Weekend news roundup

3 Oct 2011

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A trawl through the tech coverage in some weekend newspapers, including Larry Ellison’s war of words with Mike Lynch ahead of today’s Autonomy acquisition by HP, Facebook’s new Timeline has raised the ire of US privacy groups, and how teens are keeping secret Facebook accounts to elude parents.

Larry Ellison’s war of words over Autonomy

The Sunday Telegraph reported that the world’s third richest man, Oracle’s Larry Ellison, will be the 600lb gorilla in the next room for Autonomy’s Mike Lynch.

As Lynch has discovered, taking on Ellison in a public war of words isn’t for the faint of heart – the billionaire founder of Oracle has never been afraid of a fight.

Hewlett Packard is scheduled to seal its controversial $11.7bn (£7.1bn) acquisition of the British software company today.

Ellison, who presides over the US$148.6bn Oracle as chief executive, has spent the last week locked in an extraordinary public battle with Lynch over whether Autonomy "shopped" itself to Oracle before striking its HP deal.

Lynch may be a big fish in the UK, with a personal fortune of £400m, an 1,800-strong workforce at his command and many supporters who say he is Britain’s answer to Bill Gates.

But when it comes to global players, Ellison is a thumping, great gorilla. He has a serious appetite for a fight and, judging by this week’s claims and counter-claims laced with wit and sarcasm, a flair for what Americans call "smack talk".

Antidotes for these anti-social times

The Financial Times carried a useful review of at least four cyber crime books: DarkMarket: Cyberthieves, Cybercops and You by Misha Glenny; The Silicon Jungle by Sumeet Baluja; Ghost in the Wires: My Adventures as the World’s Most Wanted Hacker by Kevin Mitnick; and The Real Hackers Handbook by Dr K.

Cyber crime, cyber wars and cyber security are now important, even life-and-death, issues. In June, Leon Panetta, then head of the CIA, forecast that “the next Pearl Harbour we confront could well be a cyber attack that cripples our power systems, our grid, our security systems, our financial systems, our governmental systems”. A new Cyber Command has been created in the US military, with $10.5bn annually marked for expenditure on information security over the next four years. The East West Institute think tank claimed last month that “cyber criminals are moving at a faster pace than the policies that can restrain them”. Our exhilarating new world of free-flowing information is also, it seems, a vulnerable one.

The next global tech giant

Silicon Valley newspaper the San Jose Mercury News went on a field trip to Shenzhen in China and reported how Huawei Technologies is becoming the next major global technology firm.

The intensity of this nation’s tech ambitions are apparent on the sprawling campus of Huawei Technologies, whose youthful employees play hard on basketball courts after working hard to create telecommunications technology for what they hope will be China’s first major global company.

Started 24 years ago as a reseller of low-end telephone equipment, Huawei has evolved into the world’s second-largest provider of telecom and internet technology, and is considered a national champion by Chinese authorities.

While suspected of having ties to the Chinese military by some American national security officials, and accused by others of getting unfair assistance from the Chinese government, the tech conglomerate has become a competitive threat to Silicon Valley giants Cisco Systems, Juniper Networks and Hewlett-Packard.

Slipping through the net

The Observer reported how there is alarm over secret Facebook accounts belonging to children. Fake names are the latest ruse among teenagers who wish to get around monitoring by parents and schools.

Are you a parent who keeps an eye on who posts what on your child’s Facebook account? Perhaps you know their password and sneak a look at their messages from time to time? You may even enjoy the trusted privilege of being a "friend".

Whatever the situation, social networking sites are a source of anxiety for parents, and now the latest trend will only add to their alarm. Children are staying way ahead of attempts by parents and schools to police their online activity. And the latest ruse is a secret, fake-name Facebook account.

"Some kids will have two or even three," says Dr Barbie Clarke, of the youth research agency Family Kids and Youth, who monitors online trends among schoolchildren in the UK.

Facebook privacy battle looms in US

USA Today reported that Facebook has touched a nerve with a broad range of critics upset about the social network’s latest batch of online sharing technology.

Ten consumer and privacy groups have joined Reps Ed Markey, D-Mass., and Joe Barton, R-Tex., in calling on the Federal Trade Commission to investigate new sharing mechanisms designed to accelerate the collection and dispersal of information about Facebook users’ internet activities.

In the spotlight are Timeline, a feature that maps everything a user has ever done on Facebook, and several "Open Graph" applications designed to broadcast a user’s surfing patterns and web interests to friends and friends of friends.

Users have long been able to share information, manually. But the new services automate much of the sharing process, and appear to tap deeper into user data amassed by the company, says Chris Calabrese, legal counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union.

"There’s a loss of user control here," Calabrese says. "Combined with the permanent nature of the information, it means there is a lack of the ability for consumers to control and protect their online reputations."

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Editor John Kennedy is an award-winning technology journalist.

editorial@siliconrepublic.com