Tech news roundup: 25th August

Aug 25, 2023
Calculating reading time...

In this week's tech news, we cover Donald Trump returning to Twitter (X) with mugshot, Tesla data breach, UK Antitrust Regulator Halts Microsoft-Activision Deal, Snapchat AI (Dreams), TikTok Unveils Search Ads, Hackers Use WinRAR Flaw, North Korean Hackers, $250 AD credit from X (Twitter)

Trump Returns to Social Media Platform X Amid Legal Battles

Former U.S. President Donald Trump has made a high-profile return to social media, specifically the platform formerly known as Twitter and now rebranded as X. This marked Trump’s first public tweet since January 8, 2021, and it comes on the heels of his booking in a Fulton County jail in Atlanta, Georgia, where he faces 13 felony charges connected to alleged election interference. The tweet occurred shortly after his mugshot was released, making waves in both traditional and social media landscapes.

In an unusual twist of events, Trump directed his tweet to his 86 million followers on X, guiding them to his WinRed fundraising page. The tweet declared, "ELECTION INTERFERENCE, NEVER SURRENDER!” accompanied by his mugshot, which had already become the subject of countless memes. Elon Musk, the new owner of X, retweeted Trump, adding the caption “Next-level.”

Notably, Trump also disseminated the same message to his six million followers on Truth Social, his own social media platform launched in 2022. After the January 6 Capitol attack, Trump was given a lifetime ban from Twitter, which Musk lifted upon acquiring the platform. This controversial move is part of Musk's broader effort to overhaul existing moderation and safety guidelines on X.

There's an undeniable sense of irony surrounding Trump's return to the platform. He was originally banned for actions related to the very charges he now faces. Moreover, beyond the Georgia case, Trump is under federal scrutiny, with Special Counsel Jack Smith citing his past tweets in a recently unveiled indictment. This story continues to unfold, attracting intense public scrutiny and debate.

Tesla’s Data Breach Affects 75,000 Employees: An Inside Job

Tesla, the renowned electric vehicle company, recently revealed that a massive data breach affecting more than 75,000 of its current and former employees was orchestrated from within the company. According to a notice filed with Maine's attorney general, the internal investigation confirmed that two former Tesla employees had leaked the sensitive data to a German media outlet, Handelsblatt.

Steven Elentukh, Tesla’s data privacy officer, mentioned that these employees violated Tesla’s IT security and data protection policies when they leaked the data. The compromised information includes names, addresses, phone numbers, employment-related records, and Social Security numbers of 75,735 individuals. The scandal even managed to expose personal information of Tesla’s owner, Elon Musk.

Handelsblatt initially reported in May about the "massive" breach, claiming to possess more than 23,000 internal documents, collectively known as the "Tesla Files." These files contained not just employees' data but also sensitive customer information, production secrets, and complaints related to Tesla’s Full-Self Driving (FSD) features. However, the German newspaper assured Tesla that it had no intention of publishing the leaked data and is "legally prohibited from using it inappropriately."

In response to this insider threat, Tesla has taken legal action against the responsible former employees. The company managed to obtain court orders leading to the seizure of the offenders' electronic devices. These court orders also prohibit any further use, dissemination, or access to the sensitive data, backed by criminal penalties.

This incident is particularly noteworthy in light of earlier reports this year about Tesla workers sharing intrusive images and videos recorded by customer vehicles between 2019 and 2022. Clearly, the company has some significant security and privacy challenges that need addressing as it continues to grow and innovate.

UK Antitrust Regulator Halts Microsoft-Activision Deal, But New Terms Open Door for Fresh Review

In a significant development, the United Kingdom's Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) has confirmed its decision to block the colossal $68.7 billion merger between Microsoft and gaming powerhouse Activision. Despite Microsoft's pleas to reconsider based on recent updates, the CMA has held firm on its original prohibition. Interestingly, the agency has also initiated a new Phase 1 investigation into a revised deal submitted by Microsoft.

The freshly restructured proposal comes with a major change: Microsoft would no longer acquire the cloud streaming rights for all of Activision's present and future games for the next 15 years, at least not in the European Economic Area (EEA). These cloud streaming rights would instead be sold off to Ubisoft before Microsoft's potential acquisition of Activision takes place.

CMA's chief executive, Sarah Cardell, outlined the new deal as "substantially different" from the previously rejected proposal. Under the new terms, Ubisoft would have the ability to license Activision’s content to any cloud gaming service, thereby providing gamers multiple avenues to access Activision games, whether through cloud-based subscriptions or other business models.

