Friday roundup: A week in tech

Satellite

Loads of stuff has happened this week – sadly, much of it’s terrible, but let’s plough on…

There’s a mystery Russian satellite on the loose, cruising through the sky and causing the Americans no end of consternation.

Alarmed US State Department assistant secretary Yleem Poblete told listeners at a Swiss conference that the enigmatic orbital object is displaying ‘very abnormal behaviour’, adding that it could be some kind of weapon.

True to form, the Russians have denounced the secretary’s observations as ‘unfounded, slanderous accusations based on suspicions,’ which is more or less their standard response to the numerous international outrages they are accused of on a daily basis.

Ms Poblete groaned: ‘Russian intentions with respect to this satellite are unclear and are obviously a very troubling development.’

Indeed, the weaponisation of space would be a deeply troubling and unethical development – certainly, America would never dream of doing such a thing. Oh hang on – President Donald Trump recently announced plans to launch a new branch of the US armed forces into space, called ‘Space Force’. Looks like we’d better get used to ‘very abnormal behaviour’ in the sky, then.

Meanwhile, back in sleepy ol’ England, an MOD spokesman refused to commit to anything, lazily intoning: ‘The UK is working closely with international allies, including the US, to re-enforce responsible and safe behaviours in space and to build knowledge, understanding and resilience.’

***

Professional insanity-conjuror Alex Jones has finally been banned from Twitter – for a week.

The highly-strung conspiracy theorist has seen his works deleted from the likes of Facebook and Apple in recent weeks, with Twitter remaining the last major outlet for his divisive, completely fabricated smut.

But no more (for a week)! The cheerful would-be saviour of the white race crossed the social media network’s often blurry lines with a tweet that called on his followers to ready ‘battle rifles’ for a confrontation with America’s media.

Naturally, the abysmal state of affairs is connected in some way with President Donald Trump, who has also been heavily hinting that America’s currently free press should be…what…annihilated?

What a time to be alive.

***

Friendly old fax machines: they recall a simpler, happier, less online hatred-filled time, much like Ceefax – however, it turns out they could be the latest easy entry point for cyber villains! Is nothing sacred?

Security researchers have found that criminally-engineered image data sent via fax lines could be used to breach networks, as a consequence of many fax machines being part of printer/scanner combos.

Stunningly, fax has ‘no security measures built in – absolutely nothing,’ according to Yaniv Balmas, a security person from somewhere called Check Point software.

Though you don’t exactly come across it every day, it turns out that lots of firms still communicate through the ancient art of fax – meaning there’s a whole plum world for crooks to potentially exploit.

And one of those organisations still very much beholden to the fax is the NHS, which suffered devastating consequences from 2017’s WannaCry virus attack.

Apparently, the NHS has 9,000 active fax machines, so plenty to think about there.

Hey, do you remember back in the day when most companies printed a telephone and a fax number in their literature, and sometimes you’d accidentally ring the fax line and have to listen to all those strange noises? Good times.

***

Now on to the cheery subject of international censorship at the behest of a repressive regime. Writing tech news is so uplifting.

Google’s own staff are rebelling over the tech giant’s plans to build a special search engine for the Chinese government.

Hundreds of freedom-conscious employees have written to their own firm, claiming that the fishy project Dragonfly raises ‘urgent moral and ethical questions’.

It has been claimed that the service Google is working on will block websites and search terms that displease the Chinese authorities.

The letter mentions the famous ‘don’t be evil’ clause in Google’s code of conduct – but I always thought they meant that as a joke anyway; I mean, come on!

And the ethical rebellion may lead to results: earlier this year, angered staff protested against Google’s drone-building work with the Pentagon, which led to the firm ending its contract with the blowing-everything-up specialists.

Connivance with state repression! Maybe the next story will be happier?

***

Dear God, no.

Facebook has been hosting genocide-stoking hate material designed to encourage the slaughter of Myanmar’s Rohingya population.

