Early last week, Bloomberg Businessweek wrote a bombshell report on how Chinese spies had used tiny rogue chips embedded in Super Micro servers that are used by 30 major US companies including Amazon, Apple and the US government to infiltrate their networks. Bloomberg cited senior insiders at Apple and former government officials as their sources noting that the investigation took a year and involved over 100 interviews.

One government official said that the goal of the hack was to have long-term access to highly sensitive networks in the US government and company corporate secrets. The report becomes plausible as it points out that Apple and Amazon ditched the services of Super Micro servers after detecting odd network activities and firmware issues as Apple contacted US intelligence agencies and gave them access to their hardware who uncovered how the seeding process worked.

The three companies issued strong and unambiguous statements denying the existence and discovery of said chips or investigations by the FBI into this infiltration. Apple claims that their decision to drop Super Micro was because of malware. Amazon said that the sale of its Beijing data centre to its local partner, Beijing Sinnet was because of new China regulations and not because of any spy chips. More doubt has been cast to this story as the US Department of Homeland Security said it has no reason to doubt the denials. GCHQ, UK’s spy agency is also siding with Apple’s and Amazon’s denials.

It’s hard to ignore this spy chip story as Bloomberg allegations are explosive and these denials are not your typical denials as they are too detailed – not the usual vague over-the-top statements – which deserve more attention. The Washington Post ran a similar story with an official expressing confidence in the chip story but with an uncertainty. So far, no consumer data is known to have been stolen.

Interesting Read: Bloomberg’s spy chip story has the internet split, reveals the murky world of national security reporting. [Read More]

Instagram got a new boss and added new features

Facebook named longtime executive Adam Mosseri as the new head of Instagram (this is his new title) after the departure of both of its founders. Adam has been with the Facebook network for over 10 years and more recently, was serving as head of product at Instagram. He brings a deeper understanding of the parent’s company larger vision to the giant photo sharing platform. With his experience at both companies – he managed both their product and corporate needs; he will be well suited to navigate their shared and differentiated interests.

Instagram also introduced the Nametag feature to make it easier to follow people you meet in real life. This feature works by showing your username on your phone in a scannable format. It is customizable as you can add new designs, colours and stickers. It can be accessed by going to your profile, clicking the menu button on the top right and selecting “Nametag”. To scan someone else’s nametag, tap on “Scan a Nametag” on the bottom. It is now global to both Android and iOS users. Instagram is also testing School Community bios but it is limited to some US universities.

More Location specific ads are coming to your Instagram timeline

If you were worried that Facebook will ruin Instagram after the exit of its founders, you are definitely going to hate this. Facebook is going to exploit Instagram for its ad targeting data – Instagram has been prototyping an opt-out privacy setting that would send your precise location to Facebook to generate even more local ads. The Location history option can be found in the Privacy and Security settings and allows Facebook products to build and use a history of precise locations received through Location Services on your phone.

Facebook says no third party apps were accessed using Facebook Login after the data breach

Following the data breach, Facebook said it analyzed all logs for third-party apps and they found no activity on those using its official SDK. In their blog post, Facebook’s Guy Rosen said they’re building a tool for developers to conduct self-assessment and if needed, log out users. Apart from that, the post was vague as it didn’t address a couple of issues including – highlighting how far back do their logs go for access token use and which third-party apps do and do not regularly check for token validity.

Tech stories from Africa

  • Africa’s Talking through its AT Labs Unit is building a software engineers incubator. The lab pairs companies it partners with, together with the engineers who get office space, business support and a salary. Africa’s Talking will take a stake between 20% and 40% in each venture.
  • Ampersand has started piloting electric motorcycles taxis in Rwanda. They’re expected to be more affordable and will commercially launch late 2019.
  • Amref Health Africa has picked six healthcare startups from the continent to take part in its Innovate for Life Fund Accelerator. Kenya is represented by Baobab Circle and Ujuzi Fursa Africa.
  • Zimbabwe is turning to mobile money to fund its fiscal deficit by hiking the taxes for mobile wallets and transactions from electronic payments. The tax will increase from a flat five cents per transaction to two cents per each dollar transacted.

Interesting Read

Google’s former head of communication published a novel on medium, yes you heard it right- Medium says it’s a 348-minutes read. Jessica Powell’s, ‘The Big Disruption’ is a satire on the tech sector that explores how far these giant companies will go to yield power over all of us.

Previous editions of Clicked can be read here.