Weekend news roundup

26 Apr 2011

A trawl through some of the weekend newspapers’ tech coverage, including doubts raised over cloud computing by Amazon’s outage last week, getting away from the pressures of the digital lifestyle and Revenue’s new focus on multinational firms’ taxes.

Doubts about cloud computing

The New York Times reported that Amazon’s recent outage has raised doubts about the cloud computing world. As technical problems interrupted computer services provided by Amazon for a second day on Friday, industry analysts said the troubles would prompt many companies to reconsider relying on remote computers beyond their control.

“This is a wake-up call for cloud computing,” said Matthew Eastwood, an analyst for the research firm IDC, using the term for accessing services and information in big data centres remotely over the internet from anywhere, as if the services were in a cloud. “It will force a conversation in the industry.”

That discussion, he said, will most likely centre on what data and computer operations to send off to the cloud and what to keep inside the corporate walls.

Multinationals’ tax practices in Revenue’s sights

The Sunday Independent reported the Revenue Commissioners is about to clamp down on a tax avoidance scheme which allows multinational companies to boost their profits by avoiding taxes in certain countries.

The scheme, which is known as transfer pricing, allows the multinationals to shift profits to companies within the same group that are based in low-tax countries. By doing so, they avoid paying hefty tax rates on much of their profits.

Some large multinationals have already run into trouble with tax authorities over transfer pricing. In the US, the drug giant GlaxoSmith-Kline paid US$3.4bn (€2.3bn) to the Internal Revenue Service a few years ago to settle a transfer pricing dispute.

Irish arms of American multinationals have also found themselves at the centre of international transfer pricing inquiries, according to the report.

Separately, the low Irish corporation tax rate which has attracted many multinationals to Ireland could be undermined if the Common Consolidated Corporate Tax Base (CCCTB) – a single set of rules that companies operating within the EU could use to calculate their taxable profits – is introduced.

A release from the pressures of the digital age

The Observer carried an interesting strain of articles that seemed to yearn for a release from the pressures of the all-encompassing digital world. Tech writer Jemima Kiss kicked her digital habits in order to spend quality time in the country with her young family. “Twitter, Facebook, emails and voicemail – we are overwhelmed by digital data, is it time to rebel against information overload?” she asked.

“Breaking away from my connected life, I could feel how the compulsion, the divided attention, the multitasking has permeated my way of being. Early adopters, the heavy technology users who throw themselves at every new device and service, will admit to an uncontrollable impulse to check email, tweets or Facebook. Researchers have called this ‘variable interval reinforcement schedule’; we have in effect been trained into digital message addiction because the most exciting rewards are unpredictable. We’re no better than slot-machine addicts.”

Back to analogue art

Continuing the theme, The Observer reported how emerging artists are making use of dusty vinyl records, vintage film cameras, rickety typewriters and antiquated recording equipment as creative tools. Pure nostalgia? Or a laudable refusal to escape the speed and sanitised perfection of contemporary digital culture?

Introducing new artists the newspaper points out how, with indecent haste, the digital revolution has consigned many of our once-cherished artefacts to the dustbin of history. Though enthusiasts and obsessives have stayed loyal to pre-digital formats, for the rest of us it feels like the vinyl record, the photographic print, the Polaroid camera, the analogue recording studio and the darkroom have been cast aside, rendered all but obsolete by a digitally driven culture that devours all that preceded it. Soon, we are told, the newspaper and the book may share the same fate.

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