Theranos CEO: Wunderkind to Federal Indictment

Federal prosecutors have indicted Elizabeth Holmes on criminal fraud charges for allegedly defrauding investors, doctors and the public as the head of the once-heralded blood-testing startup Theranos. Federal prosecutors also brought charges against the company’s former second-in-command.

Holmes, who was once considered a wunderkind of Silicon Valley, and her former Chief Operating Officer Ramesh Balwani, are charged with two counts conspiracy to commit wire fraud and nine counts of wire fraud, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of California said late Friday. If convicted, they could face prison sentences that would keep them behind bars for the rest of their lives, and total fines of $2.75 million each.

Technology a fraud

Prosecutors allege that Holmes and Balwani deliberately misled investors, policymakers and the public about the accuracy of Theranos’ blood-testing technologies. Holmes, 34, founded Theranos in Palo Alto, California, in 2003, pitching its technology as a cheaper way to run dozens of blood tests. Once considered the nation’s youngest female billionaire, Holmes said she was inspired to start the company in response to her fear of needles.

But an investigation by The Wall Street Journal two years ago found that Theranos’ technology was a fraud, and that the company was using routine blood-testing equipment for the vast majority of its tests. The story raised concerns about the accuracy of Theranos’ blood testing technology, which put patients at risk of having conditions either misdiagnosed or ignored.

“CEO Elizabeth Holmes and COO Sunny Balwani not only defrauded investors, but also consumers who trusted and relied upon their allegedly-revolutionary blood-testing technology,” Acting U.S. Attorney Alex Tse said in a statement.

SEC charges

The Securities and Exchange Commission brought civil fraud charges against Holmes and Balwani three months ago. Holmes settled with the SEC, agreeing to pay $500,000 in fines and penalties. Balwani, 53, is fighting the charges.

As the charges were announced Friday, Theranos said Holmes would step down as CEO of the company and its general counsel, David Taylor, would become the company’s next CEO. Theranos laid off most of its staff earlier this year and is widely expected to file for bankruptcy. Holmes remains the company’s chairman.

The company did not immediately respond to a message seeking comment on Friday’s indictments.

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Apple Nabs Oprah as Top Talent Flocks to Digital Entertainment

Apple Inc on Friday announced a multiyear deal with Oprah Winfrey to create original programming, a coup in the battle for A-list talent and projects in the booming digital entertainment market.

“Together, Winfrey and Apple will create original programs that embrace her incomparable ability to connect with audiences around the world,” Apple said in a statement.

Apple gave no details of the type of programming that Winfrey would create, the value of the deal, or when it might be released. Winfrey had no immediate comment.

Winfrey, 64, an influential movie and TV producer who also publishes a magazine, is expected to appear on screen, a source familiar with the deal said.

Apple has not said how it plans to distribute its programming, to which it has committed an initial $1 billion. The partnership is the biggest original content deal struck by Apple so far as it aims to compete with Netflix Inc,

Amazon.com Inc and Time Warner Inc’s HBO. Netflix, which has said it will spend up to $8 billion on programming this year, in May struck a multiyear deal with former U.S. President Barack Obama and his wife Michelle to produce films, documentaries and other content.

Netflix, the world’s leading streaming entertainment provider, has also lured prolific television producers Ryan Murphy and Shonda Rhimes away from broadcast television.

Amazon said in November it had bought the global television rights to “The Lord of the Rings” and would produce a multi-season series that explores new storylines preceding author J.R.R. Tolkien’s “The Fellowship of the Ring.” Earlier this week, Amazon also announced a development deal with

Oscar-winning actress Nicole Kidman’s production company for movies and television.

For its part, Apple in November ordered two seasons of a dramatic series with Hollywood stars Reese Witherspoon and Jennifer Aniston, looking at the lives of people working on a morning television show.

Other projects Apple has announced include a remake of Steven Spielberg’s 1980s science fiction anthology series “Amazing Stories,” based on Isaac Asimov’s influential “Foundation” science fiction novels, and a drama from “La La Land” movie director Damian Chazelle.

Under the deal with Winfrey, she will remain chief executive of cable channel OWN, which she launched in 2011 in partnership with Discovery Inc. Winfrey in December extended her contract with OWN through 2025, OWN and Apple said.

Under her contract with OWN, Winfrey can appear on camera on other platforms on a limited basis.

Known in the United States by millions on a first-name basis, Winfrey rose to fame as the host of her own television talk show, using it to build a media empire that spans magazine publishing, movie and television production, cable TV and satellite radio.

Born into poverty, she is one of the world’s wealthiest women and has been nominated for two Academy Awards.

A rousing speech by Winfrey at the Golden Globes awards ceremony in January triggered an online campaign to persuade her to run for U.S. president in 2020.

