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Comment Flying the Antitrust Buffet (Score 2) 114

Microsoft have plenty of experience at being subject to judicial oversight and investigation, so the chances of any smoking gun being found in this specific case seems completely unlikely.

However, if anyone actually captured reliable evidence that a change in the User Agent string could generate such remarkably different outcomes, then there is a question to answer here. Adjusting the performance of one product [their Cloud offering] to favour another Product [the combination of Windows and Edge] would appear to fall pretty close to the definition of "tying", something that Microsoft have direct experience of - they were fined, for example, for tying Windows Media Player to Windows - so it would be interesting to see what could have happened had the outage been more widespread or prolonged.

I think this sort of activity is becoming more widespread with time, not less. Despite the protections apparently afforded us by the law, we see far more bending of the laws than ever before. It's as though we've entered the "Scooby Doo Era" - "Yes, and I would've gotten away with it, too, if it wasn't for you pesky kids!!!"

To which I'd add, "Nice work, kids..."

Comment Driven By Corporate Greed (Score 3, Insightful) 87

I use a different UK telco/ISP as my service provider but I have seen exactly the same problem as those reported in the OP and in the linked article. The thing is, the issue isn't Teamviewer per se, or even that the ISP chose to unilaterally [and without consultation or warning] block the technology on their portion of the network]. These are symptoms and consequences of the real problem.

The fundamental issue here is that the ISP in question chose to outsource a portion of its Customer Service function to a deprived area of India - an area where they could hire trained staff to work for a fraction of UK wages [about 20-25%] and thereby increase their profits by a corresponding amount. There are zero benefits to the customer from having a call centre in India - the only ones who get to benefit are the Directors, Senior Management and shareholders of the company in question.

Up until March 2016 I received 2-3 such scam calls per week. Then one day one of the callers made a mistake and quoted a company-internal reference number from my telephone [landline] service provider. The quoted data was unique to me, only printed on my paper statement and unrelated to any other details about me. Armed with this [and a couple of related facts I managed to tease out of the caller] I got in touch with my telco's Fraud Prevention department and had a long discussion with one of their investigators. I asked that the person concerned cross-check their call database records from their call centre to see how many times my UK number was called, and on what occasions, and from which of their operators. I had enough information to persuade them that the attempted fraud calls were originating on their equipment - and suggested to the person that my telco's own call centre infrastructure was being used by a criminal group to perpetrate fraud against UK customers.

At first I received bluster and pushback, at which point I suggested that in the event my telco did not take the matter seriously, I would complain to my Member of Parliament, the UK telecoms Regulator and the press.

March 2016. Have not received a SINGLE fraudulent call since.

The issue isn't TeamViewer. The issue is that TalkTalk have put their profits before safe business practices. Clearly they don't protect their client data, they don't screen their employees effectively and - if they are anything like my Telco - they don't even know when their own call centres are being used to perpetrate boiler-room fraud.

I just wish that I could find someone in UK law enforcement willing to take this sort of thing seriously and start to see the large corporations prosecuted when their negligence endangers the safety of their clients. Unfortunately, until there are some serious fines handed down, or preferably until a couple of directors are jailed for breach of duty, negligence or malfeasance, this isn't going to change.

Comment Re:A Certain Inevitability (Score 1) 353

I for one, would be ***totally*** happy with that arrangement.

Bear in mind that when I purchased my copies of Windows 10 Pro 64-Bit from Microsoft, they cost me £220 each (including VaT). Yet even when they charge me, Microsoft are still harvesting all my activity data which they are then selling - and making a significant profit on.

But to your point - if Microsoft were willing to sell a £200 copy of Windows 10 with no harvesting, or give me a free copy *with* harvesting [or, say, for the cost of the media], then I'd take the paid version every time. The thing is, they will refuse to do that. If we could ask them why, I suspect they would come out with some complete nonsense story, like "it's not possible to split the code between the two versions", which [let's be honest] is just another version of "Internet Explorer is part of the Operating System now, we can't split it out".

The really [hilarious/scary/offensive/insulting] thing is: they actually have a privacy policy on their web site. It's here

if you are interested... Not worth reading, however, since it just says [I summarise for you], "We harvest data about you, and reserve the right to do whatever we want with it. Oh - except that we don't use your personal data to target ads to you."

