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WhatsApp delays privacy update until May 15

Yehia El Amine

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After a hailstorm of controversy, WhatsApp announced on Friday that it will push back its privacy update till May 15, the delay is intended to allow users ample time to review the new conditions.

Initially, the update had required people to agree to the new privacy policy by February 8 or see their accounts shutdown should they refuse. Matters became even more confusing when the company said that it partnered with Facebook on new “integrations,” without specifically saying how the data sharing process would work.

“We’re now moving back the date on which people will be asked to review and accept the terms. No one will have their account suspended or deleted on February 8. We’re also going to do a lot more to clear up the misinformation around how privacy and security works on WhatsApp,” the company said in a statement.

User backlash was driven further forward due to the spread of misinformation which stated that WhatsApp could now read people’s conversations and other personal data. “There’s been a lot of misinformation causing concern and we want to help everyone understand our principles and the facts,” the statement read.

The controversy around the update instantly spread worldwide, as many users began to migrate to rival alternative messaging apps such as Signal and Telegram.

Mobile app analytics firm Sensor Tower said last week that Signal saw 17.8 million app downloads on Apple and Google during the week of Jan. 5 to Jan. 12. That’s a 61-fold increase from just 285,000 the previous week.

Telegram, an already-popular messaging app for people around the world, saw 15.7 million downloads in the Jan. 5 to Jan. 12 period, roughly twice the 7.6 million downloads it saw the previous week.

WhatsApp, meanwhile, saw downloads shrink to 10.6 million, down from 12.7 million the week before.

Facebook execs, such as Instagram head Adam Mosseri and WhatsApp lead Will Cathcart, attempted to quell the bleeding, as they took to Twitter to clear up the confusion, but with little to no avail.

It is worth mentioning that the sudden worldwide flare up against WhatsApp could be attributed to a deeply routed problem of trust, or lack thereof.

Facebook has a notorious track record when it comes to digital privacy, to the extent of which its CEO Mark Zuckerberg has frequently testified in front of the U.S. Congress and EU Parliament for that matter.

While the company has clarified time and again that the update will not affect users when talking to friends and family, many refuse to give Facebook the benefit of the doubt.

Since its acquisition by Facebook in 2014, Zuckerberg left WhatsApp to operate as an independent entity, which would take advantage of its parent company’s infrastructure and resources.

That arrangement allowed the instant messaging app to flourish, gaining billions of news users worldwide.

However, the approach has changed over the years, as both of WhatsApp’s founders, Jan Koum and Brian Acton, left the company in 2018 due to a falling out with the Facebook CEO. Since then, efforts of stitching together messaging services of Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp have increased, in the hopes of strengthening their e-commerce presence online.  

The fact that WhatsApp has, over time, turned its sights on monetizing the platform for its large international user base, has eroded trust in the chat app, which, in turn, has had the effect of turning a relatively mundane update into a worldwide controversy.

While Facebook has doubled down on its mission to combat misinformation on the platform, the furor over WhatsApp’s privacy changes is bitterly ironic, seeing that its hands are tied due to the closed and private nature of the service.

WhatsApp has begun sharing graphics in multiple languages detailing exactly what the privacy policy update will mean, as well as giving users a three-month delay to better communicate and explain the changes.

“We’re now moving back the date on which people will be asked to review and accept the terms…We’ll then go to people gradually to review the policy at their own pace before new business options are available on May 15,” the statement highlighted.

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Yehia is an investigative journalist and editor with extensive experience in the news industry as well as digital content creation across the board. He strives to bring the human element to his writing.

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Volvo Cars goes full electric by 2030, placing emphasis toward online sales

Yehia El Amine

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Swedish automaker Volvo announced on Tuesday plans to become a fully electric car company by 2030, a company statement reported.

According to Volvo, the automaker intends to only sell fully electric cars and phase out any car in its global portfolio with an internal combustion engine, including hybrids. The company’s transition towards becoming a fully electric car maker is part of its ambitious climate plan, which seeks to consistently reduce the life cycle carbon footprint per car through concrete action.

“To remain successful, we need profitable growth. So instead of investing in a shrinking business, we choose to invest in the future – electric and online,” said Håkan Samuelsson, chief executive. “We are fully focused on becoming a leader in the fast-growing premium electric segment.”

