Weekend News Round-up

16 Aug 2010

A quick glance at some of the technology stories breaking in the weekend papers, including the Apple kickbacks scandal, who will replace Hurd at HP and Google’s social networking battle with Facebook.

Apple bruised by kickbacks scandal

The New York Times reported that a manager at Apple has been indicted by a federal grand jury, accused of taking kickbacks in a scheme involving suppliers of iPhone and iPod accessories.

The manager, Paul Shin Devine, of Sunnyvale, California, was arrested on Friday and charged with wire fraud, money laundering and taking kickbacks, the authorities said. The indictment had been filed under seal on Wednesday.

Devine, 37, is accused of accepting more than US$1m in exchange for providing confidential information to Apple suppliers in Asia. The suppliers are thought to have used the information to negotiate favourable contracts with Apple.

“Apple is committed to the highest ethical standards in the way we do business,” a company spokesman, Steve Dowling, said in a statement. “We have zero tolerance for dishonest behavior inside or outside the company.”

The authorities say a Singapore resident, Andrew Ang, was one of the suppliers involved. He is also named in the federal indictment.

The authorities have declined to comment on Ang’s whereabouts.

Devine is being held by federal marshals and is scheduled to appear in federal court in San Jose, California, on Monday afternoon.

Wikileaks to publish more war diaries?

The Sunday Independent reported that WikiLeaks will soon publish its remaining 15,000 documents on the war in Afghanistan despite warnings from the US government, the organisation’s founder said yesterday.

The Pentagon has said that secret information would be even more damaging to security and risk more lives than WikiLeaks’ initial release of some 76,000 war documents.

“This organisation will not be threatened by the Pentagon or any other group,” WikiLeaks founder and spokesman Julian Assange told reporters in Stockholm.

“We proceed cautiously and safely with this material.”

He said WikiLeaks was about halfway though a “line-by-line review” of the 15,000 documents and expected to publish them within weeks.

Mr Assange said “innocent parties who are under reasonable threat” would be redacted from the material.

The first documents released in WikiLeaks’ ‘Afghan War Diary’ laid bare classified military documents covering the war in Afghanistan from 2004 to 2010. The release angered US officials, energised critics of the Nato-led campaign, and drew the attention of the Taliban, which has promised to use the material to track down people that it considers traitors.

Has the internet changed the way we think?

The Observer carried an interesting feature asking the question: ‘The internet: is it changing the way we think?’ It took to task American writer Nicholas Carr’s claim that the internet is not only shaping our lives but physically altering our brains has sparked a lively and ongoing debate. Carr’s article touched a nerve and has provoked a lively, ongoing debate on the net and in print (he has now expanded it into a book, The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains). The Observer article by John Naughton carries the views of writers and critics including Sarah Churchill and Bidisha, novelist Naomi Alderman, psychiatrists Ed Bullmore and Ian Goodyer, writer Geoff Dyer, neurobiologist Colin Blakemore and cognitive neurologist Maryanne Wolf.

Google and Facebook grand slam

The Financial Times reported on the upcoming showdown between Google and Facebook, with the search giant’s acquisition spree pointing towards a social networking grand slam. Through acquisitions, investments and internal development, Google is piecing together the makings of a social networking infrastructure – one explicitly designed to challenge Facebook, which has quickly emerged as one of the most potent forces on the web.

But as Google gears up for this big push, Facebook is keenly watching Google’s moves, and is bracing itself for a battle that will shape a more social phase of the internet.

“We are going to see a more cohesive, confident and sensible social push from Google in the coming months,” said Augie Ray, analyst with Forrester Research. “And it comes at a time where there could really be some risk to Facebook.”

The most visible evidence of this fight is Google’s sudden shopping spree. On Friday it bought Jambool, a company that runs virtual currency systems for social games, including those played on Facebook. This month Google paid about $200m for Slide, a major developer of Facebook applications with a wealth of talented engineers. And shortly before that it invested $100m in Zynga, the largest maker of social games.

The C-suite has spoken on HP CEO job

The New York Times reported on the executive vacuum created by the stepping down of HP CEO Mark Hurd and the question of who will replace him. The story centred on a survey of C-suite executives.  It said the C-Suite has spoken and called for a Hewlett-Packard or IBM executive to end up as HP’s next chief executive.

Cook Associates, an executive search firm, surveyed 500 top executives from the technology sector and financial community to discover their thoughts on HP’s future. About 43pc of the respondents felt the most qualified replacement for Mark Hurd would come from HP or IBM, said Jeff Leopold, managing director, Cook.

In fact, Todd Bradley, the current head of HP’s PC business, tied with Steve Mills, the head of software at IBM, as the individuals best suited to follow Hurd.

In a confirmation that the C-Suite has a sense of humor, the respondents had Hurd tied with HP’s corporate technology chief, Ann Livermore, in the second spot. But, short of some shareholder revolt, it’s hard to see Hurd coming back anytime soon.

All in all, the C-level executives demonstrated a profound lack of creativity. They clearly skewed toward HP and IBM candidates – the obvious choices – and  produced suggestions originating from only six of the 20 largest companies. Just 11 percent of the respondents suggested that a woman replace Hurd, and no one offered up a candidate with a European or Asian background, even though many of the executives surveyed have worked abroad.

“The wisdom of the crowds suggest that HP’s current strategy is quite sound and that an internal executive is probably most able to keep the company on its path,” Leopold said.

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