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Apple says it prioritizes privacy. Experts say gaps remain | Technology

Voice Of EU



For years, Apple has carefully curated a reputation as a privacy stalwart among data-hungry and growth-seeking tech companies.

In multi-platform ad campaigns, the company told consumers that “what happens on your iPhone, stays on your iPhone,” and equated its products with security through slogans like “Privacy. That’s iPhone.”

But experts say that while Apple sets the bar when it comes to hardware and in some cases software security, the company could do more to protect user data from landing in the hands of police and other authorities.

In recent years, US law enforcement agencies have increasingly made use of data collected and stored by tech companies in investigations and prosecutions. Experts and civil liberties advocates have raised concerns about authorities’ extensive access to consumers’ digital information, warning it can violate fourth amendment protections against unreasonable searches. Those fears have only grown as once protected behaviors such as access to abortion have become criminalized in many states.

“The more that a company like Apple can do to set itself up to either not get law enforcement requests or to be able to say that they can’t comply with them by using tools like end-to-end encryption, the better it’s going to be for the company,” said Caitlin Seeley George, the campaigns and managing director at the digital advocacy group Fight for the Future.

Apple gave data to law enforcement 90% of the time

Apple’s most recent transparency report indicates it only rejected law enforcement requests for data 3.6% of the time.
Apple’s most recent transparency report indicates it only rejected law enforcement requests for data 3.6% of the time. Photograph: Jewel Samad/AFP/Getty Images

Apple receives thousands of law enforcement requests for user data a year, and overwhelmingly cooperates with them, according to its own transparency reports.

In the first half of 2021, Apple received 7,122 law enforcement requests in the US for the account data of 22,427 people. According to the company’s most recent transparency report, Apple handed over some level of data in response to 90% of the requests. Of those 7,122 requests, the iPhone maker challenged or rejected 261 requests.

The company’s positive response rate is largely in line with, and at times slightly higher than that of counterparts like Facebook and Google. However, both of those companies have documented far more requests from authorities than the iPhone maker.

In the second half of 2021, Facebook received nearly 60,000 law enforcement requests from US authorities and produced data in 88% of cases, according to that company’s most recent transparency report. In that same period, Google received 46,828 law enforcement requests affecting more than 100,000 accounts and handed over some level of data in response to more than 80% of the requests, according to the search giant’s transparency report. That’s more than six times the number of law enforcement requests Apple received in a comparable time frame.

That’s because the amount of data Apple collects on its users pales in comparison with other players in the space, said Jennifer Golbeck, a computer science professor at the University of Maryland. She noted that Apple’s business model relies less on marketing, advertising and user data – operations based on data collection. “They just naturally don’t have a use for doing analytics on people’s data in the same way that Google and a lot of other places do,” she said.

Apple’s drafted detailed guidelines outlining exactly what data authorities can obtain and how it can get it – a level of detail, the company says, which is in keeping with best practices.

Despite ‘secure’ hardware, iCloud and other services pose risks

But major gaps remain, privacy advocates say.

While iMessages sent between Apple devices are end-to-end encrypted, preventing anyone but the sender and recipient from accessing it, not all information backed up to iCloud, Apple’s cloud server, has the same level of encryption.

“iCloud content, as it exists in the customer’s account” can be handed over to law enforcement in response to a search warrant, Apple’s law enforcement guidelines read. That includes everything from detailed logs of the time, date and recipient of emails sent in the previous 25 days, to “stored photos, documents, contacts, calendars, bookmarks, Safari browsing history, maps search history, messages and iOS device backups.” The device backup on its own may include “photos and videos in the camera roll, device settings, app data, iMessage, business chat, SMS, and MMS [multimedia messaging service] messages and voicemail”, according to Apple.

Golbeck is an iPhone user but opts out of using iCloud because she worries about the system’s vulnerability to hacks and law enforcement requests. “I am one of those people who, if somebody asks if they should get an Android or an iPhone, I’m like, well, the iPhone is gonna be more protective than the Android is, but the bar is just very low,” she said.

“[Apple’s] hardware is the most secure on the market,” echoed Albert Fox Cahn, the founder of the Surveillance Technology Oversight Project, a privacy rights organization. But the company’s policies around iCloud data also have him concerned: “I have to spend so much time opting out of things they’re trying to automatically push me towards using that are supposed to make my life better, but actually just put me at risk.

“As long as Apple continues to limit privacy to a question of hardware design rather than looking at the full life cycle of data and looking at the full spectrum of threats from government surveillance, Apple will be falling short,” he argued.

