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Huawei Technicians Helped African Governments Spy on Political Opponents

Wed, 2019-08-14 16:02
phalse phace writes: A WSJ investigation appears to have uncovered multiple instances where the African governments in Uganda and Zambia, with the help of Huawei technicians, used Huawei's communications equipment to spy on and censor political opponents and its citizens. From the report, writes phalse phace: Huawei Technologies dominates African markets, where it has sold security tools that governments use for digital surveillance and censorship. But Huawei employees have provided other services, not disclosed publicly. Technicians from the Chinese powerhouse have, in at least two cases, personally helped African governments spy on their political opponents, including intercepting their encrypted communications and social media, and using cell data to track their whereabouts, according to senior security officials working directly with the Huawei employees in these countries. It should be noted that while the findings "show how Huawei employees have used the company's technology and other companies' products to support the domestic spying of those governments," the investigation didn't turn up evidence of spying by or on behalf of Beijing in Africa. Nor did it find that Huawei executives in China knew of, directed or approved the activities described. It also didn't find that there was something particular about the technology in Huawei's network that made such activities possible. Details of the operations, however, offer evidence that Huawei employees played a direct role in government efforts to intercept the private communications of opponents.

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Russia's Mail.Ru Eyes Pre-installing Software on Huawei Devices

Wed, 2019-08-14 15:22
An anonymous reader shares a report: Russian internet group Mail.Ru is in talks with China's Huawei about the possibility of having its software pre-installed on the Chinese tech giant's devices, Mail.Ru told Reuters. Mail.Ru owns Russian social networks Vkontakte and Odnoklassniki. It is developing several messenger services and has an email and browser service.

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Xiaomi Tops the World's Second Largest Smartphone Market For Eighth Straight Quarter

Wed, 2019-08-14 14:41
Xiaomi has now been India's top smartphone seller for eight straight quarters, becoming a constant headache for Samsung in the world's second largest smartphone market as sales have slowed pretty much everywhere else in the world. From a report: The Chinese electronics giant shipped 10.4 million handsets in the quarter that ended in June, commanding 28.3% of the market, research firm IDC reported Tuesday. Its closest rival, Samsung -- which once held the top spot in India -- shipped 9.3 million handsets in the nation during the same period, settling for a 25.3% market share. Overall, 36.9 million handsets were shipped in India during the second quarter of this year, up 9.9% from the same period last year, IDC reported. This was the highest volume of handsets ever shipped in India for Q2, the research firm said. As smartphone shipments slow or decline in most of the world, India has emerged as an outlier that continues to show strong momentum as tens of millions of people purchase their first handset in the country each quarter.

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AI Startup Boom Raises Questions of Exaggerated Tech Savvy

Wed, 2019-08-14 14:00
SoftBank-backed startup offers 'human-assisted' artificial-intelligence; current, former employees say company inflates its tech expertise. WSJ reports: Startup Engineer.ai says it uses artificial-intelligence technology to largely automate the development of mobile apps, but several current and former employees say the company exaggerates its AI capabilities to attract customers and investors. The competing claims reflect a growing challenge in the tech world of assessing a company's proficiency in artificial intelligence, which refers to technologies that can allow computers to learn or perform tasks typically requiring human decision makers -- in many cases helping companies save money or better target consumers. Because AI technology is complex and loosely defined, nonexperts can find it hard to discern when it is being deployed. Still, money is flowing into the sector, and many startups can say they use AI as a way to lure investments or corporate clients even when such claims are difficult to vet. London and Los Angeles-based Engineer.ai raised $29.5 million last year from investors including Deepcore, a wholly owned subsidiary of SoftBank. Other backers include Zurich-based venture-capital firm Lakestar -- an early investor in Facebook and Airbnb -- and Singapore-based Jungle Ventures. Engineer.ai was spun out of an earlier company in 2016, the company has said. When announcing its funding last year, it said it had notched $24 million in revenue while self-funding its operations. Engineer.ai says its "human-assisted AI" allows anyone to create a mobile app by clicking through a menu on its website. Users can then choose existing apps similar to their idea, such as Uber's or Facebook's. Then Engineer.ai creates the app largely automatically, it says, making the process cheaper and quicker than conventional app development. [...] Documents reviewed by The Wall Street Journal and several people familiar with the company's operations, including current and former staff, suggest Engineer.ai doesn't use AI to assemble code for apps as it claims. They indicated that the company relies on human engineers in India and elsewhere to do most of that work, and that its AI claims are inflated even in light of the fake-it-'til-you-make-it mentality common among tech startups.