An investigation by Reuters found some posts on the network calling for violence against the country’s Muslim minority that had been up for an incredible six years – despite Facebook’s own rules prohibiting ‘violent or dehumanising’ material against ethnic groups.

Posts included calls for Rohingya people to be shot, burned and fed to pigs, while one poster suggested that ‘We must fight them the way Hitler did the Jews’.

According to the BBC, Facebook has now removed all the posts ‘discovered’ by Reuters. However, Facebook reckons it’s hard to keep up with the avalanche of hatred because its software struggles to interpret Burmese – which is an absolutely unspeakably pathetic and vile excuse. Aren’t they one of the richest firms in the world?

Meanwhile, over in India, WhatsApp (proprietor: Facebook) seems to be playing a big part in a series of ongoing mob-led hysterical executionsof innocent people.

Isn’t the internet great: How do you turn it off?

Friday roundup: A week in tech

TSB swells IT complaints team

telephone1

Tech catastrophe-haunted outfit TSB is taking on a small army of complaint handlers – to deal with a large army of complainers.

The bungling bank has plans to employ an extra 250 customer service people in the wake of April’s IT systems failure, during which horrified users were barred access to their accounts and/or saw the account details of other customers.

And in July, the bank that likes to say ‘Oh no, everything’s gone wrong, turn it off and on again!’ suffered yet another service outage, bringing its complaint heap to an overtime-crunching 135,000.

TSB says it has ‘made a firm commitment that no customer will be left out of pocket,’ and has earmarked £30 million to help soothe customers.

So, reasonably good news if you’re planning on sending some complaints TSB’s way, as there’s a good chance someone will (probably) respond.

TSB swells IT complaints team

Government releases £millions for UK tech

chipboard.jpg

The government that runs the UK has suddenly found a giant heap of steaming cash for ‘high-tech hubs’.

Announcing the £780 million bonanza, chancellor Philip Hammond claimed the money will help to create the technologies of tomorrow by bolstering Britain’s world-class researchers and entrepreneurs.

Furthermore, Mr Hammond ‘will expand “successful catapult centres” which are fuelling innovation across the country as part of the UK’s ambitious, modern Industrial Strategy’.

According to the government’s press release, from which every part of this story is taken, these ‘catapult centres’ have already led to the birth of ‘hundreds of new products, services and inventions’ such as a pollution sensor for buggies, and more-efficient aeroplane wings.

The £780m builds on £180m that prime minister Theresa May announced for ‘centres in the North East’ in July – bringing the total to nearly £1 billion.

Mr Hammond boasted: ‘We are working hard to build a stronger, fairer economy – dealing with the deficit, helping people into work, and cutting taxes for individuals and businesses. Unemployment is at its lowest since the 1970s, our national debt is starting to fall, and the economy has grown every year since 2010 (all sic).’

Things sound pretty rosy, don’t they?

Anyway, that’s the gist of things. Here’s the government’s press release, which is absolutely packed with quotes by ministers, case studies and lots of details about how great the government is and how wonderfully well everything’s going in the UK. Enjoy!

Government releases £millions for UK tech

Friday roundup: A week in tech

security.jpeg

There are two stories connected in some way to China this week, and the first one begins…now:

In an effort to tackle one of the modern world’s many tedious horror-shows, fake news, the BBC has changed its web addresses from HTTP to HTTPS – for reasons that will now be explained by one James Donohue, a principal software engineer at the corporation:

‘In a climate of anxiety around fake news, it’s vital that users are able to determine that articles have not been tampered with and that their browsing history is private to them. HTTPS achieves both of these as it makes it far more difficult for ISPs to track which articles and videos you’re looking at or selectively suppress individual pieces of content.’

However, HTTPS-primed addresses are regularly blocked by the Chinese government, meaning lots of people in the country will have missed BBC stories this week such as, and I paraphrase, ‘Abysmal, attention-seeking MP calls Muslim women letterboxes’ and ‘Football club may buy footballer from other football club’.

