UK approves £4b US takeover of defence company Cobham

LONDON - The government has approved a US private equity firm’s takeover of UK defence and aerospace company Cobham. Advent International made a £4bn offer to buy Cobham in July, but it was delayed when the government intervened over national security concerns.

The government announced its approval of the deal late on Friday night - which the firm’s founding family said was “timed to avoid scrutiny”.

PM Boris Johnson said the UK remained a “dynamic” part of the defence industry.

Cobham, which employs 10,000 people, has extensive contracts with the British military and is seen as a world leader in air-to-air refuelling technology.

The firm, based in Wimborne, Dorset, also makes electronic warfare systems and communications for military vehicles.

Its expertise played a significant role in the Falklands War, allowing the Royal Air Force to attack the remote Port Stanley airfield. Defence experts said its role in air-to-air refuelling was essential for modern warfare and could raise national security issues if the company was sold. Shareholders approved Advent’s offer in August, but a month later the government intervened in the takeover, citing national security concerns. In a statement on Friday, Business Secretary Andrea Leadsom said she was satisfied the risks that had been identified had been mitigated “to an acceptable level” - and allowed the deal to go ahead.

Facebook to stop using phone numbers to recommend ‘friends’

US - Facebook is to stop using members’ phone numbers in its friend’s recommendation system in 2020 following concern about privacy implications. Users can choose to have a code sent to their mobile phones when logging in to make access harder for hackers. But Facebook admitted it also fed the numbers into targeted advertising and friend recommendation systems.

The company says it will have completed the changes - part of a settlement with US regulators - during 2020.

What did Facebook do?

Most of the social networks now offer two-factor authentication - also known as two-step authentication - to enhance account security. It makes it harder for attackers to break into an online account because they need both the password and a one-off code sent to the account-holder’s mobile phone. But in 2018, it was revealed that Facebook was also using the phone numbers to target advertising - and to power its People You May Know feature, which recommends potential Facebook friends. Privacy advocates and security researchers criticised the social network, saying the practice was deceptive and could erode trust in two-factor authentication.

How does People You May Know work?

People You May Know is designed to identify people you might want to add to your Facebook friends list.

It uses a variety of signals to work out whether you have met somebody, including:

However, Facebook and Messenger can also collect contact information from your smartphone’s address book.

That means Facebook can identify people who have saved your number in their address book, and can encourage you to add them as a friend.

It used the phone numbers people provided for two-factor authentication to make these connections.

When will Facebook stop doing this?

Facebook has promised to make privacy changes as part of a $5bn (£3.8bn) settlement with the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC).

It said it had stopped using members’ security phone numbers for advertising in June 2019.

It will stop using the numbers for friend suggestions in Cambodia, Ecuador, Ethiopia, Libya and Pakistan in the next few days.

Facebook told the news agency Reuters that the change would take effect globally in 2020.

However, anybody who has already set up two-factor authentication will have to disable it and delete their phone number from the system, and then switch it back on.