Trump says ZTE will pay $1.3B fine and overhaul its management to continue US business

U.S. President Donald Trump has claimed that Chinese telecom firm ZTE will pay a $1.3 billion fine and undergo a significant overhaul of its management team in order to remain operational in North America.

ZTE looked to be in dire straits when it ceased its business in the U.S. earlier this month after a Department of Commerce order banned U.S. partners from selling components to the company in response to it flouting trade bans in Iran and North Korea.

The company has since been reprised — a strategy move within the U.S.-China trade stand-off — but Trump said today that its new life comes at a cost. That’s apparently a $1.3 billion fine, a new management team and board, and “high-level security guarantees.”

Trump previously took to Twitter to break news of ZTE’s reprieve and today, while aiming to score political points, he gave insight into why ZTE is being given another chance.

ZTE has over 70,000 employees, it grossed more than $17 billion in annual revenue and it maintains close ties to the Chinese government. As I wrote earlier this month, a company of its global scale brings significant revenue to U.S. businesses which, beyond more obvious consumer-facing companies, includes component-level partners like Qualcomm, who would be impacted if ZTE were to disappear tomorrow.

Trump’s claim that ZTE “must purchase U.S. parts,” while as yet unconfirmed, suggests the deal is important for ZTE’s U.S. business partners as well as being a key card in working out his administration’s complicated relationship with China.

Still, despite these apparent conditions, the decision to allow ZTE to continue is hugely controversial. Most companies don’t get a second chance for the kind of activities that the Chinese firm has carried out.

The company flouted trade bans to Iran and North Korea, then it lied about them and tried to cover its tracks before finally admitting its guilt. Speaking in April, Trump’s own Commerce Secretary, Wilbur Ross, said:

“ZTE made false statements to the U.S. Government when they were originally caught and put on the Entity List, made false statements during the reprieve it was given, and made false statements again during its probation. ZTE misled the Department of Commerce. Instead of reprimanding ZTE staff and senior management, ZTE rewarded them. This egregious behavior cannot be ignored.”

Beyond that, the firm’s close links to the Chinese government have long troubled U.S. security agencies concerned that ZTE equipment was being used by American telecom firms and security agencies.

Here’s what FBI Director Chris Wray told the Senate Intelligence Committee in February:

“We’re deeply concerned about the risks of allowing a company or entity that is beholden to foreign governments that don’t share our values to gain positions of power inside our telecommunications networks.”

from iFeeltech IT News Mix4


Twitter will give political candidates a special badge during U.S. midterm elections

Ahead of 2018 U.S. midterm elections, Twitter is taking a visible step to combat the spread of misinformation on its famously chaotic platform. In a blog post this week, the company explained how it would be adding “election labels” to the profiles of candidates running for political office.

“Twitter has become the first place voters go to seek accurate information, resources, and breaking news from journalists, political candidates, and elected officials,” the company wrote in its announcement. “We understand the significance of this responsibility and our teams are building new ways for people who use Twitter to identify original sources and authentic information.”

These labels feature a small government building icon and text identifying the position a candidate is running for and the state or district where the race is taking place. The label information included in the profile will also appear elsewhere on Twitter, even when tweets are embedded off-site.

The labels will start popping up after May 30 and will apply to candidates in state governor races as well as those campaigning for a seat in the Senate or the House of Representatives.

Twitter will partner with nonpartisan political non-profit Ballotpedia to create the candidate labels. In a statement announcing its partnership, Ballotpedia explains how that process will work:

“Ballotpedia covers all candidates in every upcoming election occurring within the 100 most-populated cities in the U.S., plus all federal and statewide elections, including ballot measures. After each state primary, Ballotpedia will provide Twitter with information on gubernatorial and Congressional candidates who will appear on the November ballot. After receiving consent from each candidate, Twitter will apply the labels to each candidate profile.”

The decision to create a dedicated process to verify political profiles is a step in the right direction for Twitter. With major social platforms still in upheaval over revelations around foreign misinformation campaigns during the 2016 U.S. presidential election, Twitter and Facebook need to take decisive action now if they intend to inoculate their users against a repeat threat in 2018.

from iFeeltech IT News Mix4

Apple will add government App Store takedown requests to transparency reports

Apple’s set to up the ante with its transparency report. The same day it dropped the latest version of the twice-yearly document, the company committed to including in future updates government takedown requests for the App Store. The report covering July 1 through December 31 of this year, which is due out in 2019, should be the first to detail that information.

