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Donald Trump’s Facebook ban could be lifted as case referred to Oversight Board – live updates

US politicians have asked the FBI to investigate what role the social network Parler played in the riot in Washington DC that saw supporters of Donald Trump storm the US Capitol earlier this month.

Carolyn Maloney, the chair of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform, sent a letter to FBI director Christopher Wray asking for an investigation.

It comes as Parler, which was taken offline by Amazon Web Services and removed by Apple and Google’s app stores, attempts to resume online operations.

Ms Maloney said it was “clear that Parler houses additional evidence critical to investigations of the attack on the Capitol”, and also raised questions about its financing and ties to Russia. She said she wanted the FBI to look at whether the site might be a “potential conduit for foreign governments who may be financing civil unrest in the United States”.

6:24PM

That’s it for today

Thanks for reading, we’ll be back tomorrow.

6:24PM

Full story on Facebook referring Trump ban to oversight board

Here’s out full story on today’s Facebook news.

Often described as Facebook’s “supreme court”, the board has the power to reverse Facebook’s decisions based on user appeals. It is made up of 20 experts including former Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger and former Danish prime minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt.Mr Trump’s ban is likely to be its most high-profile case since its launch in October, and a major test of whether the board can increase public confidence in Facebook’s often unaccountable censorship decisions.

Full story here

6:04PM

US politicians ask FBI to investigate Parler

A Congressional committee has asked the FBI to investigate Parler’s role in the assault on the US Capitol earlier this month, piling pressure on the social network as it seeks to resume operations.

From House Oversight and Reform chairwoman Carolyn Maloney:

I am writing to request that as part of its comprehensive investigation of the January 6 assault on the Capitol, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) conduct a robust examination of the role that the social media site Parler played in the assault, including as a potential facilitator of planning and incitement related to the violence, as a repository of key evidence posted by users on its site, and as a potential conduit for foreign governments who may be financing civil unrest in the United States

5:28PM

Two questions: Was the ban right? And what happens next?

Harvard Law School lecturer Evelyn Douek has an analysis of what Facebook is asking its Oversight Board to do, and what could happen next.

Facebook has not just asked the board to rule on whether Trump’s ban should be lifted, but also look at what its policy on similar issues should be going forward.

There is no greater question in content moderation right now than whether Trump’s deplatforming represents the start of a new era in how companies police their platforms, or whether it will be merely an aberration. The past few weeks have also shown that what one platform does can ripple across the internet, as other platforms draft in the wake of first movers and fall like dominoes in banning the same accounts or content. For all these reasons, the board’s decision on Trump’s case could affect far more than one Facebook page.

5:17PM

Breaking: Donald Trump’s Facebook suspension referred to Oversight Board

Facebook has referred Donald Trump’s indefinite suspension from the social network to the Oversight Board, an independent body that has the ability to overturn its decisions.

3:52PM

Netflix-hit Bridgerton gets renewed for a second series

Bridgerton


Credit:
Netflix

Fans of the Netflix show Bridgerton will be happy to hear the show has been renewed for a second series, after it became one of the streaming service’s best performing shows ever.

The streaming service wrote on Twitter: “Prepare for another social season! @Bridgerton shall be back for Season 2.”

The show is shot in the UK, and comes amid a boom in demand for British productions among streaming services.

The Telegraph reported earlier this week that the race for dwindling production facilities was heating up in the UK.

Almost all the streaming services are understood to have requirements out for studio space.

Netflix said on Tuesday that it had seen its global subscriber number surpass 200 million in the last quarter of 2020. 

3:28PM

Russia-linked virus on laptops for British school children

For months, one of the biggest concerns for school children learning from home has been that there are many who simply don’t have access to laptops or devices to complete school work.

The Government has been trying to get those children access to technology – but it turns out, that hasn’t been without its issues.

Today, it emerged that schools around the UK were finding that laptops provided by the Government arrived with a virus on them that connected to servers in Russia.

Employees of a Bradford school that received laptops from the Government to help vulnerable students study at home said in an online forum that they contained malware installed by hackers.

The Department for Education (DfE) confirmed the incident and said it was “aware of an issue with a small number of devices”.

“We are investigating as an urgent priority to resolve the matter as soon as possible,” a spokesman said. “DfE IT teams are in touch with those who have reported this issue. We believe this is not widespread.”

