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Fact check: Ransomware did not lead to a woman’s death in Germany

November 16, 2020, 2:41 PM UTC

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It’s often said journalism is the first draft of history. If so, it’s time for a revision.

Recall about two months ago when a variety of news outlets reported the first death due to ransomware cyberattack, this newsletter included.

The story: In Düsseldorf, Germany, a 78-year-old woman suffering an aortic aneurism was rushed by ambulance to the nearest hospital, only to be turned away because the facility had been crippled by hackers. During the drive to another hospital, she died. Prosecutors said they were investigating charging the hackers with negligent manslaughter.

News reports quickly attributed the death to the hacking attack, which froze the servers at Düsseldorf’s University Hospital and reduced the hospital’s capacity. “The first known death from a cyberattack,” the New York Times reported. The Verge was a bit more careful, saying the incident “may be the first death directly linked to a cyberattack on a hospital.” Robert was even more careful here, saying the death might not even be that.

But it was freelance journalist William Ralston who did the unsexy work of sticking with the story. In a piece for Wired UK, Ralston has a major correction to the narrative. After investigating the situation, Cologne chief public prosecutor Markus Hartmann concluded that the hackers were not responsible for the death. “The delay was of no relevance to the final outcome,” Hartmann explained to Ralston. “The medical condition was the sole cause of the death, and this is entirely independent from the cyberattack.”

Still, the word has not gotten out. Microsoft cited the Düsseldorf death in a blog post on Friday about the dangers of cyberattacks. Rewriting the first draft of history is easy. Getting everyone to read it? Less so.

Aaron Pressman
@ampressman
aaron.pressman@fortune.com

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MOOCs, the Massively Open Online Courses, have long promised to democratize education. In the latest episode of Fortune’s Reinvent podcast, Coursera CEO Jeff Maggioncalda argues that MOOCs are an indispensable tool for retraining the workforce for the digital jobs of tomorrow. Listen here.

NEWSWORTHY

They marched in the astronauts two by two. Three months after successfully sending two astronauts to the International Space Station, Elon Musk's SpaceX doubled the feat. A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket lifted off from Florida on Sunday with four astronauts aboard. They will rendezvous with the space station on Monday night. Musk meanwhile was busy muddying the waters about COVID testing. The SpaceX and Tesla CEO said he had taken four rapid tests and was found infected twice. “Something extremely bogus is going on,” Musk tweeted. Experts said the rapid tests may not have been administered properly but do have a higher false positive rate than polymerase chain reaction tests.

Mac phone home. A bit of weirdness cropped up in the rollout of Apple's new Big Sur operating system. Some users couldn't get apps to open on their computers after upgrading due to a glitch in Apple servers that check that apps are free of malware. That raised questions about why apps were checking in with Apple servers in the first place. And some owners of MacBook Pro laptops sold from 2013 to 2015 reported an even more serious problem: The update bricked their computers. In other news, Apple also faces new complaints about violating users' privacy in Europe. And in better news for Apple, early benchmark results for computers running the company's new M1 processor show the CPU is faster than any other chip used in Macs for single core performance.

This mission is too important for me to allow you to jeopardize it. Former Oracle executive Tom Siebel's artificial intelligence startup C3.ai filed to go public. Founded in 2009, the company helps customers like AstraZeneca and ConEdison harness A.I. applications in a corporate setting. Revenue totaled $157 million last year, up 71% from the prior year, while a net loss of $33 million was about half the prior year's loss. DoorDash also filed its registration statement, showing off revenue of $1.9 billion in the first three quarters of 2020, triple the prior year, and a loss of $149 million.

Flashing red. We've reported more than a little here on the rise of right-wing social network Parler as mainstream sites like Twitter and Facebook crack down on misinformation and hate groups. Now a report from the Anti-Defamation League warns that Parler is becoming a preferred platform for spreading Holocaust denial, antisemitism, and racism.

FOOD FOR THOUGHT

The outgoing Trump administration wants the Federal Communications Commission to cut back the legal protection for online sites that host user content. But in an essay in The Hill, Brandie Nonnecke, director of the CITRIS Policy Lab at the University of California, Berkeley, says the FCC lacks the authority to change the protections enacted by Congress.

Democrats and Republicans agree that social media platforms should be doing more to curb the spread of dangerous content and that clarifications to Section 230 immunities may be needed. But looking to the FCC to clarify Section 230 through rulemaking is inappropriate, illegitimate, and inconsistent with its actions to limit the agency’s regulation of information services.

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT

The rise of the MOOCs: How Coursera is retraining the American workforce for a post-COVID economy By Beth Kowitt

Meditation app Calm boosted after sponsoring CNN’s election night coverage By Danielle Abril

Not everyone is feeling the recovery: The economy as told by 8 charts By Lance Lambert

Hackers are trying to disrupt and steal COVID-19 vaccine research By Aaron Pressman

Why so many valuable startups seem like the dumbest idea at first By Lucinda Shen

What you should consider before working remotely from a vacation destination By Rachel King

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BEFORE YOU GO

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