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Elon Musk praises Chinese workers for ‘burning the 3am oil’ – here’s what that really looks like | Elon Musk

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How do you become the richest man in the world? In Elon Musk’s case, part of it involves making workers in China put in hours that would be unacceptable according to labor norms elsewhere.

On Tuesday, the Tesla boss praised Chinese factory workers for pulling extreme hours while taking a shot at American workers. “There is just a lot of super talented hardworking people in China who strongly believe in manufacturing,” the billionaire said. “They won’t just be burning the midnight oil, they will be burning the 3am oil, they won’t even leave the factory type of thing, whereas in America people are trying to avoid going to work at all.”

Musk’s comment comes as Tesla’s massive Shanghai “Giga-factory” pushes its workers to the limit to meet production targets amid an ongoing pandemic lockdown.

In April, Tesla restricted its Shanghai workers from leaving the factory under a so-called “closed-loop” system originally developed by Chinese authorities to contain Beijing Olympics participants. While locked inside, the workers were reportedly made to work 12-hour shifts, six days in a row, and to sleep on factory floors. Production at the plant was forced to halt this week due to parts shortages, the company said.

Labor rights and safety violations have been reported at Tesla’s Shanghai factory since it opened in 2018, with some workers making as little as $1,500 a month in what an investigation by local journalists called the “Giga-sweatshop.”

Even in the United States, Musk is well known for his disregard for labor norms and work-life balance: the tech billionaire infamously declared “nobody ever changed the world on 40 hours a week”. He has bragged about making Tesla’s US employees work 100-hour weeks, while claiming to have worked 120-hour weeks himself. In March, Musk called an all-hands meeting for his other company, SpaceX, at 1am.

These practices are on par with China’s extreme work culture, nicknamed “996”, in which workers are expected to work from 9am to 9pm, six days a week. The practice has been the source of protests in recent years and has been characterized as a form of modern slavery.

Workers walk outside the Tesla Giga-factory in Shanghai, China, in November 2019.
Workers walk outside the Tesla Giga-factory in Shanghai, China, in November 2019. Photograph: Bloomberg/Getty Images

Eli Friedman, a China labor expert and associate professor of international and comparative labor at Cornell University’s ILR School, said Musk’s remark should be understood in the “broader context of American corporations taking advantage not just of the low cost of labor in China, but the flexibility”.

For bosses like Musk, “that’s the comparative advantage: the fact that you have hundreds of thousands of workers that you can literally wake up in the middle of the night and put them on the production line,” Friedman said.

“It’s tapping into a kind of Orientalist narrative about these kind of robotic Chinese workers who, [Musk] says in a sort of valorized way, that this is a good thing,” the researcher added.

Officially, Chinese labor law mandates a 40-hour work week, with employees allowed up to 36 hours of overtime a month – which would come out to just over a 48-hour work week. But that’s not what happens in practice.

“There’s no pretence anywhere that that’s enforced,” said Friedman. “Excessive overtime is kind of a built-in feature of the whole model of industrial development in China. Very long hours and compulsory overtime, while not legal, are also completely the norm. And this is done regularly in consultation with local governments who are also tasked with enforcing the labor law.”

Employees in China are often asked to sign a “striver’s pledge” which waives their right to overtime pay and paid time off. And while many corporations in China have unions, the unions are funded by the employer, which makes them essentially powerless to negotiate against management, Friedman noted.

Tesla did not respond to questions about its factory’s work hours and policies.

China’s gruelling culture of extreme hours has been celebrated by tech billionaires in the country, including Alibaba’s Jack Ma, who has called the “996” system a “huge blessing”, and rival company JD.com’s Richard Liu, who has called workers who work fewer hours “slackers”.

In recent years, a growing movement of Chinese workers has stood up to oppose overwork, with some activists using tools like GitHub to compile lists of Chinese companies accused of violating labor laws. Anger over the country’s extreme work culture intensified last January after a 22-year-old worker for Shanghai-based e-commerce firm Pinduoduo collapsed and died after leaving work at 1.30am, after a run of brutally long shifts.

Incidents like these helped drive a trend among young Chinese social media users early last year promoting “tang ping”, or “lying flat” as a passive protest against work, which has since been restricted on the Chinese internet. Later in the year, China’s top court ruled that forced and excessive overtime was illegal, but the ruling has not been well enforced. Work stoppages, often unofficial “wildcat” strikes, continue to occur regularly in China.