It’s a double standard that was already apparent in Apple’s stance in its most high-profile privacy case, the 2015 mass shooting in San Bernardino, California, Cahn said.

At the time, Apple refused to comply with an FBI request to create a backdoor to access the shooter’s locked iPhone. The company argued that a security bypass could be exploited by hackers as well as law enforcement officials in future cases.

But the company said in court filings that if the FBI hadn’t changed the phone’s iCloud password, it wouldn’t have needed to create a backdoor because all of the data would have been backed up and therefore available via subpoena.

In fact, the company said up until that point, Apple had already “provided all data that it possessed relating to the attackers’ accounts”.

Apple CEO Tim Cook previously said that iPhone messages are only secure if sent between iPhones.
Apple’s CEO, Tim Cook, previously said that iPhone messages are only secure if sent between iPhones. Photograph: Shawn Thew/EPA

“They were quite clear that they were weren’t willing to break into their own iPhones, but they were eager to actually break into the iCloud backup,” said Cahn.

Apple said in a statement it believed privacy was a fundamental human right, and argued users were always given the ability to opt out when the company collects their data.

“Our products include innovative privacy technologies and techniques designed to minimize how much of your data we – or anyone else – can access,” said an Apple spokesperson, Trevor Kincaid, adding that the company is proud of new privacy features such as app tracking transparency and mail privacy protection, which gives users more control over what information is shared with third parties.

“Whenever possible, data is processed on device, and in many cases we use end-to-end encryption. In instances when Apple does collect personal information, we’re clear and transparent about it, telling users how their data is being used and how to opt out anytime.”

Apple reviews all legal requests and is obligated to comply when they are valid, Kincaid added, but emphasized that the personal data Apple collects is limited to begin with. For instance, the company encrypts all health data and does not collect device location data.

People are ‘vastly unaware of what’s going on with their data’

Meanwhile, privacy advocacy organizations like the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) are urging Apple to implement end-to-end encryption for iCloud backups.

“When we say they’re better than everyone else, it’s more an indictment of what everyone else is doing, not necessarily Apple being particularly good,” EFF staff technologist Erica Portnoy said.

Portnoy gives Apple credit for its default protection of some services like iMessage. “In some ways, some of the defaults can be a bit better [than other companies], which isn’t nothing,” she said. But, she pointed out, messages are only secure if they’re being sent between iPhones.

“We know that unless messages are end-to-end encrypted, many people could have access to these communications,” said George, whose organization Fight for the Future launched a campaign to push Apple and other companies to better secure their messaging systems.

It’s a problem the company can fix by, for one, adopting a Google-backed messaging system called rich communication services (RCS), George argued. The system isn’t in and of itself end-to-end encrypted but supports encryption, unlike SMS and MMS, and would allow Apple to secure messages between iPhones and Androids, she said.

At the Code 2022 tech conference, Apple’s CEO, Tim Cook, indicated the company didn’t plan to support RCS, arguing that users haven’t said this is a priority. But they “don’t know what RCS is”, George said. “If Apple really doesn’t want to use RCS because it comes from Google, they could come to the table with other solutions to show a good faith effort at protecting people’s messages.”

Kincaid said consumers were not asking for another messaging service because there are many existing encrypted offerings, such as Signal. He also said that Apple is concerned RCS isn’t a modern standard or encrypted by default.

Golbeck, who has a TikTok channel about privacy, says people are “vastly unaware of what’s going on with their data” and “think they’ve got some privacy that they don’t”.

“We really don’t want our own devices being turned into surveillance tools for the state,” Golbeck said.

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Google UK staff earned average of more than £385,000 each in 18 months | Google

Voice Of EU



Google UK’s staff earned an average of more than £385,000 each in the 18 months to the end of December, as the tech company gave almost £1bn in share-based payments.

Google, which like other tech firms is looking at budget and potential job cuts as global economic conditions become tougher, reported £3.4bn in turnover and £1.1bn in pre-tax profits in the 18 months to the end of December 2021.

The company, which reported a year and a half of financial results after moving its accounting period from the end of June to December last year, paid £200m in UK corporation tax.

Google UK hired 577 staff between June 2020 and December last year, taking its total headcount to 5,701. The company employs 2,275 staff in sales and marketing roles, 2,412 in research and design and 1,014 in management and administration roles.

Google’s total staff costs hit £2.2bn in the 18-month reporting period, according to accounts filed at Companies House. The staff wage and salary bill came to £1.06bn.

