TSR on tech: your weekly news summary
|July 1, 2012||Posted by Elliot Davies under TSR on tech|
Wow, what a week! This might be the most stories we’ve ever covered in one go, so let’s not waste too much time on introductions. Want to know about Sheryl Sandberg and Bob Mansfield? Jimmy Wales’ petition to save Richard O’Dwyer? Apple’s injunctions against Samsung? Details of the Natwest “meltdown”? Google skydiving? All that and much, much more below.
Facebook has named Sheryl Sandberg, its chief operating officer, as its eighth director. In a statement, Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s CEO, said: “Sheryl has been my partner in running Facebook and has been central to our growth and success over the years. Her understanding of our mission and long-term opportunity, and her experience both at Facebook and on public company boards makes her a natural fit for our board.” Sandberg, who also sits on four other boards, including that of the Walt Disney Company, is widely credited with turning Facebook from a fast-growing start-up into an established, viable business.
Apple’s senior vice president of hardware engineering, Bob Mansfield, is retiring from the company after 13 years. During his time at Apple, Mansfield oversaw such breakthrough products as the iMac line, the MacBook and the iPad, and in 2010 additionally took over management the company’s mobile products. Tim Cook, CEO, said: “Bob has been an instrumental part of our executive team, leading the hardware engineering organization and overseeing the team that has delivered dozens of breakthrough products over the years. We are very sad to have him leave and hope he enjoys every day of his retirement.” Mansfield will be replaced by Dan Riccio, vice president of iPad hardware engineering, over a period of several months. His departure has come as a surprise, since it cost him at least $40mn in stock options that would have vested in 2013 and 2016.
Microsoft announced its $1.2bn purchase of Yammer, a company that provides private social networks for businesses. Yammer will become part of Microsoft’s Office division and will continue to develop its services and platform – eventually, Microsoft wants to use it in tandem with SharePoint, Office 365, and other enterprise offerings.
RIM’s Q1 earnings report spelled bad news for the company this week as the BlackBerry maker announced losses of $518mn, plans to cut 5,000 jobs, and delays with its BlackBerry 10 platform that mean the OS – already suffering from a lack of anticipation – will not be released until Q1 2013, well after the holiday period. RIM’s CEO and president, Thorston Heins, explained himself: “RIM’s development teams are relentlessly focused on ensuring the quality and reliability of the platform and I will not compromise the product by delivering it before it is ready.”
Kaz Hirai has stepped down as Sony’s director and chairman to focus on his role as the company’s president. He also remains a director.
Legal – the UK
This week, Jimmy Wales launched a campaign to prevent the extradition to the US of Richard O’Dwyer, a 24-year-old student at Sheffield Hallam University who set up a site where users could share links to TV shows and films online. O’Dwyer ran the site – a service not dissimilar to search engines like Google – for three years before suddenly being arrested in his university hall of residence and accused of copyright infringement. His case was soon dismissed in the UK, where linking to content is not illegal, but US authorities claim he made £147,000 illegally from advertising on the site and have asked for his extradition – despite the fact that his website was not hosted in the US and that he is a UK citizen. Nevertheless, if found guilty of the alleged copyright offences he could face up to 10 years in a US prison after Theresa May, the home secretary, signed the extradition order in March. The extradition has been opposed by MPs from all three political major parties, including Louise Mensch, Tom Watson, Tim Farron and Keith Vaz, as well as by high profile figures such as Graham Linehan, writer of The IT Crowd, Black Books and Father Ted, and now Jimmy Wales, who founded and runs Wikipedia. A petition on Change.org had gathered 181,900 signatures at the time of writing since its launch earlier this week.
Paul Chambers, the former trainee accountant who jokingly threatened to blow up an airport on Twitter after it closed and delayed his flight, is appealing his case in the UK’s High Court. Chambers tweeted, “Crap! Robin Hood airport is closed. You’ve got a week and a bit to get your shit together otherwise I’m blowing the airport sky high!!” and was arrested a week later when an airport employee noticed the message. Chambers was prosecuted under anti-terrorism legislation, leaving him with a criminal record and upwards of £3,000 in fines after his first appeal failed. He has also lost two jobs as a result. The case has widely been decried as ridiculous.
