The moment the European Court of Justice ruled that the people of Europe do have a right to be forgotten, the warning bells sounded. What on earth would such a woolly, hard-to-define ruling actually mean in the digital age?
It turns out, as many warned, it’s effectively creating a strange, quasi-censorship system that is forcing Google to remove links to news articles that almost certainly deserve to be in the public domain.
Google protested hard against the ruling but ultimately it must comply with the law. So it has chosen to start removing articles from its indexes, and letting the firms involved know. So far the BBC and The Guardian have reported that pieces have been removed from Google, such as a column by Robert Peston commenting on bankers' woes during the 2007 financial crisis.
It is not clear who made the requests, or why, but Google has decided that it must remove them. It could have possibly deferred the decisions to a legal authority, but instead has chosen to become the judge and jury of the requests it receives.
In many ways this isn’t Google’s fault. With over 50,000 requests piling up, it probably felt compelled to start making some decisions. However, the precedent is worrying.
Like it or loathe it, Google’s reach is huge, and removing a result from the index is a very good way of ensuring bad news is hidden away. While for some there may well be a legitimate reason to want a result removed, for most cases the motives could well be more questionable.
It's already been reported that some have asked for links regarding stories of tax dodgers, paedophiles and dodgy doctors to be removed from the Google search index. Again, the motives for this could come from an honest, understandable stance, but the outcome is worrying.
In effect, the European courts seem to have ended up creating a system of censorship, but rather than being the state that controls it, it is the people that have the right to try and hide themselves, with Google seemingly happy to process requests without question.
There are two points to consider though: firstly, the pressure this situation is creating for the EU could force it to amend its ruling. Secondly, with so many online outlets writing about the articles that are taken down, we could well see the Streisand effect come into play.
Perhaps Google is hoping for both outcomes, in order to show the EU courts how absurd the decision is proving.
26 Jun 2014
Mobile phone users can expect a little more privacy, perhaps, thanks to legal moves in the US and UK.
Across the Atlantic the Supreme Court has found that an automatic search of an arrested person's mobile phone is against the Fourth Amendment. It said, rather than search a phone like they would a pocket, the authorities should apply for a warrant [PDF].
Chief Justice John Roberts Jr said the arguments put forward by the US government in favour of warrantless searches could not match the right to privacy.
"The US asserts that a search of all data stored on a cellphone is ‘materially indistinguishable' from searches of these sorts of physical items," he wrote.
"That is like saying a ride on horseback is materially indistinguishable from a flight to the moon. Both are ways of getting from point A to point B, but little else justifies lumping them together."
Meanwhile former News of the World editor Andy Coulson has been found guilty of conspiracy to hack phones in court. While his predecessor Rebekah Brooks was spared a guilty verdict, Coulson, who was a close advisor to the prime minister, could receive a prison sentence of two years.
Coulson was found guilty of a charge of conspiracy to intercept voicemails. News UK, part of Rupert Murdoch's News Corp, apologised in a statement.
"We said long ago, and repeat today, that wrongdoing occurred, and we apologised for it. We have been paying compensation to those affected and have co-operated with investigations," it said in a statement. "We made changes in the way we do business to help ensure wrongdoing like this does not occur again."
The move is good news for privacy this side of the pond, as a message has been sent out that accessing private phone records and data is not acceptable.
A short train ride from London lies the commuter town of Borehamwood. Tucked away among the numerous trading estates, high-streets shops and Wetherspoons pubs that are worryingly busy for a Thursday morning, lies a nondescript building with no outwardly obvious role.
But step inside and the familiar aqua and yellow branding of operator EE is immediately visible, for this is one of the firm's two network service delivery department (NSDD) testing labs (the other is in Bristol).
V3 joined a small gathering at the facility on Thursday in a rare chance to peek inside such an environment and to hear from EE about what goes on behind such innocuous-looking doors.
The labs are where EE carries out much of the testing on its network and the devices and services that it will host, to ensure everything is hunky dory before it goes live. This means manufacturers are often to be found lurking inside with never-before-seen devices, as they work with EE to ensure the phone and its components will work on the EE network when its released to the public.
Sadly we didn't see any iPhone 6 devices lying around, but we did spot a few other interesting things that we snapped as we had a look around.