2:49PM

CMA probing if O2-Virgin deal could hit Sky and Tesco Mobile services

Britain’s competition watchdog will be probing how a £31bn merger between telecom companies O2 and Virgin could change how customers sign up for “virtual operators” such as Sky Mobile and Tesco Mobile.

The UK’s Competition & Markets Authority released its “issues statement” for its investigation into the deal, detailing where it will be focusing. The blockbuster deal will see Virgin Media, owned by Liberty Global, and Telefonica-owned O2, form Britain’s biggest telecoms provider with more customers than BT

However, it will first need to get the green light from the CMA.

One of the CMA’s biggest concerns is that the tie-up could lead the new merged O2-Virgin group to limit access to or hike prices to use the O2 mobile network, which Sky Mobile, Lycamobile, Giffgaff and Tesco Mobile do so that they can offer their own services.

The CMA said it was also concerned over what the tie-up would mean for so-called “leased lines” supplied by Virgin Media to mobile operators. It said the combined group could have the “ability and the incentive” to raise the prices for these lease lines, which connect mobile masts to the telecoms grid, for O2’s rivals. 

The CMA is inviting comments on its areas of concern by February 4. 

2:26PM

How to spend your Bitcoin profits on big-ticket luxuries

Whilst the price of Bitcoin may be volatile at the moment, sliding for the second day running, those who invested in the cryptocurrency at the start of 2020 will still have made a good return. After all, the price of Bitcoin jumped 300pc last year.

But what’s on offer for crypto millionaires who want to spend, rather than re-invest, their currency?

It’s still quite hard to buy expensive stuff with your not exactly hard-earned Bitcoin riches, writes Simon Usborne. None of the major luxury brands yet allow you to check out online or in-store with cryptocurrency. So what can you buy?

1:40PM

Transferwise ‘picks banks’ for bumper listing

TransferWise co-founders Taavet Hinrikus (left) and Kristo Käärmann (right)

TransferWise co-founders Taavet Hinrikus (left) and Kristo Käärmann (right)

Credit:
 Jake Farra

British fintech company Transferwise is said to have picked banks for an upcoming flotation which could come later this year.

Sky News said the cross-border payments company had appointed Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley to coordinate the listing, expected to value Transferwise significantly higher than the $5bn valuation it received last year.

Transferwise was among the companies invited to a Downing Street meeting in December over what could make London a better place to list.

Boss Kristo Käärmann told the Telegraph last year that Transferwise had “not thought about this that much”.

“I wish that there would be more companies listing in London. But then again, we also have companies in London who list in New York and that also makes sense in many ways.”

Sky News said Transferwise’s float was expected to take place in London later this year, although details had yet to be finalised.

1:03PM

More Britons signed up for Amazon than Netflix in build-up to Christmas

Amazon attracted almost half of all new subscribers to paid streaming services in the final months before Christmas, as live sports and bonus faster postage helped draw in users. 

Figures from data firm Kantar showed that more than 635,000 people signed up for Amazon in the last three months of 2020, almost three times the amount that signed up to Netflix over the same period.

In total, almost 1.3 million Britons signed up to TV and film streaming services in the build-up to Christmas. Of those, 49pc signed up for Amazon, and 17pc for Netflix.

“Amazon’s increasing focus on live sports continues to pay big dividends,” said Kantar’s Dominic Sunnebo.

The company has secured rights to a number of live sports, including Premier League matches, and before Christmas, it struck a deal with Sky which meant that it was able to provide subscribers with every live match.

It also offers its Amazon Prime TV service under the Amazon Prime package, which allows users access to quicker postage. 

12:28PM

Worms-maker Team17 tees up golfing deal

Worms

Team17, the games studio behind theWorms franchise, has snapped up a popular mobile golfing game and said it expects to report returns ahead of expectations, Matthew Field writes. 

Gaming companies have been one of the big winners of the pandemic, and Team17‘s share price is up nearly 90pc over the last 12 months. The Wakefield-based company is now valued at over £1bn. 

Team17 has built its reputation on its long-running licence to theWorms game franchise, but has expanded into its own intellectual property and releases. The company said it expected its adjusted earnings growth to be up around 36pc in its upcoming full year results. It also announced it was buying co-operative golfing game, Golf With Your Friends, for £12m.

Boss Debbie Bestwick said: “Whilst the board and I are very pleased with the financial results we are even more pleased with the resilience and dedication shown by our teamsters and label partners to deliver, launch and sell the complex games we made in 2020.”

