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Amazon US customers have one week to opt out of mass wireless sharing | Amazon

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Amazon customers have one week to opt out of a plan that would turn every Echo speaker and Ring security camera in the US into a shared wireless network, as part of the company’s plan to fix connection problems for its smart home devices.

The proposal, called Amazon Sidewalk, involves the company’s devices being used as a springboard to build city-wide “mesh networks” that help simplify the process of setting up new devices, keep them online even if they’re out of range of home wifi, and extend the range of tracking devices such as those made by Tile.

But Sidewalk has come under fire for the apparent lack of transparency with which Amazon has rolled out the feature, as well as the limited time available for users to complete the tricky process required to opt out. Other critics have expressed concerns that failing to turn the setting off could leave customers in breach of their internet service provider’s terms and conditions.

“Amazon Sidewalk is a shared network that helps devices work better,” the company said in a Q&A document for users. “In the future, Sidewalk will support a range of experiences from using Sidewalk-enabled devices, such as smart security and lighting and diagnostics for appliances and tools.”

The feature works by creating a low-bandwidth network using smart home devices such as Amazon Echoes and Ring security cameras. At its simplest, it means that a new Echo can set itself up using a neighbour’s wifi, or a security camera can continue to send motion alerts even if its connection to the internet is disrupted, by piggybacking on the connection of another camera across the street. Other devices that don’t need a high-bandwidth connection, such as smart lights, pet locators or smart locks, can use Sidewalk all the time.

But the company’s plans have caused alarm among observers. Ashkan Soltani, a former chief technology officer of the US Federal Trade Commission, told the tech site Ars Technica: “In addition to capturing everyone’s shopping habits (from amazon.com) and their internet activity (as AWS is one of the most dominant web hosting services) … now they are also effectively becoming a global ISP with a flick of a switch, all without even having to lay a single foot of fiber”. The feature may also break the terms and conditions of users’ internet connections, which do not allow such resharing, warned Lydia Leong, an analyst at Gartner.

Users can disable Sidewalk in the settings section of the Alexa or Ring apps, but have until 8 June to do so. After that, if they have taken no action, the network will be turned on and their devices will become “Sidewalk Bridges”.

Amazon is not the first company to look to create such a network. Apple has taken a similar approach with the company’s range of AirTag item trackers, which can connect to the internet through any compatible iPhone they come into contact with, not simply their owner’s. And BT, through a long-term partnership with Fon, ran a service from 2007 until 2020 that allowed broadband customers to share spare bandwidth in a public wifi network.



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Stripe investors cash in on $1bn worth of shares

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The Wall Street Journal reported that some existing shareholders in the fintech company sold their shares to other investors.

Stripe shareholders recently sold off around $1bn in shares, according to media reports, as more investors seek a stake in the company.

The Wall Street Journal reports that the Collison brothers’ company ran a tender offer for existing shareholders to sell their stakes.

It received bids up to $4bn from investors but around $1bn was sold in the end. The company has not commented on the investments.

Shopify, Sequoia Capital, Silver Lake and Capital Group purchased stakes in the company as part of this latest transaction, according to the report. In some cases, these investors increased their existing holdings in the fintech giant.

Meanwhile long-standing employees may have sold their shares in the company before their share options expire, which is typically a 10-year window.

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Rumours and speculation continue to swirl around Stripe going public with 2022 touted as the year that the company makes the leap, 12 years after it was founded. For shareholders, a Stripe flotation could make for a hefty payday. For now, investors are looking to shore up bigger stakes in the company.

Stripe raised $600m in an investment round in March that valued it at $95bn.

The company’s recent moves give some indication of the broad plans that the company has.

Seemingly every week the company is rolling our new or expanded products that go beyond its core payments processing functions. On Monday (14 June), it released Stripe Identity, an AI-powered tool for verifying a person’s identity in a payment transaction and last week it released Stripe Tax to automate businesses’ calculation and collecting of VAT and sales taxes.

Stripe has a mission to be an all-encompassing payments and banking infrastructure company. It has become a frequent investor in fintech start-ups in recent years as well, keeping tabs on what might be the next big thing in finance, payments and banking tech.

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Bitcoin price back above $40,000 after Elon Musk comments | Bitcoin

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The price of bitcoin hit a three-week high on Monday, climbing back above $40,000 after Elon Musk said that Tesla would resume allowing transactions made in the digital currency once crypto mining becomes greener.

The electric car company’s latest change of direction on its acceptance of bitcoin once again highlighted the continuing ability of Tesla’s billionaire chief executive to influence the price of bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies.

“When there’s confirmation of reasonable (~50%) clean energy usage by miners with positive future trend, Tesla will resume allowing bitcoin transactions,” Musk said in a tweet on Sunday.

The price of one bitcoin climbed to a high of $41,033 (£29,063) on Monday before slipping back to $40,580, still up more than 12% from its price before Musk’s tweet.

Musk, one of the most high-profile proponents of cryptocurrencies, also said that Tesla sold about 10% of its holdings to confirm bitcoin could be liquidated easily without moving the market.

He announced in May that Tesla would no longer accept bitcoin for car purchases, citing long-brewing environmental concerns for a swift reversal in the company’s position on the cryptocurrency. In February, Tesla revealed it had bought $1.5bn of bitcoin and would accept it as a form of payment for cars. But the cryptocurrency’s production is at odds with the company’s mission toward a “zero-emission future”.

