Author: Nick Farrell

FTC sues Qualcomm for antitrust antics

monopoly (1)The US Federal Trade Commission filed a lawsuit against Qualcomm saying that the outfit had used “anticompetitive” tactics to maintain its monopoly on a key semiconductor used in mobile phones.

The FTC said that Qualcomm used its dominant position to impose “onerous” supply and licensing terms on smartphone manufacturers and to weaken competitors.

Qualcomm said in a statement that it would “vigorously contest” the complaint and denied FTC allegations that it threatened to withhold chips to collect unreasonable licensing fees.

The action is the last under current Democratic Chairwoman Edith Ramirez, who will step down soon after President Donald (Prince of Orange) Trump takes office.

Trump will name Republican Commissioner Maureen Ohlhausen as acting FTC chairwoman and will fill three vacancies that will reshape the agency. She has previously said that the lawsuit was based on a “flawed legal theory … that lacks economic and evidentiary support”.

In its complaint, the FTC said the patents that Qualcomm sought to license are standard essential patents, which means that the industry uses them widely and they are supposed to be licensed on fair, reasonable and non-discriminatory terms.

The FTC complaint also accused Qualcomm of refusing to license some standard essential patents to rival chipmakers, and entering an exclusive deal with Apple.

“Qualcomm’s customers have accepted elevated royalties and other license terms that do not reflect an assessment of terms that a court or other neutral arbiter would determine to be fair and reasonable,” the FTC said in its complaint.

In February 2015, Qualcomm paid a $975 million fine in China following a 14 month probe, while the European Union in December 2015 accused it of abusing its market power to thwart rivals.

 

AT&T kills off first iPhone

apple_iphoneIn an end of an error (surely era Ed.), AT&T has shut down its 2G service and finally killed off the first-generation iPhone.

The 2G shutdown has been planned for a few years  and judging by the lack of outcry from Apple fanboys when the network stopped working there can’t be many people still able to get Steve Jobs’ pivotal shiny toy to go. To be fair it is ten years and Apple normally expects people to replace their phone after one.

AT&T notes that the 2G shut down will free up resources and spectrum bandwidth for the network to use for future rollouts of more advanced wireless solutions like 5G down the line.

Of course, the Apple fanboy could move to Blighty, where 2G is still going. In fact some remote areas are only covered by 2G because it is reasoned that some coverage is better than nothing.

Even within more urban and populated areas that have substantial 3G coverage, there is still a large dependence on the reliability of 2G.

Chelsea Manning has her sentence shortened

Chelsea_Manning_with_wigPresident Barack Obama has shortened the prison sentence of Chelsea Manning, the former US military intelligence analyst who was responsible for a 2010 leak of classified materials to anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks.

Manning has been a focus of a worldwide debate on government secrecy since she provided more than 700,000 documents, videos, diplomatic cables and battlefield accounts to WikiLeaks – a leak for which she was sentenced to serve 35 years in prison. Obama, in one of his final acts before leaving office, reduced her sentence to seven years.

Manning was working as an intelligence analyst in Baghdad in 2010 when she gave WikiLeaks a trove of diplomatic cables and battlefield accounts that included a 2007 gunsight video of a US Apache helicopter firing at suspected insurgents in Iraq, killing a dozen people including two Reuters news staff.

Manning was born male but revealed after being convicted of espionage that she identifies as a woman. The White House said her sentence would end on May 17 this year.

Prison has been tough on Manning who has tried to kill herself twice. Obama said that one of the reason that she has been pardoned is that she accepted responsibility for leaking the material.

The official said Obama’s decision was rooted in Manning’s sentence being longer than sentences given to others who had committed comparable crimes. Obama, who leaves office on Friday and is scheduled to give his final news conference on Wednesday, is expected to discuss his decision then.

The move has been welcomed by Amnesty International which has said that Chelsea Manning exposed serious abuses, and her own human rights have been violated by the US government for years.

The Republicans are furious claiming that Manning’s leaks had put US lives in danger. Of course that is not as dangerous as having a president who owes the Russians lots of money.

NASA wants self-controlling robots

humans-channel4-amc-sci-fi-tv-seriesNASA’s autonomous robotics group have created a 3D robot user interface which could be the first step towards robots with independent minds.

The group is currently developing new technology to improve how humans explore the solar system, and how robots can help.

Terry Fong, senior scientist for autonomous systems at the NASA Ames Research Centre, said that the cunning plan was for humans to interact with autonomous systems and create trusted systems.

When NASA began working with remotely operated robots several years ago, Fong said the scientists needed a piece of software that would allow them to look at terrain and sensor data coming from autonomous robots. That led to the creation of the VERVE interface which allows scientists to see and grasp the three-dimensional world of remotely operated robots.

Verve has been tested with NASA’s K10 planetary rovers (a prototype mobile robot that can travel bumpy terrain), with its K-Rex planetary rovers (robot to determine soil moisture), with SPHERES (Synchronized Position Hold, Engage, Reorient, Experimental Satellites) on the International Space Station (ISS), and the new Astrobee – a robot that can fly around the ISS.

