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Is the end nigh for end-to-end encryption? | Alex Hern

The passage of GDPR (general data protection regulation) might seem like ancient history – as does everything before 2020 – but in legislative terms it was a mere blink of an eye ago and now the European Union has moved on to the next big thing. Prepare to start hearing a lot about the Digital Markets Act (DMA).

It’s one of two bills currently going through the EU’s institutions, alongside the confusingly similar Digital Services Act (DSA). As a rough split, the DSA is about the things that platforms host: it covers issues such as child sexual abuse imagery, content moderation and algorithmic curation.

The DMA, by contrast, is more about what the platforms do. It sets up a new legal definition of large tech platforms as “gatekeepers” – companies that provide a certain set of services to at least 45 million EU-based users or 10,000 business users – and loads them with a host of requirements intended to ensure that industries of the future can compete on a level playing field with the dominant companies of the present.

And, oh boy, have those requirements proved controversial. The final version of the text, agreed by the European parliament and council last month, limits the ability of gatekeepers to combine personal data from various sources for the purposes of targeted advertising. It requires companies (read: Apple and Google) to allow users to freely choose their browser, virtual assistants or search engines. It mandates those same companies to open up their platforms to third-party app stores. And, most controversially of all, it requires the largest messaging platforms to become “interoperable”.

“The largest messaging services will have to open up and interoperate with smaller messaging platforms, if they so request,” the European parliament explains. “Users of small or big platforms would then be able to exchange messages, send files or make video calls across messaging apps, thus giving them more choice.”

It’s a big ask. Perhaps too big: the finalisation of the draft text has led to a vociferous pushback from much of the security industry, which has warned that it could spell doom for services such as WhatsApp. The heart of the problem lies in how platforms employ end-to-end encryption, which keeps messages safe from attackers and hides their content from the platform itself. For an interoperable service to be secure, each platform would have to agree to use exactly the same encryption protocol, work out a way to securely and accurately share encryption keys and figure out how to ensure that messages go to the right people on the right service.

Even if that’s solvable, there are more inherent downsides to the very concept of interoperability. One of the reasons why closed messaging services are more popular than open services such as email or SMS is because their closed nature allows for better control over things such as spam, phishing and malicious activity. If WhatsApp spots you sending a quarter of a million messages in three minutes, it can boot you off the service for good. But what if you simply download SpamApp and use your legal right to interoperability to send the messages anyway?

Yes, the act explicitly calls for interconnection only to be provided “while ensuring a high level of security and personal data protection”. But that’s cold comfort for tech companies, which fear at best a lengthy procedural standoff to prove that they cannot achieve the goals without compromising security and, at worst, a discovery that the EU, like many governments around the world, is actively eager to see the back of widespread end-to-end encryption.

The problem the industry now faces is convincing would-be allies that, this time, it really needs their help. From the outside, the scales look tilted: in the one corner, a group of companies that have cried the sky is falling every time key regulation has been proposed, but whose only real evidence of failure is an annoying cookie request on some websites. And in the other, a world of regulators that have spent 20 years woefully underprepared for the explosion of thorny problems caused by a new set of titans of industry. It’s tempting, with those as the players, to tell the industry to hold its nose and deal with whatever comes its way. After years of underregulation, would a few more of overregulation be so unfair?

But bad platforms come and go, while bad laws have an unfortunate habit of sticking around. The EU has too big an opportunity to waste it by laying incoherent demands to a few key players. Interoperability, open platforms and a level playing field for all are worthy goals, but let’s get it right first time.

What I’ve been reading

Climate of fear
Neal Stephenson’s latest novel, Termination Shock, has all the elements that readers have come to expect from the veteran sci-fi author: deeply researched info-dumps about near-future tech, an unswerving desire to make billionaire tech executives into mythic heroes and about 200 pages too many. But seeing Stephenson turn his eye to the climate crisis for the first time is fascinating.

Blockchain gang
One of the interesting things about the rise of cryptocurrencies has been seeing the speed with which tech has been forced to rediscover the basic lessons of traditional finance. For an easier – and cheaper – way to learn from the errors of others, I enjoyed Gavin Jackson’s recently published book Money in One Lesson, which begins with cowrie shells and ends with bitcoin.

