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U.N. experts say life in danger, call for medical evacuation



Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, accused of flouting the terms of a suspended sentence for embezzlement, attends a court hearing in Moscow, Russia February 2, 2021.

Moscow City Court | Reuters

WASHINGTON – United Nations human rights experts called for the immediate medical evacuation of jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny from Russia, citing concerns over his deteriorating health and prison conditions that they say may amount to torture.

“We believe Mr. Navalny’s life is in serious danger,” the group wrote in a statement Wednesday. “We are deeply troubled that Mr. Navalny is being kept in conditions that could amount to torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment in a facility that reportedly does not meet international standards,” the statement added.

“We urge the Russian authorities to ensure Mr. Navalny has access to his own doctors and to allow him to be evacuated for urgent medical treatment abroad, as they did in August 2020. We reiterate that the Russian Government is accountable for Mr. Navalny’s life and health while he is in detention,” the group added.

A Russian court in February sentenced Navalny to more than two years in jail for parole violations, charges he said were politically motivated. His detention came after spending nearly half a year in Germany recovering from a nerve agent poisoning that took place last August.

The Kremlin has denied any role in Navalny’s poisoning. On the heels of his arrest and subsequent detention, the West called on the Kremlin for Navalny’s immediate release.

Navalny, one of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s most vocal critics in recent years, was transferred to a prison hospital on April 19, three weeks into a hunger strike protesting against his treatment in prison and denial of urgent medical treatment.

Russian authorities had previously said that they offered Navalny medical care but that he continued to refuse it. The prison had declined to allow a doctor of Navalny’s choice from outside of the facility to administer his treatment.

On Sunday, White House National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said that the Biden administration warned the Russian government to not let Navalny die in custody.

“We have communicated to the Russian government that what happens to Mr. Navalny in their custody is their responsibility and they will be held accountable by the international community,” Sullivan said on CNN’s “State of the Union” program.

“We have communicated that there will be consequences if Mr. Navalny dies,” he added.

Confrontation over Navanly’s imprisonment and worsening health condition is the latest drumbeat in the already tense relations between Moscow and the West.

In an annual address on Wednesday, Putin warned countries of crossing Russia’s “red lines” as international pressure mounts over a massive military buildup on the border with Ukraine.

In March, the United States sanctioned seven members of the Russian government for the alleged poisoning and subsequent detention of Navalny. The sanctions were the first to target Moscow under U.S. President Joe Biden’s leadership. The Trump administration did not take action against Russia over the Navalny situation.

Last week, the Biden administration slapped Russia with another round of U.S. sanctions for human rights abuses, sweeping cyberattacks and attempts to influence U.S. elections.

In an address announcing the new measures, Biden said he was prepared to take further actions against Moscow.

“If Russia continues to interfere with our democracy, I’m prepared to take further actions to respond. It is my responsibility as president of the United States to do so,” Biden said from the White House.

Washington also expelled 10 officials from Russia’s diplomatic mission in the United States.

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West Midlands Trains sends staff phishing email promising bonus



A U.K. train operator sent out an email to staff promising a bonus for their work during the coronavirus pandemic, which actually turned out to be a cybersecurity test. 

West Midlands Trains recently sent an email to around 420 members of staff in managerial roles, to offer them a one-off payment to thank them for their work during the pandemic. 

A copy of the email was posted by the Transport Salaried Staffs’ Association, a trade union in the sector, on its website. WMT’s email said it hoped that this “gift will inspire you to keep up the good work.” 

It also presented staff with a link to click on to receive more information on their bonus and to see a message from WMT’s Managing Director Julian Edwards. 

However, once staff clicked on the link, they received an email notifying them that the email was a test. A copy of this follow-up email was also posted on TSSA’s website which said that the original message was meant to entice staff by using both the “promise of thanks and financial reward to try and convince you to provide your details.” 

A spokesperson for WMT said that this “important test was deliberately designed with the sort of language used by real cyber criminals but without the damaging consequences.” 

