Author: Nick Farrell

No more pot of gold at end of Irish rainbow

irelandThe days of Apple and Google screwing over European and American tax authorities by having an Irish base is likely to become a thing of the past.

Ireland’s Ministry of Finance announced that Ireland will phase out its controversial tax scheme known as the “Double Irish,” which lets companies, especially tech companies, drastically reduce their overseas tax burden.

Irish Finance Minister Michael Noonan said in a statement accompanying the government’s new 2015 budget that he was abolishing the ability of companies to use the ‘Double Irish’ by changing our residency rules to require all companies registered in Ireland to also be tax resident.

This change will take effect from the 1st of January 2015 for new companies. For existing companies, there will be provision for a transition period until the end of 2020.

So, in other words, Apple and Google will be able to save money for at least six years.

Firms that take advantage of this arrangement include Apple, Amazon, Adobe, Microsoft, and Google. It is unlikely that they will move their EU operations away from Ireland as the corporation tax rate in that country is extremely low.

Google declared $60 billion worth of revenue in the United States in 2013. Google’s effective tax rate in the United States has fallen dramatically from 21 percent to 15.7 percent in recent years as the company has broadened its use of overseas tax benefits.

It is starting to look like the Irish government was getting a little jittery about an EU investigation into the scheme. Over the last year, various European countries, including the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, and France, have been reviewing their laws that enable this type of corporate behaviour.

Noonan is going against  U2’s Bono, the Irish icon, who claimed that the fact that Apple’s cheating of the tax payer in the US and EU somehow assisted Irish poor. To be fair Bono owes Apple a favour – Jobs’ Mob forced Apple fans to listen to U2’s latest album by hard wiring it into the latest iPhone 6, until it had enough complaints to issue a fix for the problem.

Workers reject Apple, Google, Intel and Adobe

courtroom_1_lgEmployees suing Apple, Google, Intel and Adobe over running a hiring cartel have asked an appeals court not to approve a $324.5 million settlement in the case.

Plaintiff workers accused Apple, Google, Intel and Adobe in a 2011 lawsuit of conspiring to avoid poaching each other’s employees. The companies agreed to a $324.5 million settlement earlier this year.

US District Judge Lucy Koh in San Jose, California rejected the proposed class action settlement, saying the amount was too low. The companies appealed last month, saying she committed “clear legal errors”.

The workers said that although they believed the $324.5 million deal originally warranted approval, the judge had the proper authority to reject it and they would “defer to Koh’s sound judgment about how best to oversee this litigation”.

Tech employees alleged that the conspiracy limited their job mobility and, as a result, kept a lid on salaries. The case was interesting because it appeared to be another conspiracy organised by Steve Jobs.  Jobs also conspired with book publishers to keep the price of eBooks artificially high.

Plaintiffs based their allegations of conspiracy largely on emails circulated among Apple’s late co-founder Steve Jobs and former Google Chief Executive Officer Eric Schmidt.

Koh repeatedly referred to a related deal last year involving Disney and Intuit. Apple and Google workers got proportionally less in the latest agreement compared with the one involving Disney, Koh said.

To match the earlier settlement, the latest deal “would need to total at least $380 million,” Koh said.

Intel makes profit

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASemiconductor firm Intel gave a current-quarter revenue forecast well above what the cocaine nose jobs of Wall Street had predicted.

Intel posted third quarter net profits of $3.32 billion compared with $2.95 billion in the same financial quarter last year.

Third quarter revenue was $14.6 billion, up eight percent from same quarter last year, and the company said it expects fourth quarter revenues of $14.7 billion, plus or minus $500 million.

Wall Street expected third quarter revenues of $14.44 billion and fourth quarter revenues of $14.48 billion.

The company said its supply chain was in good shape ahead of the holiday season and demand for PCs had recovered as enterprises finally started replacing their aged PCs.

Intel said in a statement on Tuesday that demand for its chips was in good shape.