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Cray Is Building a Supercomputer To Manage the US' Nuclear Stockpile

Wed, 2019-08-14 13:00
An anonymous reader quotes a report from Engadget: The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) have announced they've signed a contract with Cray Computing for the NNSA's first exascale supercomputer, "El Capitan." El Capitan's job will be to will perform essential functions for the Stockpile Stewardship Program, which supports U.S. national security missions in ensuring the safety, security and effectiveness of the nation's nuclear stockpile in the absence of underground testing. Developed as part of the second phase of the Collaboration of Oak Ridge, Argonne and Livermore (CORAL-2) procurement, the computer will be used to make critical assessments necessary for addressing evolving threats to national security and other issues such as non-proliferation and nuclear counterterrorism. El Capitan will have a peak performance of more than 1.5 exaflops -- which is 1.5 quintillion calculations per second. It'll run applications 50 times faster than Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory's (LLNL) Sequoia system and 10 times faster than its Sierra system, which is currently the world's second most powerful super computer. It'll be four times more energy efficient than Sierra, too. The $600 million El Capitan is expected to go into production by late 2023. "NNSA is modernizing the Nuclear Security Enterprise to face 21st century threats," said Lisa E Gordon-Hagerty, DOE undersecretary for nuclear security and NNSA administrator. "El Capitan will allow us to be more responsive, innovative and forward-thinking when it comes to maintaining a nuclear deterrent that is second-to-none in a rapidly-evolving threat environment."

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FBI Seeks To Monitor Facebook, Oversee Mass Social Media Data Collection

Wed, 2019-08-14 10:00
The FBI is planning to aggressively harvest information from Facebook and Twitter. Citing the The Wall Street Journal, ZDNet reports that the FBI "has recently sought proposals from third-party vendors for technological solutions able to harvest publicly-available information in bulk from Facebook, Twitter, and other social media outlets." From the report: The law enforcement agency says the data collected will be used "to proactively identify and reactively monitor threats to the United States and its interests." Law enforcement has requested the means to "obtain the full social media profile of persons-of-interest and their affiliation to any organization or groups," to keep track of users based on their neighborhood, and keyword searches, among other tool functions. Vendors have until August 27 to submit their proposals. While the FBI believes that such tools can work in harmony with privacy safeguards and civil liberties, the mass collection of names, photos, and IDs -- when combined with information from other sources -- may do just the opposite.

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Pakistan Bans Single-Use Plastic Bags

Wed, 2019-08-14 07:00
In July, the coalition government of Prime Minister Imran Khan, who has been in power for the past year, announced a ban on disposable plastic bags in Islamabad and surrounding areas, including Saidpur. "When the ban takes effect on Aug. 14, residents may be fined about $70 for being caught using a bag -- nearly a month's wages for a laborer," reports NPR. "Manufacturers will face larger fines for making plastic bags, as will shops for distributing them." Pakistani provinces have imposed bans on single-use plastic bags in the past, but they have faltered. The current government hopes this time will be different. From the report: According to Hammad Shamimi, a senior official at the Ministry of Climate Change, "Polythene bags have been banned. There is a provision that for hospital waste, for municipal waste, big bags will be exempted ... subject to the condition that they will submit a recycling plan to this ministry." Aug. 14 is Pakistan's independence day, and the ban will celebrate the beginning of Pakistan's independence from plastic, says Zartaj Gul Wazir, the minister of state for climate change. Looming in the minds of environmentalists and officials is nearly a decade of failed attempts to ban single-use plastic bags. The provincial government of Sindh -- home to Karachi, the country's largest city, with some 13 million people -- first tried to ban bags in 2006. It largely failed. Then in 2009, the federal government tried to ban plastic bags that did not contain biodegradable materials. It failed. The Sindh government tried again in 2014 to ban the bags -- effectively copying the federal government's law, says Waris Ali Gabol, the deputy director of the Sindh Environmental Protection Agency. It also failed. The climate minister, Wazir, says that this new ban will be more likely to succeed because it has the full backing of the prime minister, Khan, who has thrown himself behind environmental projects in the past. Khan's political party, for example, was part of a provincial government that planted over 700 million trees for the three years ending in 2017, earning praise from the Pakistani branch of the World Wide Fund for Nature.

