Weekend news roundup

28 Nov 2011

A selection of some of the technology stories in the weekend’s newspapers, including adding up the true cost of information overload, a Twitter project that catalogues World War II, the UK goes to war on cyber criminals and WikiLeaks is planning a new system.

New EU rules could impact Facebook

Facebook is facing curbs on how it exploits its users’ most personal information to create bespoke advertising, according to The Sunday Independent.

The paper reports the European Commission is planning to stop the social network ‘eavesdropping’ on its users to gather information about their political opinions, sexuality, religious beliefs and even their whereabouts.

Using sophisticated software, the firm harvests information from people’s activities on the website – whatever their individual privacy settings – and makes it available to advertisers.

However, following concerns over the privacy implications of the practice, an EC directive to be introduced in January will ban such targetted advertising unless users specifically allow it.

Even though most of the information it harvests is stored on computers in the US, if Facebook fails to comply with the legislation it could face legal action or a fine.

UK government to open up cyber arms vault

Some of the secret technologies created at the government’s eavesdropping centre GCHQ are to be offered to private industry as part of cyber security strategy unveiled by ministers last week, The Guardian reported.

The plans could lead to the government being paid substantial sums for software developed by the intelligence agency at Cheltenham. Ministers argue GCHQ’s main priority will remain national security and the agency has insisted it will not be side-tracked.

The move is aimed at protecting the UK’s stg£100bn a year online economy,

The cost of information overload

Information overload wastes two weeks a year, The Telegraph reported. Workers have to sift through so many emails and electronic documents that they waste nearly two weeks a year searching for information they have previously read but then lost.

A new survey commissioned by work management firm Mindjet has revealed that, on average, British workers receive 36 emails in their inbox every day.

It reveals that even this seemingly small number of emails are leaving employees overwhelmed.

The average worker spends more than 21 minutes a day searching for information they have seen but cannot find – the equivalent of two working weeks a year.

A tweet in time …

Adolf Hitler spent decades plotting his campaign for world domination. Alwyn Collinson, 24, a recent graduate in Renaissance history from Oxford University, hatched his own plan to invade Poland in a mere five days, The New York Times reported.

On 26 August, Collinson was just a marketing manager at a magazine in Oxford toying with the notion of starting some kind of a real-time Twitter project that would get people’s attention — maybe something like Orson Welles’ 1938 War of the Worlds radio broadcast, but that wouldn’t scare them to death.

Then suddenly he hit on the idea of tweeting the biggest terrestrial war of all time, and on 31 August – roughly 72 years to the hour after Hitler’s tanks moved across the frontier — the Twitter feed RealTimeWWII was under way.

Since then, the dominoes have fallen quickly. The number of followers jumped to 10,000 from about 300 by mid-September, after the project was featured on the blog ‘The Next Web’. By 9 November, the same date in 1939 that two British spies were captured by the SS at the Dutch border town of Venlo, the total had hit 45,000.

WikiLeaks plans new system

The Financial Times reported that WikiLeaks is expected to unveil a new online system this week to allow whistleblowers to pass secrets to its website, as founder Julian Assange tries to reboot his campaign for transparency under a barrage of legal, financial and technical challenges.

Late November marks the first anniversary of WikiLeaks’ release of its largest cache of secrets, 251,000 US diplomatic cables. That publication raised WikiLeaks’ profile to a new pinnacle but set in motion a series of events which have brought the organisation to the brink of collapse.

Bradley Manning, the American soldier suspected of passing US government secrets to WikiLeaks, is preparing to appear before a military court at Fort Meade in Maryland next month after 17 months’ incarceration.

Tweet raises former Dragon’s ire

Presidential candidate and former Dragons’ Den panellist Sean Gallagher has made a complaint against RTÉ over an alleged ‘fake tweet’ that was part of what he called an “ambush” of him on The Frontline presidential election television debate, The Sunday Independent reported.

Gallagher is seeking an oral and/or public hearing into a complaint which, he said, RTÉ should be compelled to attend to explain the circumstances which gave rise to the broadcast of a “fake tweet” which purported to be from Sinn Fein.

The unsuccessful candidate last week submitted a detailed 22-page complaint against RTÉ to the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland (BAI) in which he said he is also seeking a “formal apology” from the broadcaster.

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