Blockchain is a terrible idea for elections, actually – Protocol

That’s the conclusion of a new U.S. government report. But blockchain tech could improve government purchasing, it found.
A GAO report said using blockchain for elections poses risks.
Using blockchain for voting could be risky, as the technology could introduce “new vulnerabilities” to elections, according to a new Government Accountability Office report.
While some organizations have argued that blockchain-based systems would make elections more secure and easier to audit, “there might be added points of attack that could compromise elections,” the report said.
“We talked to a number of experts who all indicated that they did not believe blockchain was the magic bullet answer for making voting systems more secure,” Karen Howard, the GAO’s director of Science, Technology Assessment and Analytics, told Protocol.
The GAO report, titled “Blockchain: Emerging Technology Offers Benefits for Some Applications but Faces Challenges,” examined the potential of the technology, including in the public sector. Overall, the report “found that blockchain is useful for some applications but limited or even problematic for others.”
“For example, because of its tamper resistance, it may be useful for applications involving many participants who do not necessarily trust each other,” the report said. “But it may be overly complex for a few trusted users, where traditional spreadsheets and databases may be more helpful.”

One area where blockchain shows some promise is in supply chain management, Howard said.
“The federal government is a major purchaser and supply chain tracking is a major function,” she said. The GAO found that blockchain technology could potentially be used “to replace or make more efficient” certain processes such as supply chain tracking and recording contracts, Howard said.
Correction: An earlier version of this story misstated the source of the report. This story was updated on March 24, 2022.

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Benjamin Pimentel ( @benpimentel) covers crypto and fintech from San Francisco. He has reported on many of the biggest tech stories over the past 20 years for the San Francisco Chronicle, Dow Jones MarketWatch and Business Insider, from the dot-com crash, the rise of cloud computing, social networking and AI to the impact of the Great Recession and the COVID crisis on Silicon Valley and beyond. He can be reached at bpimentel@protocol.com or via Signal at (510)731-8429.
European regulators on Thursday revealed their plan to rein in the anti-competitive practices of Big Tech and fundamentally remake how some of the world’s most powerful companies do business. The rules, which target tech giants like Apple, Amazon, Meta and Google, are far-reaching and would have huge ramification for those companies’ software and services.
The Digital Markets Act, which on Thursday was agreed to by European Union authorities, establishes new rules to govern the behavior of tech’s “gatekeepers” — most of them U.S. companies — through measures like forcing the largest messaging apps to exchange texts, video or files with smaller players. Apple’s iMessage and Meta’s WhatsApp in particular would have to open their long-closed ecosystems, making them interoperable with other messaging apps.
The agreement also signals huge headaches for Google in its prohibition on “combining personal data for targeted advertising” without explicit consent, and the DMA’s reported bans on platforms giving a leg up to their own offerings could force major changes at Amazon. Many companies get hit by multiple provisions: Apple, for instance, will also need to contend with a reported requirement to allow side-loading of apps outside of its App Store, something it’s spent years fighting internationally.

The changes may not be limited to Europe either. The bloc has a history of moving first and most aggressively on tech regulation, as it did on privacy with GDPR. Other jurisdictions have often followed and, even when they didn’t, companies discovered it was easier to roll out many of their new business practices across the globe.
“The agreement ushers in a new era of tech regulation worldwide,” Andreas Schwab, a member of the European Parliament who helped lead the negotiations between the EU’s various bodies, said in an announcement of the agreement. He said the DMA “puts an end to the ever-increasing dominance of Big Tech companies.”
The tech giants in turn have dismissed the rules, which have been in development for more than a year, as an attack on U.S. companies that tips the scales toward less innovative rivals.
The measure still needs a final vote from the European Parliament and Council, but their approval is all but assured. The agreement applies to services that existing case-by-case competition enforcement have found are “most prone to unfair business practices, such as social networks or search engines,” as well as browsers and messengers. It focuses on companies worth over about $83 billion (75 billion euros).
First-time offenses can result in fines of 10% of global turnover; for repeated infringements, the penalties can be twice that.
Josh Wardle never set out to make a viral game. In fact, he doesn’t really consider his creation that much of a game at all, or himself a game developer. Speaking at the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco, the software engineer and artist reiterated that he made Wordle for his partner as a private exercise they could engage with together every day during the pandemic, based in part on crosswords and The New York Times’ Spelling Bee and drawing direct inspiration from the classic Mastermind board game.
“In fact, I don’t think of myself as a game developer at all,” Wardle, whose other famous viral sensation includes Reddit’s The Button and Place social experiments, told the crowd. “When you think about like viral, exciting games, you don’t think about word games, which is kind of sad to me. I love words, I love language.”
Wardle’s online handle, and the name of his personal website on which Wordle was hosted before it was acquired by The New York Times, is “powerlanguage.” Despite his humble intentions, Wordle has become one of the biggest games of the year, reviving the word game genre and spawning countless spinoffs in the process.

Wardle told the story of the game’s origin, which traces back to 2013 when he was experimenting with word games and Android app development. The original Wordle featured endless play and a much larger word bank encompassing the English language’s roughly 13,000 five-letter word list. But as he workshopped the experience with his partner, for whom he originally set out to make the game, he decided to whittle down the list. And then he dropped the idea, he said, for six whole years.
He picked the game back up during the pandemic and polished it up, deciding to make a number of counterintuitive choices — not deliberately, he insisted — that ultimately led to its organic, viral success. The first is that he decided the game would only let you play once a day. Wardle said the entire Wordle game exists as a 63KB JavaScript file that loaded in entirety every time you visited the webpage, meaning players could see the whole word bank and even forecast what words would be chosen every day for the next five years.
The other unorthodox choices he made were making it a website instead of a mobile app — a decision he said was because he knew web development but sucked at making mobile apps — and giving it a hard-to-remember URL. He also chose not to monetize it any way.
“My partner and I played this together for about six months,” Wardle said. “So it was on my personal website from January to June and it was public website but no one was playing. I hadn’t told anyone about it.”
Everything began to change when the game expanded to Wardle’s family members, friends and eventually far-flung locations like New Zealand. Soon, the game was picking up steam. Wardle recounted the sheer absurdity of its meteoric rise, with celebrities picking it up and scores of alternative versions, Wordle clones on mobile app stores and all manner of news stories about the game being played all over the planet.

