Twitter’s security leads are leaving the company

New Twitter CEO Parag Agrawal is continuing to revamp the company's leadership. After removing the chiefs of engineering and design last month, Agrawal is bringing in new leaders for the security team.

The company confirmed to The New York Times that former head of security Peiter Zatko has departed, while chief information security officer Rinki Sethi will leave Twitter in the coming weeks. Agrawal is said to have told employees this week that the personnel decisions were made after “an assessment of how the organization was being led and the impact on top priority work."

Twitter hired Zatko, who's known as "Mudge" in the hacker community, in November 2020 in the wake of an incident that compromised many high-profile accounts. He previously worked at DARPA, Google and Stripe, and was a member of hacker group Cult of the Dead Cow in the '90s.

Sethi, a former IBM vice president of information security, also joined the company in the wake of the July 2020 Bitcoin hack. According to the Times, Twitter's head of privacy engineering Lea Kissner is taking over Sethi's former position on an interim basis.

Agrawal, who was previously chief technical officer, has wasted little time in reshaping Twitter after taking over the top job from Jack Dorsey in late November. The following month, Michael Montano and Dantley Davis, the former engineering and design heads, were ousted in service of "setting Twitter up to hit its goals."

Google files motion to dismiss four charges in antitrust lawsuit

Google has filed a motion to dismiss most of an ad tech-focused antitrust lawsuit brought forward by a group of state attorneys general. It has requested that a federal court dismiss four of the six charges with prejudice, which would prevent them from being brought back to the same court.

"The complaint misrepresents our business, products and motives, and we are moving to dismiss it based on its failure to offer plausible antitrust claims," Adam Cohen, Google's director of economic policy, wrote in a blog post. The company says the plaintiffs failed to provide evidence of wrongdoing for several of their allegations and that much of the suit "is based on outdated information that bears no correlation to our current products or business in this dynamic industry (and in any event never amounted to a violation of antitrust laws)."

The AGs, who are led by Texas AG Ken Paxton, claimed Google abused its power to shore up its position in the online ads market. They said the company agreed a "sweetheart deal" in 2018 that gave Facebook parent Meta a boost in ad header bidding (a type of tech allows publishers to solicit bids from multiple ad exchanges simultaneously) in exchange for support for Google's Open Bidding method of selling ads.

Google said the deal was above board and that it wasn't a secret, as Facebook Audience Network (FAN) was one of several partners for its Open Bidding program. Cohen said the deal "does not provide FAN with an advantage in the Open Bidding auction. FAN competes in the auction just like other bidders: FAN must make the highest bid to win a given impression, period. If another eligible network or exchange bids higher, they win the auction."

The AGs also alleged that Google harnessed at least three programs to manipulate ad auctions. The aim, according to the states, was to push publishers and advertisers into using the company's own tools.

"State Plaintiffs respond to Google’s success by seeking to compel Google to share with its competitors the fruits of its investments and innovation," Google wrote in its filing. "They criticize Google for not designing its products to better suit its rivals’ needs and for making improvements to those products that leave its competitors too far behind. They see the 'solution' to Google’s success as holding Google back, rather than letting market forces urge its competitors forward."

As Reuters notes, the two other charges in the suit are based on state law and were stayed in September. Although Google hasn't asked for those to be dismissed, it reserved the right to make that request at a later date.

A group of Activision Blizzard workers is unionizing

Call of Duty: Warzone quality assurance workers at Activision Blizzard studio Raven Software have announced plans to unionize with the Communication Workers of America (CWA). They have asked the company to voluntarily recognize their group, which is called the Game Workers Alliance. The 34-person unit had the support of 78 percent of eligible workers, according to Polygon.

“We ask that Activision Blizzard management respect Raven QA workers by voluntarily recognizing CWA’s representation without hesitation,” CWA secretary-treasurer Sara Steffens said in a statement. “A collective bargaining agreement will give Raven QA employees a voice at work, improving the games they produce and making the company stronger. Voluntary recognition is the rational way forward.”

