Ever since revelations of mass spying, data gathering and web surveillance broke last summer there has been shock and outrage at the government's intrusion into the lives of innocent web users around the world.
However, amid the entirely justified furore caused by the documents leaked by Edward Snowden, there has also been an underlying tone of ‘quelle surprise’.
We all used to joke that governments were spying on us and – hey presto – they were. And as they insisted on telling us, the data they gathered was only metadata, nothing that made citizens identifiable. Yes it was wrong, a bit over the top, but it wasn’t that bad, and after all, it was in our own security interests.
However, things have taken a darker, more insidious twist this week with the news that Yahoo webcam users were spied on by GCHQ and millions of images were taken and stored, many of which caught people in a state of undress.
This isn’t metadata. This is taking photos of people inside their own homes. MP David Davis said the revelations "exceeded even the worst Orwellian nightmares".
"Even in 1984 the citizen was aware that they were being watched,” he added.
It’s worth repeating to really drive this home: the UK government has taken photographs of millions of people inside their own homes, without their knowledge, in order to create a giant mugshot database of innocent citizens.
How on earth did such a system come to be in place? Who devised it, designed it, created and approved it? Who oversaw its operation? Did anyone ever raise a concern that this could be ever so slightly immoral, illegal, outrageous?
To date, the security services have managed to avoid any true scrutiny of their work, hiding behind bland stock statements or the classic ‘that’s a national security issue’ line.
Still, while it is unrealistic to expect spy chiefs to tell all about their efforts to protect us grateful citizens – What would they say anyway? Yes, we take naked photos of you, sorry – there are some with the power to keep the spies in line.
One of these people is the intelligence services commissioner, Sir Mark Waller. His role is to provide “independent judicial oversight” of MI5, MI6 and GCHQ and is appointed by parliament.
So his role should involve monitoring these agencies, and reporting on their work and how it is being conducted whenever he is asked to do so by those in the parliament that appointed him.
But in order to get Waller to do this, a committee of MPs – the Home Affairs Committee – have had to force him to do so, so they can find out more about what it is he’s actually overseeing. It’s positively Kafkaesque, to add to the Orwellian reference earlier.
Not only that, but Waller had tried to palm off the Committee by pointing its members in the direction of a report that covered the work of the services between January and December 2012, published in July 2013.
This was at the same time as the Snowden revelations were just appearing, and the report is no help seven months later, when the world’s understanding of the spying being carried out by governments is still only just being understood.
Waller will now give evidence on the 18 March, in a session that is likely to prove testy, and will no doubt feature the phrase ‘I can’t discuss that’ once or twice.
For the rest of us, we are now living in a world that is ever-reliant on digital communications, but where our own government is monitoring it all, from phone calls and emails, to taking photos of us in a state of undress, while those in charge are seemingly immune to any scrutiny.
Orwell may have been 30 years early in his predictions, but he was right. Terrifyingly right.
By V3's Dan Worth, who hears a clock striking thirteen
31 Jan 2014
Honda has released the blueprints for a number of its concept cars from its past, present and potential future for 3D printing. While you won't be able to print off a new fleet of company cars, it's still worth a look.
Honda's generosity has enabled the 3D printer-owning public to download, edit and print scale models of its cars, free. This includes the Honda Puyo from 2007 (below): the Puyo is particularly notable because it was designed to have a "soft, gel-like body" to protect its occupants and pedestrians from injury in the event of a collision. "Safe, fun and easy to drive, it represents an ideal fusion of people-friendly design technologies". And now it can be on your desk for the price of some 3D printer "ink".
If you're looking for something more contemporary, the 2013 Honda NSX concept is also available.
3D printers are still an expensive purchase, but the ethos companies such as Honda have applied to them is great: turning revolutionary designs into an open-source project has great potential in terms of crowdsourcing ideas and inspiring people to improve on their designs. The potential for use in schools and colleges is also high, with high-detail designs free for students to study.
Head to Honda-3D.com to take a look and download some of the models for yourself, although you may wish to turn your speakers down first.
By V3's Michael Passingham, whose collection of Matchbox vehicles is extensive
As we approach the end of the year Google has once against listed its annual zeitgeist list of the most searched terms over the past 12 months to show what most people around the world wanted to know during the year.
