Cuba open to US tech companies

President Obama’s recently trip to Cuba has opened the door for US based internet companies to do business with the island.

Obama’s visit is the first by a US president since the communist revolution of 1959. Since 1962, the US has imposed trade and travel restrictions that have kept US based companies out of Cuba. But since 2008, the Bush and Obama administrations have overseen a slow return to diplomatic relations with Cuba. Now that there is more communication between the two countries, industry experts are concerned about a virtual land grab by companies like Google and Airbnb.

During the President’s visit to Cuba, he announced that Google would be expanding wi-fi in Cuba. Other companies like Airbnb and Bookings.com are also looking to take advantage of the thawing climate between the US and Cuba. These US companies are attracted to Cuba’s lucrative tourism industry, and are quickly trying to claim their stake in this new market. The time is ripe for these technology companies to take advantage of the coming opportunities.

Cubans have limited access to the internet. Only about 25 percent of the population is currently online and only a little over 12 percent of the households have a computer at home. This is expected to shift as Google provides more wi-fi and broadband access across the country.

Airbnb has been operating for about a year already, allowing Americans to book accomodations in Cuba. Although technically travel to Cuba has been illegal except under special circumstances, 161,000 Americans were among the 3.5 million tourists from all over the world who visited Cuba last year. Commercial flights are expected to resume in the fall, giving way to a larger market for sites like Bookings.com. In the coming weeks, its parent company Priceline will begin allowing US customers to book vacations in Havana and plans to sign deals with existing hotels and tourism countries.

Article via Cnet, 21 March 2016

Photo: Press conference, Havana by IIP Photo Archive [Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs]


Panel: U.S. government sending mixed encryption messages

Privacy professionals are saying the U.S. government is sending mixed encryption messages to technology companies. They build privacy and security by design in products and services, but leave them open to backdoor access by default. This issue became more prominent after an argument whether the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) can force Apple, Inc. to unlock an iPhone used by one of the shooters involved in the San Bernardino terrorist attack.

On Feb. 16th, a federal judge ordered Apple to provide the FBI with software to disable the security feature that auto-erases the phone’s data after multiple incorrect attempts to enter the pass code. Demetrios Eleftheriou, Symantec Corp. global privacy director said, “It just seems like there’s a bit of an inconsistent message from the government. We have law enforcement on the one end saying you build back doors, they want broken by design.”  On the other end are “the regulators saying you have to incorporate security by default, privacy by default in the product,” he said.

Eleftheriou asserts that the U.S. government needs to consider if their ambivalent stance on consumer encryption is compatible with the new European Union General Data Protection Regulation requirements for privacy by design and security by default. “A weakness is a weakness. It can be exploited by anybody.”

Will DeVries, Google Inc. privacy counsel said companies “want the process to be really clear, really defined and based on principles that we can apply globally to our services that actually make sense and keep us all safe.”DeVries believes the argument against accessing a terrorist’s phone is just one “red herring”. “We’re actually worried about the precedent of saying can you ask a tech company to undermine the security of devices that’s out in the public, not just for the device they’re talking but a security flaw that then can be used on any device,” DeVries said.

Companies can be ordered to assist with law enforcement to get at some data, Chris Jay Hoofnagle, member of the advisory board of Bloomberg BNA’s Privacy & Data Security Law Report, said. “Obviously, what makes this situation so dangerous and difficult is that the work the government would like Apple to do could be used prospectively and could be used to erode privacy and security in devices generally,” Hoofnagle said. The technology industry is at this point in time now where the devices can outsmart these forensic appliances so whatever happens paves the way for the future of device security.

Hoofnagle sees that this tinkers with the Fourth Amendment. “We might come to a world in the U.S. where we basically have different Fourth Amendment standards for the terrorism case where maybe we do feel as though the phone should be unlocked versus other types of crimes that aren’t as serious.”

Article via Bloomberg BNA, February 19, 2016

Photo: System Lock via Yuri Samoilov


Alphabet, worlds most valuable company

On Monday, Alphabet, the company that owns Google, overtook Apple by becoming the most valuable company in the world.

The most valuable companies in America are nearly all tech companies. Google and Apple are leading the pack with market values of $543 billion and $535 billion respectively. Behind those two companies sits Microsoft at $433 billion. Facebook, at $328 billion, took fourth on Monday, surpassing Exxon Mobile at $318 billion. The revenues of the top leaders (Google and Apple) are higher than any other company in corporate history.

Just last quarter Alphabet reported revenues of more than $21.3 billion, blowing past estimates by roughly half a billion dollars. Traders are expecting Alphabet to keep the title of most valuable company for some time to come. Revenue for the company saw $74.5 billion in sales for all of 2015, up from $66 billion in 2014. The good news keeps coming as Monday their stock rose another 5 percent.

