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LATEST ON BEZOS HACK: The United Nations on Wednesday drew a line between the hacking of Amazon CEO Jeff BezosJeffrey (Jeff) Preston BezosSaudi Arabia calls for probe into ‘absurd’ reports of Bezos phone hacking Hillicon Valley — Presented by Philip Morris International — Apple reportedly dropped plans to let iPhone users encrypt backups | Justices decline facial recognition case | Critics fear Facebook losing misinformation fight | Truce on French tech tax Message from Saudi crown prince linked to hack of Bezos’s phone: report MORE‘s phone and coverage of Saudi Arabia’s involvement in the killing of a Washington Post journalist, calling for a further investigation.
Two United Nations human rights experts said a deeper probe was needed to look into allegations that Saudi Arabia’s crown prince was behind the alleged hack on Bezos, who owns The Washington Post.
Hacking allegations: The UN’s statement comes a day after The Guardian first reported that Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman gained access to Bezos’s phone via a Whatsapp message.
“The information we have received suggests the possible involvement of the crown prince in surveillance of Mr. Bezos, in an effort to influence, if not silence, The Washington Post’s reporting on Saudi Arabia,” the two human rights experts said in a statement on Wednesday.
The two tied the hacking to the 2018 murder of Jamal Khashoggi, which multiple international and American intelligence organizations have pinned on Saudi Arabia. Khashoggi was a journalist at the Post.
The UN’s concerns: Agnes Callamard, UN special rapporteur on summary executions and extrajudicial killings, and David Kaye, UN special rapporteur on freedom of expression, issued the joint statement on Wednesday.
They emphasized that “the alleged hacking of Mr. Bezos’s phone, and those of others, demands immediate investigation by US and other relevant authorities, including investigation of the continuous, multi-year, direct and personal involvement of the crown prince in efforts to target perceived opponents.”
The two UN experts recently became aware of the alleged hacking of Bezos’s device through a 2019 forensic analysis of his phone that assessed with “medium to high” confidence that it was infiltrated in March 2018 through an MP4 file sent from bin Salman’s WhatsApp account to Bezos. According to the analysis, exfiltration of data from Bezos’s phone began within hours of the MP4 file being sent over.
Saudi Arabia’s response: Saudi Arabia has denied the hacking.
“Recent media reports that suggest the Kingdom is behind a hacking of Mr. Jeff Bezos’ phone are absurd,” the account tweeted. “We call for an investigation on these claims so that we can have all the facts out.
BEZOS SUBTWEETS: Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos posted a tribute to slain Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi on Wednesday in his first public message after reports linking a hack of his phone to Saudi efforts to affect coverage of the murder.
“#Jamal,” Bezos tweeted, along with a photo of the Amazon executive and Washington Post owner with Khashoggi’s fiancée at a memorial outside of the Saudi Consulate in Turkey, where Khashoggi was murdered.
Sen. Ron WydenRonald (Ron) Lee WydenTrump poised to kick off election-year fight over Medicaid Overnight Health Care: Justices won’t fast-track ObamaCare case before election | New virus spreads from China to US | Collins challenger picks up Planned Parenthood endorsement Mnuchin warns UK, Italy of tariffs if digital tax plans are implemented MORE (D-Ore.) on Wednesday sent a letter to Bezos asking for information related to the alleged hack, including reports, if any, from cybersecurity experts retained by Bezos who examined his phone.
ZUCKERBERG FOR PRESIDENT?: President TrumpDonald John TrumpRouhani says Iran will never seek nuclear weapons Trump downplays seriousness of injuries in Iran attack after US soldiers treated for concussions Trump says Bloomberg is ‘wasting his money’ on 2020 campaign MORE on Wednesday said that a potential presidential run by Facebook’s CEO “wouldn’t be too frightening,” while heaping praise on Mark ZuckerbergMark Elliot ZuckerbergHillicon Valley: Biden calls for revoking tech legal shield | DHS chief ‘fully expects’ Russia to try to interfere in 2020 | Smaller companies testify against Big Tech ‘monopoly power’ Michigan governor urges Zuckerberg to enforce community guidelines after hate speech, threats surface Smaller companies testify against Big Tech’s ‘monopoly power’ MORE and other Silicon Valley leaders.