Despite only passing on a few weeks ago, the topic that has dominated the list is the death of Nelson Mandela, as those around the world searched for more information on the great leader. This was just ahead of the death of Paul Walker, the star of the Fast and Furious franchise of movies.
Elsewhere, though, technology was well represented on the list, with searches for the iPhone 5S and the Samsung Galaxy S4 both appearing, with Apple scoring more hits than Samsung, as it chalks up another, admittedly minor, victory over its nemesis.
The PlayStation 4 (PS4) also featured, unlike the Xbox One, as Microsoft’s console fails to quite match Sony for hype and interest in the games market.
The top 10 list is below:
1. Nelson Mandela
2. Paul Walker
3. iPhone 5S
4. Cory Monteith
5. Harlem Shake
6. Boston Marathon
7. Royal Baby
8. Samsung Galaxy S4
10. North Korea
Google has also made an interactive globe that shows the most popular search terms from different locations around the word, with London showing a weird demand for sport with both BBC Sport and BBC Football both scoring highly. Other UK cities such as Manchester and Bristol also show an enjoyment for sports information.
By V3's Dan Worth, who searches high and low
For years the web has bumbled along with a motley crew of domain suffixes such as .com, .net and co.uk playing the ‘bottom half of the cow’ to the top half of www.
However, 2014 will see this change as the humble web domain suffix grows up and starts to change the face of the internet forever. As V3 noted last week, the .london domain is now up for grabs and interest is already said to be high.
This new domain is just one of over a 1,000 that are being made available by the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (Icann) alongside others such as .technology, .cloud and even company-specific ones such as .Apple and .Google.
Furthermore, Nominet, the organisation responsible for domain addressing in the UK, has now announced that a new, shorter .uk suffix will be made available from 2014, which could mean many firms are forced into some tough branding decisions.
A website such as V3 could change from V3.co.uk to V3.uk, for example. But Nominet has said no old suffixes will go, so many firms may choose to stick with their existing setup. However, that could lead to an imposter stealing the similar .uk domain and causing confusion for customers.
To stop this happening, Nominet is giving firms with existing .co.uk domains the chance to have the .uk version of their domain first, and they have a five-year holding period to decide if they want to use it. After that, though, anything goes.
For firms, this poses some questions. Do you take the new domain and just run it in the background, and if people head to it they’ll end up on your site anyway? Or should you make the short domain the new brand for your firm? Or try and use both at the same time?
And what about the new top-level domains on offer from Icann? Is it worth splashing out for an entirely different type of domain – one that internet users may not realise exists – or should you just stick with the same domain you've been using for years and trust that no-one will come up with a domain brand that proves better for marketing?
It may take some years for this all to happen, but the web as we've known it looks set to change forever.
By V3's Dan Worth, who's the master of his own domain
Politicians love to bang on about being “open”, “transparent” and “accountable” for their actions. These words, in essence, mean nothing, but somehow give that warm and fuzzy feeling that they’re honourable chaps and chapesses.
Of course, though, often these words are later ignored as the politican in question backtracks, flip-flops or U-turns on what they previously said, leaving themselves in a horribly contorted mess of contradictions.
Having speeches available online is one surefire way of running into this mess, as it makes it easy for some meddlesome man or woman from the press to check what you previously said on a subject and ask why you’ve changed your tune.
One way around this would be to simply erase all of your speeches from the web so no-one could ever check what you'd promised, claimed or opined. It sounds like the sort of thing the mad despotic ruler of a totalitarian state would do. Or the Conservative party.
Yes, the Tory party has removed every speech given by its members from over the last decade, with only speeches from 2013 now archived on its site, according to Computer Weekly.
The folks in the party really don't want those old speeches found, as they've even made it impossible for archive services to find the old speeches thanks to some nifty blocking code. Odd. We asked the Conservative party why it had done this, but hadn't heard a peep by the time of publication.
While accessing past speeches given by the Tories is a rare desire, it is a worrying state of affairs as it will make it a lot harder to check what has been said, and undermines previous claims by David Cameron and his cohorts that the government wants to be open and transparent.
Speaking at a Google conference in 2006, Cameron said: "You've begun the process of democratising the world's information. Democratising is the right word to use because by making more information available to more people, you're giving them more power. The power for anyone to hold to account those who in the past might have had a monopoly of power – whether it's government, big business or the traditional media."