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Microscopic Fibers Are Falling From the Sky In Rocky Mountains

Wed, 2019-08-14 03:30
An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Guardian: Plastic was the furthest thing from Gregory Wetherbee's mind when he began analyzing rainwater samples collected from the Rocky Mountains. "I guess I expected to see mostly soil and mineral particles," said the U.S. Geological Survey researcher. Instead, he found multicolored microscopic plastic fibers. The discovery, published in a recent study (pdf) titled "It is raining plastic", raises new questions about the amount of plastic waste permeating the air, water, and soil virtually everywhere on Earth. Rainwater samples collected across Colorado and analyzed under a microscope contained a rainbow of plastic fibers, as well as beads and shards. The findings shocked Wetherbee, who had been collecting the samples in order to study nitrogen pollution. "My results are purely accidental," he said, though they are consistent with another recent study that found microplastics in the Pyrenees, suggesting plastic particles could travel with the wind for hundreds, if not thousands, of kilometers. Other studies have turned up microplastics in the deepest reaches of the ocean, in UK lakes and rivers and in U.S. groundwater.

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FAA Bans Recalled MacBook Pros From Flights

Wed, 2019-08-14 02:02
The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration has banned select MacBook Pro laptops on flights after Apple recently said that some units had batteries that posed a fire risk. In a statement, the FAA said it was "aware of the recalled batteries that are used in some Apple MacBook Pro laptops" and stated that it alerted major U.S. airlines about the recall. Bloomberg reports: The watchdog also reminded airlines to follow 2016 safety instructions for goods with recalled batteries, which means that the affected Apple laptops should not be taken on flights as cargo or in carry-on baggage by passengers. The Apple laptops in question are some 15-inch MacBook Pros sold between September 2015 and February 2017. Apple issued the recall in June, saying it had "determined that, in a limited number of older generation 15-inch MacBook Pro units, the battery may overheat and pose a fire safety risk." This week, four airlines with cargo operations managed by Total Cargo Expertise -- TUI Group Airlines, Thomas Cook Airlines, Air Italy, and Air Transat -- implemented a ban, barring the laptops from being brought onto the carriers' planes as cargo, according to an internal notice obtained by Bloomberg News. A spokesperson for TUI Group Airlines said airport staff and flight attendants will start making announcements about these MacBook Pros at the gate and before takeoff. Laptops that have replaced batteries won't be impacted, the spokesperson said. The company also posted a notice on its website banning the recalled computers on board, in both cargo and passenger areas of its planes. It's unclear what efforts will, if any, be made at U.S. airports.

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Domino's Launches E-Bike Delivery To Compete With UberEats, DoorDash

Wed, 2019-08-14 01:25
Domino's is planning to become more competitive with on-demand apps like DoorDash, GrubHub and UberEats by delivering pizzas with custom electric bikes. According to TechCrunch, the pizza company has partnered with Rad Power Bikes to deploy hundreds of e-bikes across corporate-owned stores later this year in Baltimore, Houston, Miami and Salt Lake City. From the report: The e-bikes supplied by Rad Power Bikes are equipped with small integrated motors to assist with pedaling, and can run for 25 to 40 miles, depending on the user, before needing a recharge, according to the company. The bikes are equipped with lights in the front and back, reflective materials for driver safety and have a top assisted speed of 20 miles per hour. Importantly, the e-bikes have been customized to hold pizza, drinks and sides. One e-bike can hold up to 12 large pizzas. The company tested the e-bikes and discovered that service and delivery times improved, Tom Curtis, Domino's executive vice president of corporate operations, said in the announcement. The e-bikes also opened up the labor pool for the company, allowing it to tap into candidates who might not have a car or driver's license. Some franchisee owners were already using e-bikes and found they are essential in hilly urban areas.

