Weekend news round-up: Why Bitcoin is minting it; Google’s US$100m man

8 Apr 2013

In our trawl through the weekend’s most popular tech stories, we learn about Neal Mohan, Google’s US$100m digital advertising genius; how Bitcoin is making banks and governments nervous; tensions among Amazon traders over fee hikes; and why Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg chose not to build a Facebook phone.

Bitcoin makes banks and governments nervous

The Observer’s John Naughton reported that cyber currency Bitcoin scares governments and banks. He said Bitcoin offers an alternative to the conventional, state-sanctioned banking system. Maybe that’s why powerful institutions are so wary of it.

“The Bitcoin phenomenon is one of the most intriguing things to have happened in cyberspace since the invention of the peer-to-peer networking that undermined the music business and enabled developments such as WikiLeaks. It’s an invention of a mysterious – and, to date, unidentified – programmer who called himself Satoshi Nakamoto and claimed to be a 36-year-old Japanese male. He launched Bitcoin on 3 January 2009 and disappeared entirely from the net in April 2011, saying he was moving on to other things. A Pulitzer prize awaits the journalist who unmasks him. At the moment, all we have is the verdict of Dan Kaminsky, a leading internet-security expert who examined the Bitcoin code and concluded that ‘Nakamoto’ was ‘a world-class programmer with a deep understanding of the C++ programming language’ who also ‘understands economics, cryptography and peer-to-peer networking. Either there’s a team of people who worked on this or this guy is a genius.’ ”

Loving and hating Amazon.com

Amazon’s decision to increase the fee it charges traders on millions of items listed on the website is rankling the most loyal and original online traders who have built businesses off the platform, the Guardian reported.

It is part of a series of targeted fee increases being imposed across Europe. In France, fees on books and DVDs are going up. In Germany, the company is taking a large cut of tyre sales. Similar fee rises were introduced in the US in January.

The report captured the plight of one trader, Ben Morris (not his real name): “Morris, who has been paying 7pc of his sales to Amazon, was told by email two months ago that fees on electrical accessories would rise to 12pc from 4 April. ‘It is nothing but greed,’ he complains. ‘Amazon’s costs have not increased, well certainly not by this amount. Meanwhile, [traders] have had to deal with the devalued pound [making it more expensive to buy stock overseas] and big increases in postal prices.’”

California driving

The State of California has ruled that it is illegal to check maps on your mobile device while driving, TechDirt reported.

“The ruling doesn’t totally rule out using a phone’s mapping programme, but does suggest it needs to be set up in a manner where it is done handsfree, where the driver does not need to hold or touch the phone. Basically, the ruling suggests that it’s mostly illegal to touch your mobile phone while driving. The driver noted that this interpretation didn’t make much sense, since the legislature had felt the need to add a specific clause to outlaw texting/messaging on phones, but if the overall bill banned any non-hands-free operations, then that would have already been covered. The court disagrees, claiming (oddly) that the added provision also served the purpose of banning non-telephone mobile devices. That may be true, but doesn’t explain why that provision also called out messaging services for telephones.”

Google’s US$100m man

BusinessInsider had a very interesting profile of Neal Mohan, a man whom Google is understood to have paid US$100m in stock (now worth US$150m) to prevent him leaving to join Twitter.

The deal dwarfs the US$65m the New York Knicks paid basketballer Carmelo Anthony to stay on board.

“Mohan is the visionary who predicted how brand advertising would fund the internet, turned this vision into a plan, and then executed it,” BusinessInsider reported.

Why Zuck didn’t want to build an actual Facebook phone

Tom’s Guide reported that Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s real reason for not building a physical Facebook phone or operating system, opting instead for the Home launch screen, was that not only was it cheaper and less time consuming, but that it will simply reach more users.

“I’ve always been very clear that I don’t think that’s the right strategy,” he said in an interview. “We’re a community of a billion-plus people, and the best-selling phones – apart from the iPhone – can sell 10, 20m. If we did build a phone, we’d only reach 1 or 2 per cent of our users. That doesn’t do anything awesome for us. We wanted to turn as many phones as possible into ‘Facebook phones.’ That’s what Facebook Home is.”

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