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Tuesday, December 24, 2013


Story first appeared on

Two big shifts happened in the American cellphone industry over the past year: Cellular networks got faster, and smartphone screens got bigger. As a result, people’s consumption of mobile data nearly doubled.

In the United States, consumers used an average of 1.2 gigabytes a month over cellular networks this year, up from 690 megabytes a month in 2012, according to Chetan Sharma, a consultant for wireless carriers, who published a new report on industry trends on Monday. Worldwide, the average consumption was 240 megabytes a month this year, up from 140 megabytes last year, he said.

But what’s in a megabyte or gigabyte anyway? A megabyte is about the amount of data required to download a photo taken with a decent digital camera, or one minute of a song, or a decent stack of e-mail.

So using that analogy — 1.2 gigabytes of mobile data a month looks something like 1,200 photos that a person downloaded to the Internet from a mobile device each month, compared with 690 photos he downloaded a month last year.

That is a significant jump. Mr. Sharma said the uptick in data use could be attributed, at least partly, to the widespread coverage of fourth-generation network technology, called LTE, which carriers say is 10 times faster than its predecessor, 3G. He said the rise was also connected to the popularity of phones with bigger screens, like the newer iPhones or Samsung’s Galaxy smartphones, which download bigger images.

About 1.4 billion smartphones will be in use by the end of this year, according to ABI Research. Cisco, the networking company, predicts that Internet traffic from mobile devices will exceed that of wired devices, like desktop computers, by 2016.

Friday, December 20, 2013


Story first appeared on the BBC.

Google has been fined 900,000 euros (£751,000) for breaking Spanish data protection laws.

The fine is the maximum it is possible to levy on a firm that has broken the nation's privacy laws.

It was imposed after Google changed its privacy policy and started combining personal information across its online services.

Google said it had co-operated with the Spanish inquiry and would act once it had seen the agency's full report.
Biggest fine

Google changed its privacy policy in March 2012 and began the process of combining the data that people surrendered when they used its many services.

The change led many European data protection authorities to look into Google's privacy policy. The investigation carried out by Spain's privacy watchdog has now led to it imposing a fine - the maximum possible under Spanish law.

Google collected information across almost 100 services, said the Spanish data protection agency, but had not obtained the consent of people to gather information nor done enough to explain what would be done with the data.

The "highly ambiguous" language Google employed on its privacy policy pages made it hard for people to find out what would happen to their data, said the agency in a statement. Google also kept data for too long and made it far too hard for people to delete data or manage the information they surrendered.

The 900,000 euro fine is made up of three separate penalties of 300,000 euros each for breaking different parts of Spanish privacy laws.

Google said it had worked closely with the Spanish data agency during its investigation and said it would await publication of the full report before taking any action.

The search giant could also face further action from other European data protection bodies. In late November, the Netherlands data protection authority said Google's 2012 policy change also broke its laws. France is also believed to be contemplating levying a fine over Google's data handling policies.

Monday, December 16, 2013


Story first appeared on

As it turns out, animal-themed robots appear to be the droids that Google was looking for.

Google recently purchased robotics research and development company Boston Dynamics – a transaction that was officially confirmed by the search engine giant on December 14.

Dynamic robotics

Founded in 1992 by Dr Marc Raibert, Boston Dynamics is best known for working in conjunction with the US military to develop agile, fast-moving robots, both for mobile research and on the battlefield.

Among the company’s most notable creations are Atlas, a humanoid machine capable of operating on rocky terrain; Big Dog, a robotic quadruped that can lift and throw heavy objects; and Cheetah, a robot that can run faster than the world’s fastest man, athlete Usain Bolt.
Boston Dynamics also served as a consultant for Sony back when the company was developing the robotic dog, Aibo.
  Boston Dynamics is currently honoring a $10.8 million contract with the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). The company is supplying DARPA with Atlas units for the agency’s Robotics Challenge, which aims to develop robots suited for operating in calamity-stricken areas and nuclear disaster zones.