How, pray, Mr Cameron, does one hold government to account when everything you and your chums have ever said over the past decade has been removed from the web?
08 Nov 2013
Mozilla is celebrating the 9th birthday of its Firefox browser this weekend with the release of a blog detailing the "nine gifts we've given the web over the past year".
However, we prefer to celebrate Firefox as the browser that broke Microsoft's stranglehold on web access for the Windows market, even if it seems to have lost its way of late and been overtaken in the innovation stakes by Google's Chrome.
Firefox was born out of the wreckage of Netscape, the browser developer whose Navigator app was eventually killed off by Microsoft's practice of bundling Internet Explorer free with Windows.
Once Netscape was no more, Microsoft saw little reason to bother too much with browser development, and five whole years elapsed between the release of IE6 in 2001 and its successor, IE7 in 2006.
The Firefox project went through several versions before the official version 1.0 was released on 9 November 2004. It almost immediately took off and started to eat into Microsoft's dominance of the Windows browser market, as can be seen by this historical listing of browser statistics.
Eventually, Firefox overtook Internet Explorer, but the open source browser has itself faced competition from a newcomer in the shape of Google's Chrome. With a more rapid development cycle, Chrome has now grown in popularity to account for about half of browser usage on Windows PCs worldwide, pushing Firefox into second place.
However, it is Mozilla and Firefox who are largely to thank for injecting a spot of competition into the browser market and jarring Microsoft out of its complacency to start addressing some of the major flaws in its own browser.
Happy birthday Firefox.
Google’s Street View service has been a wonderful addition to the web, as it allows the world to check out landmarks and future holiday destinations in real-life glory, although the images are usually a few years out of date.
The firm has always shown it is keen to expand the services wherever it can, with shots of remote wilderness, canals, rivers and even mountains. Now, the latest location to face the all-seeing eye of Street View is Cern, near Geneva.
V3 has seen the site in the flesh and from the outside it isn’t much to look at, appearing very much like your standard set of offices in the European hinterland. But inside it’s a treasure trove of scientific wonder, with scientists tackling some of the most pressing questions about our universe.
So, the chance to peer around thanks to Street View is a great opportunity, and one that Google was keen to embrace, as Google Street View program manager Pascale Milite explained in a blog post.
"We’re delighted that CERN opened its doors to Google Maps Street View allowing anyone, anywhere in the world to take a peek into its laboratories, control centres and its myriad underground tunnels housing cutting-edge experiments,” she said.
“Street View also lets scientists working on the experiments, who may be on the other side of the world, explore the equipment they're using."
As ever, the images are slightly out of date, with the photography taking place back in 2011, Google said, but the firm did get access to some of the most important parts of the site, which are usually only seen by its top scientists, so we'll forgive them for the lateness.
"You can check out experiments, like ATLAS, ALICE, CMS, LHCb and the Large Hadron Collider tunnel in Google Maps,” she added.
And if you're really lucky, perhaps you'll spot a Higgs boson lurking in the background.
02 Sep 2013
BT has closed its dial-up internet service for consumer customers, marking the end of a notable chapter in the UK’s web history.
For years that weird and wonderful 'bzzt, prrr garrrrrrrrrrr e-donk, tahhhhhhhh, zzzzzzzzzzz' noise was the stuff of wonder and awe, as the worldwide information superhighway awaited. However, it is no more.
BT was keen to stress that none of the 1,000 or so customers that still enjoy this sound would not be left high and dry without a connection, with dial-up still clinging to life as part of its Plusnet subsidiary.
“BT can confirm it has closed its dial up service for consumer customers. This is a legacy product that is only used by a tiny number of customers, most of whom can easily transfer onto broadband for a cheaper price,” it said in a statement. “No-one is being left without the option of an alternative service.”
It is a notable milestone for the nation, though, as it underlines the fact that always-on connections are now the norm in homes across the land, as broadband becomes the fourth utility for households alongside gas, electricity and water.
What's more, with the rollout of superfast broadband services in counties across the UK beginning as contracts are signed with regularity, the idea of 'phoning the internet' and blocking up the telephone line for others in the household will lead to incredulous looks from future generations.
For those of you that miss that melodious sound of dial-up internet listen below (complete with some madcap humour) and recall those halcyon days when AOL CDs littered your desk and Windows 95 was a fresh and funky operating system.