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News Roundup: Facebook continues to fail users

A roundup of the week’s technology news including robot mayors, trade wars, and programmable water.

 

What happened to ‘Don’t be evil’?

Another week, another slew of bad headlines for Facebook, but with a few other big companies not exactly being super-ethical:

Facebook has an advertising product that can predict when you’re going to be disloyal to a brand, and then let one brand ‘aggressively target’ that user to stop such a heinous action.

It recently came to light that the company filed a patent that can determine a person’s emotional stability and personal characteristics to better target ads at them.

Another Cambridge Analytica whistleblower says other apps from the company aside from This Is Your Digital Life gathered data on far more than 87 million people.

Facebook’s UK CTO admits no one at the company read the terms and conditions of the This Is Your Digital Life app.

The founder of MoneySavingExpert.com is suing Facebook after the platform allowed over 50 cryptocurrency ads that falsely used his face and name to promote crypto scams to be published on the platform.

An ex-director of Cambridge Analytica says the Leave.EU campaign breached privacy laws when targeting people during the referendum.

Another data company, Localblox, trawled 48 million personal profiles from Facebook, Twitter, and others, only to leave them on an insecure Amazon S3 storage bucket

In an effort to appease people, the company published information on how it tracks you around the web – even if you’re not logged in – and the specifics of its content guidelines.

Other bad things tech companies have done recently:

Apple is threatening leakers with criminal action.

Tesla has been trying to silence a potential victim of racial discrimination.

 

Chinese companies post ‘men only’ roles but promise a workplace full of ‘goddesses’

US companies aren’t exactly famous for their diversity, but some Chinese companies are actively harmful. A report from Human Rights Watch says companies such as Alibaba, Baidu, Tencent and others regularly post job listings specifying the roles are for men while simultaneously boasting of the beautiful women that work there.

The report analyzed over 36,000 job advertisements posted between 2013 and 2018 on Chinese recruitment and company websites and on social media platforms. It found many large technology companies “repeatedly published recruitment ads boasting that there are “beautiful girls” (美女) or “goddesses” (女神) working for the companies.”

 

Startup myths about young entrepreneurs are wrong

Don’t believe the lies. Successful tech startups aren’t run by youthful entrepreneurs with disrupting ideas and questionable fashion sense. They’re run by middle-aged people. A new paper from MIT looking at the average age of entrepreneurs who’ve started companies and gone on to hire at least one employee found the average age of these tech leaders is actually 42. It also found ventures with the highest growth had an average founder age of 45.

 

Possessing ransomware is now illegal (in Michigan)

If you’re not a security researcher and you possess any malware, you’re in trouble. The US state of Michigan has passed laws which criminalize the possession of ransomware “with the intent to introduce it into a computer or computer network without authorization.”

Representative Brandt Iden said the new laws closed a gap in the law which meant possession with intent was not a crime. Those found guilty can be sentenced to up to three years in prison. Unlike many cyber-security laws, however, these new laws do include exemptions for security researchers. Other states with similar laws include Wyoming, Texas, California, and Connecticut.

 

Security

  • The French government is building its own encrypted messenger service to counter fears over WhatsApp surveillance.
  • Iranian government bodies have been banned from using Telegram.
  • X-Ray and MRI machines were hacked for what looks like reasons of corporate espionage.
  • The massive DDoS as a Service site Webstresser.org has been shut down.
  • Mark Zuckerberg’s personal security cost Facebook over $7 million in 2017.

 

Developing in Sanskrit

Though programming is largely the languages of mathematics, a good grasp of English helps. But what about other languages? Indian President Ram Nath Kovind this week claimed Sanskrit was more suitable for writing algorithms and developing artificial intelligence.

It’s an idea that has been around for a while; in the mid-1980s NASA’s Rick Brigs noted that Sanskrit’s precise grammar rules mirrored work with artificial intelligence research of the time. Through the internet rumour mill grinder, however, this has been warped to the largely baseless claim developing in Sanskrit makes more sense than any other language.