The information should prove a valuable insight into both Apple’s activities and the asks of governments around the world. Future reports will detail the specific government that issued the request, along with whether or not the company ultimately complied.

No word yet on whether the company will detail the specific apps. That would certainly prove even more informative, as far as the motivation behind said request. In the Government and Private Party Requests portion of this most recent document, Apple briefly notes that it, “will report on Government requests to take down Apps from the App Store in instances related to alleged violations of legal and/or policy provisions.”

For this report, the company notes broader government requests, saying it received in excess of 16,000 national security requests, marking a 20 percent increase during the same time frame a year prior. As Reuters notes, the company is hardly alone on this one — both Facebook and Google have been hit with a substantial increase in requests.

As governments around the world take increasing interest in the tech world, that number seems likely to increase further.

from iFeeltech IT News Mix4

Book Entry: Review: ‘In Praise of Wasting Time’ Speaks Ominously of a Digital ‘Grid’

“In Praise of Wasting Time,” a new book by the M.I.T. physicist Alan Lightman, argues that the increasingly frenetic pace of life is hurting creativity.

from iFeeltech IT News Mix4

Former journo Alexia Bonatsos takes the wraps off her new venture fund, Dream Machine

Five years ago, Alexia Bonatsos, née Tsotsis, was co-editor of TechCrunch, a job that made her renowned in startup circles and familiar with a wide number of startups and their founders. What she really longed to do, in fact, was invest in some of them.

“I was among the first people to write about Pinterest and Wish — when it was known as ContextLogic — and Uber and Instagram and WhatsApp,” says Bonatsos. “I started to wonder if I was in the right place at the right time — so, luck — or if I’m in the right information flows. I was curious: what if I’d been writing checks?”

She talked occasionally with venture firms, but the right job didn’t materialize. So she set to work on creating her own dream job. Her first move was to step down from her post at TechCrunch in 2015 to enter into an accelerated, one-year master’s degree program at Stanford University’s business school. (“I wanted to be able to communicate in the same language” as other VCs, she says with a shrug.) All the while, and in the year afterward, she was talking with founders about how tell their story and shape their editorial and convince people with large followings that they are worth tracking — skills Bonatsos had herself honed as a reporter.

She wasn’t building out her network merely to stay connected; she was also slowly piecing together checks from individual investors for a debut venture fund. Toward that end, last December, she registered her San Francisco-based firm, Dream Machine, with the SEC, listing the target amount at $25 million.

If she has reached or is nearing that number, she won’t say out of an abundance of caution around securities regulations. (This is what happens when business journalists become VCs.) Still, when we caught up with her recently, she disclosed that she has already made seven investments, including as part of one token sale. She also shared a bit about what they have in common, which seemingly center on two things: they involve the ever-growing sharing economy, and they take advantage of an overarching trend toward decentralization.

One of those bets, for example, is TruStory, which we’d written about earlier this week. Founded recently by an alumna of both Coinbase and Andreessen Horowitz, TruStory is creating a platform for users to research and validate claims that people make online, whether in a blog post, white paper, website or social media post. It’s creating a “real system of information hierarchy with the blockchain,” says Bonatsos, whose co-investors in the company include True Ventures and Coinbase cofounder Fred Ehrsam, among others.

Another of Dream Machine’s checks has gone to Omni, a four-year-old, San Francisco-based on-demand storage company that’s making every possession in one’s home rentable — giving members an opportunity to make money from their underused items in the process. By way of example, Bonatsos recently rented a dress that a fellow investor had worn once and stored away. Omni photographs each item and allows users to designate friends who can rent them. Users can also rent their belongings to strangers if they choose.

A third investment, in Fable Studios, perhaps best underscores Bonatsos’s ambition to invest in “founders who turn science fiction into non-fiction.” The startup — created by former members of the Oculus Story Studio team — took the wraps off what is essentially a studio for augmented and virtual reality content this year at Sundance, where it premiered one of its first projects, an animated three-part series called “Wolves in the Walls.” (You can check out the trailer here.)

The company hasn’t disclosed how much it has raised to date, but others of its investors include Shasta Ventures and founder-investor Joe Lonsdale.

