News Roundup: Amazon In Washington, Cloud Wars and Phubbing

Amazon in Washington & Developing Clouds

Those tech CEOs. All those billions of dollars and nothing to spend it on. It drives many of them mad. So Amazon boss Jeff Bezos has bought the Washington Post for a cool $250 million out of his own pocket. Will he bash his eCommerce rivals? Will he use the Post as a way of getting closer to politicians in the capital? Will he go crazy with power? We can only hope.

In related news, last week we wrote about App developers and where their priorities lie. Unsurprisingly, it was with iOS for the money and Android/HMTL5 for the reach and ease of use. This week, Forrester has found that, equally unsurprisingly, Amazon Web Services & Microsoft's Windows Azure are the most popular platforms for enterprise cloud developers. But if the predicted exodus happens, the non-US Cloud platforms might well get a look in. 

NSA fall out

Edward Snowden’s preferred email provider has shut down! The NSA story is finally slowing down now, after months of revelations and drama. Experts are predicting, however, that the loss of trust and business resulting from the story could cost US Tech companies $35 billion over three years. Oddly enough the report came from the Washington Post; Bezos pushing his agenda already? Na probably not.

According to Reuters, the story has also dented relationships between the government and hackers.  "We've gone backwards about 10 years in the relations between the good guys and the U.S. government," said veteran security researcher Alex Stamos. If you’re a government, pissing off hackers isn’t wise; you need them to do your hacking, and you need to dissuade them from hacking your systems.

IBM vs. Amazon

Government contracts are big business and as they slowly embrace technology more, the competition will undoubtedly heat up. The banning of Lenovo, Huawei and ZTE from various spy agencies is evidence of this. And so it wasn’t really a surprise to hear that the $600 million CIA Cloud contract dispute between Amazon Web Services and IBM is getting heated. Amazon won it first, before IBM complained and the whole process started again, and now Amazon has complained and whole thing is back in court. As GigaOM pointed out, this isn’t just about one huge contract; the winner will no doubt be first choice for all the other potential government Cloud contracts, both in the US and further afield (assuming people trust a US company not to snoop/leak data to the Washington Post).

Blackberry has finally got some good news for a change. Despite plummeting sales, and losing FBI & US Nave phone contracts, the company has been given authority by the U.S. Defence Department to deploy its mobile device management (MDM) service, which some predict may be the only future route for the company once it gives up the ghost with selling mobile phones. But rather than accept this fate, rumours are circulating that the Canadian company will go private in order to get its house in order away from the prying eyes of shareholders.

Meanwhile in Australia, that state of Queensland has barred IBM from future government work, “until it improves its governance and contracting practices,” after problems with a health department payroll system. While not likely to affect the CIA ruling, it’s not the best way to go about doing business is it?

Oldies Get Online, Young ‘Uns Get Nude

Traditionally, the world of tech belongs to the young; the millennials and Gen Y. But that might be changing. According to a new Pew Study, 43% of people over 65 are now using social media, up from 1% in 2006. Apparently pictures of grandchildren, along with knitting and golf groups are driving adoption, according to report co-author Aaron Smith. It seems that the oldies are doing it better than CEOs; a new study by Domo and found 68% of CEOs still aren’t on any social networks whatsoever, and those that do aren’t particularly engaged with it.

While the old and the powerful are still playing catch-up, the young ones are getting more involved than ever. According to figures from Ofcom, children are now around 7 ½ years old when they get their first mobile, and by the time they’re 12, only smartphones will do. I got my first phone at 12, and the first smart-ish one for Christmas. I feel more and more out touch with the youths every day. This super-techy generation obviously has a knock-on effect at work, and now delivering BYOD is a must if you want young hipsters working for you: almost 40% of UK workers would quit their organisation if they couldn't use their mobile devices for work.

But there are other problems with the young and their mobiles. Aside from drunken texting costing the UK £638 million a year, phones are also robbing us of our dignity. Ingeniously named social photography app Appysnap asked a bunch of prudish young Britons what they had on their phones, and over half said they had naked pics on there, the cheeky beggars. 48% of the 1,928 quizzed had pics of someone else, while 55% had rude selfies. Best of all? 10% admitted to sending a naughty pic to the wrong person. 

Yahoo! Yahoo? Yahoo? Yahoo?

Yahoo has made another acquisition! This week it was the turn of social browser Rockmelt. The company had a brief flirtation with success a few years back, but has since morphed into a flip board clone. That’s 21 now.

To break from the tedium of buying every startup that moves, the company have decided to change their logo! But being all cool and trendy now, they can’t just change it, no. Marissa Mayer’s company will be revealing a new style logo every day for the next 30 days until the final one is revealed on 5th September. So far we’ve had Sans Serif and curly handwriting, and it looks like we still get treated to exclamation marks and the colour purple. The Reg also pointed out The Guardian's web news editor Jonathan Haynes’ sad but true fact about the group’s logo here.


