Weekend news round-up: Snoopgate fallout continues; Saudi Arabia to ban Whatsapp

17 Jun 2013

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The fallout over Edward Snowden’s leakage of sensitive information about US intelligence surveillance of the internet continues and tech giants are taking it upon themselves to disclose legal orders they have received. The question is this: is Snowden a hero or villain in light of new information that he may be working with China?

Will heads roll over Snoopgate?

The never-ending car crash that is the fallout over revelations of Snoopgate – the US intelligence apparatus’ surveillance of internet data usage inside and outside the US – continues.

According to The Washington Post, top leadership reached the brink of resignation over electronic surveillance orders they believed to be illegal.

“President George W Bush backed down, halting secret foreign intelligence-gathering operations that had crossed into domestic terrain. That morning marked the beginning of the end of STELLARWIND, the cover name for a set of four surveillance programmes that brought Americans and American territory within the domain of the National Security Agency for the first time in decades. It was also a prelude to new legal structures that allowed Bush and then-President (Barack) Obama to reproduce each of those programmes and expand their reach.”

Facebook and Microsoft reveal legal orders

No doubt aware that trust and respect of privacy are their bread and butter in the digital age, Facebook and Microsoft disclosed they received legal orders to turn over details on about one-thousandth of 1pc of user accounts.

CNET reported that Microsoft and Facebook became the first companies to disclose the total number of legal orders they received for user data, including ones from the National Security Agency and from state, local, and federal police performing criminal investigations.

“The total for Facebook: About 18,000 accounts over a six-month period, or one-thousandth of 1pc of user accounts.

“Microsoft’s total was about 31,000 accounts over the same six-month period ending 31 December 2012. A Google representative told CNET this evening that the search company is working on disclosing the same type of statistics, and plans to be more detailed than Microsoft and Facebook.”

Is Edward Snowden a hero or a traitor to the US?

But the question of whether Edward Snowden, the ex-CIA contractor who lifted the lid on this veritable can of worms is a hero or traitor has been raised as reports emerge he may sell secrets he gleaned to China.

Business Insider’s Henry Blodget said: “Snowden, most people agreed, had revealed outrageous, illegal privacy abuses by the US government spying machine. Revealing these secrets was a patriotic act, people said. Snowden might have broken some laws, but he had America’s best interests at heart. Americans should be grateful.

“A few days later, however, Snowden’s motives seem less pure. And his characterisations of US intelligence activities seem less accurate, more personal, and more naive.”

New Xbox Music layout

Moving on to a more pleasant topic, music, it appears Microsoft is about to unveil a new-look Xbox Music design, according to The Verge.

The Verge reported: “Screenshots of the new Xbox Music update show a two-panel interface that appears to improve discoverability of music and the ability to quickly access a collection of songs. Xbox Music originally launched in October for Windows 8 and Windows RT devices, with the ability to access songs from an Xbox 360, too. Although the service includes most popular songs and albums, the interface has often been slow and clunky on Windows 8 and Windows RT devices. The updated app clearly aims to improve that, with a ‘simplified design and layout’, according to Microsoft.”

Google to close down AdWhirl

TechCrunch reported that Google is planning to close down AdWhirl, a platform that lets developers flit between different ad platforms, indicating a consolidation of its position in the online advertising space.

It reported: “In a letter to developers sent out today, Google said that they will wait until 30 September to decide where they would like to move their ads. It’s encouraging them to migrate to AdMob Mediation, a competing tool that it launched after the acquisition while continuing to support AdWhirl. They can also continue to use AdWhirl, if they care to use the open source code ‘to run their own AdWhirl service’. But Google won’t be involved with hosting or supporting it.”

Whatsapp with Saudi Arabia?

Saudi Arabia is on the verge of banning mobile messaging app Whatsapp, right after blocking Viber, according to CNET.

“The Saudi Arabian government has cracked down on messaging apps before, temporarily banning BlackBerry messenger services after BlackBerry reportedly didn’t adhere to the country’s regulatory requirements. The Saudi government complained at the time that the encrypted security used in the BlackBerry network prevented the government from monitoring communications channels, which it said could be used to threaten national security.”

In March, Saudi officials threatened to block popular internet chat, call, and messaging services Skype, WhatsApp, and Viber if they did not comply with local regulations.

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Editor John Kennedy is an award-winning technology journalist.

editorial@siliconrepublic.com