Eventually, Wardle said he began to feel immense pressure about managing the game and what to do with it in the future, so he sold it The New York Times.
“I made this game, but I had no interest in running a game business. Basically, I think of myself as an artist, I really enjoy creating things. Running a gaming business is not interesting to me,” he said. “And I think I think that for some people, it [would have been] different. But for me, this was really clear.” Wardle added that he thinks The New York Times will be good stewards for the game going forward.
Wardle said that beyond all the game development faux pas and unintended quaintness that led to Wordle’s success, he feels that it was the social connections it has powered among family and friends that made it such a sensation.
“What really struck me is that right now we are more connected than ever, but people want for connection,” he said. “Wordle became this really lightweight way to check in with friends & family and tell them you love them without using big heavy words like ‘I love you.’”
Netflix continues to staff up for its expansion into gaming: The company announced Thursday that it has acquired Boss Fight Entertainment, a game studio led by former Zynga executives. Boss Fight reportedly employs 130 people, and Netflix said that the studio will continue to operate out of its offices in Dallas, Austin and Seattle. Financial terms of the acquisition were not disclosed.
Boss Fight was founded in 2013 and has since published just one mobile game, Dungeon Boss. The studio is being led by three former Zynga executives who all worked on the casual game giant’s CastleVille title.
Oil and gas giant Exxon is taking tentative steps in a new direction. No, it’s not winding down fossil fuel extraction, which needs to be done, fast. Rather, the company is reportedly piloting a project to divert methane gas that would be flared and using it to mine cryptocurrency.
According to Bloomberg, Exxon has inked an agreement with Crusoe Energy Systems to use gas flared at some of a North Dakota oil drilling site to power mobile generators that keep servers mining bitcoin running. The pilot project launched in January 2021 and was expanded last July. Exxon is reportedly considering launching similar pilot projects in Alaska, Nigeria, Argentina, Guyana and Germany.
The entire mission of Crusoe is to “align the future of computation with the future of the climate,” by avoiding wasted methane gas inherent to routine flaring. It is backed by tech investor stalwarts like Bain Capital, the Winklevoss twins and Valor Equity Partners; the latter was the first institutional investor in Tesla.

The 18 million cubic feet of gas per month that the project utilizes otherwise would have been flared, i.e. burned off and sent straight into the atmosphere with no real use. This waste gas is comprised mainly of methane, a super-polluting greenhouse gas that’s about 80 times more potent than carbon dioxide. Crusoe has 20 portable engines permitted in North Dakota, per the state’s Department of Environmental Quality.
To be clear, the methane gas is still burned. It’s just powering a crypto mining operation instead of getting dumped straight into the atmosphere. That’s at least putting it to use, though whether it’s being put to good use is another matter. While I suppose any sort of use case is better than nothing, I would be a lot happier if we could stop devoting energy — in huge quantities — to something so utterly absent from Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Bitcoin mining could also be a fossil fuel industry lifeline, providing a new source of revenue that can keep oil and gas flowing at a time when, as I have already pointed out, we absolutely should not be keeping the oil and gas flowing if we value a habitable climate.
While Exxon would not confirm the project’s existence on the record, spokeswoman Sarah Nordin said in an email to Bloomberg that the company continuously explores “emerging technologies aimed at reducing flaring volumes.” Of course, the best emerging technologies we have to reduce flaring are wind turbines, solar panels and other zero-carbon forms of energy. You know, technologies that would help ensure we no longer extract fossil fuels in the first place.
Searching for high-quality reviews of a product you want to buy — a phone, for instance, or a mattress — requires wading through a minefield of useless content. Some review sites forego actually testing out products in favor of aggregating Amazon user reviews or using other low-quality methodology to get some Google juice.
Well, that’s about to end. Google is changing up which kinds of product reviews show up in search results, announcing Wednesday that product reviews will have to meet certain criteria to be pushed higher up in search.
The criteria for product reviews to be prioritized in search results is strict. Google software engineer Perry Liu said in a blog post that reviews need to include in-depth details (such as pros and cons of specific products), be written by people who actually have used the product, include information “beyond what the manufacturer provides” (i.e. videos or photos) and cover products like it to explain what sets it apart.

“Our work to improve product reviews will continue, including expanding these updates to more languages beyond English,” Liu said in the announcement. “Ultimately, our goal is to help people find trustworthy, reliable advice when they come to Search — no matter what they’re looking for.”
Google has been working on prioritizing better product reviews for a while now. The search update builds on a process that begun last April, when the company started improving its ranking system to “better reward” good product reviews. The company also released a December update to up-rank reviews with evidence that the writer had used the product and links to multiple sellers of the product.
The updates will begin to roll out over the next few weeks, Google said in a separate announcement. The update “may impact the rankings of English-language product reviews across many sites,” the company said.
Surging gas prices have sent ripple effects throughout the U.S. economy. Companies including Uber and Lyft are bumping rates to offset prices for drivers, while government officials are pushing through relief packages to help struggling Americans.
If you want to get an electric vehicle to avoid pain at the pump, you’re not alone. But the EV industry can’t catch a break either. Inflation and the cost of materials are sending prices skyrocketing, and many customers who want an EV are being put on a waitlist.
Bikes are still an option as is public transit if you’re stuck playing the EV waiting game and sick of coughing up tons of money at the pump. But there are a few other climate tech solutions to help fight soaring gas prices. Here’s everything you should know about why gas prices are high, why EV costs are up and what in the world we can do about it.

