By Jason Karaian for Quartz

This week, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos saw his net worth soar above $150 billion, giving him the most billions among all the billionaires on the billionaire lists. Bill Gates, in second place, is worth a modest $94 billion, according to Forbes. Bezos first appeared on Forbes’ list in 1998, with a $1.6 billion fortune.

He made that much this week alone, on paper, as Amazon’s shares jumped in anticipation of “bigger than ever” sales on Prime Day, which ran from Monday to Tuesday. Amazon is now worth nearly $900 billion, and Bezos owns around 16% of the company’s shares. He became the world’s richest person earlier this year.

Although he is clearly doing pretty well for himself, a financial advisor might tell Bezos that he should consider diversifying his portfolio. It’s rarely wise to concentrate one’s wealth in a single asset, whether it’s a house or shares in a company you founded in a garage in the 1990s that now accounts for half of all e-commerce sales in the US.

So let’s say Bezos wanted to add some exposure to Europe. He’s familiar with Luxembourg—Amazon does a lot of business there. He could buy some stocks there. Or, actually, he could buy all the stocks in Luxembourg. Twice.

The Amazon founder’s vast wealth is enough to buy several countries’ stock markets outright. Currently, for example, he could purchase every company listed in Ireland, another popular place for tech firms, and still have a few billion dollars left over. Bezos may be better off, though, sticking with Amazon, which has gained more than 50% this year, adding around $50 billion—the total market cap of the Egyptian exchange—to the founder’s net worth.

By Tom Warren for The Verge

Microsoft and Walmart are teaming up for a strategic partnership that will take on rival Amazon in both technology and retail. Walmart is announcing today, at Microsoft’s Inspire partner conference, that it’s partnering with Microsoft to use the company’s cloud services. The five-year agreement will see Walmart use Azure and Microsoft 365 across the company, alongside new projects focused on machine learning, artificial intelligence, and data platforms.

Walmart is Amazon’s biggest retail competitor, and Microsoft is Amazon’s largest cloud services rival. That rivalry isn’t lost on Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella, who hinted in an interview with The Wall Street Journal that it’s “absolutely core to this” new partnership. “How do we get more leverage as two organisations that have depth and breadth and investment to be able to outrun our respective competition,” says Nadella.

While the tech partnership will obviously benefit both companies, it also comes just weeks after reports suggested Microsoft is working on rival Amazon Go technology for cashier-free stores. Microsoft is reportedly in talks with Walmart for this technology, and the software maker has hired a computer vision specialist from Amazon. Amazon’s Go store in Seattle uses multiple camera and sensors that use computer vision algorithms to detect what items you’re taking out of the store so you’re automatically charged. Microsoft is reportedly experimenting with attaching cameras to shopping carts to track items.

Both Walmart and Microsoft don’t reference too many of the future-facing parts of this strategic deal, and it’s mostly timed for Microsoft’s big partner conference in Las Vegas this week. However, this new deal could be a unique test ground for Microsoft’s bigger AI ambitions and any future plans it has to push other retailers to use its range of cloud services.

Was Absa’s drone show illegal?

By Timothy Rangongo and Jay Caboz for Business Insider SA

Absa put on Africa’s first “drone firework” show in partnership with technology giant Intel above Johannesburg last Wednesday night, but it is not clear how it got permission to do so.

Questions have been raised about the event because neither Absa nor Intel seems to have a licence to operate drones, nor do they seem to have registered the 300-odd drones that were involved.

South Africa has strict licensing requirements for drones, in part to protect those beneath them.

Current rules require companies to have an air-service licence issued by the Air Service License Council (which resides at the Department of Transport) as well as a remote operator’s certificate (ROC) from the South African Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), responsible for regulating the civil aviation industry.

Drone operators must also have a Remote Pilot License (RPL), as they would be using the drones for commercial purposes, says technology lawyer at Michalsons, Lisa Emma-Iwuoha.

Strictly speaking, each of the 300 Absa drones should be individually licensed before they can take off, she says.

Such licensing is a tedious process that has taken local companies years to organise, according to Jono O’Connell, owner of Timeslice, a licensed drone company in the film industry in Cape Town.