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Researcher Makes Legit-Looking iPhone Lightning Cables That Will Hijack Your Computer

Wed, 2019-08-14 00:45
A researcher known as MG has modified Lightning cables with extra components to let him remotely connect to the computers that the cables are connected to. "It looks like a legitimate cable and works just like one. Not even your computer will notice a difference. Until I, as an attacker, wirelessly take control of the cable," MG said. Motherboard reports: One idea is to take this malicious tool, dubbed O.MG Cable, and swap it for a target's legitimate one. MG suggested you may even give the malicious version as a gift to the target -- the cables even come with some of the correct little pieces of packaging holding them together. MG typed in the IP address of the fake cable on his own phone's browser, and was presented with a list of options, such as opening a terminal on my Mac. From here, a hacker can run all sorts of tools on the victim's computer. The cable comes with various payloads, or scripts and commands that an attacker can run on the victim's machine. A hacker can also remotely "kill" the USB implant, hopefully hiding some evidence of its use or existence. MG made the cables by hand, painstakingly modifying real Apple cables to include the implant. "In the end, I was able to create 100 percent of the implant in my kitchen and then integrate it into a cable. And these prototypes at Def con were mostly done the same way," he said. MG did point to other researchers who worked on the implant and graphical user interface. He is selling the cables for $200 each.

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Russia Orders Evacuation of Village Near Site of Nuclear Accident, Then Cancels It

Wed, 2019-08-14 00:03
An anonymous reader quotes a report from The New York Times: The Russian authorities on Tuesday announced the evacuation of the village nearest to the site of a nuclear accident in northern Russia, suggesting dangers more grave than initially reported. The still-mysterious episode last week killed seven people and released radiation, apparently when a small nuclear reactor malfunctioned during a test of a novel type of missile near a naval weapons testing site. Russian officials have released a flurry of misleading or incomplete statements playing down the severity of the accident, which the military first reported on Thursday as a fire involving a liquid-fueled rocket engine. It was not until Sunday that Russian scientists conceded that a reactor had released radiation during a test on an offshore platform in the White Sea. That pattern of murkiness continued on Tuesday, as news reports and official statements offered only the vaguest explanation for the evacuation, and hours later seemed to indicate that it had been called off.

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Websites Can Discriminate Against You Even If You Don't Use Them, California Supreme Court Rules

Tue, 2019-08-13 23:20
Nearly four years ago, a lone bankruptcy lawyer sued Square, the payment processor run by Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey, challenging the app's terms of use -- despite never signing up. As of yesterday, the case will proceed, thanks to an opinion issued by the California Supreme Court that could have wide-reaching implications for online businesses. Gizmodo reports: The first thing you need to know is that, for whatever reason, Square's Prohibited Goods and Services policies include "bankruptcy attorneys or collection agencies," which you'll recall is plaintiff Robert White's line of work. California, where this case was tried and where a plurality of online services are headquartered, is also home to a state law -- the Unruh Civil Rights Act -- which provides broad protections against discrimination of many kinds, including occupation. But the question remained as to whether White needed to have entered into an agreement with Square (by agreeing to the terms of service) in order to have experienced said discrimination barring his "full and equal access" to the service. For the time being at least: no. "In general, a person suffers discrimination under the Act when the person presents himself or herself to a business with an intent to use its services but encounters an exclusionary policy or practice that prevents him or her from using those services," Justice Goodwin Liu wrote in court's unanimous opinion. "We conclude that this rule applies to online businesses and that visiting a website with intent to use its services is, for purposes of standing, equivalent to presenting oneself for services at a brick-and-mortar store." The Supreme Court noted that the merits of White's case -- beyond his having standing -- were outside its purview, and that "mere awareness of a business's discriminatory policy or practice is not enough for standing under the Act," but that "entering into an agreement with the business is not required."

