FOXTROT/ALFA: Airbnb in Trouble, Manning Released, iRobot Cheats on Compliance

Good evening and welcome to FOXTROT/ALFA issue 89 for Friday, 13 March 2020, where I continue to struggle along with producing a completely Coronavirus-free tech newsletter. Which is getting hard, I can tell you. So if you are wondering why the news are getting less and less, it’s because nobody is writing about things that don’t have to do with viruses anymore.

Airbnb Doubles Losses

Yesterday, we had the news that IBM is suing Airbnb over patents. But it seems the company was in trouble anyway. Financial trouble. The results for its last quarter aren’t good:

The world’s biggest home-sharing company reported a loss of $276.4 million excluding interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization, compared with a loss of $143.7 million a year earlier, according to a person familiar with the company’s accounts. Revenue increased 32% in the period to $1.1 billion, and it has more than $2 billion in the bank, the person said. Airbnb declined to comment on the figures.

And that was before you-know-what thrashed the travel industry. Ouch.

US Government is Backpaddling on JEDI

It seems Amazon’s lawsuit against Microsoft over the DoD JEDI contract is starting to make people at the Department of Defense very nervous.

The US government has filed a motion to the Court of Federal Claims (PDF) asking for 120 days to “reconsider certain aspects” of the Pentagon’s decision to hand Microsoft the JEDI cloud contract – but AWS will oppose the motion.

Microsoft was awarded the Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure contract, worth up to $10bn over 10 years, late last year to provide cloud computing services to the US Department of Defense (DoD). AWS challenged the decision in court, and on 13 February was granted an injunction by the Court of Federal Claims, requiring that work on the contract pauses while the objection is considered.

The ruling by the court, posted with redactions, focused on the argument that part of Microsoft’s proposal, relating to the type of storage offered in “Price Scenario 6”, was not technically compliant with the DoD’s stated requirements, and should have therefore been eliminated from the competition. The court ruled that AWS was “likely to demonstrate” that the DoD “improperly evaluated” Microsoft’s proposal.

The US government and “intervenor-defendant” Microsoft have now requested that the DoD be given 120 days to reconsider its evaluation. In its request, the DoD said it would like to receive revised offers for Price Scenario 6, allowing both Microsoft and AWS to adjust their proposals – to a limited extent, however. The request also notes that “counsel for AWS stated that AWS opposes this motion and will file a response”.

Chelsea Manning Released from Jail

Chelsea Manning, who’s been held in jail since May 2019 for refusing to testify in the US prosecution against Julian Assange, has now been set free. The judge in the case decided that it is no necessary for her to testify anymore.

Sorry, what? After almost a year in jail? Couldn’t they have made up their mind earlier?

Manning was remanded for refusing to testify in an inquiry into Wikileaks. She had been held in a detention centre in Virginia since last May. She was scheduled to appear in court on Friday, but the judge ruled that it was no longer necessary for her to testify.

She accrued more than $250,000 (£198,000) in fines for refusing to co-operate with the inquiry. Her legal team had asked for these to be vacated, but the judge said they must be paid in full.

And all of this after already having spent almost seven years in jail and being eventually pardoned by President Obama.

Unsecure JavaScript Engine in Avast Security Software

Google’s Tavis Ormandy strikes again: This time, he’s found an unsecure JavaScript engine in Avast’s anti-virus software.

Avast has disabled a component in its Windows anti-malware suite that posed, ironically enough, a significant security risk. The software maker switched off the JavaScript interpreter in its toolkit after Google Project Zero’s Tavis Ormandy, and his colleagues, alerted the developer to design flaws in the code.

According to Avast, Ormandy potentially found a remote-code execution vulnerability in the software, the details of which were not publicly shared. Five days later, the Googler released a shell for poking around in Avast’s JavaScript engine for anyone interested in assessing the antivirus suite. He also revealed that if miscreants were able to exploit any holes in Avast’s JS engine on a victim’s computer, they would be able to run malware on that PC with system-admin-level privileges.

“Despite being highly privileged and processing untrusted input by design, it is unsandboxed and has poor mitigation coverage,” Ormandy explained earlier this week.

iRobot Allegedly Cheated on Compliance with Government Regulations

Roomba maker iRobot is being sued by an ex-director of compliance who says they’ve been cheating and sticking compliance stickers on their stuff that has actually failed those compliance tests.

Janusz Pankowski claims the robo-vac specialists unfairly dismissed him from his position as director for compliance back in May 2018 following a row over whether products were erroneously labeled as being in compliance with safety requirements, and other state, federal, and international rules.

To hear Pankowski tell it to a US district court in Massachusetts this week, the executive’s trouble started in January that year when he brought up 14 instances where iRobot’s gear had been affixed with labels claiming it to be in compliance with requirements despite failing to meet them.

Dirty laundry indeed.

Also Noteworthy

Here’s an additional story for you if you still want more to read:

And that’s it for me for this week. I will now go and spend the weekend with some good old friends in the country, ignoring the general madness that has gripped the globe. In that vein, here’s the song for the weekend:

Turn on the news you’d think the world ain’t got a prayer But if you turn it off and look around It’s just another day in Heaven South

This is an archived issue of my daily newsletter FOXTROT/ALFA. You can find more information about it, including how to subscribe via email, on this page.