The spokesperson said the operator ran exercises to test the company’s cybersecurity resilience, as fraud costs the transport industry “billions of pounds every year.” 

TSSA General Secretary Manuel Cortes called the simulated scam a “cynical and shocking stunt,” in a statement. 

“The company must now account for their totally crass and reprehensible behavior,” he said. 

Cortes called for an apology and said that “WMT must now be as good as their word and stump up a bonus to each and every worker.”

Check out: JPMorgan CEO Jamie Dimon shares advice to grads: ‘How you deal with failure may be most important’

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SoftBank invests $1.6 billion into THG’s new ‘influencer platform’



SoftBank Group founder, chairman and CEO Masayoshi Son announces his group’s earnings results on May 9, 2019, in Tokyo.

Alessandro Di Ciommo | NurPhoto | Getty Images

SB Management, a division of Japanese tech giant SoftBank, is set to invest $1.6 billion into a “yet-to-be-formed” technology division of British e-commerce start-up THG.

The deal, which was announced to THG shareholders on Monday, will give SBM 19.9% of THG Ingenuity. It values THG Ingenuity at $6.3 billion, which is roughly what parent firm THG was valued at when it floated on the London Stock Exchange last year.

Formerly known as The Hut Group, THG owns several online beauty and nutrition brands such as Lookfantastic, Mankind, and Myprotein. It also sells its e-commerce software to companies including Unilever.

Matthew Goulding, the billionaire founder of THG, described THG Ingenuity on a media call as a “social media influencer platform” to promote products, according to The Guardian. That includes brands sold by THG, as well as brands sold by other companies. Goulding added that SoftBank’s investment provides THG Ingenuity “with an unparalleled global growth opportunity.”

Founded in 2004 and headquartered at Manchester Airport, THG said in a statement: “THG Ingenuity is a yet-to-be-formed, THG owned and controlled subsidiary group, comprising the Ingenuity platform IP and operating trade and assets.”

It added: “To effect the SBM investment, THG Ingenuity will be required to be a separate legal entity capable of receiving the investment and this process has already commenced.”

In a bid to reassure investors, THG said “it believes that a separation of its key businesses will maximize shareholder value.”

A spokesperson for THG described Ingenuity as a platform that “powers” the company’s own brands, as well those of third-party clients. They said it specifically provides “digital services, including hosting, studio content, translation services and beauty product development and manufacturing.”

SoftBank to buy THG shares

SBM is also taking a $730 million stake in THG itself, which is raising $1 billion in fresh equity to fuel its worldwide expansion efforts.

The investment will give Masayoshi Son’s company, which has also invested in the likes of Uber, Slack and WeWork, roughly 10% of THG. 

In 2020, THG’s sales soared more than 40% to £1.6 billion ($2.3 billion). However, it still recorded a pre-tax loss of £535 million.

The company also announced Monday that it will acquire New Jersey-headquartered beauty product manufacturer Bentley Laboratories for $255 million. It said the acquisition will boost revenues by $77 million next year.

“The acquisition of Bentley materially increases our capability in beauty manufacturing and product development,” said Goulding.

Shares of THG, which is valued at around £6 billion, soared 14% on the back of the news to over £7 per share on Tuesday.

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OnePlus co-founder Carl Pei’s new startup Nothing takes aim at Apple



OnePlus co-founder Carl Pei speaks onstage during TechCrunch Disrupt San Francisco 2019.

Steve Jennings | Getty Images for TechCrunch

LONDON — Carl Pei, the co-founder of Chinese smartphone maker OnePlus, is starting afresh.

The Chinese-born Swedish entrepreneur formed a new consumer tech company called Nothing late last year. The firm is set to launch its first product, a pair of wireless earbuds called Ear 1, sometime in June.

While specs for Nothing’s earphones haven’t yet been revealed, Pei hints that they will be minimalistic in terms of features. Rather than “20 different levels” of noise cancellation, for example, Pei says people only need a maximum of two or three settings. Nothing’s products will also have a “retro futuristic” design, Pei said, adding that the company spent a lot of time perfecting its design philosophy.

