Appwrap: SFO launches Dasset investigation, and Google’s Gemini image woes

Published on the 26/02/2024 | Written by Newsdesk

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AppWrap February 2024

26.02 The Serious Fraud Office has launched an investigation into the failed Auckland-based Dasset cryptocurrency trading platform. Dasset collapsed into liquidation last August with liabilities of $6.9 million and digital assets of just $600,000, according to the liquidator’s first report. The SFO says it began making enquiries last year following a referral from the Financial Markets Authority, and has now escalated that to a full investigation.

23.02 Google has ‘paused’ its Gemini people image generation, just three weeks after launch, admitting the feature ‘missed the mark’ with inaccurate or even offensive images as the model ‘overcompensated in some cases, and [was] over-conservative in others’. The company publicly apologised and says it’s working to improve it ‘significantly’ before turning it back on.

21.02 The LockBit ransomware group which was allegedly behind demands for money for hacked health records and other information in New Zealand in 2022 has been taken down in a global law enforcement operation, led by the UK’s National Crime Agency. RNZ reports that New Zealand Police were among the agencies involved in the takedown of the group, which the NCA says has been operating for four years and caused ‘losses of billions of pounds, dollars and euros’ in ransom payments and recovery costs.

20.02 Kiwis’ concerns over fake news have jumped six percentage points to 65 percent in the last year, while 42 percent of those who know at least a little bit about AI saying they’re more concerned than excited about the technology. The figures come from InternetNZ’s new survey of 1,001 people in NZ. Ninety-six percent said they were ‘at least a little bit concerned’ AI would be used for malicious purposes.

19.02 NZ has joined the Pall Mall Process, an alliance against spyware and hackers for hire. RNZ reports that the National Security Group says the signing doesn’t impose any obligations on New Zealand other than to keep up with multilateral talks.

19.02 An orbital debris inspection satellite has been Rocket Lab’s 44 successful Electron rocket launch. The satellite, deployed in today’s successful launch, has been designed to test technology and ways to monitor space junk. It’s the first phase in assessing the potential for satellites to assist with ‘de-orbiting’ space junk, Rocket Lab says.

16.02 An NZ AI Policy Tracker which aims to consolidate information about New Zealand’s disparate AI regulatory framework, has been welcomed by the AI Forum NZ. The policy tracker, by Brainbox Institute, bills itself as a ‘one-stop resource’ for information about the Kiwi AI regulatory landscape, focused primarily on government policies but including inputs from civil society and academia.

15.02 Manufacturers have been warned they’re at least a decade behind European counterparts and need to invest in digital to transform their supply chain and internal operations. Westpac NZ industry economist Paul Clark says globally manufacturers are moving towards greater automation with AI, robotics, cloud computing and sensors to monitor and control processes in real time, RNZ reports.

15.02 Wellington-based managed service provider Liquid, whose customers include government, transport and public service organisations, has been bought by Australian network and digital infrastructure provider Orro. The deal is the first for Orro outside of Australia, it says.

12.02 Cyber breaches are the number one business risk keeping Kiwi business owners up at night according to Aon’s 2023 Global Risk Management Survey, which puts cyber ahead of concerns about economic slowdown/slow recovery and skills issues.

12.02 NZTech has welcomed the first independent review of New Zealand’s online safety, saying it provides an opportunity to assess the progress tech companies have made following 2022 baseline reports. The report will be used to hold tech companies to account, NZTech says. David Shanks, former NZ chief censor, will join the oversight committee this month.

09.02 The Bard has been banished, with Gemini instead rising in its place as Google introduced its free AI Gemini app. The app for Android has launched, with Gemini’s features expected to be added to Google’s existing search app for iPhones in the coming weeks. US customers can subscribe for US$19.99 a month to access Gemini Advanced, Fortune reports.

08.02 More than 200 ‘AI stakeholders’, including big tech, civil society and academia, have joined the newly launched US AI Safety Institute Consortium. The US Department of Commerce says the consortium will help set safety standards and protect the US innovation ecosystem.