Colin Gillis, senior technology analyst for BGC Partners, believes that Alphabet will become the world’s first trillion dollar company. Why? Sheer numbers, for one, Gillis said in an interview. “Think about the number of services they have with a billion users: Google Search, YouTube, Maps. Some of those are used multiple times every single day,” he said.

Some also think that the deciding factor between Google and Apple is all about China. Apple reported the slowest-ever sales growth for the iPhone and revealed that its business in China is facing trouble. In contrast, Alphabet makes very little money off hardware and does almost no business in China. Now that China’s economy is slowing down, Apple and their stock seem to be following suit.

It could be that Alphabet knows exactly how to show investors its future promise. Google has been famous for its moonshots, like the self driving car. The reorganization of Google, including the creation of the parent company Alphabet, has allowed transparency into its many services and what they offer. All that adds up to a lot of success and the number one spot for the tech company.

Article via The Washington Post,1 Febraurary, 2016

Photo: iPhone Alphabet by schnaars [Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs]


Google car halted by California

Google has been famously testing out their version of a driverless car. The company wants to transform transportation by taking the driver out of the equation.

Driverless cars will be able to shuttle people from place to place while reducing the human error that is often the catalyst for road accidents.The California Department of Motor Vehicles recently made a proposal of rules for driverless cars. These new rules were presented for public commentary in mid December of 2015. The DMV wants to involve the public and will be hosting two workshops early in 2016, one in Sacramento and the other in Los Angeles.This proposal draft is the next step in allowing driverless cars on California roads. But Google is unhappy about one of the provisions.

The regulators are calling for the manufacturers of driverless cars to meet several safety and performance standards. These include things such as protecting the privacy of operators from the needless collection of user data and having a third party independently access performance. The rules also call for a licensed human driver, capable of taking over the steering wheel and pedals in the event of an emergency. The problem is that Google’s prototype for a driverless car does not have a steering wheel or pedals.

Google’s maintains that it wants to improve safety by equipping the car itself with protocols that surpass what a human could detect. For instance their cars have sensors that detect objects as far as two football fields away–in all directions. The state of California is looking at the broader aspect of autonomous cars, and remains more conservative on the issue. They  have warned Google in the past to add steering wheels and pedals. California legislators pushed The DMV to require that driverless cars contain wheels and people to steer them whenever they’re operated on public roads.

Google is disappointed that California legislators are limiting the potential of fully autonomous vehicles, the company said. Although the company is still in the prototyping phase where changes can easily be made, it is still a setback.

 

Article via TechNewsWorld, 18th December 2015

Photo:Auto che guidano da sole. Forse non le vedremo mai sulle nostre strade by Automobile Italia [Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs]


Google brings Internet to India

Google plans to equip 400 train station across India with high-speed Internet, as announced by the company’s CEO Sundar Pichai last Sunday. This announcement occurred at the same time that India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited Google’s headquarters in Mountain View, California. Bringing high-speed WiFi to rural areas of India by 2019 is one of Modi’s goals as part of his Digital India Initiative.

Google is collaborating with Indian Railways and RailTel, an Internet service provider along railway lines. By the end of next year, 100 railway stations will have Internet. This will grant access for the 10 million people who use the stations every day.

India’s huge market will benefit Google greatly, as the company profits off advertising. However, India’s limited infrastructure will still prove an obstacle. Both Google and its competitor Facebook have experimented with drones and balloons to offer service to rural areas. Kevin Krewell, principal analyst at Tirias Research, commented on the difficulties of building in developing areas: “Power can be a problem. Running new wires is difficult — and keeping those wires from being stolen even more so.”

Article via TechNewsWorld, 29 September 2015

Photo: Train at Mahim Junction, Mumbai via Adam Cohn [Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs]


Google, Microsoft to settle patent feud

Microsoft and Google agreed Wednesday to dismiss nearly 20 patent related lawsuits that they have pending against one another.

The two rivals have filed lawsuits against each other for the last 5 years over royalties related to wi-fi, smartphones and web video. The core of these lawsuits has been an ongoing fight over the use of  patents. Both Google and Microsoft have fought viciously to use patents owned by the one another, and to collect royalties for their use.

The patent disagreement started in 2010 when Microsoft filed suit against Motorola, which was acquired by Google the following year. Microsoft, like other prominent software companies, licenses patents from Google for various products and devices. Microsoft’s suit alleged that Android devices infringed on Microsoft patents and that Motorola was charging excessively for the royalties. Google fought back claiming that Motorola’s royalty rates were fair.

In 2013, Microsoft won its case against Motorola and got the royalty rate reduced to 22 times lower than Motorola was charging.

Neither company disclosed the settlement to end their patent feud, but they did say that they “agreed to collaborate on certain patent matters and anticipate working together in other areas in the future to benefit our customers.”

 

Article via CNET, 30 September 2015

Photo: Google Campus Mountain View, CA via Eric Langhorst[Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs]