Your 90-second guide to the day in tech

- January 21, 2021 3 MIN READ
Space X's Falcon 9 rocket lifts off for the eighth time, carrying a payload of 60 Starlink satellites. Image: screenshot

It’s Thursday and the fourth day of our new 90-second guide to tech news to help kickstart your day and keep you informed.

Here’s what we spotted.


1. Pardon me?

Before shooting through to his Florida resort, Donald Trump used his last day in the presidential office to pardon 144 people, most notably, his former political Svengali, Steve Bannon and the rapper Lil Wayne.

One name caught the eye of the tech community: former Google engineer Anthony Levandowski, who copped an 18-month jail sentence after pleading guilty to one count of intellectual property theft (he was charged with 33) from Google’s self-driving car unit before he joined Uber.

Trump granted him a full pardon, saying he “paid a significant price for his actions and plans to devote his talents to advance the public good”. Levandowski filed for bankruptcy after a court ordered him to pay Google US$179 million, which was mostly the bonus he received for his work there

A statement from the White House noted that the pardon was “strongly supported by James Ramsey, Peter Thiel, Miles Ehrlich, Amy Craig, Michael Ovitz, Palmer Luckey, Ryan Petersen, Ken Goldberg, Mike Jensen, Nate Schimmel, Trae Stephens, Blake Masters, and James Proud, among others”.


2. Jack’s back

China’s most famous entrepreneur, Jack Ma, founder of Alibaba and Ant, reappeared via video yesterday after months of speculation that Beijing had disappeared the billionaire following a crackdown on his empire that saw authorities suspend the IPO of his fintech, Ant. Alibaba shares rose when footage of him speaking an event recognising teachers emerged.


3. Malwarebytes targeted by SolarWinds hackers

US cybersecurity company Malwarebytes says it was hacked by the “nation state” actors behind last year’s attack on IT software firm SolarWinds.

The cybersec firm says it does use SolarWinds and the hackers gained access through Microsoft Office 365.

“We can confirm the existence of another intrusion vector that works by abusing applications with privileged access to Microsoft Office 365 and Azure environments,” Malwarebytes CEO and co-founder Marcin Kleczynski said in a blog post.

“After an extensive investigation, we determined the attacker only gained access to a limited subset of internal company emails. We found no evidence of unauthorized access or compromise in any of our internal on-premises and production environments.”


3. Facebook’s privacy settlement

Remember a few years ago when Facebook kept making tag suggestions for people in your photos. Well that idea, done without the consent of users, has cost the company US$650 million in the US state of Illinois, following a class action settlement that will see around 1.6 million people who will score around US$340 each.

Facebook breached the state’s biometric privacy laws, and the Chicago Tribune reports. Facebook had offered US$550m, but that figure was rejected by the judge overseeing teh five-year-long case.

It’s nonetheless a win for Facebook, which could have been facing a bill of up to $35 billion had the matter gone to court and they lost, given local law has a $5000 fine for knowing violations.


4. Cruise raises US$2bn

Cruise, the self-driving vehicle subsidiary of car maker General Motor, has raised US$2 billion in a funding round that values the venture at US$30bn, even though it’s yet to ship a vehicle.

Microsoft is a key backer of the round and becomes a strategic partner, with Cruise switching to its could platform Azure as part of the deal, assisting with AI and machine-learning capabilities, as well as collaborating on hardware and software engineering, GM said in a statement announcing the partnership.


5. Starlink hits 1000 satellites

At the same moment the Mango Mussolini took off for Florida, Space X Falcon 9 rocket took off from the the Kennedy Space Center on its seventeenth Starlink mission, putting another 60 satellites into low-Earth orbit as part of Elon Musk’s broadband plan. There are now more than 1,000 Starlink satellites up there.

It was also the eighth time the first stage of the rocket took off and then landed on a drone barge in the sea. And as you can see from the white caps on the Atlantic, they tested the limits of wind envelope to achieve it.  Amazing stuff.


6. Xinja pays out

Failed neobank Xinja has paid back AU$252 million in deposits from 54,357 individual accounts to 37,884 customers as it shuts down, financial regulator APRA noted this week, saying it was the first time an Australian ADI had undertaken a return of deposits to its customers.

On Monday, Xinja transferred $65,809 still sitting in 4,176 accounts to NAB with both banks contacting the customers about the unclaimed funds.

On December 16 last year, the digital bank announced it was handing back its banking license and shutting down.