U.S. prosecutors probing Facebook's data deals: New York Times

(Reuters) – U.S. federal prosecutors are conducting a criminal investigation into data deals Facebook Inc struck with some of the world’s largest technology companies, the New York Times reported on Wednesday.

A grand jury in New York has subpoenaed records from at least two prominent makers of smartphones and other devices, the newspaper reported, citing people familiar with the requests and without naming the companies.

Both companies are among the more than 150, including Amazon.com Inc, Apple Inc and Microsoft Corp, that have entered into partnerships with Facebook for access to the personal information of hundreds of millions of its users, according to the report.

Facebook is facing a slew of lawsuits and regulatory inquiries over its privacy practices, including ongoing investigations by the U.S. Federal Trade Commission, the Securities and Exchange Commission and two state agencies in New York.

In addition to looking at the data deals, the probes focus on disclosures that the company shared the user data of 87 million people with Cambridge Analytica, a British consulting firm that worked with U.S. President Donald Trump’s campaign.

Facebook said it was cooperating with investigators in multiple federal probes, without addressing the grand jury inquiry specifically.

“We’ve provided public testimony, answered questions, and pledged that we will continue to do so,” Facebook said in a statement.

Facebook has defended the data-sharing deals, first reported in December, saying none of the partnerships gave companies access to information without people’s permission.

A spokesman for the United States attorney’s office for the Eastern District of New York, which The New York Times reported is overseeing the inquiry, said he could not confirm or deny the probe.

Reporting by Ismail Shakil in Bengaluru and Katie Paul in San Francisco; Editing by Richard Chang and Leslie Adler

Instagram back up after several hours; Facebook still down for some

(Reuters) – Instagram is back up after suffering a partial outage for over several hours, the photo-sharing social network platform said in a tweet, but its parent Facebook Inc’s app still seemed to be down for some users across the globe.

FILE PHOTO: Silhouettes of mobile users are seen next to a screen projection of Facebook logo in this picture illustration taken March 28, 2018. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/File Photo

Certain users around the world were facing trouble in accessing widely used Instagram, Whatsapp and Facebook apps earlier on Wednesday, in one of the longest outages faced by the company in the recent past.

“Anddddd… we’re back,” Instagram tweeted here along with GIF image of Oprah Winfrey screaming in excitement. Facebook did not provide an update.

Social media users in parts of United States, Japan and some parts Europe were affected by the outage, according to DownDetector’s live outage map here

Facebook users, including brand marketers, expressed their outrage on Twitter with the #facebookdown hashtag.

“Ya’ll, I haven’t gotten my daily dosage of dank memes and I think that’s why I’m cranky. #FacebookDown,” a user Mayra Mesina tweeted. bit.ly/2TDCYDK

The Menlo Park, California-based company, which gets a vast majority of its revenue from advertising, told Bloomberg that it was still investigating the overall impact “including the possibility of refunds for advertisers.”

A Facebook spokesman confirmed the partial outage, but did not provide an update. The social networking site is having issues since over 12 hours, according to its developer’s page.

Facebook took to Twitter to inform users that it was working to resolve the issue as soon as possible and confirmed that the matter was not related to a distributed denial of service (DDoS)

attack.

In a DDoS attack, hackers use computer networks they control to send such a large number of requests for information from websites that servers that host them can no longer handle the traffic and the sites become unreachable.

Reporting by Mekhla Raina in Bengaluru; Editing by Gopakumar Warrier and Rashmi Aich

ZTE Corp controlling shareholder plans 3 percent stake sale after stock rebound

FILE PHOTO: People walk past a ZTE logo outside its booth at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain, Feb. 25, 2019. REUTERS/Sergio Perez/File Photo

HONG KONG (Reuters) – Chinese telecom equipment maker ZTE Corp’s controlling shareholder plans to reduce its stake by as much as 3 percent after the stock more than doubled in value since surviving a U.S. sanction last year, showed regulatory filings late on Tuesday.

