It seemed as though nobody wanted to follow Microsoft’s Monday announcement of its new Surface tablet, resulting in an unusually slow news week – or so they would have you believe. Never fear, for we have dug deep to bring you all the best tech stories that didn’t make the headlines: we’ve got employees breaking ranks at Google, good news on ACTA, Julian Assange causing havoc as usual, and Larry Ellison buying a Hawaiian island. And if you’re lucky, we might also mention Natwest’s “small” banking issues and have a quick look at the Surface after all.
Yahoo! has hired Michael Barratt, a well-known advertising executive currently working for Google, to be its chief of revenue from July. The move signals Yahoo!’s intentions to put some serious effort into advertising, a key area of business for the teetering company. Barratt was previously CEO of AdMeld, an advertising company, until it was bought by Google last year, and before that worked at companies including AOL, Disney Online, and Newsweek.
Google lost a second executive this week in Stephanie Tilenius, who left to become an entrepreneur with Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, a venture capital firm. Tilenius headed up Google’s commerce and mobile payment efforts, and spearheaded the development of Google Wallet, which gives users a one-payment account for services including the Android Market, YouTube, and Google+ Games. Google hired Tilenius from eBay in 2010, where she had overseen PayPal’s merchant services.
RBS Group, which owns RBS, Natwest and Ulster Bank, experienced technical difficulties this week that left many customers unable to use online banking or make or receive payments. By Saturday the initial “technical glitch” was reported by Natwest as fixed, though the backlog of customer problems was nowhere near resolved. Coutts, the Queen’s bank, which is also part of RBS Group, appeared unaffected.
Codecademy, a 10-month-old start-up that helps people learn to program, has reportedly raised around $55mn in a second round of venture capital funding. The company, which raised $2.5mn last year, was given a boost in popularity when Mike Bloomberg, the mayor of New York City, started using it. Around 100 million lessons have been taken using the site, which does not currently generate revenue.
The Finnish prime minister, Jyrki Katainen, announced that he will not bail out Nokia despite speculation that the company might be too big to fail. In a statement, Katainen said: “This is not our business. We are developing Finland into a country where companies can do well, but this is not the way of support along which the government will go.” Nokia once accounted for 5% of the Finnish economy, though its business now contributes less than 1%.
Oracle had an excellent Q4, with earnings of 82 cents a share on revenue of $10.9bn, up 1%. Additionally, the company announced a $10bn buyback of shares, causing its stock price to rise over 3% in after-hours trading to $28 a share.
Facebook announced that it would purchase Face.com, an Israeli start-up specialising in facial recognition technology. The move is likely aimed at improving Facebook’s own recognition technology for photo sharing. Reuters and TechCrunch both put the valuation at around $60mn.
Facebook is to pay $10mn to charity in order to settle a lawsuit over its use of Sponsored Stories, a type of social advertising. The suit, which a judge ruled in December Facebook could not throw out, was brought by five Facebook users and alleged that Facebook had breached California law by publicising users’ “likes” without paying them or letting them opt out.
The European Parliament is likely to reject the ACTA treaty after its international trade committee voted 19-12 against deferring the decision until the European Court of Justice could vote on ACTA’s legality. If the parliament does vote against ACTA, the European Commission will be left to decide what to do with the agreement.
Samsung has won a minor patent lawsuit against Apple. A Dutch court on Wednesday found Apple guilty of infringing one of Samsung’s Universal Mobile Telecommunications System patents – EP1188269, “apparatus for encoding a transport format combination indicator for a communication system” – though the court neither banned the infringing Apple products nor agreed that Apple had infringed any of the other patents Samsung had asserted. Additionally, Samsung must now offer EP119269 for licensing under “fair, reasonable and non-discriminatory” (FRAND) terms, since it is a standard-essential patent – something Apple had asked for all along. Apple will pay Samsung an undisclosed amount in damages for the infringement.
Julian Assange walked into the Ecuadorian embassy in Knightsbridge, London, on Tuesday and requested political asylum. The Ecuadorian government has yet to announce its decision but Assange may be arrested regardless of whether asylum is granted: he breached his bail terms by remaining inside the embassy past 22:00 on Tuesday and will hence be arrested by the Metropolitan Police as soon as he steps back onto British territory. Assange is due to be extradited to Sweden to face allegations of sex crimes but fears the USA will then try to charge him with offences related to WikiLeaks.
Hacking & Security
The “New Tab” thumbnail feature in Firefox 13, which shows the user’s recently visited websites, is “taking snapshots of the user’s HTTPS [secure] session content,” potentially including information such as banking details. Mozilla has acknowledged the bug and has promised to patch the behaviour.
New legislation in the state of Louisiana will require convicted sex offenders and paedophiles to reveal their criminal status on Facebook and other social networks from August 1st, in addition to registering with local authorities such as police and schools. Facebook’s terms and conditions already state, however, that: “You will not use Facebook if you are a convicted sex offender.”
Microsoft this week launched the new Surface, a slick 10.6-inch tablet device. The Surface will come in two versions, one using Intel’s Ivy Bridge chips and running Windows 8 Pro, and one using an ARM chipset and running Windows RT. The Pro version will be 13.5mm thick and weigh 1.9lbs with USB 3.0 support, will have a magnesium casing and a nifty built-in kickstand, and will come with either 64GB or 128GB of storage. It will also include support for digital ink with an included pen that magnetises to the tablet’s body for storage. The RT version will be 9.3mm thick at 1.5lbs with either 32GB or 64GB of storage and does not include the pen, but will otherwise be identical. Both versions of the Surface will support Microsoft’s very cool Touch and Type Covers, which protect the tablet and provide multitouch and tactile keyboards respectively. No pricing or release dates were announced, though the tablet is likely to be made available alongside Windows 8 in October.
Microsoft also held a Windows Phone 8 developer preview, where the company showed off fully customisable start screen tiles, removable microSD storage, NFC features, DirectX-based games, Nokia maps, and VoIP integration. The company stated that existing Windows Phone 7 smartphones would not be eligible for upgrade to Windows Phone 8, but that some features will be introduced in Windows Phone 7.8.
Facebook is rolling out functionality that will allow users to edit their own comments – finally, no more double-posting to fix typos! An edit history will be shown to ensure “subsequent commenters or likers have the full context of the conversation”.
The BBC iPlayer now includes a “Live Restart” feature that allows users to restart and rewind live TV shows. A TV license is required to watch live programming on the iPlayer.
This week marks 100 years since the birth of Alan Turing. Wired has some great coverage and features.
China this week became the third country to carry astronauts to an orbital space station. As part of the mission, China also sent its first woman into space.
Larry Ellison, the CEO and co-founder of Oracle and one of the richest men in America, this week bought the Hawaiian island of Lana’i. Lana’i is the state’s 6th largest island at 140 square miles and is 98% privately owned. In 1994, Bill Gates rented out the entire island for his marriage.
For people who truly love their iPhones, how about these jeans?