Exclusive: U.S. senators ask White House to probe ZTE work in Venezuela

CARACAS (Reuters) – Two U.S. senators on Wednesday will ask the Trump administration to investigate whether ZTE Corp, the Chinese telecommunications company, violated U.S. sanctions by helping Venezuela set up a database that monitors the behavior of its citizens.

China’s ZTE Corp logo is seen at its offices in Caracas, Venezuela October 4, 2018. Picture taken October 4, 2018. REUTERS/Marco Bello

In a letter, Senators Chris Van Hollen and Marco Rubio will ask the U.S. secretaries of state, treasury and commerce to determine whether ZTE worked with individuals cited by U.S. sanctions, used U.S. components unlawfully or helped Venezuela’s government flout democratic processes or human rights.

The letter, following a Reuters investigation of the database and an associated Venezuelan identity card program published Nov. 14, will go to the cabinet officials on Wednesday, according to aides to the two senators.

ZTE (000063.SZ), which this year paid $1 billion to the U.S. government in relation to sanctioned business in Iran and North Korea, didn’t respond to a request for comment for this story.

Venezuela’s Information Ministry didn’t respond to a request for comment. President Nicolas Maduro, grappling with hyperinflation and an economy in freefall, has long argued that U.S. sanctions are part of an “economic war” by Washington to topple his leftist government.

Officials at the U.S. State, Commerce and Treasury departments didn’t respond to requests for comment early Wednesday.

Van Hollen, a Democrat, and Rubio, a Republican, have been vocal backers of previous U.S. measures against ZTE.

The company, of which a Chinese state firm is the largest shareholder, is accused by many Western officials of helping China export surveillance tactics and equipment to authoritarian governments around the world.

ZTE has increasingly worked with Venezuela’s government in various projects there, mostly in ventures with Compania Anonima Nacional Telefonos de Venezuela, or Cantv, the state telecommunications company.

Many senior Venezuelan officials, including Maduro and Cantv President Manuel Fernandez, have been sanctioned by Washington because of what successive U.S. administrations have deemed authoritative behavior and human rights violations by the government of the Andean country.

Neither Fernandez nor a Cantv spokeswoman responded to requests for comment.

In its investigation, Reuters found that ZTE helped Caracas build a database that can track citizens’ behavior through a national identity card. The ID, the “fatherland card,” can compile data including financial and medical histories, usage of social media, political affiliation and whether a person voted.

One area of concern for the senators is whether ZTE installed components made by Dell Technologies Inc (DVMT.N) in the database. One document reviewed by Reuters indicated that ZTE used storage units built by the U.S-based company in equipment it installed for Cantv.

In their letter Wednesday, the senators ask “whether ZTE violated U.S. export controls with respect to the installation of data storage units built by Dell.” A spokeswoman for Dell told Reuters it had no record of a sale for that purpose.

The senators also ask the U.S. administration to determine whether ZTE’s work in Venezuela breaks the terms of the $1 billion agreement it came to earlier this year with the Commerce Department related to previous sanctions violations.

Additional reporting by Karen Freifeld in Washington and Anne Marie Roantree in Hong Kong. Editing by Paulo Prada.

Range Rover's New Evoque Is Made to Conquer the Parking Lot

The Range Rover Evoque is a funny sort of car. The sort of off-roader that self-appointed car lovers love to dismiss as a cute ute that spends more time rolling through mall parking lots than cavorting through streams and over felled trees. Its maker, though, can handle the grumblings—Jaguar Land Rover has sold 772,000 Evoques since introducing the luxury compact SUV in 2010.

As it pushes for the million mark, it makes sense that JLR has upped the “utility” with those civilized, civilian customers in mind: The newly unveiled latest generation of the Evoque is built to conquer the mall parking lot.

Naturally, the 2020 Evoque comes stuffed with coddling goodies. The infotainment system supports Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. You can adjust the seats in 16 ways. The cabin “ionization” systems treats your nostrils like the royal groomer treats the queen’s corgis. The longer wheelbase means more room for your luggage and your knees, and the 48-volt “mild hybrid” system runs the car on electric power below 11 mph, saving fuel.

“ClearSight Ground View” pipes the feed from cameras in the grille and side-view mirrors to show the driver what they’d see if the hood were transparent.

Jaguar Land Rover

Of course, the baby of the everexpanding Range Rover lineup can handle itself when the going gets tough. Riding on optional 21-inch tires, it can handle nearly 2 feet of water, with ultrasonic sensors on the side-view mirrors monitoring the depth. JLR hasn’t announced pricing yet, but the outgoing Evoque starts at $41,800.

