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Archivo del Autor: Belen De Leon

Best Wireless Headphones for Working Out (2018): Bose, Sennheiser, Beats, and More

Looking for a pair of sturdy, sweatproof, wireless buds to help you rock your inner jock? We have you covered.
Source: Wired

How a Startup Is Using the Blockchain to Protect Your Privacy

Oasis Labs is working with Uber as it aims to cure some of the ills of the internet.
Source: Wired

3D Printing Is the Future of Factories (for Real This Time)

A technology that for years has been good for making prototypes and tchotchkes promises to usher in a new industrial revolution.
Source: Wired

Facebook under fresh political pressure as UK watchdog calls for “ethical pause” of ad ops

The UK’s privacy watchdog revealed yesterday that it intends to fine Facebook the maximum possible (£500k) under the country’s 1998 data protection regime for breaches related to the Cambridge Analytica data misuse scandal.

But that’s just the tip of the regulatory missiles now being directed at the platform and its ad-targeting methods — and indeed, at the wider big data economy’s corrosive undermining of individuals’ rights.

Alongside yesterday’s update on its investigation into the Facebook-Cambridge Analytica data scandal, the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) has published a policy report — entitled Democracy Disrupted? Personal information and political influence — in which it sets out a series of policy recommendations related to how personal information is used in modern political campaigns.

In the report it calls directly for an “ethical pause” around the use of microtargeting ad tools for political campaigning — to “allow the key players — government, parliament, regulators, political parties, online platforms and citizens — to reflect on their responsibilities in respect of the use of personal information in the era of big data before there is a greater expansion in the use of new technologies”.

The watchdog writes [emphasis ours]:

Rapid social and technological developments in the use of big data mean that there is limited knowledge of – or transparency around – the ‘behind the scenes’ data processing techniques (including algorithms, analysis, data matching and profiling) being used by organisations and businesses to micro-target individuals. What is clear is that these tools can have a significant impact on people’s privacy. It is important that there is greater and genuine transparency about the use of such techniques to ensure that people have control over their own data and that the law is upheld. When the purpose for using these techniques is related to the democratic process, the case for high standards of transparency is very strong.

Engagement with the electorate is vital to the democratic process; it is therefore understandable that political campaigns are exploring the potential of advanced data analysis tools to help win votes. The public have the right to expect that this takes place in accordance with the law as it relates to data protection and electronic marketing. Without a high level of transparency – and therefore trust amongst citizens that their data is being used appropriately – we are at risk of developing a system of voter surveillance by default. This could have a damaging long-term effect on the fabric of our democracy and political life.

It also flags a number of specific concerns attached to Facebook’s platform and its impact upon people’s rights and democratic processes — some of which are sparking fresh regulatory investigations into the company’s business practices.

“A significant finding of the ICO investigation is the conclusion that Facebook has not been sufficiently transparent to enable users to understand how and why they might be targeted by a political party or campaign,” it writes. “Whilst these concerns about Facebook’s advertising model exist generally in relation to its commercial use, they are heightened when these tools are used for political campaigning. Facebook’s use of relevant interest categories for targeted advertising and it’s, Partner Categories Service are also cause for concern. Although the service has ceased in the EU, the ICO will be looking into both of these areas, and in the case of partner categories, commencing a new, broader investigation.”

The ICO says its discussions with Facebook for this report focused on “the level of transparency around how Facebook user data and third party data is being used to target users, and the controls available to users over the adverts they see”.

Among the concerns it raises about what it dubs Facebook’s “very complex” online targeting advertising model are [emphasis ours]:

Our investigation found significant fair-processing concerns both in terms of the information available to users about the sources of the data that are being used to determine what adverts they see and the nature of the profiling taking place. There were further concerns about the availability and transparency of the controls offered to users over what ads and messages they receive. The controls were difficult to find and were not intuitive to the user if they wanted to control the political advertising they received. Whilst users were informed that their data would be used for commercial advertising, it was not clear that political advertising would take place on the platform.

The ICO also found that despite a significant amount of privacy information and controls being made available, overall they did not effectively inform the users about the likely uses of their personal information. In particular, more explicit information should have been made available at the first layer of the privacy policy. The user tools available to block or remove ads were also complex and not clearly available to users from the core pages they would be accessing. The controls were also limited in relation to political advertising.

