Speaking at an event closing a week-long promotion of bitcoin in El Salvador, Bukele said the city planned in the eastern region of La Union would get geothermal power from a volcano and not levy any taxes except for a value added tax (VAT).”Invest here and make all the money you want,” Bukele said in English, dressed all in white and wearing a reversed baseball cap, in the beach resort of Mizata. “This is a fully ecological city that works and is energized by a volcano.”Half of the VAT levied would be used to fund the bonds issued to build the city, and the other half would pay for services such as garbage collection, Bukele said, estimating the public infrastructure would cost around 300,000 bitcoins.El Salvador in September became the first country in the world to adopt bitcoin as legal tender.Although Bukele is a popular president, opinion polls show Salvadorans are skeptical about his love of bitcoin, and its bumpy introduction has fueled protests against the government.Likening his plan to cities founded by Alexander the Great, Bukele said Bitcoin City would be circular, with an airport, residential and commercial areas, and feature a central plaza designed to look like a bitcoin symbol from the air.”If you want bitcoin to spread over the world, we should build some Alexandrias,” said Bukele, a tech savvy 40-year-old who in September proclaimed himself “dictator” of El Salvador on Twitter in an apparent joke.El Salvador plans to issue the initial bonds in 2022, Bukele said, suggesting it would be in 60 days time.Samson Mow, chief strategy officer of blockchain technology provider Blockstream, told the gathering the first 10-year issue, known as the “volcano bond”, would be worth $1 billion, backed by bitcoin and carrying a coupon of 6.5%. Half of the sum would go to buying bitcoin on the market, he said. Other bonds would follow.After a five year lock-up, El Salvador would start selling some of the bitcoin used to fund the bond to give investors an “additional coupon”, Mow said, positing that the value of the cryptocurrency would continue to rise robustly.”This is going to make El Salvador the financial center of the world,” he said.The bond would be issued on the “liquid network”, a bitcoin sidechain network. To facilitate the process, El Salvador’s government is working on a securities law, and the first license to operate an exchange would go to Bitfinex, Mow said.Crypto exchange Bitfinex was listed as the book runner for the bond on a presentation behind Mow.Once 10 such bonds were issued, $5 billion in bitcoin would be taken off the market for several years, Mow said. “And if you get 10 more countries to do these bonds, that’s half of bitcoin’s market cap right there.”The “game theory” on the bonds gave first issuer El Salvador an advantage, Mow argued, saying: “If bitcoin at the five-year mark reaches $1 million, which I think it will, they will sell bitcoin in two quarters and recoup that $500 million.”
“Apple is deeply committed to providing employees with a workplace where they feel safe, respected, and inspired to do their best work,” the company said in the statement posted to an internal employee portal, which was obtained by CNN Business. “Our policies do not restrict employees from speaking freely about their wages, hours, or working conditions.” The statement added that employees are welcome to raise concerns “in the way they feel most comfortable, internally or externally.” NBC first reported the memo Friday. In recent months, Apple (AAPL) employees have broken with the company’s historic culture of secrecy to speak out on controversial hiring decisions, alleged pay disparities and remote work policies. Apple did not respond to requests for comment for this article. Two Apple employees, Janneke Parrish and Cher Scarlett, started #AppleToo in August to help the company’s workers “organize and protect ourselves,” according to the movement’s website. They called on coworkers to share stories of issues they may have faced, including incidents of racism, sexism and discrimination, in order to outline “changes we expect to see Apple make.” Parrish told CNN Business last month that they received hundreds of reports from employees within weeks about alleged incidents that “range the gamut from sexism and ageism to disclosures of rape and suicide,” she said. Parrish filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board earlier this month alleging that she was fired from her job as an Apple program manager in October in retaliation for her organizing efforts. (At the time, Apple said it does not discuss specific employee matters but that “we take all concerns seriously and we thoroughly investigate whenever a concern is raised.” For her part, Scarlett said on Twitter last week that Friday was her last day at Apple. Friday’s statement by Apple is a win for the #AppleToo movement, Parrish told CNN Business. “It’s something that we’ve wanted Apple to communicate for the entirety of #AppleToo,” Parrish said. “It’s definitely not the end of the road but it’s a really big first step and it shows what workers speaking in unison can achieve.” She added that one common theme in the stories that employees have submitted to #AppleToo is that workers don’t know that they’re allowed to speak up when issues arise. The company’s recent statement will “help end a systemic culture of silence around our working culture and pay equity,” she said.
