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News Roundup: eVoting, backdoors and poo

A roundup of the week’s tech news including chair jumping, taxes and sanctions

UK eVoting

E-stonia do it, Alaska do it, even Belgium do it. And the UK could soon join the club of countries that use eVoting in elections. The Digital Democracy Commission, a commission set up by House of Commons speaker John Bercow, has recommended that online voting should be an option for people in the 2020 election.

As well as using eVoting as a way to get younger people to vote, the commission recommended that MPs could vote on issues remotely and there should be live social media coverage of debates. It might sound simple, but for the UK government, this is a big step forward. Now those changes just have to be agreed on and then put in place…

NSA

The usual dose of NSA-related headlines…

-          The latest Snowden leaks show Canada is just as keen on global spying as the UK and US. It’s Communications Security Establishment (CSE) has been spying on free file sharing sites under project Leviathan.

-          Police are unhappy that Google’s traffic app Waze can track them, Waze doesn’t agree with the criticism.

-          Encryption will lead to spies being even less ethical, says former GCHQ chief.

-          The Council of Europe says all the NSA & GCHQ spying are breaching human rights.

-          The UK’s House of Lords failed to pass a new “Snooper’s Charter.”

-          Someone prank-called UK Prime Minister David Cameron and pretended to be GCHQ director, Robert Hannigan. No selfie from DC was available.

-          NIST, an agency that develops encryption standards, promises to be more open about its links with the NSA.

-          Marco Rubio wants NSA laws extended, so another Congressman has called for him to be monitored by the spy agency 24 hours a day so he knows what it feels like.

-          Wikileaks is unhappy Google handed over its emails to the US government three years ago and only just said anything. Google says it tried to fight gagging orders.

Transparency Reports, Backdoors and Sanctions

Both Dropbox and Reddit have released transparency reports this week. The number of requests for Dropbox data stayed roughly the same – around the 200-250 mark – while Reddit’s first such report showed 55 requests for data, just over half of which were granted.

Meanwhile, Apple has reportedly allowed Chinese authorities permission to conduct a security audit to check for surveillance backdoors. It’s hard to tell if the Cupertino company will be the last to do so, as new rules that force any foreign tech firms doing business with Chinese banks to hand over source code and allow backdoors to be put in has caused a lot of upset in the US.

While Google and PayPal join sanctions placed on the Crimea, France’s President Francois Hollande has called for technology companies to suffer sanctions themselves if they don’t act over hate speech posted on their sites.

Verbatim Facenet, MaVeNS and chair jumping

Facebook, or internet? According to Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, the two are indistinguishable to some people. “We know Facebook is one of the main drivers of why people buy phones, particularly in the developing world,” she said. “People will walk into phone stores and say 'I want Facebook'. People actually confuse Facebook and the internet in some places.”

Tech is full of crap acronyms, especially for trends. SMAC, CAMSS, etc. Yahoo!’s Marissa Mayer has made one more though; MaVeNS. During the company’s fourth-quarter earnings call this week, she kept referring to the term, which stands for Mobile, Video, Native, and Social.

Pay your taxes, tech firms! That’s the message from the Bank of England governor, Mark Carney. “It should be recognized that some of the biggest firms to take the most advantage of international tax rules are technology companies,” he told the folks at DAVOS. “The amount of tax they pay is small in relation to the system. A sense of responsibility is needed.”

Bill Gates took part in a Reddit AMA this week. The former Microsoft man admitted he wished he knew a foreign language, enjoys tennis and basic clothes and is apparently working on a Personal Agent with Microsoft. Apparently his chair jumping abilities are diminishing.

M&A

Symantec has picked a name for the second company created by the security firm’s split. The new entity will be called Veritas Technologies (Veritas Software was acquired by Symantec in 2005) and work in the space around Information Management.

So Apple may have had the best quarter of any company ever this week, but that doesn’t mean other companies are spending money trying to catch up. Microsoft has acquired Revolution Analytics, Dropbox has bought design collaboration startup Pixelapse, Slack has purchased collaboration startup Screenhero and Bitcoin company ANX now owns Bitcoin exchange CoinMKT.

Elsewhere, training service Pluralsight has bought Code School, Pet wearable startup Whistle has acquired rival pet tracker Tagg, and Jay-Z has acquired music streaming sites Tidal and WiMP.

New things

So you’ve probably heard about Microsoft’s replacement browser for Internet Explorer, codenamed Project Spartan. Well, Opera co-founder Jon von Tetzchner has also decided to enter the market and announced Vivaldi, a browser for “high-volume users who have problems fitting all their open tabs on one screen.” I’ve had a go myself, and it seems pretty good: a couple of nice features but doesn’t feel like a Chrome killer to me.

Fresh from announcing a $200 million loss for 2014, Amazon is looking to muscle in on the enterprise email space. Amazon WorkMail offers itself up as a cheaper and more secure alternative to Microsoft, Google, IBM et al. Not the most exciting news, but it’s another step Amazon has taken to take over the enterprise. Throw in a word processor, spreadsheet and social network and they’re in pretty much every space going.

Poo-rtraits

We all like a good portrait. And tech CEOs often inspire a lot of art to be created in their image. But take a moment to feel sorry for billionaire Mark Zuckerberg after someone created a portrait of the Facebook creator made out of feces.   The artist, known as KATSU, isn’t a big fan of Mr. Facebook, having previously put up posters of Zuck featuring black eyes and broken teeth.

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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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