Gas prices have reached astronomical heights. Though the average dipped slightly to $4.24 per gallon for regular unleaded gas from its record high of $4.33, it is still around 70% higher than it was a year ago.
Rising gas prices are generally tied to geopolitical events (i.e. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine). The U.S. banned imports of Russian oil, as well as liquefied natural gas and coal, on March 8. Though most of Russia’s oil goes to Europe and Asia, oil is priced through a global market. The total supply of oil has diminished amid sanctions against Russia, but demand has stayed the same, leading to gas costing upwards of $7 at some stations in Los Angeles.
Gas prices aren’t going down any time soon. Energy Intelligence research director Abhi Rajendran predicts they may decrease by the third quarter of this year if “there is some pathway to resolution in the Russia/Ukraine situation, plus an Iran nuclear deal.”
“The other factor that could push prices down is [if] the world tipped into a recession that ultimately pulls oil prices down,” Rajendran said.
But in order to really decrease prices, there needs to be more supply to meet the demand, which Rajendran said is “unlikely to happen materially in 2022, and more possible in 2023.” That would also not be great, given that the only way to mitigate climate change is to reduce dependence on oil and gas, not increase supply. (And recent research shows we need to reduce production ASAP.)
In the next few weeks, gas prices will likely remain the same or slightly higher, and could reach a national average of $4.50 per gallon in the coming months, Rajendran said.
Gas isn’t the only thing that’s gotten pricey. The EV industry is having a hard time with inflation and the cost of materials.
For Tesla, inflation is the main issue. Tesla has upped its prices — twice. The company most recently bumped up prices across its entire range of EVs between 5% and 10%, which brought up the price of its cheapest car from $44,990 to $46,990. “Tesla & SpaceX are seeing significant recent inflation pressure in raw materials & logistics,” Elon Musk tweeted recently.

Rivian has needed to increase prices too, which hasn’t sat well with customers. The company raised prices by more than a whopping $12,000 — then quickly reversed course, at least for reservation holders, after a wave of customer backlash. Rivian executives said they needed to increase prices because of inflation and the cost of materials.
One of those materials is nickel, which is key for producing EV batteries and has been on a rollercoaster ride this month. Sanctions on Russia, which is a massive supplier of nickel, are to blame for the immediate spike in prices, but the issue has also been a long time coming. The move toward renewables and clean energy tech is also causing a supply crunch.
Uber, Lyft and other ride-hailing and delivery services are trying to make it easier for drivers to pay for gas by adding fees to rides and offering cash back to drivers. The response from drivers has been decidedly mixed.
Uber and Lyft added surcharges for car rides that will go straight to the drivers’ wallets, and Uber specifically is encouraging drivers to switch to EVs (as if it were that easy). Instacart followed shortly after, tacking on an additional 40 cents to each order. Separately, Lyft and DoorDash are providing drivers with cards that offer cash back on gas.
Some workers don’t think the surcharges are enough. A petition on coworker.org is urging the delivery companies to charge customers even more for rides and for companies to pocket less money from fares. “Gas prices are driving us out of the rideshare industry. We need a rate increase!” the petition states.
Meanwhile, Amazon Flex drivers want the company to do something, anything to offset gas prices. The drivers — who are independent contractors who work for Amazon through an app — rallied last week to ask Amazon to follow Uber, Lyft and others in helping them pay for gas.
In California, where gas prices have topped $7 per gallon in some places, Gov. Gavin Newsom has proposed a relief package that includes $9 billion in direct payments to car owners — including those who drive EVs — as well as $750 million for free or reduced public transit grants. As part of the gas price relief program, car owners would receive a $400 rebate per registered vehicle (up to two cars per person) as soon as July.

Nationally, House Democrats have suggested financial relief for struggling Americans, but the proposals have reportedly gone nowhere in Congress and it’s unlikely a program similar to California’s would pass.
Meanwhile, President Biden is reportedly considering a variety of ways to reduce gas prices at the pump, including a gas tax holiday and rebates for consumers.
“The president and our national security team and our economic team are working overtime right now to evaluate and examine a range of domestic options,” White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said this week.
The best way to beat high gas prices is to use less — or none — in the first place. These solutions are going to sound awfully familiar if you’ve been thinking about how to address the climate crisis (and really, who isn’t these days?). The good news is the world has a lot of the technology we need to stop wasting money on gas. The bad news is not all of them are an easy flip of the switch. And some are becoming more expensive due to supply chain issues.
For most of us, filling up at the pump is the most obvious pain point. So it follows that electric vehicles are among the most effective means to deal with high gas prices, with hybrids being a close second. The catch is that EVs have become a hot ticket, and the aforementioned price spikes. Not ideal! If only there were some proposal, some policy that included tax credits to make EVs more affordable that Congress could pass …

In its quest to diversify its revenue beyond the iPhone, Apple has overhauled its Mac lineup, expanded into wearables and doubled down on subscriptions for services like iCloud, Apple TV+ and Apple Music. The strategy is working: If Apple spun out its services business into a separate company, it would be a multibillion-dollar business.
But the iPhone is still the company’s biggest moneymaker by a significant margin. So when Bloomberg reported Thursday that Apple is working on a hardware subscription service akin to its software offerings, it wasn’t a surprise. The subscription would have iPhone users pay for their phones and other hardware on a monthly basis, just like they would a streaming service, according to people with inside knowledge. Apple has not responded to requests for comment.
Apple launched the iPhone Upgrade Program in 2015 as a way for buyers to spread out the cost of a new iPhone with AppleCare+ over 24 months. The program also lets buyers upgrade to a new iPhone every 12 months. Wireless carriers like AT&T and Verizon offer similar installment plans.

The iPhone subscription would reportedly differ in that the monthly fee wouldn’t be the cost of an iPhone divided into 24 payments. It’s unclear how much the subscription would cost, but Apple is reportedly considering bundling it with AppleCare+ and possibly an Apple One subscription. Apple One subscribers pay one monthly fee for iCloud storage, Apple TV+, Apple News+, Apple Music, Apple Arcade and Fitness+. The subscription may also extend to Apple’s other devices, including iPads and Macs.
According to Bloomberg, Apple is also considering the possibility of allowing subscribers upgrade to new hardware annually, like they can under the iPhone Upgrade Program. The subscription service would also make it easier for buyers to stomach upgrading their hardware. People are hanging onto their phones longer, and the right to repair movement has forced Apple to make concessions to allow buyers to fix their devices at home (though its Self Service Program has yet to launch). If buyers had the option to rent hardware rather than plunk down hundreds (or thousands) of dollars outright, they might be convinced to upgrade more often.
Investors think the hardware subscription is a good idea: AAPL stock jumped 1.6% in an hour after the news leaked. The service is currently expected to launch at the end of this year, but Bloomberg noted it could be pushed to 2023 or canceled altogether.
Two alleged masterminds of the Frosties NFT scam have been arrested, the Justice Department announced Thursday.
Ethan Nguyen, who officials say used several handles including “Frostie,” and Andre Llacuna, identified in the charges as “heyandre,” face wire fraud and money-laundering conspiracy charges for defrauding thousands who bought the Frostie NFTs in what became this year’s first major “rug pull.”
Nguyen and Llacuna, who were arrested in Los Angeles, are accused of launching the digital collection of colorful ice-cream-scoop characters and promising buyers a host of money-making features, such as staking and breeding. But the NFT project abruptly shut down hours after the Frosties sold out in January. The accused rug-pullers then transferred $1.1 million in crypto proceeds out of the Frosties wallet, the DOJ said.
Nguyen and Llacuna had started to advertise a new NFT project, Embers, at the time of their arrest, the DOJ said. The project, which was expected to generate $1.5 million in crypto proceeds, was set to launch around March 26. Its website is still online.

