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News Roundup: FB Buttons, Cortana everywhere and self-destructing microchips

A roundup of the week’s tech news including Project Aura, foldable smartphones and crashing balloons. 

A DISLIKE BUTON??!?!?! No.

You’ve probably read the headlines about Facebook finally getting a “Dislike” button, but don’t get your hopes up too much. “People have asked about the Dislike button for many years,” FB CEO Mark Zuckerberg said during a Q&A session. “Today is a special day because today is the day I can say we’re working on it and shipping it.” But he followed up that statement that he didn’t want to create an upvote/downvote system [a la Reddit], and that what people really want is “to be able to express empathy. Not every moment is a good moment, and if you are sharing something that is sad, then it might not feel comfortable to like that post, but express that they understand.” Zuckerberg said the new feature is currently in testing. He also says he likes the Cactus sticker on Facebook.

Meanwhile, Facebook at Work, the social network’s answer to Yammer/Slack/Tibbr etc., is nearly upon us. A freemium version of the service is likely to launch by the end of the year, the project’s head Julien Codorniou told Re/Code. Details – including launch date and pricing structure - are yet to be confirmed.

Car-tana everywhere

It might not understand when its CEO wants milk or most at-risk opportunities, but that isn’t stopping Microsoft pushing out Cortana to as many places as possible. As well as reportedly integrating the virtual assistant into the Cyanogen OS in the near future, the company is working on a Cortana-enabled connected car you can use voice-commands on.

And other car news

Plenty going on in the connected and self-driving car space recently. Google announced this week that it plans on making more of its autonomous vehicles than previously thought. “We’re … making a few hundred of them. We’re making them to enable our team to learn how to actually build a self-driving vehicle from the ground up,” said Sarah Hunter, Head of Policy for GoogleX, but it seems the business model is yet to be finalized. “We haven’t decided yet how we’re going to bring this to market. Right now our engineers are trying to figure out the answers to all of the difficult questions…how to make a car genuinely drive itself. Once we figure that out, we’ll figure out how to bring it to market. Is it going to be something we manufacture at scale [or] sell to individuals [or] something that we own and operate as a service? We just don’t know.”

Over at VentureBeat, one Google exec seems pretty sure already. “Google also does not intend to become a car manufacturer,” said Philipp Justus, Managing Director for Central and Eastern Europe. “That is not something we could do alone.”

Uber wants to be the company to lead the transition into the AI car revolution. “We don’t want to be like the taxi guys who came before us – we embrace the future,” Uber CEO Travis Kalanick said during a conference this week. “The best thing is to be in a place with optimistic leadership when interesting things happen with driverless cars so that we can help with that transition. In 10 to 15 years there will need to be leadership in cities and with the companies that make this technology to make that transition, and that’s an interesting challenge and opportunity.”

Earlier this week, I wrote about Uber’s push for self-driving cars and its abandonment of the “Sharing Economy”. Fortune has made an interesting point as to why: if, due to any number of lawsuits it’s currently facing, Uber has to start treating all its drivers as proper employees, it could cost the company up to $4.1 billion. Suddenly, spending a few hundred million dollars buying and researching autonomous vehicles sounds like a sound investment.  

Elsewhere, Mercedes is working on a something only the richest would ever need; a self-driving Limousine service. “This is a concrete development goal of ours,” Daimler Chief Executive Dieter Zetsche told Reuters.

M&A

Microsoft has reportedly acquired Android developer Double Labs, Apple has bought map-analytics startup Mapsense, Accenture has continued its recent shopping spree and snapped up Cloud Sherpas [see our analysis here], Flexera now owns security software firm Secunia, Qualcomm has purchased medtech firm Capsule Technologie and OMRON has snaffled robot services company Adept Technology.

IBM has announced this week that is creating an Internet of Things unit to help push the company’s Big Data and cognitive computing capabilities to the growing IoT space.

New stuff - Project Aura, foldable screens, and self-destructing chips

As the old motto goes; If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. Google is applying that logic to its much-maligned Glass headgear and is rebooting the project under the codename Project Aura. Reports suggest that the group is also working on other wearable tech, possibly related to Google Cardboard, Android Wear or the Soli smart fabric the company showed off earlier this year.

Elsewhere, pictures of Samsung’s upcoming foldable smartphone have leaked. Normally phone rumours are horribly dull – the monotony of the iPhone rumour mill is enough to make a journalist go mad – but this one is genuinely interesting and something new. Images of the phone – dubbed “Project Valley” – leaked on Chinese social network Weibo and is rumoured to debut in January. Being first doesn’t necessarily mean winning, but could this give Samsung the edge over Apple in 2016?

“This message will self-destruct in 5 seconds.” An iconic line, but one that up until now had been purely fiction. Xerox PARC has developed a computer chip that self-destructs on command. The Disintegration Upon Stress-Release Trigger (DUST) chips, shown off at DARPA’s Wait, What? conference, are made from Gorilla Glass and heat tempered with stress built in. Once a small resister is switched on, the glass shatters into tiny pieces. Developed as part of DARPA’s Vanishing Programmable Resources (VAPR) project, they could be used to store highly sensitive data such as encryption keys.

NSA

The usual dose of NSA & privacy-related headlines

-          Jeb Bush wants everyone to stop demonizing the NSA

-          Ed Snowden has been nominated for the European Parliament’s human rights prize again

-          The chief of MI5 says technology companies have an “ethical responsibility” to pass on data

-          The police want backdoor access to driverless cars

Politics

As the John McAfee presidential train starts gathering steam, the man himself has a lot to say. The cyber-security maverick has published his campaign manifesto – a ten point pledge to have a foreign policy, legalize marijuana, open borders, simplify taxes, scrap the TSA, raise cyber awareness, and reorganize education, the FDA and the economy.

Writing in the IBTimes, MacAfee warned of the dangers of cyber-warfare. “The next major war will not be fought with guns, ships and missiles,” he wrote. “It will a cyber-war with far more devastation than could possibly be achieved by our combined nuclear arsenals. Or if conventional weapons are used, they are likely to be our own turned against ourselves.”

Speaking at the Lawtech 2015 conference in Australia, he challenged the permissions that most apps require from they’re users:  “In America we have bible-reading applications: every single one of those applications asks permission to turn on your microphone, your camera, it wants permission to read your e-mails and the right to send e-mails wherever it chooses. That scares me.”

Meanwhile, former HP CEO Carly Fiorina has seen her share in the Republican candidate polls rise to 4% after a decent showing in recent debates. While she still lags well behind the likes of Donald Trump (27%) or Ben Carson (23%), she’s not far behind the likes of Marco Rubio (6%) or Jeb Bush (6%), and has seen her popularly climb. Perhaps Trump will pick her as potential running partner due to her business experience?

Over in Europe, Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi has revived the prospect of a ‘Google Tax’ on internet companies trying to move their profits abroad and save on their tax bills.

SkyMusk

It’s no secret that various technology companies are now battling for the sky in order to beam the internet down to the peons in remote areas. Elon Musk’s SpaceX is one step closer to joining them after officially submitting plans to the FCC to launch 4000 internet-providing satellites into orbit.

Google might have the lead in terms of getting the project off the ground, but it also seems to know about them crashing back to earth too. A Project Loon balloon missed its landing site and crashed into a palm tree in California this week, some 400 miles away from the company’s Mountain View headquarters. Whoops.

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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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