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A quantum of paranoia has helped Silicon Valley keep its edge over the years. Intel’s leader Andy Grove wrote the book on the subject: Only the Paranoid Survive. He preached staying alert so as not to be caught out by the next big shift in tech.
But there are signs lately among Big Tech companies of a more unhealthy, inward-looking paranoia. Lex looked up Facebook on the Glassdoor site of employee reviews of companies and found one saying: “Everything we do is examined under the microscope.”
The social network has seen a string of high-profile departures lately, including its chief technology officer this week, amid a series of damning whistleblower-led stories on internal decision-making that might make any company feel its employees were out to get it.
Amazon has been criticised for the extent to which its monitors its workforce and Motherboard reported last month that the ecommerce giant plans to monitor the keyboard strokes and mouse movements of customer service employees in an attempt to stop rogue workers, imposters or hackers accessing customer data.
The US National Labor Relations Board is looking into allegations that Apple retaliated against one of its managers, Ashley Gjovik. In a letter to the NLRB, she said Apple’s employee relations department “intimidated me not to speak about my safety concerns”.
On Thursday, The Information reported on how Google’s security teams hunt for leakers. Employees who are thinking of leaving are regarded as possible suspects, with security making checks on those looking at internal websites that help with continuing health coverage or provide checklists that help plan departures.
With Big Tech under greater political and regulatory scrutiny, the upshot appears to be that it is getting antsy about what its employees might say or do to get it into further hot water. Using its own tech expertise to devise means of monitoring them suggests this particular kind of paranoia has gone too far.
The Internet of (Five) Things
1. China closes crypto loophole
China has expanded its crackdown on cryptocurrencies by declaring that all activities related to digital coins are “illegal”. The People’s Bank of China and other government agencies targeted overseas cryptocurrency exchanges specifically on Friday, in an apparent bid to close a loophole. Bitcoin’s price fell more than 8 per cent on the news.
2. Huawei CFO extradition breakthrough
Huawei’s chief financial officer Meng Wanzhou has reached an agreement with US prosecutors to resolve the bank fraud case against her, in a process that should allow her to leave Canada and return to China. Meng is expected to appear virtually in a hearing scheduled for later on Friday in Brooklyn federal court.
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3. EU acts on smartphone chargers
The European Union has announced its plans to require the smartphone industry to adopt a uniform charging cord using the USB-C standard. The main objections have come from Apple, which has its own proprietary connection and says it is concerned the new rules would limit innovation and end up hurting consumers.
4. Daimler’s gigafactory investment
Daimler is to join forces with competitor Stellantis and energy company TotalEnergies to develop and produce battery cells for electric cars in Europe. The German luxury automaker said on Friday it would take a 33 per cent equity stake in Automotive Cells Company, a joint venture set up by Stellantis and TotalEnergies last year, which plans to build gigafactories in France and Germany.
5. Peter Thiel and the Valley’s pursuit of power
It is slightly disappointing to find that in Max Chafkin’s biography The Contrarian, tech investor Peter Thiel has been reduced to the role of unlikeable villain, says Richard Waters in his review. Sadly, the author defaults to a reading that at all times ascribes the worst of motives to its subject who, we are led to believe, set the tech industry on an amoral pursuit of wealth and power.
Tech tools — Nokia G50
Nokia continued with its tradition of budget-priced handsets on Wednesday, unveiling the G50, as its cheapest 5G phone. It promises two-day battery life and fast charging. The display is HD and a generous 6.8in, while the rear camera is a 48MP triple-lens unit. The G50 is available to buy in the UK now for £200.