Author: Nick Farrell

BT writes £12.5 billion cheque for EE

handsetBT has confirmed it will acquire EE in a move that will scare the beejeesus out of the UK mobile market.

Buying EE will give BT the biggest 4G network in the UK which it is says will complement its fibre network.

BT had been using EE’s network for its mobile virtual network operator deal, but hopes the deal will enable it to create a complete network for its customers so they are using its services, whether at home on fixed connections or on the go using the mobile services, or its existing WiFi services.

It also gets 24.5 million customers currently on the EE network.

We expect to see deals involving telephone, mobile phone, broadband and mobile services in one bundle.

BT accountants already think that they will save a pile through network and IT rationalisation as well as in areas of procurement, marketing and sales costs.

Still it is bad news for O2 which was touted to be the other company that BT was thinking of buying. The decision not to go with O2 will be a blow to the Spanish Telefónica which had been keen to flog its business unit in the UK.

If approved the deal will mean Deutsche Telekom as a 12 percent share in BT and a seat on the company’s board. Orange will take just a four percent share and will not have a seat on the board.

It is not all clear sailing though. The deal has to be approved by the Ofcom regulator.  While it is not likely to block the deal, the combined entity could be forced to dispose of some spectrum. BT’s Openreach and Wholesale units might have to be hived off from the main company.


Snowden taught companies something

Edward_SnowdenAfter years of ignoring warnings from experts, companies and individuals started to take security more seriously after the Snowden leaks, according to a new survey.

More than 39 per cent have taken steps to protect their online privacy and security because of spying revelations by one-time NSA employee Edward Snowden, according to the Centre for International Governance Innovation (CIGI).

The survey found that 43 percent of Internet users now avoid certain websites and applications and 39 percent change their passwords regularly.

The survey reached 23,376 internet users in 24 countries and was conducted between October 7 and November  12.

More than 39  percent of those surveyed indicated they are taking steps to safeguard their online data from government prying eyes.

Writing in his blog, Security specialist Bruce Schneier said that Snowden’s whistleblowing on the NSA is having an enormous impact.

“I ran the actual numbers country by country, combining data on Internet penetration with data from this survey. Multiplying everything out, I calculate that 706 million people have changed their behavior on the Internet because of what the NSA and GCHQ [a British intelligence and security organization] are doing.”

This means that two-thirds of users indicated they are more concerned today about online privacy than they were a year ago. When given a choice of various governance sources to effectively run the world-wide Internet, a majority chose the multi-stakeholder option — a “combined body of technology companies, engineers, non-governmental organizations and institutions that represent the interests and will of ordinary citizens, and governments.”

A majority indicated they would also trust an international body of engineers and technical experts to store their online data, while only 36 percent of users would trust the United States to play an important role in running the Internet.

Nearly three-quarters of the Internet users surveyed indicated they want their online data and personal information to be physically stored on a secure server in their own country.

Those surveyed also indicated that 64 percent are concerned about government censorship of the Internet and 62 percent are worried about government agencies from countries other than the US secretly monitoring their online activities

Another notable finding was that 83 percent of people believe that affordable access to the internet should be a basic human right.


Samsung and Apple back together

Samsung HQ Silicon Valley - MM picThe dark satanic rumour mill has manufactured a hell on earth yarn which claims that Apple is now back in love with Samsung and the pair have produced a new monstrous off-spring called the A9 chip.

According to the Korean IT News  Samsung Electronics has begun production of ‘A9,’ the application processor for Apple’s next-generation smartphone. It applies the 14nm FinFET microprocess for system semiconductors, for the first time.

Samsung began production of Apple’s A9 in the Austin plant in the US using the 14nm FinFET technology. Samsung has production lines capable of FinFET process production in Austin, US and Giheung, Korea, but began to produce A9 only in Austin as it is in the initial stage.