Asked how she’s drumming up deal flow, Bonatsos suggests she isn’t shy about networking like a maniac. (We spied her at an industry event last night, in fact.)

She also points to the small but growing number of people who are similarly raising and managing funds as solo general partners, and who are forming collaborations and sharing lessons in the process.

Some of these include Product Hunt founder Ryan Hoover, who is currently managing Weekend Fund, a $3 million fund that has backed roughly 10 startups since last year;  Niv Dror, an early Product Hunt employee who is now investing $3 million through a vehicle called Shrug Capital; and Boom Capital, which is a pre-seed fund for “deeply technical, under-networked founders” that was founded by Cee Cee Schnugg, who previously spent 4.5 years with Eric Schmidt’s Innovation Endeavors fund. Yet a fourth new, seed-stage fund is 22nd Street Ventures, launched earlier this year by Katey Nilan, who’d spent the previous six years in a variety of marketing and public relations roles.

Whether all of these seed-stage funds, including Dream Machine, can survive, let alone thrive, remains an open question, of course. As a VC at a well-regarded seed-stage fund told us just yesterday, seed-stage funding is “insanity” right now, with so much capital in the ecosystem — and so many burgeoning funds — that it’s growing harder by the day to obtain a meaningful stake in a promising new startup.

Bonatsos, who expects most of her initial checks to average around $300,000 and is willing to invest in both first-time and serial founders, doesn’t sound concerned.

She has her intuition, a vast network of founder contacts, and support from fellow seed investors. She also argues that she’s prepared to invest much earlier than many others.

“I can suspend disbelief and get on board with a wild vision,” she says. As she’s well-aware, having been immersed in the startup universe for many years, “Non-obvious deals are where you make returns.”

from iFeeltech IT News Mix4

Collections is a better way to organize those photos you snap as mental notes

Wi-Fi password sticker on your router? Snap. Cute sweater in a store’s window display? Snap. Party invitation? Snap. Cool gift idea for mom? Snap. If any of this sounds familiar to you, then you probably also use your iPhone’s camera to take photos of the things you want to remember – maybe even more often than you use Notes to write things down. If your mental notes are more visual in nature, then you may want give the new app Collections a go instead of relying only on your Camera Roll.

I know, I know…isn’t visual bookmarking already handled by Pinterest?

Well, okay, sure. You can go that route.

But using Pinterest feels heavy. There’s a vast collection of images to explore and search. A Home feed of new stuff to look at. (Why, Pinterest, are you showing me spider tattoos? Why?). People to follow. A feed of notifications to check in on. (Where I get to write back to people things like, “hi, you’re messaging the wrong Sarah Perez. I don’t know you.” Ugh, too often. Stupid common name.)

Collections is just a little app for you to use.

It’s not overwrought. Its simple interface just helps you to better organize those photos you’ve snapped for inspiration, ideas, mental notes, or whatever else you may need to refer back to – like clothes you like, restaurants you passed by and want to try later, art or design ideas, the best photos of your dog, events you want to go to, screenshots, gift ideas, travel inspiration, or really anything else you could think of.

But unlike saving these things to the Camera Roll, where they quickly get lost into a feed of photos, Collections lets you write down little details – like the vendor or price, or your notes. For example, “Great gift for mom. Shop owner says it also comes in blue. Having a summer sale in 2 weeks.” 

While your collections are largely meant just for you, if you ever want to share them, you can use iCloud to do so – friends and family won’t have to sign up for a new service to view your shares, just download the app. You can also share them to social media, iMessage, email, messaging apps, and elsewhere, if you choose.

If you prefer to keep your collections private, you can turn off iCloud syncing during setup to keep them saved to local storage only.

On iPad, the app is even better because it supports drag-and-drop – meaning you drag images from other apps to your collections.

The app was designed by a team of two indie developers, Emile Bennett and Dave Roberts, based in Chamonix, France and Liverpool, U.K., respectively. Bennett had previously launched a budgeting app called Pennies, but built Collections because it’s something he wanted for himself.

“I often find myself in clothes shops just ‘window shopping’. I’ll find a shirt, or a pair of shoes, or yet another over-priced GoreTex outdoor jacket  – I’ve got a bit of a thing about them…I have too many! – and I think “yeah I like this, but I’m not going to buy it now, I’ll pick it up another time,’” he tells TechCrunch.

