Author: Andrea Petrou

Schmidt defends Google's alleged UK tax dodge

Google’s Eric Schmidt has said his company would pay more tax – if it were required to do so by UK law.

Google is currently under close scrutiny from HMRC following the revelation  that it had only paid £7.3 million in corporation tax last year despite having a UK turnover worth about £3 billion. Other companies have been in the firing line, such as Starbucks and Microsoft, with senior politicians going on record to call the dodges a case of morality.

However, Schmidt’s argument says that it is up to legislators to close loopholes instead of scapegoating individual companies simply working within a system. The Coalition government blustered about closing loopholes but so far little action has been taken – except a recent campaign by HMRC that saw it naming and shaming small traders, while companies like Vodafone escape scrutiny.

This has been the main focus of political action group UK Uncut.

Last week an ex Google employee claimed that the company had managed to “pull the wool” over HMRC by diverting British profits through Ireland to a Bermuda tax haven.

However, Schmidt said the company’s position related to its “fiduciary responsibility to our shareholders”. 

He told BBC Radio 4 that if the tax man wanted to line his pockets there should be a change in the law, declaring: “What we are doing is legal. I’m rather perplexed by this debate, which has been going in the UK for quite some time because I view taxes as not optional. I view that you should pay the taxes that are legally required.”

“If the British system changes the tax laws then we will comply. If the taxes go up we will pay more, if they go down we will pay less. That is a political decision for the democracy that is the UK,” Schmidt said.

Microsoft and Google call YouTube app row ceasefire

Google has decided to back down and build bridges with Microsoft following a spat over a YouTube app on Windows Phone.

The companies have said they’ll now work together on an app to support Windows Phone, which should be available to users very soon.

The pair added in a statement that Microsoft would replace the existing YouTube app in Windows Phone Store with the previous version during this time. They also said that the new app will support ads.

The ceasefire comes after months of rowing. Back in January Microsoft claimed Google was preventing it from building a YouTube App for Windows Phone and in turn breaking competition laws. It said at the time the company was creating an unfair market and pushed for an investigation.

Last week, Microsoft received a cease and desist notice asking it to remove the app from the Windows Phone Store and disable existing copies by 22 May. This app, Google alleged, violated YouTube’s terms and conditions as it stripped out ads.

Google seems to have realised that the best possible answer is to work with Microsoft and ensure it gets its ads on the new app too.

Samsung tipped to pick Intel for Galaxy Tab 3

The rumour mill is buzzing with news of a partnership between Intel and Samsung that the former may stick its new Atom processor into the Galaxy Tab 3. 

Venture Beat reported over the weekend that the tablet will have Intel’s Clover Trail Atom chip, which when launched last year was described as being perfect for low powered Windows 8 tablets.

It seems Samsung has seen something in the chip and wants to bung it in an Android based tablet., the rumour goes 

Sources have said that the company went with Intel’s creations for its new device, rumoured to come with a 10.1-inch touchscreen,  rather than those offered by ARM because of the speed and efficiency. This has traditionally been the opposite as Intel was late to the game in mobile.

The Intel chip is made in a 32-nanometer high-k metal gate manufacturing process and offers better power and graphics than its predecessors.

Ipsos denies selling PERSONAL EE user data to Met police

Ipsos Mori has denied that it offered to sell personally identifiable information from the call and text data of 27 million EE mobile network customers, but does not deny offering to sell anonymised information.

The research firm said it “absolutely refutes” accusations in the Sunday Times, which claimed that it had been offering EE call and text data to the police, as well as boasting that the data it had collated could be used to track individuals and their locations in and around 100 metres.

It is thought the police may have had an interest in the offer but backed out of the deal once it became public. The Metropolitan Police confirmed to the Sunday Times it had spoken with Ipsos Mori. 

Ipsos Mori did not deny it was offering information full stop, instead assuring EE customers that any data was thoroughly anonymised.

In a statement, Ipsos Mori said it “absolutely refuted the suggestion that it [was] offering access to individual personal data for sale”.

Instead it said its mobile analytics explored user volume, demographics and mobile web use from anonymised and aggregated groups of people.

“In conducting this research we only receive anonymised data without any personally identifiable information.

“We have taken every care to ensure it is being carried out in compliance with all relevant legal and regulatory requirements, including the Data Protection Act and Privacy and Electronic Communications (EC Directive) Regulations (both as amended),” it added.