The accounts show UK staff received an £829m bonanza in share-based payments, and there was £258m on social security costs and £52m in expenses relating to its defined contribution plan.

The accounts also show that Google paid £200m in UK corporation tax on its £1.1bn profits.

Like its tech peers Meta – the owner of Facebook and Instagram – and Amazon, Google is frequently the target of criticism that it does not pay enough in tax in the UK.

While the company reported £3.4bn in turnover over its 18-month reporting period, the research firm Insider Intelligence estimates that Google made almost £8.7bn in ad revenue in the UK in 2021 alone.

Google, which has its European headquarters in Ireland, where taxes are lower, reports some revenues in other jurisdictions.

“Our global effective income tax rate over the past decade has been close to 20% of our profits, in line with average statutory tax rates,” a spokesperson for Google said. “We have long supported efforts via the OECD [Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development] to update international tax rules to arrive at a system where more taxing rights are allocated to countries where products and services are consumed.”

In November, Google’s Irish subsidiary agreed to pay €218m (£183m) in back taxes to the Irish government. In 2020, Alphabet, Google’s parent company, said it would stop using a notorious tax loophole known as “the double Irish with a Dutch sandwich”.

In 2020, the UK introduced a digital services tax, which levies 2% of gross revenues, and aimed to target large digital companies that make huge revenues but report relatively small profits.

Next year, it will be replaced by a new global tax system after the OECD brokered a deal between 136 countries that will result in large multinational companies paying tax in the countries where they do business, and committing themselves to a minimum 15% corporation tax rate.

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Tesla has a bit of work to do on Optimus robot • The Register

Voice Of EU



Tesla headlined its AI Day 2022 event on Friday with the reveal of its “Optimus” robot prototype, showing just how much work was left to do on the project.

While the demo was certainly more robotic than last year’s dancer in a onesie, the lumbering mess of cables was far from the sleek and sexy design faithful Muskites might expect from the EV maker.

CEO and founder Elon Musk said before the curtains opened: “I do want to set some expectations with respect to our Optimus robot. As you know, last year it was just a person in a robot suit, but we’ve come a long way and, you know, compared to that, it’s going to be impressive.”

But in a world accustomed to the back-flipping bots of Boston Dynamics, Optimus was less than impressive. A mechanical engineer stepped in to inform the audience that this was the first time the robot was run “without any backup support – cranes, mechanical mechanisms, no cables, nothing.”

Tesla Optimus protoype

Tesla’s ‘rough development robot’

The prototype managed to rotate its arms, then tottered to the forefront to give the audience a wave, before walking back as a screen failed to close. “This is essentially the same self-driving computer that runs in Tesla cars by the way,” an Autopilot engineer proclaimed.

The event then showed videos of the robot picking up and putting down objects, and watering plants. “What you saw … was our rough development robot using semi-off-the-shelf actuators. But … we actually have an Optimus bot with fully Tesla-designed and built actuators, battery pack, control system, everything.”

This version, which was then pushed onto the stage, was a little more “Tesla” – slimmer, neater, shinier. Only one problem: it can’t walk. “I think it will walk in a few weeks,” Musk said, “but we wanted to show you something that’s fairly close to what will go into production.”

Clumsily wheeled out by staff, it also managed a couple more waves and did the splits from the rod on which it was mounted.

“Our goal is to make a useful humanoid robot as quickly as possible,” Musk said. “We’ve also designed it using the same discipline we use in designing the car, which is to say to design a form of manufacturing such that it is possible to make the robot in high volume at low cost with higher liability.

“You’ve all seen very impressive humanoid robots demonstrations, and that’s great, but what are they missing? They’re missing a brain. They don’t have the intelligence to navigate the world by themselves. They’re also very expensive and made in low volume. Optimus is designed to be an extremely capable robot but made in very high volume – ultimately millions of units – and it’s expected to cost much less than a car, so probably less than $20,000.”

That’s one expensive Roomba.

Accepting that there was “a lot of work to be done to refine Optimus and improve it,” Musk said the aim of the event was convince more AI and mechanical engineers to join the company to bring the project “to fruition at scale” and “help millions of people.”

He then waxed lyrical about an economy where there was “not a limitation on capita,” which could then become “quasi-infinite,” implying that he hopes Tesla’s robots might one day replace humans on production lines.

“This means a future of abundance,” he said. “A future where there is no poverty, where you can have whatever you want in terms of products and services. It really is a fundamental transformation of civilization as we know it.”

As if to reference his belief that AI is humanity’s “biggest existential threat,” he added: “Obviously, we want to make sure that transformation is a positive one and safe,” claiming that Tesla’s public ownership model was the right way to achieve this.