Jake Davis, 18, and Ryan Cleary, 19, both former members of the LulzSec group, appeared at Southwark Crown Court this week to plead guilty to some of the computer hacking charges against them. Davis admitted to two of his four charges, including attacking the UK’s Serious Organised Crime Agency, while Cleary admitted to six of his eight charges, including attacking CIA and US Air Force systems at the Pentagon. Both men will face trial on April 8, 2013, along with Ryan Akroyd, 25, and a 17-year-old girl, both of whom have pleaded not guilty to four charges each.
OFCOM has outlined its plans for dealing with illegal file sharing in the UK. A “three strikes” rule will come into force in March 2014, whereby ISPs will send warning letters to any individuals accused of illegally downloading copyrighted material. Anyone receiving three letters in 12 months will have their personal data and file sharing history handed over to the copyright owners, who could use it to prepare a legal case. ISPs have been arguing against such a law since it was proposed as part of the 2010 Digital Economy Act.
The UK’s Office of Fair Trading has announced a probe into Facebook’s acquisition of Instagram over concerns that the purchase may stifle the photo app market. There will now be a two-week period for parties to offer the OFT their views before the case may be referred to the Competition Commission. The Federal Trade Commission in the US is also investigating the acquisition as a matter of routine.
Legal – elsewhere
Apple has won a federal injunction in the US against the Galaxy Tab 10.1, which will prevent Samsung from selling the device anywhere in the country. District Judge Lucy Koh agreed with Apple that the two products looked too similar, stating: “the Court noted that the GalaxyTab 10.1 is ‘virtually indistinguishable’ from Apple’s iPad and iPad 2.” Koh then went further, essentially damning Samsung by saying: “There was some evidence that Samsung altered its design to make its product look more like Apple’s.”
[Update: Shortly after the time of writing, Apple was also awarded an injunction against the Samsung Galaxy Nexus phone. The Galaxy Nexus is Google's flagship Android phone, but is unrelated to the new Nexus 7 tablet (see "Products" below). Judge Koh scheduled a hearing for Monday to determine whether the injunction should be held pending appeal.]
It wasn’t all good news for Apple, however: the company was sued 75 times on Tuesday as former employees of eBizcuss filed individual suits in Paris. eBizcuss was France’s biggest Apple reseller until it went into administration in May, and now its employees are demanding extra severance pay, claiming that Apple was effectively their co-employer. The CEO of eBizcuss, Francois Prudent, had previously blamed the company’s financial difficulties on Apple’s business practices.
Microsoft’s appeal of a 2008 anti-trust ruling was this week rejected by the European Union’s General Court. The case dates as far back as 1993, when Novell complained about Microsoft’s software licensing, and escalated in later years. Microsoft must now pay a fine of €860mn unless it appeals to Europe’s highest court.
Helen Winkelmann, the High Court judge presiding over the Kim Dotcom case in New Zealand, ruled this week that the search of Dotcom’s home and seizure of his property by New Zealand police in January was entirely illegal.
Research undertaken by Boston University’s School of Law suggests that the technology industry’s “patent trolling” problems may have cost the US as much as $29bn in 2011.
Hacking & Security
The recent “banking meltdown” at Natwest and other members of the RBS Group was apparently caused by a single “inexperienced operative,” sources familiar with the matter have told The Register. The employee apparently attempted to update the CA-7 software that RBS Group and many other banks use to process many transactions each night, but failed to properly back out of the update after it was found to have caused a problem. While backing out, the employee accidentally erased the scheduling, so that all the wiped information had to be re-inputted and reprocessed, and this caused a large backlog that led to a whole chain of complications. It has been suggested that the problems may have been related to outsourcing of jobs; Stephen Hester, CEO of RBS Group, denies this, but the company denied to confirm to The Register that the inexperienced operative was based in the UK.