“The trending market and demand for NFT investments has not only drawn the attention of real artists, but scam artists as well,” Ricky Patel of Homeland Security Investigations in New York said in a statement.
Mike Fasanello, who helped investigate the rug pull earlier this year when he worked as a director at Blockchain Intelligence Group, said the arrests underlined how financial crimes on blockchain networks are often easier to track.
“This is not the financial crime of old, where investigations took months or years,” Fasanello, who is now chief compliance officer of LVL, a banking and crypto-trading company, told Protocol. “The digital assets space is proving to be a more transparent system than fiat could ever hope to be.”
Battery range is among the top concerns for most people buying an electric car. For one, having to stop for a charge more often than you stop to fill up a gas tank is incredibly annoying. Then there’s the problem of waiting, at a minimum, 30 minutes to get a charge at current speeds.
That’s why comfortable charging stations with seating and shade just make sense. And soon, that’s exactly what we’ll have. On Thursday, Volkswagen announced that one of its subsidiaries is rolling out luxe, multicharger stations in major cities across the country.
The public charging stations will be operated by Electrify America, which came into existence in the wake of Volkswagen’s Dieselgate scandal. Most of the company’s charging stations are located in parking lots and other locations that are hardly where you’d want to spend your time waiting to get your EV battery topped up. Electrify America’s so-called “flagship” charging stations will be coming to Santa Barbara, San Francisco, San Diego and Beverly Hills, as well as Manhattan and Brooklyn, between now and 2023.

The new charging stations, though, will host comfy seating and much, much more. There will be dedicated event spaces; there will be valet options; and there will even be curbside delivery — a subtle acknowledgment that, yes, it can still take longer to charge a Volkswagen ID.4 or other comparable EV than it does to receive a food delivery order through Uber Eats. Porsche — which is owned by Volkswagen — announced the rollout of similar, exclusive stations internationally last week — but now us plebs will have our own lounge-like charging stations, too.
A rendering of an Electrify America charging station. Looks like a chill place to spend a few minutes.Photo: Electrify America
The most important part of today’s announcement, however, is that Volkswagen will be installing 400 to 500 more solar awnings at 100 charging stations nationwide. Only two of their current charging stations have solar charging capabilities, both in California. The rest use traditional electricity sources based on the station’s location — and given that America’s electric grid is still not powered by renewables, that means a lot of that power still comes from natural gas and coal. Pumping energy from the sun directly into your EV while you get to chill in a comfy charging station sure sounds like living the dream.
Notably, neither last week’s Porsche announcement nor today’s announcement from Volkswagen makes any comment about food options or bathrooms — and if you’ve been to a gas station literally ever, you know that’s something drivers expect to find when they make a pit stop. We’re going to have to assume Volkswagen has a plan for that, though. Right?
Google is insisting its pay is competitive, even as employees question whether their compensation is fair.
At an all-hands meeting, Google CEO Sundar Pichai read a question submitted by an employee aloud: “Compensation-related questions showed the biggest decrease from last year: What is your understanding of why that is?” The question refers to a recent internal survey that found issues like compensation and promotions were top concerns for workers. The percentage of workers who felt their pay was competitive dropped from the previous year.
Bret Hill, who leads the company’s compensation and stock packages, blamed “macro economic trends.” “It’s a very competitive market, and you’re probably hearing anecdotal stories of colleagues getting better offers at other companies,” he said at the meeting, which CNBC reported.
Hill added that workers are “dealing with location changes and the effects there.” Execs at Google and other large tech companies have said they’d cut pay for workers who move to a city with lower cost of living. According to a recent Alphabet Workers Union petition, some of those locations include Durham, North Carolina; Des Moines, Iowa; and Houston, Texas.

“We know that our employees have many choices about where they work, so we ensure they are very well compensated,” a Google spokesperson told CNBC. “That’s why we’ve always provided top of market compensation across salary, equity, leave and a suite of benefits.”
Workers submitted several other questions about pay. One question asked what — if anything — Google plans to do after Amazon doubled its maximum base salary and Apple gave some workers stock bonuses. Another asked: “If Google aims to hire the top 1% of talent, why doesn’t Google aim to pay the 1% of salaries, rather than being top 5%-10% of the market?” Hill said Google has been able to “hire the best people everywhere” by staying in that market range.
It’s unsurprising that employees would be worked up about compensation. Before the survey results were published, Google told workers it wouldn’t raise pay to match inflation.
Execs and workers agreed on the issue of performance reviews, which employees raised as a concern in the survey. Leaders said the company is making changes to the performance review process, which is often lengthy.
It doesn’t seem like Malaysia’s communications and finance ministers talk much. Just a few days after the deputy minister of Malaysia’s Communications and Multimedia Ministry said crypto should be legal tender in the country, the deputy finance minister said it’s not going to happen.
“Cryptocurrencies like bitcoin are not suitable for use as a payment instrument due to various limitations,” Deputy Finance Minister Mohd Shahar Abdullah said in Parliament, citing volatility and crypto’s potential for cyber attacks. His boss, Finance Minister Tengku Datuk Seri Zafrul Tengku Abdul Aziz, never liked the idea of crypto as legal tender either. “[It’s not a] good store of value and a medium of exchange,” he said earlier this month.
The Ministry of Finance crypto ice bath comes just days after Zahidi Zainul Abidin, the deputy minister of Malaysia’s Communications and Multimedia Ministry, told Malaysia’s Parliament that crypto as legal tender would be good for the kids. “We hope the government can allow this,” he said on Monday. “We are trying to see how we can legalize this so that we can develop youth participation in crypto and assist them.”

