Dell sweetens tracking stock offer, Icahn drops opposition

Dell Technologies on Thursday raised its offer to buy back shares tied to its interest in software maker VMware to $23.9 billion from $21.7 billion, prompting billionaire investor Carl Icahn to abandon his campaign to scupper the deal.

Mark Zuckerberg Tries Out Transparency as Yet Another Crisis Hits Facebook

About 38 minutes into a conference call with reporters on Thursday, Mark Zuckerberg asked for more.

“I think we should probably take a bunch more questions,” the embattled Facebook CEO said, despite the fact that the call was scheduled to end a few minutes later.

The day after an investigation by The New York Times called Zuckerberg’s leadership into question — and accused the company of concealing damaging information from the public — it was evident that he is pursuing a painstaking approach to crisis management: more transparency. Among the revelations was that Facebook hired an opposition-research firm that uses a right-leaning news site to go after clients’ “enemies,” and that the company previously tried to downplay the existence of Russian meddling on the platform.

The call was originally designed to reveal how the company is changing its approach to content moderation. On Thursday, Facebook also released a report showing how much “bad content” — ranging from hate speech and bullying to nudity and terrorist propaganda — it is taking down each quarter because it violates the platform’s terms of service. (The short answer: billions of items, and growing.)

Zuckerberg announced a bevy of related initiatives, such as Facebook’s yet-to-unfold plan for stopping the spread of sensational and provocative content that doesn’t technically violate its terms. The most significant may be the creation of an independent board that will act as a check on the decisions the company makes about “what stays up and what comes down” among the billions of posts that Facebook’s 2 billion-plus users share every day. Zuckerberg also promised to start holding quarterly calls to provide updates on how this massive, thorny effort is proceeding — further proof that Facebook is hoping that more openness will help solve its many problems.

But the majority of questions that the CEO fielded were not about the scheduled program. Instead, he was pressed on issues raised in the Times investigation, such as how and why Facebook ended up hiring a firm called Definers, which is affiliated with a conservative news site called NTK Network and reportedly spread negative stories about rival technology firms to take heat off Facebook.

Zuckerberg said he wasn’t previously aware that Facebook had hired the firm. Instead, he said he read the news along with everybody else (and then immediately cut those ties). Neither, he said, was Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg, who was painted in the piece as letting appearances get in the way of truth as the company dealt with fallout from evidence of Russian meddling on the platform.

When asked whether this was evidence that he does not have sufficient control over the company, Zuckerberg said that it is natural to lack some knowledge of operations in a company with tens of thousands of employees. “I just think that is part of the reality of running a company,” he said. “I’m not going to know what every single person here is doing.”

In a post also released on Thursday, Facebook detailed what it viewed as inaccuracies in the story. “I want to be very clear about one thing,” Zuckerberg said on the call. “I’ve said many times that we were too slow to spot Russian interference … and we certainly stumbled along the way. But to suggest that we weren’t interested in knowing the truth or that we wanted to hide what we knew or that we tried to prevent investigations is simply untrue. People have been working on this non-stop for more than a year.”

In addition to being CEO and founder, Zuckerberg is chairman of Facebook’s board and controls 60 percent of voting shares. In response to a question about whether he was ready to give up some of that power, he said, as he has before, that he continues to believe he’s the best person to run the company. He said Sandberg isn’t going anywhere either, crediting her for much of the progress the company has made on “big issues” that it is facing. And he pushed back on the notion that the “board composition” needs to be rethought more generally .

The limits of Zuckerberg’s commitment to transparency were laid bare as he was repeatedly asked whether anyone would be fired over Facebook’s failings, particularly the fact that it had hired a firm that, as the CEO put it, is “not the kind of thing I want Facebook associated with.”

“I feel like I’ve answered this question a bunch of times,” he said. “I’m not going to, on this call, get into specific personnel changes or things like that.”

Yet, a few minutes later, he again pushed back when one of his employees tried to bring the call to a close. “There are a lot of good and important questions here,” he said, buckling in for another half hour, “so let’s keep going for a while.”

Judge rejects neo-Nazi’s First Amendment argument in harassment case

Plaintiff Tanya Gersh of Whitefish, Montana.

When Andrew Anglin isn’t editing his neo-Nazi website the Daily Stormer, he organizes harassment campaigns against perceived enemies. One target of an Anglin harassment campaign, Tanya Gersh, sued Anglin last year. On Wednesday, a Montana federal judge dealt Anglin a significant setback, holding that the First Amendment does not protect Anglin’s right to publish Gersh’s personal information and encourage his legion of anti-Semitic followers to harass her.

But this legal battle isn’t over yet. The judge’s ruling allows the lawsuit to go forward, but Gersh’s lawyers will still have to prove Anglin liable for invasion of privacy and other harms.

Still, the ruling could prove significant for other victims of online harassment. Anglin argued that he was just publishing information—like Gersh’s home phone number—and couldn’t be held responsible for what his readers did with that information. But the judge pointed to clear evidence Anglin knew exactly what readers would do with the information and egged them on at every step.