As a result it said it could assure customers that it only received anonymised data without any personally identifiable information on any individual customers. The statement did not reveal exactly which demographics were up for sale.

“We do not have access to any names, personal address information, nor postcodes or phone numbers,” it said.

Michael Dell sees more buyout challenges

Michael Dell and his Silver Lake cash cow pal have been dealt a potential blow in their bid to buyout Dell.

The pair, which looked like they had a clear run after rival investor Blackstone gave up on its
challenge to purchase the company, now face competition from Carl Icahn and Southeastern Asset Management.

The pair,  two of Dell s largest shareholders, have proposed an alternative to the $24.4 billion plan laid out by Michael Dell and now want to take an additional $12 a share in cash or stock, claiming the Silver Lake/Michael Dell buyout significantly undervalued the company.

Dell hasn’t had a good run of things of late, which was one of the reasons Blackstone could have pulled out of the bidding war.

The company saw a 14 percent drop in industry PC sales in the first quarter of 2013 and a forecasted operating income drop from $3.7 billion to $3 billion in the current fiscal year.

Shareholder interference has also meant that the buyout, which was predicted to be settled in February, has continued into this month with no sign of anyone signing on the dotted line.

IBM creates film using precisely placed atoms

Scientists from IBM have created the world’s smallest film, made with thousands of atoms.

Approved by the Guinness World of Records, the film, aptly named “A Boy and His Atom,” uses thousands of precisely placed atoms to create nearly 250 frames of stop-motion action.

It’s a story about a character named Atom who befriends a single atom and goes on a playful journey that includes dancing, playing catch and bouncing on a trampoline. Set to a musical track, the film is said to represent a unique way to convey science outside the research community.  

In order to make the film the atoms were moved with an IBM-made scanning tunnelling microscope, which lets scientists visualise the world all the way down to single atoms.

IBM said it weighs two tons, operates at a temperature of negative 268 degrees Celsius and magnifies the atomic surface over 100 million times.

Remotely operated on a standard computer, IBM researchers used the microscope to control a super-sharp needle along a copper surface to “feel” atoms. Only one nanometer away from the surface, which is a billionth of a meter in distance, the needle can physically attract atoms and molecules on the surface and thus pull them to a precisely specified location on the surface. The moving atom makes a unique sound that is critical feedback in determining how many positions it has actually moved.  

As the movie was being created, the scientists rendered still images of the individually arranged atoms, resulting in 242 single frames.

IBM said that, for decades, scientists have have studied materials at the nanoscale to explore the limits of data storage, among other things.

Using the smallest object available for engineering data storage devices – single atoms – the same team of IBM researchers who made the film also recently created the world’s smallest magnetic bit. They were the first to answer the question of how many atoms it takes to reliably store one bit of magnetic information: 12.

Durex trials vibrating smart-pants

Durex’s Australian arm has created a pair of vibrating underwear, nicknamed Fundawear, which are equipped with touch technology powered via a smartphone.

Users wishing to please long distance lovers download an app, which has handy diagrams of your partner’s private parts.

Touching these on the screen will kick start the pants and the “teasing, tickling and tantalising” fun begins.  
 
The pants are apparently part of the condom manufacturer’s drive to improve what they describe as “the ultimate pleasure” and are said to be the latest offering from the company’s ‘durexperiment’ team.

To show couples all around the world how it works the company has posted footage of young couple Nick and Dani having a go on YouTube.

Privacy International takes on HMRC

HMRC is the subject of court action by Privacy International.

The privacy organisation has filed for judicial review after the tax collector refused to reveal the state of an investigation into Gamma International. Privacy International claims the company has been exporting sophisticated surveillance technology, which has been used to spy on dissidents in Bahrain and elsewhere.

It said the FinFisher software had been linked to use in more than two dozen countries, including Bahrain, Egypt, Ethiopia, Turkmenistan and Vietnam.

Now the group has gone after HMRC, which it claims has “categorically refused to provide any details regarding any investigation into Gamma’s export practices”, arguing it is statutorily barred from releasing information to victims or complainants.

It said it denied that it has any obligation to be transparent about any activities relating to the potentially illegal exports of British surveillance technology by Gamma International.
 
