Uber Technologies Inc. agreed to buy 24,000 sport utility vehicles from Sweden’s Volvo Cars to form a fleet of driverless autos.
The XC90s, priced from $46,900 at U.S. dealers, will be delivered between 2019 and 2021 in the first commercial purchase by a ride-hailing provider, Volvo said in a statement Monday. San Francisco-based Uber will add its own sensors and software to permit pilot-less driving.
Uber’s order steps up efforts to replace human drivers, the biggest cost in its on-demand taxi service. The company has agreed to use 100 XC90s for self-driving tests in Pittsburgh, while also striking a deal to include autonomous vehicles from Daimler AG’s Mercedes-Benz in its network at some point.
“This new agreement puts us on a path toward mass-produced, self-driving vehicles at scale,” Jeff Miller, Uber’s head of auto alliances, told Bloomberg News. “The more people working on the problem, we’ll get there faster and with better, safer, more reliable systems.”
For carmakers, news of Uber buying vehicles at a commercial level means potential new sales, but also looming disruption to a business model that sees autos largely sold to private owners. Uber’s $70 billion valuation already puts the group almost on a par with Germany’s Daimler.
The deal will boost sales at Volvo and should also help lower the cost of the Chinese-controlled group’s own fully-autonomous cars planned from 2021. Volvo engineers have been working closely with Uber to develop a base vehicle with core driverless technology that the ride-hailing company can then augment. Volvo plans to use those cars for its own future offering.
“The automotive industry is being disrupted by technology and Volvo Cars chooses to be an active part of that disruption,” Chief Executive Officer Hakan Samuelsson said. “It’s a new market that’s emerging and we’re the first to be delivering into that segment.”
New research indicates that criminals are increasingly exploiting the growth of ‘fake news’ for commercial gain. The growth of so-called fake news has traditionally been associated with the political sphere and executed for ideological purposes.
However, research conducted by analysts at Digital Shadows reveals the growth of toolkits and services – available for just $7 – that are aimed specifically at causing financial and reputational damage for companies.
In particular, Digital Shadows has noticed a recent trend towards the growth on the dark web of so-called ‘Pump and Dump’ services. These are designed to work by gradually purchasing major shares in altcoin (cryptocurrencies other than Bitcoin) and drumming up interest in the coin through posts on social media.
The tool then trades these coins between its multiple accounts, driving the price up, before selling these to unsuspecting traders on currency exchanges looking to buy while share prices are still rising. An analysis of the bitcoin wallet of one such popular service noted that it received the equivalent of $326,000 from wanabee criminals in less than two months.
Similarly, Digital Shadows identified over ten services that allow user to download software, which controls the activities of social media bots. One offers users downloadable software for a trial period of just $7. Others tools claim to promote content across over hundreds of thousands of platforms, including forums, blogs and bulletin boards. These work by controlling large numbers of bots; armies of computers that the individuals control and can configure the bots to post on specific types of forums on different topics. Overall, mentions of these sites across criminal forums can give an indication of their popularity – these have increased 300% in just two years from 418 in 2015 to 1381 in 2017 so far.
The battle against fake news could be getting even more difficult with advertisements for toolkits increasingly claiming to include built in features that bypass captcha methods, which were initially brought in to prevent bots and automated scripts from posting advertisements indiscriminately across these platforms.
Unsurprisingly, media organisations are a particular target of purveyors of fake news. Digital Shadows analysed the top 40 global news websites and checked over 85,000 possible variations on their domain. In doing so, it discovered some 2,858 live spoof domains. Simply by altering characters on a domain (e.g. a “m” may have changed to an “rn”) and by using cloning services it is possible to create a fake website of a legitimate news organisation that looks realistic.
Retailers too are a target. One managed service offers ‘Amazon ranking, reviews, votes, listing optimization and selling promotions’ with pricing ranging from $5 for an unverified review, $10 for a verified review, to a $500 monthly retainer.