“The worldwide PC supply chain appears to be healthy, with inventory levels appropriate in anticipation of the fourth quarter retail cycles,” Intel said.

The recovering PC industry has helped push Intel’s shares 24 percent higher in 2014, making it the top performer in the Dow Jones industrial average.

The results are an apparent poke in the eye to comments from Microchip that weak demand in China  would soon become visible across the chip industry.

Intel said its gross margins would slip to 64 percent in the current quarter from 65 percent in the third quarter.

Intel said its mobile and communications group had an operating loss of $1.04 billion on revenue of $1 million, reflecting subsidies Intel has been paying to persuade tablet makers to use its chips.

Shares of Intel were up 2.05 percent in extended trade after closing up 2.13 percent at $32.14 on Nasdaq.

Albanian drone sparks riot

albaniaA drone, probably released by the brother of the Albanian Prime Minister, managed to spark another Balkan war, yesterday.

A football draw between Albania and Serbia, played at the FK Partizan stadium in Belgrade was always going to be a little tense. However it was made a lot worse by the presence of a drone.

The drone apparently belonged to Olsi Rama, the brother of Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama, who released it from the VIP box where he was sitting. It was not clear how he smuggled the drone into the country, but apparently if you are the brother of the Prime Minister airport security is a little lighter.

The drone  had a “Greater Albania” flag attached and it shows territory within Albania, Serbia, Montenegro, Macedonia, northern Greece and the autonomous region of Kosovo, which the Serbian government still claims. The flag depicts the word “indigenous,” as well as portraits of Ismail Qemali and Isa Boletinim, two Albanian nationalist leaders.

The Serbians were a little miffed about this slight to their greatness and right to rule anywhere in the Balkans with a Serbian population. They started charting the popular poem “kill, slit their throats, exterminate the Albanians” which indicates the genocides carried out by their forces were probably just accidental and human shields were just a terrible mistake.

Its team burnt a NATO flag which is the sort thing you pack to bring  to a football match if you are a football team, right after your boots and the oranges.

Then a riot broke out completely out of the blue.

Albania’s coach Giovanni de Biazzi of Italy has told Albanian media that four of his players were injured in the scuffle. He said that Serbian security staff decided it someone else’s job to protect players and waded into the Albanians themselves.

Serbian state media is reporting police have arrested Rama on suspicion that he masterminded the whole thing.

However, Albanian Interior Minister Saimir Tahiri has denied reports about Rama’s arrest, describing made up . Rama had left the stadium for the airport. He did not say if he was carrying a rather large drone shaped package with him.

It was the first time that the Albanian national soccer team had travelled to Belgrade since 1967 to play Serbia in a European Championship qualifying match.  One has to wonder what they were thinking about.

Samsung commercialises 60GHz Wi-Fi

samsung-hqSamsung is developing 60GHz Wi-Fi technology that it says can manage  data transmission speeds of up to 4.6Gbps, or 575MB per second.

This is a five-fold increase from 866Mbps, or 108MB per second which is the maximum speed possible with existing consumer electronics devices.

If it does what it says on the tin, it would take a 1GB movie  less than three seconds to transfer between devices, while uncompressed high definition videos can easily be streamed from mobile devices to TVs in real-time without any delay.

Kim Chang Yong, Head of DMC R&D Center of Samsung Electronics said that Samsung has successfully overcome the barriers to the commercialization of 60GHz millimeter-wave band Wi-Fi technology, and will commercialise the technology.

“New and innovative changes await Samsung’s next-generation devices, while new possibilities have been opened up for the future development of Wi-Fi technology, ” Kim said.

Samsung’s 802.11ad standard 60GHz Wi-Fi technology maintains maximum speed by eliminating co-channel interference, regardless of the number of devices using the same network.

In other words, it closes the gap between theoretical and actual speeds, and exhibits actual speed that is more than 10 times faster than that of 2.4GHz and 5GHz Wi-Fi technologies.

