Russian opens case against Yandex over alleged competition law breach

MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia’s Federal Antimonopoly Service (FAS) on Tuesday said it had initiated proceedings against internet giant Yandex over alleged competition law violations on the company’s search engine.

The state agency told Yandex in February it had created unequal market conditions for general online search services, that it was preferentially promoting its own products and asked it to stop. Yandex asked for extra time to respond to the accusations earlier this month.

The FAS said it would investigate possible anti-competitive practices and assess their consequences, adding that Yandex could be subject to a fine should evidence it was restricting competition be found.

“We do not agree with the accusation of restricting competition and are ready to defend our position,” Yandex said in a statement.

Yandex said it was using the global practice of enriched search results to enhance the user experience.

“Over 30,000 companies already use our enriched search technology for free,” Yandex added.

Reporting by Alexander Marrow; editing by Barbara Lewis

FBI arrest man over alleged Amazon centre bomb plot

US authorities have arrested a man who allegedly plotted to bomb an Amazon data centre, which he believed would “kill off about 70% of the internet”. 

Seth Aaron Pendley, 28, was arrested after receiving a dud explosive device from an undercover FBI agent, and was charged with a malicious attempt to destroy a building with an explosive,

He came to the FBI’s attention after somebody reported his online posts. 

If convicted, Mr Pendley could face up to 20 years in prison.

According to investigators, Mr Pendley’s main goal was to damage Amazon’s web server network. 

He believed that there were 24 buildings that “run 70% of the internet”, including services used by the CIA and FBI, according to a conversation detailed in the criminal complaint against him.

Damaging them would frustrate the “oligarchy” – or small group of elites – in power in the United States, he believed.

Amazon Web Services (AWS) does play a hugely important role in the modern internet, hosting and processing the information behind many popular online services and websites. 

Outages caused by a problem at one centre tend to knock services offline for several hours at most, and often for a limited number of people or for specific sites.

For example, in 2017, a major fault at one US AWS centre knocked sites such as Quora and Trello offline for several hours. And even the total loss by fire of a European data centre earlier this year – which disrupted an estimated 3.6 million websites including government portals across Europe – went unnoticed by many internet users.

From Capitol Riot to C-4

Mr Pendley attended the Capitol Riots of 6 January, investigators found, having driven from Texas to Washington DC. Investigators said he told friends he had brought an assault rifle with him, but left it in his car – and also that although he reached the windows of the Capitol building, he did not enter it.

Two days after that event, a “concerned citizen” reported Mr Pendley’s posts on a militia website – where he went by the name of Dionysus, the Greek god of wine – to the FBI.

“We are indebted to the concerned citizen who came forward to report the defendant’s alarming online rhetoric. In flagging his posts to the FBI, this individual may have saved the lives of a number of tech workers,” acting US attorney Prerak Shah said in a statement.h

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites.View original tweet on Twitter

The posts from “Dionysus” that sparked concern spoke of his desire to “conduct a little experiment,” which he said would be dangerous and “draw a lot of heat” and could be “dangerous”. Asked by another user what the result would be, he responded, “death”, according to the court documents.

The FBI managed to uncover Dionysus’s email address, and link that to his Facebook account and real-world identity.

In late January, Mr Pendley began using the encrypted messaging app Signal to detail his plans to bomb an AWS facility – but the recipient of those messages was a confidential FBI informant, investigators said. 

Over the course of February, Mr Pendley shared his plans, including the type of explosive he sought, potential targets, and maps. 

On 31 March, the confidant introduced Pendley to a supposed explosives supplier – who was actually an undercover member of the FBI. His plan at this point, according to a recorded conversation, was to attack three Amazon buildings clustered close together.

On 8 April, at the handover of the supposed explosives, the undercover FBI employee showed Mr Pendley boxes he claimed were C-4 weapons-grade explosives, and showed him how to arm and detonate them. After Mr Pendley took the devices and placed them in his car, he was arrested by the FBI.

Mr Pendley made an initial court appearance on Friday, and remains in custody.

Source: BBC

UK: Redcar cyber-attack: Government to help cover costs

A council left without online services for weeks following a cyber-attack is to receive £3.68m from the government to help towards the cost of rebuilding its systems.

The attack was estimated to have cost Redcar and Cleveland Council £10m, with the authority having to foot the remainder of the bill itself.

It said no ransom was paid to the hackers.

Critics said the government should be covering more of the cost.