She dismissed the notion, telling InStyle magazine in an interview, “It’s not something that interests me.”

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CES Asia Opens in Shanghai

Judging by the size of the crowd and the number of exhibitors at the fourth annual Consumer Electronics Show Asia, which opened Wednesday in Shanghai, China is well on its way toward catching up with the United States in consumer technology. A mirror image of the older and bigger sister show in Las Vegas, CES Asia 2018 presents the latest hardware and software for everyone. VOA’s George Putic has more.

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Apple to Undercut Popular Law-Enforcement Tool for Cracking iPhones

Apple Inc said Wednesday it will change its iPhone settings to undercut the most popular means for law enforcement to break into the devices.

The company told Reuters it was aiming to protect customers in countries where police seize phones at will and all users from the risk that the attack technique will leak to spies and criminals.

The privacy standard-bearer of the tech industry said it will change the default settings in the iPhone operating system to cut off communication through the USB port when the phone has not been unlocked in the past hour. That port is how machines made by forensic companies GrayShift, Cellebrite and others connect and get around the security provisions that limit how many password guesses can be made before the device freezes them out or erases data.

These companies have marketed their machines to law enforcement in multiple countries this year, offering the machines themselves for thousands of dollars but also per-phone pricing as low as $50.

Apple representatives said the change in settings will protect customers in countries where law enforcement seizes and tries to crack phones with fewer legal restrictions than under U.S. law. They also noted that criminals, spies and unscrupulous people often can use the same techniques to extract sensitive information from a phone. Some of the methods most prized by intelligence agencies have been leaked on the internet.

“We’re constantly strengthening the security protections in every Apple product to help customers defend against hackers, identity thieves and intrusions into their personal data,” Apple said in a prepared statement. “We have the greatest respect for law enforcement, and we don’t design our security improvements to frustrate their efforts to do their jobs.”

The switch had been documented in beta versions of iOS 11.4.1 and iOS12, and Apple told Reuters it will be made permanent in a forthcoming general release.

Apple said that after it learned of techniques being used against iPhones, it reviewed the operating system code and made a number of improvements to the security. It also decided to simply alter the setting, a cruder way of preventing most of the potential access by unfriendly parties.

Time limit

With the new settings, police or hackers will typically have an hour or less to get a phone to a cracking machine. In practical terms, that could cut access by as much as 90 percent, security researchers estimate.

In theory, the change could also spur sales of cracking devices, as law enforcement looks to get more forensic machines closer to where seizures occur.

Either way, researchers and police vendors will find new ways to break into phones, and Apple will then look to patch those vulnerabilities.

The latest step could draw criticism from American police departments, the FBI, and perhaps the U.S. Justice Department, where officials have recently renewed an on-again, off-again campaign for legislation or other extraordinary means of forcing technology companies to maintain access to their users’ communications.

Apple has been the most prominent opponent of those demands.

In 2016, it went to court to fight an order that it break into an iPhone 5c used by a terrorist killer in San Bernardino.

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Twitter Announces Changes Ahead of World Cup

Twitter announced Wednesday it would be updating its services to make it easier for users to find content about major events such as natural disasters and the FIFA World Cup that begins on Thursday.

“We’re keeping you informed about what matters by showing the tweets, conversations and perspectives around topics you care about,” Keith Coleman, product vice president, said in a blog post.  “Our goal is to make following what’s happening as easy as following an account.”

Users will receive notifications about breaking news stories based on their personal interests — the accounts they follow or what they tweet about, Coleman explained. These notifications will become available in the coming weeks to users in the United States. When clicked, users will be taken to a specialized timeline about the topic.

“If someone uses Twitter all the time, they’ll have a perfectly curated timeline,” Twitter spokesperson Liz Kelley told VOA. “But if you don’t have those things in place, there’s maybe a better way for us to present that.”

The app will also link to related topics at the top of its search results. Another update includes a change in the format of the “Moments” tab, which will now be accessed by scrolling vertically rather than horizontally. The tab, which hosts collections of tweets about major events, is curated by a global team, Kelley said, and is available in five languages across 16 different countries.

Coleman also announced a dedicated page for the World Cup, which will be available in 10 languages and have individualized timelines for each game of the 32-team tournament. Kelley told VOA that users should be able to see every goal of the tournament through the app.

“Our long-term strategy is making it easier for people to see what’s happening on Twitter,” Kelley said. “Really, we’re organizing and presenting content in a way that’s easier to discover and consume.”

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Using Art, An All-Girl Public School in NY Engages Students To Go Into STEM Fields

By mixing dance with the disciplines of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics, an all-girl public school in New York encourages its students to go into the Stem fields. According to the U.S. National Science Foundation, while women make up half of the college-educated workforce, less that 30 percent of science and engineering jobs are filled by women. VOA Correspondent Mariama Diallo reports.

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