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Saudi Arabian officials allegedly paid at least two employees of Twitter to access personal information on users the government there was interested in, according to recently unsealed court documents. Those users were warned of the attempt in 2015, but the full picture is only now emerging.

According to an AP report citing the federal complaint, Ahmad Abouammo and Ali Alzabarah were both approached by the Saudi government, which promised “a designer watch and tens of thousands of dollars” if they could retrieve personal information on certain users.

Abouammo worked for Twitter in media partnerships in the Middle East, and Alzabarah was an engineer; both are charged with acting as unregistered Saudi agents — spies.

Alzabarah reportedly met with a member of the Saudi royal family in Washington, D.C. in 2015, and within a week he had begun accessing data on thousands of users, including at least 33 that Saudi Arabia had officially contacted Twitter to request information on. These users included political activists and journalists critical of the royal family and Saudi government.

This did not go unnoticed and Alzabarah, when questioned by his supervisors, reportedly said he had only done it out of curiosity. But when he was forced to leave work, he flew to Saudi Arabia with his family literally the next day, and now works for the government there.

The attempt resulted in Twitter alerting thousands of users that they were the potential targets of a state-sponsored attack, but that there was no evidence their personal data had actually been exfiltrated. Last year, the New York Times reported that this event had been prompted by a Twitter employee groomed by Saudi officials for the purpose. And now we learn there was another employee engaged in similar activity.

The cases in question are still open and as such more information will likely come to light soon. I asked Twitter for comment on the events and what specifically it had done to prevent similar attacks in the future. It did not respond directly to these queries, instead providing the following statement:

We would like to thank the FBI and the U.S. Department of Justice for their support with this investigation. We recognize the lengths bad actors will go to try and undermine our service. Our company limits access to sensitive account information to a limited group of trained and vetted employees. We understand the incredible risks faced by many who use Twitter to share their perspectives with the world and to hold those in power accountable. We have tools in place to protect their privacy and their ability to do their vital work. We’re committed to protecting those who use our service to advocate for equality, individual freedoms, and human rights.


TechCrunch

After erasing over $ 30 billion in projected shareholder value, Adam Neumann will walk away from the We Company with a $ 1.7 billion payout, according to a report in the Wall Street Journal

This is how the company will end, not with the pop of a successful public offering, but with a whimper from defeated investors probably tired after the months-long saga of trying to make sense of how a clever real estate plan ballooned into one of the greatest swindles in venture capital history.

Already ousted as the company’s chief executive, Neumann controlled shares of the company that gave him what amounted to significant control even after his removal.

The We Company drama has it all. Complacent directors, horrible management, rapacious greed — wrapped in a package of holistic spirituality and the invention of a new kind of conscious capitalism. Even if it was ultimately a capitalism that was conscious only of its ability to deceive.

As Neumann leaves, Softbank will gain control of the company it had once valued at $ 47 billion, but at a far more modest $ 8 billion figure. Still, the bid was more attractive to We Company’s board of directors than a competing offer from JPMorgan Chase, according to the Journal’s reporting.

Under the terms of the deal, Softbank will buy nearly $ 1 billion in stock from Neumann, who was already forced out from the company he co-founded as public markets balked over his managerial acumen. The Japanese conglomerate, which had pushed up the private market valuation of WeWork through its $ 100 billion Vision Fund, will also stake Neumann $ 500 million in credit to repay a loan facility and give him a $ 185 million consulting fee.

Even with the Hindenburg-level catastrophe that Neumann piloted as the chief executive of the money losing real estate venture, the former chief executive will still retain a stake in the company and remain an observer on the board of directors.

In all, Softbank is putting in a tender offer for as much as $ 3 billion to go to the company’s employees and other investors. In fact, WeWork needs the money to be able to afford the layoffs it reportedly wants to make as it tries to right the ship.

People with knowledge of the company’s plans said the decision could be announced today, according to the Journal’s reporting.

Part of the reason for the $ 500 million loan was that Neumann’s removal from the executive role at the company risked putting him in default with his JPMorgan loans.

WeWork revealed an unusual IPO prospectus in August after raising more than $ 8 billion in equity and debt funding. Despite financials that showed losses of nearly $ 1 billion in the six months ending June 30, the company still managed to accumulate a valuation as high as $ 47 billion, largely as a result of Neumann’s fundraising abilities.

“As co-founder of WeWork, I am so proud of this team and the incredible company that we have built over the last decade,” Neumann said in a statement confirming his resignation last month. “Our global platform now spans 111 cities in 29 countries, serving more than 527,000 members each day. While our business has never been stronger, in recent weeks, the scrutiny directed toward me has become a significant distraction, and I have decided that it is in the best interest of the company to step down as chief executive. Thank you to my colleagues, our members, our landlord partners, and our investors for continuing to believe in this great business.”

 


TechCrunch

Facebook is willing to reverse course on its plans to tie its digital currency project to a synthetic currency tied to a basket of global currencies.

Reuters is reporting that Facebook’s head of the Libra project, David Marcus, told a group of bankers that the company’s main goal was to create a better payments system and was open to alternative approaches to the original structure of the project.

Facebook and its partners had intended to create its cryptocurrency by pegging it to a basket of national currencies whose holdings would be set by the Libra Association.

