Microsoft files EU Android complaint

Plastic Android operating system robotsAndroid handsets dominate the mobile market

Microsoft has accused rival Google of pushing Android handset makers to use its applications such as YouTube and Maps.

Along with Oracle, Nokia and 14 other tech firms, Microsoft has filed a complaint with the European Commission.

The group, known as FairSearch, argues that Google is abusing its dominance of the mobile market.

In response to the filing, Google said: “We continue to work co-operatively with the European Commission.”

Trojan horse

“We are asking the commission to move quickly and decisively to protect competition and innovation in this critical market,” said Thomas Vinje, Brussels-based counsel for FairSearch.

“Failure to act will only embolden Google to repeat its desktop abuses of dominance as consumers increasingly turn to a mobile platform dominated by Google’s Android operating system,” he added.

Android is now the dominant mobile operating system, accounting for 70% of the market, according to research firm Gartner.

The complaint describes Google’s Android operating system as a “trojan horse”, offered to device makers for free. In return they are “required to pre-load an entire suite of Google mobile services and to give them prominent default placement on the phone,” the complaint reads.

Privacy policy

Google is also under fire for its common user privacy policy which groups 60 sets of rules into one and allows the company to track users more closely.

Last week six European data protection agencies, including the UK and France, threatened legal action if Google did not make changes to its policy.

In October a European Commission working party said its privacy policy did not meet Commission standards on data protection.

It gave Google four months to comply with its recommendation.

Google maintains that the new policy “respects European law”.

Microsoft itself is no stranger to EC scrutiny. In March it was fined 561 million euros (£484m) for failing to promote a range of web browsers in its Windows 7 operating system.

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Camera takes 3D pictures with lasers

3D camera imagingThe camera can detect the mannequin (top set of images), but not real skin (bottom set)

A camera able to create 3D images up to one kilometre (0.62 miles) away has been developed by a team in Edinburgh.

Physicists at Heriot-Watt University developed a technique which uses lasers to scan almost any object.

With extra research, the camera’s range could extend to 10km (6.2 miles), the team said.

It will primarily be used to scan objects such as vehicles – but is unable to detect human skin.

The reason is that skin does not reflect the laser in the same way as most other objects – meaning for those wishing to evade the camera’s gaze, stripping naked is an option.

Beyond capturing images of objects, the technology could also be used to keep track of the movement of rocks, or foliage growth.

Highly accurate

The camera works, the team explained, by bouncing lasers off distant objects, and measuring the time it takes for the light to travel back to the detector.

The camera is able to record its subject to an accuracy of one millimetre.

With further modifications to the system’s image-processing software, the team said it believed the same technology could be used to measure an object’s speed and direction.

“Our approach gives a low-power route to the depth imaging of ordinary, small targets at very long range,” said Aongus McCarthy, a research fellow at Heriot-Watt.

Mr McCarthy added: “It is clear that the system would have to be miniaturised and made more rugged, but we believe that a lightweight, fully portable scanning depth imager is possible and could be a product in less than five years.”

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UK Lulzsec hacker pleads guilty

Ryan AckroydRyan Ackroyd was due to stand trial on a number of charges relating to the hacking activity of Lulzsec

A 26-year-old man has pleaded guilty to one count of computer hacking as part of a group known as Lulzsec.

Ryan Ackroyd, from South Yorkshire, admitted to being part of the group, whose targets included the NHS and the UK’s Serious Organised Crime Agency (Soca).

He will not face trial on another count of operating a “denial of service attack” (DDoS), which will lie on file.

He and three others on similar charges will be sentenced next month.

Mustafa Al-Bassam, 18, from Peckham, south London, and Jake Davis, 20, from Lerwick, Shetland, have also now pleaded guilty to hacking and launching cyber-attacks.

Ryan Cleary, 21, of Essex, pleaded guilty in June last year to six counts, including hacking into US air force agency computers at the Pentagon.

Ackroyd was due to stand trial charged with taking part in a string of cyber-attacks, but today pleaded guilty to one charge of carrying out an unauthorised act to impair the operation of a computer, contrary to the Criminal Law Act 1977.

‘For the lulz’

Lulzsec emerged as a splinter-group of the Anonymous hacking collective in May 2011.