Over the course of 31 court days spread out over nearly three months, jurors heard from a broad assortment of witnesses in the San Jose federal courtroom where the highly-anticipated trial of Holmes kicked off with opening statements on September 8. The start of the trial faced numerous delays due to the ongoing pandemic and the birth of Holmes’ first child this summer.To make its case, the prosecution turned to scientists, doctors, retail executives, former employees and even a former Defense Secretary. Through them, the government attempted to unravel the many layers of the alleged deception that led investors and patients to believe Theranos’ false promises that it could accurately, reliably and efficiently conduct a range of tests using just a few drops of blood.Holmes, a Stanford University dropout who founded Theranos in 2003 at age 19 with the lofty mission of revolutionizing blood testing, is facing nine counts of wire fraud and two counts of conspiracy to commit wire fraud. The government alleges she knowingly misled doctors, patients, and investors about her company’s blood testing capabilities in order to take their money. Now 37, Holmes faces up to 20 years in prison, as well as a fine of $250,000, plus restitution for each count of wire fraud and each conspiracy count. She has pleaded not guilty. Jurors heard from investors who lost millions of dollars after having been provided information by Holmes about Theranos’ supposed blood testing capabilities. That information included, jurors learned, falsified documents purporting to be endorsements of its technology from two major pharmaceutical companies. Jurors heard from three patients; one was falsely told she was miscarrying after taking a Theranos test when, in fact, her pregnancy was viable; another was told she had HIV antibodies when previous and subsequent tests by other labs indicated she did not. The trial now turns to the defense, which has given some indications of what its case could entail during opening arguments and cross examinations of government witnesses. Holmes’ team has sought to convince jurors that Holmes — who it frequently characterizes as a young, ambitious but inexperienced entrepreneur — acted in good faith, and lacked the intent to deceive. Instead, it has pointed at others for Theranos’ downfall.Holmes’ attorneys have blamed the lab’s failings on lab directors and Theranos’ COO and president Ramesh “Sunny” Balwani, with whom Holmes was romantically involved and who was roughly two decades her senior. (Balwani is set to face federal prosecutors over the same charges next year; he has pleaded not guilty.) “There were lots of misleading statements made during the lifespan of Theranos. The jury has now heard that evidence. But the government still has to establish intent — and that provides a real opportunity for the defense,” Mark MacDougall, a white-collar defense lawyer and former federal prosecutor, told CNN Business. Many layers to the government’s caseProsecutors sought to contrast the issues inside Theranos with how it was pitching itself to investors and business partners. The prosecutors also attempted to show that Holmes was at the center of it all, in an effort to address the trial’s three main questions: what Holmes knew, when she knew it, and whether she intended to deceive investors, patients and doctors.Multiple high-profile witnesses testified about Holmes’ charisma and, according to the former CEO of Safeway, her unusually hands-on role “negotiating completely on her own.” Investors and retail executives testified that they were kept in the dark about the company’s true capabilities. And former employees testified that they alerted Holmes directly to the lab’s issues, to little effect.Surekha Gangakhedkar, a scientist who worked at Theranos for eight years, testified that she quit in 2013 over her concerns with launching blood tests to consumers through its Walgreens partnership. When she expressed this to Holmes, she testified the CEO responded by conveying “that when she has a promise to deliver to the customer, she doesn’t have much of a choice but to go ahead with the launch.”Similarly, Adam Rosendorff, the former lab director who was questioned for six days of the trial, testified that while he technically reported into Balwani, Holmes sat above Balwani. Rosendorff said he made his own concerns known to Holmes and ultimately determined “the company believed more about PR and fundraising than about patient care.” After Rosendorff departed, Theranos had two co-lab directors who overlapped yet were unaware of each others’ existence. One rarely ever set foot in the lab and only met Holmes once; the other never visited the lab. Investors and business partners had little visibility into these issues at the time. Former executives for Walgreens and Safeway, testified that they were kept in the dark that the company relied on third-party devices, rather than its own, to analyze patient blood. Witnesses like former Walgreens executive Wade Miquelon testified being shown pharmaceutical company endorsements which had been faked.Miquelon and some investors also said they were impressed by another misleading claim: that Theranos’ technology was being tested in Afghanistan on military helicopters. “What better application for a technology like this than in a military setting under harsh conditions like one would expect in a place like Afghanistan or Iraq,” investor Brian Grossman, whose firm Partner Fund Management poured $96 million into Theranos, testified this week.Theranos’ association with retired four-star general and former Defense Secretary James Mattis, who once served on Theranos’ board, made it plausible that the startup could have had its technology deployed to help solders in war zones and on military aircrafts. But Mattis, arguably the biggest name to take the stand, testified it was not, as did a former Theranos employee who was involved with its conversations with the military.These misrepresentations were fed directly from Holmes to journalist Roger Parloff, who was the government’s final witness before it rested its case. Parloff wrote the 2014 Fortune Magazine cover story, which was one of the glowing articles that circulating Theranos’ claims and factored into why investors were wowed.Six investors, whose investments are each part of the wire fraud charges Holmes is facing, took the stand, including some who spoke about investments