None of this is to say the crypto for the kids (or adults, for that matter) dream is dead in Malaysia. The country is involved with Project Dunbar, which is testing the use of central bank digital currencies there and in a handful of other countries. “The growing technology and payment landscape have prompted the Bank Negara Malaysia to actively assess the potential of banks’ digital currency central or the central bank’s digital currency,” Mohd Shahar said.
Maybe Zahidi just wanted to put some public pressure on crypto plans, or maybe the Communications and Multimedia Ministry simply doesn’t, uh, communicate with the Ministry of Finance. The latter would be responsible for greenlighting and regulating any crypto plans in the first place, which Zahidi pointed out during his remarks earlier this week. It was unclear how Zahidi would even be involved in rolling out crypto plans, except for maybe, you know, talking to the public about it.
At least we know that Malaysia is not going to follow El Salvador in making crypto legal tender for the foreseeable future; instead, it appears to be following in the footsteps of other countries like Ukraine and the U.S. Given how El Salvador’s bitcoin experiment is turning out, not adopting crypto as legal tender for the youth may not be the worst choice.
Riders will soon be able to hail a cab in New York City through the Uber app. The company will list taxis in NYC on its app later this spring, marking Uber’s first partnership with taxi operators in the United States, according to a report from The Wall Street Journal.
As part of the deal, the New York City Taxi and Limousine Commission’s software will merge with Uber’s ride-hailing software. Uber X rides will be about the same price as a taxi ride, and cab drivers who take Uber passengers can still be paid according to the time and distance they drive, just as taxis usually operate. Uber and the TLC will take some commission from each ride, but they declined to say the terms (although Uber takes a global average of around 20%, the Journal reported).
“It’s bigger and bolder than anything we’ve done,” Andrew Macdonald, Uber’s global mobility chief, told the Journal.

Surging gas prices and the ongoing pandemic have pushed many Uber and Lyft drivers to quit. Uber tried luring them back last summer with incentives, like a driver stimulus, but the recent hike in gas prices sent drivers back home again. The ride-hailing driver shortage was good for taxis, which had struggled since the rise of Uber and Lyft but rebounded even more than app-based rides in the spring of 2021.

The deal has been in the works for some time. Uber began considering a partnership with taxis back in November, when Uber’s Josh Gold reportedly talked with the Taxi and Limousine Commission about “the potential for a yellow taxi dispatch.” Uber had also approached the head of Creative Mobile Technologies, which has a taxi-hailing app in the city, about running ads on the roof of its taxis last year.
The company has created similar deals with cities overseas, such as Hong Kong, and in countries such as Austria and Spain. Individual cab drivers in U.S. cities can also choose to list their taxis through Uber.
Snap has added another company to its acquisition list as it continues its investment into AR technology. On Wednesday, the company announced that it has acquired NextMind, a Paris-based neurotech company.
NextMind develops headbands that let the wearer interact with an on-screen interface using thoughts — sort of. The technology works by monitoring “neural activity to understand your intent,” Snap said.
The startup will help Snap in its “long-term augmented reality research efforts,” the company said, with its tech working to solve a problem that many companies face developing mixed-reality headsets: how to control technology without using your hands to touch a screen or keyboard. NextMind sold kits to develop these headbands, which retail for $399, but will discontinue them, according to The Verge.
“This technology does not ‘read’ thoughts or send any signals towards the brain,” Snap said in its announcement.
NextMind’s team of 20 employees will join Snap Labs and continue to operate out of Paris. The financial details of the acquisition were not disclosed, but the company has $4.6 million in funding, according to Crunchbase.

NextMind’s tech could eventually become part of Snap’s Spectacles, a pair of video-recording augmented reality glasses first launched in 2016. The acquisition isn’t Snap’s first in the AR space: The company bought WaveOptics, which supplies the Spectacles’ AR displays, last May for $500 million. In January, it acquired Compound Photonics, a company that makes display tech, for an unknown amount.
Snap has long been working on augmented reality, but is now competing with other tech major companies as hype around the metaverse grows. Meta, which at one point wanted to acquire Snap, is one major competitor. The company has committed its resources to metaverse technologies, though its first glasses, a pair of video-recording Ray-Bans called Stories, failed to impress.
Google announced Wednesday that it will partner with Spotify to test out third-party billing options for app developers.
The move is a response to the international pressure over fees that Android and Apple collect on transactions in apps on their mobile platforms — pressure that Spotify itself has helped to amp up.
Google, which already launched additional billing systems in South Korea last year in response to the country’s landmark app store legislation, said it would be “exploring user choice billing in other select countries” with Spotify and “a small number of participating developers.” Spotify users are expected to get access to the options later this year, according to TechCrunch.
“Users who’ve downloaded Spotify from the Google Play Store will be presented with a choice to pay with either Spotify’s payment system or with Google Play Billing,” Spotify said in a blog post announcing the news. “For the first time, these two options will live side by side in the app. This will give everyone the freedom to subscribe and make purchases using the payment option of their choice directly in the Spotify app.”

By routing app transactions through its own systems, Google is able to extract commissions that sometimes range as high as 30%. Anger about the costs on both iOS and Android has prompted lawsuits, including by Epic Games against Google, and another against Apple. It’s also spawned legislative proposals in states, Congress and around the world.
Spotify, Epic and other companies were key to pushing for many of the measures, and the companies used blue ribbon hires and a keen eye on the vogue for antitrust scrutiny to go up against the major mobile operating system providers. The move by Google could now tamp down on that pressure.
Users who opt for an alternate billing option will presumably have access to lower-commission payments processing, though there’s likely to be ongoing costs for other systems. In the Netherlands, for instance, Apple is charging a 27% fee to developers who want to put in place alternate payment options, although government authorities have fined the company for what they say is noncompliance with the law.
On Monday, Google noted that it would demand any alternative system “meet similarly high safety standards in protecting users’ personal data and sensitive financial information” to Google’s own.
Instacart will now start offering software services to all grocery stores, moving beyond the company’s primary focus on food delivery through gig work.
The Instacart Platform will offer software management services for ecommerce, fulfillment, ads, insights and other data for any grocery store, not just those that partner with Instacart for delivery services. Fidji Simo, the company’s CEO, said in a press release that the new software platform is based on insights the company has gathered through partnering with grocers on delivery and building custom digital stores.
Gig work companies have generally struggled to make profits since their inception, and delivery companies specifically have landed in an increasingly tight race to improve delivery speeds in cities, oftentimes as low as fifteen minutes. Offering a new SaaS model could create room for more profits for Instacart and increase investor confidence ahead of a potential IPO later this year.