The coolest features, though, aren’t meant for taking the Evoque for a romp in some rural paradise. They’re for taking it through the parking lots America has paved over such places. The marquee bit is “ClearSight Ground View,” which pipes the feed from cameras in the grille and side-view mirrors to show (in the central touchscreen) the driver what they’d see if the hood were transparent. It’s the production version of the “transparent bonnet” concept Land Rover showed in 2014.

Back then, JLR pitched it as a handy tool for off-roading. Now the automaker is acknowledging a more likely use case: The press release says the feature will “help the driver maintain visibility when negotiating extreme terrains as well as high city curbs.” And that’s a good thing: If you’re paying more than $40,000 for a car, you don’t want to shred the fender on a concrete bumper block.

Thanks to a camera feed piped into the rearview mirror, you can find your way out of that spot no matter how many boxes you’ve piled into the trunk.

Jaguar Land Rover

When the shopping’s done and it’s time to escape, the “ClearSight Rear View Mirror” uses a camera on the back of the car to turn the rearview mirror into an HD feed of what’s happening back there. (GM pioneered this clever tech in the Cadillac CT6 and Chevy Bolt EV.) So no matter how many boxes you’ve piled up in the trunk, you can find your way out of the spot and home again, ready to rest up for the next adventure.


More Great WIRED Stories

What Tesla did for luxury cars, Rivian wants to do for pickups

PLYMOUTH, Mich. (Reuters) – Rivian Automotive plans to debut its all-electric pickup truck at the Los Angeles auto show on Monday, and its founder and chief executive exudes optimism about his desire to do for the U.S. auto industry’s most lucrative segment what Tesla did for luxury cars.

The R1T, the all-electric pickup by Rivian, an American electric-car company, is seen in this image released by Rivian in Plymouth, Michigan, U.S., on November 20, 2018. Courtesy Ben Moon/Rivian/Handout via REUTERS

Not everyone is so sanguine.

R.J. Scaringe, Rivian’s 35-year-old CEO, said he and his financial backers believe that demand for electric pickups is “massively underserved.”

Rivian intends to begin selling its R1T, the pickup it will debut in Los Angeles, in the fall of 2020.

That would not make Rivian the first to the U.S. market with an electric pickup. Cincinnati-based truck maker Workhorse Group Inc is developing an electric pickup that is slated for production in 2019.

But while Workhorse is aiming to sell its pickup to utilities and municipalities for use on limited routes, Rivian said its pickup is aimed at consumers. Rivian’s truck will have a range of up to about 400 miles, which would be the longest among its three different battery packs.

Scaringe sees the U.S. pickup market, which accounts for the bulk of global profits for the Detroit Three automakers, as ripe for change.

“What we’re talking about here are cars that don’t drive particularly well, don’t handle particularly well, have fuel economy that’s really quite bad,” he told reporters at Rivian’s headquarters in Plymouth, Michigan, before the L.A. show.

Rivian has not disclosed prices for its truck, but Scaringe said it will start at just under $70,000 before federal tax credits for the entry-level model. A stripped-down version with the most powerful battery pack will sell for less than $90,000. Current large, luxury pickup trucks can sell at that price or higher.

SOME DOUBTS ABOUT DEMAND

Many auto industry officials and analysts are skeptical that electric pickups can sell in large numbers unless battery technology vastly improves in driving range and cost.

Buzz about electric pickups vastly outweighs their near-term significance to the U.S. market, because making a pickup electric can compromise other key attributes of such vehicles, such as load-hauling capability.

Rivian’s truck will offer a payload of 1,760 pounds and a towing capacity of 11,000 pounds – attributes more comparable to the Detroit Three’s mid-sized trucks than to best-selling large trucks such as the Ford F-150 or GMC Sierra. That will put Rivian’s truck in a tough place as it lacks the power and payload of the larger models, but will cost more than the mid-sized trucks.

“A hybrid makes more sense,” said Sam Fiorani, vice president of global vehicle forecasting at Auto Forecast Solutions.

The Detroit Three automakers have not jumped into the market for electric pickups. Tesla’s CEO, Elon Musk, told investors in August that an electric pickup is “probably my personal favorite for the next product” from the company, though he has spoken only in general about a potential launch, saying that it would happen “right after” Tesla’s Model Y, which the company has targeted to start production in 2020.