“The sheer availability of tools means that barriers to entry are lower than ever. It means this now extends beyond geopolitical to financial interests that affect businesses and consumers”, said Rick Holland, VP Strategy, Digital Shadows. “Of course, rumours, misinformation and fake news have always been part of human society. But what has changed in the digital world is the speed such techniques spread around the world, and the fact tools are freely available on the dark and surface web to enable those wanting to carry out these sorts of campaigns to do so with easy and by locating and using the services and tools they need online.”
Digital Shadows has issued the following advice for firms looking to combat disinformation:
Soon after Zimbabwe’s army confined President Robert Mugabe to his palatial Harare home this week – allegedly for his safety – it was announced in Luanda that Angola’s new President, João Lourenço, had relieved Isabel dos Santos of her position as head of the state-run oil company Sonangol.
While there may not be any direct connection between these two events, they suggest some intriguing comparisons. In both countries ruling families seem to have failed to secure themselves in power.
When Mugabe, as leader of the Zimbabwean African National Union-Patriotic Front (Zanu-PF), became ruler of Zimbabwe at independence in April 1980, José Eduardo dos Santos was already President of Angola. He had succeeded to that position after the death of Agostinho Neto in September 1979.
Dos Santos had to deal with external intervention and over two decades of civil war , during which he ruled dictatorially. Mugabe, despite a facade of constitutionalism and regular elections, also became increasingly dictatorial. He abandoned adherence to the rule of law and his country’s economy collapsed. Angola became notorious for the scale of the corruption linked especially to its oil riches. Zimbabwe went from bread-basket to basket-case. With the great majority of the people of both countries living in dire poverty, Dos Santos flew to Europe when he needed medical attention, while Mugabe went to Singapore.
Though Dos Santos was probably as reluctant as Mugabe to give up power, he decided to quit as president of the country and try to retain influence through the ruling party and members of his family. Mugabe tried to impose his wife on his party as his chosen successor and then to cling on to his positions even when the army took effective control of his country.
Given recent developments in Luanda and Harare, it would seem that neither of these two old men have succeeded in securing their family dynasties.
Dos Santos’s succession plan
By 2016, suffering health problems that took him to Spain for treatment, Dos Santos announced that he would step down as president of Angola and he approved his Minister of Defence, João Manuel Gonçalves Lourenço as his successor.
Following the victory of the ruling Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) in the general election held in August this year, Lourenço took over as president in September. But Dos Santos remained president of the MPLA, and clearly expected Lourenço to look after his interests and that of his family, who had become enormously wealthy.
From the action Lourenço has now taken against Dos Santos’ billionaire daughter Isabel, it would seem that he’s becoming his own man. It appears he wishes to distance himself from the Dos Santos family, which for many Angolans is associated with corruption on a vast scale.
The London-educated Isabel has proved herself to be a very capable businesswoman, and though the Angolan economy has been suffering because of low oil-prices, on top of massive corruption, it’s unlikely she was sacked to bring in a better chief executive to run the country’s most important state owned company. There is talk in Luanda that Isabel’s brother, José Filomeno dos Santos, will be relieved of his position as head of the country’s large Sovereign Wealth Fund and that his father, the former president of the country, will be replaced as president of the ruling party, though that may have to wait until a party congress is held.
Mugabe’s succession plan
Though at the time of writing, the 93-year-old Mugabe remains president both of the country and of the ruling Zanu-PF party, it’s widely expected that he will soon be relieved of both positions, probably by Mnangagwa, with the assistance of the army.
Changes for the better?
New leadership in Angola and Zimbabwe will have an impact on the region as a whole.
Given Mnangagwa’s record as a long serving member of government in Zimbabwe, and his involvement in the mass killing of Ndebele in the early 1980s, it is hardly likely that he will emerge as a champion of democracy.
In Angola, Lourenço is still finding his feet as head of government.
It is therefore unrealistic to hope that either country will soon move from decades of repressive rule and lack of transparency to greater constitutionalism and closer adherence to the rule of law.
But if we are witnessing the end of an era in which dictators stayed in power for decades and tried to secure their continuing influence through their families, and if we are seeing the diminishing importance of liberation movements turned political party, this must be good not only for Angola and Zimbabwe but for the southern African region as a whole.
It should also hold lessons for those who rule in neighbouring countries.