WhatsApp disrupted as communist meeting approaches


The Chinese government, would you believe, has disrupted popular messaging service WhatsApp.

The country’s ruling Communist Party is having a big communist meeting next week, and, understandably, doesn’t want pesky upstarts sending potentially bothersome messages that could detract from the important issues of the day.

Frustrated Chinese WhatsAppers have experienced a disruption to the service for over a week, and at times it’s been completely inaccessible unless through a VPN (Virtual Private Network).

Speaking to the BBC, Robert Lawrence Kuhn, an advisor to the Chinese government, said: ‘The run-up period to a gathering is normally a time of greater restrictions of all kinds to assure that the critical Party Congress is held under ideal social conditions and is not disrupted.’

Last week, the Saudi Arabian authorities asked SnapChat to remove an Al Jazerra news app from their services in the country, and the firm was delighted to comply.

That Communist Party meeting agenda:

  1. How can we stay in charge forever without anyone stopping us?
  2. Should we just completely destroy the internet?
  3. Tea, coffee and cakes
WhatsApp disrupted as communist meeting approaches

Tech firms lay massive cable across Atlantic


Microsoft and Facebook have teamed up and laid a massive cable across the Atlantic floor.

Connecting the Europe and US, the 4,000-mile long cable can transmit 160 terabits of data a second – which Microsoft says is the equivalent of streaming 71 million HD films simultaneously, should you want to.

Sitting 17,000 below the ocean’s surface, ‘Marea’, as it’s been named, is buried in places but mostly lies on the seabed – I wonder if a shark could bite through it? They’ve thought of that, surely?

Constructed in conjunction with telecoms firm Telxius, Microsoft says its impressive wire should keep communications going in the event of a big natural disaster like a hurricane, though possibly not if it coincides with a mass shark attack.

Running from Virginia Beach in the US to Bilbao in Spain (or the other way round, depending on where you’re starting from) Marea will make life easier for Facebook and Microsoft as they attempt to shift increasingly huge amounts of data around the world.

Microsoft’s President, Brad Smith, said: ‘Marea comes at a critical time. Submarine cables in the Atlantic already carry 55% more data than trans-Pacific routes and 40% more data than between the US and Latin America. There is no question that the demand for data flows across the Atlantic will continue to increase.’

The project was finished in less than two years, well ahead of schedule, and additionally provides links to networks in Asia, Africa and the Middle East.

Tech firms lay massive cable across Atlantic

Drone delivery network takes off


A permanent drone network is about to go live delivering laboratory samples in the skies above Switzerland.

California-based Matternet was given permission to fly its drones over urbanised Swiss areas earlier this year, and now says its aerial apparatus can deliver things like blood samples to hospitals within half an hour.

It looks really cool: a little box full of important things gets slotted into the drone, which then takes off and flies to its destination; somebody with a secure passkey device can then open it up and access the goods. Watch the video:

Capable of carrying a 2kg load, they can fly for just over 12 miles before needing a recharge and can move at speeds of up to 43.5 miles an hour.

Matternet’s co-founder and CEO, Andreas Raptopoulos, told The Verge: ‘These types of diagnostics that need to be transported are urgent in nature and they are on demand. They have to wait for a courier, sometimes they get taxis to do this type of thing — and when you have a system like this, that is autonomous and reliable, it completely transforms operations.’

Drone delivery network takes off

Internet shouldn’t just be for ‘nastiest people’ says Gamergate victim

videogameA woman at the centre of the GamerGate horror show has said that the internet shouldn’t be handed over to the worst people.

Addressing those who say that abuse victims should come offline if they want to be safe, game developer Zoe Quinn told the Guardian that if we respond to online maniacs in that way then ‘what we’re saying is that we’re going to cede the internet to whoever screams loudest at the most people, and just hand over this amazing technological achievement to the nastiest people’.

Ms Quinn became the focus of frenzied tender-heads in 2014 after an ex-partner uploaded a screed of unsubstantiated drivel about her sex life, which included claims that she secured decent reviews for her own games by sleeping with a journalist.

The publication led to the game designer being sent thousands of rape and death threats – the standard response of people who never really learn to think. I mean, really: what kind of mind composes and sends a rape threat?

Her new book, Crash Override: How Gamergate (Nearly) Destroyed My Life, details the contemptible episode (which is ongoing) and discusses how she had to live on the run.

