Wednesday's technology stories

Ubisoft loses another top "Assassin’s Creed" developer

"Assassin's Creed Revelations." Image: Ubisoft

“Assassin’s Creed” franchise art director Raphael Lacoste has left Ubisoft after spending more than a decade at the company.

Why it matters: Lacoste is the latest in a number of high-level creative people who have departed Ubisoft’s top franchise amid upheaval at the multinational publisher.

Jul 21, 2021 - Technology

22-year-old arrested in connection with hack of prominent Twitter accounts

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

A 22-year-old United Kingdom citizen was arrested Wednesday for multiple charges in connection with the July 2020 Twitter hack that took over 130 Twitter accounts, including those belonging to Joe Biden, Barack Obama and Elon Musk.

Driving the news: Joseph O’Connor was arrested in Spain on three counts of conspiracy to intentionally access a computer without authorization; two counts of obtaining information from a protecting computer; two counts of cyber stalking; and one count of conspiracy to access a computer with the intent to extort from a person a thing of value, among other charges.

Jul 21, 2021 - Economy & Business

Virtual horse racing startup raises $20 million from TCG, a16z

Virtually Human Studio

Virtually Human Studio (VHS), a platform used to virtually race horses using NFTs, has raised a $20 million Series A round from The Chernin Group, with participation from Andreessen Horowitz and Red Beard Ventures.

Why it matters: The company's virtual horse racing platform, called "ZED RUN," has created a new model for horse racing that enables participants to not only bet on their horses 24/7, but also own the horses as NFTs (non-fungible tokens), or put more simply — digital assets.

Gaming is coming to Zoom

Image: Playco

Users of the popular video-conferencing platform Zoom will now be able to play social multiplayer games as they chat, as part of a new expansion of apps for the service.

Why it matters: The popularity of Zoom and gaming soared during the pandemic. As people isolate less, Zoom needs to give users more reasons to use video chat.

Jul 21, 2021 - Technology

Argo, Lyft to launch self-driving Ford vehicles in Miami and Austin

The Ford self-driving robotaxi, which uses technology from Argo AI. Photo: Courtesy of Argo

Ford and its self-driving technology partner, Argo AI, plan to deploy robotaxis on the Lyft ride-hailing network later this year, as autonomous vehicles inch closer to reality.

Why it matters: The AV technology race has narrowed to a half-dozen major players, including Pittsburgh-based Argo, which is backed by Ford and Volkswagen. But it has long been unclear how any of them will turn AVs into a viable commercial service.

Jul 21, 2021 - Technology

Survey: U.S. majority supports more tech regulation

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

A new survey finds that 68% of Americans believe Big Tech companies have too much power in the economy, and 56% think these firms should be regulated more than they are now.

Why it matters: The Pew Research Center survey, conducted April 12-18, 2021, shows a statistically significant increase for those who support more regulation — a big uptick from 47% in June 2020.

The "right to repair" has its moment

Illustration: Megan Robinson/Axios

The effort to make it easier for consumers to get smartphones and other products fixed is gaining ground across the country.

Why it matters: Repairing pricey devices — rather than replacing them — can help consumers save money and extend the lifecycle of their products.

Jul 21, 2021 - Technology

Biden chooses a tough top antitrust cop

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

President Biden's nomination of veteran antitrust attorney Jonathan Kanter to lead the Justice Department's antitrust division — the government's most powerful competition watchdog — shows just how serious the White House is about getting tough on tech.

Why it matters: Kanter, known for his strong views that the feds should do more to rein in the power of large corporations, has been a favorite of progressives who share those beliefs.

Jul 20, 2021 - Economy & Business

Netflix stock volatile following low subscriber forecasts

Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios

Netflix on Tuesday said it added just 1.54 million subscribers this quarter, its lowest number of subscriber additions in years. The company also missed Wall Street expectations on earnings per share.

Why it matters: Investors were expecting low Q2 subscriber numbers, per Netflix's own guidance. What likely sent the stock sinking in the first few minutes following earnings was weak guidance again for the next quarter, when Netflix anticipates adding just 3.5 million subscribers.

Jul 20, 2021 - World

Report: France's Macron, other heads of state targeted by NSO spyware

Emmanuel Macron. Photo: Ludovic Marin/POOL/AFP via Getty Images

French President Emmanuel Macron and 13 other world leaders are among those on a list of suspected surveillance targets of NSO spyware, the Guardian reported Tuesday.

Catch up quick: The Pegasus Project investigation reported that Israel-based cybersecurity firm NSO Group's spyware had been planted on the phones of heads of state, journalists, activists and lawyers across the world.

How the PS5 made a great-looking game possible

Image: Insomniac/Sony Interactive Entertainment

The PlayStation 5's ultra-fast storage deserves a lot of credit for the groundbreaking graphics in the console's recent hit, "Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart," its developers told Axios in an exclusive interview.

Why it matters: Insomniac Games' recent release is the rare showcase that demonstrates just what a PS5 can do — and what a PS4 couldn't.

The ongoing cost of game development

"Best Friend Forever," Image: Starcolt

Game developers face more post-release work than ever before, a trend resulting in unrealistic expectations for ongoing support, said Starcolt studio and creative director Lucy Morris during a recent GDC session.

Why it matters: Development has shifted away from the idea that a game’s release is the end of work.

Jul 20, 2021 - Podcasts

Crypto's climate conflict

Bitcoin is not environmentally friendly, due to the heavy energy demands of its mining and transaction activities.