Commercially adopting 60GHz Wi-Fi technology has been difficult because it uses millimeter waves that travel by line-of-sight which have weak penetration properties.

Using millimeter-wave circuit design, high performance modem technologies and by developing wide-coverage beam-forming antenna, Samsung was able to successfully achieve the highest quality, commercially viable 60GHz Wi-Fi technology, Kim said.

Samsung also improved the overall signal quality by developing a micro beam-forming control technology that optimises the communications module in less than 1/3,000 seconds, if the environment changes. The company also developed the world’s first method that allows multiple devices to connect simultaneously to a network.

60GHz is an unlicensed band spectrum across the world, and commercialisation is expected as early as next year. Samsung plans to apply this new technology to a wide range of products, including audio visual and medical devices, as well as telecommunications equipment. The technology will also be useful for the Samsung Smart Home and other  Internet of Things projects.

Apple destroyed Santa’s home

screen480x480The fruity cargo cult Apple should be declared public enemy number one in Finland for the damage it caused to the nation’s economy.

The country’s Prime Minister Alexander Stubb said that Apple’s products have affected its mobile device and paper industries to such a level that it caused an economic downturn. It has  also caused the Nordic country to endure a sovereign debt rating downgrade.

Stubb said that Finland had two industrial problems and two champions which went down — Nokia in the ICT sector, and the other has to do with the forest and paper industry.”

“One could say that the iPhone killed Nokia and the iPad killed the Finnish paper industry, but we’ll make a comeback.”

Of course it is not Apple’s fault – there were shedloads of other technology companies which cleaned Nokia’s clock and the paper industry had been suffering for a while.

Statistics from the Finnish Forest Research Institute found that the forest and paper industry has contracted over the last few years, with the institute’s most recent report for 2013 warning of a “poor situation” for paper production, as well as a forecast that exports would continue to shrink in 2014.

The rise of electronic devices cannot be directly blamed for the paper industry’s issues in the country, the rise of online publications at the expense of newspapers could be seen as a contributing factor. Stubb hopes that instead of flogging trees to newspapers, they might make a nice form of bio energy. Perhaps the Finns should follow Sweden and move into flat pack furniture as a better use for its trees.

 

Sandworm team uses Microsoft bug

dune-sandwormFor the last five years, Russian hackers have conducted a single operation to spy on computers used by NATO, the European Union, Ukraine and companies in the energy and telecommunications sectors.

Cyber intelligence firm iSight said it did not know what data had been found by the hackers, though it suspected they were seeking information on the Ukraine crisis, as well as diplomatic, energy and telecom issues.

According to iSight, which dubbed the operation “Sandworm Team” because it found references to the “Dune” in the software code used by the hackers, the operation used a variety of ways to attack the targets over the years.

Things have become worse since August since the Sandworm Team  found a hole of their in most versions of Windows to exploit.

ISight said it told Microsoft about the bug and held off on disclosing the problem so the software maker had time to fix it.

A spokesVole said the company plans to roll out an automatic update to affected versions of Windows today.

iSight said they believed the hackers are Russian because of language clues in the software code and because of their choice of targets.

Hulquist said the hackers were supported by a nation state because they were engaging in espionage, not cybercrime.

For example, in December 2013, NATO was targeted with a malicious document on European diplomacy. Several regional governments in the Ukraine and an academic working on Russian issues in the United States were sent tainted emails that claimed to contain a list of pro-Russian extremist activities.

Hulquist said its researchers had uncovered evidence that some Ukrainian government computers were infected, but they were unable to confirm specific victims among those systems that had been targeted.

The iSight research is the latest in a series of private sector security reports that link Moscow to some of the most sophisticated cyber espionage uncovered to date.

 

 

 

Chip price war unlikely

Normans_BayeuxSamsung does not expect a price war to break out in the semiconductor industry next year even though it is ramping up capacity.