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FCC approval of Europe’s Galileo satellite signals may give your phone’s GPS a boost

The FCC’s space-focused meeting today had actions taken on SpaceX satellites and orbital debris reduction, but the decision most likely to affect users has to do with Galileo . No, not the astronomer — the global positioning satellite constellation put in place by the E.U. over the last few years. It’s now legal for U.S. phones to use, and a simple software update could soon give your GPS signal a major bump.

Galileo is one of several successors to the Global Positioning System that’s been in use since the ’90s. But because it is U.S.-managed and was for a long time artificially limited in accuracy to everyone but U.S. military, it should come as no surprise that European, Russian and Chinese authorities would want their own solutions. Russia’s GLONASS is operational and China is hard at work getting its BeiDou system online.

The E.U.’s answer to GPS was Galileo, and the 26 (out of 30 planned) satellites making up the constellation offer improved accuracy and other services, such as altitude positioning. Test satellites went up as early as 2005, but it wasn’t until 2016 that it began actually offering location services.

A Galileo satellite launch earlier this year.

Devices already existed that would take advantage of Galileo signals — all the way back to the iPhone 6s, the Samsung Galaxy S7 and many others from that era forward. It just depends on the wireless chip inside the phone or navigation unit, and it’s pretty much standard now. (There’s a partial list of smartphones supporting Galileo here.)

When a company sells a new phone, it’s much easier to just make a couple million of the same thing rather than make tiny changes like using a wireless chipset in U.S. models that doesn’t support Galileo. The trade-off in savings versus complexity of manufacturing and distribution just isn’t worthwhile.

The thing is, American phones couldn’t use Galileo because the FCC has regulations against having ground stations being in contact with foreign satellites. Which is exactly what using Galileo positioning is, though of course it’s nothing sinister.

If you’re in the U.S., then, your phone likely has the capability to use Galileo but it has been disabled in software. The FCC decision today lets device makers change that, and the result could be much-improved location services. (One band not very compatible with existing U.S. navigation services has been held back, but two of the three are now available.)

Interestingly enough, however, your phone may already be using Galileo without your or the FCC’s knowledge. Because the capability is behind a software lock, it’s possible that a user could install an app or service bringing it into use. Perhaps you travel to Europe a lot and use a French app store and navigation app designed to work with Galileo and it unlocked the bands. There’d be nothing wrong with that.

Or perhaps you installed a custom ROM that included the ability to check the Galileo signal. That’s technically illegal, but the thing is there’s basically no way for anyone to tell! The way these systems work, all you’d be doing is receiving a signal illegally that your phone already supports and that’s already hitting its antennas every second — so who’s going to report you?

It’s unlikely that phone makers have secretly enabled the Galileo frequencies on U.S. models, but as Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel pointed out in a statement accompanying the FCC action, that doesn’t mean it isn’t happening:

If you read the record in this proceeding and others like it, it becomes clear that many devices in the United States are already operating with foreign signals. But nowhere in our record is there a good picture of how many devices in this country are interacting with these foreign satellite systems, what it means for compliance with our rules, and what it means for the security of our systems. We should change that. Technology has gotten ahead of our approval policies and it’s time for a true-up.

She isn’t suggesting a crackdown — this is about regulation lagging behind consumer tech. Still, it is a little worrying that the FCC basically has no idea, and no way to find out, how many devices are illicitly tuning in to Galileo signals.

Expect an update to roll out to your phone sometime soon — Galileo signals will be of serious benefit to any location-based app, and to public services like 911, which are now officially allowed to use the more accurate service to determine location.

Pentagon report on Turkey’s F-35 program delivered to Congress

The U.S. Defense Department has delivered a report to Congress detailing implications of Turkey receiving 100 F-35 fighter jets, five people familiar with the report said, removing a key hurdle to concluding the deal.

Apple inks deal with A24 studio to produce original, feature-length films

Apple logo.

Apple has lined up another partnership to boost its video-content offerings. According to a report by The Wall Street Journal, Apple signed a deal with A24 studio, a New York-based production company responsible for movies, including the 2017 Oscar winner for Best Picture, Moonlight.

Details of forthcoming projects haven’t been disclosed, but Apple reportedly signed a “multi-year partnership” to make “independent, feature-length films” with A24. Apple has numerous production partnerships and deals in the works already, but most are for serialized shows and other video content.

For the past year, Apple has focused on gleaning talent for its original content offerings. It began with the Carpool Karaoke and Planet of the Apps series, both of which are exclusively available on Apple Music.

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World stocks rebound, Brexit blow-up levels sterling

A gauge of global stocks climbed on Thursday after five sessions of declines as Wall Street surged on trade optimism, while sterling tumbled as political developments in Britain rippled through markets.

Croatia beat Spain in thriller to keep England’s Nations League hopes alive

Croatia gain a dramatic injury-time victory over Spain in their Nations League Group A4 tie – and keep alive England’s hopes of winning the tournament.