The company has been criticized for years for confusing and complex privacy controls. But during the investigation, the ICO says it was also not provided with “satisfactory information” from the company to understand the process it uses for determining what interest segments individuals are placed in for ad targeting purposes.

“Whilst Facebook confirmed that the content of users’ posts were not used to derive categories or target ads, it was difficult to understand how the different ‘signals’, as Facebook called them, built up to place individuals into categories,” it writes.

Similar complaints of foot-dragging responses to information requests related to political ads on its platform have also been directed at Facebook by a parliamentary committee that’s running an inquiry into fake news and online disinformation — and in April the chair of the committee accused Facebook of “a pattern of evasive behavior”.

So the ICO is not alone in feeling that Facebook’s responses to requests for specific information have lacked the specific information being sought. (CEO Mark Zuckerberg also annoyed the European Parliament with highly evasive responses to their highly detailed questions this Spring.)

Meanwhile, a European media investigation in May found that Facebook’s platform allows advertisers to target individuals based on interests related to sensitive categories such as political beliefs, sexuality and religion — which are categories that are marked out as sensitive information under regional data protection law, suggesting such targeting is legally problematic.

The investigation found that Facebook’s platform enables this type of ad targeting in the EU by making sensitive inferences about users — inferred interests including communism, social democrats, Hinduism and Christianity. And its defense against charges that what it’s doing breaks regional law is that inferred interests are not personal data.

However the ICO report sends a very chill wind rattling towards that fig leaf, noting “there is a concern that by placing users into categories, Facebook have been processing sensitive personal information – and, in particular, data about political opinions”.

It further writes [emphasis ours]:

Facebook made clear to the ICO that it does ‘not target advertising to EU users on the basis of sensitive personal data’… The ICO accepts that indicating a person is interested in a topic is not the same as formally placing them within a special personal information category. However, a risk clearly exists that advertisers will use core audience categories in a way that does seek to target individuals based on sensitive personal information. In the context of this investigation, the ICO is particularly concerned that such categories can be used for political advertising.

The ICO believes that this is part of a broader issue about the processing of personal information by online platforms in the use of targeted advertising; this goes beyond political advertising. It is clear from academic research conducted by the University of Madrid on this topic that a significant privacy risk can arise. For example, advertisers were using these categories to target individuals with the assumption that they are, for example, homosexual. Therefore, the effect was that individuals were being singled out and targeted on the basis of their sexuality. This is deeply concerning, and it is the ICO’s intention as a concerned authority under the GDPR to work via the one-stop-shop system with the Irish Data Protection Commission to see if there is scope to undertake a wider examination of online platforms’ use of special categories of data in their targeted advertising models.

So, essentially, the regulator is saying it will work with other EU data protection authorities to push for a wider, structural investigation of online ad targeting platforms which put users into categories based on inferred interests — and certainly where those platforms are allowing targeting against special categories of data (such as data related to racial or ethnic origin, political opinions, religious beliefs, health data, sexuality).

Another concern the ICO raises that’s specifically attached to Facebook’s business is transparency around its so-called “partner categories” service — an option for advertisers that allows them to use third party data (i.e. personal data collected by third party data brokers) to create custom audiences on its platform.

In March, ahead of a major update to the EU’s data protection framework, Facebook announced it would be “winding down” this service down over the next six months.

But the ICO is going to investigate it anyway.

“A preliminary investigation of the service has raised significant concerns about transparency of use of the [partner categories] service for political advertising and wider concerns about the legal basis for the service, including Facebook’s claim that it is acting only as a processor for the third-party data providers,” it writes. “Facebook announced in March 2018 that it will be winding down this service over a six-month period, and we understand that it has already ceased in the EU. The ICO has also commenced a broader investigation into the service under the DPA 1998 (which will be concluded at a later date) as we believe it is in the public interest to do so.”

In conclusion on Facebook the regulator asserts the company has not been “sufficiently transparent to enable users to understand how and why they might be targeted by a political party or campaign”.

“Individuals can opt out of particular interests, and that is likely to reduce the number of ads they receive on political issues, but it will not completely block them,” it points out. “These concerns about transparency lie at the core of our investigation. Whilst these concerns about Facebook’s advertising model exist in relation in general terms and its use in the commercial sphere, the concerns are heightened when these tools are used for political campaigning.”