BUT should you be in China and aching for BBC stuff, you can overcome the hurdle – by running a VPN, as recommended by the BBC.

BUT you’d better be careful if you do use a VPN because so-called unlicensed networks are banned in China, meaning you might end up in a Tibetan work camp for cyber-reorientation if you try to watch Poldark on the iPlayer.

A BBC spokesperson said that Chinese fans hadn’t had access for about a week, adding that the ‘last time BBC services were blocked to this extent in China was in 2014 and we call on all parties to observe the UN Declaration of Human Rights, article 19’.

What’s article 19? you ask. Well, article 19 affirms that we all, everyone one of us, have the right to things like opinions as well as the right to receive and impart information.

I’m no expert, clearly, but I don’t think the Chinese government has seen that memo yet.

***

And now here’s this week’s second China-connected story (it’s not as good):

Internet-based traditional hotel-slayer Airbnb has had to cancel a competition that offered entrants the chance to spend a night on China’s great wall (AKA the Great Wall of China), after fears the peculiar sleepover might destroy bits of the precious relic.

The competition asked for 500-word essays on the subject of dealing with cultural boundaries; however, amazingly, it seems that Airbnb didn’t even run the scheme past the relevant local authorities – though, admittedly, that claim comes from the not-ever-so reliable Chinese media.

Anyway, on top of concerns about guests breaking the wall, negative feedback included comments about being bitten by mosquitos and that it was wrong for Airbnb to exploit a landmark for PR purposes.

Lamenting the demise of its apparently poorly planned competition, Airbnb had the audacity to say that ‘one of the goals of our Night At The Great Wall was to highlight how everyone can play a part in honoring and preserving this incredible piece of world history,’ which is a laughably insincere piece of damage-limitation marketing drivel, but what else would you expect?

I apologise to Airbnb and the Great Wall for exploiting them both by writing this story.

***

Google has suddenly decided to portray the world we live on as a globe within its popular Maps service, in a move that may or may not be motivated by a desire to irritate those who cannot tolerate the thought of a spherical Earth.

Google’s new planet looks quite cool, and I had fun rotating it for about nine seconds before getting bored. (Tech news is a bit thin on the ground this week, though there is a disturbing story coming up after this one so hold on.)

Yet another perplexing and pea-brained phenomenon apparently galvanised and given fresh life by the internet, the flat-earth movement insists that the earth is a non-globular affair, with the truth obscured from us by the villains at NASA, who, it is said, are engaged in some kind of dispute with a god (or gods). Thanks, internet.

Possibly vaguely interesting footnote: Typing ‘Google maps’ into Google news reveals that the Daily Express produces an exceptionally high volume of stories that revolve around the service. Here are a few of the many headlines from the last few days:

Google Maps: Angry fight caught by…

Google Maps: Mysterious submerged object spotted off…

Google Maps: Young man caught in very awkward…

Google Maps: Embarrassing moment for well-dressed…

Though things can sometimes get a little dark on this possibly round world of ours, at least most of us don’t have to read/write for the Daily Express, which should offer some consolation.

***

If you spend a lot of time staring at screens, like what I do, then I have some very bad news for you, and me.

Researchers reckon they’ve worked out how the infamous blue light that gushes from the likes of electric telephones accelerates blindness.

According to scientists at the US University of Toledo, the already much-maligned blue light triggers the creation of poisonous molecules in the eye – which can lead to macular degeneration.

The uni’s Dr Ajith Karunarathne chillingly elaborated: ‘It’s no secret that blue light harms our vision by damaging the eye’s retina. Our experiments explain how this happens, and we hope this leads to therapies that slow macular degeneration, such as a new kind of eye drop.’

