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News Roundup: CES, ALEC and Book Clubs

A roundup of the week’s tech news including NSA headlines, Palm Jokes and Oculus Larks

CES

Another year, and another CES is over. This year’s event featured every kind of gadget you could think of: Mini-PCs of varying shapes & sizes, personal Clouds and over-elaborate hard drives, questionable crowdfunded health gadgets and brain scanning things, expensive music players, microchips for smartcars, Bitcoin, weird hats and all sorts of 3D printers. There was also wearable tech for fitness freaks, fashionistas, animals and people who like modularity, as well as a whole range of VR/AR-based headsets on show: the Avegant Glyph, the Razer OSVR and the Seer from Caputer Labs.

Announcements from the show included Intel’s promise to spend a hefty $300 million to increase diversity of its workforce, while BlackBerry is looking to muscle in on the Internet of Things and Wearables. Also Iron Maiden’s mascot Eddie – the only guy bigger than Shaq - was in attendance.

Outside of CES, BlackBerry has teamed up with Boeing to create a “self-destructing” smartphone for spies. It probably won’t explode Mission Impossible-style, more likely just to wipe the device if need be.

NSA

The usual dose of NSA-related headlines

-          The NSA waited until Christmas Eve to release a statement admitting it abused its power.

-          The NSA can circumvent HTTPS, but struggles with some kinds of encryption.

-          GCHQ wants to become a tech incubator.

-          There’s a fan of Star Trek hidden in the ranks of the NSA.

-          Journalists are self-censoring more because of Mass Surveillance.

-          Ed Snowden is being sued by a former secretary of the Kansas Department of Transportation.

-          Snowden also thinks the US government is doing cyber-security wrong.

In other news, France and Romania are embracing bulk data collection, while Finland is going the other way and requiring companies to strengthen security.  The EU has just release a new report suggesting citizens can force issues over bulk data collection to be examined in court.

The Irish government has sided with Microsoft over the US government’s attempts to get at data stored on the Emerald Isle, while the EU has yet to make any sort of stand. Tech companies are also unhappy with the Australian government’s efforts to block websites using a subsection of the Telecommunications Act.

Meanwhile Iran is getting more granular on its internet censorship, and is starting to ban undesirable content instead of whole websites. Since that’s more internet-friendly.

Lobbying

Last year a whole host of tech companies came under fire for being associated with climate change-denying lobbying group the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), and within the space of a few months the likes of SAP, eBay, Google, Microsoft, Yahoo, Facebook and Yelp to cancel membership with the group. But in a new twist online retailer Overstock has rejoined the group. “Our relationship with Alec is based on the organization’s access to lawmakers involved in the internet sales tax issue, which is a very weighty one for us,”  a spokesman for the company said. “Alec’s stance on climate change did not factor into our decision, one way or another”.

Verbatim

The name of Palm has seen better days, but Chinese firm TCL are looking to bring the old brand back to life. But former Palm CEO Ed Colligan doesn’t seem too impressed. “Hilarious,” he posted on Facebook. “I think it's amazing these companies think they can buy a brand and stick some crappy products under it, and somehow they will get the benefit of the brand.” Former Palm VP John Hartnett wasn’t quite so scathing. “Buying a logo doesn’t buy a vision, team and a great culture of innovation,” he said. “However, their ambition to set up in Silicon Valley is the right place to start.”

Kirt McMaster is CEO of Cyanogen, a company that provides modded versions of Android. This week while at the launch of his company’s new phone, he proclaimed, “Samsung couldn't build a good OS if they tried.” The fighting talk didn’t stop there. “We believe that... there's an opportunity to be the first or second dominant version of Android on the planet.”

Kim Dotcom has also been throwing threats around this week. “No US based online service provider can be trusted with your data,” he Tweeted. “Skype has no choice. They must provide the US Government with backdoors.” He also added that “Mega will soon release a fully encrypted and browser based video call & chat service including high-speed file transfers. Bye bye Skype.”

M&A

New Year, another list of M&A action. Facebook has acquired speech recognition firm Wit.ai and video startup QuickFire Networks, Oracle has bought Datalogix, Accenture has purchased consulting firm Structure, 3D Systems now owns botObjects, TCL is trying to revive Palm, Silver Spring Networks has got its hands on analytics startup Detectent, and Indian Messaging App Hike has snapped up Zip Phone.

FaceBOOK

Mark Zuckerberg is putting the “book” in Facebook this week with the announcement that he is launching his own book club.  “My challenge for 2015 is to read a new book every other week - with an emphasis on learning about different cultures, beliefs, histories and technologies,” he posted on the social network. “I've found reading books very intellectually fulfilling.” His first tome of choice was Moises Naim’s The End of Power, which subsequently shot to the top of various charts and selling out on Amazon.

2015 – The Year of Oculus?

VR is probably going to be the cool thing of 2015. So one guy decided to take the piss hard. “I've committed to continuously wear my Oculus Rift Development Kit throughout 2015,” proclaimed Troy Hitch on LinkedIn. Featuring an app that allows the front of the device to show where Hitch’s eyes are – even if he can’t see. Following his Tweets as he stumbled around this year’s CES is well worth a chuckle.

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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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