“Many of us were contacted only a month ago to quote on this project and we all said it could not happen in such a short space in time,” O’Connell tells Business Insider South Africa.

“I have waited nearly two years for one [letter of approval] and at best around eight months. I said organising a job like this within the time frame would be impossible.”

In response to the allegations that they were flying drones illegally over Johannesburg, Absa told Business Insider it had received the correct permission to use the airspace above two sites, Nasrec and the Johannesburg CBD, from the CAA in June.

But a CAA letter seen by Business Insider shows approval was granted on 5 July for safety and security procedures for a “once-off special event”.

The letter also mentions a company called NTSU Aviation Solutions, which Absa says was contracted to acquire permissions for the use of the airspace only.

To obtain such permission, a company must either have an Air Service License (ASL) or an operating certificate, according to aviation lawyer, Chris Christodoulou of Christodoulou & Mavrikis Inc.

One of NTSU’s co-founders, Sam Twala, confirmed to Business Insider that the company is not a drone operator, as it doesn’t have a certificate for operating drones.

Twala said he couldn’t comment on whether the company has an Air Service License, and referred us to the company website – which does not contain that information.

NTSU is not listed on the CAA’s organisations that currently hold ROC licenses.

Further investigation shows that the founders of NTSU are former employees at the regulatory body.

Twala worked in the remotely-piloted aircraft division at CAA while his co-founder, Dale McErlean, is a former flight inspector responsible for new drone company applications.

Drone company owners verified their former positions.

But Absa says all is above board and Intel was given “special permission” by the CAA.

“I really want to promote drones and what Absa is doing is fantastic. How can it be fair to fast-track one operation while dozens of others get left lying in limbo? The way this was done goes against the regulations we are strictly held to,” says O’Connell.

“We’re all happy to play by the rules. What’s good for the goose is good for the gander. Unfortunately what seems in this case is that is not what’s transpired,” says O’Connell.

Even the chairman of the council responsible for granting licences to fly drones in SA, Michael Mabasa was perplexed at the operation.

By Sarah Wells for TechCrunch

If you’re endlessly distracted by your co-workers in the gaping open office space you all share, you’re not alone. Compared to traditional office spaces, face-to-face interaction in open office spaces is down 70 percent with resulting slips in productivity, according to Harvard researchers in a new study published in Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B this month.

In the study, researchers followed two anonymous Fortune 500 companies during their transitions between a traditional office space to an open plan environment and used a sensor called a “sociometric badge” (think company ID on a lanyard) to record detailed information about the kind of interactions employees had in both spaces. The study collected information in two stages; first for several weeks before the renovation and the second for several weeks after.

While the concept behind open office spaces is to drive informal interaction and collaboration among employees, the study found that for both groups of employees monitored (52 for one company and 100 for the other company) face-to-face interactions dropped, the number of emails sent increased between 20 and 50 percent and company executives reported a qualitative drop in productivity.

“[Organisations] transform their office architectures into open spaces with the intention of creating more [face-to-face] interaction and thus a more vibrant work environment,” the study’s authors, Ethan Bernstein and Stephen Turban, wrote.

“[But] what they often get—as captured by a steady stream of news articles professing the death of the open office is an open expanse of proximal employees choosing to isolate themselves as best they can (e.g. by wearing large headphones) while appearing to be as busy as possible (since everyone can see them).”

While this study is far from the first to point fingers at open office space designs, the researchers claim this is the first study of its kind to collect qualitative data on this shift in working environment instead of relying primarily on employee surveys.

From their results, the researchers provide three cautionary tales:

  • Open office spaces don’t actually promote interaction. Instead, they cause employees to seek privacy wherever they can find it.
  • These open spaces might spell bad news for collective company intelligence or, in other words, an overstimulating office space creates a decrease in organizational productivity.
  • Not all channels of interaction will be effected equally in an open layout change. While the number of emails sent in the study did increase, the study found that the richness of this interaction was not equal to that lost in face-to-face interactions.

Seems like it might be time to (first, find a quiet room) and go back to the drawing board with the open office design.

