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Verizon $7.4m fine from US FCC shows limits of UK ICO power

04 Sep 2014

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The US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has handed down a huge $7.4m fine to Verizon for failing to give new customers the ability to opt out of marketing calls from the company.

The FCC's scary-sounding Enforcement Bureau’s found that Verizon failed to notify approximately two million new customers on their first invoices or in welcome letters, of their privacy rights. This included how to opt out from having their personal information used in marketing campaigns.

The fine is a huge amount for something so, ultimately, trivial as to be rung a few times by sales reps from the company, but it underlines the vast disparity between the US's stance on data privacy and the UK's.

The Information Commissioner's Office (ICO), which oversees issues of data protection and privacy in the UK, has come down hard on marketing firms in recent years, issuing fines of £45,000, £50,000 and £90,000 against companies that bombarded people with calls, despite being told to stop.

Comparing the two situations, the latter error seems the more egregious. While it may be annoying to not be told you have the right to opt out of marketing calls, to actively tell a company not to contact you and have them ignore that, seems so much worse.

Of course, it should be noted that the fines handed down by the ICO were against small to medium-sized companies, rather than a telecoms giant such as Verizon, and the FCC may have been making a point to other similarly sized companies of the seriousness of the situation.

Even so, though, a UK business giant could only face a fine of £500,000 from the ICO for any data or privacy error, so perhaps it's no wonder that, despite fines repeatedly being handed out by the watchdog, data breach incidents continue to happen.

Monkeys, ghosts and gods denied copyright ownership by US patent board

22 Aug 2014

Monkey selfie image on Wikipedia

Copyright law is a complicated beast, full of difficult clauses, mitigations and loopholes, all of which would make you think that many would avoid getting embroiled in the topic.

Yet one British photographer, so enraged by a ‘selfie’ taken on his camera by a dexterous macaque, felt the need to assert his claim to its copyright when the self-shot monkey picture appeared on Wikipedia (above).

Unfortunately for photographer David Slater, Wikipedia refused to pull the image denying that the copyright belonged to him or the snap-happy monkey. Cue the internet going ape over the story and attempting to out-do one another with simian-based puns.   

Further adding to Slater's slew of bad luck, is a public draft of the third edition of the Compendium of US Copyright Office Practices, which declared that it will only grant copyright to works created directly by human beings.

This means the 'monkey selfie' effectively has no copyright and the internet has free reign over its use. 

Forgetting that the world has much bigger problems to worry about, including global warming, war and economic despair, the US office went on to add that neither work created by plants, animals, or even ghosts – divine or otherwise.

“The Office will not register works produced by nature, animals, or plants. Likewise, the Office cannot register a work purportedly created by divine or supernatural beings, although the Office may register a work where the application or the deposit copy(ies) state that the work was inspired by a divine spirit,” stated the public draft.

Debating copyright law over a single shot of a smiling simian may seem like a gargantuan waste of time for all involved.

But regularly revised definitions of copyright law is becoming more important, particularly given the growth of user-generated content being posted online and to social media networks. What the monkeys make of all this, though, remains to be seen.

London calling tech investment and skills away from the North

15 Aug 2014

London's Tech City and Silicon Roundabout are beacons of technology industry success, creating jobs in the capital and courting significant investment. But, arguably these achievements come at the cost of tech hubs beyond the city boundaries.

Head up the M1 and you'll encounter several other tech hot spots dotted across the North. Liverpool, Manchester and Newcastle all have their own takes on east London's Tech City.

Yet independent research by Policy Exchange has indicated that the capital is sucking up the lion's share of investment, and is luring northerners with digital skills to the city bright lights. This could end up putting the success of the North's technology sector at risk.

It noted, for example, that for those who have studied Science, Technology, Engineering or Maths (the STEM subjects) 35 percent, 34 percent and 52 percent of graduates end up leaving  the North East, North West and Yorkshire and the Humber respectively.

To combat these problems, Policy Exchange believes that setting up a transport infrastructure which better connects the North's tech hubs is the best way to further boost the nation's technology industry.

"Slow journeys make it harder for people to move between clusters to access and share work, ideas and opportunities and is a major barrier for foreign and London-based investors," it said in the report.

This may help, but Stuart Lynn, chief technology officer of Newcastle-based Sage, is not completely convinced. "The North is home to a wide talent pool of skilled business people and entrepreneurs but it's not just transport infrastructure that can help unlock business potential," he said.

Instead Lynn believes that investment in an improved communications infrastructure will be the key to invigorating the growth of technology hubs outside London.

