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Facebook admits it conducted opposition research on Soros, other critics

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Facebook’s outgoing head of communications is taking the blame for hiring Definers, the public relations firm doing opposition research on the company’s critics, including billionaire philanthropist George Soros.

In a Facebook post that went up late Wednesday, Elliot Schrage said the responsibility to hire Definers rests with him and that he approved the decision to hire it and similar firms.

Schrage provided his explanation in a message sent Tuesday to Facebook’s employees, but the company waited until late Wednesday to publicly share it at a time when most people in its home country were focusing on the Thanksgiving holiday weekend. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg also didn’t mention Schrage’s role in hiring and working with Definers in an interview with CNN aired late Tuesday.

Definers’ link to the Menlo Park, Calif., company was exposed in a story published by the New York Times earlier this month.

Schrage has been at Facebook for a decade and announced his departure in June. In the post, Schrage acknowledged that Facebook asked Definers “to do work” on Soros after he called Facebook a “menace to society” in a January speech. Definers also helped respond to what Schrage described as unfair claims about the company.

“We had not heard such criticism from him before and wanted to determine if he had any financial motivation,” said Schrage.

I did not know we hired them or about the work they were doing, but I should have. I have great respect for George Soros — and the anti-Semitic conspiracy theories against him are abhorrent. – Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook COO

Even so, Schrage conceded that Definers’ got carried away in its work to discredit Facebook’s critics. The system he set up on the company’s communications team “failed here, and I’m sorry I let you all down,” he wrote.

Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook’s chief operating officer, followed Schrage’s note of contrition with one of her own, acknowledging her responsibility for overseeing Facebook’s communications team. Like Schrage, Sandberg was a top executive at Google before coming to Facebook a decade ago.

“Some of their work was incorporated into materials presented to me, and I received a small number of emails where Definers was referenced,” Sandberg wrote.

The Times report said the research activities, which included members of U.S. Congress, ramped up as Sandberg prepared to testify this past summer at a Senate intelligence committee hearing that addressed how Russian actors and others used the social media giant to sow discord during the 2016 U.S. presidential election campaign with fake accounts and divisive posts.

Cut ties with PR firm

Zuckerberg, who is Facebook’s controlling shareholder as well as its CEO, is standing behind Sandberg, despite the backlash caused by the company’s retention of Definers and its campaign against Soros. He told CNN on Tuesday that he hopes to work with Sandberg “for decades” to come.

As for the work of Definers, Zuckerberg told reporters last week, “I understand that a lot of D.C.-type firms might do this kind of work. When I learned about it I decided that we don’t want to be doing it.”

Schrage said the company worked with PR firms that were associated with both major U.S. parties, though he admitted Definers was “one of the Republican-affiliated firms.”

Hard-right conservatives have frequently tried to tie Soros, 88, to issues they are opposed to — most recently, accusations he’s helped fund the Central American migrant caravan and the bid to thwart Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court. Conspiracy theories have also led to Soros, born in Hungary to Jewish parents, being accused of being a Holocaust sympathizer; Roseanne Barr tweeted one such accusation during the storm of social media posts in May that saw her eventually fired from her hit television show.

Soros’s Connecticut home is believed to be the first known site to receive recent pipe bomb mailings targeting Democratic politicians and liberal figures.

Facebook stopped working with Definers after the New York Times investigation unveiled its tactics.

“I did not know we hired them or about the work they were doing, but I should have,” said Sandberg. “I have great respect for George Soros — and the anti-Semitic conspiracy theories against him are abhorrent.”

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The ‘Maple Majestic’ wants to be Canada’s homegrown Tesla

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Look out Tesla, Canada has a homegrown electric sedan on the way. Well, that’s if AK International Motor Corporation can drum up enough investment to make its EV a reality. Dubbed the “Maple Majestic,” the vehicle is a battery-electric designed to “excel in extreme climate performance without adversely affecting the climate, as befits a vehicle from Canada,” according to its website.

What’s in a name? — The company says the maple leaf is a “symbol of Canada’s warmth and friendliness towards all cultures,” while “majestic” refers to the country’s “status as a Constitutional Monarchy.”

That patriotism carries over into Maple Majestic’s parent company’s lofty goals. AK Motor founder Arkadiusz Kaminski says he wants the company, which he founded in 2012, to become “Canada’s first multi-brand automotive OEM,” and that the “Maple Majestic is intended to be Canada’s flagship brand of automobiles on the world stage.”

Partnerships are key — “We acknowledge that the best chance for the Maple Majestic brand to succeed, lies in continuing to build the relationship with Canada’s parts suppliers and technological innovators, whether they be academic institutions, corporations, or individual inventors,” the company explains. “We are currently seeking partners in automotive engineering, parts manufacturing, automotive assembly, electric propulsion technology, battery technology, autonomous technology, and hybrid power generation technology.”

