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Tesla continues to deal with former employees and potential IP theft

(BUSINESS NEWS) Tesla has found itself at the center of numerous lawsuits against former employees and the theft of intellectual property, potentially jeopardizing their industry leadership position.

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Tesla logo on a piece of machinery.

Elon Musk has had a lot on his mind in the last few days. He couldn’t resist getting in on the incredibly volatile Gamestop stock saga, announced a $100 million prize in the pursuit of carbon capture technology, thinks you should be using Signal instead of other messaging apps, and has sent other stocks into bullish states with his Twitter account. He’s always at the center of something, and his impact resonates throughout a ton of markets, industries, and the minds of the tech world.

He’s building a new factory in Austin, is about to roll out new trucks, and was even crowned the world’s richest man at the beginning of January. I mean, that’s a lot. A whole lot. That’s a lot squared.

It should come as no surprise, then, that Tesla – the company he is most widely known for – is an intensely scrutinized hotbed of activity, and is working relentlessly to remain at the forefront of automotive technology. This takes a lot of smart people all working on a lot of problems that have never been encountered before, and must be negotiated as quickly as possible to bring automated driving to the masses as a reliable, available technology.

Unfortunately, Tesla’s market leader position is under fire from a lot of competitors – Apple wants in and could bring new cars by 2024, there’s always Waymo, and LIDAR is a new challenger. All of that would be enough to deal with for any CEO, but Musk is also weathering an entirely different set of storms – theft of intellectual property by former employees.

Right now, Tesla is suing Alex Khatilov, alleging that he stole files related to their Warp Drive software and moved them to his personal Dropbox. According to CNBC, these files concern the “back-end software system that Tesla developed to automate a range of business processes involved in manufacturing and selling its cars.” Khatilov purports that he forgot about moving these files, as shown in the official lawsuit, and that he only found out about such legal proceedings when he was contacted by the New York Post.

This is not the first time Tesla has found itself having to sue employees for potential breaches of its proprietary data.

Martin Tripp was recently ordered to pay a sum of $400,000 to Tesla due to confidential information he leaked to a reporter, while another suit involved Zoox, a startup that was given classified data from when it hired former Tesla employees. And yet, there’s still more cases – Guangzhi Cao uploaded sensitive materials into his iCloud account, and is alleged to have passed it onto a chief competitor (Xiaopeng Motors).

There’s even another case where Tesla sued its own former Autopilot program director Sterling Anderson, believing that he took restricted knowledge to form his own startup. While this case was dropped later on, it still plays into the overall pattern that Tesla repeatedly engages those who may or may not be lifting their knowledge, projects, and code and delivering them to competitors.

In the world of software engineering, employee theft is a common issue that can potentially ruin a company or crush a startup. This isn’t even taking into account the ever-present threat of cybercrime, with hackers and other groups working to steal data and technology for any number of reasons (just for fun, as digital mercenaries, or to gain an edge in competitive industries). IP theft between nations has become a topic of great concern, with the recent United States administration going to great lengths to combat the problem.

It remains to be seen what will happen with regard to Tesla’s most recent lawsuit, but it is sure to be a volatile and significant event. Corporate espionage continues to become a bigger and costlier problem by the day, and with the rise of new industries at potentially trillions at stake, it’s likely we’ll hear about more cases in the future.

Robert Snodgrass has an English degree from Texas A&M University, and wants you to know that yes, that is actually a thing. And now he's doing something with it! Let us all join in on the experiment together. When he's not web developing at Docusign, he runs distances that routinely harm people and is the kind of giant nerd that says "you know, there's a King of the Hill episode that addresses this exact topic".

Business News

Fake news? Well, what about fake reviews?

(BUSINESS NEWS) Amazon is swamped with fake reviews, making it harder than ever to trust whether or not a product is legit. How can you spot them and avoid falling victim to this shady practice?

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Person shopping online with credit card, but are they reading fake reviews?

