Moscow on Tuesday vehemently rejected claims by Microsoft that Russia was behind cyberattacks on companies researching coronavirus vaccines and treatments, saying it was being made a scapegoat.
Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov told state news agency RIA Novosti it had become “politically fashionable” to pin the blame for cyber attacks on Moscow.
Russia announced in August that it had registered the world’s first coronavirus vaccine, Sputnik V — named after the Soviet-era satellite — but did so ahead of large-scale clinical trials.
In October, President Vladimir Putin announced that Russia had also registered its second coronavirus vaccine, EpiVacCorona.
“We do not need anything other than a normal approach towards the projects we already have in Russia and are promoting including in cooperation with foreign partners,” Ryabkov said.
Ryabkov also claimed that Russian companies themselves were frequently becoming targets of foreign cyber attacks.
He said Russia and the United States should allow experts to look into the issue.
“However, Washington has persistently steered clear of such dialogue,” Ryabkov added.
Last week, Microsoft urged a crackdown on cyber-attacks perpetrated by states and “malign actors” after a spate of hacks disrupted healthcare organisations fighting the coronavirus.
The US tech giant said the attacks came from Russia and North Korea.
The Kremlin has previously denied US claims that Russian military intelligence was behind cyberattacks targeting Ukraine’s power grid, the 2017 French election, and the 2018 Winter Olympic Games, describing them as “Russophobia”.
American tech giant Microsoft said Sunday its offer to buy TikTok was rejected, leaving Oracle as the sole remaining bidder ahead of the imminent deadline for the Chinese-owned video app to sell or shut down its US operations.
TikTok is at the center of a diplomatic storm between Washington and Beijing, and President Donald Trump has set Americans a mid-September deadline to stop doing business with its Chinese parent company ByteDance — effectively compelling a sale of the app to a US company.
The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times reported that Oracle had won the bidding war, citing people familiar with the deal, although the company did not immediately confirm that to AFP.
But two Chinese state media outlets — CGTN and China News Service — said Monday that ByteDance will not sell TikTok to Oracle either, citing unnamed sources.
The Oracle bid would need approval from the White House and Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, a source told the Journal, with both parties under the belief it would meet US data security concerns.
Microsoft had indicated at the beginning of August that it was interested in acquiring TikTok’s US operations, but announced Sunday that bid had been rejected.
“ByteDance let us know today they would not be selling TikTok’s US operations to Microsoft,” it said in a statement.
“We are confident our proposal would have been good for TikTok’s users, while protecting national security interests.”
In early August, Trump issued an executive order stating that if a purchase agreement was not reached by September 20, the platform would have to close in the United States.
Trump claims TikTok could be used by China to track the locations of federal employees, build dossiers on people for blackmail, and conduct corporate espionage.
– Disputed dangers –
In late August, China’s commerce ministry published new rules potentially making it more difficult for ByteDance to sell TikTok to a US entity by adding “civilian use” to a list of technologies that are restricted for export.
ByteDance had vowed to “strictly abide” by the new export rules.
“We believe Microsoft would only buy TikTok WITH its core algorithm which the Chinese government and ByteDance was not willing to budge,” Wedbush analyst Daniel Ives said in a note.
“Given the need now to get a green light from Beijing after its export rules were changed a few weeks ago, TikTok’s days in the US likely are numbered with a shutdown now the next step,” the analyst said.
Downloaded 175 million times in the United States, TikTok is used by as many as a billion people worldwide to make quirky, short videos on their cellphones. It has repeatedly denied sharing data with Beijing.
Microsoft said it would have “made significant changes to ensure the service met the highest standards for security, privacy, online safety, and combatting disinformation.”
A deal with Microsoft could also have included Walmart, which joined forces with the tech giant during negotiations.
Ives said that even with Microsoft out of the picture, “while Oracle is technically the remaining bidder, without willing to sell its core algorithm we see no TikTok sale on the horizon.”