Experts from the UK’s National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) had to be drafted in to help restore appointment bookings, planning documents, social care advice and council housing complaints systems that had been knocked offline in February last year.

‘Conned’ over settlement

The council said the money to be provided by the government would help replenish its reserves, which had been used to restore its online systems.

It declined to say whether any services would be affected as a result of covering the remainder of the bill.

Council leader Mary Lanigan, who heads a coalition of independents and Liberal Democrats, said: “We are pleased that the government recognised the unique circumstances under which we requested support, and awarded grant funding, rightly distinguishing the criminal ransomware attack suffered by the council from the financial rescue packages of some other local authorities where permission to borrow has been granted.

“No money was handed over to these criminals and we continue to hope that they will eventually be brought to justice.”

Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland MP Simon Clarke, a Conservative, described the settlement as “exceptionally generous”.

Fellow Tory Jacob Young, MP for Redcar, said it would “go some way to restoring the hit on the council’s finances”.

However, former council leader Sue Jeffrey, of Labour, said residents were being “conned into thinking they have got a good deal” having only been awarded “a tiny proportion of the support they were promised by the government and local Conservative MPs”.

Carlisle ex-police officer ‘devastated’ by £3k Royal Mail scam

A retired police officer has been left “devastated and embarrassed” after losing £3,000 to scammers posing as Royal Mail.

The man, who wanted to be known only as Alan, said he thought the con-artists were “legitimate and credible” when he spoke to them on the phone.

He had fallen prey to a scam text message that claimed a parcel was awaiting delivery by Royal Mail.

Royal Mail has confirmed it would never send such a text message.

Victims receive a text purporting to be from the company which reads: “Your Royal Mail parcel is awaiting delivery. Please confirm the settlement of 1.99 (GBP) on the following link”.

The message then links to a website mocked up to look like an official site. 

The page requests personal and payment details, which fraudsters use to steal the victim’s identity or target them with further scams.

‘Helpless and angry’

In Alan’s case, the scammers used his details to call him back, pretending to be his bank alerting him to the deception, and then got him to transfer money to a new account they claimed to have set up for him. 

Alan, from Carlisle, told BBC Radio Cumbria the crooks appeared “so credible” because they were able to provide details about his account, including that he had pending payments.

He even went online while speaking to them to search their phone numbers which “came back as legitimate”.

After realising he had been scammed, Alan, who worked for the police for more than 25 years, said: “I was devastated and embarrassed. 

“I used to give people advice for over 25 years on scams and I was caught out. 

“I thought ‘how can I tell my wife and family? They will laugh at me at me and say how stupid are you’.”

He said he felt “helpless and angry”, adding: “It’s one for everybody to be aware of. 

“I wouldn’t class myself as vulnerable, I have a previous life of explaining to people what to do and I got caught.

“If you have any doubt whatsoever just put the phone down, don’t explain yourself.”

Delta, American Airlines websites go down – Google

(Reuters) -Alphabet Inc’s Google on Monday confirmed that there was an issue with its ITA software, which powers ticketing and other services on the websites of many U.S. airlines.

Reports by users showed issues on Monday with the websites of Delta Air Lines and American Airlines, according to Downdetector.com.

People familiar with the matter also said there seemed to be an outage on ITA. United Airlines also appeared to be impacted by the issue.

A Google spokesperson said the company was working to implement a fix.

Safaricom launches East Africa’s first 5G network

NAIROBI (Reuters) – Kenya’s biggest telecoms operator Safaricom has started trials for 5G high-speed internet network using technology from Nokia and Huawei, it said.

Safaricom, part owned by South Africa’s Vodacom and Britain’s Vodafone want to boost its fast-growing data business, amid increasing demand due to the COVID-19 pandemic forcing people to work and learn from home.

The trials, which started with four Kenyan cities and towns on Friday, will be expanded to 150 sites in nine urban areas in the next 12 months, Safaricom said in a statement.

Safaricom said last year it would consider Huawei for its 5G network rollout. The United States has urged countries not to include Huawei in their 5G plans, citing security concerns, which Huawei has denied.

Safaricom is the market leader in the mobile data segment in Kenya, with 67.5% of total users as of last September, statistics from the regulator Communications Authority of Kenya showed.

The company has a 35.6% share of the small but growing internet to home and office by fibre market, CAK said.

The new 5G network will give consumers internet speeds of 700 megabits per second, more than three times faster than the current 4G network, the company said.

It will also allow Safaricom to offer an alternative service for homes and offices in areas which are not currently covered by the its fibre network, the company said.