While the CMA's preliminary viewpoint seems positive, it's far from a final green light. Cardell stressed the regulatory body's unchanged objective: to ensure that the burgeoning cloud gaming sector continues to benefit from open and effective competition. The investigation will take several weeks and will consider third-party opinions as well.

It’s also worth mentioning that this development comes after the European Union approved the mega-merger in May. Furthermore, if accepted, Ubisoft would compensate Microsoft through a one-time payment and a market-based pricing mechanism for the cloud streaming rights to Activision’s games.

The deadline for the new CMA review coincides with Microsoft and Activision’s self-imposed deadline to complete the acquisition—October 18—following an extension agreed upon last month. With multi-billion-dollar stakes and game-changing industry implications, all eyes are on how the CMA's fresh investigation will unfold.

Snapchat Takes on the World of Generative AI with 'Dreams'

Snapchat, a social media platform beloved for its fleeting messages and creative filters, is diving deeper into the realm of artificial intelligence. This leap comes with the introduction of a new feature known as “Dreams.” After successfully implementing an AI-powered chatbot, aptly named My AI, which can interact using Snaps rather than just text, Snapchat is now venturing into the magical realm of AI-generated selfies.

While the basic concept of using AI to generate selfies is not entirely new—apps like Remini have been doing this to create professional headshots—Snapchat aims to go beyond the conventional. Instead of offering mundane, professional photos, "Dreams" aims to place you in “fantastical places and scenarios,” based on the research by app developer Steve Moser.

How does it work? Users can either take or upload selfies, which the feature will use to create AI-generated images of them in various imaginative settings. A clear selfie is key here; obstructed features or group photos won’t cut it. For better results, the platform recommends using selfies taken from different angles, under various lighting conditions, and with diverse facial expressions.

But that's not all! Snapchat is also working on a ‘Dreams with Friends’ feature. This allows you and your friends to experience these AI-generated landscapes together, given that mutual consent is provided.

And here’s the cherry on top: Snapchat has dropped hints that “Dreams” could be a monetizable feature in the future. References to “Dream Packs” have been found within the app, although the company has not officially commented on its plans yet.

So, whether you're looking to spruce up your social media game or go on virtual adventures with your friends, keep your eyes peeled for the launch of "Dreams" by Snapchat. The feature promises a harmonious blend of fantasy and reality, delivered through the cutting edge of generative AI.

TikTok Unveils Search Ads, Offering a New Avenue for Brands

TikTok is shaking things up in the ad space once again. The social media giant just introduced a new feature allowing brands to place ads in the app's search results, aptly named the "Search Ads Toggle." This innovative feature is specifically designed to help advertisers connect with TikTok users who are actively searching for information on new products or brands. The Search Ads Toggle is integrated into an advertiser's existing TikTok video ad campaigns, meaning it's not a standalone product but an extension of existing efforts.

Why does this matter? Well, this is TikTok's first foray into allowing brands to target users who are actively engaged in search-related activities on the platform. And as a cherry on top, TikTok is offering "Negative Keywords," which allows brands to ensure their ads aren't shown in response to irrelevant or inappropriate search queries. It's TikTok's way of upping the ante on brand safety.

In-house tests seem promising. According to TikTok, 70% of ad groups using the Search Ads Toggle experienced lower costs per action (CPA), which is attributed to more efficient conversions. Some of the early adopters like Clinique and DIBS Beauty have seen impressive numbers; for instance, Clinique experienced a whopping 441% increase in conversation rates and a 51% increase in click-through rates.

What's even more intriguing is how this move could give Google's search ads a run for their money. Google has noted that younger users are increasingly starting their searches on social media platforms like TikTok and Instagram, rather than using traditional search engines. As TikTok continues to evolve as a search engine for Gen Z, brands will have to adapt and consider this fresh, new avenue for ad placement.

Hackers Use WinRAR Flaw to Target Traders and Swipe Funds

Cybercriminals have found a weak spot in WinRAR, the widely used archiving software for Windows, to gain unauthorized access to traders' brokerage accounts. Discovered by cybersecurity firm Group-IB, the zero-day vulnerability specifically targets the ZIP file processing functionality in WinRAR. This means that hackers can conceal malicious code within seemingly harmless archive files, which might appear to be regular .jpg or .txt files.

The vulnerability has been exploited since April, focusing primarily on specialized trading forums. These forums, according to Group-IB, span topics including trading, investments, and cryptocurrencies. At least one forum became aware of the attack and issued a warning to its users, in addition to disabling the attackers' accounts. However, the attackers managed to regain access and continued to disseminate the malware-laden files.