The name stood for Lulz Security – in which “Lulz” is derived from the popular internet term “lol”, meaning “laugh out loud”.

The group’s members employed techniques to flood websites with high traffic – known as DDoS attacks – in order to render them unusable.

Lulzsec claimed to have attacked News International, owner of the Sun newspaper website, on which a false story was planted suggesting that the newspaper’s owner, Rupert Murdoch, had died.

In the US, the group was credited with attacking the website of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).

Lulzsec had previously posted a story on American broadcaster PBS’s website, suggesting that deceased rapper Tupac Shakur was in fact alive.

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Vodafone and China Mobile team up

Vodafone logoVodafone and China Mobile are now among many other telecoms that have expressed interest

The two biggest telecommunications companies in the world have created a consortium to bid for mobile licences in Burma.

The licence, which is expected to be awarded in June, is to operate a nationwide network for 15 years.

The country has taken steps to reform its economy, but mobile phones remain too expensive for most people.

There is only 10% mobile penetration in Burma, which has a population of more than 60 million, according to Vodafone.

The government has said it wants to boost coverage to 80% by 2016.

That has led to a stream of companies hoping to take advantage of this newly-opened market.

“Myanmar will be an important new market for the global mobile industry,” Vodafone and China Mobile said in their statement.

A separate consortium also indicated its interest. Billionaire George Soros’ Quantum Strategic Partner has joined forces with Digicel and Serge Pun, a businessman in Burma, to bid for licences as well, they said in a statement.

Other companies bidding for licences include Singapore’s SingTel, Qatar Telecom and Norway’s Telenor.

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Samsung expects 53% jump in profit

Models showing Samsung Galaxy phonesThe success of Galaxy range of handsets has helped Samsung offset falls in other units

Samsung Electronics has forecast a 53% jump in profit for the first three months of the year, boosted mainly by growing smartphone sales.

It expects to make an operating profit of 8.7tn won ($7.7bn; £5bn) for the period, up from 5.7tn won a year ago.

Samsung has enjoyed massive success with its Galaxy range of smartphones and displaced Apple as the world’s biggest smartphone maker last year.

Analysts expect its profits to rise further in the coming months.

They have forecast robust sales for Samsung’s latest smartphone model, the Galaxy S4, which is set to hit the stores later this month.

The smartphone, launched earlier this year, allows users to control its screen using only their eyes and has the ability to take two different pictures at once.

Analysts widely regard the phone to be a serious competitor to Apple’s iPhone5.

“We expect some 22 million Galaxy S4 smartphones to be sold in the second quarter alone,” said Seo Won-seok, an analyst with Korea Investment Securities.

Mr Seo said that he expected Samsung’s earnings to hit the 10tn won mark in the April to June quarter, boosted by GalaxyS4 sales as well as improving conditions in the memory chip market.

Samsung, which is also the world’s biggest maker of memory chips, will release it final quarterly results on 26 April.

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Sky message switch resurrects emails

Sky buttonSky customers have vented their feelings on the company’s support forums

Many UK customers of Sky are being deluged with thousands of old and deleted messages as the company switches email providers.

In recent weeks Sky has stopped using Google to provide email services in favour of Yahoo.

But the change has caused trouble as many customers are reporting that formerly deleted messages have been delivered again and again.

Some have spent hours clearing the messages out of overflowing inboxes.

Discussion forums on Sky’s support site have been filling up with messages from disgruntled customers complaining about the switch. The company, which has more than four million UK broadband customers, changed from Google to Yahoo this week.

The switch has seemingly resurrected many messages users formerly deleted with some reporting that they had to go through thousands of messages before deleting them for a second time. Some unlucky customers had to suffer thousands of deleted messages being re-delivered several times.

Many others said the switch had wiped out email settings, deleted aliases and re-set filters. Customers called on Sky to do a better job of responding to complaints and explaining why old messages were turning up.

On its support site, Sky acknowledged the problems the changeover had caused.

It said it was aware of the issue and had “an ongoing investigation and are working to resolve it”. It pledged to provide an update late on 5 April about its efforts to fix the problem.

It said the problem emerged during migration as it was copying all customer emails to Yahoo’s mail servers. The issue should recede as mail services were synchronised, it said.

