TSR on tech: your weekly news summary
|August 7, 2011||Posted by Elliot Davies under TSR on tech|
Keep an eye out below this week for plenty of interesting developments in the technology world! In business, we have some news about Twitter and Facebook, while on the legal front we take a look at patents and the UK government’s new stance on copyright. Then there’s some important information about hacking & security, and quite a few announcements about new games and products. It’s been a busy week.
Arguably the most important piece of business news this week was the announcement that Twitter, the increasingly popular microblogging site, has raised $800m in venture funding, half of which will be spent on employees and shareholders. This latest round of fundraising was led by Russian firm DST Global, which has also funded other prominent web companies such as Facebook and Zynga, and will be a relief for Twitter, which has had a notoriously difficult time finding a way to remain profitable. The new funding will raise Twitter’s total valuation to around $8bn.
Three years after it launched, Google’s Chrome has become the second most popular web browser in Britain with a 22% market share, narrowly overtaking Mozilla’s Firefox. Microsoft’s Internet Explorer is losing market share but nevertheless remains the largest with 45%, and Apple’s Safari is fourth with a 9% share. Chrome has also risen to third place on the global scale, and is expected to overtake Firefox there too.
Randi Zuckerberg, Facebook’s director of marketing and sister of CEO Mark Zuckerberg, has resigned from the company after six years. Citing her recent maternity leave as giving her time to reflect on what she wants to do, Zuckerberg announced that she would be leaving Facebook to start her own business, RtoZ Media, which will focus on helping companies better use social media. She appears to be leaving Facebook on a high note, having recently been nominated for an Emmy for her work on Facebook Live, a real-time news show she created and hosted, although there was no comment from Mark Zuckerberg directly.
The patent wars continued to rage this week when Google publicly denounced Apple and Microsoft for running “a hostile, organised campaign against Android”. The accusations came after Google lost out to a consortium of companies led by Microsoft and Apple in the bidding for Nortel’s patents. However, Microsoft struck back in a series of tweets suggesting that Google had in fact declined an offer to bid jointly with Microsoft in the auction. Nortel, a bankrupt Canadian company, sold its patent holdings to the consortium for $4.5bn earlier this year, trumping Google’s original $900m offer.
Patents, originally designed to help innovation, have recently become more like weapons for large technology companies. If one company can prove that another is infringing on any patents it holds, the latter company may be forced to stop selling its products, or pay royalties to the patent-holding company. For this reason, companies such as Microsoft, Oracle, Google and Apple have started buying patents in huge numbers; not necessarily to go on the offensive, but to deter others from suing them, in true “mutual assured destruction” style.
This system has led to hundreds of lawsuits between companies, often simultaneously. Actual successes are rare, although in the past Apple has forced Samsung to stop selling its Galaxy Tab 10.1 in Australia, and HTC currently pays fairly hefty royalties to Microsoft every time it sells a smartphone. HTC this week filed suit against Apple in the UK after the US International Trade Commission ruled that some of HTC’s smartphones infringed two Apple-held patents.
Similarly, game company Bethesda Softworks this week sued Mojang Studios over the name of Mojang’s upcoming game Scrolls. The Student Review has a separate article on this lawsuit.
A California judge has ruled that accessing another person’s Facebook account counts as identity theft, even if the person accessing the account didn’t obtain the password. This means that if you come across someone’s logged-in Facebook account and decide to ‘frape’ them or similar, your actions could be construed as illegal. This has so far only been ruled in California and is unlikely to apply to non-serious situations, but is something everyone should be aware of.
Perhaps most importantly this week, Vince Cable announced that the UK government will be making significant changes to its policies on copyright. He argued that last year’s Digital Economy Act is unworkable and that the government will not be enacting the site-blocking provisions it previously announced. Additionally, copyright will be relaxed to better allow for parody, personal back-up of CDs and DVDs, and use of copyrighted materials in education and non-commercial research. The change in policy is exciting for those people in favour of freedom of information, and should be much fairer for consumers.
Hacking & Security
Last week we mentioned that Scotland Yard claimed to have arrested Topiary, a prolific hacker working as part of the LulzSec group, in the Shetland Islands. At the time there was some doubt as to whether the police had the right man, but since then it appears to have been confirmed. The 18-year-old has been named as Jake Davis and is being charged with five offences, including gaining unauthorised access to computer systems and conspiring to carry out Distributed Denial of Service (DDOS) attacks against the website of the UK’s Serious and Organised Crime Agency (SOCA). Davis appeared in court on Monday and has since been released on bail until his next scheduled court date on August 30th.