Workers have given Activision Blizzard until January 25th to respond to their request, according to The Washington Post. If the company fails to do so, the group will file for a union election through the National Labor Relations Board and, because the workers have a supermajority of votes, they'd be able to formalize the union without voluntary recognition from Activision Blizzard. Should the group approve the union in an election, the company would need to bargain with workers in good faith.

Sixty Raven workers went on strike in early December after Activision Blizzard laid off 12 QA contractors, despite a request from Raven leadership to keep them employed. The workers demanded the company convert all Raven QA contractors into full-time employees. So far, Activision Blizzard has reportedly been playing hardball and declining to meet with with the striking workers. Warzone players have been grousing about the game's bugs, which QA workers are tasked with finding and addressing.

"Activision Blizzard is carefully reviewing the request for voluntary recognition from the CWA, which seeks to organize around three dozen of the company’s nearly 10,000 employees," the company told Polygon. "While we believe that a direct relationship between the company and its team members delivers the strongest workforce opportunities, we deeply respect the rights of all employees under the law to make their own decisions about whether or not to join a union." It added that it has raised minimum pay for Raven employees by 41 percent over the last few years, extended paid time off and converted over 60 percent of the studio's contractors into employees.

The CWA claims Activision Blizzard has "used surveillance and intimidation tactics, including hiring notorious union busters, to silence workers.” Last July, the company hired WilmerHale, a law firm with a history of cracking down on unionization efforts, to review its HR policies.

The Game Workers Alliance said its principles include solidarity, equity, diversity, transparency and sustainability. "Shortened development timelines sacrifice project quality and damage the mental and physical health of our team," it wrote on Twitter. "'Crunch' is not healthy for any product, worker, or company."

Earlier this week, Microsoft announced an agreement to buy Activision Blizzard for $68.7 billion, the biggest deal in video game history. If shareholders and regulators approve the acquisition, which could have enormous ramifications for the industry, the merger should close by June 2023.

In an interview with the Post on Thursday, Microsoft Gaming CEO Phil Spencer noted that he didn't have much experience with unions personally after working at Microsoft for over three decades. “So I’m not going to try to come across as an expert on this, but I’ll say we’ll be having conversations about what empowers them to do their best work, which as you can imagine in a creative industry, is the most important thing for us," he said.

On Wednesday, Activision Blizzard said in a Securities and Exchange Commission filing regarding the planned merger that, "To the knowledge of the company, there are no pending activities or proceedings of any labor union, trade union, works council or any similar labor organization to organize any employees of the company or any of its subsidiaries with regard to their employment with the company or any of its subsidiaries." The week that Raven workers went on strike, Activision Blizzard sent its employees a letter imploring them “to consider the consequences” of signing union cards.

As Bloomberg's Jason Schreier noted, the Game Workers Alliance is the first union within a AAA gaming company in North America. Last month, workers at Vodeo Games formed the first video game union in the US. Management at the indie studio voluntarily recognized Vodeo Workers United. Swedish publisher Paradox Interactive signed a collective bargaining agreement with unions in 2020, while Japanese–Korean publisher Nexon recognized a workers' union in 2018.

‘The Legend Of Zelda: Majora’s Mask’ joins Nintendo Switch Online in February

Soon after adding Banjo-Kazooie to Switch Online's Expansion Pack, Nintendo is preparing to bring another classic game to the service. In February, The Legend Of Zelda: Majora’s Mask will join the lineup.

It'll be interesting to see whether Nintendo has resolved the emulation issues many players had with Ocarina of Time, the predecessor to Majora's Mask, on Switch. Majora’s Mask is one of the most highly regarded Zelda games, so it'd be disappointing if the full experience of the N64 title isn't properly replicated on the handheld console.

Nintendo announced Expansion Pack, a higher tier of Switch Online that includes Nintendo 64 and Sega Genesis games, back in September. It said at the time Majora's Mask was one of the games in the pipeline for the service. Other N64 titles on the way include F-Zero X, Kirby 64: The Crystal Shards, Mario Golf and the original Pokémon Snap.