The outfit said that it would start production of the 14nm FinFET chip at the end of this year, but did not disclose whether the company received an order from Apple for the production of A9 chips or whether the production line is actually running.

Samsung is happy with the yield of the 14nm FinFET process, and supplied samples as good as finished products early enough.

The Austin plant began official production first at Apple’s request, and industry insiders said it is a move to produce the chip in the US, not Korea. They guessed that the Austin plant was chosen because of the next-generation chip’s problems with performance security and supply.

The initiation of the A9 chip production enabled Samsung to recover the foundry quantities from Apple, which have been discontinued for some time, and get the upper hand in the 14nm FinFET technology competition with TSMC, killing two birds with one stone.

However, this is clearly a burying of the hatchet between the two companies. Apple and Samsung stopped AP production as they were embroiled in patent litigation back in 2012. It appears that Apple has been lured back to Samsung with its winsome 14nm FinFET ways.

Relationship counsellors are quick to warn that it is early days yet.  Apple has been seeing other people during the break. Taiwan’s TSMC began the risk production of the 16nm FinFET plus (16FF+) process, and began to produce chips in July earlier than originally anticipated Q3.

Apple is effectively two timing the rivals. Shuttling between Samsung and TSMC, if TSMC’s production line is stabilised in the future, there is no knowing how SEC will respond.

Samsung’s foundry business was hit hard when Apple orders stopped. Although the entire semiconductor business is booming, securities companies predict that the system LSI business, including the foundry business, will suffer a loss to the tune of KRW800 billion this year. SEC is expected to recover sales loss to a certain extent with the production of Apple A9.


Sony was going to be a fake pirate

 0099413191_LEmails found by hackers turning over Sony have revealed a cunning plan by Sony’s TV and movie division to flood pirate sites with fake files.

The plan was to circulate a fake version of a television show on torrent sites but instead of a full file it was just going to promote the real show and explain where to buy content.

The idea was praised for being “clever” but spiked because of a strict policy against using torrent sites.

Pamela Parker, a senior executive in the division responsible for international television content, wrote in an email that was leaked to the public after hackers attacked Sony Pictures Entertai​nment that she loved the idea.

“Unfortunately the studio position is that we absolutely cannot post content (even promos) on torrent sites,

“The studio spends millions of dollars fighting piracy and it doesn’t send a good message if we then start using those same pirate sites to promote our shows.”

Sony’s lawyers were also concerned that official use of torrent sites would complicate any lawsuits the industry might want to bring against them in the future.

Paula Askanas, executive vice president of communications for international television, said in another leaked email that there was some concern that doing anything could inhibit the MPAA in a future lawsuit going after the sites.

The matter came up back in March, just after the second season of the thriller series “Hannibal”—which Sony says is one of its most-pirated shows in Europe—had premiered in the US and was starting to show up on illegal filesharing sites.

The plan, which was championed by Polish marketing employee Magda Mastalerz, was to upload a 60-second “Hannibal”-themed anti-piracy ad to popular torrent sites disguised as the first episode. The promo was aimed at convincing people in Central Europe to stop downloading and watch the show legally on the Sony-owned channel AXN.

Sony’s lawyers and the executive vice president responsible for intellectual property quickly struck it down. The final decision: “no one is allowed to use these pirate sites as marketing tools,” as Askanas wrote.


Dutch prepare to take on Google

boyne2_1Search engine outfit Google could face fines of up to $18.6 million if it does not stop violating the privacy of internet users in the Netherlands, the Dutch data protection agency warned.

The DPA said that Google is breaching the country’s data protection act by using people’s private information such as browsing history and location data to target them with customised ads.

Google has until the end of February to change how it handles the data it collects from individual web users or will have to start writing cheques.

The company’s handling of user data under its new privacy guidelines, introduced in 2012, has also been under investigation in five other European countries – France, Germany, Britain, Italy and Spain.

Jacob Kohnstamm, chairman of the Dutch DPA appears to have had a gutsful of Google prevaricating.

