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Internet

Cyberwar: Moscow? Beijing? Pyongyang?

Friday, 16 September, 2016 0 Comments

“Over the past year or two, someone has been probing the defenses of the companies that run critical pieces of the Internet. These probes take the form of precisely calibrated attacks designed to determine exactly how well these companies can defend themselves, and what would be required to take them down.” Says who? Says the Chief Technology Officer of Resilient, an IBM company that “empowers cyber security teams to transform their security posture.”

That CTO is none other than Bruce Schneier, and when he talks, people listen. When he issues a warning, people should act. In his blog post Someone Is Learning How to Take Down the Internet, Schneier echoes the conflict of a previous era: “It feels like a nation’s military cybercommand trying to calibrate its weaponry in the case of cyberwar. It reminds me of the US’s Cold War program of flying high-altitude planes over the Soviet Union to force their air-defense systems to turn on, to map their capabilities.”

Fancy Bear But this is not the work of a data fundamentalist like Julian Assange or a data thief such as Fancy Bear, Schneier believes. To him, it feels like a large nation state is at work. “China or Russia would be my first guesses,” he says, although he accepts that the identity of the country of origin for the attacks now being mounted could be disguised.

All this reminds the avid reader of espionage thrillers of the time when a rogue Russian spy warned an MI5 agent of a plot to hack into a top-secret US-UK military satellite system. Tomorrow, here, we follow Liz Carlyle to Geneva as she tracks the moles.


Yahoo and the end of Web 1.0

Thursday, 28 July, 2016 1 Comment

More than a billion people now check Facebook on their phones every single day. The social network revealed this new milestone last night when it released its impressive second-quarter earnings. What’s that got to do with Yahoo and the headline on this post? Well, context is important. Consider these stats:

Facebook now owns a $17-billion-a-year mobile ad business. In the second quarter, mobile sales made up 84 percent of its $6.24 billion in advertising revenue. Overall, the social network reported $2.05 billion in profit, up 186 percent year-over-year, on $6.43 billion in total revenue, which rose 59 percent compared to the same period last year. And Facebook ended the second quarter with 1.71 billion monthly active users.

Which brings us to Yahoo, which was was acquired on Monday by an American telephone company, Verizon, which paid $4.8 billion for the brand and its internet properties. The cause of this ignominious end was simple: Yahoo became irrelevant for adults quite some time ago, and young people don’t use it at all. They spend their time now on Instagram, Snapchat, WhatsApp, Spotify and Facebook.

Yahoo’s major missed opportunity was the rise of the mobile web. That failure had a lot to do with the short stint as CEO of Scott Thompson, who departed in a cloud of controversy. Distracted by its internal troubles, the company took its eye off the ball, as it were, at a critical moment. Thompson was replaced in July 2012 by Marissa Mayer, who bought Tumblr for a billion dollars in an attempt to attract younger internet users. A blogging platform is not what the yoof wanted, though.

Note: Yahoo had the chance to buy Google for $1 million and Facebook for $1 billion.

The new benchmark is that more than a billion people check Facebook on their phones every day. The old benchmark was Yahoo’s directory of websites and this week began with the purchase of the gravestone. Yahoo belongs, with the rotary phone, to another era, and its departure marks the end of Web 1.0. Those riding high on the Web 2.0 wave now should remember, however, that “the bubble fame” does burst and voice-based interfaces on devices such as Amazon’s Alexa are moving the web beyond browsers and smartphones. Blink, and you miss it. Yahoo fell asleep and its legacy includes happy memories of the “Site of the Day” feature. The web was young then. It’s mobile now.


Mappa Mundi

Wednesday, 11 May, 2016 0 Comments

Welcome to our third day of reading Parag Khanna’s new book, CONNECTOGRAPHY: Mapping the Future of Global Civilization. Maps featured in the first post here on Monday and they’re central to today’s post as well. In the introduction to his book, Khanna follows the Prologue with A Note About Maps in which he writes: “Mapping the complex dynamics among the three greatest forces shaping our planet — man, nature, and technology — will require a whole new kind of geographic literacy.” Technologies such as Maptitude, StatPlanet, Project Tango and GeoFusion are some of the new tools of the new cartographic trade when it comes to adding economic and cultural data to maps, and that’s just the start, says Khanna:

“With the rise of the global sensor network dubbed the ‘Internet of Everything’ (Internet of Things + Internet of People), our maps will perpetually update themselves, providing an animated view into our world, as it really is — even the five thousand commercial aircraft in the sky and the more than ten thousand ships crossing the seas at any given moment. These are the arteries and veins, capillaries and cells, of a planetary economy underpinned by an infrastructural network that can eventually become as efficient as the human body.”