Ford Motor Co has promised a hybrid F-150 pickup by 2020 and hinted at a fully electric model some day. General Motors Co’s CEO, Mary Barra, has said the U.S. automaker has given a “tiny bit” of thought to developing all-electric pickups.

Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV has a hybrid electric-gasoline version of its Ram pickup. Japan’s Toyota Motor Corp said it hopes to make electric options on all models available by 2025.

For the most part, the U.S. pickup market leaders are doubling down on petroleum-fueled models such as Fiat Chrysler’s new Jeep Gladiator mid-sized pickup that will be officially unveiled in Los Angeles. The Gladiator is aimed at consumers who want a “lifestyle” truck that has car-like amenities in the cab, and can haul recreational “toys” such as jet-skis, campers or dirt bikes.

Rivian, which last year bought the former Mitsubishi plant in Normal, Illinois, for $16 million to build its truck, will also likely face financial challenges and the need to raise more money as it moves into production, if Tesla’s experience is any guide. Tesla has raised billions of dollars in financing — including secondary share offerings and bond sales — as it has struggled to ramp up production.

Rivian’s financial backers include Saudi auto distributor Abdul Latif Jameel Co (ALJ), Sumitomo Corp of America and Standard Chartered Bank [STANB.UL]. ALJ has agreed to provide almost $500 million in funding, Sumitomo invested an undisclosed amount, and Standard Chartered provided debt financing of $200 million.

Like the new Jeep Gladiator, Rivian is targeting recreational customers.

Autotrader analyst Michelle Krebs said those types of customers tend to prefer the mid-sized trucks like the Toyota Tacoma and Chevrolet Colorado, but they are much less brand loyal than owners of the full-sized trucks.

Slideshow (3 Images)

But Scaringe said that Rivian sees an advantage in its truck’s foundation, a “skateboard” that packages the vehicle drive units, battery pack, suspension system, brakes and cooling system all below wheel height to allow for more storage space and greater stability due to a lower center of gravity.

The skateboard could be used for other models including an SUV. Scaringe said Rivian’s goal is to reach about 50,000 sales a year by 2025. Rivian also plans to sell the skateboard to other automakers, he said.

And Scaringe said Rivian has another business strategy: Most of its revenue will not come from selling vehicles, but eventually selling experiences like renting vehicles for a weekend trip.

Reporting by Ben Klayman; Additional reporting by Joseph White in Detroit; Editing by Leslie Adler

Want a Happy Marriage? This Is the Most Important Lesson You Need to Learn

It first came out–of course–on Page Six. Robert De Niro and his wife Grace Hightower have split up. No big surprise, you might think–celebrity marriages fail all the time. But this one had lasted more than 20 years. In fact, it’s survived so much that you might have assumed they were together for life. But that’s the lesson here: No matter how long you’ve been together, no matter how fine you think things are, a marriage or partnership is never, ever a done deal.

De Niro and Hightower certainly didn’t rush into things. The two met when Hightower, a former flight attendant, was working as a hostess at the high-end restaurant Mr. Chow, popular with Hollywood celebrities.

They dated for a decade before tying the knot. “It was an ease-in. It wasn’t a whirlwind,” Hightower told The New York Times. Almost exactly nine months after they wed, their son Elliot was born. Then, in 1999, they split up, De Niro filed for divorce, and there was a custody battle for Elliot. But instead of going through with their divorce, the couple reconciled and even renewed their vows at a star-studded ceremony in 2004. In the meantime, Elliot was diagnosed with autism, a heartbreaking event for both parents. The couple had their second child, Helen Grace, by surrogate, in 2012. 

In other words, theirs is a 30-year relationship that has survived a lot of bad times. He’s 75. She’s 63. You would think they’d have figured out by now how to make a marriage work. And, according to one account, Hightower thought they had. “She was blindsided. As of a few weeks ago, everything seemed fine,” an anonymous inside source told celebrity gossip site Radar Online. That inside source went on to say that Hightower, known as a socialite and philanthropist, had angered De Niro with her spendthrift ways. 

The famously press-shy couple has not commented on the reason for the split, or even publicly confirmed that they have split, although at least one source close to them says they’ve been living apart for some time, and De Niro appeared solo at the Friars Club roast for Billy Crystal. But whatever the true reason for the breakup, the important lesson for every couple who wants to stay together long-term is very clear: Do not ever let yourself think that your marriage or partnership is settled for good. It’s never one less thing to worry about. You have to worry about it always.