“This has been ongoing since 2012 and we hope our patience will no longer be tested,” said.

Google needs to adequately inform users in advance and ask for permission before it uses data in this way, the DPA said.

It ordered the company to stop the violations or face incremental fines up to a maximum of 15 million euros. It said Google must start informing users of its actions and seeking their consent.

Google should be careful, the Dutch managed to humiliate the British Empire on more than one occasion and a tech Empire should be a doddle.


Apple engineer admits blocking rivals

two-applesA former iTunes engineer told a federal antitrust case he was involved in a project “intended to block 100 per cent of non-iTunes clients” and “keep out third-party players” that competed with Apple’s iPod.

Plaintiffs subpoenaed the engineer, Rod Schultz, to show that Apple tried to suppress rivals to iTunes and iPods. They argue that Apple’s anticompetitive actions drove up the prices for iPods from 2006 to 2009. They want $350 million in damages, which could be tripled under antitrust laws.

Schultz said he was an unwilling witness and did not want to talking about his work on iTunes from 2006-2007, part of which was code-named “Candy”.

However, in 2012 Schultz wrote an academic paper citing “a secret war” Apple fought with iTunes hackers. In the paper, he wrote, “Apple was locking the majority of music downloads to its devices.” Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers did not admit the paper as evidence in the case.

Outside the courtroom, Schultz said the early work of his former team reflected the digital-music market’s need for copyright protections of songs. Later, though, he said it created “market dominance” for the iPod.

Schultz was the final witness in the case after a 10-year legal battle. The testimony has offered a view into how digital music evolved in the mid-2000s as Apple co-founder Steve Jobs and other Apple executives were shaping technology and a new marketplace.

Apple argues, and Schultz agreed, that it released many improvements to iTunes, and not isolated changes to stifle competition. Apple says the security measures that Schultz worked on were designed to protect its systems and users’ which would have been compromised by other players and file formats.

Judge Rogers said she plans to send the case to the jury early next week.


Sony gets grumpy at newspapers

GodSilenceThe movie and music maker Sony has decided that the best way to stop people talking about the hack of its networks is to ask news organisations to stop reporting it.

Sony told some news organisations to stop publishing information contained in documents stolen by hackers who attacked the movie studio’s computer network last month.

The New York Times, The Hollywood Reporter and Variety published stories reporting that they had each received a letter from David Boies, a lawyer for Sony, demanding that the outlets stop reporting information contained in the documents and immediately destroy them.

The studio “does not consent to your possession, review, copying,  dissemination, publication, uploading, downloading or making any use” of the information, Boies wrote in the letter.

New York Times spokeswoman Eileen Murphy told Reuters that : “Any decisions about whether or how to use any of the information will take into account both the significance of the news and the questions of how the information emerged and who has access to it.”

The unidentified hackers have released troves of documents that include employee salaries and financial information, marketing plans and contracts with business partners. Newspapers have obtained some mileage from an exchange in which Co-Chairman Amy Pascal joked about President Barack Obama’s race.

Pascal is meeting civil rights leader Reverend Al Sharpton, whose spokeswoman says he is weighing whether to call for her resignation.

Seagate builds cut-price 8TB hard drive

phpgheqmoSeagate has just announced its ‘Archive HDD’ series which offers densities of 5TB, 6TB, and 8TB for a cut price. Not only is 8TB grabbing the headlines, it costs $260.

Seagate is bringing out shingled magnetic recording, which it thinks will be the next new thing.  Having had shingles we don’t think it is something we would like our hard-drive to suffer from, but at those densities and prices we are included to let the thing suffer.

SMR aligns drive tracks in a singled pattern. With this design, Seagate is able to cram much more storage into the same physical area. Seagate isn’t the first out the door with an 8TB model, however, as HGST released one earlier this year. In lieu of a design like SMR, HGST decided to go the helium route, allowing it to pack more platters into a drive.