That last bit might sound very magnanimous of them, until you realise that whilst Microsoft might promise not to use your personal data to target ads to you, there is nothing stopping them selling your personal data to third parties so that *they* can target ads at you! The problem with widespread data collection is simple: leaks happen. You cannot leak what you don't collect. No matter how sincere, no matter how honourable they may be, Microsoft are not infallible. If they build up profiles on their users for marketing purposes [and: that's exactly what they are doing] and those profiles got into the hands of criminals, then as users we would be all out of luck...

Comment A Certain Inevitability (Score 4, Interesting) 353

As someone forced to purchase new Windows 10 Licenses for 3 new-build PCs recently, I am extremely annoyed with Microsoft's strategy of using the Operating System to spy on and make money from their users. However, I don't see this situation changing - and here's why:-

When Microsoft licensed copies of earlier editions of Windows to large PC manufacturers [the likes of Dell, HP, Acer, Asus, Lenovo, and so on] they would charge something in the region of $15 per copy of Windows. That amount covered the cost of generating holograms and tracking the number of licenses issues, as well as adding [given the volumes involved] quite a bit to Microsoft's bottom line. However, this was quickly offset the moment you moved away from these volume channels to smaller vendors, local "Mom+Pop" PC support shops - because even though this channels were charged an awful lot more per license, there was also much greater piracy involved.

With Windows 10, Microsoft are charging $1.49 per month, or $9.99 per year to disable advertising just in their free desktop applications [i.e. Solitaire]. However, that payment does not stop your copy of Windows 10 from slurping vast amounts of usage data from your PC and sending it to Microsoft. Obviously, they then use that data to build detailed profiles which they sell to advertisers. Expect much more of this to happen in the future. The remarkable thing is, estimates suggest that Microsoft could be earning as much as $15 per year per user from this "sale" of their user base to advertisers and other consumers of bulk data.

So if you were Microsoft, and faced with generating an average one-off fee of $15 per paid copy of your OS, or earning $15 a year from "giving it away", which would you choose?

Much as I hate to say it, I think this is with us for good now. And, bad as it is, this isn't my greatest fear. No, what is worse is that my favourite GNU/Linux distributions could take a look at the Microsoft model and think, "Hey, we could do that" - and before we know where we are, everything has gone the Canonical/Ubunut route and all our favourite FOSS platforms are also shipping with spyware by default... Let's hope that doesn't come to pass...

Comment Never Let The Facts Get In The Way Of A Good Story (Score 1) 73

Don't want to sound completely negative, but this piece by Vinay Gupta is living in denial of reality.

For example, as an illustration of how blockchain could "revolutionize" people's lives, he suggests that in the future it would enable an AirBnB renter could select a property with one transaction, but then furnish it with short-term-let furniture sourced via a second transaction...

Gupta concentrates solely on the idea that somehow Blockchain is going to solve the thorny problems of micro-transactions and ultra-short-term insurance and that equally mysteriously, these solutions will make this fictional future a reality. He fails to consider

1. Where the original home-owner's furniture will be stored during the short-term let [oh, wait, is that another micro-transaction enabled by Blockchain?]

2. How the cost of shipping furniture to a home - for a few days, a few weeks at the most - might somehow be absorbed by the furniture renter at a profit, or by the purchaser of the service. This is not an inconsiderable cost, certainly to the extent that it would take the viability out of the proposal.

In my view it is a shame that the article chose to focus on the areas that it did; I do believe that blockchain has the potential to simplify a range of activities, just that the pitch expressed here may not be the best examples. In fact, I will go further:

To bring actual, useful benefit to our broader societies, blockchain must not only streamline existing activities that we rely upon on a daily basis, but it must be able to do so in a way that is sufficiently disruptive to break away from the incumbent holders/owners of the process - in such a way that the benefit reaches the end user/consumer.

For example, we could easily imagine a scenario for currency conversion in which a federated sharing model would enable private citizens to "swap currencies" with peers in other nations, whilst cutting out the excessive fees charged by banks and credit card companies. However, there is an elephant-sized problem, which is how you would go about executing the trade in the real world. Do you want me to physically meet my peer and actually exchange paper currency? If you want me to accept the currency electronically, how am I going to store it? Via some trusted digital exchange medium, like, say, a credit or debit card? If so, I am going to need a bank to act in an escrow capacity to underpin the transaction.