These days, most of us have turned to online shopping in lieu of brick-and-mortar establishments to get our favorite items shipped directly to our front door. With many retailers still closed, and many more of us understandably wary of exposing ourselves to the risk of COVID-19, it’s easier to just click “buy” and then spend the next two days with our noses pressed to our windows in anticipation of the arrival of our new toy or garment. But are we at risk of being tricked by fake reviews?

If you’re like most people, you probably depend on product reviews to make a purchasing decision. Honestly, it’s perfectly reasonable to see what others thought of the item before you buy it. These online reviews are almost like your neighbor, who whipped out his lawnmower and bragged how it goes from 0 to 4 mph in less than thirty seconds. Obviously — obviously — you had to run out to your nearest garden center to pick up one of your own after his glowing review of it, right?

That’s kinda like online reviews, too. You can’t just knock on the purchaser’s door and ask them what they thought of it, which is why you carefully peruse those reviews and weigh those pros and cons. Okay, this shirt fits loose. Fine, these kitchen shears broke after three uses. Whoa, this brand of potato chips puts hair on your chest…? Sweet! And you also probably looked at those 3-star reviews, too, to see what was merely “meh” about the product. With this assortment of mixed reviews, you can be confident that you’re making a rock-solid choice.

Uh, sadly, nope.

Unfortunately, Amazon (as well as other major retailers, such as Walmart) are often fraught with a glut of fake reviews. In fact, there are numerous Facebook pages dedicated to the purchase of these reviews, and many of the reviewers are compensated with a monetary reward (usually the cost of the item, plus a few extra dollars for their work) for posting the glowing 5-star rave.

So what can you do to help protect yourself for falling for these seemingly harmless lies?

Well, first and foremost — a fake review isn’t necessarily harmless. If a defective or dangerous product is boosted by a false review, it can seriously harm you. Sure, there’s a good chance the fake reviews are benign, and the worst you’ll be in for it is losing a few bucks on a crap item. But if something is using counterfeit or unsafe ingredients (such as minoxidil in potato chips because, real talk, chips aren’t supposed to put hair on your chest), then yes, you need to be informed of it so you can make an educated decision about whether or not that item is coming home with you.

So, the question remains: How can you, intrepid shopper extraordinaire, avoid purchasing a lemon? (Unless, of course, your goal was to buy an actual lemon in the first place. Margaritas, anyone?) The good news is that there are a couple things you can do. For starters, common sense goes a long way. Do the reviews offer any context, or is it just line after line of, “Loved it!” without any actual feedback on the item? That’s why those 3-star reviews are so priceless. Usually the reviewer actually used the item and had a valid reason for their tepid review, allowing you to make an educated decision about it.

Finally, there are a couple of websites you can use to help you out. First, there’s Fakespot. This web extension will cull out all the fake reviews, allowing you to see at-a-glance the remaining genuine reviews. It then reviews the item for its credibility, letting you know if the seller was trying to pull a fast one on you. Then there’s ReviewMeta. Unlike Fakespot, this website goes through the views and instead of grading the seller, it actually grades the item based on the average score of the remaining real reviews. And by using both of these websites together to check those reviews? You’ve now got yourself a pretty decent idea if the product is actually worth your hard-earned dollars.

It’s far too easy to get scammed these days. However, by staying alert and remaining mindful about your online purchases (and avoiding the temptation to give into those stress-motivated impulse buys), you can avoid being bilked, too. And hey, instead of looking at online reviews, maybe you should go back to the old-fashioned way of doing it: By asking your neighbor for their opinions of items. Just, y’know, do it from at least six feet away, while wearing a face mask.

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Business News

Manufacturing is bouncing back, but supply of materials is struggling

(BUSINESS NEWS) As manufacturing demands surge, so do material costs. The pandemic has shifted where we’re putting our money, but supply is struggling to keep up.

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Manufacturing worker sealing a large pipe together.

As the United States’ manufacturing process comes back up to speed, a surge in demand is creating a shortage of the one thing manufacturers need in order to do their jobs: Supply.