SMR is a little more elegant, and a bit cheaper.

Like most other high-density drives, Seagate’s Archive HDD series spins at about 5400 RPM which is a little on the slow side. It means it is good for regular storage, not data like games or applications.

Still you might need a couple of these drives — 8TB is a lot of data to lose at once and you are going to need a lot of redundancy if you buy one.


Spanish press backtracks on Google News

web-abc-madrid_sevillaAfter Google stopped printing news snippets on its News page from Spanish newspapers, the websites of those esteemed organs died.

Now it seems that the Spanish newspapers are asking the government to step in to force Google back.

Google shut its Google News service in Spain after the country bought in a new copyright law which would have forced Google to pay for the use of news snippets.

The Spanish Newspaper Publishers’ Association (AEDE) issued a statement last night saying that Google News was “not just the closure of another service given its dominant market position”, recognising that Google’s decision: “will undoubtedly have a negative impact on citizens and Spanish businesses.

“Given the dominant position of Google (which in Spain controls almost all of the searches in the market and is an authentic gateway to the Internet), AEDE requires the intervention of Spanish and community authorities, and competition authorities, to effectively protect the rights of citizens and companies”.

In other words, Google has the newspaper industry by the short and curlies and if the Spanish government does not do something quick, there will not be an industry to moan about the search engine’s control.

The only workable option is to take the route followed in Germany: to give Google a special deal that allows it to carry on as before, but without having to pay — which would gut the new copyright law completely.

It would also mean that Google would not only be allowed to do what it likes, but continue to have total control of the world’s media. It seems the Spanish Newspapers have found out the hard way that Google already uses its algorithm to decide what is news and which magazines have a right to exist


Windows 7 update malware spotted by AMD

Huntsman spider, Wikimedia CommonsSoftware giant Microsoft appears to have despatched an update which behaves like malware to its Windows 7 customers.

Microsoft has confirmed that a recent update, with the catchy title KB 3004394, is causing a range of serious problems and recommends removing it.

It was first flagged by AMD’s Robert Hallock who noticed that the update blocks the installation or update of graphics drivers such as AMD’s new Catalyst Omega. Nvidia users are also reporting difficulty installing GeForce drivers.

Hallock recommended manually uninstalling the update, advice now echoed officially by Microsoft.

However, the update does not just kill off graphics drivers. Microsoft’s Answer Forum has dark mutterings that USB 3.0 drivers are broken and User Account Control prompts have gone haywire. Microsoft has acknowledged that it even prevents the installation of future Windows Updates.

The Windows Defender service has been disabled by the update.

This is the third time in three years Microsoft has issued software and firmware updates to their Xbox platform which have “bricked” the consoles. In August 2014 and April 2013 PC updates caused widespread Blue Screens of Death.

Sony co-chair says sorry for Obama emails

Obama BarackThe Sony hack is causing more collateral damage than just a few movies leaked onto the internet.

Amongst a batch of emails made public by the hackers were several racially tinged emails about President Obama’s imagined movie tastes.

The comments were made by film producer Scott Rudin in private email banter with Amy Pascal, Sony’s co-chairwoman.

Pascal was on her way to a breakfast for Obama that was organised by Jeffrey Katzenberg, chief executive of DreamWorks Animation.

“What should I ask the president at this stupid Jeffrey breakfast?” Ms. Pascal asked Rudin in an opening query. She then speculated that she might ask if Mr. Obama liked “Django Unchained,” about a former slave. Rudin countered with a suggestion about “12 Years a Slave,” while Ms. Pascal suggested other films involving African-Americans.

Rudin wrote: “Ride-along. I bet he likes Kevin Hart.” The email referred to a broad comedy, from Universal Pictures, that starred Hart and Ice Cube.

Rudin, who has been a producer of films like “Captain Phillips” and “The Social Network” for Sony, wrote a long apology on that “private emails between friends and colleagues written in haste and without much thought or sensitivity, even when the content of them is meant to be in jest, can result in offence where none was intended.”