This move comes at a time where the electric vehicle charging station market witnesses a massive hike, with MarketsandMarkets reporting that by Level of Charging (Level 1, Level 2 & Level 3, by Charging Infrastructure (Normal Charge, Type-2, CCS, CHAdeMO and Tesla Supercharger), and DC fast charging, including fast and ultra-fast – is projected to grow from 2,115,000 units in 2020 to reach 30,758,000 units by 2027, at a CAGR of 46.6 percent.

“Factors such as growing demand for energy-efficient commuting and governments supporting electric vehicles through subsidies & tax rebates have led to automakers adopting to electric vehicles and growth of electric vehicle charging stations market,” the report said.

Adding, “Growing concerns over increased pollution by the automotive industry is the prime reason government bodies are promoting electric vehicles over conventional ones. They have recognized the need for promoting energy-efficient vehicles to reduce the increasing pollution.”

Volvo’s decision also builds on the expectation that legislation as well as a rapid expansion of accessible high quality charging infrastructure will accelerate consumer acceptance of fully electric cars.

To attract and encourage people to buy electric vehicles and electric vehicle charging stations, government bodies of various countries are introducing incentives that include large-scale discounts, lower electricity cost for charging, lower set-up cost of EV chargers, and subsidies for setting up EV chargers which, in some countries, may go up to one-third of setup cost.

Volvo Cars’ move towards full electrification comes together with an increased focus on online sales and a more complete, attractive, and transparent consumer offers under the name Care by Volvo. All fully electric models will be available online only.

According to the Swedish automaker, the 2030 ambition represents an acceleration of Volvo Cars’ electrification strategy, driven by strong demand for its electrified cars in recent years and a firm conviction that the market for combustion engine cars is a shrinking one.

“There is no long-term future for cars with an internal combustion engine,” said Henrik Green, chief technology officer. “We are firmly committed to becoming an electric-only car maker and the transition should happen by 2030. It will allow us to meet the expectations of our customers and be a part of the solution when it comes to fighting climate change.”

Volvo Cars launched its first fully electric car, the XC40 Recharge, in markets around the globe last year. Later today the company will reveal its second fully electric car, a new model in the 40 Series.

In coming years Volvo Cars will roll out several additional electric models, with more to follow. Already by 2025, it aims for 50 percent of its global sales to consist of fully electric cars, with the rest hybrids. By 2030, every car it sells should be fully electric.

According to the company statement, Volvo Car Group recorded an operating profit of $1 billion, a drop from its $1.69 billion in 2019. In parallel, revenue over the period amounted to $31.17 billion in 2020, a decline from the previous year’s $32.52 billion.

For the full year of 2020, global sales reached 661,713 cars (705,452 in 2019), a decline of 6.2 percent.

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Autodesk announces executive leadership team hires

Inside Telecom Staff

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Autodesk, the CAD/CAM software titan, announced Thursday the hiring of Debbie Clifford as chief financial officer and Raji Arasu as chief technology officer.

The corporation makes software products and services for the architecture, engineering, construction, manufacturing, media, education, life science and entertainment industry sectors, and has been an industry leader for decades.

“We are thrilled to welcome both Debbie and Raji – two dynamic and accomplished executives – to Autodesk,” said Andrew Anagnost, CEO, and president of Autodesk.

“Debbie and Raji bring deep leadership experience and a passion for customer success,” he added. “Their addition to our executive leadership team – along with Diana Colella, who was recently appointed to lead our Media & Entertainment group – will inject fresh perspectives into our company and towards our goal of delivering the world’s leading design and make platform.”

Clifford, who currently serves as chief financial officer at SurveyMonkey, returns to Autodesk – where she spent 13 years in various financial leadership roles – and brings with her expanded financial, strategic, and operational experience. She will oversee all aspects of Autodesk’s finance, accounting, tax, treasury, operations, and investor relations teams.

Clifford serves on the board of Harmonic, a video technology and services company, and holds a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science from the University of California Los Angeles, and a Master’s in Business Administration from Stanford Graduate School of Business.

