All posts on December, 2016


Privacy

Evernote Toes the Privacy Line

Caught off guard by a huge backlash, Evernote recently abandoned its plan to let staffers read customer notes under certain circumstances. The plan would have allowed staffers to review private customer notes as a means of assessing the accuracy of its new machine learning technology. The company made a mistake in judgment, Evernote CEO Chris O’Neil acknowledged.

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Business and financeGulliver

Why President Trump might be a boon for autonomous vehicles

DONALD TRUMP’S election has generated much uncertainty about the future of travel to America, but one group of travellers might have reason to celebrate: those who hope to ride in driverless cars.

The Obama administration hasn’t exactly cracked down on this emerging technology. The 15-point guidelines released in September by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, which cover everything from data protection to allowing a sober person to take control of the vehicle in the event of a malfunction, are voluntary for now, although the agency does plan to formalise them soon. But under Mr Trump, regulation of autonomous vehicles could be far more laissez-faire—or even actively supportive.

The first clues come from his early appointments. Most notable is Elaine Chao, the former secretary of labour under George W Bush (and wife of Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell) whom Mr Trump has tapped to become secretary of transportation. Ms Chao…Continue reading

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Social Networks

Germany Could Ding Facebook for Fake News

The frenzied 2016 election cycle mercifully is over, but Facebook’s fake news problem isn’t going away. The company may face steep fines in Germany if it fails to address it satisfactorily. A bill slated for consideration next year would establish fines of up to $500,000 euros per day for each day that a fake news story persisted after notification of its falsehood was provided.

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Tech Law

Apple, Ireland Balk at EU’s Bill for Back Taxes

Apple and the Irish government are fighting what some view as a European Union tax grab. The two recently filed a formal appeal of the EC’s decision ordering Apple to pay nearly $14 billion in back taxes, based on its finding that Ireland had given Apple several illegal tax breaks. The EC found that Ireland had allowed Apple to determine its tax based on the activities of its subsidiary firms.

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Cybersecurity

2017: More Apple Security Flaws, Cyberattacks, Hacktivisim

More security vulnerabilities will appear in the software of Adobe and Apple than in Microsoft’s, more attacks on the Internet’s infrastructure will occur, and cybersecurity events will stoke international tensions. Those are a few of the predictions for 2017 that security experts have made. Signs of hackers’ increased interest in Adobe and Apple started appearing in 2016, Trend Micro noted.

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Tech Buzz

2016: The Year That Was

2016 really was a year like no other. We had yet another election defined by the misuse of analytics — and folks seem to be getting worse rather than better at this. We had a rush to robotics, particularly self-driving cars, and some firms even leaped ahead to self-flying, people-delivering drones. We had a wave of fake news, mostly paid for by Google, because that company has no compass.

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Social Networking

Fact-Checking the President-Elect’s Tweets

Fact-checking President-elect Donald Trump can be a chore, even for people paid to do it. The Washington Post wants to make it less so, with add-ons to the popular Chrome and Firefox browsers. The browser extension, RealDonaldContext, is available from the Chrome Web Store or the Mozilla Foundation. Once installed, the extension displays any fact-checking the Post may have done.

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ApprovedBusiness and financeFinance and economics

The state steps in to rescue Monte dei Paschi di Siena

FOR months, a bail-out had seemed likely; for weeks, unavoidable. On December 23rd it became fact. Monte dei Paschi di Siena, Italy’s third-largest bank and Europe’s most troubled, announced it had requested state help. The European Central Bank (ECB), Monte dei Paschi’s supervisor, had given it until the end of the year to find €5bn ($5.2bn) in equity, but the bank’s attempts to raise the money from the private sector failed. Paolo Gentiloni, Italy’s new prime minister, said that “today represents a turning-point [for the bank] and a reassurance for its depositors and its future”.

