that it will provide 1.1 billion doses of the experimental COVID-19 vaccine that they developed. The doses will be used in almost 200 low- and middle-income countries. 

On Thursday, the company said their talks with the Vaccine Alliance, Gavi, have ended successfully and the two parties reached an agreement. Novavax will provide the doses to 

to the COVAX Facility, a project led by Gavi, the World Health Organization and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations. As Associated Press reports, they are cooperating with companies such as UNICEF, the World Bank, or a series of charities to guarantee that the vaccines protecting against the virus will be distribute equally to all countries, not just the wealthiest ones. 

The Novavax experiment vaccine is still in two late-stage trial rounds in the U.S, Mexico, and the UK. However, the initial reports by the company claim that their jab is effective against both the original COVID-19 virus strain and the two more contagious variants that were first detected in the United Kingdom and South Africa. 

Come back next week for another weekly tech news highlight! Meanwhile, do not waste your February procrastinating, make sure you take a look at our event calendar and look at the best FREE events that you can attend virtually this month. We will be back next Monday with another February tech news weekly highlights

Missed the last week’s highlights? Take a look here:

The Best of Tech News: February 8th-14th



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