“Competitions like the DARPA Robotics Challenge stretch participants to try to solve problems that matter and we hope to learn from the teams’ insights around disaster relief,” according to Google’s Robotics Division head Andy Rubin in an official statement. Rubin is also the man behind Google’s Android software, a major player in the field of smartphones.

Google’s feeling lucky

Google’s newest purchase may not be so surprising, though.

The New York Times reports that Boston Dynamics is the eighth in a series of robotics companies that Google brought into its fold during the last six months of 2013. Google had previously purchased US and Japanese companies that focus on a wide range of robotics research, including (humanoid robots), Redwood Robotics (advanced robotic arms), and Industrial Perception (computer vision).

Evidence seems to point to Google working on a line of automated “servants” to fulfill manufacturing and delivery duties in warehouses, or possibly even caretaker duties for the elderly. Most of it is just speculation at this point, though, as the Internet mogul remains tight-lipped about the true nature of its plans.

According to Rubin, this new top-secret robotics project is a “moonshot,” and would most likely be in its initial development stages for a few years.

Additionally, Dr Raibert, a former Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) professor who is recognized as the “father of walking robots” in the United States, revealed that he is excited by Google’s “ability to think very, very big, with the resources to make it happen.”

No Google-sponsored 'killer robots'

However, although Google confirmed that Boston Dynamics would still honor existing military contracts, the search giant assured that it has no plans to become a military contractor.

Dr Raibert had also previously stated that despite working closely with the military on their recent robotics projects, Boston Dynamics prefers to make advancements in robotics technology as a whole, rather than become a full-time robot builder for the military.

Google declined to reveal exactly how much money was involved in the deal, adding that it does not plan to release financial information about any similar transactions with other companies as well.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013


Story first appeared on

To say that the Obamacare website,, has been troublesome for the American public is an understatement. Since its launch on Oct. 1, report after report has stated that access is at best slow and at worst impossible. The website has performed so poorly that Wired Magazine released a story with the headline that read “Obamacare Website Is in Great Shape — If This Were 1996.”

However, over the last month a more startling problem has come to the forefront. The healthcare website is a risk to personally identifiable information of all of its users.

An Associated Press report revealed that no end-to-end security tests were performed and the non-existence of a security leader renders such tests impossible to perform today. The AP also noted that HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius’ testimony in another hearing confirmed this, and that an Authorization to Operate memo outlined significant security problems, the details of which were redacted except to say, “the threat and risk potential is limitless.”

A group of security specialists testifying to the House Science Committee recently echoed these findings. David Kennedy, a former cyber-intelligence analyst for the U.S. Marine Corps and the founder of an online security firm, told the committee that the risk to the public was easy to spot. “Fundamental security principles,” he said, are “not being followed.” The witnesses each offered similar assessments: Americans should avoid until it has been certified as safe for public consumption.

There is no quick fix. Avi Rubin, a University of Michigan graduate and current professor at Johns Hopkins, explained that you cannot solve a software problem by throwing money and people at it. “Once a project falls behind schedule, sticking to a hard deadline can result in a faulty system that is not properly tested,” he observed. Rubin also added, “One cannot build a system and add security later any more than you can construct a building and then add the plumbing and duct work afterwards.”

In its haste to implement Obamacare, the White House acted recklessly and put the personal information of users attempting to obtain health insurance at risk. It also potentially compromised dozens of other federal agencies and their systems because taps into numerous other federal websites. This problem cannot be taken lightly.

Despite numerous public statements from security experts that the website should be taken down while performance and security problems are fixed, President Barack Obama and Democrats in Congress continue to insist that Americans use the site. They would rather prop up the failing healthcare law rather than protect the American people’s privacy.

The job of Congress is to protect people’s rights, not take them away. That’s why I have introduced the Safe and Secure Federal Websites Act. My bill requires that future websites created by the federal government be reviewed by the Government Accountability Office and certified as secure by the issuing agency’s Chief Information Officer before being made available to the public. Furthermore, the Safe and Secure Federal Websites Act forces the White House to take down until it has been deemed safe, forcing the Department of Health and Human Services to implement standard security protocols that ensure the public no longer places itself in the sights of hackers simply because they follow the advice of the White House.

