Friday roundup: A week in tech

Google.jpgGreedy guts Google is appealing against a huge fine – which it received for being very greedy indeed, allegedly.

Back in toasty July, the greed-busting European Commission slapped the internet-controlling firm with a £3.8 billion penalty for, that word again, allegedly manipulating the Android operating system to ‘cement its dominance’. I know! As if Google would even dream of doing such a thing!

The company’s cries of innocence fell on deaf ears at the Commission, where it is firmly believed that the tech monster insisted device manufacturers pre-install its search app, as well as having given tasty cash incentives to mobile network operators to exclusively install the same app on their devices.

At the time, the more or less openly demented US president Donald Trump denounced the fine as an attack on a brilliant, wonderful US company, or words to that effect. However, weeks later he was frothing spittle over the very same Google for fixing the internet to say bad things about him, or words to that effect. It doesn’t get any better, does it?

Despite the firm’s whining that users are not actually prevented from downloading alternative search apps on their devices, Margrethe Vestager, the EU’s competition commissioner and chief Old World Google nemesis, shrewdly pointed out that ‘once you have it, it is working, very few are curious enough to look for another search app or browser’.

Anyhow, Google’s appeal (it already has a £2.1bn fine over its shopping comparison service, inflicted by, you’ve guessed it, CC Vestager, under appeal) may take several years – by which time the search giant may well have gone safely out of business, with its rich owners living in luxurious homes under the Alps while they await a return to habitable conditions on the Earth’s service.

***

Here’s some good news. According to this probably sensationalist BBC headline (but ‘sensationalist’ in a nice way) you could have bought your last car. What, what, what?

The report reports that tech analysts reckon that within 20 years we’ll all have stopped owning cars, and the filthy internal combustion engine will be no more. Hurrah!

If, like me, you hate the sight of cars, hate sitting in traffic, despair at the exhaust-poisoned air you have to breathe, are aghast that the stupid methods of transport we’ve created are massively contributing to the demise of the Earth as a life-sustaining enterprise, then maybe you’ll be cheered, too.

Basically, an age of driverless electric cars could well be heading our way – so who’s going to bother buying, taxing, insuring, MOTing, filling with petrol-ing, having to drive in, not-being-able-to-have-a drink-and-drive-in car when you can just jump in a frequent, friendly, clean electric joy wagon? A short trip will probably cost about a penny, or maybe you’ll merely be required to perform a good deed [I’m mildly ribbing my own green delusions here].

Anyway, this nice report has lots of positive and interesting things to say about the coming tech that may or may not help to prevent us from completely devastating our environment.

(Warning: Article not suitable for angry, reactionary, BBC-hating, car-loving, ‘the-whole-world’s-against-me’ types.)

***

Microsoft’s not very good search engine is, apart from not being very good, also quite racist, it turns out.

Journalist Chris Hoffman went off on a mission (in front of his computer) and discovered that searching words such as ‘Muslims’, ‘Jews’ and ‘black people’ on Bing yielded top results that linked to mad far-right racist material.

Additionally, Mr Hoffman found that the search engine ranked nonsense conspiracy theories among its top results for other words. He wrote: ‘We all know this garbage exists on the web, but Bing shouldn’t be leading people to it with their search suggestions.’

Microsoft says it’s ‘taken action’ to address the digital carnage, which is the very least it can do – though I’m sure the move will inflame ‘freedom of speech-loving types’ who believe that being allowed to express a political opinion and start a genocidal race war are exactly the same thing.

I used Bing for a while in an attempt to prevent Google from CONTROLLING EVERY ASPECT OF MY LIFE. I recently switched to Ecosia– a nice outfit that plants trees with the ad revenue generated by users’ searches. It’s nice to feel slightly ethical as you listlessly type things like ‘uk weather’, ‘ASDA opening times’, and ‘Cush Jumbo pics’ into the search bar on yet another drab autumn eve.

***

Accomplished buffoon Kanye West has deleted his social media accounts, for the third or fourth time.

The rapper, who is fond of US president Donald Trump, decided… actually, I haven’t it in me to go on with this ‘story’. If you care at all, here: read the Mirror’s write-up. Dreadful.

***

America’s extremely expensive fighter aircraft and other weapons systems are incredibly easy to hack, a report has found.

According to the US’s Government Accountability Office (GAO), tests between 2012-2017 revealed cyber-vulnerabilities in almost every blowing-things-to-pieces system scrutinised – including the snazzy F-35 jet.

Astonishingly, the GAO discovered ridiculous things such as the bungling Pentagon not changing default passwords on multiple weapons systems, while a password that some thoughtful soul had bothered to change was guessed in nine seconds (possibly from ‘weapons_system_admin1’ to ‘weapons_system_admin2’).

Seemingly not easily alarmed security expert Ken Munro isn’t ‘at all surprised’ by the report’s disturbing revelations, claiming that it takes ages to ‘develop a weapons system, often based on iterations of much older systems. As a result, the components and software can be based on very old, vulnerable code’.

Something I might have done is have made sure all the issues were fixed before I released a publically available report detailing to my enemies/pranksters how vulnerable my defence systems are, but who cares what I think. It’s almost as if they want to be hacked. Mysterious.

***

Things look like they’re going from bad to worse over at Tesla – the outfit that generates a couple of peculiar/bananas stories a week.