We’ve all used our phone during a conversation with someone, and someone has undoubtedly produced a phone and done some texting, tweeting and instagramming while ignoring your witticisms. It’s an annoying but accepted part of life today. But some people with far too much time on their hands have decided to take a stand against rudeness and the English language. Stop Phubbing is a new campaign set up by 23-year-old Alex Haigh from Melbourne. Downloadable posters and placecards are available, as well as a gallery of ‘Phubbers’ [‘phone snubbers’, for people who like to speak good] and some disturbing facts. Did you know "If phubbing were a plague it would decimate six Chinas", "97% of people claim their food tasted worse while being a victim of phubbing" and "92% of repeat phubbers go on to become politicians"? A funny joke highlighting a genuine annoyance, but you have to question how much time and effort went into this. 

Bits & Bobs

Quite a few random titbits this week:

-Some potentially massive news for Bitcoin after a federal judge in Texas ruled that Bitcoin is a legitimate currency. The news could go one of two ways; greater regulation and greater acceptance, or greater regulation and a severe crackdown by agencies that don’t trust the anarchic nature of cryptocurrencies.

-Tor-ible news for the dark web after the FBI took down a load of servers and arrested a man over child porn. While I’m sure most Tor users are just privacy advocates, the anonymity offered will inevitably be used by a few maliciously, and in the current climate for web control by governments, The Onion Router is likely to be targeted more and more.

-And in another win for censorship, both Thailand and Vietnam have made life very hard for social media users. The former has threatened to jail anyone posting or Liking political rumours on Facebook after a TV journo posted about a possible coup, while the latter has passed a law banning sharing of news links, which displeased people who like social media and democracy.

-The internet of things took a messy turn for the worse after a $5,000 ‘smart toilet’ was revealed to be vulnerable to attack from hackers. "An attacker could simply download the My Satis application and use it to cause the toilet to repeatedly flush, raising the water usage and therefore utility cost to its owner, "raising the question of why anyone would ever, ever need or want a smart toilet. Good job Gorilla Glass is working on antimicrobial layers for your smartphones it seems.

-Fax is the beast that may never die. The telegram may be gone forever, but a surprisingly high number of companies still use fax; over 90% in Japan. But if people still do things, they inevitably do it wrong. This week The Bank of Scotland was hit with a £75,000 fine after faxing payslips, bank statements, account details, mortgage applications, as well as customer contact details, to the wrong place for more than three years. Three years. That’s a long time. And this is after the recipient had told the bank they were going to the wrong place.

-You’re probably aware that soon the number of top-level domains will be increasing immensely. The days of .com, .net and .org will be replaced with .book, .catholic and .music. But at $185,000 per application, you have to wonder why someone has registered .Horse. Seems like a .silly idea to me.

-According to Forrester, tablet “hyper-growth” will push global numbers to 905 million by 2017, up from 327 million in 2013. Although bad news for Tablet kings Apple, as IDC predicts it’ll be smaller, no-name brands that make up a big share of future sales.

-Politics is always best when delivered with a sense of humour.  So on the tenth anniversary of its founding, the political party affiliated to torrent site the Pirate Bay have taken some ironic revenge on those who seek to shut them down.  To give her a taste of her own medicine, the Pirate party reported the country’s IT Minister Anna-Karin Hatt to the police for copyright infringement. The cheeky Pirates pointed an accusing hook at her Instagram account, after posting ‘copyrighted Calvin and Hobbes cartoons plus the artwork for several motion pictures including The Lord of the Rings, The Da Vinci Code, and Monty Python and the Holy Grail.’ “When not even the Swedish IT Minister complies with copyright law online, one can hardly expect ordinary internet users to feel compelled to follow such an outdated law,” says party legislative spokesperson Torbjörn Wester. Those Swedish Pirates eh?

Loony Quotes

Some good quotes this week. In what could be a prophetic statement, Samsung co-CEO J.K. Shin has said he wants his company to rule the world. "There are many convergences not only among IT gadgets, including smartphones, tablets, PCs, and cameras, but also among different industries like cars, bio, or banks," he said. "Cross-convergence is the one [area] Samsung can do best since we do have various parts and finished products." Android may rule the roost and have the power of Google, but Samsung pack a punch, and it would be unwise to underestimate how hard they’ll push the new OS.

Microsoft Guru Bill Gates is normally all up for helping the less fortunate. He donates vast sums to all sorts of causes and puts his name behind a number of charities. Seems however, he’s not a fan of Google’s internet for all idea. According to The Verge, when asked about their Project Loon ‘internet balloon in the sky’ plan, he replied "When you're dying of malaria, I suppose you'll look up and see that balloon, and I'm not sure how it'll help you." Ouch. "When a kid gets diarrhoea, no, there's no website that relieves that." Though we all wish there was.


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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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