Chinese and American labor norms have clashed in recent years, as bosses pit teams against each other.

The 2019 Netflix documentary “American Factory” described the conflicts that arose after a Chinese billionaire, Cao Dewang, opened a factory in an abandoned General Motors plant in Ohio. “American workers are not efficient, and output is low,” Cao complained at one point in the film. “I can’t manage them.”

Last week, the Wall Street Journal revealed that some of the US-based employees at Chinese-owned TikTok were expected to pull back-to-back all-nighters and spend as many as 85 hours a week in meetings to keep up with their Chinese colleagues.

In the United States, employees covered by the federal Fair Labor Standards Act must receive overtime pay for working more than 40 hours a week. But the law places no cap on the number of hours an employee can work.

The grim backdrop to Musk’s comments is that “American workers are in a very subjugated position as well, unfortunately”, said Friedman.

“The not-at-all subtle threat is that these Chinese workers are a threat to you white American workers. If you don’t meet that standard, then your jobs are on the line.”

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Dublin’s Circit raises €6.5m for open banking platform

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CEO David Heath told SiliconRepublic.com that Circit is to auditing verification what Stripe is to payments.

Irish open banking start-up Circit has raised €6.5m in funding for its financial auditing management platform.

The Dublin-based fintech has developed a platform for managing financial auditing used by banks, solicitors and brokers. Circit is regulated by the Central Bank of Ireland as an account information service provider under PSD2 – the EU regulation for open banking.

Future Human

Investment in this Series A round was led by New York-based Aquiline Technology Growth and Luxembourg-based MiddleGame Ventures, both of which are fintech-focused VC firms.

CEO David Heath told SiliconRepublic.com in an interview that a number of team members in Circit have come from auditing backgrounds in big firms who think the industry, which is going through its “biggest reform in decades”, could do with more digitalisation.

“We saw a lot of manual processes that were going on that we felt could be automated, which would free us up to do more valuable work for the client,” said Heath, who was previously an auditor with Grant Thornton and a director with E-Commerce Accounting.

“Rather than wait for regulators to prescribe the change, we proactively re-imagined and designed a platform that gives auditors a new way of obtaining independent audit evidence that both reduces risk and cuts verification time from weeks to minutes.”

Heath said the open banking platform frees up auditors from manual and time-consuming processes, providing automation for third-party confirmations and verified insights on bank and digital asset transactions.

“Our aim is to help auditors become highly skilled in addressing the future risks facing businesses and the economy,” he added. “In a way, what Stripe is for payments, Circit is for auditing verification.”

Founded in 2017, Circit counts more than 200 audit businesses including Deloitte and PwC among its clients. While headquartered in Dublin, it has operations in the UK and Spain, and clients all over Europe, the United States, Australia and the greater APAC region.

Circit grew significantly during the pandemic, which saw its workforce shoot up from just seven to a team of 35. It raised €1.1m in a July 2020 funding round to accelerate its international expansion and create 20 new jobs.

Last year, Circit acquired UK-based Audapio, a tech company that builds data analytics tools for financial auditing and fraud monitoring. In February, it signed a deal with Danske Bank UK to integrate its tech with the bank’s audit confirmation response operations.

Heath told SiliconRepublic.com that the latest funding will be used to invest in further developing the Circit platform and pushing for the company’s growth internationally.

Patrick Pinschmidt, general partner for MiddleGame Ventures, said that while Circit is addressing a “persistent pain point” by digitising the audit confirmation process, he sees broader use cases for the company’s tech.

“The combination of open banking tools and the integration of financial institutions and corporates into Circit’s solution will lower costs and improve transparency as the company helps digitise a cross-section of workflows for a global customer base.”

Pinschmidt, along with Giovanni Nani of Aquiline Technology Growth, will join Circit’s board as a result of the investment to help scale the company’s international expansion.

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YouTube removes more than 9,000 channels relating to Ukraine war | YouTube

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YouTube has taken down more than 70,000 videos and 9,000 channels related to the war in Ukraine for violating content guidelines, including removal of videos that referred to the invasion as a “liberation mission”.

The platform is hugely popular in Russia, where, unlike some of its US peers, it has not been shut down despite hosting content from opposition figures such as Alexei Navalny. YouTube has also been able to operate in Russia despite cracking down on pro-Kremlin content that has broken guidelines including its major violent events policy, which prohibits denying or trivialising the invasion.

