Former Android chief dreams of Google robots

05 Dec 2013

Google has fingers in plenty of pies, but the latest news from Palo Alto is that one of those fingers might be made of cold stainless steel.

The New York Times had a chat with former Android chief Andy Rubin, who's now been put in charge of Google's robotic activities. Rubin has a history with robotics, having worked on manufacturing projects with the likes of Carl Zeiss. To that end, it would seem that Google's intentions are for robots to be hidden away inside factories rather than being walking, talking metal men (or drones) made to carry your shopping.

The piece also states that Google has bought seven technology companies with the intention of developing robots.

Nonetheless, it's an interesting development for a firm that currently doesn't have a particularly huge stake in the manufacturing and retail sectors – which both benefit hugely from robotics – and has only recently started offering home delivery for retail.

Of course, Google has a little bit of experience with creating autonomous machines, with its driverless car making headlines around the world and scaring regular users of zebra crossings to boot.

Rubin, who took Android from a fringe mobile OS to a dominant force in the smartphone space, says he has a "a history of making my hobbies into a career". In other words, he has a track record of getting things right, which probably made his task of convincing Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin to get on board a little easier.

It's interesting that this news should come during the same week as Amazon's teasing look at its automated delivery drones. It rather seems like there's a bit of one-upmanship going on in the tech world, with major firms looking to steal headlines as the year comes to a close.

By V3's Michael Passingham, who always obeys the first law of robotics

Eric Schmidt pens guide for switching from iPhone to Android

25 Nov 2013

The executive chairman of Google, Eric Schmidt, has penned a length post telling mobile users how they can switch from iPhone to Android devices.

Fresh from offering tips on using cloud computing, Schmidt has now turned his attention to the mobile market, using his page on Google+ to show users how easy it is to move to Android, and all it can offer.

“Like the people who moved from PCs to Macs and never switched back, you will switch from iPhone to Android and never switch back, as everything will be in the cloud, backed up, and there are so many choices for you,” he wrote.

"The latest high-end phones from Samsung (Galaxy S4), Motorola and the Nexus 5 have better screens, are faster, and have a much more intuitive interface."

What follows is a lengthy, complicated and caveat-heavy list of the steps you’ll need to take for this switch to Android, which runs to just over 600 words. This includes how to get Gmail on your phone, back up photos and move your music to your new device.

While Schmidt attempts to paint the transition as painless – as anyone who has ever moved phone, even within the same ecosystem, will know – such a task is never easy, and is always fraught with frustrations.

This isn't an issue with Android, or Apple, or anyone else, it just seems that anything that requires moving data is complex and time-consuming. Still, at least industry leaders such as Schmidt are willing to take time out of their busy schedules to try and help the average user, which is nice.

By V3's Dan Worth, who's happy with his iPhone



Phishers and firms both proving adept at online stalking

22 Nov 2013

SAN FRANCISCO: For the past few years now we've had a steady influx of reports from the security community, warning us that cyber criminals are learning and emulating legitimate companies' strategies.

In the past this has been limited to actual businesses models, with criminal groups setting up cyber black markets and advertising networks that, apart from the illegal wares they sell, operate the same way as entirely legitimate ones.

However, having spent the week in San Francisco covering Salesforce's Dreamforce 2013 event, we've noticed a number of other interesting similarities between the two groups' attitudes towards customer data.

It's no secret; web user data is the new oil. Every drop of it is potentially worth a lot of money, especially if it comes from a business account. This is why every year we hear stories about criminal groups targeting executives in specific companies with sophisticated spy campaigns. These campaigns see the criminal find a soft target within a business they're interested in and then expertly stalk them online. The campaigns see the criminal follow the victim's activity on social media sites and the like, to get a better idea of what makes them tick.

This research is potentially usable in a variety of ways, though its most common application is in phishing scams. This is because the data can be used to alter the hook of a phishing message and make it look more legitimate. For example, if you see on Twitter the CTO of the company you want to hack is currently attending Dreamforce, include a sentence in the phishing message saying "great to meet you at the conference" or if you see he's just ordered a set of golf clubs, send a fake delivery notification. The strategy is fairly simple.

What's interesting is – having spoken to a number of Salesforce customers – we've found most marketing and sales departments follow exactly the same strategy when creating pitches. Speaking to Carlos Zamora, the vice president of BT Conferencing in North America, this phenomenon was drilled home to us when he explained the company's research process leading up to a pitch.

"As we look at how an opportunity is being progressed, we have a number of teams [to] work through a process. This begins with questions like 'Can we win?' 'Is it the type we want?' 'Is our solution the best?' and 'What extras would we need to provide?' Then we map it from the point of contact and find who the decision makers are," he said.