I think the author fails to see what enabling technology would be required, or how hard it would be to displace incumbent providers. What is *much* more likely is that major players in sectors that can leverage blockchain - like big banks - will be able to use it in a way that further enhances their profits, without allowing any of the benefits to flow through to consumers. Or perhaps the author does see that, and the article is just part of a misinformation process?

Comment Not Only But Also... (Score 1) 84

It's amazing to think that we've gone from the discovery of the electron in (? 1897) to this...

However, if we extrapolate forwards from this discovery, then is it theoretically possible to construct atomic-scale logic gates? Could we conceivably construct a lattice or matrix of atoms - perhaps held on some form of crystalline substrate, in which we could "inject" a signal in the form of a single free electron, only to have that propagate through the structure in a similar manner to the way that logic flows through semi-conductor gates in a contemporary integrated circuit?

Yes, I understand that the mechanisms and scales are completely, utterly different; I understand that the complexity of my postulate is way beyond present-day capability, but I'm curious to know if we could leverage some of the transitional states of matter to achieve this sort of thing?

We've advanced from Charles Babbage to Quantum Computing in ~ 225 years... at a steadily-accelerating pace. I don't think I'd bet against these sorts of advances in the next 225...

Comment Small Print - Trading Freedoms (Score 1) 250

Anyone who has read the Robert Heinlein novel, "Stranger In A Strange Land" will immediately understand why I am making this point. In the book, a reporter by the name of Ben Caxton starts making enquires, from an automated, self-driving cab. As his phone calls produced, the government detect what he is up to - and the cab is remotely redirected to a detention centre...

Now, that might be a doomsday scenario, but can anyone not see governments salivating at the thought of being able to remotely take control of a car? At first we will be told it is to stop car thefts. Then we will be told that it is to prevent multi-car pile-ups. We will never be told that it is a convenient way of capturing or arresting people (how they would love it if a wanted person got in to an automated vehicle as Caxton did in the Heinlein story).

I am not suggesting any law like this is inherently bad, just that it is always a good idea to read the small print...

Comment The Legal Exclusions (Score 1) 250

I was particularly interested to read about the exclusions in the proposed law - specifically the one which says that the manufacturer of a self- driving vehicle would not be held liable in the event that the operator of the vehicle had modified it. I presume they mean modified the software....

In the US in particular, but elsewhere in the world, I have read about car companies that use laws such as the DMCA to prosecute people who try to modify the software in their cars. But the law is notoriously unsophisticated and this area in particular might cause problems. For example, does "modified" include the operator downloading apps from the vehicle manufacturer 'App Store'?

I mean, it's not like insurance companies would ever play dirty to get out of paying out on a claim, is it?

Comment Re:Sadly, It's Worse Than This... (Score 1) 176

No, that is not strictly true.

Low Corporation Tax coupled with corporate abuse allows a company to post much greater profits and dividends to shareholders... This is the reason that large corporations argue for low CT. The right model is lower payouts, balanced taxes and fair treatment all round.

If you believe that either way the consumer/man-in-the-street is going to lose, then either you've bought into the BS being spouted by the corporations, or you are shilling for them.

Respectfully, it doesn't have to be that way.

Comment Re:Sadly, It's Worse Than This... (Score 1) 176

At a factual level I am inclined to agree with you.

What interests me, however, is the interpretation of the expression, "The UK is looking to become..." [ and in making mention of that I am in no way challenging, disputing or criticising your choice of words].

I find what you write interesting because of the broad spectrum it covers:-

1. The UK actively wants to do this...
2. The UK government believes that this will be necessary for prosperity in post-Brexit Britain...
3. The EU core countries - i.e. Germany and France - are trying to make mischief and lure big multinationals away from the UK [for example, the UK currently hosts most of the big international banks, so with Germany declaring - even before negotiations begin - that all such non-EU banks will have to set up new headquarters on mainland Europe] such that the UK is accepting that it will be forced to look for other forms of Balance-of-Trade income... 4. Something else entirely...

I don't pretend to know the answer. But I do observe that when large multinational companies can force governments to dance to their tune, it is the citizens who suffer.

Comment Sadly, It's Worse Than This... (Score 5, Insightful) 176

Unfortunately, this story is about much more than just Apple and/or Ireland.