I’ve seen it happen more than once, and so have you. When I was in high school, my boyfriend’s parents had what seemed like an ideal relationship. They’d paired up while broke students in Paris, married six days after he proposed. They raised five kids and seven Siamese cats in a rambling apartment in New York’s Upper West Side, back when it was affordable rather than tony. They had a small house in Connecticut that they had constructed themselves. They took fun trips to exotic places with the whole family in tow. But then the youngest of the kids went off to college, and she announced that she was leaving, that she had been unhappy for years. From what I heard, her husband was blindsided too.

Another couple I know married when she was only 17 and he was 25, mainly because she wanted to get away from her father’s home. They knew they might be too young for marriage, so the pair agreed that they were only committing to it for six months, at which point they would reconsider their options. After six months, they decided to go on for another six months, and then again, and then again, as the years piled up. They were still at it, and still happily married, when he died 64 years later.

I think they were on to something. If you want to make a partnership last, especially through the tough times, the overloaded schedules, the 2 am feedings, the preschool years that strain so many relationships, and everything else life throws at you, then you can never put it on the back burner. You have to choose your partner every single day, and he or she must choose you. If something’s wrong, you have to find out what it is, and fix it, or talk it out. You might make a fuss over birthdays, anniversaries, and Valentine’s Day, or you might not. But you do have to find the occasions for fun and romance, for gift-giving, and going on adventures. You have to find goals you both care about and work toward them together. You have to share each other’s secrets, and triumphs, and disappointments, and it has to happen every day.

It takes all that, and more, to keep a relationship alive over time. So it’s a simple choice. Either you put in the work, or you risk winding up like my old boyfriend’s father, and maybe like Grace Hightower, wondering how things went so wrong while your attention was focused elsewhere.

How much for that app? U.S. top court hears Apple antitrust dispute

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – When iPhone users want to edit blemishes out of their selfies, identify stars and constellations or simply join the latest video game craze, they turn to Apple Inc’s App Store, where any software application they buy also includes a 30 percent cut for Apple.

FILE PHOTO: Customers walk past an Apple logo inside of an Apple store at Grand Central Station in New York, U.S., August 1, 2018. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson/File Photo

That commission is a key issue in a closely watched antitrust case that will reach the U.S. Supreme Court on Monday. The nine justices will hear arguments in Apple’s bid to escape damages in a lawsuit accusing it of breaking federal antitrust laws by monopolizing the market for iPhone apps and causing consumers to pay more than they should.

The justices will ultimately decide a broader question: Can consumers even sue for damages in an antitrust case like this one?

Apple, which is appealing a lower court decision that revived the proposed consumer class-action lawsuit, says no, citing a decades-old Supreme Court precedent. The Cupertino, California-based technology company said that siding with the iPhone users who filed the lawsuit would threaten the burgeoning field of e-commerce, which generates hundreds of billions of dollars annually in U.S. retail sales.

The plaintiffs, as well as antitrust watchdog groups, said that if the justices close courthouse doors to those who buy consumer products, monopolistic conduct could expand unchecked.

“A lot of tech platforms will start making the argument that consumers don’t have standing to bring antitrust suits against us,” said Sandeep Vaheesan, legal director for the Open Markets Institute, a Washington-based antitrust advocacy group.

“Uber could say, we’re just providing communication services to ride-sharing drivers,” Vaheesan said, referring to the popular ride-sharing company. “If there’s an antitrust issue, the drivers can bring a claim but passengers do not have standing.”

The iPhone users accused Apple of violating federal antitrust law by monopolizing the sale of paid apps, leading to inflated prices compared to if apps were available from other sources.

Though developers set the prices of their apps, Apple collects the payments from iPhone users, keeping a 30 percent commission on each purchase. One area of dispute in the case is whether app developers recoup the cost of that commission by passing it on to consumers. Developers earned more than $26 billion in 2017, a 30 percent increase over 2016, according to Apple.

The company sought to have the antitrust claims dismissed, saying the plaintiffs lacked the required legal standing to bring the lawsuit.

Apple has seized upon a 1977 Supreme Court ruling that limited damages for anti-competitive conduct to those directly overcharged instead of indirect victims who paid an overcharge passed on by others. Part of the concern, the court said in that case, was to free judges from having to make complex calculations of damages.

Apple said it is acting only as the agent for app developers who sell the apps to consumers through the App Store.