CEO Kwon Oh-hyun said that he will have to “wait and see how things will go next year, but there definitely will not be any game of chicken”,

Memory chip makers have reported strong profits this year thanks to better-than-expected demand for PCs and servers.  Most analysts believe industry conditions will remain favourable in 2015.

But Samsung’s plan to invest $14.67 billion in a new South Korea chip plant stoked concerns about the industry’s profit outlook. Some investors worry that the firm could ramp up supply and undercut prices to squeeze Hynix and Micron’s bottom line.

Cooler heads have pointed out that Samsung’s plant will not begin production  until 2017. They say margins in the memory business are important to Samsung, given the mobile division’s falling smartphone profits.

 

 

Governments and businesses harvest voices

Harvest_time_in_Romania,_1920Businesses and governments around the world increasingly are harvesting voiceprints for future biometric based security systems.

Mike Goldgof, an executive at Madrid-based AGNITiO said companies like his have helped enter more than 65 million voiceprints into corporate and government databases.

The system is starting to be used. Barclays recently experimented with voice printing as an identification for its wealthiest clients. It was so successful that Barclays is rolling it out to the rest of its 12 million retail-banking customers.

Iain Hanlon, a Barclays executive, said that voice biometrics will be the de facto standard in the next two or three years.

It works based on the idea that a timbre of each person’s voice is unique. Typical speaker recognition software compares those characteristics with data held on a server. If two voiceprints are similar enough, the system declares them a match.

So far, the largest implementation identified by the AP is in Turkey, where mobile phone company Turkcell has taken the voice biometric data of some 10 million customers using technology provided by market leader Nuance Communications.

US coppers use the technology to monitor inmates and track offenders who have been paroled.

In New Zealand, the Internal Revenue Department collected its 1 millionth voiceprint, leading the revenue minister to boast that his country had “the highest level of voice biometric enrollments per capita in the world.”

In South Africa, roughly 7 million voiceprints have been collected by the country’s Social Security Agency, in part to verify that those claiming pensions are still alive.

Stay away from Google, Dropbox and Facebook

Edward_SnowdenAnyone worried about their privacy should spurn Dropbox, Facebook, and Google as they suffered from Ebola,  according to whistleblower Edward Snowden.

Talking to the New Yorker Festival, by remote conferencing, Snowden said people should seek out encrypted tools and stop using services that are “hostile to privacy”.

He named Dropbox,” because it does not support encryption, and you should consider alternatives like SpiderOak. He seemed to be behind the times on this one as Dropbox has supported encryption since June. In fact, the only difference between the two is that SpiderOak encrypts the data while it’s on your computer, as opposed to only encrypting it “in transit” and on the company’s servers.

While Facebook and Google have improved their security, they remain “dangerous services” that people should avoid. His final piece of advice on this front: Do not send unencrypted text messages, but instead use services like RedPhone and Silent Circle.

Snowden dismissed claims that increased encryption on iOS will hurt crime-fighting efforts. Even with that encryption, he said law enforcement officials can still ask for warrants that will give them complete access to a suspect’s phone, which will include the key to the encrypted data.

Microsoft solves wearable keyboard problems

Typewriter_adler1_keyboardWhile Apple has been attracting all the press for its iWatch vapourware, it appears that Microsoft has solved some of the serious design problems for wearable computers.

One of the biggest problems for wearables is an interface which people with normal sized fingers can use.

Microsoft might have come up with the most logical solution for typing on small size displays running Google’s Android Wear platform.

Volish boffins have built an analogue keyboard prototype for Android Wear that eliminates the need to tap at tiny letters and has you write them out.

The method involves using the entire screen which is important if you are using a 1.6-inch smartwatch with a software keyboard that has 10 keys across.

A spokesVole said that using the whole screen allows each letter to be entered rather comfortably, even on small devices. Some handwriting systems can be used without even looking at the screen. Finally, handwriting interfaces require very little design changes to run on round displays.