2018’s worst cyber-security breaches

By Lily Hay Newman for Wired 

Looking back at the first six months of 2018, there haven’t been as many government leaks and global ransomware attacks as there were by this time last year, but that’s pretty much where the good news ends. Corporate security isn’t getting better fast enough, critical infrastructure security hangs in the balance, and state-backed hackers from around the world are getting bolder and more sophisticated.

Here are the big digital security dramas that have played out so far this year—and it’s only half over.

Russian grid hacking
In 2017, security researchers sounded the alarm about Russian hackers infiltrating and probing United States power companies; there was even evidence that the actors had direct access to an American utility’s control systems. Combined with other high-profile Russian hacking from 2017, like the NotPetya ransomware attacks, the grid penetrations were a sobering revelation. It wasn’t until this year, though, that the US government began publicly acknowledging the Russian state’s involvement in these actions. Officials hinted at it for months, before the Trump Administration first publicly attributed the NotPetya malware to Russia in February and then blamed Russia in March for grid hacking. Though these attributions were already widely assumed, the White House’s public acknowledgement is a key step as both the government and private sector grapple with how to respond. And while the state-sponsored hacking field is getting scarier by the day, you can use WIRED’s grid-hacking guide to gauge when you should really freak out.

US universities
In March, the Department of Justice indicted nine Iranian hackers over an alleged spree of attacks on more than 300 universities in the United States and abroad. The suspects are charged with infiltrating 144 US universities, 176 universities in 21 other countries, 47 private companies, and other targets like the United Nations, the US Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, and the states of Hawaii and Indiana. The DOJ says the hackers stole 31 terabytes of data, estimated to be worth $3 billion in intellectual property. The attacks used carefully crafted spearphishing emails to trick professors and other university affiliates into clicking on malicious links and entering their network login credentials. Of 100,000 accounts hackers targeted, they were able to gain credentials for about 8,000, with 3,768 of those at US institutions. The DOJ says the campaign traces back to a Tehran-based hacker clearinghouse called the Mabna Institute, which was founded around 2013. The organization allegedly managed hackers and had ties to Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. Tension between Iran and the US often spills into the digital sphere, and the situation has been in a particularly delicate phase recently.

Rampant data exposures
Data breaches have continued apace in 2018, but their quiet cousin, data exposure, has been prominent this year as well. A data exposure, as the name suggests, is when data is stored and defended improperly such that it is exposed on the open internet and could be easily accessed by anyone who comes across it. This often occurs when cloud users misconfigure a database or other storage mechanism so it requires minimal or no authentication to access. This was the case with the marketing and data aggregation firm Exactis, which left about 340 million records exposed on a publicly accessible server. The trove didn’t include Social Security numbers or credit card numbers, but it did comprise 2 terabytes of very personal information about hundreds of millions of US adults—not something you want hanging out for anyone to find. The problem was discovered by security researcher Vinny Troia and reported by WIRED in June. Exactis has since protected the data, but it is now facing a class action lawsuit over the incident.

Cloud leaks pop up regularly, but data exposures can also occur when software bugs inadvertently store data in a different format or location than intended. For example, Twitter disclosed at the beginning of May that it had been unintentionally storing some user passwords unprotected in plaintext in an internal log. The company fixed the problem as soon as it found it, but wouldn’t say how long the passwords were hanging out there.

After the revelation of a data exposure, organizations often offer the classic reassurance that there is no evidence that the data was accessed improperly. And while companies can genuinely come to this conclusion based on reviewing access logs and other indicators, the most sinister thing about data exposures is that there’s no way to know for sure what exactly went down while no one was watching.

Under Armour
Hackers breached Under Armour’s MyFitnessPal app in late February, compromising usernames, email addresses, and passwords from the app’s roughly 150 million users. The company discovered the intrusion on March 25 and disclosed it in under a week—some welcome hustle from a large company. And it seems Under Armour had done a good enough job setting up its data protections that the hackers couldn’t access valuable user information like location, credit card numbers, or birth dates, even as they were swimming in login credentials. The company had even protected the passwords it was storing by hashing them, or converting them into unintelligible strings of characters. Pretty great, right? There was one crucial issue, though: Despite doing so many things well, Under Armour admitted that it had only hashed some of the passwords using the robust function called bcrypt; the rest were protected by a weaker hashing scheme called SHA-1, which has known flaws. This means that attackers likely cracked some portion of the stolen passwords without much trouble to sell or use in other online scams. The situation, while not an all-time-worst data breach, was a frustrating reminder of the unreliable state of security on corporate networks.