Bitcoin fell more than 10% after Musk’s tweet in May. He said that he believed cryptocurrency had a promising future but it could not be at great cost to the environment.

The energy used to produce bitcoin alone is equivalent to the annual carbon footprint of Argentina, according to the Cambridge Bitcoin Electricity Consumption Index, a tool from researchers at Cambridge University that measures the currency’s energy use.

Bitcoin mining – the process in which a bitcoin is awarded to a computer that solves a complex series of algorithms – is deeply energy-intensive. Because there is a finite number of bitcoins that can be mined – 21m – computers have to solve harder and harder algorithms in order to get bitcoin. The special equipment and intense processing power use a lot of electricity – as much as some entire countries.

The concerns over energy use aside, cryptocurrencies have split opinion among investors and financial regulators for other reasons, including the rollercoaster ride sparked by their frequent swings in price.

Despite bitcoin’s recent rise, it is still trading about a third lower than the record high of $63,000, which it reached in April. A year ago, bitcoin’s value was under $9,500.

Earlier in June, the Central American country of El Salvador became the first in the world to adopt bitcoin as legal tender, as part of its technology-loving president’s proposals to use the cryptocurrency to promote “financial inclusion”, investment and economic development.

However, others remain unconvinced, and cryptocurrencies remain controversial. Global regulators are sceptical, on account of their volatility and vulnerability to theft or hacking.

The Bank of England has previously warned that the rise of digital currencies could set off a flood of withdrawals from high-street banks, risking financial stability and the wider economy, and cautioned that investors risk losing their money.

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According to various measures, bitcoin is undervalued at current prices, said Alexandra Clark, a sales trader at the digital asset broker GlobalBlock, although she added: “Many analysts are still on the fence when it comes to determining whether the digital asset is ready to continue its uptrend.”

Tesla’s decision to sell 10% of its bitcoin holding “has brought about fresh accusations of pumping and dumping by Musk and reiterated the need for an investigation by the SEC [US Securities and Exchange Commission],” Clark said.

The US securities watchdog warned Tesla last year that Musk had twice violated a settlement requiring his tweets and material public communications to be preapproved by company lawyers, the Wall Street Journal reported at the start of June.

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Price-capped broadband on hold for New York State after judge rules telcos would ‘suffer unrecoverable losses’ • The Register

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A new law due to come into force tomorrow that would force broadband providers in New York State to provide net access to low-income households for $15 a month has been put on hold.

A preliminary injunction [PDF] was granted by United States District Judge Denis R Hurley on Friday after a string of trade bodies – including the New York State Telecommunications Association and The Broadband Association – launched the action on behalf of their members.

The ruling notes that telcos and ISPs forced to impose the price caps would “suffer unrecoverable losses increasing with time” and that the “bulk of these losses will stem from lost income.”

“While a telecommunications giant like Verizon may be able to absorb such a loss, others may not: the Champlain Telephone Company, for example, estimates that nearly half [approximately 48 per cent] of [its] existing broadband customers will qualify for discounted rates,’ with each such customer ‘caus[ing] a monetary loss’,” it states.

The legal action also highlighted that not only would telcos lose revenue by offering cut-price access, they would also incur additional costs associated with increased spending on advertising.

In April, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo put his name to legislation that would force operators in the state to offer $15 a month high-speed internet to low-income families across the state.

The legislation also made it a legal requirement for operators to inform the authorities about their broadband products and prices, and how many had taken up the offers.

In all, it was estimated this change would impact seven million New Yorkers and some 2.7 million households.

At the time, Governor Cuomo said the need for remote access to work, education, and healthcare – which had been brought into sharp focus by the pandemic – had underlined the “need to make sure every household has access to affordable internet.”

“This program – the first of its kind in the nation – will ensure that no New Yorker will have to forego having reliable home internet service and no child’s education will have to suffer due to their economic situation,” he said.

US telcos in the crosshairs of the enforced price cap were quick to challenge the legislation, pointing out, among other things, a temporary $50-a-month discount being offered to households as part of a federal benefit.

In a 19-page lawsuit filed on 30 April, the industry lined up to say that they’re already doing their bit to help close the digital divide including offering cut-price tariffs to people on low incomes.

They also claim that New York is acting beyond its jurisdiction.

“In short, New York has overstepped its regulatory authority,” lawyers acting on behalf of the telcos said in their lawsuit.

Governor Cuomo hit back almost immediately and in a statement on the same day as the 30 April lawsuit said: “I knew giant telecom companies would be upset by our efforts to level the playing field, and right on cue, they’re pushing back. This is nothing more than a transparent attempt by billion-dollar corporations putting profit ahead of creating a more fair and just society.”

Fast-forward to this week and the decision to grant a temporary injunction halting the introduction of the $15-a-month broadband cap has left many wondering what happens next.

In a statement, US Telecom said: “The broadband industry is committed to working with state and federal policymakers on sustainable solutions that will serve the needs of all low-income Americans. While well-intended, the state’s law ignored the $50 monthly broadband discount Congress enacted, as well as the many commitments, programs and offerings that broadband providers have made for low-income consumers.” ®

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