“Oracle could be a technology partner, but a sale/divestiture of the US operations for TikTok remains the focus.”
TikTok meanwhile has filed a lawsuit challenging the US crackdown, contending that Trump’s order was a misuse of the International Emergency Economic Powers Act because the platform is not “an unusual and extraordinary threat.”
Controversially, Trump has demanded that the US government get a cut of any deal, which critics contend appears unconstitutional and akin to extortion.
The bidding for TikTok comes during a broader deterioration of relations between the world’s top two economies in recent months, with both exchanging fierce recriminations over trade, human rights, and the origins of the coronavirus pandemic.
US tech giant Microsoft said Sunday its offer to buy TikTok was rejected, as a deadline looms for the Chinese-owned video app to sell or shut down its US operations.
TikTok has been at the center of a diplomatic storm between Washington and Beijing, and President Donald Trump gave Americans a deadline to stop doing business with TikTok’s Chinese parent company ByteDance — effectively compelling a sale of the app to a US company.
Trump claims that TikTok could be used by China to track the locations of federal employees, build dossiers on people for blackmail and conduct corporate espionage.
“ByteDance let us know today they would not be selling TikTok’s US operations to Microsoft,” the US tech giant said in a statement referring to TikTok’s owner.
“We are confident our proposal would have been good for TikTok’s users, while protecting national security interests,” the statement added.
Following Trump’s executive order, Microsoft and Oracle were possible suitors to take over TikTok operations.
Microsoft said that it would have “made significant changes to ensure the service met the highest standards for security, privacy, online safety, and combatting disinformation.”
TikTok has filed a lawsuit challenging the crackdown by the US government, contending that Trump’s order was a misuse of the International Emergency Economic Powers Act because the platform is not “an unusual and extraordinary threat.”
Downloaded 175 million times in the US, TikTok is used by as many as a billion people worldwide to make quirky, short-form videos on their cellphones. It has repeatedly denied sharing data with Beijing.
Microsoft, which is in talks to buy part of Chinese video app TikTok, is one of the few US tech titans that have managed to succeed in China.
The software giant has kept its business alive in the country by complying with strict local laws, despite the communist nation’s wide-reaching censorship.
Here are some key points about the technology and gaming group’s operations in the world’s second-biggest economy.
Microsoft arrived in China in 1992 and opened its largest research and development centre outside the United States. It now employs around 6,200 people in China.
The ubiquitous Windows operating system is used in the vast majority of computers in China — despite Beijing promising in recent years to develop its own operating system. The company’s success has a downside, however, as its software is widely pirated.
The important Chinese market, which is very restrictive for foreign firms, represents a drop in the ocean of Microsoft’s business, accounting for barely 1.8 percent of its turnover, president Brad Smith said at the beginning of the year.
Microsoft’s Bing is one of the few foreign search engines operating in China — although it is far behind its local competitors Baidu and Sogou, which dominate the market.
Microsoft founder Bill Gates has long embodied a model of success in the eyes of many Chinese people and his books are bestsellers in the country.
President Xi Jinping visited the company’s headquarters on a state visit to the US in 2015, where he met with Gates and his wife.
Today, as the head of his humanitarian Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the 64-year-old has the prestige of a head of state in Beijing.
In February Xi wrote Gates a letter thanking him for his support during the coronavirus epidemic.
Censorship and control
China censors all subjects considered politically sensitive in the name of stability, and internet giants are urged to block unwanted content online.
Refusing to comply with Beijing’s strict demands, American giants Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube, as well as Wikipedia and several other foreign media, are blocked by China’s “great firewall”.
Microsoft, however, operates its professional LinkedIn network in the country by complying with the draconian censorship rules through a local joint venture.
Skype and Teams, its other two big platforms, are also available in China.
It’s not all smooth sailing though, with Bing temporarily taken offline last year, prompting speculation the search engine had been blocked by censors.
Smith told Fox Business News at the World Economic Forum in Davos that “there are times when there are difficult negotiations with the Chinese government.”