The technology will also support far many more devices to connect to the internet in a given area, compared with the existing network.

Ask him anything: William Shatner’s life story to live on through AI

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – Actor William Shatner, best known for forging new frontiers on the “Star Trek” TV series, has tapped new technology that will give current and future generations the chance to query him about his life, family and career.

Shatner, who turned 90 on Monday, spent more than 45 hours over five days recording answers to be used in an interactive video created by Los Angeles-based company StoryFile.

Starting in May, people using cellphones or computers connected to the internet can ask questions of the Shatner video, and artificial intelligence will scan through transcripts of his remarks to deliver the best answer, according to StoryFile co-founder Stephen Smith.

Fans may even be able to beam Shatner into their living rooms in future, Smith said, as Shatner was filmed with 3-D cameras that will enable his answers to be delivered via a hologram.

Shatner, who played Captain Kirk on “Star Trek” from 1966 to 1969 and in a later series of “Star Trek” movies, answered 650 questions on topics from the best and worst parts of working on the classic sci-fi show to where he grew up and the meaning of life.

The Canadian-born actor said he “wanted to reveal myself as intimately as possible” for his family and others.

“This is a legacy,” Shatner said. “This is like what you would leave your children, what you’d leave on your gravestone, the possibilities are endless.”

OneWeb sends up 36 broadband internet satellites

OneWeb has put up another 36 satellites, taking its in-orbit constellation to 146 spacecraft.

The new platforms were lofted by a Soyuz rocket from Russia’s far east.

The additions will enable engineers to further test the company’s promised system for delivering broadband internet connections from space.

OneWeb is now owned principally by the Indian conglomerate Bharti Global and the UK government after they bought the enterprise out of bankruptcy last year.

The new management anticipates offering a commercial service this autumn to northern latitudes – including Britain, Northern Europe, Alaska, Canada, Greenland, Iceland, and Arctic Seas – with a full global roll-out of connectivity in mid-2022.

“We have what we call ‘five to 50’ (degrees latitude). So, that’s five launches we need to do in order to get to this coverage of basically the south coast of the UK to the North Pole,” explained chief executive Neil Masterson.

“By the end of June we will have completed those launches to enable us to be providing our service. But in total this year, we expect to be doing somewhere between eight and 10 launches,” he told BBC News.

Mr Masterson, formerly the co-chief operating officer at business information provider Thomson Reuters, was brought into OneWeb when it emerged from “Chapter 11” bankruptcy protection in November.

There has been an intense period of hires, with more than 200 employees joining the books since the autumn.

Supply chains have also had to be re-established, allowing OneWeb Satellites, the joint venture with Airbus, to resume full-volume manufacturing at its factory in Florida.

And all this has required extra funding, of course.

OneWeb announced in January it had raised a further $400m from tech investor Softbank and satellite services specialist Hughes Network Systems. But this still leaves OneWeb short of about $1bn to finish the set-up of its first-generation constellation of 648 satellites.

Those spacecraft also need an array of supporting ground stations dotted around the globe.

“We need one more ground station to fully support commercial service in the areas mentioned by the end of this year,” the chief executive said.

“We know where it’s going to be. Covid makes it a little bit more tricky, but I think we feel confident at this stage, we’ll get it done.”

OneWeb satellites in preparation
image captionOneWeb wants to do at least another seven launches this year

OneWeb says its testing programme is progressing well, and in a demonstration this month for the US Department of Defense claimed its satellites were providing downlink data rates of up to 500 megabits per second with a delay, or latency, in the internet connections as low as 32 milliseconds.

OneWeb’s chief competitor in the internet mega-constellation business is Starlink, which is being set up by the Californian rocket company SpaceX.

Starlink, which has 1,320 satellites in orbit now after another launch on Wednesday (the architecture of its network requires more satellites than OneWeb) has already begun beta testing with high-latitude customers.

Artwork satellite
image captionArtwork: Phase one of the project will see more than 600 satellites launched

The two projects are, though, following quite different business models.

OneWeb will be working with partner telecommunications companies to deliver its broadband offering, whereas Starlink will be selling a big chunk of its bandwidth direct to the consumer.

Some way behind both OneWeb and Starlink are Lightspeed and Kuiper.

Lightspeed is the broadband mega-constellation being developed by the long-established Canadian satellite communications company Telesat. This system has only just selected a spacecraft manufacturer in the Franco-Italian aerospace company Thales Alenia Space. The first of Lightspeed’s 298 satellites won’t launch for another two years.