The tax practices employed by Apple (and others, including Microsoft, Amazon, Facebook, Starbucks and others - and I don't mean to pick on US companies, but by and large they do appear to be the most flagrant abusers of this system) use tax "vehicles" such as the licensing of intellectual property rights to move exceptionally large amounts of cash from one country [tax jurisdiction] to another, thereby massively reducing their tax burden.

However, for the "donor" country - i.e. the one that is not collecting any tax revenues from the sales achieved by that company, the problem gets much, much worse. The literally billions in taxes not being paid to these countries still has to be collected from somewhere. And that is exactly what happens - the individual, personal tax payers of those nations end up footing the bill.

Next, it gets worse still...

The governments of countries with "higher" Corporation Tax regimes then get visits from senior management from these large multinationals, explaining that of course they would like to "do more business" [and thus pay more tax] in those nations. Except, of course, the tax levels are just, simply, too painfully high. So, regrettably, the company will move its regional offices next door, to a lower tax regime.

The net result of all this is that countries the world over appear to be in a "race to the bottom" because they are told that this is the only way to attract inward investment. This is simply not true.

If we take a country such as the UK, for example [currently embarking on an acrimonious but necessary divorce from the EU... and look at the tax-paying population and the amount of tax involved... the literally billions in revenue that is transferred off-shore to avoid the payment of UK Corporation tax would, if actually paid in the UK, cut taxes for UK citizens by a staggering amount. The basic rate of personal Income Tax could easily fall from the current 23% to 15% [still more than Corporation Tax in the UK - and never mind the fact that companies get to deduct their expenses first...]

A population granted this extra income would:-

1. Spend more - thus helping to keep the economy moving
2. Save more - thus helping to reduce the burden on the state for things like pensions
3. Invest more - thus helping UK business to grow and prosper

There are countless studies showing that a better standard of living leads to a healthier population. In fact, there are no good reasons for allowing companies to "dodge" paying taxes in the way that is currently allowed [unless, of course, you happen to be a senior manager or shareholder in that company, in which case you stand to reap obscene profits].

The fact that we're even having this discussion should tell you just how corrupt and perverted the system of international taxation has become. The sad part is, that 99% of us are losers in this game...

Comment Re: Son of SCO (Score 1) 155

I like your car analogy but for a different reason. If ever car maker used wildly different designs for their controls (say random pedal placement, or gears in different positions on a manual gearbox) then cars would be dangerous because moving from one to another would require extensive retraining... ( In fact, just like you can get a pilot's license, but still have to get type-approval for each different aircraft you want to fly). Your point shows the huge gulf in standards we apply when moving from the real world to the Cyber world, yet specious lawsuits still try to claim equivalence.

Comment Defective by Design? (Score 5, Interesting) 113

I appreciate that this comment is asking that we consider the technical equivalent of "Puuting the Genie Back in the Bottle", but it seems to me that the fundamental issue with the current Stingray technology happens to be the "bulk data capture" nature of the way that it operates...

In one sense this is unavoidable - when you have a piece of technology that imitates a cellphone tower by giving the strongest local signal, it will sweep up multiple handsets each time it is activated.

On the other hand, would it be possible for a judge to declare that the *operator interface* to the stingray device must by law force the operator to enter the particulars of a specific mobile phone handset, thereby preventing the stingray operator for conducting blanket surveillance?

Quite obviously, I know nothing about the inner workings of stingray technology, but it is clear to me that the principle by which it operates is to deem that every cell phone user within range is guilty of a crime - since the technology indiscriminately targets them.

If one motorist breaks the speed limit on a particular road at a particular time, a Law Enforcement Officer is not entitled to stop every vehicle on the road and take details of the driver and their passengers... similarly there should be limits on what that same officer can do when tracking a suspected criminal using stingray technology.

As technologists we know that it would be possible to develop a stingray device that had to be pre-programmed with a cell phone ID before it could be activated. We know that it would also be possible to require that device to have a legally tamper-proof log, to require that to have a license to operate (it is a wireless device that surely needs FCC approval to be used) that there would be supervisory controls that could be enforce.

Law enforcement are quick to claim that the rapid advancement of technology is such that they need extra powers in order to be able to keep pace with the criminals in society. Well, OK, but that should not be grounds for permitting those same officers to bend or break the law in the process. That places the Law Enforcement Agencies in the same category as criminals: as far as honest citizens are concerned that makes LEOs just as dangerous, or perhaps even more so, since they have the implied authority of the state backing them up...