 

US continues its war against everyone

ZTE – which is now banned from using American exports including Qualcomm chips – has unsurprisingly called the US Government’s actions  “unacceptable”.

“The Denial Order will not only severely impact the survival and development of ZTE, but will also cause damages to all partners of ZTE including a large number of US companies,” the company said.

The Chinese telecoms manufacturer has also been deemed a 'national security risk' by the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC).

Fellow Chinese manufacturer Huawei, meanwhile, has come under fire in the US for allegedly violating export sanctions related to Iran.

Russia’s security company Kaspersky is reportedly in danger of facing more US sanctions which would potentially bar the company from operating in the US at all. Company founder, Eugene Kaspersky, recently called out Twitter for banning his firm from advertising on the social network.

 

Open source

Oracle (yes, Oracle) have open sourced GraalVM a universal virtual machine for running applications written in various different languages in a shared runtime.

Apple has open sourced FoundationDB, a distributed database  to handle large volumes of structured data across clusters of commodity servers.

Heptio – whose co-founders were involved in developing Kubernetes – has released a load balancing tool for Kubernetes called Gimbal.

 

M&A

Alibaba has acquired Chinese microchip maker Hangzhou C-SKY Microsystems, SmugMug has bought Flickr from Oath (previously Yahoo!),  Square has made a double swoop for Zesty and Weebly, Oracle has snapped up Grapeshot, Bose now owns tour software startup Detour, and ServiceNow has snaffled VendorHawk.

Apple has discontinued its AirPort WiFi routers.

 

Basic Income trial stalls in Finland

The question of what humanity does after the robots come and steal all our jobs is still unanswered. Some experts suggest Universal Basic Income (UBI); giving everyone enough to live every month, regardless of the situation. In theory this freedom will enable people to be more creative and find new ways to create value.

The theory is hard to test as governments are often quite unwilling to give money out to people for no reason. The Finnish government had been running a small UBI trial to see how this utopian future would work in practise, but the scheme has had its funding cut.

Launched in January 2017, it saw 2,000 unemployed people receive €560 ($670) every month whether they gained employment or not. The government, however, has decided not to extend the scheme and will instead explore ‘alternative welfare schemes’ according to the Guardian.

 

Amazon’s endless empire

Did you know there’s a whole “Death By Amazon” indices looking at companies most vulnerable to the constant rise and expansion of Amazon’s empire?

Amazon is rumoured to be working on a personal home robot powered by Alexa. Given that the company already has plenty of robotics experience in its fulfilment centres, it’s not hard to imagine the company making such a move.

Jeff Bezos’ company is also reputedly in talks to acquire the Evine Live home-shopping channel. Given the list of products Amazon now makes itself, the appeal of having an already established TV platform on which to promote them is obvious.

In the definitely launched category, Amazon has released an all-in-one Augmented & Virtual Reality app development platform for smartphones and headsets called Sumerian, and quietly launched a lite mobile web browser for Android in India.

AWS launched its own Blockchain as a Service offering, closing the gap on one of the few areas competitors such as Microsoft and IBM’s cloud services had more to offer than Amazon.

 

Is Facebook designing its own silicon?

Field-programmable gate arrays (FPGA) are becoming a popular option for companies to get the best performance from their silicon by tailoring the arrays to their precise needs. And it seems Facebook is getting in on the silicon game.

The social network has posted a job listing looking for a ASIC & FPGA Design Engineer. The post calls for a silicon design engineer with expertise in architecting and designing semi-custom and fully custom ASICs.

“The role involves evaluating, developing and driving next generation technologies within Facebook.”

 

Intel can smartglasses mere months after revealing them

Remember when Toshiba canned its smartglasses just days before they were due to launch? No, probably not. But Intel has performed a similar trick and canned its Vaunt smart glasses which were only revealed in February.

The New Devices Group (NDG), in which the project sits, is closing, meaning the end of that and other wearables projects. The device itself had the size and look of a regular pair of glasses, and beamed information directly onto your retinas.