“We want to bring this element of human warmth back into our products,” Pei told CNBC in an interview.

“Products are not just cold electronics,” he added. “They’re designed by people and intelligently used by people. It feels like product companies (today) are run by large corporations.”

OnePlus co-founder Carl Pei’s new start-up, Nothing, revealed the name of its upcoming wireless earbuds on Tuesday: Ear 1.


Pei and former colleague Pete Lau founded OnePlus in 2013. OnePlus, which is majority-owned by China’s Oppo, a subsidiary of Guangzhou-based BBK Electronics, gained notoriety for making cheap Android phones. Last year, Pei left the company to start his new hardware venture.

Pei hopes his new company Nothing, which is based in London, will shape the consumer tech industry in the same way that Apple’s iMac G3 shook up the PC market in the late 90s and early 2000s. “Today it’s kind of like the PC industry in the 80s and 90s, where everybody made grey boxes,” he said.

The 31-year old tech entrepreneur says he was once Apple’s “biggest fan” but that, over the last couple years, “it just felt like, as a whole, innovation has slowed down a lot.”

Apple’s iPhone was a game changer, ushering in a shift to touchscreen-based mobile phones and apps that have spawned several billion-dollar companies. But some feel the modern smartphone industry has stagnated, introducing only minor updates each year, albeit at higher prices. Major companies are attempting to refresh smartphones with superfast 5G wireless internet and even folding displays.

“There’s a general feeling of, ‘Why should I upgrade my tech?’ because each new generation is sort of similar to the previous one” Pei added. “In the past, people were so optimistic about technology. But now people are kind of indifferent. And there must be a way of kind of breaking the cycle.”

Apple declined to comment when contacted by CNBC. Apple has made a number of improvements to the iPhone over the years, including 5G and its powerful new A14 Bionic chip. Other recent product launches include new high-end iPads, colorful iMacs and lost-item trackers called AirTags.

Pei’s second act

Pei was born in Beijing but grew up in Sweden. He remembers his uncle, who worked for Nokia, used to give him old handsets to play around with. Pei dropped out of college in 2011 to work in the Chinese smartphone industry. Now, the entrepreneur is starting over, taking aim at consumer tech giants like Apple and Samsung.

Pei’s new venture has been shrouded in mystery over the last few months, but he has sought to generate hype on Twitter with cryptic posts and raised 1.24 million euros ($1.5 million) from loyal crowdfunding investors in March.

Pei says he’s frustrated with having to download different apps for each of his smart devices. Instead, he wants to build an ecosystem of tech that’s all supported by the same software, taking a leaf out of Apple’s playbook.

“We see a future where technology is kind of everywhere but also nowhere,” said Pei. “The first step for us is to create an ecosystem of smart devices that can connect seamlessly with each other.”

Uphill battle

However, it won’t be easy. Hardware is a notoriously tricky market to crack.

“The first rule of hardware is that it’s known to be hard — it’s complex and capital intensive,” Tom Hulme, general partner at Alphabet’s venture capital arm GV, an investor in Nothing, told CNBC.

“If you make a mistake, that can have devastating effects on the company,” Pei said. “A lot of investors shy away from it and, as a result, there might be less competition.”

Total sales of true wireless earphones — buds without any cables — reached 233 million units in 2020 according to Counterpoint Research, with Apple’s AirPods accounting for almost one third of the market. Counterpoint forecasts the market will grow 33% to 310 million units this year and expects Apple’s market share to wane amid competition from new entrants.

Nothing has attracted an impressive lineup of investors, including Alphabet’s GV, iPod inventor Tony Fadell, Reddit CEO Steve Huffman and YouTube star Casey Neistat. The company is aiming to raise funds again either later this year or early 2022.

“We have enough runway for a few years,” he told CNBC. “But I think we’re looking to raise, maybe end of year or early next year, as our first products are out in the market or as our future products are starting to get more final.”

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