That is the hope. The Tuscan lender’s problems have been rumbling for years. In 2007 it ill-advisedly bought Antonveneta, another Italian bank, from Spain’s Santander for €9bn in cash; more tales of mismanagement have emerged since. Monte dei Paschi has already had two state bail-outs, and raised €8bn from share issues in 2014 and 2015. Its gross non-performing loans amount to one-third of its book. In this summer’s European stress tests, it ranked 51st of 51 institutions. In the past year its stockmarket value has fallen by 88%, to a piddling…Continue reading

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Business and financeGulliver

A domestic flight in Libya turns into a European hijacking crisis

NEWS that a domestic flight operated by Afriqiyah Airways, a state-owned Libyan airline, has been hijacked and flown to Europe should shock and appal an industry that has, since 9/11, spared no expense to end the scourge of such horrors. Events are still unfolding, but it is clear that two men claiming to have grenades forced the aircraft, an Airbus A320, to bypass its intended destination of Tripoli and fly on to Malta, the tiny Mediterranean island nation situated between Libya and Italy. Few details have emerged about the motives or demands of the hijackers. But, at the time of writing, all passengers and some crew had been released, signalling a peaceful end to the crisis.

Aviation in Libya is a messy affair. Afriqiyah lost one aircraft during the 2011 uprising against Muammar Qaddafi, and another two during the 2014 assault by Islamist militias on Tripoli International Airport. Several other planes are awaiting repairs after that assault, which all but destroyed the capital’s main airport (flights are now operated from the nearby Mitiga Airport, a former military base). Another of Afriqiyah’s planes was supposed to be leased to Turkish Airlines, but has been impounded…Continue reading

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ApprovedBusiness and financeFinance and economics

Germany’s biggest lender reaches a settlement with America’s Department of Justice

WELL, it might have been worse. Early on December 23rd Deutsche Bank announced that it had reached a settlement “in principle” with America’s Department of Justice (DoJ), over claims that it had mis-sold residential mortgage-backed securities (RMBSs) in 2005-07, in the run-up to the financial crisis. Deutsche says the agreement is worth $7.2bn—a far cry from the $14bn that the DoJ demanded in September, sending Deutsche’s share price reeling. Credit Suisse said that it too had struck a deal, worth $5.3bn. However, the DoJ is suing Barclays, with which it had also been negotiating, and two of its bankers. Barclays says it will fight the complaint.

Deutsche, Germany’s biggest bank, has always insisted that it would not pay anything like as much as the DoJ had asked for. Although $7.2bn is more than analysts had expected, investors will probably see the deal as good news: Deutsche will fork out only—“only”—$3.1bn in cash and pay the rest as “consumer relief”, such as changes to borrowers’ loans, which will be spread over five years. On the morning of the announcement the bank’s shares were trading 3-4% up.

Such…Continue reading

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Tech Buzz

Gadget Ogling: Heightened Hearing, Toasty Toes, and Glass Speakers

Bose’s latest earbuds are designed to help you tune in to the specific sounds you want to hear. Hearphones are a sort of blend of noise-cancelling earbuds and hearing aids. There are several presets in the app, with names like “focused conversation,” “gym,” “airplane” and “television.” You can opt to crank up the volume on all sound from the world around you or turn it down.

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Business and financeGulliver

More Americans will be flying over Christmas. Can airports cope?

SOME 45.2m passengers are expected to fly on America’s airlines during the three-week holiday season that began last Friday. That is 3.5% more than flew during the same period last year, adding volume to an already-high baseline: the days around Christmas and New Year typically see 23% more travel than the rest of the year.

That is likely to exacerbate the woes that plagued American airports in 2016 even when travel volumes were normal. The main problem has been that the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), in its wisdom, cut the number of screeners at security checkpoints. It did so anticipating that 25m people would sign up for its PreCheck programme, which allows pre-cleared passengers to bypass some security elements and speed up the process. Instead, fewer than 10m did. The result, predictably, was a worsening bottleneck at airports across the country. (The TSA is so desperate to encourage more people to sign up that it has hired a company to drive coaches around the country recruiting PreCheck members. We’ll see how that…Continue reading

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Business and financeGulliver

A YouTube star says he was forced off a flight for speaking Arabic

DELTA AIR LINES found itself at the centre of a social-media storm when Adam Saleh, a YouTube personality who posts about life as a Muslim American, was removed from one of its flights for—apparently—no greater crime than speaking Arabic. Mr Saleh is not the first passenger of Middle Eastern descent to allege discriminatory treatment by airline staff and passengers. But, true to his profession, he may be the first to have recorded an encounter in real time (see link). At the time of writing, nine hours after disembarkation, his video had been retweeted an incredible 556,000 times on Twitter.

