Microsoft Corp, under fire for accessing an employee’s private Hotmail account to prove he was illegally passing computer code to a blogger, has said it will now refer all suspicious activity on its email services to law enforcement.
The decision, announced by head lawyer Brad Smith on Friday, reverses Microsoft’s initial reaction to complaints last week, when it laid out a plan to refer such cases to an unidentified former federal judge, and proceed to open a suspect email account only if that person saw evidence to justify it.
“Effective immediately, if we receive information indicating that someone is using our services to traffic in stolen intellectual or physical property from Microsoft, we will not inspect a customer’s private content ourselves,” said Smith, in a blog post on the software company’s website. “Instead, we will refer the matter to law enforcement if further action is required.”
Microsoft – which has recently cast itself as a defender of customer privacy – was harshly criticized last week by civil liberties groups after court documents made public in the prosecution of Alex Kibkalo in Seattle federal court for leaking trade secrets showed that Microsoft had accessed the defendant’s email account before taking the matter to legal authorities.
The issue is poignant for Microsoft, which routinely criticizes Google Inc for serving up ads based on the content of users’ Gmail correspondence.
It has also been campaigning for more transparency in the legal process through which U.S. intelligence agencies can get access to email accounts following the revelations of former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden.
“While our own search was clearly within our legal rights, it seems apparent that we should apply a similar principle and rely on formal legal processes for our own investigations involving people who we suspect are stealing from us,” said Smith in his blog. “Therefore, rather than inspect the private content of customers ourselves in these instances, we should turn to law enforcement and their legal procedures.”
The company, headquartered in Washington, D.C. and launched in January, is targeting people using major email providers who want stronger privacy controls for more secure communication.
The service is designed to be easy to use for end users who may not have the technical gumption to set up PGP (Pretty Good Privacy), a standard for signing and encrypting content.
Virtru is compatible with most major webmail providers, including Google’s Gmail, Yahoo’s Mail and Microsoft’s Outlook webmail, which replaced Hotmail.
Emails sent using Virtru through those services would look like gibberish, providing a greater degree of privacy. Law enforcement or other entities would not be able to read the content unless they could obtain the key.
Virtru uses a browser extension to encrypt email on a person’s computer or mobile device. The content is decrypted after recipients receive a key, which is distributed by Virtru’s centralized key management server.
Although Virtru handles key management, the company is working on a product that would allow that task to be managed on-site for users, as some administrators would be uncomfortable with another entity managing their keys.
Virtru has said it put aside funds to contest government orders such as a National Security Letter or law enforcement request that are not based on a standard of probable cause.
It is starting to look like chip makers are having cold feet about moving to the next technology for chipmaking. Fabricating chips on larger silicon wafers is the latest cycle in a transition, but according to the Wall Street Journal chipmakers are mothballing their plans.
Companies have to make massive upfront outlays for plants and equipment and they are refusing, because the latest change could boost the cost of a single high-volume factory to as much as $10 billion from around $4 billion. Some companies have been reining in their investments, raising fears the equipment needed to produce the new chips might be delayed for a year or more.
ASML, a maker of key machines used to define features on chips, recently said it had “paused” development of gear designed to work with the larger wafers. Intel said it has slowed some payments to the Netherlands-based company under a deal to help develop the technology.
Gary Dickerson, chief executive of Applied Materials said that the move to larger wafers “has definitely been pushed out from a timing standpoint”
As in-vehicle electronics become more sophisticated to support autonomous driving, cameras, and infotainment systems, Ethernet has become a top contender for connecting them.
For example, the BMW X5 automobile, released last year, used single-pair twisted wire, 100Mbps Ethernet to connect its driver-assistance cameras.
Paris-based Parrot, which supplies mobile accessories to automakers BMW, Hyundai and others, has developed in-car Ethernet. Its first Ethernet-connected systems could hit the market as soon as 2015, says Eric Riyahi, executive vice president of global operations.
Parrot’s new Ethernet-based Audio Video Bridging (AVB) technology uses Broadcom’s BroadR-Reach automotive Ethernet controller chips.
The AVB technology’s network management capabilities allows automakers to control the timing of data streams between specific network nodes in a vehicle and controls the bandwidth in order to manage competing data traffic.
Ethernet’s greater bandwidth could provide drivers with turn-by-turn navigation while a front-seat passenger streams music from the Internet, and each back-seat passenger watches streaming videos on separate displays.
“In-car Ethernet is seen as a very promising way to provide the needed bandwidth for coming new applications within the fields of connectivity, infotainment and safety,” said Hans Alminger, senior manager for Diagnostics & ECU Platform at Volvo, in a statement.
Ethernet was initially used by automakers only for on-board diagnostics. But as automotive electronics advanced, the technology has found a place in advanced driver assistance systems and infotainment platforms.
Many manufacturers also use Ethernet to connect rear vision cameras to a car’s infotainment or safety system, said Patrick Popp, chief technology officer of Automotive at TE Connectivity, a maker of car antennas and other automobile communications parts.
