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News Roundup: Elections, Killers and Tuits

A roundup of the week’s tech news including NSA headlines, Tech Bubbles and Bitcoin profiling.

White & Nerdy

Amazon and Dropbox are the latest to divulge their diversity figures. Both companies fall in line with the rest of Silicon Valley; mostly white and male. Where Amazon stands out though, is it boasts the highest percentage of black workers (15%) compared to any of the other tech companies that have released diversity data this year.

There has been some controversy though. Rainbow/PUSH, a non-profit that works around social justice and civil rights, claimed the Cloud & eCommerce giant was being “intentionally deceptive” and padding out its figures with warehouse employees, and that’s why they didn’t reveal the make-up of its technical workforce.

It’s all good though. You can now choose the skin colour of your emojis.

Elections

You might have heard that the US midterm elections were this week. There were plenty of studies and articles looking at which candidates are tech-friendly, how the tech industry is funding its preferred candidates, how social media is more involved than ever, and the fallout generated just as much information. Which tech-candidates did well and not so well? What about government CIOs? Who will lead NSA reform? What’s going to happen to net neutrality? What about IP and cybersecurity? Can anyone tell the future and do anything other than guess?

Facebook – Elections, Killers and Town Halls

On the subject of elections, did Facebook affect whether you voted? That’s the latest allegation from Techpresident founder Micah Sifry, who alleges that Facebook experimented with the newsfeeds of 1.9 million users during Election Day in 2012. Through increasing the amount of hard news stories at the top of the feed – the social network reportedly saw “measurably increased civic engagement and voter turnout.” As Pando points out, though, why didn’t Facebook help get more young voters out for this week’s polls?

Criminologists at Birmingham City University have published a new study exploring the relationship between murder and Facebook. Exploring 48 cases involving “Facebook killers,” it has managed to group them into six categories: reactor, informer, antagonist, fantasist, predator and imposter. Dr Elizabeth Yardley stressed that Facebook isn’t inherently evil or trying to get you killed. “Facebook is no more to blame for these homicides than a knife is to blame for a stabbing – it’s the intentions of the people using these tools that we need to focus upon.”

Mark Zuckerberg this week proved he was a man of the people during the company’s first community town hall, in which he took questions from the public. During the talk he said that making people download a separate Messenger app created a better experience, the future of Facebook is video and he was never worried about making the social network cool. He also wears the same clothes all the time so he can focus on things that matter and wasn’t a fan of the Social Network film.

NSA

The usual dose of NSA headlines

-          The new boss of GCHQ certainly knows how to make an entrance. In a piece for the FT, Robert Hannigan said the various social media sites had become “command-and-control networks of choice for terrorists and criminals” and that “some technology companies are in denial about its misuse.” He also said that “privacy has never been an absolute right” and wants a “new deal between democratic governments and the technology companies.” He was collectively told to shove it by pretty much every tech outlet going and other tech groups.

-          Meanwhile NSA Director Mike Rogers has claimed that his agency shares any bugs they find. “By orders of magnitude, when we find new vulnerabilities, we share them,” he said, before admitting that there are times when they won’t share them.

-          Journalist Glenn Greenwald explained why Edward Snowden isn’t on Facebook during a Q&A in Canada this week. “He doesn’t use Facebook because he hates Facebook,” he said. “They’re one of the worst violators of privacy in history. Nobody should use Facebook.”

-          As well as targeting Facebook, Ed Snowden has been critical of Dropbox in the past, saying the company is "very hostile to privacy." Dropbox CEO Drew Houston has finally replied, and basically said they would rather make life easy than embrace privacy. “If you offer zero knowledge encryption we understand the motivation for that, but there are downsides to it,” he said.

-          Former NSA general counsel Stewart Baker was speaking at a Web Summit in Ireland this week, and didn’t seem to be a fan of companies trying to protect their users. “These crypto wars are mainly being fought between the American government and American companies,” he said. “Tech companies are picking a big public fight with the NSA because it looks good.” He also had a warning for companies who embrace encryption. “BlackBerry pioneered the same business model that Google and Apple are doing now - that has not ended well for BlackBerry.”

-          Larry Klayman, a lawyer trying to get an injunction against the NSA’s phone records program, disagreed with Baker. “This is the most outrageous abuse of power in our history,” he told the U.S Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. “The American people look to you to protect them from a tyranny of the government.” The defending lawyer argued the program is “limited, and therefore, quite reasonable.”

-          Microsoft’s General Counsel Brad Smith voiced his concerns over data sovereignty laws while speaking at an event. He warned that there was “a real risk of fostering chaos on the internet” if countries like China or Iran build data centres in the US. “Are people going to continue to be able to have the confidence that their rights are going to be protected by their own constitutions? Or is it something that will be overridden by other governments and their laws?”

-          The German government is looking to do a Russia and may start forcing IT companies to reveal their source code. "We cannot afford to be open to attacks on our economy," Social Democrat Gerold Reichenbach told the WSJ, explaining that the law would "help prevent espionage, wherever it comes from." The draft bill is yet to be passed.

Facebook has just released its latest transparency report, and unsurprisingly the US has again topped the table for user information requests. But the Guardian pointed out that, on a per user basis, Germany actually made the most requests - 115 requests for data for every million users.

Apple vs. Russia

Russia doesn’t seem to be getting along with Apple at the minute. One politician said Apple CEO Tim Cook, who publicly came out last week, should be banned from entering the country, while a giant iPhone sculpture was torn down for becoming “public propaganda for sodomy.” The head of the company behind the erection and removal of the sculpture said the iPhone was more dangerous than cigarettes or drugs. [*UPDATE: This may have been a PR stunt]

Unrelated to Tim Cook’s choice in partners is the looming threat of iPhones and iPads being banned. New rules about where Russian data is allowed to be stored comes into force from January 1st next year, and Apple's iCloud is likely to fall foul. Whether there’ll be an outright ban on products or some sort of blocking of the services is unclear.