“Accepting the CFO position at Autodesk is like coming home,” said Clifford. “I’m excited to reconnect with the exceptionally talented finance organization and help accelerate the next phase of Autodesk’s growth. I am thrilled to be back and can’t wait to get started.”

Arasu will join Autodesk from Intuit, where she serves as senior vice president of platform engineering. She will oversee and be responsible for Autodesk’s technology strategy and ensure alignment against long-term innovation priorities and short-term technology imperatives. Arasu will replace current Autodesk CTO Scott Borduin, who announced his intent to retire last year.

Raji Arasu is a technology executive with over 25 years of experience focused primarily on eCommerce, marketplaces, payments, and fintech systems. She specializes in leading through transformative change across people, product, platform, and process to accelerate customer benefits and revenue growth.

At Intuit, Arasu helped shape the platform strategy and technology culture, led its cloud journey and expanded foundational core capabilities that amplified the pace of innovation for Intuit’s customers. Prior to Intuit, Arasu served as Chief Technology Officer for StubHub and held leadership roles at eBay.

Arasu has received public recognition for technology leadership, promoting diversity, and mentoring women to be successful leaders in technology. She serves on the board of directors for NIC Inc. and MediaAlpha Inc.

“Autodesk has long been one of the world’s most innovative companies and I’m thrilled for the challenge and opportunity to lead a world-class team of technologists,” said Arasu. “It’s an exciting time to join the company as we seek to deliver solutions that enable our customers to make an impact and achieve better outcomes for their products, their businesses, and the world.”

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About Autodesk

Autodesk makes software for people who make things.Ranging from driving a high-performance car, working in a towering skyscraper, using a smartphone, or making a blockbuster film, the company may well have played a role in the design.

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AI-enhanced measurements company acquired by MindMed

Inside Telecom Staff

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MindMed, an innovative psychedelic drug developer, has bought HealthMode, a machine-learning digital medicine company.

MindMed, the psychedelic medicine biotech company, announced in a release that it closed its acquisition of HealthMode, a digital medicine and therapeutics startup that uses Artificial Intelligence (AI)-enabled digital measurement to increase the precision and speed of clinical research and patient monitoring.

The combination of these two companies will foster advancement and development of the growing area of psychedelic medicine for psychiatric uses in post-trauma, addiction treatment and a variety of other mental illness problems.

“The HealthMode acquisition marks the start of MindMed 2.0 as we seek to not only build a drug development company for psychedelic medicines, but also a comprehensive mental health technology platform to one day potentially launch these transformative medicines to patients in a scalable manner,” MindMed co-founder and CEO J.R. Rahn said in a statement.

The acquisition will help build a full stack digital mental health platform for psychedelic medicines; Ex-Pfizer Digital Medicine Executive Dr. Daniel R. Karlin and former Google AI/ML industry veteran Bradford Cross added to MindMed executive team, the companies said in a joint release.

MindMed discovers, develops, and deploys psychedelic inspired medicines and therapies to address addiction and mental illness. The company is assembling a compelling drug development pipeline of innovative treatments based on psychedelic substances including Psilocybin, LSD, MDMA, DMT and an Ibogaine derivative, 18-MC.

The MindMed executive team brings extensive biopharmaceutical experience to the company’s groundbreaking approach to developing the next generation of psychedelic inspired medicines and therapies.

HealthMode drives progression to next-generation clinical trials by developing and delivering AI-enhanced measurement methods for clinical trials. Its client partners represent a diverse set of stakeholders, from clinical researchers and drug developers at large pharmaceutical companies to academic medical centers, to startups entering the space.

The company’s AI-enhanced measurement techniques improve understanding of phenotype; streamline and provide assurance for screening and eligibility; provide early detection and mitigation of adverse events; and serve as sensitive, specific, objective, and low participant burden efficacy endpoints.

These measurements allow for meaningful integration of clinical trial data with real-world evidence and provide the basis for movement toward patient-specific measures.

Better measurement tools and the platforms to support them help HealthMode’s partners make data informed decisions, reduce uncertainty around enrollment and outcomes, de-risk development, and increase the speed at which novel therapeutics reach patients in need, according to HealthMode.

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