The Greatfire.org website, which tracks online censorship in China, accused Bing a few years ago of redacting results containing sensitive information.
– Video games – In 2000 Beijing halted the sale of all consoles because of their alleged negative effects on the “mental health” of young users, although they remained available illegally.
After the ban was lifted, Microsoft in 2014 was the first foreign firm to break into the video games market in China with its Xbox One console.
Also in 2014, the Chinese competition authorities opened an anti-monopoly investigation against Microsoft and its Windows software.
Around 100 inspectors raided the group’s offices in four Chinese cities, confiscating files and questioning employees.
US President Donald Trump gave popular Chinese-owned video app TikTok six weeks to sell its US operations to an American company, saying Monday it would be “out of business” otherwise, and that the government wanted a financial benefit from the deal.
“It’s got to be an American company… it’s got to be owned here,” Trump said. “We don’t want to have any problem with security.”
Trump said that Microsoft was in talks to buy TikTok, which has as many as one billion worldwide users who make quirky 60-second videos with its smartphone app.
But US officials say the app constitutes a national security risk because it could share millions of Americans’ personal data with Chinese intelligence.
Trump gave the company’s Chinese parent ByteDance until mid-September to strike a deal.
“I set a date of around September 15, at which point it’s going to be out of business in the United States,” he said.
Whatever the price is, he said, “the United States should get a very large percentage of that price because we’re making it possible.”
Trump compared the demand for a piece of the pie to a landlord demanding under-the-table “key money” from a new tenant, a practice widely illegal including in New York, where the billionaire president built his real estate empire.
“TikTok is a big success, but a big portion of it is in the country,” he said. “I think it’s very fair.”
But Trump also threw a surprise new condition in any deal, saying the sale of TikTok’s US business would have to result in a significant payout to the US Treasury for initiating it.
“A very substantial portion of that price is going to have to come into the Treasury of the United States, because we’re making it possible for this deal to happen,” Trump told reporters.
“They don’t have any rights unless we give it to them,” he said.
Sell or shut down
The pressure for a sale of TikTok’s US and international business, based in Los Angeles, left the company and ByteDance facing tough decisions.
Trump has made TikTok the latest front in the ongoing political and trade battles between Washington and Beijing.
The app has been under formal investigation on US national security grounds because it collects large amounts of personal data on all its users and is legally bound to share that with authorities in Beijing if they demand it.
Both its huge user base and its algorithm for collecting data make it hugely valuable.
But being forced by the US government to sell at least its US business or be shut down — and to then split the sale price with the US Treasury as Trump is demanding — was an almost unheard-of tactic.
Shutting down could force users to switch to competitors, and many content creators are already encouraging followers to follow them on other social media platforms.
“The most obvious beneficiaries are Snapchat, Facebook and Twitter, with Snapchat likely being the biggest beneficiary,” said investment analysts at Lightshed Partners.
Earlier Monday, ByteDance founder Zhang Yiming acknowledged the hefty pressure and said in a letter to staff, reported by Chinese media, that they were working around-the-clock “for the best outcome.”
“We have always been committed to ensuring user data security, as well as the platform neutrality and transparency,” Zhang said.
However, he said, the company faces “mounting complexities across the geopolitical landscape and significant external pressure.”
He said the company must confront the challenge from the United States, though “without giving up exploring any possibilities.”
According to Britain’s The Sun newspaper Monday, as a possible consequence of the pressure, ByteDance is planning to relocate TikTok’s global operations to Britain.
China’s foreign ministry pushed back Monday, calling Washington hypocritical for demanding TikTok be sold.
“The US is using an abused concept of national security and, without providing any evidence, is making presumptions of guilt and issuing threats to relevant companies,” said spokesman Wang Wenbin.
“This goes against the principle of market economy and exposes the hypocrisy and typical double standards of the US in upholding so-called fairness and freedom,” he added.
