You might have worried that the Olympic Games would lead to a dearth of tech news, but never fear: the march of technology stops for nothing. As such we’ve still got a week bursting with news: high-profile departures from Yahoo! and Facebook, an algorithmic slip-up that cost one company $440mn in 45 minutes, the start of a major patent trial between Apple and Samsung, the launches of Mountain Lion and Outlook.com, and plenty more. If there were medals for excitement, this week’s news would definitely be in the running.
Marissa Mayer, who departed Google to join Yahoo! two weeks ago, has already started to influence the culture at her new fiefdom – and it’s beginning to look a lot like Google. First, a weekly meeting was added to the schedule for every Friday afternoon (Google is notable for these whole-office sessions, where employees can also ask questions of senior staff), quickly followed by an announcement that the food in Yahoo!’s URLs Cafe will be free (several Silicon Valley companies are known for offering free meals and snacks to employees, including Google and Facebook). Mayer is also apparently planning to redesign the layout of Yahoo!’s offices and buildings to make them more collaborative and open. The plan is obviously to create a better atmosphere at Yahoo!, and it’s not a bad tactic; happy employees tend to be both more productive and less likely to jump ship. (Sometimes they write about you nicely, too.)
Unfortunately it wasn’t all good news for Mayer and Yahoo! this week, as Ross Levinsohn, until recently Yahoo!’s interim CEO , announced he will be leaving the company to seek out new challenges. The move didn’t come as a surprise – Levinsohn had been expected to get the CEO role permanently, and his media expertise now won’t serve him so well under Mayer’s new focus on products – but many had hoped he would stay. Levinsohn is expected to gain around $1mn in shares plus considerable cash bonuses as part of his severance package. Marc Grabowski, a 10-year Yahoo! veteran responsible for much of the company’s advertising business, is also departing.
Three more of Facebook’s top executives have left the company in the wake of its IPO: Ethan Beard, director of platform partnerships, who had been at Facebook for over four years; Kate Mitic, platform marketing director; and Jonathan Matus, mobile platform marketing manager. The departures follow those of Bret Taylor, formerly Facebook’s CTO, and Barry Schnitt, formerly Facebook’s PR director. It is normal for a company to experience “brain drain” after an IPO, as employees cash in and move on, but investors are likely to worry that Facebook – which currently lacks a cohesive way to make any money and which recently saw its shares dip to a record low of under $20 – is going to lack the innovative spark to get its finances back on track.
HP has named Ramon Baez as its new chief information officer. Baez previously worked as the CIO of Kimberly Clark, a large consumer health products company. At the same time, Electronic Arts hired Blake Jorgensen of Levi Strauss & Co to serve as its chief financial officer; EA has been without a CFO for the past five months.
A flaw in a stock-trading algorithm saw American stock markets thrown into disarray in the middle of the week. The algorithm, which belonged to Knight Capital Group, a brokerage firm, suddenly triggered sales and purchases of millions of shares from 148 companies on the NYSE for a period of about 45 minutes. The resulting turbulence saw many stocks simply halt trading altogether, while Knight itself lost a whopping $440mn – around $10mn every minute the algorithm was out of control. As a result of the damage Knight’s own stock price fall 80% over two days; this, combined with the fact that the company took $289mn in revenue during Q2 2012, means the brief mistake could lead to bankruptcy. Some of the major companies affected by the “technical breakdown” included Citigroup, American Airlines, Bank of America and General Electric.
Apple and Samsung went to trial this week in San Jose to settle one of the largest lawsuits between the two companies. In this case, Apple initially filed suit against Samsung over patent infringement, though Samsung has since counter-sued; essentially, Apple is accusing Samsung of copying its products while Samsung is alleging that Apple hasn’t paid properly to use certain standards-essential patents. A thorough guide to the case can be found on The Verge here. The case began on Monday with a gruelling jury selection, eventually resulting in seven male and three female jurors (one of the women later recused herself because she could not get paid leave for the trial). Both companies made opening statements on Tuesday, and Friday saw testimony from Apple’s first two major witnesses: Phil Schiller, head of marketing at Apple, and Scott Forstall, SVP for iOS software at Apple. Samsung and Apple each have 25 hours total on the floor to argue their cases. The case will resume on Monday 6th August.