One to watch: VPNFilter
At the end of May, officials warned about a Russian hacking campaign that has impacted more than 500,000 routers worldwide. The attack spreads a type of malware, known as VPNFilter, which can be used to coordinate the infected devices to create a massive botnet. But it can also directly spy on and manipulate web activity on the compromised routers. These capabilities can be used for diverse purposes, from launching network manipulation or spam campaigns to stealing data and crafting targeted, localized attacks. VPNFilter can infect dozens of mainstream router models from companies like Netgear, TP-Link, Linksys, ASUS, D-Link, and Huawei. The FBI has been working to neutrallise the botnet, but researchers are still identifying the full scope and range of this attack.

SA’s broadband speed ranking

Source: Fin24

The results are in – South Africa came 76th out of 200 countries in the worldwide broadband speed league 2018.

It jumped up four places from its 2017 ranking, which was 80th out of 186 countries.

Based on over 163 million speed tests, carried out over 12 months, the speed league ranks countries across the world for their broadband speed.

By Noah Smith for The Star 

Marc Andreessen, venture capitalist and one of the pioneers of the world wide web, once declared:

The spread of computers and the Internet will put jobs in two categories. People who tell computers what to do, and people who are told by computers what to do.

Andreessen has since repudiated this declaration, and taken a more optimistic stance. But economists, a more pessimistic bunch, are taking the possibility of this sort of bifurcated future more seriously. As machine-learning technology enjoys rapid progress, more top researchers are investigating the question of what work will look like in a world filled with computers that can replicate or surpass many of humanity’s own mental abilities.

This is different from the scenario where robots take people’s jobs outright and leave humanity obsolete. While some economists claim to find signs of automation-induced unemployment, the amount is still very small, if it even exists at all. With the labour market having reached pre-recession levels, worries that jobs will become permanently scarce have quieted.

But that doesn’t mean the jobs people have in the future will be good ones. For decades, some economists have fretted about what they call skill-biased technological change, or the possibility that new technologies will reward those smart or mentally flexible enough to master them, while devaluing the skills of everyone else.

As computerisation proceeded in the 1980s, and as inequality rose, some economists worried that skill-biased technological change might already be having a big effect. But they probably jumped the gun. A 2002 paper by labour economists David Card and John DiNardo observed that wage inequality stopped rising in the 1990s, even as computerisation accelerated. The authors also noted that the 1980s saw a diminution of the gender wage gap, despite the fact that women were less likely to have computer-intensive jobs.

But just because skill-biased technological change doesn’t explain the 1980s doesn’t mean it will never happen. In 2010, labour economist David Autor warned that routine tasks – jobs like assembly-line manufacturing or traditional office work – were being automated. These jobs use a lot of brain power, but in a predictable, repetitive way – exactly the kind of thing that computers can do better than humans. Autor found that his measures of routine task input were declining decade by decade:

It’s also possible that the “people who tell computers what to do”, and who therefore reap the benefits of the machine age, will not be workers, but business owners. Some economists believe that cheap technology is causing labour’s share of global income to decline. A recent study by Autor and co-author Anna Salomons finds that since the 1970s, industries with faster productivity growth, international patenting and robot adoption have all seen labour lose out to capital. That’s not a slam-dunk case – there are other reasons these factors could be hurting workers, and the rise of capital income could be mostly due to other forces. But this research raises the disturbing possibility that automation will lead to the final victory of capital over labour.

