Weekend news roundup

12 Dec 2011

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A roundup of technology news coverage in the weekend papers, including social media wars in Russia over the recent elections, a 75-year-old product reviews dynamo and fears over 4G spectrum licensing in the UK.

Russian election wars go social

The Guardian reported how Russians are fighting Twitter and Facebook battles over the election. Protests of President Vladimir Putin’s party have escalated across social media, with automated counterattacks and alleged hacking.

Russians have flooded social networks as they organise unprecedented protests against Putin’s United Russia party. But they are not alone. Thousands of Twitter accounts appear to have been created with the sole purpose of drowning out opposition voices by flooding the service’s hashtag search function.

The automated attacks have dumped a blizzard of meaningless tweets with hashtags such as #Navalny, on which tweets about Alexei Navalny are collated, making it impossible to follow the flow of news about the arrested opposition leader. Many of the so-called "Twitter bots" have now been shut down.

The rough and Tumblr of a Silicon Valley maverick

The San Jose Mercury News featured a Q&A with Tumblr vice-president Andrew McLaughlin, who was Google’s chief of global policy before leaving to work in the Obama White House. He recently made a prodigal return of sorts to Silicon Valley – teaching a course on free speech and the internet this fall at Stanford University in California.

McLaughlin’s career has ranged from founding a technology policy think tank in Uganda to launching the internet’s technical co-ordinating organisation, ICANN, in 1999; to advising US President Barack Obama on tech policy. At Google, he had an inside view of top leadership, as the company mushroomed into an internet superpower.

75 years of influential reviews

If you think technology journalism and hardware reviews are a recent phenomena, you’re wrong. Think about good old Consumer Reports, the influential consumer magazine that can make or break the prospective success of many of today’s smartphones, for example.

At the weekend, The New York Times documented its continuing rude health.

Born in 1936, Consumer Reports had a very happy 75th birthday this year. Its business has never been better.

Well, “business” is not the right word, as there are no profits or losses to track: it’s a non-profit. But the magazine and website generated US$182m in revenue in the 2011 fiscal year, which ended 31 May. That pays for a lot of professional testing — of cars and trucks, washers and dryers, televisions, children’s car seats, mattresses, treadmills and mobile phone plans — all told, more than 3,600 products and services a year.

Consumer Reports started its website in 1997; by 2001, it had 557,000 subscribers. That number has grown to 3.3m this year, an increase of nearly 500pc in 10 years. It has more than six times as many digital subscribers as The Wall Street Journal, the leader among newspapers.

Fears over 4G in the UK

The Financial Times reported that the auction of spectrum in the UK for next-generation mobile services next year could struggle to preserve competition in the market, as well as raise money.

According to law firm Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, the high costs paid by mobile operators to acquire spectrum for the previous generation of 3G services affected the competitive landscape in many markets around the world, according to an analysis of the auctions by Freshfields, and hindered the roll out of 3G network infrastructure.

The findings suggest the UK could face obstacles in its goal to preserve competition in the mobile market among the four main operators. Ofcom, the regulator, has committed to auctioning the spectrum next year to broadcast 4G services, which will be needed to meet the demands of customers for data-hungry services, such as video.

Mobile operators paid more than $150bn for 3G mobile licences during the past decade, according to Freshfields, but almost a third of the auctions saw some operators fail to deliver 3G services. Where deadlines for roll-out were imposed, more than half were not met by one or more of the licence winners.

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Editor John Kennedy is an award-winning technology journalist.

editorial@siliconrepublic.com