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News Roundup: Magna Cartas, trolling and self-driving Apples

A roundup of the week’s tech news including warrant canaries, backdoor protests and blue ticks

Google vs. Uber, Apple vs. Google, Alibaba vs. Amazon

Is Google looking to create an Uber rival? That’s what Bloomberg will have us believe, according to a report published earlier this week. Despite investing hundreds of millions of dollars into the taxi-service, “Google is preparing to offer its own ride-hailing service, most likely in conjunction with its long-in-development driverless car project. While Uber has admitted it’s working towards its own self-driving cars, is this enough to cause the search giant to try and replace the incumbent? Apparently not, after Google tweeted Bloomberg that “We think you'll find Uber and Lyft work quite well. We use them all the time.”

Something a bit more certain, however, is Google teaming up with Mattel the toy company. An announcement referencing the classic View Master was sent out by the two companies for an event next week. A new AR/VR toy in the making? You wouldn’t bet against it.

Is Apple also looking to get into the self-driving car market? Quite possibly. Cars found to be leased to the Cupertino company have been spotted driving around the Bay area and New York sporting a variety of cameras on the roof. Apple has refused to comment, and there’s a possibility these cars are for mapping purposes, but it could be an interesting move by Tim Cook & Co.

Amazon has made no secret that it dreams of a future where drones deliver its packages straight to your door, but has various legal hurdles in the way. But will Alibaba beat Jeff Bezos’ company to the post? The Chinese eCommerce giant ran a three-day pilot of its own drone delivery scheme this week, signalling it too could soon fill the sky with packages.

NSA

The usual dose of NSA-related headlines…

-          One privacy watchdog accused the White House of not doing enough on surveillance reform, shortly before Obama updated the rules to make it slightly harder for the NSA to spy on US citizens [but not foreigners].

-          The NSA hacks hackers to get their hands on more data.

-          The NSA has published a Factsheet-cum-transparency report in an effort to be more open.  

-          Germany also enjoys collecting data on a large scale.

-          GCHQ’s spying has been ruled unlawful.

-          The EFF have started a canary list so you can see who has been bothered for data by government types.

-          Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott really wants to start collecting data en masse. Apparently international services such as Gmail, Facebook, Skype and Twitter won’t be included under these rules, but the government won’t reveal how much surveillance will cost Oz companies.

Market Pull-Outs and Backdoors

Is being the technology equivalent of Coca-Cola possible anymore? Spotify has become the latest company to eschew Russia after it cancelled plans to launch due to “the economic crisis, the political situation, the new laws governing the internet.”

This exodus from market with overbearing government looks likely to continue after tech groups asked for the US government to help overturn new Chinese regulations. “(We) request your immediate action to work with Chinese officials to reverse an alarming number of troubling, new Chinese government policies impacting the information and communications technology (ICT) sector,” said a letter from various lobby groups, referring to new rules that demand foreign tech firms hand over source code and allow backdoors to be installed.

M&A

Plenty of buying and selling going on this week.

Google has got its hands on toy manufacturer Launchpad Toys, Samsung acquired Brazil's largest printing service company Simpress, Intel has bought smart home startup Lantiq, VMWare has purchased desktop virtualization company Immidio, Cloudera now owns analytics startup Xplain.io, Palintir has snapped up retail channel startup Fancy That, and Riverbed is selling off its Steelapp unit to Brocade.

Elsewhere, sports clothes manufacturer Under Armour has splashed out for calorie apps MyFitnessPal and Endomondo, Government software firm TechnologyOne are buying fellow OZ-based company Icon, Datastax now owns open source graph startup Aurelius, crowdfunding site Fundable has snapped up entrepreneurial advice site Clarity, Silicon Labs has acquired Bluegiga and Message Systems has gobbled up Port25 Solutions.

Though there’s been no confirmation, rumours are circulating that Microsoft has bought calendar app developer Sunrise.

Amazon recently opened its first physical store in the US, and may soon follow up with hundreds more. The eCommerce giant is reportedly buying up hundreds of stores from the now-defunct Radioshack.

Verbatim – Shame, Magna Cartas and Chernobyls

Twitter CEO Dick Costolo is well aware his site is full of dicks and he wants to do something about it. “We suck at dealing with abuse and trolls on the platform and we've sucked at it for years,” Costolo wrote in an internal memo the Verge got its hands on. “It's no secret and the rest of the world talks about it every day. We lose core user after core user by not addressing simple trolling issues that they face every day.” It’s a nice bit of honesty from the man in charge of a company where abuse is the norm for some. “I'm frankly ashamed of how poorly we've dealt with this issue during my tenure as CEO,” he continues. “We're going to start kicking these people off right and left and making sure that when they issue their ridiculous attacks, nobody hears them.”

Is the internet a human right? I would say no, but it’s debateable. But what about high-speed internet? According to a Tory MP, it is. “Access to broadband should be considered a fundamental right. So much of life is conducted online now,” said Neil Parish, writing in a report for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs select committee.

The EU needs a “magna carta for data”, according to a group of Irish data researchers. Ireland’s Insight Centre for Data Analytics wants a new set of laws for protecting data privacy. “We can balance the needs and rights of data providers and owners. Rights-based legislation must be supported and implemented by a technical infrastructure,” the group said in a paper before they present their request in Brussels next week. “The Magna Carta for Data secures our future. It provides a basis to provide assurance to European citizens that their trust in Big Data is not misplaced.”

The Ed Snowden/NSA revelations were the “Chernobyl moment in the privacy debate,” according to the privacy advocate suing Facebook. Max Schrems, who is suing Facebook for over €12 million on behalf of 25,000 users, compared people’s views of privacy to those of atomic power. “Just like Chernobyl did for the atomic power debate, it is so complicated that the average user doesn’t get it and ignores it.”

My Ticks!

Apparently the Conservative Party spend £100,000 a month on Facebook promotions. Twitter might be a bit cheaper, but some MPs are apparently worried about losing a feature that comes for free; those little blue ticks. According to Buzzfeed, House of Commons rules require every current 3Member of Parliament to remove all mentions of their elected position from their Twitter username after March 30, when the election formally begins. “If I change my Twitter handle then I’ll lose my blue tick,” one Tory told the site. Various rappers know about the pains of being verified on the social network, so this should help politicians reach out to the plight of the common man.

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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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