“So I’d take a few photos, the item, the tag, maybe me wearing it and also maybe the shop front so I remember where it is. I’d always think ‘it’s in my photo stream, I’ll remember it later.’ But, of course, that doesn’t happen as the photos just get lost down in your stream, and even if I did find and remember the photos, there’s no context around them,” he says.

He tried Evernote and Notes to keep tracking of these things, but found Evernote was too bloated and Notes was too text-centric. He also feels Pinterest is too focused on discovery and public sharing to be used for collecting your own private inspirations.

One of the best things about Collections, in my opinion, is that there’s no sign-up. Radical idea, right? Bennett is sick of it, too.

“I’m really passionate about not forcing people to sign up to my apps – I want your data to be yours, I don’t want you to have to sign up to a new service just to use this app,” he says. “I think we’re all getting a bit of ’sign-up fatigue’ these days. Most apps do it because it’s the way they make their money – they give you the app for free, make you sign up to use it, collect your data, and then use that data to make their money. That’s really against my ethos,” says Bennett.

Instead, Collections is a $2.99 download.

Hey people, this is the kind of app development we should be encouraging.

Bennett gave me a few promo codes to try out the app with friends, but I forgot about that, and purchased it.

So here you go, first come, first served:

Promo codes are just free downloads. It’s not a scheme to make money, cynics. Nobody’s getting paid here. I just like this app and figured I’d share. Have a good weekend. 

from iFeeltech IT News Mix4

Tesla brings on new VP of engineering from Snap

Tesla announced a number of new hires today, including Stuart Bowers, who is joining as VP of engineering. Bowers is joining Tesla from Snap, where he worked as VP of monetization engineering. Other new hires include Neeraj Manrao, who left Apple to become Tesla’s director of energy manufacturing, and Kevin Mukai, who is now director of product engineering at Tesla’s Gigafactory.

“We’re excited to welcome a group of such talented people as we continue to ramp Model 3 and accelerate towards a more sustainable future,” Tesla wrote on its blog. “We’ll be announcing more hires in the coming days, so stay tuned.”

These new hires come following a couple of departures. In April, Tesla VP of Autopilot Jim Keller left for Intel, with Pete Bannon serving as Keller’s replacement. Bannon is a former Apple chip engineer who helped design Apple’s A5-AP chips. Earlier this month, Sameer Qureshi left a senior manager Autopilot role at Tesla to lead Lyft’s autonomous driving efforts.

Here’s the full list of new hires, via Tesla’s blog:

  • Stuart Bowers is joining as VP of Engineering, responsible for a broad range of Tesla’s software and hardware engineering. Stuart has 12 years of software experience and a background in applied mathematics, and is joining Tesla from Snap. There, he was most recently VP of Monetization Engineering, leading the team with a focus on machine learning and ad infrastructure. Prior to Snap, Stuart was the eighth engineer hired at Facebook’s Seattle office where he worked on data infrastructure and machine learning for search.
  • Neeraj Manrao has joined Tesla as Director of Energy Manufacturing. Neeraj comes from Apple, where he led the technical operations team.
  • Kevin Mukai has started as Director of Production Engineering at Gigafactory. Kevin was most recently at ThinFilm Electronics, where he served as Senior Director of Process Engineering, and before that at SunPower as Director of Process & Equipment Engineering. Kevin has extensive experience in advanced factory design and development.
    James Zhou started last month as CFO, China. James previously served as CFO for Asia Pacific and India for Ingersoll Rand, and prior to that held a number of financial leadership positions at General Electric and General Motors.
  • Alexandra Veitch joined last month as Senior Director for North American Government Relations and Policy. Alexandra comes to Tesla from CSRA. Before that, she served as Special Assistant to the President and Legislative Affairs Liaison in the White House under the Obama Administration. Her government service also includes time at the Department of Homeland Security and as a staff member in both the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives.
  • Kate Pearson is our new Director of Field Delivery Operations. She previously worked as VP of Digital Acceleration at Walmart eCommerce, where she led online grocery and last-mile delivery.
  • Mark Mastandrea started earlier this month as Director, Vehicle Delivery Operations. He comes from Amazon, where he was their Director of Logistics Operations, leading last-mile delivery in North America and working on the design and development of AmazonFresh pickup.
  • Myriam Attou recently started as Regional Sales Director in EMEA. Coming from La Perla, and before that Burberry, she has a long track record of delivering strong results in sales, customer experience and service excellence.

from iFeeltech IT News Mix4

Facebook has a very specific Pepe the Frog policy, report says

Facebook doesn’t ban fictional characters with hateful content as a rule, but interestingly Pepe the frog is well enough established as a hate speech symbol that Facebook has a very particular policy devoted only to the cartoon frog.