made by some of the world’s wealthiest families.Among them were a money manager for the billionaire family of former US Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and a former lawyer who first heard about Theranos from a longtime client — former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger — and then solicited other rich families to invest, including the DeVos family, the Waltons of the Walmart fortune, and the heir to an Italian auto empire. From the outset of the trial, legal experts have suggested jurors may be less sympathetic to investors than patients, who are the other category of alleged victims in the government’s case.The government introduced two patients, and a doctor in the final week of its case. Earlier this month, the prosecution botched an attempt to bring in another patient because it failed to list the specific test the patient took on a document previously provided to the defense. That error resulted in the government removing one count of wire fraud.The prosecution had listed roughly 180 possible witnesses it may call. Among those it didn’t call: Kissinger, who once sat on the board; media mogul Rupert Murdoch who reportedly invested $125 million; high-powered attorney David Boies who was an investor, board member and legal defense for Holmes and Theranos, and employee-turned-whistleblower Tyler Shultz, the grandson of the late George Shultz, another former Secretary of State and board member. Jurors heard her voice, read her texts and saw clips of her TV interviewsIn the company’s heyday, Holmes was the subject of much media attention as it soared to its once-$9 billion valuation. In its downfall, that spotlight hasn’t dimmed — there have been documentaries, a forthcoming limited series, a planned feature film and at least two podcasts devoted to covering the trial. That attention was a big challenge to selecting a pool of jurors largely unfamiliar with her.But since the beginning of the trial, jurors — who knew little, if anything about the baritone-voiced entrepreneur with a penchant for black turtlenecks — have only gotten glimpses into how she spoke, and presented herself.They heard audio from a 2013 investor call where Holmes made claims about Theranos’ testing capabilities and its work with the military. They also saw television clips from interviews she gave after the 2015 Wall Street Journal investigation that first poked holes in its technology and testing methods. “I’m the founder and CEO of the company — anything that happens in this company is my responsibility,” she said, in a April 2016 Today Show clip.Perhaps the most intimate look jurors have gotten into Holmes’ state of mind at the time of the alleged fraud has come through text messages between her and Balwani. The texts, some of which have been introduced through various witnesses, ranged from personal to professional and reveal the two were in constant communication. Among them, they discussed the state of Theranos’ clinical lab in November, 2014 as the company was securing investments (“Normandy lab is a f***ing disaster zone,” Balwani wrote) and how they felt when regulators were doing a laboratory audit in September, 2015 (“Praying literally non stop,” Holmes wrote. “Going bad so far. Pray,” Balwani wrote). There were also more intimate “love you” texts to some confusing ones that mentioned “the death and sex thing,” which went unexplained to jurors. “There’s an aspect of many criminal cases where the jury is asked to get inside the heads of the defendant and other important individuals in the case and that can be uncomfortable for a variety of reasons,” said Jessica Roth, a former federal prosecutor and Cardozo Law School professor. Roth noted that, given the particulars of the Holmes case, “it is warranted, at least to a certain extent, to get inside that relationship and to understand the nature of the power dynamics.”Will Holmes take the stand? Whether jurors will get to hear from Holmes, who is listed as a possible witness, remains an open question. Legal experts such as Stanford Law School professor Robert Weisberg say that determining whether to take the stand is “a very complicated calculation.” Doing so would mean subjecting Holmes to a cross-examination that would undoubtedly be “really, really rigorous.” He noted that anything she testifies about could potentially be impeached by things she has said and written over the years. Another looming question: whether Holmes will claim she was the victim of intimate partner abuse at the hands of Balwani. The allegation, which Balwani’s attorneys have denied, was introduced in pre-trial filings. So far, her attorneys have only vaguely hinted at the idea in opening arguments. Still, among the possible witnesses for Holmes is clinical psychologist, Dr. Mindy Mechanic, whose work focuses on the psychosocial consequences of violence, trauma and victimization.The defense is likely to continue playing up Holmes’ youthful age and lack of experience at the time of the alleged fraud. Through cross examinations, the defense has drilled into the expertise of witnesses and their teams in contrast to Holmes. Holmes, her attorneys have argued, wasn’t qualified to run a laboratory. The defense also sought to sow doubt in the due diligence process of investors and underscore that startups are known to be risky investments. “Elizabeth was only in her twenties, had no prior business experience and was surrounded by much older mentors and advisers,” said MacDougall, the white-collar defense lawyer. “The defense now has the chance to put the evidence in context.”George Demos, a former Securities and Exchange Commission prosecutor and an adjunct law professor at the UC Davis School of Law, said the defense “may call witnesses to testify about Theranos’ successes to show that Holmes was in fact on the road to achieving her goals.”Holmes, who has been present each day inside the courtroom, is dutifully accompanied by her mother, Noel, who oftentimes walks hand-in-hand with her daughter to the door through which she enters the courtroom and gives her a hug. (Holmes’ father is listed as a possible defense witness.)Anne Kopf-Sill, Phd., a retired biotechnology executive who has been attending the trial most days and has been following the story of Theranos for years, said she’s been struck by the persona Holmes gives off in the courtroom: “She’s just sitting there looking sweeter than an angel.”