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CenturyLink, FCC Reach Settlement Over 'Cramming' Fees On Phone Bills

Tue, 2019-08-13 22:42
The FCC said on Tuesday that CenturyLink will pay $550,000 to settle an investigation into a practice known as "cramming": when phone companies add unauthorized third-party charges to customer bills. "CenturyLink will also stop billing for most third parties, start refunding affected customer accounts and let customers block future third-party charges," adds CNET. From the report: "Over the years, the FCC has done yeoman's work in fighting cramming and getting major phone companies to stop this practice," Rosemary Harold, chief of the FCC's enforcement bureau, said in a release. "With today's action, another major phone company will stop cramming and prevent unscrupulous third parties from adding fees to bills without prior express consent." CenturyLink has previously said its own internal investigation found no wrongdoing. The company has faced repeated complaints over issues related to alleged billing fraud, including an ongoing $12 billion class action lawsuit.

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Amazon's Facial Recognition Misidentified 1 in 5 California Lawmakers as Criminals

Tue, 2019-08-13 22:05
The ACLU tested Rekognition, Amazon's facial recognition technology, on photographs of California lawmakers. It matched 26 of them to mugshots. From a report: In a recent test of Amazon's facial recognition software, the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California revealed that it mistook 26 California lawmakers as people arrested for crimes. The ACLU used Rekognition, Amazon's facial recognition software, to evaluate 120 photos of lawmakers against a database of 25,000 arrest photos, ACLU attorney Matt Cagle said at a press conference on Tuesday. One in five lawmaker photographs were falsely matched to mugshots, exposing the frailties of an emerging technology widely adopted by law enforcement. The ACLU used the default Rekognition settings, which match identity at 80 percent confidence, Cagle said. Assembly member Phil Ting was among those whose picture was falsely matched to an arrest photo. He's also an active advocate for limiting facial recognition technology: in February, he introduced a bill, co-sponsored by the ACLU, that bans the use of facial recognition and other biometric surveillance on police-worn body cameras.

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$3 Million Fortnite Winner Becomes Latest Swatting Target

Tue, 2019-08-13 21:20
An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: Kotaku reports that Kyle "Bugha" Giersdorf was streaming a Fortnite game late Sunday when he abruptly left his desk and abandoned the game with the livestream still running. The cause? His father coming to tell him that armed police were at the front door. Fortunately, Bugha returned unharmed to the stream several minutes later. "That was definitely a new one," he can be heard saying on a recording of the stream. "I got swatted." The comparatively quick and peaceful resolution of the issue was in part due to sheer good luck. "I was lucky because the one officer, yeah, he lives in our neighborhood," Bugha explained on the stream. Bugha won $3 million for his first-place finish in the first-ever Fortnite World Cup in July and even appeared on The Tonight Show to talk about his win with host Jimmy Fallon. He is also all of 16 years old, and so a threat against him also involved his parents, whose personal information may have been easy to find. "Swatting" occurs when someone places a hoax emergency call to a police department, hoping to mobilize an emergency response (i.e., a SWAT team) to the victim's home. Bugha was lucky in that the officers who responded to his address were of a mood to ask questions first. Not all swatting victims are so lucky. In 2017, a Kansas man named Andrew Finch was killed during a swatting event even though he was not the intended target. The man behind the hoax call was sentenced to 20 years in prison earlier this year for his role in Finch's death.

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Vulnerability in Microsoft CTF Protocol Goes Back To Windows XP

Tue, 2019-08-13 20:42
CTF, a little-known Microsoft protocol used by all Windows operating system versions since Windows XP, is insecure and can be exploited with ease. From a report: According to Tavis Ormandy, a security researcher with Google's Project Zero elite security team and the one who discovered the buggy protocol, hackers or malware that already have a foothold on a user's computer can use the protocol to take over any app, high-privileged applications, or the entire OS, as a whole. Currently, there are no patches for these bugs, and a quick fix isn't expected, as the vulnerabilities are deeply ingrained in the protocol and its design. What CTF stands is currently unknown. Even Ormandy, a well-known security researcher, wasn't able to find what it means in all of Microsoft documentation. What Ormandy found out was that CTF is part of of the Windows Text Services Framework (TSF), the system that manages the text shown inside Windows and Windows applications. When users start an app, Windows also starts a CTF client for that app. The CTF client receives instructions from a CTF server about the OS system language and the keyboard input methods. It is unclear how Microsoft will patch the CTF problem.

