Weekend news roundup

18 Jul 2011

A trawl through the newspapers’ tech coverage over the weekend, including reports of small firms complaining of paying exorbitant fees to eBay, smartphones and the slippery slope to a more controlled internet and Google takes a leaf from Foursquare’s book.

eBay in UK accused of putting the squeeze on small firms

According to the Independent on Sunday, traders claim that in the UK, eBay fees are killing business. It reports that small firms which rely on the auction site for most of their sales say its new higher commissions are squeezing profits.

Many traders have seen their costs double, with eBay siphoning off up to 12pc of the final sale price. The recently introduced price rises have affected particularly those small firms that rely on the site for most – if not all – of their trade.

Johnny Alexander, who has been running the eBay designer watch shop Planetwatch for the past nine years, said the fee increase had run his business into the ground. “I’m looking for a way out. I’ve been going to school to try and get another profession. They’re taking too much money. My profit used to be around £4,000 a month, but now I’m lucky if I’m making £1,500, and in London that’s not a lot to live on.”

Are smartphones putting us on a slippery slope to a more controlled web?

The Observer had an interesting feature on why smartphones can do everything – except safeguard the web. Columnist John Naughton wrote how the proliferation of powerful mobile phones could see control of the internet pass into the hands of corporations.

He pointed out that in the US, 35pc of consumers own a smartphone and in the UK, 22pc of consumers own these devices.

Naughton argues we are on the slippery slope towards a much more controlled, less open, internet. If these trends continue, then it won’t be all that long before a significant proportion of the world’s internet users will access the network, not via freely programmable PCs connected via landline networks, but through tethered, non-programmable information appliances (smartphones) hooked up to tightly controlled and regulated mobile networks. And if that happens, then the world will have kissed goodbye to the internet’s revolutionary potential.

Take more control of your online identity

The San Jose Mercury News had an interesting story about how users can better control their online identity. Every time you’re online, marketers, game developers and search engines are trying to suck up as much information about you as they can. And they hope to use that information to make lots of money off you someday.

But with data breaches and self-inflicted privacy gaffes – former US representative Anthony Weiner, what were you thinking? – becoming a more common occurrence, more people are fighting back against the invasiveness of some technologies and are trying to wrangle their digital identities back under their control.

They’re finding that there are worthwhile steps to take, but no single solution to control the staggering amount of personal information out there on the internet.

Google takes a leaf from Foursquare’s book

It seems in its quest to become the pinnacle of social networking prowess, Google has borrowed a leaf from Foursquare’s book and is now rewarding regular users of Google News with badges for reading about their favourite topics, the Sunday Telegraph reports.

In a similar fashion to Foursquare, the location sharing service, which allows people to earn points and badges for repeat check ins to different places, Google News users in the US can earn different pins, starting with bronze and moving up to Ultimate.

Badges are private by default but can be turned on to public so people can talk to others about their interests.

In order to enable the service, US users have to sign up to a Google web account, enable web history and visit this page.

There are more than 500 badges available to suit all types of interest, such as ‘stock market’, ‘Harry Potter’ and US elections.

Tech industry shifts focus to emerging markets

The traditional axis on which the technology industry derived its sources of revenue has been shifted and according to the San Jose Mercury News, the developing world and emerging economies hold greater promise than the usually stalwart North American and Western European markets.

The Great Recession rearranged the global tech market as Silicon Valley companies shifted more attention to the developing countries that quickly rebounded from the financial crisis.

But cashing in on new markets around the world is harder than ever, said a team of IDC analysts, who provided a briefing this week in San Mateo, California, to client companies, from Cisco Systems to small financial firms, looking for new insights in overseas investment strategies.

The United States remains the largest IT market – about 35pc of the annual $1.7trn in global technology spending – but double-digit percentage growth in Brazil, China, India and other emerging countries increases their standing in the global market, said Philippe de Marcillac, executive vice-president of international business for IDC, an international consultancy that provides market intelligence to corporate clients.

China, India, Brazil and Russia now account for 10pc of the world’s IT spending, and that share is increasing every year, de Marcillac said. His agency predicts 18pc growth in 2013 IT spending in China, 20pc in India, 21pc in Russia and 13pc in Brazil.

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