Currently, however, there are as many as nine proprietary auto networking specifications, including LIN, CAN/CAN-FD, MOST and FlexRay. FlexRay, for example, has a 10Mbps transmission rate. Ethernet could increase that 10 fold or more.
The effort to create a single vehicle Ethernet standard is being lead by Open Alliance and the IEEE 802.3 working group. The groups are working to establish 100Mbps and 1Gbps Ethernet as de facto standards.
The first automotive Ethernet standard draft is expected this year.
The Open Alliance claims more than 200 members, including General Motors, Ford, Daimler, Honda, Hyundai, BMW, Toyota, Volkswagen. Jaguar Land Rover, Renault, Volvo, Bosch, Freescale and Harman.
Broadcom, which makes electronic control unit chips for automobiles, is a member of the Open Alliance and is working on the effort to standardize automotive Ethernet.
The little known firm said the proposal for Barnes & Noble as a whole would be for $22 per share, which would value the top U.S. bookstore chain at $1.32 billion. It comes after earlier proposal in November for $20 per share, its second.
G Asset, which not did detail how it would finance a deal, also made an alternative offer to buy Nook for $5 per share, saying spinning off the digital books and device business would create “substantial shareholder value.”
The latest offer for the whole company would value Barnes & Noble at $1.32 billion, while the proposal for Nook would value that unit at about $300 million.
The firm has previously pressed the company to spin off its Nook unit from Barnes & Noble’s bookstore and college units.
Michael Glickstein, G Asset’s Chief Investment Officer, and the only person listed on the firm’s website, did not immediately return a request for comment.
Barnes & Noble shares were up 5.8 percent at $17.75 in afternoon trading after going as high as $19.12 after the news was released, suggesting Wall Street analysts were doubtful a deal would get done.
A Barnes & Noble spokeswoman declined to comment beyond confirming that the company had received G Asset’s offer.
The original Nook device was launched in 2009 to help Barnes & Noble fend off Amazon.com Inc and allowed the retailer to win as much as 27 percent of the U.S. e-books market.
But the company lost hundreds of millions of dollars trying to keep pace with deep-pocketed rivals such as Amazon, Apple Inc and Google Inc. It has scaled back its Nook business and focusing more on content and software.
Two years ago, Microsoft Corp invested $300 million in the Nook unit for a 17.6 percent stake, valuing the division at $1.7 billion. In late 2012, Pearson PLC took a 5 percent stake in Nook for $89.5 million.
Mark Zuckerberg launched “Thefacebook” from his dorm room at Harvard University on Feb. 4, 2004. The site was conceived as a way to connect students, and let them build an online identity for themselves.
It has since expanded to cover a large swath of the planet, with more than 1.2 billion people — one-seventh of the world’s population — using its site on a monthly basis, according to the company’s own recent figures.
Zuckerberg reflected on the 10-year milestone at an industry conference in Silicon Valley this week. Not surprisingly, at the start he never envisioned Facebook becoming so large or influential. After launching the initial version, “it was awesome to have this utility and community at our school,” he said at the Open Compute Project Summit.
He figured at the time that someone, someday would build such a site for the world. “It didn’t even occur to me that it could be us,” he said.
Since then, Facebook’s site and its business, now a public company, have changed dramatically. There are now more than a trillion status updates, text posts and other pieces of content stored within its walls — the company is trying to index them as part of its Graph Search search engine.
The company was slow to react to the important mobile market, and when it went public in 2012 investors were skeptical it would be able to monetize its service on smaller screens. But this week it reported that more than half its ad revenue now comes from mobile devices.
All the while, Facebook is making its ad business smarter, using targeting tools to show ads it deems most relevant.
The company is also experimenting with new ways to present content. Next week it will release Paper, an iPhone app that provides a new way to share photos and published articles.
It’s part of a larger effort Facebook hinted at this week to release a variety of standalone apps for different tasks.
The company is also trying to bring the Internet to more people in the world, an effort that’s part philanthropy and part business sense as Facebook aims to reach its next billion users. Asked this week why he launched the project, called Internet.org, Zuckerberg suggested he feels a weight of responsibility.
“There aren’t that many companies in the world that have the resources and the reach that Facebook has at this point,” he said.
ZTE, which trails nearby rival Huawei Technologies Co Ltd in selling both smartphones and telecoms equipment, wants more share of the fat profit margins promised by sales of high-end phones in the United States.
But the company needs to first work on its image. Its mainstay telecom equipment business was essentially shut out of the U.S. and other markets after government officials flagged security concerns about Chinese-made equipment.
ZTE targets a U.S. market share of 10 percent by 2017 from 6 percent in 2013, Lv Qianhao, global marketing director of mobile devices, told Reuters at a company event on Thursday.
That would place it a distant third behind Apple Inc with 41 percent and Samsung Electronics Co Ltd with 26 percent, according to September-November data from researcher comScore.