SAP vs. ALEC

Following in the footsteps of Google, Microsoft, Yahoo, Facebook and Yelp, German software company SAP has become the latest tech firm to abandon climate change denying lobbying group the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). "SAP has decided to immediately disassociate itself from ALEC," a company representative told the National Journal. The move was based on the group’s stance on climate change, gun control and voter rights.

Verbatim – NIN, Elephants and Turmoil

Nine Inch Nails frontman Trent Reznor survived Beats acquisition by Apple and is now reportedly working on a special project in ‘the world of music delivery.’

Amazon VP David Limp this week admitted that the company “didn’t get the price right” on their Fire phone flop, while the company’s Jorrit Van der Meulen said that they have “learned a lot” and were “undeterred.”

Former Apple CEO John Sculley never made up with the man he replaced. “Steve Jobs never forgave me,” Sculley said at the Web Summit in Dublin. “Apple was his baby.”

US congresswoman Jackie Speier had some choice words for the Technorati of Silicon Valley this week over the issue of inequality. "We need to get CEOs to do two things: live on food stamps for a week, or spend a night in a homeless shelter," she told USA today. "It is a very humbling experience."

Oculus CEO Brendan Iribe has called upon his competitors to step up their game. While talking about his excitement for the industry, he admitted, “We’re a little worried about some of the bigger companies putting out product that isn’t quite ready. That elephant in the room is disorientation and motion sickness.” Specifically calling out Sony, he asked the company to “Please make sure your product is as good or close!”

Dell has been taking pot shots at HP and IBM this week. Talking at his company’s world conference, Michael Dell proclaimed, “They’re splitting away businesses, spinning off pieces of their businesses, and one has to ask the question: who is this for? Does this actually help the customers? Does it help them create the next great innovative products?” Meanwhile the company’s commercial chief Marius Haas said an interview that HP’s split isn’t a good idea. “I don’t think it makes sense. I think they ran out of options, to be honest.”

Big Bucks – No Bubble

Forbes has named Apple as the most valuable brand in the world, worth a mighty $124.2 billion. Microsoft was at number two ($60.3 billion), while Google came in third ($56.6 billion). Rounding off the top ten was IBM in fifth ($47.9 billion) and Samsung in eight ($35 billion).

According to a new Digi-Capital report, mobile internet exits via IPO and acquisition have surged by 700% in the last 12 months to $94 billion, while a PwC report showed there were 64 tech deals in Q3 this year totalling $31.2 billion in value. But despite these huge numbers [84 IPOs in 2014 so far totalling $43.7 billion, versus 64 and $11.4 billion last year] we’re definitely not in any tech bubble. “I don’t really think that there’s a bubble” said PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel. “Bubbles only happen when the public is involved, they’re a psychosocial event.” That’s ok then.

Meanwhile Apple has reportedly snapped up Union Bay Networks, Samsung has acquired software developer Proximal Data, Automattic has acqi-hired Code For The People, Raytheon has bought security firm Blackbird Technologies and Qlik now owns Datamarket. Elsewhere New Zealand’s Xero has acquired accounting startup Monchilla, Japan’s Softbank has bought Singaporean security firm Renazon and Phoenix Strategy Investments now owns workforce analytics firm PI Worldwide.

In the rumours department, AVG Technologies is apparently being courted by several potential buyers.

Bitcoin Island (Again)

Bitcoins are the preserve of Libertarians, geeks and criminals, and not small businesses. Oh dear. “Characteristics of Bitcoin Users” is a study from University of Kentucky that explores Google Trends data to try and identify the clientele of Bitcoin. The four main profiles they managed to construct were programming enthusiasts, speculative investors, Libertarians, and criminals. “Our research finds that two Google search terms – related to computer programming enthusiasts and possible illegal activity (“Silk Road”) – are statistically related to search interest in bitcoin,” Dr Aaron Yelowitz told CoinDesk. Meanwhile, new research from Software Advice suggests small businesses in the US aren’t embracing Bitcoin anytime soon. Around 2/3 of the study’s 400 businesses said they were are unlikely to use Bitcoin or other digital currencies.

That’s not stopping another island trying to become some sort of Bitcoin Utopia. The city of Launceston, Tasmania is planning to build the world's largest local Bitcoin-based economy, and presumably beat the likes of Bali, Dominica, Jersey, the Isle of Man and Alderney to the punch.

El Tweet

The Oxford English Dictionary is always adding cool new tech terms to its fabled lexicon, but it’s not the only one. “Tuit” (a digital message sent via the social network Twitter) and “Tuitear” (communication by tweets) are now in the Spanish Real Academia Española dictionary.

Meanwhile, a new study by The Linkedin Man found the social network for professionals could do with some etiquette lessons because there’s a bit too much naughty language flying around. It found that more than 31,000 users use profanity on their LinkedIn profile (admittedly out of 300 million-odd users). People in Info Tech are the fourth most-sweary industry (behind music, entertainment and marketing), while Microsoft was actually the most obscene organization. IBM and Google also made the top fecking five.

And finally, if you’ve ever wondered where screenwriters get their terrible tech jargon, wonder no more. The Tech Jargon Generator creates meaningless, Hollywood-grade technical jargon perfect for your futuristic thriller. "We need to copy the multi-byte HDD hard drive, that should connect the XML pixel!" 


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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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