The company said allowing the lawsuit to proceed would be dangerous for the e-commerce industry, which increasingly relies on agent-based sales models. Apple cited companies like ticket site StubHub, Amazon’s Marketplace and eBay.

Lawsuits against companies like these would multiply “and lead to the quagmire this court sought to avoid,” Apple told the justices in a legal brief.

E-commerce reached $452 billion in U.S. retail sales in 2017, according to U.S. government estimates.

Apple is supported by President Donald Trump’s administration. The plaintiffs are backed by the attorneys general of 30 states including California, Texas, Florida and New York.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce business group, backing Apple, said in a brief to the justices, “The increased risk and cost of litigation will chill innovation, discourage commerce, and hurt developers, retailers and consumers alike.”

The plaintiffs and some anti-monopoly groups disagree. They said that app developers would be unlikely to sue because they would not want to bite the hand that feeds them, leaving no one to challenge anti-competitive conduct.

Developers “cannot risk the possibility of Apple removing them from the App Store if they bring suit,” the American Antitrust Institute advocacy group said in a brief.

Apple is “trying to make it harder for injured parties to assert their rights under federal antitrust law,” said Mark Rifkin, an attorney for the plaintiffs.

The claims against Apple date to 2011 when several iPhone buyers including lead plaintiff Robert Pepper of Chicago filed a class action lawsuit against Apple in federal court in Oakland, California. A judge initially threw out the suit, ruling that the consumers were not direct purchasers because the higher fees they paid were passed on to them by the developers.

The San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals last year revived the lawsuit, deciding that Apple was a distributor that sold iPhone apps directly to consumers.

Reporting by Andrew Chung; Editing by Will Dunham

A Driver Returned to His Car to Find a Note and An Incredible Lesson on Doing the Right Thing. The Note Was From a 6th Grader

Absurdly Driven looks at the world of business with a skeptical eye and a firmly rooted tongue in cheek. 

A grasp of ethics is becoming slightly more popular in business these days.

Well, we can thank the Valley’s abject disregard for ethics, one that’s finally caught up with many of its companies. Why, even Stanford has begun to discover the concept.

Still, when you run a business you don’t always — often? ever? — expect people to do the right thing.

Which is, perhaps, why the story of Andrew Sipowicz and his car has moved so many this week.

He returned to his car last Monday, parked in Buffalo, New York, to experience a sinking feeling. 

He also experienced something he never expected.

His car, you see, had endured a substantial dent in its front left side. It seemed as if there had been a hit and a run. 

Yet perched inside his windshield wiper was a note. A very detailed note, as it happened, from a 6th grader.

The spelling wasn’t perfect. The sentiment certainly was.

It read: 

If your wondering what happen to your car.

Bus: 449 hit your car It stops here everyday to drop me off.

At 5:00pm.

What happened? She was trying to pull off and hit the car. She hit and run. She tried to vear over and squeeze threw but couldn’t. She actually squeezed threw. She made a dent and I saw what happened.

-Sorry

-Driver seat left door

-A lady in the bus driver seat 499.

-Buffalo Public School bus

-A 6th grader at Houghten Academy

It sets a good example for a lot of students. Not just students, but just people in general.

What resulted is that the bus company is covering the cost of repairs and giving Sipowicz a loaner car. The bus driver, reports CNN, will be fired.

We get wrapped up in the bad deeds of companies because they appear to have such large consequences.

At heart, though, the bad deeds of companies are merely the bad deeds of individuals, written in capital letters and involving large amounts of capital.

Yet simple stories of goodwill also spread around the web, as this one has. 

It’s almost as if people want to be reassured that, in the midst of a world that seems to bathe delightedly in corruption, there still are good people. 

That story led to unexpected consequences and national attention. 

These days, we watch as so many who could say something, end up saying nothing.

We’re told that kids don’t bother with anything but themselves, buried as they are in their phones. 

Here, though, is a simple lesson of a 6th-grader who stopped, looked around and did the right thing. A generous thing.

Perhaps we should all do that a little more often.

Drop the Batteries—Diamonds and Lasers Could Power Your Drone

Drones have arrived in US airspace, and now they are multiplying. By 2022, 700,000 of the little unmanned aircraft could be exploring American skies, according to the FAA, delivering packages, monitoring traffic, inspecting bridges, and filling other yet to be discovered niches. To do that work, every last one will need electricity to spin its rotors and run its sensors. Most will get it from batteries they take with them to work. Some might pull from the grid directly, using tethers.