Those aircraft and ships are bound for port in what Parag Khanna calls “mankind’s most profound infrastructure” of the 21st century: the city. By 2050, there will be at least 40 cities with a population of more than 10 million people — the megacities.


We’ll fix it with video!

Thursday, 28 April, 2016 0 Comments

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was…” So begins A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens, and while it would be bordering on the sacrilegious to compare the fates of Facebook and Twitter to the epochal events that took place in “the year of Our Lord one thousand seven hundred and seventy-five,” the rise and fall of the great (social media) powers is the stuff of which history will be made. The fact that the tumbrels are virtual these days, makes the digital revolution less gruesome, for which we should be grateful.

Yesterday, Facebook exceeded Wall Street forecasts on almost every critical metric. The social network made $5.38 billion during the first three months of this year and grew its base to 1.65 billion monthly users. Profit was 77 cents a share, which blew away the 63 cents analysts had been expecting, and the the stock jumped nine percent in after-hours trading. During his conference call with investors, CEO Mark Zuckerberg noted: “Today, people around the world spend more than 50 minutes a day using Facebook, Instagram, and Messenger. That doesn’t even include WhatsApp yet.”

COO Sheryl Sandberg put her finger on Facebook’s success secret when she said the company is on a mission to help marketers adapt their ads for a mobile world — where messages must be shorter and often without sound. The auto-captioning feature, she added, has led people to spend 12 percent more time with an ad.

mobile video Contrast all this with Twitter, which has disappointed investors yet again with first-quarter results that showed stagnant revenue growth. Twitter, simply, doesn’t have the scale to compete with Facebook. It’s 320 million monthly users are no match for the 1.65 billion Facebook bring to the game. So, what’s the strategy? Twitter’s answer is the same that everyone else on the web has: We’ll fix it with video. That’s what Peter Kafka says in Twitter is going to have a hard time fixing its ad problem. Snippet:

“The company says it wants to convince its advertisers to upgrade their old text+photo Twitter ads with video ads, which sell at higher prices. This sounds like a good idea, but then again, it’s the same idea everyone else has — and Twitter’s already having trouble competing with everyone else.”

In Your Media Business Will Not Be Saved, Joshua Topolsky, co-founding editor of The Verge and recently head of digital at Bloomberg, pours a big bucket of water on the notion that video will fix it. “Video will not save your media business. Nor will bots, newsletters, a ‘morning briefing’ app, a ‘lean back’ iPad experience, Slack integration, a Snapchat channel, or a great partnership with Twitter.”

To paraphrase Dickens, all these things, and a thousand like them, came to pass in and close upon the dear old year two thousand and sixteen.


The future for Intel is small

Wednesday, 20 April, 2016 0 Comments

Headline: Intel to Cut 12,000 Jobs, Puts Focus on Cloud. Why this? Why now? Because of two self-inflicted mistakes:

  • (i) ignoring the decline of the PC
  • (ii) ignoring the rise of the smartphone

“The old way of doing things reaches perfection just as it’s time to be replaced,” says Benedict Evans when telling people that mobile is going to eat the world. And it’s true. As one technological ecosystem becomes obsolete, it is replaced by a new model that expands to fulfill the needs of an even larger market. So, Intel out.

Is has been predicted that 70 per cent of the sub-Saharan population will be on 3G network connections by 2019, and that 80 per cent of the world’s adult population will have a smartphone by the end of this decade. In other words, the market for the IT industry is, for the first time in history, everyone on this planet. Intel thought that the “complete” internet was available on a PC while smartphones offered a “miniature” version of the web. That view has been upended and smartphones now offer a more mobile, flexible, full-featured internet experience. Mobile has eaten Intel’s lunch.


#IoTDay today and the glass is filling

Saturday, 9 April, 2016 0 Comments

It’s the fifth annual Internet of Things Day today. In a much-quoted report about the IoT issued in November last year, the Gartner research firm predicted that “6.4 billion connected things will be in use worldwide in 2016, up 30 percent from 2015, and will reach 20.8 billion by 2020. In 2016, 5.5 million new things will get connected every day.”

These are astonishing numbers and they reinforce the notion that the internet is ubiquitous. Blake Snow considers the implications of this in The Atlantic in a piece titled What Would a World Without Internet Look Like? He quotes the academic Clay Shirky, who thinks that it’s futile now to separate the net from everyday life: “the Internet has become our civilization,” says Shirky.

This is a philosophy that would be endorsed by Kevin Kelly, the founding executive editor of Wired magazine. Two years ago, in a post on Medium, he looked at innovation from the viewpoints of 1984 and 2044, and concluded: “Can you imagine how awesome it would have been to be an entrepreneur in 2014? It was a wide-open frontier! You could pick almost any category X and add some AI to it, put it on the cloud.”

