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Elon Musk and Mark Zuckerberg can’t just jeopardise a billion dreams

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Elon Musk Mark Zuckerberg

The past few weeks have witnessed some bizarre and never-before-seen occurrences in the world of technology, and the credit, if you want to call it that, goes to Tesla and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk and Facebook Founder-CEO Mark Zuckerberg.

Both are super-famous — and blue-eyed boys of Silicon Valley. Stubborn and arrogant to an extent, the duo has proved newer ideas can take shape despite challenges, and have created brands that touch humanity at its very deepest level.

That they seem to be somewhat losing it and behaving in a manner that has caused unease among their workforce, customers, users and fans, is worrisome.

Let’s first talk about Musk, the man behind several successful ventures — PayPal, Tesla Motors, SpaceX and SolarCity, each of which has sent shock waves throughout businesses and industry. But tweeting irresponsibly almost every other day, smoking marijuana on a live show and abusing people (his “pedo” remark for a diver) has made not only a dent in his image but his brands too.

In the book “Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future” by veteran technology journalist Ashlee Vance, Musk says that he would “like to die thinking that humanity has a bright future”.

“Mass market electric cars have been my goal from the beginning of Tesla. I don’t want and I don’t think the vast majority of Tesla customers want us to do anything to jeopardise that objective,” the book says, quoting one of Musk’s emails.

Unfortunately, he has been doing things that do “jeopardise that objective”. The August 7 tweet about taking Tesla “private” that misled his investors, and then reversing gear after few days to stay public, did more harm than good.

Coming under pressure from his lawyers and investors of Tesla, the tech billionaire on September 29 agreed to step down as Tesla chairman for three years and paid a $20 million fine, in a deal with the US stock market regulatory authority, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), to resolve securities fraud charges.

Tesla paid another $20 million to the SEC, despite not being charged with fraud. So a tweet worth $40 million!

Even after all this, Musk mocked the SEC within five days of the settlement, calling it the “Shortseller Enrichment Commission”.

A Twitter user who goes by the name Drew G. wrote to Musk on Saturday: “I don’t have much, but I believe in you and your vision. Unfortunately, I invest what little I have into @Tesla and I continuously lose months worth of savings due to your tweets. Please think of us small people.”

Amid his eccentric behaviour, the great Tesla cause — to provide people across the world a mass-level electric car that will help control pollution, save money and enrich the environment — has somewhat been lost.

Musk knows he can deliver on that. Despite a tumultuous career — saving his start-ups from the brink of bankruptcy several times — he is one of the most promising tech entrepreneurs today. The realisation has to come fast though.

On the other hand, Zuckerberg with his my-way-or-the-highway approach towards monetisation and making profit at any cost, has started hurting Facebook, both externally and internally.

The social media giant, that has become a medium for billions to connect, share and help one another via communities, is reeling under a plethora of data breaches (beginning with Cambridge Analytica) that has affected its user-growth, its reputation as well as revenue streams in the second quarter (April-June) this year.

According to online statistics portal Statista, Facebook added no daily active users in North America and Europe in the second quarter. It actually lost three million users in Europe.

Facebook also slipped to 9th spot in the world’s top 100 brands’ list by global brand consultancy Interbrand this week.

Internally, Zukerberg’s goal to monetise WhatsApp has forced the social media messaging service’s co-founders to leave the company.

One of them, Brian Acton, told Forbes that Zuckerberg was in a rush to make money from the messaging service and undermine elements of its encryption technology. “Targeted advertising is what makes me unhappy,” Acton said.

Four years after its acquisition by Facebook for $19 billion, WhatsApp, which now has over 1.5 billion users (against Facebook’s 2.3 billion), will reportedly carry targeted ads from 2019 — on a platform that has been ad-free till date.

Facebook got another jolt last month when Instagram founders Mike Krieger and Kevin Systrom quit the company, also reportedly due to disagreements with Zuckerberg.

Both Musk and Zuckerberg are bright, young entrepreneurs. Their goal should be — and remain — to ensure their platforms enrich people’s lives, especially in developing and under-developed countries.
As their contemporaries — Apple’s Tim Cook, Microsoft’s Satya Nadella, Google’s Sundar Pichai and Amazon’s Jeff Bezos — plan for a tech-driven future without tantrums, the duo must also listen to what their customers and users want: A safe and sound ride, be it electric car or personal data.

(Nishant Arora can be contacted at [email protected] )

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Dealings of European missile manufacture under scanner

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Rafale Fighter Jet

New Delhi, Feb 17 (IANS) A leading European arms manufacturer MBDA, which supplies missiles for the Rafale jets, has come under the scanner of probe agencies here for its suspected links with lobbyist Deepak Talwar, who was extradited from Dubai last month.

The country head of MBDA, Loic Piedevache, has been summoned by the Enforcement Directorate to appear before it on Monday in connection with the probe relating to the company’s links to Talwar, who is believed to have steered several deals with Airbus, which holds a stake in MBDA, during the UPA regime, according to sources.

