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What caught my eye in tech: July 2020

Every month in 2020, I’m going to be sharing the top 5 interesting things in tech that have caught my eye. Enjoy!

1. Will TikTok be Trumped?

As covered in previous months, TikTok has been on a tear as the hottest new social platform in recent times. Whilst there are a lot of fans in the US, one of its largest markets, one of them isn’t Donald Trump who has threatened to ban the app. Citing the app as a national security risk, the primary concern is that data of its users could ultimately end up in the hands of the Chinese government.

Whilst there are likely other motivations for banning the app, and at the time of writing (02.08.2020) the executive order hasn’t been made, this hasn’t stopped TikTok and its parent company ByteDance (China-based) from frantically attempting to resolve the situation. One surprising solution comes in the form of a potential acquisition by Microsoft, which has entered talks to acquire TikTok.

For me, this is a huge opportunity for Microsoft, that could catapult its already positive turnaround. TikTok was already a viable threat to companies like Facebook, and it could send shockwaves across the social landscape.

Update 03.08.2020: There are rumours circulating that the deal won’t be happening but no statement from either side as of yet.

More on Donald Trump’s threat via CNBC

2. Big Tech antitrust hearing

This month the CEOs of Apple, Facebook, Amazon and Google, clashed head-on with the US House Judiciary’s antitrust committee and faced a true grilling as part of their antitrust investigation. The long-awaited hearing focused on an argument that all 4 companies are too big, and are stifling competition through questionable tactics. Remember Facebook’s response to Snapchat’s rise?

Over 1 million documents had been reviewed and hundred of hours of testimony heard, which surfaced findings that were packaged up into some seriously uncomfortable questions towards Cook, Zuckerberg, Bezos and Pichai.

With all that content the hearing lasted for a lengthy 6 hours! Equally, with all that content, it should come of no surprise that some incredible claims were made by the committee and you can catch up on the best of these via the video below. Is it fun watching those questions attempting to be answered? You bet.

The result of the investigation will come to a head at the end of Summer 2020 with findings being presented via a report. Whilst there is no power to break up the companies, they can craft legislation to regulate it.

More on the antitrust hearing via The Verge

3. Garmin hacked in ransomwear attack

Ransomwear-style attacks are becoming more common and evermore sophisticated. In an orchestrated attack in which a company has sensitive information encrypted, hackers literally hold this to ransom, demanding vast sums of money for the key.

Garmin is the latest victim in which the company was crippled for 5 days before coming back online. With the potential for customer data to be exploited and add to the already damaging PR, Garmin reportedly paid $10 million to avert a complete meltdown. That’s a staggering amount. Realistically it’s not hard to imagine that growing substantially as hackers get more confident and begin targetting multi-billion-dollar companies with the cash on hand to pay up. It also begs the question as to how many times this has already happened and just not been reported.

How this newer form of criminal activity is effectively tackled remains to be seen. There is clearly a gap between what is advised by governments to never negotiate, and companies who cannot afford a potentially ruining data breach paying up.

More on the hack via Wired

4. Slack files an antitrust complaint against Microsoft

Noticing a common theme to this month’s roundup? Whilst Microsoft was left out of the previously mentioned antitrust hearing, they’re facing accusations of their own from direct competitor, and underdog, Slack.

Slack claims Microsoft is unfairly bundling Teams into its 365 Office Suite and has filed in the EU an antitrust complaint. Their goal? To force Microsoft to sell Teams as a standalone product and unbundle it from the suite. Historically two companies have been out for each other for some time. Remember in 2016 when Slack ran the infamous full-page news ad ironically welcoming the competition?

Slack is clearly worried by the rise of Teams, accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Whilst Slack is still growing, the pressure is clearly being felt where it hurts and starting to negatively affect its share price ($WORK) which is down 25% from its post-COVID high at the time of writing.

Looking at it objectively, Teams currently offers a key piece of functionality Slack is lacking, in the form of video calling. Could we see a potential joining of forces with Zoom?

More on the antitrust complaint via The Verge

5. Robinhood cancels UK expansion

The US-based investment app, Robinhood, has canceled its planned expansion into the UK. The controversial trading platform allows traders to purchase pieces of shares (similar to purchasing Bitcoin) with no fee, opening the door to millions of young, budding investors.

In a press release by the company, they state plans to focus more on their US offering. There’s likely more behind this out of the blue move as the company had set up its base in the UK, received FCA approval and employed staff ready for launch. It’s not often you see a rapidly growing startup curtailing expansion plans – there certainly looks to be more going on behind the scenes that a change of heart.

More on the announcement via The Guardian

One more thing: Remembering the Apple G4 Cube on its 20th birthday

Apple’s G4 Cube

I remember the first time I laid eyes on a G4 and marveled at its appearance. At the time, computers were the size of breeze blocks under your desk and just as ugly. This was an attention-drawing, compact, cube shape that stood out in a subtle way. It was and still is, a beautifully designed product that celebrated its 20th birthday in July. 

Whilst it wasn’t the bestseller (production only ran between 2000 and 2001), it still, in my opinion, gets the crown of being one of the true classic pieces of Apple engineering.

Read more about the G4 Cube in this tribute via Wired

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