An algorithm is a set of rules or steps followed, often by a computer, to produce an outcome. And algorithms aren’t just on our phones: they’re used in all kinds of processes, on and offline, from helping value your home to teaching your robot vacuum to steer clear of your dog’s poop. Over the years they’ve increasingly been entrusted with life-altering decisions, such as helping decide who to arrest, who should be released from jail before a court date, and who’s approved for a home loan.In recent weeks, there has been renewed scrutiny of algorithms, including how tech companies should shift the ways they use them. This stems both from concerns raised in hearings featuring Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen and from bipartisan legislation introduced in the House (a companion bill had previously been reintroduced in the Senate). The legislation would force large tech companies to allow users to access a version of their platforms where what they see isn’t shaped by algorithms. These developments highlight mounting awareness about the central role algorithms play in our society.”At this point, they are responsible for making decisions about pretty much every aspect of our lives,” said Chris Gilliard, a visiting research fellow at Harvard Kennedy School’s Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy.Yet the ways in which algorithms work, and the conclusions they reach, can be mysterious, particularly as the use of artificial intelligence techniques make them ever more complex. Their outcomes aren’t always understood, or accurate — and the consequences can be disastrous. And the impact of potential new legislation to limit the influence of algorithms on our lives remains unclear.Algorithms, explainedAt its most basic, an algorithm is a series of instructions. As Sasha Luccioni, a research scientist on the ethical AI team at AI model builder Hugging Face, pointed out, it can be hard coded, with fixed directions for a computer to follow, such as to put a list of names in alphabetical order. Simple algorithms have been used for computer-based decision making for decades.Today, algorithms help ease otherwise-complicated processes all the time, whether we know it or not. When you direct a clothing website to filter pajamas to see the most popular or least expensive options, you’re using an algorithm essentially to say, “Hey, Old Navy, go through the steps to show me the cheapest jammies.”All kinds of things can be algorithms, and they’re not confined to computers: A recipe, for instance, is a sort of algorithm, as is the weekday morning routine you sleepily shuffle through before leaving the house.”We run on our own personal algorithms every day,” said Jevan Hutson, a data privacy and security lawyer at Seattle-based Hintze Law who has studied AI and surveillance.But while we can interrogate our own decisions, those made by machines have become increasingly enigmatic. That’s because of the rise of a form of AI known as deep learning, which is modeled after the way neurons work in the brain and gained prominence about a decade ago.A deep-learning algorithm might task a computer with looking at thousands of videos of cats, for instance, to learn to identify what a cat looks like. (It was a big deal when Google figured out how to do this reliably in 2012.) The result of this process of binging on data and improving over time would be, in essence, a computer-generated procedure for how the computer will identify whether there’s a cat in any new pictures it sees. This is often known as a model (though it is also at times referred to as an algorithm itself).These models can be incredibly complex. Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter use them to help personalize users’ feeds based on each person’s interests and prior activity. The models can also be based on mounds of data collected over many years that no human could possibly sort through. Zillow, for instance, has been using its trademarked, machine-learning assisted “Zestimate” to estimate the value of homes since 2006, taking into consideration tax and property records, homeowner-submitted details such as the addition of a bathroom, and pictures a house.The risks of relying on algorithmsAs Zillow’s case shows, however, offloading decision-making to algorithmic systems can also go awry in excruciating ways, and it’s not always clear why.Zillow recently decided to shutter its home-flipping business, Zillow Offers, showing how hard it is to use AI to value real estate. In February, the company had said its “Zestimate” would represent an initial cash offer from the company to purchase the property through its house flipping business; in November, the company took a $304 million inventory writedown, which it blamed on having recently purchased homes for prices that are higher than it thinks it can sell them.Elsewhere online, Meta, the company formerly known as Facebook, has come under scrutiny for tweaking its algorithms in a way that helped incentivize more negative content on the world’s largest social network.There have been life-changing consequences of algorithms, too, particularly in the hands of police. We know, for instance, that several Black men, at least, have been wrongfully arrested due to the use of facial-recognition systems.There’s often little more than a basic explanation from tech companies on how their algorithmic systems work and what they’re used for. Beyond that, experts in technology and tech law told CNN Business that even those who build these systems don’t always know why they reach their conclusions — which is a reason why they’re often referred to as “black boxes.””Computer scientists, data scientists, at this current stage they seem like wizards to a lot of people because we don’t understand what it is they do,” Gilliard said. “And we think they always do, and that’s not always the case.”Popping filter bubblesThe United States doesn’t have federal rules for how companies can or can’t use algorithms in general, or those that harness AI in particular. (Some states and cities have passed their own rules, which tend to address facial-recognition software or biometrics more generally.) But Congress is currently considering legislation dubbed the Filter Bubble Transparency Act, which, if passed, would force large Internet companies such as Google, Meta, TikTok and others to “give users the option to engage with a platform without being manipulated by algorithms driven by user-specific data”.In a recent CNN Opinion piece, Republican Sen. John Thune described the legislation he cosponsored as “a bill that would essentially create a light switch for big tech’s secret algorithms — artificial intelligence (AI) that’s designed to shape and manipulate users’ experiences — and give consumers the choice to flip it on or off.” Facebook, for example, does already have this, though users are effectively discouraged from flipping the so-called switch permanently. A fairly well-hidden “Most Recent” button will show you posts in a reverse chronological order, but your Facebook News Feed will go back to its original, heavily moderated state once you leave the website or shut the app. Meta stopped offering such an option on Instagram, which it also owns, in 2016.Hutson noted that while the Filter Bubble Transparency Act clearly focuses on large social platforms, it will inevitably affect others such as Spotify and Netflix that depend deeply on algorithmically-driven curation. If it passes, he said, it will “fundamentally change” the business model of companies that are built entirely around algorithmic curation — a feature he suspects many users appreciate in certain contexts.”This is going to impact organizations far beyond those that are in the spotlight,” he said. AI experts argue the need for more transparency is crucial from companies making and using algorithms. Luccioni believes laws for algorithmic transparency are necessary before specific usages and applications of AI can be regulated.”I see things changing, definitely, but there is a really frustrating lag between what AI is capable of and what it’s legislated for,” Luccioni said.
