The inspiration for this weekend's whine, along with the reason for its slight delay are one and the same thing. An appallingly slow (often non-existent) internet connection. Well, actually it's a combination of things, a slow internet connection being just one of them. Most people -- myself included in the past -- don't give a second thought to living online. Web pages are there ready be accessed on demand. Movies are just waiting to stream. Facebook and Twitter posts stream by. And so on. At least that's how it should be. If you live out in the sticks, it's a very different story -- and it stops me from banging about Edward Snowden and the NSA.
Look at the headlines and you’d be forgiven for thinking that everyone in the "developed world" is working with a blisteringly fast connection. Forget cables, we just have our brains connected directly to the internet. But we don’t. Here in the UK, there is a very noticeable digital divide, and I know it's a similar story in many other parts of the world. I've been fairly lucky in the past. Moving house at the turn of the millennium happily coincided with the arrival of broadband in the area. Hooray! 4Mbps of downstream -- more than acceptable nearly 15 years ago. A house move later, and things jumped to 8Mbps.
Back in May, the EU Court of Justice ruled that people have a "right to be forgotten" from search results. Google fairly quickly set up an online form to allow complainants to put forward their case for censoring their appearance in results. It didn’t take long for Microsoft to follow suit, and Bing users were soon afforded the same option.
Forget.me was one service that offered to take care of Google removal requests for people, and at the time CEO Bertrand Girin promised that "if Bing and Yahoo get their Right to be Forgotten forms in order, we’ll be able to provide you with the possibility of submitting your URL to all three search engines at the same time." For Microsoft, that day has come.
Online security and privacy are hotter topics than ever. Just this weekend, Edward Snowden made an appearance at the Hope X 2014 hacker event, and called for those in attendance to help make encryption tools easier to use. Another fierce advocate of online privacy is the EFF (Electronic Frontier Foundation), and today the group released a beta version of Privacy Badger, a beautifully named extension for Chrome and Firefox designed to stop a number of tracking techniques used online. The idea of tracking cookies is something that will be familiar to most, but tracking takes many forms, including advertising and social media. Privacy Badger aims to block this tracking.
Peter Eckersley, EFF Technology Projects Director, said: "Widgets that say 'Like this page on Facebook' or 'Tweet this' often allow those companies to see what webpages you are visiting, even if you never click the widget's button. The Privacy Badger alpha would detect that, and block those widgets outright. But now Privacy Badger's beta version has gotten smarter: it can block the tracking while still giving you the option to see and click on those buttons if you so choose".
In a lengthy interview with the Guardian, NSA whistle blower Edward Snowden spoke with editor Alan Rusbridger about his extraordinary rise to infamy. Currently in exile in Russia, he talked about how he disseminated documents about the activities of the NSA to numerous countries: "Once you start splitting them over jurisdictions and things like that it becomes much more difficult to subvert their intentions. Nobody could stop it". He remains defiant. He may be an outlaw but "it’s been vindicating to see the reaction from lawmakers, judges, public bodies around the world, civil liberties activists who have said it’s true that we have a right to at least know the broad outlines of what our government’s doing in our name and what it’s doing against us".
He explains how during his time working as an NSA analyst, he learned about previous surveillance programs run under George W Bush. Programs that were deemed unconstitutional and, having been closed, forced the US government to assume new executive powers that were then used "against the citizenry of its own country". For Snowden the power of the state is worrying:
Google has unveiled Chrome 36 FINAL for Windows, Mac and Linux, with Chrome for Android 36 rolling out shortly. The desktop update adds a couple of user interface tweaks under the label "rich notifications improvements".
It also updates the incognito browsing page, adds a browser crash recovery bubble that could help prevent data loss and extends the Chrome App Launcher to Linux, plus adds various under-the-hood tweaks.
NSA, Snowden, spying, yadda, yadda, yadda. This story is old, I know, but it goes on. The activities of the NSA and other government agencies have forced the online world to look very closely at how its data is being used, and how the companies handling it operate. Just about every online company worth its salt has gone out of its way to bemoan the NSA, their need to comply with data requests from the agency, and their inability to reveal everything they want to about what the NSA is asking about.
We have seen "transparency reports" from Google, Microsoft, LinkedIn and numerous other companies. But as suggested by my use of quotes, and as alluded to in the opening paragraph, there have been (severe) limits to the levels of transparency we have seen. "Quite opaque" might be a better description. Still, with the world and its dog falling over one another to release the most details, most comprehensive, and most self-congratulatory report, we probably should have predicted that pressure on the NSA would reach a point at which it felt forced to show its own hand. That time has come. The microscope has been turned around, and the security agency is now laying bare its own facts and figures.
