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News Roundup: When PR Events & Social Media Go Wrong, Human Rights and Bitcoin Bureaucracy

It’s a massive roundup this week - had some time off recently so plenty to catch up on.

The New Face of Microsoft

Microsoft has dominated the news recently, and for once not because its phone & tablet division is horrifically disappointing, that XP still won’t die, or Steve Wozniak is taking pot shots at them . No, the biggest news last week was the announcement that the company’s CEO, Steve Ballmer, is retiring in the next 12 months. There was quite a lot of shock around the tech world, especially after announcing a company-wide shake up just a few weeks ago. The news sent the share price soaring by more than 7%, or in money terms, $18 BILLION. There is nothing in the world I could do or say that would make an $18 billion difference in the world.

But I think Ballmer gets a bad wrap; yes there were missed opportunities, but it’s not like the company dissolved into nothing under his stewardship; the company is still awash with money. The fact that Microsoft was so successful in the 90s was only ever going to be a hindrance when the times changed. Who will be next? No one’s sure yet, but there’s an assumed shortlist and you can take a bet if so inclined, but the acquisition of Nokia’s mobile division this week could be a signpost.

Microsoft paying $7.2 billion for Nokia’s mobile phone business also took everyone by surprise. About 32,000 Nokia employees will transfer to Microsoft, but the Nokia name will remain on the phones for now. So does this make Microsoft like Apple (controlling the entire hardware/ software ecosystem) or Google (buying a major phone maker to save the trouble of developing its own)? Probably somewhere in the middle. And Nokia? GigaOm thinks it could now be free to compete on services and wearable tech, while Microsoft will make a hash of it. Meanwhile, the mobile dinosaur clinging on to existence, also known as Blackberry, still awaits a saviour to buy it up.

…And Facebook for All

Not so long ago Facebook unveiled its first transparency report. Not surprisingly the US was the biggest requester of data, but worryingly Facebook coughed up in the vast majority of cases. Not cool Mark.

Mr. Zuckerberg has been busy on his side projects of late too. In addition to his Fwd.us lobbying group, he announced the formation of Internet.org, a new initiative aimed at connecting the ‘next five billion people.’ Zuckerberg, along with Ericsson, MediaTek, Nokia, Opera, Qualcomm and Samsung will work in various ways to help boost internet connectivity in developing nations. While some applauded his benevolent ways, most criticized the news, the main points being; the internet is nice but not  a human right like water, food & shelter, developing nations need freedom before Facebook, and that this whole plan is just an idea to get more FB users (something he obviously denies).

Words, Quotes & Videos

Last week the Oxford English Dictionary added a bunch of tech words to its archives, including Bitcoin, BYOD, Digital Detox, Internet of Things, Selfie and Omnishambles (not tech but who cares, it’s a cool word). To celebrate you should read today’s blog, How Tech Is Ruining Language. It’s full of all sorts of words that you might find interesting.

Some quality digs from people of late. There was Wozniak accusing Microsoft of resting on its laurels (fair), while Crispin Hunt, who runs the Featured Artists Coalition, called Kim Dotcom a “chubby Che Guevara” (possibly a little harsh) after announcing he was building a new political party. While over on Read/Write, a Berkeley Computer Science researcher called Bitcoin users “Crypto-Anarchist-Libertarian-Cave-Dwelling-Goldbugs,” which may be the best generalization I’ve heard in a while. Not sure how much truth there is to it though. And Google quite brazenly said Gmail users should have no "reasonable expectation" that their emails are private.

There have been some good videos recently too. Bebo founder Michael Birch spent $1m buying back the social network he originally sold for $850 million, and so to celebrate he made a spoof video acknowledging that the site basically ended up being the largest repository of cock and ball doodles in the world. What a claim. Everyone’s second favourite whistleblower, Julian Assange, recently donned a mullet wig and sung his way through an election video. Best of all however, was the return of John McAfee, who posted a video informing us all of the dangers involved with having seven women in your life. Thanks John.

Yahoo!’s Ups & Downs

So Yahoo! have a new logo (up). It’s still purple, and still has an exclamation mark (down). Yahoo! buys IQ Engines (up), but is pulling out of China and allowing Alibaba to carry on in its stead (down). Biggest news of all, however, is that Yahoo! has overtaken Google as the most visited website in the US for the first time since May 2011, something which will no doubt make Marissa Mayer feel vindicated in all her acquisitions and logo changes.

According to Reuters, HP is planning to copy Yahoo!’s style after Meg Whitman announced the company is in the market to spend up to $1.5 billion on a series of small acquisitions. With Whitman aiming to spend $100 million to $300 million range, it’s not quite up to Mayer’s standards, but could fuel a few news roundups.