The announcement follows extensive reporting on a trove of internal documents leaked by whistleblower Frances Haugen. Some of those documents show that the company’s own researchers have found that Instagram can damage young users’ mental health and body image, and can exacerbate dangerous behaviors such as eating disorders. The attorneys general say they will look into whether, by continuing to provide and promote Instagram despite knowing of the potential harms, Meta violated consumer protection laws and “put the public at risk.” The states involved include California, Florida, Kentucky and Vermont. “Facebook, now Meta, has failed to protect young people on its platforms and instead chose to ignore or, in some cases, double down on known manipulations that pose a real threat to physical and mental health — exploiting children in the interest of profit,” Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey, who is co-leading the investigation, said in a statement. She added that the coalition hopes to “get to the bottom of this company’s engagement with young users, identify any unlawful practices, and end these abuses for good.” Meta (FB) spokesperson Andy Stone said in a statement that the allegations made by the attorneys general are false and said they “demonstrate a deep misunderstanding of the facts.” He also noted that the company plans to launch features to help teens regulate their use of Instagram, such as a “Take a Break” reminder, which was announced in October amid intense scrutiny. “While challenges in protecting young people online impact the entire industry, we’ve led the industry in combating bullying and supporting people struggling with suicidal thoughts, self-injury, and eating disorders,” the statement reads. “We continue to develop parental supervision controls and are exploring ways to provide even more age-appropriate experiences for teens by default.” The investigation is the latest escalation of regulatory pressure on Meta related to findings from the leaked internal documents, which have come to be known as the Facebook Papers. Earlier this week, Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost filed a lawsuit against the company alleging that it misled the public about its algorithm and the harms its apps can cause to users, causing losses for shareholders when those things were revealed. (Meta says the suit is without merit.) Senator Richard Blumenthal has also asked Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg to testify about the effects of Instagram on children. The Wall Street Journal first reported in September on what the company’s own documents and research show about the potential harms to young people from its apps, and said Facebook knew Instagram was “toxic” for teen girls. In one internal report from 2019 on the mental health effects of Instagram cited by the Journal and reviewed by CNN Business, company researchers said “we make body image issues worse for 1 in 3 teen girls.” Meta has also pushed back on the Journal’s reporting, and said its apps do more good than harm. Following the Journal’s report, a Senate subcommittee called a hearing with Facebook head of global safety Antigone Davis, where lawmakers grilled her on Instagram’s effects on kids. Davis said the company was “looking for ways to release more research” that she suggested might paint a different picture about the platform. Haugen has also testified to lawmakers that she believes Meta’s platforms “harm children, stoke division, and weaken our democracy.” The company announced it was pausing plans to develop a version of Instagram designed for kids in late September, amid the fallout from the Journal report. “While we stand by the need to develop this experience, we’ve decided to pause this project,” Adam Mosseri, head of Instagram, wrote in a blog post at the time. “This will give us time to work with parents, experts, policymakers and regulators, to listen to their concerns, and to demonstrate the value and importance of this project for younger teens online today.”
More than 800 Activision Blizzard workers so far have signed a petition calling for Kotick’s resignation. The petition, released on Thursday by a group of employees, says they “no longer have confidence” in Kotick’s leadership. “We ask that Bobby Kotick remove himself as CEO of Activision Blizzard, and that shareholders be allowed to select the new CEO without the input of Bobby, who we are aware owns a substantial portion of the voting rights of the shareholders,” the petition added.Activision Blizzard (ATVI) — which owns hugely popular titles such as “Call of Duty,” “World of Warcraft” and “Candy Crush” — has been roiled by a sexual harassment and discrimination scandal for months and is currently under scrutiny from multiple government agencies.An Activision Blizzard spokesperson said in response to the petition that the company was “fully committed to fostering a safe, inclusive and rewarding environment” for its 9,500 employees worldwide. “We support employees’ rights to express their opinions and concerns in a safe and respectful manner, without fear of retaliation,” the spokesperson added. The petition comes two days after more than 100 employees organized a walkout demanding Kotick step down. That walkout, the company’s second in less than six months, came in response to a Wall Street Journal investigation indicating the CEO was aware of the company’s harassment and discrimination issues for several years. The report cited internal company documents and people familiar with the matter. Kotick said in a statement to employees that the Journal story “paints an inaccurate and misleading view of our company, of me personally, and my leadership.” He added that “anyone who doubts my conviction to be the most welcoming, inclusive workplace doesn’t really appreciate how important this is to me.”While the report prompted renewed tension with some employees, Activision Blizzard’s board of directors has so far stuck by Kotick. “The Board remains confident in Bobby Kotick’s leadership, commitment and ability” to address the company’s longstanding and ongoing issues with harassment and discrimination, it said in a statement Tuesday.Kotick, who has been Activision CEO since 1991, including at the time of the 2008 merger with Blizzard, has been in damage control mode for most of this year.Last month, he announced an intention to slash his controversial $155 million pay package — one of the largest in corporate America — to the “lowest amount California law will allow” until the gaming company fixes its issues with gender discrimination and harassment. If the board approves, Kotick will be paid $62,500, he said.