The stock slumped as much as 7.6 percent in Shenzhen on Wednesday following the news. Its Hong Kong-listed shares dropped as much as 5.6 percent.

The Chinese firm was crippled early last year after breaking U.S. sanctions and was only able to resume business in July after paying $1.4 billion in penalties to lift a U.S. supplier ban. The stock has since risen around 150 percent in Shenzhen.

ZTE in the filings said state-owned controlling shareholder Zhongxingxin Telecom plans to sell up to 2 percent in ZTE A-shares via block trades within 90 days. Zhongxingxin has also proposed to use not more than 41.9 million ZTE A-shares, or 1 percent of the company’s total share capital, to subscribe for units in the ICBCCS SHSZ 300 exchange-traded fund.

Reporting by Sijia Jiang; Editing by Christopher Cushing

Elon Musk Says Tweeting Is Free Speech in His SEC Battle

Elon Musk will not go quietly. On Monday night, lawyers representing the Tesla CEO submitted a filing to a federal judge in New York arguing that she should deny the Securities and Exchange Commission’s request to hold Musk in contempt of court for—what else?—a tweet. Musk’s legal team argued the SEC overreached in its request, and claimed the agency is trying to violate his First Amendment right to free speech.

If the judge, Alison Nathan of the Southern District Court of New York, does hold Musk in contempt of court, she would decide the penalty. “If the SEC prevails, there is a good likelihood that the District Court will fine Mr. Musk and that it will put him on a short leash, with a strong warning that further violations could result in Mr. Musk being banned for some period of time as an officer or director of a public company,” Peter Haveles, a trial lawyer with the law firm Pepper Hamilton, told WIRED last month.

This latest chapter in Musk’s ongoing legal spat with the SEC dates back to the evening of February 19, 7:15 pm Eastern Time to be exact, when Musk wrote on Twitter, “Tesla made 0 cars in 2011, but will make around 500k in 2019.” About four and a half hours later—at 11:41 pm ET—Musk corrected himself, tweeting, “Meant to say annualized production rate at the end of 2019 probably around 500k, i.e. 10k cars/week. Deliveries for the year still estimated to be around 400k.”

Musk is the head of a publicly traded company, so making a mistake about his business on Twitter—which investors treat as a valid source of news like any other—is already less than ideal. But Musk and Tesla also reached a settlement with the SEC in September over another tweet containing misinformation about the electric carmarker’s operations. That was after Musk tweeted that he planned on taking Tesla private, and that he had the “funding secured.” He soon revealed he did not have that funding secured, and Tesla announced it would stay public.

In the ensuing deal with the SEC, Musk gave up his role as Tesla’s chairman for at least three years. He and Tesla each paid a $20 million fine. And Musk and Tesla agreed that the CEO’s tweets about the carmaker would be truthful, and reviewed by a team of Tesla lawyers before sending. According to the filing, Tesla’s general counsel and an assigned “disclosure counsel” are in charge of approving Musk’s Tesla tweets. The lawyers write that “the disclosure counsel and other members of Tesla’s legal department have reviewed the updated controls and procedures with Musk on multiple occasions.”

In December, Musk said on CBS’s 60 Minutes that he does not respect the SEC, and that the only tweets of his that require pre-approval are those that can affect Tesla’s stock price. Asked how Tesla could know which tweets would do that, Musk said, “Well, I guess we might make some mistakes. Who knows?” The SEC cited that interview in its motion for a contempt of court charge, writing that “Musk has not made a diligent or good faith effort to comply” with the terms of his settlement.

Now, though, Musk and the SEC are debating what that “pre-approval” actually means. Tesla’s lawyers say nobody pre-approved the tweet in question, but that it shouldn’t matter, because it had already made public the information about those production numbers: in an earnings call, in end-of-year financial results, and in an SEC filing submitted on the day Musk sent out the tweets in question. Musk did not receive pre-approval before sending that tweet because it “was simply Musk’s shorthand gloss on and entirely consistent with prior public disclosures detailing Tesla’s anticipated production volume,” according to the filing.

