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News & Analysis

5 things you should know about tech today

- June 16, 2020 5 MIN READ
Two of the items sent by former eBay execs to a couple who gave the company negative publicity. Source: FBI

 

It’s tech Tuesday and lots is happening folks.

Don’t forget to tune into the Startup Daily show on the business TV streaming channel ausbiz.com.au every weekday, 2-3pm, where we talk to startup founders, investors and innovators about everything tech.

If you’ve missed an episode, you can catch up on the ausbiz site here.

 

1.  Senior eBay execs tried to destroy a couple over bad review

eBay makes a virtue out of keeping customers accountable via reviews and ratings, but when the company gets bad feedback, the reaction from senior executives reads like a Stephen King horror novel.

Six former senior eBay employees have been charged with cyberstalking by US police following a terror and intimidation campaign they waged against the duo.

The six now ex-eBayers included the company’s senior director of safety & security, James Baugh, 45, and the director of global resiliency, David Harville, 48, who are charged with conspiracy to commit cyberstalking and conspiracy to tamper with witnesses. They led the alleged vendetta. The remaining four include the former senior manager of global intelligence, a senior manager of special operations at eBay’s global security team, the manager of eBay’s Global Intelligence Center, and an intelligence analyst.

What set them off prosecutors allege, was a newsletter and e-commerce blog critical of eBay, produced in Massachusetts, by a husband and wife team. So they set out to “burn her to the ground” according to text messages seized by authorities.

Department of Justice documents reveal the couple were allegedly sent threats, live cockroaches and spiders, as well as a funeral wreath, a book on surviving the death of a spouse and a bloody pigs head mask followed up by a message that read: “DO I HAVE UR ATTENTION NOW?”

The FBI and police investigated.

Massachusetts US attorney Andrew Lelling said it was “a determined, systematic effort by senior employees of a major company to destroy the lives of a couple…  all because they published content that company executives didn’t like. For a while they succeeded, psychologically devastating these victims for weeks.”

The execs allegedly lied to police about eBay’s involvement, and lied to company lawyers about their roles. One of the tormentors, a former police captain contacted the couple offering to help in a “white knight strategy” to create goodwill towards eBay.

This week eBay apologised in a statement saying it fired the execs in September and cooperated with authorities, adding that the then CEO Devin Wenig, was investigated and cleared. Wenig left the company the same month, citing differences with the board.

 

2. TikTok opens shop in Australia

Chinese social media phenomenon TikTok has put up its shingle in Australia, hiring former Google and YouTube execs to run its Sydney HQ.

The ambitions for the mobile video sharing platform’s Beijing-based parent company ByteDance, currently seeking a banking license in Singapore. The business has also done well our of local brands such as Optus, Suncorp and Milo using TikTok to reach a young audience.

In February, researchers Roy Morgan founder more than 1.6 million Australians are using TikTok in a month, with 75% from the two youngest generations – nearly 540,000 in Gen Alpha and over 670,000 in Gen Z. Among Gen Alpha TikTok is more widely used than Instagram, Facebook and Pinterest.

The business has not been without controversy due to ByteDance’s links to China’s communist leaders and in March, leaked company documents reportedly instructed moderators to suppress content from “users deemed too ugly, poor, or disabled for the platform” according to The Intercept, as well as censoring political speech in TikTok livestreams, punishing those who harmed “national honor” or broadcast streams about “state organs such as police”.

Meanwhile, the company’s global march has continued with GMS for the US, UK, India, Japan, Canada and now Australia hired in the last 18 months.

3. Home work

Former MYOB boss Tim Reed, nowadays president of employer union the Business Council of Australia, delivered an interesting speech about leadership and life in Australia post-covid at the QUT Business Leaders’ Forum last week, warning that the level of government stimulus pumped into the economy could lead people to say say “Actually it hasn’t really been that bad”.

On the upside, he was heartened by the way political leaders listened to the advice of experts and  “the way in which they built a degree of trust amongst themselves because they were unified by a common goal”.

And on of the things he’s optimistic about as the economy bounces back is the digital transformation that so many have been forced to undertake in response to the pandemic.

“I desperately hope we see more people working from home as things start returning to normal,” he said.

“We have spoken about businesses becoming more digital and flexible for years and we are starting to see this. We’ve also seen businesses make changes in three weeks that we thought would take three years.

We’ve also become more local, more direct and more community-spirited, Reed said.

“We have become more community-spirited during the past few months as we realise we are vulnerable as individuals. It’s only through the collective strength of a compassionate and connected community that we can live the lives that we want to,” he said.

 

4. Queensland cybersec ‘one to watch’

Forbes as singled out a Queensland tech startup as one of the 20 best cybersecurity startups to watch in 2020.

Making that cut is even more impressive with Forbes identifying nearly 22,000 startups as having cybersecurity technologies and solutions as a core part of their business models.

Cryptoloc Technology Group was founded in Brisbane in 2010.

“What makes this startup noteworthy is how they developed and patented a high-security cryptographic technology which can be deployed across four products,” Forbes wrote.

“These products include their B2C document storage platform called Your Digital File, a B2B white-label equivalent called Vault, a secure document signing API, and an anti-counterfeiting and product tracking solution. In 2020, the startup opened its new Regional H.Q. for Europe in Cambridge, and over the next three years, they plan to recruit up to 50 people who will support the company’s presence in Europe.”

You can read more on the Forbes 20 best here.

 

5. AI in the surveillance capitalism era

If you missed ABC TV’s Four Corners on artificial intelligence on Monday night, you need to find some time in your diary to catch up on iView.

“Private corporations have built a corporate surveillance state without our awareness or permission and the systems necessary to make it work are getting a lot better,” is one of the statements by a Silicon Valley that stood out in the PBS doco, which spoke to Shoshana Zuboff, author of The Age of Surveillance Capitalism.

The rise of China’s tech sector and it embrace of digital surveillance and AI is one thread of the program, but the reminder that you’re the product for US giants such as Google and Facebook is the core of the show, titled The Age of AI. Watch it here.

 

 

BONUS ITEM: A tour through VBF Ventures, Melbourne