David Beasley, the UN food program director and former Republican governor of South Carolina, tweeted a link on Monday to a 1,000-word “executive summary.” It maps out how the UN would deploy $6.6 billion worth of meals and vouchers to feed more than 40 million people across 43 countries that are “on the brink of famine” — thereby averting what the WFP is calling a looming “catastrophe.”In the document Beasley posted, the WFP proposes dedicating $3.5 billion to buy and deliver food directly, $2 billion “for cash and food vouchers (including transaction fees) in places where markets can function,” and spending another $700 million to manage new food programs that are “adapted to the in-country” conditions and ensure “the assistance reaches the most vulnerable.”Another $400 million would be used for “operations management, administration and accountability” and supply chain coordination. “The world is on fire,” Beasley wrote. “I’ve been warning about the perfect storm brewing due to Covid, conflict, climate shocks & now, rising supply chain costs. IT IS HERE.” “This hunger crisis is urgent, unprecedented, AND avoidable,” Beasley wrote in a separate tweet, tagging Musk, who is the world’s wealthiest person with a net worth of approximately $288 billion. “You asked for a clear plan & open books. Here it is! We’re ready to talk with you – and anyone else – who is serious about saving lives.”As of Wednesday afternoon, Musk had not responded.The back-and-forth between Musk and Beasley kicked off with a CNN interview last month in which Beasley asked billionaires to “step up now, on a one-time basis” to help combat world hunger, specifically citing the world’s two richest men: Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos.Beasley said giving $6 billion, or 2% of Musk’s net worth, could help solve world hunger. Musk responded on Twitter, writing, “If WFP can describe on this Twitter thread exactly how $6B will solve world hunger, I will sell Tesla stock right now and do it.” “But it must be open source accounting, so the public sees precisely how the money is spent,” Musk added.Beasley previously replied to Musk’s tweets, assuring him that systems are in place for transparency and open source accounting.”For him to even enter into this conversation is a game-changer because simply put, we can answer his questions, we can put forth a plan that’s clear,” Beasley told CNN in a follow-up interview earlier this month. “Any and everything he asks, we would be glad to answer. I look forward to having this discussion with him because lives are at stake.”Before the Covid-19 pandemic, the world’s hunger crisis was already exacerbated by climate change and conflict. The pandemic compounded the existing issues though, leaving “42 million people that are literally knocking on famine’s door,” Beasley said. “This is a worst-case scenario.” It’s not clear if Musk or Bezos have seen the plan and will ultimately decide to lend their support. Spokespeople for Musk’s companies did not respond to requests for comment. A representative for Bezos, Angela Landers, declined to comment on the WFP’s proposal but pointed to other philanthropic donations Bezos has made to combating hunger.Musk has previously made bold promises on Twitter, committing resources to charitable endeavors. In 2018, for example, he pledged to “fund fixing the water in any house in Flint that has water contamination above FDA levels.” Musk ended up donating about half a million dollars for installing water filters in the town’s schools, according to an August article from a local news outlet. Musk has made more sizable donations to certain projects. This year, he promised to donate $30 million to Brownsville, Texas, the city nearest to a massive rocket hub run by his company SpaceX, and local schools. He also set up the Musk Foundation, which says it gives to efforts related to renewable energy expansion, human space exploration and safe uses of artificial intelligence. He’s also signed The Giving Pledge, a promise to donate at least half of his wealth to charitable efforts during his lifetime, something Bezos has not done.CNN Businesses’ Walé Azeez, Eoin McSweeney, Adam Pourahmadi and Moira Ritter contributed to this report.
The government has alleged Holmes used the media, and Parloff’s Fortune Magazine story titled “This CEO is Out for Blood” in particular, to perpetuate a scheme to defraud investors.Parloff’s anticipated testimony comes as the government has said it is close to resting its case against Holmes. She faces a dozen counts of federal fraud and conspiracy charges, and up to 20 years in prison over allegations that she knowingly misled doctors, patients and investors in order to take their money. Holmes has pleaded not guilty.Holmes was for a time upheld in the media as a rare female founder who’d raised significant sums of capital and driven her startup to an eye-popping $9 billion valuation. Parloff’s story was the first of many laudatory cover stories of Holmes and has been shown repeatedly in the San Jose courtroom. Prosecutors have tried to show jurors how the article, which contained false and misleading statements, was circulated to stakeholders and how it played a role in validating the company to outsiders.”This morning I had one of the most interesting meetings I can recall with the women [sic] profiled in the attached Fortune magazine article,” read one email shown to jurors from the CEO of RDV Corp, the family office of the billionaire family of former Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. The email was sent to members of the DeVos family before they invested $100 million into Theranos.Investor Chris Lucas, whose firm Black Diamond Ventures invested more than $7 million across two funding rounds in 2006 and 2013, testified earlier this month that the piece made him “proud of the situation. Proud that we are involved. Proud of Elizabeth.” “Great article, great pictures, the whole thing,” testified Lucas.In a column more than a year later titled “How Theranos Misled Me,” Parloff acknowledged that the article “helped raise to prominence” Holmes. (There is now an author’s note at the top of his original article that links to the column and reads, “On December 17, 2015, I published a protracted correction to this article here.”)”As much as I’d like to say that Holmes lied to me, I don’t think she did. I do believe I was misled — intentionally — but I was also culpable, in that I failed to probe certain exasperatingly opaque answers that I repeatedly received,” wrote Parloff, who was formerly an attorney.The government said in a court filing that it will not seek to admit the follow-up column but “reserves the right to introduce that article for a non-hearsay purpose should the defense open the door by questioning Parloff about statements he made in that article.”For weeks, attorneys have been wrangling over what Parloff can testify to, and what information he can be compelled to provide. While Parloff has turned over audio recordings and notes from his interviews with Holmes and former Theranos COO Ramesh “Sunny” Balwani as part of a grand jury subpoena order, he successfully fought a trial subpoena order by Holmes’ defense team for notes and recordings from interviews he conducted with others for his story. (Balwani faces the same charges as Holmes; his criminal trial is slated to begin next year. He has also pleaded not guilty.)Holmes’ attorneys argued those notes may serve to refute the claims that Holmes misled Parloff, and through him, investors. Judge Nathanael Cousins, who presided in a hearing on the matter, called the quest for Parloff’s additional notes “a fishing expedition as to whether there might be material out there that could be helpful to the defense.”Parloff’s remorse over the story has been well-documented. “Roger was first [to the story] and felt a tremendous amount of guilt,” said Alex Gibney in 2019. Gibney is the prolific documentary filmmaker whose HBO film, “The Inventor,” chronicled the rise and fall of Theranos. Gibney, who has said his work started with interviewing journalists who felt duped, has called Parloff the “beating heart” of his film. (CNN and HBO share a parent company.)In addition to Parloff’s article, a 2013 piece by a Wall Street Journal opinion writer, who has since passed away, has been frequently brought up in the courtroom. The government has alleged that, prior to its publication, Holmes approved the piece, which offered a glowing look at Holmes and Theranos, but also contained misleading claims about the company’s capabilities at the time. The article corresponded with a broader unveiling of the startup after years of operating in stealth and was leveraged by Holmes as validation of the company.In a statement to CNN Business in September, Journal spokesperson Steve Severinghaus said, “editors make publishing decisions based on their independent judgment.”The statement continued, “Our writer asked Elizabeth Holmes to confirm complicated facts on a technical subject, not to approve publication. Our writer visited Theranos, spoke with numerous sources in and outside the company about its technology, and had his blood tested on a Theranos machine that appeared to offer credible results. If that was all a deception, then the responsibility lies with Ms. Holmes and Theranos.”