08.02 Privacy Commissioner Michael Webster has warned he’ll be keeping a close eye on Foodstuffs North Island’s facial recognition technology (FRT) trial, which starts today. The 25-store trial was prompted by Webster asking Foodstuffs to provide evidence that FRT was a justified way to reduce retail crime given the privacy impacts of using shoppers’ biometric information.

05.02 Chorus has cut $200m – and 30,000 premises – from its proposed fibre capital expenditure and says it it will extend fibre broadband to 10,000 premises by FY25 at a cost of about $40m. In an update to the Commerce Commission Chorus says it will continue to investigate ways to extend the fibre footprint, but that the ‘discretionary investment’ remains contingent on pricing, market and regulatory developments. “In the absence of current clarity on the conditions for that investment, we’ve removed approximately $200m from our main proposal and would instead include it in a separate individual capital expenditure proposal if and when the conditions to support such investment are satisfied.”

02.02 The Commerce Commission has outlined the potential competition issues it sees with One NZ’s proposed acquisition of Dense Air NZ, saying it is continuing to investigate ‘issues and theories of harm’. Among those is a concern that the deal would increase the disparity between One NZ’s holdings and those of 2degrees and could affect 2degrees’ ability to compete with One NZ and Spark in wholesale and/or retail telco services, leading to consumers facing higher prices, less choice or lower quality, ComCom says.

02.02 US government agencies have been ordered to take Ivanti VPN products offline by the end of the day due to actively exploited vulnerabilities. Patches for the four vulnerabilities are available however the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency issued the order, saying agencies must perform additional forensic analysis and clean-up steps in case they have already been compromised CSOonline reports. Australia’s ASD warned about the critical vulnerabilities in Ivanti Connect Secure and Policy Secure in January.

01.02 Queenstown has launched a development agency focused growing the tech sector into a billion-dollar industry. Technology Queenstown says its research shows the sector needs an extra 3,000 people over the next 20 years to grow the industry to from the current $100 million to between $650 million and  $1.3b per year. The tech sector currently accounts for 1.5 percent of the region’s GDP, with the agency hoping that will increase to up to 20 percent by 2043.

01.02 Incoming communications minister, Melissa Lee, has been warned that while the communications regulatory system is generally in good health, ‘the job is not done’ with NZ regulatory systems needing to adapt to keep pace with evolving technology and business models. The MBIE briefing paper for Lee says there are questions around the future role of local fibre companies and whether it makes sense to treat Chorus differently from Tuatahi, Enable and Northpower, along with questions over whether the rules for telecommunications infrastructure are fit for purpose. Rural broadband is also highlighted as an area of concern.

AppWrap January 2024

31.01 Up to $6m is being made available to Kiwi researchers to participate in collaborative research projects with Australia’s SmartSat Cooperative Research Centre. The funding, from the government’s Catalyst Fund, follows the signing of a space science and technology partnership deal between the New Zealand Space Agency and Australia’s SmartSat Co-operative Research Centre. Projects will focus on earth observation, space situational awareness and optical communications with the two agencies working on research to make better use of aerospace-enabled data in primary industries, advance technology to improve communications and support safe and responsible use of space, MBIE says.

30.01 Climate Change minister Simon Watts is eyeing up technology as a key means to reducing agricultural emissions. The party plans to harness biotech with policies enabling gene-edited crops, feed and livestock, Stuff says. National has promised to partner with the tech sector to ensure the policy and regulatory environment required to support more innovation and faster growth.

29.01 A ‘supermassive mother of all breaches’ involving 12 terabytes of data and 26 billion records from organisations including LinkedIn, Twitter, Weibo, Adobe and Canva has been revealed by security researchers. Security researcher Bob Dyachenko and Cybernews discovered the billions or exposed records on an open instance. Data breach search engine Leak-Loopup has since disclosed that it was the holder of the leaded dataset with a ‘firewall misconfiguration’ leading to the leak, Cybernews says.