Glass There is, however, a different take on the IoT and it was expressed, also in 2014, by Bruce Sterling, the science fiction author, in “The Epic Struggle of the Internet of Things.” This long-form composition was in the style of his 2005 book Shaping Things. For Sterling, the IoT is an ominous social transformation: omnipresent automation via digital surveillance enabled by wireless broadband. Snippet:

“So, let’s imagine that the reader has a smartphone in one hand, as most people in the Twenty-Teens most definitely tend to. In the other hand, the reader has some ‘Thing’. Let’s say it’s the handle of his old-fashioned domestic vacuum cleaner, which is a relic of yesterday’s standard consumer economy.

As he cheerfully vacuums his home carpet while also checking his Facebook prompts, because the chore of vacuuming is really boring, the reader naturally thinks: ‘Why are these two objects in my two hands living in such separate worlds? In my left hand I have my wonderfully advanced phone with Facebook — that’s the ‘internet’. But in my right hand I have this noisy, old-fashioned, ineffective, analogue ‘thing’! For my own convenience as a customer and consumer, why can’t the ‘internet’ and this ‘thing’ be combined?”

And then it turns pessimistic. Meanwhile, here’s wishing you a Happy #IoTDay! 🙂


Subject: [email protected]

Monday, 7 March, 2016 0 Comments

It was Ray Tomlinson who implemented the first email system on the ARPANET, the precursor of the internet, and it was Ray Tomlinson who decided on the @ symbol for use in email addresses. He died on Saturday aged 74. This snippet from the “Official Biography of Raymond Tomlinson” at the Internet Hall of Fame puts his ingenuity in context:

“Tomlinson’s email program brought about a complete revolution, fundamentally changing the way people communicate, including the way businesses, from huge corporations to tiny mom-and-pop shops, operate and the way millions of people shop, bank, and keep in touch with friends and family, whether they are across town or across oceans. Today, tens of millions of email-enabled devices are in use every day. Email remains the most popular application, with over a billion and a half users spanning the globe and communicating across the traditional barriers of time and space.”

Ray Tomlinson was a hero of the Digital Age.


Apple, the FBI, terror and privacy

Tuesday, 23 February, 2016 0 Comments

“The San Bernardino litigation isn’t about trying to set a precedent or send any kind of message. It is about the victims and justice. Fourteen people were slaughtered and many more had their lives and bodies ruined. We owe them a thorough and professional investigation under law. That’s what this is.” So writes James Comey, the Director of the FBI, in a short opinion piece published in Lawfare.

Apple rebutted with an FAQ that addresses a variant of the “one-phone/one-time” question many people are asking: “Could Apple build this operating system just once, for this iPhone, and never use it again?” The answer:

“Law enforcement agents around the country have already said they have hundreds of iPhones they want Apple to unlock if the FBI wins this case. In the physical world, it would be the equivalent of a master key, capable of opening hundreds of millions of locks. Of course, Apple would do our best to protect that key, but in a world where all of our data is under constant threat, it would be relentlessly attacked by hackers and cybercriminals. As recent attacks on the IRS systems and countless other data breaches have shown, no one is immune to cyberattacks.”

Most Americans, however, don’t see it like that. They want to see this iPhone unlocked and their sympathy lies with the victims of the terrorists and not with Apple or those who are arguing the privacy case.

And this brings us to the bigger picture. As regular Rainy Day readers know, digital technology is expanding dramatically and the much-heralded Internet of Things (IoT) is on the way to making human-machine connectivity ubiquitous. Soon, every new home and apartment that’s built will come with embedded sensors, Bluetooth-enabled door locks and motion-activated security cameras. Family members will use their smartphones to manage domestic devices and appliances remotely; autonomous cars will be filled with digital technology, while wearable tech such as health trackers, augmented glasses and smart watches will record user activity. All of this will have a huge impact on privacy because these technologies could allow private and public agencies to monitor movement and interaction. That Samsung TV might be listening to family discussions, after all. Do people want governments, technology firms and insurance companies to have unlimited access to their homes, cars and personal life?

Seen from this perspective, the FBI is not just requesting a “back-door” into an iPhone; it’s establishing a precedent to capture and analyse a person’s data stream, regardless of the source. If the US concedes the human right to personal privacy, goes the argument, other nations will follow and Russia and China will use “security” to justify their authoritarian regimes. And the terrorists? They’ll continue to be early adopters, using the latest technologies to stay ahead of the law.

