Saturday, 31 January 2015

These words should send a chill down Google's spine

"We're going to take Android away from Google." Those eight words come from Kirt McMaster, CEO of Cyanogen, a company that is building a modified version of Android. He spoke with The Wall Street Journal last week.

That should send a chill down Google's spine.

Because Android is open source, companies can take the code and tweak Android to make it distinctly their own.

For instance, Google's partners such as Samsung and HTC are able to layer their own software over the plain version of Android to promote their own apps and services.

There are also a few "forked" versions of Android, i.e., a completely different mobile software that is based on Android but may not include Google's apps and services or the Google Play Store.

Amazon has its own forked version of Android that powers its Fire tablets and phone.

For the most part, these companies have done little to change Google's control over Android. But Cyanogen might be different. It now has $100 million in funding, with $70 million reportedly coming from Microsoft.

Cyanogen makes Android better: It is cleaner, the software updates more often, and Chinese companies have been using it more and more. If Cyanogen takes off, it would wrest away some control of Android.

Google has some clue about this. The company may be taking steps to prevent this by placing tighter restrictions on contracts with its partners, according to The Information's Amir Efrati. In September, he reported that Google's updated Android contracts mandate that partners place more of the company's apps on the home screens of their phones. As part of the new contracts, Google would also be stricter about the way its partners customize their phones to keep the experience consistent across most Android products.

Regardless of whether this is true, McMaster's comments show that at least one company is serious about cutting in on Google's 85% ownership of the smartphone market.

Friday, 30 January 2015

Samsung to remove extra apps from TouchWiz: Report

It looks like Samsung is in the process of slimming down its TouchWiz smartphone software and optimising it for its upcoming flagship smartphone, Galaxy S6.

Samsung is removing all add-on features that can be downloaded as apps and making the system software as light as possible according to a report by SamMobile.

While it's not clear what features and apps will be removed, it's possible that apps such as Story Album, S Translator, or S Voice assistant will be made optional downloads, as speculated by the website.

Samsung's TouchWiz software has received brickbats from users and reviewers alike for its bloatware and lag ridden user interface.

The removal of additional apps and optimization of the code are expected to make Samsung's upcoming phone faster by eliminating lag and stutter, and give users more storage space for their own content.

Earlier, a report by Business Korea had also suggested that Samsung was getting rid of unnecessary features and simplifying the UI of its system software, making it as fast and smooth as stock Android on Google's Nexus 6.

Wednesday, 28 January 2015

Apple makes $18 billion quarterly profit

Apple's quarterly profit rocketed to $18 billion-the highest ever recorded by a corporate - at the end of last year on booming sales of big-screen iPhone models, especially in China.

The California tech titan also announced on Wednesday that it had sold its one billionth device powered by its iOS mobile operating system, on a day of dizzying figures-even by Apple's high standards.

Apple's profit comes to around Rs 1,200 crore a day. Its quarterly revenues were $74.6 billion, roughly equivalent to Rs 4.5 lakh crore. At this pace, over a nine-month period, the revenues will more or less match what the Indian government hopes to collect as taxes in the full-year 2014-15 (Rs 13.6 lakh crore).

The sale of 74.5 million iP8hones beat the expectati8ons of most analysts.

Apple's revenues for this quarter are almost twice as large as India's defence budget for 2014-15 (Rs 2.3 lakh crore). Its quarterly profit is more than the amount that the GoI hopes to mop up as dividends and profits from the entire central public sector (Rs 90,229 crore). Apple Watch's wearable devices, unveiled last year to fanfare, are on track to begin shipping in April.

"We'd like to thank our customers for an incredible quarter which saw demand for Apple products soar to an all-time high," declared chief executive Tim Cook. "Demand for iPhone has been staggering, shattering our expectation." Blockbuster sales of the recently released iPhone 6, in particular, are signs of huge pent-up demand for larger-screen smartphones and likely to boost sales throughout this year, according to Forrester analyst Frank Gillett. "I would expect the surge in China and elsewhere to hold for quite a while before it settles down," Gillett said, adding, "People have been waiting for an iPhone with a bigger screen and smartphones are only increasing in importance in our lives."