28.01 Microsoft, eBay, Amazon and Tiktok have started the year with mass layoffs. Microsoft is cutting 1,900 jobs in its 22,000-strong gaming division, while TikTok is shedding 60 jobs in its advertising and sales unit, FastCompany reports. Ebay will cut around 1,000 jobs, while google is laying off ‘hundreds’ of employees from its hardware, voice assistance and engineering teams. The layoffs follow SAPs announcement earlier in the week that it was restructuring with 8,000 jobs impacted (see below).

26.01 The Auckland Chamber of Commerce is calling for more central government attention on the creative tech sector, including a new Minister for the Creative and Cultural Economy as part of a five year plan to make Auckland a global tech hub. Health and financial tech are also part of the plan, Newsroom reports.

24.01 SAP is restructuring its business in a move affecting 8,000 jobs as it shifts its focus to AI. SAP says the restructure will cost €2 billion with it retraining staff or replacing then through voluntary redundancy programs. The company has previously announced plans to embed ChatGPT in its products. The restructure was confirmed during SAP’s FY23 financial results announcement where it revealed revenue for the year was up six percent to €31.2b with operating profit down five percent to €5.8b.

23.01 Underinvestment in technology by supermarket chains has helped lead to systemic issues with pricing, according to Consumer NZ. Jon Duffy, Consumer NZ CEO, says the supermarkets haven’t been incentivised to use technology to clean up their lax pricing practices as they haven’t been called to account for those practices, RNZ reports. The Commerce Commission is currently investigating whether the pricing and promotional activities of Woolworths and Foodstuffs comply with the Fair Trading Act.

19.01 Russian state-sponsored hackers have gained access to Microsoft’s corporate systems, stealing emails and documents from staff accounts. The compromise began in November 2023 and was identified by Microsoft’s security team on 12 January. Microsoft says to date there is no evidence any access to customer environments, production systems, source code or AI systems was gained.

17.12 Gartner has forecast worldwide IT spending to hit $5 trillion this year, up 6.8 percent on 2023 – down on a previous forecast for an eight percent increase for the year. And despite the hype around GenAI, it won’t be impacting spend significantly. Software spend (up 12.7 percent) and IT services (up 8.7 percent) will be the biggest movers, with IT services becoming the largest segment of spend this year, according to Gartner’s forecast.

16.01 Auckland-based managed service provider Lancom Technology has been acquired by US MSP group Evergreen in the first expansion into ANZ for Evergreen. Lancom says it only took three weeks to decide Evergreen was the right partner for its business, with the US company committed ‘to preserving our team’s expertise, rather than replacing it’.

11.01 HPE’s US$14b plans to buy Juniper Networks has raised scepticism on Wall Street, Bloomberg reports. HPE says the deal will ‘accelerate AI-driven innovation’ amid the ongoing AI gold rush, but has left some analysts questioning the potential acquisition and whether the purchase of a legacy tech company like Juniper will complicate growth initiatives. Concerns have also been raised over the risk of an increasing debt load and overlapping product lines, Bloomberg says.

10.01 New Zealand has been ranked 49 out of 193 countries in the Oxford Insights Government AI Readiness Index 2023, well behind 12th ranked Australia. Both countries excel in the data and infrastructure pillar the report notes. The report also covers at government and tech sector pillars – areas where New Zealand didn’t fare as well – and measures 39 indicators.

09.01 OpenAI has admitted that it would be ‘impossible’ to develop GenAI without using copyrighted material. The admission comes as OpenAI is embroiled in legal action, brought against it by the New York Times, which has accused the company of mass copyright infringement. Responding to a UK parliamentary probe on large language models, Open AI defended its use of copyrighted material saying current copyright laws don’t forbid training data, BankInfoSecurity reports.

01.01 Kiwi video game studios netted $434.4 million in the year to April 2023, with 95 percent of that coming from high-value digital exports, according to a a NZ Game Developers Association survey. However, the impact of Australian competition has hit growth, which tumbled from 47 percent the previous year to just seven percent – well below the five year average of 26 percent.

For 2023 news from around the web head over to the 2023 AppWrap archive.

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