11:57AM

Apple ‘working on niche and pricey virtual reality headset’

Apple is reportedly planning to release a high-end, niche virtual reality headset before later attempting a more mainstream augmented reality version. 

According to Bloomberg, the iPhone maker is not expecting huge demand for the high-end set, and is setting conservative sales expectations. It reportedly believes it could only sell one headset per store every day.

The site said the headset would be significantly more expensive than others in the market, which include Facebook’s Oculus headset and Sony’s PlayStation VR set.

Apple is still said to be in the late prototype stage for the headset, and a rollout has not yet been finalised. However, a launch could come as soon as 2023.

Bloomberg said the company was looking to later launch augmented reality glasses, which overlay images or graphics on top of real-life. Last year, Apple boss Tim Cook said AR would “pervade your life”. 

11:25AM

Parler’s new Russian partner denies support for terrorism

The Russian chief of a controversial company which helped keep Parler online has told the Telegraph that he denies accusations the firm is supporting extremism. 

Evgeny Marchenko, co-founder and chief executive of DDoS Guard,  said: “We don’t support terrorists and extremists.”

Earlier this week, it emerged that DDoS Guard had stepped in to help restore Parler, the “free speech” social media network, after the site was taken down by Amazon.

Amazon’s cloud service Amazon Web Services forced the site offline last week, later rebuffing an attempt to make it reverse the decision by saying forcing it to “host content that plans, encourages, and incites violence would be unprecedented”.

Apple and Google also took Parler’s app off their stores. Downloads had surged in the wake of Twitter’s move to ban Trump, coming as a response to his comments during the Capitol riots.

10:49AM

Blackrock to offer clients exposure to crypto for the first time

Blackrock will add Bitcoin futures as an eligible investment to two of its funds following the cryptocurrency’s tumultuous start to the year, writes Michael Cogley. 

The world’s largest asset manager will offer its clients exposure to crypto for the first time, according to updated prospectuses filed on Wednesday.

Blackrock’s Strategic Income Opportunities and Global Allocation Fund will both be permitted to buy cash-settled Bitcoin futures.

The move represents a sizable u-turn for the company, which has over $8.7 trillion (£6.2 trillion) in assets under management.

In 2018, Larry Fink, Blackrock’s chief executive, said his clients didn’t hold an interest in owning crypto.

Bitcoin hit a record high of more than $40,000 this month, rising more than 900pc since March, having only hit $20,000 in mid-December.

The world’s most-popular cryptocurrency has moderated significantly since its $40,000 high and is now worth around $32,203. Bitcoin was crashing rapidly on Thursday, having started the day at $35,380.

10:19AM

Musk bought oil rigs to turn into floating launchpads for Starship rockets

Elon Musk’s space company SpaceX has bought two deepwater oil rigs which are expected to be converted into huge floating launchpads for its rockets.

The purchases appear to be part of plans to make the launch process for SpaceX’s huge Starship rockets safer, given their size means they could create sonic booms on take-off. 

The rigs were sold by offshore oilrig company Valaris last July for $3.5m each, ahead of the company filing for bankruptcy. Lone Star Mineral Development is listed as the buyer – a company registered to the chief financial officer of SpaceX Bret Johnsen.

The two rigs, which are currently in the Port of Brownsville near to SpaceX’s Boca Chica facility, have been renamed Deimos and Phobos, seemingly a reference to the two moons of Mars. 

The purchase of the rigs was first reported by space website NASASpaceflight. 

It comes after Musk gave the strongest indication yet that work was underway on such a project, responding to a post on Twitter about SpaceX hiring offshore operations engineers at its site in Texas.

It is not the first time Musk has signalled plans for floating launchpads, and in 2017 shared a video of Starship taking off from an ocean platform.

SpaceX currently has positions open on its site which appear to be related to the development of the launch pads, with one asking for someone who could “install enhancements and major upgrades to offshore vessel electrical systems”.

Job postings on the site said the workers would “design and build an operational offshore rocket launch facility.”

The Starship rocket is designed to help transport up to 100 people on journeys between the earth and the moon, as well as Mars. Up to 1,000 of the rockets are planned over the next 10 years.

Musk has spoken repeatedly of his desire to make ferrying people to Mars possible, and last year said it would be SpaceX’s “top priority”.