The record quarterly profit was driven by the sale of 74.5 million iPhones, well ahead of most analysts' expectations. The staggering profit topped the $15.9 billion made by ExxonMobil in the second quarter of 2012, according to Standard and Poor's, to write Apple into the history books. As well as the larger screen iPhone 6 models, analysts credited a partnership with China Mobile as powering sales.

Sales of iPhones doubled in Greater China, its number two smartphone market, according to chief financial officer Luca Maestri. Cook described the fevered excitement around the debut of iPhone 6 models in China as "phenomenal". "We are a big believer in China," Cook said. "It is an incredible market. I think people there love Apple products."

But it was not just China: iPhone sales leapt 44% in the United States and doubled in Brazil.

Sunday, 18 January 2015

Cyber warfare: India's real battle in virtual world

When two special task forces of Tamil Nadu and Karnataka, comprising several hundred personnel, chased the elusive bandit Veerappan across Sathyamangalam forests for more than a decade, they had very little by way of sophisticated gadgets to guide them -perhaps just night vision goggles that were higher in scale than those used by any other force then in the country. The Global Positioning System (GPS) equipment was not so embedded as it is today. Choppers, instead of micro drones, were used to scour the deep jungles, but the loud noise of the whirring blades gave the game away. It took decades for police of two states and the task forces to finally hunt down Veerappan in October 2004.

"Technology is advancing by leaps and bounds every few years. Today, terrorist groups are carrying out online indoctrination without the identity of the main person behind it being revealed," said K Vijay Kumar, senior security adviser in the ministry of home affairs, who led the Veerappan operation.

"Micro drones would have helped us gain more access to Veerappan's dens and nab him more quickly. The concept of terrorist attacks has taken a new meaning today and it is a constant race between governments and terror groups to keep ahead in cyber space," said Vijay Kumar.

Amidst a surge in cyber terrorism and use of technology in attacks, India is under pressure to counter transnational and domestic terrorist groups by investing more in key institutions and manpower to monitor cyberspace.

Friday, 16 January 2015

Google halts sales, but Glass isn’t dead

Google has appeared to admit that it hasn't quite cracked Glass, as the tech giant announced that it would halt sales of its high-tech specs. The company said it remained committed to launching a consumer version of its smart eyewear, Google Glass, but would stop making the headset in its current form.

The Glass Explorer programme was launched in the US in 2013 and the UK last year, and was expected to be followed by a mass market rollout. Now, Google will stop taking orders for headsets from January 19.

Originally touted as the first major wearable tech item, Glass was reportedly the brainchild of Google co-founder Sergey Brin. The device promised to deliver multiple, revolutionary hands-free applications. Yet modest sales were compounded by concerns over privacy. Google said it would still offer support to companies that already use Glass. The announcement comes days after Tesco became the first major UK retailer to launch a Glass app, Tesco Grocery, which lets shoppers browse supermarket shelves and make purchases hands-free. Last year, Reuters surveyed 16 Glass app developers, nine of whom admitted they had stopped work on their apps, due to the device's technical limitations or lack of popularity.

Speaking to an audience in Bogota, Colombia this week, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg appeared to suggest another reason for Glass's failure to take hold in the public imagination: the device just looks "weird".

Thursday, 15 January 2015

Apple, Google, other tech firms to pay $415 million in wage case

Apple, Google and two other Silicon Valley companies have agreed to pay $415 million in a second attempt to resolve a class-action lawsuit alleging they formed an illegal cartel to prevent their workers from leaving for better-paying jobs.

The settlement filed Thursday in a San Jose, California, federal court revises a $324.5 million agreement that US district Lucy Koh rejected as inadequate five months ago. Koh indicated that she believed the more than 60,000 workers represented in the case should be paid at least $380 million, including attorney fees.