Kuiper is a subsidiary of online retailer Amazon. Like Starlink, the Kuiper constellation will comprise several thousand satellites but details of a launch schedule have not been released.

There are tentative proposals in the EU also for a communications mega-constellation. 

Lightspeed network
image captionTelesat is planning its own network, Lightspeed, comprising 298 satellites

In the UK, the government’s purchase of a stake in OneWeb has been controversial, especially with an early suggestion that the constellation could be fashioned into some sort replacement for the EU’s Galileo navigation system which Britain no longer has a stake in after Brexit.

It was confirmed this week that OneWeb has answered the Request for Information now being run in government to find solutions to the country’s needs for precise Positioning, Navigation and Timing, or PNT.

But this is likely, certainly in the short term, to take the form of resilience support. In other words, using OneWeb to bolster the signals coming from Galileo and its American counterpart, GPS.

Mr Masterson says his team are thinking about the services they could offer in the future, especially when OneWeb introduces a second generation of spacecraft – the manufacture of which will have a lot more British involvement.

Carissa Christensen, the chief executive of consultancy Bryce Space and Technology, discussed OneWeb on a recent edition of the BBC’s Bottom Line business programme.

She said: “The UK has targeted space as a driver of economic growth. OneWeb is in a very exclusive club with regard to space capabilities and space activities, and so for me there’s some alignment in that decision to become an investor in OneWeb with that vision of space driving a post-Brexit UK economic boom. 

“I don’t want to overstate that as saying, ‘clearly that’s going to work’. But it’s taking on an opportunity and it’s a bold decision.”

Jonathan Amos
Science correspondent

Google signs news content deals with Italian publishers

Alphabet Inc’s Google has sealed its first licence agreements in Italy with several publishers to offer access to some of their content on the U.S. tech group’s Showcase news platform.

Google News Showcase is a global product to pay news publishers for their content online and a new service that allows partnering publishers to curate content and provide limited access to paywalled stories for users.

Showcase is expected to launch in Italy in the coming weeks, a media representative for Google in Italy told Reuters.

News publishers have long fought the world’s most popular internet search engine for compensation for using their content, with European media groups leading the charge.

Google said in October it planned to pay $1 billion to publishers globally for their news over the next three years via Showcase, which will launch first in Germany, then in Belgium, India, the Netherlands and other countries.

Google’s agreements were signed with a number of Italian publishers, including RCS Mediagroup, which publishes daily Corriere della Sera as well as popular sports daily Gazzetta dello Sport, the publisher of financial daily Il Sole 24 ore and Caltagirone editore, which owns Rome-based paper Il Messaggero.

No financial details were disclosed.

The accords involve 13 Italian editorial companies, giving Google Showcase users access to content from 76 national and local papers.

The U.S. tech group has sealed similar deals with other news outlets around the world, including in Germany, Brazil and in Britain.

“We are pleased to have reached this agreement which, by also regulating the issue of related rights, recognises the importance of quality information and the authority of our publications,” RCS Chief Executive Urbano Cairo said in a statement.

RCS said the deal with Google also included the Spanish-language papers owned by the group – El Mundo, Marca and Expansion.

The accord could potentially pave the way for a resumption of the U.S. company’s news service in Spain, which was shut down in 2014 in response to legislation which meant it had to pay a mandatory collective licensing fee to re-publish headlines or snippets of news.

Authorities around the world have been introducing rules to require Google, Facebook and others to share revenue with publishers, including a 2019 directive from Brussels which European Union countries are meant to enact into law by June.

Both Italy and Spain still have to implement the new EU rules.

“We hope parliament will address the issue soon”, Fabrizio Carotti, general director at Italy’s news publisher business lobby FIEG told Reuters.

“In our view, the law should give the national competition regulator the power to determine the criteria to establish how much online platforms have to pay for content in case of no agreement with publishers, helping editorial companies in their negotiations”, Carotti said.

In Southeast Asian internet battle, Sea’s rise sends rivals scrambling

In front of an open-air Jakarta restaurant, delivery drivers clad in the orange colours of Southeast Asia tech group Sea Ltd wait for orders next to the green-jacketed riders of market leaders Gojek and Grab, in what has become the latest battleground for tech supremacy in Southeast Asia.

The humble noodles eatery signed up for Sea’s nascent ShopeeFood service a month ago, but “immediately, there were orders everyday,” said manager M.A Rasyid.