“To anybody I’ve offended, I’m profoundly and deeply sorry, and I regret and apologise for any injury they might have caused… I made a series of remarks that were meant only to be funny, but in the cold light of day, they are in fact thoughtless and insensitive — and not funny at all.”

Pascal added: “The content of my emails to Scott were insensitive and inappropriate but are not an accurate reflection of who I am. Although this was a private communication that was stolen, I accept full responsibility for what I wrote and apologise to everyone who was offended.”

Another Sony executive, Clint Culpepper, used harsh language in suggesting that the studio rebuff a salary demand from Hart, who has starred in several films for the company’s Screen Gems unit, including a coming movie, “The Wedding Ringe”.

“I’m not saying he’s a whore, but he’s a whore,” Mr. Culpepper wrote.

Hart is a little upset. He wrote on his Instagram account. “I will never allow myself to be taken advantage of… I refuse to be broken.”

All these things are the sort of stuff which most corporate networks have, they just prefer they were not made public, which is exactly why the Sony hack was so embarrassing.

Sony expects to face further unauthorised disclosures in the days ahead.


FT names Apple boss “Man of the Year”

Apple's Tim CookThe Financial Times has named the spiritual and temporal leader of the fruity cargo cult Apple as its man of the year.

Tim Cook, the FT claimed, was doing wonders for Apple and making it a less heartless company. Jobs’ Mob is actually starting to do all the things that people said it did.

During a recent shareholders meeting when one audience member tried to push Apple’s chief executive on the profitability of Apple’s various environmental initiatives, such as its solar-powered datacentre, Cook growled.

“We do things for other reasons than a profit motive, we do things because they are right and just,” Mr Cook growled. Whether in human rights, renewable energy or accessibility for people with special needs, “I don’t think about the bloody ROI,” Cook said. “Just to be very straightforward with you, if that’s a hard line for you… then you should get out of the stock.”

Fortunately, for Cook it has not backfired. The share price has increased by around 50 percent since that shareholder meeting, at one point taking its market capitalisation above $700 billion.

Financial success and dazzling new technology alone might have been enough to earn Apple’s steely chief executive the FT’s vote as the 2014 Person of the Year, enthused the FT, but Cook’s “brave exposition of his values” also sets him apart.

“If hearing that the CEO of Apple is gay can help someone struggling to come to terms with who he or she is, or bring comfort to anyone who feels alone, or inspire people to insist on their equality, then it’s worth the trade-off with my own privacy,” he wrote in Businessweek in October.

In fact, the only criticism that people seem to have of Cook is that he is not Steve Jobs and lacks any sense of showmanship. He is not as closely involved in new product development as his predecessor, which is probably why the new iPhone bends rather easily.

Apple faces antitrust investigation by Canada

watchdogCanadian antitrust watchdogs are about to sink their teeth into the ample rump of the fruity cargo cult Apple.

Canada’s Competition Bureau is investigating allegations that Apple Canadian unit used anti-competitive clauses in contracts with domestic wireless carriers.

The CCB has insisted that it has found no wrongdoing by Apple’s Canadian arm so far, and is not naming the person who laid a complaint. The Tame Apple Press is claiming that the watchdog has no evidence that Apple has contravened any rules and that it has not filed any application with the Competition Tribunal or any other court to seek remedies for any alleged anti-competitive conduct.

However, it is early days yet. The bureau sought a court order to compel Apple to turn over records relating to the ongoing investigation.

Canada’s antitrust watchdog has also been carrying out a similar probe into the country’s top grocer, Loblaw, ordering some of the chain’s major suppliers to hand over records relating to their dealings with the company.

“Should evidence indicate that the Competition Act has been contravened, the Commissioner will take appropriate action,” said Greg Scott, a spokesman for the bureau, in an email.

