Weekend news round-up: Google goes detective, IoT a hackers’ playground

5 Aug 2014

In our round-up of the weekend’s top tech news, Google turns detective and helps in the arrest of a man for suspected illegal child imagery, and how the internet of things is set to be the new hackers’ playground.

Go-go-Google detectives

One of the most interesting reports of the weekend concerned Google’s involvement in the arrest of a man in Houston, Texas, after explicit images of a child were discovered in his email.

According to the SF Gate, the man was a registered sex offender.

“After Google reportedly tipped off the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, the centre alerted police, who used the information to get a warrant.

“A search of the man’s other devices revealed more suspicious images and text messages. Police arrested him and he’s being held on a US$200,000 bond.”


Not mere quackery, we hope! Time reported that a team of British designers and artists has proposed a floating tourist attraction that would gather solar energy in Copenhagen Harbour, as the Danish city works to become carbon neutral by the year 2025.

“The 12-storey high structure just happens to also be in the shape of a giant sea duck.

“Built from lightweight steel and covered in solar panels, the ‘energy duck’ would by day collect the sun’s rays and by night bask the harbour in LED lights that change colour in rhythm with the hydro turbines inside it.

“Visitors wouldn’t just be able to admire the light show from a distance, they’d be able to board the energy duck and see the inner workings for themselves.”

Patently worn out in the fight against trolls

The Washington Post provided an interesting glimpse inside the epicentre of patents, the US Patents and Trademark Office, and painted a picture of an extremely stressed and time-crunched staff.

“Every year, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office handles more than 500,000 new patent applications. With those figures only increasing, some patent examiners report they feel too crunched for time. Now, a new study by the National Bureau of Economic Research finds that the pressure to make decisions too quickly may be one reason the patent office grants ‘bad’ patents — approving weak applications that never should’ve been granted in the first place — that allow patent trolls to thrive.

“In 2010, the Manhattan Strategy Group completed a report for the patent office studying around 1,000 randomly selected patent examiners to see how well they were doing their jobs. The paper cited one junior patent examiner who claimed that ‘rather than doing what I feel is ultimately right, I’m essentially fighting for my life.’”

The new hackers’ playground

The vaunted internet of things (IoT) that will transform our lives could, in fact, be transformed into a major nuisance if hackers get their hands on it and the multitude of devices that will be connected together.

Describing IoT as the new hackers’ playground, Re/Code cited a report by Hewlett-Packard on the subject.

“The company’s Fortify application security unit conducted an analysis of the 10 most popular consumer internet things on the market and found 250 different security vulnerabilities in the products, for an average of 25 faults each. Unfortunately, HP doesn’t identify each product but does describe them in broad brushstrokes: They were from the manufacturers of ‘TVs, webcams, home thermostats, remote power outlets, sprinkler controllers, hubs for controlling multiple devices, door locks, home alarms, scales and garage door openers.’

“As a basic rule, these devices often run stripped-down versions of the Linux operating system, and so will have many of the same basic security concerns that you might expect to be in place on a server or other computer running Linux. The problem is, the people building them aren’t going to the effort to secure them the way they would a more traditional computer.”

Tweet you see me, tweet you don’t

The Wall Street Journal had an insightful analysis of Twitter’s user problem – it’s fastest growing audience gains include people who don’t actually see its ads.

“Buried in legalese in an online presentation accompanying Twitter’s earnings report is a number that reveals an unsettling trend: The share of users who never see advertisements on Twitter is accelerating, while growth of those who do see ads is shrinking.

“Of the 271m people counted in Twitter’s latest tally, 14pc, or 37.9m, never log in directly to Twitter’s website or mobile app, the only places where Twitter serves ads. Instead, they connect through hundreds of thousands of third-party applications that the users have given permission to link to Twitter.

“These are the users who, for example, read tweets on digital-news app Flipboard, share photos on Twitter from Instagram, blast their location from Foursquare, or tweet stories from news sites. But they never open Twitter’s mobile app or log into Twitter.com, so they don’t see Twitter’s ads.”

Hacker image via Shutterstock

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