National banks considered the plan part of a dangerous end-run around their regulatory authority and have been holding up the project until they could assume tighter control over how the Facebook-architected cryptocurrency and payment technology would operate.

The scrutiny from regulators proved too much for some of Facebook’s largest, and earliest, partners in the Libra Association, whose members would determine how the cryptocurrency would operate.

In the past month seven of the Libra Association’s founding members dropped out including: PayPal, Mastercard, Visa, Ebay, and Stripe. Those seven represented a big chunk of the strategic value and commercial heft of the planned association, with Stripe, Mastercard, Visa, and Ebay standing in for a huge number of payment processors and merchant touchpoints that the new cryptocurrency would need were it to dramatically scale to the size Facebook wanted right out of the gate.

Now, in another strategic reversal, Marcus is conceding the synthetic currency in favor of stablecoins tied to the local currency in each market that Libra would operate.

 

“We could do it differently,” Reuters quoted the Libra Association chief as saying. “Instead of having a synthetic unit … we could have a series of stablecoins, a dollar stablecoin, a euro stablecoin, a sterling pound stable coin, etc.”

All of this is happening against the backdrop of Facebook’s stated launch date of June 2020 for the Libra cryptocurrency. Marcus told Reuters that the June launch was still the goal, but that the association would not move forward unless it had addressed the concerns of regulators and received the proper approvals.

Those approvals are becoming harder to come by as the regulators who overseen global monetary policy cast a more skeptical eye at on stablecoins as well.

Reuters reported that the G-20 financial overseers wrote in a statement that money laundering, illicit finance and consumer protection need to be evaluated before any stablecoin projects can “commence operation.”

 


TechCrunch

Trump said in July that some U.S. suppliers would be allowed to sell to Huawei while it remains blacklisted, but so far no vendors have been allowed to do so. Reuters reports that more than 130 applications have been submitted by companies that want to do business with Huawei, but the U.S. Commerce Department has not approved any of them yet.

Huawei has served as a bargaining chip in the U.S.-China trade war, which escalated again last week when Trump said he would adds tariffs to $ 550 billion worth of Chinese imports, after China said it would impose duties of $ 75 billions on U.S. goods. Trump’s mixed signals during this weekend’s G7 summit also created confusion on Wall Street.

When both presidents met at the G20 Summit in June, Donald Trump told Chinese leader Xi Jinping that he would allow some American companies to sell to Huawei, even though it remains on the Commerce Department’s Entity List. Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross said the Commerce Department would begin accepting applications again, requiring companies to prove that the tech they sell to Huawei would not pose a national security risk.

But one of the reasons no licenses have been granted yet is because the Commerce Department is unclear about what it is supposed to do. Former Commerce department official William Reinsch told Reuters that “nobody in the executive branch knows what [Trump] wants and they’re all afraid to make a decision without knowing that.”

In addition to providing telecom equipment, Huawei is an important customer for many U.S. tech firms, including Qualcomm, Intel and Micron. Out of the $ 70 billion in parts it bought last year, $ 11 billion of that went to U.S. suppliers. The U.S. claims Huawei is a national security risk, a charge the company has repeatedly denied.


TechCrunch

Adam Neumann, the co-founder and chief executive of the international real estate co-working startup, WeWork, has reportedly cashed out of more than $ 700 million from his company ahead of its initial public offering.

The size and timing of the payouts, made through a mix of stock sales and loans secured by his equity in the company, is unusual considering that founders typically wait until after a company holds its public offering to liquidate their holdings.

Despite the loans and sales of stock, first reported by The Wall Street Journal, Neumann remains the single largest shareholder in the company.

According to the Journal’s reporting, Neumann has already set up a family office to invest the proceeds and begun to hire financial professionals to run it.

He’s also made significant investments in real estate in New York and San Francisco, including four homes in the greater New York metropolitan area, and a $ 21 million 13,000 square-foot house in the Bay Area complete with a guitar shaped room (I guess a fiddle would be too on the nose). In all, Neumann reportedly spent $ 80 million on real estate.

Neumann has also invested in commercial real estate (the kind that WeWork leases to provide workspace with more flexible leases for companies and entrepreneurs), including properties in San Joes, Calif. and New York. Indeed four of Neumann’s properties are leased to WeWork — to the tune of several million dollars in rent. According to the Journal, Neumann will transfer those property holdings to a WeWork-controlled fund.

The WeWork chief executive has also invested in startups in recent years. He’s got an equity stake in seven companies including: Hometalk, Intercure, EquityBee, Selina, Tunity, Feature.fm, and Pins, according to CrunchBase.

The rewards that Neumann is reaping from the loans and stock sales are among the highest recorded by a private company executive. In recent years, Evan Spiegel sold $ 8 million in stock and borrowed $ 20 million from Snap before its 2017 public offering and Slack Technologies chief executive Stewart Butterfieldsold $ 3.2 million of stock before Slack’s public offering in June.

The only liquidation of stock and other payouts that have been disclosed which come close to Neumann’s payouts are the $ 300 million that GroupOn co-founder Eric Lefkofksy’s sold before his company’s IPO and the over $ 100 million that Mark Pincus took off the table ahead of Zynga’s offering.

WeWork declined to comment for this article.

 


TechCrunch

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