Infrastructure major Larsen & Toubro had entered into a joint venture with MBDA to supply missiles and missile systems to the Indian armed forces.

L&T holds 51 per cent stake in the joint venture, L&T MBDA Missile Systems, and had identified defence as one of the key drivers for achieving growth in the sector.

The sources claimed that apart from questions on the company’s engagement with the Indian forces, Piedevache would also be questioned on the alleged payments to Talwar’s NGO. Advantage India, to the tune of Rs 88 crore between 2012 and 2015, from MBDA and Airbus.

Later, the entire money was said to have been withdrawn in cash by using “fake purchases”, the sources said.

Analysts said this was probably a rare occasion when the India head of a leading international firm was being summoned by a probe agency.

Piedevache has been heading the company’s operations in India for a decade. The Mirage upgrade programme and Rafale were signed during Piedevache’s tenure in India and he could be privy to information, the sources said.

“If required, the probe agency may also summon group export director Jean-Luc Lamothe. First of all, Piedevache would be asked to explain the company’s payments to Talwar’s NGO,” the sources said.

Piedevache could not be reached for his comments. An MBDA spokesperson said the company would support the authorities in their probe. It maintained that it had supported social development initiatives in India as part of corporate social responsibility, which included some payments to the NGO.

The company is involved in the Rs 30,000 crore offset programme associated with the 36 war planes.

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DoT finalising revival proposal, no shutdown: BSNL

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BSNL

New Delhi, Feb 14 (IANS) State-run BSNL on Thursday said government is in the final stage of drafting a revival proposal for the PSU and it would shortly be sent for the inter-ministerial panel for approval.

“Department of Telecom is in the process of finalising a proposal for revival of BSNL to be considered by the Digital Communications Commission (DCC) very soon. DoT would like to see a robust BSNL, duly strengthened and financially viable, dedicated to servicing the nation and playing an important role in the telecom sector”, the PSU said in a statement.

The state carrier was responding to a media report on its closure pressurised by the mounting losses.

At present there is no proposal under consideration with the government for closure of BSNL. DoT recognises and values the inherent strengths of BSNL as a telecom services provider with huge infrastructure and reach, especially in rural areas, the PSU said.

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HAL to display is prowess at Aero India

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Bengaluru, Feb 14 : Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) would showcase its prowess at the five-day 12th edition of ‘Aero India 2019’ expo, starting here on February 20, to hard sell its military aircraft and helicopters, a top official said on Thursday.

“HAL will explore opportunities at the Aero India by showcasing its fixed-wing and rotary-wing platforms and technologies as an industry player in the domestic and global defence market,” said HAL Chairman and Managing Director R. Madhavan in a statement.

The statement was issued ahead of the biennial air show at the Yelahanka base of the Indian Air Force on the city’s northern outskirts near the Bengaluru International Airport.

The aerospace major is also organising the present edition of the air show, where 31 aircraft will be part of the flying display and 22, static display.

HAL’s Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) Tejas, HTT-40 (Basic Trainer Aircraft), upgraded Hawk Mk132 named Hawk-i, Civil Do-228 (civil version of Dornier 228 aircraft), Advanced Light Helicopter (ALH) Rudra, Light Utility Helicopter (LUH) and Light Combat Helicopter (LCH) will also be part of the flying display.

The fixed and rotary wing aerobatic teams Suryakiran (Hawk aircraft) and Sarang (ALH-Dhruv) will enthrall about six lakh visitors likley to attend the carnival of aircraft.

The defence behemoth will also showcase its LUH (PT-1), LCH (TD-2), ALH Rudra and ALH Medical Intensive Care Unit (MICU) as part of static display, HAL said.

At the expo, 360 exhibitors — 196 from India and 164 from foreign countries — will showcase their products.

HAL’s pavilion will include technological demonstration of the tail boom folding and main rotor folding of the Naval Utility Helicopter (NUH), which is ALH customised for the Navy.

“For the first time, HAL’s Supersonic Omni Role Trainer Aircraft (SPORT) simulator will be at the pavilion,” the statement added.

The SPORT aircraft will be used for fighter training after advanced jet training stage and before the induction of pilots into the frontline fighter squadron.

The exhibition space will also have a Jaguar aircraft simulator, HAL said.

As part of the air show’s ‘Innovate’ theme, the aerospace major will also display the technologies of Hindustan Turbo Fan Engine (HTFE-25) and Hindustan Turbo Shaft Engine (HTSE-1200) along with rotary unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), models of avionics and mechanical system line replacement units and complex manufacturing capabilities.

Global aerospace majors, including Boeing (US), Lockheed Martin Corp (US), Dassault (France), Russian Aircraft Corp MiG, Saab (Sweden) and European aerospace firm Airbus, will also take part in the exhibition.

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