Right. I didn’t know about this ‘no secret that blue light harms our vision’ business, but I do now and I’m grateful/terrified. Here’s a rough sketch of my weekday routine:

Wake up at 6am, look a news stories/emails on electric telephone while eating toast, perhaps 30 mins

 Get to work and then look at laptop screen for about six hours, interspersed with sessions on electric telephones

 Get home, possibly watch The Simpsons on television box, around 30 mins

 Spend evening sporadically looking at electric telephone, laptop, and sometimes Nintendo Switch, perhaps two hours

 Go to sleep, with blue light of digital alarm clock filling the room with a ghostly glow

 So, that’s around nine hours spent staring at various blue light sources. I have some urgent modifications to make.

Here’s the Guardian story I took all the information from, which has lots more horrible details in it if you feel like being worried into some lifestyle changes.

Friday roundup: A week in tech

Internet firms dump fake news network

Global Network

As I amazingly managed to successfully predict two weeks ago, reckless, demented network of lies InfoWars has been permanently banned from YouTube after breaking yet more rules.

And that’s just the tip of the madberg: Alex Jones’ ‘news’ organisation has also been given the boot, to varying degrees, by Facebook, LinkedIn, Apple and others, with Twitter the only major player still willing (for now) to indulge the impulses of the putrid, dim and really quite evil buffoon.

So far, so sensible – but this might be a mini-crisis for big tech as InfoWars and its manic devotees are crying foul, claiming that the wave of ‘censorship’ proves that the gibberish they peddle has been right all along, and that, furthermore, it demonstrates that these Silicon Valley outfits are truly controlled by the DEEP STATE.

This isn’t even slightly accurate of course: Mr Jones has been getting away with whatever he pleases for nearly 20 years; however, he’s crossed the line recently with what can only be reasonably described as hate speech against Muslims and transsexual people -behaviour that, with all their horrible faults, double standards and incompetence, modern tech firms such as Apple understandably don’t want to be associated with, let alone be perceived as supporting.

Coupled with Mr Jones’ hand in the persecution of the families of the children murdered in the Sandy Hook school shooting tragedy, would you want your company to be thought of as sympathetic to InfoWars? Hardly.

Ho-hum. But what’s the wider issue here, if there is one? Is free speech under attack, as claimed by Mr Jones and his fans in the borderline white supremacist wastelands of jaw-dropping foolishness?

Blatantly not. Daft old Facebook et al can ban who they please; meanwhile, InfoWars is free to pump out its chauvinistic nonsense via its website (easily located via Google) and broadcast delirious radio shows, dripping with hate as they are, for the entertainment of the easily excitable. Censorship, it seems to me at any rate, is when a government or similar authority actively shuts you down – such as when proper journalists are imprisoned, intimidated and sometimes murdered in the likes of Turkey, China, Zimbabwe and Russia, for example.

But what do YOU think? Please feel free to talk about this complex issue – while outlining my deep state conspirator credentials – in the comments section…and maybe, just maybe, we’ll sort all this out.

 

Internet firms dump fake news network

Hacker wanted, comes with reward (salary)

Hacker

A well-paid job has come up for a hacker – though it’s stipulated that the candidate be an ethical one, which might rule a lot of people out.

The Government Digital Service (GDS) is willing to pay a morally-sound individual up to £70,000 a year for the pleasure of attempting to penetrate systems and online services.

And hacking’s just part of the role, as she or he will also be expected to research ‘specific technologies or systems that we use to find previously unseen bugs,’ which doesn’t sound too bad.

The job spec reads: ‘As an ethical hacker you will be responsible for evaluating the security of our processes, services and infrastructure by continuously assessing and exploiting vulnerabilities to find out where hacking threats may lie and then providing help to teams to fix the vulnerabilities.’

As well as the ample salary, the lucky candidate will also get, among other benefits, ‘off road secure bike parking,’ though it should be noted that that treat is unpromisingly caveated with the line ‘subject to availability’.

If you’re interested in the role, the GDS asks that you hack its website and search its databases for a file named ‘interview-date-&-location-details.exe’ by the 23 August.

Not really. Don’t do that. Click here to apply.