Microsoft announced Sunday it would continue talks to acquire the US operations of popular video-sharing app TikTok, after meeting with President Donald Trump who seemingly backed off his earlier threats to ban the Chinese-owned platform.
“Following a conversation between Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella and President Donald J Trump, Microsoft is prepared to continue discussions to explore a purchase of TikTok in the United States,” the company said in a statement, acknowledging the “importance of addressing the President’s concerns” over national security.
Microsoft added that it would continue negotiations with ByteDance, TikTok’s Chinese parent company, with the intention of “completing these discussions no later than September 15.”
The statement came after Trump on Friday said he would ban the app, which is especially popular with young audiences who create and watch its short-form videos and has an estimated one billion users worldwide.
TikTok should be sold or blocked in the US, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin told ABC earlier Sunday, while Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Fox News the president would “take action in the coming days with respect to a broad array of national security risks that are presented by software connected to the Chinese Communist Party.”
TikTok denies it could be a tool for Chinese intelligence, with its US general manager Vanessa Pappas declaring Saturday: “We’re not planning on going anywhere.”
“The United States would be the biggest loser if it banned TikTok,” Daniel Castro, vice president of the think tank Information Technology & Innovation Foundation, said Saturday.
“All of its data centers are outside of China, and there is no evidence that it presents a national security threat.”
Trump said he would use an executive order to ban TikTok, or the International Emergency Economic Powers Act, a law granting the president powers to regulate international trade in the face of an “unusual and extraordinary threat” from abroad to US foreign policy, national security or the economy.
His threat has caused great concern for US TikTok users, particularly content creators who make money on the platform.
Many of them have posted links to their Instagram or YouTube accounts so as not to lose followers if the platform is ultimately blocked.
In its statement, Microsoft said it plans to “build on the experience TikTok users currently love, while adding world-class security, privacy, and digital safety protections.”
Buying TikTok would give Microsoft a chance to break into the social networking market.
The IT group currently owns the professional networking platform LinkedIn, and Teams, an internal messaging service for companies.
Pappas promised Saturday to create 10,000 US jobs at TikTok over the next three years, in addition to the 1,500 current employees.
“Don’t fall for this,” responded senior Trump aide Peter Navarro, a fierce China critic and a main architect of the trade war with Beijing.
“China has hired a whole bunch of American lobbyists. They put a puppet CEO in charge of that company,” he told Fox News, referring to former Disney executive Kevin Mayer, who became the CEO of TikTok in May.
On Friday evening Trump indicated he opposed a takeover of TikTok by an American company, a solution nevertheless agreed to by most of the involved parties, including ByteDance, according to The New York Times.
“This is getting bizarre. A 100 percent sale to an American company… mitigates any reasonable data protection concerns,” tweeted Alex Stamos, a former Facebook head of security and a researcher at Stanford University.
“If the White House kills this (sale) we know this isn’t about national security,” he added.
Microsoft on Wednesday reported rising revenues in the past quarter amid strong demand for cloud computing services from pandemic-hit businesses and consumers and big gains in its Xbox gaming operations.
Profits in the quarter ending June 30 fell 15 percent to $11.2 billion, the result of increased tax charges compared with a year ago.
Revenue meanwhile rose 13 percent to $38 billion, led by strong gains in its cloud computing and its Xbox gaming services.
Chief executive Satya Nadella said Microsoft was equipped to deal with the coronavirus pandemic with its “integrated, modern technology stack.”
“We are seeing businesses accelerate the digitization of every part of their operations from manufacturing to sales to customer service,” Nadella told a conference call.
Microsoft shares dipped some 2.5 percent in after-hours trade on the results, which were largely ahead of forecasts.
Its shares have been trading at near record levels amid a surge of some 50 percent since March, giving it a market value of more than $1.6 trillion.
Revenue from Microsoft’s “intelligent cloud” division which includes its Azure enterprise business rose 17 percent to $13.4 billion in the fiscal fourth quarter.