"Technology acts as the bridge to cross any physical boundary. Effective communications infrastructure can link the North to the South and the rest of the world quicker and more effectively than any physical infrastructure ever could, and that should be the goal for these ambitious projects," he explained.

Whoever's recommendation is the correct course is slightly academic, as reworking either a transport or communication infrastructure will require significant investment which the North is failing to secure.

So it would appear that the North is in a catch-22 situation that might require a more innovative approach to give its tech sector a competitive chance against the might of London.

Monkey selfie copyright claim sends photographer bananas

07 Aug 2014

Monkey selfie image on Wikipedia

It's a riddle that has taxed some of the greatest minds on the planet: if a monkey takes a selfie on a camera, who owns the copyright?

This is the bizarre question that is currently dominating the headlines, as photographer David Slater – who saw his kit monkey-handled by a mischievous macaque – is claiming that he owns the photo. But Wikipedia disagrees.

Wikipedia editors keep uploading the photo of the monkey to the site, claiming it is in the public domain. "This file is in the public domain, because as the work of a non-human animal, it has no human author in whom copyright is vested," the site said.

Slater disagrees, and said that the fact the monkey took the photo is irrelevant as he had to do all the hard work.

“If the monkey took it, it owns copyright, not me, that’s their basic argument. What they don’t realise is that it needs a court to decide that,” he said, reported in The Telegraph.

“Some of their editors think it should be put back up. I’ve told them it's not public domain, they’ve got no right to say that its public domain. A monkey pressed the button, but I did all the setting up.”

Reports say it could cost Slater £10,000 to take Wikipedia to court. V3 thinks he should perhaps seek a kangaroo court for the hearing.

Let's just hope the works of Shakespeare weren't actually written by 1,000 monkeys, as the legal case could prove somewhat complex.

WW1 centenary: Communications technology that rose from World War One

04 Aug 2014

With 4 August marking the centenary of Britain joining the First World War and remembering those that gave their lives in the conflict, V3 looks at some of the early technology used during the Great War.

Telephones
In order for troops to communicate across the battlefield, early telephones were used with long wires linking telephones via switchboards. Unfortunately, these phones were only as reliable as the wires that connected them.

The wires were often broken by shell fire or the boots of soldiers rushing around in the mud of the trenches. To compensate for the lack of reliability, everything from visual signals, semaphore and written messages carried by dogs and carrier pigeons, were used to ensure that communication was maintained between commanding officers and their men.

Radio
Developed from the telegraph, radio was widely used on land, sea and in the air during WWI. However, the longwave wireless sets were fragile, heavy and expensive.

Crucially, radio transmissions were vulnerable to interception by the enemy, meaning codes had to be used which slowed the speed of communication during chaotic exchanges of fire with enemy forces.

When the British government acquired the Marconi Company telecommunications and engineering company, it focused the firm to develop radio for wartime use. This led to radio kits being made more portable and voice to be transmitted along with code, effectively evolving the way radio was used.

However, the static nature of trench warfare meant radio was best used by scout plane pilots who could rapidly report on the enemy's location and the accuracy of artillery fire. The more mobile nature of the Second World War was where radio really came into its own by building upon the technology of the Great War.

Wireless
By the time the First World War ended, significant improvements had been made in communication systems. Wireless technology was one such evolution that worked alongside the developments pioneered with radio.

Continuous Wave wireless sets were used to transmit messages from relay stations to battalions and military headquarters during the conflict, thereby bypassing the need to rely on messages being delivered by runners or animals. This helped to keep military units coordinated while they endured the to-and-fro of artillery bombardment.

The developments in wireless technology would eventually lead to the foundations of more robust communications technology that was put to use in the Second World War, and eventually led to the rise of modern radio networks.

While World War One will be remembered by many as a bloody and rather pointless conflict that saw thousands lay their lives down for a few yards of land, the war drastically changed politics, warfare, manufacturing and technology. From the ruin of war came the foundations of modern communications that would have a world-changing effect a century later.

BT shows off Isles of Scilly fibre cable deployment

23 Jul 2014

V3 headed into the Atlantic Ocean on Wednesday morning to witness one of the more challenging parts of BT's Superfast Cornwall project, bringing fibre to the Isles of Scilly. Situated miles off the shore of Cornwall, the islands needed an undersea cable to provide fibre internet.

The cable marks the first time fixed internet will be available on the islands, having relied on a radio link access service for many years, which offered just 2-3Mbps speeds. Once the fibre is up and running – likely before the end of the year – speeds of 60-80Mbps should be available.