With the firm’s increasingly absurd owner, Elon Musk, forced to step down as chairman of the board the favourite to replace him is – James Murdoch! Poor Tesla!

Mr Musk has kindly agreed to step aside and install a replacement chairman to keep US money regulators off his back in the wake of fraud allegations.

Earlier in the year, the weird magnate tweeted that he was planning on taking Tesla private – but then backtracked, which in the world of people who make lots of money by buying shares is a big no-no. (Sometimes it almost seems as if the financial system we live within is a woefully fragile, shambolic mess, likely to crumble to dust at the slightest pratfall.)

Perhaps the beleaguered firm can expect some better luck under Mr Murdoch? If his tenure at News Corporation is anything to go by, now might be the time to dump those Tesla shares (if you haven’t done so already).

***

You know that spitefully irritating advert in which the actor Martin Freeman debases himself for Vodafone cash on a rainy night in a car? Well, excellent news: you won’t ever see it again, at least not in its current form.

The good folk at the Advertising Standards Authority have ruled that the ad is misleading – a common theme in mobile phone and broadband marketing (in fact, a central plank of the industry’s philosophy).

In the ad, the biddable Freeman squabbles with an uncooperative mobile network supplier that won’t let him leave his contract – but, the ad goes on, at magnificent Vodafone things are different, because YOU CAN leave your contract when you want.

Except you can’t, at least not after the first 30 days, which the advert cannily fails to be very clear about; instead, a footnote of sorts alludes to a vague ’30-day service guarantee’. In fact, other networks offer a 15-day grace period, so Vodafone’s offering isn’t that noteworthy.

Anyway, a spokesperson for the firm shared these words: ‘Our “love us or leave us” 30-day service guarantee is the best in the market. We already make clear that the 30 days is from the start of a customer’s contract in our terms and conditions, and will also make sure this is totally clear in our marketing.’

And that wraps things up for another week. Have a great weekend – and please try to resist the temptation to hack into any US tank divisions for a giggle.

Friday roundup: A week in tech

Friday roundup: A week in tech

Computers.jpg

The man who gifted us the ghoulish nightmare which is the internet has announced his latest plans: a new, much better internet.

Tim Berners-Lee, for it is he, is determined to remodel the swelling catastrophe he created, and wants to give the world’s billions of internet users (or ‘victims’ as they are increasingly known) control over their own data – rather than obediently handing it all to the big tech thugs that now run everything.

Mr Berners-Lee says his new platform, Solid, can give users ownership of their digital materials, deciding which apps can access what, while improving privacy and so on. And that sounds like a very good thing to me.

It’s probably best to hear what the man himself has to say. In a blog post, he wrote: ‘…for all the good we’ve achieved, the web has evolved into an engine of inequity and division; swayed by powerful forces who use it for their own agendas. Today, I believe we’ve reached a critical tipping point, and that powerful change for the better is possible — and necessary.’

Give this man a promotion. Read his blog piece – it’s great.

And his words were well-timed: the day before, shambolic, data-voracious horror-show Facebook admitted it’d managed to foul up for the 1000thtime, with the details of 50 million users accessed during a data breach.

Another day, another bungled mess. Here’s to Internet Part 2!

***

From one great, ethical, forward-thinking mind to…the polar opposite.

Deceit specialist Alex Jones is suing PayPal after the firm blocked his abysmal conspiracy-splattered website, InfoWars.

Mr Jones alleges that PayPal’s ban is ‘viewpoint discrimination’, and is part of a wider Silicon Valley plot to proscribe so-called ‘conservative views’ – though I’m sure the company should be able to successfully argue it merely doesn’t want to be associated with t**ts.

After all, when the firm stopped processing payments for InfoWars earlier this year it justified the move by pointing out that the outfit was in breach of its terms covering the promotion of hate and violence. And that’s InfoWars’ is all about, isn’t it?

Meanwhile, Mr Jones himself is also being sued by some of the parents of children murdered in the Sandy Hook school massacre, an event Mr Jones insists was faked – a mad claim that has led to horrific levels of harassment aimed at the victims’ families.

Another day, another disgusting mess. Here’s to Internet Part 2!

***

If you like using the internet to search for Kim Kardashian news, I’m very sorry to hear that.

Actually, there’s more. If you like using the internet to search for Kim Kardashian news, you should be careful – for the woman is apparently the most dangerous person to look for on the internet.

According to cybersecurity specialist McAfee, search results containing Mrs Kardashian’s name (Kim Kardashian) link to more sites riddled with malicious nastiness than any other (even more than Boris Johnson, amazingly).

Last year’s top spot for sites-containing-a-celebrity-name-that-have-malware-on-them went to Craig David – so, it seems there’s a link between online peril and mediocrity.

And the bland theme continues: other famous people whose names pose a threat in search results include Adele, Kourtney Kardashian, Caroline Flack and Simon Bates (I made the last one up).

Rai Samani, McAfee’s chief scientist, said: ‘There’s endless opportunities to pick and choose which entertainment options we prefer to enjoy from a variety of connected devices. With Kim Kardashian’s influence and business ventures, people will go to extreme lengths to be a little more like Kim.’

So, take care when you’re searching for your favourite famous faces over the weekend. Or go out instead.

Friday roundup: A week in tech