9:29AM

Amazon offers to help with vaccine roll-out 

Amazon has written to US President Joe Biden to offer to help vaccinate 100 million Americans in the first 100 days of his presidency.

The company’s worldwide consumer CEO Dave Clark said Amazon ““stands ready to assist you in reaching your goal” and is “prepared to leverage our operations, information technology, and communications capabilities and expertise to assist your administration’s vaccination effort”.

He said the company had struck a deal to administer vaccines at its logistics sites and was prepared to move quickly once vaccines became available.

Amazon has been urging for its staff who are unable to work from home, such as those in its distribution centres, to get the vaccine “at the earliest appropriate time”.

The company has put in place Covid-19 testing facilities across its sites, as well as running its own contact tracing system to try to stop outbreaks. By September last year, almost 20,000 of its US workers had contracted the virus.

8:52AM

Twitter locks China’s US embassy account for Uighur comment

Twitter has locked the account of the Chinese Embassy to the US after a post which claimed that Uighur women had been “emancipated” by policies in Xinjiang, and said they were no longer “baby making machines”.

The social media site deleted the post earlier this month, but now said it had locked the account for violating its policy against dehumanisation.

Earlier this month, the US became the first country to describe China’s repression of the Uighurs as a ‘genocide’. The group are a mostly Muslim minority group who live predominantly in northwestern China.

Reports have alleged that Beijing forces Uighur women to be sterilised to keep population numbers down, and Chinese officials last year said birth rates had plunged among its ethnic Uighurs.

However, claims over sterilisation have been denied by China. 

In its post on Twitter, the Chinese Embassy’s account, @ChineseEmbinUS, linked to an article on state-backed newspaper, China Daily, which claimed a clampdown on extremism “had given Uighur women more autonomy when deciding whether to have children”.

8:18AM

Big Tech braces for Biden crackdown while QAnon falls into disarray

Joe Biden


Credit:
Jim Lo Scalzo/Pool EPA

Overnight, my colleague Laurence Dodds reported on the social media fall-out from Joe Biden’s inauguration.

QAnon believers and hardline supporters of Donald Trump have fallen into chaos and division after Joe Biden was inaugurated as the 46th president of the United States in defiance of their prophecies, he writes. Having believed that the US military would step in and restore Trump to power at the last minute, the movement quickly splintered as some angrily rejected its predictions while others vowed to fight on. 

Questions over what the future hold for Trump’s supporters online come as Big Tech braces for fresh trouble from a triumphant Democratic Party that is now in control of both the presidency and both houses of Congress.

Mr Biden has backed away from early promises to launch an assault on social media companies immediately upon gaining office. Even so, he is expected to push forward with monopoly probes and a review of social networks’ legal protections

7:53AM

Bitcoin continues downward slide after record-breaking rally

The price of Bitcoin continued to fall for the second straight day on Thursday as its record-breaking rally loses steam.

The cryptocurrency was down by as much as 8.4pc over the past two days, according to Bloomberg, sending it below its ten-day average.

This morning, Bitcoin was trading at just under $35,000. This was significantly lower than the record-breaking $42,000 Bitcoin hit earlier this month, following a rapid rally which saw prices jump by 40pc in the first few weeks of January.

Over 2020, Bitcoin’s price was up by more 300pc.

It has prompted calls for regulatory scrutiny over the currency, with both the UK’s Financial Conduct Authority and the European Central Bank saying there needed to be tougher oversight.

Last week, the ECB’s Christine Lagarde described Bitcoin as “a highly speculative asset, which has conducted some funny business and some interesting and totally reprehensible money laundering activity”.

7:23AM

Five things to start your day

1) Big Tech braces for a Joe Biden crackdown​ With a Congress now under Democratic control, the incoming president has the muscle to take action

2) Meet the cyber mercenaries – and the activists trying to stop them Activists have accused governments of misusing hacking tools to surveil journalists and campaigners

3) Parler’s new Russian partner denies supporting terrorism The chief executive of DDoS-Guard helped the pro-Trump social media network return to the internet after it was cut off by Amazon

4) Monzo founder leaves digital bank after pressure on mental wellbeing Tom Blomfield helped found the popular digital bank known for its neon debit card, but says the pandemic left him ‘struggling’

5) London retains crown as Europe’s fintech capital Large investments in start-ups such as Revolut and Monzo kept the UK in the lead

Coming up today

Intel and IBM will report their fourth quarter earnings after markets close 

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