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Privacy fears over Facebook home

Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg

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Mark Zuckerberg: ‘The home screen is really the soul of your phone’

Facebook’s “home” software for Android phones could “destroy” privacy, warn industry watchers and analysts.

Unveiled on 4 April, home is a “wrapper” for Android and puts Facebook feeds on a phone’s main screen.

But the detailed data that could be mined from home users could intrude on private life, commentators warned.

Many took issue with the claim that home put people, not apps, at the heart of the mobile experience, saying it would help Facebook sell ads.

Handset home

Home was shown off in a presentation given at Facebook’s campus by the social network’s founder Mark Zuckerberg. He said it was an attempt to do away with app-centred systems that were a legacy of the computer world in which people clicked on an icon to start a program.

Once installed on a phone, home takes over the lock screen and main display turning it into a live feed of information, notifications and images Facebook users are sharing.

The “always on” nature of home bothered industry watcher Om Malik from tech news website GigaOm who said it could be a route to gathering data about users that would otherwise be hard to find.

“This application erodes any idea of privacy,” he wrote. “If you install this, then it is very likely that Facebook is going to be able to track your every move, and every little action.”

Users of home could see their privacy “destroyed”, he warned.

Harry McCracken at Time pointed out that many other apps can grab data like home but said it would be “comforting” to get confirmation from Facebook that it had no plans to datamine the lives of its users.

Their worries were echoed by Natasha Lomas at TechCrunch who said “The Facebookification of the mobile web is a threat to openness, to choice, to privacy – but only if you care about those things”.

Ms Lomas wrote that home would create many winners and losers and said it was a way for Facebook gradually to take over more and more functions on phones. Home will have monthly updates and Ms Lomas expected many of those to use Facebook as the core controls for a handset.

Facebook Home launchThe home software will swap apps for a people-centred system, said Facebook

She also wondered if home would be a success or prove unpopular with users.

“Facebook thinks it’s more important to people than it actually is,” Charles Golvin, an analyst at Forrester Research, told Reuters.

“For the vast majority of people, Facebook just isn’t the be-all and end-all of their mobile experience,” he said. “It’s just one part.”

“I see a more apathetic response among Facebook users than Facebook might be expecting,” he added.

Jan Dawson, senior telecoms analyst at Ovum, said home was the “next best thing” to creating a Facebook operating system for mobiles.

Mr Dawson added that the change would let Facebook track more of a user’s behaviour on devices and to serve up ads.

“That presents the biggest obstacle to success for this experiment: Facebook’s objectives and users’ are once again in conflict,” he said. “Users don’t want more advertising or tracking, and Facebook wants to do more of both.”

The software will be available via Google’s Play Store as a download and will work only with phones running Android 4.0 or higher – this accounts for about 50% of all Android phones. Home will be available on 12 April in the US and soon after in other territories.

No information was given about whether home would be redeveloped to work with Apple or Microsoft phones.

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Film studios seek takedown privacy

Game of ThronesGame of Thrones was found to be the most pirated TV series of 2012

Two film studios have asked Google to take down links to messages sent by them requesting the removal of links connected to film piracy.

Google receives 20 million “takedown” requests, officially known as DMCA (Digital Millennium Copyright Act) notices, a month. They are all published online.

Recent submissions by Fox and Universal Studios include requests for the removal of previous takedown notices.

Google declined to comment.

The notices are requests for individual web addresses to be removed from Google’s search engine results because they contain material uploaded without the permission of the copyright holders.

By making the notices available, Google is unintentionally highlighting the location of allegedly pirated material, say some experts.

“It would only take one skilled coder to index the URLs from the DMCA notices in order to create one of the largest pirate search engines available,” wrote Torrent Freak editor Ernesto Van Der Sar on the site.

Similar notices have been received by the Lionsgate studio, makers of the Twilight movies and The Hunger Games, and tech giant Microsoft, according to Torrent Freak.

Mr Van Der Sar added, however, that the requests may well have been a “by-product of the automated tools that are used to find infringing URLs” and not deliberately included.

According to its transparency report, Google complied with 97% of the requests it received for links to material published outside copyright to be removed from its search engine between June and December 2011.

The website Chilling Effects, a collaboration between a number of US law schools and the Electronic Frontier Foundation, publishes the notices, and is still visible via Google Search.