The regulator also looked at political campaign use of three other online ad platforms — Google, Twitter and Snapchat — although Facebook gets the lion’s share of its attention in the report given the platform has also attracted the lion’s share of UK political parties’ digital spending. (“Figures from the Electoral Commission show that the political parties spent £3.2 million on direct Facebook advertising during the 2017 general election,” it notes. “This was up from £1.3 million during the 2015 general election. By contrast, the political parties spent £1 million on Google advertising.”)

The ICO is recommending that all online platforms which provide advertising services to political parties and campaigns should include experts within the sales support team who can provide political parties and campaigns with “specific advice on transparency and accountability in relation to how data is used to target users”.

“Social media companies have a responsibility to act as information fiduciaries, as citizens increasingly live their lives online,” it further writes.

It also says it will work with the European Data Protection Board, and the relevant lead data protection authorities in the region, to ensure that online platforms comply with the EU’s new data protection framework (GDPR) — and specifically to ensure that users “understand how personal information is processed in the targeted advertising model, and that effective controls are available”.

“This includes greater transparency in relation to the privacy settings, and the design and prominence of privacy notices,” it warns.

Facebook’s use of dark pattern design and A/B tested social engineering to obtain user consent for processing their data at the same time as obfuscating its intentions for people’s data has been a long-standing criticism of the company — but one which the ICO is here signaling is very much on the regulatory radar in the EU.

So expecting new laws — as well as lots more GDPR lawsuits — seems prudent.

The regulator is also pushing for all four online platforms to “urgently roll out planned transparency features in relation to political advertising to the UK” — in consultation with both relevant domestic oversight bodies (the ICO and the Electoral Commission).

In Facebook’s case, it has been developing policies around political ad transparency — amid a series of related data scandals in recent years, which have ramped up political pressure on the company. But self-regulation looks very unlikely to go far enough (or fast enough) to fix the real risks now being raised at the highest political levels.

“We opened this report by asking whether democracy has been disrupted by the use of data analytics and new technologies. Throughout this investigation, we have seen evidence that it is beginning to have a profound effect whereby information asymmetry between different groups of voters is beginning to emerge,” writes the ICO. “We are a now at a crucial juncture where trust and confidence in the integrity of our democratic process risks being undermined if an ethical pause is not taken. The recommendations made in this report — if effectively implemented — will change the behaviour and compliance of all the actors in the political campaigning space.”

Another key policy recommendation the ICO is making is to urge the UK government to legislate “at the earliest opportunity” to introduce a statutory Code of Practice under the country’s new data protection law for the use of personal information in political campaigns.

The report also essentially calls out all the UK’s political parties for data protection failures — a universal problem that’s very evidently being supercharged by the rise of accessible and powerful online platforms which have enabled political parties to combine (and thus enrich) voter databases they are legally entitled to with all sorts of additional online intelligence that’s been harvested by the likes of Facebook and other major data brokers.

Hence the ICO’s concern about “developing a system of voter surveillance by default”. And why she’s pushing for online platforms to “act as information fiduciaries”.

Or, in other words, without exercising great responsibility around people’s information, online ad platforms like Facebook risk becoming the enabling layer that breaks democracy and shatters civic society.

Particular concerns being attached by the ICO to political parties’ activities include: The purchasing of marketing lists and lifestyle information from data brokers without sufficient due diligence; a lack of fair processing; and use of third party data analytics companies with insufficient checks around consent. And the regulator says it has several related investigations ongoing.

In March, the information commissioner, Elizabeth Denham, foreshadowed the conclusions in this report, telling a UK parliamentary committee she would be recommending a code of conduct for political use of personal data, and pushing for increased transparency around how and where people’s data is flowing — telling MPs: “We need information that is transparent, otherwise we will push people into little filter bubbles, where they have no idea about what other people are saying and what the other side of the campaign is saying. We want to make sure that social media is used well.”

The ICO says now that it will work closely with government to determine the scope of the Code. It also wants the government to conduct a review of regulatory gaps.

We’ve reached out to the Cabinet Office for a government response to the ICO’s recommendations. Update: A Cabinet Office spokesperson directed us to the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport — and a DCMS spokesman told us the government will wait to review the full ICO report once it’s completed before setting out a formal response.