According to Mr Saleh, who has 2.2m followers on YouTube, the incident began when he telephoned his Arabic-speaking mother while waiting to depart from London for New York. At this point, he claims, a female passenger told him to speak in English—kicking off an angry exchange between him, the woman and her husband. At some point between that encounter and the beginning of the video, more than 20 passengers reported feeling uncomfortable about Mr Saleh’s behaviour. He was subsequently removed from the…Continue reading

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Deals

Softbank Pumps $1B Into Global Web Access Race

Softbank has cut a check for $1 billion to OneWeb, which plans to build a constellation of satellites to provide Internet access to underserved parts of the world, the companies announced Monday. Helmed by satellite industry veteran Greg Wyler, OneWeb raised a total of $1.2 billion in its latest round of funding. The company will deploy 650 Ku band satellites into orbit at a height of 750 miles.

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ApprovedBusinessBusiness and finance

A new industry has sprung up selling “indoor-location” services to retailers

“LOOK up there,” says Edward Armishaw of Walkbase, a Finnish retail-analytics firm, as he points to a small white box above a column clad in mirrors. The sensor—and over a hundred others like it hidden around this department store in London’s Oxford Street—tracks the footsteps of customers through the pings their smartphones emit in search of a Wi-Fi network. Quite unaware, a shopper in a silver puffa jacket ambles past and over to the fitting room. Whether she moves to the till will be logged by Walkbase and its client.

Think of it as footfall 2.0. For many years shops used rudimentary “break-beam” systems—lasers stretched across their entrances—to count people in and out. Only recently have they begun to follow customers inside their buildings, says Nick Pompa of ShopperTrak, an American firm whose work with 2,100 clients worldwide, including malls in Las Vegas and in Liverpool, makes it a giant in the area.

Tracking technologies are ingenious. Some flash out a code to smartphone cameras by means of LED lighting; others, such as IndoorAtlas, a startup with headquarters in California and Finland, monitor how devices…Continue reading

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ApprovedBusiness and financeFINANCEFinance and economics

Japanese banks grapple with ultra-low interest rates

BANKS the world over are wrestling with low interest rates. Nowhere have they grappled for longer than in Japan. Although the Bank of Japan (BoJ) introduced negative rates only in January, almost 20 months after the European Central Bank, its rates have been ultra-low for years: they first hit zero in 1999. In its long battle against deflation, it pioneered “quantitative easing”—buying vast amounts of government bonds—which depresses longer-term rates and thus banks’ lending margins. Since September the BoJ has also aimed to keep the ten-year bond yield at around nought, while holding its deposit rate at -0.1%.

Banks have had some relief lately: since Donald Trump’s election in November, the yield curve has steepened slightly—and share prices have leapt—as American interest rates have risen and the yen has tumbled. But on December 20th the BoJ kept policy on hold.

For Japan’s biggest lenders, negative rates are “an irritant, not a catastrophe”, says Brian Waterhouse of CLSA, a broker. Every tenth of a percentage point below zero, he estimates, shaves 5% from the earnings of the three “megabanks”: Mitsubishi UFJ…Continue reading

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ApprovedBusinessBusiness and finance

Indian business prepares to tap into Aadhaar, a state-owned fingerprint-identification system

THERE are two ways to sign up to Jio, a new and irresistibly priced mobile-telephony service which Mukesh Ambani, the boss of Reliance Industries, a conglomerate, launched in September 2016 and which is luring tens of millions of new customers each month. One way requires a wad of documents, multiple signatures and plenty of patience, since Jio takes days or weeks to go through “know-your-customer” procedures. The second way is magically simple: the person rests a finger on an inch-wide scanner, and if the print matches the identity the customer is claiming, Jio downloads the information it needs from the Indian authorities and activates the phone line within minutes.

Jio is tapping a database called Aadhaar, after the Hindi word for “foundation”. It is a cloud-based ID system that holds the details of over a billion Indians. The government’s purpose in setting it up in 2009 was to help the state correctly direct welfare payments to those entitled to them. By early 2017 all Indian adults should have provided their fingerprints, iris scans, name, birth date, address and gender in return for a single, crucial, 12-digit number.

In the public…Continue reading

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