Weekend news round-up: NSA and Heartbleed, more shattered Glass

14 Apr 2014

In our round-up of the weekend’s tech news, speculation that US President Barack Obama’s administration gave the NSA a free rein on Heartbleed, and gentrification rows in San Francisco, California, result in another Glass wearer being attacked.

Heartbleed leads to more NSA heartache for Obama administration

The inevitable fallout of the emergence of the Heartbleed bug is how aware was the US National Security Agency (NSA) of the problem and how much time did it have to exploit it, leaving awkward questions for US President Barack Obama to answer.

The New York Times alleges Obama may have let the NSA have a free rein on the issue before the rest of the world knew.

“Stepping into a heated debate within the nation’s intelligence agencies, President Obama has decided that when the National Security Agency discovers major flaws in internet security, it should — in most circumstances — reveal them to assure that they will be fixed, rather than keep mum so that the flaws can be used in espionage or cyberattacks,” senior administration officials said Saturday.

“But Mr Obama carved a broad exception for ‘a clear national security or law enforcement need,’ the officials said, a loophole that is likely to allow the NSA to continue to exploit security flaws both to crack encryption on the internet and to design cyberweapons.”

More Glass shattered in gentrification row

The latest spate of anti-tech gentrification protests in San Francisco – ignited when a minted Google employee had several long-time tenants of a building he just bought evicted – resulted in another Google Glass-wearer being mugged on the streets and his precious gadget smashed and broken.

This time it was Business Insider tech reporter Kyle Russell, whose brief but violent ordeal resulted in an introspective piece on the yawning gap between ordinary people struggling to keep their heads above water and the overpaid, brash young tech workers who seemingly couldn’t care less.

“Unfortunately, anything associated with Google has come to represent gentrification in the city, from the buses that take young software engineers to their corporate campuses in Silicon Valley to Google Glass. This is especially true in areas where gentrification and income inequality have become points of conflict in the community.

“People are being evicted or priced out of their homes. What’s the difference between losing your home and having property destroyed?”

Less Turkish delight for internet companies

The Turkish PM Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s fear of all things social – and heaven forbid, free speech – has led to a fresh focus on Twitter’s tax affairs. Because the medium has been used by opponents to reveal corruption allegations, Erdogan has attempted an outright ban on Twitter, but this has been thwarted by the Turkish courts.

Agence France Presse reported: “Turkey’s prime minister said Saturday he will ‘go after’ Twitter, accusing the site of tax evasion, after it was used to spread damaging leaks implicating his inner circle in corruption claims.

“In a televised speech, Recep Tayyip Erdogan also launched a tirade against the nation’s highest court for ruling against a ban on Twitter, charging that it put the rights of businesses above that of Turkey’s. ‘Twitter, YouTube and Facebook are international companies established for profit and making money,’ Erdogan said. ‘Twitter is at the same time a tax evader. We will go after it,’ he added.”

A sensible approach to non-compete contracts

The Boston Globe reported that Massachusetts Gov Deval Patrick on Thursday will propose sweeping legislation to make it easier for workers in technology, life sciences, and other industries to move from job to job, by banning the non-compete agreements companies use to prevent employees from jumping to rivals.

“The administration’s proposal is modelled after California’s, one of the few states to ban non-compete clauses in employment contracts. That state’s business regulations essentially declare the clauses in employment contracts void, and California courts have largely declined to enforce them in legal disputes. ‘When you look at California, the big and small tech companies out there have clearly figured out a way to do business without compromising intellectual property,’” said Greg Bialecki, secretary of Housing and Economic Development. ‘Not only are they doing well, they’re doing fabulously.’”

Shining a light on app security

GigaOM reported how a popular app called Brightest Flashlight exposed the location of 50m people, but somehow managed to evade the wrath of the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and received no fine.

“Even judging by the low standards of creepy data-mining apps, Brightest Flashlight did something pretty egregious. The free app, which was installed by at least 50m Android users, transmitted users’ real-time locations to ad networks and other third parties. It was, in other words, a stalking device disguised as a flashlight.

“In December, the Federal Trade Commission exposed the app’s antics and also announced a proposed settlement with the app maker, GoldenShores Technologies, a one-man operation based in Idaho. In doing so, the agency explained how Brightest Flashlight used legal flim-flam in a privacy policy and user licence agreement to obscure what the app was up to.

“The terms are now final, and they’re underwhelming, to put it mildly.”

Security image via Shutterstock

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