In other words, don’t expect to be able to buy a Maple Majestic any time soon… and don’t expect to pour over 0-60 mph times, power output, range, or other key stats, because those don’t currently exist. For now, all we have are pictures and a short video clip. But at least those are arresting.

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PE-backed Quorum Software to merge with Canadian energy tech firm

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Houston-based energy technology company Quorum Software will merge with a Canadian tech firm to bolster its presence in oil and gas services.

Quorum announced Feb. 15 it plans to merge with Calgary, Alberta-based Aucerna, a global provider of planning, execution and reserves software for the energy sector. The combined firm will operate under the Quorum Software brand.

Gene Austin, CEO of Quorum Software, will continue in his capacity as chief executive of the combined firm. Austin, former CEO of Austin-based marketing tech firm Bazaarvoice Inc., became CEO of Quorum in December 2018.

Aucerna co-founder and CEO Wayne Sim will be appointed to the Quorum Software board of directors. Both companies are backed by San Francisco- and Chicago-based private equity firm Thoma Bravo.

“Over the last 20 years, Quorum has become the leading innovator of software deployed by North American energy companies,” said Austin. “Today, Quorum is expanding the scope of our technology and expertise to all energy-producing regions of the globe. Customers everywhere will have access to a cloud technology ecosystem that connects decision-ready data from operations to the boardroom.”

In addition to the merger announcement, Quorum Software announced it had entered into an agreement with Finnish IT firm TietoEvry to purchase TietoEvry’s entire oil and gas business. The agreement, which includes hydrocarbon management, personnel and material logistics software and related services, is valued at 155 million euros, or $188 million, according to a statement from TietoEvry.

“Our three organizations complement each other — from the software that our great people design to the energy markets where we operate,” said Sim. “Our new company will be able to deliver value to our stakeholders, while accelerating the growth of our combined business and the energy industry’s software transformation.”

The combined company will serve over 1,800 energy companies in 55 countries, according to the announcement. With its headquarters in Houston, Quorum will continue to have a significant presence in Calgary and in Norway, the headquarters for TietoEvry’s oil and gas software business. Quorum will have other offices throughout North America, Latin America, Europe, Asia and the Middle East.

As of Sept. 30, 2020, private equity firm Thoma Bravo had more than $73 billion in assets under management. In late December 2020, Thoma Bravo agreed to acquire Richardson, Texas-based tech firm RealPage in a roughly $10 billion acquisition.

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Piece of Kitchener technology lands on Mars on Perseverance rover

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KITCHENER — A piece of Kitchener technology has landed on Mars, thanks to NASA’s Perseverance rover.

The rover settled on the planet’s surface on Thursday afternoon. It’s been travelling through space since it was launched from Cape Canaveral, Fla. in July.

“The whole idea of being on a device that we’re sending to another plant with the express mission of looking for traces of past life, it’s pretty mind boggling actually,” said Rafal Pawluczyk, chief technical officer for FiberTech Optica.

The Kitchener-based company made fibre optic cables for the rover’s SuperCam that will examine samples with a camera, laser and spectrometers.

“The cables that we built take the light from that multiplexer and deliver it to each spectrograph,” Pawluczyk said.

The cables connect a device on the rover to the SuperCam, which will be used to examine rock and soil samples, to spectrometers. They’ll relay information from one device to another.

The project started four years ago with a connection to Los Alamos National Lab, where the instruments connected to the cables were developed.

“We could actually demonstrate we can design something that will meet their really hard engineering requirements,” Pawluczyk said.

The Jezero Crater is where the Perseverance rover, with FiberTech Optica’s technology onboard, landed Thursday. Scientists believe it was once flooded with water and is the best bet for finding any evidence of life. FiberTech’s cables will help that in that search.

Ioannis Haranas, an astrophysicist and professor at Wilfrid Laurier University, said the rover isn’t looking for “green men.”

“They’re looking for microbial, single-cell life, any type of fossils and stuff like that,” Haranas said. “That’s why they chose a special landing site. This could be very fertile land for that.”

“It’s very ambitious,” said Ralf Gellert, a physics professor at the University of Guelph.

Gellert helped with previous rover missions and said it’s the first time a Mars rover has landed without a piece of Guelph technology on it. While he’s not part of Perseverance’s mission, he said the possibilities are exciting.

“Every new landing site is a new piece of the puzzle that you can put together with the new results that we have from the other landing sites,” he said.

“It’s scientifically very interesting because, even though we don’t have an instrument on that rover, we can compare what the new rover Perseverance finds at this new landing site,” he said.

Now that Perseverance has landed on Mars, FiberTech is looking ahead to its next possible mission into space.

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