If Koh approves the latest settlement, it would avoid a potentially embarrassing trial over claims that Apple Inc., Google Inc., Intel Corp. and Adobe Systems Inc. secretly agreed not to recruit each other's employees from 2005 to 2009.

Wednesday, 14 January 2015

Facebook testing workplace version of social network

Facebook said on Wednesday it is testing a version of its leading social network tailored for getting jobs done in workplaces instead of tuning into the lives of friends. 

"Facebook at Work" smartphone applications appear in Apple's online app store and the Google Play shop for Android-powered mobile devices, but can only be accessed by a few companies collaborating with the social network. 

The pilot program is intended to gain feedback to refine the offering, according to Facebook spokeswoman Elisabeth Diana. 

"We have internally used Facebook at Work for many years now, it works pretty effectively and efficiently for collaboration," Diana told AFP. 

"We think we can bring this insight to other companies." Facebook at Work has news feeds, chats, groups and other features that can be found on the widely-used social network, but sharing can only be done with people inside a particular company. 

Page backgrounds are a different color from the well-known Facebook blue, ostensibly so bosses will know at a glance when social networking is work-oriented. 

The customized work social networks are hosted on Facebook servers in the Internet cloud, but each respective firm controls any data shared by its employees. 

Diana would not disclose what companies are involved in the pilot program, but did say some had offices in various countries. 

California-based Facebook did not discuss how it will make money from workplace versions of the social network, but it could follow an established model of charging subscriptions to it as a cloud-based service.

Tuesday, 13 January 2015

Tech hurdle: Selfie attendance of talathis in Aurangabad district evokes poor response

The sign of changing times is showing in the revenue offices of Aurangabad district with the talathis recording their attendance at offices through selfies. However, technical hiccups in the pilot project are resulting in poor response.

The selfie may have entered the popular lexicon recently but the district collector picked it up for administrative use after receiving several complaints of irregular attendance of talathis. Four months ago, the collector issued directives to the 371 talathis in the district to send their 'selfies' to the district administration daily once they reach office.

However, only 132 talathis have been sending their selfies daily since the pilot project was launched. The rest have cited reasons such as difficulties in operating android phones or network-related problems in interior parts of the district for their inability to participate in the project.

District collector Vikram Kumar said, "This is a first of its kind of project in the state and we are hopeful of achieving desired results. Accordingly, it may be used for all the field related staff."

The collector had asked the talathis to install 'attendance', a mobile-based application developed by a firm in Mumbai. Every day, the talathi has to click a selfie at the office and share it through the application. It is directly noted at the server and application located at the collector's office and the attendance is updated. The application has an inbuilt GPS system that provides the location from where the talathi clicks the selfie.

Revenue officials said the work schedule of every talathi is fed into the server regularly and if a talathi sends his selfie from any location other than the official programme, the system will mark his attendance but give a blinking message 'Bad location' against his name.

Satish Tupe, working president of the state talathi union, said the initiative taken up by the Aurangabad district collector is worth appreciating and the implementation of the pilot project was finalised only after a meeting between the collector and representatives of the union.

"The 300 talathis in the district did not have smartphones so the union decided to purchase the phones for them. Accordingly, a smartphone costing Rs 6,000 each was given to the talathis," Tupe said.

District Talathi Association president Anil Suryawanshi told TOI that a majority of the talathis are not tech savvy, so initially the challenge was to make them familiar with smart phones and the installed application. The other challenge faced by them is network problem in rural areas, followed by load shedding."

Suryawanshi said that initially only 50 talathis marked their attendance through the application, but the number has now gradually increased to 132. "We are trying to solve the problems and have convinced all the talathis to install the updated version of the application to ensure 100% result in a month," he said.

