Weekend news round-up: Snowden returns, Amazon’s cloud juggernaut

21 Jul 2014

Former CIA contractor and whistleblower Edward Snowden

In our round-up of the weekend’s tech stories, Edward Snowden is to create privacy tools, Amazon’s cloud is one of the fastest-growing software businesses, and Samsung and Google’s relationship is wearing a bit thin.

What Snowden will do next

Former CIA contractor Edward Snowden is planning to create is own privacy technologies, Re/Code reported. The technology will preserve personal data privacy and he has called on coders to support his efforts.

“Speaking via a Google Hangout at the Hackers on Planet Earth Conference in New York, Snowden repeated a call he’s made before for the tech industry to embed more security and privacy-protecting technology into everyday tech products.

“But today he hinted, without providing any further details, that he’s going to be doing some of that work himself. He also wants like-minded hackers to work with him in some capacity.

“We the people – you the people, you in this room right now – have both the means and the capability to help build a better future by encoding our rights into the programmes and protocols upon which we rely every day,” he said. “And that’s what a lot of my future work is going to be involved in, and I hope you’ll join me … in making that a reality.”

And Snowden is not alone

The fallout of the Snowden disclosures about the online spying efforts of agencies like the US National Security Agency (NSA) and the UK Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) is leading to a groundswell of enthusiasm among coders and hackers to create technologies that protect privacy.

Wired reported how a convicted hacker called Stephen Wyatt has joined forces with Texan tech tycoon Ladar Levison – who famously shuttered his pro-privacy email business Lavabit as an act of defiance – to create a new email system that also encrypts the ‘To and ‘Subject’ lines of emails, as well as the vital body and attachments.

“The internet is littered with burgeoning email encryption schemes aimed at thwarting NSA spying. Many of them are focused on solving the usability issues that have plagued complicated encryption schemes like PGP for years. But a new project called Dark Mail plans to go further: to hide your metadata.

“Metadata is the pernicious transaction data involving the ‘To’, ‘From’ and subject fields of email that the NSA finds so valuable for tracking communications and drawing connections between people. Generally, even when email is encrypted, metadata is not. Dark Mail ambitiously aims to revamp existing email structures to hide this data while still making the system universally compatible with existing email clients.”

Amazon’s cloud juggernaut

Amazon’s cloud is one of the fastest-growing software businesses in history, according to Bloomberg.

“US$5bn. That’s how much Amazon.com will rake in from its cloud computing business this year, according to a new estimate from Pacific Crest Securities. If true, it’s an incredible figure. It would mean that Amazon’s cloud revenue shot up 58pc in a single year, from US$3.1bn in 2013. In a research note, Pacific Crest says it expects the business to keep growing at a clip, with revenue hitting US$6.7bn in 2015.

“The growth of Amazon’s cloud business is unprecedented, at least when compared to other business software ventures. It’s grown faster after hitting the US$1bn revenue mark than Microsoft, Oracle, and Salesforce.com. You would need to turn to Google which had the advantage of the vast consumer market – to find a business that grew faster.”

Wearing thin

Tensions between Google and Samsung are escalating, reported The Information, this time over wearable computing devices.

“Last week, in a tense private meeting at the Allen & Co conference in Sun Valley, Google CEO Larry Page told Samsung vice-chairman Jay Y Lee that he was frustrated Samsung was investing more in smartwatches running Samsung’s Tizen operating system than in smartwatches running Google’s Android Wear software, according to three people briefed on the conversations.”

Pirate Bay’s traffic doubles

The volumes of traffic of pirated content on the Pirate Bay is more than doubling despite the blocks ISPs are putting in place, according to Torrent Freak.

“The Pirate Bay is without a doubt one of the most censored websites on the internet. Courts all around the world have ordered internet providers to block subscriber access to the torrent site and this list continues to expand. Denmark was one of the first countries to block The Pirate Bay, but the biggest impact came in 2012 when major ISPs in the UK and the Netherlands were ordered to deny their users access to the site.

“The entertainment industries have characterised these blockades as a major victory and claim they’re an efficient tool to deter piracy. The question that has thus far remained unanswered, however, is how Pirate Bay’s traffic numbers are being affected. Is the site on the verge of collapsing?

“As it turns out, The Pirate Bay hasn’t stopped growing at all.”

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