Google fined a record £2.1bn over Shopping service

Google fined a record £2.1bn over Shopping service

Google has been fined 2.42bn euros (£2.1bn) by the European Commission after it ruled the company had abused its power by promoting its own shopping comparison service at the top of search results. The ruling also orders Google to end its anti-competitive practices within 90 days or face a further penalty of payments of 5% of its parent company Alphabet’s average daily worldwide earnings. Based on the company’s most recent financial report, this amounts to about $14m a day.

The European Union’s Competition Commissioner, Margrethe Vestager, said ‘Google has denied other companies the chance to compete on their merits and to innovate, and most importantly it has denied European consumers the benefits of competition, genuine choice and innovation.’

A spokesperson for Google said, ‘We respectfully disagree with the conclusions. We will review the Commissioner’s decision in detail as we consider an appeal, and we look forward to continuing to make our case.’

Google shopping displays relevant products’ images and prices alongside the names of shops they are available from and review scores, if available. (27th June 2017)

Apple Mac computers targeted by Ransomware and Spyware

Apple Mac computers targeted by Ransomware and Spyware

Apple Mac users are being warned about new variants of malware that have been created specifically to target Apple computers.  One is ransomware that encrypts data and demands payment before files are released. The other is spyware that watches what users do and scoops up valuable information. Experts have said that the threat is real due to the creators letting anyone use the two programs for free.

The two programs were uncovered by the security firms Fotinet and AlienVault which found a portal on the Tor ‘dark web’ network that acted as a shopfront for both. The creators behind the malware are thought to have extensive experience of creating working code.

Those wishing to use either of the programs had been urged to get in touch and provide details of how they wanted the malware to be set up. The malware’s creators had said that payments made by ransomware victims would be split between themselves and their customers.

Researchers at Fortinet contacted the ransomware writers pretending they were interested in using the product and, soon afterwards, were sent a sample of the malware. Analysis revealed that it used much less sophisticated encryption than the many variants seen targeting Windows machines, said the firm. They also said that any files scrambled with the ransomware would be completely lost because it did a very poor job of handling the decryption keys needed to restore data.

Aamir Lakhani from Fortinet said Mac users should make sure their machines were kept up to date with the latest software patches and be wary of messages they receive via email. (13th June 2017)


Project Loon gets underway

Project Loon gets underway

Peruvians have been getting online using Project Loon, the ambitious connectivity project from Google’s parent company, Alphabet.

Project Loon uses tennis court-sized balloons (about 20km above the ground) which contain a small box of equipment to beam internet access to a wide area below. Only small-scale tests of the technology have taken place so far.

Project Loon is in competition with other attempts to provide internet from the skies, including Facebook’s Aquila project which is being worked on in the UK. Project Loon have recently figured out how to use artificial intelligence to ‘steer’ the balloons by raising or lowering them to ride weather streams. This led to balloons being used to connect people in Lima, Chimbote, and Piura. The balloons were launched from the US territory of Puerto Rico before being guided south.

Over the course of three months the balloons were still providing access with users sending over 160GB worth of data (the equivalent of 2 million emails).

The connectivity (roughly covering an area of 40,000 square kilometres) was enabled with the help of Spanish telecoms giant Telefonica, which operates in Peru, and several other organisations who aided in setting up ground stations that enabled the balloons to connect to the internet.

The technology is still in its early stages, the concept still faces a number of challenges, most related to keeping the equipment in the air.

Some have questioned the motive of companies expanding into the developing world with such vigour – particularly over how both Facebook and Project Loon may be bale to collect data that could later be used to sell targeted advertising. (17th May 2017)

Vodafone to close down pager business after CMA shock

Vodafone to close down pager business after CMA shock

Vodafone has pulled the sale of its paging business to Capita and will shut it down after the competition watchdog threatened to investigate the deal. The Competition and Markets Authority said it was concerned customers may now face price rises. Vodafone said it was disappointed by the CMA’s decision, but made more sense to close the business due to the expense involved with a prolonged investigation. Vodafone said they would do their utmost to minimise the impact on the 1,000 or so customers still using the service.

Vodafone and Capita run the UK’s last two paging businesses and agreed the sale in February. Pagers, a decades-old technology, are still used by many people such as those working in the emergency services because of their reliability, coverage and battery life. They are used by the NHS and the Army as well as lifeboat services. (10th May 2017)

China announces tighter regulations for online news

China announces tighter regulations for online news

The Chinese government has issued new regulations tightening its control over online news content. Companies that publish, share or edit news will need a government licence, and senior editors must be approved by the authorities. Other staff will be required to undergo government training and assessment, and receive official accreditation. The legislation will bring online news providers into line with traditional news media operating in the country.

The Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC) said the new rules would ‘strengthen management of information and promote the healthy and orderly development of internet news, in accordance to law.’

Organisations that do not have a licence will not be allowed to post news or commentary about the government, economy, military, foreign affairs, or ‘other areas of public interest’. Only publicly funded organisations will be able to carry out their own reporting.

The CAC has made increased efforts to tighten online media regulation in recent months – particularly as live streaming and video blogging becomes a popular means of telling news.

Chinese outlets will not be allowed to enter joint ventures with foreign partners, or accept foreign funding, until thy have passed a security assessment carried out by the government’s State Council Information Office.

Google, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and many foreign news websites are banned in China. (3rd May 2017)

Which? announce UK’s best and worst cities for 4G mobile coverage

Which? announce UK’s best and worst cities for 4G mobile coverage

Consumer group Which? and analyst Open Signal measured data from mobile phones across twenty cities in the UK. They say that critical reforms are needed to perform a better service for customers. The Open Signal study analysed more than 500m data readings from mobile phones taken from more than 30,000 users between 1st December 2016 and 28th February 2017 via an app. It ranked 20 of the biggest towns and cities from top to bottom based on their 4G availability.

The Top 5 were –

  • Middlesborough/Teeside – 82.7%
  • Sheffield – 79.3%
  • Sunderland – 79%
  • Leicester – 78.6%
  • Leeds/West Yorkshire – 78.2%

The Bottom 5 were –

  • Bournemouth/Poole – 67.5%
  • Southampton/Portsmouth – 69.6%
  • Cardiff – 71.8%
  • Nottingham – 73.3%
  • London – 73.6%

The report also looked at average 4G download speeds across the UK, finding Stoke-on-Trent to be the fastest city and Brighton the slowest. Which? said that big cities often suffer with below par mobile networks because it is more difficult to build towers and masts in built-up urban areas.

Ofcom said its rules meant that nearly all UK premises would have to receive a 4G signal by the end of the year. Ofcom has stated that mobile coverage must improve and that it understood the importance of having a reliable mobile broadband where people live and work. (3rd May 2017)