Monday, 12 January 2015

Idea plans to cut discounts on voice, data tariffs

Idea Cellular has said that discounts and freebies on voice and data tariffs will be reduced in the coming months, the statement coming just weeks ahead of the spectrum auctions slated for late next month.
The country's third-biggest mobile operator, controlled by the Aditya Birla group, also expects a spurt in internet subscribers at a time when data becomes crucial for revenues and profitability.
"Currently, 20% of our 150-million subscribers use internet. With a strong focus on data, we expect half of our subscribers to use the internet in the next three years," Sashi Shankar, chief marketing officer for Idea Cellular, told TOI here. Idea Cellular said its subscriber base is likely to go up by 10-12% between now and financial year 2017-18 and added that much of this growth will come from low-teledensity, smaller markets.
Top telecom companies such as Airtel and Vodafone have also reduced discounts over the last few months, though none of the operators have made any changes to the headline tariffs. Headline or base tariffs are the maximum call or service rates that a telecom operator can charge from its customers but normally companies charge less than these rates.
Asked whether Idea Cellular plans to increase headline tariffs to cover up for the huge investments the company is making for network expansion and spectrum acquisition, Shankar said there are no such plans currently. "It is a very competitive market and we may not play with headline tariffs."
Shankar said that data revenues are growing at a break-neck speed for the company and this will contribute substantially to its revenues in the coming years. "Data currently contributes 15% to our revenues and this will grow to at least 30% by fiscal 2017-18."

Sunday, 11 January 2015

Cyber attacks becoming more sophisticated, brazen

The recent cyber attack on Sony Pictures by North Korean hackers has again put the spotlight on the dangers stalking a world digitally connected like never before. Till now mainly restricted to personal computers and laptops, the threat will only get bigger with smartphones and tablets becoming devices of daily use.

The mysterious attack on the Baku-Tblisi-Ceyhan pipeline, which was built with US encouragement and despite Russia's reservations, is seen as marking the beginning of a new era of cyber war. It has been blamed on Russian cyber spies who were suspects also in the attack on JP Morgan Chase. The Russian groups have become so emboldened that they targeted several German government websites on Wednesday, including the official page of Chancellor Angela Merkel.

The US security establishment itself now boasts of 6,000 cyber warriors — the crack troops who are suspected to be behind the crippling of North Korean internet networks following the Sony attack — and is prepared for a digital Peral Harbour.

Globally, security analysts called 2013 the year of the mega breach, with a 62% increase in the number of data breaches compared to 2012. The year also saw a 91% increase in targeted attacks. Both sophistication and brazenness of cybercrime syndicates or, for that matter, "hactivists" has increased.

'Spearfishing', which involves intelligent emails targeted at individuals, catching targets off guard by making "emotional connection" where criminals back up enticing emails with phone calls to win the victims' trust, focusing on "watering holes" which are frequented by targets and throwing baits like "free" broadband connections show the expanded arsenal of cyber criminals.

Growing incidence of the use of 'Cryptolocker' virus and 'ransom ware' to force victims to buy decryption software or pay up to secure the release of his device and files signals the audacity of the gangs prowling cyber space, whose attacks on leading names in business like Target, Ebay, JP Morgan Chase, Adobe and Home Depot led to huge plunder of credit card and debit card details of their customers. Companies also suffered hugely on account of erosion of trust.

Recently, Symantec, a software security major, uncovered a new piece of malware — Regin — which bears the hallmarks of a state-sponsored operation and is believed to have been in use since at least 2008. It, just like 'Dragonfly', another malware which appears to be a state-sponsored effort, is persistent in seeking access to targets and stealing information and is far more complex than Stuxnet, which was used to target Iran's nuclear plants. Experts at Symantec believe many components of Regin remain undiscovered and it may have more versions and can perform more functions for cyber espionage and sabotage.

Michael Counsel, chief technology officer and vice-president consulting, products & services, Asia Pacific and Japan, said Symantec's cyber threat intelligence had helped the firm identify some significant threats including Regin and other highly adept attack groups like the Dragonfly that was behind several sophisticated attacks on industrial control systems in the energy sector in the US and Europe.