A Facebook spokesman declined to answer specific questions related to the report — instead sending us this short statement, attributed to its chief privacy officer, Erin Egan: “As we have said before, we should have done more to investigate claims about Cambridge Analytica and take action in 2015. We have been working closely with the ICO in their investigation of Cambridge Analytica, just as we have with authorities in the US and other countries. We’re reviewing the report and will respond to the ICO soon.”

Here’s the ICO’s summary of its ten policy recommendations:

1) The political parties must work with the ICO, the Cabinet Office and the Electoral Commission to identify and implement a cross-party solution to improve transparency around the use of commonly held data.

2) The ICO will work with the Electoral Commission, Cabinet Office and the political parties to launch a version of its successful Your Data Matters campaign before the next General Election. The aim will be to increase transparency and build trust and confidence amongst 5 the electorate on how their personal data is being used during political campaigns.

3) Political parties need to apply due diligence when sourcing personal information from third party organisations, including data brokers, to ensure the appropriate consent has been sought from the individuals concerned and that individuals are effectively informed in line with transparency requirements under the GDPR. This should form part of the data protection impact assessments conducted by political parties.

4) The Government should legislate at the earliest opportunity to introduce a statutory Code of Practice under the DPA2018 for the use of personal information in political campaigns. The ICO will work closely with Government to determine the scope of the Code.

5) It should be a requirement that third party audits be carried out after referendum campaigns are concluded to ensure personal data held by the campaign is deleted, or if it has been shared, the appropriate consent has been obtained.

6) The Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation should work with the ICO, the Electoral Commission to conduct an ethical debate in the form of a citizen jury to understand further the impact of new and developing technologies and the use of data analytics in political campaigns.

7) All online platforms providing advertising services to political parties and campaigns should include expertise within the sales support team who can provide political parties and campaigns with specific advice on transparency and accountability in relation to how data is used to target users.

8) The ICO will work with the European Data Protection Board (EDPB), and the relevant lead Data Protection Authorities, to ensure online platforms’ compliance with the GDPR – that users understand how personal information is processed in the targeted advertising model and that effective controls are available. This includes greater transparency in relation to the privacy settings and the design and prominence of privacy notices.

9) All of the platforms covered in this report should urgently roll out planned transparency features in relation to political advertising to the UK. This should include consultation and evaluation of these tools by the ICO and the Electoral Commission.

10)The Government should conduct a review of the regulatory gaps in relation to content and provenance and jurisdictional scope of political advertising online. This should include consideration of requirements for digital political advertising to be archived in an open data repository to enable scrutiny and analysis of the data.

Source: TechCrunch

Inside X, the Moonshot Factory Racing to Build the Next Google

Loon and Wing, X’s internet balloon and drone delivery ventures, are emerging from the super-secret incubator—and demonstrating what an ever expanding Google means for the world.
Source: Wired

Uber and Lyft's Never-Ending Quest to Crush Price Comparison Apps

Apps like Bellhop and RideGuru allow riders to find the best deal—highlighting the uncomfortable truth that price is the bottom line for ride-sharing companies
Source: Wired

Xiaomi’s former head of international Hugo Barra lands IPO windfall

Xiaomi’s IPO in Hong Kong may not have been the smash hit that the company was hoping for, but the listing is a major financial windfall for one former employee: Xiaomi’s ex-head of international Hugo Barra.

Barra joined Xiaomi in 2013 from Google, where he had been a senior executive in charge of Android, but he departed the Chinese company last year to join Facebook, where he leads the social network’s VR push. It’s conventional for staff to lose stock options when they depart a business ahead of schedule — and before their vesting period — but that didn’t apply in the case of Barra, who was allocated 86 million shares, according to details buried in Xiaomi’s prospectus that were spotted by Bloomberg’s Tim Culpan.

Barra’s shares are due to vest on October 1 2018 and at the current HK$19 price they are worth around $209 million. That’s thanks to a rush in trading that pushed the stock up by over 10 percent today. Barra flew into Hong Kong to attend the company’s IPO ceremony on Monday, according to photos shared by Xiaomi staff.

The filing doesn’t mention Barra by name, but the job title — vice president (global business) — makes it easy to identify him since that role was created for him, he was never replaced directly and the start date is in line with his employment period.