Since the conflict began in February, YouTube has taken down channels including that of the pro-Kremlin journalist Vladimir Solovyov. Channels associated with Russia’s Ministries of Defence and Foreign Affairs have also been temporarily suspended from uploading videos in recent months for describing the war as a “liberation mission”.

YouTube’s chief product officer, Neal Mohan, said: “We have a major violent events policy and that applies to things like denial of major violent events: everything from the Holocaust to Sandy Hook. And of course, what’s happening in Ukraine is a major violent event. And so we’ve used that policy to take unprecedented action.”

In an interview with the Guardian, Mohan added that YouTube’s news content on the conflict had received more than 40m views in Ukraine alone.

“The first and probably most paramount responsibility is making sure that people who are looking for information about this event can get accurate, high-quality, credible information on YouTube,” he said. “The consumption of authoritative channels on our platform has grown significantly, of course in Ukraine, but also in countries surrounding Ukraine, Poland, and also within Russia itself.”

YouTube did not provide a breakdown of the taken-down content and channels but Mohan said much of it represented Kremlin narratives about the invasion. “I don’t have the specific numbers, but you can imagine a lot of it being the narratives that are coming from Russian government, or Russian actors on behalf of the Russian government,” he said.

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YouTube has an estimated 90 million users in Russia, although it no longer allows advertising on the platform in the country. The decision by YouTube’s parent company, Google, has drawn protests from Navalny, who said well-targeted ads helped counteract Kremlin propaganda.

“YouTube remains the largest video-sharing site up and running in Russia itself,” said Mohan. “So YouTube is a place where Russian citizens can get uncensored information about the war, including from many of the same authoritative channels that we all have access to outside of the country. We remain an important platform for Russian citizens themselves as this crisis continues to evolve.”

Last week, the Russian minister for digital development, Maksut Shadaev, said the country would not block YouTube, despite disputes over content that have resulted in the platform being fined in court for not removing banned videos.

Shadaev indicated that blocking Russia’s most popular social media platform would affect users. “We are not planning to close YouTube,” the minister said. “Above all, when we restrict something, we should clearly understand that our users won’t suffer.”

YouTube has also placed a worldwide ban on channels associated with Russian state media, including Russia Today and Sputnik. Facebook and Instagram are banned in Russia and access to Twitter has been restricted, in response to the platforms’ own bans on Russian state-owned media.

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Russian-backed rulers of Costa Rican hacktocracy? • The Register

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In brief The notorious Russian-aligned Conti ransomware gang has upped the ante in its attack against Costa Rica, threatening to overthrow the government if it doesn’t pay a $20 million ransom. 

Costa Rican president Rodrigo Chaves said that the country is effectively at war with the gang, who in April infiltrated the government’s computer systems, gaining a foothold in 27 agencies at various government levels. The US State Department has offered a $15 million reward leading to the capture of Conti’s leaders, who it said have made more than $150 million from 1,000+ victims.

Conti claimed this week that it has insiders in the Costa Rican government, the AP reported, warning that “We are determined to overthrow the government by means of a cyber attack, we have already shown you all the strength and power, you have introduced an emergency.” 

Experts who spoke to the AP said they doubt actual regime change is likely, or the goal; Emsisoft analyst Brett Callow told the newswire that the threats are simply noise, and not to be taken seriously.

Callow may be right: News unfolding late this week suggests that Conti has gone offline, and may be breaking into several subsidiary groups. Its political ambitions in Costa Rica may just be a distraction, albeit one that could also turn a tidy profit. 

NSA: Trust us, no post-quantum encryption backdoors

The NSA wants to ease everyone’s concerns now: Even though it’s been involved in the US government’s post-quantum encryption research, the spy agency won’t have a backdoor.

Speaking to Bloomberg while discussing the National Institute for Standards and Technology’s post-quantum encryption competition, NSA Director of Cybersecurity (and Christmas-tree hacker) Rob Joyce said the new standards being developed are so strong that “there are no backdoors.” 

That would be a departure from previous encryption standards, which the NSA is believed to have had ready access to – until foreign spies acquired a copy of the backdoor software for their own use. The Biden administration recently announced additional funding for post-quantum encryption research, which aims to develop a form of protecting sensitive data so secure that even a quantum computer couldn’t crack it. 