Hmm. It’s very cool, that internet; it’s great for buying car tax and booking hotels – but in many ways, we seem to be making a real pig’s ear of things. What is it about women soldering wires, making graphics go on a screen, writing lines of code and saying stuff about chipboards that sends some men insane? Discuss.

Internet shouldn’t just be for ‘nastiest people’ says Gamergate victim

Fined gym fans get money back


The makers of a fitness app have agreed to return thousands of dollars they wrongly took from users, in what strikes me as a very strange turn of events.

The app, Pact, was launched in 2012 and allows people to create diet and exercise targets – with the software automatically taking between $5-$50 in fines from your account if you’re unsuccessful in hitting your targets.

That’s odd, right? Anyway, the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) decided to have a closer look and found that Pact was hitting people with penalties even when they’d met their targets.

The original idea seems to have been to hit failures with fines, and then give the money to those who were successful with their gym trips as a reward. This is proved by using location data to demonstrate you’ve been to the gym and photos to show you that you’re all sweaty. Goodness knows how it works with the diet side of things; photo of a slice of lettuce? You could just throw it in the bin afterwards.

According to the FTC’s Tom Pahl ‘consumers who used this app expected the defendants to pay them rewards when they achieved their health-related goals, and to charge them only when they did not. Unfortunately, even when consumers held up their end of the deal, Pact failed to make on its promises’.

The firm has reached a settlement and will now return $940,000 to users who were wrongly charged.

As if starting a new fitness regime wasn’t stressful enough already.

Fined gym fans get money back

Coming soon: Massive cyber-attack


Here’s some cheery Monday morning news: a so-called ‘category one’ cyber-attack will definitely happen in the next few years, a man has warned.

According to Ian Levy, technical director of the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC), a massive security breach will certainly occur in the near future – and it will be so serious that central government will need to respond.

Speaking at an event organised by security software firm Symantec, Mr Levy said that governments and businesses need to change the way they approach cybersecurity if a digital catastrophe is to be avoided.

Apparently, the NCSC has recorded 30 ‘category two’ incidents, such as the WannaCry ransomware incident that struck the NHS in the summer – so a ‘category one’ is a pretty serious mess.

Mr Levy said that people and organisations probably wouldn’t start taking ‘category one’ attacks seriously until one had happened, warning ‘it will turn out that the organisation that has been breached didn’t really understand what data they had, what value it had or the impact it could have outside that organisation’.

He added: ‘Cybersecurity professionals have spent the last 25 years saying people are the weakest link. That’s stupid! They cannot possibly be the weakest link – they are the people that create the value at these organisations.’

Set up in 2016, the NCSC reports to the government’s intelligence organisation, GCHQ.

Coming soon: Massive cyber-attack

Socitm’s night riders tear up Brands Hatch


At Socitm we shy away from nothing – and that includes cycling around in circles in the dark.

Last weekend, Team Socitm took part in a gruelling 24-hour cycling event at Brands Hatch race track – and managed to raise over £1,000 for Cancer research.

Our riders finished a very respectable 38th at the Revolve 24 event – which might not sound as good as ‘1st’ but when you learn that there were 267 entrants it becomes a lot more impressive. They also came 6th out of the 17 teams in the six-rider category.

The Team was made up of Geoff Connell, Socitm President; Geoff’s mate, Alan; Tony Summers, Socitm Advisory’s Chief Operating Officer; Tony’s son, Sioni; and a man called Simon Norbury.

After giving him a couple of days to get his breath back, Tony said: ‘It was very challenging, especially the sleep deprivation part of it over the 24 hours, but it was a great experience. It was a bit surreal cycling around Brands Hatch in the dark following the red rear lights of the riders ahead of you.’

In total, the Team managed 179 laps of the famous track – which comes to just over 435 miles, or 83 miles each.

They also ‘climbed’ (I think that means ‘went up a hill’) over 9,750 metres – which is greater than the height of Everest, though I suspect riding a bike up the mountain would be a bit more challenging.

Tony added: ‘The camaraderie with the other teams was great. Everybody was sharing things like energy foods and kettles.

‘Geoff came in fresh from a trip to China. He had a dodgy stomach so it was a bit touch and go.’

Tony is now keen to get riders involved in next year’s event, so you’ve been forewarned.

Well done, Team! And here are a load of pics to prove it all actually happened:

Socitm’s night riders tear up Brands Hatch