And, if a Swiss company has its way, some could stay aloft thanks to some help from diamonds.

Lasers actually—shot through diamonds. If this sounds like the sort of dilithium crystal setup that powered the Starship Enterprise, well, it’s not all that far off. Lasers have long been considered potential solutions for beaming electricity straight to drones, by focusing their light on photovoltaic cells affixed to the small aircraft. Darpa, the US Army, independent research groups, and private companies are all investigating the idea.

Among the key challenges all face is ensuring that the quality of the laser beam—and therefore its ability to provide consistent and strong enough light to the drone—tends to degrade with distance. Researchers at LakeDiamond, a spinoff of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, think their solution could be the dilithium crystal of roaming drones.

They have developed an artificial diamond that can help a laser beam maintain its quality over much longer ranges, and say ground-based networks of these diamond-enhanced power sources could send drones flying great distances, without wasting power to haul their big batteries around.

LEARN MORE

The WIRED Guide to Drones

LakeDiamond CEO Pascal Gallo says the company’s lab-created diamond—a smooth, tiny rectangle placed directly in front of the laser source—can convert a low-power laser diode into a beam with consistent, parallel rays that can stretch several hundred meters. Diamonds, you see, are excellent heat conductors and transparent to light. They can take a high-density laser beam that produces a lot of heat, and dissipate that heat, allowing more energy to pass through.

“Lasers containing diamonds in their cavity can produce a very intense, almost perfect beam of light with extremely low divergence,” Gallo says, referring to a laser beam’s tendency to spread out and weaken as it gets farther from the source. (The laser light itself would still be harmless to humans who might look into it or intersect the beam.)

LakeDiamond’s gemstones—purer than natural diamonds and manufactured by layering carbon atoms in a crystalline pattern—are etched with a grating on the surface that generates a mirrored effect that determines the width of the beam. The current test system the company has developed uses a 1.55 micrometer laser to deliver 4 watts, the equivalent of 10,000 laser pointers. It can power small palm-sized drones—large enough to carry cameras—for indefinite periods of time at distances of up to 10 meters. The next step, Gallo says, is for them to be able to power professional drones by delivering up to 100 watts of power at up to 100 meters, which they expect to achieve within the next couple of years.

Diamonds may not be enough to make that happen. Robert Byer, a professor of photon science at Stanford University, says that today’s laser technology is robust enough for those power needs. “Even laser pointers at just 5 watts can be enough to power a drone nearby.” The problem, he says, is that solar cells generate about 200 watts per square meter. One mounted on a drone would need to be large enough to be useful without compromising the drone’s mission.

If it does work as advertised, though, drones could fly without heavy batteries at all, assuming they operate along a network of these power-transmitting lasers aimed via GPS-based tracking systems. (The aircraft would have a batteries on board as a backup, with enough power to land.) Given the compact size of the ground-based power stations, they could operate over hundreds of miles, and even recharge batteries for drones that might need to stray away from the make line for deliveries or other functions. A palm-sized drone consuming 2 to 3 watts with a run time of 30 minutes could recharge in just one minute, LakeDiamond says.

Eventually, the same tech could also be used to beam energy and data to satellites orbiting at up to 700 miles above the surface of the Earth—an effort for which LakeDiamond just secured funding from the Swiss Space Center and the European Space Agency. And to bring in some extra cash, they’re tapping into the consumer diamond market to fund their research. A 1 carat, 5-milimeter “brilliant round” diamond made with their process sets lovebirds back just $750—thousands less than a natural diamond. It might not power a drone, but maybe it could be delivered by one, batteries not included.


More Great WIRED Stories

To Fix Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg Needs to Think More Like Jeff Bezos

There aren’t too many people on Earth who can relate to Mark Zuckerberg’s problems, but Bill Gates is one of them.

So, a few months ago, when Facebook’s founder, chairman, and CEO was struggling to cope with the spiraling scandals and controversies threatening to consume his company, he called the Microsoft founder to ask for help. 

Gates’s advice, according to the Wall Street Journal, was to delegate. He told Zuckerberg to consolidate responsibility for corporate, legal and external affairs into one role. (This job would be similar to the one Brad Smith holds at Microsoft.) 

Indeed, Sandberg’s efforts at containment corkscrewed into yet another scandal, with a New York Times expose detailing the unseemly measures Facebook has taken to shore up support in Washington. While Elliot Schrage, Facebook’s departing head of public policy, took the blame publicly for the most embarrassing revelation — the company’s hiring of a political opposition-research firm to tarnish Facebook’s competitors and critics — internally, Sandberg said it was her responsibility. (Although she has also denied knowledge of it.) 