Fox Business reports that, due to a much quicker return to normalcy for manufacturing than some expected, a price hike for materials is affecting everyone from the bottom up: “Prices for steel, aluminum, lumber and other materials are rising in response to higher order volumes. Commodity supply chains are now clogged with orders, causing some producers to add weekend hours and overtime for employees.”

The fast manufacturing rebound seems to be a harbinger of better days ahead, but this supply bottleneck could dampen producers’ resolve.

It should be noted that the spike in demand for goods which use the materials in question isn’t an entire surprise. As Fox notes, much less of consumer money has been going toward travel and dining out. This has resulted in more money flowing into things like appliances, vehicles, and entertainment commodities.

But the toll is hitting producers coming and going as things like depressed oil and the paper used in packaging undergo substantial price hikes, leading some companies to stockpile resources in hopes of having an edge in the future.

Others find themselves in the uncomfortable position of having to choose between lower profit margins or higher prices on manufactured productsa choice that is sure to impact consumers, if not the rate of consumption.

Indeed, some companies, such as Northwest Hardwoods, have an upper limit on the price they can charge on a finished product regardless of rising material costs.

It’s not all bad, of course. Global prices for materials like aluminum and scrap steel have gone up, which means people like Brad Serlinthe president of United Scrap Metalcan make a killing. “We can sell everything we have,” says Serlin, referencing “big orders” from recently busy steel mills.

As the pandemic wears on, though, one thing is crystal clear: The high demand for domestic goods coupled with rising global prices for materials is going to make for some severe price hikes in the coming months.

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Business News

Jeff Bezos steps down as Amazon CEO, moves into space travel

(BUSINESS NEWS) Jeff Bezos is stepping down as Amazon’s CEO in order to focus on other passions, such as his space company, Blue Origin.

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Jeff Bezos standing in front of very large Blue Moon spacecraft.

Amazon founder Jeff Bezos will no longer be Amazon’s CEO starting in the third quarter of 2021. On Tuesday, Bezos announced he is resigning and will hand the job over to Andy Jassy, Amazon Web Services’ CEO. Bezos will transition to the role of Executive Chair on Amazon’s board.

“I’m excited about this transition. Millions of customers depend on us for our services, and more than a million employees depend on us for their livelihoods. Being the CEO of Amazon is a deep responsibility, and it’s consuming,” said Bezos to employees in an email. “When you have a responsibility like that, it’s hard to put attention on anything else,” he said.

By stepping down, Bezos says he will have more “time and energy” to focus on “other passions” like Blue Origin, his space company. In 2000, the billionaire started the rocket company to make space travel affordable and easily accessible by using reusable launch vehicles.

Since the company was founded, it has yet to reach orbit and is lagging behind Elon Musk’s Space Exploration Technologies Corporation (SpaceX). SpaceX, which began two-years after Blue Origin, has already achieved some huge milestones.

In September 2008, Falcon 1 became the first privately developed liquid-fuel rocket to reach Earth orbit. In May 2020, SpaceX launched two NASA astronauts to space.

Blue Origin has a lot of catching up to do, but, with more free time, Bezos might make sure the company moves full-speed ahead.

I mean, look at what he did with Amazon. In 1994, Bezos founded the multinational technology company. Since then, the e-commerce giant has grown into a trillion-dollar company. It has more than 1 million employees and millions of customers.

“This journey began some 27 years ago. Amazon was only an idea, and it had no name,” Bezos said. “Today, we employ 1.3 million talented, dedicated people, serve hundreds of millions of customers and businesses, and are widely recognized as one of the most successful companies in the world.”

There is no word about how much more involved Bezos will be with Blue Origin, but the company already has things to look forward to.

Last December, NASA selected Blue Origin’s New Glenn rocket to “launch planetary, Earth observation, exploration, and scientific satellites for the agency.” This contract will allow the company to “compete for missions through Launch Service Task Orders issued by NASA.”

Last month, it conducted a successful flight test of its New Shepard capsule, and many more tests are, without a doubt, in the company’s future.

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