TSR on tech: your weekly news summary

Well, after a quiet week last week, the usual pre-Christmas lull seems to have evaporated as we’ve suddenly been flooded with news from all quadrants of the map! We’ve got Zynga heading for an IPO, the most money ever spent online in the US in a single day, the Carrier IQ scandal, printers bursting into flames, WikiLeaks returning from the dead, GCHQ failing to impress anyone, YouTube’s redesign, an angry Effin Irishwoman – and is that the Higgs boson? You’ll just have to read on to find out.

Business

Zynga is headed for its IPO, which is estimated to be worth anything between $10bn and $20bn.

Zynga, the mobile gaming company which makes Words with Friends (similar to Scrabble) and Farmville, is set to announce its IPO this month and begin trading on the stock market with the symbol ZNGA. The price of the IPO has yet to be set: the Wall Street Journal reckons the company hopes to raise around $2bn, which would value the company at almost $20bn, but other estimates have been more conservative at about half of that. Zynga has confirmed, however, that it will be selling around 14% of its common stock, or 115m shares. The crucial element which separates this IPO from many other recent large tech IPOs such as Groupon’s is that Zynga actually makes a profit. Although its games are free, users playing them can buy “goods”, and Zynga also advertises heavily. The largest issue for the company right now is how reliant on Facebook it is.

In a similar vein, Facebook is apparently considering its own IPO for early 2012. The question is whether Facebook, as previously speculated, can make it to the lofty heights of a $100bn valuation; for reference, Google’s IPO in 2004 capped at $23bn and internet giant Netscape was valued at just $4bn in today’s dollars when it went public in 1995.

Cyber Monday - as crazy as Black Friday, but over the internet.

Cyber Monday (the Monday following Thanksgiving), well known for its legendary online sales, has pulled in 22% more sales than last year, with estimated total revenues of $1.25bn. This makes Cyber Monday 2011 the “heaviest US online spending day in history“.

After yet more flip-flopping by HP over webOS, CEO Meg Whitman has finally decided a date to announce the platform’s fate – in the next fortnight. Around 600 people are still working on webOS and rumoured buyers have included Amazon and Oracle, but nobody quite knows what the situation is. Hopefully we’ll find out soon.

Apple’s share of the UK smartphone market has grown since the release of the iPhone 4S, with the company now holding an impressive 42.8% of all sales for October. Android devices accounted for only 35% of sales by comparison.

According to estimates from research firm iHS iSuppli, Amazon’s newly released Kindle Fire has become the second most popular tablet after Apple’s iPad and is set to ship 3.9m units in this year’s fourth quarter. The Fire reportedly now has a 13.8% global market share compared to the iPad’s 65.6%.

James Murdoch has been re-elected as BSkyB chairman at the company’s AGM, with 81.24% of the vote. Murdoch was also re-elected to News Corp in October despite a 35% protest vote.

Hacking & Security

Carrier IQ boss Larry Lenhart attempted to explain why his software, installed on millions of mobile phones, was spying on users.

Last week, security researcher Trevor Eckhart published a scary-sounding piece of research discussing Carrier IQ, a piece of software included on over 150m US mobile phones. The software is installed in such a way as to be mostly undetectable, and logs information such as location, URLs visited, and details of phone calls and text messages. When Eckhart attempted to stop Carrier IQ from running, he found it was nearly impossible to stop or remove. The software certainly does not present any notifications or privacy policies to users, and does not provide an option to opt-out. Eckhart’s publication was followed by a cease-and-desist letter from the Carrier IQ company, and apologies and denials from phone manufacturers across the board - the software has been confirmed to run on Apple, Samsung and HTC products, while Verizon, Nokia and RiM have also been accused of using it but have denied doing so. In a statement, Apple said it stopped supporting Carrier IQ with iOS 5 and will remove it entirely in the future. HTC and Samsung blamed the cellular carriers and said they had no direct involvement. Carrier IQ themselves invited Wired to their headquarters for an interview to explain that they do not sell or directly use the data they collect.

Security researchers have been busy; another team have this week discovered a vulnerability in some models of HP LaserJet printers, which not only allows hackers to steal data from the printers and use them as launchpads for other attacks, but also to cause them to burst into flames. The vulnerability lies in the fact that a printer checks each incoming job for potential software updates, but has no way to verify that such updates are authentic. Hackers can therefore send files to the printer which contain malicious code, causing it to malfunction, and this can even be done remotely if the printer is set up for over-the-internet printing. It was demonstrated how attackers could use this method to take control of the printer’s fuser – which dries the ink on the paper after printing – and cause it to heat up continuously until the paper caught fire. HP has been notified but no fix has yet been released.

