Microsoft cuts Russia operations due to Ukraine invasion

Microsoft cuts Russia operations due to Ukraine invasion
Earlier in March, Microsoft said it was suspending new sales of its products and services in Russia. (AFP)
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Updated 09 June 2022

Microsoft cuts Russia operations due to Ukraine invasion

Microsoft cuts Russia operations due to Ukraine invasion

LONDON: Microsoft Corp. is substantially cutting its business in Russia in response to Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine, Bloomberg News reported on Wednesday.
Earlier in March, Microsoft said it was suspending new sales of its products and services in Russia.
The company did not immediately respond to a Reuters request for comment.
More than 400 employees will be affected, the report said, citing a company spokesperson.
Several major companies, including Apple Inc, Nike and Dell Technologies, have severed connections with Russia.
Facebook-owner Meta Platforms Inc. and Alphabet Inc’s Google have also taken measures to restrict Russian state media from making money off ads on their platforms.


Brazil’s press officer shocks World Cup reporters by throwing cat to the floor in media conference

Brazil’s press officer shocks World Cup reporters by throwing cat to the floor in media conference
Updated 09 December 2022

Brazil’s press officer shocks World Cup reporters by throwing cat to the floor in media conference

Brazil’s press officer shocks World Cup reporters by throwing cat to the floor in media conference
  • Football star Vinicius Jr laughed out of shock

LONDON: The press officer of the Brazilian national team shocked journalists when he picked up a cat that had interrupted footballer Vinicius Jr’s press conference on Wednesday and threw it on the floor.

The stray was caught on camera jumping onto the table in front of the unnamed Brazil media officer while the Real Madrid forward, 22, was answering questions ahead of the World Cup clash with Croatia.

The press officer picked up the cat with both hands and disposed of it ruthlessly, shocking journalists, while the football star froze and then laughed, seemingly out of astonishment.

The video of Brazil’s press officer mistreating the cat went viral, and fans on social media criticized his action, with one hoping “Brazil don't win the World Cup now."


67 journalists, media workers killed on the job this year

67 journalists, media workers killed on the job this year
Updated 09 December 2022

67 journalists, media workers killed on the job this year

67 journalists, media workers killed on the job this year
  • The Brussels-based IFJ recorded five deaths of journalists amid this year’s political crisis in Pakistan
  • Group called on governments to take more concrete action to protect journalists

BRUSSELS: Russia’s war in Ukraine, chaos in Haiti and rising violence by criminal groups in Mexico contributed to a 30 percent spike in the number of journalists killed doing their work in 2022 over the previous year, according to a new report released Friday.
The International Federation of Journalists says that 67 journalists and media staff have been killed around the world so far this year, up from 47 last year.
The Brussels-based group also tallied 375 journalists currently imprisoned for their work, with the most in China, Myanmar and Turkiye. Last year’s report listed 365 journalists behind bars.
With the number of media workers killed on the rise, the group called on governments to take more concrete action to protect journalists and free journalism.
“The failure to act will only embolden those who seek to suppress the free flow of information and undermine the ability of people to hold their leaders to account, including in ensuring that those with power and influence do not stand in the way of open and inclusive societies,” IFJ General Secretary Anthony Bellanger said in a statement.
More media workers were killed covering the war in Ukraine – 12 in total — than in any other country this year, according to the IFJ. Most were Ukrainian but also included those of other nationalities such as American documentary filmmaker Brent Renaud. Many deaths occurred in the first chaotic weeks of the war, though threats to journalists continue as the fighting drags on.
The IFJ said “the rule by terror of criminal organizations in Mexico, and the breakdown of law and order in Haiti, have also contributed to the surge in killings.” 2022 has been one of the deadliest ever for journalists in Mexico, which is now considered the most dangerous country for reporters outside a war zone.
The group recorded five deaths of journalists amid this year’s political crisis in Pakistan, and warned of new threats to journalists in Colombia and continued danger for journalists in the Philippines despite new leadership there.
It also called out the shooting of Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh as she was reporting from a Palestinian refugee camp. The Arab network this week formally asked the International Criminal Court to investigate her death.
The Brussels-based IFJ represents 600,000 media professionals from trade unions and associations in more than 140 countries. The report was released on the eve of the United Nations’ Human Rights Day.


