Weekend news roundup

26 Oct 2010

A quick glance at some of the technology stories breaking in the weekend papers.

Hard lesson for governments following Wikleaks’ scoop

The Financial Times wrote how this weekend’s leak of confidential military files on the Iraq war by Wikileaks – which follows similar disclosures earlier this summer about the Afghan conflict – is deeply embarrassing for the US government. While the logs themselves reveal little that was not known or widely suspected, they leave Washington (and its allies) with awkward questions to answer about US and allied conduct during and after the war. The disclosures push unambiguously under the public’s nose the human cost of the conflict, and the compromises to human rights that were involved in waging it.

The scale of the leak is also a reminder of the extent to which network computing has changed the way information is used. This should force governments to rethink the nature of state secrets. Thus far, Washington has concentrated its fire on Wikileaks, the online clearing house that released the logs. Any organisation that encourages illegal behaviour cannot be beyond reproach. Wikileaks’ Afghan disclosures put people in danger, and it remains to be seen whether it has redacted its Iraqi cache more diligently. Wikileaks may argue that its activities are an extension of traditional journalism, but its organisational structure – designed to be beyond the reach of any jurisdiction’s enforcement – breeds dangerous editorial irresponsibility.

However, governments should realise that the information revolution which spawned Wikileaks is not about to be rolled back. Technology makes it ever harder to shield populations from the consequences of armed conflicts. If there was a time when the horrors could be hidden, it is over.

The internet: man’s most significant invention since fire?

The Guardian carried an insightful interview with Wired co-founder and influential digital author Kevin Kelly about technology being as great a force as nature. On the question of where we are in the journey of technology, Kelly said: “We like to think that the most marvellous organ in the world is our brain, but we obviously have to remember which organ is telling us that; we have a natural tendency to put ourselves at the centre of things. But I do think it is true that we are always at the edge of this process and have been for 10,000 years. The first singularity was language, 15,000 years ago. That was the first great technology. Are we at another cusp? I think we are. A lot of people say the invention of the internet was like the invention of fire, but I’m going further – I think actually what is happening right now might be comparable with the invention of language.

March of the Androids

The Sunday Business Post reported on the new force in mobile that is Android and the plethora of devices using the mobile operating system. Android sales already outstrip BlackBerry sales and are catching up with the iPhone fast, with sales expected to overtake Apple sales within a year. This may explain last week’s anti-Android rant by Apple CEO Steve Jobs, where he tried to pick out flaws in the Google system. Underpinning Android’s success is its app store, which it calls the Market. It is now firmly in second place to Apple’s App Store, with about 80,000 apps available to Irish Android users. These are divided between free and purchasable apps and range from games to productivity software. In effect, most major apps made for the iPhone are also now made for Android.

Betting on online gaming

The Sunday Independent reported that last week’s successful flotation of betting exchange Betfair is good news for Irish-quoted bookmaker Paddy Power, which now conducts more than half of its business online. Unusually for a flotation, Betfair issued no new shares, with both of the founders, Andrew Black and Edward Wray, and a number of other shareholders, selling existing shares instead. Despite this, demand for the shares was strong, with the price jumping from £13 to £15, valuing the whole company at €1.6bn. For that money you could buy the whole of Paddy Power and still have more than €400m to spare, the paper said.

Emails snared during Street View data gathering

The Wall Street Journal reported on Saturday how Google has acknowledged the cars its uses to collect data for its online mapping service had inadvertently gathered entire emails and passwords, a disclosure that prompted the internet giant to appoint a privacy chief and tighten its policies.

Google said it wanted to delete the information as quickly as possible. It also announced several steps its would take to improve its internal privacy and security practices, including the appointment of Alma Whitten, who specialises in computer security, as director of privacy for both engineering and products.

The development comes as Google faces heightened regulatory scrutiny around the world, prompted by revelations in May that its cars had collected personal data from unsecured wireless networks while taking photos for its Street View mapping service. Google initially said the data was fragmentary, but external reviews discovered that some of the data was more complete than expected. 

“A number of external regulators have inspected the data as part of their investigations,” Alan Eustace, a senior vice-president in charge of engineering and research, said in a blog post.

“It’s clear from those inspections that while most of the data is fragmentary, in some instances entire emails and URLs were captured, as well as passwords.”

Google’s admission came just days after Canada’s Privacy Commissioner said the company violated the privacy of perhaps thousands of Canadians when it captured sometimes highly sensitive personal information, such as complete emails, email usernames and passwords, and even information about certain Canadians’ medical conditions.