What’s New?

It’s Monday which can only mean one thing – it’s time for a tech news roundup! 

A BA flight from Geneva, carrying 132 passengers and 5 crew members, was hit by what is believed to have been a drone on Sunday as it approached Heathrow Airport. If confirmed, it’s thought to be the first incident of its kind in the UK; a police investigation is currently underway. Moving on, Alibaba have just confirmed a whopping $1.25 billion investment in Ele.me, a leading food delivery service in China, just a week after dropping a ton of money on a deal with Rocket Internet’s Lazada. And last but certainly not least, our final story of the day concerns GCHQ. The director of the organisation, Robert Hannigan, has apologised for the agency’s historic prejudice against gay people and the ‘horrifying’ treatment of Alan Turing. Speaking at a conference hosted by Stonewall, Hannigan said that ‘their suffering was our loss’ and that GCHQ now relies on those who ‘dare to think differently and be different’.

We’ll be back soon with even more tech news. Have a fantastic week! 

GCHQ Sorry for LGBT Discrimination

Robert Hannigan, the director of GCHQ, has apologised for the agency’s historic prejudice against gay people and the ‘horrifying’ treatment of Alan Turing.

Hannigan said archaic attitudes stifled the careers of many brilliant minds. Right up until the 1990s, gay people were banned from joining the organisation, a decision that caused long-lasting psychological damage to those that found themselves outed, interrogated and ostracised over their sexuality. Hannigan, who made the comments at a conference hosted by Stonewall, said he was urged to apologise by a former spy named ‘Ian’, who was forced out of the service on suspicion of being gay in the 1960s.

Hannigan said: ‘I am happy to do so today and to say how sorry I am that he and so many others were treated in this way, right up until the 1990s, when the policy was rightly changed. The fact that it was common practice for decades reflected the intolerance of the times and the pressures of the cold war, but it does not make it any less wrong and we should apologise for it. Their suffering was our loss and it was the nation’s loss too because we cannot know what Ian and others who were dismissed would have gone on to do and achieve. We did not learn our lesson from Turing.’

Hannigan added that GCHQ now relies on those who ‘dare to think differently and be different’ and that the agency supported Stonewall in ‘defending and promoting tolerance and acceptance without exception’.

Alibaba Confirms Huge $1.25bn Investment in Ele.me

Alibaba have just confirmed a whopping $1.25 billion investment in Ele.me, a leading food delivery service in China, just a week after dropping a ton of money on a deal with Rocket Internet’s Lazada.

Alibaba invested $900 million in the Shanghai-based company, with Ant Financial providing the rest of the cash. First reported back in December 2015, the deal increases Alibaba’s efforts in ‘online to offline’ – this means the company will be able to provide traditional retailers with access to internet and mobile, allowing them to further engage with customers.

For the time being, Ele.me remains an independent company, though Alibaba exec vice chairman Joe Tsai has joined the company’s board. Tsai is part of the Magic Leap board after Alibaba led a recent investment in the billion-dollar augmented reality company.

‘Drone’ Hits BA Plane

A BA flight from Geneva, carrying 132 passengers and 5 crew members, was hit by what is believed to have been a drone on Sunday as it approached Heathrow Airport.

If confirmed, it’s thought to be the first incident of its kind in the UK. A police investigation has been launched to find out what exactly hit the passenger plane. So far no arrests have been made.

After safely landing the plane, the pilot reported an object striking the front of the Airbus 320. A BA spokesman said: ‘Our aircraft landed safely, was fully examined by our engineers and it was cleared to operate its next flight.’

Friday Roundup

It’s Friday, which means it’s time for another roundup! 

Unfortunately, our first story concerns the Daily Mail. Apparently, the owner of the delightful paper is considering putting forward a bid for Yahoo’s news and media business. Moving on, Britain’s competition regulator has said that the planned merger of mobile networks O2 and Three should be blocked or broken up by EU regulators. In other news, personal info belonging to around 70 million people is said to have been compromised by hackers, in what is believed to be the Philippines worst-ever government data breach. Former Reuters journalist Matthew Keys tweeted, ‘This whole process has been exhausting’, as he was sentenced to 2 years in prison on hacking charges. Thinner. Stronger. Funkier. Meet the new Kindle Oasis, Amazon’s latest e-reader. Senators Richard Burr and Diane Feinstein released the official version of their anti-encryption bill on Thursday, after a draft surfaced online last week. We also provided you with another top tech tip! This week it was all about understanding client server relationships. It’s been discovered that UC Davis, California, hired consultants to hide search results relating to an incident that occurred at the university in 2011. And last but certainly not least, Microsoft is suing the US government over the right to tell users when federal agencies want access to private data!

We’ll see you next week for another roundup!

UC Davis ‘Hid Search Results’

It’s been discovered that UC Davis, California, hired consultants to hide search results relating to an incident that occurred at the university in 2011.

The incident in question saw a police officer pepper-spraying students protesting at close range. The university paid more than £123,000 to bury online search results about the incident, because they apparently wanted to be ‘fairly portrayed’.

Videos of the event were shared widely on social media, racking up millions of views. In a statement issued at the time, university Chancellor Linda Katehi said she was ‘deeply saddened’ by the event and took ‘full responsibility for the incident’ but refused to resign when challenged by the university’s academic staff association. The wiping of data was only discovered after local newspaper the Sacramento Bee conducted an investigation.

Hired by the university in 2013, Nevins & Associates eradicated references to the incident as well as negative press about Katehi in search results.

Introducing the New Kindle Oasis!

Thinner. Stronger. Funkier. Meet the new Kindle Oasis, Amazon’s latest e-reader.