The US has been actively working to develop encryption standards able to stand up to quantum computers for some time; Joyce claimed to Bloomberg that the NSA has had its own post-quantum encryption algorithms for several years, but those aren’t part of the NIST competition or available to the public. 

Despite spending tens of millions to address the security problems posed by quantum computers, the NSA also readily admits that it has no idea when, or even if, quantum computers able to crack modern public key cryptography will be realized. 

Frustrated IT admin gets seven years for deleting company databases

A former database administrator from China who wiped out his employer’s financial records has been sentenced to seven years in prison as a result.

Han Bing, who managed databases for Chinese real estate brokerage Lianjia, allegedly used his administrator access and root privileges to log in to two of Lianjia’s database servers, and two application servers, where he wiped financial data and related applications that took the company’s entire finance system offline, said Chinese news sources. 

Bing was reportedly disgruntled with his employer. He repeatedly warned them of security flaws in Lianjia’s finance system but felt ignored and undervalued, Lianjia’s ethics chief testified in court. Bing’s actions directly cost the company around $27,000 to recover data and rebuilt systems, but that doesn’t include the impact of lost business.

Bing was caught when Lianjia questioned everyone with access to the financial systems who had permissions to do what Bing did, of whom there were only five. The company claims that Bing acted suspiciously when asked to present his laptop for inspection, refusing to provide his password and claiming privacy privileges. 

The company said it suspected none of the laptops would show traces of the attack, but wanted to see how those it questioned would react. Investigators were later able to recover logs that pointed to Bing’s laptop’s IP and MAC addresses, and crosschecking logs against security footage put Bing in the right place at the right time to be the guilty party.

Apple patches a whopping 98 separate vulnerabilities

Apple has had a busy week: In a series of security updates released Monday and Wednesday, the iMaker patched 98 separate vulnerabilities out of its various software platforms.

The updates in question cover most every bit of software Apple makes: WatchOS, iOS and iPad OS, macOS Monterey, Big Sur and Catalina, Xcode, tvOS, Safari and iTunes for Windows were all included. Most of the vulnerabilities are from the past few months, but one common vulnerability and exposure (CVE) number covered by the updates dates back to 2015.

A few of the vulnerabilities covered by this week’s glut of Apple patches were rolled out previously for one system, but not others, as was the case with CVE-2022-22674 and -22675, which were patched in macOS Monterey, but not older versions, in April. Those vulnerabilities were reportedly being actively exploited at the time. 

Malicious applications executing arbitrary code with kernel privileges appears to be the most common type of hole being closed in this round of patches, though some do stand out, like Apple Watch bugs that could let apps capture the screen and bypass signature validation.

On iOS, vulnerabilities patched include websites being able to track users in Safari private browsing mode, while macOS users are being protected against apps being able to bypass Privacy preferences and access restricted portions of the filesystem.

Russian-backing Chaos ransomware variant is pure destruction

Cybersecurity firm Fortinet has discovered a variant of the Chaos ransomware that professes support for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, but appears to have no decryption key to rescue victims in Putin’s regime. 

The variant appears to have been compiled with Chaos’ GUI customization tool as recently as May 16, Fortinet said. The researchers said they’re unsure how the Chaos variant infects its victims, and said the variant doesn’t act any differently than typical Chaos ransomware. 

Like other forms of Chaos, it enumerates files on infected systems, and irrevocably damages any larger than around 2MB by filling it with random bytes. Anything smaller is encrypted, but recoverable with a key. Chaos also typically attacks commonly used directories like Desktop, Contacts, Downloads and Pictures, which are encrypted entirely. 

Here’s where this Chaos variant differs: It’s overtly political, and instead of offering contact info and a ransom demand, the malware simply says “Stop Ukraine War! F**k Zelensky! Dont [sic] go die for f**king clown,” along with a pair of links to sites claiming to belong to the Information Coordination Center, but offering no information otherwise. Files are also encrypted with a “f**kazov” extension, likely referring to the Ukrainian Azov Battalion.

Fortinet said that this Chaos variant appears unique in the sense it appears designed to be file-destroying malware. “This particular variant provides no such avenue as the attacker has no intent on providing a decryption tool … clearly, the motive behind this malware is destruction,” Fortinet said. 

The FortiGuard team behind the research warns that with its GUI, Chaos ransomware has become a commodity product, and it expects additional attacks of this variety to emerge. ®



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