Trump was asked about Facebook’s decision to allow politicians to lie in advertisements on the platform in an interview with CNBC’s “Squawk Box” on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.
“I’d rather him just do whatever he’s going to do,” Trump said. “You know, he’s done — he’s done a hell of a job, when you think of it … he’s going to do what he has to do.”
Trump then said he “heard [Zuckerberg] was going to run for president.”
“That wouldn’t be too frightening, I don’t think,” he continued. “But he does have that monster behind him.”
Zuckerberg has been floated as a potential presidential candidate, but the Facebook executive has never publicly commented on reports suggesting that.
During the interview with CNBC, Trump also weighed in on pressure on Apple to unlock the phones of the Pensacola, Fla., shooter.
“I understand both sides of the argument,” Trump said. “You’re dealing with drug lords and you’re dealing with terrorists, and if you’re dealing with murderers, I don’t care … we have to find out what’s going on.”
Trump also praised Tesla CEO Elon MuskElon Reeve MuskSpaceX’s inflight abort test paves way to commercial human spaceflight Hillicon Valley: Barr asks Apple to unlock Pensacola shooter’s phone | Tech industry rallies behind Google in Supreme Court fight | Congress struggles to set rules for cyber warfare with Iran | Blog site Boing Boing hacked Trump and Obama equally admired? Eight things popularity polls tell us MORE in the interview, saying “you have to give him credit” and calling him a “genius.”
“I spoke to him very recently, and he’s also doing the rockets. He likes rockets,” Trump told CNBC.
“I was worried about him, because he’s one of our great geniuses, and we have to protect our genius. You know, we have to protect Thomas Edison and we have to protect all of these people that — came up with originally the light bulb and — the wheel and all of these things. And he’s one of our very smart people and we want to — we want to cherish those people.”
KIDS PRIVACY IN THE UK: The United Kingdom has issued a new set of standards to ramp up protections for children’s data privacy by curtailing platforms’ ability to pressure minors to reveal personal information.
The new rules, sent Wednesday by the Information Commissioner’s Office for Parliament’s approval, would bar social media sites, games and other online platforms from “nudging” children to provide personal details or lower their privacy settings.
“There are laws to protect children in the real world — film ratings, car seats, age restrictions on drinking and smoking. We need our laws to protect children in the digital world too,” Information Commissioner Elizabeth Denham said. “In a generation from now, we will look back and find it astonishing that online services weren’t always designed with children in mind.”
The new standards push the country’s tech companies to stop using techniques such as making one privacy option appear easier to encourage minors to give them extraneous personal details or turn off their privacy protections. The platforms will also have to use the new standards as a default for all users unless they can verify a user’s age.
Sharing a minor’s location and profiling children for behavior-based advertising should also be barred by default, the new rules say. Among other requirements are making “high privacy” settings the default and collecting a “minimum amount” of personal data from minors.
The standards, which include 15 rules in all, apply to any online platform that could be used by a child and any companies that operate in the U.K.
HOW TO BUILD 5G: A group of senators on Wednesday fretted over the U.S.’s ability to recruit tens of thousands more people to help build the next generation of wireless technology, a massive undertaking that will require significant manpower if the country wants to lead the so-called race to 5G.
The Senate Commerce Committee convened a hearing to discuss their 5G concerns on the second day of the upper chamber’s impeachment trial of President Trump, an attempt to prove that lawmakers can multitask even as Congress debates whether to remove the president.
Seven members of the committee questioned the witnesses — including Brendan Carr, a Republican on the Federal Communications Commission, and telecom industry representatives — about the “5G labor shortage.”
According to Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Roger WickerRoger Frederick WickerLawmakers introduce bill to bolster artificial intelligence, quantum computing Enes Kanter sees political stardom — after NBA and WWE Hillicon Valley: House panel unveils draft of privacy bill | Senate committee approves bill to sanction Russia | Dems ask HUD to review use of facial recognition | Uber settles sexual harassment charges for .4M MORE (R-Miss.), some projections estimate the U.S. needs 20,000 more people to help “accelerate the deployment of 5G in order to win the race and secure the first-move advantage in the United States.” Right now, there are about 27,000 workers prepared to install 5G equipment.
“Additional labor will also be needed to lay fiber, to support wireless connections, install radios and deploy other essential equipment,” Wicker said.