While watching the deployment in progress, we snapped some pics as it unfolded, as the £3.7m project reached a milestone moment.

The deployment meant Porthcressa Beach was closed, but no doubt those on the islands were happy to forgo one day of sunbathing to let the internet come ashore.

The beach was off limits as the internet arrived

Once the cable is on the beach it will be hooked into the network that is being built around the islands and then buried underground, to keep it safe and secure.

Cranes await the arrival of the fibre cable

The Dibble & Grub café on the seafront of Porthcressa Beach is just one of many businesses to welcome the arrival of the fibre services. Gaz O’Neill, owner and vice chair of the Isles of Scilly council, said it would transform the lives of residents, and improve things for visitors, by finally offering fast, reliable internet access.

The Dibble and Grub cafe on Porthcressa Beach

 

The deployment even drew a small crowd of onlookers, who watched the operation to bring fibre broadband to their island unfold.

Onlookers watching the fibre cable deployment on the Isles of Scilly

For BT the rollout marked a major moment in its multi-year project to bring fibre to 95 percent of Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly, having spent three years planning the deployment, which involved dodging numerous shipwrecks around the islands.

BT's Superfast Cornwall project reaches one of its most challenging moments

Services should be online before the end of the year, as the residents of the five islands that make up the remote archipelago – St Mary's, St Agnes, Tresco, St Martin's and Bryher – can enjoy fixed internet access for the first time.

Isles of Scilly taken from above The islands are to receive broadband from BT via an undersea cable

Ofcom announces shock communications discovery

23 Jul 2014

Who would have thought that both mobile and internet services are now considered essential by UK consumers?

While Ofcom drew the line at revealing that grass is indeed green, the organisation did disclose that its latest study shows UK consumers believe they can't forgo the comforts of the web or a shiny smartphone.

The study is part of Ofcom's continued work to ensure that consumers receive good value for money from various communications services.

While the term ‘essential' is banded around a fair amount – describing anything from desserts to hair products – the study reached a consensus that essential refers to the need to contact the emergency services, or just keep in touch with family and friends.

More than 60 percent of consumers rated voice services as the most essential, while 59 percent said mobile voice or text services were just as important. Fifty-seven percent of consumers claimed internet access was their most important communication service.

Ofcom also explored the adoption of essential communications services. Unsurprisingly, the research found that 95 percent of UK households have at least one mobile phone, while more than 80 percent have a landline and internet access.

Given that these communications services are considered essential, it is reasonably positive that only 14 percent of consumers claim to have difficulties paying for them. Although 45 percent of the people surveyed have admitted to cutting back on luxuries to ensure they can afford mobile and internet payments.

Claudio Pollack, Ofcom's Consumer Group director, declared that it was encouraging that the majority of people do not struggle to pay for various communications services. But added: "It's important that help is available for those who do."

Google Fiber UK plans dismissed by solid statement

21 Jul 2014

While the US is benefitting from Google's 1Gbps fibre service, called Fiber, UK citizens will sadly be left behind as the search giant confirms that it has no serious plans to bring its Fiber service to British shores.

Last week, a (clearly unreliable) source informed The Telegraph that Google was in talks with British fibre specialist CityFibre, with the intention of extending the Google Fiber project beyond the US and over to Blighty.

Unfortunately, this discussion broke down as concerns were voiced that CityFibre's existing partnership with BSkyB would be threatened. Despite this curveball, optimistic fibre fans held out hope that Google would lavish the UK with its full-fibre network.

Rumours remained in circulation until a Google spokesperson shot them down telling Engadget: "We have informal conversations with other telecom companies all the time. But we've never had any serious planning discussions about bringing Google Fiber to Britain."

This is a shame as Google Fiber, currently operating in four US cities and with plans to extended it to cover another 34, is a service that could well appeal to those stuck with slow broadband.

What makes the Google Fiber networks so coveted is that they use fibre-optic cabling for the entire network to deliver speeds of 1000Mbps. Comparatively, most of BT's fibre network delivers a 'mere' 76Mbps and rely on old copper wires to connect homes to the street-based cabinets.

Nevertheless there are some fibre projects in the works. In a bid to reduce their dependency on BT Openreach networks, a joint venture between BSkyB, TalkTalk and CityFibre aims to establish a 1Gbps city-wide fibre networking in York.

While the three companies have a vision to roll out the service to other UK cities, for the immediate future Britain has no alternative except to mourn the lack of Google Fiber.

 

About The Frontline

Insight into the latest tech news from V3.co.uk's team of reporters

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