Privacy International, however, believes that the HMRC is acting unlawfully, either because it misconstrued the law to justify its evasive practices, or because it issued a blanket refusal without considering the facts of the case at hand.

“Furthermore, in rejecting Privacy International’s requests for information, HMRC was not only in contravention of the law, it also failed to recognise well-established principles regarding the rights of victims of crime,” the organisation said in a statement.  
 
Eric King, head of research at Privacy International, said in the wrong hands surveillance technologies could have “devastating effects”, and the public, especially victims targeted by this surveillance, had a right to know what the UK government is doing about it.

“HMRC’s refusal to provide information to the pro-democracy activists who have been targeted is shameful. In order for the public to have full confidence and faith that these issues will be addressed, we’re asking the court to force HM Revenue & Customs to come clean,” he said.

FinFisher products work by covertly installing software onto a target’s computers and mobile phone without their knowledge, usually by tricking the user into thinking they are opening an attachment or downloading fake updates from seemingly legitimate sources like Apple or Adobe.

Once the user installs the software, victims’ computers and mobile devices can be taken over, the cameras and microphones remotely switched on, emails, instant messengers and voice calls (including Skype) monitored, and locations tracked. Investigations have revealed that such technology has been used in monitoring and tracking victims who are subsequently subjected to torturous interrogations.
 
In November, Privacy International provided a 186-page dossier of evidence against Gamma International to HMRC, the body responsible for enforcing export regulations, regarding this potentially criminal breach of the export control regime.

Having received no response, Privacy International wrote again on 21st December 2012 on behalf of Dr Ala-A Shehabi, a British born Bahraini pro-democracy activist whose computer had been targeted by the Bahrain authorities using technology exported by Gamma International.
 
HMRC finally responded on 9 January 2013 stating that by reason of the Commissioner of Revenue and Customs Act 2005 (“CRCA 2005”) s 18 it had no power to “disclose any information held by HMRC in connection with its functions” and thus “will be unable to keep you or other third parties informed about the progress of any investigation”.
 

Semiconductor materials market declined in 2012

The global semiconductor materials market fell by two percent in 2012 compared to the same time in 2011, SEMI has found.

In its latest report, the global industry association for the manufacturing supply chain for the micro- and nano-electronics industries also found that the worldwide semiconductor revenues declined three percent.

Revenues of $47.11 also marked the first decline in the semiconductor materials market in three years, the association pointed out.

Total wafer fabrication materials and packaging materials were $23.38 billion, compared to  $24.22 billion in 2011.

However, 2012 marked a turn for packaging materials revenues, which for the first time  exceeded wafer fabrication materials revenues standing $23.74 billion in 2012 compared to $23.62 billion in 2011.

A substantial decline in silicon revenue contributed to the year-over-year decrease to the total semiconductor materials markets. For the third year in a row, SEMI highlighted Taiwan as the largest consumer of semiconductor materials with record spending of $10.32 billion due to its large foundry and advanced packaging base.

Materials markets in China and South Korea also experienced increases in 2012, benefiting from strength in packaging materials. The materials market in Japan contracted seven percent, with markets also contracting in Europe, North America, and elsewhere.

Oracle delays Itanium trial citing 'free speech'

Oracle has managed to delay its trial with HP, which is looking into whether it breached a contract over software support for servers running Intel’s Itanium microprocessors.

The second phase of the trial was set to begin this week, to judge whether HP had a point in demanding compensation and determine how much the company would receive if Oracle was found guilty.

HP is gunning for a shed load of cash, with some sources saying that it wants about $500 million in damages.

The sorry tale began when Oracle decided it wanted to stop porting its software to HP’s Itanium server platform, claiming it was a waste of time. At the time a California superior court judge ruled that Oracle had a binding contract with HP and ordered it to continue supporting Itanium.

HP had a good chance until Oracle threw a spanner in the works – by saying HP had violated the company’s free speech rights.

According to Bloomberg, the trial has now been delayed until the courts look into these claims.  
HP has said the the moves are clearly a tactical attempt by Oracle to “extend the uncertainty in the marketplace”. It said the company had breached its contractual commitment to HP and ignored its repeated promises of support to shared customers for the purpose of driving hardware sales from Itanium to Sun servers. 

Considering Oracle has been banging on about free speech it has, so far, instead exercised its right to remain silent about this case.