David Petrarca, who directed a couple of episodes of HBO drama Game of Thrones, the most pirated TV series of 2012, was reported to have said at a literary festival in Australia that piracy gave the series a “cultural buzz” but has since denied that he is in favour of the activity.

“I am 100 per cent, completely and utterly against people illegally downloading anything,” he told the Sydney Morning Herald.

“I think most people would be willing to pay for a show they love.”

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Smart bracelet protects aid workers

Alarm braceletAlerts can be triggered manually or automatically

A hi-tech bracelet could soon be helping civil rights and aid workers at risk of being kidnapped or killed.

When triggered, the personal alarm uses phone and sat-nav technology to warn that its wearer is in danger.

Warnings are sent in the form of messages to Facebook and Twitter to rally support and ensure people do not disappear without trace.

The first bracelets are being given out this week and funding is being sought to make many more.

The bracelets have been developed by the Civil Rights Defenders campaign group in a bid to help workers in war zones and other areas of conflict.

The chunky bracelet has mobile phone technology buried within it that can send prepared messages when the gadget is triggered.

Alerts can be sent manually by a rights worker if they feel under threat or are triggered automatically if the bracelet is forcefully removed. The alarm sends out information about its owner and where they were when they were attacked. Other staff nearby will also be alerted so they can start to take action to help anyone in distress.

Civil Rights Defenders wants people to sign up to monitor the bracelets of individual rights workers via social media. It hopes the global involvement will act as a deterrent to anyone planning attacks on aid workers.

“Most of us, given the chance, would like to help others in danger,” said Civil Rights Defenders’ executive director Robert Hardh. “These civil rights defenders are risking their lives for others to have the right to vote, or to practise religion or free speech.”

Those who monitor bracelets can also help bring pressure to bear on governments to find or release people abducted or jailed. In total, 55 bracelets will be given out by the end of 2014.

The rights group started work on the gadget in the wake of the kidnapping and murder of Chechen rights worker Natalia Estemirova in 2009. Ms Estemirova had been involved in documenting the alleged abuse of civilians by government-backed militias.

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Anonymous ‘hacks’ North Korea pages

Uriminzokkiri hack informationAnonymous posted messages on the Twitter account belonging to news site Uriminzokkiri

The hacking collective Anonymous has said it has been “hacking” and vandalising social networking profiles linked to North Korea.

The group has issued several warnings since the country’s threats have intensified.

Uriminzokkiri, a news site, has been forced offline – while Twitter and Flickr accounts have been breached.

Anonymous also claimed to have accessed 15,000 usernames and passwords from a university database.

As part of action which the loosely organised collective has called “Operation Free Korea”, the hackers have called for leader Kim Jong-un to step down, a democratic government to be put in place – and for North Koreans to get uncensored internet access.

Currently, only a select few in the country have access to the “internet” – which is more akin to a closed company intranet with only a select few websites that are government-run.

The country recently allowed foreigners to access mobile internet, but this service has since been shut off.

In a message posted online, members of Anonymous wrote: “To the citizens of North Korea we suggest to rise up and bring [this] oppressive government down!

“We are holding your back and your hand, while you take the journey to freedom, democracy and peace.

“You are not alone. Don’t fear us, we are not terrorist, we are the good guys from the internet. AnonKorea and all the other Anons are here to set you free.”

‘Tango down’

Urminzokkiri’s Twitter feed started displaying messages reading “hacked” at around 0700 BST. The account’s avatar was changed to a picture of two people dancing, with the words “Tango down”.

On Urminzokkiri’s Flickr photo page, other images, including a “wanted” poster mocking Kim Jong-un, were also posted.

Anonymous has posted what it said was a sample of the hacked information.

However, some have questioned the reliability of the details as some of the email addresses were in fact Chinese.

Also unreachable on Thursday was the website of Air Koryo, the country’s airline, which launched its online booking site late last year.

Like the main Urminzokkiri homepage, it is suspected the Air Koryo site has been hit with a Distributed Denial of Service attacked (DDoS) – a technique which involves flooding a website with too much traffic for it to handle.

Although a highly secretive nation, North Korea puts considerable effort in to having a strong presence online.

Various YouTube accounts attached to the regime post news items and propaganda videos on a regular basis.

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