Meta battles US antitrust agency over future of virtual reality

Meta battles US antitrust agency over future of virtual reality
Updated 09 December 2022

Meta battles US antitrust agency over future of virtual reality

Meta battles US antitrust agency over future of virtual reality
  • FTC sued Meta in July to stop the tech giant's acquisition of virtual reality app developer Within
  • Government victory could crimp Meta’s ability to maneuver in an area of emerging technology

WASHINGTON: The Biden administration on Thursday accused Meta Platforms Inc. of trying to buy its way to dominance in the metaverse, kicking off a high-profile trial to try to prevent the Facebook parent from buying virtual reality app developer Within Inc.
The FTC sued in July to stop the deal, saying Meta’s acquisition of Within would “tend to create a monopoly” in the market for virtual reality (VR) fitness apps. It has asked the judge to order a preliminary injunction that would halt the proposed transaction.
In an opening statement, FTC lawyer Abby Dennis said the Within acquisition was part of Meta’s bid to acquire new and more diverse virtual reality users, including customers of Within’s popular subscription-based virtual reality workout app Supernatural.
That would complement Meta’s existing virtual reality users, who tend to skew young and male, and be more focused on gaming, Dennis added.
“Meta could have chosen to use all its vast resources and capabilities to build its own dedicated VR fitness app, and it was planning on doing that before it acquired Within,” Dennis said, pointing to a plan from early 2021.
The plan, Operation Twinkie, involved expanding a rhythm game app called Beat Saber that the company acquired in 2019 into the fitness space via a proposed partnership with digital fitness company Peloton, Dennis said.
She cited an email from Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg saying he was “bullish” on fitness and calling the proposed partnership with Peloton “awesome.”
Lawyers for Meta and Within argued that the FTC did a poor job of defining the relevant market and said the companies compete with a range of fitness content, not just VR-dedicated fitness apps.
Meta’s lawyers also disputed that plans for a Meta-owned VR fitness app had proceeded beyond low-level “brainstorming” and argued that the FTC underestimated the competition in the market it had defined, citing the potential for fellow tech giants Apple Inc, Alphabet Inc’s Google and Bytedance to join the fray.
Rade Stojsavljevic, who manages Meta’s in-house VR app developer studios, testified that he had proposed the tie-up between Beat Saber and Peloton but did not develop a formal plan and never discussed the idea with either party.
Internal documents from early 2021 that were displayed in court showed Stojsavljevic proposing acquisitions of VR developers before they could be “cannibalized” by competitors and discussing pressure from Zuckerberg to “get aggressive” in response to reports of a prospective Apple headset.
The trial, scheduled through Dec. 20, will serve as a test of the FTC’s bid to head off what it sees as a repeat of the company acquiring small upcoming would-be rivals and effectively buying its way to dominance, this time in the nascent virtual and augmented reality markets.
The FTC is separately trying to force Meta to unwind two previous acquisitions, Instagram and WhatsApp, in a lawsuit filed in 2020. Both were in relatively new markets at the time the companies were purchased.
PRESSURE TO PRODUCE HIT APPS
A government victory could crimp Meta’s ability to maneuver in an area of emerging technology — virtual and augmented reality — that Zuckerberg has identified as the “next generation of computing.”
If blocked from making acquisitions in the space, Meta would face greater pressure to produce its own hit apps and would give up the gains — in terms of revenue, talent, data and control — associated with bringing innovative developers in-house.
Within developed Supernatural, which it advertises as a “complete fitness service” with “expert coaches,” “beautiful destinations” and “workouts choreographed to the best music available.”
It is available only on Meta’s Quest devices, which are headsets offering immersive digital visuals and audio that market research firm IDC estimates capture 90 percent of global shipments in the virtual reality hardware market.
The majority of the more than 400 apps available in the Quest app store are produced by external developers. Meta owns the most popular virtual reality app in the Quest app store, Beat Saber, the app it was considering expanding with the Peloton partnership.
The social media company agreed to buy Within in October 2021, a day after changing its name from Facebook to Meta, signalling its ambition to build an immersive virtual environment known as the metaverse.
Zuckerberg will be a witness in the trial. Other potential witnesses are Within CEO Chris Milk and Meta Chief Technology Officer Andrew Bosworth, who runs the company’s metaverse-oriented Reality Labs unit.
The trial is at the US District Court for the Northern District of California.


Twitter to introduce new controls for ad placements

Twitter to introduce new controls for ad placements
Updated 09 December 2022

Twitter to introduce new controls for ad placements

Twitter to introduce new controls for ad placements
  • Companies will have the option to prevent their ads appearing under certain tweets
  • Move hopes to reassure advertisers following rise in hate speech

