Weekend news round-up: Apple smartens up iWatch, Facebook’s social experiment

7 Jul 2014

In our round-up of the weekend’s top tech news, Apple hires a sales director from watchmaker TAG Heuer, the NSA’s dragnet of the web catches ordinary people, is Facebook’s social experiment a bridge too far, and musical chairs at Twitter.

Apple is right on time with this one

CNBC reported how Apple poached a leading executive from Swiss watchmaker TAG Heuer, adding fuel to the fire of speculation as to whether Apple will launch its own iWatch device.

In an interview with CNBC, the sales director of LVMH, owner of TAG Heuer Jean-Claude Biver, said an unnamed sales director of the luxury brand left to join Apple last week.

“He took a contract with Apple to launch the iWatch,” Biver said. “If the job is great, you should be happy for him. And this is a great job. If he would have gone to my direct competitors, I would have felt a little bit betrayed. But if he goes to Apple, I think it’s a great experience for him.”

Facebook’s weird social experimenting

This could have been any of us. The Wall Street Journal reports that Facebook’s data science experiments had few limits and tests were conducted with little oversight.

“Thousands of Facebook Inc users received an unsettling message two years ago: They were being locked out of the social network because Facebook believed they were robots or using fake names. To get back in, the users had to prove they were real.

“In fact, Facebook knew most of the users were legitimate. The message was a test designed to help improve Facebook’s anti-fraud measures. In the end, no users lost access permanently.“

Ordinary web users caught in NSA’s net

The Washington Post reported how new files revealed by whistleblower Edward Snowden indicate that ordinary internet users – American and non-American – far outnumber the number of legally targeted foreigners in communications intercepted by the US National Security Agency (NSA).

“Nine of 10 account holders found in a large cache of intercepted conversations, which former NSA contractor Edward Snowden provided in full to The Post, were not the intended surveillance targets but were caught in a net the agency had cast for somebody else.

“Many of them were Americans. Nearly half of the surveillance files, a strikingly high proportion, contained names, e-mail addresses or other details that the NSA marked as belonging to US citizens or residents. NSA analysts masked, or ‘minimised,’ more than 65,000 such references to protect Americans’ privacy, but The Post found nearly 900 additional e-mail addresses, unmasked in the files, that could be strongly linked to US citizens or US residents.”

YouTube shames ISPs

Echoing a similar ploy by video-streaming player Netflix, video-sharing site YouTube has begun publicly shaming internet service providers (ISPs) for slow video performance by running a message beneath videos, Quartz reported.

“When videos blur, buffer, or won’t play altogether, YouTube is now pinning the blame on your internet service provider.

“’Experiencing interruptions?’ reads the message in a blue bar underneath choppy video. Clicking ‘find out why’ brings you to Google’s new website, where it displays video playback quality for internet service providers (ISPs) in various countries. It’s like a report card for your delinquent ISP.”

It could have been so much different for Google

Cash-strapped Google, prior to 1998, almost sold out to a venture capital firm for US$1.6m, founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page revealed during a fireside chat with Khosla Ventures’ Vinod Khosla.

Brin said: “We had developed this technology we called PageRank – sadly, not BrinRank. But anyway, it probably would’ve sold better that way. But we had developed this technology that we found was useful for search. By itself, it wasn’t really a complete search engine. What we had just searched was titles of webpages and ranked them quite well. But we showed it to a bunch of the existing search companies back then. Some of you might remember them – Infoseek, Excite, Lycos. And probably, the greatest interest came from Excite, and actually came from you, Vinod. You were the investor in Excite. We spent a while talking to them, and talking to you, Vinod. You remember that.

“In the end, I don’t think the management team there was quite as excited about it – no pun intended. But I remember, there were four of us at the time – four grad students at Stanford. I remember, we fired off this note to Vinod. It was just a little e-mail that said, ‘We really don’t want to sell, but for $1.6m, you got a deal.’ And a few minutes later, we got a reply that said, ‘That’s a lot of dough, but OK we’ll do it.’ That’s characteristic Vinod there. So then, 10 minutes later, Scott – one of the four of us – comes running in, laughing. Huge grin on his face. He had faked the reply and back then, the ethics around faking emails weren’t quite the same. Anyway, so he had that big joke. The deal obviously never came to fruition, and we went our own way to build search.”

Musical chairs at Twitter

There is something of a shake-up occurring at senior level at Twitter, but it seems the social network’s top ads and revenues person Adam Bain has so far emerged unscathed, The New York Times reported.

“Adam Bain, Twitter’s global president of revenue and partnerships, has been Twitter’s lead money man since he took the job nearly four years ago. A former executive at Fox Sports Media Group, Mr Bain came to Twitter to oversee the development of the company’s then-nascent advertising products.

In the re-organisation after the resignation of Twitter’s No 2 executive, Ali Rowghani, last month, Mr Bain also took over control of business development. His role atop the moneymaking machine suggests that he might very well be the second most important person at the company after (CEO Dick) Costolo.”

Smartwatch image via Shutterstock

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John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years