Weekend News Round-up: US cyber spying whistle-blower revealed; is Snapchat worth US$1bn?

10 Jun 2013

The weekend’s tech news agenda was dominated by the fallout of the massive revelations around how US intelligence agencies have been spying on the servers of the top internet players including Facebook and Google. Meanwhile Snapchat has been valued at US$1bn as it raises US$100m and Google is believed to be close to concluding the acquisition of Waze for US$1.3bn.

Lifting the lid on US intelligence in the cyber age

The weekend’s tech reportage was dominated by analysis and further revelations stemming from newspaper reports during last week about PRISM, a top secret US Government system that, it has been claimed, spies on the servers of several tech giants including Facebook, Google, Apple and Microsoft.

The Guardian revealed the identity of the whistleblower on NSA intelligence methods – one Edward Snowden – who explained his motives and appears to have resigned himself to never seeing home again.

“He has had ‘a very comfortable life’ that included a salary of roughly US$200,000, a girlfriend with whom he shared a home in Hawaii, a stable career, and a family he loves. ‘I’m willing to sacrifice all of that because I can’t in good conscience allow the US government to destroy privacy, internet freedom and basic liberties for people around the world with this massive surveillance machine they’re secretly building.’”

Reuters reported that President Barack Obama’s administration is likely to open a criminal investigation into the leaking of highly classified documents that revealed the secret surveillance of Americans’ telephone and email traffic.

“The law enforcement and security officials, who were not authorised to speak publicly, said the agencies that normally conduct such investigations, including the FBI and Justice Department, were expecting a probe into the leaks to a British and an American newspaper.

“Such investigations typically begin after an agency that believes its secrets have been leaked without authorisation files a complaint with the Justice Department.

Meanwhile The New York Times had an interesting piece that shed more light on how the US intelligence agencies use technology to mine data more efficiently.

“The partnership between the intelligence community and Palantir Technologies, a Palo Alto, Calif., company founded by a group of inventors from PayPal, is just one of many that the National Security Agency and other agencies have forged as they have rushed to unlock the secrets of “Big Data.”

Today, a revolution in software technology that allows for the highly automated and instantaneous analysis of enormous volumes of digital information has transformed the N.S.A., turning it into the virtual landlord of the digital assets of Americans and foreigners alike. The new technology has, for the first time, given America’s spies the ability to track the activities and movements of people almost anywhere in the world without actually watching them or listening to their conversations,” the newspaper reported.

Is Snapchat worth US$1bn?

Techcrunch reported that fast growing social app Snapchat is raising US$100m in a funding round that values it at a cool US$1bn.

“Several sources have told us Snapchat co-founders Evan Spiegel and Bobby Murphy are shooting for an even more ambitious valuation near US$1 billion. That matches speculation of a higher valuation from Fortune’s Dan Primack. We’ve also heard the company may be in talks with its $13.5 million Series A round leader Benchmark Capital about joining the Series B. We’ve also heard that this round has already closed, but can’t confirm that yet,” Techcrunch reported.

Meanwhile, Google set to acquire Waze for US$1.3bn

Speaking of massive valuations, Israeli news service Globes reported that Google is very close to concluding its acquisition of social mapping service Waze, also the target of acquisition by Yahoo! and Facebook.

“The acquisition of the Israeli navigation app and traffic report start-up will be completed after months of reports that Waze would be sold to either Google or Facebook Inc.

“Ra’anana-based Waze has almost 50 million users. This is a big number for an Israeli company, which probably helped it achieve the hoped-for exit.”

Cyber spy image via Shutterstock

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