To that end, ZTE will increase its U.S. marketing budget by at least 120 percent this year from last, Lv said without elaborating. Like other Chinese handset makers, ZTE is grappling with low brand awareness in the world’s second-largest smartphone market and perceptions of inferior quality.
Samsung Electronics, which earns around two-thirds of its operating profit from its mobile division, spent $597 million on marketing in the United States in 2012, according to researcher AdAge.
Last year, ZTE signed a deal with the Houston Rockets basketball team and released a Rockets-branded phone.
“We want young U.S. consumers to participate in our marketing activities, so we will have more NBA (National Basketball Association) stores and channels that sell our products,” Lv said.
Globally, ZTE aims to ship around 60 million smartphones this year compared with about 40 million smartphones last year, said Senior Vice President Zhang Renjun.
The company sees much of that growth in developed markets – including Russia and China- which accounted for 68 percent of mobile device revenue last year compared with 35 percent in 2007, said Lv.
ZTE’s mobile device business sells feature phones as well as smartphones. It was the fifth-biggest mobile phone vendor in July-September, according to researcher Gartner, though it fell out of the top five smartphone sellers list in the same period.
ZTE expects to have swung to a profit for last year having booked its first-ever loss as a public company in 2012.
It based its turnaround on cutting costs, signing fewer low-margin contracts, and winning contracts to build fourth generation telecommunication networks.
The company expects global investment in 4G to reach $100 billion this year, Zhang said.
Dropbox suffered a major outage over the weekend.
In one of the more bizarre recent incidents, after the service went down on Friday evening a group of hackers claimed to have infiltrated the service and compromised its servers.
However, on the Dropbox blog, Dropbox VP of engineering Ardita Ardwarl told users that hackers were not to blame.
Ardwari said, “On Friday evening we began a routine server upgrade. Unfortunately, a bug installed this upgrade on several active servers, which brought down the entire service. Your files were always safe, and despite some reports, no hacking or DDOS attack was involved.”
The fault occurred when a bug in an upgrade script caused an operating system upgrade to be triggered on several live machines, rendering them inoperative. Although the fault was rectified in three hours, the knock-on effects led to problems that lasted through the weekend for some users.
Dropbox has assured users that there are no further problems and that all users should now be back online. It said that at no point were files in danger, adding that the affected machines didn’t host any user data. In other words, the “hackers” weren’t hackers at all, but attention seeking trolls.
Dropbox claims to have over 200 million users, many of which it has acquired through strategic partnerships with device manufacturers offering free storage with purchases.
The company is looking forward to an initial public offering (IPO) on the stock market, so the timing of such a major outage could not be worse. Dropbox, which includes Bono and The Edge from U2 amongst its investors, has recently enhanced its business offering to appeal to enterprise clients, and such a loss of uptime could affect its ability to attract customers.
Even if it means that it will be the first to make ARM’s 64-bit chips, Intel said that it wants to expand its contract foundry work. Intel CEO Brian Krzanich said he would expand his company’s small contract manufacturing business, paving the way for more chipmakers to tap into the world’s most advanced process technology.
Krzanich told analysts that he planned to step up the company’s foundry work, effectively giving Intel’s process technology to its rivals. He said that company’s who can use Intel’s leading edge and build computing capabilities that are better than anyone else’s, are good candidates for foundry service. Krzanich added that the slumping personal computer industry, Intel’s core market, was showing signs of bottoming out.
Intel also unveiled two upcoming mobile chips from its Atom line designed interchange features to create different versions of the component. A high-end version of the new chip, code named Broxton, and is due out in mid-2015. SoFIA, a low-end chip was shown as an example of Intel’s pragmatism and willingness to change how it does business. Krzanich said that in the interest of speed, SoFIA would be manufactured outside of Intel, with the goal of bringing it to market next year.
Intel will move production of SoFIA chips to its own 14 nanometer manufacturing lines, Krzanich added.
Intel has acquired educational software developer Kno to add to its Education division.
Speaking in the company blog, Intel Sales and Marketing Group VP John Galvin explained that in a world where kids are being bombarded by technology, Intel Education has a mission to support the rollout of technology in the classroom.
Galvin said, “The Kno platform provides administrators and teachers with the tools they need to easily assign, manage and monitor their digital learning content and assessments.”
This acquisition brings Intel’s global digital content library to over 225,000 [higher education] and K-12 titles from 74 education publishers. “We’re looking forward to combining our expertise with Kno’s rich content so that together, we can help teachers create classroom environments and personalized learning experiences that lead to student success,” Galvin added.
Intel Education has been working for the past decade with over 10 million teachers that it has assisted to integrate technology with education.
In the UK alone there have been tremendous strides in educational software over the past 30 years, dating back to the government pledge to provide a computer in every school, which led to the creation of the BBC Microcomputer designed specifically for that purpose.
Today, not only is ICT a dedicated lesson in its own right, but it forms one of the key skills that educators are expected to incorporate into all lesson plans, putting it on a par with English and Maths, showing just how far we’ve come from making Venn diagrams with ascii art.