DeepMind co-founder Mustafa Suleyman leaves Google

Mustafa Suleyman, a co-founder of artificial intelligence research company DeepMind, has left Google to join venture capital firm Greylock Partners. Suleyman has brought to an end an eight-year run at Google, where he was most recently the company’s vice president of AI product management and policy.

He joined Google when it bought DeepMind in 2014 and became the latter’s head of applied AI. Suleyman was reportedly placed on administrative leave in 2019 following allegations that he bullied employees. Suleyman, who moved to Google at the end of that year, said on a podcast with Greylock partner Reid Hoffman this week that he "really screwed up" and that “I remain very sorry about the impact that that caused people and the hurt that people felt there.”

As The New York Times notes, Suleyman was among those who resisted Google's AI endeavors with the US Department of Defense. Google ended up backing out of that project, though in November it said it was making a bid for the Pentagon's Joint Warfighting Cloud Capability cloud contract.

DeepMind may be best known for its AI systems that can compete with the best human players of certain games. Google has also employed DeepMind's knowhow to improve arrival time estimates in Google Maps, track wildlife and detect breast cancer.

TikTok joins Instagram in testing creator subscriptions

Soon after Instagram started rolling out paid subscriptions for creators, TikTok says it may be following suit. The service is exploring a feature that would allow influencers to paywall at least some of the content they share on the app, as The Information first reported.

TikTok's subscriptions are being tested on a limited basis, so you may not see your favorite creators using them anytime soon. The platform didn't provide more details about how the feature works. "We're always thinking about new ways to bring value to our community and enrich the TikTok experience," a TikTok spokesperson told Engadget.

As with the likes of Twitch, Twitter and YouTube, TikTok allows viewers to send tips to influencers who are enrolled in the Creator Next program. Users can also buy and send virtual gifts to creators.

Given its other monetization options and that rival platforms have embraced subscriptions, it's hardly a surprise that TikTok is following that path too. In 2020, TikTok announced a $200 million fund to support creators.

Meta is also spending heavily on influencers. The company said last year it would invest $1 billion in creators across the likes of Facebook and Instagram by the end of 2022, in the hope of keeping them away from competitors. CEO Mark Zuckerberg said the company won't take a cut of their earnings until at least 2023. Instagram subscriptions are only available to a very small number of creators for now, but there are plans to open up access to others in the coming months.

TikTok joins Instagram in testing creator subscriptions

Soon after Instagram started rolling out paid subscriptions for creators, TikTok says it may be following suit. The service is exploring a feature that would allow influencers to paywall at least some of the content they share on the app, as The Information first reported.

TikTok's subscriptions are being tested on a limited basis, so you may not see your favorite creators using them anytime soon. The platform didn't provide more details about how the feature works. "We're always thinking about new ways to bring value to our community and enrich the TikTok experience," a TikTok spokesperson told Engadget.

As with the likes of Twitch, Twitter and YouTube, TikTok allows viewers to send tips to influencers who are enrolled in the Creator Next program. Users can also buy and send virtual gifts to creators.

Given its other monetization options and that rival platforms have embraced subscriptions, it's hardly a surprise that TikTok is following that path too. In 2020, TikTok announced a $200 million fund to support creators.

Meta is also spending heavily on influencers. The company said last year it would invest $1 billion in creators across the likes of Facebook and Instagram by the end of 2022, in the hope of keeping them away from competitors. CEO Mark Zuckerberg said the company won't take a cut of their earnings until at least 2023. Instagram subscriptions are only available to a very small number of creators for now, but there are plans to open up access to others in the coming months.

Peloton is reportedly pausing Bike and Tread production amid lower demand

Peloton is reportedly pumping the brakes on Bike and Tread production as demand for the home fitness equipment is said to be slowing.

It's said to be putting production of its standard Bike and Tread (treadmill) products on hold for two months and six weeks, respectively. The company stopped building Bike+ units last month and it doesn’t plan to pick up production of that more expensive model until June, CNBC reports. As for Tread+, Peloton reportedly doesn’t expect to build any more of those in its 2022 fiscal year.

