Weekend news round-up: Hurricane Sandy ushers virtual voting; Russia’s market in cybercrime

5 Nov 2012

Queues at a gas station in New Jersey in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy

In our catch-up on some of the most compelling tech stories of the weekend, we look at how tomorrow voters in New Jersey will be able to vote by phone and email because of Hurricane Sandy; Apple is going to enable movie ticket buying in iOS 6.1; and a gripping account of the cyber arms market in Russia.

Hurricane Sandy ushers in virtual voting

TechCrunch reported that registered voters in New Jersey displaced by Hurricane Sandy will be permitted to vote by fax or email in tomorrow’s US presidential elections.

Due to security concerns, there are a few countries in the world that have dared to experiment with electronic voting, including Canada, Latvia, and Sweden. Only Estonia permits universal electronic voting, thanks to a sophisticated national ID system that can match ballots to a verified identity.

“To help alleviate pressure on polling places, we encourage voters to either use electronic voting or the extended hours at county offices to cast their votes,” said Lt Gov Kim Guadagno.

Voters can apply to have a ballot sent to them online and when it is returned, election officials will print it out and cross check the information to authenticate the voter’s identity.

How internet exchange points are the arbiters of the digital economy

GigaOM had a fascinating article about how internet bandwidth has become the oil of the digital age and how countries with enough internet exchange points (IXPs), will be the powerbrokers of this exciting age.

Internet exchange points, GigaOM asserted, are the key building blocks of the internet economy.

“Internet exchange points are the manufacturing floor of the internet — that is where bandwidth is created and deployed. And bandwidth is just like water and oil and other economic goods: If your country has a lot of it, prices fall; if it doesn’t have a surplus, prices go up. And that has a big impact on the web companies that buy bandwidth.

The Netherlands, for example, is a large net-exporter of internet bandwidth, using only half of what it produces domestically. That means that large companies like Disney, Google and Netflix can buy ports there at rates that are significantly lower than in some other places and that have dropped by 50pc in the last year. But where there isn’t an internet exchange point and competition can’t flourish, prices remain high. That’s what you see in places like Mexico.”

How Instagram became a key tool for reporting on Hurricane Sandy

Forbes reported how hipster photo app Instagram became a pivotal tool in Time magazine’s coverage of Hurricane Sandy.

“If there was still any debate about whether serious photojournalism can take place in the context of camera phones and cutesy retro filters, it’s over now,” Forbes said.

Time’s director of photography, Kira Pollack, rounded up five photographers from the region and gave them access to the magazine’s Instagram feed.

“Using Instagram as the primary outlet for breaking news coverage was an experiment,” Pollack said, but one motivated by necessity. “We just thought this is going to be the fastest way we can cover this and it’s the most direct route,” she says. It’s wasn’t like, Oh, this is a trend, let’s assign this on Instagram. It was about how quickly can we get pictures to our readers.”

The resulting collection on Lightbox, Time’s photography blog, was “one of the most popular galleries we’ve ever done,” says Pollack, and it was responsible for 13pc of all the site’s traffic during a week when Time.com had its fourth-biggest day ever. Time’s Instagram account attracted 12,000 new followers during a 48-hour period.

Apple’s next iOS update may prove to be just the ticket

9to5Mac reported that Apple’s upcoming release of iOS 6.1 will include a new feature for Siri: the ability to get movie tickets.

“The feature, according to developers who are beta testing the new iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch operating system, works via Fandango.

“To purchase movie tickets, a user simply needs to ask their iOS device to buy tickets for a certain movie,” it reported.

“When a user asks for movie tickets for a certain movie, the applicable showtimes and theatre information will be shown. Then, a user can click the buy movie tickets button and they will be routed to finish their purchase via the Fandango app from the App Store. If the user does not have Fandango installed, Siri provides a button to download the Fandango app.”

A gripping account of Russia’s market in cybercrime

Wired UK reported on Russia’s underground market in cybercrime, where buyers can get their hands on every conceivable kind of method for compromising cyber security.

“If you want to buy a botnet, it’ll cost you somewhere in the region of US$700 (£433). If you just want to hire someone else’s for an hour, though, it can cost as little as US$2 (£1.20) – that’s long enough to take down, say, a call centre, if that’s what you were in the mood for. Maybe you’d like to spy on an ex – for US$350 (£217) you can purchase a trojan that lets you see all their incoming and outgoing texts. Or maybe you’re just in the market for some good, old-fashioned spamming – it’ll only cost you US$10 (£6.19) for a million emails. That’s the hourly minimum wage in the UK.”

Hurricane Sandy image via Shutterstock

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