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Pentagon asks court for time to reconsider JEDI award to Microsoft

The JEDI contract award process might never be done. Following legal challenges from Amazon after the Pentagon’s massive, $10 billion cloud contract was awarded to Microsoft in October, the Pentagon indicated in court documents last night that it wishes to reconsider the award.

It’s just the latest plot twist in an epic government procurement saga.

Here’s what we know. The Pentagon filing is based on Amazon’s complaints about the technical part of the deal only. Amazon has said that it believes political interference influenced the awarding of the contract. However, the cloud computing giant also believes it beat Microsoft on the technical merits in a majority of instances required in the request for proposals issued by the Pentagon.

In fact, sources told TechCrunch, “AWS’s protest identified evaluation errors, clear deficiencies and unmistakable bias in six of the eight evaluation factors.”

Obviously Amazon was happy to hear this news. “We are pleased that the DoD has acknowledged ‘substantial and legitimate’ issues that affected the JEDI award decision, and that corrective action is necessary,” a spokesperson stated.

“We look forward to complete, fair, and effective corrective action that fully insulates the re-evaluation from political influence and corrects the many issues affecting the initial flawed award.”

The court granted the Pentagon 120 days to review the results again, but indicated it could take longer. In the meantime, the project is at a standstill.

On Friday, the court issued a ruling that Amazon was likely to succeed on its complaint on merit, and that could have been the impetus of this latest action by the Pentagon.

While the political influence piece might not be overtly part of this filing, it does lurk in the background. The president has made it clear that he doesn’t like Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos, who also owns The Washington Post. As we wrote last year:

Amazon, for instance, could point to Jim Mattis’ book where he wrote that the president told the then Defense Secretary to “screw Bezos out of that $10 billion contract.” Mattis says he refused, saying he would go by the book, but it certainly leaves the door open to a conflict question.

As we previously reported, AWS CEO Andy Jassy stated at a press event at AWS re:Invent in December that the company believed there was political bias at play in the decision-making process.

“What I would say is that it’s fairly obvious that we feel pretty strongly that it was not adjudicated fairly,” he said. He added, “I think that we ended up with a situation where there was political interference. When you have a sitting president, who has shared openly his disdain for a company, and the leader of that company, it makes it really difficult for government agencies, including the DoD, to make objective decisions without fear of reprisal.”

We have requested comment from Microsoft and DoD and will update the story should they respond.

Australia sues Facebook over Cambridge Analytica, fine could scale to $529BN

Australia’s privacy watchdog is suing Facebook over the Cambridge Analytica data breach — which, back in 2018, became a global scandal that wiped billions off the tech giant’s share price yet only led to Facebook picking up a $5BN FTC fine.

Should Australia prevail in its suit against the tech giant the monetary penalty could be exponentially larger.

Australia’s Privacy Act sets out a provision for a civil penalty of up to $1,700,000 to be levied per contravention — and the national watchdog believes there were 311,074 local Facebook users in the cache of ~86M profiles lifted by Cambridge Analytica . So the potential fine here is circa $529BN. (A very far cry from the £500k Facebook paid in the UK over the same data misuse scandal.)

In a statement published on its website today the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner (OAIC) says it has lodged proceedings against Facebook in a federal court alleging the company committed serious and/or repeated interferences with privacy.

The suit alleges the personal data of Australian Facebook users was disclosed to the This is Your Digital Life app for a purpose other than that for which it was collected — thereby breaching Australia’s Privacy Act 1988. It further claims the data was exposed to the risk of being disclosed to Cambridge Analytica and used for political profiling purposes, and passed to other third parties.

This is Your Digital Life was an app built by an app developer called GSR that was hired by Cambridge Analytica to obtain and process Facebook users’ data for political ad targeting purposes.

The events from which the suit stems took place on Facebook’s platform between March 2014 and May 2015 when user data was being siphoned off by GSR, under contract with Cambridge Analytica — which worked with US political campaigns, including Ted Cruz’s presidential campaign and later (the now) president Donald Trump.

GSR was co-founded by two psychology researchers, Aleksandr Kogan and Joseph Chancellor. And in a still unexplained twist in the saga, Facebook hired Chancellor, in about November 2015, which was soon after some of its own staffers had warned internally about the “sketchy” business Cambridge Analytica was conducting on its ad platform. Chancellor has never spoken to the press and subsequently departed Facebook as quietly and serendipitously as he arrived.

In a concise statement summing up its legal action against Facebook the OIAC writes:

Facebook disclosed personal information of the Affected Australian Individuals. Most of those individuals did not install the “This is Your Digital Life” App; their Facebook friends did. Unless those individuals undertook a complex process of modifying their settings on Facebook, their personal information was disclosed by Facebook to the “This is Your Digital Life” App by default. Facebook did not adequately inform the Affected Australian Individuals of the manner in which their personal information would be disclosed, or that it could be disclosed to an app installed by a friend, but not installed by that individual.

Facebook failed to take reasonable steps to protect those individuals’ personal information from unauthorised disclosure. Facebook did not know the precise nature or extent of the personal information it disclosed to the “This is Your Digital Life” App. Nor did it prevent the app from disclosing to third parties the personal information obtained. The full extent of the information disclosed, and to whom it was disclosed, accordingly cannot be known. What is known, is that Facebook disclosed the Affected Australian Individuals’ personal information to the “This is Your Digital Life” App, whose developers sold personal information obtained using the app to the political consulting firm Cambridge Analytica, in breach of Facebook’s policies.

As a result, the Affected Australian Individuals’ personal information was exposed to the risk of disclosure, monetisation and use for political profiling purposes.

Commenting in a statement, Australia’s information commissioner and privacy commissioner, Angelene Falk, added: “All entities operating in Australia must be transparent and accountable in the way they handle personal information, in accordance with their obligations under Australian privacy law. We consider the design of the Facebook platform meant that users were unable to exercise reasonable choice and control about how their personal information was disclosed.

“Facebook’s default settings facilitated the disclosure of personal information, including sensitive information, at the expense of privacy. We claim these actions left the personal data of around 311,127 Australian Facebook users exposed to be sold and used for purposes including political profiling, well outside users’ expectations.”

Reached for comment, a Facebook spokesperson sent this statement:

We’ve actively engaged with the OAIC over the past two years as part of their investigation. We’ve made major changes to our platforms, in consultation with international regulators, to restrict the information available to app developers, implement new governance protocols and build industry-leading controls to help people protect and manage their data. We’re unable to comment further as this is now before the Federal Court.

Anthony Levandowski ordered to pay $179 million to Google

Anthony Levandowski, the engineer and autonomous vehicle startup founder who was at the center of a trade secrets lawsuit between Uber and Waymo, has been ordered to pay $179 million to end a contract dispute over his departure from Google.

Reuters was the first to report the court order.

An arbitration panel ruled in December that Levandowski and Lior Ron had engaged in unfair competition and breached their contract with Google when they left the company to start a rival autonomous vehicle company focused on trucking called Otto. Uber acquired Otto in 2017. A San Francisco County court confirmed Wednesday the panel’s decision.

Ron settled last month with Google for $9.7 million. However, Levandowski, had disputed the ruling. The San Francisco County Superior Court denied his petition today, granting Google’s petition to hold Levandowski to the arbitration agreement under which he was liable.

Levandowski himself may not have to pay the money personally; Uber, like other large companies, indemnifies its employees against certain types of fines and damages. But this may also be disputed. For now, however, it does seem as though the $179M will eventually find its way out of somebody’s pockets into Google’s.

This story is developing pending comment from Levandowski and Google, and the release of further documentation from the court.

Devin Coldewey contributed to this story.