The Metropolitan Police this week used Twitter to remind anyone considering internet attacks against companies or governments that these attacks are against the law. The defence that these activities – including DDOS attacks – are comparable to legitimate civil disobedience is not a defence in court.
McAfee made headlines this week by announcing that 12 US security contractors; governments including those of the US, Canada and South Korea; the UN; and the International Olympic Committee, have been targeted by hackers, probably working for the Chinese government, in the past five years. Many of these attacks were long-term, with five of the penetrations lasting for over two years, and targets were found in 14 different countries. Most of the attacks used spear phishing techniques, such as sending legitimate looking emails with infected attachments, to install remote access software on the targeted computers. However, while these attacks are undoubtedly more threatening than the better publicised hacking carried out by Anonymous or LulzSec, few people should be surprised that these sorts of activities are ongoing.
Readers of The Sun who participated in competitions on the newspaper’s website should be aware that their personal information may have been stolen and posted online. The data was stolen at the same time as LulzSec broke into the website last month to post fake stories on its front page. News International, which owns The Sun and until recently the News of the World, said that it was directly contacting people who may be affected.
The second Tuesday of every month is ‘Patch Tuesday’ for Microsoft, the day on which the company releases security updates. This month, Microsoft will release 13 updates that address 22 vulnerabilities, two of which are rated ‘critical’. Anyone running Windows should be prepared to install the updates via Windows Update in a couple of days.
ZeptoLab, the Moscow-based company which makes popular iOS game Cut the Rope, this week released a new sequel called Cut the Rope: Experiments. The company decided to self-publish the title, much as Rovio chose to do with Angry Birds, and the game is available now, costing £0.69 for iPhone and £1.49 for iPad.
Anyone holding out for the PlayStation Vita, Sony’s successor to the PSP, will have to wait a little longer. CEO of Sony Computer Entertainment Kaz Hirai has been quoted saying that the Vita will not be released until “early next year” in Europe and the USA, although the handheld is still on track to be released in Japan in time for the holiday season. It is expected that the Vita’s price will be cut even before it is released, to match Nintendo’s 3DS price drop, which we mentioned last week.
Borderlands 2 has been announced, and is expected to be released some time in Q2 next year. The press release states that the game will feature “all new characters, skills, environments, enemies, weapons and equipment, which come together in an ambitiously crafted story.”
According to the Wall Street Journal, Facebook is considering redesigning its news feed yet again, this time to make it unfiltered, thereby greatly increasing the amount of content in the feed. Facebook told CNET that the plans were about including more activity from users’ friends, but this could also be a sign of commercial features appearing in the feed in the future. More details may be revealed at the F8, Facebook’s developer conference, expected to be held later this month.
The TouchPad, HP’s webOS-running tablet competitor to the iPad, has had its discount increased from $50 to $100. This lowers its price to $399.99, or even $299.99 at Staples, and represents the fact that iPad competitors are unlikely to sell well unless they can undercut Apple’s pricing. However, it’s also worth noting that HP products are often heavily discounted as part of the company’s marketing strategy, and that HP effectively spent £1.2bn buying Palm to develop the TouchPad – they are unlikely to give up on the idea any time soon.
After Apple released Mac OS X Lion on July 20th, many people wondered about the company’s strategy of making the upgrade available by download only. It is possible to get around this by making your own USB sticks with the Lion installer on, but Apple has now announced that similar USB sticks will also be available for $69 for anyone who wants to purchase a physical copy outright. This is much more than the $29.99 for Lion on the Mac App Store, and will likely only be useful for people with very slow internet connections. However, Apple may also send out these USB recovery drives free of charge if an AppleCare tech support person decides that the situation necessitates it.
Skype for iPad was made available this week on the App Store. It includes all the features seen in Skype for iPhone, including video calling over 3G or WiFi and instant messaging, except optimised for the iPad’s screen.
Finally, the iCloud beta went live this week, allowing developers to test out features and revealing pricing plans. Very little is currently available but worth noting is the Find My Mac tool, which works similarly to Find My iPhone and appears to allow users to locate their missing Macs using any WiFi connections the Mac connects to. iCloud is expected to be released to the public this autumn at the same time iOS 5 is released.