The next generation of wireless networks, known as 5G, is expected to upend and potentially revolutionize modern technology, promising lightning-fast speeds and an array of internet-connected devices.
But the work behind building the flashy technology is often taxing and difficult, requiring people to scale extraordinary heights and oftentimes travel away from their families, witnesses told the committee.
“We’ve got to make hard work cool again,” said Jimmy Miller, the president and CEO of MillerCo, a small telecom services company based in Wicker’s home state of Mississippi. “We’ve got to get the word out that this is a career, it exists, it is real.”
“It’s a high-risk industry,” he later added.
IRS PLAYS HARDBALL WITH MICROSOFT: Microsoft was ordered to turn over a trove of tax records last week amid a historic and long-running audit by the IRS that received new attention after an explosive ProPublica report on Wednesday.
A federal judge in Washington state declared that Microsoft must turn over key documents within the next seven days, a shot in the arm for an expansive IRS audit that has dragged on for more than 12 years. The IRS has been investigating whether Microsoft shifted intellectual property worth billions of dollars to Puerto Rico in violation of U.S. tax law.
“The government believes that Microsoft’s cost sharing arrangements … impermissibly shifted revenue out of the United States, both decreasing Microsoft’s federal income tax liabilities and obtaining more favorable foreign tax treatment,” the filing on Friday reads.
Microsoft had sought to conceal the relevant documents in the case, arguing they should remain confidential. But U.S. District Judge Ricardo Martinez, a Bush appointee, declared almost none of the more than 100 documents are protected.
The IRS is investigating whether Microsoft shifted $39 billion in U.S. profits to Puerto Rico in order to receive a nearly zero percent tax rate. The agency has found that Microsoft moved billions of dollars in profits to avoid taxes, according to the investigation by ProPublica and Fortune.
Martinez reportedly made the decision to revive the case shortly after ProPublica contacted him for its investigation.
“On Jan. 17, 2020, after this story was finalized for publication, but before it published, U.S. District Court Judge Ricardo Martinez issued his ruling on the remaining, disputed documents,” reads an editor’s note within the ProPublcia article. “It was another big win for the IRS in the case. (Martinez, who had taken the better part of three years to consider the ruling, issued it 10 days after ProPublica inquired about the delay.)”
Microsoft in a statement said the ruling is not about “Microsoft’s historical tax arrangements.”
“The Judge acknowledged that this procedural ruling about document production is based on limited information, and is not a ruling on the validity of Microsoft’s historical tax arrangements,” the company said.
MICROSOFT DATA EXPOSED: Almost 250 million records of Microsoft customer service and support reports, including locations and email addresses, were briefly exposed online in late December before the vulnerability was patched, a report published Wednesday found.
Consumer research group Comparitech found that records of conversations between Microsoft support employees and customers around the world spanning 14 years, from 2005 through the end of 2019, were left exposed on five separate servers between Dec. 28 and 29.
This information was accessible during that time to anyone with a web browser, and included customer email addresses, locations, IP addresses, case numbers and confidential internal notes on cases.
Comparitech researchers informed Microsoft of their findings, with Microsoft then patching the vulnerability that left the customer service records open between Dec. 30 and 31.
Microsoft General Manager Eric Doerr said in a statement on Wednesday that the company was “thankful” for the team at Comparitech alerting them to the issue, and that Microsoft was able to “quickly fix this misconfiguration, analyze data, and notify customers as appropriate.”
Comparitech noted that they did not know if anyone besides their researchers gained access to the servers while they were exposed.
The company warned that if anyone with malicious intent did gain access, the information could help them run scams on people with Microsoft products by impersonating customer service agents.
A LIGHTER CLICK: A more United Nations
AN OP-ED TO CHEW ON: Public transit changes lives
NOTABLE LINKS FROM AROUND THE WEB:
U.S. cops have wide access to phone cracking software, new documents reveal (OneZero / Michael Hayes)
Amazon Ring sales nearly tripled in December despite hacks (Recode / Rani Molla)
Seattle-area voters to vote by smartphone in 1st for U.S. elections (NPR / Miles Parks)
Twitter borked its own platform trying to fix its Nazi ad-targeting problem (Gizmoodo / Shoshana Wodinsky)