Researched by: Anannya Parekh, Aarthi Ramnath, Nirmal Bhansali, Niveditha Ajay & Rhea Saincher
Titan search ends in tragedy
The context: A high-priced deep sea voyage to check out the wreck of the Titanic ended in disaster. The submersible called Titan carrying four tourists—plus the company CEO—went missing in the depths of the Atlantic on Sunday. The US Coast Guard put together a massive search-and rescue operation–covering an area the size of Connecticut. See our Big Story for what went wrong.
What happened now: Early Thursday, the Coast Guard found debris roughly 1,600 feet (488 metres) from the Titanic shipwreck. Officials say the passengers died instantly in “a catastrophic implosion of the vessel”—around when communication was first lost. We will have to wait for an official investigation to know more. (Associated Press)
Mr Modi in America
The prime minister had an action-packed visit that has yielded several key agreements—especially around defence technology. There is also a deal to undertake a joint trip to the International Space Station. Also: a new US policy will allow some Indians to renew their work visas without leaving the country.
The biggest shocker: He addressed a joint press conference—which apparently took a lot of coaxing and “intense negotiations.” When asked about democratic rights and treatment of Muslims in India, he said:
And when you talk of democracy, if there are no human values, and there is no humanity, there are no human rights, then it’s not a democracy. And that is why when you say democracy, and you accept democracy, and when we live democracy, then there is absolutely no question of discrimination… these are our foundation principles, which are the basis of how we operate, how we live our lives in India.
Byju’s is having a breakdown
The context: India’s most valuable tech startup has been mired in a myriad self-made miseries—including heavy losses and multiple lawsuits. All looked rosy until 2022—when the independent auditor Deloitte refused to sign off on the company’s financials—citing problems with the way it was reporting its revenue in its FY2020/21 statement. The numbers were finally released 18 months later in September 2022 but the reported revenues were dramatically lower. We did two Big Stories on Byju’s creative accounting methods and its recent move to countersue its lenders—rather than pay them.
What happened now: Deloitte has stepped down as the company’s auditor—saying it still hasn’t received financial statements for FY2022. Experts say audit resignations are “rare”—it speaks volumes about Byju’s financial health:
The resignation of the auditors for not receiving information and not being able to audit in a timely manner also seems to suggest a lack of transparency in the manner in which business operations are being conducted,
At the same time, three external board members quit—indicating a rift between investors and owners: “The resigning directors (usually take) the decision so as not to be henceforth held liable for any of the actions being undertaken by the company, which is not a good sign for any company." The directors represent Peak XV (formerly Sequoia), Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, and Prosus Ventures. The company is still denying their exits—calling the reports “speculative.” (Mint)
Also in crisis: Tata Consultancy Services has been rocked by a bribery scandal. Senior executives in charge of hiring, accepted bribes from staffing firms compromising the recruitment process. That story is also in Mint.
The CoWIN data leak: Suspected hacker arrested
The context: Last week, a hacker appeared to have accessed the data of over a billion people who registered for the Covid vaccine. A Telegram bot called Truecaller was spitting out all the details of a person’s personal information including vaccine location—when provided with their phone number or Aadhaar ID. The bot has been shut down but it was unclear who leaked the data. Our Big Story has all the deets.
We suspect he took his mother’s help to breach the system. He created a bot and shared it on Telegram. We know he was not selling the data to anyone in particular. He tried hacking the system and was successful. When he realised he could put all the data online, he did. We don’t think he had any other ulterior motives.
Two big tech faceoffs of note
Zuckerberg vs Musk: The Twitter owner has been unhappy with Meta’s plan to develop a new product—that it is openly calling “our response to Twitter.” The tagline: “Instagram for your thoughts.” And it will be rolled out by the end of the month. The war of words between the two tech titans reached a new low when Musk challenged Zuckerberg to a “cage match”—and the Zuck responded: “Send me location.”
Musk promptly offered up The Octagon in Las Vegas—which hosts MMA (mixed martial arts) fights. Bookmakers have their money on the Zuck—who is predicted to have a 83% chance of winning. No one expects this fight to happen, but as one bookie says: “If this fight does actually go ahead, with a bit of luck, they’ll both knock some sense into each other.” (CNN)
Reddit vs the mods: Over this past week, moderators of thousands of Reddit communities went ‘dark’—in protest against the platform’s plan to charge a steep fee from popular third-party apps (explained here). Some moderators started labelling subreddits NSFW—to hit Reddit’s revenues:
With subreddits tagged NSFW, in addition to applying an age gate for desktop viewers and restricting access on mobile devices to logged-in users in the Reddit app, Reddit also doesn’t show ads. This cuts into its ability to monetize them, which is a major part of Reddit’s disputed push to charge apps for using the API.
This finally provoked the company into cracking down. It has suspended a number of mods—which, of course, triggered even greater outrage. Reminder: Reddit relies on unpaid moderators to monitor posts and comments—unlike other social media platforms which employ large content moderation teams. (The Verge)
Lab-grown chicken for dinner?
The US has given two companies permission to sell “cell cultivated” chicken to restaurants—a first in the US. So what is it?
Lab-grown meat begins with cells taken from an animal. Those cells are then fed water and salt and nutrients like amino acids, vitamins and minerals. The cells then multiply in large tanks called cultivators or bioreactors. When harvested, the product is essentially minced meat, which is then formed into patties, sausage or fillets. The meat contains no bones, feathers, beaks or hooves and does not need to be slaughtered.
FYI: one of the companies—Good Meat—already sells its products in Singapore in the form of cutlets, nuggets, shredded meat and satays.
Why this matters: We save precious land and water used to raise livestock—and do not have to slaughter them (or torture them in assembly line farms). Livestock farming also accounts for 14.5% of the world's greenhouse gas emissions. This promo vid for one of the companies has more about lab-grown meat. (Associated Press)
HBO heads to Netflix?
The days of building your exclusive empire of content may be coming to an end. Warner Bros. Discovery is shopping its wares to the streaming service—offering non-exclusive access to its content, starting with ‘Insecure’:
HBO has licensed library content in the past — a deal with Netflix would not be groundbreaking per se, but it is notable in the era of pitched competition among the largest media companies to build direct-to-consumer streaming platforms.
But Hollywood execs are scrambling to make money any which way they can. Licensing their catalogue to squeeze from revenue suddenly looks like a good idea. That said, it is unlikely to affect Indians since HBO already has a deal with JioCinema. (Variety)
Two things to see
One: The opening credits of the new Marvel series, ‘Secret Invasion’ were AI-generated—and they look pretty darn cool! (Polygon)
Two: Get ready to say hello to Vidya Balan—who plays a detective in Anu Menon’s latest whodunit ‘Neeyat’. Ram Kapoor plays the billionaire who is murdered at his own party in Scotland. It drops in theatres on July 7. (Indian Express)