Theranos blood-test machine demos for VIPs rigged to hide any failures, court told

Error messages effectively piped to /dev/null, it is alleged

Theranos blood-testing machines, which US prosecutors claim failed over 51 per cent of the time, provided no indication if things went awry during demonstrations for visitors, a court has heard.

Seven weeks into the criminal fraud trial of Theranos founder and CEO Elizabeth Holmes, the feds are trying to show that Holmes, along with her former partner and COO Ramesh "Sunny" Balwani (to be tried next year after denying any wrongdoing), raised hundreds of millions of dollars from investors based on misrepresentations about technology that didn't work.

In court on Tuesday, Daniel Edlin, a former Theranos project manager who used to operate Theranos' Edison blood-testing machines, testified that device demonstrations, given mainly to VIP visitors, ran a demo app that hid failure messages.

As recounted by New York Times reporter Erin Woo and CNN reporter Sara Ashley O'Brien, the machines also included a "null protocol," so they could be activated without doing any sample analysis.

Prosecutors pointed to an August 2013 email Edlin sent citing the need to set up a testing lab to show company technology to visiting executives. In reply, according to Law360 reporter Dorothy Atkins, former Theranos software engineer Michael Craig suggested using the demo app, which "shields protocol failures from the client."

Last week, former Safeway CEO Steven Burd testified that Holmes had brought a Theranos machine with her to a 2011 meeting and he agreed to a finger-prick blood test. The machine reportedly made lots of noise but never produced a result.

Nonetheless, Safeway struck a $85m deal with Theranos to test the machines and spent about $350m preparing its stores to offer rapid blood testing before it became clear Theranos couldn't fulfill its part of the partnership.

The feds earlier this year claimed Theranos's Edison machine tests were about as accurate as flipping a coin. However, the company's database containing details on its test results was somehow destroyed in 2018 after it was subpoenaed.

On Wednesday, Holmes' attorney argued that Theranos tests were not attempts to deceive anyone. According to the Wall Street Journal, Kevin Downey pointed to a 2012 email from Balwani to Theranos staff after a demonstration for Walgreens Boots Alliance executives in Chicago.

The email said the results produced by a Theranos machine during a demo matched results from a lab. And Downey subsequently asked Edlin whether he was trying to deceive anyone, to which Edlin replied, "Of course not."

Theranos, founded in 2003, raised about $700m from investors and for a time in 2014 was valued at about $9bn, based on the notion that it could quickly test for multiple conditions with just a pinprick of blood. But after ​​Wall Street Journal reporter John Carreyrou published a report in 2015 that challenged the company's claims, things began to unravel and by 2018, Theranos had shut down.

Holmes’ legal team filed a brief last week to defend its assertion that Carreyrou is a potential witness and should not be allowed to hear other evidence presented at trial [PDF]. The government filed its own brief [PDF] arguing that the gag order imposed on Carreyrou is unconstitutional and that his inclusion on Holmes’s potential witness list is being done in bad faith to exclude him from reporting on the trial.

Holmes' trial is expected to run another six weeks. ®

Similar topics

Other stories you might like

  • India reveals home-grown server that won't worry the leading edge

    And a National Blockchain Strategy that calls for gov to host BaaS

    India's government has revealed a home-grown server design that is unlikely to threaten the pacesetters of high tech, but (it hopes) will attract domestic buyers and manufacturers and help to kickstart the nation's hardware industry.

    The "Rudra" design is a two-socket server that can run Intel's Cascade Lake Xeons. The machines are offered in 1U or 2U form factors, each at half-width. A pair of GPUs can be equipped, as can DDR4 RAM.

    Cascade Lake emerged in 2019 and has since been superseded by the Ice Lake architecture launched in April 2021. Indian authorities know Rudra is off the pace, and said a new design capable of supporting four GPUs is already in the works with a reveal planned for June 2022.

    Continue reading
  • Prisons transcribe private phone calls with inmates using speech-to-text AI

    Plus: A drug designed by machine learning algorithms to treat liver disease reaches human clinical trials and more

    In brief Prisons around the US are installing AI speech-to-text models to automatically transcribe conversations with inmates during their phone calls.

    A series of contracts and emails from eight different states revealed how Verus, an AI application developed by LEO Technologies and based on a speech-to-text system offered by Amazon, was used to eavesdrop on prisoners’ phone calls.

    In a sales pitch, LEO’s CEO James Sexton told officials working for a jail in Cook County, Illinois, that one of its customers in Calhoun County, Alabama, uses the software to protect prisons from getting sued, according to an investigation by the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

    Continue reading
  • Battlefield 2042: Please don't be the death knell of the franchise, please don't be the death knell of the franchise

    Another terrible launch, but DICE is already working on improvements

    The RPG Greetings, traveller, and welcome back to The Register Plays Games, our monthly gaming column. Since the last edition on New World, we hit level cap and the "endgame". Around this time, item duping exploits became rife and every attempt Amazon Games made to fix it just broke something else. The post-level 60 "watermark" system for gear drops is also infuriating and tedious, but not something we were able to address in the column. So bear these things in mind if you were ever tempted. On that note, it's time to look at another newly released shit show – Battlefield 2042.

    I wanted to love Battlefield 2042, I really did. After the bum note of the first-person shooter (FPS) franchise's return to Second World War theatres with Battlefield V (2018), I stupidly assumed the next entry from EA-owned Swedish developer DICE would be a return to form. I was wrong.

    The multiplayer military FPS market is dominated by two forces: Activision's Call of Duty (COD) series and EA's Battlefield. Fans of each franchise are loyal to the point of zealotry with little crossover between player bases. Here's where I stand: COD jumped the shark with Modern Warfare 2 in 2009. It's flip-flopped from WW2 to present-day combat and back again, tried sci-fi, and even the Battle Royale trend with the free-to-play Call of Duty: Warzone (2020), which has been thoroughly ruined by hackers and developer inaction.

    Continue reading

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2021