Neither Barra nor Xiaomi responded to requests for comment from TechCrunch.

Barra isn’t the only former employee to retain stock options, the Chinese firm also gave an allocation to its former chief scientist and ex-director of hardware. Other non-Chinese executives who netted major financial gains from the listing include Manu Jain, who heads up Xiaomi India and is estimated to hold around $55 million in stock.

The listing may have been lackluster — Xiaomi had to settle for a valuation of around $57 billion despite aiming for as high as $100 billion — but it still created vast wealth for core company personnel. CEO Lei Jun’s stock, around 29 percent of the company, was worth $14 billion at the end of trading on day one. Shares belonging to fellow co-founders Lin Bin, Li Wangqiang and Wong Kong Kat were worth $6 billion, $1.5 billion and $1.5 billion, respectively, according to a CNN report.

Source: TechCrunch

Monday.com raises $50M at a $500M valuation led by Stripes for its workplace collaboration tools

The more that we digitise our interactions with work colleagues, the more we will need tools to help handle that process more smoothly. Today, Monday.com — one of the wave of startups that works in the larger category of workplace collaboration tools — is announcing a significant growth round that speaks to this demand. The company (formerly known as Dapulse when it was founded in Tel Aviv) has raised $50 million that sources close to the company tell me was made at a pre-money valuation of $500 million.

Monday.com has only raised $84.1 million since 2014, and its big valuation boost is down to its strong growth. It currently has 35,000 businesses and organisations as paying customers (no freemium tier as with Slack: simply a short free trial before you pay), with the list featuring many illustrious, big business names such as Carlsberg Group, Discovery Channel, McDonalds, and WeWork.

Equally impressive are the company’s investors: this Series C round was led by Stripes — the firm that has backed a number of big tech startups including Blue Apron, Udemy and Refinery29 — along with participation from previous investors Insight Venture Partners and Entrée Capital. LeumiTech, part of Israel’s Leumi Bank, has also extended a line of credit to the company to help with growth. The equity funding is coming in at $20 million, with the credit accounting for the remaining $30 million.

Startups/products like Slack and Yammer have most definitely put the concept of workplace collaboration on the map as something that can be useful and well used in an office environment, a significant thing, since one of the big issues with a lot of enterprise software is simply getting people to — at best — actually engage with it and — at worst — not just develop longstanding grudges against it.

Roy Mann, the CEO who co-founded the company with Eran Zinman, says that Monday.com isn’t exactly targeting the same kind of “collaboration” as these with their emphasis on text-based communications. Rather, companies can essentially build their own productivity tracking and collaborating environments using modular tools and integrations with other programs, to suit whatever their needs might be. Notably, the company’s first client and the impetus for starting Dapulse, was the DIY web design company Wix, and some of the ethos and DNA of DIY design, and the aim of providing technology to non-tech businesses, is very much in evidence here.

“A lot of the opportunity for us is in the non-tech world, which is about 70 percent of our customer base,” said Mann. “We’re talking companies like architecture firms and restaurants.” (Apologies to architects who fancy themselves techie. Maybe you’re in the minority!) “This means that our ‘competitors’ are Excel files and whiteboards because most of these people have just not found the right tools.”

That focus on the wider range of businesses in the world also is one reason why Monday.com has attracted investment.

“We are thrilled to be partnering with Roy, Eran, and rest of the monday.com team in their mission to transform the way people work together,” said Ken Fox, founder and managing partner of Stripes Group, in a statement. “Monday.com’s broad applicability across use cases, verticals, and geographies position it well to be the next truly horizontal platform for the enterprise.”

For those who are in the tech industry or already using some kind of collaboration product, he says that more obvious apps that it competes with include Wrike, Asana, Trello, Jira and so on. Ironically, though, Mann also says that ideally all of these could integrate with Monday.com to help organizations that might use them but also want to see the bigger picture. “It’s a very complex ecosystem, with lots of solutions but also overlap,” he said.

The funding will be used to expand Monday.com’s platform and the kinds of services it can offer itself rather than by way of integrating with third parties. Today, the company is launching three of these.

A Column Center will give 15 new functionalities that can be tracked from the Monday.com dashboard directly, including location views, time tracking and creation logs.

Board Views will offer more visualisation features of the data you have in the system already to identify trends and extract more insights.