In 2013, NASA carried out a series of tests with astronauts on the ISS, during which astronauts who were flying 200 miles above Earth remotely operated the K10 planetary rover in California.

Maria Bualat, deputy lead of intelligent robotics group at the NASA Ames Research Centre said that because of the time delay, astronauts can’t just “joystick a robot” and need the bot to complete tasks on its own.

“On the other hand, you still want the human in the loop, because the human brings a lot of experience and very powerful cognitive ability that can deal with issues that the autonomy’s not quite ready to handle.”

Human capabilities and robotic capabilities comprise a powerful combination.

One of the goals at NASA is to transfer its technology to the commercial sector, such as supporting autonomous vehicles in partnership with Nissan.

Angry Birds descend on London

0204b1c0e42878a13d3222610b989234Finnish mobile games and animation company Rovio , which is known for its Angry Birds game, is stepping up its hunt for new hit games by opening a studio in London.

The big idea is to focus on multiplayer games that would not rely on the company’s Angry Birds brand.

Privately-held Rovio has struggled in recent years as profits from the Angry Birds franchise dropped, prompting deep job cuts and divestments.

Last year Rovio launched an animated Angry Birds 3D Hollywood film that it said did well at the box office and yielded new licensing deals.

Rovio wants to build a team of about 20 people in London to create “massively multiplayer online” (MMO) games that support shedloads of players simultaneously, with a focus on new characters.

Wilhelm Taht, head of games said that “MMO is a genre that is growing in mobile, but it is not fully saturated. We are not looking for a niche position but a very wide, inclusive game.”

The original Angry Birds game, in which players use a slingshot to attack pigs who steal the birds’ eggs, was launched in 2009 and it remains the top paid mobile app of all time.

Rovio exploited the brand early on by licensing its use on a string of consumer products. But the company’s failure to bring out new hit games resulted in falling profit, prompting Rovio to cut more than 300 jobs in 2014 and 2015.

“In the long term, our new characters may generate intellectual property and even a brand,” Taht said.

Rovio has a series of smartphone games based on Angry Birds characters. In 2015 it published a puzzle game called Nibblers and it will soon put out Battle Bay, a real-time multiplayer game.

He added that that Nintendo’s hit smartphone game Pokemon GO, put augmented reality (AR) on the gaming map and his outfit would be looking into AR as a technology and a tool.

Rovio has around 200 employees spread between its four game studios in Finland and Sweden and about 400 in total.

Windows 7 is a chocolate teapot, Microsoft warns

Nestle-chocolate-teapot-1Software giant Microsoft has warned the world that its Windows 7 software is the chocolate teapot of software and is advising people to upgrade to Windows 10.

Microsoft ended mainstream support for Windows 7 back in January 2015 and stopped OEMs from selling PCs with Windows 7 and 8.1 near the end of 2016.

A spokesVole said that Windows 7 will approach its end of extended support in less than three years, and warned enterprise customers and other users to upgrade to Windows 10.

While January 14, 2020 might seem a long way away it does take organisations rather a long time to do a roll out. But Vole warned that Windows 7 really was not an option anymore and not fit for the purpose for most corporates.

In a new blog post, the company says that continued usage of Windows 7 increases maintenance and operating costs for businesses. Similarly, time is needlessly wasted on combating malware attacks that could have been avoided by upgrading to Windows 10. Microsoft also says that many hardware manufacturers do not provide drivers for Windows 7 any longer, and many developers and companies refrain from releasing programs on the outdated operating system.

Markus Nitschke, Head of Windows at Microsoft Germany said that the Operating system did not meet the requirements of modern technology, nor the high security requirements of IT departments.

Companies should take early steps to avoid future risks or costs, he said.

Microsoft further pointed out that its obsolete operating system is based on “long-outdated security architectures”. It also cautioned that companies and businesses who still use it are more susceptible to cyber-attacks.

Squirrels are more dangerous than hackers

06965bdbf77e1cb95b71fae49a45e84aWhile it seems, the world+dog is worried about hackers and cyberwar, the computer network’s true arch-nemesis is the squirrel.

The Shmoocon security conference was warned by Cris “SpaceRogue” Thomas that after 35 years of cyberwar, the squirrels were winning.

He presented data gathered by CyberSquirrel 1, a project that gathers information on animal-induced infrastructure outages collected from sources on the Internet.

Thomas said that there was a lot of “FUD” around cyber-attacks on critical infrastructure, citing dire predictions from many sources. Government officials such as the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission Chairman Cheryl LaFleur declaring that “one [successful cyber attack] is too many”.

Thomas likened the government’s posture to the Cheney Doctrine, also known as the “One-Percent Doctrine.” As Thomas explained, that doctrine is “if there’s a one percent chance of something occurring, we must employ 100 percent of our resources to prevent it. This is essentially [what happened with] Iraq, and we’re now applying it to cyber and equating cyber to nukes and [mutual assured destruction]. It really doesn’t work that way.”