Valve has updated its Steam Subscriber Agreement with a clause that prevents Steam users from filing class-action lawsuits against the company. Similar terms already exist in the agreements for EA’s Origin service, as well as the upcoming Windows 8. Valve said that disputes should instead be solved “in individual binding arbitration,” and noted separately that anyone resolving disputes this way would have their arbitration fees paid for by Valve regardless of the outcome. All cases would be dealt with by the American Arbitration Association.
Hacking & Security
Dropbox has announced new security measures after the email addresses of some users were leaked when a Dropbox employee’s password was stolen. The file-syncing service will now offer two-factor authentication, where two proofs-of-identity will be required when signing in, as well as the ability to see all the locations from which an account is logged in, much as Gmail and Facebook do.
Tesco has been called out for its poor website security after it happily admitted that it still sends passwords to users who have forgotten them. This is extremely worrying because it means the passwords must be stored in such a way that they can be decrypted at a moment’s notice – easy pickings for any hackers who feel like breaking into Tesco’s system. Best practice dictates that passwords should be securely encrypted so that they cannot be decrypted by anyone; forgetful users should instead be provided with a link to reset their credentials.
In light of the above security leaks, and as always, this author strongly recommends that you use a different, unique password for every website you use.
EA will make Star Wars: The Old Republic free to play for the first 50 levels. The game used to cost $60 to buy and then $15 a month to subscribe, but declining numbers of players (now fewer than one million, down from as many as 1.7 million) mean that EA is desperately trying to entice people who had been put off by the price.
Apple released Mountain Lion, the latest version of its Mac operating system, which was immediately downloaded more than three million times in its four days. The release includes new apps, such as Messages, Reminders and Notes, as well as greater iCloud integration and various under-the-hood overhauls, and generally feels a lot like a more polished version of Lion, the previous release. Mountain Lion costs a low £13.99 and is only available to download from the Mac App Store. The most comprehensive Mountain Lion review on the internet, at 26,000 words, can be found here.
Microsoft launched Outlook.com, a new email service designed to succeed Hotmail (not to be confused with Outlook, the email client that is part of the Office suite). Outlook.com sports a clean Windows 8 Metro-style look and features direct Facebook, Twitter and Skype integration – a clear attempt to compete with Gmail. Hotmail users are now being encouraged to upgrade to an Outlook.com address; meanwhile, Microsoft saw over a million new sign-ups in the first few hours, though many of those were likely just people attempting to grab their ideal addresses.
Facebook reported in an SEC filing this week that 8.7% of its 950 million user accounts – around 83 million – are actually duplicates, spammers or otherwise not human (apparently a lot of people have accounts for their pets, for some reason). The document also revealed that 102 million people accessed Facebook exclusively through mobile devices in June, up 23% from March, while the numbers of desktop users remained fairly static.
Google has delayed the launch of the Nexus Q, that oddly Ood-like device that masquerades as a media-streaming hub, in order to “make it even better” – in other words, actually add some features. The company did say, however, that early adopters who had already ordered a Nexus Q would be sent a free one to make up for the delay.
During the cycling events last Sunday, the International Olympic Committee told sports fans in London to avoid sending non-urgent texts and tweets because data from the motorcycles’ GPS systems couldn’t get through the network, meaning TV commentators and viewers were left without accurate timings. An IOC spokesperson said: “Of course, if you want to send something, we are not going to say ‘Don’t, you can’t do it’, and we would certainly never prevent people. It’s just – if it’s not an urgent, urgent one, please kind of take it easy.”
Mitt Romney will announced his choice for vice presidential candidate by way of a new iOS and Android app called “Mitt’s VP”. This is similar to Obama’s choice in 2008 to notify people of Joe Biden’s selection by text message.
Peter Jackson has announced that The Hobbit will now be a three-part movie.
4Chan, the notorious image board website that originally spawned the Anonymous hacking group, has reached one billion posts.