While not quite the disasterpiece of the Cybertruck reveal, going by what was shown at the AI Day, such a utopia is still far away. ®

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Dublin proptech constructing an operating system for buildings

Voice Of EU



The SpaceOS platform sets out to create smart workplaces as the world wises up to the future of hybrid, flexible and sustainable work.

“We believe that buildings have been failing to answer people’s needs for decades,” said Marley Fabisiewicz. “We’re making them more convenient and human-centric with technology, while feeding the property managers and real estate developers with data.”

That, in a nutshell, is what proptech start-up SpaceOS is all about. “The real estate industry is a dinosaur,” said co-CEO Fabisiewicz, whose vision is to realise its digital transformation through developing tech-enabled workspaces. “Our mission is to help companies attract, retain, inspire and empower their people by creating dynamic and digitised workplace communities.”

Headquartered in Dublin, SpaceOS offers a workplace experience platform that Fabisiewicz said “turns smartphones into remote controls for the workplace”. The name derives from the concept of creating “an operating system for buildings”.

What this involves, Fabisiewicz explained, is digitising physical assets and providing APIs to integrate existing business technologies, such as access control. “[SpaceOS] covers everything from opening doors and booking desks and rooms, to ordering food, registering guests and sending out invoices, all blended seamlessly into daily workflows,” he said.

“Because of its modular structure, SpaceOS is ready to integrate with a variety of platforms to meet the specific requirements of any workspace infrastructure. It connects all stakeholders, reduces inputs and costs, provides insights, and offers smart management tools. It provides building managers and users with transparency, cost efficiency and real-time information, while focusing on the user experience.”

‘Dynamic workspaces are shaping the future of work’

Fabisiewicz sees the platform as essential to the transformed modern workplace. “We are targeting building owners, tenants, and managers. With a high demand for spaces to fit varying needs in a modern work environment, dynamic workspaces are shaping the future of work,” he said.

“However, current building management tools were typically designed before hybrid working became mainstream. As a result, they are inflexible and lack the adaptability and technology necessary to make today’s workspaces more efficient, while reducing operating costs.”

Demand for SpaceOS could also be employee-driven, Fabisiewicz explained, as modern workers demand systems that enable flexibility, engagement and sustainable practices. Clients can use the platform to deliver push notifications for news, events or community updates, and the service also offers detail data on carbon emissions, to support net-zero initiatives.

Environmental, social, and governance (ESG) goals have been a focal point of the start-up in the past year, leading to a partnership with Germany company Aedifion, which provides a cloud-based platform to collate data on buildings’ energy consumption.

“This collaboration allows property owners and managers to offer tenants a real-time visualisation of metrics regarding their energy usage and carbon emissions. This is the basis for transparency, and a step to make everyone in the workplace become a sustainability activist, supporting the decarbonisation of buildings,” said Fabisiewicz.

“We are currently working on managing heating, ventilation and energy based on occupancy and capacity data, to decarbonise buildings even more effectively. Future integrations will also allow tenants to remote-control HVAC, blinds, lights and more, through the SpaceOS app.”

‘The landscape has changed significantly since the markets tanked’

Serial entrepreneur Fabisiewicz also founded Upnext Technologies, a software and digital product development agency focused on the fintech industry.

SpaceOS was founded in 2017 by Fabisiewicz and his co-CEO Maciej Markowski, who has a background in real estate consultancy and proptech. “He has international experience in corporate workplace and change issues, advising major corporations on their workplace research, strategy and change management,” said Fabisiewicz.

So far, the founding duo have increased revenue three times over in the past 12 months and built up a strong client portfolio. “However, we are still in the early innings of the proptech game,” said Fabisiewicz. “Market saturation for tenant experience technology is at around 5pc globally, so there’s still a massive upside potential and room to grow.”

Of course, the present-day market disruptions present a challenging environment for growth and investment. “The landscape has changed significantly since the markets tanked,” said Fabisiewicz. “12 months ago, it was all about hypergrowth. Today, it’s all about how quickly you can become profitable.”

In Dublin, however, Fabisiewicz describes the start-up ecosystem as “a continuous boom” with “more money to be deployed by investors, more founders with great ideas, and a maturing ecosystem for start-ups in general”.

In his company’s case, SpaceOS is looking for “smart money” that offers more than a cash injection. Fabisiewicz is seeking investors who “not only write a cheque, but also support in building the business”.

“I believe especially in proptech this is essential for a successful start-up,” he said.

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