When you think about it, Gates is an odd choice of mentor for Zuckerberg. While the younger man clearly aspires to Gates’s current image as a farsighted, heroic philanthropist, that wasn’t always how Gates was perceived. 

Twenty years ago, when he was just a few years older than Zuckerberg is now, Microsoft was taking heavy fire for being the corporate goliath that used its monopoly power to crush startups and dominate people’s lives. When the company found itself in the crosshairs of the Department of Justice for its attempt to leverage its position as the No. 1 operating system into control of the burgeoning browser market, Gates responded with a show of arrogance that made Zuckerberg’s blithe dismissal of Facebook’s impact on the 2016 presidential election seem humbly introspective in comparison. (Thanks in no small part to Gates’s self-immolating deposition, Microsoft lost its antitrust case.) 

Now Facebook is the giant that’s sweating the calls for it to be broken up, or otherwise regulated into submission. “How long will it be before Facebook uses its own data and platform against critics?” writes Robert Reich, the U.S. Secretary of Labor under Bill Clinton, in a Guardian op-ed calling for the biggest tech companies to be broken up. “As the New York Times investigation makes clear, political power can’t be separated from economic power. Both are prone to abuse.”

I suggest Jeff Bezos.

Amazon, if anything, is even more of a competition-killing behemoth than Facebook, but Bezos has been far more deft in how he wields its power, as evidenced by a recent survey showing Americans of both political parties trust it more than the other big tech companies — and even more than most major civic institutions. 

Facebook, on the other hand, asks us to join Zuckerberg in his belief that Facebook is not just something many people like and find useful, but is a force for good in the world. In his view, that fundamental goodness outweighs all the ills it has wrought, from political polarization and privacy violations to enabling ethnic cleansing. All that stuff is just so much dust in the chicken, as Zuckerberg once memorably, if bizarrely, put it. And while Zuckerberg has copped to being too idealistic and optimistic, nothing that has come out in the last two years has dented his basement-level assumption that Facebook benefits the people who use it, net-net. “I think it’s a positive force because it gives more people a voice,” he told CNN’s Laurie Segall in yet another damage-control interview that aired Tuesday night. 

An ability to stay clear-eyed and unsentimental is one trait that sets Bezos apart from other entrepreneurs. In a 2017 memo extrapolating from his famous “Day 1” mantra, Bezos highlighted the way a pattern of “managing to proxies” can cause companies to fall into stasis or lose focus. Facebook is a crystal-clear case of a company that fell into the proxy trap. It claimed to care about one thing — while optimizing for something else entirely.

But there are signs Zuckerberg is adopting a more Day 1 mindset. Just last week, he made a remarkable admission: Engagement is less an accurate measure of how much people like a piece of content than of how harmful it can be. “What we see is that as content gets closer to the line of what is prohibited by our community standards, people seem to engage with it more,” he told reporters. Henceforth, Facebook will use AI to identify viral content that stops just short of violating its content policies and suppress its distribution. 

That’s an interesting idea. Even better would be if Zuckerberg follows the thought all the way back to its origin to question to question why engagement is something Facebook cares about in the first place. It’s obvious how boosting viral content serves the advertising model; it’s not at all clear how it serves the stated missions of connecting people and giving them a voice. 

Conviction is essential for any founder, but so is the ability to reevaluate your assumptions. For Mark Zuckerberg, that means the assumption that Facebook is a force for good. Right now, it’s not.

But maybe it could be. 

Turn Off Siri on Your Lock Screen for Better iOS Security

Here’s an easy thing you can do right now to improve your digital security hygiene. Pull out your iPhone, open Settings, go into the Siri settings, and turn off Access When Locked. That’s it! Do it on your iPad while you’re at it. Go ahead and do it for your family and friends, too, at holiday functions when you need to deflect personal questions. Everybody wins!

In the battle of the smart assistants, every tech giant hopes to hook you on its voice-activated helper. That means putting the features front and center in as many products as possible. For its part, Apple offers Siri access from your iPhone’s lock screen, so you can seamlessly hear the weather or make a call without needing to unlock your device. But while Siri and other smart assistants are generally secure, all this integration inevitably leads to bugs from time to time. On a smart speaker, that’s usually not a huge deal. On a smartphone, Siri bugs have made its lock screen presence a periodic risk.