Blast from the past
As you may expect, testing labs are not the sexiest of places, with most of the floors covered in various boxes filled with kit from firms ranging from Sun Microsystems to Nokia and Huawei. However, the below box from long-defunct Canadian telecoms firm Nortel did catch our eye.
EE explained that it has to keep such old kit around to test devices and services on all possible technology that they could come into contact with, as while they may be old they still serve their purpose.
A waterfall of wires
Another common sight at any testing facility, or data centre, is wires. Lots of them. Even so, V3 was quite impressed to see a waterfall of wires running through the facility. Quite beautiful in a way.
Moore's law in the base station
One other thing that caught our eye was just how much the telecoms kit that powers the mobile world has changed over the past 20 years. We all know that phones have reduced from great bricks to svelte, pocket-sized things, but the same is true of base stations.
The image below shows the unbelievable size that base stations used to be, and getting them installed to deliver nothing more than a 2G services was no easy task, as EE director of Network Services Tom Bennett explained. "You used to have to close the roads and get cranes in and hoist them into position, it was fairly demanding stuff," he explained.
Now, as the Huawei base stations below demonstrate, far smaller units that provide both 2G and 4G coverage, are available. "These are light enough for engineers to carry up onto the roof themselves for installation," added Bennett.
16 Jun 2014
A number of UK tech heroes have been recognised in the Queen's honours list and rewarded for their work in the industry.
The Honours were announced last week and saw a decent number of industry types given gongs. Knighted and commended were games developers and pioneers, industry figureheads and entrepreneurs.
David Braben, of the Raspberry Pi Foundation and the creator of classic PC game Elite, was awarded an OBE.
"Heartfelt thanks to all those that have sent congratulations on my OBE. This award is for all of us at Frontier that have worked very hard," he said on Twitter.
Braben is one of Raspberry Pi's founding trustees. Earlier in June, during an event at Buckingham Palace, the Foundation was able to reveal that it had shipped three million Raspberry Pi units.
Also awarded the OBE is Dr Paul Hawkins, the sports technology pioneer whose work led to the creation of ball-tracking kit Hawk-Eye. The technology will be used at the tennis championships in Wimbledon this summer.
Belinda Parmar, campaigner and founder of the Lady Geek group, also received an OBE, and was commended for her services to women in technology.
"Thank you so much for all your OBE congratulations," she commented. "This award is for all of you who tirelessly work to get more women in tech."
Prosthetic limb pioneer Dr David Gow was awarded the CBE, his work on the I-Limb hand and his services to upper-limb prosthetics. Alastair Lukies, founder of Monitise, was also appointed a CBE.
Whenever a disruptive technology arrives on the scene those who are threatened usually respond with anger and derision.
From the Luddite machine breakers of the early 1800s to Steve Ballmer's cheery dismissal of the iPhone, such reactions are commonplace. The outcome, though, is usually the same, as the disruptive ground-breaking technology continues to thrive and the older system struggles.
So, with this short revisionist history lesson, let us turn our gaze to the streets of London where on Wednesday afternoon black cab drivers staged a protest against taxi app Uber, claiming it is unfairly muscling in on their patch.
The cabbies say that because Uber allows unlicensed, untrustworthy individuals to run their cars as private hire vehicles, they are not only putting the public at risk but breaking the law by using a meter to calculate journey costs.
Transport for London referred the situation to the High Court as it said it wasn't sure whether an app generating a fee for a journey did represent an infringement of this law, but the cabbies are protesting anyway.
This means that streets across the capital have been gridlocked, causing mayhem for millions.
The timing of the protest was seized on by Uber for a fairly nifty piece of marketing, as it announced that its service can now incorporate black cabs, so that those seeking the nearest vehicle could end up in a traditional Hackney Carriage.
Whether black cabs want to be included on the service remains to be seen, as judging by today's protests they may well choose to have nothing to do with it in the future. Those who willingly reject the offer could well end up regretting it, though, if history does indeed repeat itself.
With some reports that downloads of the app have increased 850 percent as a result of the protest, the taxi brigade could have inadvertently started their own demise. Time will tell.
06 Jun 2014
As the world commemorates the bravery and sacrifices made by the Allied soldiers and airborne troops who took part in Operation Overlord 70 years ago today, the technology that made much of the invasion possible has also been celebrated.