Once a user on a targeted forum opens a compromised file, the hackers gain control of the victim’s brokerage account. This allows them to conduct unauthorized financial transactions and potentially siphon off funds. As of now, Group-IB states that at least 130 traders have had their devices infected, but the exact financial toll remains uncertain.

While the culprit behind these attacks is still unknown, Group-IB identified that the hackers used DarkMe, a Visual Basic trojan previously associated with the “Evilnum” threat group. This group is known for its financially motivated attacks on financial organizations and online trading platforms. However, a direct link between this campaign and Evilnum hasn’t been confirmed.

Good news, though: Group-IB reported the flaw to Rarlab, the company behind WinRAR. A patch has been released in the latest WinRAR version 6.23 on August 2, so users are advised to update their software to secure their systems.

North Korean Hackers Poised to Liquidate Millions from Crypto Heists

The world of cryptocurrency is no stranger to heists and hacks, but a recent announcement from the FBI takes the game to another level. The agency has alerted crypto businesses about an emerging threat connected to North Korean hackers, specifically from a group known as the Lazarus Group. The group, also referred to as APT38 and "TraderTraitor," has been involved in a series of high-profile crypto thefts accumulating to hundreds of millions of dollars.

In the last 24 hours alone, the FBI tracked roughly 1,580 Bitcoin—amounting to over $40 million—held in six separate cryptocurrency wallets by these hackers. Among the attacks credited to this group was the recent heist from Atomic Wallet in June, where an estimated 5,500 customer wallets were compromised, leading to a loss of more than $100 million. Firms specializing in blockchain analysis have attributed this and other similar attacks with a high degree of confidence to the Lazarus Group.

The tactics employed by these hackers are as intriguing as they are concerning. In one instance, employees at CoinsPaid were approached via LinkedIn with enticing high-paying job offers. Once they were hooked, the hackers sent malware-infected software, successfully compromising the organization. The recent breach of JumpCloud software, a tactic to target cryptocurrency customers, has also been linked to the same group.

The FBI has advised that these hackers are preparing to liquidate approximately $40 million in stolen cryptocurrency in the coming days. It urges crypto organizations to scrutinize recent blockchain activities and remain vigilant, especially regarding transactions associated with or derived from the six flagged Bitcoin addresses.

As for the bigger picture, the FBI asserts that such illicit activities, including cybercrime and crypto thefts, are North Korea's way of funding its globally-sanctioned nuclear weapons program. With an astonishing $2 billion in cryptocurrency stolen since 2018, the threat remains real and increasingly sophisticated. The U.S. government is offering a $10 million reward for information leading to the apprehension of these state-sponsored threat actors.

X's Sweetener for Advertisers: A $250 Ad Credit

X, the social media platform formerly recognized as Twitter, is courting smaller businesses with a new initiative designed to boost advertising on its platform. On Wednesday, the company unveiled an offer of a one-time ad credit of $250 for businesses that commit to spending at least $1,000 on new ad campaigns over the next month. The focus of this promotion is squarely on small to medium-sized businesses (SMBs), which, according to X, make up more than 80% of its active customer base. The company has specified that these ad credits will have a shelf life, expiring on December 31st of the year they're issued and possibly subject to minimum spend conditions.

The latest move comes on the heels of an interview with X’s CEO, Linda Yaccarino, where she discussed the company's future and its integration of AI-powered ad technology. This feature will allow brands to dictate the type of content with which their ads are paired, offering discounted rates for those willing to place their ads alongside less conservative content. High-profile brands like Coca-Cola and State Farm have already made a comeback to X's advertising roster, following a period of re-evaluation triggered by Elon Musk’s turbulent takeover of the company.

However, beneath these developments is a more troubling reality. X has been grappling with a significant drop in ad revenue. A recent report indicated that the platform saw its U.S. advertising revenue plummet by 59% year-over-year, down to $88 million for a five-week period starting in April. Elon Musk himself confirmed that the company is still experiencing negative cash flow due to this sharp decline and heavy debt.

Despite these challenges, Yaccarino remains optimistic, stating that X is “pretty close to breaking even,” thanks to contributions from its API, data licensing, and subscription services. While offering ad credits is a standard practice in the industry, for X, it seems more like a necessary stimulus to re-engage brands and halt the revenue decline.

Did you enjoy this article?

If so, feel free to subscribe to our newsletter below to stay updated on all things tech news, marketing updates and more.