The Enforcement of the law must itself be legal, or it undermines any and all claims of authority it may have over the citizenry it was designed to protect.

Comment Re:Stonehenge, without the stones? (Score 1) 147

One observation to make would be that if the discoveries in the Amazon were shown to align with lunar, solar or stellar events, then this would have a remarkable implication on the environmental conditions of that location when they were constructed.

Stonehenge was constructed on a plain that provided a sufficiently clear view of the horizon during key dates [i.e. the winter solstice] to allow the group that constructed it to implement some very precise alignments. In order for the Amazon constructs to exhibit similar properties, then it rather suggests that the builders there had an equivalent degree of visibility [or, in the alternate, a means to replicate it - such as some method of accurately reflecting observations taken a treetop height down to the ground - for example with the aid of an accurate compass of some kind].

Bottom line is that any form of astronomical alignment would be significant. The closest I have read to anything such as this came from a series of temples and structures located in the far east, in which the temples of Angkor Wat were shown to have correspondence with the constellation of Draco. More details here:-

However, even though Angkor Wat presents plenty of evidence to suggest that it has been constructed to represent Draco, I don't believe that it includes alignment with horizon-level astronomical events [which would require land-clearance on an unprecedented scale.

It will be interesting to follow the events as they happen, to better understand what can be scientifically proven. I would not be surprised if there were found to be "local" representations of astronomical constellations, but very surprised if they were accurately aligned with horizon-level events.

Comment Son of SCO (Score 3, Informative) 155

In many ways this case bears some remarkable similarities with the case brought by "The SCO Group" [a successor-in-interest, *not* the original Santa Cruz Operation company] against IBM, claiming not only that IBM had violated "TSG"-owned copyright, but that because in their view TSG owned the rights to code that IBM were alleged to have copied into Linux, somehow this gave TSG the right to charge every Linux user a "license fee" for the use of this unspecified code.

The exact same greed lies behind the Oracle case against Google. No matter how ludicrous the case might seem to us as technologists, the plaintiff in this case [Oracle], with their dying business model, is asking a court to allow them to charge a "tax" on every Android device in the same way that The SCO Group sought to tax every user of the Linux kernel.

To be fair, there are some important distinctions between the two cases. In TSG vs. IBM, the plaintiff flat-out refused to identify [let alone with the specificity requested by IBM] the actual code they were alleged to have copied. In their hope of getting in front of a jury and having their star lawyer [David Boies] pull some fast talking, TSG refused to specifying, saying basically, "The infringing code is in the Linux Kernel. Go look for yourselves..." With Oracle vs. Google, the "code" is precisely identified.

However, *unlike* the TSG case, Oracle are taking exception to Android's use of the "language structure" of JAVA, which of course Google did to ensure compatibility with existing applications. This is interesting because of the potential legal repercussions of this case and not just because this is two of the biggest names in US Technology duking it out in a court of law. Oracle are trying to argue that the structure of JAVA can be subject to copyright. To put that in context, that is like saying that a publisher could copyright a book structure that comprised of:-

Chapter 1
Chapter 2
Chapter 3

and so on... Lay the issue out in such a simple form and it seems a bit absurd, but we would do well to remember that "the law may upset reason, but reason may not upset the law..." (Ieyasu Tokugawa, the Shogun of Japan). This is both important and scary for us as technologists, because it means that if someone can convince a jury that they "own" a data model or data structure that might be self-evident to us, they might get the right to ask for damages sufficient to bring down not just companies, but entire industries.

The funny-if-you-can-look-at-it-that-way observation to make is that Oracle are not the only company gunning for Android. Microsoft have already threatened multiple smart-phone manufacturers with patent infringements, claiming that some portion or other of Android violates some of their intellectual property. Unfortunately, deals struck in those cases always include a confidentiality clause, so we don't yet know what Microsoft have been using to extract their pound of flesh. But it does seem remarkable to me that Microsoft appear to have been more successful by attacking the hardware developers than attempting to go after Google, while Oracle have tried that and now lost multiple times.

Let's hope that Oracle and not permitted get away with what looks for all the world like a shake-down...

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