The space is designed to introduce visitors to practical applications of cloud computing — an increasingly popular set-up in which companies’ technical operations are run in data centers managed by Amazon or other cloud companies, rather than in costly on-site servers. AWS hopes the center will interest some visitors in the possibility of a career in the industry. The Skills Center, which is located on Amazon’s corporate headquarters campus in Seattle, Washington, and opens to the public November 22, is the first of its kind for the company. It’s part of a larger commitment to train 29 million people globally in cloud computing by 2025 that AWS made last year. It’s also one of the first major announcements that new AWS chief executive Adam Selipsky has made since taking over from Andy Jassy, who was elevated to Amazon CEO when Jeff Bezos left the post in July. The Skills Center is “going to be a free, accessible space for anybody who wants to learn more about cloud computing, what it is, what the applications are … everything that illustrates the true breadth of the cloud, and importantly, there’s going to be a lot of skills training here,” Selipsky told CNN Business in an exclusive interview ahead of the center’s opening.”There’s a dramatic need for digital skills overall, and for cloud skills in particular, and this is part of a very broad effort,” he said. “We’re going to invest hundreds of millions of dollars to bring that training to tens of millions of people worldwide.” Although the company declined to disclose an exact amount, it’s a big investment into free training for people who will mostly become employees of other companies. But it’s crucial to AWS’s business because of a significant talent gap that threatens to hamper potential customers’ adoption of cloud technology.”I have that conversation with executives of companies all the time,” said Maureen Lonergan, vice president of AWS Training and Certification. “So we work not only on training new people to cloud but working with customers to transform their traditional IT staff to cloud-fluent individuals.” The talent gap comes as demand for cloud computing has surged during the pandemic. But AWS, long the cloud industry leader, is facing steep competition from rivals like Microsoft (MSFT) Azure and Google (GOOGLGOOGLE) Cloud, something Selipsky will have to address as the unit’s new leader. Though Amazon (AMZN) is best known for e-commerce, its cloud unit has long been its biggest money maker. In the most recent quarter, AWS contributed nearly 56% of the company’s overall net income, and it now has a revenue run rate of around $64 billion. “The cloud is actually one of the most transformative technological changes of our generation,” said Selipsky, who started at AWS in the division’s early days and spent 11 years with the company before leaving to run data visualization firm Tableau for five years. “I know that sounds like a big statement but if you think about, when is the last time you went to rent a DVD or incurred late fees? Netflix changed all of that by streaming and that happens on AWS … No matter what sector you look at, no matter what application you look at, it’s now more and more not running in data centers that companies build and operate and put capital into and stress out about, it operates through a place like AWS.” At the Skills Center, Amazon plans to invite anyone from the Seattle community — students, unemployed workers or others looking for a career change — to get a better sense of what cloud computing is and why it matters; for example, it makes real-time, mobile gaming over the internet possible. From there, visitors interested in career opportunities in the field will have access to free tech and cloud basics courses at the center, and may be directed to AWS’s other training resources. The company hopes tens of thousands of people will visit the center to explore or take classes each year. As part of Thursday’s announcement, the company also said it will add around 60 free, digital cloud computing training and certification courses to Amazon.com. It is also expanding access to its Re/Start program, a free 12-week training course that prepares people for an entry level job in cloud computing, from 25 cities in 12 countries in 2020 to more than 95 cities in 38 countries by the end of 2021. The company expects to open more Skills Centers around the world starting next year, according to Lonergan.The company also hopes to reach people who have had a harder time accessing roles in tech. The Skills Center and the training programs are free and target people who don’t have prior experience in tech. The company also plans to partner with local workforce development agencies in Seattle to bring people from diverse backgrounds into the facility. That effort could help increase diversity in the cloud computing field, which, like the larger tech world, still skews white and male. Amazon’s own global corporate staff was comprised of nearly 69% men and 47% white employees in 2020, according to its most recent workforce data report. “Our customers are so incredibly diverse and who they are, and their use cases and their industries, and the companies in which they operate are so diverse, it’s hard to imagine that we could really deliver what they need from us if we are not equally diverse,” Selipsky said.