WikiLeaks sprung back into action on Thursday, releasing a hoard of marketing documents from surveillance companies which secretly sell their products to governments. The whistleblowing site published 287 documents – it claims to have hundreds more – which show price lists, manuals and marketing claims from companies such as Blue Coat (which sells to Syria) as well as Nokia-Siemens, Lucent and others. Although many of these documents appear to have previously been made public by the Wall Street Journal, one revelation was that key members of Libya’s recent opposition movement were being spied on with technology from French firm Amesys. In conjunction with Carrier IQ, it’s a bad week for surveillance.

Over one hundred usernames, email addresses and passwords of UN officials have been published by the TeaMp0isoN hacking group, who believe the UN is guilty of corruption. The details were apparently retrieved using a vulnerability on the United Nations Development Programme website. From examining the stolen credentials, several of the UN officials were apparently using blank passwords – it probably should be said that, with such lax security, it’s no wonder they were broken into.

GCHQ's building might look like the Pentagon, but its website didn't match up.

GCHQ, Britain’s answer to the NSA, turned into a laughing stock amongst the online security community this week. The government’s elite codebreaking division had posted a codebreaking challenge designed to help recruit talented codebreakers to the service but failed to secure their own website, meaning that a simple Google search could direct anyone who was interested to the page people were only supposed to see if they had completed the challenge.

Anyone who knows they are running Java on their computers, or who is seeing messages about Java wanting to update, should run the update feature immediately to avoid a security flaw which rates as 10/10 on the National Vulnerability Database’s severity scale. The currently installed version of Java can be verified here.

Gaming

Bethesda has announced that a full suite of developer tools for Skyrim will be released in January next year. The kit will allow users to ‘mod’ the game, creating their own adaptations and features, and will even come complete with instructional videos.

Marcus ‘Notch’ Persson has stepped down as the lead developer for Minecraft to focus on a new project with his studio, Mojang. Developer Jens Bergensten will be taking over instead. Minecraft now has around 4 million players and released version 1.0 two weeks ago.

Products

YouTube's new look is in keeping with Google's recent changes to all its properties. Photograph: The Verge.

YouTube this week launched its revamped website, with the new design centring around the idea of channels. Google, which owns YouTube, explained that the website’s previous design encouraged users to sporadically click on videos from different channels without any sense of who had created them. Now, the new design focuses on a timeline of the most recent videos from the channels users are subscribed to, with the ability to filter by channel. The site also suggests similar videos and channels, aiming to assist users in discovering more content by similar people, and ties in with Facebook, Twitter and Google+. The redesign also gives YouTube a look similar to that of Google+, Google Reader and other Google properties which have been redesigned recently.

In Microsoft news, the Mango update for Windows Phone 7 has been pushed via Zune to the Dell Venue Pro, signalling the update’s release for all other Windows Phone 7 devices as well. Users running Microsoft’s mobile operating system should keep an eye out. Additionally, The Daily reported this week that Microsoft is planning a version of Office designed for the iPad, to be available some time next year. New versions of Office are also expected for OS X Lion and Windows next year, but these will be released slightly later to coincide with the release of Windows 8.

Misc.

This Effin woman is proud of her heritage.

In a somewhat amusing debacle, an Irishwoman has been getting upset with Facebook after the social network deigned her place of birth, Effin in County Limerick, “offensive”. The woman, Ann Kennedy, said, “I would like to be able to put Effin on my profile page and so would many other Effin people around the world to proudly say that they are from Effin, County Limerick, but it won’t recognise that.” Kennedy attempted to set up a protest group on the site named “Please get my hometown Effin recognised” but it was also blocked by Facebook’s profanity filters. A spokesperson for Facebook said that the site would look into the matter.

WikiLeaks has won the Australian equivalent of the Pulitzers, the Walkley Awards, for an “outstanding contribution to journalism”. Julian Assange’s acceptance speech was given in a recorded video message, during which he called Australian prime minister Julia Gillard “cowardly” for not doing enough to protect him. Despite its lauding, WikiLeaks has suffered over the past year due to a blockade by online payment companies and the allegations levelled against Assange. The site recently announced it will be delaying indefinitely the release of a new, more secure system for submissions to its site.

Here’s a ridiculously secure USB stick for anyone out there who’s feeling paranoid.

Apple’s QuickTime software – the one everyone has on their computers but the purpose of which nobody really understands – reached its 20th birthday on December 2nd.

According to rumours, scientists at the LHC are seeing signals which could correspond to the much sought-after Higgs boson, the particle needed under the Standard Model to provide other particles with mass. Public talks are scheduled to discuss the findings on December 13th but there are already many sceptics; the signals indicate that the elusive particle may have a mass of around 125 GeV, far lighter than predicted, and there is speculation that the findings are below the probability threshold needed to declare a certain discovery in physics.

Element 114 is to be named Flerovium, for the Flerov Laboratory, and element 116 is to be named Livermorium, for the Lawrence Livermore National Lab. The announcement was made by the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry.

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