Talking about the need to successfully defend against targeted attacks, Counsel said businesses needed to expand their focus from prevention to detection and response. While the threat of attack on individual targets by immobilizing their cars and medical devices doesn't seem distant anymore, cyber criminals can inflict immense harm on companies by reaching them through their vendors, a soft underbelly according to Symantec, to steal data and intellectual property. There is a gang, ATP Group, which specifically targets hotel guests, while also attacking "smart meters' to disrupt power supply in cities.

'Distributed denial of service' attacks - in which servers are flooded with traffic until they collapse -- have become a tougher challenge. Symantec, which was engaged by FBI and EuroPol Scotland Yard and other government agencies to take down 'Blackshades', a powerful and popular Trojan, Zeus Botnet and Major Cryptolocker, concedes cyber crime networks have become more resilient and taking down new Botnet attacks will be difficult.

Friday, 9 January 2015

IvyCap Ventures invests in ad tech startup Sokrati

Advertising technology & analytics venture Sokrati has raised a series B round of funding led by IvyCap Ventures with existing investor Inventus Capital also participating in the fresh fund raise. The Pune-based Sokrati was recently chosen as one of the three Indian startups by the Silicon Valley chapter of The Indus Entrepreneurs (TiE) for its Billion Dollar Babies initiative. Founded by Amazon colleagues Ashish Mehta, Santosh Gannavarapu and Anubhav Sonthalia, the five-year-old startup is now looking to aggressively grow its sales and marketing efforts within India as well as in the US with the fresh financing in place. 

IvyCap Ventures, which makes early-stage investments, had recently pumped in capital in beauty and grooming e-commerce portal and is in the midst of raising a new Rs 900 crore fund. 

Mehta of Sokrati said that more than 3,000 marketers leverage the startup's multi-channel digital marketing platform currently. "This fresh round of funding will allow us to aggressively expand our technology and big data engineering teams; while building out our marketing presence globally." It competes with other ad affiliates including Komli Media, Interactive Avenues among others. Sokrati is said to be search giant Google's largest preferred partner in India. It has built proprietary algorithms to manage performance-driven marketing spends on paid search, social and display networks. 

"There is a definite need for a one-stop platform that consolidates the major digital channels and offers a media spend optimizing solution especially for businesses that do not have the expertise for performance oriented digital spends, or the need or budget for in-house teams" said Vikram Gupta, Managing Partner of IvyCap Ventures.

Thursday, 8 January 2015

Clickbait has a new address: Funny URLs

Some of the most popular reading material on the internet, at least among the meta-humor-loving tech-industry types, is now being provided by URLs. You know, the name of the website you are perusing, plus the string of words, numbers and dashes that follow. 

Dean Praetorius, a 26-year-old media consultant in Manhattan, keeps an eye out for URL jokes when he is checking out articles and blog posts that have been shared with him on social networks. 

"I especially look for the URL when the article itself has a ridiculous tint to it," he said. Take, for instance, an article posted on Engadget, a website that reports on and reviews tech products, about a wearable device that monitors sexual activity. In the URL, the writer issued something of a mea culpa: -sexfit-i-used-to-be-a-serious -journalist/. "I'm not laughing at the article, I'm laughing at the URL," Praetorius commented in posting the link to Reddit."This is journalism in 2015," he said. 

The internet is at peak saturation, and news sites and popular blogs are toiling to leverage every possible piece of web real estate to capture readers' attention. The URL, also sometimes referred to by techies as the "slug" or the "permalink," is the latest spot for exploitation. Quite literally, the clickable link is the new clickbait. 