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European Startup Ecosystems Awash With Gulf Investment – Here Are Some Of The Top Investors

European Startup Ecosystem Getting Flooded With Gulf Investments

The Voice Of EU | In recent years, European entrepreneurs seeking capital infusion have widened their horizons beyond the traditional American investors, increasingly turning their gaze towards the lucrative investment landscape of the Gulf region. With substantial capital reservoirs nestled within sovereign wealth funds and corporate venture capital entities, Gulf nations have emerged as compelling investors for European startups and scaleups.

According to comprehensive data from Dealroom, the influx of investment from Gulf countries into European startups soared to a staggering $3 billion in 2023, marking a remarkable 5x surge from the $627 million recorded in 2018.

This substantial injection of capital, accounting for approximately 5% of the total funding raised in the region, underscores the growing prominence of Gulf investors in European markets.

Particularly noteworthy is the significant support extended to growth-stage companies, with over two-thirds of Gulf investments in 2023 being directed towards funding rounds exceeding $100 million. This influx of capital provides a welcome boost to European companies grappling with the challenge of securing well-capitalized investors locally.

Delving deeper into the landscape, Sifted has identified the most active Gulf investors in European startups over the past two years.

Leading the pack is Aramco Ventures, headquartered in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia. Bolstered by a substantial commitment, Aramco Ventures boasts a $1.5 billion sustainability fund, alongside an additional $4 billion allocated to its venture capital arm, positioning it as a formidable player with a total investment capacity of $7 billion by 2027. With a notable presence in 17 funding rounds, Aramco Ventures has strategically invested in ventures such as Carbon Clean Solutions and ANYbotics, aligning with its focus on businesses that offer strategic value.

Following closely is Mubadala Capital, headquartered in Abu Dhabi, UAE, with an impressive tally of 13 investments in European startups over the past two years. Backed by the sovereign wealth fund Mubadala Investment Company, Mubadala Capital’s diverse investment portfolio spans private equity, venture capital, and alternative solutions. Notable investments include Klarna, TIER, and Juni, reflecting its global investment strategy across various sectors.

Ventura Capital, based in Dubai, UAE, secured its position as a key player with nine investments in European startups. With a presence in Dubai, London, and Tokyo, Ventura Capital boasts an international network of limited partners and a sector-agnostic investment approach, contributing to its noteworthy investments in companies such as Coursera and Spotify.

Qatar Investment Authority, headquartered in Doha, Qatar, has made significant inroads into the European startup ecosystem with six notable investments. As the sovereign wealth fund of Qatar, QIA’s diversified portfolio spans private and public equity, infrastructure, and real estate, with strategic investments in tech startups across healthcare, consumer, and industrial sectors.

MetaVision Dubai, a newcomer to the scene, has swiftly garnered attention with six investments in European startups. Focusing on seed to Series A startups in the metaverse and Web3 space, MetaVision raised an undisclosed fund in 2022, affirming its commitment to emerging technologies and innovative ventures.

Investcorp, headquartered in Manama, Bahrain, has solidified its presence with six investments in European startups. With a focus on mid-sized B2B businesses, Investcorp’s diverse investment strategies encompass private equity, real estate, infrastructure, and credit management, contributing to its notable investments in companies such as Terra Quantum and TruKKer.

Chimera Capital, based in Abu Dhabi, UAE, rounds off the list with four strategic investments in European startups. As part of a prominent business conglomerate, Chimera Capital leverages its global reach and sector-agnostic approach to drive investments in ventures such as CMR Surgical and Neat Burger.

In conclusion, the burgeoning influx of capital from Gulf investors into European startups underscores the region’s growing appeal as a vibrant hub for innovation and entrepreneurship. With key players such as Aramco Ventures, Mubadala Capital, and Ventura Capital leading the charge, European startups are poised to benefit from the strategic investments and partnerships forged with Gulf investors, propelling them towards sustained growth and success in the global market landscape.

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China Reveals Lunar Mission: Sending ‘Taikonauts’ To The Moon From 2030 Onwards

China Reveals Lunar Mission

The Voice Of EU | In a bold stride towards lunar exploration, the Chinese Space Agency has unveiled its ambitious plans for a moon landing set to unfold in the 2030s. While exact timelines remain uncertain, this endeavor signals a potential resurgence of the historic space race reminiscent of the 1960s rivalry between the United States and the USSR.

China’s recent strides in lunar exploration include the deployment of three devices on the moon’s surface, coupled with the successful launch of the Queqiao-2 satellite. This satellite serves as a crucial communication link, bolstering connectivity between Earth and forthcoming missions to the moon’s far side and south pole.