LONDON: Twitter Inc. will roll out new controls as soon as next week to let companies prevent their ads from appearing above or below tweets containing certain keywords, the social media platform told advertisers in an email on Thursday.
The new controls are part of Twitter’s effort to reassure and lure back advertisers that have pulled ads off the platform since it was purchased in October by billionaire Elon Musk, amid reports from civil rights groups that hate speech has risen since the acquisition and after several banned or suspended accounts were reinstated.
Twitter earns nearly 90 percent of its revenue from selling digital ads. Musk recently attributed a “massive drop in revenue” to civil rights organizations that have pressured brands to pause their Twitter ads.
In a call on Thursday with an advertising industry group, a Twitter representative said the platform was considering bringing its content moderators, many of whom are contracted through third-party vendors, in-house, according to a source familiar with the remarks.
The Twitter representative said bringing content moderators in-house would allow the platform to invest more in moderation for non-English languages, according to the source.
The comments come after Twitter’s new head of trust and safety, Ella Irwin, told Reuters that the platform would lean more heavily on automated content moderation. Irwin also said that Twitter’s recent layoffs, which cut 50 percent of staff, did not significantly hurt its moderation team and those working on critical areas like child safety.
The email to advertisers on Thursday, which was reviewed by Reuters, said a revamped version of Twitter’s subscription service called Twitter Blue would begin rolling out on Friday.
The subscription will allow accounts to receive a verified check mark. Accounts for individuals will get a blue check, while gold and gray check marks will denote business and government accounts, according to the email.
The subscription price will be $7 per month on the web and $11 per month on Apple devices, the email said.
Twitter also told advertisers that it removed ads from profiles mentioned in a Washington Post article on Tuesday, which reported that ads had appeared on the Twitter accounts of white nationalists.
Snap Inc, which owns photo messaging app Snapchat, has paused its advertising on Twitter while it investigates the issue, a spokesperson told Reuters.
The accounts were not part of “amnesty reinstatements,” Twitter’s email said, referring to Musk’s tweet last month that Twitter would reinstate suspended accounts that have not broken the law.
“We will not be reinstating bad actors, spam accounts and users that engaged in criminal/illegal activity,” Twitter’s note to advertisers said.
Twitter, which has lost many members of its communications team, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.


Pakistani journalist’s killing in Kenya a pre-meditated murder – report

Pakistani journalist’s killing in Kenya a pre-meditated murder – report
Updated 09 December 2022

Pakistani journalist’s killing in Kenya a pre-meditated murder – report

Pakistani journalist’s killing in Kenya a pre-meditated murder – report
  • TV journalist Arshad Sharif earlier fled Pakistan citing threats to his life
  • Team of Pakistani probers believe it was a case of pre-meditated murder

ISLAMABAD: A team set up by the Pakistani government to probe the killing of a well-known Pakistani journalist in Nairobi said it found several contradictions in the version given by Kenyan authorities, and believes it was a case of pre-meditated murder.
TV journalist Arshad Sharif, who had fled Pakistan citing threats to his life, was shot dead in Nairobi in October. Kenyan officials said it was a case of mistaken identity and police hunting car thieves opened fire on his vehicle as it drove through a roadblock without stopping.
A two-member fact-finding team from Pakistan that traveled to Kenya and conducted a number of interviews, examined and reconstructed the crime scene and examined the deceased’s phones and computers, said in a 600-page report that Sharif’s killing was a pre-planned murder.
“Both the members of the (fact-finding team) have a considered understanding that it is a case of planned targeted assassination with transnational characters rather than a case of mistaken identity,” said the report, copies of which were submitted to Pakistan’s Supreme Court.
“It is more probable that the firing was done, after taking proper aim, at a stationary vehicle,” it said.
Kenyan authorities declined comment on the specifics of the report.
“The investigation into the matter is still ongoing, so there is not much I can tell,” said Resila Onyango, spokesperson for the Kenya National Police Service.
A multi-agency team is conducting the investigation, he said, adding that the team will apprise authorities when they are done with the probe.
The chairperson of the Kenyan police watchdog Independent Police Oversight Authority, Anne Makori, also said investigations were still ongoing.
Pakistan’s Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah had said before the release of the report that Sharif’s body had bruises and torture marks, suggested it was a targeted killing.
The fact-finding team highlighted one wound in particular on Sharif’s back, saying it appeared to have been inflicted from relatively close range.
The report noted there was no corresponding penetration mark of a bullet on the seat on which Sharif was sitting when the shooting purportedly took place, calling it a “ballistic impossibility.”
“The injury had to have been caused either before the journalist got into the vehicle, or the shot was fired from a relatively close range, possibly from inside the vehicle, and almost certainly not a moving vehicle,” the report said.
Sharif had fled from Pakistan citing threats to his life after the government registered several treason cases against him.
One of the treason cases stemmed from reporting Sharif did that led to an accusation he had spread a call from an official in a previous government, led by former cricket star Imran Khan, for members of the armed forces to mutiny.
Both Sharif and the official in the previous government denied inciting mutiny.
Former prime minister Khan said Sharif had been murdered for his journalistic work. He and his successor Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif, not related to the journalist, had called for a judicial investigation.
The fact-finding team’s report also pointed out apparent contradictions in the autopsy reports in Kenya and Pakistan.
The post-mortem report in Pakistan identified 12 injuries on Sharif’s body whereas the Kenyan report identified just two injuries pertaining to gunshot wounds.
The fact-finding team report said doctors believed the injures may be the result of torture or a struggle, but it could not be established until verified by the doctor who conducted the post mortem in Kenya.