In the personal computing segment including the Windows operating system, revenues were up 14 percent to $12.9 billion.
Within that segment, Xbox gaming service revenues rose 65 percent and sales for its Surface devices were up 28 percent.
Xbox hardware revenue increased 49 percent, as Microsoft boosted the number of consoles sold even with a newer version expected later this year.
“This was a breakthrough quarter for gaming,” Nadella said.
“We saw record engagement and monetization… as people everywhere turned to gaming to connect, socialize and play.”
Microsoft saw a more modest six percent revenue rise in its productivity and business operations which include the Office software suite and LinkedIn.
Daniel Ives at Wedbush Securities called the Microsoft results “robust,” led by its cloud computing that benefits from the work-from-home trend.
“This current remote work from home environment is further catalyzing more enterprises to make the strategic cloud shift with Microsoft the main beneficiary as evidenced by the solid results this evening,” Ives said.
Earlier Wednesday, the workplace messaging platform Slack filed an EU antitrust complaint against Microsoft, alleging that the integration of the “Teams” service into the Office software suit represented unfair competition.
Microsoft said Teams was growing because it offers video, which Slack does not.
Fortnite superstar Tyler “Ninja” Blevins returned to the streaming world Wednesday with a match on YouTube, after Microsoft pulled the plug on the Mixer platform where he had an exclusive contract.
Blevins had amassed nearly 24 million subscribers at his YouTube channel shortly into a Fortnite match he had tipped fans off to in a tweet.
“You know what’s crazy man?” Blevins asked rhetorically during banter with teammates during the game stream.
“Like not streaming for a month I almost forgot that nobody knows what’s going on with, like, me.”
In August of last year, Blevins left Amazon-owned Twitch, telling fans they would only be able to find him on rival gameplay streaming platform Mixer.
The move was considered a win for Microsoft, luring viewers to Mixer and playing into the technology company’s efforts to bolster its gaming community.
But Microsoft last month said it is throwing in the towel on its Mixer livestream platform, and teaming up with Facebook to better compete with rivals like Twitch and YouTube.
Microsoft Mixer will be shuttered on July 22 with gamers encouraged to transition to Facebook Gaming.
Online battle royale game “Fortnite” is a global sensation, with entertaining play and commentary a hit with online viewers.
Blevins is one of a clutch of gamers who stream themselves playing Fortnite and recoup riches and rock star adulation from a vast and youthful following.
He told AFP last year his life took a swift turn when he discovered Fortnite, a blockbuster that swept the gaming sector when it came out in 2017 and claims 200 million players, more than eight million of whom are playing at any one time.
Microsoft said Friday it will close all of its stores and move its retail operations online, keeping just four locations and transforming them into “experience centers.”
The move means the more than 80 Microsoft stores closed due to the coronavirus pandemic will not reopen as the tech giant enters “a new approach to retail,” according to a statement.
“Microsoft will continue to invest in its digital storefronts on Microsoft.com, and stores in Xbox and Windows,” the statement said.
The four locations that will become Microsoft Experience Centers are in London, New York, Sydney and at the company’s Redmond, Washington headquarters.
Retail team members will “serve customers from Microsoft corporate facilities and remotely providing sales, training, and support,” the company said.
Microsoft said it will set aside $450 million to cover the costs of closing the locations. The number of employees who would be affected was not immediately available.
“Our sales have grown online as our product portfolio has evolved to largely digital offerings, and our talented team has proven success serving customers beyond any physical location,” said Microsoft corporate vice president David Porter.
Microsoft in recent years has been relying more on its services such as cloud computing, with the retail locations focusing on its Surface tablets and laptops as well as Xbox gaming gear. But the physical stores failed to gain the momentum of rival Apple.
Independent technology analyst Neil Cybart said the closures were because “the Surface business increasingly looks to be losing momentum in the consumer space.”
The impact of the pandemic has not yet been reflected in Microsoft’s financial results. It posted a net profit of $10.8 billion from January to March, up 22 percent year-on-year, on a turnover of $35 billion.