Microsoft is making the software public to receive feedback from users.

It’s free and should work with any Android Wear app that uses text input, though it needs to be side loaded using Android Debut Bridge.

You can see it in action here http://msrvideo.vo.msecnd.net/rmcvideos/230860/230860.mp4

NSA boss had cash stashed in tech companies

KeithAlexanderFormer top spook Keith Alexander, who served as its director from August 2005 until March 2014, had thousands of dollars of investments during his tenure in a handful of technology firms

It seems that he did not think that when he warned the American public that it was at “greater risk” from a terrorist attack in the wake of the Snowden disclosures the companies he was investing in would make more money.

Alexander was very honest about it. Each year he had reported his investments, but he also ticked the checked box next to this statement: “Reported financial interests or affiliations are unrelated to assigned or prospective duties, and no conflicts appear to exist.”

The documents were obtained and published Friday by Vice News as the result of a Freedom of Information Act request and subsequent lawsuit against the NSA brought by Vice News reporter Jason Leopold.

From 2008 through 2013, document that as of 2008, Alexander had as much as $50,000 invested in Synchronoss, a cloud storage firm. Synchronoss provides services to major mobile phone providers, including AT&T, Verizon and others.

He had cash in  Datascension, a “data gathering and research company.” Public trades in the firm were suspended by the Securities and Exchange Commission in August 2014 due to “a lack of current and accurate information” about it.

Pericom, a semiconductor company makes hardware for “DVR solutions for the CCTV security and surveillance markets,” also appears in his portfolio, with investments up to $15,000 appearing as of 2008.

Until 2013 he had money squirreled away in RF Micro Devices, a company that makes “high-performance semiconductor components” for “aerospace and defence markets,” among others. RF Micro Devices has done $10.5 million worth of business with the government, including $9.5 million of the Department of Defence.

Alexander has been a little controversial since leaving the NSA. He founded a company called IronNet Cybersecurity, which offers protection services to banks for up to $1 million per month. This has led some cynics to suggest he is advising companies how to avoid the sort of snooping he set up while working at the NSA.

 

GT Technology set for messy divorce from Apple

600full-kramer-vs.-kramer-posterIt seems that the maker of Sapphire glass is about to go through a messy divorce with its partner Apple and already the name calling has begun.

GT Advanced Technologies said it will cut 890 jobs, close an Arizona plant expected to make scratch-resistant screens for Apple and has threatened to pursue legal claims against the iPhone maker while revamping under bankruptcy.

The outfit said that if GT winds down these Apple based operations it will be able to stop its mounting losses and re-focus its resources on the operation of its core business of selling sapphire furnaces and other products.

GT Advanced said it was burning through $1 million a day at the operations it intended to close.

The company said that it has many claims against Apple arising out of its business relationship with Jobs’ Mob.

The company said it could not pursue the unspecified claims at the outset of its bankruptcy, but that the claims would allow GT Advanced to terminate several Apple agreements that it said were burdensome and of no value.

Apple said that it was committed to preserving jobs in Arizona and was consulting with state and local officials on its next steps.

Apple still needs GT to make the glass for its iWatch.

The company has provided only scant details of the cause of its bankruptcy and turnaround plans.  But it appears to have relied a little too much on Apple.

The outfit reached an agreement with Apple last year to transform itself from a supplier of sapphire furnaces to a manufacturer of sapphire for Apple. The iPad maker provided $578 million in funding for the Arizona plant, and GT Advanced agreed to repay the money over five years, starting in 2015.

However in September when Apple indicated its iPhone 6 would use rival Gorilla Glass instead of sapphire material.

GT Advanced asked the bankruptcy court to end 13 contracts with Apple, including a confidentiality agreement that has forced the bankruptcy to be conducted with unusual secrecy.

At the moment GT Advanced would be liable for $50 million for each violation of the confidentiality agreement.