Moreover, the Musk team argues, the SEC’s attempt to limit Musk’s tweeting is a violation of his First Amendment rights to free speech.

The Musk legal team also argues that the CEO has really worked very hard since the SEC settlement to be careful about his tweeting behavior. It wrote that Musk’s less frequent tweeting about Tesla “is a reflection of his commitment to adhering the Order and avoiding unnecessary disputes with the SEC.” In fact, it says the correction tweet, the one sent four-and-a-half hours later, “is precisely the kind of diligence that one would expect from someone who is endeavoring to comply with the Order.”


More Great WIRED Stories

Google: Update Your Chrome Browser Right Now. Hackers Are Exploiting a High Risk Security Flaw

Google is advising anyone who uses the Chrome browser to make sure their browsers have the latest update, which patches a “high” risk security flaw that hackers are already exploiting on unsuspecting victims.

It’s common practice when bugs are disclosed to not immediately share details of how they work until a majority of users have a security patch. The practice allows companies like Google to notify users, and roll out updates, without tipping off any potential bad actors.

While little is known about how the threat, called CVE-2019-5786, works, Justin Schuh, Google’s Chrome engineering and security desktop lead, tweeted on Tuesday that everyone should update their Chrome browser “right this minute” on every device.

Google Chrome updates are usually automatic, however they don’t always roll out to everyone, all at once. If you’d like to trigger a manual update, you can click the three dots in the upper-right corner of the window, select “Help” and “About Chrome.” This will tell users whether their browser is updated or if they need to restart their device to trigger the updated, patched version of the browser.

Britain's Hunt promises 'doctrine of deterrence' against cyberattacks on democracy

LONDON (Reuters) – British foreign minister Jeremy Hunt will set out on Thursday a “doctrine of deterrence”, including economic and diplomatic counter-measures, to prevent cyberattacks that threaten to turn elections into “tainted exercises”.

Britain’s Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt is seen outside of Downing Street in London, Britain, March 5, 2019. REUTERS/Peter Nicholls

Britain will try to prosecute those responsible for cyber crimes, part of a growing response by the West against countries that hope to influence elections through disinformation and voter manipulation, he will say in a speech in Glasgow.

“We will always seek to discover which state or other actor was behind any malign cyber activity, overcoming any efforts to conceal their tracks,” Hunt will say, according to pre-released extracts of his speech.

Western countries issued coordinated denunciations of Russia in October for running what they described as a global hacking campaign. Russia has denied the allegations.

In the United States, a federal special counsel is investigating Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election and possible collusion with Donald Trump’s campaign. Moscow has denied any meddling and the U.S. president has said there was no collusion.

Hunt will say there has been no evidence that foreign states have interfered with British votes but that unnamed hostile states are intent on using cyberspace to undermine Western democracies.

“Events have demonstrated how our adversaries regard free elections – and the very openness of a democratic system – as key vulnerabilities to be exploited … authoritarian regimes possess ways of undermining free societies that yesterday’s dictators would have envied,” he will say.

The British response could include the public naming and shaming of any perpetrator together with allies, exposing how the action was carried out and prosecuting those responsible to show they are not above the law.

Hunt will also say that Britain, as part of the European Union, agreed last year to impose sanctions to stiffen its response to cyberattacks and to rush through new curbs on online campaigning by political parties.

“After Brexit, the UK will be able to impose cyber-related sanctions on a national basis,” he will say.

Reporting by Elizabeth Piper; Editing by Frances Kerry

With a Single 10-Word Tweet, Elon Musk Just Made a Stunning Announcement About How He Spends His Time

In this episode, I’ll start by sharing a tweet that Musk posted on Twitter Monday afternoon.

I will then explain the insane background of the story from two crucial angles–one about the tweet itself, and one about the insane thing it says about Musk.

