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Opinion | The Bezos hacking puzzle

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Could ownership of The Washington Post be proving too costly for Amazon founder Jeff Bezos? Allegations have surfaced that his phone was hacked in 2018, done by a bug suspected to have been planted by a video clip he got via WhatsApp from the personal account of Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Salman.

According to a news report, Bezos’s phone began sending out unusually large volumes of data after receiving that video. The Saudi embassy in Washington has dismissed reports suggesting that the kingdom was behind the intrusion, and has called for a probe. Digital forensic sleuths, meanwhile, are said to be looking for what the motive might have been. A speculative trail seems to lead to the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, a Washington Post columnist who was a fierce critic of the Saudi regime before his death just months after Bezos’s handset was broken into.

The newspaper in question has a record of putting governments around the world under a scanner. But, by all available accounts, Bezos’s 2013 investment in it was a regular business decision, though many observers saw it as a white knight effort to keep a favoured part of the print media going in the face of a market-wide funds crunch. That Riyadh is no fan of free speech has long been in evidence, but there is little to suggest that Bezos has had any role in the paper’s functioning. So, what could explain the hacking of his phone? It could possibly be a misinterpretation of US media culture. But it could go deeper. Who knows?

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