"When you identify your relationship map and plot the influencers, sponsors and contractors involved, you then have to find the best way to engage with those individuals. Nowadays this is done in a variety of ways including social media – what they like, what they do, how they think."

Sounds familiar, right?

To me, this isn't that scary, just good sense. After all, getting information on somebody you're trying to influence is, at the end of the day, common sense. It is, however, a stark reminder of quite how much of our privacy we give away using services such as Facebook and Twitter and the ever-important truth; free services aren't really free and shared information can be used against us.

Let's just hope criminals don't get quite so good at collecting and using it as Salesforce, which just posted its first $1bn quarter.

By V3's Alastair Stevenson

Web could change forever with 2014 domain overhaul plans

20 Nov 2013

A domain name

For years the web has bumbled along with a motley crew of domain suffixes such as .com, .net and 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 to, 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 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

Brownies get updated badge for computing

18 Nov 2013

Brownies learning how to code

Social media? There's a badge for that.

Twenty-three years after Girlguiding introduced its computing badge for Brownies, the organisation has given it somewhat of a reboot, with the introduction of some slightly more modern-use cases.

Where previous tasks included "turn on a computer", you will instead see "writing a set of instructions for a movable robot". And where a child would have been told to "use a word processor", they'll now have to carry out a survey on a topic with the additional challenge of "presenting results in a spreadsheet or graph".

Social media also gets a nod, with Brownies learning how to send messages safely as well as understanding the age restrictions in place on some sites. In addition, girls will be taught to better understand their "digital footprints", something that is becoming ever more important as early social media adopters look back at their first forays on Facebook with regret.

The new mini computing curriculum put in place for Brownies was dreamed up by TalkTalk, and while it doesn't break an awful lot of new ground, it's great to see one of the UK's most revered institutes bringing itself into the modern age.

Furthermore, with computing and other technical subjects being dominated by men, Girlguiding chief executive Julie Bentley says she hopes this will go some way towards restoring the balance. "Our research shows that many girls dismiss entire industries – such as science, technology, engineering and maths-based [STEM] careers. This resource inspires girls to think of a career in a STEM industry as a varied and rewarding option for them."

Although we do wonder whether this may be a more familiar way of earning badges for the youth of today:

An artist's impression of the new Brownie computing badge

By V3's Michael Passingham, who never could join the Brownies

Conservative party erases the past with website speech wipe

13 Nov 2013

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?

Firefox is 9 years old this weekend

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.

Mozilla Firefox on a tablet PC

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.

Fujitsu CTO sees the lighter side of Internet of Things security concerns

06 Nov 2013

Dr Joseph Reger of Fujitsu brandishes a smart light bulb

MUNICH: Afraid of the dark? Perhaps you should be afraid of the lights. That's the twisted future envisioned by light bulb-wielding Fujitsu chief technology officer Joseph Reger.

Patrolling the floors of the Fujitsu Forum in Germany, Dr Reger explained to onlookers how one of the most innocuous objects in your house could become part of a global attack.

The Internet of Things, perhaps one of the most highly-talked about technologies nobody in the real world actually uses, is expected to take hold within the next decade, and with it will inevitably come cyber threats, as with any new technology. Reger chose to use intelligent light bulbs as an example:

"I'm not concerned about someone hacking into your home and turning off your lights," he said. We at V3 are very concerned about that, for the record. "What I'm talking about is that someone hacking into your home and looking at the usage pattern of your light bulbs and determining whether you're on vacation. And when it might be a good time to break in."

Such concerns have been voiced before with Philips' Hue lightbulb singled out as a cause for concern by security researchers. Reger went further, though, to envision a world of slave lightbulbs run by some sort of domestic super villain.

"If this light bulb is a little bit more intelligent, if they're intelligent enough, you can inject malicious code into the bulb itself if it's not protected properly. What's the problem with that? All of a sudden I have an army of attackers I've just programmed and I can launch a denial of service attack on anybody using billions of soldiers."

We've heard this described before in the form of toaster armies mining the currency Bitcoin - and perhaps the metaphors are getting out of hand - we're sure Reger knows this, and we have to say we enjoyed his demonstration.

The real point here is that we haven't moved on from this novelty, this funny notion of light bulbs stealing your lunch money and laughing at you. In the world of business and industry, machine-to-machine communication is commonplace. That's not to say it isn't serious either - a recent UK government report highlighted the notion of a need for a ramping up of security among connected machines.

So, who to believe? It's very difficult to know exactly how much of a threat these things are, especially because the amount of people with intelligent light bulbs in there home is so low crooks probably couldn't even DDoS your mum's laptop.

Until there's more of this stuff out there, we can't know for sure what possibilities - positive or negative - IoT can offer.

By V3's Michael Passingham, whose army of fridges is coming along nicely

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