"The slug can often be fodder for in-jokes and fun," said Kwame Opam, an editor at The Verge. After the trailer for the new "Star Wars" film directed by J J Abrams was released, The Verge published an article about light sabers. The headline: "I designed a better lightsaber than J J Abrams while I was in line for coffee this morning." The URL: 

"Especially in the realm of editorials and the kind of voice-y blogging that so many outlets trade in," Opam added, "the URL is branding." 

As with many internet micro trends, it is tough to pinpoint the genesis of the jokey URL. But the practice has certainly taken on steam, since BuzzFeed began to ramp up its integration of what Jack Shepherd, the site's editorial director, calls the "social URL." Shepherd's hope is that the humor in these URLs will compel readers to share the link. An example of this would be the URL, which in fact directs to a listicle with the far more servicey headline, "16 Tips to Keep Your Pets Safe and Happy This Thanksgiving." 

Traditionally, URLs have always closely mirrored the headline. The so-called social URL is written not with Google analytics or search engine optimization in mind. The hope is that a story will get shared by those who appreciate a cleverly placed joke. 

Jane Pratt, the editor of the website xoJane, said she began trading in this type of meta-commentary back when she was the founding editor of the now-defunct young women's magazines Sassy and Jane. "We always put little notes on the spines of magazines to get readers sharing/talking," she said in an email. At xoJane, Pratt has morphed that practice into URL writing. 

Lindsey Weber, an editor at Vulture, said she had assumed that URL robots were somehow generating links that to human beings seemed slyly worded. Upon learning that people were actually committing time and brain space to URLs in an effort to grab reader attention, she was disheartened. "Oh that's a bummer, it ruins it to know they're in on the joke."

Wednesday, 7 January 2015

E-book readers fail to ‘kindle’ sales in India

Srishti Khanna is never without a book. A literature teacher in a Delhi college, the 27-year-old's room is overflowing with contemporary and classic novels, books on history, literary theory, and philosophy. And so is her e-book reader. However, in the year-and-a-half that she has had the reader, which she keeps encased in a black, book-like cover, she has not bought a single e-book. "They're all available online for free. And anyway, if I have to buy a book, I might as well buy a hard copy," she says. 

More and more Indians may be getting comfortable with online buying, but that has not translated into comfort with paying for e-books. Publisher Penguin Random House says that e-books constitute about 1% of their total book sales currently. Flipkart and Amazon did not share numbers regarding e-book sales, though Amazon, which produces and sells the Kindle e-book reader, said that the market for e-books in India was still "incipient". Flipkart, meanwhile, cited industry reports to say that in the next three to four years, e-books could constitute about 25% of the total book sales in India. However, globally too, e-book sales have flattened out. According to the new report from the Bookstats Project, US publishers raked in $3 billion from e-book sales last year, which is nearly unchanged from 2012. "Low internet penetration, low confidence levels on credit card usage, a lack of subscriber billing facility or mobile commerce and, ironically, a lack of knowledge of e-books are among the hindrances to growth," says Ananth Padmanabhan, senior VP (sales), Penguin Random House. Digital marketing professional Karthik Srinivasan feels the lopsided pricing could be making people go in for free downloads over torrents or through websites hosting the latest books in PDF format. "The price difference between a physical book and an e-book on some stores is very low. Moreover, the perceived value of something comes down if it can be replicated. People see anything "e-" as replicable — be it music, or books," he says. 

On Flipkart's e-books section, one can find a digital copy of Fifty Shades Darker priced at Rs 254. The physical book is available for Rs 250.

Micron revenue outlook misses Street

Memory chipmaker Micron Technology gave a quarterly revenue forecast that missed Wall Street's expectations, hurt by an output drop as it upgrades DRAM production lines, and its shares fell. 

Micron, which makes DRAM and NAND chips for personal computers, smartphones, servers and other devices, said in a statement that its revenue rose 13% to $4.57 billion in its first quarter, which ended on December 4. 

But for its upcoming second quarter, Micron said it expects revenue of between $4.1 billion and $4.3 billion. 

Analysts on average had expected revenue of $4.614 billion for the first quarter and $4.528 billion for the second quarter, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S. 

