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silicon valley & technology news

Tesla Fires Hundreds of Workers After Annual Reviews

Tesla Motors fired hundreds of workers after completing its annual performance reviews, even though the electric automaker is trying to ramp up production to meet the demand for its new Model 3 sedan.

The Palo Alto, California-based company confirmed the cuts in a Saturday statement, but didn’t disclose how many of its 33,000 workers were jettisoned. The San Jose Mercury News interviewed multiple former and current Tesla employees who estimated 400 to 700 workers lost their jobs.

The housecleaning swept out workers in administrative and sales jobs, in addition to Tesla’s manufacturing operations.

An unspecified number of workers received bonuses and promotions following their reviews, according to the company.

Tesla is under pressure to deliver its Model 3 sedan to a waiting list of more than 450,000 customers. The company so far has been lagging its own production targets after making just 260 of the vehicles in its last quarter.

Including other models, Tesla expects to make about 100,000 cars this year. CEO Elon Musk is aiming to increase production by five-fold next year, a goal that probably will have to be met to support Tesla’s market value of $59 billion, more than Ford Motor Co.

Unlike Ford, Tesla hasn’t posted an annual profit yet.

Despite the mass firings, Tesla is still looking to hire hundreds more workers.

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Twitter CEO Vows to Police Sexual Harassment, Hate, Violence

Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey is promising the company will do a better job weeding out sexual harassment, hateful symbols and violent groups from its short messaging service.

The pledge issued in a series of tweets late Friday followed a boycott organized by women supporting actress Rose McGowan after she said Twitter temporarily suspended her account for posting about the alleged misconduct of film producer Harvey Weinstein. The movie mogul was fired last Sunday by the company he co-founded amid accusations that he sexually harassed or sexually assaulted women.

Dorsey acknowledged Twitter hasn’t been doing enough to ensure voices aren’t silenced on the service despite policy changes made since 2016. He said the new rules will be announced next week, with the changes taking effect soon after.

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Mystery Hacker Steals Australian Defense Data

A  mystery hacker who was given the alias of a TV soap opera character has stolen sensitive information about Australia’s multi-billion dollar warplane and navy projects.  Intelligence officials say the break was significant, although the Australian government insists that only low-level data was taken.  The identity of the cyber criminal is not known. 

The virtual break-in saw cyber thieves take illustrations of a major Australian naval project. About 30GB of data was stolen.  Details about new fighter planes, submarines and Australia’s largest warships were also compromised.  The breach began in July last year, but the Australian Signals Directorate, a domestic spy agency, was not alerted until November.  Intelligence officials say the hack, which targeted a private defence contractor in South Australia state, was – in their words – ‘extensive’ and ‘extreme.’

But the government is insisting there was no threat to national security.

Australia’s Defence Industry Minister, Christopher Pyne, says only low-level data was taken.

“I am pleased in a way that it reminds Australian business of the dangers that lurk out there,” said Pyne. “The information that has been stolen is commercial information.  It is not classified information, so it is not military information.  The government is doing its job.  Australian businesses need to be thorough in providing for their cyber security otherwise they will not get contracts with the government.”

It is thought the hacker had exploited a weakness in software being used by the government contractor in the city of Adelaide, which had not been updated for 12 months.

Australian cyber security officials humorously dubbed the mystery attacker “Alf”, after a character on the popular TV soap opera ‘Home and Away’.  They haven’t said if they suspect a foreign state was involved.

Earlier this year, Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said cyber security was “the new frontier of warfare” and espionage, while announcing new measures to protect Australian governments and businesses from foreign interference.

Last year, a foreign power, reported in sections of the Australian media to be China, installed malicious software on computers at Australia’s national weather bureau. 

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Richard Branson Takes Another Bet on the Future with Hyperloop One

British billionaire Richard Branson on Thursday placed another bet on the future with an investment in Hyperloop One, which is developing super high-speed transportation systems.

Hyperloop One said Branson’s Virgin Group would take the company global and rebrand itself as Virgin Hyperloop One in the near future.

Branson has joined the board of Hyperloop One, which aims to develop pods that will transport passenger and mixed-use cargo at speeds of 250 miles per hour (402 km per hour).

The pod lifts above a track using magnetic levitation and glides at airline speeds for long distances due to low aerodynamic drag.

The company did not disclose the size of the investment.

Hyperloop One was originally conceptualized by Elon Musk. In July, Musk said he had received verbal approval to start building the systems that would link New York and Washington, cutting travel time to about half an hour.

Last month, Hyperloop One raised $85 million in new funding, bringing the total financing raised to $245 million since it was founded in 2014.

Hyperloop One’s co-founders, executive chairman Shervin Pishevar and president of engineering Josh Giegel, have previously worked at Virgin Galactic.

Virgin Galactic is Branson’s space company, which in 2016, was granted an operating license to fly its passenger rocket ship with the world’s first paying space tourists once final safety tests are completed.

“Virgin Hyperloop One will be all-electric and the team is working on ensuing it is a responsible and sustainable form of transport,” Virgin Group said in a statement.

Hyperloop One is also working on projects in the Middle East, Europe, India and Canada, according to the statement.

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Richard Branson Takes Another Bet on Future with Hyperloop One

British billionaire Richard Branson on Thursday placed another bet on the future with an investment in Hyperloop One, which is developing super high-speed transportation systems.