“At Instacart, we’re focusing on the tech,” Simo wrote at the end of her statement. The company recently acquired SaaS company Foodstorm.

The San Francisco Board of Supervisors unanimously voted to approve a plan to pause the development and growth of all future Amazon and other parcel delivery facilities in the city for the next 18 months Tuesday, allowing the city time to study the environmental impact of existing locations, trucks and drivers.
Amazon told Protocol that it paused its plans to develop a large delivery facility on 7th Street in response to the moratorium vote. The proposal had already proven controversial with local residents, the International Brotherhood of Teamsters and the local grocery workers union.
“We will continue to evaluate our long-term use of the site, and in the short-term we will work with our neighbors to look at ways to use the location to serve the community,” an Amazon spokesperson wrote.
“What we’ve made clear to the politicians is, if this project goes through, and it’s a big if, it should be built union, and everybody that works in there should have the opportunity to join together in a union,” Doug Bloch, the political director for the Teamsters in Northern California and elsewhere on the West coast, told Protocol in February about the 7th Street site. No Amazon workers are unionized in any part of the company in the United States, and the Teamsters have made organizing and eventually unionizing some of those workers a national priority.

The moratorium plan, which was introduced by Board President Shamann Walton, was backed by the Teamsters. The Teamsters have successfully lobbied for similar proposals across Northern California over the last six months: Contra Costa County set a moratorium on all new fulfillment centers in December; the city of Hayward forbade Amazon from considering two sites there; and the San Jose City Council vetoed a proposed distribution center in November.
The bill will next go to Mayor London Breed’s desk for signature. Her office did not immediately respond to request for comment. Amazon likewise did not immediately respond to request for comment.
Your iPhone wallet now negates the need for an actual wallet — at least in Arizona.
Apple announced Wednesday that users will now be able to add their driver’s license and state ID to their iPhone wallets, with Arizona being the first state to get access.
The new ID feature will be available on both iPhones and Apple Watches, and will work similarly to how users can store their boarding passes on their phones. The feature will be supported at TSA security checkpoints at select airports, starting with the Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport. Around a dozen other states and territories, including Georgia, Colorado, Hawaii, Mississippi, Ohio and the territory of Puerto Rico, will support driver’s licenses and state IDs next. Apple first announced the feature last September.
“We look forward to working with many more states and the TSA to bring IDs in Wallet to users across the US,” Jennifer Bailey, Apple’s vice president of Apple Pay and Apple Wallet, said in a statement.

When setting it up, users will need to take a selfie, scan the front and back of their driver’s license or state ID card, and do a series of facial and head movements for “additional fraud prevention,” Apple said in its announcement. The states are responsible for verifying and approving user’s requests to add their IDs to the Apple Wallets.
After users add their IDs to their Apple Wallets, they can use the feature by tapping their phone or Apple Watch on the TSA identity reader. They will then be shown which information TSA is requesting and can consent to give it with Face or Touch ID, without needing to unlock their phones. The digital ID will only present the information needed in each transaction. The feature will be available on iPhone 8 or later running iOS 15.4 and Apple Watch Series 4 or later running watchOS 8.4 or later.
There’s perhaps no name more associated with climate denial and our current mess than “Koch.” The brothers who share the surname (only one of whom is currently alive) and their eponymously named company have spent decades on a mission to water down or destroy regulations and protect fossil fuel interests and profits at all costs. And now, Koch Industries is interested in … batteries?
The conglomerate has poured at least $750 million into U.S. batteries and electric vehicles over the past year and change, making Koch Industries one of the biggest investors in the sector outside auto companies, according to a report by the Wall Street Journal. Those investments in companies such as Freyr Battery and Aspen Aerogels were made through Koch Strategic Platforms, a subsidiary of the company that focuses on growth in computing, industrial automation, energy transformation and health care.
The company’s investment in startups focused on sustainability and electrification seems like a head-scratcher, given Charles Koch and his late brother David’s past. The EV industry has marketed itself as a green alternative to gas cars, and the Koch brothers have supported anything but. The company declined to explain its battery investments to the Journal.

The Koch brothers have funded Americans for Prosperity, a libertarian political advocacy group that has protested climate change legislation and fought against public transit, a surefire way to reduce carbon pollution. The group has said it just wants to give people the freedom to drive their cars, a freedom that just so happens to dovetail with Koch Industries’ businesses, which include gas production, asphalt and auto parts.

It appears Charles Koch may have some regrets, though, about creating this morass. “Boy, did we screw up!” he wrote in his 2020 book. What a mess!”
Indeed!

Yet Americans for Prosperity’s political spending doesn’t seem to reflect this newfound regret. Federal data from the 2020 election cycle shows it spent nearly $47 million to help elect Republicans and less than $100,000 on Democratic candidates. (Most of the money it spent on Democratic candidates went to Rep. Henry Cuellar, a fossil-fuel-loving member of Congress from Texas.)
So it’s not like Charles Koch has completely given up on the oil and gas part of his business or the politicians that enable its continued existence. But the battery bets reflect an acknowledgment of where transportation is headed. The EV industry is on a major growth trajectory, especially once the supply chain issues and wild price jumps in nickel and other battery components stabilize.
“The speed of the energy transition is directly correlated with companies like Koch participating in it,” Freyr CEO Tom Jensen told the Journal.
While Koch Industry’s gas holdings may suffer as the world shifts toward EVs, its other businesses could be primed for growth, along with all the new battery investments. In essence, Koch Industries is still looking to cash in on a crisis of its own making.
Correction: This story has been updated to correct the spelling of Tom Jensen’s name. This story was updated March 23, 2022.