Obamacare has shown the difficulties of liberal governance and the troubles that happen when politicians try to control the most important aspects of our lives. The failure of comes from political cowardice rather than anticipated glitches. One of the main reasons the HHS website is nearly 25 times larger than Facebook, one of the largest websites in the world, stems from the Obama administration hiding the increased premiums from the public before federal subsidies are calculated. The administration knew that people would reject Obamacare if the skyrocketing premiums it has caused became too apparent. The White House placed an election over the protecting the public.

Government makes decisions poorly because politicians and bureaucrats too often do not have the same incentives of the citizenry. While Americans want the opportunity to succeed, elected officials too often develop large projects like Obamacare, paid for by taxpayer money, that often fail for the people (but help special interests).

Too often, failed federal programs leave our fellow citizens behind. The president’s healthcare reform was passed by one party over a bipartisan opposition. But now, many of our friends and neighbors are being hurt by it. Regardless of its good intentions — and trying to help people gain health insurance coverage is a good intention — government is almost always less efficient and more costly than the private sector. Whenever we discuss new projects, Congress should ask whether the government actually needs to get involved in the first place.

The Safe and Secure Federal Websites Act will ensure that politics never trumps the security of some of the most important personal information Americans have.

We were sent to Washington not to use the levers of power for political follies and misadventures, but rather to help our fellow citizens while still protecting the freedoms we all hold so dear.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013


Story first appeared on USA TODAY.

SAN FRANCISCO — Silicon Valley foes have become frenemies.

Torched by disclosures that the National Security Agency routinely tapped into their data and spied on people and businesses, some of tech's biggest names have banded together to form what is essentially an anti-NSA coalition.

Google, Apple, Microsoft, Facebook, Twitter and Yahoo head the Reform Government Surveillance coalition, announced late Sunday, to rein in the vast tentacles of the NSA and — perhaps — salve the worries of privacy-conscious consumers.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, Google CEO Larry Page and Twitter CEO Dick Costolo wrote an open letter to Washington, D.C., in which they "urge the U.S. to take the lead and make reforms that ensure that government surveillance efforts are clearly restricted by law."  Google SEO Services should not be affected.

"The security of users' data is critical, which is why we've invested so much in encryption and fight for transparency around government requests for information," Page said in a statement Monday. "This is undermined by the apparent wholesale collection of data, in secret and without independent oversight, by many governments around the world. It's time for reform, and we urge the U.S. government to lead the way."

Added Zuckerberg, in a separate statement: "The U.S. government should take this opportunity to lead this reform effort and make things right."

The coalition hopes to limit the federal government's authority to collect user information, protect citizens' privacy and impose more legislative oversight and accountability of organizations such as the NSA.

Each of the participating companies — which include LinkedIn and AOL — have taken technological, legal and public relations steps to assure customers that their personal information is safe, in hopes of preserving their brand names and not losing business in the U.S. and abroad.

"The undersigned companies believe that it is time for the world's governments to address the practices and laws regulating government surveillance of individuals and access to their information," the coalition website says, "We strongly believe that current laws and practices need to be reformed."

But the damage has been done, as outlined by companies such as Cisco Systems and Hewlett-Packard in their recently completed financial quarters. Both hinted that government snooping has spooked overseas customers, undercutting potential sales.

There's no guarantee the NSA, which was able to crack the digital codes of tech companies before, will be less successful in the future, given its enormous resources and information technology prowess.

Still, reassuring the public that sensitive information is safe from the prying eyes of the government is crucial to Google, Facebook and other Internet companies. The surveillance kerfuffle is becoming an ominous asterisk to what has become a data obsession among major tech companies. Nearly every day, Google, Facebook, Microsoft and countless start-ups are carting out new products and services that breathlessly promise to make the most of cloud computing and data.

Indeed, some in the security industry think it hypocritical the same tech companies monetize the data they collect.

It also remains to be seen if a united tech front will have any impact on a federal government bent on collecting information about individuals considered threats in the post-9/11 world, security experts caution.