Now the worries about automation-induced inequality have increased, thanks to the stunning rise of machine learning. Since 2013, there has been a surge of interest in this new technology, which allows computers to do tasks like image and speech recognition that were previously the sole province of human brains:

Meanwhile, entrepreneurs and big businesses alike are dreaming of ways to use machine learning to replace a vast array of human tasks, from driving trucks to preparing food. Venture capitalists are pouring money into machine learning startups – often known by the trendy if inaccurate buzzword of “artificial intelligence”:

Economists, true to form as the dismal scientists, are concerned. If machine learning automates away low-skilled tasks, as some predict, it might not make working-class people obsolete, but it could make their existence miserable nonetheless. It’s possible to imagine a future where lower-skilled people are constantly seeing their jobs get gobbled up by machines, forcing them to always be transitioning to new tasks – perpetually seeking a niche that hasn’t yet been devoured by ingenious entrepreneurs and their subservient robots, even as wages diminish. That scenario doesn’t necessarily involve high unemployment, but it’s hellish enough that it should worry people.

So what can be done to avert this future? The popular ideas include universal basic income, a federal job guarantee and subsidies for the employment of human workers. These are all ideas worth trying out on a modest scale, to see if they work; even if machine learning isn’t the threat some fear, they could be very helpful in reducing inequality.

Another idea is a social wealth fund – a government-managed fund or collection of funds that would use tax revenue to purchase shares in companies and distribute the dividends to citizens. A social wealth fund would create a true ownership society, insuring the working populace against the rise of the robots by allowing each person to own a piece of those robots’ output. Ultimately, this seems like the simplest and most elegant solution.

Calls for Facebook to be split up increasing

By Diamon Naga Siu for Mashable

Facebook may have grown to a point where it’s too big for its own good. Or anybody’s, for that matter.

The largest U.S. media and communications labor union, Communications Workers of America, is adding fuel to that point of view. It’s just joined the Freedom from Facebook Coalition, which is petitioning the Federal Trade Commission to break up the growing “monopoly” power of Facebook.

Blazoned atop the coalition’s website reads: “Facebook has too much power over our lives and democracy. It’s time for us to take that power back.” The coalition, which includes social activist groups like Demand Progress and MoveOn Civic Action, wants the FTC to separate WhatsApp and Instagram as separate companies, away from Facebook’s control.

CWA Communications Director Beth Allen told Mashable that the group was concerned about the social media giant’s growing power. And the labor union is not the only one with such a concern.

Facebook is already under the microscope of a federal investigation from the FTC for its Cambridge Analytica data scandal, and there are dozens of privacy lawsuits against the social media giant right now. Before things get any better for Facebook, they’ll probably get worse, at least from a legal perspective.

The CWA also has a lawsuit against Facebook, alleging that the way the company targets job advertisements leads to age discrimination. Allen told Mashable that joining this coalition could offer the group a larger platform for the union’s legal battle against Facebook.

“We have been looking closely at Facebook, and the coalition that was forming was interesting to us because we wanted to be able to shed more light on this age-discrimination issue,” Allen said. “We just want to make sure regulators are doing what they can to limit Facebook’s power and ensure that Facebook is not engaging in any discriminatory behavior.”

We’ll see whether the FTC will actually splinter the monolith, but it’s far from the first time Facebook has been accused of being a monopoly. When questioned about the issue before Congress in April, CEO Mark Zuckerberg said Facebook “certainly doesn’t feel like [a monopoly] to me.”

The list of others who feel differently is growing, and it may eventually enlarge to the point where Zuckerberg can’t just casually dismiss them.

Facebook glitch unblocked your blocked list

By Emily Price for Fortune

If you’ve ever blocked anyone on Facebook, the social network may have accidentally “unblocked” that person on your behalf.

A bug that was live between May 29 and June 5 allowed blocked users to see the profile pages of people that blocked them and send them messages through Messenger, Facebook revealed Monday. The issue affected more than 800 000 users on the platform. About 83% of those Facebook users had one person they blocked essentially unblocked by the bug, while 17% had more than one blocked person unblocked during that time period, the social network said.

Facebook has contacted the users that were impacted by the issue.

It’s worth noting that the issue didn’t give previously blocked users full access to someone’s account. Instead, they would simply have been able to see things that were posted publicly on the platform. When you block someone on Facebook you also unfriend them (presuming you were friends in the first place). The bug did not reinstate any of those ended connections.

Facebook says that it has corrected the issue, and everyone who you previously blocked is now fully blocked again.

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