SAN FRANCISCO — Amazon’s cloud computing arm is getting more serious about game development with the launch of a dedicated AWS for Games offering that combines six different cloud-based solutions for building, launching and then managing games after they’re live. The company made the announcement during the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco.
Amazon’s announcement, following a similar one from competitor Microsoft on Wednesday, shows the rising importance of cloud computing in game development. Alongside many other technical and creative fields, game development shifted to hybrid and fully remote workflows during the pandemic, which has necessitated a whole new set of tools for managing complex game projects that span at-home workstations and in-office networks all around the globe.
Additionally, game development has become more reliant on the cloud in recent years, both to manage how games are built and how those games live on after launch, especially if those titles are online multiplayer ones that sync data across various devices, platforms and applications. Many developers are now reliant on cloud platforms like Amazon’s and Microsoft’s to manage game servers and player accounts, access analytics and deploy gamewide software solutions like anti-cheat programs and other security and privacy measures.

“Developers would rather be building fun, innovative games that delight players, versus spending time and effort handling infrastructure. They need servers that can scale with tens of millions of players anywhere in the world at the lowest possible cost,” wrote software engineer Chris Lee and AWS marketing lead David Holladay in a blog post. “Also, they need to optimize player lifetime value with databases that can process terabytes to petabytes of ever-changing data, analytics solutions that can access that data with millisecond latency, and machine learning that can translate insights into new, immersive gameplay.”
Amazon’s new AWS for Games product has six areas developers can tap during and after development: a cloud development toolset, game server management, game security, live operations, game analytics and game artificial intelligence and machine learning. Amazon says scores of companies are already using its cloud services, including Epic Games, Parsec, cloud gaming provider Ubitus, Sony and a number of high-profile game studios like Riot Games, Gearbox Software and Ubisoft.
In addition to its AWS for Games offering, Amazon is also announcing two new back-end management solutions, Amazon GameSparks and AWS GameKit, that it says will make managing the behind-the-scenes services for games faster and more efficient.
Despite Nvidia’s failed attempt to acquire Arm, CEO Jensen Huang said his company’s plans for the future include doubling down on the number of Arm-based chips as part of the company’s “holy trinity” of computing.
The long-shot deal to buy the U.K.-based developer of semiconductor designs would have benefited Nvidia through a more aggressive roadmap for high-performance computing, Huang said at a virtual press conference Wednesday. But even without it, Nvidia can still benefit from Arm’s designs as a licensee to fill out the three pillars of computing Huang sees as the future: graphics processors, central processors and networking chips.
“You know in cooking, almost every culture has their holy trinity, if you will … and in Western cooking, it’s celery, onions, and carrots — it’s the core of just about all soup,” Huang said. “And in computing, we’ve got our three things: the CPU, the GPU and the networking that gives us that foundation to do just about everything.”

Huang described Arm as a one-of-a-kind business that took decades to build and that nobody will duplicate, but vowed that Nvidia will thrive in spite of the acquisition’s failure.
“Do we need [Arm] to succeed? Absolutely not,” Huang said. “Would it have been wonderful to own such a thing? The answer is absolutely yes. The reason for that is that because as company owners, you want to own great assets, you want to own great platforms.”
A successful acquisition might have allowed Arm to more aggressively develop its high-performance computing designs, where Nvidia has focused its resources. Huang sees those next opportunities in what he described as AI factories and cloud computing.
Huang also said Wednesday that Nvidia was interested in taking a look at Intel’s contract manufacturing services, and didn’t have concerns about sharing its chip designs with its larger rival. Evaluating and selecting a new contract manufacturer is a lengthy process that requires integrating supply chains and deep discussion, he said.
“We’ve been working closely with Intel, sharing with them our roadmap long before we share it with the public,” Huang said. “For years, Intel has known our secrets. AMD has known our secrets. And we are sophisticated and mature enough to realize that we have to collaborate and work closely with Broadcom, we work closely with Marvell.”
SpaceX’s Starlink is raising its prices. The satellite internet service provider’s terminals will now cost 20% more, and monthly service fees are increasing by 10%. New customers will now have to spend over $700 in startup costs.
In an email to customers Tuesday, Starling said the “sole purpose of these adjustments is to keep pace with rising inflation,” The Verge reported.
Those who pre-ordered a Starlink terminal at its previous price of $499 will be grandfathered in — sort of. They will now pay $549 up front. And the company is still offering its premium option, which costs $2,500 for a startup kit and $500 a month for service.
Tesla also hiked car prices twice this month, and though the company did not offer an official reason, the decision came after Elon Musk tweeted that inflation was putting pressure on both Tesla and SpaceX.
Musk has long been outspoken about his inflation fears, both in context of his companies and his political views. In November, he tweeted that inflation is “the most regressive tax at all,” and within the same time period he was picking fights with progressive Democrats about a proposed “wealth tax” on high-earning people like himself. In January 2021, Musk tweeted that keeping inflation low was critical to civilization’s survival.

But there could be another reason for the price increase: Starlink terminals have long cost SpaceX more to make than the asking price. The terminals reportedly cost about $1,000 to make, still 29% more than the upfront price it charges customers. At the Satellite 2021 conference, SpaceX CFO Bret Johnsen said that lowering production costs was the company’s “holy grail.”
A mix of factors likely contributed to the price increase. Inflation reached a 40-year high of 7.9% in February, but it’s also possible that Starlink terminals weren’t well-priced to begin with.
Tired: algorithms. Wired: chronological timelines.
Instagram users have begged for a chronological timeline for six years. Today Instagram finally gave in, offering not one, but two ways users can see content displayed according to the time it was shared. A new Following tab shows users content from everyone that they follow in chronological order. A second Favorites tab shows users chronological content from 50 chosen accounts. The features are available as part of Instagram’s new update, rolling out today.
Instagram first teased the prospect of a chronological timeline in January, when Adam Mosseri tweeted that the company was testing out different news feed formats. The tweet came less than a month after Mosseri was asked in a December Senate hearing whether the Instagram algorithm was making the platform addictive to teens.
Instagram isn’t just contending with political backlash. It’s also competing with rival TikTok for youth attention. TikTok’s algorithm is known for being incredibly on point for surfacing posts users will like, and the platform is giving Instagram a run for its money — literally. During Instagram parent company Meta’s Q4 earnings call last year, Mark Zuckerberg said that Instagram’s TikTok copycat, Reels, is the company’s “fastest-growing content format by far,” but it might not be enough to keep TikTok from usurping Instagram’s social media crown.