Axios Re:Cap digs into this conflict between climate and cryptocurrencies with Axios energy reporter Ben Gemen and crypto investor Anthony Pompliano, to better understand the problem and what might be done to resolve it.

Biden names tech foe as DOJ antitrust chief

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

Jonathan Kanter, an antitrust veteran who is a favorite of progressives, is the Biden administration's choice to lead the Department of Justice's antitrust section as it pursues a raft of cases against tech giants, the White House announced Tuesday.

Why it matters: The nomination completes a trifecta of wins for Democrats who want to see the standards for holding tech companies accountable for monopolistic behavior broaden beyond the traditional "consumer harm" measure.

Jul 20, 2021 - Science

Bezos says space flight reinforced commitment to fighting climate change

Jeff Bezos said in an interview hours after flying to suborbital space on Tuesday that there are "no words" to adequately describe the experience, but that it reinforced his commitment to combatting climate change and keeping Earth "as this beautiful gem of a planet that it is."

Why it matters: Bezos, the world's richest man, said he plans to make Blue Origin and the Bezos Earth Fund — a $10 billion effort to fight climate change — his life focus moving forward.

Jul 20, 2021 - Technology

Exclusive: Dozens of writers join Facebook's newsletter platform "Bulletin"

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Facebook on Tuesday will announce that more than 30 new writers are joining its independent publishing platform Bulletin, including Gen Z activist Malala Yousafzai and Eurasia Group founder Ian Bremmer.

Why it matters: The new additions show that Facebook's initial investments in Bulletin, including millions of dollars' worth of writer advances, have so far proven successful in luring global talent to the platform.

Jul 20, 2021 - Technology

Exclusive: Substack makes first major podcast investment

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Substack is funding the launch of a new podcast network called Booksmart Studios, executives tell Axios. It's the newsletter company's first major financial investment in podcasting.

Why it matters: Substack sees the venture as a way to deepen its commitment to podcast publishing on its platform and as a case study for what’s possible for independent podcast networks.

Miriam Kramer, author of Space
Updated Jul 20, 2021 - Science

Jeff Bezos, 3 others land safely after flight to space with Blue Origin

Jeff Bezos and three other passengers took flight with his space company Blue Origin on Tuesday morning, launching high above West Texas.

Why it matters: It's Blue Origin's first human flight and a major technical milestone for the company as it focuses on bringing suborbital spaceflight to more people in the future.

Miriam Kramer, author of Space
Updated Jul 20, 2021 - Science

Recap: Jeff Bezos heads to space

Jeff Bezos, the world's richest man, and three other passengers flew on a suborbital mission into space Tuesday morning aboard Blue Origin's New Shepard.

The latest: The four-person crew is safely back on Earth after their flight to space. New Shepard launched Bezos, his brother Mark, 82-year-old aviator Wally Funk and the company's first paying customer, 18-year-old Oliver Daemen, on a mission to suborbital space.

Jul 20, 2021 - Technology

Ad tech bounces back

Expand chart
Data: LUMA Partners; Chart: Danielle Alberti/Axios

There's been an explosion in advertising and marketing tech deals this year, according to new data, a sign of life for a sector that not long ago was looking ready to crumble with the deprecation of third-party tracking cookies.

Why it matters: A collision of recent events — including the surge in e-commerce, gaming and streaming during the pandemic, a massive recovery in advertising, and the race to replace cookies — has made ad and marketing tech firms more palatable to public shareholders and more intriguing to private investors.

Bryan Walsh, author of Future
Jul 20, 2021 - Technology

Software bots could be the future of business automation

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

Businesses are building a new kind of assembly line — and this one is digital, staffed by software bots.

Why it matters: For all the hopes and fears around industrial robots, more progress is being made in the realm of digital workers: Bots that can perform a growing number of often tedious and time-consuming tasks in an increasingly online business world.

Jul 20, 2021 - Technology

How the FAA keeps airplanes and rockets apart in the sky

SpaceX Transporter-2 launch on June 30 at Cape Canaveral. Photo: SpaceX

With space launches occurring more frequently, the skies are getting crowded, requiring new technology that the Federal Aviation Administration says will minimize potential conflicts.

Why it matters: Each time a satellite — or billionaire — is launched into space, the FAA has to close airspace to commercial airlines. That requires pilots to reroute and take less-efficient paths, often resulting in delays for airline passengers.

Facebook's vaccine-misinformation mess

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

In walking back his comments about Facebook "killing people," President Biden Monday conceded that the debate around vaccine misinformation is too complicated to be narrowed down to soundbites.

Why it matters: Inoculating people is the surest path to ending the COVID pandemic, but the U.S. vaccination drive has petered out against a tide of partisan rhetoric and suspicion fueled by misinformation.

Jul 20, 2021 - Technology

Conservative media diets tied to distrust in health officials

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Reproduced from Annenberg Public Policy Center; Chart: Axios visuals

People who rely on conservative media have much less confidence in key public health institutions and experts, and are much more likely to believe misinformation about the vaccine, according to a new study from the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania.

Why it matters: The survey finds a widening gap between Americans who trust key health institutions and those who don't.

Updated Jul 20, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Marjorie Taylor Greene's Twitter account suspended for COVID misinformation

Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene at the U.S. Capitol in June. Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Twitter announced Monday that it's suspending the account of Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) for 12 hours.

Driving the news: "We took enforcement action on the account you referenced (@mtgreenee) for violations of the Twitter Rules, specifically the COVID-19 misleading information policy," Twitter said in an emailed statement.