The Epic Games CEO has been mounting a relentless attack on Apple, after the tech giant kicked his company’s hugely popular video game Fortnite off the App Store. Apple said at the time that Epic flouted rules on digital payments by establishing its own system.Epic sued Apple in response, kicking off a highly public trial. Apple has argued that its rigid payments system exists to protect the security and privacy of its developers and customers, and that it’s only a small part of the video game market — and therefore has no monopoly. Sweeney sees things differently. Companies like Apple (AAPL) and Google (GOOGL), he argues, wield enormous power over the app market. Their control prevents consumers and companies from choosing how they do business.The case is still working its way through US courts, but in October a judge ruled that Apple could no longer prohibit app developers from directing users to payment options outside its App Store. Still, the judge stopped short of calling Apple a monopoly, and the company has barred Fortnite from its devices until the legal battle finishes, which could delay the game’s return to iPhones by several years.CNN Business caught up with Sweeney in Seoul, where he was attending the Global Conference for Mobile Application Ecosystem Fairness — an event hosted by South Korean lawmaker Jo Seounglae. The country recently enacted a law that allows app developers to use alternative payment systems. We asked Sweeney questions about that law, as well as his ongoing fight with Apple, Fortnite’s failed foray into China and his thoughts on the “metaverse,” the virtual world Facebook (FB) sees as its future. Our Q&A has been condensed and lightly edited for clarity.South Korea recently passed a bill banning mandatory in-app purchases and ordering tech companies to allow alternative payments. What did you think?I was very happy to see that Korea was taking the leadership role, initially. Korea is one of the leading technology powerhouses in the world, with Samsung (SSNLF) and all the great game developers around Korea. It’s great to see Korea really defending developers, including all the Korean developers against these bad practices [by] Apple and Google. How much business and revenue has Epic Games lost as a result of getting kicked off Apple’s ecosystem?Fortnite had made hundreds of millions of dollars, and with Fortnite being off of iOS, it’s losing that much now. But fortunately, Fortnite is also successful on personal computers and game consoles. So the business continues to be strong, despite being off of iOS. But it just shows how much power Apple wields and is able to completely eliminate a game’s existence on iOS. No platform company should have that power, right? Consumers should be free to install software. And developers should be free to create software, and the platform company should never stand in between them.Do you have any regrets about how the legal battles with Apple and Google have played out?We always knew it would be a slow and complex case. Both Apple and Epic realized from the beginning that whatever happened within the District Court … the decision would be appealed to the Ninth Circuit Court in the United States, and, if possible, to the United States Supreme Court, to ultimately make the decision. And so, it was inevitable that this would take many years.Do you have anything to say to the people who have influence over this issue in the United States? Ultimately, this is a battle for consumer rights. Though the disputes are mostly between companies and governments, it’s about the right of a smartphone owner to be able to install software from sources of their choosing, and to do business directly with developers without the platform company adding taxes and fees to every transaction. … It’s about the basic freedom of everybody to do business together directly if they choose. I think it’s the most important fight for digital rights in the industry right now. Because more and more of our lives are moving online and becoming digital — all of our digital interactions are increasingly controlled by Google and Apple. If we allow the world’s two most powerful corporations to control our online lives, it’ll become a force that’s more powerful than the government itself.Epic spent a long time working on Fortnite’s launch in China, but it didn’t happen. Was that time and effort worth it?I’m glad we tried. There’s always been a lot of uncertainty about the future of US-China relations, and unfortunately, they’ve been strained for the past few years. And we just didn’t see a realistic likelihood of being able to receive approval to launch in China. So we gave up trying, but I think it was a good effort.The team did a wonderful job, and I wish there had been a way, but I think there’s just going to be a long period in which there’s a separation between consumer services inside China and globally.What is the “metaverse” to you?It is real time 3D entertainment experiences that are social. It’s you and your friends together in a 3D world, having fun in lots of different ways. You can be playing games like Fortnite Battle Royale, you can be going to concerts, you can be dancing, or you can just be standing around and chatting. It’s all the sorts of social interactions we can have in real time 3D together with our group of friends.What kind of future do you envision in the metaverse? Is it really going to be a game changer, like the internet was when it was introduced?I think it will take a decade or more to really get to the end point, but I think that is happening. And it will be a better online experience than we’re having today. It will succeed because it’s better. The metaverse doesn’t require fancy new hardware. It doesn’t require all that reality hardware or [virtual reality] or things that haven’t been invented yet. You can get online and start experiencing this right now.The next step of this metaverse evolution is to open up broader experiences to bring in the next billion users.What are some of the biggest hurdles to making it happen?The metaverse isn’t going to be created by one company. It will be created by millions of developers each building out their part of it.Another challenge is building the economy. In order to have millions of developers building for the metaverse, you need to have a business where they can make as much or more money from that effort, developing software to support their businesses.We need to win the fight against platform monopolies, because Apple and Google currently have rules in place to prevent the metaverse from existing on the Google Play Store and on iOS. They have rules that prevent web browsers from existing — you’re only allowed to use their web browser.They don’t allow commerce to be done directly with users. They don’t allow code to be run on your local device if it hasn’t been reviewed by Apple and Google. The metaverse needs to support all of these things, so we really need to win this battle to open up platforms before the metaverse can truly exist.– Rishi Iyengar and Jill Disis contributed to this report.