NSA Roundup

There’s been plenty of things going on with the NSA story of late, so here’s a very quick rundown:

-          NSA can hack pretty much all encryption and monitor 75% of internet traffic in the US

-          Claims it touches only 1.6% of email traffic is BS

-          Almost 90% of internet users have tried to avoid surveillance (existed success rate: low)

-          The NSA has spied on both the UN & previous lovers (spawning #NSApickuplines)

-          Lessons learned by the NSA: Transparency via a Tumblr account and staff cuts

-          NSA paid for compliance costs for big companies, causes privacy startups to close shop

-          DARPA looks to help secure big data

All in all, not cool.

Siri vs. Glass

Siri is occasionally known for its sense of humour, but Apple have gone all out when ripping into Google’s new smartglasses. Using Google Glass’ “Ok, Glass” command on an iPhone will cause a series of dry remarks informing you that you’re doing it wrong. My personal favourite is, “Stop trying to strap me to your forehead, it won’t work.” Google’s hardware is yet to come up with a witty retort.

Some more details about the glasses themselves have come to light recently. Some analysts have crunched the numbers, and are predicting the Glasses will come up on sale for $299. Considering the $1,500 early developers & reviewers are paying, that’s quite a come down. Hipsters everywhere are kicking themselves for not buying earlier. Also, some developers have gone all out to make you a better Jew with the JewGlass app. Never forget a prayer, what to say, where your nearest synagogue is, and where to find kosher food. Shalom.

Bitcoin Keeps Growing Up

Another big few weeks for Bitcoin, as the cryptocurrency moves closer and closer to worldwide legitimacy. Germany recently declared Bitcoin was recognised as a 'unit of account', while BTC lobbyists recently met federal law enforcement and financial agencies including the Federal Reserve, FBI, Treasury Department, tax officials and members of the secret service to help them understand what the currency is all about, with a similar meeting taking place in the UK this week. eCommerce giant ebay also posted a video & blog on the subject today, fuelling speculation the company may be looking to get in on the action.

Running the Internet

Want better internet connections? Then RUN FASTER! One Redditor decided being online all day and missing out on all that exercise and fresh air wasn’t cool, so he linked up a treadmill to his computer, so that the faster the runner, the quicker the connection. Genius.

In other hardware news, Samsung broke cover and finally unveiled its Galaxy Gear smartwatch, as did Qualcomm. Both look nice and all, but the fact they are mere accessories, rather than alternatives, to a phone or tablet is a bit of a let-down. All eyes are now firmly on Apple and what it can deliver. I doubt we’ll see it at the company’s event scheduled next week however, just more iPhones.

Canonical’s Indiegogo campaign to create the super flashy high-end Ubuntu Edge phone inevitably fell on its arse. $32 million is too much for a crowdfunding campaign, especially one that isn’t as new or novelty as Pebble, Oculus Rift or a Nikolas Tesla museum. $12.8 million is nothing to be sniffed at though, and they’d have set a record if they’d had lower goals.  

A Cambridge firm also just announced the world's thinnest keyboard. At just half a millimetre thick, CSR plan to use the keyboard as a lightweight companion for tablets, and comes with a touchscreen. Very cool.

When Promotional Events & Social Media Go Wrong

There are no lows some companies won’t stoop to at promotional events in order to impress, as seen by Sony’s recent attempts at showing people how waterproof their smartphones are. But it all went a bit Pete Tong for LG when 20 people were injured in Seoul, after “People arrived with BB guns and knives on sticks for a race to grab smartphone vouchers hanging from helium balloons.” You couldn’t make it up. 

Aside from the usual death threats and insults, there’s plenty that can cause social media companies red faces too. It seems no matter how hard they try, LinkedIn can’t get rid of its own Red Light District. Thousands of escorts use the site despite the company’s efforts to remove them, and could cause a mild scare among parents and politicians looking for a topic to latch onto when 13 year-olds are allowed to register this month.

Meanwhile, over on Twitter, a man was so peeved by the poor service provided by British Airways that he actually bought a sponsored Tweet that read “Don’t Fly @BritishAirways. Their customer service in horrendous”. Eventually BA replied, "Sorry for the delay in responding, our twitter feed is open 09:00-17:00 GMT. Please DM [direct message] your baggage ref and we'll look into this." Aside from being the worst kind of publicity for BA, this could signal a major change in how people complain about companies online. Best start improving your customer service then. 

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Dan Swinhoe

Dan is a journalist at CSO Online. Previously he was Senior Staff Writer at IDG Connect.

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