Weekend news roundup

6 Feb 2012

In our roundup of some of the tech coverage in the newspapers over the weekend, a playwright directs his ire at Apple over working conditions in China, Facebook’s IPO could be either a tax bonus or burden, how bungling over office space nearly cost 800 Sky jobs and how an Austrian student has become a cause célèbre for data privacy in Europe.

New play about Apple hits on a thorny subject

The Observer reported on the sudden celebrity of a playwright whose solo act casts a light on the conditions of workers in China who manufacture popular devices like the iPad and the iPhone.

Mike Daisey’s latest work, The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs, has triggered off a spasm of soul-searching about the sometimes appalling labour conditions in China under which many of America’s most cherished products are made. Specifically, the shiny, sleek iPhones, iPods and iPads produced by Apple.

The Agony and the Ecstasy was devised after exhaustive research involving talking to allegedly exploited and abused workers in China, for almost 18 months. Daisey played to small but appreciative crowds across the US, winning critical praise but stirring little trouble, not even with the target of his ire: Apple itself.

Facebook IPO – tax burden or tax bonus?

The San Jose Mercury News reported on the tax implications for Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg ahead of the company’s looming IPO.

Zuckerberg (27) one of the world’s youngest billionaires, plans to exercise stock options with an estimated value of US$5bn ahead of the offering. That could create a stunning tax bill of US$2bn.

The taxes Zuckerberg and other Facebook shareholders pay on exercised stock options will translate into a big tax benefit for the company. The IRS allows companies to take a mirror deduction for the employees’ option compensation. Facebook anticipates that the deduction will eliminate the tax bill on its US$1bn in 2011 profit, according to its regulatory filings. The company also expects the break to generate as much as US$500m in additional deductions, which can be used for refunds for 2009 and 2010 and for reductions in future years. Facebook declined to comment further on Zuckerberg’s tax plans.

Near miss on Sky jobs

The Sunday Independent reported how 800 jobs announced last week by Sky could have been blown due to wrangling over office space.

The newspaper reported that the creation of more than 800 new jobs in Dublin by broadcasting giant Sky came perilously close to being scuppered after NAMA refused to back down on its demand that the company lease more office space than it actually needed.

Sky – unhappy with the terms being insisted upon by the State’s ‘bad bank’ – was ready to bring all 800 jobs to the UK and reversed its decision only after Minister for Jobs Richard Bruton rowed in to ensure the deal was done.

The paper referred to informed sources who said Sky was on the point of giving up on plans to base its new employees in the Burlington Plaza building in Dublin in the face of the repeated demand that it take up more space than the 35,000 sq feet it required as NAMA sought to protect its own bottom line.

A leap from the edge of space

The Telegraph reported on what will be the ultimate in parachute jumps: from the edge of space, Felix Baumgartner will leap from a balloon, plummeting to the ground 120,000 feet below.

After 35 seconds he will break the sound barrier, and finally, at 5,000 feet he will deploy a parachute and – hopefully – land safely on the ground.

During his 10-minute journey to Earth, Baumgartner will travel at more than 1,110 km/h inside a special suit, which must protect him from temperatures as low as -94F.

He will rely on its oxygen tanks as the air is too thin to breathe – and hope the sheer force of the fall does not make him black out.

The team working with Baumgartner will this week announce an attempt to make the record-breaking jump will take place in August above New Mexico.

Europe’s Facebook crusader

The New York Times reported that as Wall Street prepares for a record, multibillion-dollar initial stock sale from Facebook, the social networking site, a meeting with the potential to shape the economics of the deal was set to take place Monday in Vienna.

Richard Allan, a former member of Parliament in Britain who is the European director of policy for Facebook, and another executive from Facebook’s headquarters in Menlo Park, California, will meet with Max Schrems, a 24-year-old college student.

Schrems, a law student at the University of Vienna and a user of Facebook since 2008, has led a vocal campaign in Europe against what he maintains are Facebook’s illegal practices of collecting and marketing users’ personal data, often without consent.

In less than a year, Schrems’ one-person operation has morphed into a website, Europe Versus Facebook, and a grass-roots movement that has persuaded 40,000 people to contact Facebook in Ireland, where its European headquarters are located, to demand a summary of all the personal data the US company is holding on them.

Schrems and his crusade have become a cause célèbre in parts of Europe, attracting the attention of lawmakers in Brussels as the continent begins a lengthy debate over tough new proposed restrictions on personal data, which could affect web businesses like Facebook.

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