Its new display is just 3.4mm thick, weighs a mere 131g, features stronger plastic and more durable glass, a touchscreen display, screen density similar to printed books and new LEDs fitted to the side.  As promised, it’s also 20% smaller than its predecessor, making the Oasis Amazon’s biggest step yet towards its goal of making e-readers just like paper.

Chris Green, vice president of industrial design of devices for Amazon said: ‘The Kindle is like a hammer, a single purpose device, and this is the best we can make it. We’ve found that the more that sits in between the reader and the book, the less engaged they are with it. The Oasis is our best Kindle yet at getting out of the way and sending people down the rabbit hole.’

The Oasis will last for 2 weeks on its own, but is sold with a snazzy case that attaches magnetically to the back of the device, which charges the Kindle’s internal battery at a rate of 1 hr’s reading time every 10 mins and adds a further 7 weeks’ battery life. Talking about the new battery life measurement, Green said: ‘We’re now measuring battery life in months, because no one wants to be stopped from finding out who the killer is because the battery dies.’

All of these upgrades come at a price though. The Oasis will cost a whopping £270 for a Wi-Fi only version and £300 with Amazon’s 3G service. If you are still interested though, then you can pre-order one now!

Microsoft Latest Tech Giant to Take on US Government

Microsoft is suing the US government over the right to tell users when federal agencies want access to private data.

In the lawsuit, Microsoft have emphasised that the US constitution states that individuals should be made aware if the government searches or seizes their property. Therefore, they’ve said that by keeping access requests secret, they are going against the constitution.

The tech giant has said they’ve received 5,624 requests for data in the last 18 months, almost half of which have arrived with a court order forcing the company to keep the request secret. ‘People do not give up their rights when they move their private information from physical storage to the cloud,’ Microsoft said in the lawsuit, according to the Reuters news agency. ‘[The government] have exploited the transition to cloud computing as a means of expanding its power to conduct secret investigations.’

The lawsuit shouldn’t really come as a surprise to the US government. Microsoft is just the latest in a number of big tech companies taking on the government over laws they feel are being abused. ‘We believe that with rare exceptions, consumers and businesses have a right to know when the government accesses their emails or records,’ Microsoft’s president and chief legal officer Brad Smith wrote in a blog post. ‘Yet it’s becoming routine for the US government to issue orders that require email providers to keep these types of legal demands secret. We believe that this goes too far and we are asking the courts to address the situation.’ Smith did state in his post that he knew in some cases investigations needed to remain secret in order to keep people safe or prevent evidence from being destroyed. However, he added: ‘We question whether these orders are grounded in specific facts that truly demand secrecy. To the contrary, it appears that the issuance of secrecy orders has become too routine.’

The basis of Microsoft’s case centres on the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA), a 30-year-old law unpopular among tech companies as it was written long before internet use became widespread. Fortunately though, the Act could soon be amended after a US congressional panel voted through several proposed reforms.

The Burr-Feinstein Encryption Bill Is Here and It Is Terrifying

Senators Richard Burr and Diane Feinstein released the official version of their anti-encryption bill on Thursday, after a draft surfaced online last week.

Titled the Compliance with Court Orders Act of 2016, the bill would require tech firms to decrypt customers’ data at a court’s request. Its a pretty terrifying prospect, but thankfully one that isn’t likely to happen – the bill has barely any support and isn’t expected to get anywhere in the Senate.

‘I have believed that data is too insecure, and feel strongly that consumers have a right to seek solutions that protect their information – which involves strong encryption,’ Sen. Burr said in a statement announcing the bill. However, although seemingly a supporter of strong encryption, Burr’s bill calls for the opposite. It would make communications services backdoor their encryption in order to provide ‘intelligible information or data, or appropriate technical assistance to obtain such information or data.’ Sen. Feinstein added: ‘The bill we have drafted would simply provide that, if a court of law issues an order to render technical assistance or provide decrypted data, the company or individual would be required to do so. Today, terrorists and criminals are increasingly using encryption to foil law enforcement efforts, even in the face of a court order. We need strong encryption to protect personal data, but we also need to know when terrorists are plotting to kill Americans.’

Fortunately, the bill has not only been blasted by the tech community and activists, but by President Obama himself as well as fellow senators, including Sen. Ron Wyden who tweeted that he would do ‘everything in [his] power’ to block the bill, including filibustering it.

 

Journalist Matthew Keys Jailed

Former Reuters journalist Matthew Keys tweeted, ‘This whole process has been exhausting’, as he was sentenced to 2 years in prison on hacking charges.

Convicted last October, Keys faced a maximum 25 years in prison for violating the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA). His crime? Sharing login details for Tribune Media in an Anonymous chatroom, which led to the brief alteration of an article headline.

The story, featured on the LA Times website, was about a tax bill. Its headline was changed to ‘Pressure builds in House to elect CHIPPY 1337’ by an unknown individual. Although it was only live for about 40 mins before being corrected, Tribune Media claimed the alteration cost them $929,977. Pretty ridiculous, right? Most people thought so, especially activists and those in the tech community. This was because Keys was charged under the controversial CFAA, legislation passed in 1986 that describes hacking in vague terms and carries large sentences. Because of the ambiguity of what is considered a ‘computer crime’, prosecutors can interpret the legislation in a number of ways. The inconsistency this leads to in sentencing has led many to try and reform the CFAA, however so far these efforts have stalled in Congress.

Although there’s overwhelming evidence against him, including a confession, Keys is still maintaining his innocence. ‘I am innocent, and I did not ask for this fight,’ Keys wrote in a blog post published prior to his sentencing. ‘Nonetheless, I hope that our combined efforts help bring about positive change to rules and regulations that govern our online conduct.’

Since his sentencing, Keys has tweeted that he and his attorneys plan to file a motion to stay the sentence, pending appeal.