Micron expects production of its DRAM chips to be down in the second quarter as it reconfigures production lines with improved technology, Chief Executive Mark Durcan told analysts on a conference call. 

"This production lull is occurring in a normally seasonally slower demand period," he said, adding that Micron would increase its overall DRAM production at a slower rate than its competitors this year. 

Demand for DRAM chips for personal computers remained strong in the first quarter, Micron said. 

Micron's stock surged 61% last year, helped by optimism for strong and stable prices for memory chips. 

Investors have also applauded Micron's acquisition of Japanese DRAM maker Elpida Memory, which the US chipmaker bought in July 2013 in a bid to improve economies of scale. 

Micron posted a first-quarter net profit of $1 billion, or 84 cents per share, compared with a net profit of $358 million, or 30 cents per share, in the same quarter a year earlier. 

Excluding items, Micron earned 97 cents per share in the quarter. Analysts on average expected 92 cents per share.

Intel CEO shows wrist-worn drone

Intel chief executive Brian Krzanich showed off a computer built into a jacket button and a wristband that transforms into a selfie-snapping flying camera, as the chipmaker extends its push into smart wearable gadgets.

Speaking at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, Krzanich also announced a five-year, $300 million investment in math-related education and other programmes to help employ more women and minorities in the technology and the video game industries.

Krzanich used most of his keynote to talk up Intel's efforts in computerized apparel and other sensor-packed gadgets - nascent markets that the chipmaker and other technology companies hope will fuel future growth as demand for smartphones and tablets loses steam.

Curie, a new button-sized computer for smart clothes, is due out later in 2015 and includes Bluetooth radio as well as the latest from Intel's Quark line of low-power chips. Intel's chips so far have not made significant inroads into wearable gadgets such as fitness bands or smart watches.

"With this product they can deliver wearables in a range of form factors," Krzanich said of Intel's manufacturing customers. "Rings, bags, bracelets, pendants, and yes, even the buttons on our jackets."

Intel is working with Oakley to launch a smart gadget for athletes later this year, Krzanich said. The chipmaker in December announced it was developing smart glasses with Luxottica, which owns the Oakley brand.

Krzanich demonstrated autonomous flying drones able to navigate around obstacles. He also showed a smaller drone worn on the wrist until it is launched into the air. Called Nixie, the camera-equipped gadget in November won a wearable computing contest sponsored by Intel.

Intel was slow to launch chips for smartphones and tablets, and Krzanich, who took over as CEO in 2013, has made it a top priority to avoid repeating that mistake with future computing trends.

Krzanich announced a goal to reach full representation of women and minorities in Intel's workforce by 2020.

Like most Silicon Valley companies, Intel has a poor track record employing women and some minorities. Just a quarter of Intel's US employees in 2013 were women and 12% of its workforce were Hispanic or African American, according to company data.

Last year, the chipmaker found itself in the midst of a controversy over gender equality in the video game industry after it pulled advertising from a gaming website in response to an email campaign.

In a movement that has come to be known as "Gamergate," self-described videogame fans lashed back aggressively online at criticism about sexism in gaming culture. A portion of the responses have come in the form of threats of violence on Twitter against the women in the video game industry.

Friday, 2 January 2015

Curbs on web freedom to go up?

Government censorship of the internet is a cat-and-mouse game. And despite more aggressive tactics in recent months, the cats have been largely frustrated while the mice wriggle away. But this year, the challenges for Silicon Valley will mount, with Russia and Turkey in particular trying to tighten controls on foreign-based internet companies. Major American companies like Facebook, Twitter and Google are increasingly being put in the tricky position of figuring out which laws and orders to comply with around the world — and which to ignore or contest. 

On Wednesday, Russia's president, Vladimir V Putin, signed the latest version of a personal data law that will require companies to store data about Russian users on computers inside the country, where it will be easier for the government to get access to it. With few companies expected to comply with the law, which goes into effect September 1, a confrontation may well erupt. 