The bureau did not state whether it has also approached Canada’s largest telecom players for records related to its probe.

Apple has been doing badly out of anti-trust investigations. This year it lost a case where it ran a cartel with several book publishers with the aim of killing off Amazon.


Assange lobbies for a giant statue of himself

Julian AssangeNo-one can say that being locked up in the Ecuadorean embassy on the run from sex charges has damaged Julian Assange’s ego much.

The founder of Wikileaks wants people to invest their hard-earned dollars into the creation of a life-size bronze public artwork featuring himself, Chelsea Manning and Edward Snowden.

“A monument to courage” is a proposed statue by Italian sculptor Davide Dormino, entitled Anything to Say?, will depict the trio standing on chairs, with another empty seat beside them onto which members of the public will be encouraged to climb – allowing them to stand shoulder to shoulder with the whistleblowers.

We would have thought “oh for goodness sake” would have been a better title. Putting Assange in the same league as Manning and Snowden who actually paid the price for actually leaking documents is a bit unfair.  They are either in jail or in exile, for leaking documents. He is banged up in the embassy because he does not want to face questions about two women who laid complaints about sexual assault about  him.  He denies the charges but refuses to go court to face his accusers.

Organisers need £100,000 to complete the project, a sum they hope to raise by 1 January through the crowd-funding website Kickstarter. With just 21 days to go, only £19,360 has been pledged – perhaps explaining why Assange chose to alert WikiLeaks’ 2.4 million Twitter followers to the campaign.

According to the Kickstarter page, the statue “is not a simple homage to individuals, but to courage and to the importance of freedom of speech and information”. The reason for the empty chair is that each of us can climb onto it to change our point of view.

“The work of art will travel from country to country and offer the opportunity for us to hear each other out and think.”

The idea for the statue came from Dormino and Charles Glass, an American author, journalist and broadcaster. British journalist Vaughan Smith, with whom Assange stayed while he was on bail in 2010, is organising the Kickstarter campaign. This is surprisingly forgiving of Smith, because when Assange skipped bail he left those who posted bail for him in the embarrassing position where they had to pay up.

“I got excited by it because I thought it was some art that suggested, rather appropriately, that these whistleblowers were our true friends rather than the politicians who pretend to be,” Smith told The Independent.

He added that most of the £100,000 for the project would go towards transporting the artwork around the world and that nobody was being paid for taking part. The rest of the money will go towards the statue’s creation at a foundry in Pietrasanta, Tuscany.

Oddly,Wikileaks will not get any cash out of the project and the sculpture has not worked out a way of getting a good image of Chelsea Manning, whose appearance has changed and there are not enough pictures of her.  There are shedloads of snaps of Assange.

Facebook stops you posting pics drunk

zuckerberg-drinkSocial notworking site Facebook is creating an artificial intelligence tool that will warn people when they are about to do something they might regret.

Apparently the tool can detect if you are about to upload an embarrassing photo of yourself or other people.

Yann LeCun, who heads the Facebook Artificial Intelligence Research lab, and his team are laying the basic groundwork for the tool.

He sees the AI tool as a Facebook digital assistant that recognises when you are uploading an embarrassing photo from a late-night party and tells you that this is probably not a good idea.

LeCun said this assistant would tap you on the shoulder and say: “Uh, this is being posted publicly. Are you sure you want your boss and your mother to see this?”

The tool would rely on image recognition technology that can distinguish between your drunken self and sober self. Which is interesting, because a few can’t remember their sober selves and have never met them for a long time.

The larger aim, LeCun said, is to create a tool that can self-censor stuff posted to Facebook. They are also looking at AI systems that can understand FB data in ways that are more complex.

LeCun also envisions a Facebook that instantly notifies you when someone you do not know posts your photo to the social network without your approval. Or posts adverts for Sunglasses.

The only problem with this tool is if you are off your face you think it is a good idea to  post a picture even if your AI assistant tells you it is a bad one.