The trouble stems from Siri’s ability to control several aspects of your smartphone. It needs that access to effectively help you navigate your iPhone by voice, but new versions of iOS often miss controls on that access. These bugs could let someone who doesn’t have your passcode—or fingerprint or face—manipulate Siri to access some of your personal data, or even unlock your phone, without authorization.

“It might be worth considering turning it off for folks who do not need it much in the lock screen,” says Will Strafach, an iOS security researcher and the president of Sudo Security Group. “Especially since Touch ID and Face ID make it so easy now to unlock fast.”

In one recent example, hawk-eyed researcher Jose Rodriguez, who has uncovered numerous lock screen bypass bugs since he started looking in 2013, found a new lock screen bug mere hours after Apple released iOS 12. The flaw let anyone access a device’s full contacts list without needing to first unlock the phone. When using Siri to create a conference call, iOS requires authorization to go through contacts and add an additional caller. But when Apple added group FaceTime calls, the company forgot to limit on who could scroll through contacts while adding a line.

Apple did not return requests for comment about fixing the iOS 12 FaceTime bug, or the potential security benefits of disabling Siri on your lock screen. In the general, though, the company fixes lock screen bypass flaws after they come to light in subsequent iOS updates.

In addition to Siri, lock screen bypass bugs can also involve accessibility voice commands and iOS’s Control Center. Essentially, any feature that accepts inputs while a device is locked represents a potential point of failure. “People may like Siri on the lock screen, but my personal choice is to disable both Siri and Control Center there,” Strafach says.

The same concept applies on Android, though it shows up in more varied ways thanks to that platform’s fragmented landscape. For iOS, though, the protection is straightforward. Just turn off lock screen Siri.

Lock screen bypass flaws aren’t the most pressing digital security concern for the average iOS user, because they generally involve physical access to a target device. But they’re also usually easy to replicate—meaning people are more likely to be able to exploit them in practice. Given the minor inconvenience of turning lock screen Siri off, why take the risk?


More Great WIRED Stories

An Expat Thanksgiving

Yesterday, right on schedule, my local expat Facebook group became very focused on one thing: Where to buy last-minute critical ingredients for Thanksgiving.

Turkeys, canned pumpkin, and cranberries were a hot topic of discussion, since the Swiss don’t generally roast turkeys, use canned pumpkin, or have much use for cranberries. Switzerland’s has approximately 2 million foreigners living in her borders–approximately 25 percent of the population. My region is higher because of the pharmaceutical industry which is headquartered in Basel. I have no idea how many of those are Americans, but it seemed like every American was searching for canned pumpkin yesterday.

I, on the other hand, have done this for many years, so I ordered my canned pumpkin in October, and I don’t care for cranberry sauce. My turkey is being delivered today–also ordered in advance rather than risking the stores not having enough. Swiss ovens are small and one year I cooked a 20-pound turkey and it was within a centimeter of the top and sides of my oven. This year, I got a 10 pounder.

Thanksgiving is simply a normal Thursday outside of the United States, although inexplicably they have Black Friday Sales all over Europe and possibly all over the world. But a normal Thursday means the kids have school and I am working. Most of my clients are American so in years past I took the day off for cooking, but I have a local client that wants to meet today, so I’m working.

The one advantage of this being a normal day is that I can run to the grocery store without feeling guilty that someone has to work on the holiday and there are no crowds. It makes it easy when I have forgotten enough eggs for pecan pie.

For most expats, being away from family on this holiday is the toughest part. It can be sad seeing pictures of your siblings and cousins gathered together, but many of us celebrate with friends. In years past, I’ve coordinated a big dinner with up to 65 people at my church, but this year we’re going for a toned down dinner. 

Of course, being far away from home and family can be an advantage for some expat families. You don’t have to deal with the mother-in-law that hyper-focuses on your weight or the aunt that wants to know if you’re ever going to settle down and buy a house in Iowa like the rest of the family did. You can be blissfully alone.

But, you can also be miserably alone. For many expats, it’s a very difficult time of year. Because you have to work and the kids have school, unless your expat assignment is in Mexico or Canada, it’s just too far to get home for Thanksgiving. Many more go home for Christmas, which comes with longer breaks. 

While it’s pretty easy, with advanced planning, to get everything you need for your Thanksgiving dinner in Switzerland, that’s not true in all of the world. But, regardless of where you are, and regardless of whether you’re having a traditional turkey dinner or ordering takeout, I wish you all a very happy Thanksgiving.