The clumsiness of current censorship efforts was apparent in mid-December, when Russia's internet regulator demanded that Facebook remove a page that was promoting an anti-government rally. After Facebook blocked the page, dozens of copycat pages popped up and the word spread on other social networks like Twitter. The Turkish government faced similar embarrassment when it tried to stop the dissemination of leaked documents and audio recordings on Twitter in March. The administration of Recep Tayyip Erdogan ordered the shutdown of Twitter within Turkey after the company refused to block the posts, which implicated government officials in a corruption investigation. Not only did the government lose a court fight on the issue, but while Twitter was blocked, legions of Turkish users taught one another technical tricks to evade the ban. 

Despite such victories for free-speech advocates, governments around the world are stepping up their efforts to control the internet, escalating the confrontation. 

Pakistan, for example, bombarded Facebook with nearly 1,800 requests to take down content in the first half of 2014, according to the company's most recent transparency report. Google's YouTube video has long been blocked there. And the government briefly succeeding in getting Twitter to block certain "blasphemous" or "unethical" tweets last year until the company re-examined Pakistani law and determined the requests didn't meet legal requirements. 

It's not just autocratic regimes that are pressing for limits on free speech. In the EU, a court ruling last year established a "right to be forgotten," allowing residents to ask search engines like Google to remove links to negative material about them. Now privacy regulators want Google to also delete the links from search results on the non-European versions of its service because anyone in Europe can easily get access to the alternate sites.

Thursday, 1 January 2015

South Korea nuclear operator finds computer 'worm' in control system

South Korean authorities have found evidence that a low-risk computer "worm" had been removed from devices connected to some nuclear plant control systems, but no harmful virus was found in reactor controls threatened by a hacker.

Korea Hydro & Nuclear Power Co Ltd said it would beef up cybersecurity by hiring more IT security experts and forming an oversight committee, as it came in for fresh criticism from lawmakers following recent hacks against its headquarters.

The nuclear operator, part of state-run utility Korea Electric Power Corp, said earlier this month that non-critical data had been stolen from its systems, while a hacker threatened in Twitter messages to close three reactors.

The control systems of the two complexes housing those reactors had not been exposed to any malignant virus, Seoul's energy ministry and nuclear watchdog said in a joint statement, adding the systems were inaccessible from external networks.

Energy Minister Yoon Sang-jick told a parliamentary session that evidence of the presence and removal of a "worm" — which the ministry said was probably inadvertently introduced by workers using unauthorized USB devices — was unrelated to the recent hacking incidents, drawing scepticism from some lawmakers.

"I doubt control systems are perfectly safe as said," Lee Jung-hyun, a lawmaker in the ruling Saenuri party, told the committee hearing.

Worries about nuclear safety in South Korea, which relies on nuclear reactors for a third of its power and is the world's fifth-largest nuclear power user, have mounted since the 2011 Fukushima disaster in Japan and a domestic scandal in 2012 over the supply of reactor parts with fake security certificates.

"We will prepare fundamental improvement measures by enhancing nuclear power's safe operation and hiking information security systems to the highest level following this cyber attack case," Korea Hydro and Nuclear Power said in a statement.

Seoul prosecutors have not ruled out possible involvement of North Korea in the cyberattack on the nuclear operator, which Pyongyang has denied.

Korea Hydro and Nuclear Power President and CEO Cho Seok told the hearing that all control systems of the country's 23 nuclear reactors were safe against malignant codes. Recently, he said that cyberattacks on non-critical operations at the company's headquarters were continuing, although he did not elaborate for security reasons.

The nuclear plant operator said it was increasing the number of staff devoted to cybersecurity from 53 to around 70, and would set up a committee of internal and external experts to oversee security.

Chun Soon-ok of the opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy party said, "The government's nuclear power policies have lost people's trust and whatever broke out only makes people concerned more."