Unlike the secretive approach of the Soviet Union in the past, China’s strategy leans towards transparency, albeit with a hint of mystery surrounding the finer details. Recent revelations showcase the naming and models of lunar spacecraft, steeped in cultural significance. The Mengzhou, translating to “dream ship,” will ferry three astronauts to and from the moon, while the Lanyue, meaning “embrace the moon,” will descend to the lunar surface.

Drawing inspiration from both Russian and American precedents, China’s lunar endeavor presents a novel approach. Unlike its predecessors, China will employ separate launches for the manned module and lunar lander due to the absence of colossal space shuttles. This modular approach bears semblance to SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy, reflecting a contemporary adaptation of past achievements.

Upon reaching lunar orbit, astronauts, known as “taikonauts” in Chinese, will rendezvous with the lunar lander, reminiscent of the Apollo program’s maneuvers. However, distinct engineering choices mark China’s departure from traditional lunar landing methods.

The Chinese lunar lander, while reminiscent of the Apollo Lunar Module, introduces novel features such as a single set of engines and potential reusability and advance technology. Unlike past missions where lunar modules were discarded, China’s design hints at the possibility of refueling and reuse, opening avenues for sustained lunar exploration.

China Reveals Lunar Mission: Sending 'Taikonauts' To The Moon From 2030 Onwards
A re-creation of the two Chinese spacecraft that will put ‘taikonauts’ on the moon.CSM

Despite these advancements, experts have flagged potential weaknesses, particularly regarding engine protection during landing. Nevertheless, China’s lunar aspirations remain steadfast, with plans for extensive testing and site selection underway.

Beyond planting flags and collecting rocks, China envisions establishing a permanent lunar base, the International Lunar Research Station (ILRS), ushering in a new era of international collaboration in space exploration.

While the Artemis agreements spearheaded by NASA have garnered global support, China’s lunar ambitions stand as a formidable contender in shaping the future of space exploration. In conclusion, China’s unveiling of its lunar ambitions not only marks a significant milestone in space exploration but also sets the stage for a new chapter in the ongoing saga of humanity’s quest for the cosmos. As nations vie for supremacy in space, collaboration and innovation emerge as the cornerstones of future lunar endeavors.

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Aviation and Telecom Industries Reach Compromise on 5G Deployment

The Voice Of EU | In a significant development, AT&T and Verizon, the two largest mobile network operators in the United States, have agreed to delay the deployment of 5G services following requests from the aviation industry and the Biden administration. This decision marks a crucial compromise in the long-standing dispute between the two industries, which had raised concerns over the potential interference of 5G with flight signals.
The aviation industry, led by United Airlines CEO Scott Kirby, had been vocal about the risks of 5G deployment, citing concerns over the safety of flight operations. Kirby had urged AT&T and Verizon to delay their plans, warning that proceeding with the deployment would be a “catastrophic failure of government.” The US Senate Commerce Committee hearing on the issue further highlighted the need for a solution.
In response, US Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg and Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) head Steve Dickson sent a letter to the mobile networks, requesting a two-week delay to reassess the potential risks. Initially, AT&T and Verizon were hesitant, citing the aviation industry’s two-year preparation window. However, they eventually agreed to the short delay, pushing the deployment to January 19.
The crux of the issue lies in the potential interference between 5G signals and flight equipment, particularly radar altimeters. The C-Band spectrum used by 5G networks is close to the frequencies employed by these critical safety devices. The FAA requires accurate and reliable radar altimeters to ensure safe flight operations.

Airlines in the US have been at loggerheads with mobile networks over the deployment of 5G and its potential impact on flight safety.

Despite the concerns, both the FAA and the telecoms industry agree that 5G mobile networks and airline travel can coexist safely. In fact, they already do in nearly 40 countries where US airlines operate regularly. The key lies in reducing power levels around airports and fostering cross-industry collaboration prior to deployment.
The FAA has been working to find a solution in the United States, and the additional two-week delay will allow for further assessment and preparation. AT&T and Verizon have also agreed to not operate 5G base stations along runways for six months, similar to restrictions imposed in France.
President Joe Biden hailed the decision to delay as “a significant step in the right direction.” The European Union Aviation Safety Agency and South Korea have also reported no unsafe interference with radio waves since the deployment of 5G in their regions.
As the aviation and telecom industries continue to work together, it is clear that safe coexistence is possible. The delay in 5G deployment is a crucial step towards finding a solution that prioritizes both safety and innovation. With ongoing collaboration and technical assessments, the United States can join the growing list of countries where 5G and airlines coexist without issue.

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