Hyperloop One said Branson’s Virgin Group would take the company global and rebrand itself as Virgin Hyperloop One in the near future.

Branson has joined the board of Hyperloop One, which aims to develop pods that will transport passenger and mixed-use cargo at speeds of 250 miles per hour (402 km per hour).

The pod lifts above a track using magnetic levitation and glides at airline speeds for long distances due to low aerodynamic drag.

The company did not disclose the size of the investment.

Hyperloop One was originally conceptualized by Elon Musk. In July, Musk said he had received verbal approval to start building the systems that would link New York and Washington, cutting travel time to about half an hour.

Last month, Hyperloop One raised $85 million in new funding, bringing the total financing raised to $245 million since it was founded in 2014.

Hyperloop One’s co-founders, executive chairman Shervin Pishevar and president of engineering Josh Giegel, have previously worked at Virgin Galactic.

Virgin Galactic is Branson’s space company, which in 2016, was granted an operating license to fly its passenger rocket ship with the world’s first paying space tourists once final safety tests are completed.

“Virgin Hyperloop One will be all-electric and the team is working on ensuing it is a responsible and sustainable form of transport,” Virgin Group said in a statement.

Hyperloop One is also working on projects in the Middle East, Europe, India and Canada, according to the statement.

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Facebook Chief Absolutely’ Supports Releasing Russia-linked Advertisements

Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg said Thursday she “absolutely” supports the public release of all advertisements produced by a Russia-linked organization during the 2016 presidential election.

Sandberg said the company is “working on transparency” following the revelation last month that a group with alleged ties to the Russian government ran $100,000 worth of ads on Facebook promoting “divisive” causes like Black Lives Matter.

“Things happened on our platform that shouldn’t have happened,” she said during the interview with Axios’s Mike Allen.

Later Thursday, Sandberg is set to meet with Congressional investigators who are looking into what role the advertisements which began running in 2015 and continued through this year may have played in the 2016 presidential election.

The $100,000 worth of ads represent a very small fraction of the total $2.3 billion spent by, and on behalf of, President Donald Trump and losing-candidate Hillary Clinton’s campaigns during the election.

Multiple congressional investigations have been launched, seeking to determine what effect alleged Russian meddling may have played in the election.

In addition, Robert Mueller, a former director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, is conducting a criminal probe, including whether President Trump’s campaign colluded with Russian operatives during the election season. Trump has denied working with the Russians.

Facebook had previously agreed to disclose the thousands of Facebook ads to congress. Sandberg said Thursday she thinks “it’s important that [the investigators] get the whole picture and explain that to the American people.”

In response to the Russian ad buys, Sandberg said Facebook is hiring 4,000 new employees to oversee ads and content. She said the company is also using “machine learning and automation” to target fake accounts that spread fake news.

She defined fake news as “things that are false hoaxes” and said Facebook is working to stamp out the bad information by teaming up with third-party fact checkers and warning users before they share news deemed fake by Facebook.

She said it is important to be cautious when going after fake news because “a lot of what we allow on Facebook is people expressing themselves” and “when you cut off speech for one person, you cut off speech for all people.”

“We don’t check the information posted on Facebook before people post it, and I don’t think people should want us to,” she said.

Hundreds of fake accounts were used to distribute the Russia-linked advertisements, Sandberg said. But had those ads been posted by legitimate users, “we would have let them run,” she said.

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Report: Waymo Demands at Least $1 Billion to Settle Uber Suit

Alphabet Inc.’s Waymo sought at least $1 billion in damages and a public apology from Uber Technologies Inc as conditions for settling its high-profile trade secret lawsuit against the ride-services company, sources familiar with the proposal told Reuters.

The Waymo self-driving car unit also asked that an independent monitor be appointed to ensure Uber does not use Waymo technology in the future, the sources said.

Uber rejected those terms, said the sources, who were not authorized to publicly discuss settlement talks.

The precise dollar amount requested by Waymo and the exact time the offer was made could not be learned.

Waymo’s tough negotiating stance reflects the company’s confidence in its legal position after months of pretrial victories in a case that may help to determine who emerges in the forefront of the fast-growing field of self-driving cars.

The aggressive settlement demands also suggest that Waymo is not in a hurry to resolve the lawsuit, in part because of its value as a distraction for Uber leadership, said Elizabeth Rowe, a trade secret expert at the University of Florida Levin College of Law.

Waymo recently persuaded a San Francisco federal judge to delay a trial to decide the dispute from October to early December, citing the need to investigate evidence Uber had not disclosed earlier.

No further settlement talks are scheduled, the sources said. The judge overseeing the case mandated that the companies enter mediation with a court-appointed magistrate.

Amy Candido, a Waymo attorney, declined to comment on any settlement talks, but said the company’s reasons for suing Uber are “pretty clear.”

“Waymo had one goal: to stop Uber from using its trade secrets,” she said. “That remains its goal.”

An Uber spokesperson declined to comment.

Waymo sued Uber in February, claiming that former engineer Anthony Levandowski downloaded more than 14,000 confidential files before leaving to set up a self-driving truck company, called Otto, which Uber acquired soon after.

Uber denied using any of Waymo’s trade secrets.

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