Motherboard got their hands on some content moderation policy documents from Facebook that show Pepe, a cartoon frog harmlessly created by cartoonist Matt Furie, has earned himself the bizarre honor of being the only cartoon that employees reviewing content are encouraged to delete when depicted in “the context of hate.”

documents obtained by Motherboard

While Pepe’s popularity as a meme seems to be waning, the policy was likely born out of the classification of the frog as a hate symbol by the ADL and other orgs. Pepe was a generic meme long before he was adopted by the alt-right, but an army of internet photoshoppers managed to produce a lot of messed up stuff in a short amount of time. It’s interesting that Facebook has put such an emphasis on this cartoon alone while not having an issue with characters like Homer Simpson having nazi imagery illustrated alongside them as also depicted in the internal docs.

We’ve reached out to Facebook for more details.

from iFeeltech IT News Mix4

Fortnite had a $296 million April

Just how big Fortnite? Very big. Very, very big. $296 million in April, big. That’s according to SuperData Research (via The Verge), a service that tracks digital game sales. The number, which includes sales from the console, mobile and PC versions of the game, is up $73 million from just last month.

The sandbox’s survival game’s April numbers are also more than double the $126 million it earned back in February. The title is currently atop Superdata’s console chart, and is number five on the PC, several slots ahead of PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds. According to the survey it “once again it broke the record for most additional content revenue in a single month by a console game.”

As for mobile, the title didn’t crack the top 10, but the smartphone has clearly been a driving force in recent growth. Fortnite arrive on iOS in the middle of March, and its upcoming jump to Android is likely to push the title’s success even further. And then, of course, there’s the prize pools.

Earlier this month, Epic added a competition that let players compete for large sums of its in-game currency, V-Bucks. And just this week, the company announced plans to spend $100 million real world dollars on Fornite eSports competitions for the next two years.

from iFeeltech IT News Mix4

Yahoo shuts down social savings app Tanda only months after launch

Well, that didn’t take long. Yahoo Finance’s new social savings app Tanda, which launched just this January, is already shutting down. The company announced the news of the app’s closure via a blog post, which vaguely hinted at a lack of traction. That appears to be true – the app isn’t even in the top 1,500 in the Finance category on the App Store, according to Sensor Tower’s data.

It had been installed around 37,000 times to date across both iOS and Android.

Still, tens of thousands in the first few months isn’t an entirely horrible showing for app that received almost no attention, marketing effort or media outreach. (We happened upon it practically by accident – not because Yahoo reached out to press. Yes, even though Yahoo is owned by Oath which also owns us, there wasn’t any internal heads-up. Or even any external pitching. In case you’re wondering!)

The app had allowed people to save money together for short-term goals using the concept of a “money pool” where a group of friends pay a fixed amount to the saving pot monthly, and every month someone takes the pot home. You didn’t “win” this pot, you took turns claiming it. In the end, it was just another way to save money, but the social element helped you stay on track.

Money pools are popular outside the U.S., in places like Mexico and the Philippines, Yahoo notes. It may have been hard to convince the U.S. audience to give them a shot, though.

In any event, Yahoo says Tanda is no more.

“While we garnered valuable insights around how consumers can benefit from financial planning tools and the opportunity for Yahoo Finance to offer a diversified suite of financial products, we’ve made the decision to begin sunsetting Tanda this week,” the blog post reads.

“Every trial run helps brands better optimize, and create a better experience for users. We’ve learned a lot from launching and running Tanda, and then scaling it back. Key learnings around audience segments, engagement rates, consumer preferences, and UX will inform the projects we are creating, and how we improve the ones that are already in the market to fuel future innovation,” it says.

Still, that was a fast learning experience, guys.

In an email sent to Tanda users, the company says the app will be shut down starting on May 29.

Any funds owed to you will be refunded in full, and then your Tanda account will be deactivated, the email states.

Yahoo declined to comment further on the reasons behind the shutdown, but said the Tanda team will continue to support Yahoo Finance.

from iFeeltech IT News Mix4