In a statement to the Verge, Intel said:

“Intel is continuously working on new technologies and experiences. Not all of these develop into a product we choose to take to market. The Superlight [the codename for Vaunt] project is a great example where Intel developed truly differentiated, consumer augmented reality glasses. We are going to take a disciplined approach as we keep inventing and exploring new technologies, which will sometimes require tough choices when market dynamics don’t support further investment.”

 

BlackBerry: I wonder who could make BlackBerry phones

For a time – before today’s smartphones became as common a personal item as a watch or wallet – BlackBerry’s phones were the device to have. Having missed the smartphone boat – and seen the Passport die a slow death - BlackBerry has given TCL the right to the BB name, which has resulted in some ok, if slightly odd, smartphones.

But could we soon see an old-school BlackBerry 9900 back on the market?

“I would never say never,” BlackBerry CEO John Chen told ReCode recently.  “You remember the 9900, the Bold…I think somebody should make that.”

“There might be a need in this world for a phone that is very simple and just focused on secure email, secure texts and a basic browser.”

While he was clear there are no plans for such a device, he could easily see a market for a $150 9900-like device that is focused on texts, email and web browsing. TCL should be taking notes.

 

No more car owners after 2027

Car ownership will be more expensive than relying solely on autonomous taxis by 2027, according to a new study. Insurance broker Quote Wizards looked at recent trends in the cost of rideshare apps, and if the drop in costs continue – and self-driving cars become a thing – owning a car becomes economically pointless in 9 years.

The study – which focuses on Seattle and Denver, says the current cost of using ride-share apps exclusively for transportation are currently around $14,000 annually, but will drop to below $7,000 by 2027. The cost of car ownership has largely been static over the last five year at just over $8,000 a year.

 

You can now program water

Cool science project of the week goes to MIT Media Lab's Tangible Media Group, which has developed a new kind of UI based on programmable water droplets. The UI, according to MIT, is ‘essentially a PCB coated in low-friction material with a grid of copper wiring on top’. The water droplets are manipulated by controlling the electric field of the grid. So far, the projects it’s shown off involve painting and gaming. A future concept would be the ability to control water droplets on a mirror via a smartphone.

 

Bitcoin: better than actual gold

Since it’s mega dip a few months ago, the price of Bitcoin has been hovering between $7,000-$8,000. John McAfee’s repeated promises to eat his penis if the value of the cryptocurrency doesn’t reach $1 million by the end of 2020 haven’t quite to come fruition yet, but that hasn’t stopped other people making ambitious predictions.

John Pfeffer, a partner at UK-based Pfeffer Capital, this week claimed Bitcoin is superior to gold “on every front” and could eventually be worth around $700,000 per coin.

“Bitcoin is the first viable candidate to replace gold the world has ever seen,” Mr Pfeffer said. "So, if bitcoin becomes the dominant non-sovereign store of value, it could be the new gold, or new reserve currency."

 

Musk’s advice

Outside of the cool electric cars and space rockets, Elon Musk is always good a laugh. And due to his endless resources, when he tweets “Oh btw I’m building a cyborg dragon”it’s really not clear whether it’s a joke, new marketing venture, or some truly futuristic market segment.

Outside of dragons, Musk isn’t a big fan of meetings. In a leaked email, his advice for greater productivity includes having less meetings in general, avoiding big meetings wherever possible, walking out of meetings if they’re no good, using less jargon, and having less middle men in lines of communication. Amen.

 

Robo-mayor

In 2016 someone set up a campaign to have IBM’s Watson run for US President. Sadly, IBM weren’t on board and it didn’t happen. Michihito Matsuda is reportedly a full robotic AI and is running in the mayoral election in Tama City, Tokyo. The ‘candidate’ promises to use voter data and petitions to create policies.

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Dan Swinhoe

Dan is Senior Staff Writer at IDG Connect. Writes about all manner of tech from driverless cars, AI, and Green IT to Cloudy stuff, security, and IoT. Dislikes autoplay ads/videos and garbage written about 'milliennials'.  

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