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News Roundup: Tech Slaves, Internet Taxes and Baby Selfies

A roundup of the week’s tech news including 3D Printing David Hasselhoff, and Kim Kardashian at Tech Conferences.

Tech Slaves

You may have read about the story of Electronics For Imaging, which was just fined for flying IT technicians over from India and mistreating them. Turns out they’re not the only ones. A year-long investigation by The Center for Investigative Reporting has found widespread cases of Indian tech workers being mistreated and underpaid across the US tech scene. Companies such as Cisco, Google, eBay, Verizon and Apple recruit programmers and engineers from India, get them to sign contracts that forbid them to quit and under-pay them massively. From 2000 through 2013, at least $29.7 million was illegally withheld from about 4,400 tech workers in the US on H-1B visas.

Internet Tax

Last week we told you about Hungary’s proposed Internet Tax. Obviously this went down like a ton of bricks and large-scale protests followed. First Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban promised to cap the tax – which proposed to charge ISPs 150 forints (60 cents) per gigabyte of traffic- to 700 forints ($2.80) per month, but this did little to stem anger, so he has finally scrapped the plan altogether. “The internet tax cannot be introduced in its current form,” Orbán said in a radio interview. The EU’s outgoing Digital Commissioner Neelie Kroes tweeted; "I am very pleased for Hungarians today. Their voices have been heard."

Women in Tech

We’ve written a lot about Women in Tech and often how things could be better, but we don’t often write about things could be worse. A new study from Infogroup found that Silicon Valley actually had a high percentage of firms with female executives compared to the rest of the country. Only 27% of firms across the US have women in top leadership positions, but the figure in Paul Atlo was 42%. Other parts of California listed included Menlo Park (40.9%), Emeryville (40.4%) and San Francisco, (36%).

NSA

The usual dose of NSA headlines

-          The FBI think they’ve identified the second NSA leaker.

-           GCHQ has unlimited access to the NSA’s data.

-          It costs New Zealand $103 million to be in the Five Eyes global spy club, but that’s nothing. The NSA’s bill is $52 billion.

-          You can read the user manual for the spyware that company Hacking Team sells to governments.

-          NSA Director Admiral Mike Rogers wants a more “permeable membrane” between the NSA and private corporations.

-          Anyone who thinks Snowden was in the right should not be trusted to serve the government, according to one former NSA official.

-          People are more worried about Google spying on them than the NSA.

The EFF has just published a list of companies that do the most to protect their users from Copyright and Trademark disputes. NameCheap and Wordpress both received a full five stars for protecting users from the likes of DMCA notices, trademark complains and publishing transparency report on takedown requests. The likes of Facebook, Vimeo and Instagram were awarded four stars.

Twitpic lives!

The saga of Twitpic’s prolonged demise took another turn this week. “We have reached an agreement with Twitter to give them the Twitpic domain and photo archive, thus keeping the photos and links alive for the time being,” founder Noah Everett wrote in a blog post. The site is essentially now an archive and not accepting any new photos, but Everett doesn’t seem too upset about this ending.

Also coming to an end is Beats Music. Apple have already said they won’t be closing the service, but a new article over at WSJ is repeating claims that it will be relaunched as part of iTunes sometime in the new year.

Meanwhile there’s been a fair amount of M&A action this week. Google’s Nest unit has acquired Revolv, EMC has bought Spanning and its rumoured takeover of Maginatics came true, Buzzfeed has acquired Bit.ly co-founder Todd Levy’s new startup Tornado Labs and NetApp now owns Riverbed’s SteelStore product line.

Elsewhere Softspace has bought Fasspay, Brickstream has acquired Nomi, US-based Brillio now owns Bangalore-based data analytics startup Marketelligent, and Germany’s B2X has taken over Mumbai’s TSS. HP is reportedly looking to sell its H3C Technologies business to a Chinese bidder in order to avoid any tensions that exist between the US and China.

Verbatim – Kim, Tim, and Jim

Because Kim Kardashian told some people to build her an app and it made a lot of money, that apparently means she’s qualified to speak at tech conferences now. During her speech she professed her love of BlackBerry, but it seems the phone-makers didn’t seem too enthused by their latest celebrity endorsement. “We're thrilled to have loyal and passionate fans,” the company told Mashable. Can’t wait to see who David Hasselhoff endorses once his App and 3D printing project go global.

Apple CEO Tim Cook has come out as Gay. Good for him, and lots of industry people showed their support. Meanwhile Republican Senator Ted Cruz’s reaction was to state that it was ‘his personal choice’ but it’s ok because he ‘loves his iPhone’. Some people are odd.

Rupert Murdoch has being talking about how much of a hash his company made of its now infamous acquisition of Myspace. “We just messed it up,” he said the WSJ.D conference this week. Claiming he had no idea what to do with the social network, he instead relied on bad advice which led the venture being “a very expensive mistake.”

Smartwatches are pointless and you should be activity trackers instead, according to the CEO of a company that makes activity trackers. “We still think that the smartwatch in general lacks a purpose in life and that is what is holding consumers back a little with adoption,” Fitbit co-founder and CEO James Park said while launching his latest device, one that looks suspiciously like a smartwatch.

Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg might want to sell 100 million-odd Oculus Rifts, but looks like film director James Cameron won’t be buying one. "It seems there’s a lot of excitement around something that to me is just a yawn," said the man behind Avatar, Alien, Terminator and Piranha II: The Spawning.

Shoes! Nintendos! Things!

Nintendo is stepping out of its comfort zone and into your bedroom. The Japanese gaming giant, through its new healthcare division, is launching a device to measure a user's fatigue and map their sleep.

HP looks to be moving into the 3D design & manufacturing space with the launch of its desktop computer, 3D scanner and touchscreen mashup Sprout and accompanying 3D printer.

New survey findings show nearly half of Americans can’t see any benefits of Wearables in the workplace. Tough, they’re coming anyway. Both Lenovo and Microsoft are releasing new activity trackers, and that’s not all. You can now buy Dorothy; a sensor that carries out pre-programmed tasks when you click your heels together three times. Magical red slippers are optional.

Yet the most questionable project of late was a selection of soft toys for kids that let babies post selfies. The New Born Fame project, created by Dutch design graduate Laura Cornet, highlights the trend around parents uploading pictures of their offspring to social networks. The set includes toys that take photos and automatically upload them to Facebook or Twitter and a location-tracking dummy. More worryingly, Cornet hasn’t ruled out making the project commercially available in the future. 

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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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