In case that didn’t embed for some reason, it’s Musk tweeting simply, “Did meme review last night with Justin Roiland from @RickandMorty.”

Here are your promised two angles:

‘Did meme review’

Okay, if you’re not initiated in what I’m about to explain, just know that this part of the story is going to seem like a creative writing class dropped acid before doing a group project.

There’s a Swedish YouTuber named Felix Arvid Ulf Kjellberg, who is 29 years old and goes by PewDiePie, and who is basically the most successful single YouTuber of all time.

Forbes estimated then that he he was making $12 million a year. A lot has happened since, but two key things for our purposes stand out:

Second, he’s locked in an epic battle with a giant Indian music company called T-Series, over which can get more YouTube subscribers. As I write this late on Tuesday evening, the score is:

  • PewDiePie 86,303,046 
  • T-Series 86,250,944

It’s neck-and-neck, and it seems as if almost any tiny little edge could give PewDiePie or T-Series the victory.

If only there were an eccentric billionaire who might provide that edge…

Hi, I’m Elon Musk

Okay. In telling that story, especially the part about the battle for YouTube subscribers, I’m reminded of an old quote: “Academic politics are so vicious because the stakes are so small.”

Kind of the same thing here. But, you also need to know that PewDiePie hosts a YouTube show called Meme Review. That’s the show Musk was saying he took time from his schedule to do.

There’s actually a whole debate right now online about whether Musk actually did the show, or if he’s just trolling everyone. But for our purposes, whether he did or not is more a matter of degree.

Because for someone like Musk, who is the CEO of one public company and at least two private ones, his time should be at a premium.

We’d be saying that even if Musk hadn’t laid off 7 percent of Tesla’s workforce less than a month ago.

Or if he hadn’t tweeted his way into an SEC oversight investigation, or a lawsuit over calling a British cave diver who helped rescue that Thai soccer team last year, a “pedo guy.”

The most important resource

And yet, here we are, talking about whether Musk really did Meme Review (along side Roiland, who as Musk points out is the creator of the Adult Swim series Rick and Morty), as part of what is almost certainly the effort to help PewDiePie get more subscribers.

The alternatives here aren’t great. Either Musk is serious, in which case he’s taking time away from his most important responsibilities to do a show that’s controversial to say the least.

Or, the whole thing is just a trollish joke, in which case: why is Musk even involved in talking about this? How does he even have time to know about it?

I wrote recently about how Jeff Bezos explained in one sentence that he realizes how much of a distraction the National Enquirer blackmail scandal could have been — and how much more important his time is than any other resource.

For Musk, the same is true. Time is what matters most. So why is he wasting it here?

And if we can’t come up with a good answer to that question, here’s another: Why would you still be willing to buy a Tesla?

Microsoft expands political security service to 12 European countries

Silhouettes of laptop users are seen next to a screen projection of Microsoft logo in this picture illustration taken March 28, 2018. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration

(Reuters) – Microsoft Corp on Wednesday said it will offer its cyber security service AccountGuard to 12 new markets in Europe including Germany, France and Spain, to close security gaps and protect customers in political space from hacking.

Microsoft had recently detected attacks, which occurred between September and December 2018, targeting employees of the German Council on Foreign Relations and European offices of The Aspen Institute and The German Marshall Fund, the company said here in a blog post.

The attacks, which targeted 104 employee accounts in Belgium, France, Germany, Poland, Romania, and Serbia, are believed to have originated from a group called Strontium, the company added.

The AccountGuard service will also be available in Sweden, Denmark, Netherlands, Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Portugal and Slovakia.

Ahead of a critical European Parliament election in May, German officials are trying to bolster cyber security after a far-reaching data breach by a 20-year-old student laid bare the vulnerability of Europe’s largest economy.

Reporting by Shubham Kalia in Bengaluru, Editing by Sherry Jacob-Phillips

Real Advice for Real Money