Visitors to the Kasumigaura river management office’s website in Japan were surprised this week to find the front page defaced by Anonymous as part of the group’s campaign against the proposed Personal Illegal Downloads Punishment Act. A message placed on the site read, “We are not about to see Japan turn into what America has become,” along with the usual Anonymous branding. It seems the hackers mistook the Kasumigaura site, which deals with flooding and water management, for the Kasumigaseki website, which is related to governmental offices. Many amused Japanese forum users could be found asking exactly what Anonymous had against Japan’s lakes and rivers.
The rarely-seen Director General of the Security Service (MI5), Jonathan Evans, made a speech this week in which he stated that cyber attacks on the UK have reached an industrial scale. The transcript of the speech can be found here.
PayPal has started offering a bounty to people who find security flaws in its system and bring them to its attention.
The Extended Cut DLC for Mass Effect 3 was released this week. The additional content is designed to flesh out the game’s ending, which many users considered disappointing.
On the same day, the Dawnguard expansion to Skyrim was released for Xbox 360. Dawnguard will be available on PS3 and PC at the end of July owing to an exclusivity deal between Bethesda and Microsoft.
The release of Far Cry 3 has been delayed until November 29th.
It was Google’s turn for big presentations this week with its Google IO developer conference – and what big presentations they were! The most memorable of all was an advertisement for Google Glass, Google’s computer-in-a-pair-of-glasses project that it seems will be available to developers from as soon as next year. The presentation included a skydive onto the roof of the conference centre, bike jumps, abseiling down the side of the building, and another bike ride through some surprised crowds and right up onto the stage – all broadcast live using Google’s glasses. Safe to say it made an impression; you can view the video here. Another edited advertisement is embedded above.
At the same event, Google also announced Jelly Bean, version 4.1 of Android, which notably will not include Adobe Flash, and a flagship tablet to run it: the Nexus 7. With a 7-inch screen, a 1.3GHz quad-core processor, a 1280×800 display with a purported 178-degree viewing angle and a $199 price, the Nexus 7 looks to be a serious competitor in the tablet world and is perhaps designed to show other Android tablet manufacturers how to do it.
Google also launched the Nexus Q, apparently “the first social streaming media player.” This author can only assume that’s Q for curious, because we’re really not sure what to make of it. Supposedly a home server, it’s a sphere 4.6 inches in diameter and can also be used as an amp, connected to a TV, and controlled by an Android device running Android 2.3 or later. The volume can be adjusted by twisting the top half of the dome, and the back of the device includes a variety of ports and speaker outputs. If $299 seemed cheap for your very own plastic cannonball, you can also buy an accompanying pair of bookshelf speakers for $399 and two speaker cables for $49. We may not know what it is, but at least it’s manufactured in the USA, right?
Zynga has launched its own “Zynga With Friends” social network, designed to bring together the 290 million people playing Zynga’s games on a variety of platforms. ZWF will allow users to create profiles to show off their gaming credentials, send messages to their friends, and connect with people playing the same games. The question is, just how concerned should Facebook be?
Apple launched a standalone podcasts app, “Podcasts”, on Tuesday. The app is very simple, allowing users to stream, download and manage their podcasts. This functionality is still available in iTunes but seems likely to be removed in a future update.
The BBC has launched a Facebook app that will allow fans of the Olympics to watch the Games without even leaving the social network. The app is available only for UK audiences and is already broadcasting Wimbledon coverage.
Facebook has quietly started displaying @facebook.com email addresses on users’ Timelines this week, in many cases replacing the Gmail, Hotmail or other third-party addresses that had been listed. Users can go into their settings and undo the changes.
An amusing marketing fail on Yahoo!’s part meant that visitors to Yahoo! News were briefly offered the opportunity to “get the look” of an Afghan militant.
Saturday was an extra second longer than usual this week as the world’s atomic clocks were adjusted to match the Earth’s rotation.
Finally, an explanation for views always hanging at 301 on YouTube.
Stephen Hawking will next month show how brain scanning technology will better enable him to speak.