This just in: Bill Gates Is Backing the FBI in Its Case Against Apple


The Google IoT Technology Research Award Pilot

Monday, 15 February, 2016 0 Comments

It shouldn’t surprise anyone that Google is interested in the Internet of Things (IoT). With experts estimating that the IoT will consist of 50 billion objects by 2020, Google cannot afford to miss the Next Big Thing. The 1,2 and 3 of the Google Internet of Things (IoT) Technology Research Award Pilot are:

(1) explore interesting use cases and innovative user interfaces
(2) address technical challenges as well as interoperability between devices and applications
(3) experiment with new approaches to privacy, safety and security

The Google mission statment: “To connect our physical world to the Internet is a broad and long-term challenge, one we hope to address by working with researchers across many disciplines and work practices.”

Commentator Mike Downes: “for anyone even vaguely interested in the stuff in their home or around a shopping mall, a car or walking down the street — this is fascinating.”

Google can expect stiff competition in this space from Microsoft, which recently announced the general availability of its Azure IoT Hub suite: “This service provides capabilities for securely connecting, provisioning, updating and sending commands to devices,” wrote Nayana Singh last Monday. “IoT Hub enables companies to jumpstart their IoT projects by controlling millions of IoT assets running on a broad set of operating systems and protocols.”

IoT


Open web digital counterinsurgency against ISIS

Friday, 12 February, 2016 0 Comments

“Trolls, Hackers and Extremists — The Fight for a Safe and Open Web” was the title of a discussion yesterday evening at the Munich Security Conference. So far this week, we’ve looked at the trolls and the hackers, and now it’s the turn of the open web. On 18 January, during a discussion at the Royal Institute of International Affairs at Chatham House in London, Jared Cohen, Director, Google Ideas, said the key to stopping ISIS from prospering online is to drive them out of the traditional web, the open, web, which can be indexed by search engines. It will be impossible to stop terrorists from using Tor and the dark web, however, he said.

According to Cohen, ISIS is “not a tech savvy organisation” and it stoops to tactics associated with fraud or spam. Still, there have been reports that it’s started using encrypted chat apps, such as Telegram, and that it has developed its own messaging app that “features news and videos showing executions and battlefield victories.”

Some will argue that there are enough laws on the books already about hate speech, and others would say that Google, which owns YouTube, the preferred platform of ISIS, could do a lot more to withdraw the oxygen of publicity, so there’s no shortage of views. 


The digital dividends and divides of 2016

Friday, 15 January, 2016 0 Comments

The internet. What’s it good for? Lots. It can help boost trade, improve economies, distribute knowledge and create jobs for the marginalized. Who says? The World Bank says. That’s why it called the document it released yesterday “World Development Report 2016: Digital Dividends.” The key word there is “dividends”. But we don’t live in a perfect world so the report notes that “better educated, well connected, and more capable have received most of the benefits — circumscribing the gains from the digital revolution.” Not everyone has collected those digital dividends, in other words.

Still, it’s quite a leap to portray the the report as an indictment of the internet, but that’s exactly what the Guardian did in a story hilariously titled “Silicon Valley tech firms exacerbating income inequality, World Bank warns.” This is so comical that one can imagine Evgeny Morozov writing it. Instead, Danny Yadron “in San Francisco” is responsible. Anyway, back to the World Bank report. It presents a picture of a divided world in which 60 percent of people are still offline, four billion don’t have internet access, some two billion do not use a mobile phone and and almost half a billion live outside areas with a mobile signal. And what happens when the internet impacts?

“Many advanced economies face increasingly polarized labor markets and rising inequality — in part because technology augments higher skills while replacing routine jobs, forcing many workers to compete for low-paying jobs. Public sector investments in digital technologies, in the absence of accountable institutions, amplify the voice of elites, which can result in policy capture and greater state control. And because the economics of the internet favor natural monopolies, the absence of a competitive business environment can result in more concentrated markets, benefiting incumbent firms.”

To counter this, the World Bank recommends that governments lower barriers to internet adoption with rules that encourage competition and innovation, and investing in “analog complements,” such as basic education. Quote: “Many poor lack the basic literacy and numeracy skills needed to use the internet. In Mali and Uganda, about three-quarters of third-grade children cannot read. In Afghanistan and Niger, 7 of 10 adults are illiterate.” Those divides need to be closed before those dividends become real.

Note: Those tech companies castigated by the Guardian are committed to bringing internet access to the four corners of the world. Google’s Project Loon is set to float over Indonesia and Facebook’s Internet.org will offer mobile web access to people in India and Egypt. And both are experimenting with providing internet access using solar-powered, high-altitude drones. Yes, we need to ensure that these companies don’t become synonymous with the internet, but neither should we resort to paranoia about their innovations. Those digital dividends depend on closing those divides.