And finally, a new feature called Monday Stories will be a community board where companies that use Monday.com can speak to each other to get tips and advice — cross-silo communications that we’ve seen emerge also in services like Slack and Facebook’s Workplace.

“I think project management not how people work today. It’s dead,” Mann told me. “The world is moving to a different place. It’s become flatter with not so much hierarchy. People now need real time information, not just instructions from a single person at the top.” He also feels that the information sharing that you can get out of Monday.com can help break silos within companies.

“It’s amazing that you can have five people in a team and others don’t know what they are doing,” he said. “We break all those silos.”

Source: TechCrunch

BYD and Generate Capital launch $200M electric bus leasing JV in the US

There are 345,000 electric buses in use today across the world, but the US accounts for only 300 of them. Now, Chinese electric vehicle company BYD is launching a new JV in the country in an attempt to boost that number: in partnership with clean-energy financing company Generate Capital, BYD is starting a leasing program for electric buses. The two say they will initially put in $200 million to the project to get it off the ground.

The partnership says it has secured several clients already, including universities and corporations who use the buses to transport students and employees to, from and around large campuses; and smaller municipalities.

BYD calls itself the world’s biggest electric car maker and supplies about two-thirds of all the electric buses in use in the US currently. The company is traded publicly in Shenzhen but also picked up a huge cash infusion of $450 million from Samsung in 2016.

“BYD’s mission is to fundamentally change the world by reducing our dependency on carbon-based fuels through the development and advancement of battery and electric vehicle technology,” said BYD Motors’s President Stella Li in a statement. “This partnership will be critical in that effort by creating new financing alternatives to a broader range of clients.”

Electric and hybrid buses provide a greener and quieter public transportation option compared to older vehicles — and while some will always insist on having their own space and their own vehicle, there is a strong argument to be made for shuttles and buses to reduce traffic congestion, not to mention the pressure on your wallet, too.

BYD cites figures from the U.S. Department of Transportation, which state that every zero-emission bus eliminates approximately 1,690 tons of CO2 over a 12-year period, equivalent to taking 27 cars off the road, as well as 10 tons of nitrogen oxide, and 350 pounds of diesel particulate matter.

Yet city governments, typically strapped for money, will often be the last to offload their legacy buses if they are still able to take people from A to B, even if the running costs of the newer buses over a period of time work out to be much cheaper.

That’s in contrast with companies like Uber, which is backed by billions of dollars, some of which it has used to invest in experimental new services: the company has worked with BYD in London and Chicago to run electric vehicle tests, although now that Uber has moved out of the leasing game, it’s not clear how this will follow through in terms of rolling out such vehicles to its drivers.

In any case, a leasing program that reduces upfront costs, is an important way to ease municipalities into making the switch.

This is also important because some believe leasing could potentially going to become a cornerstone of how all cars are “owned” in the future. The thinking goes like this: the newer generation of autonomous and electrified vehicles will simply end up being too cost-prohibitive to own outright for the majority of consumers (and public and private organisations), and so in many cases they will go the way of airplanes, where the ownership costs are handled by one party, and paying for periods of usage will be handled by another.

As an example of how much savings an electric bus can provide over a legacy bus, Antelope Valley Transit Authority in Los Angeles County says that it’s saved $46 million over the lifetime of a new fleet so far, which in its case works out to $46,000 per bus per year in savings on diesel fuel (it’s aiming to be all-electric by the end of this year). That’s before considering the 50 percent reduction in harmful emissions and quieter experience.

Generate Capital itself has raised at least $200 million in equity to finance green and new energy projects — these also include new systems for battery storage — and it regularly also offers debt to help finance new initiatives.

“We founded Generate Capital to bring precisely this type of proven solution to the world,” said Scott Jacobs, Generate Capital’s CEO and co-founder, in a statement. “Electric buses produce almost no greenhouse gas emissions; they’re cheaper to operate than diesel buses; have lower maintenance costs; and they’re quieter and more pleasant for the rider. Traditional leasing companies typically don’t value any residual in electric vehicles, which makes financing difficult. Programs like these are an all-around win for project developers, customers, and for the environment.”

Source: TechCrunch

Uber’s chief people officer resigns amid discrimination probe – CNET

The departure comes after Reuters contacted the company about anonymous accusations.
Source: CNET