Bono sells Robin Hood image to defend Apple

bono-cash-facebookSuddenly it is hard to use the words “credibility” and “Bono” in the same sentence.

The U2 popular beat combo  artist  has done his best to champion all the right causes over the years. He has been a significant leader in the fight against poverty, and has helped to create the ONE CampaignDATA(RED) and EDUN, a clothing company which is striving to stimulate trade with poverty stricken countries. He has been nominated for the Nobel Peace prize three times for his efforts to help the poor.

This is why the U2 frontman stepping in to defend Apple’s method of screwing up the tax system of Europe is particularly hypocritical and nasty.

Bono is currently in a business partnership with Jobs’ Mob so having him stand up this weekend and defend Apple’s right to save a bob or two by shafting the health and welfare policies of the EU damaged any lefty street cred that the former 80s rocker might have had.

The U2 frontman believes large companies that avoid paying billions in taxes bring prosperity, rather than harm the economic growth of the country. Unfortunately, Bono, they do not.

Apple has paid an average tax rate of 2.5 percent over the past five years, despite turning over a profit of around $109 billion. This is a fraction of Ireland’s standard tax rate of 12.5 percent.

While Ireland was busy making its deals with big technology companies like Apple to act as a tax haven, the country was going through its biggest debt crisis ever. Apple might have provided jobs in Ireland, but its impact on the Irish economy has been minimal.

Bono said that Ireland was a tiny little country, which did not have scale, and our version of scale is to be innovative and to be clever, and tax competitiveness has brought our country the only prosperity we’ve known.

“We don’t have natural resources; we have to be able to attract people.”

Because of its generous tax allowances, he added, Ireland has reaped the benefits of “more hospitals and firemen and teachers because of the tax policies.”

Now this is a bit of rubbish from the bloke who was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize in 2003 for his campaign to alleviate world debt. Tax avoidance schemes rarely help the economies of any nation and take away cash from countries that need the cash.

Ireland might not have attracted the likes of Jobs’ Mob, or Google, or other tax avoiders, but it would have had a fair taxation system. The other countries in the EU which Apple was avoiding paying tax would be able to afford betters health care standards, teachers and firemen.

 

 

Apple could be worth double

two-applesA man who owns rather a lot of shares in the fruity cargo cult Apple, claims that they are undervalued and wants them to go up a bit.

Billionaire activist investor Carl Icahn said Apple) shares could double in value if it used its $133 billion cash pile in a buy back scheme.

In an open letter to Apple’s board, Icahn said Apple was dramatically undervalued in today’s market, and the more shares repurchased now, the more each remaining shareholder will benefit.

Icahn who said he would be hanging on to his own stock out of any repurchase claimed that Apple stock should be trading at $203.

“At today’s price, Apple is one of the best investments we have ever seen from a risk reward perspective, and the size of our position is a testament to this. This investment represents the largest position in our investment history,” Icahn wrote.

Icahn urged Apple to buy back as much as $100 billion in stock and said he hoped other investors would also press for a buyback.

In June Apple split, its stock seven for one and in April it raised its share repurchase authorisation to $90 billion from the $60 billion announced a year earlier.

Shareholders did not seem that impressed. Apple shares rose less than one percent in early trading to $101.49 but slipped to $100.84 later. The stock has gained 25 percent since January.

Icahn owns 53 million shares and is one of the iPhone maker’s top 10 investors so he will get back a huge amount if the share price doubles. Needless to say he has been urging the company to buy back more shares and raise its dividend.

We would take all this with a pinch of salt. In his letter, he said he expects the Apple Watch, the company’s first new product category since the iPad in 2010, to boost the company’s growth and suggested that television is another large opportunity for the company, which is more than anyone else believes.

Apple has long signaled it will not be pressured into making hasty decisions. On Thursday, spokeswoman Kristin Huguet declined to comment directly on Icahn’s letter but said “We always appreciate hearing from our shareholders.”  We are sure she does.