Despite production delays for its Surface range, the group believes it is well-positioned to weather the crisis, thanks in particular to the explosion of cloud computing.
In an era of social distancing, Microsoft can also count on its teleworking, distance, and education software and services.
However, it has just closed down video game streaming platform Mixer, leaving the field open to the industry giant Twitch, owned by Amazon, and its two rivals, YouTube Gaming and Facebook Gaming.
Microsoft on Tuesday announced it would invest one billion dollars in Poland to expand its operations, including the creation of a new regional cloud-computing data hub.
The US tech giant said it had signed an agreement with Poland’s state-backed National Cloud Operator to provide “cloud solutions for all industries and companies in Poland”, according to a statement on its website.
“Another great global player chose Poland to locate its investment, worth as much as $ 1 billion, the largest in our region of Europe,” Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said on Tuesday on his official Facebook page.
“This is another important step on the road to digitisation and accelerating the development of the entire Polish economy.”
The investment project is expected to last seven years, Microsoft said.
Microsoft is among the global leaders in providing cloud services — an industry worth hundreds of billions of dollars.
As well as charging for the service, cloud operators are able to harvest huge caches data and open up many other revenue streams.
The National Cloud Operator was set up two years ago by the state-controlled PKO Bank and the Polish National Development fund to speed development of the digital economy.
Once among the EU’s most rapidly expanding economies, growth in Poland is set to shrink by 3.4 per cent this year, according to a revised government projection, down from an expansion of 3.7 per cent of GDP forecast prior to the pandemic.
Microsoft on Friday announced that co-founder Bill Gates has left its board of directors to devote more time to philanthropy.
The 64-year-old stopped being involved in day-to-day operations at the firm more than a decade ago, turning his attention to the foundation he launched with his wife, Melinda.
Gates served as chairman of Microsoft’s board of directors until early in 2014 and has now stepped away entirely, according to the Redmond-based technology giant.
“It’s been a tremendous honor and privilege to have worked with and learned from Bill over the years,” Microsoft chief executive and company veteran Satya Nadella said in a release.
“Bill founded our company with a belief in the democratizing force of software and a passion to solve society’s most pressing challenges; and Microsoft and the world are better for it.”
Nadella said Microsoft would continue to benefit from Gates’ “technical passion and advice” in his continuing role as a technical advisor.
“I am grateful for Bill’s friendship and look forward to continuing to work alongside him,” Nadella said.
Computing and compassion
Gates left his CEO position in 2000, handing the company reins to Steve Ballmer to devote more time to his charitable foundation.
He gave up the role of chairman at the same time Nadella became Microsoft’s third CEO in 2014.
Regularly listed among the world’s richest people, William H. Gates was a geeky-looking young man when he and Paul Allen co-founded Microsoft in 1975.
Gates grew up in Seattle with two sisters. His father William was an attorney and his late mother Mary was a schoolteacher and chairwoman of United Way International.
He began programming computers as a 13-year-old student, and fell in love with the machines.
Among the tales told about Gates is that while working on school computers, he tinkered with programming to put himself in classes made up mostly of girls.
With his parents’ blessing, Gates dropped out of Harvard to start “Micro-soft” with his late childhood friend Allen.
A key move was to focus on licensing software to computer makers in numerous “partnerships” that resulted in affordable machines being available to the masses.
As the personal computer market grew, Microsoft became the world’s top software company. Its virtual monopoly led to a much-publicized antitrust trial, in which the company managed to avert a break-up but had to endure years of government monitoring.
Gates went on to turn his attention from software to fighting disease and other humanitarian challenges with his wife, under the auspices of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
“This move is not surprising to the Street as Gates has continued to focus more on his myriad of philanthropies across the globe over the past decade,” Wedbush analyst Daniel Ives said in a note to investors.
“Gates is a historic figure in the technology world and his legacy at Microsoft will be felt in Redmond for decades to come.”