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Facebook Paid Contractors To Transcribe Users' Audio Chats

Tue, 2019-08-13 20:01
Facebook has been paying hundreds of outside contractors to transcribe clips of audio from users of its services, Bloomberg reported Tuesday, citing people with knowledge of the work. From the report: The work has rattled the contract employees, who are not told where the audio was recorded or how it was obtained -- only to transcribe it, said the people, who requested anonymity for fear of losing their jobs. They're hearing Facebook users' conversations, sometimes with vulgar content, but do not know why Facebook needs them transcribed, the people said. Facebook confirmed that it had been transcribing users' audio and said it will no longer do so, following scrutiny into other companies. "Much like Apple and Google, we paused human review of audio more than a week ago," the company said Tuesday. The company said the users who were affected chose the option in Facebook's Messenger app to have their voice chats transcribed. The contractors were checking whether Facebook's artificial intelligence correctly interpreted the messages, which were anonymized. [...] The social networking giant, which just completed a $5 billion settlement with the U.S. Federal Trade Commission after a probe of its privacy practices, has long denied that it collects audio from users to inform ads or help determine what people see in their news feeds.

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Bedbugs Are Giving Airbnb Users Headaches

Tue, 2019-08-13 19:30
Waking up with bedbug bites can be a nightmare. It's also a costly and traumatic problem for Airbnb guests and hosts. CNET: CNET spoke to eight people who dealt with bedbugs in Airbnb rentals within the last three years. All of them said Airbnb, which was founded in 2008, doesn't seem to have a systematic procedure in place for handling outbreaks. And most said that while they eventually received some form of compensation from Airbnb, the company failed to provide adequate support. "This is my first real issue with Airbnb," says Dariele Blain, whose weekend away with friends went awry after she says the critters emerged at her Airbnb rental in Philadelphia. "But it's such an egregious one that I don't know if I'll book with them again." Like other Silicon Valley unicorns -- private companies with a high valuation -- Airbnb is known for "disruption," the idea of changing a service or product with technology to make it better. It's turned the lodging industry on its head by getting regular people to use its platform to rent out rooms or entire homes to travelers. Airbnb's service is now operating in almost every country on Earth and it has over 6 million listings for rent. That's more rooms than the top five hotel chains combined. For each rental, Airbnb typically gets a cut of between 14% and 20%. The company, which may go public this year, is currently valued at $31 billion. Airbnb proponents say these short-term rentals help hosts make ends meet, while also bringing more visitors to cities where people can't afford high-cost hotels. But its business model has also triggered unintended consequences. The company has been blamed for rising rent and reduced rental stock in many cities, including its hometown of San Francisco. And in the case of bedbugs, Airbnb's use of millions of independent hosts means that trying to keep a lid on the pest epidemic can be hard to do, experts say.

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CBS, Viacom Strike Deal To Recombine

Tue, 2019-08-13 18:50
Viacom and CBS have struck a deal for a merger on Tuesday with an agreement to recombine in the latest entertainment industry mega-deal. From a report: As expected, Viacom CEO Bob Bakish will lead the combined company as CEO, while CBS acting CEO Joe Ianniello will also remain in a top executive position that will have him oversee CBS-branded assets. CBS CFO Christina Spade will serve as CFO of the merged firm. Shari Redstone, vice chair of both companies, will serve as chair of the combined company. The companies had previously agreed on the management setup and the composition of the board of the merged company, with the stock exchange ratio for the deal being the final haggling point that was finally resolved early in the week. The boards of both companies have approved the deal. Consolidation to gain more scale amid competition from streaming video and technology giants has been a key focus for the entertainment sector in recent years. The CBS-Viacom deal agreement comes after Walt Disney's $71.3 billion acquisition of large parts of 21st Century Fox and AT&T's $85 billion takeover of Time Warner. CBS is also understood to have offered Lionsgate $5 billion to buy its premium TV unit Starz.

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