BT, then the Post Office and a public organisation, was instrumental in laying a telecoms network right along the south coast of the UK and then over the Channel and on into Europe as the Allied forces marched towards victory.
BT head of heritage and archives David Hay explained more: “Preparations for the Normandy invasion required the laying of a new network of hundreds of miles of cable as well as the installation of switchboards, telephones and teleprinters at numerous points along the south coast of England.
“Once the invasion was under way, new cross-Channel cables were laid and, by VE-Day, Post Office engineers had made direct communication possible by telephone or teleprinter to all allied forces in north-west Europe.”
These efforts even earned the praise of General Eisenhower, supreme commander of allied forces in Europe, who wrote:
The build up of the necessary forces for the current operations has involved the construction of a vast network of communications radiating from key centers of vital importance in the United Kingdom. The greater part of this work has been undertaken by the engineers and staff of the General Post Office.
As well as this vital work, the Post Office also played an instrumental role in helping the Allied forces gather knowledge of the Nazi’s plans, thanks to the Colossus computer.
It was developed by telecoms research engineer Tommy Flowers, working at the Dollis Hill research station, now BT’s Adastral Park research laboratories. The computer first sprang to life on 5 February 1944 when it was let loose on messages that had been sent by German units and encrypted using the Lorenz machine.
The Colossus could read 5,000 characters a second, far in advance of anything else available at that time, and this meant it could take just four hours for it to find the first key in a code, the most important part in any code-breaking.
By the end of the war, it is estimated that Colossus had deciphered 63 million characters of German messages, helping shorten the war and save countless lives. Despite this, its existence was kept secret for 30 years after the war.
27 May 2014
Given that skies full of dark, forbidding rain clouds make up the majority of British summers, finding the weather to go out and visit some of the country’s cultural and historical sites can be pretty rare.
But with the announcement that popular tourist destinations will be added to Street View in Google Maps, sightseers will not need to wait for the sun to make an appearance before they can glimpse the majestic ruins of Byland Abbey (pictured above), for example.
Google has added famous destinations ranging from grand historical structures such as Alnwick Castle and Gardens, through to renowned racecourses including Epson Downs and Newmarket (below).
In order to fill Google Maps with 3D views of these tourist hotspots, the search giant needed to look beyond using its traditional Street Views cars as it had to get up close to some of the UK’s most popular attractions without damaging treasured parts of British heritage or alarming bemused onlookers.
So, working with partners, Google used a combination of trekker backpacks and trollies to capture many of the various sights and vistas of Britain, making them viewable on the screens of PCs, tablets and smartphones through its same Street View interface.
Now Google maps users can effectively tour the sights of Britain without even leaving the comfort of their own homes.
Plus, with virtual reality technology becoming more of a reality, thanks to the Oculus Rift and Sony Project Morpheus headset hardware, perhaps this could this be the end of real-world tourism?
21 May 2014
The Bletchley Park Trust is to fund an educational 'Turing Education Officer' role at its site in Milton Keynes and will support teaching experiences for young and disadvantaged children.
This is the third such position created at the Trust in the past two years, and the organisation said that it could afford to fund the role for three years. This latest hire, once installed, will work on educational efforts for primary school children and disadvantaged and special needs students.
According to the park people, Bletchley's code breaking pedigree is just one facet of the experience.
"Bletchley Park is about so much more than a museum. Of course, what was done at Bletchley Park by Alan Turing and others is of huge importance," said Sir John Dermot Turing, Bletchley Park Trustee.
"One part of Bletchley Park's mission is to use the achievements of the codebreakers to stimulate school students and complement the formal STEM curriculum in an interesting and relevant way.
"The education team at Bletchley has been hugely successful in this. In fact, so successful that the schools programme has been sold out many months in advance for the last few years.
"All this is why the Turing family has been very pleased to support the creation of a new post in the Education Department at Bletchley Park, called the Turing Education Officer.
"We think this is a very fitting tribute to Alan Turing's contribution here at Bletchley and something which we hope he would himself have been keen to support."
Bletchley says that it pulls in some 8,000 schoolchildren a year, and welcomes its place in science and technology learning. It added that it is looking to double the amount of young visitors.