Hacker wanted, comes with reward (salary)

Friday roundup:  A week in tech

Google

This week’s tech world is full of horrors, so we’d better get on with it…

Good old Google – you know, friendly, nice, happy, “don’t be evil” Google – is developing a nice new special search engine for the friendly, nice Chinese government. Isn’t that nice?

According to a report on The Intercept website, the kindly tech giant’s project ‘Dragonfly’ will block frivolous, troublesome searches such as ‘human rights’.

To absolutely fair, if you desperately wanted access to one of the biggest audiences and markets in the world, you’d probably hammer to pieces the smidgen of morals you had left to make a deal with a spectacularly oppressive regime. Well, most of us probably wouldn’t, but you see my point, perhaps.

But is any of this even true? A state-owned Chinese newspaper (is there any other kind?) has scoffed at the report (which could mean literally anything), while nice, friendly Google has said that ‘we don’t comment on speculation about future plans,’ which sounds like a clumsy and slightly tautological way of saying ‘we very well could be’.

The Intercept reports that the project began last year after Google boss Sundar Picahi met with a top Chinese official – while an Android app which automatically blocks sites such as the BBC and Wikipedia has already been demonstrated to Beijing overlords, and could be rolled out within the next six months.

The Chinese government loves a bit of internet censorship, blocking access to things like ‘free speech’, ‘anticommunism’, references to the Tiananmen Square massacre, and the work of Les Dennis (I made the last one up).

Pretty appalling stuff. Thank goodness things like a free press are held in such high regard here in the west…

***

…oh dear. MPs have warned that the UK is facing a ‘democratic crisis’ in the form of so-called ‘fake news’.

Following the Cambridge Analytica debacle, the good folk of the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) Committee has been having a good look into the murky world of online voter manipulation.

Apparently, the committee will recommend that social media firms should be more tightly regulated in an attempt to stem the flow of digital prattle.

How do we know all this? Oddly, a copy of the DCMS’s forthcoming report was leaked to, of all people, Brexit fanboy Dominic Cummings (who refused to take part in the committee’s inquiry himself) and he published it on his blog, calling it, fancy that, ‘fake news’.

Anyway, the DCMS highlights the ‘relentless targeting of hyper-partisan views, which play to the fears and prejudices of people, in order to influence their voting plans’ – a clear disgrace: can you imagine if any of Britain’s leading newspapers such as the Daily Mail, The Sun, The Express, etc. were to carry on in such a way, using prejudiced, hysterical lies to engineer election results? It’s unthinkable!

And it gets better. Across the ocean in the Land of the (currently) Free, the interesting choice for president Donald Trump has been whipping his believers into a righteous ecstasy over the media, calling news outlets the ‘enemy of the people’. There’s nothing worrying at all about the most powerful man on Earth leading his supporters into a crusade against one of the freest presses in the world.

Perhaps once they’ve burned down the news rooms and lynched the journalists they can blow up all the dams and finally destroy the hated and evil water supply.

***

Let’s end today’s ghoulish roundup with some really great news – really great news for Apple, that is.

The firm has become the world’s first public company to be worth one trillion American dollars. Hurrah!

Famous for its expensive electric telephones and laptops, suicides in Chinese factories and astronomical global tax avoidance, the company has managed to become so rich by selling very expensive phones and laptops built cheaply in poor conditions by Chinese labourers while paying very little tax on its huge profits.

Since Apple released its first iPhone in 2007, its shares have risen by 1,100%, which if you worship money and success will surely make you swoon.

The firm has been in a three-horse race with Microsoft and Amazon to the vaunted $1trillion valuation, and jolly exciting it’s been. Stephen Fry will be having a few jigs around his champagne-soaked kitchen this weekend, that’s for sure.

Am I being too cynical? Shouldn’t we be celebrating this unprecedented milestone for one of the world’s biggest tech firms? No, I’m not, and no, we shouldn’t.

Friday roundup:  A week in tech