Instagram is in a precarious position. Algorithms are effective for getting users to stay in the app, but users are worried algorithms are manipulating them, and clearly feel nostalgic about the old Instagram.
Twitter has found itself in the same position. The company has experimented with algorithmic feeds, earlier this month adding an option to switch between a curated feed and a chronological one. The company quickly reversed course after users complained about Twitter’s decision to make the algorithmic timeline the default option.
Instagram’s chronological feed is rolling out in an update today. In the top left corner of the screen, users will see a new inverted carrot shape next to the Instagram logo. Just tap the carrot to see the new Following and Favorites feeds. However, the algorithmic feed we’ve become accustomed to will remain the default when users open the app — the new features only temporarily reshuffle content.
Okta grew into a $25 billion company by promising customers it could verify that everyone granted access to their internal data was an authentic user. This week, those customers have lots of questions.
After initially downplaying the impact of the remote takeover of an internal account belonging to a contractor working for Okta, the company confirmed Tuesday night that the group behind the takeover was able to view the internal data of hundreds of customers. The incident occurred in January, but David Bradbury, Okta’s chief security officer, wrote in a blog post that Okta did not receive the forensic report from the contracting company until Tuesday morning, hours after the Lapsus$ hacker group posted screenshots of Okta’s internal IT systems to Twitter.
The contracted support engineer whose account was compromised was working for Sitel, a contact-center outsourcing company. “We have determined that the maximum potential impact is 366 (approximately 2.5% of) customers whose Okta tenant was accessed by Sitel,” Bradbury explained in the blog post.

“[W]hile the attacker never gained access to the Okta service via account takeover, a machine that was logged into Okta was compromised and they were able to obtain screenshots and control the machine through the RDP session,” he wrote. Support engineers have “limited” access to Okta customer data, according to Bradbury, but he still called the incident “embarrassing.”
However, the length of time between the discovery of the incident in January and Tuesday’s disclosure could prove to be more embarrassing for Okta in the long run. Security incidents are somewhat inevitable, even at companies that offer security services, but enterprise customers are more forgiving of vendors that disclose incidents clearly and promptly.
“Executive teams massively over-prioritize legal risks when responding to major cybersecurity incidents,” said Alex Stamos, director of the Stanford Internet Observatory and former chief security officer at Facebook. “Legal risks are rarely existential and focusing on paying slightly less in the inevitable shareholder settlement often creates an existential risk around customer trust.”
Microsoft announced on Wednesday that it will expand its cybersecurity skilling initiative to 23 additional countries. The campaign, which began last year in the U.S., is part of the company’s push to help solve the cybersecurity industry’s growing talent problem, while also helping diversify the industry.
Like many industries within tech, cybersecurity is facing both a workforce shortage and a widening skills gap among workers. According to Kate Behncken, vice president and lead of Microsoft Philanthropies, by 2025 there will be 3.5 million cybersecurity jobs open globally. Microsoft originally launched the skilling campaign in the U.S. last fall, partnering with 135 community colleges to skill and recruit workers into the cybersecurity industry.
By expanding skilling and training to 23 countries, Microsoft aims to get ahead of the demand. The countries, which include Australia, Brazil, Canada and India, were chosen due to their “elevated cyberthreat risk.”
The company plans to work with the countries’ local schools, nonprofits, governments and businesses to develop the skilling programs. The goal is to fit the unique needs of each market.

The almost two dozen countries were also identified as markets that have a significant gap in their cybersecurity workforces, unable to keep up with the demand and diversity in the field. “In the countries where we are expanding our campaign, on average, only 17% of the cybersecurity workforce are female,” Behncken wrote in her blog post announcing the news.
SAN FRANCISCO — Microsoft on Wednesday announced the availability of new Azure-based cloud tools for game developers as part of its announcements at the annual Game Developers Conference.
These new offerings are designed to make it easier and more affordable to create video games using the same types of infrastructure used by the both its Xbox game studios and the Windows maker’s own array of productivity tools and services. This may be especially helpful to companies that have shifted to hybrid or full remote during the pandemic and now rely on cloud-based tools to get work done with teams distributed across the globe.
The first announcement is the broad availability of Microsoft’s ID@Azure program, an extension of its indie developer-focused ID@Xbox program. The program was first announced last year and entered into a closed beta phase in December. It’s supposed to be an “onramp,” as the company puts it, for smaller creators to start building games using cloud-based tools while avoiding the steep costs and technical complexity of using custom solutions running on pricey hardware.

These tools include the software platforms supporting remote access, so game designers can use less powerful hardware to remote into powerful workstations, and cloud-based multiplayer and cross-platform services.
These initiatives feed into Microsoft’s grander gaming ambition to build out its Xbox Game Pass subscription service and cloud gaming platform with more titles that can be played on smartphones, web browsers and all manner of other screens. After all, if more games are built using Microsoft’s tools and are in line with the company’s vision of making games available on all devices, it’s more likely those games will come to Xbox platforms and support Microsoft’s various platforms and services.
“For people to play any game on any device, developers need the right tools to build games that are playable across those devices,” said program director Nick Ferguson in a blog post. “Cloud is a crucial part of how we deliver that, whether it is the backend components that power an increasing number of gaming experiences, or the technology that gets your games into the hands of more players.”
The company’s second announcement is an Azure virtual machine, so developers can purchase access to a powerful remote computer that can be synced with a project’s workflow. Microsoft says the virtual machine comes preloaded with a number of cloud applications and game development tools, including Unity’s Parsec for remote access and Epic’s Unreal Engine.
“This allows developers to quickly spin up a functional game dev workstation or build server in around five minutes, which enables easier validation of pipeline performance, pull down code/art assets from a Perforce repo to develop and test games right from the cloud,” said Azure principal software engineer Ben Humphrey. “Additionally, it saves hours of downloads and configurations to get the environment needed for game creation.”

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