Many of the cases where “cyber” has been attributed to incidents with energy infrastructure turned out to be false alarms. Even in the few cases where a network intrusion resulted in disruption of the electrical grid—specifically in Ukraine, where two attacks caused power outages—the impact was relatively brief and was comparable to outages caused by other factors, Thomas noted.

For this reason, he launched CyberSquirrel1. Which collected web data on successful squirrel attacks against the power grid in 2016. Of course, squirrels are not the only hackers working on the electricity grid there are birds, snakes, raccoons, and rats. In one case a jellyfish shut down a nuclear power plant in 2013.

CyberSquirrel1’s data so far has tracked “over 1,700 outages, affecting nearly 5 million people,” Thomas noted which is enough to take out the power for the San Francisco metropolitan area for two months.

There have been eight deaths attributed since the tracking began to follow animal attacks on infrastructure—six caused by squirrels downing power lines that struck people on the ground.

Basically frogs have been more successful than hackers in bringing down the US power grid (three attacks) but squirrels are the best cyberwar leaders carrying out 879 successful attacks against infrastructure.

Apparently there was a swan that performed the denial of service attack on a train in the UK which just goes to show the power of the animal kingdom.

Flying cars will be the next big thing after self-driving

flying-carIt looks like after the world has become used to self-driving cars the next big thing will be flying cars.

Airbus plans to test a prototype for a self-piloted flying car as a way of avoiding gridlock on city roads by the end of the year.

The outfit’s chief executive Tom Enders told the DLD digital tech conference in Munich that Airbus has formed a division called Urban Air Mobility that is exploring concepts such as a vehicle to transport individuals or a helicopter-style vehicle that can carry multiple riders.

The aim would be for people to book the vehicle using an app, like car-sharing schemes.

“One hundred years ago, urban transport went underground, now we have the technological wherewithal to go above ground,” Enders said.

He hoped the Airbus could fly a demonstration vehicle for single-person transport by the end of the year.

“We are in an experimentation phase, we take this development very seriously,” he said.

The new flying cars should be clean to avoid further polluting congested cities but using the skies could also reduce costs for city infrastructure planners. “With flying, you don’t need to pour billions into concrete bridges and roads,” he said.

Enders said Airbus, as the world’s largest maker of commercial helicopters, wanted to invest to make the most of new technologies such as autonomous driving and artificial intelligence, to usher in what amounts to an era of flying cars.

“If we ignore these developments, we will be pushed out of important segments of the business,” he said.

South Korea mulls giving Samsung boss a get out of jail free card

monopoly (1)While most countries would have no problem locking a businessman up if they think he has committed a crime, South Korea has to factor in the economic impact the arrest will cause.

South Korea’s special prosecutor said it will take into account the economic impact of whether to arrest Samsung boss Jay Lee in connection with an influence-peddling investigation involving the president.

The office also delayed its decision until later today on whether to seek the arrest of Lee, the third-generation leader of South Korea’s largest conglomerate, or chaebol, citing the gravity of the case.

Spokesman Lee Kyu-chul told reporters on Sunday investigators were deliberating all factors including the potential economic impact of the arrest of Jay Y. Lee.

Samsung appears to have provided $25.46 million to a business and foundations backed by President Park Geun-hye’s friend, Choi Soon-sil, in exchange for the national pension fund’s support for a 2015 merger of two Samsung affiliates.

The Samsung chief denied bribery accusations during a parliamentary hearing in December.

Effectively if the coppers factor in the economic effect then Jay Lee could be given a get out of jail free card.

Park, the daughter of a military ruler, has denied wrongdoing, although she has said sorry for exercising poor judgment. Her friend, Choi, who is in detention and facing her own trial, has also denied wrongdoing.

The whole thing must feel particularly unpleasant for those who see the rule of law as sacrosanct. The chiefs of South Korean chaebol have over the years had prison sentences shortened or forgiven, or received pardons, with the economic impact of imprisonment cited as a factor.

Jay Lee’s dad Lee Kun-hee was handed a three-year suspended jail sentence in 2009 for tax evasion. He was later pardoned.

It seems that if you have a lot of money and run a business in South Korea you can do what you like.

Facebook says it will reduce fake news

funny-pictures-auto-news-france-387930Facebook said  it will update its social media platforms in Germany within weeks to reduce the dissemination of fake news.

German Justice Minister Heiko Mass has repeatedly called on Facebook to respect laws against defamation in Germany that are stricter than those in the United States.

The Germans are worried that fake news and “hate speech” on the internet could influence a parliamentary election in September in which chancellor Angela Merkel will seek a fourth term in office.

Now a Facebook note said the company would make it easier to report items suspected to be fake news and work with external fact-checking organisations.

“Last month we announced measures to tackle the challenge of fake news on Facebook,” the U.S. technology company’s German-language newsroom said.

“We will put these updates in place in Germany in the coming weeks.”

Its partners will be required to sing the U.S. Poynter International Fact-Checking Code of Principles, it said. Warning signs would be attached to reports identified as noncredible, and the reasons for the decision given.

Facebook would also make it impossible for spammers to forge the websites of reputable news agencies, it said.