The battle for dominance between Microsoft and Google continued, with Microsoft offering a huge storage boost for Office 365 and OneDrive users. This was quickly trumped by Google later in the week at 1/0 2014, when the company announced unlimited storage for Google Drive for Work users. Microsoft is basking in the glory of being heralded as cooler than Apple by Joe -- and stunts like offering cashback deals to sway MacBook Air owners into switching into Surface Pro 3 certainly helps. Microsoft opened a new store on Long Island, while Google branched out into new territory with a trial run of a new domain registration service. Microsoft also ventured into new waters with its first Android smartphone, the Nokia X2.
In something of an interesting twist, Microsoft opted to use Opera Mobile as the default web browser. Opera is also returning to Linux after the surprise release of Opera 24 Developer. Linux Mint 17 "Qiana" KDE was also released. Linux also managed to hit the headlines for facilitating the hacking of Google's Nest thermstats. If this hasn’t put you off, Logitech added support to its Harmony remotes.
Even though it has gone to the effort of switching to another rendering engine to reach more users, Norwegian software company Opera, in mid-2013, ceased to further update the Linux version of its browser, leaving users without new features, bug fixes and security patches. In the meantime, Opera's main competitors, like Google Chrome and Mozilla Firefox, continued to give them the level of support that they deserve.
Now, after close to a one-year hiatus, the company behind the well-known browser announces the availability of Opera Developer 24 for Linux (and, of course, OS X and Windows). It is an unexpected release, and also great news for those hoping to witness the browser's triumphant return in the land of the open-source kernel.
Microsoft has unveiled Internet Explorer Developer Channel, a special preview version of the browser which includes upcoming developer-oriented features and extended standards support.
One major highlight of this release is that it’s packaged as an App-V application, which means it runs in a virtualized environment and won’t affect your existing Windows or Internet Explorer setup at all. There are none of the usual dangers of installing an unfinished IE build. You can run Internet Explorer Developer Channel alongside IE11 without any conflicts, and uninstall it cleanly at any time.
Relying on search engines or social networks to discover things you're interested in on the net can be a bit hit and miss. The things you see on your Facebook feed for example are influenced by your friends' interests as well as your own.
Flipora aims to change the process of following your interests online by using artificial intelligence to make recommendations related to the things you really want to see.
If you have ever bemoaned the fact that maps are too blurry on Bing, too grainy on Google, moan no more! US restrictions on the quality of satellite imagery that can be used by online services such as these has been lifted by the US government.
The ban is to be removed after satellite photography firm DigitalGlobe made an appeal to the US Department of Commerce. Security concerns meant that satellite images were limited to a 50cm resolution, but this is to be boosted to 40cm and beyond.
A judge in the Northern District of California has paved the way for a lawsuit against the social network LinkedIn for violating the privacy of its users. The complaint was that LinkedIn "violated several state and federal laws by harvesting email addresses from the contact lists of email accounts associated with Plaintiffs’ LinkedIn accounts and by sending repeated invitations to join LinkedIn to the harvested email addresses". It relates to the fact that LinkedIn not only used the address books of those signing up for accounts to tout for business by sending out an email to that effect, but also sent follow-up email if there was no response.
US district judge Lucy Koh ruled that while users granted permission for LinkedIn to access their contact list it is this 'spamming' that is likely to land the company in court again. The judge outlined the process users were complaining about, explaining that LinkedIn sent an email to connected in users' address books -- albeit with initial permission -- sends the same email a week later if the recipient has not joined LinkedIn, and a third email if another week passes without a signup.
Version 24.6 comes with a major overhaul of the graphics rendering engine to boost stability, plus a number of important fixes, including all latest security fixes. It also adds support for animated personas.
Edward Snowden is on the run, living in exile as a means to evade the long arm of US law. The United States seems keen to have him prosecuted for leaking documents that have arguably put national security at risk. He acted in good faith, but has been branded a cyber criminal. Today in the UK, the Queen gave her annual speech -- well, it's really a speech written by the government, but dear Liz reads it out so she gets to call it hers -- and she revealed that cyber criminals could face life sentences for their endeavors, and that existing punishments for digital crimes cold become harsher.
Singled out for particular attention are those "cyberattacks which result in loss of life, serious illness or injury or serious damage to national security, or a significant risk thereof". Those committing such acts could be put behind bars for life. But the proposals do not end there. The aging Computer Misuse Act could be updated, so that criminals that cause "a significant risk of severe economic or environmental damage or social disruption" incur a 14 year term compared to the current 10.