Riding on the success of a cash-generating gaming business, U.S.-listed Sea has invested heavily in its Shopee e-commerce brand and successfully taken on Alibaba’s Lazada and other rivals in recent years. Its share price has risen five-fold over the past year, giving the company a market capitalisation of $111 billion.

Now Singapore-based Sea is muscling into food delivery and financial services in Indonesia, the world’s fourth-most-populous country, posing a new threat to regional rivals including ride-hailing and delivery unicorns Grab and GoJek.

At stake is a slice of the more than 400 million internet users in Southeast Asia’s digital economy, which is estimated to triple to $309 billion by 2025, according to a study by Google, Temasek and Bain & Company.

Tech giants including Tencent, a major investor in Sea, Alibaba, Google and Softbank Group Corp are big backers of Southeast Asia’s internet champions.

Sources say Sea’s aggressive expansion is one of the key sources driving merger discussions between Gojek and e-commerce platform Tokopedia. The two Indonesian firms aim to create an $18 billion powerhouse to fight off Sea and regional ride-hailing leader Grab.

Meanwhile, Grab and other players, including travel app Traveloka and Indonesian e-commerce unicorn Bukalapak, are rushing for public listings, hoping to ride the coattails of Sea’s stock rally while defending their turf, according to Reuters interviews with over a dozen people.

“Sea is like Thanos, massive and powerful, and able to take down half of the world, or in this case half the startups,” Willson Cuaca, co-founder of East Ventures and an early backer of Tokopedia, joked as he compared the group to the powerful villain in the Marvel film series.

“Like the Avengers, companies need to band together if they want to ensure their survival and to win the war.”

CASH IS KING

Sea’s stock rally reflects a scarcity of options for investors seeking exposure to the booming Southeast Asia internet sector. It went public in 2017 and has raised some $7 billion in share and debt sales, with early investor Tencent now holding about 20% of the stock.

That investor appetite, combined with a need to raise cash to match Sea’s muscle, is forcing rivals to seek public listings as quickly as they can, bankers and executives familiar with the matter say.

Sources say the Gojek-Tokopedia merger, which is likely to be finalised within weeks, will be followed by a listing in Jakarta in the second half of 2021, then a mega IPO in the United States targeted for 2022.

Grab and Traveloka, for their part, are looking at speeding up the process by merging with special purpose acquisition companies, sources said. Bukalapak is planning the same, after a 2021 Jakarta IPO.

“The market is pretty welcoming for tech stocks. It’s an opportunity for Grab if they are ready for it,” said Jixun Foo, a managing partner at GGV Capital, which has invested in Grab.

COLLISION COURSE

Sea’s success owes much to its online gaming business Garena, whose 2017 title Free Fire became the most downloaded game in the world over the past two years.

It’s using the cash from Garena to repeat its success in e-commerce, food delivery and financial services.

Its Shopee division started off in 2015 as a platform for local sellers and soon gained traction with many merchants regionally. It has now overtaken both Lazada as the top e-commerce player in the region and Tokopedia as the leader in Indonesia, thanks in part to innovations such as adding social features to its service.

Both Gojek and Grab, which have pursued on-again, off-again merger talks with each other for years, believe they can ward off Sea’s move into food delivery thanks to well-honed logistics networks and early-mover advantages.

But they could be hard-pressed to match Sea’s subsidies: in Vietnam, Sea-owned food delivery service Now quietly dominates the sector, according to a January report by advisory firm Momentum Works.

In Indonesia, ShopeeFood is wooing vendors by touting its 80 million-strong user base and promising to subsidise steep discounting.

The next showdown will be in financial services.

Sea has bought Indonesian lender Bank BKE and has hired a veteran of China’s peer-to-peer platforms to head its “SeaMoney” banking efforts.

“SeaMoney can become the Ant Financial of Southeast Asia,” said Daniel Jacobs, managing partner at emerging markets hedge fund Kora, a Sea shareholder.

“After payments, they have the vision and will to grow into adjacent areas, from ‘buy now, pay later’ on the customer side to merchant credit and all sorts of financial services.”

But Gojek and Grab, both of which own part of Indonesian payment app OVO, have similar ambitions. And Sea and Grab are set to square off in Singapore, where both won coveted digital bank licences in December.

Grab is backed by many investors including SoftBank Group and Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group.

“This is going to be a battle of the titans,” said Patrick Walujo, the co-founder of Indonesian private-equity firm Northstar Group and a Gojek investor.