According to CNBC, Peloton said in an internal presentation that there’s been a significant drop in demand due to consumer “price sensitivity” and increased competition from rivals. On top of that, gyms are open again in many regions following COVID-19 lockdown measures. After being cooped up at home for the better part of two years, it wouldn’t be surprising if fitness fans wanted to work out elsewhere. Meanwhile, research firm M Science said it hasn’t seen evidence of a rise in demand for at-home fitness amid the surge of the Omicron variant.

As things stand, Peloton is said to have overestimated demand and thousands of its products are in warehouses and on cargo ships. It reportedly needs to sell many of those before making more bikes and treadmills.

Meanwhile, per the presentation, Peloton Guide was delayed from October to next month, and the product might slip again to April. Peloton Guide is a strength-training system that uses camera and machine learning to track users' movements and help them match their form against an instructor.

Earlier this week, it was reported that Peloton is looking to reduce costs. Measures could include layoffs and store closures.

Engadget has contacted Peloton for comment. The company will report its latest quarterly financial results on February 8th, which should make the status of Peloton and its products slightly clearer.

Peloton is reportedly pausing Bike and Tread production amid lower demand (update)

Peloton is reportedly pumping the brakes on Bike and Tread production as demand for the home fitness equipment is said to be slowing.

It's said to be putting production of its standard Bike and Tread (treadmill) products on hold for two months and six weeks, respectively. The company stopped building Bike+ units last month and it doesn’t plan to pick up production of that more expensive model until June, CNBC reports. As for Tread+, Peloton reportedly doesn’t expect to build any more of those in its 2022 fiscal year.

According to CNBC, Peloton said in an internal presentation that there’s been a significant drop in demand due to consumer “price sensitivity” and increased competition from rivals. On top of that, gyms are open again in many regions following COVID-19 lockdown measures. After being cooped up at home for the better part of two years, it wouldn’t be surprising if fitness fans wanted to work out elsewhere. Meanwhile, research firm M Science said it hasn’t seen evidence of a rise in demand for at-home fitness amid the surge of the Omicron variant.

As things stand, Peloton is said to have overestimated demand and thousands of its products are in warehouses and on cargo ships. It reportedly needs to sell many of those before making more bikes and treadmills.

Meanwhile, per the presentation, Peloton Guide was delayed from October to next month, and the product might slip again to April. Peloton Guide is a strength-training system that uses camera and machine learning to track users' movements and help them match their form against an instructor.

Earlier this week, it was reported that Peloton is looking to reduce costs. Measures could include layoffs and store closures.

Engadget has contacted Peloton for comment. The company will report its latest quarterly financial results on February 8th, which should make the status of Peloton and its products slightly clearer.

Update 01/20/22 9PM ET: Peloton CEO John Foley has denied that the company is putting production on hold. In a letter to employees, he said "rumors that we are halting all production of bikes and Treads are false." He did say, however, that Peloton is "resetting [its] production levels for sustainable growth."

The first movie studio in space could be attached to the ISS in 2024

A module that hosts a film studio and sports arena could be connected to the International Space Station by December 2024. Space Entertainment Enterprise (SEE), which is co-producing a Tom Cruise movie that will partly be shot in space, is behind the project. If and when SEE-1 is up and running, it plans to host TV and film productions, as well as music events and some kind of sports, which can be filmed or livestreamed, according to Variety.

Axiom Space, which two years ago won a NASA contract to construct the first commercial ISS module, will build the station. All going well, SEE-1 will be connected to Axiom's arm of the ISS. Axiom Station is scheduled to split from the ISS in 2028 with SEE-1 still attached.

Whether SEE and Axiom can make good on their plan remains to be seen. SEE hasn't said how much the facility will cost, for one thing. It's currently planning a fundraising round.

Last year, a Russian crew shot a feature-length fiction film in space for the first time, beating Cruise and his director Doug Liman to the punch. That film, The Challenge, is expected to be released this year. Cruise and Liman, meanwhile, are expected to shoot their movie on the ISS later in 2022.